Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Round 2

It did not take long for Street Fighter X Tekken to be abandoned for either AE or Marvel. It was broken on a fundamental level which made it decidedly not fun to play. I gave up before the 'downloadable content' unlocked the extra twelve characters hiding on the disk. Much to Capcom's credit, they listened to people who had purchased the game and have gone through great effort to fix it. Last night, after finishing Anarchy Reigns, it was time to try again. They have succeeded and I have recommitted to it by buying Blanka (and the other eleven characters that I will not touch).

I am not knowledgeable enough to go through the ins and out of all of the changes to both the system as a whole and to all of the characters but I will gladly go through the few that effect me directly.  In the original release throws were both difficult to use because of how slow they were compared to everything else and their damage was such that it was not worth the risk. They, along with everything else, lost to JAB JAB JAB. 2013 has increased the speed of everyone's normal throws and also given a very good reason to use them: they remove all red health. This alone made the few games I played last night more tense. It was one more thing to worry about and one more weapon to use.

Secondly, they fixed Paul. He already did obnoxious damage with meter, now he can do it without, has more ways to juggle, has a back sway that is useful and has a reasonable walk speed. Oh, and a reliable anti-air, too. I am still not going to call him any better than mid-tier because his game still revolves around fishing for a crouching medium to cancel into phoenix smasher. His updates have made it much easier to do so and he is consequently much more fun to play.

This brings me to Blanka. I am not sure I actually like how he plays in SFxT compared to AE, horizontal balls are all painfully slow and even more punishable on block, but he still fits my strengths and weaknesses. That weakness being my execution and strength being able to sneak hits it here and there. My favorite dirty trick, lp ball into throw, doesn't work because the ball is too slow, but surprise forward still crosses up and is difficult to predict. His jumping fierce air to air causes ground bounce which leads to more combos and his already easy ultra can be combo-ed into off just about anything. He's not optimal, but I will use him as a replacement for Guile on team 'crazy ass hair.'

This is going to keep me from starting Ni No Kuni for at least a day. Perhaps more.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Feetal's Gizz!

Anarchy Reigns has nestled right into guilty pleasure category and refuses to budge. It is tempting to lump it in with Fist of the North Star but it is better than that. The combat is simpler but smoother. It certainly looks better. Not sure about the soundtrack, it is a bit hit or miss. It's no Wet, but the bad tracks are easily ignored. Best of all it doesn't take itself as dead pan seriously. All the men are manly men with impossible physiques. Al the women are women with equally impossible physiques. It is impossible to not take it all a tongue in cheek so when the black pimp character busts out the line

'Bitch, I'll show you how much stamina I have!'

it is funny instead of offensive.

I never played Madworld because I never owned a Wii. It is one of the very few exclusives for that system that I would have liked to play. Reviews of Anarchy Reigns all refer to it in glowing, reverent tones, then say that Jack is wasted in the new game because it is not creative enough with the violence. Let's see...



Damn. Take away the silly motion control prompts and that is some nasty shit.

Jack still doesn't strike me as a very deep character. There is some effort put into humanizing him during his half of the campaign but it doesn't work. You can't soften someone's image when his go to way of solving problems is a dual bladed chainsaw mounted to his arm. He little more than a means to an end, the end being killing lots of guys as quickly as possible. What Anarchy Reigns needs is a license, an existing character to bring the personality that the game itself cannot provide. I have two suggestions. If either show up in Anarchy Reigns 2 please tell my lawyer that you saw them here first.

Number 1!


Carnage won't happen because I can't see taking a Spider-Man property and dropping him into a M rated game, but he would fit. Remove what few lines Jack has and boom, Maximum Carnage the game.

Number 2!

fffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff....
...fffffFFFFFFuck why hasn't Lobo ever gotten a game? I cannot be the only person who remembers him and I don't even read comic books anymore. Deadpool is getting a game, by High Moon even, so it has a pretty good chance of not sucking. Lobo either needs an all out brawler like Anarchy Reigns or a free roaming game like inFamous. Come on DC, what else are you doing with him? You could even be bothered to add him to Injustice: Gods Among Us and that game is crying out for a new villain/hero.

Ok, I'm done. Frag, now I'm all worked up. 


Monday, January 28, 2013

It's in my blood

Hitman: Absolution has a scoring system that I think is new to the series. Achieving a high score means not just getting the target, it means getting to the target without being seen after collection all of the evidence scattered about the level and killing the target up close and personal. It also takes a peek at your friends list and shows you the best score of anyone you know who played it along with the average US and international scores. This was frighteningly informative. I have some scary mother fuckers on my friends list with level scores two to three times the average. It was also interesting that the US score was always slightly lower than the international average. There is a joke to be made there about 'gun culture' that I am going to avoid.

So no one shoots me.

