Monday, September 28, 2015

They keep the rear wheels from spinning

Significant Soma spoilers below the break.



The player character in Soma is Simon, or rather, several different Simons as they blink in and out of existence. Simon - prime is the only 'real' Simon, in that he is human and nothing more. Simon - prime has unexplained brain damage, possibly from a car accident, and undergoes a brain scan in an attempt to create a more successful treatment procedure. This scan is a copy of his entire mental being. It is him, just without a body and without consciousness until it is loaded into something. The player finds out later that Simon - prime dies shortly after the scan was completed, the treatment was a failure and his doctor a bit of a quack.

Simon - 1 wakes up several hundred years later in an undersea laboratory after the end of the world. From his point of view there was no gap in time between Simon - prime's scan and his awakening. As far as he can tell he is Simon - prime. In fact he has no idea that he is no longer human until he finds that he cannot drown. A helpful NPC and a mirror later and Simon - 1 realizes that he is a pressure suit filled with a headless corpse, some structure gel and a personality chip.

He takes it pretty well.

 Later Simon - 1 needs to change suits to go deeper underwater. There is no one else around with arms so just moving his personality chip into a new suit is not an option. Instead he is copied, just as he was before, and Simon - 2 is created. Simon - 2 picks up right where 1 left off, just in a new suit, but 1 still exists. 1 is still Simon and is awake just long enough for 2 to realize that he was not moved, only copied.

The game gives you the option of killing your old self before he wakes up a second time. Existential suicide, perhaps? I couldn't do it, I let Simon - 1 live and Simon - 2 continued his adventures, forgetting what he had left behind.

Of course this happens again, this time when launching an Ark filled with the brain scans of the few remaining humans into space, only after the copy the player stays with Simon - 2 while Simon - 3 literally lives out his days in virtual paradise.

He doesn't take it as well this time.

Soma is not very scary but it is terrifying to thing about (full disclosure, I did not come up with that description). Who am I and where do I begin and end? Where is the self in the mass of cells that make up a human body? If your entire body is replaced at the smallest level throughout the course of your life, are you still you?

If your mind and all its memories were copied and loaded into a computer, is that still you?

The game has problems. Specifically the monster sections are more annoying that frightening and the game should have looked better. Of course I am coming off MGSV so my graphics expectations are a but skewed at the moment. But I cannot think of a game that has made me think more than Soma. It is a game that sticks with you, making you ask uncomfortable questions.

After the downer of Simon - 2 realizing that he does not get to go to heaven and his only friend short circuiting I was ready to watch the credits roll and be depressed for a while. How many games have truly depressing endings (other than Nier and Silent Hill 2?) But wait, the game takes the coward's way out and lets the player experience an epilogue with Simon - 3 in the ark.

Booooo. Unnecessary and unwanted. It was surprising and a bit disappointing. I'll allow it only because I want Frictional to keep making games and not farm out the sequel to Soma to the same people who made A Machine for Pigs. I can only deal with that kind of disappointment once a year or so.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

I wonder what the view is like

I was correct yesterday when I dubbed Soma not very frightening, at least in a traditional boo, scary ghosts and monsters way. It is, however, intellectually horrifying. I cannot say much without giving away important revelations. For God's sake, if you ever plan on playing this game, avoid as much discussion about it as you possibly can. I believe I am about half way through and cannot wait to see how it turns out.

The game's main question is this: what does it mean to be you? Are you 'you' only in the moment? What if 'you' could be copied, saved, and then brought to life again later? Which 'you' would be the real 'you'? What if 'you' were installed into a toaster?

That last question is, at best, only a slight exaggeration.

As a game Soma is only as good as it needs to be. It could certainly look better, the frame rate could be better, though that may unique to the PS4 version. None of those nitpicks do much to harm the experience. The quality of the voice acting does. There is some heavy, depressing shit being discussed and it does not receive the gravitas that it deserves. The main character accepts his bizarre situation far to quickly and with far too little drama. Saying 'is this new life worth living' the way one would order extra fries is not a good thing.

