Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Speechless

Rise of the Tomb Raider is so good.

It's not perfect - in the first fifteen minutes it has fallen back on the tropes of Lars constantly getting the shit kicked out of her and of the last second climbing hook save. Seriously, the hook save happens three times. But once all of the intro nonsense is done and you are finally dropped into a large hub area to explore - nirvana.

It is familiar territory, game play wise. Lara is still in a survival situation where she must scrounge for necessities. She even remarks that she wishes it all didn't feel so familiar. I disagree with her: while the situation is familiar her reason for being in it is different. Tomb Raider, if I am remembering it correctly, saw Lara trapped in a situation that was not her fault. She then went from shrinking violet to killing machine in short order, one of my only complaints. This time she puts herself in the dangerous situation on purpose. There is nothing accidental here. This maturing is welcome in such a well worn character.

The world feels much more dense this time around. In the first two and half hours I have come across three optional tombs. Literal tombs to raid full of puzzles, treasure and, even better, new skills and weapon parts. The first was an ancient ship that had broken in two, half of of which was embedded in a frozen waterfall. At the end of some perilous climbing I found a book that taught Lara how to fire arrows more quickly.

I don't care if none of that makes sense. It was cool.

Rise of the Tomb Raider is so good that I can't stop thinking about it,

Monday, December 28, 2015

Deeper than expected

It is possible that I was a little more dismissive of WRC 5's quality than I should have been. It still is missing quite of a few 'big game' pieces but what is there is very focused and enjoyable. If I was more into rally racing, and I am sure there are some people who are, I can see cranking up the difficulty and playing through season after season as a possibility. There is strategy here beyond just getting from point A to point B as fast as possible. Repairs can only be made between days and there can be multiple stages per day so you car can be wrecked at the end of a race. Only 45 minutes are allotted for repairs so they need to be prioritized. Do you leave the body damage and fix the steering, etc. It's an interesting layer on top of an otherwise plain game.

But I am done with it now, having playing through three seasons and having seen all of the tracks it has to show. There were tracks that resembled bobsled runs that I never want to expose myself to again. Miss a corner and you bounce off the snow packed border, ricocheting back and forth until both your time and your steering are shot.

Margin for error = 0.

...

Episode 2 of the podcast in the can and I think we have stumbled onto a formula for regular episodes. Recapping the weeks events allows me to be the color guy to Chance's excellent news picks and I learn something new each time. For example, I had been mispronouncing Xillia and Neir for years. This is what happens when ones output on games is strictly text. If it sounds good in my head, fuck it, it goes on the page.

If anyone out there is listening to the podcast please drop one of us a comment. Any and all feedback, regardless of cruelty or malice, are welcome. Cash money was spent on equipment for this venture so we might as well make it something that is enjoyable for people other than us.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Force fears

I am afraid of the new Star Wars movie.

All of the reviews, even by gigantic nerds, have be reasonably positive. The only really terrible review I have seen was by the Vatican's paper and I am not catholic so I don't need to adhere to their sacraments.

The reason for this fear is two fold. First, the re-releases of the original trilogy and the prequels are all terrible. Full stop. They have no redeeming features and yet they have tainted my enjoyment of the real movies. Over the course of the week I have watched A New Hope and Empire on VHS. 480i, stereo pan and scan as the good Lord intended. I have seen each of the prequels only once and my limited memory of their nonsense still manages to intrude on what should be a sublime experience.

For example: C-3PO should know who Luke is or at the very least who is father is (that have the same last name!), unless he is a huge liar or had his memory erased. So should R2. It's a fucking rabbit hole of bull shit.

The re-releases of the real movies are just as bad. There is a rhythm to the movies, one ingrained in my memory from childhood. All the added scenes or lines or attempts at de-bad-assing Solo run against this rhythm and just feel wrong. Han didn't just shoot first, Greedo never shot at all! Solo killed him in cold blood and then tipped the bartender! Why would you ever change that?!

