Monday, December 30, 2013

Pay no attention to the emptiness behind the curtain

So many short games, so little in the queue. What they hell am I going to do in January?

...

It's pretty.

My first reaction, in a nutshell, to Ryse. This game serves the same purpose on the Xbox One that Shadowfall does on the PS4: to give a glimpse of what can be done later. Ryse misses no opportunity to flaunt the power of the its new home. Environments are huge and call out for exploration. No, no, the game chides, this is a launch title. Much of what you see is under glass. Look at it: it's awesome! Just don't touch. On several occasions I stopped killing barbarians long enough to take it all in. I cannot wait, I said aloud, for a new Elder Scrolls game. Not the online one, mind you, a proper, immersive, lose your life to single player experience.

It's still pretty.

Character models are detailed and expressive. Their limbs also come off at the press of a button. Aside from the main character and a few bosses there are only about six or seven different people. I do not want to think about how many times I killed the same shield wielding fat dude. This is all new, the game laments, it will take time. Look, the combat is pretty good! The combat is good but only if you are satisfied with playing the early portions of the Arkham Asylum games over and over. One button for counter, one for attack, one for cape shield. Repeat until all attackers are dead.

It's really pretty!

It also took me less than five hours to play through. Max: The Curse of Brotherhood took longer. Ryse does a very good job of showing me what I want in the future. I want an opened style western RPG that looks this good but lets me open doors and explore. I want an action game that looks this good with combat that doesn't put me to sleep.

I want Ryse 2, the sequel to Ryse: The Tech Demo, because that it all I got this time around.

Friday, December 27, 2013

A welcome surprise

Oh my god, there are no retail releases in January, time to start stretching games out and playing random things. I could start Ryse and see if it as bad/good as I have read or I could play this random puzzle/platformer that I had never heard of. Max: The Curse of Brotherhood? Why not. This is also how I ended up with all sorts of terrible old arcade ports for my 360. There was just nothing else to play for months after the system was released.

I was not expecting much from Max. Physics based puzzle platformers are a dime a dozen, each with their own twist to keep the player interested. The best example of this, and still my favorite, is Limbo. The puzzles were not very difficult and the platforming itself was solid. What the game had is abundance was mood. It had character. And it was really fucking weird.

Max does not have the same strength of mood or character. Max himself is a generic bratty older brother who 'inadvertently' banishes his younger brother to another dimension. Blah blah, creepy bad guy, giant monsters, etc.  The banal setup is forgivable because it has chosen a different place to shine. Max has excellent platforming puzzles. Every one so far has landed in the just right sweet spot: I had to stop and think, walk back and forth, try a few things, and the answer came. No digging around online for cheats, no strolling through the game without thinking. It has, for at least the first two thirds, hit a balance that is rarely seen.

Max manipulates the environment with his 'magic' magic marker, controlled thankfully by an analog stick instead of finicky motion controls. Having obtained the first four of five abilities I can see where it is going: new abilities it introduced, there is an easy section and then a fast section that require it. And then the fun begins as it is thrown into the mix with the previous mark abilities. Right now I can raise pillars from the group, create branches that can be cut off and pushed around, pull vines out of nowhere and set up roller coaster like streams of water. I know that there will be a puzzle requiring all four of those plus whatever the last one is to be used in succession, probably while being chased by something large and ugly. The good news is that I am looking forward to it. The bad new is that is will mean the game is over and I have to face the doldrums of January again.

Update: I should stop reading reviews. Most of them have the exact opposite opinion that I do. Oh well.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Loot?

My loot post is going to pretty scarce as for Christmas proper I received almost nothing. Out of fairness I have had a pretty flush year for stuff. In the space of two weeks there was an Xbox One and PS4 and back in July was my Spyder which I will use any excuse to post pictures of.

In storage for about five more months...
I have no complaints. Well, not being able to play with my favorite toy because I live in the Upper Midwest sucks, but there is nothing I can do about that.

Big, big things

After finishing up Call of Duty: Ghosts there are a few specific things that I would like to say about it. Most of them are *gasp* good.

First, a confession. I actually played two whole rounds of team death match after finishing the campaign. It was not awful. It reminded me ever so briefly of the days of my youth filled with Unreal Tournament and Call of Duty 1. Then I got smoked from across the map by a weapon that must have taken weeks to earn. I can understand the allure, it leverages the same role playing game mechanics that normally suck me right in. The difference here is that I find getting killed by a person infinitely more demoralizing than getting killed by the AI, especially when my only hope of being competitive is to grind for hours on end to earn the better weapon. Yes, I can and did get kills with the starting guns, but the ration of the kills to my deaths was embarrassing.

The final level was Ghosts felt like two different games. On one side there was a running battle through and on top of a suspended train that was exceptional. It was tense it all the right ways and was one of the only things that looked 'next generation.' The whole level was moving in different directions and the frame rate gave no fucks. On the other side was an in space shoot out level that was just as if not more ridiculous than the bits of Moonraker that it ripped off. In a game that goes through significant effort to model dog hair accurately they through physics to the wind and through the player into a zero-g gunfight. It made no sense. Worse still it wasn't much fun.

Then it ended, the bad guy died (he didn't die) and the good guys survived (one was kidnapped and will the bad guy in Ghosts 2).

I didn't come to the Call of Duty party for the plot, I came for the spectacle and I was not disappointed.

...

Episodic games drive me crazy. It is a good idea but in my opinion for it to work the episodes need to come out relatively close together. No more than a few weeks should separate them. This is why I did not touch Walking Dead until they were all of out why I will not be playing any season two until Fall of 2014. I want to binge on them for five days in a row so I don't forget anything.

The Wolf Among Us went up for free on XBLA yesterday. I played it and am now hooked and really pissed off because I have no idea when the rest of the episodes will be available. Fuckers.



Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The end?

I have been watching Yahtzee once a week for over five years. His schtick has gotten a bit thin as of late but each episode of Zero Punctuation has at least one laugh in it. Hell, if I managed to get a laugh a week recorded here I would be doing well. In all that time my favorite bit is his description of modern Call of Battlefield shooters:



It is both incredibly offensive and absolutely accurate. These games are tailor made North American male matubatory fantasies. They are pornagraphy with guns and explosions instead of dicks and  more dicks, only you can talk about them around the water cooler the next day without visiting the HR department afterward. And I never miss them. They last about three days because I never touch the multiplayer and I feel a bit dirty when I am done but I will never apologize for diving headlong into the machismo violence and rolling around in it.

I have very little specific to say about Call of Duty: Ghosts. It is not a vast improvement over any of the previous games, though I would not expect it to be due to its proximity to the new systems launching. Given time the series will get bigger and better looking. All I am here for is the spectacle and it has not disappointed. Titles like this and Battlefield may very well be destroying the industry be encouraging consumer's demand for yearly multi-million dollar blockbusters but I'll be damned if I won't enjoy the ride.

At least third stringers

Warning, non-game related post!

Without going into boring specifics, about one quarter of my job is to support software that banks and credit unions use to image checks and submit deposits. It is just as exciting as it sounds. It is also relatively easy as the software isn't very complicated to install or use.

At least not for me.

On holidays and pseudo-holidays like today the regular employees always find a way not to work. This leaves the third and forth string people in charge and they always end up calling. They don't know how the software works, they don't know how to enter a URL into a browser to get me connected and it is my fault that no one bothered to train then.

I suppose that I should be happy, it is just this type of incompetence that pays the bills. If everyone knew what they were doing and computers always did what they should I wouldn't have a job.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Wrong cameo

Dead Rising 3, being the third game in a series by a company notorious for milking certain franchises to death while ignoring others, has two previous games to pull cameos from. One would hope that Frank West would show up, fresh off of his adventures in the Marvel vs Capcom universe. Nope, we get the dude from the second game whose name I have forgotten because he was boring and lifeless. Here's the twist! He's a bad guy, sort of, who is the father of the love interest. No worries, he reforms himself just in time to help our hero through the final encounter.

This last chapter, while certainly entertaining, serves as a prime example of how the game's tone has changed. Hemlock, the evil general, goes even more mad with power and tosses a wheelchair bound woman off a roof. Let me say that again: he snatches a woman out of her wheelchair by the throat and pitches off of a roof to her death. This is right after saying that no man would have her. That's just cold, and perhaps unnecessary. We already knew he was a bad guy, his name was Hemlock for fucks sake.

I should not expect subtlety in a game about zombies.

Dead Rising 3 was still a good game, it was just very different from the first two. More and cooler vehicles in a larger area is good. Crafting becoming useless because of the magic lockers was not. Boss fights were missing almost all of the bull shit I had come to expect which was very good. Smartglass integration was an interesting distraction - calling down an air strike on a city block full of zombies was fun to watch - but it did not add much to the game. A good first attempt and I am excited to see what else can be done with it.