This scoring system also penalizes the player for doing non-Hitman-esque things. Killing civilians is frowned upon, as well as killing non-targets and not hiding their bodies. A full on fire fight is a great way to end up with a negative score for the whole level. How much I cared about this mechanic decreased as I got closer to the end. This is not surprising as my 47 acted more like Marcus Fenix by the time I was done with him. One the final levels has The Agency taking over an entire town in an attempt to catch 47. I had just about had enough of the game, so when I found an excellent camping spot filled with both a sniper rifle and a fair amount of ammunition I settled in for some sniper style carnage.

My final score for that level for somewhere around -10,000 and it was the most fun I got out of the game.

It just wasn't for me. The 'each level is a puzzle' bit got old quickly because I hate replaying things that I have already done. Perhaps I will catch a Lets Play of the game to see how it was supposed to have been done. There are some levels that I cannot imagine getting through without a trail of corpses giving away my position, but I that is only because I did not have the skill of patience to find them.

...

I am embarrassed to say that I am enjoying Anarchy Reigns. It is nothing more than a brawler, but it is just deep enough to apply fighting game exploits to. To be specific: tick throws. A tick throw in Street Fighter is a throw follow up to a blocked quick attack, usually a jab or perhaps cross up. Not impossible to counter, but difficult to react to. Human size bosses in Anarchy Reigns tend to block a lot, and I found that if I cut my attack string short and threw for the last hit they fell for it every time. Throws would also pull them out of a dodge or dash. The last two bosses were block - block - throw over and over.

Somewhere deep in the electronics of my 360 the CPU is calling me cheap and cursing my name. This means that I am doing something right.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Demo Friday: patronizing hole in the ground

Shut up, I know it's Sunday.

Just like in the coin op, you never win.
Let's clear up something right off the bat: The Cave is a poor man's Lost Vikings. Sure, there are seven characters to choose from at the game's outset but they have identical abilities: they can jump and pick up objects. From there The Cave is filled with puzzles that require a lot of backtracking and using every item on every problem just to see what works. I assume that the 'morality play' bits are altered depending on which characters are chosen but I never got that far.

The different character abilities is a big art of what made Lost Vikings work. You had to have the right viking in the right place at the right time. Getting him there was half the battle. In The Cave it doesn't matter who is there as long as they have the right item. Plus if you leave your other characters too far behind they follow on their own. To make up for this simplification Double Fine has increased the difficulty of the puzzles themselves. I spent quite a while trying to figure out how to get the handle off of one well to use on another, having forgotten to bring the crowbar with me that I used to break into the cave in the first place. Solving problems via the shotgun approach in encouraged and not very interesting.

Does the game have character? Of course it does, it's a Double Fine game. Each of the seven characters are distinct and humorous, my favorite being the twins that count as one character. The Cave itself is sentient and serves as the narrator, but his constant chiding for dying too  often or taking too long got old quickly. None of it comes together in the demo, though, so I will not be exploring an further.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Missed the entrance to the cave

I have every intent of doing a Demo Friday for The Cave. It was downloaded and everything last night and instead of taking ten minutes to play it I had a reasonable evening at Street Fighter and then got mad at Hitman Absolution for an hour. It will be played tonight and I, assuming that I remain sober, will records my reactions.

Reasonable because I ran just shy of 50/50 for wins/losses and I was only straight up bodied a few times. On one occasion I random Abel, this first time I had ever played him, and didn't do that bad. This is probably because I did nothing that a competent Abel would do and if actually played him for more than one match it would only get worse.

Hitman Absolution cannot end soon enough. The game is a never ending sequence of cock teases. Sure, you could do something really cool like sabotage a gas grill and blow up your target instead of just shooting him in the head and stuffing his corpse in a locker but doing so requires sneaking past a dozen randomly placed guards with no checkpoints. It is just not my kind of game in spite of it trying to be more accessible to new players.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Killer list

Hitman Absolution is beginning to wear on me. I am reloading less and blindly killing more; not very hitman-like but I have grown tried of all the sneaking around. Nothing is going to compare to the gun store level, anyway. I can't decide if it is excellent or completely preposterous, total fiction or sickeningly realistic portrayal. Granted, I have spent very little time in the south and none of that was in an arms dealership, so the following could go down every day, for all I know.

47 gets a tip and head to a gun store in the hick-est hick town I have ever seen. There on the counter are his silverballers, sold by an informant who got them as payment from 47 much earlier in the game. 47 mentions that they are his and is rebuffed by the store owner (who speaks to him through a hole in his throat).

'Do you think you can beat a girl at shooting? If you can, I will sell them to you.'

47 is literally surrounded by loaded guns. There are on the counter and on shelves and on the walls. Giant crates of ammunition are everywhere. He's a bad ass, I think, I am not going to play this jerks game. I grab the nearest gun and shoot the cancer survivor in the face. Can't open the case but at least he stopped  bothering me. First the police in the back come out shooting, followed by every single shopper. The whole damn place aggro'd simultaneously. I died but it was too hilarious not to try again.

