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.