Monday, August 31, 2015

Move forward or die

Of the original eight annoying, horny teenagers only three made it to the end of my Until Dawn play through. I only feel truly responsible for one of those as it was caused by an obvious mistake. The rest the result of something being missed hours earlier or a fifty/fifty choice that I guessed wrong on. There is no time to play it again (not that I would anyway) so Sam (hooray), Emily (blech) and Ashley (meh) surviving is canon as far as I am concerned.

But was it any good? Yes, but only if you are a fan of adventure games like Tell Tale's recent offerings or older PS3 games like Heavy Rain. You do not so much play Until Dawn as you guide it, choosing the path that it takes, sometimes intentionally and others because you did not press triangle soon enough to not die. There is no attempt to disguise its nature as interactive fiction. In fact it revels in it, telling the player over and over that he or she is responsible, in a loose way anyway, for the well being of everyone involved in the story.

Making them all tolerable would have helped but that would have been out of step with the game's homage to/parody of nature. It a choose your own adventure horror movie game. Some people will love it and others will be just amused enough to see it through to the end, once.

Until Dawn never manages to muster up anything beyond cheap jump scares and I can credit that to the the second of two twists. The first twist everyone sees coming a mile away, give up on for a bit, then go back to knowing what was going to happen. The second, well...


It is obvious very early that there are two 'bad' guys. The psycho in the mansion being Josh out for revenge was obvious. It being an elaborate joke and him not actually killing anyone was a nice touch but from the moment he ran from the Ouija board to no one checking on his body after he was sawed in half it was clear he was the psycho. But what about the flamethrower guy?

Oh, he was actually a good guy and there are monsters running around the mountain that no one has seen or heard since the 1950's. As soon as the wendigo showed up all possible fear was replaced with tension, I was not afraid of the wendigo. Yes, they moved in a very unnatural manner but they are shown so often and is such detail that they are about as intimidating as the xenomorph in the later Alien movies. That is to say, there is no mystery left. Angry, strong, yes, but not frightening.

If the game could have avoiding showing them until the final scene in the mansion where the main wendigo was hanging from the chandelier it would have been terrifying. Instead I just waiting for action star Michael to come up with something. He did, but Sam jumped the gun and killed him along with all the monsters. My bad.

...

Both Metal Gear Solid V and Mad Max have shipped on the same day. I will play whichever one is one top when I open my mail. While waiting I am going to give Whispering Willows a try because it was on sale. I have not streamed anything in months and I want to give my new internet connection a try so tune in tonight to see the game and not hear me talk.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Who needs comfort zones

I am not a fan of the horror movie genre. That goes double for slasher pics. Watching actors in their thirties playing college kids have awkward sex and then be killed by the monster of the moment never really interested me. More traditional horror will sometimes sneak in, either on a whim or because I did not know that the movie was going to be pants shittingly terrifying (I am looking at you, Event Horizon, you were supposed to be sci-fi). Like everyone else in the world I saw The Blair Witch Project in the theater and I think the first Hellraiser was partially watched on video.

Oh, in college my dorm all sat down together to watch Candyman. Twenty odd dudes all trying to go to sleep with the lights on.

Horror games, on the other hand, are a precious resource that are to be savored. No game will ever frighten me as much as Fatal Frame 2 or Silent Hill 2 but I am always looking for the next best thing. PT was a damn fine experience that had me glancing over my shoulder. Amnesia (this first one) left me numb and I cannot wait for Soma in September. Outlast, on the other hand, was weak in that in relied on gore instead of mood. No one needs to see a rusty circular blade approaching their exposed genitals.

No one.

Until Dawn is an odd mix. It is a teenage slasher movie game in every sense of the word. The characters couldn't fit more snugly into their tropes if the game was subtitled That Cabin in the Woods 2. They are all annoying on some degree with two of the girls being be bitchy to the point that I could not wait for something to jump out and cut them to pieces. Then I realized the power I had: this is a game that revels in its choices. I hate Emily so I am going to try to engineer her death.

An excellent idea, only Emily and her wishy washy boyfriend wander off into the woods on their own (yeah!) and are then ignored by the game for the next hour and a half (boo!). In the mean time nothing happened. No mood was built, there were a few cheap jump scares, and I got bored. At the two and a half hour mark, long after a bad horror movie would have been over, something finally happened.