The game also brought to light something that I am not going to like about the new generation: gigantic mandatory patches. I was under the impression that the Xbox One would go out and fetch patches for games. It worked for Forza. Two nights ago when I sat down to play Dead Rising 3 I was faced with a 5+ gig patch to download. I have a feeling that it was preloading some DLC that I was not going to buy. It was not pleasant but it forced me to get a few more races in Forza done so the evening was not a total loss.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Not hungry anymore

I don't have time to be a completionist. Games have the audacity to keep coming out before I have caught up on all the ones I have missed. This means that in games with a lot of stuff, like Assassin's Creed IV and Dead Rising 3, I need to be very selective about what I get obsessed over. In Assassin's Creed IV I ignored all the animus pieces, grabbing them only if they were in my way, and it saved hours. I also made no effort at defeating the special boss ships which I regret. There was still plenty to do and more than enough flotsam to collect.

Dead Rising 3 has less to collect in a far smaller world, yet I am not making much of an effort to find any of it. The difference is that in ACIV simply getting to the spot on the map was enough to find something. In Dead Rising 3 the map is often misleading and items are in basements or on the roof and there are all surrounded by piles of zombies. It is just not worth the minimal rewards and my game limited time is better spent on side quests or crushing zombies with the roller hawg.

The game clock from the first two games is still there. I have read that it is not a as much of a factor but seeing it count down still makes me rush everything. It is a blessing and a curse: it creates a sense of urgency it everything that I do but that same sense if urgency forces me pass on basic exploration. What's under the bridge? No time, the government is going to bomb the shit out of the city in three days! Move move move!

Looking back I remember enjoying Dead Rising 2 more than I recorded. Stupid boss fights apparently broke the game for me. The new boss fights have been strangely easy and I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. So far so good, though calling a boss that acts very much like this



can hardly be described as good.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Still dead

Funny how I have less time to write on days that I take off of work. Yesterday was assorted banking nonsense, Christmas shopping, climbing and maybe an extra hour of Dead Rising 3 before the usual responsibilities kicked back in. The list of things I should have done and didn't is even longer. Being an adult sucks.

Dead Rising 3 is missing one key element that made the first two enjoyable: humor. It takes itself far, far too seriously. Yes, you can still dress up the protagonist in bizarre outfits, but everything happening around him to dreadfully serious and grey. The first two games focused on the lighter side of the zombie apocalypse. Rotten people got what they deserved and the truly evil went crazy. Then you fought clowns wielding hand held chainsaws and participated in The Running Man crossed with zombies. Now I spend time wandering through a destroyed cities looking for 'unfortunate end' collectibles which are little dioramas of how innocents lost their lives, sometimes via suicide, and it is just pleasant.

So, apart from being depressing, how is it? Crafting has been simplified which is fine with me. I never liked rummaging around for the correct combination of junk to make a rocket powered sledge hammer so walking up to a locker and have one magically appear is welcome. Customized vehicles is an interesting idea but the game showed its hand far too soon with the steam roller/motor cycle. I can find no reason to ever use anything else.



It does like to create thirty second videos for no apparent reason but I can just delete those. Side note: I am using the video sharing feature far less than I thought I would. Just like streaming on the PS4, everyone is posting the same stuff right now because there just isn't much to play. Assuming streaming is eventually possible on the Xbox One I will probably do it, especially when the terrible games come out that no one is going to play but me.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A return to form

Street Fighter is a game, remember that one?

Last night, instead of starting Dead Rising 3 or playing Resogun (because me free month of PS+ has expired) I fired of Street Fighter and ran a good long set with someone from PA. It has been months since Blanka and I have taken our bull shit out for a spin. In that span of time people have kept playing, improving, switching characters, even changing games. What they haven't been doing to dealing with shenanigans.

My game was unchanged, nay, improved from the last time I played. I went 5-0 against my opponents Yang, then 2-0 again his Rose, a character that I am historically weak against. Then we played our secondary characters and I lost over and over because I don't really have a secondary character. The connection was iffy which played heavily into my favor but I still get some of the credit. It was nice to get my ball up in someone's face again.

Blanka is getting nothing but buffs in Ultra. Crouching medium kick will link into Ultra 1 as a two frame link instead of a 1 frame link (I think). Upball can be fadc'd giving him a true get out of jail free card for the cost of three bars. Delayed wake up will help him avoid vortex nonsense. My worry is that two of my worst match ups, Rose and Boxer, are both receiving improvements. Boxer players are salivating at his return to Super Turbo status and he was ridiculous in Super Turbo.

This is all months away and will undoubtedly change. Just don't nerf Blanka. He has yet to win a major.

yet

Monday, December 16, 2013

Blocky on purpose

Lego Marvel Super Heroes is an excellent game regardless of which system it is played on. The production values on the more recent titles rival that of any 'grown up' game. For example:


Travelers Tales has got their shit together. They can turn out great titles in a short amount of time that appeal to multiple demographics and that can be played in different ways. I will run through the story mode of any Lego game because they are funny, look good, and play well. I avoid all of the hub area unlocking and replaying levels to find all the hidden Stan Lee's because it just doesn't interest me. Where I knocked out the game in three days someone who wanted to do all of that could easily spend a great deal more time on it without getting bored.

The kicker with Marvel is that it is worth playing on the new systems if that is an option. The frame rate never moves regardless of how many bits and pieces of Lego are bouncing around, and there are Knack levels of bits and pieces bouncing around. I cannot wait to see what they do when the game is more than an up-port but we will have to wait years for that to happen. Part of the reason that the games can come out quickly and cleaning is that they are, I would assume, all running on the same engine. Literally building games of of Legos, I suppose.

Not being that much of a comic book person I am sure that there are all sorts of in jokes that I am missing. Hell, I haven't even seen Avengers yet, but Stark walking around with a cup of coffee all the time is funny. Hulk shouting at the Magneto controlled Statue of Liberty 'HULK SMASH GIANT LADY' is funny. Nick Fury making shawarma jokes might be funny. I don't know what shawarma is. Most of it works without a solid knowledge of the source material which is more that can be said for most attempts at game comedy.

I should also mention that following my attempt at GTA V a game that does not take itself serious in any way whatsoever was a breath of fresh air. 


Friday, December 13, 2013

Personality conflict

I tried. I really, really tried. Sometimes I hate being that guy who doesn't like something that everyone else does. It is not intentional, I have admittedly odd, sometimes indefensible taste as evidenced by my ability to play through terrible games in their entirety but walk away from Grand Theft Auto 5, one of the last great games of its generation, after only a few days of playing. There was no malice. I was not angry at the game. I just couldn't play it anymore. The least I can do is try to tell you why.

Grand Theft Auto 5 made a concerted effort to improve it vehicle controls. I will take their word for it but I found the driving to be functional at best and flying almost and that was before I made it to the helicopter. The helicopter was worse. After that mission I had had just about enough of Trevor so I switched over to Franklin's missions. A little gang banging never hurt anyone, right?

Trevor shows up because of course he does, they all go out on a drug buy that goes bad, there is a shoot out and a chase. Here is where this fell apart - most chases in GTA are completely unscripted events. 'Escape from the cops' is your only directive. Sometimes this works. The world they have created works well enough that cool things happen organically. But sometimes it doesn't work, and sometimes it is a train wreck. For example, I got into a slow car while controlling Trevor. Trevor's driving skill is pretty poor when compared to Franklin but there was no way to switch and no time to get a new car. What could have been a fast paced chase turned into the cops ramming me from behind until I drove down a giant water drainage pipe and jack knifed my terrible car.

No problem, I will get out and hide in the middle of the pipe. Nope, cops wandered in, single file, with no signs of stopping. My choices were to allow them to kill me and lose quite a bit of progress, make a run for the exit and fight them along side the rudimentary shooting controls, or turn it off. You can guess which one I chose.

My frustration with the randomness of the gameplay was only part of it. There is also an issue with the characters - not a single one had any redeeming features. Michael is a semi-reformed bank robber, his wife is unfaithful, his son is a layabout pot head and his daughter is intent on selling herself for fame. Franklin justifies everything he does by saying he is trying to better himself even if that includes killing innocent jurors because someone told him to and Trevor is a psychopath who uses everyone and everything around himself for personal amusement, up to and including sexually assaulting teddy bears.

I have seen far more of his ass than necessary and I only put in about ten or so hours.

Just being exposed to these guys was unpleasant and it made dealing with other frustrations impossible. I am not opposed to violent games. On the contrary, I enjoy shooting dudes in the face as much as the next guy. The guy doing the shooting should either be transparent to the player, see Gordon Freeman, or at the very least likable or someone that can be identified with. All three of these guy were pieces of shit, as was everyone around them. They were not people that I wanted to spend my leisure time with.

So I am going to play Lego Marvel Super Heroes instead. :P

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Grand theft time

I play a lot of different game. This year looks like it will finish out at either 72 or 73, depending on if I platoon that last few weeks between GTA V and Lego Marvel. Still, I have some very specific, sometimes nonsensical, aversions. Sports games are always given a pass; the last football game I remember enjoying was NFL 2kSomething on my Dreamcast. I like racing games but I never play anything in the Need for Speed series and there is no good reason for it. My initial experience with Demon's Souls was so atrocious that I have sworn off anything new in the series.

