Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Worst of the year 2014

It appears to have been a reasonable year for console games as there are only two stand outs in my list that are worthy of this year's award. I am quite sure that there are many, many terrible PC games that I have not played but there are only so many hours in a day and I need to play something good once in a while lest I lose the rest of my mind. The well of unplayable Steam games is bottomless and already being plumbed by more talented individuals so I will remain loyal to my fellow console luddites and choose my worst from our platforms.

First, the honorable mentions.

Driveclub was frustratingly unfinished. Large sections of the game did not work while I was playing it. The racing itself was okay save for my favorite crutches, the racing line and rewind, being left out. It certainly looked modern but it played like a game that was in development for so long that the genre moved on without it. I hope that when Sony finally gets around to a new Gran Turismo that it does not suffer the same fate.

Escape Dead Island is making many worst of lists. It is not undeserving but my quarrel is with its wasted potential rather that its actual offenses. Someone involved had a good idea that was lost either to cowardice or interference but the game itself is not terrible. It is an average adventure with a tacked on license that would have been better without the burden.

In a neck and neck race for the bottom spot of the year are Magus and Enemy Front. Both are representatives of how not to make a game in their respective genres. The prize, as it were, goes to Enemy Front.


It should be impossible in the modern world to make a terrible shooter. Example of average ones come out monthly (Shadow Warrior) and good ones come out only slightly less often (Wolfenstein). All one has to do is browse the discount bin at GameStop for innumerable examples of how to make a mediocre shooter. Enemy Front ignored all of these.

I am sure that I do not speak for myself when I say that World War II fatigue has reached critical mass. I am fucking tired of it. Call of Duty and Battlefield had this realization at about the same time and made the wise move to modern/future times. This happened years ago. Enemy Front hopes that surely there is space for one more. They at least picked a theater that could have been interesting and that had not been done before. The Warsaw uprising was intriguing, to the point that I did a little research after the fact into what it actually was. To no one's surprise there were no Rambo-esque American journalists who single-handedly saved the resistance. The pandering in this game to the lowest common bro-nominator is disgusting.

Enemy Front did what I did not think was possible: it was an ugly game running on Cryengine. Had in come out in 2012, when it was originally supposed to, it would have been less ugly, almost acceptable, but in 2014 with other games that used the same engine available for comparison it is unacceptable. There was astounding incompetence in its creation. Pop in should be a thing of the past. I am not talking about texture pop in, I am referring to entire parts of the level snapping into view from nothingness. This is something that I had not seen since Darkest of Days and I played that in 2010.

There is no reason for Enemy Front to exist. It was close, as Magus is a prime example of how not to make an action RPG, but Enemy Front was the worst game that I played and finished this year. Hell, it is the worst game that I even started this year. It also has the honor of (probably) being the last worst game for the previous generation. The Xbox One and PS4 are entering their second year and it is about time for the shovelware to arrive.

I look forward to the pain.


Monday, December 29, 2014

Effort grades don't pay the bills

Escape Dead Island is not that bad. It's not that good, either, but its failings are specific to its execution of what could have been, or rather, what almost were, interesting ideas. I would place a fair some of money on the fact that the second draft of the story, the one right before it was passed through the Dead Island filter but after it was salvaged from a moist bar napkin, would have made an excellent budget title. I mean no disrespect by using the word budget. Not every game can be Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed, nor should they.

Picture this: a small scale open world action game that sees the player wind up on an island overrun by zombies. The player's companions are killed off but in a way that never shows the actual perpetrator. As the player explores the island things do not add up: voices of his dead friends beg him for mercy, then taunt him. Zombie appear and disappear at random. The play is 'killed' over and over, but keeps coming back. The island itself begins to mutate into an enemy. The twist is that the player was infected as soon as he arrived, killed his own friends, and everything else has been his remaining consciousness trying to escape the zombified body.

Escape Dead Island was almost this. It was buried under one note repetitive combat, atrocious voice acting and writing, annoying characters, a disastrous decision to use cell shading for a comic book feel, and innumerable other bad decisions but it was there. Small clues like zombies becoming little more that shambling shadows and the main character waking up in impossible places are cleverly used alongside silly, what the fuck moments, the best of which being a rainstorm of shipping containers. This game would have been awesome if it just wasn't so terrible.

But it wasn't awesome. The twist would only have worked if the main character was sympathetic for the player. He is written in such a way that no one, and I mean no one, will like him. Even when he finally cracks and fights the zombie version of himself I was unmoved. No feels for the douche bag. The game is not so much an open world as it is a few areas connected by narrow tunnels that the game engine uses to camouflage insane load times. Navigation was so difficult that I had to use the pop up, 'go here' arrow for everything. It's just poorly executed on every front.

Worst of all, the game backs away from its own idea in the end. Yes, the hero was a zombie, but he gets better. There is a cure and he sends off a message in a bottle as a warning. Escape Dead Island was this close to being an interesting turn on the zombie game. All it had to do was not be bad and finish what it started. I can forgive a game for being of poor quality because it is not always the game's fault. Wasting a good idea due to cowardice is a cardinal sin.

Escape Dead Island is not that bad but I despise it for not being better.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The end of the good stuff

Time for the Christmas week update!

Dragon Age: Inquisition was the most complete RPG I have played in a long, long time. The main story was good enough to provide a general direction for the player but did not prevent wandering. Side quests were both abundant and productive. Combat was as difficult as you wanted to make it. I left the difficulty at normal and sailed through all encounters, including dragons (assuming I had the appropriate potions equipped). There were greater difficulties available but I was content to let my tanks do the tanking, my mage do the annoying and my personal rogue take cheap shots from the back row.

Did I mention that the game looked good? It looked really good. Most of the time.

Because I am an ass there are a few grievances that need to be aired, but know that I levy them out of love. The game did indeed look good most of the time but suffered when characters were talking. The lip syncing was not very good, almost to the point of being a distraction. The characters themselves were not as interesting as in previous Dragon Age games and the appearance of Morrigan late in the game made it all the more apparent. Without spoiling too much my favorite characters were Cassandra, the tortured seeker (and my inquisitors target for romance), Blackwall for reasons that I will not explain (do his loyalty quest and you will understand) and Iron Bull.

Everyone seems to love Iron Bull. He was never in my party but I was always seeking his approval.

Aside from those few the rest blended into the background. Thus my party was static for the entire game. As soon as I had a second fighter Varric was shuffled out. No need for two rogues. I can see the other characters being of interest for a second play through but I do not have another 65 hours to dedicate to the game.

65 hours is a long time for me to spend on anything but I will absolutely not say that the game was too long. When the final story mission appeared I did all I could to avoid it. As far as I am concerned the game us not big enough. I never stopped looking forward to the time I spent on it and my evenings have felt a bit empty since its completion.

This feeling will pass. There are terrible game to play, terrible games like Escape Dead Island, which is actually not nearly as bad as you may have heard.

...

Guilty Gear Xrd is a bit of a mystery. It is very much not Street Fighter. There are very few invincible reversals so I have no idea what to do after I have been knocked down other than block and pray. Throws are the fastest move in the game, hitting on the first active frame, but there is no way to tech a throw. Roman cancels are the gateway to real damage, most of them ending with air combos, and the air combos feel more difficult than they should be. Most difficult of all is figuring out when it is your turn to play.

Street Fighter flows in a predictable manner. One player gets a hard knock down and then the guessing games begin. Whose turn it is to attack is usually obvious. Guilty Gear moves much faster and the 'turns' are less defined. The closest comparison I can come up with is Marvel without the assists., only my character of choice, May, basically has assists in the form of beach balls and dolphins.

Yes, I said beach balls and dolphins. I cover my approach with beach balls and dolphins while wielding a giant anchor. Seeing May fight Sol Badguy and his flaming sword or Zato and his grim dark shadows is wonderfully incongruous. I need to learn the game well enough to appreciate it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

65 hours

I have spent more time on Inquisition than any game (other than Street Fighter) since Skyrim.

More went down in the last few hours than I am prepared to talk about yet. Morrigan showing up was enough of a twist. I don't trust her, never did. But Flemeth appearing, freaking everyone out, and being the host for some ancient god, and then leaving without killing anyone blew my mind.

More later. It's Christmas and I have a few days off. Escape Dead Island will actually get played this year. A half hour tells me that it is indeed really, really bad but it will be definitely be in the running the my terrible prize.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Inquiring minds

For a game that I have put almost fifty hours into Dragon Age: Inquisition certainly hasn't been talked about much. I am almost always thinking about it but what is going through my head isn't terribly interesting. There is a middle age grocery list of things to do/kill that is constantly being updated that I worry about in my spare moments. For example, last night I unlocked Varric's quest and I need to return to an old area and find a cave that is being used to mine red lyrium. Since I am there I might as well try to find the landmarks I am missing. And I still haven't picked a sub class because I haven't figured out how to.

And I need to check in with Cassandra whenever possible because reasons.