The pacing here is not good. If it weren't for the psychiatrist interviews at the beginning of each chapter I might have given up. These interviews are so incredible that I could play nothing but them and be satisfied. Peter Stormare, who played the devil himself in Constantine, is perfect.

And by perfect I mean he makes me incredibly uncomfortable. I hope the reset of the game can catch up.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Beta works, but does the game?

The Street Fighter V beta finally reached a playable state last night and I was able to log in about three hours with a character that I would never actually play. At first the demo was limited to Ryu, Bison, Nash and Chun Li. The only charge character is Bison and the way he works in V is just bizarre. His walk speed is incredibly slow but he can dish out a ton of damage if he can ever actually get close. Not my thing. Birdie and Cammy showed up later, but still, nah.

Nash is not just a Guile clone so I did not play him and I have never been a fan of Chun Li so I ground out Ryu for as long as I could stand it. The good news is that, and keep in mind the game is still many months from release, the execution demands are much lower. Jump ins almost always lead to huge damage (jumping HP, standing MP, crouching HP, light hurricane into EX-DP in the corner is somewhere around 25% damage). There is what used to be called a link there, from MP to crouching HP, but it is loose enough that I can double tap HP and get it almost every time.

There is a catch: you will almost never land a clean jump in against someone who is paying attention, It just doesn't happen. It happened to me a whole lot until I realized that the recovery on fireballs is ridiculously long that the safe range is much different than it was in 4. Most character have a way to deal with fireballs from a distance, like Nash's and Bison's fireball absorbing moves, so they don't seem to be as important anymore. To have any success you need to be up in your opponents face and make a home there.

I don't know if I like this. It makes what I am comfortable playing, a hit and run style shenanigans heavy Blanka, not possible (assuming that Blanka makes it, I may have to play Necali instead). Right now V feels very deliberate, almost slow. There can be long stretches of a match where little happens other than jockeying for position, followed by one or two mistakes and then round is then done.

Again, the game is not finished yet, and it won't be complete for a long time. I just wish there was someone who I actually enjoyed playing in the beta so I could give a better opinion.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Early dismissal

Many thanks for the recommendations on Friday. I am already playing Tales from the Borderlands and it is easily their best game since the first season on The Walking Dead. It is regularly laugh out loud funny, something that games don't manage to do very often. I have not been talking about it because I really don't want to spoil anything about its plot. If you like Tell Tale's take on adventure games then it is definitely worth it.

...and it is leagues better than Game of Thrones, a series that gets more depressing with each episode.

Zombi might be a possibility if I hadn't over dosed on zombie killing with Wolfenstein: The Old Blood followed up by Onechanbara Z2 followed up by Zombie Army. I am officially done with the undead for at least a few weeks. There is also the funds problem as I may have dropped a big chunk of dough on part three of my sleeve. It is not done yet so no one gets to see it for about three weeks. You want a hint? Yesterday I learned that the distance from your wrist to your armpit is much longer that one would expect and it is all sensitive skin.

Saying that I was playing Steamworld Dig was not a joke. It pitches itself as a Metroid-vania, which is cannot quite deliver on, but what it does manage to be is Spelunky minus all of the rouguelike bits that I hate. It's fun, not too difficult, doesn't look like a 16bit game, and is short enough that I was finished before I got bored. Why didn't I play this before?

Simple answer: it has a terrible title and the main character to none to exciting to look at. I judged the book by its cover and the game sat, installed and unplayed, for months. I need to make more of an effort to spend a few minutes on the free offerings each month. If nothing else it could save me money for things like this:


Shhh, don' tell anyone what hides under my shirt.

(I couldn't resist the tease)

Friday, August 21, 2015

Something. Anything.

I desperately need something new to play. Without exaggeration, I am getting moody. Spending a good portion of each evening staring at store menus, trying to find something to pass the hours, will do that. The summer offerings on both consoles have been extraordinarily weak this year and I am left with nothing more than fighting games. And we all knows how playing too much of any of them goes.

...I made an effort to get up to killer rank in Killer Instinct last night. I got 200 points away before losing all my progress Killer Instinct is so momentum based that getting your ass kicked by one opponent carries over to the next.