Second, I do not trust Abrams as a director. He took Star Trek from me. I made it about twenty minutes into the reboot before shutting it off and drinking heavily. I don't know what the hell that was but it wasn't Star Trek. For that reason I refused to see Into Darkness and will likewise avoid the new Fast and Furious themed third movie (though Abrams is not responsible for that one).

Lucas couldn't get it right again. Why should I believe that anyone else will?

Popular opinion has already sided against me, calling it a worthy successor. Successor to what, exactly? It cannot possible reach my expectations, expectations put into place during my formative years, when Star Wars was ingrained into my very personality and thought processes. When I watch the movies now, in the grainy glory of a fast deteriorating videocassette, I see them as the boy who first saw them, not the cranky hermit I have become. How can anything be a successor to that?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Budget does not mean bad

It has come to my attention via several 'best of' lists that not having played Undertale this year is a problem. I do not know when this will be remedied, but remedied it will be.

...

WRC 5 feels like a budget title. There is no music during the races, limited selection of vehicles, no grand production value to the menus or between race segments. This is not necessarily a bad thing as the game picked one thing to focus on: above all else, the car has to feel right. And it succeeds. This is not a racing game that I will play as long as a Forza title but it conveys the uncomfortable loss of traction when moving from tarmac to gravel better than any of it bigger brothers.

It also takes the now standard rewind function, which makes racing games much easier (not that I am complaining) and adds a little but of risk/reward to it. Each rally is divided into sections. If you screw up, say miss a corner and go flying off into a tree, you can reset from the start of that section. The catch is that you restart the section from a stand still. When winners and losers are decided by seconds that loss of momentum can be costly. I found myself using that rewind function to learn a course and then starting over one last time to run it for real.

Somehow the game is making me practice. Such a dirty word.

...

Speaking of practice, I played a solid three hours of Street Fighter V last night. My aged hands are still paying for it. It was all Necali, all the time, and I have a growing suspicion that he might not be very good. Much like Killer Instinct, ever character has their own little trait or set of 'V moves' that offer unique mechanics beyond the standard stable of special moves. Ryu has his parry from Third Strike. Chun Li has a strange upward dash. Laura has a ridiculous set of command dashes. Zangief has armored moves. Birdie throws garbage around.

Necali has a ground pound that can his at three different distances. Think Viper's seismos but with significantly more recovery and less damage. Not terribly useful. Likewise his V Mode, trigger when the V gauge is full, give him super-saiyan hair, more hits to his moves, and not much else. He does get grown ass man damage off of jump ins but everyone gets grown ass man damage off of jump ins now.

Part of my problem is that I have been conditioned to use normals as anti-air. Blank's crouching medium punch is exceptional for this. Necali's crouching heavy punch is pretty good but the start up is so slow that you need to really anticipate the jump in to get the anti-sit. The solution is FUCK IT - DP which Necali has but I need to remember that this is okay.

This is all meaningless as Combofied has stated that the release in February will be much different than this final beta. Everything I learned over the last few days will either be changed or forgotten.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Too old school

Back in my *ahem* younger days I spent a lot of time with PC RPGs. They reminded me of playing D&D with my friends from when I was even younger. It was just these reminiscences that had me looking forward Divinity: Original Sin. It looked just like what I remembered liking.

In truth, it was just like I remembered, but I don't like it anymore.

Going back to those old games, games like Baldur's Gate 2, Neverwinter Nights 1 and 2 (and its superior expansions), I almost never finished them. In fact, the only ones I remember playing out to the very end were Neverwinter Nights 2, its much improved expansion, Mask of the Betrayer, and The Temple of Elemental Evil, a product of the dear departed Troika. The latter being my favorite because it was all combat and no wandering around trying to figure out poorly explained quests.

