Friday, November 30, 2012

Just enough hell

After a solid week of Doom I am grown immune to blood smeared walls, inverted crosses, haunting laughter and demons that appear out of thin air. In retrospect the games never reach the same level of gut wrenching horror that the old Silent Hills and Amnesia did. It's hard to make the player feel vulnerable while carrying eight different weapons, that last of which is capable of killing any non-boss monster in one hit. What Doom does offer is near constant state of anticipation. At any moment, from any direction, a wall could open up and this could come walking out:

Hi there, how are ya?
Playing with a controller creates a new set of problems. At point blank range I do not want to use my rocket launcher. The plasma rifle is one click of the left bumper away, but if that is low on ammo the chain gun is two more. It is very easy to get stuck with the wrong weapon in hand, furiously back pedaling while searching for the correct one. Resurrection of Evil likes to hide monsters directly behind doors so I had to alter what I was holding every time I opened one. The double barreled shot gun is the safest choice; it will one shot all smaller enemies and stun larger ones long enough to run away. 

This was not the only victim of the console transition. There was no option to enable captions, something that one cares about but me. Checkpoints are poorly placed and there is no way to map a 'quick save' to a face button. Even the frame rate suffers a bit from one of the new enemies introduced in Resurrection of Evil. To be fair, he did the same thing to the PC version. I think it was one of his evil powers.

I remembered bits and pieces of Doom 3 and even less of Resurrection of Evil, but it was refreshing to start the Lost Levels because I was going in blind. They are unremarkable, following another marine who survived the initial attack from the first game. It does have the best depiction of hell of all three campaigns. Hell was pretty tame before; yes, there was screaming and lava and even a cyberdemon, but it was mostly caves and castles. Hell in the Lost Levels takes it a step further, with architecture that itself is unsettling that is then filled with more monsters at once than anything that led up to it. There was a moment where I was standing at the bottom of a hill while two pinky demons charged towards me followed on either side by imps that I longed for my cannonball gun.

Sam could have handled that, no problem.

Demo Friday: There are no new games

This is just silly.

Last week the only releases on XBLA were three Kinect games. This week there is another Kinect game and three Saturn re-releases. There are all fighting games, two of which I had never played before, but the demos were all limited to sixty seconds, most of which was spent at the character select and loading screens. By the time I actually got to push buttons there was about thirty seconds left. This is not near enough time to actually get a feel for a game, much less talk about it in an intelligent way.

Virtua Fighter 2 - Having had a cup of coffee with the most recent Virtua Fighter I at least understood the mechanics. The button layout was odd, which wasted by first sixty seconds, and I spent the next few rounds trying to do moves that didn't exist yet.

Fighting Vipers - Looks like The Warriors: The Fighting Game. Button layout was the same as Virtua Fighter, so my fist round was not entirely wasted, but I could not figure out any moves. It looked like bits or armor could be broken off and that the arena walls were destructible, but I could not play long enough to see any of that happen.

Sonic The Fighters - No. Just no. Correction notice: this game did so poorly in the arcade that the Saturn port was canceled. I am not surprised.

...I don't want to buy a Kinect, I really don't.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

People are still talking about The Line?

An interesting exchange between myself and some random person. For context, we are discussing this article about a rather lengthy deconstruction of Spec Ops: The Line, one of the (in my opinion) more over rated and over discussed games of this generation. I admit to starting out a bit snarky.

...

Chamberlain:  That's quite a bit of attention for a mediocre shooter...
And yes, I did play it.

Brutus: That's because you're seeing it as a shooter only. It's a brilliant piece of narrative, for a game (I can't wait until I no longer have to use that qualifier). I believe it sits beside Bioshock in terms of its narrative.

Chamberlain: If by that you mean that it features the same 'would you kindly' flavor of twist, I suppose I can agree. But Bioshock would be entertaining to play even if all the story bits were removed. The mechanics itself were interesting. Take away the holier than thou, you should feel bad for enjoying cathartic virtual violence finger waggling and The Line is a middle grade shooter, at best. It's as if half way through its development someone realized that they didn't have the cash to keep up with the AAA franchises and decided to mock them instead using the cliffs notes for Heart of Darkness for guidance.

A game can be both engaging to play and think about. Celebrating one for abandoning the first in service of the second make no sense to me.

Brutus: I personally enjoyed Spec Ops' gameplay. I thought it felt good, up until the terrible stuff started happening, then I felt bad for playing.

Also, it sounds as if you're uninformed about the game and the apparent lengths they went to to convey it's message; if you can say it had a statement to make and wasn't just holding up a mirror to shooter players without casting judgment. Killing Is Harmless might help with pointing out how much thought went into the game and narrative.

This wasn't a thrown together game because they didn't know what they were doing. It's so obvious if you pay attention to things other than the next person you're going to perforate with bullets. I think that statement is very unfair, disrespectful, and downright ignorant. I never felt preached to in Spec Ops, but I understood what they were saying.