It sounds like a chore but it certainly is not. Collecting minutia can and will become boring eventually. There is just the right amount in each area that I am moving on to the next just before I get tired of the current one. Areas differ so wildly in look and difficulty that just walking around in them is enjoyable. Going back to old areas and killing much lower level enemies does cease to reward XP, something I don't agree with, but they die quickly and messily when hit from behind with a 4000 point critical.

Boom. Splatter. And Iron Bull approves (even though he is never in my party).

There is no hard level cap in the game but what I have read makes it seem like getting much past 21 or 22 is not likely. My rogue is level 19 and I have not been exactly cleaning out areas. Most of the quests get done, the interesting ones anyway, and then I move on. The only major one left hanging that I can think of is in an area so large that riding around on horseback is the only way to get around. It's too big and the cave I am supposed to find is too well hidden for me to bother with it. There are plenty of other places to go, other dragons to kill.

That is the brilliance of Inquisition. Get bored of one thing? There are a dozen other options, each more productive than the last. Nothing is pointless, nothing is filler. The only thing the game does wrong is prevent me from playing anything else.

...

This means that the worst of the year award will need to be decided soon.  Escape Dead Island is making many lists and it is sitting next to my television, waiting. I will play but not until next year so it is out of the running. It's been a bad year for bad games, which is good if you like good games, but bad when you like to take a break from good games with bad games.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A brief confession

Mario Kart 8 is really, really good.

SALE

I laughed way to hard at this.



Having relinquished my place in the PC master race I will have to make due with the ten or so games on my GameFly queue. It's going to be okay....

Maybe just a peak...

God damnit.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Comparing sticks

There are two distinct schools of thought when it comes to fighting games: arcade stick and d-pad. I used to be a pad warrior. Many years ago when I spent hours at work practicing Tekken 5 when I should have been working a PS2 controller was all that was available so that is what I used. I developed a strange claw like grip: my right thump was hooked under the controller and my index and middle finger worked the buttons. This is half way to an arcade stick style so when I made the jump with Street Fighter IV it was not difficult but trying to play Guilty Gear Xrd on a pad proved that it will be impossible to go back.

People usually don't move back and forth and the initial transition from one to the other is honestly painful. Even moving from one stick to the next is fraught with difficulty. My primary (and favorite) stick is my Qanba Q4. This guy:


This is an exceptional stick. All Sanwa parts, Sanwa being the default option for quality buttons and joy sticks, a compartment for the cord, a solid heavy build and a handle. I have loved it from day one, going so far as to purchase an adapter to use in on my XBox One. I had thought that said adapter would allow me to use it on the PS4 as well but it has turned out to not be the case. Guilty Gear Xrd and the Street Fighter V announcement have forced my hand and a Christmas present for me was in order. Meet the new stick:

This is the Madcatz TE PS4 (and PS3) stick. I am not wild about the background but the stick is designed with modifications in mind so I can replace it. The entire body opens up providing easy access to the internals. Should a button go replacing it will be a simple task. Replacing the graphic is not much worse. That catch is that I don't like it as much as my Qanba. That stick feels like home. This one feels like a hotel bed.

The throw on the stick itself feels longer. This will be an issue when you spend as much time in the down back position as I do. There are most likely modifications I can make, specifically a more restrictive gate, but out of the box it just doesn't feel quite right. The buttons are the same exact brand as the Qanba but they have a strange, hollow feeling when struck. Plus, and this is real nit picky, take a look at the black border around the graphic. That border is slightly raised and is in exactly same place that my wrist lays when playing. It's irritating.

It's a good stick, it just isn't my stick. I will get used to it. Strike that, I have to get used to it. There is no choice in the matter. Now that I have thrown (my money) in with Madcatz purchasing an updated Qanba, should one come out, will be difficult to justify.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Critical mass

Now I've done it. I went and bought a new fighting game (Guilty Gear Xrd) whilst playing a very long, very good RPG (Dragon Age: Inquisition) and a significant update and new mode just hit for my primary fighting game (Ultra Street Fighter 4 balance patch plus Omega mode). There is only one thing left to do: quit my job and game 24/7 until the money runs out, then die happy.

Simple math tells me that would only take a few days. Unemployment is not an option. All I can do is sleep less, play more, and hope that Dragon Age isn't quite as long as I think it might by. Forty hours in and I have barely touched the story. Damn, it might even be longer.

I have put all of thirty minutes into Guilty Gear Xrd as my new stick will not be arriving until today. It was just enough time to touch a few characters and to pick out my project: May.


No laughing. May is pretty much Blanka with a command throw, projectiles and a big fucking anchor. Yes, the projectiles are dolphins or beach balls and yes, one of her supers summons a giant whale and yes, she is in no way intimidating looking. But she is, at least partially, a charge character, and that is just how my brain works. I have not put any time into Guilty Gear since the first game on PS1 so I might as well be starting over. It is exciting and I wish I had more time for it. I doubt I will move much past 'noob' but it is the first next generation fighting game and I (foolishly) plan to acquire as many as possible. Depending on netcode they may all end up being on the PS4, but that remains to be seen.

...

Dragon Age soldiers on and has yet to stop being entertaining. I have started to come across areas that I should have done earlier. The XP rewards are minimal at best, but seeing enemies explode into a fine mist after a critical hit makes up for it. Enemies do not level with you so being completely over powered is both possible and very enjoyable. It is the final reward for emptying out previous zones of both quests and monsters.

Story? Um, I have lost track of it. Something, something, big bad, something, darkspawn. The overarching narrative has been completely usurped by sub-quests and adventuring for the sake of adventuring. How can I be expected to keep track of the big things when I am encouraging Varric to finish his soft porn book series for Cassandra, the pent up seeker? 

Priorities. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

*yawn*

There is a down side to the slow progression in Dragon Age, namely that it is very possible to play the game for extended periods of time and have almost nothing happen. This does not mean that the player is not doing anything. On the contrary, I have spent the last six hours cleaning out an area that has no significance to the plot whatsoever. But nothing happens. No new characters, little dialogue, just my party killing its way from one end of the wilderness to the other.

This may not necessarily be a bad thing. Elder Scrolls games work because the journey is always more interesting than the destination. Fetch quest? No problem, there are a dozen caves, two towns and innumerable sub-quests between here and there. The player is allowed to build his or her own narrative based on their own actions, not the beats that the game has planned out. Dragon Age does this but six hours between plot events is a bit much. Another dragon or giant would be enough to break the monotony of closing rifts, killing demons and collecting stuff.

At worst this is a half hearted complaint. I have taken up residence in Dragon Age's world and will be sticking it out for the long haul. The games on the list will simply have to wait their turn. Guilty Gear Xrd could be an issue, and it would have been one today if the store that held my preorder would have allowed me to purchase it. Street dates, blah blah, they have been broken everywhere else, let me hand you money for the game!

A shrug was all I got and then I remembered why I left that business.

At least this way the game and my new stick will arrive around the same time. The demo of Guilty Gear Xrd on a pad was torture. I am not going to be any good at the game but I at least want to be in control of my terribleness.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I killed a dragon!

Progress in Dragon Age continues to progress at a pace that makes every victory feel earned. Case in point: two night ago I ran into my second dragon. The first killed me as soon as I walked into her area, first by sicking her children on me and then by toasting the lot of us over a rather warm fire. This dragon was sitting on top of a decimated keep, not paying much attention, so I was able to get a look at it before approaching.

Yes, it's a dragon.

My first attempted was a total failure as I was low on potions and had no plan. I did just enough damage to convince myself that it was possible at my current level so I retreated to the closest camp and prepared. Regen potions for the rogue and mage, area of effect healing potions for the fighters because they are usually close to one another. Fighters tank, mage and rogue plink from afar, everyone runes the fuck away when the dragon takes to the air.

Success was imminent. Then a giant buffalo wandered into the melee, aggro'd on me for some reason, and the plan was ruined. That buffalo was pissed and did not care that after my party's death he was next. Seeing my poor mage get rutted to death in the distance while my fighters struggles to stay alive was much to funny to be mad at.

Third time was the charm. That buffalo was still in the area so I killed him first. The dragon was engaged from a distance, potions were used, there was a close call that saw my rogue get literally stepped on, but I killed her and got some nice armor to boot. It was difficult but possible and the victory was earned. It was quite satisfying.

Later, still high from that victory, I turned the corner in a tight canyon and ran headlong into a giant. I killed him, too, but it was time to call it a day. My luck could only hold out for so long. It reminds me of the text MUDs I used to play in college. Specifically the first time I solo killed Tiamat...

There is a story here. I and about half a dozen other slackers played in a text MUD called 'Hidden Worlds' when we should have been studying (and weren't playing pen and paper D&D or Magic). For the uninitiated (read that as young) MUD stands for Multiple User Dungeon. Think World of Warcraft but only text.

I don't know if I would call it popular. Out MUD had at most 500 people on at a time, usually much fewer. It was small enough that people knew each other and knew what they were good at. My character, Leven, was all about the damage roll. He didn't hit as often as other characters but when he did it hurt. I would often be dragged along in groups doing Hell runs for just that reason. The leader would enter a room, back stab the target and then tank while I beat on the demon until it died.

