Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Almost indefensible

This may be my Waterloo.

Every generation or two games get out ahead of themselves, technology wise. There is a leap that they do not know quite what to do with and decide that discretion is for the weak. Something can done so it will be done, only in the gaming world this does not result in dinosaurs who can open doors, just very pretty shambling corpses of games.

Dragon's Lair is one of my favorite examples of this. Laser discs offered so much storage that someone decided to fill one up with a game, regardless of whether it was a good idea or not. The result was an interactive carton that went from wow to yawn just as fast at it ate quarters. It looked great, was animated well, was honestly funny in places, but the entire experience could be boiled down to changing tracks on a DVD player. Not surprisingly, as technology improved Dragon's Lair came out for everything, including DVD players, and one could literally play the game with a DVD remote and get the same experience.

FMV reared its ugly head again with the Sega CD. Sewer Shark and Night Trap were just the next iteration of Dragon's Lair and Space Ace. All flash, zero substance, though Sewer Shark and Night Trap were never good while Dragon's Lair and Space Ace can at least be enjoyed nostalgically.

Storage is no longer the technological marvel that it once was. Downloadable games regularly clock in well over a gig and retail releases can top 30. Size is meaningless. So what is the new hotness? Power, specifically the magical beast that is the PS4 (and to a lesser extent the XBox One). The hardware is capable of churning out graphics previously reserved for only the most elite of the PC master race. Sixty frames per second, 1080p visual masterpieces. Its a new world for console developers, so what do we get?

Dragon's Lair.

This is where the spoilers begin.

The Order is one of if not the best looking game I have ever played. Every nook, cranny, desk, wall, floor, gun and environment are rendered it startling detail. The people look and move like people with the illusion only occasionally breaking due to sporadic problems with lip syncing. One scene in particular, when Sir Galahad finds himself somehow alive after a zeppelin crash, forced me to stop and stare for almost a full minute and the wonderful destruction,


But what is the cost? For the game to look this good, what have we lost?

For starters, large sections of the game could literally be played with a DVD remote. The game's opening could have been a very compelling start. The nameless protagonist with a sweet mustache escapes from  prison. I say could because the player was not required to actually do anything. Every action was prompted, every re-action canned. Press circle to kill the guard. Press R2 to open a gate. All games operate on the illusion of freedom as the player is bound by what the game can and cannot show but The Order makes no attempt to hide the boundaries, instead telling the player what to do and when to do it.

This was the price for looking so good. The player is not allowed to explore, not allowed to do anything as it might show a seam or an angle that should not be observed. Large sections of the game are not played, they are simply viewed and the player skips between chapters, one for success, one for failure, the difference between the two being nothing more than if a button was pressed at the correct time.

The Order is the best looking hallway I have ever been bored in.

There are times when the game does open up and the player is allowed to actually play. Unfortunately all the game has to offer is the same cover based shooting that has been around since Gears of War, only Gears of War did it better. Most fights are against nameless rebels who jump up and down behind their cover to make sure the player has enough time to shoot them. Fights with non-human enemies are not much better as werewolves run back and forth in predetermined lanes to keep their admittedly excellent animations from clipping into anything.

Combat can be best summed up by one of the premier weapons, the arc cannon. The arc cannon fires bolts of lightning across the battlefield, rending the flesh from whatever appendage it hits. Sounds good, looks good, but the problem is in the execution: the player is not actually required to aim it. Hold in R2, let it go, and the game decides who it will hit.

Beautiful and pointless.

Ready at Dawn has a good story to tell in The Order but it is significantly lessened by how little impact the player has on the outcome. The idea of the knights of the round table, a group of semi-immortal guardians, doing battle with werewolves and vampires in steam punk turn of the century England is awesome. They should have made that game. Instead they made an incredible looking movie with interactive sections that are either pointless or cliched. Playing the game is no better than watching someone else play it on YouTube.

