Monday, September 30, 2013

Different strokes

Non game related Blogger complaint incoming.

That list of this years games on the right side? I does not use the 'list' plugin. It is just a textbox. For some reason as of this morning I could no longer edit said text box. The same was true for the Coming Soon section. Changing the coming soon section was easy because it was small but turning the games section into that will take a long, long time. I could wait and see if it fixes itself but this blog was originally born out of my love of making and maintaining lists. Killer is Dead not having a clickable link is killing me.

...

It is difficult to come up with intelligent, interesting things to say about Killer is Dead because it goes through great pains to make no sense. There is very little connection between the episodes, a bad guy that escaped near the beginning of the game turns out to be Mondo's brother, they fight again, things get very Japanese, and the game ends. Please note that getting very Japanese is not meant as an insult, I just don't know how else to describe this (at 22:00):



That is some DragonBall Z shit, right there.

Killer is Dead did not make the jump between cultures very well. Famitsu loved it, awarding it 35 out of 40 points. Metacritic, for as much as it can be trusted, has the game at 66 out of 100. I am leaning more towards the Metacritic side as the action part of the game, what you are actually doing from moment to moment, never graduated from mash X with the occasional B thrown in to dodge. Trippy visuals and rampant non sequiturs do not a game make, at least not on their own.

Ok, it kind of worked in El Shaddai, but how often does that happen.

...

Paid off my PS4 today. Feels good. Is it November yet?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Weirdly boring

Being weird not enough to hold my interest. There has to be more going on. Take Bayonetta, for example. I did not really like the character all the much and the story was a mess but only a fool could sit down with that game and not have a great time. Grasshopper Manufacture has successfully straddled that line before: Killer7 was not a game easily forgotten, though that had story and writing in its corner instead of rock solid combat. Killer is Dead is definitely weird, not to mention a little disconcerting in its misogyny, but there is nothing else there.

Combat is both simple and annoying. Most attacks boil down to mashing X but most enemies don't suffer from any hit stun. Mondo hits them over and over and they just attack back whenever they feel like it. Our hero does not have the same advantage. Hell, he can't even interrupt his own attacks, leaving him stuck in odd positions after a missed swing. Swinging between too easy and impossible is not much fun.

Not impressed so far and there is not much left to change my mind. Taking out the optional side quests that are just walking through old levels again and the gigolo missions that make me quite uncomfortable I may be able to knock it out in two days and then never think about it again.

...

Canada Cup is this weekend but most of the matches are during the day when I can't watch. Canadians need to learn to stay up later.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The devil for the common man

I have managed to avoid talking about Diablo 3 long enough for me to finish it, as much as a Diablo game can be 'finished.' Games designed to be played through multiple times, to the point that it is impossible to unlock all the abilities in a single playthrough, never sit well with me. Diablo makes the first time through feel like a thirty hour training mission and I lack the patience to play through the real game because it would just be a slog through the same levels against monsters with more hit points and that do more damage all the while accumulating better loot.

Which is the whole game the first time through as well but at least the scenery changes.

There were a few changes that I really hated early on that finally made sense come the second half of the game. Putting a cool down timer of potions was, at first blush, asinine. At the end of the game I had a stock of sixty and hadn't used any in hours because my monk no longer needed them. He started off slow. Correction: he got his ask kicked all over the place for the first third of the game. Then I unlocked the skill that healed me whenever I used big attacks and he became a rush down machine. Watching his health drain and fill, over and over, as the bodies piled up around him never really got old.

The lack of death penalty outside of degraded armor and weapons seemed a little too kind but it makes more sense in a multiplayer context and there is always hardcore mode for those who are so inclined. I find the idea of irrevocable death terrifying so it was never even an option. I am a filthy console gamer after all.

I do not think that these changes are concessions to the console market but are just different ideas on how the game should work. Making the bottom end of the game more accessible is not a bad thing as long as the crazy difficult stuff stays, and it did. Removing the upgrade tree in favor of skills unlocking in a predetermined order is more difficult to defend, but again, I do not think it was done to make this into baby's first Diablo, it is just a different team's take on the genre.