Chamberlain: All the game did was preach. It was subtle to begin with, but by the end it was screaming 'Look what you did! How could you! Shame on you! You were the monster all along!' Allowing you to turn on your own rescuers just reinforces that.

It was not enjoyable on either an intellectual or game play level. I think The Line preys upon something that people think they should feel guilty about but rarely do. It's an unnecessary cheap shot that attempts to shame the genre which the game itself inhabits.

Brutus:  I never felt preached to. It was consistent in what it was conveying but not judgmental. It never explicitly said shooters are bad. I'm confident there are people out there who bought it and saw it as only a shooter and missed everything it was doing.

If you felt preached to then you likely felt some level of guilt about what you were playing. That's a significant thing for a game to be able to do. My ending was not the same as yours. I turned the gun on myself. The option to shoot your rescuers is exactly that; an option. You didn't have to shoot them, you chose to shoot them. You bear responsibility for that, not the game. All it reinforces is your view of games and the way you play them.

The Line is far from a "cheap shot", it's a surgical dissection of the shooter game and the content therein. In order to execute this dismantling as well as it did it had to inhabit those tropes in order to yank the rug out from under you and subvert them. It lulled you into a sense of security by making you initially think it's like every other shooter you've played, then it pulls its mask off when you are nice and comfortable.

I believe The Line is one of the most important games ever made. It seems we are just going to disagree on this.

(I inserted the emphasis. But really?)

Chamberlain:  I never said I shot the marines that come for you in end, just that it was an option. Which I did take after reloading the last save just to see what would happen.

I never felt guilt, just bemusement over what they were obviously trying to do. Look, civilians! And you melted them! There was no choice given on using the white phosphorus or not. I was watching a character's poor decisions based on his decent into madness, but it was his problem, not mine. The only choice I had was at the very end, and since I could take them all it wasn't much of a choice anyway.

Bioshock is important. Flower is important. Doom is important. The Line is a foot note. A foot note that is trying really hard to say something, but still a foot note because it is an incomplete experience.

...

I am not going to pursue this any further, as Brutus, whoever you are, and I are not going to come to any sort of consensus. His defense of the game makes me think that it struck a very personal chord for him, something that it could not do for me. Perhaps he is a soldier, has seen battle, even killed a man. I have never fired a gun in my life. Games do different things to different people. What I see as pandering and ham fisted rings quite true for him. Who am I to tell him what he feels is wrong.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It still cheats, too

Not playing on a keyboard means that I do not have a quick save button to reflexively hit every few minutes. Doom 3 BFG does try to alleviate this with a check point system but the check points are so far apart that they might as well not be there. Last night, just as I thought to myself 'it is time to go to bed so I should save, a surprise cacaodemon knocked me off a bridge. Where does something that looks like this hide?


Really big monster closets, that's where. Enemies spawning out of nowhere is usually despicable, but I am pretty sure Doom invented it, and in the context of the game it makes at least a little sense. They are demons, there was a portal to their home opened, now they are on Mars and can teleport around.

I didn't say it was logical, just that it was 'Doom' logical.

Enemies spawning out of the ether does get old when it becomes predictable. There is a noise and a flash and an imp appears, but never just one. As soon as you dispatch the one in front of you turn around and there will be another one there. Predictability destroys the mood Doom has so carefully created, so the game ups the ante with more and bigger enemies. Hell knights are never fun. Two hell knights is just not fair, but two hell knights with imps and a revenant hiding in the back is just mean.

Parts of the game feel very familiar, all the way down to where items are hidden and where enemies will spawn. It is almost frightening how much of the game my brain decided to stash in long term storage. Other times I have no idea where I am and what I need to do. This transition, when it happens, it more frightening than any demon based imagery. This probably speaks to my own personal neuroses and it certainly explains why I so rarely play a game through more than once. The first time through I cam cautious out of necessity. Knowing what is coming makes me lazy, but 'knowing' what is coming and being wrong is so, so frustrating.

Monday, November 26, 2012

It still works

When Doom 3 came out in 2004 I was near the end of my 'I must have a PC that can run anything on the shelf at max settings' phase. My machine still had teeth enough to run it, and while I had to bring my visual expectations more in line with reality to achieve a solid frame rate, it was a great looking game. The darkness never bothered me even though creating it required a leap of logic greater than the one needed to accept demons invading Mars. Not being able to wield a flash light and a gun at the same time created an environment where even zombies with no guns are a threat. It was tense when nothing was going on and teeth grinding when surrounded my monsters. Who cares if it didn't make any sense.

