Friday, January 29, 2016

Priorities

I just might finally finish Just Cause 3 tonight.

What was that? The Street Fighter V Beta is up again?

God Damnit.

...

Speaking of Street Fighter V, the games that are going to be featured at EVO this year were announced this week and I, as a viewer, have a problem with a significant omission.

The list:

Street Fighter V
Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator
Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3
Pokken Tournament
Super Smash Bros Wii-U
Super Smash Bros Melee
Killer Instinct
Mortal Kombat X
Tekken 7 Fater Retribution

Two of these titles, Pokken and Tekken, have not seen a domestic release yet. There may not be even be playable in North America until after the tournament. EVO is supposed to be the 'world championships' of its featured games. Including games that the host country has had little to no exposure to does not make for good viewing. It makes for squash matches and maybe a good top four.

It is good to see both Mortal Kombat X and Killer Instinct make it back to the big stage, especially since the big name Street Fighter crowd did their best to infiltrate the upper echelons and have yet to do so. They may not be as exciting to watch for those unfamiliar with their mechanics but that give someone else a chance to get paid.

...who am I kidding, Sonic Fox will win MKX again. I just hope to see some Season Three KI characters in the mix for top eight, regardless of who is playing them.

Warning, it gets saltier from here on in.

Marvel brings the hype, at least at the end of the tournament. It is also the only game that a number of the North American standards players, both face and heel, are still relevant in. Justin Wong saving Marvel from Morri-Doom two years ago was a story of WWE proportions. I am talking the Attitude Era, not the current PG blandness. Last year EVO saw its first not American Marvel champion when KBR won, tried to take the mic, and was denied his post tournament rant.

The problem is that Marvel is an orphaned game and has been for many years. Capcom can no longer support it as Disney took its Marvel toys, went home, and told everyone one else to fuck right off. Should it be at EVO? Sure, but make it a side tournament so there is space for other games that are not quite as long in the tooth.

On that note, why the hell is there a game being featured at EVO that requires CRT televisions (slight exaggeration)? There are two versions of Smash Bros on the main stage. And just to cut off anyone from the Smash crowd who insists they are different, I don't care. Wii-U is there so Melee should not be. Case in point: Ultra Street Fighter IV is not there and V is.

And I am not at all happy about that, either.

Of course Street Fighter V is going to be the premier game. Street Fighter IV has held the top spot since its release in '09. It is only natural that its sequel gets the spotlight, assuming that we do not have another Street Fighter X Tekken on our hands. The problem is that even the best players are not going to be as familiar with it as they are with IV at the time of tournament and it will be obvious in the quality of the matches.

Street Fighter IV needs one more year as part of the main tournament. The best of the best know it so well that each and every match, probably all the way through the top 32, would be a masterclass in what the players can do in an established game. V will be a mine field of random bull shit and match up unfamiliarity. There is no drama in that, no hype, just the shine of something new that will quickly fade.

Who is EVO trying to appease? If we were allowed to follow the money, which we are not, I am sure it would come down to Capcom trying to force its new game on us along with its potential micro-transactions and Nintendo not caring enough to try to get people to adopt theirs. I just want a good show and the lack of Ultra Street Fighter IV is going to hurt it.

Fine, I'll say it, because both versions of Smash are a crashing bore to spectate.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

An explosion of quality

It took about twenty five hours but Just Cause 3 finally threw an interesting base at me. Yes, I was still blowing up the same things to the same effect, but the base itself was so well laid out that I wandered around it after it was liberated, pondering the mad genius that put it together.

Let me see if I can come close to describing it. The base was an airport built into a deep ravine between two mountains. Planes were stored in underground hangers and their runways jutted out, perpendicular to one another, and at different heights. The ends of the runways were lined with radar and gun emplacements. There were support building below the runways, and by below I mean way below, that housed all of the fuel tanks and electrical facilities.

The whole thing just worked. While I was trying to take it over planes would taxi out of their hidden hangers and speed down the runway, then turn around for strafing runs. This was a problem until I hacked the SAM sites and enemy planes were blown to pieces as soon as they left the ground. Tanks would roll up zig zag roads, trying to line up a shot on the one man army tearing the place apart. For about thirty minutes Just Cause 3 delivered on every single thing I had hoped for. The action was organic and evolving. The explosions were silly huge, throwing parts across the base that changed the flow of battle.

At one point I took down a huge radio tower. As it fell it left a few chunks on a runway, which a plane then hit, which made me laugh.

It is too much to expect this level of quality in every part of a game as huge as Just Cause 3. Most bases and towns are the same because there are so many of them and the man hours required to make them all different and interesting would have bankrupted the studio. This one base may have been worth it, though. It was that good.