Once that got old, and it took a while, I tried to actually play the mission. Beating the girl in a scored shooting match was a fool's errand, so I started sneaking around. When played the 'right' way there was much less fun to be had.

  • Sabotage lights to distract register biscuit
  • While register biscuit is trying to fix lights go behind counter and steal key card
  • Go behind counter to office, climb out window and into trenches below shooting range
  • Use key card to open survival bunker, retrieve note with safe combination
  • Continue behind shooting range to employees only area, subdue guard
  • Use combination to open safe, retrieve key
  • Back track to register and open gun case
It should be noted that the first time I took the key card I did not know what it was for. The same is true for the safe combination because I had not seen the safe yet. This is not organic game play, it is doings things because I have something to click on, hoping that it will make sense later. What saves it is that I could have killed everyone in the building instead. The most direct approach was there, it was just really hard.

In truth, I would like to see how Max Payne would have handled the situation. I bet it would have gone down more like the first thing I tried, only Max would have succeeded.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

No! Don't make me!

Look at this:



God damn that looks like a new Xenogears or Xenosaga or Xenoblade: Chronicles (the only Wii game that makes me regret that I don't own the system).

It's not right. I don't want to want a Wii U, but the idea of managing an RPG inventory and combat from a touch screen makes parts of my brain tingle. The same parts of my brain that, coincidentally, override important things like common sense.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sneaky stab-y sneaky choke-y

I am a relative newcomer to the Hitman franchise, having only played this generation's previous release, so all the critical complaints of how Absolution betrayed its roots to be more accessible have no effect on me. I don't really care what it betrays as long as the end result is more entertaining than what it was before. Absolution mostly succeeds, but it also feels like everything that is tries to do Dishonored did better and with more style. I may be conflating two genres, but sneaky stab-y and sneaky choke-y seem pretty close together to me.

Absolution makes great strides in a choice that most people make without thinking: level of difficulty. There is easy and normal and then three level of professional. Most games would leave it at that, forcing the player to figure out on their own exactly what this means. No, Absolution is more complicated than that and its levels of difficulty require more explanation. Mind you, I still chose normal, but at least I knew what to expect and what I would be missing by not choosing one of the more difficult settings.

Normal difficulty does make playing the game like a third person shooter possible and I would be lying if I said that my play through has not devolved into that a few times, most notably when I killed every mother fucker in the orphanage. They were shooting nuns, for fucks sake, there were no innocents there. 47 never changed out of the priest's outfit, he just shot people in the head and moved on. It didn't feel like I was missing anything more than just skulking around corners. Other levels are so filled with choices that running around shooting would be a terrible waste. I still opt for the easiest choice (because I am lazy) but knowing that I could have poisoned a guy's drink instead of shooting him from the book depository window does make replaying a level easier.

Back to the comparison to Dishonored, both games have areas filled with optional things to do. Not quests, necessarily, but Easter eggs and bits of information about the game world. The difference is that I never feel compelled to find them in Absolution because Agent 47's personality is predetermined. This is a man who gets shit done, not a man who wanders about the sewers looking for the password to open a safe that may or may not have anything useful in it. Corvo is a blank slate and changes based on how the player handles things. 47 is cool with or without you. Honestly, he is too cool for you, me, and just about anyone else. I am not prepared to say that one is better, but so far Dishonored has been more thought provoking.

I wouldn't mind 47 gaining the ability to teleport short distances, but that is asking a bit much.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Two steps forward, two steps back

Nothing was played this weekend and I am still catching up on the SCR finals. It being a slow day at work is certainly helping. Level Up has put together a very slick, almost television like presentation and it is much appreciated. There is one new wrinkle, at least from what I have seen, that needs to go away: the pre and post match interviews.

The idea  itself, talking to players before and after a match, is sound as long as the interviews are short and both the interviewer and interview-y have something interesting to say. For the pools that had a woman who I had never seen before whose questions were limited to (when talking to Chris G) 'Some people call your play cheap. What do you have to say about that? A-hyuk.' Chris G gave the winning response of 'what do  you mean' and the train wreck on. It was embarrassing to see, and that is coming from a guy huddled under a blanket at his computer whose fingers are coated with Cheeze It dust.

How about this: Chris, no one has found a reliable way around your Morrigan/Doom combination yet. What are you doing to stay ahead of the curve? There is a Super Skrull player in the top eight, are you going to make any adjustments? Questions with a little bit of meat on them might make for an interesting thirty second interview instead of the two people involved chanting 'soul fist' at one another.

Bringing Gootecks in for the finals sounds like a good idea, he at least has some knowledge of the games being played, but all he did was try to stir shit up between players who were already nervous and looked universally uncomfortable. This is not the WWE, very few of these individuals would look good in tights leaping from the top rope. Forced verbal confrontations are not entertaining and the last thing I want is to encourage more people to behave like Filipino Champ.