My expectations for the BFG Edition were not very high. The game is eight years old, how good could it look compared to new shooters like Crysis 2 and CoDBLOPS? Good enough, because the game is just as good at making me jump at nothing and peer into the darkness looking for health pick ups as it was before. 'Fixing' the flashlight by attaching it to the marine's shoulder does make things easier but it does not break the game. It would be better if the flash light actually cast shadows in real time but the engine is old, I need to give it some slack. The sound is still perfect, sometimes giving the player clues as to what is coming and others out right lying. Switching between weapons doesn't work as well, but until Microsoft lets me plug a mouse and keyboard to play shooters the right way there is nothing to be done.

My only complaint about the original game was how monsters' corpses all disappeared shortly after they were killed. This was, for me anyway, one of the best parts of the first two games. You could walk back through the level and marvel and the carnage you had unleashed. This environmental consistency always makes me smile; see Titan Quest for anther excellent example. Doom 3 had none of this and this annoyed me enough to dig up a mod that forced demon corpses to stay in the map. It completely fixed the problem and also revealed why it was not the default option: later levels either had hallways blocked by bodies or slowed down to a crawl because of how many of them there were laying around. No modding the Xbox version so I have to deal with them turning to dust and denying me that little perverse pleasure.

Good games stay good games and Doom 3 has aged surprisingly well. Rage was good, but not Doom good. This may just be a way for Id to fill the coffers in an an attempt to get Doom 4 off the ground. That is fine with me, just save it for the next generation of consoles so I can have my mind blown again.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

I don't post much on the weekends...

But two things have come up that need to be recorded:

1. The end of Assassins Creed 3 was a huge disappointment. There is a last minute twist regarding the precursors and who is on what side and then Desmond dies. That's it. Some effort is made to wrap up Conner's story arc, but that, too, ends with an unexplained twist that I am pretty sure is nothing more than a way to unlock cheats for a second play through. I was not impressed.

2. I played a little bit of Sony's Super Battle Smash Rip Off game after failing to return some RAM to Best Buy because I lost the receipt. It is absolute butts. Think Smash Brothers, which is already more button resiliency tester than game, and cross it with Thrill Kill without all the tongue in cheek S&M. Yes, I am well aware that Smash can be played at a high level when all of the items are removed and play limited to a few specific levels, but that is like saying Star Wars: Masters of the Teras Kasi is a great fighting game if you only play as Luke and Vader. If you have to put that many qualifications on liking something then it isn't worth the effort.

The point is, Playstation All Star Battle Royal is, at first look, less of a fighting game than Smash. There will not be a second look.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Demo Friday: Going backwards

Alright, it's Demo Friday! It would be a much better Demo Friday if there were new releases for XBLA that did not require Kinect. I will not have that foolishness in my house (because the ceiling in my basement is too low) so instead I am going to work backwards chronologically through games until I reach one that I have not played.

This certainly looks exciting.
I have nostalgically lamented on how Crimson Skies needs a modern update so many times that even I am tired of talking about it. Flight combat games either err on the side of simulation or arcade, trying to appease just one of the two extremes. They never hit the balance that Crimson Skies did and their multiplayer is consequently never as much fun. Dogfight 1942 looked to have potential. There are multiple control schemes to choose from; I chose arcade but it was too arcade. For starters up and down were not automatically reversed, which makes no sense, and turning the plain was just a matter of steering left or right. No elevator was required. Yes, this is easy, but how am I supposed to to cool things like barrel roll around incoming fire? No matter, if the game is interesting, I can forgive the over simplified controls.

Extra Credits did a segment a few weeks back on how demos almost never work out for the developer and they are rarely worth the time and money sunk into them. I don't disagree, but when a service compels you to provide one making sure it shows your game in the best possible light would seem like a good idea. Dogfight 1942 has two sample missions, which is fine, but they are both with the same plane and both are feature nothing but air to air combat. I don't know if there are more planes to unlock or if there are more interesting missions. All the information I have to make a decision is in the demo and the demo is very, very boring.

This could have been easily fixed by giving me a different plane for the second trial mission. Have me torpedoing ships or dive bombing hardened ground targets, anything besides the exact same thing that I was doing in the first mission. 'Wow,' I would think, 'there is enough variety here to keep me interested, here are my 1400 points.' What I actually thought was 'well, that was a chore. And the second level is more of the same. Pass.'

Did anyone involved with the creation of the game even play the demo? I almost feel bad dismissing the game so quickly but their inept sales person did such a poor job selling that I have been forced to take by business elsewhere.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Worst coming soon

Judging from my handy list to the left it is not going to be easy to pick the worst of the year. Games I did not finished are disqualified, both because some I know are good and just weren't for me (Dragons Dogma) and others were probably good but I didn't have the correct hardware to play them (House of the Dead Overkill).

I really want to single out Risen 2, but I need to stick the my own rules. This also eliminates the 'new' Twisted Metal, which was abhorrent. 

Now that I break it down, by my own metric, this won't be so hard at all.