Trust me, it was fun.

As I grew more confidant and learned my way around I started to do solo runs to the outskirts of hell. Right past the entrance was Tiamat, a dragon that took around three or four people to kill. I was foolish and feeling lucky so I gave it a shot. To this day I can remember the commands.

rem sword (The sword a kings, a high damage level 30 sword)
wield lightbringer (The lightbringer dagger, stolen from the south side of heaven. The standard max level dagger)
N
bs tiamat

Your backstab ***DEMOLISHES*** tiamat!
Your backstab ***DEMOLISHES*** tiamat!
Your backstab ***DEMOLISHES*** tiamat!

(Triple back stabs were rare, but not unheard of)

rem lightbringer
wield sword
c demonfire (the best offensive spell I knew)

From there on it was a battle of attrition. Tiamat and I traded ***DEMOLISHES*** until I was just about out of mana. No more heals, no more demon fire. And then she died. I was so surprised that I recalled home and logged out. It felt like I had broken something, like I had cheated. Then I got excited but there was no one in the computer lab who cared. It was the middle of the day and everyone who would was in class. All hyped up and no one to tell about it.

Edit: My god, it still exists. My character is long gone, but the MUD is still there...


Monday, December 8, 2014

Invasion

A good barometer for how much I am enjoying a game is the amount of time away from the game that I spend thinking about it. When my Street Fighter switch is in the on position I think about it all the time, to the detriment of getting anything done. It is currently in the off position, which is good, as there are quite a few other games that need to be played. When I was playing Skyrim it so dominated by mind that I made a very ill conceived foray into fan fiction. I will not link them, they are that embarrassing, but in my imagination my character had more to say and do than could be contained in a few hours of playing every night.

Dragon Age is approaching this level. I have thought about the end of the first act for several days. It was the perfect act break and signaled the game world opening up to the player to a greater degree and it was already huge. The bad guy was bad, my hero started to believe in himself, there were tragic deaths, last minute rescues, and the whole inquisition up and moved to a new base.

And there was a giant dragon that I will undoubtedly end up fighting in forty hours. It will be epic.

It's not just the big things that keep coming back. I think about my party and who my character wants to hang out with. It has been relatively consistent for the first third and may remain so as I have already picked out my favorites. There are more characters that I don't like than there were in previous games, like the obnoxious elven rogue or the snooty mage who will never see time out in the field. The ones that I do like more than make up for it. There is the conflicted seeker who started the inquisition and had to had all of the power over to the player, a loner grey warden and an apostate mage who I keep around because he is basically Spock.

Old school Spock, not that wierdo from the new not-Star Trek movies.

My little away team wanders from area to area, avoiding main quests whenever possible, sometime hitting the difficulty sweet spot and other times wandering into the teeth of enemies that I shouldn't even look at for five more levels. There is no death penalty, a decision that I appreciate as the first warning that you are not in an appropriate area is usually the party dying.

I could do this for a long, long time.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Finally, a carol I can get into

The good kind

Dragon Age did something absolutely brilliant last night but I cannot discuss it without spoiling a few things. It is still early in the game, but regardless, you have been warned.

I have never been a fan of time travel as a device central to the plot. It never holds up to scrutiny and is a cheap way for a story to do what it wants without it having to make any sense. A wizard did it becomes so and so is from the future, come back to warn someone else about something. Dragon Age has both wizards and has begun to dabble in time travel, the double deus ex machina.

It had the potential to be really, really stupid. Without going into too much detail, it was used sparingly and to great effect. The player is shown what the price of his or her failure will be and indirectly introduced to the game's big bad by being thrown forward in time by one year. In that year the world has basically ended, the other party members who survived have been physically and emotionally broken and it is the player character's fault. From their perspective you died and with you all hope.

This is the most interesting thing that has happened in about fifteen hours of playing. I thought only Final Fantasy games were allowed to have tutorials that long.

...

Something, something, Street Fighter 5 exclusive to PS4, something.

Do I believe it? Not really. But I have both systems for a reason. This also provided a better reason that just Guilty Gear to get a PS4 stick.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

+1, but only just

I buckled down last night and crafted myself a nice new bow in Inquisition. It was just slightly better than last bow. The improvement was such that I was not sure that it was worth the time and effort but that is how everything advances in the game. Weapons don't move from mundane long sword to sword of god slaying in a single drop. It is much more akin mundane long sword to slightly sharper mundane long sword. This does two things, neither of which are bad if you have patience, One, when I finally get the long sword of god slaying it will be fucking sweet and it will actually mean something. Second, I have to be very careful about where I go and what I do because running into encounters that are significantly over my is both easy and fatal.

Individual areas are large enough that they contain sections for different levels. I was exploring the first area, fully intent on cleaning it out before advancing, when I hit a fade rift populated by demons a full four levels higher than my main character. Another corner of the map was guarded by a dragon and her children.

I ran away from the dragon. The demons killed me because hubris.

Yes, it is certainly a slow paced game. It does not feel very 'Dragon Age' yet, either. The open areas really do resemble an Elder Scrolls game, only with a party and more unforgiving combat. This is not the game that I had psyched myself up for and it will take a few more days to pull my head around and not be annoyed that the game will not be over in thirty hours. Taking a break in the next few days to play Game of Thrones will help.

...and I could always practice Geometry Wars 3.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

It's the little things

There is one tiny, seemingly insignificant design choice in Dragon Age: Inquisition that is, at present, only mildly annoying. In forty plus hours I will probably be made irrationally upset by it because that is what I do, focus on the minutia and allow it to color otherwise exceptional experiences. This may be a symptom of something larger. I will never know because shrinks are expensive and who has time for that, anyway.

Inquisition is intent on pressing the player into crafting items. I do not enjoy browsing menus and have managed to avoid it in every game that has every featured the mechanic. Weapon drops in Inquisition are not very good and I am finding myself behind the curve, DPS wise. There is little choice in the matter. Add to that weapon upgrades that can be attached and removed and a good ten minutes of every hour are spent playing excel spread sheets, the game.

This is already annoying. What makes it almost intolerable is that none of this can happen in the field. You have to travel back to your home base, walk to the blacksmith, and only then are you allowed to be bored. I am not pleased with this scenario. If the game is going to force me into crafting at least let me do it when I find the items I need instead of losing even more time to load screens and fast travel. Screw realism, this game has fucking dragons and zombies in it. If I can suspend my disbelief long enough to appreciate them surly being able to attach a pointy hilt to a sword without a roaring fire and anvil present will not break the game's immersion.

Breath. Breath. This game is good, I will enjoy it.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Too much, too much

Long, holiday weekend and much to catch up on.

Assassin's Creed: Rogue almost had an ending. Almost. Rogue occurs concurrently to Assassin's Creed 3 so we get to see Haytham Kenway being a bad ass before Connor kills him. I am having a hard time connecting what happens to the assassin Achilles at the end of Rogue with 3 but that is most likely because I played 3 several years ago. Achilles doesn't die, so I am not spoiling anything, but Haytham does something much, much crueler than killing him.

Rogue degenerates to the standard Assassin's Creed confusion when the game jumps forward quite a few years, bringing Shay to London. He kills someone who is no doubt important in Unity, says things that don't make sense, and then the credits role. I must say that I was satisfied, both with the game and the fact that by the time I play Unity it might actually work.

...

Help me, I am a sucker for Tell Tale games. Tales from the Borderlands was impossible to resist. It has proven two things. One, Tell Tale is capable of much more than the depressing narratives of The Walking Dead and The Wold Among Us. Tales from the Borderlands is laugh out loud funny and very true to its source. Choosing Patrick Warburton as the voice for the evil business man antagonist was a brilliant move.



It plays just the same as the previous games and will probably be no different than this weeks Game of Thrones. The strength of these games is in the story and the illusion of control over it. They are great ways to kill an evening when I have been working on another game for days and/or weeks.

Speaking of games taking weeks...

I am never intimidated by a game's content. Strike that, no game that doesn't have Elder Scrolls in the title has ever made me look slack jawed at a menu or map while I tried to figure out what to do next. Add Dragon Age: Inquisition to that very short list. Someone over at BioWare heard all the complaints about Dragon Ago 2 and decided that the best way to answer them was to build a goddamn world for the player to run around in and fill it full of interesting, productive things to do. I have yet to leave the first area.

It has been almost six hours. In the same area. And I am far from board.

I almost can't get my head around it. The game appears to have no end. I am sure it does, there are a finite number of places to unlock in the war room, but when the very first one is as large as some games I begin to worry. Not about this game, no, I worry for other games that aren't going to played any time soon.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Dodge this!

As happy as I am with Assassin's Creed: Rogue I do need to admit that the Assassin's Creed games as a whole have not improved upon themselves as much as they have figured out what not to make the player do, ship to ship combat notwithstanding. Each progressive game has recognized the predecessors' weaknesses and tied to avoid them instead of fixing them.