...who lost to said Skrull player. It was excellent.

Back on track after a weekend of distraction with the new Hitman and possible Anarchy Reigns.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

It was fun, now it's not

I sat down last night with the full intention of finishing off the Spartan Ops episodes in Halo 4. In was certainly a grind, but the combat itself was fun enough to hold my interest. The repeated levels and lack of enemy variety was starting to get to me, but I had made it through the first Halo and that game's second half was nothing more than walking backwards through the first so I could handle this.

And I was handling it. In spite of losing all my weapons after every death and being dropped back into fights with elites with a pea shooter, I was handling it. There is no penalty for dying in Spartan Ops, you don't even lose damage done to enemies, so I was able to bully my way through right up to a mission where I had to defend two (insert tech gibberish here). Two of them, one of me, dozens of things shooting.

The line between tolerable and no longer worth my time was quickly passed and I shut it off. There wasn't much of a story there, anyway.

...

It was a quiet day at work. So quiet that I watched a good chunk of SCR along with assorted combo videos. Playing Guile has always been a goal. I can "play" him now, but when I look at videos like this:



it all gets very discouraging. I know that Desk is not human and I know that these combos are not exactly viable in a real match and I have a suspicion that it is character specific, but still... So I played about an hour and a half of ranked last night, all as Blanka, and learned something very important: I fall for the stupidest shit. I actually do better again higher ranked players because they don't do things like wake up ultra and random uppercuts. They still beat me but at least it looks cooler.

I did end my last match with a cross up ball that I hope confused the hell out of the other guy.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Drowning in the sea of awesome

Last week I talked about the other consoles that might make it out this year, making no mention of the two that were going to hit the shelves for sure. Both Microsoft and Sony are due, not because Nintendo has put any pressure on them with the Wii U, but because it is just time. This has been a long generation. It hasn't made it the full ten years that Sony originally promised, but no one takes what Sony says seriously anymore. Current rumor has the Playstation 4 coming out in October with Microsoft's neXtBox following up in November. I find it odd that Microsoft would allow itself to be beaten to the punch, but they may be operating under the theory that the PS4 will be late or that it will cost $600 dollars and no one will be able to afford one.

I want need them both, but I do have to think about timing. My launch 60 gig PS3 sits idle for months at a time, waiting for the few exclusives that Sony has left. I am not willing to miss out on the next Uncharted or God of War or (real) Ratchet and Clank game, but does that mean I will need one the day they come out? The year they come out? Third party multi-platform titles are indistinguishable. I am play those on my 360, so playing them on whatever comes next just makes sense.

This is what getting old does to you. You begin to apply the foul machinations of economics to your leisure activities. I do need both of those consoles, but I want a Surface Pro when it comes out and that damn thing is going to run me at least a grand, if not more. I also want to get a motorcycle before I turn forty and start saving my pennies for a 4K television . On top of that are far less glamorous things, like paying someone to add a battery back up to my sump pump because I lack the skills to do so myself. My goddamn dentist says I need two more crowns, but fuck him, I already bought him a new car and the garage to park it in.

What a wonderful/awful time we live in. There are not enough free hours in the day or dollars in the bank to see or play or eat or drink or experience or ride or climb everything that deserves my limited attention. Production has out stripped my ability to consume.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Too good to last

When we last left our hero, Master Chief was on the downward slope of his popularity and his AI companion was mentally eating herself alive. A scant three hours of game play later he was loved and respected again because he saved almost all of the humans on Earth (sorry about that, Arizona) but Cotana was 'dead.' The Halo games are full of death; every mission that contains other soldiers ends with them dying an no one blinks an eye. This is the first time that victory for the Master Chief has come at a personal cost and he doesn't take it well. Through the same monotone voicing of short sentences that makes him so boring it is obvious that he is crushed, both by the lost of his only friend and by the need to not react. He's the hero, he needs to keep on hero-ing. It's how he was taught. It's how he was built.

Master Chief is no Kratos, but at least there is a little more to him now than expensive armor.

Halo 4 is not an advertisement for the next game. The campaign is a complete story in spite of only taking about seven hours to get through. I know exactly how the next one is going to pick up, the Diadact is not dead, there will be a new Cortana that Master Chief will not like, and it will end with a new halo being discovered,  but this game is complete. 343 even went as far as including the Spartan Ops chapters for those who complain about how short the single player portion of a multiplayer game is. It would have worked, too, if only the Spartan Ops were any good.