I also never play Grand Theft Auto games. GTA 3 saw a few hours of play, culminated by the theft of a fire engine and moderately amusing chase. Vice City and San Andreas were skipped completely. GTA IV bored me to death. Since then my tolerance for open world games has increased out of necessity. Everything is open world now, even when they shouldn't be. Sleeping Dogs was awesome and that was little more than a GTA clone in a more interesting setting, right?

Wrong. It is time to tread carefully as I am going to be poking one of the sacred cows of gaming.

There can be no argument about the quality of GTA V's world. Los Santos is a place. It is not a map or level, it is a living, breathing city the likes which I have never seen in digital form. If I had not spent the last month with my shiny new hardware it would look amazing and its frame rate would be acceptable. Taken in context it is the apex of what is possible on the past generation's hardware. But is it any fun?

My personal measure for action games is this - am I having fun right now? Is what I am doing at this very moment fun? If not, wait five minutes and ask it again. Two no's in a row and the game is in trouble. GTA V has massive stretches of dead time spent driving from one mission to another. Dead time filled to the brim with real life frustrations like traffic, stop lights and oblivious pedestrians. Supposedly the driving itself has been improved from previous games but I find it severely lacking. I don't need Forza physics but at least give me Burnout.

Once I get to where I am going and the shooting kicks in things do not improve. Manual targeting is a fools errand thanks to a tiny aiming cursor and touchy controls. Snapping from one target to the next automatically works but feels very disconnected. There is no punch to the action. It feels rote, like is it there because it has to be. I am left with a gorgeous, detailed world that is not fun to explore. It is an outdoor sandbox in every sense of the world, right now to the cat shit mines you hit if you dig too deep beneath the surface.

I do not understand the allure of this series. My aversion to open style games is long gone but I still cannot get my hands around GTA V. Right now I am playing it just to hear Trevor talk. He is delightfully deranged and makes me uncomfortable but at least he is not a racial stereotype or  De Niro's character from Analyze This.

Monday, December 9, 2013

My one word Contrast review and thoughts on PA

Boring.

I will elaborate. Contrast reminds me very much of rain: all artsy with no fartsy to back it up. At the very least rain was visually interesting. Contrast had a cirque du soleil refugee who may or may not have been imaginary and a one trick mechanic of being able to merge into shadows. I could find no evidence that it took advantage of any of the new bells and whistles offered by the PS4. In fact the only reason I played it was because I felt guilty for not having turned the machine on and it was free.

There was a moment or two of 'oh, that was clever,' and then it was done. The game knew it was out of ideas and had the decency to end. The one thing, and there was only one, that I enjoyed was the soundtrack.



Shivers, man.


...

Penny Arcade's, specifical Jerry's, announcement last week came as a surprise. I cannot say that I identify with this, as I have never had a hobby blossom into an internet based, multimedia empire of a company, but I do think I understand where he is coming from. In the Kickstarter video from last year he said that the years that they relied completely on reader contributions to eat, much less pay salaries and rent office space, were his favorite, that they were honest. I have been following the boys since the very beginning and holy shit have they accomplished a lot. I attribute the majority of their business success with Khoo, a man who I both respect and am rather dubious of, but I do wonder is this is what Mike and Jerry really wanted.

If the announcement is to be believed, it isn't, or at least they have had their fill of it and want to go back to the way things were. The fact that they will be able to cast off pieces of the PA brand and still be financially solvent is amazing but I do wonder how long they will be able to maintain the reserve of goodwill that they worked so hard to build. Jerry has done his best to both erode and bolster it. I cannot just give him a pass on some of the dumb things he has said but I also know that if that same spotlight was shown on me I would sounds just as bad, if not worse. More recently and more personally the bull shit job posting for internal IT smacked of fandom abuse but I blame Khoo for that one. He knows that he can get away with it.

But for how long?

I like Penny Arcade, and Mike and Jerry specifically, because they are not perfect. I like that Mike puts his foot in his mouth in spectacular fashion and then genuinely apologizes for it. I like that Jerry has the same kind of personal insecurities that everyone else does and has the audacity to talk about them in honest terms. I like that their families are not a secret and have immense respect the amount of patience and understanding that their wives must possess. If trying to turn the clock back on Penny Arcade to a time when it was two dudes living in a dingy apartment subsisting entirely on ramen is what they want to do with their monster then I will follow them through it. Not because they owe me anything, not out of blind loyalty, but because in my head they occupy the same space as old friends.

If they are going through an identity crisis then I will, in my tiny, insignificant way, try to see them through it.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Minus Scott Bakula

As much I enjoyed sailing the seven seas in Assassin's Creed IV, and the violence and the looting, the game is not even close to my favorite in the series. The reason is simple: I miss Desmond.

Maybe not Desmond specifically, but the overarching real world plot that tied it all together. Ok, and Nolan North's sexy voice, but who doesn't miss that. I enjoyed the dual narrative of the games, as confusing as it could become. Black Flag replaces Desmond with a faceless protagonist - literally the player's avatar. It tries to tell a story using characters from the previous games and bits of information from the old games but it never comes together. All of the unlockable information felt like cliff notes. Boring ones.

The fantasy bits do not work without the real world characters to ground them. Black Flag really would have been a better game without all of the Assassin's Creed trappings but that does not mean that I am done with the series. Fine, Desmond is dead. Put an end to all of the animus nonsense and set the next game entirely in the near future. Instead of the end of the world scenario from third game having been prevented let it happen. Put Desmond's father and his cohorts into the apocalypse and see what happens.

or

Desmond is dead but his mind is trapped in the animus. He jumps from ancestor to ancestor across the millennia hoping his next jump will be the one to take him home.

Assassin's Creed: Quantum Leap!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A preview of the worst

Thanks to Chance's encouragement and the persistent nature of the internet, thank you Google, the New Glarus post is back. There is only one internet, boy and girls, and we are all on it together. Don't put anything out there that you don't want your boss, significant other or mortal enemy to find.

...

As the remainder of December will be filled with Grand Theft Auto 5 and Lego Marvel once Assassin's Creed IV is done it is time to start thinking about the worst games of the year. Even if something on the list were to magically appear and I somehow found time to play it nothing could compare to this years stinkers. That being said, it has been a very good year for games. Quite a few excellent games, even more middle of the road one that did not offend, and only a few that were painful to finish.

Dark is disqualified for this very reason. Of all the genres stealth is the least tolerant or poor execution. Dark was a bad stealth game. It fought me to a standstill, which does not happen often, and I gave up.

To get the obvious choice out of the way, yes, Ride to Hell: Retribution was one of the worst things I have ever played, but it was so bad that it was almost a joy to play. It was filled with 'did that just happen and was it intended' moments, and I am not just talking about the fully clothed sex scenes. I think that there at least one good open world game set in the world of bikers that could be made. This is just not it.

I did not feel guilty about playing Ride to Hell. The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, though... My only exposure to The Walking Dead franchise came at the beginning of the year from the same adventure game that we all played and loved. This was more Walking Dead, right? No, it is a shooter that thought about adding in some survival aspects and chickened out half way through, leaving an anemic experience. I was rooting for the zombies, for Christ sake. At least I knew what their motivation was.

There is also the easy way out and I could add to the dogpile on Aliens: Colonial Marines but I remember that game not being nearly bad as I hoped it would be.

This requires thought. I may also break with tradition and pick a few of my favorites. Quick spoiler: Brothers will make that list.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Play more, drink less

Apologies for the previous, now deleted, entry. Four beers in quick succession on my slight frame is not a good idea. In other words, I am a cheap date. Feed me stouts and get ready for a good time.

A quote to kick off more discussion on Assassin's Creed IV:

'Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist that black flag, and begin slitting throats.' - H.L.Mencken.

Every game offers some sort of fantasy, some are just more fantastical than others. This explains the rampant popularity of the Call of Duty series: every guy thinks that he can be soldier. All there is to it is to pick up a gun and shoot guys, right? That's what you do in Call of Duty with the side benefit being that the guy you shoot is living the same fantasy and you just ruined his. Black Flag does this and does it better. You are a bad ass, heavy drinking, ship destroying, no fucks giving pirate. If it stopped there I would have nothing bad to say but this is, after all, as Assassin's Creed game.

This bad ass pirate has had no formal assassin training yet he can out perform all of the actual assassins he runs into. It actually cheapens the assassin's mystique. They are a cult devoted to their way of life and honing their skills and are being outdone by a drunken privateer who stole his set of hidden blades. I thought that Kenway would eventually link up with the assassins but he is still out on his own, being a pirate.

It's a blast and annoying at the same time because the disconnect between the two sides is so stark. One minute I am engaged in a multi-ship battle during a storm complete with water spouts and giant waves and the next I am tailing a soldier from the rooftops instead of killing him and his friends and everyone that looks at me funny while I am doing it. The Assassin's Creed parts of the game just don't feel very piratey and it dilutes the fantasy.