For example, as awesome as the free running is to watch it is more than a little dodgy in practice. Players can inadvertently run up a tree or a wall or plunge to their death because the 'dive into a bale of hay' animation didn't fire. This made chase sequences much more difficult then they needed to be. As the game went on there were both fewer chases and they were laid out in such a way as to better guide the player. Almost scripted, but not quite.

Rogue has examples of both extremes: a very good chase sequence and a fuck I hate this game why am I still playing one. The good one comes very early in the game when Shay destroys an entire city by mistake. The player flees from one collapsing building to another. It is quite the spectacle for a last gen only game and it kept the player involved and not frustrated by making the path fairly obvious.

Many hours later, after Shay has flipped allegiance and started to kill off his old team, there a city chase between him and Hope, a female assassin who leaves a trail of poison gas in her path. The player must avoid the gas, avoid soldiers enraged by said gas and not fall too far behind.

It was terrible and was everything wrong with the worst parts of previous games. To top it off the game crashed after I failed several times in a row. A reboot later and I was back at it, determined to finish it so I could get back to the parts of the game that I enjoy.

...

An unfair number of games just dropped. Geometry Wars 3 was purchased site unseen and has yet to be played. Tales from the Borderlands will suffer the same fate. The demo for Guilty Gear Xrd has been downloaded and not looked at. Rogue is still not complete and Dragon Age is still waiting in the wings.

I know I should not complain when in this exact space I will lament the summer doldrums in six month time.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The yearly ritual

I want to understand why I am spending a silly amount of time sailing around the world in Rogue, picking up glowing bit of useless flotsam when I refused to do the exact same thing in Sunset Overdrive. It is certainly easier to do so in Rogue. Once you liberate an area and stand on top of the tallest point everything of interest is automatically highlighted. Actually getting to the item is also easier as Assassin's Creed games long ago decided, for better or for worse, to do all of the mobility heavy lifting for the player.

There were maps available for purchase in Sunset Overdrive. Locomotion is both more hands on and more prone to interference from monsters but by the time I was done with the game I was grinding across the map like a pro. When I saw the tell tale glow of an item I would at least make an attempt to pick it up but the drive to empty a zone before moving on to the next just was not there.

Perhaps there is more incentive to collect them all in Rogue? In the beginning, yes, it makes sense to do as much as you can in areas to increase how much money comes rolling in, especially since you can purchase crafting goods from the general store instead of tromping around forests killing small, furry animals. At around the half way point I found that I had more money than I needed so there really is no reason to keep taking over forts and killing off gangs but I know that I will not stop.

Collectibles in Sunset Overdrive translate directly into new powers. If the powers were useful it would have been an excellent reason to find more of them but I made it through just fine with the boosts unlocked in the story missions. In terms of numbers there were even less things to find than there are in Rogue, yet it just didn't happen.

Why? I don't know. I think it is because collecting everything, killing everything and building everything is just what you do in an Assassin's Creed game. Playing just the story missions would be a bore. The world is emergent enough, especially with the introduction of piracy, that moving around in it is enjoyable. I suppose I can compare it to a small scale Elder Scrolls game, only much smaller and it comes out every year.

In November I stab people in the back, fund building projects and sail around, looking for treasure chests. That is just what happens. This year I might even get to do it twice.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Stealing something

Assassin's Creed: Rogue is Black Flag 1.5.

Is that a bad thing? No, but they should have jumped past all the tutorial nonsense and let me get right to the pillaging. I have spent three evening visiting locations that have activities locked because I am still in the second chapter. Let me roam, damnit! Let me prowl the seas, attack helpless ships, then destroy their ports of call.

It did get to the sailing much faster than Black Flag did because it knows why people are playing it, other than they don't own an Xbox One of PS4 yet. Buccaneer simulator 2.0 is where it's at.

If only the new Dragon Age wasn't sitting there in its plain envelope....

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Round one to the underdog

It's been a strange year in the console world.

On the approximate first anniversary of both the Xbox One and the PS4 I am playing a last generation exclusive. There are still games on my list that will not be getting the new and shiny treatment, big games, games like the third Borderlands and the aforementioned Assassin's Creed: Rogue. This is not shovel ware, they are quality titles that, for what I assume are financial reasons, have been intentionally left behind.

Either the old generation will not die or the new one is not quite sure how to start.

Owning both consoles makes it impossible to not play the compare and contrast game. They both sit on the 'new' side of my television, vying for my attention, while the Xbox 360 and the PS3 relax on the old side, knowing that my time with them is not complete. I don't have an answer for which of the new breed is better, but I can say that the Xbox One sees much more use and I can give you a few reasons why.

Achievements. Those damn achievements. I have mentioned how I have fallen for the meta-game before. Microsoft has found new and more insidious ways to leverage it against me. The most recent hook was the 'last thirty days' list right on the home screen. My earned achievements over the last months are totaled up and ranked against the rest of my friends list. I am always second and it pisses me off. It makes me want to play more. The logical part of my brain knows that I am being played but the side that likes to see numbers get bigger will not let it go.

This is just one example of how the Xbox One feels newer. The dashboard was already a grand departure from that of the 360 and it has received numerous improvements. Not all have been for the better, but it is always different and that keeps me interested. The PS4 is very, very similar to the PS3, so much so that the interface is boring to use. It works but it is rather spartan.

I will say that, by not changing the store, the PS4 actually comes out ahead of the Xbox One. The Xbox One store is a nightmare, with all the games dumped together into a single menu. On more than one occasion it has simply not worked, something that I have never run into on the PS4.

Including the Kinect with the Xbox One was an excellent idea and I was sad to see them back off of it. Yes, I know that almost everything that the Kinect does the Playstation Eye can do as well, but it was part of the package for me and I would never have been exposed to it otherwise. The Kintect is a functioning part of the system, one that makes it more user friendly and contributes to the next-gen feel that the Xbox One has in spades.

But what about the games? The XBox One has had, by far, the superior exclusives. The biggest PS4 games are still months away and I do not know if any of them will compete with Forza Horizon 2, regardless of genre. Step away from the big games and the PS4 fares much better, making good on its promise to be the indie haven, going so far as to give away a good chunk of them. Yes, I enjoyed Rogue Legacy and Velocity 2X but I did not jump into the next generation to play games that would run in a browser on an ancient computer.

Multi-platform should be the equalizer, even the deciding factor, and the PS4 wins that contest. It has more peas, better frame rates, all the things that the more powerful machines are supposed to be about. It is, without a doubt, the more powerful machine but it is the less compelling system. Less than the sum of its parts, a hollow monster that can crush most games but do little to hold my interest apart from that.

This is, of course, an entirely biased opinion. I have more loyalty momentum towards Microsoft than I care to admit, but I was ready to drop the system entirely along with the rest of the internet when the rumors of no physical games and no rentals were floating around. That cost them so much good will that the system may never recover. I came back and was not disappointed, nor am I disappointed with my PS4. It is my number two system, my system for small games and odd exclusives. The Xbox One is for everything else, its daily use making it all the more comfortable.

...and I still have my PS3 for JRPGs and my Xbox 360 for Street Fighter. My entertainment cabinet is never going to organized again.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Better and worse

Insomniac Games had more than enough built up goodwill for me to take a second (and third) look at Sunset Overdrive. Almost all of their previous games have been excellent, with Full Frontal Assault being the only game of theirs that I would place clearly in the 'ass' category. These are smart, creative guys, what am I missing?

My initial dismissal of how the hero moves around was wrong, but only because an import move had not unlocked yet - the air dash. Once I had that I was able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and then grind down the opposite side. It is such an integral piece that leaving it out makes little sense. The game does not lock out areas of the map. On the contrary, the player is allowed access to the entire city from the very beginning, there just isn't much to do in it yet. Why keep them from getting there with style and speed?

Figuring out how to move did nothing to fix the combat. It was still a bouncy, inconsistent mess. The player's walk speed is kept intentionally slow to force grinding and hanging and bouncing. It is so slow that walking just isn't an option. Using cover isn't an option. The only way to not get killed is to be flying around the map as if your hair was on fire. This gets old quickly. On top of that Sunset Overdrive suffers from a the same 'problem' that the Ratchet games do: so many weapons that you cannot possibly use them all correctly. How cool they look has little to do with how well they work and if there are usable when jumping off of umbrellas. Example: The Dude fires flaming bowling balls. This is most excellent. But it is charge weapon and that just doesn't work when you are trying to squeeze off shots at the apex of a bounce. So I use the boring weapons while sulking over a White Russian.

Most damning of all was something that I did not notice as first. Think about Ratchet and Clank games and how different looking all the planets and areas are. Even the Resistance games, which consisted of grey and more grey, had themes to levels that changed. Everything in Sunset Overdrive looks the same. Every place in the city is identically too colorful and adorned with too much graffiti. Without the mini-map navigation would be impossible because there are too few landmarks. Different areas are indistinguishable in their forced post-apocalyptic bubble gum coolness.