If you force me to pass judgement then I will stand Diablo 3 up against the game that is the gold standard for all top down action RPGs (in my opinion) - Titan Quest. It doesn't measure up but it is closer than anything else has gotten recently. The fact that it is playable from my couch certainly doesn't hurt.

I do wish that I had put this off until the PS4 version arrived. It would have been a good way to dump a bunch of hours into the new hardware.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Just look at it

Look at the size of this man's telescope:


Just look at it. I have a huge man crush on Neil. He is so smart, I want to have his space babies. And while I also love Carl Sagan I cannot wait for the Cosmos reboot.


By the way, fuck the government for cutting NASA funding. Bastards.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I feel no shame

I have decided that I feel no shame about yesterday's post. It was trashy and it fit the game.

...

Played all of thirty minutes of Diablo 3 last night. Discovering a german style beer garden quite close to home will do that to you.

Update: wait! Actual news! There is going to be a Deception IV! I have a feeling that my PS3 will still be see use long after the 360 is dead and gone...

Monday, September 23, 2013

Jules would be proud

I stopped doing Demo Fridays because it had gotten repetitive. There just isn't much I can say about a game after five to ten minutes of exposure. In the beginning that was the point but it practice it wasn't much fun to write and I doubt it was very interesting to read. This does not mean that I have stopped playing every XBLA demo; that has become a new tradition that I plan to continue through the next batch of hardware. Knee jerk purchases have been few and far between. Actually, there has been one: Brothers. Last week almost got me. Not because the game was good. No, it was not, but it was so gleeful in its wholesale theft from other titles that I may need to see the entire thing.



Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death, mother fuckers.

Who is Marlow Briggs? Doesn't matter. He's tough, he defends his woman and he comes back from the dead when stabbed through the chest with an ancient 'insert your scary religion here' scythe. That is his entire introduction. What follows is simplified God of War combat interrupted by the most ridiculous cut scenes I have ever seen. The game knows that it is silly. It revels in it. This is The Expendables the game if they spent all of the money used to get the big stars out of the retirement home on bad special effects. And they are bad.

Parody games have been tried before with marginal success. Matt Hazard comes to mind, but that tried to be funny and funny is hard to do well in a game. Marlow Briggs skips funny and goes right for asinine. On purpose. More in line with Far Cry Blood Dragon than anything else but much less forced.



Damnit, now I want to play the whole game. Curse Diablo 3 for taking up all of my time.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The worst toilet in Tristram

I have, almost, been avoiding looking at my blog for the last few days. Diablo 3 looks to dominate my play time for the foreseeable future and I am having a difficult time coming up with interesting things to say about it that are shallow and bitchy. Every time it hits me with a wow moment, for example how it makes the levels seem larger than they are by showing areas in the background that you can't actually get to, it does something else that annoys me. I chose to play the monk in a conscious effort to go against my own gaming type. I usually play ranged attack based characters but knowing (or reading, so it may be wrong) that you can only shoot in the direction you are walking thanks to the move from mouse/keyboard to controller made this sound like much less fun than usual.

So Monk it was. I was thinking hand to hand combat, robes, etc. You know, monks. Caine from Kung Fu.

The monk in Diablo 3 is not that kind of monk. He will kick your ass with the most powerful weapon at hand, even if that weapon is a very non-monk one like giant two handed sword. The weapon itself is irrelevant as you never really attack with it. Skills use their number as a base for their damage so there is no reason to use anything but the biggest number until you run into weapon specific skills (which I have not seen yet). It lends to the by the numbers feeling of the character. Of the game.

Yet I play on, desperate for that next drop. I bet this is how heroin addiction feels

Edit: fixed the typo in the title. Now it is a fitting Trainspotting reference.



Wednesday, September 18, 2013

This is better?

Remember this?