Now to finish the game in time to at least start Fallout 4 before I am completely distracted by something else.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Explosions on a schedule

While I am not going to back off of my previous complaints regarding Just Cause 3 being repetitive I have fallen into an uneasy like with it. I don't love it, I never will, but the game and I have come to an understanding which allows me to enjoy it in spite of Fallout 4 being the next game on the pile. It was easy, I just stopped caring about the challenges once I realized that the mods they unlock are mostly worthless.

I am still attempting them all as they are unlocked, I am just not spending any extra time on them after the first completion. This means that I will have quite a few abilities left locked at the end of the game. Not a big loss, I think I can deal with only being able to hold four grenades instead of eight when ammo is dropped by every enemy and said enemies appear by the dozens. Who knew that evil dictators had foot soldier closets akin to hell's monster closets.

That is a literal comparison. When taking over police stations garage doors will open and corrupt cops will come pouring out. What were they do in there in the first place? Just waiting for a heavily armed resistance fighter to start shooting up the place? If it happens often enough that you are waiting around for it then perhaps it is time to rethink what side you are on.

...

Fallout 4 is going to be started at an unfortunate time. Street Fighter 5 arrives on February 16th. That's not very far away and at the rate I complete games Just Cause 3 will take until next weekend to wrap up.

This is not a fair choice. I want to put real time into Street Fighter 5 in hopes on not going 0-2 at Combo Breaker in May. USFIV and KI? Sure, I will take my lumps in those with a grin, but just like everyone else I have unreasonable hopes about my skill, at this point imagined skill, in the new game. It really is a new beginning, just like Street Fighter IV in '09, only this time I am less of a coward and want to do well at a major.

The idea of significantly altering how I play games has come up before. Right now I rent everything, play the majority of retail releases, and digital only games are an afterthought. What if I flipped that? What if I canceled my GameFly subscription and bought one new digital game a week? Could I live without playing AAA titles? There are plenty of releases on both systems to keep me occupied, but would I be okay not playing the next Far Cry, Dishonored, Call of Duty, etc?

Gaming as a hobby presents an embarrassment of riches to sift through. The fact that there is not enough time in the day to play everything that is worth playing is a wonderful problem.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Rated M for mature(ish)

Ok. Deep breath.

Have you seen the new Laura costume for Street Fighter V?

Good lord.

I did not get all worked up, either for or against, Mika's bizarre boob panel or Cammy's lack of pants. There is precedent for both of those, It is the way that they have always looked. Someone over at Capcom was listening at did tweak a few camera angles to hide Mikea's butt slap and Cammy's, well, everything, so there was hope that future costumes would be a little more, shall we say, conservative.

Cammy's new costume has her wearing a military looking suit coat. And no pants. Fine, it is no better or worse than what she already had.

But Laura? Even I think that it is egregious and I am a terrible person. It may be worse than Millena's bandage costume from Mortal Kombat 9 on the all important 'I pray that no one sees me playing this' ranking.

Fine, I'll inline them.


vs


Indefensible.

Here's the difference: Mortal Kombat X learned from its mistakes. Street Fighter V is running right back into them. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

But I wanted to blow up a different city

I am compiling boring sales numbers for this weekend's podcast and the results are, for an Xbox person, a little depressing. I need to remind myself that I have both systems and that I choose to play multiplatform games on the Xbox One for ethereal reasons like gamerscore and a friends list that I do not use. Technological momentum, going back to the Xbox 360's success over the PS3, have so far kept me from changing  my primary console.

That and almost all of my old Rock Band DLC making the jump. That is a significant financial investment that I could not walk away from.

...

Just Cause 3 had a moment that approached greatness last night. I say approached because it took what could have been a very cool playable moment and relegated it to a cut scene. Early game spoilers after the break.


The final story mission of the first island pits Rico against a nuclear missile. How best to stop a missile after it has been launched than to ride it into the ground, Dr. Strangelove style? The player gets to control the action as Rico flies in on his wing suit and grapples in close but as soon as he is standing on the thing all control is removed.

In a game that is supposed to be about crazy things happening on their own all of the control is taken from the player during the most important, coolest thing that has happened so far.

Boo-urns.

By way of this week's Jimquisition I did learn a little more about earlier version of Just Cause 3 and that we are lucky that the game is even as playable as it is now. According to his 'sources' Just Cause 3 was originally an online only game and that the single player portion were shoe horned in quite late in its development after some suit changed his or her mind.

Points to Avalanche for, at the eleventh hour, remaking the game into something playable. Minus points to Square Enix for not just being greedy dickbags but for being indecisive greedy dickbags. If you are going to be a dickbag go all the way.