I am no longer upset with the game, I am simply disappointed. Insomniac is better than this.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Sunset Underwhelmed

Time to dive into another of this season's big exclusives! I certainly hope this goes better than DriveClub.

...

God damnit.

Sunset Overdrive is not bad, I suppose, but I do not understand what it is trying to do. The crux of the game is movement. You must stay mobile at all times lest you get buried in monsters/robots/ruffians. You can grind on any rail type object (in spite of not having wheels on your feet), bounce on cars, wall run around corners, and generally defy the laws of physics at every opportunity. It sounds like fun, and it is, for a while, and then you try to do something else or engage in combat and the whole point of the game because its biggest weakness.

Just like all open world games there are collectibles scattered around the world. Sunset Overdrive is a very colorful, visually busy world so just seeing them is difficult, much less seeing them while you are dangling from a power line. Actually collecting them is a chore because you can't stop moving long enough to map out the correct path. There are almost always monsters on you tail. If you stop, they catch you, and then you die. This all leads to frustrating trail and error sessions that could have been avoided if the game just gave you some damn down time.

Combat is no better. It is all grinding and bouncing and sloppy shooting. I avoid it whenever possible and still die more than I should. The game addresses this by leveraging no death penalty. Die all you want, even in a mission, you just come back for more.

Open world games usually hit my OCD spot and end up collecting every little bit of junk that I can find. The Assassins' Creed games always do this. So did inFamous and I promise that Far Cry 4 will chew up and inordinate of amount of time. Sunset Overdrive does nothing for me. I have no desire to explore the environment or unlock better powers by collecting toilet paper and smelly tennis shoes (actually collectibles, by the way). It is going to be bulldozed through and forgotten for better games.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A long trip

Last night I learned that you cannot use the game DVR functions when streaming, robbing me of a funny moment. This morning I figure out how to create highlights from the Twitch archive. Then I found out that Twitch highlights don't seem to embed properly. But there is a YouTube export!




But the video quality is shit. Oh well, you get the picture,

Monday, November 10, 2014

Don't turn around...

The DriveClub experiment ended in a dramatic and altogether unpleasant manner on Friday night. Moving from a slower class of cars to a faster one always requires a period of adjustment. Good racing games ease the player into this or, even better, have the conceit of a rewind function to relieve the pain of doing well for four laps and plowing into a wall on the last corner of the final lap. I don't remember which racing game series first used rewind but it is a function that all racing games should provide, even if there is a significant penalty for using it. These are racing games after all. If I wanted real consequences I would drive my Spyder in an even more reckless manner.

...the bike is smarter than I am. It wont let me get it out of shape.

No rewind function is only part of the reason I uninstalled DriveClub in a huff and never looked back. The other is that I did not have a good enough car to actually do well in the new series. Cars are unlocked automatically at specific fame levels, this game's kudos or credits. The player does not get to choose which car to unlock. This is already bad, but cars do not unlock with respect to the series the player is actually in. In order to unlock a better car for my series I would either need to backtrack and re-run previous races, which is no fun, or play *shudder* online, which doesn't work.

In summary, fuck that game. There is too much else to play at the moment to screw around with an unfinished mess. There are finished messes that I could waste my time on.

...

Shadow Warrior is unremarkable but something very odd did happen with my Kinect last night.

I have slacked off of streaming for many month. One bad experience turned me off to it: the number of viewers notification was right in the middle of something important on the screen  and I could not turn it off. Months later and I remembered that it was there and had a good game for showing off. Stupid shit happens in Shadow Warrior quite often. I would not say that it is good but it does provide spectacle on regular intervals.

My Kinect is not ideally placed. It is too low, below the television, so when I turned on the face cam it gazed up at me at a very disconcerting angle right out of a horror movie. There was an auto-zoom option that I assumed would have the Kinect behave as it down when using Skype: zoom in on the person who was talking or moving. I turned it on, the Kinect thought for a few seconds, then focused on the wall behind me where it met the ceiling.

There was nothing there. Turned the option off, me, turned it back on, wall. This was wasting valuable time so I turned the camera off completely and streamed without it. A few hours later I shut it all down and walked away, then realized that I never turned around to see if anything was behind me or not.

That part of the basement was dark now. I opted to not investigate further. The Kinect can see in the dark, perhaps it can see further. Tune in tonight to see if I am devoured by the spirits in my basement.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Difficulties

Once again my domain name is about to expire and I am unable to log into the admin side with any of my three Google accounts. I don't know why there are three, there just are. Attempting to log in just starts a loop in which I am prompted to choose an account, the asked for a password, then prompted to choose an account.

It would probably go on that way until my mouse stopped working and I died of dehydration.

Bah, this may no longer be worth the effort.

Update: the hoops I just had to jump through to give Google $10. You wouldn't believe it.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Hubris

DriveClub, it two parts.

Part the first: the game itself.

DriveClub has an impossible act to follow, coming on the heels of Forza Horizon 2. It does not try to emulate it, opting for a more standard 'career' format of races and time trials. This works because each event is short and sweet with little repetition of location and tracks between them. The tracks certainly look great, and someone on the development team loved showing off particle effects because they are everywhere. Flower petals and confetti blow around cars in a surprisingly realistic fashion. Races move from day to night over a few laps. It looks good. Not Forza good, but still good.

Cars are a little floaty, especially when going over bumps or down hills. This may have been intentional but that when combined with the lack of racing line took a few races to get used to. The racing line is a crutch, I know that, but I do miss it. Still, I have little to complain about regarding the game itself. It should have been a launch title, but that is another story.

Part the second: everything else.

Everything else is broken as fuck. End of story. The game disconnects from its own servers for no reason which plays havoc with user created challenges. For example, there are average speed challenges that pop up during races that pit the player against other players. This is a good idea, a way to keep races interesting, as proved by, you guessed it, Forza Horizon 2. In DriveClub I routinely saw average speeds of over 1000 mph.

Either jets are unlockable, people are cheating, or the game is broken.

DriveClub is not finished yet. It is almost a year late and it still isn't finished. The 'free' version that was supposed to come out for PS+ users has been canceled. The retail version should have been canceled, too, or at least put back in the oven for another year.

Sony does not have many exclusives this year, nothing to compete with Sunset Overdrive and the Halo re-releases, anyway. This is not the game that...

Wait, what was that? The PS4 is still significantly outselling the Xbox One? As you were Sony, do whatever the fuck you want, but I really hope this comes back to bite you in the ass eventually,

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ammo hoarding

In case anyone needed more proof that The Evil Within is just Resident Evil without the Stars, the ending boss fights culminated in an on rails, turret based fight and then a rocket launcher appears out of nowhere. Literally. Our hero, fighting a giant monster atop an even larger brain with said turret, is flung several football fields away and is impaled on giant barbed wire. Things are not looking good until a not-zombie holding a rocket launcher literally falls from the sky.

It is as if Mikami himself inserted himself into the game world and handed the player the tools to finish the game. The story is so incomprehensible that I could be told that this was indeed the case and would not argue. There are layers of realities, desperate final attempts to make the main baddie sympathetic and then a brain gets squished and everyone wakes up.

I would say that it was like Inception but all I have seen of the movie are trailers. I really should fix that one of these days.

But wait, the similarities don't end there. The final, most powerful weapon (aside from the rocket launcher which is unlocked by beating the game) is a magnum hand gun. Years of gaming instinct told me to hoard all of the bullets for the final boss. So I hoarded and waited. And waited. There was a final gauntlet consisting of three or four waves of enemies, each more vicious than the last, culminating in the return of the chainsaw guy from the beginning of the game.

I did not use the magnum.

Then the box headed 'I am not pyramid head' guy returned with his evil twin brother. I scrounged for arrow parts, set traps, chipped away at them with my pistol, and still not use the magnum.

And then a jeep and a rocket launcher fell from the sky.

This is not the game's fault, it is a reflex built up by years and years of being screwed in the final level of games because I did not have enough ammo to kill something. The game did not require that level of stinginess and I could have made things much easier for myself.

The list is good and full and there are things that I actually want to play on it. Unfortunately Driveclub is up next and feedback has not been good. I have little time for mediocre racing games. If the game is butts it is getting kicked to the curb.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Not as advertised

There is always just enough ammo available in The Evil Within. There is never enough to be comfortable or to not take extreme care with each shot, but I have yet to hit an encounter that I could not get passed for lack of bullets. A few have started out with me armed with nothing more than a few matches. Creativity, luck, and figuring out that corpses could be used as land mines have gotten me through. Please note that this is all on the normal difficulty. I assume that Hard reduces the player to fending off the monster horde with harsh language and obscene hand gestures.

Survival, yes. Horror, no.

The Evil Within is not frightening for the same reason that Resident Evil games have failed to raise a single goose bump in well over a decade: the game lacks subtlety. There is nothing subtle about being chased down the streets of a destroyed city by a giant spider think while riding in a bus with the top torn off. There was spectacle, it was a very cool sequence, but it was not frightening. Likewise, there is nothing subtle about rooms painted wall to wall with blood, body parts scattered about, giant people shredding garden weasels festooning the walls.