I have intentionally not talked about the actual 'game' parts of Halo 4 because they are unchanged from the previous games. That is to say, they are still pretty damn good and the warthog still handles like ass. Divorced from the excellent story, though, repetition sets in quickly. Spartan Ops has none of the story and the levels are little more than large maps that throw wave after wave of enemies at you. All that is left is the shooting, and it is still pretty good, but it is the same pretty good. To be fair, they are intended for co-op and I am stubbornly forcing my way through them on a path of my own corpses, but they still feel needlessly tacked on. The campaign was as long as it needed to be and for those (read: everyone else) who needed more the online multiplayer was waiting with open arms and teabags.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Faceless heroes

The difficulty jump did eventually arrive in Torchlight II, but by the time it did I had stockpiled so many potions that it did not matter. The answer to every problem, regardless of its cause, was more potions. Almost dead? Potion. Just took 50% damage in one hit? Two potions. They were dropped with such frequency that I did not need to look for any other solution. Only when I had almost maxed out the passive skills that I was interested it did I even bother to go cruising through the extensive skills list, and what I found many my potion addiction quit embarrassing.

The name of the skill escapes me, but here is the effect: everyone with range of the caster gets (number)% bonus armor and (number) hit point back per second. The numbers were not trivial, starting out around 15% and 300 hit points. This effect lasts for three seconds, which does not seem like much, but the spell itself lasts much longer, so as long as I kept my character in the circle created by the spell I continuously received the benefits. On top of that the spell was cheap to cast and had a cool down time less than its duration. I literally walked from room to room on a path of circles that continually healed me and made me take less damage.

The final boss still killed me a few times. The solution was not more potions, though, it was more circles.

...

Operation 'catch up on all the game I missed last year' continues. It's time for Halo 4.

Master Chief is the blandest protagonist to ever grace a AAA franchise. Every other hero (or villain) has at least one defining property. Nathan Drake is humorous and self effacing. Lara Croft has big boobs and daddy issues. Marcus Fenix also has daddy issues on top of unrequited love. Hell, even Mario has a sweet mustache and a love triangle involving Peach and Bowser to deal with. What does Master Chief have? He has some expensive armor, and... nothing. He talks, which puts him one up on Gordon Freeman, but everything he says is in the same tone of voice and his sentences never make it past six or seven words.

Halo 4 makes an attempt to explain this. Master Chief is a Spartan in every sense of the word. He was stolen as a child and put through a sci-fi agoge. 'It is easier to indoctrinate and augment children,' says his creator when faced with ethical questions. He is literally a monster created by monsters. Yes, he is personally responsible for saving the human race, but Master Chief made one critical mistake: his success did not cost him his life.

In the five years since Master Chief's disappearance much has changed. Humanity has gone from desperate defense to aggressive offense. Instead of reacting to the covenant they are out looking for more forerunner planets in an effort to colonize and decommission them (decommission, sure).  They don't need a hero anymore and the reaction Master Chief receives from new Spartans after he is found alive and well shows it:

'I thought you would be taller.'

He is a relic; cautious, calculating, accustomed to failure. To the captain of the Infinity he is barely usefull. Just another soldier with a gun. To the soldiers themselves he is no longer the savior on the battlefield, just someone they heard about who may or may not have had something to do with the Halo 'incident.' Master Chief, much like Cortana, has lived long enough to see himself become obsolete. He never reacts, just goes about his business of killing aliens by the truck load, because that is all he knows how to do. He is still bland, but now it is a tragic bland. I almost feel sorry for him. Almost.

The shooting? Oh yeah, that's pretty good, too.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The other guys.

I was really hoping for a new release on XBLA today as I really need something to talk about. Two random YourTube video in two days is pretty lazy posting, even for me. Nope, nothing new, not even Kinect exclusives to make fun of.

...

It's time to talk about two of the new consoles that we may or may not see in the near future.


I honestly don't understand what the Ouya exactly is and who is is for. It's not just a computer in a small box as it based on the Android OS and will only run things purchased from its own marketplace. Only it is a computer because you can open the box up and poke around, replacing bits and it can be easily rooted to run whatever the hell you want on it. Finally, it is supposed to cost less than $100, right at the 'why the hell not' level of financial commitment.

The curiosity is there but promises of demos for every game do nothing for me when there are no games to see. Running all existing Android applications and games is a plus, I suppose, but if that means playing phone quality games in 1080p then it is no reason to be excited. There are no Ouya titles on their official site, nothing to show what the console can actually do beyond promises of untapped power and future support.

Color me dubious, to say the least. Until I see direct feed videos of what its games look like I am not interested. Which leads me to...


Gabe Newell is an evil genius. Big Picture, a significant user interface overhaul to Steam that makes running it on a television a real option, came out not too long ago. I have yet try it because my monitor is big enough, thank you, and I haven't been playing much on the PC lately anyway. And what it will run it runs poorly. No problem, says Gabe, what if I give you a small form factor Steam console?

But how is it any different from the Ouya, I ask. Gabe chuckles at my folly, pulls back a curtain, and points to the literal fuck ton of games that are available on Steam.

Look, he says while counting his money, it will play all of these*. And someday, it will play Half Life 3.