This is how desperate I am: I started Steamworld Dig last night. I don't know if it's not bad or if I am so in need of new shiny things that anything will do.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Music post?

The summer doldrums are hitting me hard, so much so that I have very little to talk about, games wise. I did have about three hours in a car today, the majority of which there was a reasonable cell signal, so I listen to a few albums on my personal rotation. These are albums that I have been listening to, on and off, since college. In no particular order:


I think that everyone owned Crash during the mid 90s. This CD spent the most time in the 5 disc changer my room mate and I shared, providing a buffer between his Radiohead and Smashing Pumpkins and my Marilyn Manson and Orbital. Speaking of Orbital...


I first heard The Box in the middle of the night when I may or may not have been driving home from a bar. It took a bit of digging for me to find the album it was from. Once I found In Sides I bought the rest of Orbital's catalog as soon as I could. Being in college and poor, that took a while.


So Gwen, I head that Gavin has done you wrong. If you ever need a shoulder to cry on, I'm here.


This album has sneaked into my posts before. This is a great drinking alone disc. Not that I recommend that sort of thing. And finally:


Equal parts concept album, goodbye message to deceased father and (some I am told) soundtrack to House of Leaves, Haunted is one of the greatest things I have ever heard. Poe pretty much disappeared after its release, appearing as a guest singer on two Conjure One albums, and then nothing. There were label shenanigans involved which mere mortals don't understand. I don't care, it's been 16 years, I need more Poe.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Big boy pants upgrade applied

They didn't help. I still am not a fan of Galak-Z. It's still a roguelike that could have just as easily, and preferably, been an exceptional Metroid-vania.

I did make it past the first chapter on the next attempt but I was not left with any feeling of satisfaction because the cause for my success was what random upgrades were available, not anything I myself did differently. If I wanted to play games of chance I would go to the casino. At least there the drinks would be free. Or I would be in Canada and Chance would be buying me drinks.

The randomness was especially annoying when, after picking up a new blueprint, the corresponding part was not available in the shop because that would be too easy and make sense. No, they may or may not show up later, and if they do show up it will when you already have something better or don't have enough money. Maybe random is the wrong word. Maybe designed to screw the player is better.

At the end of the first chapter my ship was undeniably pimped. Shields, health, missiles, plasma core, bouncing bullets, I had it all. Consequently I was not worried about diving right into chapter two because I made the logical assumption that, having not died, I would get to keep all my stuff.

Oh, no no no. Galak-Z punishes the player for failing and succeeding. How avant garde. I did get to keep my coins but none of the good weapons that I had unlocked and used were available for purchase at the start of the next chapter. My new load out was decidedly not pimped and I died.

This is not a chance occurrence. The game is designed to force the player to fail, the purpose of which is, I don't know, to extend game time and build up player anxiety by pushing satisfaction further and further off.

I have no desire to be blue balled by a game when there are myriad examples of games, games mediocre in every other way, that handle death and player failure more gracefully. Take the Gauntlet reboot as an example. I took my elf onto a floor with the wrong weapon and died, quickly. Did I loose all of my progress, unlocked weapons, and money and have to start over from the beginning of the game? No, it is no longer the mid 80s and there is no quarter slot on the front of my PS4. Games have grown beyond such punitive measures. I had to start over from the beginning of the floor but could change back to a previously purchased weapon. A reasonable consequence.

17 Bit stays on Chamberlain's shit list for taking a game that I really want to play and twisting into something that I have zero patience for.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Shoot it in the head! Again!

Let's talk about Zombie Army Trilogy!

(This is me temporarily not responding to Chance's retort as I will need to put my big boy pants on and actually play Galak-Z one more time before either hating it more or not hating it quite as much)

The best way to describe Zombie Army is Doom but with a marine who can only carry three weapons and is partial to sniper rifles. This makes sense as Zombie Army is little more than a mod of Sniper Elite but does it work? Sniper Elite is an intentionally slow paced game; if you end up in close combat then you have already lost. Zombie Army has hundreds of zombies to deal with in every level and they all want to get up into your face and chew it off.

