Friday, April 29, 2016

I do miss the sunglasses taunt

Played some Guile last night after PSN decided to give up the patch to my PS4. Apparently playing Alienation sucks up all the bandwidth. I had to shut that down and play *shudder* BroForce instead. Guile arrived, shades and all, and I can safely say that he can be played just as he was in SFIV. IT felt good to have a home position for my hands again, plus the less stringent execution requirements allowed, me, to pull off sonic boom X CA and flash kick X CA. Nothing to see here, Guile is still Guile...

Wait, Desk already put out a combo video? Let's take a look:




Sweet Jesus.

In all fairness, Desk is not human. He has extra fingers or can see between the muons of space and time. But he is also not the only person who has done this, in fact Dieminion has a better combo, one that dizzies, albeit off of a full bar and V-Skill cancel, and has done it in a real match.

Maybe I need to play a little more Guile. It's not like I never played him in IV. I had him in my pocket to deal with the Honda/Blanka matchup, one of the most boring match ups ever, but my Guile was never any good. Last night I was able to pull off a nifty crush counter combo after only having seen it done. Maybe this is who I play until Urien comes out.


Relax, Necalli, I am not done with your smoldering generic rage yet. Wow, he really is sensitive, isn't he?



Thursday, April 28, 2016

Best of both worlds

Housemarque can do no wrong.

My intrusions into Alienation have been limited but what I have seen so far places it right in the sweet spot between Dead Nation, an extension of Smash TV or Total Carnage to the nth degree, and the quest for phatter loot that makes Diablo and Borderlands so difficult to stop playing. It maintains a death penalty by taking away the experience multiplier (which makes just as if not more salty that losing actual experience) but the game keeps right on rolling at the last checkpoint, assuming you are not playing in hardcore mode, in which case the penalty is fuck you, you're dead.

If you are really cool, which I am not, you can destroy the checkpoints for a better end of mission reward.

Last night the words 'horde approaching' flashed on the screen. I hunkered down behind two automated guns and waited, hoping that my remaining ammo would be enough. It was, barely, and picking through the corpses in the aftermath for dropped equipment was perfect, right down to a few straggling enemies wandering in to keep me honest.

The only legitimate complaint I have heard is that the single player campaign is on the short side, that the game expects you to start over from the beginning or jump online and play with friends. I don't have a problem with this as long as what content it has is good. I would have played more but a new character hit in Killer Instinct and Guile will be available tonight.

This is Mira:


I spent more time with her than any of the other season three character so far. She is an exercise in resource management: many of her attacks do potential damage to herself. She can air dash, throw tracking bats, attack at quite a long range with her gauntlets and do damage on par with Thunder or Tusk but each action costs her a bit of health. Health can be regained with bite attack, as a stand alone command throw, linker or ender, but these attacks do no damage to the opponent.

Mira is the epitome of what Killer Instinct has been fashioned into: risk versus reward. Her standing medium punch has silly range and can lead into a high low/high overhead mixup that hurts when it hits but attempting it costs health. I fought a few Miras in ranked (because I still only play Thunder in that mode) that killed themselves by flailing away with attacks, using up her health, and I snuck in with a single attack to steak the round.

I did get used to her mobility quickly - I believe only Cinder and Sadira are more able to move around the screen as well - so going back to Thunder was rough. He's a tank and handles exactly how you would expect a tank to handle. He took me back to gold (finally...) but I am not done with Mira. If nothing else she will be fun to play on the side.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

I take it back

I was really looking forward to Trackmania Turbo, so much so that I believe I put it on the 2016 hype list that Chance and I came up with a few months ago. It was a PC game that was aching for a console release. I thought that its short attention span, un-trollable racing and simple arcade controls would be a perfect fit. There was a Wii release, but nothing on the Wii counts, so Turbo was exactly what I thought I wanted.

It looks just as good as runs almost as smoothly as its PC counterparts. I say almost because there in an inexplicable hitch between laps on some tracks. Short time trial tracks and no collision detection between online racers is still present as are insane road courses that remind one of the slot car tracks that would run up and down walls and upside down. I should be having fun.

But I'm not. I am barely amused. Here's why: the game is the same but the platform is not. When I played Trackmania United on one of my old PCs I played it for fifteen to thirty minutes at a time. Just long enough to make progress through a few tracks but never long enough for their somewhat random nature and instant fail states to bother me. That is not how I play console games. Once I hit my couch I hunker down for several hours of work. Several hours of Trackmania Turbo leaves me frustrated and with a sore thumb.

United had a thriving online community filled with creative builders and enthusiastic racers. It was easy to find well made custom tracks on servers filled with twenty to thirty people. The online community in Turbo is anemic. The few user made tracks I played were terrible, intent on frustrating the player (like the worst levels of Super Mario Maker) instead of challenging them. The only servers with anyone playing were running built in maps from levels that I did not have the skill to unlock but the player count rarely ticked over ten people.

This forced me to the single player campaign, something that I barely touched in United. The campaign gets hard fast and the requirements for opening up the next batch of tracks are quite steep. After I play tonight and most likely put it aside I will have seen maybe one fifth of the built in tracks, the rest left hidden because I do not want to go back to all of the tracks that I missed a silver or gold medal on and improve my times.