It is all spectacle, no scares. With that in mind, it does what it does better than Resident Evil 6 did. I know that's not a very high bar, but the game has managed to be fun in spite of the camera hating the player and voice acting straight out of Resident Evil 1. The last third has fallen apart with repeated boss fights and a city that belongs in the aftermath of Akira but it is still playable.

All niceties aside, what game were these people playing? Fucking marketers.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Game vs un-game. Fight!

I am having a difficult time pinning down how I feel about The Evil Within. It has no characters of interest, no story and no feeling of world or place for the player to latch on to. It jumps from scene to scene like a YouTube supercut of the grossest moments in gaming. At five hours in I have no idea what is going on as the game has been nothing more than series of chases scenes featuring unkillable bosses and fighting sections with too little ammo. I shouldn't like this game.

Yet I played for around two and half hours straight last night. I was stationary on the couch long enough for my feet to fall asleep. I was not frightened or disturbed but I wanted to know what was going to happen next. How is the game going to top the long legged spider woman thing emerging from a pool of blood and chasing you down the hall? Who knows, but it is certainly going to try.

The Evil Within is interesting in spite of its lake of world building. There are little snippets here and there of what the story might be but nothing cohesive, at least nothing that I have seen yet. Areas are completely disconnected, to the point that the main character isn't even seen walking between them. He passes out in one and wakes up in the next and somehow isn't freaking out about the whole thing.

Here is a fair comparison: in spite of my (perhaps unwarranted) dislike for the end of Alien: Isolation, I did enjoy it as a whole. It is almost the opposite of The Evil Within in that is spends a great deal of time building tension and characters. It is less 'game-y' and more 'interactive experience-y'. The Evil Within is all 'game-y,' pun possibly intended, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It will increase the gross out factor until it ends but will not invade my peripheral vision as I turn off the lights in the basement and ascend the stairs.

P.T. did that. It still does that. When I turn off The Evil Within the game is done and I am checking the achievement list for my progress.

There is one specific mechanical complaint that I need to get off of my chest: I hate the letterboxed aspect ration. It is pointless. When combined with how close the camera usually is to the player's back a full third of the screen is obscured. Item pick up prompts are routinely just off screen, causing me to either miss precious ammo pickups or spend extra time looking up and down in every area. My guess is that it is supposed to instill a claustrophobic feel the game, which it does, but the damage it does to my ability to actually see what the fuck I am doing is not an acceptable trade off.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Too much, too soon

Shinji Mikami pitching The Evil Within.

'It's like Resident Evil 4, but, well...'



The Evil Within wastes no time at all with boring things like establishing characters or locations. Nope, it goes straight from 'possible disturbance at mental ward' to 'corpses suspended from ceiling being carved up giant chainsaw monster.' It's not bad but with nothing normal to be compared to the crazy stuff is less shocking.

Yes, it's gory. Yes, it's a little unnerving. So is a visit to the dentist, at least for me.

On the grand scheme of horror games this is much closer to Outlast that Silent Hill 1 or 2. 'Tis the season, though, so I will make the best of it. Resident Evil 4 was really good back on the GameCube, might as well play it again.

Now if I could fix this silly letter boxed aspect ratio.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

By jove, it does what it says

Remember what I said about Harmonix being staffed by miracle workers? (Or did I think about saying that and never wrote it down...) Anyway, some wise individual realized that the classical tunes were much more fun to play than the pop nonsense in Fantasia Music Evolved. This same wise person decided that the final two songs, the 'boss songs' as it were, should be original compositions. They were wonderful, both fun to hear and fun to play. If there was more classical DLC I would be more sold on the concept. There is not, and I have heard all that I care to hear and flailed all that I care to flail, so the game is now complete as far as I am concerned.

Fantasia has been the only motion-centric game I have ever played. Even games that have optional supports, like Alien Isolation and its leaning around corners, were always better served by the buttons at my fingertips. I will admit that standing in front of my television, turning on the Xbox with my voice, selecting the game (which was usually the hardest part) and starting it without touching the control felt very cool. I am incredibly late to the party on this, but that is fine because it my hesitance to jump in the technology has improved to the point that it actually works.

It is still a novelty. And the low ceiling in my basement is a definite hindrance. But it works and I had fun with a game that used it exclusively.

...

Why yes, I do feel like I have been a little too negative lately. How can you tell?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Agony?

Having to endure physical pain while playing a music game is not new. Rock Band and Guitar Hero are responsible for putting more miles on my hands than they were prepared to take. There was a hard limit on how long I could play a plastic guitar. Fantasia Music Evolved offers up a whole host of new aches and pains. My shoulders ache and my lower back screams after around an hour and a half. I am not entirely convinced that it is worth the agony this time around. Rock Band always worked and the amusement factor was determined by the quality of the music. Music Evolved doesn't always work and the music available, once the excellent classical tracks have been mastered, is equally suspect. On the rare occasions that everything clicks I find myself grinning like an idiot, waving my arms through space and thanking the gaming gods that there is no one around to see it.

I hate motion only games. Strike that, I hate the idea of motion only games and had not ever given one a chance until Fantasia. There was a never a game I saw whose gameplay was significantly improved my using motion controls over a controller. Before you say 'dancing game' know that that is genre that I will never touch. Ever. Fantasia sneaks in the door because I have a soft spot for music games. And Night on Bald Mountain kicks ass.

At it's core the player is tasked with waving his or her arms in time with one of several available tracks. That's all; and, much to my surprise, the technology side of it works. Once I had rearranged my basement and was able to stand far enough from the screen I was waving my arms like a champ. There is a specific feel to it that takes a while to dial in. Once I started moving sooner than I thought I would need to it became much easier. The technology is not the problem. My issue, and what will keep this game from joining Rock Band in my limited collection, is that the action called for often have little to do with the music itself.

There is a one to one relationship between action and reaction in Rock Band, especially at the highest difficulty. A note appears, I play the note, I hear the note. Fantasia is much more abstract, especially when you are accompanying the vocal tracks. The music and the actions do not match. Instead of waving to the music I am just waving and that is not nearly as much fun (sober). More than half the time I was watching, not listening, thus defeating the purpose of a music game.

It is possible that I am expecting far too much from a glorified party game but Harmonix has proved to be staffed by miracle workers. I wanted what will not happen: a new Rock Band. What I got was an exercise program focused on my shoulders with a more miss than hit soundtrack. Not a bad thing, but not worth the pain it causes.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Warning, bitchiness incoming

Too annoyed to write. Engine fried in my crossover. Spyder is in the shop for its 3000 mile check up and transmission problems. It has been warm enough to ride most of the week but won't be by the time it is done. People keep asking me for support on things at work that I don't support/don't understand/have never actually seen.

And Alien: Isolation ended with a quick time event.

I could see it coming. I could see it coming three hours from the end when the game should have finished but no, it had to have the same kind of false endings as Alien and Aliens. The Return of the King of more concise about its ending then Isolation was. I could see it coming as Ripley was cornered by an alien that should not have been where it was and forced backwards into an airlock.

Down, Down, Left, Right, A, credits. Fuck you.

How is that better then having the player actually control the events? Let me turn around, look for a way out, find the airlock, run in and press the button. Let me die a few time trying to figure it out. This is how the rest of the game worked and it was (sometimes) marvelous. The alien in combination with the environment created unexpected problems and solutions. It played on stealth games tropes and punished the player for relying on them.

Yes, the alien can see you under the desk and yes, he will kill you for your folly.

This was all thrown away in the last thirty seconds for a scripted ending and a few meaningless button presses. All of the effort and daring was for nothing because someone in the chain of command couldn't let the game be a game to the bitter end. Someone decided that their vision for the end was the only way and that that was what the player was going to get.

Games can  be more than that. The rest of Isolation proves it. The people who make the games just need to be brave enough to finish what they start.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

He'll never see me there


He walked right into the room, got a drink from the water fountain, and left. Either the alien can only see straight ahead or he was no longer hungry, having filled himself on replicant goo. Either way, I lived to see another ten minutes of the game, so it was a win for me.

I thought that I would use the Game DVR and streaming functionality of the Xbox One much more than I have been. Around eleven months in and that is the fourth video I have bothered saving and posting. Either interesting things just don't happen to me or I forget that it is there. I toyed with streaming briefly while playing Thief but I did no talking so people jumped in and quickly back out. Honestly, I prefer streams without the face cam and crude monologue. I am there to see the game and have no interest in how drunk/stoned/homophobic the person playing is.

In about a month I am going to do a year one retrospective on both consoles. The Xbox One has seen much more use but is it really better or do I pick up that controller out of habit? Is it worth paying for both Xbox Live and PS+? What has happened to my electricity bill since two 'always on' consoles took their places in my entertainment center? No to steal my own thunder, but the way Microsoft has leveraged achievements and how your list compares to your friends is the work of an evil genius. It is the first thing that I look at when I turn the system on and the last thing I check when I shut it down. They have perfected the metagame via a meaningless number.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Peak-a-death

How an encounter with the alien usually goes in Isolation:

Look, there it is, I should run away.