Truth be told, I haven't finished The Order yet. Galahad just escaped, aided by Tesla and the rebels. One of his crew, the saucy french man, found him and let him go while another, the love interest, has decided that she is going to kill everything until she finds him and makes him pay. I predict the last few hours will be gorgeous and that the fate of the world will be decided not by how well I can aim, shoot, run, fly, use tactics, plan, react or any of the other skills that are now associated with high quality action games. No, it will decided by a quick time event, the best looking bull shit that money can buy.



Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Perhaps I should keep them to myself

I have mean things to say about The Order that I may end up keeping to myself. As someone who confesses to enjoying the single player portions of Call of Duty and Battlefield they will come off as embarrassingly hypocritical. As someone who is a known graphics whore they will sound inconsistent.

But as a cranky old man, well, they will not be a surprise to anyone.

The Order is Pretty. The Order is also Bad. It may be the best looking bad game I have ever played. Give me another night or two to finish the game and decide if my dislike is honest and heartfelt or just a knee jerk reaction to the first half hour of the game playing out like a Dragon's Lair reboot.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

This explains itself






Friday, April 24, 2015

Apotheon spoilers!

Seriously, I am going to talk about the end of the game and how cool it was.

...

Nikandreos, the protagonist of Apotheon, never speaks. Taking a page from other great silent protagonists like Gordon Freeman he is nothing more than the players avatar. It works because to inject character into Nikandreos would put it right up against God of War. It already shares more than a passing resemblance to its 3D big brother so avoiding the inevitable pissing match Kratos and Nikandreos is probably a good thing.

This works because everything else in the game has enough character to make up for it. The gods have personality, some bow to Nikandreos' ever growing might and others (you guessed it, Ares) fight him to the very end. The levels themselves are filled with interesting details, not in graphic fidelity but in authentic (or at least authentic looking, I am no historian) touches.

And then, when the game is done, Nikandreos has a moment so great that it makes up for all the nothing he did before. The gods are all dead or have been subdued except Hera who had been helping him. Hera had been discovered by Zeus and chained to the top of Mount Olympus. Nikandreos defeats Zeus, at least it appears so, and Hera commands him to release her.

Nikandreos has accumulated the power of most of the pantheon, up to and including Zeus' thunder. He looks at the chain holding Hera, looks at the thunderbolt in his hands, and walks the fuck away.

It was glorious. This was not the last fight, and my spoilers are done, but it was a sign of man rejecting the gods and striking out on his own. The game was free a few months ago. Shame on me for not playing it sooner and shame on you if you didn't pick it up.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Still not Kratos. Quite.

Apotheon had a significant misstep last night. The game is still quite good and it did not last long but that does not mean I can overlook the problem. It was thematically consistent but a terrible decision, game play wise: enemies, specifically skeletons, that come back to life after being killed. You know, these guys:


It made sense because the enemies show up in Hades. Everyone is already dead, what more can you do to them. And there were a few puzzles that used the resurrection mechanic: a switch the needed to be pulled that was guarded by one of these bastards. Killing him didn't work, he would come back in less time that it took to pull the switch. Instead he had to be led away, killed, and then raced back to the switch.

There is one big reason why immortal enemies should not have been a feature: weapons degrade, quickly, and they cannot be repaired. When one breaks you move down to the next in your inventory, and while there is no limit on how many can be carried weapons are not exactly common. Good weapons even less so.

Even worse, these enemies swarm. On more than once occasion I found myself surrounded by five or six skeletons who would not stay dead. I ran, at least I tried to. All of Hades was a game of cat and mouse and I did not enjoy being the mouse. It did not fit with the rest if the game but at least it is over.

Funny, I recall a certain part of one of the God of Wars taking place in Hades and it being equally bad. Hmmmm...


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

He swung

Nothing of note to say today. Instead I present you with my favorite three minutes of media of any type.


This is, honestly, my favorite thing.

Monday, April 20, 2015

2D panacea

It is possible that I have being more harsh than is prudent or warranted to Mortal Kombat X. By the numbers is outsells all other fighting game franchises and it does so by hiding depth behind approach-ability and appealing to the groundlings with over the top gore. 90% of the people who play the game will be happy with it. They wont even notice the very things that bugs me the most. If anyone is wrong here it is me for expecting things that knew I was not going to get.