It does work because the pace of the game is not necessarily changed. These are classic, shambling zombies. They move slowly, can be avoided in small numbers and are vulnerable to a stiff kick in the chest. Moving slowly does not make them easier to kill - head shots are required and the zombies hold their heads at odd angles while rhythmically lumbering towards the player. If you can find the rhythm, head shots galore. If you are off be prepared to waste round after round in frustration and then have to run for your life.

Secondary weapons are a mixed bag. Shotguns are not powerful enough to be worth their short range (with the exception of The Preacher, a shot gun that rivals the original double barreled shot gun from doom in both effective and bad-ass-ness, but good luck finding shells for it). Machine guns are laughable inaccurate and the pistol is shrugged off by all but the most timid zombie. Grenades and land mines, though, are quite effective, especially when teamed up with dynamite.

Land mine + dynamite = a large pile of limbs. Just don't be near when it goes off.

The game can get repetitive. Correction, the game will get repetitive and that goes double for playing alone as I did. The flow of levels has a lot in common with Left 4 Dead: kill lost of zombies, find safe room, reload ammo, kill more zombies. Checkpoints are logically placed so being overrun or sniped from the distance my sniper zombies (yes, sniper zombies) does not equal frustration but on the third wave of bad guys in the same area I was ready to be done.

There is a surprising jump in quality between the second and third chapters, almost as if the first two sold well enough that more time and effort was put into the third. If the whole game was a good as chapter three I would heartily endorse it. Instead I offer a tepid thumbs up but only if really like sniping and are looking for something even more abhorrent than Nazis to kill.

...

Now where are my big boy pants. Probably near my abandoned copies of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and Persona 4 Arena.

Monday, August 10, 2015

What not to do, ever.

My bubbling rage over Galak-Z has subsided to a mere simmering disdain though I am sure that if/when I play it a second time I will end up equally pissed off. I have so much good to say about the game and it pains me that it makes no effort to meet me half way, to allow me to play the game instead of suffer through the same sections over and over, especially when all of its problems would so easily be remedied by something that has existed for a long, long time.

It's called allowing the player to choose between multiple difficulty levels, fuckers.

I do indeed blame From Software for bringing a niche gameplay mechanic into the main stream. The concept of obscene, unfair difficulty and summarily punishing the player for failing to be perfect the first time through used to be limited to indie titles like Dwarf Fortress and true rogue-likes. I do not enjoy them and I could easily avoid them. Then Dark Souls came out and suddenly difficulty over content became all the rage.

Granted, I never played Dark Souls, but I did attempt Demons' Souls and played all I could stand of Bloodborne. They were altogether unpleasant experiences that I do not wish to repeat. Again, I could avoid them because I knew what they were. Galak-Z looked like something that I would enjoy. And for the first forty five minutes, it was.

Remember Armada on the Dreamcast? No one remembers Armada...


Armada was a very fun, if a bit simplistic, space shooter that layered on just the right amount of player customization and RPG elements. The combat itself and the way the ship controlled were a bit loose but there was nothing else quite like it at the time. This is what Galak-Z could have been only with much better, more precise control and more options for the ship. Everything that Galak-Z does, from its 80s anime aesthetic to the way it handles ship momentum and upgrades, is exactly what I wanted out of the sequel to Armada that never came or was somehow terrible (I don't remember...)

Then I died in the last chapter of the first episode to a boss that I am willing to bet kills about half of the players the first time and what does the game do? Fuck off, back to the beginning with none of your weapons, a tiny amount of currency and a giant chip on your shoulder for have just wasted about an hour for no gain.

Why? Why? There is no need for such a draconian mechanic here. It is out of place and unwelcome. If there must be a death penalty then taking away accumulated currency and starting the mission over seems fair and would have kept me playing. As it sits now if I ever turn the game back on I will need to wade through several identical missions unlocking the same upgrades to fight the same boss and hopefully do better. That's boring and I have better things to do with my time than allow a developer to waste it.

17-Bit, let me introduce you to Blizzard, a company quite good and having their cake and eating it, too. They have a mode in Diablo similar to the way Galak-Z works called Hardcore Mode: if the player dies, that it, everything is lost. And it's fucking optional because some people don't want to play that way. Galak-Z is hardcore mode, all the time, and I am not going to waste my time with it which is a shame because everything else about the game is very, very good.