For a few shining hours lolBlizzard was the new lolSony (replaced most recently by lolMicrosoft). None of this ill will had anything to do with the way the game played and everything with not being able to actually play it. I stopped paying attention when it stopped being funny because I wasn't going to get to play it for a long, long time.

Console Diablo 3 has arrived and I think I understand a little more of the internet grumbling that stuck around long after the server issues were fixed. I have read that the console version is superior to its PC brother in most ways but how it looks is certainly not one of them. The art is excellent, it's Blizzard, but everything from the environments to the monsters lack detail. I almost wish I put this off for a few more months to play the PS4 version to see things the way they originally were.

There is also no freedom in how your character levels. In Diablo 2 and just about every other Diablo clone the player chooses what to put points into when a level is gained. I took the lazy route and beefed up all my passive skills but at least if the character ended up broken it was my fault. There is no upgrade tree in Diablo 3. The character move along a predetermined path and all I can do is choose which skills to use. Instead of picking a favorite and maxing it out I am forced to see skills I don't use steal resources that I would use elsewhere. It keeps things simple but it also robs the player of ownership. This isn't my monk, it the monk that Blizzard designed.

It's still fun and will mercilessly devour time, it's Blizzard, but it makes me wish that Iron Lore was still around so I could get the sequel to Titan Quest that I have always wanted. 



Monday, September 16, 2013

Everybody needs somebody to hate

There is always a sense of accomplishment that comes after finishing a good, long JRPG. At under forty hours Tales of Xillia was a little on the short side. Add to that how much I straight up cheated by purchasing in game funds and the feeling is significantly lessened. Namco tried something a little different this time. They tried to create a sympathetic final boss. He isn't evil. he isn't even bad. On the contrary, he wants what is best for his people, the only difference between him and the 'good' guys is that he is willing to sacrifice a different world that he only just learned existed and who had also just attacked him to do so and they are not. Everyone respects each other. Hell, they like one another, but there is a knock down, drag out fight anyway.

There is no weight to it. There is no desperation or malice or even any hurt feelings. One side wants A, which just might work and be good for everyone, and the other side wants B, which will work but only for the nature loving, magic using pure people, leaving the machine using, spirit killing, world destroying people slowing die off (at times the game felt like a Greenpeace recruitment tool).  No one dies in the end, they all shake hands, and a obvious sequel is teased.

It just doesn't work. It sounds obvious, but a game of such length needs a bad guy to latch on to. It keeps the player invested. When I think of great RPG villains I always come up with


and


Sephiroth because you spend the entire game chasing him and Kefka because he was just evil. I am sure there are others, but these two work because they are introduced early in the game and the player is given time and reason to really hate them. There is no reason so hate Gaius, the final boss of Tales of Xillia, and even less reason to hate Muzet, the spirit he bonded with. One is noble and the other is just looking for direction.

On the plus side the game has a character in the party that is completely unlikable for the vast majority of the game and he never really changes. It would have been nice for this to create more inner-party conflict. I will settle for him showing up after one of the two main characters 'dies' and shooting the other main character's childhood friend. Minus points for the shooting victim not dying irrevocably, but good effort.

I don't regret any of my early adulation of Tales of Xillia. It is a better playing RPG than anything Square has come up with in quite a while. It just wasn't as good as Tales of Graces f. Honestly, not much is.

...

Time to start Diablo III. I think I am in the mood for a monk. Hope it is the right call. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Back to work



I don't want to talk about A Machine for Pigs as I expected the world and got significantly less. But I need to vent because this marks my final retreat from PC gaming outside of digital card games (note: this has happened before, I'll be back eventually). It would have been a different, superior experience on better hardware or, dare I say it, a console, but I am forced to draw my conclusions from what I actually saw, not what I imagine might be there. What I experience was so average that it was depressing. It was kind of scary. Not the mind numbing terror of the first game or even the general ickiness of Dead Space, just a general feeling of unease, the same kind of unease you get from eating sushi that may have sat out a bit too long.