Fatalities are boring after the few two or three times. They take too long and there is no skill involved in getting them. The new brutalities, on the other hand, are genius. They are not as graphic as the fatalities but their execution required planning and skill. Each one as a set of prerequisites that must be met and then the final blow must be done correctly. Only then is the player rewarded. Unlike fatalities there was work involved so there is satisfaction. I look forward to them showing up in high level tournament matches. The salt will flow like blood.

...

Giving up on Final Fantasy Type 0 was an incredible relief. I was looking forward to playing something last night for the first time in several days. Instead of spending more money I backtracked to Apotheon, the free PSN game from two months ago that slipped through the cracks. It is exactly what I have been looking for: an RPG-lite Metroid-vania. Nothing too heavy, no inscrutable systems to learn or impossible difficulty spikes to overcome, just a world of reasonable size to explore.

It is a bit tough to look at in places and I have a hell of a time reading any of the text. And I suppose the combat is a bit floaty. But it's fun, and that is what matters. If I were being reductive I would call it a 2D God of War but the protagonist has no personality and I sincerely doubt that there are any sex mini-games.

On the other hand, killing innocents nets you health, I will being making a trip to Hades shortly and Apollo was a dick, so the description is not entirely unwarranted.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Personal breakthrough

Don't worry, this isn't near as important or deep as the title would lead you to believe.

Final Fantasy Type 0 had been getting sporadic play time. It was interrupted by three solid days of MKX but I did get back to it last night.

The game is ugly (being a PSP 'up-port'), impossible to follow (the player is tasked with juggling fourteen characters, most of whom look the same) and the combat is both a significant departure from anything Final Fantasy in nature and not very good. It had been around eight hours and I was not enjoying the game in the least.

That is past my desertion threshold. Usually if I have put more than a few hours into a game I will finish it regardless of the game's quality. Type 0 was not that bad. I have played and finished worse, but last night I just couldn't do it. I could not put another minute into the game when there are downloadable games that should be played. Games like Ori and the Blind Forest or Hand of Fate or the 2D greek metroid-vania that was free on PSN two months ago whose name I have forgotten. All good games that deserve my time.

So did something new: I turned the game off, unfinished, and sent it on its way. And it feels good.

...

1,5 gig patch for MKX. Tonight I will see if it actually did anything.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Killing my interest

Three days in and Mortal Kombat X is following the same pattern as the last game.

Day 1: Hey, this game is good! Story mode is cool. Lots of other content. Plenty of characters.

Day 2: Let's try playing online.... Ouch, that was a bad idea. Still not done with story mode, though. Lots to do.

Day 3: I really want to play against other people so time to deal with the input delay. Offline combos don't work online. Dodgy matchmaking in ranked. Easily abused moves that I know how to react to are impossible to avoid because what I do doesn't actually happen for several frames. The only way to succeed is to just do crazy shit and that isn't much fun.

Day 4: Looks like there other games I need to play.

Maybe it will be fixed. I said the same about MX9 and it never was. I have also heard that online play on the Xbox One is slightly better which makes me regret buying it on PS4. Worst of all I knew this going in. I knew that NRS was either unwilling or unable to make a game that was playable online beyond mashing out specials moves.

There is a deceptive amount of depth here that just doesn't work online. For example, throws are quite powerful and the throw mix up is a great idea. It is actually too powerful because teching throws is almost impossible online. Canceling a throw into a combo is an even better idea that is, again, impossible to do with any consistency,

The best punish online is down 2, the uppercut, and that is boring.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

MORTAL (wait for the input delay) KOMBAT

I talk about Killer Instinct, specifically its online play, in such glowing terms it is almost embarrassing. KI is the gold standard of fighting game net code. Nothing else modern even comes close, and I say modern because Super Street Fighter II HD Remix was just as good and that game is old. I don't know how it was accomplished but 90% of ranked games against random people in KI are almost perfect, the remaining 10% being terrible because people use toasters as routers or cannot be bothered to stop streaming Netflix.