Divinity: Original Sin had good combat. Very good combat, and I would like to have seen more of it. After the first tutorial dungeon I didn't see any for about five hours. Instead I wandered around the first town, chasing quests with no way points and being frustrated by a very slow walk speed. At one point I tried to leave town and was warned that I was no of a high enough level.

They warning was right.

I got bored. So bored that I began looking for an excuse to stop playing. That presented itself when I dug up the wrong grave which exploded, killed my party, and cost me about 45 minutes of work.

It's not that different from the old PC RPGs that I enjoyed. I am sure this is intentional, less an homage and more of an update. Apparently I just don't like that style of RPG anymore, having been spoiled by modern, fast paced RPGs like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and my precious JRPGs.

Or maybe my memory has deteriorated to the point that I can't remember what the hell I am supposed to do without a glowing marker in the sky.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Halos are circles, get it?

A lesson in reading the instruction.

After my self pity post regarding my dying sound system I ended up at Best Buy and took advantage of their 24 no interest financing because, well, why wouldn't you. My new speakers are very nice but I have not been able to get the surround sound dialed in yet. It just didn't sound quite right. The receiver came with very limited instructions, and by that I mean it was two pages, so I discarded them immediately without a second glance. I know how to hook up speakers, right?

Two things that I completely missed. First, and this is side effect of me not using the receiver for anything more than sound, the settings are displayed on the connected television via HDMI. I never saw this and was fumbling around the truncated display trying to figure out what all these abbreviations meant. Second, there is an auto-calibration feature, which I found, that only works if you connect the included sensor, which I saw, didn't recognize, and threw back in the box.

Who knows how much I have screwed up the settings. Factory default, here I come.

...

Halo 5 serves the exact same purpose and Halo 2: an advertisement for the third game in the trilogy. The last mission in Halo 5 is called 'Finish the fight.' Ha ha, guy, I get it. Very funny.


To its credit, Halo 5 did not end with a time based vehicular chase in a warthog. No, it ripped off the microwave hallway scene from Metal Gear Solid 4 instead. The only thing missing was mashing A for five minutes. Only Kojima is that mad.

I have one significant complaint: the repeated boss battles are all terrible. There is one boss, the eternal guardian, and he can one shot any of the Spartans. He also moves much faster than you would expect and has a nasty habit of camping on the last corpse he makes. If that corpse happens to be you, well, at least there is no loading screen between you and trying again.

This boss shows up over and over, always fights you the same way, always says the same things, the only variety being that the third time there is two of him. The forth time there is three. He was bull shit the first time all my himself, imagine the words coming out of my mouth after thirty minutes of fighting a trio of bull shit. (I should have recorded it. My mic was right there.)

I only got past three of him because the game save scams for you. As soon as you kill one it auto-saves. This sounds good, right? That atuo-save is merciless. If the second boss was about to gut you when the same kicks off he will be right there, waiting, when that save is loaded. It's a miracle I made it through at all.

In two years I will forget my frustrations, play Halo 6, and record the exact same reactions.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Sure, I'll buy it again.


Can't have a generation without Rez.

5th time is not the charm

Dragon Quest Heroes ended just the way it should have: with a gigantic monster that looked much more difficult to beat that he actually was. All of the stupid hard quests are saved for post game or completely optional. I am not going to run out and play all of the 'Warriors' games that I have missed but the genre is officially off of the 'ewwww' list.

Side note: did know that there was a Dynasty Warriors Tactics? I owned the game many, many moons ago. That is combination with Disgaea proved that I was and am just not smart enough to handle that many variables.

...

Halo 5 is actually the seventh main series Halo game if ODST and Reach are included (and Halo Wars and the twin stick shooters are not). This is bordering on Call of Duty redundancy and it is suffering from the same problems. Halo games have a distinct feel to them that 343 has maintained after the hand off from Bungie. It's impressive but I am not convinced that it is a good thing. Speaking strictly of the single player, having a series not change all that much beyond how pretty it is for as long as Halo has been around, fourteen years, is a recipe for boredom.