Too late.

I have muttered 'oh come on' and thrown my hands up in the air more times in frustration than I care to admit. This is not an easy game. The alien behaves almost randomly, only he always seems to be where he needs to be in make you nervous. Human encounters are almost worse: if they figure out that you are hiding in a ventilation shaft they will just sit at the entrance and wait you out. The first human encounter took me almost an hour. This was an hour me poor Ripley getting shot because I came around a corner too quickly or waited in out place for too long. I was attempting to play stealthily in a Metal Gear Solid way watch the enemies long enough and you will find the gap in their patrols. In Isolation someone always shoots you in the back or, worse yet, you get torn in half by an eyeless uber-predator.

This does not cause a problem because Isolation makes no attempt at hiding the fact that it is a merciless stealth game. Even when you have ammunition, which you rarely do, shooting humans or androids just brings the alien running. Sneaking is the only way and even then you are going to die, often, in messy ways.

The problem is that all save points are manual and they are spread way the fuck out. If the alien kills you a few feet from your destination but fifteen minutes of play time from the last save point guess who gets to go back and do it all again. And again. Repeated trips though areas break the immersion because you quickly figure out where it is scripted that you can been seen and heard and where it isn't. Dangerous areas are scripted to be dangerous and nothing you do before will prevent that. To the same token safe areas are always save (unless you start throwing pipe bombs around) so you can sprint through, uneaten.

There may not be an easy fix for this. Isolation is making every attempt to stay true its vision, that combat is never the correct option, and it is hard to fault a game for doing what it says it is going to do. This makes the game inappropriate for marathon sessions, at least for me. There is only so much frustration that I can take.


Friday, October 17, 2014

I am tired of pressed X

I will try to squeeze out a few words between worrying about Microsoft Partner renewals and fretting over storage space.

...

Out of an abundance of consistency I must condemn Shadow of Mordor for committing Chamberlain's cardinal gaming sin: the final confrontation ended with a quick time event. To explain my disappointment I need to step backwards in the came to the halfway point. At the end of the first half Talion was tasked with killing five uruk war chiefs. The game wanted me to do in tactful, almost sneaky manner by killing their body guards first and then luring the big bads out into the open. It gave me the option of doing it Conan style, that is, killing everyone with a big sword, so that is the one I took. Point for player freedom, hooray!

The second half ended much the same way, only instead of killing the war chiefs I was supposed to posses them, add them to my own personal orkish army. Subterfuge was again suggested: posses the body guards, use them to kill the chief, then the possessed body guard takes his place. Again, the Conan option was available. It was more difficult this time but I succeeded in strolling into their head quarters, cornering the chief, then beating him with my sword until he was on the brink of death.

This is all fine and good, but what do you do with your own uruk army? Storm the black gates, that what. Storming the black gates was the giant, movie quality set piece and encounter that Shadow of Mordor so desperately needed. Talion shows up with his blue eyed uruks in tow and run headlong into a much larger force of urks still loyal to Sauron. It is a chaotic battle, one that had me killing my own men as often as I killed the enemy, but Talion comes out on top.

Game over? Not quite. Talion scales the black gate and fights the creepy dark captain in a stealth based encounter. Not as epic as the giant uruk battle but at least I was in control of what was going on. Game over?

Nope, finally Talion and Celebrimbor face the black hand. The battle starts out interesting: the black hand slits his own throat and then pulls Clebrimnor out of Talion. For some reason the neck wound switch to Talion (don't think about it too hard) and I was ready for a battle between Talion and his families killer without the aid of the power of the elven spirit who had been keeping him alive throughout the game.

Then the black hand was possessed by Sauron which was a bit much. Then I pressed X to not die.

I understand the corner that the game backed itself into: how do have the player character fight and win against Sauron without cheapening the villain? Easy, fuckers, let him lose. It was already established that Talion was immortal. Yes, Celebrimbor was gone, but Talion had been 'denied death.' He was still immortal, just not as powerful. It was the perfect set up for a sequel, it could have logically explain why Talion lost all of his powers between games, but no, the games cheats with a interactive cut scene and a feel good ending.

God damn it I was annoyed. Shadow of Mordor was by no means a great game but it had a shit ending and that is what I am going to remember when the second one roles around.

...

Pay no mind to NaTURAL DOCtRINE disappearing from the coming soon list. I played it for about ten minutes. It was a PSP refugee pressed to a PS4 disc in a genre that I neither enjoy nor have any ability in. Translation: it was ugly as sin and I want to play Alien: Isolation.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Second verse, same as the first

Shadow of Mordor has caught more than a little flack for its Batman inspired (stolen) combat dropped into a different environment. This is not exactly fair, the Arkham series did not invent its combat system, just honed it to near perfecting. I do not fault Shadow of Mordor from borrowing it, the system keeps fights manageable even when up against dozens of enemies. It should have freed up development time for other things like creating interesting environments or better writing for the characters. Nope. Instead we get incredible enemy variety in the form of uruk captains and a punishing early difficulty curve the discourages exploration.

Not all bad, not all good.

Shadow of Mordor has no sense of place. The opening area is half destroyed buildings and grey skies and the second is more half destroyed buildings on a grassy savanna. Nothing is memorable. Think back to the Lord of the Rings movies: Mordor is almost a character. The black gates are intimidating as fuck. In the game they are just doors, just another random backdrop that unfortunately detracts from the good that is happening in front of them.

Poor Talion may me immortal but for the first several hours he isn't very tough. Uruk captains killed me just enough time to discourage me from trying their missions. I did other things, avoiding them when possible, and it turned a 'open' ended area into a very linear set of missions. Exploration equaled death if they found me. Many hours later Talion has toughed and I am not constantly looking over my shoulder, waiting for Orkug the Human Gnasher to shiv me in the back and then talk about how easy it was to kill me.

Still, it scratches the same itch as Assassin's Creed and inFamous games. Get to new area, do all sub-missions, begrudgingly advance story, move to next area, repeat until credits. It just doesn't do it very well.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The fractured mainstream

In the tiny pantheon of people I know there are precisely three people who play video games. One is a member of the PC master race, at least he was until an SSD in his rig took a shit, and now he recommends melancholy indy titles that will I play eventually. Another plays nothing but NCSoft handheld RPGs, taking the occasional break to invest ludicrous amounts of time in Dragon Age games. The third plays nothing but first person shooter with friends. He was thrilled when I started Destiny, decidedly less so when I put it away because I had had my fill after around a week.

The people that I see most, at work (ugh) have no idea what I do in my free time. When asked I usually deflect the question with half truths like rock climbing, which I do but only once a week, or not answering at all. I am not embarrassed of the fact that each and every evening ends with around three hours of screen time but trying to explain that to people whose definition of 'fun' is so different would be next to impossible.

Word of my trip to Chicago for UFGT leaked out two years ago. I had told one person who almost understood and he of course told the boss. When I got back he asked how I did, which was easily answered (terribly) but I could tell that he wanted details. He and I don't have enough communal vocabulary to make this possible. If I say Street Fighter he has no idea what I am talking about. If I say competitive fighting game he thinks I am donning pads and stepping into a ring. This is not his fault, he is around sixty five and from a different world, but the disconnect is astounding.

Not that he doesn't keep trying. Just yesterday he asked what I did over the weekend, then made a joke about playing games. I couldn't tell him that I play every night, that I ran through Horizon 2 in a week, he just wouldn't understand. So I lied, told him that I play when there is time and that I was currently working on an open world racing game.

As 'mainstream' and common as video games are there is still a massive chunk of the population who have no interest in or understanding of them. This is not necessarily an age based discrepancy. Yes, I am on the upper edge of years for people who play games consistently, I got in on the ground floor and never stopped, but there are people significantly younger than I whose entire gaming experience has been on phones and tablets, to whom owning a console would be an inconvenience. It is a fractured pass time unlike all others.

Television and movies at least offer common ground between preferences. I don't like horror movies but I know what Saw is and why I will never watch it. I don't have cable but I know what Game of Thrones is and that I really should find a way to see it. Ask someone whose definition of games is Candy Crush Saga and Bejeweled what he or she thinks of the last Call of Duty and you will either get a blank stare or be told to talk to the kids.

Thank goodness for the internet, a place where I can say 'No Russian' and someone will know what I am talking about. I can complain about Yun's bullshit or unwarranted Blanka nerfs and be instantly greeted with cheers and jeers. Places like this don't exist in the real world.

At least I don't think they do. At least not in the Midwestern fly over states.

Gaming isn't mainstream yet. It is accepted but not embraced. It means different things to different people so it may never be. The guy who buys nothing but Madden every year has nothing to say to the JRPG enthusiast with the waifu pillow pre-order bonus. Neither of them are wrong, they just don't speak the same language.