Soma is not a game that will keep you up at night like PT did, waiting for the ghost to appear from around a corner or for the refrigerator to start swinging wildly from the ceiling. It will keep you up thinking about its themes of self, eternity, and the hell of living out that eternity trapped inside a machine.

And that is much worse.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

As vague as I can be

MGSV was finished in time and I would really like to discuss the ending but cannot as I would need to put spoiler warnings on the entire post. Instead of going into detail (for now) I will explain why in bothered me using by disdain for roguelikes as a starting point.

You may not believe this, but it is not the difficulty that I find most frustrating about games like Bloodborne or Galak-Z. Fighting games are hard and I am happy to be bad at them for extended periods of time. No, it the lack of progression, or more specifically, having to do the same thing in the same area more than once, that immediately turns me off. As soon as familiarity sets in so does contempt.

This is also why there are very, very few games I have played through more than once. I can think of one recent example off the top of my head, Limbo, and that was only because I had an audience and it was short. New game + is just not a thing for me. I have tried and it never works, I just grow bored too quickly. Even if playing the game itself is enjoyable if I have done it before in that game I don't want to do it again.

Metal Gear, in its translation to open world and possible abuse by Konami, has big open spaces and a ton of repeated content. Side missions take place in the same place as story missions and have identical objectives. More than half of the chapter two main missions are just harder version of chapter one story missions. The last stray was the final mission, the final mandatory mission, being a repeat. There was a bit of a change, a startling reveal, but it happened in the first five minutes and I was forced to play the whole thing through again. It was infuriating and pointless.

I spent 54 hours playing Metal Gear Solid V and was bored for about a third of it. But it is done now and I can play a better shorter game.

...

Soma is, so far, not very frightening. I think that Amnesia and PT have calloused me. It does, however, have a fascinating story and I cannot wait to get back to it. Maybe the scares will come later. If that don't, that's okay.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Almost there.

It's going to be close. Very, very close.

I may just finish MGSV tonight, scant hours ahead of Soma's release. It helps that about half of Chapter 2's missions are just more difficult versions of Chapter 1 missions that can be safely skipped. On the other hand I need to play an undetermined number of side ops missions to get the final main missions to pop. It could take an hour. It could take five. I am at the mercy of Kojima whims.

That does not sound promising.

Chapter 2 has rolled out more linear missions, ridiculous melodrama and difficult to stomach situations that the first chapter. In other words, this is the game that I wanted to play in the first place. It pains me that I need to venture back into the wastelands of Afghanistan and trudge through 'Hostage Rescue 10' and 'High Value Solider 15' (actual names, by the way) to get to more of what I want.

I do wonder if this is really the game that Kojima wanted to make or if it was just the best he could do under the incompetent thumb of Konami interference. Supposedly there was a third chapter of the game that tied up a few of the loose ends that was scrapped in favor of the online portion that I will never play and the microtransations that I will never make.

Just getting to the end should not be my motivation for playing any game, much less a Metal Gear game.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Panning for gold

ahem.

OH GOD THERE ARE TWENTY MISSIONS LEFT, WHEN IS THIS GOING TO END.

After around forty hours of MGSV I have come across three gold standard, AAA moments. The first was the opening sequence, which I have already talked about, but it bears repeating that it is one of the most amazing tutorial first levels I have ever played, regardless of genre. If the whole game was that intense I would never stop slobbering over it.

The second was in a side mission before I swore off doing any more. Seriously, the game needs to be done by the 21st and there is a PPV on Sunday night. It was just another 'retrieve high value soldier' mission but the base was so well guarded that I could not even make it close without alerting every soldier in a mile radius. So fuck it, I went in hot. When Big Boss is spotted by an enemy that didn't already know he was there the game drops into reflex mode, a few seconds of slow motion time that gives the player a chance to fix their mistake. Usually I would use the tranquilizer gun but I found that a clean head shot kill with an un-silenced weapon would alert the rest of the soldiers but they would not be able to locate the shooter. Instead of investigating they hunker down. This in turn allowed me to sneak of on the next one, shoot him in the head and scare the crap out of everyone else.