There are new weapons and new vehicles and a few new abilities like dual wielding and a dash but the way the combat feels and plays out, moving from narrow corridors to large open areas and back again, is still exactly the same. I do not know if it is possible to shake this up and still call the game 'Halo' but 343 needs to do something. Layering on a nonsensical plot is not the thing to do.

It's just interesting any more. It's an FPS so I will play it but I am certainly not going to remember anything about it.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The best gimmick

Yikes, been a busy week.

Dragon Quest Heroes hit its false ending last night. It did have me fooled, based mostly on the difficulty of the what I thought was the final battle. I ended up blowing through all of my healing items instead of trying to beat it more strategically because I thought I was done. Nope, it was a trap, and there was more to do and no way to refill on items (not that I had any money) or save.

I was not pleased at all when I had to run back through the previous three areas, now refilled with monsters, and get to the entrance while a timer ticked down. I made it comfortably, which should have been a clue to the game's try intentions, only to be confronted with this guy:


(Damn, look at the character levels. I am only around level 33.)

He looked tough. I was intimidated, worried, all worked up. This is exactly how a person should feel when facing a boss. Here's the catch, or concession, that the game made: as rough as the boss looks, he's a gimmick. There is one trick to beat him and it is spelled out. I was never really in any danger but the game waited as long as possible to let me in on secret. I had already done the work, this was the exciting conclusion to the chapter.

All of the excitement without screwing the player over and sending him or her back through a half an hour game they had already played. It is easily the highlight so far and will be what I remember long after I have put this game away or gotten bored with it and moved on to something else. Unless I get stuck on the real final boss I should be able to put the game to bed over the weekend.

Punishing difficulty is not always the answer. Who knew.

...

I do not have many possessions that can be described as old. Going through several houses over the years and making regular purges keeps ones residence from becoming a museum, or warehouse, depending on the quality of the stuff that isn't thrown away. This is just as true about electronics and video games as it is for anything else. I still have a reasonable selection of Xbox 360 games, games that I hope will someday be added to the backwards compatibility list, and I even have one oXbox (Phantom Dust) and one PS2 (Culdcept) title the I keep around, just for shits. Other than that, everything goes.

My oldest possessions, aside from my childhood teddy bear that lives (possible haunts) the spidery part of my basement, are my two tower speakers that I purchased in college. There are right around twenty years old and have outlived more receivers and televisions than I care to count. The sub-woofer and surrounds are only about a year or two younger but the towers are the star of the show.

I love my speakers. About a weak ago, while playing Rock Band 4 and appropriate volume, the left speaker developed a nasty buzz in the tweeter. It has gotten progressively worse, moving from occasional to constant, from annoying to infuriating. It's going to be like putting a pet to sleep, but the speakers, and by extension the receiver, have to go.

Funding is the problem. I spent this year's fun money, almost exactly what I would need, on my sleeve. Don't get me wrong, I do not regret spending that much on tattoos for a second, but god damn do I wish the body modification bug would have bitten a year later.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Again? Again again?

Dragon Quest Heroes was this close to being put out to pasture last night. Multi-stage boss battles with no checkpoints will do that. My hand was on the way to the eject button when I stopped myself. Instead I cleaned up a few quests, continued to ignore the 'kill 200 of this monster' task, and tried again, this time treating it as an actual boss encounter instead of the button mashing kill-a-thon that all of the previous levels had been.

I also created an item that boosted the main character's attack when in a small party, and since this boss was a forced one on one battle, well...

At the end of the evening I hit the opposite kind of wall: defend something against an incredible onslaught of enemies. These defense missions make up the majority of the game and have been getting longer and longer as it progresses. It is not the first time I have failed one but it length and repetitiveness is starting to wear on me. Experience and items are kept even after a defeat, but this just gives away what the game is really trying to force me to do:

It wants me to grind and I refuse to do it.