...

There is a nice little feature that I just discovered in the new Smart Glass application for my phone: it tracks hours played for every game. Killer Instinct has only 44 minutes of play time, something that I almost feel guilty about. Forza 5 is also on the low side at 7 hours, something that I really do feel guilty about. Assassin's Creed IV? 29 hours and I am not done yet. A pirate's life for me, indeed.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Good lord don't read this, I was drunk at the time.

Ah, on the road again. It's been awhile, and as usual it means being separated from my gaming machine of choice and having a beer or three too many before going to bed, so please forgive the rambling nature of the following update.

The Xbox One does not feel at all portable and not just because the thing is huge. It relies so completely upon its internet connection for its overall feel that playing it offline just feels wrong. The PS4 at least functions completely without one, save for streaming, which most people do not take advantage of. Streaming is boring now, as most people are streaming the same things, but when the library expands streaming a game that no one else is playing will at least be interesting to someone.

I just broke the lip of a bottle of New Glarus Imperial Weizen off on a counter-top as I do not have a bottle opener - will let you know if thirty seconds if it was worth it.

...

It was, and ouch, my lip.

Funny how whenever I have a questionable amount to drink I always listen to Fiona Apple's Tidal album. Memories of college, I suppose.

Gaming! Yes, that is what I am supposed to talk about. Ass Pirates continues to be fun, but only when it is not being an Assassin's Creed game. If I did not know better I would think that the game started out as something else and had the Ass Creed brand forced upon it. Being a pirate is fun. Attacking ships for their cargo and taking seafaring jobs is fun. Tailing two people through a no-fail scenario is not fun, and it keeps interrupting the bits of the game that I actually enjoy.

Spoilers!

Blackbeard just died along with the majority of my interest so I am ready for the game to be done.

This Imperial Weizen really is good. Thankfully I do not need to be up for a while. As a consequence of my advanced age I do not metabolize alcohol very well. Translation - I get hangovers very easily. Anyone who has said that they are never hung over? Yeah, I get theirs for them off of half as many drinks.

I am a cheap date.

Gaming! Yes, that is what I supposed to be talking about. It occurs to me that spending $900 on consoles in the space of a week and then lambasting Black Friday shoppers is just a little incongruous. Here is my rebuttal in three parts.

I waited in no lines to get them.
I can afford it.
Fuck you, this is my hobby.

Also it cost me no family time to obtain or use. This is how I fill the hours of my day that have nothing and no one else to occupy. Escapism at its finest, it helps me sleep at night.

This beer would be better if it didn't hurt every time I took a drink. And goddamn, if Fiona doesn't need to eat a cheeseburger, gain thirty pounds, and relax a bit. I miss college, things were simpler then.

Gaming! That is what I am supposed to... Is it really? Is that why I am here? Or am I pandering to an imaginary audience? I have no illusions of readership or actual writing ability. This is an outlet, a way for me to pretend to talk to people who have like interests. The one thing I miss about running a store - I used to be the authority, the go to source for what was good and what should skipped. Now my leisure time is a punch line, something hidden from public view, veiled by my chosen screen name.

New Glarus has some fine brews, though I prefer Black Top to what I am drinking now. It reminds me of the clove cigarettes I used to smoke in bars to piss people off, bars that no longer exist, places that I cannot go back to. Times I cannot revisit. People I no longer know.

...

The old music plays via a new medium, my memories remain the same.

A worn out orange recliner and 7 and 7's. A lonely hotel room and New Glarus Imperial Weizen. Nothing changes. Is drunken blogging a thing? I have done this before, spilled random thoughts and regrets to a phantom audience, to people that I imagine are reading, hanging on every word. No one cares - the Internet is a cold, indifferent place, and I am recording this for myself to return to at a later date. To wonder 'what the hell was thinking, putting this out there on the one and only Internet.'

A lonely place, one that I can hide in with a handle and nothing else. Hide in plain site, write for myself.

I am so goddamn predictable. Drink too much, listen to the same music, spout the same silliness.

Gaming, that it what I am supposed to....

Gaming, that is where I hide.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Bugs!

I was pretty proud of myself for catching this one:



But how the hell can anything compete with this nonsense:

The spirit of the season

People wonder why I get grouchy this time of year.



That's why. Yes, those are extreme examples, but not uncommon. There was a story on the 'news' yesterday in which a mother complained about not spending Thanksgiving with her family while standing in line at fucking Walmart. She dragged her daughter along and they ate turkey out of balled up aluminum foil. The kicker was that she was doing this 'for them.'

'I am skipping Thanksgiving so that I can buy more stuff.' In her mind there was nothing wrong with the statement.

I have no special allegiance to the Thanksgiving holiday. It is excuse to eat things that I don't get to eat very often, like homemade pumpkin pie and Young's Double Chocolate Stout. The frenzy that it kicks off, that has been sliding slowly backwards as retailers scrounge for more money, is repulsive. It is almost everything that is wrong with people collected into a box with a nice bow on top. Greed, misplaced priorities, indifference to all those around, it's all right there in line, waiting to knock down the door for clearance loofahs and toasters at 50% off.

Merry Retail-mas, and a happy credit debt year.

...

Assassins Creed IV make me want to me a pirate. I already fly a jack rackem nine months out of the year on the pole in my yard, perhaps it should never come down.



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Insert pirate pun here

I am going to contradict most everything I said yesterday. You have been warned.

There is nothing decidedly 'next-gen' about Assassin's Creed IV. It looks slightly better and that is about it. No swanky voice controls are utilized. The SmartGlass integration may or may not be any good, I can never be bothered to have my phone near when I am playing because that means someone could call me. It is the third game, slightly streamlined set in a more interesting time period. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Assassin's Creed games have become an annual event. They certainly vary in quality but I have yet to play what could be considered a 'bad' one. The modern day segments annoyed me less than most, they never got in the way of sneaking around and stabbing dudes in the back. Black Flag minimizes this a little too much. You are no longer Desmond Miles, just nameless QA guy working for Abstergo Entertainment. You are making a game by playing a game, get it, nudge nudge? Honestly, I miss my overwrought plot lines and John de Lancie as my bitter, bitter father.

The standard Assassin's Creed pattern of opening an area and doing all of the possible sub-quests before advancing doesn't really work, either. I tried this in the first section and it let me do things that just didn't make sense, like recruiting pirates when I didn't have a ship and performing assassination missions when I was not an assassin. They are there because they always have been, not because they make sense in the new game. Black Flag is hesitant to take than final step, to not be just another Assassin's Creed game.

There still isn't much to complain about. It is a definite upswing for the franchise and you get to play as a god damn pirate, doing piratey things in piratey places. I have yet to tell YARR at my Kintect but I cannot promise that it will not happen eventually.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Xbox One ahoy

So, so poor now, but I have two shiny new consoles to show for it. My reactions to the PS4 have already been recorded and have not changed. It is an exceptional if bare bones system that will be used to play Retrogun and other indy exclusives for a long, long time. What it will not be is my primary console for multi-platform games. That box arrived on Friday afternoon and and has since taken up a commanding presence in my entertainment cabinet. I really enjoy using the XBox One, more than I thought I would, and it has sold me on voice commands and playing with the lights on so the Kinect can see me.

Setting up the PS4 took all of five minutes, most of which was spent finding a place in the power bar for the plug. The Xbox One took much, much longer: there were more cords to move and an additional piece of hardware to calibrate. I also learned that not all HDMI cords are the same - the one I was using for the Xbox 360 did not work with the Xbox One, which is why they have one in the box, I suppose. From opening the box to the system allowing me to play was about an hour and what finally greeted me was comfortingly familiar: it was Windows 8.

Microsoft has done a good job synchronizing their look across three different platforms so I was not at all thrown off my the big square buttons and nested menus. What made it even better was the I didn't need to learn then, I could just tell the Xbox where to go. Voice commands work almost 100% of the time, at least for me. Being a midwestern white guy with zero discernible accent has its advantages. I was able to install Skype and make a call without touching the controller. This feeling of newness is what the PS4 is missing. I am doing something that I could not do before.

It is obvious that this is the first iteration of the UI as there are obvious changes that need to be made. Foremost would be the ability to stream music via Xbox Music without having to snap the application to the side of the screen. On the Xbox 360 I was able to stream music from a Windows Media Device (read that as my old ass desktop) over any game. The One allows this streaming from the cloud, which is better, but you have to give the entire right side of the screen to do it, which is terrible. The music in Forza 5 is not good, but shrinking the screen enough to allow music streaming was just not going to happen. Fix this.

Forza 5 was my launch title and I do not regret it. It suffers from a few of the same things that Killzone Shadow Fall does, namely that it is a new iteration of an existing series that looks better than its predecessors but is not necessarily a better game. I fell in love with Forza Horizon. The open world crossed with just a hint of a story line kept me hooked until the very end. Contrast that with Forza 5, which looks better and leverages drivatars to great effect but has already lost me because there are very few tracks and no narrative. It will be a game I play in spurts when I need to get my race on, not one that devours weeks at a time.