Right foot yellow, left foot green

I have found a theme to latch on to in Assassins Creed 3, one that is much different than an of the previous games. The Assassins have always been presented as the 'good' guys who do what is necessary for the greater good. This greater good also means stopping the Templars, the 'bad' guys, who just want to control everything and everyone. As the series got longer in the tooth some nonsense about the end of the world has crept in, a plot wrinkle that I could do without, but the good buy/bad guy trope never wavered.

Not so this time around. Play for the first several hours as a Templar proves that their methods are not all that different from the Assassins. Their internal workings are almost indistinguishable. Once the Assassins begin their resurgence thanks to Conner the good buy/bad guy dichotomy is gone. When the game actually makes good on it name and the player gets to *gasp* kill someone the post stab, pre-death speeches come back. The Templars are always surprised at what Conner has done because they thought there were doing what was right. Conner quickly picks up on this, feeling bad for what he has done because these are simply men of conviction, just like himself. The player is forced to wonder if he is doing the right thing.

For example, a few chapters ago a member of Conner's tribe came to him looking for help. One of the Templars was going to forcibly buy out their land, land that they are sworn to protect because there is some important knick knack hidden there. Conner's first attempt to stop him resulted in the Boston Tea party. He followed the money. Achilies chastised Connor, saying that he should have killed them Templar.

'There was no need.'

Skip forward a few hours and he is back, this time with soldiers. There is a fight and this time Connor finishes the job.

'I would have saved them,' says the Templar as he dies, 'I would have protected your people. Found a place for them. Now they will never have a home.'

Connor doesn't believe him, but anyone with even a cursory knowledge of American history knows that the native americans were the New World's punching bag for hundreds of years. It is possible that they would have been better off without the Assassins' interference. Maybe, just maybe, the Assassins are the 'bad guys' this time around.

There is another twist coming, I can feel it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Do not pass go

Things were going so well until Assassins Creed 3 decided to change things up for a bit and send Connor to prison. The way he is caught is just plain embarrassing: bonked on the head from behind after chasing a Templar around New York in a very Benny Hill like scenario. He makes one escape attempt, fails, is framed for killing the warden and plotting against General Washington, and is sentenced to hang from the neck until he is dead. Connor's general bad ass nature in combat makes it easy to forget that he has only been an assassin for a few years and that everyone else, including most of the Templars, are cooler than he is. Conner's progression as an assassin is non existent. He started with all the weapons and all them moves so when the game makes him vulnerable it feels like at best a step back and at worse forced and insincere.

The two hour side mission to jail and back was also poorly timed. Connor finally opened up New York and I was looking forward to wandering around the city, finding all of the vantage points and recruiting more lackeys for my guild. Nope, you are locked into one long encounter and when that is done you get kicked out of the animus. At least the two modern scenarios have been both interesting and different than everything else. Nathan Drake Desmond has become a reasonable assassin in his own right and getting to play as him helps keep this third game attached the previous ones. I look forward to his story resolving, as I am told it does, though I will miss hearing John de Lancie verbally beat Desmond about the head and neck for being a fuck up and wasting most of his life.

...

This is a cool picture:


I don't know if Capcom obtaining a trademark on 'Fighters of Capcom' means anything. A coffee table book with illustrations by Udon would be nice. A giant game featuring all of them, including the lost characters from the EX games sounds like it would be nice, but in reality in would a cluster fuck.

Now, a CCG with each character as a card...

Monday, November 19, 2012

Protection fees... Yeah...

Assassins Creed 3, a game that focuses on everything but what I actually want to do, has managed to do something that I did not think was possible. It took piloting a tall ship through treacherous weather and impossibly tight canals while avoiding enemy cannon fire fun. I actually look forward to each memory ending and new naval missions opening up. There are 100% out of place and make no sense at all (really, the native american kid shows up and you let him pilot on the first day and then make him captain shortly thereafter, sure) but they easily the highlight of the show so far. Can you imagine is Risen 2, instead of being terrible from top to bottom and front to back, had something like this? I might have played it for more than two hours.

Enough praise, time to go back to things that Assassins Creed 3 gets wrong. Ezio may be little more than Renaissance Batman but I really enjoyed the mafioso way he went about making money. He would find old,
abandoned store fronts, fix them up, get them back in business, then demand a protection fee. Hell, he even pulled this off with national monuments. In the end, everyone was working for Ezio, whether they knew it or not. How does Conner make money? He sends out caravans to sell wolf pelts. Correction, he builds the caravans and sends them off in the vain hope that they make it back without being raided by the English. Not the most glamorous way of funding the Assassins return. Not the most effectual either. After fighting through the menus once and sending off thee caravans full of animal corpses I got a message stating that I was in the top 50% of players for money made via caravan. This means that at least half of the people had the same reaction to the tutorial as I did ('fuck that'), only they were smart
enough not to go back for more.
...I love that meme.

...