I mean, look at Komani. At least they own it.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Didn't I just blow that up?

Instead of attempting to catch up on Assassin's Creed India I will refer you to the podcast. Listen for the specific moment that I make Chance's wallet cry out in pain.

...

Just Cause 3, however, deserves more discussion.

There was a promise made many, many years ago by Red Faction that it and its sequels never managed to deliver on: truly destructible environments. The hardware at the time of its release just could not handle the math required. The last Red Faction game, Red Faction Guerrilla, came much closer, as did Just Cause 2.

Just Cause 3 still does not quite let you blow up anything (as Crackdown 2 promises) but it provides a better approximation than any other game I have played. If there was more to the game than that I would enthusiastically recommend it. Instead I am slowly getting bored of blowing up the same gas tanks in similar looking bases. Every town has the almost the same layout and feel, rendering them indistinguishable from one another. The feeling of deja - kablooie is inescapable.

As a point of comparison let's go back to Mad Max. I liked Mad Max, not just because it scratched the open world collect-athon itch but also because it had cool characters, a great hook in customizing the magnum opus, combat stolen directly from the Arkham games, and a lot if detail in even the most mundane environments. Little encampments were scattered all across the map and there was no reason to visit most of them other than to kill their inhabitants and steal their scrap. Reason enough for Max, so I visited them all. And they were all different. Max would go from crawling through a crack in a mountainside to spelunking into buried boats and each time the look and feel would be distinct.

It's possible to make a smaller scale game feel big by adding this kind of detail. Square mile wise, Just Cause 3 dwarfs Mad Max. Last night, just as I was beginning to wonder where the rest of the game was, I found that I had not zoomed the map out as far as it could go and that the world was fully five times larger than I had first thought. But what good does that do when everything on the first island looks and behaves the same?

The longer I play Just Cause 3 the more little things begin to bother me. Each section of an insland must be liberated and there are around five or so individual places that require attention. They are not shown on the map until the player stumbles across them. For the larger cities and bases this is not a problem as their outlines are plainly visible but there are checkpoints staffed by a scant few soldiers guarding an incredibly flammable fuel tank that are much more difficult to find. Trust me, I want to let them go, but I can't. That is not how this kind of game is played.

So I will soldier on, fighting the man and blowing up his shit. But I do not promise to not complain about it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

More catch up

If I could find time to write two days in a row, well, my life would be much less busy than it is.

...

CoDBlOps III. Now that is a fine acronym, second only to KUFCoD (Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom. Hey, I found an old review I wrote about it right here). Call of Duty games are like candy to me: fine is short doses but playing them too much or too often leaves one feeling nauseous. This is just as true for Black Ops III as it was for all of its predecessors, with one important distinction: at about the half way point it is no longer a Call of Duty games.

After Call of Duty deserted World War II for the present day it marched slowly from modern shooter to advanced warfighter to straight up speculative fiction. Black Ops III portrays bipedal warrior robots, full limb replacement, matrix style plugs in the back of the head and an evil AI with the same dreadful seriousness that the older, more grounded games deserved. One does not make jokes about the Battle of Stalingrad. But does an emo AI who travels from soldier to soldier, whining about all of the death it finds and searching for the 'frozen forest', deserve the save level of gravitas? Ehhhh....

It doesn't get it. The game shifts from military bravado to wacky shit once the real 'enemy' is revealed and it is better for it. There is no 'no russian' moment this time, no nuclear explosion inserted just to evoke a visceral reaction from the player. Instead the final levels are in the player's head, possible after he died, in which World War II style battles are played in reverse. Building assemble themselves from their shattered pieces and dead soldiers stand up to fight again. It doesn't make a lick of sense but it is a welcome relief for the usual serious fair.

Still, there are problems. The shift in tone brought along some dreadful voice acting and a few overly difficult and not at all enjoyable boss encounters. How well does a foot soldier stand up to an over sized mech shaped a lot like ED-209? Not well. The results look a lot like hamburger with shards of metal included.

There was also an attempt to lengthen the single player campaign by overlaying the levels with their other game mode. In other words, you play the same exact levels, including the cut scenes, with all of the enemies replaced with the undead. Bonus points for trying, but no, I am tired of shooting zombies.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A little story

My goodness, there is much to catch up on and my office is cold to the point that it is difficult to type. My paltry 2015 offerings are reason enough to soldier on, as is the fact that I fully intended to write more this year (as I always intend). I am going to start with the story that I hinted at regarding my newest project. It includes characters that heretofore have not been mentioned in this space. Brace yourself, I am actually a person.

A long, long time ago...