Killer Instinct is just not going to get played. By all accounts it is far better than it has any right to be. I will never know because my arcade stick is not supported and I am not going to shell out $200 more dollars for one. Yes, the d-pad on the new controller is better but using the shoulder buttons just doesn't work for me. I made it through enough of training mode to know that, given the appropriate interface, I would probably enjoy it. Unfortunately I am no pad warrior and it is just not going to happen.

There other quibbles that will most likely get sorted out in time and I can get over them if I keep in mind that the Xbox 360 I am used to is almost a different console than the one it started as. The final version of the interface was polished and honed and broken and fixed for years before it ended up as we now know it. The fact that most everything works in the Xbox One UI is a miracle. If the store still sucks in six month I will complain. For now there is no reason to go into it anyway.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Anticipation

Had two whole viewers for a little while last night. It was oddly stressful: I had no idea who these people were, I was not broadcasting my voice or image, yet someone was watching me die, over and over, in Knack. At least the game is done. I still don't think that it is nearly as bad as it has been made out to be. It's a launch platformer that leaned a little bit on the difficult side.

Tried Warframe. It is just not for me. Playing alone is almost impossible, playing with others is a crap shoot, there is no lock on so trying to engage in melee combat is a fools errand. At the very least I can understand the allure, it is the same thing that sucked me into Phantasy Star Online years and years ago. It is just that right now, with one new console and another on a truck, I don't have the time in invest in that kind of game, especially when I don't really enjoy the combat.

Tonight will belong to Forza 5 and nothing else as Microsoft has not sent me the free code for Killer Instinct that I was promised. It is the highest reviewed game of either launch bunch, and why wouldn't it be, this is not Turn 10's first dance. The only complaint is that there are too few tracks, and that is okay, because I have plenty of other games to play. Assassins Creed IV is also waiting in the wings along with Grand Theft Auto V. That's somewhere between one hundred and and infinite number of hours right there.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Sharing my pain

After furiously refreshing the UPS tracking page for three days my Xbox One has finally shipped, presumably to arrive sometime tomorrow. I was so excited last night that I actually dusted my entertainment center and speakers and made a new home for it on one of the shelves. Not being able to store it vertically is going to bug me because I want to show off just how huge it is. Once it is unboxed I am going to stack up my fat Xbox 360, my launch PS3, the PS4 and the Xbox One into an electronic orgy like pile and take a picture for posterity. This will be the most consoles that I have consecutively owned in a long time.

Knack has just about worn out its welcome. It should have ended last night but did not have the sense to. There was a climactic fight inside of a volcano that should have been the big finale. Knack was down, infected by a poisoned relic and constantly losing pieces of himself. He had to fight a giant mech that was both faster and more powerful than he was. Typical hero trial stuff and it should have ended with the credits. Instead Knack just gets better and now I am jumping around on an airship.

So here is what is going to happen: I am going to share my pain and test out the Twitch streaming.

http://www.twitch.tv/infinitebacklog

Starting around 8:00 central tonight I am going to stream the final few levels of Knack. This is my first attempt and I have no mic do there will be no talking and I have no idea what the quality of the stream will be. It is experimental all around, so if you happen to stop by let me know how it looks.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

It's not that bad, and I am terrible at games

I appear to be having the opposite reaction to Knack as just about everyone else.

'It's repetitive!' and 'It's too hard!' 

Knack being repetitive cannot be denied. There are about two or three environments that have been recycled several times now and the levels themselves are at least twice as long as they need to be. Enemies come in about five stock varieties that are reskinned. Encounters are just varying combinations of the five enemies dumped into a room.

This has been going on for about nine hours now but for some reason I am not tired of it yet. Perhaps the new console shine is brightening up a game that I would otherwise dismiss. Regardless of the reason, I am going to finish Knack, probably tonight, which leads me to the second complaint that I don't quite get. The game doesn't seem that overly hard to me.

There were warning to not play the game on Hard. No problem, I never play games on hard, anyway. On Normal Knack dies in one to two hits, regardless of his size. I think that this disconnect is what bothers people - Knack is suddenly King Kong sized yet he still gets smoked. It can be rationalized away by saying that his enemies grow with him. Instead of fighting over sized beetles he is throwing cars at planes and the planes are firing missiles back. The game doesn't really change; this is not a compliment, adjusting how Knack plays based on his size is a huge missed opportunity, one that could convince people to overlook how hard it is.

...

PSN issues prevented me from downloading Warframe last night. I would like to give it a try before the giant black box of doom arrives on Friday. Forza and Killer Instinct are going to devour my time, as will Assassins Creed IV. GTA V will just have to wait, perhaps indefinitely.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Not so shiny after all

Alright, time to slack off at work because it has been an insane seven hours and there are still a few more to go.

I will admit to be rather annoyed when I could not use my free 30 days of PSN first thing on Friday morning. It is a silly complaint and they had it fixed by the time I got back to the system that evening. The Playstation Network has been playing catch up to Xbox Live since its inception and it appears that it will continue to do so. I will spot them a half a days outage. They still got me the free games that I was promised and I will most likely renew my subscription when the thirty days are over. Cloud syncing of saves automatically is very cool, plus it looks likes a good chunk of the PA fighting game crowd will be making the jump next year.

Now if only my arcade stick worked. It doesn't. Which sucks.

Killzone Shadow Fall is already done and I will forget about it in a few days. Visually it was impressive (for a launch title) but as an entry to an established franchise it was average at best. Killzone games like to offer up maddenly difficult rooms near the end of the game that throw wave after wave of dudes at you. Big, bullet sponge dudes with impeccable aim and infinite ammunition. There are at least two of these in Shadow Fall, and they are really hard, but the not-fun cake is easily taken by a skydiving segment that has you plummeting down from orbit, dodging collapsing buildings. After about fifteen minutes of retries I realized that the invert vertical axis control setting does not hold true for flight controls. It was a separate option.

I am not sure which is worse, the separation of these settings or the fact the section controlled so poorly that I did not even realize that my controls were reversed.

Shadow Fall ends on a downer, which it should, and it teases the next game, which it also should. Not bad, just not new.

The not bad, just new feeling spills over to the rest of the system. Yesterday when I said that the whole experience was akin to upgrading an existing PC with a new video card it was not meant as a negative. This is quite literally more of the same but shinier and with a few new bells and whistles. The interface is very similar and the store is exactly same (which is not good). Sharing photos and streaming video is very cool but they do little to change how I interact with the system. I still have the new console buzz when turning it on but it is tempered because something newer is coming later this week.

Perhaps my bias is showing, but the arrival of the PS4 has made me more excited for the XboxOne. I get all of this plus voice control out of the box? Leaving the camera out of the PS4 package may have been a mistake. Time will tell.

...

Resogun is the new Geometry Wars. Geometry Wars spawned months of competition after it came out because for months it was the only thing worth playing. Then the post release drought ended and we still played Geometry Wars. Resogun will do the same thing. Months from now, when I am still working through the multiplatform backlog on my Xbox One I will be making time for Resogun. It's that good.

...

My goodness, Knack is actually pretty good. I described it as this generations Kameo before I had even played it. It turns out that I was correct in all the right ways. More tomorrow after I spend more time with it but I am pleasantly surprised.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Still here

Been a bit busy with, you know, a new console. I will post reaction tomorrow. They are good but not glowing; positive but not without reservation.

A few quick hits:

1. Early PSN sign issues are easily forgiven. It took less than a day to get it sorted out.
2. Killzone Shadow Fall is not as good as Killzone 3. Or Killzone 2. It may not be better than average.
3. Resogun is almost the new Geometry Wars. That is high praise indeed.
4. No one will agree with me on this one, but I am having a hard time warming up to the Dual Shock 4. The handles feel too long and the Options and Share buttons are in an odd place. Also the light on the front of the controller reflects off of the television when I play in the dark, which is all the time.

It's good but it doesn't feel new. Shiny and fast but more of an incremental upgrade, like adding a new video card to an existing computer.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What timing

Grand Theft Auto 5 just shipped.

Fuck me running.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Oh no! Deep crow!

I am really, really late to the party on this one but declaring Zeboyd Games as geniuses still needs to be done. They have suckered in an admitted graphics whore with an homage to 16 bit RPGs that both pokes fun at and improves upon all of their stereotypes. Add to that layers of Penny Arcade references and I have been thoroughly amused for the last six hours of gameplay.

Let's see if I can describe the combat system in a single run on sentence: Turn based/active time combat with swappable jobs and minimal equipment management with full auto regen at the end of each battle to keep the non-random encounters interesting and right at the edge of what can be beaten. It's beautiful. The leveling system is compressed to the point that levels are gained after almost every fight. The whole game is a 40 hours epic crunched down to 10 or so hours and it is a better game for it.