Is it a bad thing that the WiiU came out on Sunday and I didn't even notice? My separation from gaming retail is finally complete. There is a small part of me that wants to get one to play with because it is, for a few moments, new and shiny. The rest of me looks my ridiculous backlog and remembers that I want a Surface Pro next year and knows that I am not rich.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hey, there it is!

It only took eight hours, but I finally found the game on the Assassins Creed disc that actually has to do with assassins. I had to hunt animals, climb trees, pilot a boat and finally turn my nose up at a hideous menu based trading simulator that sneaked in from a different game. I went through the training, made a barrel, said 'well, fuck this' to no one in particular and only then did I get to wander around a city, stalking people. If I wanted to work this much in a game to get to the good parts I would play an MMO.

(rimshot)

When the game finally stopped getting in its own way (and I stopped caring about hitting all of the sub-goals) I had a lot of fun. There was a side mission last night that had everything I was looking for when I started: sneaking, killing, then running away. This time the fort was under attack by my own ship and on fire, which made it all the better. In the back of my mind I know that all the nonsense is still out there and that I will need to go back to it. I will need to play the accounting mini-game to earn enough  money to upgrade my ship to get through the ship to ship combat mini-games to get all of the other side quests to do... what?

Yahtzee was right, what I want to do (kill people) Conner is already good at and he isn't going to get any better. If all the ancillary bits were enjoyable, see Red Dead Revolver, this wouldn't be a problem. But they aren't, and the game is more work than fun because of this. At this rate Assassins Creed IV will come with a copy of Office 2013.

...which is back to be awesome, by the way.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Demo Friday: No Moving Allowed

Another record for Demo Friday: I downloaded, played, and was then finished with the lone XBLA release in under fifteen minutes.

No, that's not the death star. Though with the recent acquisition by Disney, it could be.


Planets Under Attack is so far outside my usual fair that I almost didn't play it all. It's a strategy game, which I don't play because I am not very bright. It is also real time, which I don't play because what little brains I have refuse to work more than one thing at a time. If I cannot throw reaction time at a problem to make it go away I quickly get frustrated.

The previous paragraph is only a slight exaggeration. For further proof review my experience with King's Bounty: Armored Princess.

So it is a real time strategy game masquerading as some kind of inter-stellar business simulator. Take away all of the stiff upper lip British humor (wot wot) and you send ships from one planet to another to take them over. Once you have all the planets you win. There is more to it, or course: you can upgrade planets, there are giant space guns to occupy and turn on you opponents, you have to earn money by taxing the planets you conquer, there are bonuses or 'techs' that you can equip upon gaining experience. The trappings get complicated quickly but the core of it, sending ships from one planet to another, stays the same. It is actually easy to accomplish but flawed in a way that I found annoying and I didn't even make it through the tutorial.

Step 1: choose the planet you want to attack.

Step 2: choose how many ships you want to send

Step 3: ?

Step 4: Profit!

The problem is that you cannot designate which planet your dispatched ships come from and what portion each planet will send. It is possible to exempt a planet from sending any ships at all but this does not fix the problem. Ships leave each planet at the same time but arrive at the target in waves because they all travel at the same speed. I wanted to consolidate my forces on one planet and then send them all at once. A Zerg rush, to coin an apt phrase. I could not because there was no way (that I could find) to move ships from one of my planets to another. The majority of my forces were stuck on my home planet, far from the areas of conflict.

I don't even have a passing familiarity with real time strategy games and this annoyed the shit out of me because I could not do what I wanted to do and there was no reason or explanation for it. Unlike King's Bounty: Armored Princess, which I stopped played because the tutorial itself defeated me, Planets Under Attack was shut off because I was bored and frustrated. I will say that it actually made me want to give the new X-Com game a try. Briefly. Then I came to my senses and remembered that I have enough stress in my life.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Waiting. Waiting.

Assassins Creed III is trying to be all things to all people.

It makes the assumption that the player is new to the series by forcing them through a tutorial that rivals Final Fantasy XIII in length. Don't get me wrong, I like Haytham. He sounds and acts like a colonial Bond, complete with attracting random females who fall in love with him quickly and for no reason. I would have liked Haytham more if I got to take him on an actual assassination mission instead of a series of 'this is how things are going to work in six hours when you get to the actual game' hand holding exercises. Connor finally showing up does not improve things because the game decides to teach you how to hunt and trap animals. There is no getting around it: hunting and trapping animals is lame. I want to be hunting and trapping people. This is Assassins Creed, not Subsistence Hunting Simulator 3.

To great contrast, the story has been completely divorced from the game pay. If you have not played all of the previous game you will have fuck all idea about what is going on. There isn't even a snazzy intro sequence recapping the last game. Desmond and company find their way into a new cave, set up the Animus and off we go into the head of Haytham. I have played all of the previous games and I still would have liked a little more review, though it is pretty interesting that no one has mentioned the girl that Desomnd stabbed to death at the end of Revelations. His father will hit him with that later. And then punch him. For being a whiny bitch.