Mortal Komat X is the first truly next generation fighter since Killer Instinct. Guilty Gear Xrd doesn't count because the PS4 version really is just the PS3 version at a higher resolution (don't get me wrong, I love Guilty Gear) and Dead or Alive doesn't count because that isn't really a fighting game. How does it stack up?

Not well. Honestly, the online play is butts, but it is saved from being unplayable by how the game handles combos and the gigantic margin for getting them entered. Street Fighter has an insane execution barrier between the lay person and sweet ass damage in the form of 1 frame links: moves that only combo when entered on a specific frame. The game runs at sixty frames per second which means that the player has, literally, 1/60th of a second to get it right. There are way to make it easier by half via plinking, 'improving' the margin for error to 1/30th of a second.

Blanka doesn't have too many of these.

Links are possible online when the connection is good but much easier offline.

Killer Instinct also has a flavor of links called manuals that are required at higher levels but mortals can get away with mixing up auto-doubles. Auto-doubles have pretty loose timing. When combined with the impeccable net code I can do everything online that I can do offline.

Mortal Kombat is, well, different. When dropping a special move on the end of a chain the command for the special can be input before the chain even comes out. You can perform the entire thing, from opener to ender, sight unseen. When playing through what feels like ten or so frames of input delay it makes some of what I can do offline possible online.

It still is not as good as it should be and  I an not happy with it but it is playable. Kitana is still awesome and has a few new moves in one of her variations that I need to figure out what to do with. I did not win much when I played online last night but I did manage to piss someone off to the point of him disconnecting.

His head exploded. Quitality.

Monday, April 13, 2015

It could be both.



An picture showing how much story Dying Light can pack into one screen shot or how I felt after playing Bloodborne for an hour and a half.

You decide.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

90 minutes I can never have back

8:07

Here we go. Adjust the slider until the man is visible and the beast is invisible. Subtle.

8:12

Damn that's an in depth character creator. And some hefty load times.

8:21 - Death 1

No weapons, no guidance, killed by villager wielding an axe and a torch. Oh wait, it looks like this is scripted. Just prepping me for what is to come, I suppose.

8:32

Some back story or explanation would be nice. And was I supposed to fight that werewolf? I just walked around him and left because he couldn't fit through the door.

8:40

I am getting a tutorial/hand holding sessions. Can't complain about that.

8:41

Went back to the hunter's dream to purchase equipment. When I returned enemies that I killed are all back. Padding game length with repetition, eh?

8:58 - Death 2

Giant bastard who I was trying to avoid. He went from loud and lumbering to sneaky and with a posse to back him up. If I have to kill everyone again I will not be happy.

9:00

Seriously? Twenty minutes of work all wasted. All the enemies that I killed are back. That is the problem here. Not enemy difficulty. This game has no respect for the player's time.

9:04 - Death 3

Same kind of guy as the first time who I fought because I didn't want to do the exact same thing as last time for no gain. Guess what? Not ready for him. My only option is do wade through the same twenty minutes of game as before and hope that it goes better,

I hate this.

9:25  - Death 4

Fuck this game. Fuck it. 20 minutes of progress lost. Hell, I have been playing for over an hour and have barely seen more than ten minutes of game because it cannot be assed to give me a checkpoint. Yes, I could have fled at the sight of the two werewolves and spent my experience on equipment but that would mean doing everything over again. Instead I tried to push on and was killed for the effort.

Yes, I suppose that after enough tries I would get past the werewolves but that just means that I would get fucked by the next encounter. It's not fucking worth it. It really isn't. No game is good enough to warrant this kind of abuse.

9:31 - Death 5

This is not fun. It is not interesting. It is not compelling. It is slightly above dental work.

Slightly.

9:35 - Death 6

Boredom leads to frustration. Frustration leads to taking chances. Taking chances leads to dying to Innsmouth refugees wielding pitch forks which leads me to uninstalling the god damn game. I will never play anything by From Software again. Ever. Fuck them for unleashing this critic proof tripe that makes me look like ass for not climaxing at the very mention of its name.