If that doesn't get you interested then years of Penny Arcade lore will. I have been jealous of the boys for almost as long as they have been doing the strip. This also means that I get most of the references. I say most because they are everywhere. Fighting the deep crow was a treat.


I am a terrible person for not having played this game earlier. My only solace is that I paid full price for it and I hope that some of the money is still finding its way back to Zeboyd. Well done, gentlemen, well done.



Monday, November 11, 2013

Tactical foolishness

I have made a significant tactical error. Sam Fischer would be ashamed.

My budget allows for only one launch title per console: Killzone and Forza 5. Everything else, and there are quite a few on the Xbox One, will be via my standard provider. From said provider I had two games last week: Splinter Cell Blacklist which I was playing a random new Armored Core game that I added months ago when then list was getting a bit thin. An assumption was made that Splinter Cell would take more than the weekend to finish so I sent back Armored Core unplayed.

I finished Splinter Cell that very night. Not having a new thing to play does not sit well but I did not want to buy a new XBLA game less than a week before the PS4 came out. After much soul searching I parted way with 2.99 and picked up On The Rainslick Precipice of Darkness 3. There is something poetic about closing out the end of a generation with a game that looks and plays like a SNES RPG.

That was timing failure number one. Secondly I forgot that there was a PS3 game coming out this week, and of course guess what shipped on time. Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus does need to be played, I would have prefered to play it later but now will have to do.

Yes, I know, first world problems.

...

It stands to reason that Tom Clancy games are a bit plot heavy. There is a lot of political intrigue to force out along with the ultra-violence in a short amount of time. I tuned it all out by the three quarters mark when I lost track of who was attacking who. The president gave Sam's team to power to do whatever they wanted but only if she agreed and blah, blah let me get back to my dark hallways and sneaking please. The shocking finale that had me playing as a member of the team instead of Sam, killing the Secretary of Defense, and Sam then appearing out of the background in a different outfit was far more confusing than it was anything else.

I made it to the end, something I would ordinarily be proud of, but it took dropping the difficulty down to rookie to get there. It was the best I could do in the time that I thought I had left before there were more important things to play. At four days before the PS4 I should be more excited. Instead I am second guessing buying both systems. There are not enough exclusives at this point to warrant owning both of them. The PS4 is cheaper and more powerful but the Xbox One feels like a generational leap instead of a better iteration of the current one. It's got me making space for a Kinect and I hate motion controls.

The PS3 was a $600 paper weight for months at a time. There were great games on it, some of the best of this generation, but will it become the silent partner just like the PS3? Am I so far down the Microsoft road that there is no turning back? Do you even know anyone else who has a Windows Phone?

Friday, November 8, 2013

No offense to the PS4...

But this is pretty cool:



The joining of video games with television and movies does not interest me but being able bounce back and forth between a game and others applications does. For example, I get stuck in a game. Instead of pausing the game and digging out my laptop I can switch over to Internet Explorer, find what I need, then be right back in the game. The same goes for Twitch, though I hope that Twitch work a little better than it does now.

Facial recognition to sign in to your profile is nice but I play in a dark room. Kinect 2.0 is good but I doubt it is that good.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Hiding for no reason

Last night I got sidetracked by Splinter Cell Black List's optional levels. There are one note songs, either all stealth or all combat, and in theory they are shorter than the story levels. I say in theory because two stealth levels took me around two and a half hours of retrying. They were absolutely merciless exercises in perfection via repetition. Anyone sees you? Restart. Touch a laser beam? Restart. Attack dog smells you through the door? All restart. At about the one hour mark I paused the game and took a personal inventory. Why was I doing this? It stopped being fun thirty minutes ago.

I was taking the failure personally because the answer was always right there. If I had just waited a few more seconds or hid behind a different wall it would have worked. The stages in which you are encouraged to incapacitate all the enemies are slightly easier but the full on combat area that tasks you with surviving 20 fucking waves of dudes with guns is right out. I doubt that I will be attempting that one again.

It's the same kind of pseudo completionist nonsense that forced me to get all of the Enigma collectibles to appear on the map in Arkham Origins even though I had no intent of collecting them all. There is a limit but until I hit it I must have everything. I want to know what I am missing, maybe?

Anyway, it's time to buckle down and actually get work done on this game. Time is running out. There are PS4 games and controllers on the shelf at Best Buy (but no demo kiosk, which was my whole purpose of stopping there). There are pictures of stacks of PS4s on pallets just waiting to be sold.


Street dates suck. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Free is good

I scraped my head on a very roughly textured sloper at the gym last night. It both hurts and serves to highlight my rapidly retreating hairline. So I have not been in a good mood. Then I got an email from Microsoft stating that my copy of Killer Instinct, complete with all the characters, is going to be free and my day got better. No reason was given but current internet guesses range from a random drawing among rewards members to it being based on gamerscore. Regardless, I will take it, and assuming that my Qanba works on the Xbox One, I will be repping Fulgore whenever I am not playing Forza 5.

He may not be announced yet but there is no way they would leave him out.

Killer Instinct was the odd one out at the arcades of my youth. It was mostly Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. For a long time I played KI like I played Street Fighter: footsies and single hits. It worked and made people really angry because they didn't get to see big combos. Eventually I figure out linkers and could in respectably, but by then the next iteration of Street Fighter was out and it was time to move back. Resurrecting it as an Xbox One launch title is an interesting move made all the more daring by its subscription based distribution. Just want to play as Jago? Fine, just pay for Jago. This will lead to a lot of character specialists and I am okay with that. If I wasn't getting the whole deal for free I would do the same thing.

But how will it play? I am intentionally keeping my hopes low. If it comes in around the Injustice mark with better netcode I will be satisfied. Anything less than that and, well, it was free.

...

I am still rather upset about how I am going to have to change the name of the blog. Perhaps I will be able to snag infinitebacklog.com if I just let it expire and the blog disappears for a few days. Not fun.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Well that's a fine how do you do

The domain infinitebacklog.com was registered through Blogger around three years ago. It appears that they are not longer providing this service and that the domain name will expire on December 5th.

Can't purchase the domain name because they own it. Can't renew it because they don't do that anymore.

My choices include shit canning the entire thing, going back to the original name which was dumb or coming up with a new one, none of which are very appealing.

Playing on modern fears

I play the Splinter Cell games for the same reason that I return to Street Fighter after multiple rage quits - I enjoy the abuse. Both games punish mercilessly punish mistakes and reward good planning. It occurs to me that I just described Dark Souls, a game that I refuse to play, but fuck consistency. Who has time for that.

It took a good hour last night to get the Batman out of my play. Batman is stealthy but when he is seen he just kicks everyone's ass, creating a giant pile of dudes in the snow. When Sam is seen he dies because the bad guys have machine guns. You can tell a game is all in for stealth when it gives the player more points for just avoiding guys than it does for killing them. Avoiding confrontation is always the best way, it is just incredibly hard to do.

Especially when there are dogs and Sam smells like freshly cooked sausage.

If I must leverage an early complaint it is that the game takes itself deadly seriously. The recent Call of Duty games have had similar themes but there is a nod, especially in the bigger set pieces, that this is all just for fun. Sam never smiles. Everyone and everything is an asset and nothing more. The presentation is incredibly polished and because of that just a little unnerving. How unrealistic is any of what is portrayed? Not fanciful enough if you ask me. Not when I watch the news every night and it is always only a few degrees away from batshit insanity.

Games, like movies, reflect the mood of their target audience. They play on what we are nervous about or aggressive towards. Developers are in the business of giving us what we want and apparently we want to feel more secure by killing foreigners who are intent on killing lots and lots of civilians.

That got out of hand quickly. It's just a game, chamberlain, take it easy and stop watching the evening news.

Monday, November 4, 2013

It's happening

From an online chat with the Microsoft store:

"I'm happy to inform you that yes you will be receiving your order on November 22,and so we will ship the product a week before that. So before we will ship the product,we will charge your account and so please inform your bank that there will be an upcoming charge so that they will accept the charge and there will be no delay on the shipment."

Relief.

That's not funny

It is time to be uncharacteristically fair to a game that I did not really enjoy.

My initial dismissal to a non Mark Hamill Joker was premature. It took a bit for me to warm up to him, but the time he spent venting to and seducing Harley was very good. Spending just a bit of time in The Joker's head and he goes even crazier trying to figure out why Batman didn't let him die was fascinating. It would have been better if I was getting tired if the character.

I am not a comic book nerd. My obsessions are limited to video games and, well, more video games. The only comic books I own are the Knightfall series and everybody has that in a box in their basement. My point is that Batman's rogues gallery is larger than The Joker and Bane. The idea of an entire game set around Black Mask or the Falcone crime family was refreshing. Yes, the origin story of why Joker is obsessed with Batman (and vice versa) is good, but I want new stories with new characters. Give me more Clayface or Two Face or Zsasz. There are dozens of second and third tier villains to choose from and instead we get more of the same.