Series loyalists (and apologists, of whom I have been one) are annoyed because the meat of the game is walled off. I have a very particular way of entering a new city: find all of the vantage points, do all of the sub-missions, then advance the story. Assassins Creed 3 has yet to let me do that because everything is scripted and narrow. New players are frustrated because, while they are being taught how to play the game, no one has explained who the hell the Templars and Assassins are. Neither word is even uttered for the first three hours, most likely to build up Haytham's Templar reveal.

That's right, I spoiled it.

I had already figured out that Haytham was Conner's father but him being a Templar surprised me because it didn't make any sense. He was using the hidden blade and had all of the same abilities as Ezio and Altair. I assumed that the Assassin dress code had been relaxed. This gotcha moment is only a surprise to the (annoyed) series vets so they had to make Desmond react to it with a comical 'wait, what?' and record scratch sound effect to prove to the noobs that that had just had a fast one pulled on them.

All of these complaints will go away as soon as I get the the actual game. After six or so hours, I am wondering how long that is going to take.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Perhaps I was a little too mean

Obnoxiously busy at work, no time to post. Even now I am watching a progress bar on a terribly slow download of an updated pieces of software that I have to shoehorn on to an ancient XP machine. I spend half my life watching things upload, download, install, restore, unzip, etc. If only my office was casual enough to allow a little hand held gaming action during my down time. No dice, but they have yet to ask for a web proxy to block errant traffic, so I should count my blessings.

...

One of my favorite things about the first Darksiders was how gleefully it stole from other games, regardless of what genre they inhabited. Darksiders II does this as well, but it steals most of the same things. Cribbing itself is not as interesting. The only new bit of 'adapted' technology is the level that incorporates moving backwards and forwards through time in the same level, but almost no one played Singularity anyway, which is itself a crime. Less Frankenstein's Monster and more bride of Frankenstein, Darksiders II feels uncomfortably familiar even though almost none of it takes place on Earth, and when it does get there it changes from hack and slash to over the shoulder shooter and you want to leave as quickly as possible.

I will take back my previous jibe at THQ about their stock price because I really do want to see a third Darksiders. The world they have built is ripe for further exploitation: there are two horsemen left, the interactions between demons and angels is non-traditional, other races and worlds are teased at. The ending points directly at a cooperative multi-player entry that rips off Left 4 Dead or Dead Rising (which I would play wrong all by myself but still enjoy). Darksiders II did not hit its sales numbers and THQ is in serious trouble. It looks like Death will have one more thing in common with Raziel: his series will never get the send off that it deserves.

...

Assassins Creed III has been insulting my intelligence for two straight days. I don't know how much of this abuse I will take before moving on to other things (I really want to play Doom...).


Friday, November 9, 2012

Demo Friday: leave well enough alone already

XBLA continues its trend of slim offerings that start a few weeks ago with one new game and another title in the Sega Vintage collection. I have decided to exempt the Toejam and Earl collection the same scrutiny that is leveled at new games. Having never owned a Genesis I lack the rose colored glasses of reminiscence required to actual enjoy a 16 bit re-release. Also, I had no idea what the hell was going on and could only take about two minutes of the games soundtrack before shutting it off. The demo I am going to talk about is Karateka, a remake on an even older game.


That's the whole game. This is the remake:


The first time I saw screen shots of Karateka I thought it was a follow up to Mark of Kri, an excellent game that no one played. Mark of Kri was an excellent brawler that featured absolutely brutal stealth attacks and open, though still linear levels. More of that is never a bad thing. Surely, I thought, the new Karateka would just use the name and the very basic story of the original as a framework for a new martial arts brawler. Nope, it is almost exactly the same as the original that came out in 1984. It has aged just as well you would imagine.

Old Karateka was a side scrolling fighter in which you walk up to vaguely oriental looking dudes and punch and/or kick them until one of you falls down. There is princess involved who will either embrace you when she is rescued or kick in the sac for you trouble (this is not a joke). The new Karateka is a side scrolling fighter in which you walk from left to right, punching and kicking dudes until they fall down. Oh, and there is a block button this time.

Karateka is like colorizing Casablanca. Yes, it is a thing that happened, but there is no good reason it should have and if you enjoy it then you should feel bad for doing so. One of Mechner's games has already received a stellar reboot (and a reboot of the reboot which was not so stellar). Instead of applying new technology to old idea as was done to Prince of Persia this game applies new paint to old ideas. It's insulting to the original, archaic compared to its peers, and worst of all just no fun to play.
  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Such a sour taste

After around five evenings with Darksiders 2 I have finally found something that I take issue with. There a few things here and there that could certainly be better. The rate at which good loot drops should be increased. Your horse runs much too slowly, etc. These are things that I can get past because they are trivial or they are a fault with most games that feature random loot drops. The Soul Arbiter's Maze, though, cannot and should not be forgiven.