In the same way the puzzles were sort of interesting. Not the intricate physics based puzzles of the first game or even the key based fetch quests of Resident Evil games. There are puzzles more fit for an adventure game intent on showing the players all the sites and offering little resistance along the way. If there were more to show I wouldn't mind but the game tips its hand early with pigmen and ominous machines, never managing to ratchet up the tension even when the (obvious) twist hits with a (not so) shocking reveal.

A Machine for Pigs one shining feature is its sound. The giant machinery not only looks angry but it sounds angry. There are almost constant aural red herrings that kept me looking around the room. They would work better if, every once in awhile, the threat was real, but as a way to build ambiance they almost made up for the boring level design. They are the only aspect of the game that stuck with me once I shut it off: on the first night I took off my headphones and swore I could still hear something. Just as I was about to get worried I realized that coyotes in the distance on top of a fire engine siren is a very off combination of sounds.

I was prepared for, nay, I expected nightmares. I wanted to regret playing A Machine for Pigs just before bed. Instead I regret building it up as much as I have and I hope that Frictional keeps their next game a little closer to the chest.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My frame rate is scary, at least

My issues with A Machine for Pigs are two fold. At least half of the problem is that my computer is ass. I conveniently forgot about not being able to play Serious Sam 3 and went out and bought another game that I was excited about. Playing a game on anything other than max settings bothers me to no end, hence my continued retreat to consoles. It took me a half hour of screwing around to get it to run at all and the game doesn't look anywhere near as good as it should. This bitter taste will be my last foray into the wilds of PC gaming until a significant amount of money falls out of the sky and I can build the machine that the games deserve.

This bitching must sound pretty hollow from a guy who spent way too much on a motorcycle this year and will still (hopefully) manage to bring home both the PS4 and an XBone. The irony is not lost on me but I am still mad that a game that I was quite excited about looks like a slide show in any rooms larger than an enclosed hallway.

Anyway.

If A Machine for Pigs ran flawlessly all would still not be forgiven. The first Amnesia was a slow burn but things at least happened to keep me interested and tense. Two hours into this one and I have figured out the twist and have yet to run across a single scare. The first time one of the monsters actually gave chase and I hid in the corner of a room hoping it would go away was an excellent knots in your stomach, heart in your throat oh fuck moment. That has yet to happen in this game and judging from other player's comments it never will.

Frictional did not make this game, The Chinese Room did, and it is obvious who the better developers are. If it is any consolation, Frictional handed it off because they are busy working on something else. Something bigger and, perhaps, deeper.


Ia! Ia! Cthulu Frictional.

I guess this means that I really will have to play Outlast on the PS4 for my scare fix.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Soon...

Will post initial reactions tonight, possible from under my desk in the fetal position.

...

To answer the unasked question as to why I am ignoring Outlast: rumour has it that Outlast will make it out on the PS4 and will be free to PS+ members. Reason enough for me to wait.

...

Update: after playing with the settings to get the game to run at an almost acceptable rate I am a bit disappointed. Details will follow, but this is precisely why I am a console person. I hate not being able to play the game the way it was meant to be played because my hardware is not up to snuff. If there was hope of a console release I was just stop now but the odds of that are slim to none.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Out of time

Tales of Xillia has run out of time. I still am enjoying it in spite of, or perhaps because of, my dalliances with buying in game money with real world funds. Its only failing is being a rather long game that will be getting in the way of on of the rare games that I actually look forward to enough to pre-purchase. The new Amnesia game hits tomorrow. Reviews appear a bit scattershot but that should not come as a surprise for a dedicated horror game. I will pre-load it tonight and play it tomorrow and it will cause me to lose sleep. I cannot wait.

...

Back to Tales for a bit. It was obvious at the characters introduction that Alvin would end up betraying the rest of the party. Everyone knows he is dirty and he has flat out lied to everyone on multiple occasions. Even other bad guy say that it is foolish to trust him. Yet every time he shows up the party takes him back. Yes, there is a little debate on if it is safe and it always boils down to him being good in a fight.