This is how to make an entrance to the console market. This is how to you go up against the big two and a half: with an existing library of games that you know will work and a platform reasonably open enough to ensure almost indefinite support. The Piston, if that is the name it keeps (I hope it doesn't) will not be under $100. My guess is it will be in line if not slightly more than the new Xbox and Playstation. That price point is meaningless because the Steam name and library have value to them. Ouya does not.

People are taking this seriously. Phil Harrison has gone on record that making a console isn't easy. Well, duh. Steam isn't trying to make a console, they are trying to get a gaming quality machine into the hands of people who do not have the ability, time or desire (raises hand) to build one on their own. 

*My only reservation is that, at least for now, this thing is going to run on Linux. Yes, this will keep the cost down, but it will also lock out a huge portion of the Steam library. It will not 'play all of these,' it will play 'some of these.' Being a man of some IT means I would just install Windows on it and call it a day, but if Steam is to succeed in marketing this to the brain dead consumer packing it in with Linux is a mistake. Time will tell, I doubt we will see the Steam box this year. I am certainly interested. This is one more reason on a long list to let my current desktop die and not replace it.

...

I would love to talk about the new Sony and Microsoft consoles but there is very little to saw. No one knows anything 'officially.' From a personal standpoint, they will both be day one purchases assuming that they do not come out on the same day. The 360 is my go to console and the next one will retain that honor. Sony has just enough exclusives that to be without their console is not acceptable. All I need is for their dates and prices to be announced so I can pull in some old favors and get them reserved.

Because fuck standing in line. I am way to old for that shit.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

If you watch one thing today

Watch this:



When I find that bastard who is cutting onions in here, I swear to god.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Who needs a bigger television



Oh my god, take all my money. Take it now. This is cool.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

True tragedy

I died last night.

It cost me nothing but gold and pride to get back into the game and I didn't even lose the damage that I had done to the boss that killed me. But I died. It was a cheap shot, too. I was in the middle of drinking a potion and this undead marksman bastard actually hit me after I had successfully dodged his last dozen attacks.

This is the difficulty increase that I suppose I was asking for, but instead of new enemies or new attacks it is just more of the same enemies but they have more hit points. My shotgun is running behind my level, so my DPS is not great, but it still stuns, knocks back and blinds almost anything it hits. If I can trap an enemy against a wall they just bounce back and forth for several seconds before exploding into a rain of chunks and poison.

Still, I died last night. On normal. My nerd card is on the counter, if you wish to confiscate it.

...

That's all I have. Operation 2012 catch up is in full effect, with both the new Hitman and Halo 4 set to arrive before the week's ends. Anarchy Reigns is in there, too, but having looked at a video of it I am sure that I was thinking of a different game when I added it to my list. It does not look like a game that I would either enjoy or enjoy not enjoying.

Monday, January 7, 2013

That's a nice gun you have there

I don't really know what to say about Torchlight II. If nothing else, it absolutely delivers on what is advertised. It is an excellent action RPG that sounds and feels like Diablo. Runic took complaints about the first game and fixed them all, creating a $20 game (in my case, $10) that at the very least keeps up with Diablo 3. The vast majority of my complaints have to do with how the game runs, and that is entirely the fault of my aging machine.

Side note - I am, mostly likely, deserting the PC gaming scene for the second or third time in my life. Aside from smaller indie titles like the the upcoming Amnesia sequel everything I want to play is available on a console. There is going to be at least one console this year that I will need, plus I really want a Surface Pro. The nerd is willing but the pocketbook is weak.

There is one small issue that I do want to bring up: my chosen class, outlander, combined with my chosen weapon, shotgun, feels like cheating. My character is somewhere in the 30's, level wise, and I have dumped every ability point I have earned into passive skills that improve range and damage, cause status effects and occasionally cause a defeated enemy to explode in a poisonous shower that injures everyone with a ten foot radius. All of this means that I never use any abilities beyond holding shift and firing my shotgun in the general direction of the bad guys.

It should not work as well as it does. There are, without exaggeration, more than a dozen other abilities available, none of which I need because abilities that make numbers go up are more effective than the ones that make me do cool things. I am being stifled by my own success. It's still fun, and bumping the difficulty up from normal to abnormal would probably fix it. And even this complain to rendered moot my Runic making it very easy to completely respec your character from the group up. If I really wanted to I could change my walking tank into a nimble little glaive throwing pansy that could summon bats to do his work for him.

Suddenly my tank doesn't sound so bad. I have been told that the difficulty ramps up in Act 2. I am in the middle of Act 2 right now and I really hope that it does. All these health potions aren't going to drink themselves.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A brush with death?

The Walking Dead was excellent for the first four acts. Then it wasn't anymore.

Caution, massive and complete spoilers after the picture.

Don't say I didn't warn you.
I can count how many adventures games I have played on one hand, and the only one that I really enjoyed was Tell Tale's own Wallace and Gromit. It removed much of the difficulty from more traditional adventure games, allowing the player to make steady progress instead of wandering around a single area for hours with a bag full of knick knacks that may or may not have anything to do with the current puzzle. In other words, they modernized the genre. The Walking Dead takes it a few steps further: puzzles are often contained to a single area and there are very few items to pick up. Getting stuck just means walking back through a few rooms and opening up the drawers again. The adventure 'game' aspects took a back seat to the actual adventure.