The game is designed around revisiting old areas and killing things and that's boring, especially when most of the combat is done with two buttons. When the spectacle of how many enemies it crams on the screen at a time wears off there is not much left.

Odds on finishing the game are getting lower. I am not ready to give up yet but the game is going to be interrupted soon, either by Rock Band 4 (again) or Halo 5 and I may not ever make it back.


Monday, December 7, 2015

I've been tricked!

The cat was released from the bag with Saturday's post. There are plans. Big plans.

Really, it's just an excuse for me to talk to someone about video games. Don't tell.

...

I did not know that Dragon Quest Heroes was in the Dynasty/Samurai warrior vein when I added it to the list. I just saw 'Dragon Quest' and the JRPG part of my brain took over. Full disclosure, I have not actually played any of the main series Dragon Warrior games. The shame is overwhelming but will never be remedied. Playing Heroes does not count.

Heroes is exactly what I assume the Dynasty Warriors games are: the player, in this case the player's team, against huge armies of easily disposed of bad guys and the occasional boss monster. Add in a little MOBA style lane guarding with NPCs and an oversized, unwieldy cast and it should be a game that I quickly tire of.

But I haven't. The cast is quite large and filled with characters from other Dragon Warrior games which means nothing to me. Combat is simple but controlling the flow of enemies on the map is not, requiring much more strategy than I expected. It isn't exactly hard but I am not skating through with little effort, either.

Could this possible be a genre that makes it off of the 'Chamberlain doesn't touch these, ever' list? Let's review:

sports games
wrestling games
turn based strategy games
anything by From Software
true rogue-likes
did I mention From Software? Because fuck them.

Does the Dynasty Warriors sub-genre even have a name? It's not on my list...

Time will tell if I enjoy the game enough to keep playing it with Divinity: Original Sin and Halo 5 waiting in the wings. I can see the simplicity of the combat itself becoming too much of a drain to overcome. My attention span is limited, especially in December, and I need to keep in mind that there are big games yet to be played (Fallout 4) and Street Fighter V comes out in February,

...

I only caught the top 8 of Capcom Cup and it still contained some of the best Street Fighter I have ever been witness to. The matches were not of the screaming and yelling at the screen variety but they did contain the best in the world at the top of their game.

If I were more dramatic I would call Kazunoko's victory over Daigo a passing of the torch. In truth, that torch was passed quite some time ago, and it went to Xian first. Daigo is still on of the best there has ever been, he was just not the best yesterday,

$120,000 for first place. Makes you want to practice a bit more, doesn't it?

Friday, December 4, 2015

Cowardly assassins

Syndicate was good. It was more than a good Assassin's Creed game, it was a good open world(ish) romp with plenty of side quests and more stuff to collect than anyone has time for...

Wait a second, that describes most of Ubisoft's game as of late. Is the Far Cry/Assassin's Creed crossover in the works? They are coming from the same basic mold, one with vehicles, one without. Can an assassin hopped up on hallucinogenic mushrooms be too far off?

I refuse to apologize for that outburst as I would play the shit out of a game like that.

Where was I? Oh yeah, I was about to get to Syndicate's cowardice. The game is good, but the plot is boring and wastes what could have been a very interesting twist: an assassin leaving the order for his own path. Technically, this has happened before, in Rogue, but Jacob is a more interesting character than the protagonist from Rogue whose name I have forgotten. Jacob is doing what he thinks is in the best interest of the people, he just never sticks around long enough to see if the outcome is what he was looking for.

Minor spoilers incoming.


Jacob starts out murdering a corrupt doctor who was performing lobotomies for an audience. The doctor got what was coming to him but the panic that followed shut the hospital down and many innocents suffered. Evie had to come to the rescue afterward and steal medicine to keep children from dying. The aftermath was of no on interest to Jacob.