I cannot decide if this is silly or very self aware. The betrayal twist is pretty common in games but once the worm turns that is usually it. Xillia has a character who people actively distrust, who tell them he is a big fat liar, yet they keep him around because he hits monsters hard. At the very least it keeps a standard character trope from getting too boring.

At twenty hours in (and a quick visit to GameFaqs) I am at the midpoint. It is time to start sleeping less - the queue is once again pleasantly full. The world will stop for A Machine for Pigs but Diablo III can wait. I just hope I can get caught up again by November.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

DLC for a game I don't own..

I did a bad thing.

The standard way to empty out a new area, especially in an RPG with no random encounters, is to walk from one end to the other and kill everything. Then, depending on how much experience you have netted, walked back and do it again. I would sooner grind just a bit in every new area than run into a boss that I cannot beat. In most games this fits right into the difficulty/items curve and I can but all the new shiny things just as they become available.

Tales of Xillia, as I have noted, does not automatically make new items available in the stores. Stores level up via donated items. Here's the rub: the stores level up faster than you do. There is never enough money to buy the newest items and if you were to grind enough money to buy them you would have also leveled the shops up enough to unlock the next ones.

But there is a solution! For one $4.50 (in real world dollars) you can purchase 300,000 in in-game funds! I have never stooped so low before and had to justify it by pretending Jude's rich uncle died and willed him the money. To make matters worse I blew through half of it in out night.

At least the store limits you to doing this twice, otherwise I would end up broke in both the game and the bank account.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Can't talk about it yet

Didn't play anything last night other than the new, free World Series of Poker XBLA game. It was not good so I uninstalled it after less than one game. Most of the evening was spent in a meeting that I really shouldn't talk about because I have signed an NDA...

...but I will say that it was with a few writers, an artist and a programmer, all of whom have big ideas, none of whom actually play video games.That's right: the uber-geeks need a normal geek (that's me) to help them understand what is fun and what isn't. I spent a good chunk of time explaining why people enjoy Call of Duty and why leveling up in an RPG is like a drug, and I had to do it without using other games as references.

Do you know how hard it is to have someone bring up dialogue trees and not be able to say 'Bioware did it and did it well, use that as an example'? I feel like I need to give these guys homework. It is difficult to have a meaningful conversation with someone about cover based shooting when they haven't played Gears of War.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

But first a word from our sponsor

In place of the regularly scheduled fawning over Tales of Xillia I now present a few words about Sepulchre, a free indie horror game that I played through last night.

I don't get it.

Not that I intend to complain about a game that was free but I have no idea what the hell happened. It wasn't difficult, just incomprehensible. There were giant bags, a guy who couldn't talk, origami dogs, a drunken ticket collector, no explanation and no horror because I did not understand any of it.

Here's a video of the game's creators which also doesn't explain anything:



Tuesday, September 3, 2013

It can't be



There are two reasons why I should not have any positive feelings about the preceding video. One, I actually have a degree (that I don't use) in music education and was a reasonable conductor. The arm flailing shown is nothing like actually directing an orchestra. Two, motion controls are dumb.

But god damnit I want to play that. I love Fantasia and the chance to be a part of it, however silly, I will not miss.

...if Firebird Suite and Night on Bald Mountain are not included they can fuck right off.



I want it all and I want it now

Last week I mentioned that shops do not automatically get new and better equipment as time passes in Tales of Xillia. You need to invest in them, either with items or money, to unlock said equipment. It adds one more number that you can watch get bigger. As is human nature, I wanted to make it as big as possible as quickly as I could. In other words, I immediately wanted to break the mechanic by grinding out weapons far more powerful than I should have. Namco Bandai is smarter than I am, not that this should come as a surprise. While it is possible to unlock very good weapons money is portioned out in such a way that it is very difficult to afford them. I have created my own carrot and stick, one that I will never reach and that keeps me coming back for more.