This would not have worked without an excellent cast of characters. Tell Tale knew that even a simplified adventure game would not pull in the audience it wanted without giving them someone or something to hold on to. How they did it was ingenious: the most like-able character is not the one players control. Lee becomes a conduit for the players reactions, but they are not reacting to Lee, they are reacting through Lee to Clementine. She is the moral center and the game would not have been nearly as engrossing without her. Without Clementine I would have helped Kenny kill Larry. I would have dropped Ben off the bell tower because he is a fuck up. I, through Lee, was worried about disappointing her. I wanted to show her that survival was possible without becoming worse than the zombies themselves.

I told you not to take the food.
Now that all the niceties are out of the way...

For four episodes characters were introduced and killed off. At the beginning of chapter five it was down to Lee, who was bitten in a twist that everyone saw coming, Kenny, who was loyal but useless when anyone other than his family was in danger, Ben, who was also useless but without Kenny's red neck charm, and Omid and Christa, the two most sensible people you meet in the entire game. Clementine is gone, kidnapped by some 'random' stranger.

This is where things fall apart for me. Ben, out of nowhere, grows a pair and fights back against Kenny's constant abuse. Kenny has enough of an epiphany that he sacrifices himself to make sure Ben doesn't become a walker. He could have shot him and ran away, but no, he had to kill zombies first, then shoot him, then get killed. It felt forced, as if the writers wanted to kill him off but couldn't think of a good way to do it because he had been established as a coward.

Lee changes as well, and not just because he had a death sentence and cut off an arm in an attempt to slow down the infection. He had always been the optimist of the group, and I wanted to keep him that way even after he knew that he was going to die. Every dialogue choice ended with him getting more depressed, to the point that I wonder why Omid and Christa didn't abandon him sooner. Christa's pregnancy might account for wanting to save Clementine, but in the end it is not clear they even did that. Lee was never likable and without Clementine there he only got worse.

Then there was the kidnapping. The Walking Dead took great pains to show that the dead were not the greatest danger. There were bandits and cannibals and the group itself was always on the brink of self destruction. Clementine's kidnapper being the owner of the car the group emptied was a nice way of tying things together. It would have been nicer if it made any sense. Logistically, how could he have gotten there, much less set himself up in the hotel as quickly as he did? Lee and company took a train and were followed by a hoard of walkers. Either the stranger was on the train with them or he could fly.

To be played by Steve Buscemi in the movie adaptation.
Putting that aside, the stranger's motivation was completely wasted. I had Lee sit down and have a nice conversation with him, try to reason with him to get Clementine back. Through their discussion I came to understand why he took her: he was trying to save her from the constant danger that being with Lee and the rest of the group put her in. It made sense. Then along came a bowling ball bag containing the zombified head of his wife and it all went to shit. The stranger being crazy nullifies any of the impact he could have had. Instead of Lee dealing with the moral choice of keeping Clementine or leaving her with someone who wants to take care of her and is better equipped to do so he just saves the day and kills the crazy guy, only to die later and leave Clementine to fend for herself.

There was never supposed to be a happy ending but the tragedy we are left with is much less moving than is should have been. The whole game was about making difficult choices that may or may not affect what happens in the story and the final choice is the easiest of all. 

The Walking Dead is still a very good game. It stumbles a bit when it strays a little too close to action games in Lee's final moments and quick time events that you cannot win are never acceptable. Tell Tale did what they could to make an adventure for the masses. If the multiple game of the year nods mean anything, they have succeeded. I feel cheated by the final act, though. They worked themselves into a wonderful corner, one that could have created the finest tragic ending since James Sunderland smothered his wife because he loved her. Instead you have a dying guy kill a crazy guy and a little girl wandering the wilderness, waiting for next season's game to pick her up again.


Friday, January 4, 2013

Demo Friday: Everything that is old is still old

Just finished The Walking Dead. Chapter 5 was a definite let down, but I don't know how to talk about it without spoiling the shit out if things. So I will stew about it for a while and spoil the ending in a day or two. You have been warned.

Demo Friday returns!


Retro City Rampage moved in the opposite direction of the usual digital release: it came out on XBLA last. I am sure that there are reasons for this, all of which involve money or licensing or something else not very interesting. That hub bub, if it exists at all, has no effect on if the game is actually any good or not.

It's not. Not to play, anyway. Retro City Rampage is the kind of game that is more fun to watch someone else play than it is to actually engage in yourself. In the short demo I spotted parodies of Grand Theft Auto, Super Mario Bros, Mega Man, The Dark Knight, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Back to the Future and Inception. There may have been a little bit of the NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles there as well. This isn't just packed with references to other forms of media, it is comprised of nothing else. It is as if the late night message board arguments between neck beards were condensed and fed to other nerds who think that games have gone downhill since the advent of 16 bit systems.