Which fits because the entire game is more of the same. And I am done being nice.

Technical issues, specifically the game locking up, are unforgivable, especially at the tail end of a console's life cycle. Arkham Origins locked up at least once every single time I played it, to the point that on at least one occasion I had people on my friends list sending me messages, wondering why the hell I was logging on every ten minutes. I do not understand how the game can have issues of this sort when it is literally the same thing as the last one minus all of the love and detail that made the previous game something special.

To give credit where credit it due, Chance said all of this and said it better, though I think that he was a little easy on the game. Yes, in a vacuum, the game is acceptable. Media is never consumed that way - I played Arkham Origins knowing full well that the last game was better and that there were other stories in the Batman universe that hadn't already been beaten to death. There are better open world action games. There are better Batman games.

In other words, I want Batman as a playable character in InFamous: Second Son. Is that too much to ask?

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Wrong again?!

Let there never be any doubt that this blog is written as a stream of consciousness exercise and rarely proof read. A few days ago I noted that the absence of the Joker from Arkham Origins was a good thing, made some excuse about it being time for other villains and ignoring that I knew Mark Hamill would not involved so Joker's voice but just as if not more wrong than Batman's.

Oh well.

It is time to stop being so nice to this game. Between the constant crashing to the meaningless fetch quests I am getting suspicious that this is a not very good game disguised as a sequel to an otherwise peerless franchise. Time will tell.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A brief history of wasted money

Is it strange that I sat in front of my television for quite some time last night mentally arranging my new consoles?

A chronicle of Chamberlain's consoles.

Intellivision - belonged to my Uncle and I would always pester him to play it when we visited my Grandparents. Berzerk is the game I remember the most. Also my Grandfather saying that I could not play with it because his toe hurt. I believed him because I was a child and Grandpa says is absolutely true.

Atari 2600 - My father brought home a 2600 and a pile of games unannounced. I know now that it was either in middle of or just on the cusp of the great crash. Games were cheap and I did not have the discerning taste I do now (irony intentional).  Cosmic Ark, Adventure, Star Master, Combat, E.T.; these are the games of my formative years.

Mac - I remember when my Dad brought his first Fat Mac home and made the mistake of showing by brother and I Dark Castle and Shufflepuck. He also made the mistake of not password protecting the thing so we would wake up as early as we could to play. I don't know if we every finished that game...

NES - The NES was a Christmas present. I remember emerging from the house when winter was over and trying to brag to my neighbor that we got one. It didn't work because he had one, too. I also remember the very moment that I beat Super Mario Bros for the first time, finding the wand in Zelda by chance and understanding even as a child that the underwater section of TMNT was bullshit.

Turbo Grafx-16 - I don't remember why this was purchased prior to the SNES but I am glad that it was, if for not other reason that I got to play the Bonk games. It was eventually sold to help pay for an SNES.

SNES - I was in high school by the time the SNES came out. My parents went out and got it without telling us so when I came home one day to find my mother playing Super Mario World it was quite a surprise. Equally surprising was her not giving up her turn when she was done. The SNES stayed at home when I left for college so I never actually owned my own. All my games stayed home with by brother who kept them in mint condition along with a copy of ChronoTrigger that he sold for Texas dollars years later. This was also my first intro to online gaming - the X Band and Killer Instinct. It was terrible but I didn't know any better.

3DO - Yup, I owned one. Paid $500 for it, too, and that is in 1994 dollars. (note: 788.64 in today's dollars). This was done just because I was going away to school and fuck anyone who told me I was wasting my money. They were right, of course, but the system did have arcade perfect versions of Samurai Shodown and Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Once I found an adapter to use SNES controllers on it those games rarely left the system.

Playstation - My first job was at the Blockbuster a few miles from school. This provided me with ample free movies and, more importantly, free game rentals. I actually rented a two systems over Christmas break and played system linked Doom and Tekken for about two weeks straight. When I bought it and brought it back to my room the first game I played was Street Fighter Alpha and I had no one to play it with. Just like everyone else I played Final Fantasy VII and then bought VIII and IX out of blind faith. I also owned an original copy of Symphony of the Night that I sold years later because I needed the cash.

N64 - Waited in line at Best Buy for this one and bought no games because of the Blockbuster thing. Secret time - my store got the demo units in prior to the systems release date. I took one home after close one night, played it for hours, then brought it back the next morning before the store opened. My favorite version of Doom ever is still Doom 64. Another secret - I never bought either of the Zelda games. Shame on me, I suppose.

Dreamcast - This was the first system I ever pre-ordered. Again, I rented an import prior to its release and played the crap out of House of the Dead III. The only game that came home at release was Soul Calibur but it was worth it. Owning a Dreamcast, especially towards the end of its run, was like belonging to an exclusive club. We just knew that what we had on our hands was really, really cool. Skies and Arcadia and Grandia III were proof enough of that. Online play again became import - I had a second phone line installed so I could play Phantasy Star Online and not tie up the line.

PS2 - By this time I was working at an Electronics Boutique. My manager was not always on the up and up so I got to take mine home a day early. The first game I showed to anyone was Star Wars Starfighter to which my father replied 'Impressive. Most Impressive.' in a reasonable Vader voice. Silent Hill 2, Ico, God of War(s), numerous terrible JRPGs; there are far too many games to mention.

Gamecube - The GCN marks my final moments of love for Nintendo. The PS2 was there for its exclusives and multiplatform games. The Gamecube was there for RE:Make and Eternal Darkness, and eventually Resident Evil 4. Oh, and Ikaruga. Note - never finished Ikaruga, even after buying it on XBLA.

Xbox - I passed on the Xbox at launch out of misplaced loyalty to Sony and Nintendo.  When it became clear that it was the place to go for cross system titles I had to have one. It was paid for with trade ins, namely my N64 and Dreamcast. Blood money. A few years later I won one at a Mechassault tournament and then was given one by the company that same week. I gave both of those away just in time for my Xbox to die. This is a trend that would be repeated.

Xbox 360 - Reserved but obtained late because I was running a store and I oversold my launch allocation. Of the two previous next gen systems the 360 got the vast majority of the work. Not surprisingly I am current on my fourth unit. I have no regrets and in spite of what I know about the new systems the Xbox One will still end up being my main. For now. Unless the stupid game registration comes back. Then fuck 'em.

Playstation 3 - I still have mt launch 60 gig. It is a wonderful obelisk to excess and complexity and it will see use long after the 360 is moved aside as my guilty pleasure JRPGs just seem to keep coming out for it. The poor thing sits idle for months at at time, something that I am afraid will happen to the Playstation 4 as well. I have mentioned that I really want to make the PS4 my new home but I do not think I will be able to do it. The pull of the achievement metagame is just too strong.

The word of PC gaming was left out because I have embraced and retreated from it several times. Right now I am in full abandon it mode and that is after discovering Path of Exile. Eventually I will be back, but not until the sheen of my other new hardware wares off.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The flying mouse

Last night I finally stopped playing caped janitor, collecting every bit of junk that I could get my hands on, and played caped crusader. It was much better but it still didn't feel quite right. The best way I can think of to explain it is that the first two Arkham games were excellent Batman games first, adventure games second. This time around the Batman-ness has taken a back seat to larger areas and fighting more enemies at the same time. It's still good, it just doesn't make me feel like Batman anymore. I feel like Sam Fischer in a cape.

Or maybe even this guy.
It's feels odd to complain about how a game feels when all of the mechanics are exactly like the better previous games because I am not sure how to fix it. Getting the right voice for Batman would certainly help but I will give Splash Damage the benefit of the doubt and assume that Kevin Conroy was either busy or just didn't need any more money. This is supposed to be Batman at the very beginning of his career but he doesn't act any different than previous, or I supposed subsequent, versions. Seeing him vulnerable, weak, still learning would have been an interesting twist. Instead he starts out with all of the weapons that he had previously earned.

Splash Damage was afraid to take that big risk: to make Batman almost unrecognizable by starting him out as a guy in a suit instead of the dark knight. This is not an Origin story, it is full fledged Batman transported back in time because no one wants to make the player feel weak. It is a missed opportunity is what it really is.

Speaking of missed opportunities, why was money spent on a new Heavenly Sword game when the PS4 is dying for exclusive launch titles?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bat who?

I started playing Arkham Origins two days ago. Last night was filled up by rock climbing (poorly, I might add..) so I did not get a second shot at improving my first impression. I have a few irrational complaints. Same as it ever was.

1. Not getting Kevin Conroy as the voice of Batman is a sin against God and man and cannot be overlooked, much less forgiven. The jamoke that got to stand in does a reasonable job but it just is not the same. Every time Batman speaks I wonder who the hell it is.

2. Each progressive Arkham game has gotten less linear and more open. Arkham Origins is too open. There is too much to do out of the gate. A little bit of a push towards the initial confrontation with the Penguin would have been a good thing. Instead of that I spent the first three hours of the game wandering around the city collecting bits of Enigma junk in a very un-Batman like fashion. By the way, putting things on the map that you cannot actually get yet is just evil.