For starters it really isn't a maze. Death is dropped into enclosed rooms with four possible exits, the catch being that he has to kill everything in the room first and that there are not clues inside of the 'maze' on which way to go. Yes, there are hidden clues outside of the maze as to where the exists and treasure chests are, but once you start it you cannot leave until you die. This leads to cheating, in other words, the internet, because it is not much fun. Enemies come in waves, sometimes in unusual combinations and other times just in huge numbers, and if you make a wrong turn and have to start over they all respawn. This leads to the second, more egregious problem: there is nothing to gain by killing the monsters.

Death gains no XP for enemies killed in the maze and on top of that they drop no loot. There is no reason to kill them other than to open the doors to advance to the next room and do it all again, and it could take quite a while if you are a person with any integrity and don't have your laptop open next to you with the correct path displayed (guilty, as charged). As I  pushed down through the levels I came across enemies that I had not seen anywhere else, enemies that should have generated boatloads of experience and at the very least a large pile of money. But they didn't because they were in the maze.

I would like to have seen the design document for this thankfully optional area: maze that you cannot find your way through without items found outside of the maze in which you are forced to fight enemies in increasing number and difficulty without the two things that make killing things fun: character advancement and better equipment. It was probably scrawled on the bottom of the same memo about there being extra space on the disc to fill after all the on disc DLC was squirreled away.

Hey THQ, how's your stock doing?

I kid. Sort of. At least I hope that someone buys Metro: Last Light from them before they go under the rest of the way.

I try be non-partisan...

...because I don't vote, because my personal platform in un-electable and I refuse to accept 'close enough'. And I certainly don't want to turn my blog in which I talk in a stream of consciousness manner about video games into anything with a political bend to it. But this:



Is goddamn hilarious.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I may think it is better than it is

All of the jokes you have heard regarding Darksiders 2 are correct. For some reason every quest comes with three sub quests, all of which are to collect three magic maguffins. The loot system butts right up to Borderlands 2 in terms of its ratio of usable stuff to shit you are going to sell. It takes itself far to seriously for a game that stars Death on his quest to save his brother War. To me, none of this matters, because from the moment I start a session to the moment I stop I am having fun. I don't care if the optional dungeon I just completed was pointless, I had fun navigating it. I had fun with its puzzles and the combat. It also doesn't hurt that one version of Death's armor makes him look just like Raziel.


Raziel was a bit of a whiner, though, and Death is not. To put a crude point on it, Death gives zero fucks. Not a one. Giant monster thing is in his way? Kill it. There was an easier way to walk around? Doesn't matter, kill it anyway. When death is what you do there is no reason to do anything else.

I will admit to having retreated to GameFaqs on a few occasions because it is difficult to tell that I can't accomplish something because I haven't figured out the right way to do it or because I haven't gotten the correct ability yet. Many of the optional bosses are the same way: there is no way to know if you are ready to tackle them aside from getting one hit killed. I spent around half an hour on a boss that would crush me in two hits if I made a mistake. It had to be a perfect run, and I did it, only to have him drop a level 20 weapon.

I was level 14, so the exercise was fruitless beyond keeping death in character. Side, and quite hypocritical, note: why did I put up with this when I turned off Demons' Souls after thirty minutes? Answer: because I knew I could walk away and do something else. The whole game wasn't absurdly difficult, only the part that I was intentionally subjecting myself to.

The Christmas crush is coming which means that even a game as enjoyable as Darksiders 2 begins to feel too long. For the second time in as many months GameFly shipped a new release on release day: I have Assassins Creed 3 sitting at home waiting to be played right next to Doom 3: slightly prettier but still too dark to see. And of course now is when I decide to get back into fighting games.  

Monday, November 5, 2012

Ah, how I missed the balls

I am going to do something that I have not done in a long time: talk about Street Fighter in positive terms.

My last encounter with AE saw my old Madcatz SE wrapped around a post in my basement. Honestly, it was not a big loss. Even the I had replaced the buttons it was still severely worn. There was a dead zone, down back if you must know, that was so huge it made playing command characters almost impossible. At least that was the excuse that I used. I was without a stick for a few months until I pulled together the money for my Qanba. It is was worth every penny and was the only thing that made playing Persona 4 Arena even close to possible.

The anime affair didn't last very long but I have since fallen back in love with Tekken. I have not given up on that, not yet, but the call of AE was strong. I am comfortable with it in a way that I have never reached with any other fighting game. This does not mean that I am any good, but it means that there aren't many surprises left. I know what my character can do. I know most of what all the other characters can do because I watch most of the streamed majors and have fought them all many, many times. Again, I am in no way professing ability, only familiarity.

On Friday night I re-installed AE. Out of an abundance of caution I went into into training mode to make sure that I remember how to cancel crouching medium into a forward roll. It was a good thing, too, because I didn't. Charge times in Persona 4 Arena were shorter than in AE. My timing had be re-calibrated and it took longer than I thought. Once my hands remembered that Blanka is not Mitsuru things quickly improved. My links were right where I left them: shoddy. I should have spent more time on them but I wanted to actually play.