Like Batman, but with guns.

I did this to around two dozen guards before a helicopter showed up and I destroyed that with a one in a million, technically out of range shot from a rocket launcher. When I was done there was one soldier left, the one that I needed to retrieve. I walked up to him, let him shoot me a few times, and knocked him out.

The third moment was last night - a boss fight that was the most Metal Gear moment of the whole game. That is to say it was well presented and just a little bit unfair. It took a while and much profanity but I beat it, then made the mistake of checking on how much more I had to go. Even without doing any more side missions this is going to take forever.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Legitimate. This time.

It's time to talk about Metal Gear again. Deep breaths.

Most, okay all, of my complaints so far have been subjective. I did not like something because it was not what I was expected or what I was hoping for. This next one is far more egregious. I cannot think of a single reason for it to work the way it does other than Konami stealthily pushing the game towards the fremium market in spite of it not being free.

#FucKonami

Why do more powerful weapons and larger base upgrades take between eighteen minutes and two and a half fucking hours of real time to unlock once they are paid for? That is the kind of in your face bull shit that I would expect from Game of War or Clash of Clans, 'games' that cost more money to stop playing than they do to play in the first place. I have saved up all the necessary components and kidnapped enough people, give me my damn rocket launcher.

There is no reason for this. None. The game is already padded with hours upon hours of identical side missions, now I have to find a way to fill ninety more minutes so that the building upgrade I purchased becomes available? No. Just no.

I am going to finish the game's main missions but will be skipping the side missions until I run out of money. Watch there be a skipping side missions tax.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Mistakes were made

I downloaded Hearthstone a few days ago because it was free.

This was a mistake.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Compromise at knife point

I have tried so, so hard to meet Metal Gear Solid V somewhere in the middle of the vast disparity between what I expected the game to be and what it actually is. I expected it to be a linear experience similar to past games and it is the opposite. Instead it is a near narrative free sandbox of all the Metal Gear toys we have come to love but no reason to use them. Fine, I thought, I will invent my own narrative as I have done in the past when wandering through Skyrim having completely forgotten what I was supposed to be doing.

That doesn't work. Metal Gear is not near as good of an open world as an Elder Scrolls games. It is not as good of an open world game as Just Cause 2, Far Cry 4 or just about any other competent, modern game of the type due to its repetitive nature, small world and unimpressive variety of missions. This is Kojima's first shot at an open world game (that I know of) and it shows.

In previous posts I was content to blame my discontent with being bad at the game. This is true, I am very bad at the game because I am very bad at waiting. I do enough waiting in the rest of my life, why should I spend around half of my limited time for games laying down in the weeds waiting for guards to turn around? I want to do things, not wait to do things. I was equally bad at the other games yet very much enjoyed them. I believe that the linear nature made them more forgiving but to know for sure I would need to go back and play one of them again and we all know that is not going to happen.

So I keep playing, looking for what everyone else, from internet friends to the guy who I pay to shove needles in my skin, so love about it. Metal Gear Solid V has its hooks it a great many people, most of whom acknowledge that the narrative is weak but love the rest of the game enough to look past it. This is different than my dalliances with Bloodborne and Galak-Z. I am content with hating those games and plan on making no effort to change my mind. Just thinking about Bloodborne still makes me mad and I played it for all of ninety minutes several months ago.

I wanted to like MGSV. I still do, but its predecessors are held in such high esteem and this is game is so little like them that I am afraid it just isn't going to happen.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Uncomfortable revelations

I want to complain about MGSV more but alas, I cannot. Last night while getting this done:


I discovered that my artist was playing MGSV. He loved all the same things that I have complained about which were most of the same things that Chance and I have been talking about. It has occurred to me in the past the the more often I think that everyone is an idiot but me the greater the chance is that I am actually the idiot. Looks like this is one of those times.