Oohhhh, it's hard, you have to work for it. Fuck that. This is supposed to be fun, not akin to doing taxes or getting my colon checked. Or getting my colon checked by my taxes. God damn, am I pissed off right now.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Bad taste

Children are notable absent from most M rated games. For good reason, violence against random NPCs is one thing, violence against NPC children is particularly distasteful. The lesser of two evils is chosen, not being despicable instead of being realistic, and there just are not kids on almost all open world, sand box action games.

Dead Island threatened to break the tread with one the best/most misleading trailers ever but chickened out in the end. They saved us from the moral quandary of under sized zombies but then unleashed this upon the world:

I am not what one would call 'politically correct' and even I know that the bust above is both icky and in very poor taste.

Dying Light manages to include both live children and zombie children in its world in a way that makes sense. It makes sense that there would be kids in the city and that many of them have been separated from the parents. One of my favorite side missions is supporting a day care run by a gun smith who is using magic and funny hats to keep the children from losing their minds. It was rather touching and fit just find in the world.

Better yet, on two occasions I have run across zombie children. The first time I head crying coming from a darkened room. Not willing to leave well enough along I investigated and there it was: a zombie child crying on the floor. I got closer and there was a button prompt to 'silence' it. Crane killed it, that much was clear, but it was done in a sensitive way.

The child zombies have a specific power that I missed the first time: if they see you they cry louder, summoning zombies from blocks around to their aid, much like the witch in Left 4 Dead. It was not pleasant, especially when the mound of corpses outside the child's room all got up at the same time and chased me down the hall.

See, I do have nice things to say about Dying Light. If I can get a screenshot I took off of my Xbox I will talk about how the game can tell a whole story without words via the clever placement of personal objects. I think I like thinking about the game more than I like playing it.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Admitted hypocricy

I have not had much to say regarding Dying Light as Chance and I have been engaged in a very interesting discussion about it, game design, and why I am a noob for wanting games to take it easy on me in the beginning. One of those three things I just made up. I am sure the exchange will end up on one or both of our sites so I will not spoil it now but I am going to confess some hypocrisy that I have found in my own argument.

To summarize, I do not like games that are difficult for the sake of difficulty and I really do not like games that throw the player into situations for which he or she is not prepared. I feel that Dying Light does this much to its own detriment. This is also why I am planing on 'live blogging' my attempt at Bloodborne. When I start it, which should be next week, I am going to stop playing every fifteen minutes and, to be polite, share me feelings.

It will be a profanity laden four entries.

This dislike extends to all genres, save one: fighting games. Fighting games, good ones anyway, are the prime example of games that you do not enjoy for the first several hours days weeks months. I would say, conservatively, that I still do not really know how to play Street Fighter 4 and I have been playing that with some regularity since 2009.

There is a difference that saves me from total self contradiction and that is in who or what is causing the frustration or who the player is competing against. In games that I find frustrating like Bloodborne or Dying Light I am fighting against the game itself and the system of rules that run the game are not absolute. The game can cheat when it is deemed necessary and it is not bound by the squishy machine in my head that controls my hands. Taken to an extreme example I only ever win because the game lets me. No one has been outsmarted, I have just found the answer the problem util the next time the game changes the rules.

Fighting games at least put me and the competition, another person, on equal footing. My opponent is still a human being fully capable of making the same judgments, reactions and mistakes that I am. When they beat me, and they do, it is because they know something about the system of rules that I do not or are better at using it but they are bound by the same set of rules. No one is cheating. No one is being 'cheep'.

I do not mind a person being better than me at something. It happens all the time. But fighting a process designed to kill you that does not make mistakes is just not much fun.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

No win scenario

This is a day late because Monday was Monday and I had no time to do anything. And I thought my new job would afford me more time for screwing around behind my desk. It was time to install a constanza, I thought. No such luck.