Expectations were managed. Heavy objects, with the exception of the stick were out of arms reach. Here's the surprise: I won. I won the first several in a row. Then I lost a few. Then I ran into a high ranked T. Hawk player. A true test: the T. Hawk - Blanka match up is 7-3 in Blanka's favor. It is similar to the Zangief match up (hit once, run away, punish when you can) with the following exception: Hawk has a very difficult time punishing blocked balls. I played it just right: lame. So lame. It was a huge confidence booster.

Yesterday I came across on Rufus who did not know how to space his dive kicks. Free anti-airs for me. I could literally hear him cursing my name because he didn't know what to do. It was wonderful.

I hope this lasts. It is good to be back.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Demo Friday: early leftovers

It must be the pre-Christmas lull for XBLA. Or they are holding back the good downloadable games for fear of being buried under the retail releases. I can't imagine anyone wants to butt heads with Assassins Creed 3 and Halo 4 so this week's releases are games that could come out just about any time because no one was going to buy them anyway.

Heh. Balls.
Just about every sport I can think of has made the transition from the real world to simulation. Some make the transition very well because the average human being simply cannot participate in the real sport at a reasonable level (football), others work because the developer pulled a good game out of nowhere that happens to be based on a sport that everyone knows how to do but no one is actually good at (ping pong), still other don't work because no one knows what the real game actually is (lacrosse?). Billiards fits right in with ping pong: anyone can pick up a stick and start knocking balls around the table but no one is ever as good at it as they think they are.

Take away the requirements of coordination  and skill and all that is left of billiards is geometry. Playing a video game simulation of it does exactly that: turns a game into math homework. Pool Nation is boring. It doesn't matter that the game is damn near photo realistic and the ball physics are spot on. Aligning arrows and manually setting where to the hit ball to create the spin you want is akin to navigating menus in an RPG: if you didn't have to do it there is no way you would. I don't have to play Pool Nation so I am not going to.

There is a story here that I wish I was privy to.
The demo of Pid would have been better if it hat put what you are doing in any sort of context. As it stands you start on what I assume is the first level: what looks like a child falls into a hole, there is some monster having tea below, queue indie style platforming with middling controls and 'I Wanna Be the Guy' style learn by death. There is nothing wrong with that. It certainly isn't my thing, I prefer my platformers to be more Rayman and less N++, but it was the lack of context that kept me from even finishing the demo.

Ok, the mushy controls certainly didn't do it any favors.

It would have been nice to know why the child fell into the hole and what the deal was with the monster having tea. I would assume that this is explained via an opening cut scene in the full game. Thirty seconds of exposition is all I would have needed. I know this was not done to keep the size of the demo down because XBLA demos contain the data for the whole game and only require an unlock to access the rest. This was an intentional choice that the opposite of the intended effect. Instead of creating mystery in fostered my ambivalence. Honestly, even with a full understand of what was going on I wouldn't have bought the game. Puzzle based platformers are really not my thing. Still, it would have been nice to know what I am not buying.

And what the hell 'Pid' is. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Easy, fun times

It is going to be a good two months. Everything on my list are things that I actually want to play because they have the potential of being very good and not because I want to go searching through hours of junk for a diamond moment in the rough. Playing a game that does that kind of work for me is much more relaxing.

'You want quality? I've got your quality right here! And here! I am flush with quality!'

The first Darksiders was compared with Zelda early and often. This is not wrong, but I think there is another game, another copy of the Zelda formula, that this feels like. It is also a game that I will probably never get another of and saying that Darksiders, and even more so Darksiders II are almost part of the same series makes me feel just a little better. A moment of silence please for the Legacy of Kain series. They didn't sell all that well, a few of them weren't very good, but god damn do I want a follow up to Defiance.

Darksiders feels almost exactly like the two Soul Reaver games. It has the same back tracking through previous areas once new abilities are gained, the same combo based combat system, the same deathly serious mood. Darksiders II adds on a little but of RPG-ness with a loot system and branching upgrade paths; frosting on what as already a stacked cupcake. There is even a weapon upgrade/enhancement system to look forward to. Right now I pick pick up everything and sell it off to buy abilities. Later I will pick up everything and then melt it down. Both worthy activities.

The only complaint I can muster about the first few hours are the giant dwarves, or creators, as the game refers to them. Where is the rule that all dwarves must have Scottish accents? It would be funny if it wasn't so ubiquitous. Pick any fantasy game that has dwarves and they will sound at least slightly like Willy from The Simpsons.



That and Death looks like a thinned down version of the main character from the Splatterrhouse remake.

Before

vs

After. Weight Watchers can work for you, too!

Remind me not to GIS Splatterhouse at work. I forgot about all the 'bonus' pictures.