And then, as if to rub it in, MGSV wished me a happy birthday last night. Fine. You win. You are a better game than I am willing to admit because I am bad at playing you. Can we just get along now so I can finish you in time for Forza 6, Soma and Mad Max? I promise to stop talking bad about you behind your back.

...that's a lie. And if I am still playing you when Soma comes out you can fuck right off.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

More petty complaints

Unreasonable, petty complain number 4: Why are my soldiers constantly fighting each other? I get constant updates that my peeps are beating on one another and some of them have ended up in sick bay. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised as the majority of my crew are brain washed kidnapping victims.

Number 5: Good lord, Miller is an asshole. I really want Ocelot or Boss to just throw him off the base and watch him try to tread water with half the requisite limbs.

I would go on but I must confess that at least some of my misplaced ire is due to me being terrible at the game. I spent a good hour on one story mission last night. Success finally came but I have no idea what I did differently. I also learned that a single RPG blast is not enough to take out a helicopter.

That attempt got ugly fast.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The best kind of complaints: unreasonable and petty

Yes, Metal Gear Solid V is, at the very least, a pretty good game. That does not mean that it does not have a few significant problems. In the spirit of its faux-military nature, I am going to fire a few shots across its nose. Or maybe up it.


Unreasonable, petty complaint number 1: This does not feel at all like a main series Metal Gear game. Metal Gear Solids 1 through 4 were plot heavy, linear masterpieces. There can be debate as to which is the best (though 3 is the best answer) but there is no denying that all four are worth playing. They are not worth playing just for the stealth/action game play as everything that Metal Gear did in stealth has been eclipsed by the later Splinter Cell games and its action was always passable at best. They were worth it for the bat shit crazy, over wrought, incredibly complicated stories.

Metal Gear Solid 5 has flipped this. The way the game plays is definitely better. The addition of a few split seconds to kill a soldier after Big Boss is spotted alone makes it much more forgiving. Alerting one bad guy still alerts them all and a single mistake can destroy a significant amount of work but that is nothing new. I accepted that little bit of bull shit years ago and have come to expect it from these games.

My problem is that the story is completely absent. Nothing fucking happens. I have been playing for several hours a night since Thursday and there have been maybe two or three important plot events. The first was the opening chapter which was brilliant. Sign me up for more of that. Nope, it took hours and hours for the next thing and that was nothing more than the introduction of who I assume is the main bad guy. I don't know for sure because he hasn't shown up since. The third was the sniper fight with Quiet, and that was the special, distilled, pure form on frustrating foolishness that I was dreading and looking forward to.

Nothing happens. There is no story. This is not Metal Gear.

Unreasonable, petty complaint number 2: It was a mistake to make this game open world. This goes hand in hand with the 'nothing happens' argument. A good open world game, say Red Dead Redemption, has a balance between story missions and time consuming, ultimately pointless side missions. There are enough story missions or they are different enough from side missions that the story's momentum is never lost. The player does not forget the main character's motivation while murder not plot-essential enemies for fun and profit.

Metal Gear Solid 5 has precious little story so all the missions feel like side missions. And they all, so far, take place in the same area. I am really tired of sand. Dragging the improved mechanics through the same checkpoint choking out the same guards over and over is boring. Metal Gear should never be boring. Frustrating or confusing, sure, but never, ever boring.

Unreasonable, petty complaint number 3: Fuck Kiefer Sutherland. No offense Kiefer, but you are not the voice of Big Boss. Not even close. It is also not your fault that you have almost nothing to read. Big Boss almost never speaks and when he does it is always a short reaction to something someone else did. This makes him less of the established character from Metal Gear Solid 3 and more a stand in for the player which hurts what little story there is.