That is meant as a compliment, by the way.

Once I was done looking at the game and had to play it my opinion changed. 'Top down 2D open world game' is not something that I can enjoy in the era of 3D open world games. Retro City Rampage exists for the sake of nostalgia alone, and nostalgia is not enough to hold my interest. Do I think back fondly to playing Starmaster on my Atari 2600 or Metroid on my NES? Of course. Do I long for those days to point of trolling Ebay for old consoles? Hell no. Who has time for that when new games are constantly coming out. I'd say that this game belongs in a museum if all the games it references weren't already there.

It does occur to me that I have missed the entire point of this game, that it is a love letter to a bygone time. If so, good on them, I have new games to play.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Death is not the end

The punishment for taking time off at work is that the work that you would have done if you were there doesn't get done, it just waits for you to get back, getting meaner. I took one day off to make New Years a five day weekend. One. This is the first time I have stopped working all day. I suppose that, in the grand scheme of things, having a job that offers unfettered internet access renders all of my complaints null and void. But still, my eyes hurt and I am quite accustomed to staring at a screen for long hours. Hell, it is what I would be doing if I wasn't at work.

I don't really want to talk too much about The Walking Dead because I want to give writing review for it an honest try. Four out of five episodes are down, with the fifth being finished up tomorrow night. I have manged to play each individual episode straight through without stopping which I think is for the best. Dividing the episodes up further would hamper what they are trying to do. The longest so far was only two and a half hours from beginning to end, the length of a long movie, and I can't really think of a good place to have stopped. Each episode does a very good job of being self contained, complete with a beginning, middle and end. That is more that most full game have to offer.

There is one change to traditional zombie lore that I would like to highlight. Getting bitten doesn't turn the victim into a zombie, it only hastens the process. In truth everyone is infected. Everyone turns when they die, unless they were killed by severe damage to the head. This adds a huge wrinkle: every settlement, regardless of how well defended it is, is vulnerable. Anyone who dies must be dealt with, and dealt with quickly, or the zombies on the outside become less important than the zombies on the inside.

The Walking Dead is already a depressing game. Knowing that there really is no hope, that no matter what every character is going to end up aiding the enemy, that the best way to serve your fellow man may very well be to shoot yourself in the head, that's some heavy shit right there. That is the stuff of nightmares; not monsters or demons, or even zombies. Hopelessness.

Fighting that hopelessness is why The Walking Dead would not work without Clementine. She keeps the player human by providing something to fight for. At the end of each chapter there is a breakdown of what the player did in specific situations compared to what everyone else did. In every case I have been with the majority, and in most of these cases the majority is well over 60%. On top of everything else The Walking Dead is a social experiment. Given an impossible but relatable situation, most people choose to do the right thing.

There is hope for humanity yet. What a shame that it takes the zombie apocalypse to bring it out.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The dead shall inherit the earth

Remember what I said about Guardians of Middle Earth? Love the license, hate the game. Not so much hate the game as do not understand the draw of the genre and am too terrible at it to put further effort into learning it. This didn't hurt too much, as Lord of the Rings is primarily a movie franchise for me and I am used to being disappointed by its games. (side note: obtained Blu-Ray extended editions for Christmas, need to find twelve uninterrupted hours).

Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault, by comparison, was so offensive that Chance had to talk me down off a ledge. After All 4 One, a game that was fun but not what I was looking for, I was ready for a return to a standard Ratchet & Clank game. Contrary to some critical reaction, I was not tired of the formula and would have been fine with more of the same but prettier. Nope, Full Frontal Assault is another MOBA. My affection for the characters compelled me to try it anyway but I did not make it past the first planet. Running back to defend your home base for the third time instead of exploring new areas just wasn't any fun. Ten minutes in, I was done and my to be played stack of games was empty for the first time in quite a while. I needed something to close out the year, something worth playing. Time to check out the end of year XBLA sale.

Say, The Walking Dead episode 1 is free.

(time passes)

Those bastards.

Playing the first episode and not purchasing the next four is impossible. Thank goodness I caught this bug when they were still all on sale. This is not just another zombie game. It does what Deadlight should have done: treat the zombie apocalypse as a backdrop and focus on human interaction. I am not going to spoil anything, but this game makes me uncomfortable. Choices are never easy and repercussions can come hours later. I do think that some of the reactions are a little strained and interacting with an adventure game using a controller instead of a mouse is clunky, but these are small complaints about a big game. Game of the year? Not my area of expertise. I was certainly not expecting to be sucked in so quickly and I know that the end will come much too soon. With three episodes left I should be able to finish it up before the weekend. Perhaps I will *gasp* attempt an actual review. It has been well over a year and I really should try to write something with a little more gravitas than 'this game sucks.'