This happens twice more, once with a prominent banker, whose murder nearly crashed the economy, and with Jacob's gang replacing the Templar gang. Evie is more or less on board with building their own private army, but only because they are no worse than what was already there. The results of Jacob's action explains why the Templars hate assassins so much and how close ideologically the groups really are. One kills those who get in the way and the other manipulates them into doing their bidding. Is one really worse than the other?

Then there is Evie, the boring assassin who only wants to find the piece of Eden because she thinks that it will solve all of their problems. Jacob and Evie have a falling out, agree on one more mission, kill the bad guy with the power of sibling friendship, and then fight to the death over the piece of Eden, right?

No, because that would be interesting. They do kill the bad guy, but then the hug and make up, Jacob admitting that he was wrong, and they live happily ever after. Boring. This is series that has had the main character assassinate the pope, and now it gets bashful about seeing conflict through to its logical, brutal conclusion?

Oh well. There is no point bitching, I will play the next one. I always do. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

0 for 3

I am going to get back to Syndicate and its cowardly ending, I promise. Right now I am freshly disappointed with three other games and I need to get the words down quickly before the ire fades.

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing appears to be a budget Diablo clone. I would be okay with that. Torchlight was a budget minded Diablo clone and it was fantastic. Van Helsing is not. It is terrible for many, many reasons. For starters, it is difficult to look at, and by that I do not mean that it is ugly (it is) but that something about the way stages are lit actually made it difficult for me to look at. Combat is divided into ranged attacks, which are useless as enemies rush you in such numbers that you are surrounded before getting off more than a shot or two, and melee attacks, which offer very little feedback as to if they hit or not. Diablo, Torchlight and my personal favorite, Titan Quest, all have a satisfying 'crunch' effect when an enemy is hit or killed. Van Helsing throws numbers into the air and sometimes an enemy explodes in slow motion for no reason. Other time you die.

But wait, I haven't even gotten to the best part: a user interface that was clearly designed to be navigated with a mouse and was not adapted at all for the console release. Menus are nested within menus. Changing equipment slots is done by rotating the right stick and there is a significant lag between the movement and the selection changing. Nearly identical pieces of equipment of the same type are shown in the order in which they were obtained, not by how good they are, making finding the best equipment quite difficult. I may have spent more time in the menus than actually playing.

Still not done. Each attack has three different buffs that can be leveled up, ranging from slowing enemies when a hit lands to extra damage. These buffs can be chosen on the fly during combat, not a bad idea, but this is done by flicking the right stick in the direction of the buff. Keep in mind that your right thumb is already on either X or A using the attack. It doesn't make sense for a controller. Maybe it worked on the PC but I do not care to investigate further. There was some mention of mapping a preset combo to a shoulder button. I figured out how to edit the buff combo but not what to do with it. Then I have up.

At least I didn't pay for the game.

Game two was Ride, played just because it is a racing game and I had to fill my queue with something while waiting for Fallout 4 or CoDBlops to show up. Ride is just motorcycles and, knowing just a little bit about how it feels to ride, I was curious as to if the game would actually capture the difference between driving a car around a corner at high speed and leaning into said corner on a bike.

It does, but that is not enough to make the game any fun. Ride does not feel like a car racing game. Due to how a bike leans when cornering the racing line is of supreme importance, more so than in a car because if you miss the apex, which I often do, you do not just bounce off the grass or wall, you fucking die. That happened a lot in my first race and I saw the one crash animation over and over. That was not a typo (as are to be expected), there is one crash animation. And it sucks.

I did get the hang of cornering long enough to notice the frame rate dip as the camera struggled to keep up. That brought more unfortunate comparisons to Forza 6, which lead to me wondering why I would send time on Ride when I didn't play as much of Forza as I should have, which led me to uninstalling the game.

Two hours, two games. Might as well try Dragon Fin Soup.

That took ten minutes. Just no.

...

On a more positive note, Dragon Quest Heroes looks great, has a rock solid frame rate in spite of all the insanity, and is a lot of fun to play. I didn't think I liked the Samurai Warriors archetype.