Welcome to Chamberlain's shit list, population From Software, Konami, the Star Trek reboots and now 17-Bit.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Big post, no time to write it

I have a big(ish) post in my head about how Galak-Z is bad and that it is From Software's fault but I am on vacation for a few days and don't really feel like typing it out and not proof reading it, as is my pattern.

To sum up: I stopped playing Galak-Z, a game that is excellent 90% of the time and total bull shit the remaining 10%, to play Zombie Army, a game that is of 50% quality all the time.

That is how bad the bad 10% of Galak-Z is. And it is From Software's indirect fault.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Damn

Tycho over at PA is the kind of writer that wish I could be. He can pack a ton of meaning into a few carefully chosen words without any of his thoughts being lost. Every post has a gem or two, but this one about Galak-Z:

'...it’s fun to see what happens when people blast their bedrock influences into dust, add water, and spin them on a wheel'

Wow. If I hadn't already purchased the game on Chance's indirect urging this would have forced me into it. That goodness Tycho usually uses his power for good.

Usually.

Default entertainment

I did not play Galak-Z last night because the pre-load did not work and I did not think to check until it was time to play. Patches for games have downloaded while the system was in standby mode so I am not sure what was wrong this time.

I also did not play as the Battletoads character in Killer Instinct because he did not load on his own, either. I think this is because I had the Xbox turning off external drives when it was 'Off' which I have since fixed.

Annoyed, and not wanting to rick playing Magic, I spent another evening with a game that I am not sure if I like or not: Zombie Army Trilogy. The best way as I can describe the game is Doom but the Doom guy is a sniper. This is both good and bad. Good because it is, at least in the beginning, an interesting change. Bad because there are a lot of zombies to kill and limited ammo. The game is not easy.

The zombies are bad, the skeletons are worse (though they die when kicked in the chest), the exploding zombies are amusing, but it is the giant, mini-gun wielding dudes that have killed me more than anything else. If they get close, you die. The best way to deal with them is to run as away, find a corner to use as partial cover, and then snipe away at their heads. The game only lets you get away with this once. After the freebie the big guys are always flanked by faster normal zombies who make it much more difficult to aim.

I am not sure where the game is going to go, difficulty wise. I am on the second to last chapter of the first episode and I already begin to spasm when I hear the big guys' footsteps. If it gets much worse I may throw in the towel. The game isn't bad, it's just long, a tad frustrating, and more than a little repetitive.

Then again, I really do like to shoot things and there is more than enough to shoot. If there were more bullets or if the panzerfaust was better I would be much happier.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Hide my wallet!

There have been several attempts at translating Magic: The Gather from paper crack to a more conveniently distributed digital form. From the literal attempt of MGO to the more stylized, easier to swallow Duels of the Plainswalkers, I have at least sampled them all. MGO made no attempt to disguise that it was trying to force the player to spend real dollars on virtual cards. And I did so - booster drafts are fun - but eventually wised up and quit. Duels of the Plainswalkers took a much more stripped down approach. There was a limited set of cards, no true deck customization, but it was still Magic, just in pill form.

Gateway Magic.

Magic Duels moves several devious steps closer to MGO while disguising itself as a free to play game. After an several introductory matches the player is handed a starter collection of cards, three boosters, and told to take on the world. Boosters can either be purchased with an in game currency or with real dollars. In game currency can be earned by completing more story missions, individuals quests or winning online ranked matches. Sure, this sounds fair.

Playing the rest of the story missions is a quick way to earn money but a few of them are far more difficult than they have a right to be, relying on luck of the draw instead of playing the pre-constructed deck the way it was meant to be played. I spent almost an hour on one battle, waiting for the computer to get screwed for mana. Eventually it did and I took my Pyrrhic victory and moved on with my life.

Single player battles and ranked battles net very little currency and winning online is impossible without the cards that you are trying to earn the money for in the first place. Quests are a little better but they take up quite a bit of time.  And there us always the looming temptation of buying a few boosters to help.

Just a few. What could it hurt?

It is still Magic it all its addictive, OCD glory. I really want to play a mono blue or black deck but have nowhere near enough cards to do so. Before I knew it I had laid out a plan for grinding coins. Something else needs to come out right fucking now before I fall headlong into this rabbit hole. Again.