The player is the observer in the previous Metal Gear games and that was okay because it was interesting to observe. There is nothing to observe this time and if there was it wouldn't matter because the player him or herself is the character doing the observing. Big Boss is just the player's eyes now. Kojima got a little too much Half Life in his Metal Gear and it just doesn't work.

Metal Gear Solid 5 is pretty good but it is not Metal Gear. This is just another open world shooter. Metal Gear should never be just another anything.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Metal Gear?!

Both Metal Gear and Mad Max arrived at the same time. I have been on an information blackout regarding Metal Gear: no trailers, no previews, nothing. Given the choice between the two I decided to start Metal Gear because I was looking for something linear.

Whoops.

This is not what I expected. I am not accustomed to actually playing more than watching a Metal Gear game.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Correction...

Some quick fact checking, that is, looking at the official Armello site, reveals that I am completely wrong about the levels being the same each time. It says that they are procedurely generated. Maybe I am imagining things or maybe I just had a few bad boards.

Further investigation is required.

Like the Batman character?

Have you ever fallen so completely head over heels in love with a game that thinking about it kept you up at night? And if so, was it ever just the tutorial that did this to you? And if so, did you come back to play it again the next day, and just like Seinfeld's two faced girl, it was not quite what it seemed to be?



I'm old, therefore I am allowed to make Seinfeld references.

The game in question was not The Deer God, a boring platformer spiced up by ill conceived role playing elements, an inscrutable check point system involving fathering more deer and a bizarre anti-hunting message. The game opens with a hunter drawing a bead on a nice big buck. No problems so far, deer are tasty (not that I hunt myself, being out in the cold and owning fire arms are two things I do not do). The hunter is attacked by wolves and while dying fires an errant shot that kills a fawn. He is then paraded in front of the deer god and turned into a deer to pay for his sins.

His sins? It was the fucking wolves who made him shoot the fawn!

Regardless of its dubious message, the game is not fun to play once the silliness of a deer with a double jump wears off. To the game's credit, it does keep its rouguelike nature confined to the hardcore difficulty setting, so I was able to play for just a little longer before getting bored. And getting killed over and over by a giant frog that spit out flaming tiny frogs.

The game in question is also not Grow Home. Why was there hype about this game? Why did people choose it as one of the free PS+ games this month? Unlike The Deer God this is a boring 3D platformer with very floaty controls instead of just imprecise controls. The robots jump is almost useless and he quite often trips over his own feet and careens off the edge of the giant mushroom you just spent five minutes climbing. Is this supposed to be cute, to endear the robot to the player?

I didn't play enough to see the giant plant growing bits that everyone seemed to be excited about. What was the point, the robot would just fall off and look cute. If I wanted cute robots I would watch Wall-E and bitch about the ending again.

No, the game that created sleep depriving infatuation was Armello, a card based board game hybrid that was purchased based on the words 'card based' and 'board game' being in the description. It isn't kidding. Armello is equal parts Legend of the Five Rings (the CCG I played in college when I wasn't playing Magic) and Settlers of Catan, not to be confused with Culdcept Saga, which was equal parts Magic and Monopoly, the importance of which I will go over in a bit.

I expressed my childlike excitement to Chance and his sensible reply was that he never understood the allure of digital card based games. He is correct, part of the fun of Magic is having that paper crack in your hands. The difference is that, by going digital, the game can have incredibly complex rules and the player does not need to waste time doing all the math to resolve them. For example, I learned to play Catan on Xbox 360 and I cannot imagine playing that without computer assistance, to say nothing of losing all the pieces. Aremllo is Catan plus more rules.