3. Enemy power is inconsistent with previous games. It is interesting to have everyone including the good guys run away from Batman because no one knows who or what he is yet. Batman's first run in with Killer Croc is similar but Batman should not be able to take down Croc in a straight up fight. Bats punches him in the head until he falls down. This should not work. I have no doubt they will screw up Bane as well.

/nerd rant over.

Please note that I am not complaining about the absence of the Joker or Mr. Freeze. They had their time in the spotlight and it is time to move on. Falling back on Croc, even as an intro boss, is kind of a drag. Penguin showing up again is just as boring. I really hope the new bad guys can live up to the old ones.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Troubling times

I am having a bit of an identity crisis. Maybe console crisis is a better way to put it. For the previous generation my primary console has been the XBox 360. All multiplatform titles were played on it by default because the difference between the Microsoft and Sony versions was almost imperceptible. Comparisons between titles has started to trickle out between the Xbox One and the PS4 and things are not so even. For now it seems that the PS4 has a significant power advantage.

Being a graphics whore dictates that I go with the better looking version. The problem is that I fell for the achievements metagame hard. My total is not massive but it is larger than anyone I have on my friends list and it is not a number that can be easily walked away from, as meaningless as it is.

My PS4 is paid for and will be picked up promptly. I am not quite as sure anymore that the Xbox One will receive the same treatment.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Free problems

Path of Exile runs player instances in the same manner as many MMOs: there is a hub area where the player picks up quests and does a little shopping and as soon as he or she leaves the new area is their own little pocket dimension. Perhaps this is what allows for the 'corpse permanence' that I like so much; the level doesn't really exist on the client machine. Running it this way does introduce two problems that have managed to suck the fun out of a game that I was otherwise very much enjoying.

First off is server latency. Picture this scenario: my keyboard smashed named character walk through a door and is immediately surrounded by dozens of of monsters. No problem, I will back of the doorway and use it as a choke point. As the number of active monsters increases I notice that none of my attacks are hitting, then I can't move, then I warp back into the room where I have been the whole time getting gang tackled. Rollback is ugly and unforgivable and it has killed me more than a few times. Which leads me to the other problem...

Not every level has a portal back to the hub area. This usually isn't an issue because once emptied an area will stay empty. Here's the catch: an instance's saved state only lasts for seven to fifteen minutes after the last time you visit it. That's more than enough time to go into a new level, die (due to server lag...)  and then have to fight your way back through the level again. Did I mention that the levels are randomly generated and when your instance expires it is regenerated? So not only are all the enemies back but everything is in a different place.

Assuming that Batman shows up tonight I will be taking a break.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Wonderful carnage

Diablo 3 made a few changes, perhaps console conceits, that I wish were featured in Path of Exile. For starters I miss playing this kind of game on a controller. It brought an immediacy to how the game felt and made recovering from panic situations a bit easier. For example, I know where all the button on an Xbox controller are without looking down at my hands. I can also touch type. But in the heat of the moment when I need to hit 1 for a health potion and end up hitting Q, casting my exploding corpses spell instead, I feel a little too far out of my comfort zone. This was never an issue in Torchlight II because I never accumulated enough abilities to make this mistake. Path of Exile has enough different and interesting skills that I want to get them all in. Double strike - single attack - corpse explosion - cleave works great for crown control but it hurts my hand.

It is not always easy to tell which of two pieces of similar equipment is better. Gem socket color is part of that but there are also separate stats for armor and evasion. Some armor has both, other only offer one but it difficult to compare them. In Diablo 3 I knew if I would equip the item before I even picked it up, Path of Exile forces me into two different menus just to see if I want to keep it in my limited inventory to sell later. It's definitely old school and not necessarily in a good way.

All of this is forgiven for one reason: corpse permanence. Think way back to Doom. How satisfying was it to walk back through a level and see the pile of bodies you created? If I remember correctly Diablos 1 and 2 did this, as did Titan Quest, but most other action RPGs do not. Path of Exile keeps your level instance intact for as long as you are using it. This means that I can clean a level out, portal back to town, and all the carnage I had wrought is still there. It would be even nicer if the bodies interacted with my character and environment but it is also nice that the game runs just fine on my crappy system.

Path of Exile should not be free. I hope the developers have found a way to make money from this, they certainly deserve it.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Free and good?

...so bored. I know I have sworn off the PC but let's open Steam anyway.

Path of Exile out of beta? On Steam? Still free? Done.

...

Yowza, this is pretty good.

Billed as the sequel to Diablo II that people wanted, not the one they got, Path of Exile has been in closed and then open beta for what feels like forever. I signed up for the beta ages ago, and for all I know I got in, but I forgot about the game because of whatever new shiny thing passed under my nose. I am actually glad that I waited because, so far, this is a functional, complete, interesting Diablo clone.

There are two differences that I would like to highlight. First and more initially annoying are the game's economy and inventory systems, or lack thereof. Please keep in mind that I have played for all of two hours, so this may change, but hold little my character can carry is infuriating. Junk drops are common but I have a compulsion to collect and sell everything. At least instances stay empty of enemies long enough to clean out an area even with multiple runs back to the vendor.

If I wasn't quite as obsessive compulsive about this I could skip most of the junk drops because the game has no money. Weapons an armor ar exchanged for items, more specifically pieces of items. The default currency seems to be scrolls of identification and they take a lot of paper bits to build. Finding a whole one in the wild translates into a new weapon. Choosing a new weapon can be difficult. Not because of their stats but because all items have gem slots. Colored gem slots.

Abilities do not come from levels, they come from socketed gems. Gems can only be socketed into holes of a matching color so weapon choice hinges on more than simple DPS. Gems also levels up and are removable so putting one in to try it out is not a waste. It is a very user focused system that does not punish experimentation. Characters do gain power as they level but they are mostly passive skills and buffs and there are hundreds of them.


The only complaint I had was that just as I was really getting into the game they kicked everyone out to reboot the server. But it's free so who am I to complain about what they do with their own servers.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The lull

God damnit I have nothing to play. Stupid pre-console release lull.

No, I have not played Grand Theft Auto 5 yet. Yes, I intend to, but will not be purchasing it. I am trying to save money.

I could always play ranked in Street Fighter for as long as I can stand it...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Beyond something

Beyond: Two Souls is grotesquely stupid. Full stop. End of story. I have a higher than average tolerance for bull shit and on several occasions I looked down at my hands, shook my head and lamented to no one in particular 'So this is what I am doing with my life.' Mashing L1 or R1 to climb a wall. Pressing X to deliver a baby. Failing quick attempts on purpose only to have the game shuffle me along because it had to time for player choice or freedom, the delivery of its story was the only thing of importance.

Quantic Dream doesn't really make games, they make vaguely interactive experiences that could just as easily be played with a DVD remote as a controller. Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain at least allowed the player to feel like he or she is playing. Beyond: Two Souls doesn't even get that far. Worse still, I believe that it was an intentional decision to remove any and all player agency. It becomes voyeuristic, and not just because Jodie takes off her pants at every opportunity, though that certainly doesn't help.

Even if I view Beyond: Two Souls as non-interactive fiction it is still terrible. Every single section, save one that I will get to later, that features Jodie as a child or teenager is a crashing bore. We get it, she's awkward and more than a little bitchy. She also has a get out of trouble free card in the form of an invisible companion who almost always does what she says. Talk about an enabler. Equally stupid and just as unbelievable are all the sequences of adult Jodie in the CIA, continent hopping and being a general badass. I can suspend my disbelief about Aiden, her spiritual companion, just fine. The training montage followed by Jodie killing her way across a war torn African town were right out. I just wanted the game to end.

The final insult comes from two chapters that buck the trend and are actually good. First off is The Condenser: teen Jodie is sent in after scientists mistakenly open a door to the infraworld and release evil versions of Aiden, getting themselves and the recovery team all killed in the process. There was an excellent F.E.A.R. vibe to this; I was waiting for Alma to walk around the corner or, better yet, for the twist at the end to be that Jodie was Alma. No luck on either of these but it was still the only part of the game that featured anything close to tension.

Second was a longer chapter that finds Jodie lost in the desert, taken in my a family of native americans. I know nothing of native american legends and lore but I feel that the subject was treated with unexpected respect. It was a self contained story; this is exactly how the rest of the game should have worked. Establish the characters of Jodie and Aiden then send them out on a journey. Have them simply walk the earth, doing good, and then disappearing into the sunset because no one can accept them for who they are.



Instead I get political conspiracies, forced romances and the good guy, father figure losing his mind and turning off the containment field that holds all the monsters in so he can be with his family. Everybody dies, no one is satisfied and I couldn't wait for the game to be over.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Strange bedfellows

I just realized that Simon Templeman, the voice of Kain from The Legacy of Kain series, is playing Larry Bird, an alien living in New Jersey in the newish sitcom The Neighbors.

This guy



is this guy



Weird.