I watched as much of Nor Cal Regional as I could before falling asleep on Sunday night. It would not have been nearly as late if they didn't have to replay the first four matches of top sixteen because the wrong version of Street Fighter 4 was installed. These games were finished, in the record books, when Ricky Ortiz finally noticed that buffs and nerfs that most mortals would miss entirely were not present. To be specific, she was playing against the best Zangief in the world and noticed that the green hand was just a few frames better than it should be.

Godlike. It was brought up to the tournament organizers who then took it to the Capcom reps because NCR is an officially sanctioned event. To me fair, and I do not disagree, the matches were all payed a second time. All of them ended the same way, save one: Kazunoko (Yun) vs NuckleDu (Guile). There first match went the to the final match, final round and ended in a double KO. It was some of the craziest shit I have ever seen and it killed both players to have to play one more game. Kazunoko won, but barely, and when he was called back to play the match again he cracked before the word go.

And for her efforts Ricky still lost, in spite of couterpicking Zangief with Chun Li.

I am not going to pick on tournament for this. John Choi posted how it happened, apologized, and then offered to fly Kazunoko out for next year's NCR or to another tournament of his choosing. This is a big deal and it could have gone much worse. It is good to see that the issue was recognized and remedied with great professionalism.

There was probably bitching in stream chat but when isn't there bitching in the stream chat.

Side note: the four matches that needed to be played over were done very quickly. I would love it if top sixteen went that fast as a whole. Then maybe I could have seen it all instead of losing consciousness on my couch like the old man I pretend not to be.

Friday, April 3, 2015

A lack of understanding

After two evenings of play I have come to grips with the fact that I do not like Dying Light. The game isn't going to change and I am of course going to complain about it and still play through to the end because that is what I do. But we are never going to get along and I am not going to call it back in a few weeks when it says that it misses me.

Complaint the first: the platforming is not good. That is a problem for a game that is billed as zombie parkour. Fighting the hordes is never the best option. The odds quickly deteriorate as more zombies show up so staying above ground level is always a good idea. The game makes quite a point in the early areas that you need to be looking at the edge that you want to catch. If you aren't looking in the right place or the target has slid off screen you fall and are killed by either the ground our your train of undead admirers.

A little more forgiveness or stickiness to the platforming would have made a world of difference. That and it should be more clear what you can and cannot grab. I spent a good half hour trying to climb a tower only to find that the climbable surface was on the opposite side even though both sides looked identical. That time the crown of zombies below was content to watch and laugh, allowing my shame to kill me.

Complaint the second: there is no fast travel, or if there is, I haven't unlocked it yet. Fast travel in an open world game is a compromise between the game wanting all of the player's time and the player wanting to do other things with his or her life. I have unlocked every safe zone that I have come across, they should be good for something more than hiding in when night comes. At least let me travel to the Tower, the center of good guy operations, instead of treading over the same ground over and over.

Yes, there is a lot to see and much of it looks very good but when more than half of a play session consists of traveling over areas that I have already seen it is a problem. Familiarity breed contempt, especially when that familiarity is filled with zombies.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The old games call

I have a problem: Neverwinter on the Xbox One is not terrible.

Free to play online only pseudo-mmo throws up all sorts of red flags. Intentional time sink leading to pay to win or pay to speed things up. Content locked behind higher difficulty that requires said pay to win. Neverwinter may have that but it hides it very well. What I saw was a wealth of content, more than I will have time to investigate. There are around eight races, just as many classes, and gigantic skill trees, all of which appear to be free.

The other shoe has not yet dropped. What the game appears to be is something in the vain of the first Guild Wars with the super high level content time locked. I could pay for some of it now or I could put in the time and get it much, much later. 'The time' is filled with fast paced, action RPG combat and reasonable graphics. That was a bit nice, it looks like a refugee from the previous generation, but again, free.

There are complaints: item drops are few and far between. Several times I picked up chests that required keys to open, keys that could be purchased with real world currency. I tried to do it, just to see how much it would cost, and I couldn't figure out how. One would think that the option to spend money would be front and center. If it is I haven't seen it or I am still in the tutorial and it hasn't unlocked yet.

I say again: free and good. Worth checking out, if only for an evening or two. The trick now is to stop playing and get work done on Dying Light.