Let me see if I can sum the game up: the king of the land has fallen victim to rot, an evil magic infestation that has driven him mad and is slowly killing him. It is the players' job to replace him as king. Killing him is one way to win the game but he is still quite powerful and never leaves his castle. The player can also have the most prestige when the king is killed by the rot (or if the king and another attacking player kill each other in combat). Prestige is earned by killing other players or by completing quests. There is also a spirit stone victory in which a player collects four spirit stones and then using them to cure (and kill) the king. Finally there is a rot victory in which a player becomes even more corrupted then the king and kills him in combat.

But wait, there's more. There are equipment cards and magic cards and peril cards that can be placed on the board. There are the king's guard, a neutral faction that will only attack players when they make a move into the palace. There are monsters created from the rot that terrorize villages and attack everyone within sight. Mechanics on top of mechanics. The depth is astounding.

On the first night I played the tutorial and I was in love, to the point that if Metal Gear or Mad Max arrived the next day, fuck 'em.

Last night I played a few games of single player and one multiplayer match and the game presented itself in a different light. First, there is no customization of what cards you have in your decks. All cards are unlocked from the very beginning and it is just luck of the draw as to which ones show up. Second, the board itself never changes. A huge part of Catan is the shuffling of the play field. It is never the same way twice. In Armello the king's keep is always on the center and the player's strongholds are always on the four corners. As far as I could tell the layout of everything in between was exactly the same in each of the three games I played. Third, there really is no single player, it is just a multiplayer match with AI poorly playing the other characters.

This is where the Culdcept Saga comparison comes in. Culdcept Saga is literally Magic + Monopoly. You build a deck of creatures instead of properties and then move around a board placing them and leveling them up. When another player lands on an occupied square combat takes place and the loser pays the rent. It works because you can customize your deck and there are many different boards plus there is a real single player campaign in which cards are unlocked and an over the top silly story is told. (Side note to Microsoft: add Culdcept Saga to the backwards compatibility list or we will have words)

Armello is still exceptional but it is only half a game. Allow deck customization and shuffle up the board and I will never, ever stop playing. Instead I have quickly fallen out of love and am looking forward to silently choking fools or killing war boys and leaving their corpses to rot in the wasteland, whichever arrives first.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Shorties

While everyone else in the world is playing either Metal Gear or Mad Max I am playing little games because it takes forever to ship anything to the cold fly over states. I am not too annoyed. The bounty will be here soon and the list will swell with JRPGs that take a month and racing games that I never quite finish. Playing a little game or two while waiting for the next Hideo Kojima production (#FucKonami) will not kill me. Little, however, has its limits.

Every time I catch myself complaining about a game's length I think back to Brothers, the most emotionally trying game I have played in years, and how it could, nay, should be played to completion in one sitting. A game being short is not a bad thing. Brothers said all it needed to say in about three hours. I remember it because it was good, not because I could play the whole thing without leaving my couch for more snacks.

Short is okay. Short and boring or plain, however, is not. Enter Whispering Willows, a game that shows you all it has in the trailers. It is a side scrolling adventure/fetch quest game with one or two interesting visual effects...


and


And that's about it. From there you wander through a mansion, a drab garden maze and down a well searching for the item you need to please a ghost to get the next ghost to appear who will ask for the next item. From beginning to end nothing changes; no new abilities are gained and the player is required to do nothing more than wander and talk.

There may be good writing here, especially in the back story told via notes, but I never read them. It would have worked if the notes were voice acted, think Doom 3 or the million other games that tell their stories with log entries, and the main character walks so slowly that there would have been plenty of time for them. Instead they are limited to text that nine out of ten players will never read.

Speaking of moving slowly, the two and a half hour length would be shorten by at least thirty minutes if the main character was allowed to run indoors.

My hunch is that the lack of content and voice acting is due to a constrained budget. Still, look at what one guy did with Dust and that excuse vanishes as well. Whispering Willows is a tech demo, a proof of concept for something that may never come to fruition. Turn the two and a half hour stagnant fetch quest into a more reasonable ten hour game with character advancement, voice acting and more than one environment and I will be interested. Whispering Willows was a waste of time.