The college I attended was, at the time, quite small. All of the buildings, dormitories included, were connected, save for one dorm. You can guess where I lived. That isolation created a tight knit little group, the core of which was a bunch of writers, artists, and me.

Not sure how I ended up in the middle of that.

We all had nicknames based on characters from Alice in Wonderland or Alice Through the Looking Glass. My roommate was the march hare and the mad hatter lived down the hall. The walrus and the carpenter were rarely separated. There was even a door mouse. I was the cheshire cat, based mostly on my aloof nature and goofy grin. There were several professors who could have been the jabberwock.

There was no Alice. There was never an Alice. This is important.

Of that group I was the first to get engaged and the first to be married. Once, while visiting, my fiance spied one of the mad hatter's paintings: a very large oil on canvas looking up at a figure, standing on the edge of a roof with his arms reaching out towards the sky. She offered to purchase it on the spot but the hatter did not sell his work. The subject was dropped and forgotten.

Months later the cheshire cat was married. The march hare was in his wedding party, and the door mouse, walrus, carpenter and mad hatter will all in attendance. At the reception the hatter disappeared. This in itself was not unusual. He was, as were most, a little bit drunk. When he returned he had the painting and with no fanfare he sneaked it, as best he could for it was very large, behind the other presents. No words were exchanged, there was just a nod and smile to the cat.

This was quite some time ago and I do not remember if I discovered the inscription on the back of the canvas or if my wife first saw it. Here is how it ended:

'...and the mad hatter, march hare, walrus, carpenter, and door mouse offer the cheshire cat much congratulations, for he has finally found his Alice.'

...

The tattoo is my wife and I. Now please forget this romantic tale are go back to thinking of Chamberlain as a heartless complainer. :)

Friday, January 8, 2016

Bring out your dead!

I'm not dead yet! I'm getting better!

Not even sick, actually, just rather busy. So have a picture of my newest project as compensation.


Behold my paleness.

There is a story to this that I may be persuaded to tell at a later date.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Too much good

It was a bad year for bad games.

If you are not sure how to parse sentence, I cannot blame you. While going over my list of games for 2015 to come up with a bottom three to complain about I, too, came to the realization that 2015 had been a great year.  There are 55 games on my list for 2015 and not a one of them can be described as shit.

There are certainly games that I did not like, hated even, but that does not make them bad games. If this list were about games that made me angry then Galak-Z, Lords of the Fallen and Bloodborne would be right there. But two of those three are excellent games and the third is a reasonable knock off.

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD was pretty bad, but mostly because it was a port of a PSP title and was further saddled with being in the same package as the demo for Final Fantasy XV. No one expected anything of it and it delivered on that nothing. I got bored and turned it off. Bad, but not bad enough to hold my attention.

Onechanbara Z2 was trashy and I am glad no one whom I know saw me play it but it was also not a bad game.

So.... No worst of the year bitch list for 2015. Yeah?

I am sure something changed hands

Between the holidays and recording with Chance I have played through another Tomb Raider game without recording any reactions beyond 'oh my, this is quite good.' It is indeed quite good, and it avoids one of the big character problems of the first game by sending Lara immediately into homicidal maniac mode. She is no archaeologist, she is a killer with daddy issues, but that's okay because framing her that way makes more sense. Raiding tombs is an excuse to kill more 'bad' people.

Just like the first game Rise ups the ante so many times that it has no choice but to whip out the supernatural in the final act. It is not as silly as the time witch, or whatever the hell that was, but an immortal army and an impossibly large shadow organization with an unending supply of mooks is pretty close.

Side note: immortal only applies to being killed by men. Lara can off the immortal soldiers just fine. Maybe there is a message there that I am too thick to comprehend.

Between its relatively small beginning and its grandiose, if a bit silly, ending there are large areas to explore that are packed with more secrets than I cared to find. There are scripted sequences in between that rival some of the best that Uncharted has offered. A smoke filled battle that has Lara swimming under ice, gliding from to hole to hole and drowning fools is a highlight. It was hard, but it will not be forgotten.

It was also precisely the correct length. While I did take my time exploring areas and found all of the big things a decent number of collectibles remained. Consequently, Lara's weapons and skills were not maxed out when I was done. This give post endgame play legitimacy and prevents the kind of final capter boredom that Ubi-games are guilty of. I am looking right at you, Far Cry 3 and 4.

While it was certainly nice to get to play Rise of the Tomb Raider long before it appeared on the PS4 I am a little jealous of how good the game will be when it makes the leap. I am sure that it will include all of the DLC and maybe a little bit extra as a way of apologizing for its tryst with Microsoft.

But no one can say no to Microsoft money hats. No one.


Podcast episode 3 - THE HYPE IS REAL

Chamberlain and Chance - 2016 Hype list