There is no denying that Tales of Xillia is hitting each and every JRPG trope but it is hitting them so precisely that it is never boring. It is a game for fans of the genre that never even bother to try to appeal to anyone else. Combat slowly builds in complexity, moving from one on one mashing to linked attacks to chained linked attacks to whatever other wonderful wrinkle they throw at me. The characters are fresh out of every other role playing game but they are better. The fresh faced youth is weak and naive but actually thinks about his decisions. The stacked twenty something lord of the fairies knows very little about how humans interact but makes an effort to learn. The mercenary who is obviously going to betray everyone else already regrets what he is going to do. I have played this all before but it is just better here.

Now the 'if': if only the game didn't look like a shiny PS2 game. Perhaps I am spoiled by the impossible beauty of Final Fantasy XII-2 or am looking forward a little too much to my shiny new hardware, but this game does not impress visually. Textures are bland, monsters lack detail, character animation, especially when they talk, is just not good. Given the choice between spending the time and money on looks versus content I think they made the right call but I am a selfish, selfish man. Have you seen the screenshots of Lightning Returns? I want a game that looks like that and play like Tales of Xillia.

Yes, I want the impossible.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Don't look at what I wrote, that's cheating!

Having finished The Bureau I can safely say that it was either written be people who were not allowed to talk to one another or the individuals levels were assembled into a game by a random number generator. It is somehow less than the sum of its parts, and that is with a fourth wall breaking twist that was actually surprising until it stopped making sense.

Endgame spoilers incoming, but you shouldn't bother with this game anyway, so read on.

The opening sequence centers around Carter and a case that he is supposed to deliver to XCOM. He has no idea what is in it so when an alien shows up to steal it he is understandably surprised. The outsider shoots him, the case explodes and Carter is healed, after which it is never spoken about again. I called it a maguffin and let it go.

It's my career, mother fucker, look at it and weep.
Three quarters of the game later, as it descending into space marine territory, Carter finds himself on the outsider home world in a fight with Origin. Origin controls mosaic: think of it as an in skull internet connection that you cannot refuse. Mosaic is powered by an Ethereal, a creature made entirely of energy (remember this point) that chooses a host and influences and augments their abilities. Carter correctly deduces that the ethereal is the real problem, steals it (TECHNOLOGY!) and then blows up Origin's base.

Problem solved. Or not.

XCOM gets the ethereal into a containment area right before it wakes up. The outsider ethereal calls to another of its kind: this one was assigned to Earth and was in the case from the beginning of the game. Outsiders arriving on Earth had awoken it and it had chosen Carter as its host. Through some clever use of camera angles it becomes clear that the player is actually controlling the ethereal, not Carter, and had been doing so the entire time. This explains Carter ability to see the entire battlefield and issue commands without actually talking to anyone.

So far, so good. I was actually on board with this right up until the twist twisted.

The older ethereal tells 'Carter' that everyone on Earth must be destroyed to prevent the spread of mosaic. The ethereal in Carter doesn't like this idea. In fact it says that it will not destroy Earth. The real Carter who apparently has not been listening to any of this breaks free from his ethereal's control and shoots the older ethereal. He kills an being made entirely of energy with a handgun.

It was at this point that it all fell apart. Carter did not like being controlled and in spite of his ethereal's promise to not destroy Earth forces it out. The player, in a shocking moment of consistency, goes with it and has to choose a new host. Origin comes back, blah blah, final encounter, blah blah, the good guys win.

What the hell happened? Did the writer's cubicles not have doors? Did they hate one another so much that each tried to invalidate what the last one wrote? Or was the game stitched together from disparate ideas left over from previous versions? 

Don't bother with The Bureau. It is not a good shooter, not a good strategy game, and it certainly squanders the few good plot ideas it had. From what little I know of the XCOM universe I think that a good action game can be mined from it, this is just not that game.

...

Tales of Xillia, which I do not know how to pronounce, is an exceptional JRPG, assuming you enjoy that kind of thing. Stores do not automatically get new merchandise, you have to level them up. Weapons and armor are not level capped, meaning that it is theoretically possible to grind like a mad man and get weapons that far out class what you are fighting. I guess I know what I am doing tonight.