To be clear, I do not think that anything needs to be fixed. It is wonderful and broken like vanilla Sagat.

Look it up.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Meeting in the middle

It's well over a week since my last entry of substance. I have so much to talk about and I fear I am forgetting most of it. Let's start with things that have pissed me off recently. Being good and mad at video games should get my gears turning again.

Velocity 2X has been my go to game when I only have a few minutes to play. Due to its handheld roots it worked quite well in short bursts. A few levels and I had played my fill. It has been more than good enough to deserve being played to completion, which is exactly what I intended to do last night. I would have, too, if the game has decided that it wasn't going to let me.

Each completed level is graded based on time, collectibles and score. I almost always maxed out on the collectibles, rarely missed the score and came in about the second threshold for time, meaning I came away with around 90% of the available points. New levels were unlocked based on the accumulated points and I had always been fine, so much so that I stopped paying attention. On level 42 the game decided that I was not good enough to continue and that I had to go back and clean up my previous efforts. The deficit was small so I did so by replaying the first level. Satisfied, the game let me play level 43.

The gap to level 44 was in the hundreds of points, to which I say: fuck you. Save that shit for score attack or post game. Let the player see the whole game without having to jump through asinine hoops. My initial comparison to 'Splosion Man was unwarranted. 'Splosion Man was an excellent game. This might me but it is determined to not allow me to see it all.

Speaking of games that I did not pay for, I have managed to catch up on at least trying all of the free offering for PS+ and Xbox Live and it was a disappointing month. Chariot, the lone new game on Xbox One, look and plays like a glorified flash game. The entire concept is as follows: drag a wheeled coffin through levels to accumulate loot. I was bored after three levels.

Spelunky is a true rogue like. Rogue Legacy was fun because it created either constant advancement or at the very least the illusion of advancement. Spelunky does not. I did not feel bad for turning it off before surpassing the first area.

Pix the Cat is Chu Chu Rocket crossed with Snake and dosed with Space Giraffe. I get it, I think, but I am not sure that I need to play it. Work gives me enough headaches, I don't need another source.

Now, the main event, a game that pleased me to no end but that I am already done playing. Forza Horizon was my favorite racing game of the previous generation. Expectations for Horizon 2 were sky high and the game beat them all. Every box is checked: the game looks awesome, the way the cars feel is a nice midpoint between Gran Turismo and Project Gotham, the world is huge, events do not repeat for the first several hours, the soundtrack is a bit meh but you are able to turn it off, it is just about the perfect racing game.

The game goes out of its way to make sure the player is having fun. For example, every few championships there is a special race that pits the player against some ridiculous opponent. There are five of these, ranging from 45 hot air balloons to a giant cargo plane. They are races that feel un-winnable but each time,  be the thinnest of margins, I came out on top, and I am pretty sure the game let me.

This is not the AI rubber banding. I can attest to there being no such assistance for the drivatars in the actual races because I destroyed them on most occasions. This is the game modifying a meaningless race to keep it exciting. They feel almost scripted, and if I tried harder I probably could have lost, but all five of them, from the train to five jets, ended in a visually stunning matter with me on top by around a second.

I have no proof that this was intentional but it felt to good to be random. If it was by design I have no problem with it, in fact I applaud it. This is a racing game meeting the player half way, creating a special, exciting moment by bending the rules a bit in a race that doesn't matter anyway.

After winning the Horizon Final I tried to start another season. My gaming wanderlust was in full effect and I was unable to continue, the pull of Middle Earth or Aliens was too strong. All in all I saw about 15% of the total races. There are entire classes of cars that I never drove. Next summer, when the list has dwindled and I am complaining of nothing to play, I will come back to Horizon 2.

Hell, I might even purchase the damn game.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Once again I am not dead

Just on vacation over the weekend and now paying for being on vacation with two days of work that no one else could do.

Being indispensable is nice but it sure makes it hard to get time away.

Forza Horizon 2 is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I will go into more details tomorrow (hopefully) but it is a racing game that wants the player to have fun and actively makes exceptions to its own rules to facilitate it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

And then poof, it was gone.

I received a message via Xbox Live last night asking if I was fine soling (in Destiny) or if I wanted some company. My reply was that of course I was fine soloing and that I was on the final story mission. Thirty minutes later I was done and I have no desire to play the game again.

This is shame because, with better story telling, the final mission would have been fucking epic. Your guardian steps out into a huge clearing, the dark heart of something beating in the center. Enemies come at you from all sides, growing in size and number, until the heart animates three giant statues who join the fray. It was finally a fight that lived up to things that Bungie had done in the past.

Only I didn't care because I did not understand what the heart was, why it was bad, why I was fighting in the first place, and why I should give a fuck.


Right up until the end I felt the game was entirely blase. The end upsets me because it is wasted. There is no story to build up to it and the only pay off is the game telling you to go and grind the old levels for better equipment. Yes, there are a few strike levels that I would have liked to try but I can no longer work up the desire to turn the game back on.

At least Forza Horizon 2 comes out this week.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Caution, fragile!

Destiny's servers, along with Call of Duty: Ghosts, were taken down last night by what I assume was a D-DDOS: douchebag distributed denial of service attack. The supposed culprits tweeted out their admission. Without any sort of manifesto or even list of demands I can only assume that did it because they are ass holes and didn't have anything else to do.

And I don't even like Destiny that much.

I am about a week behind everyone else in the levels and equipment areas. This means that multiplayer PvP is already impossible. I dropped into a few games over the weekend, dipped my toes in as it were, and was thrown out before I could even get used to things. The games ran fine, I was just killed so quickly and with such dominance that there was no reason to go back. Having success in muliplayer required much grinding in the single player and I am unwilling to dedicate time to the game beyond the story missions.

It is quite clear the Destiny is just not for me and that Bungie made precisely the game that they intended to. The made a game that they wanted to play, one that caters to groups of players who get together on a regular basis and alienates everyone else. Nothing here is by mistake. If you happen to be in the target demographic then you may never stop playing. I am playing the game wrong and the game makes no effort to please me. Honestly, I respect that.

Watering the game down with more single player content would have been pointless. I highly doubt anyone plays them through more than once. The strike areas are much more difficult, interesting and impossible without a few skilled friends. It does bother me that most of the content is in effect locked out for me but I will move on in a few days to a new game. The people for whom Destiny is intended will not and they will reap the benefits of their dedication in the form of bigger guns and better customization.

Do I like Destiny? No, as a single player shooter it is far below Bungie's Halo titles. But I can certainly see what will keep people coming back again and again as more content becomes available. I count myself lucky that there is any single player content at all. Remember Titanfall? Yeah, neither will anyone else once Destiny gets rolling.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Baby batman

I am going to make an effort to not talk about Destiny as I do not think that I have ingested enough of it to form ac actual opinion. It is as everyone else has already said: the actual shooting is just as good as anything else Bungie has done. Everything in between, and I mean everything, is an absolute bore. I should not have to spend close to five minutes between missions (if you include loading times) just getting loot identified.

Instead there are two things that I need to catch up on.

#1.

Since House ended I have been without a television show to call my own. There are a few specific criteria that a show must have to be considered. First, it needs to be on network television as I refuse to pay for cable. Second, each episode must stand on its own. If I wanted to watch a mini-series I would do so. An hour long drama should have enough self sustaining story in each episode that I can miss one or two and not be completely lost. Third, it needs to star Hugh Laurie.


The third criteria is not a joke.

Out of desperation, and because I like Batman just slightly less than I like Hugh, I gave Gotham a shot on Monday night. It was shit. Not pilot shit, actual, terrible show shit. Gotham has no idea who it is trying to please and by packing references to future villains into every nook and cranny it alienates them all. Even casual Batman fans will pick out Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Riddler and Penguin - and they will know that they are all too old, save Ivy, whose name they changed from Pamela Isley to something else for no good reason. New fans will have no idea who these people are and wonder why a story that is supposed to be about James Gordon has a teenager stealing milk and hiding behind gravestones.

Gordon is wooden and unintelligent. Alfred is a foul mouthed soccer hoodlum. Bullock is Bullock - he is actually not too bad. Penguin is thin. And little Brucey Wayne is little more than a rich goth kid.

It was bad. Because I am far too generous I will give it one more episode but I do not promise to watch the whole thing.

#2.

Velocity 2X is this close to being 'Splosion Man. This close. I can tell you precisely where it misses the mark - the teleporting. Teleportation is pretty much the crux of the gameplay, both on foot and it your ship. On foot it is okay but in the ship is completely derails the flow of the levels. Speed is of the essence, especially in longer levels with branching paths, so have to stop the ship and aim the teleport destination just kills it.

On foot you always teleport a set distance in front of the character. This allows you to keep moving, pulling the level together into one flowing action (like 'Splosion Man). The ship is not nearly as smooth. And you spend about twice as much time in the ship as not, so it is about half as much fun as it could be,

Points for being an indy game that eschews 16 bit retro nonsense for clean, bright art. I will finish it, then I will forget it.