Trackmania Turbo is just what I thought I wanted, not what I actually enjoy. Once again I have been so spoiled by Forza Horizon 2 that nothing short of that will do.

Monday, April 25, 2016

It happened again (podcast)

We keep doing it, mostly because like talking about games, but someone keeps listening.

If that's you, thank you. If that's not you, well...


Chamberlain and Chance - Something borrowed

Friday, April 22, 2016

Mistakes have been made

Remember how I said the only thing that kept Republique playable was constantly checking the map? That the camera was one of the worst examples of a third person camera ever? Guess what the game decided to take away in chapter 4? It also puts you in a fucking hedge maze, in the rain, while a giant killer guard with a split personality named Mammoth hunts you down.

And when he find you? He kills you. Straight up murders you in two surprisingly disturbing animations. Without the map I was getting lost in buildings with one exit, much less trying to find four random valves to turn in an unmarked maze while dodging death by giant bludgeoning.

This drove home that Republique is not a good game. It is a bad game with some interesting story beats but a game should never have parts that need to be endured. Almost no game is pure gold from start to finish but when you spend more time biting your lip out of frustration than enjoying what little quality there is, well, then the game is shit.

I think back to the game's genesis, on a 'platform' with no controller, and wonder if all of these problems started with those unreasonable restrictions. As Chance mentioned a few podcasts ago, decisions made to cater to a platform's limitations do not produce quality experiences. Makes a good game first, make sure you have something interesting to say, then go about making it work on whatever glorified toaster you think will allow it to sell the most copies.

Republique had interesting things to say in the first three chapters. Chapter four smacks of 'oh shit, it has been fourteen months since we put anything out and the kickstarters are getting antsy. Fuck it, ship what we have!'

We can tell. We can always tell.

...

Street Fighter? Why yes, I am still playing it. I made it to silver rank earlier this week. Then lost it. Then attained it again. Repeat that process over and over, sometimes several times a night, and you have an idea of how it has been going. Being stuck right around 2000 LP is heart breaking. Every loss could push me below a meaningless threshold and I am furious every time it happens.

I hope Guile comes out soon. It will be nice to have a honest charge character (Bison doesn't count) to play with, at least until Urien makes it out later this year.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Lies!

Okay, I'm hooked. Republique has not made a believer out of me, the game is still not actually very good, but I want to see how the story ends. I want to see where this underground society is, what 'The Arrival' entails and why Hope lost her memory as soon as she reached the surface.

Oh, spoiler there, not that anyone else will ever play this game.

I am afraid that as the final two chapters ramp up the difficulty the underlying problem of camera management is going to just get worse. Avoiding one guard that you can't see is bad enough. In chapter three there were often two or three of them, some wearing armor that protects them from tasers. Getting past them was part trial and error and part dumb luck. Doing so unlocked the next little nugget of story or character development and that is why I keep coming back.

So far we have the head of security who is completely loyal to 'the overseer' but is concealing a heart condition, the pre-cal administrator who has a manufactured french accent in spite of hailing from South Carolina, the head of the state newspaper who, with Hope's reluctant assistance, ruins people by digitally snooping around their homes and piecing together incriminating quotes all while being far too drunk on wine to stand, and the one guard who has been trying to help Hope that she manages to get arrested just as she is making her escape.

Lord help me, it's interesting and I want to see more.

Digitally breaking into a house and picking through the garbage was creepy, especially since the point of entry to one of them was a rectangular camera sitting below a television that looked suspiciously like a Kinect sensor. From there I bounced to a nanny cam in a teddy bear's stomach and found evidence that a guiard's wife was trading 'favors' for rent money while he was away.

This is one of the same guards that Hope helps get arrested just to clear the way to an elevator. There are no good guys here, just terrible people willing to do what they deem necessary to get a job done. And everyone, everyone, is lying all the time.

If only the game didn't play like shit, I could actually recommend it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

It's back!

Chamberlain and Chance - Short attention span theatre

Not as subtle as it thinks

I meant to plug this week's blog but it looks like Shoutengine is actually down at the moment.

Instead...

I was right to be dubious about Republique. It's very premise, that of the player controlling both a hacker using the camera to see and a woman trying to escape from a nameless, dystopian underground stronghold, is tremendously flawed. The camera placements are never in the right place to see what the woman is doing so you either need to be constantly switching between cameras, which leads to unexplainable load times in the middle of the level, or just keep moving the woman until you can see her anymore and the camera automatically switches.

By then you have been snapped up by a guard and sent back to your cell. And when you do get the camera placement right it will oftentimes switch on its own anyway. The disorientation is quite frustrating, as is the map being placed two levels deep in menus instead of displayed on the screen. It just doesn't play well.

But there is something there. It's V for Vendetta, but V is the voyeuristic guide and Hope, the other player character, is Evie, just without the torture induced strong will. At least, she doesn't have that yet. I have only finished two of the five chapters so a lot more unpleasantness could go down.

Cursory research reveals that this was kickstarted as an iOS game (this explains why it plays like shit and not so subtle arrogance) and that it took from December 2013 to March 2016 for all five episodes to come out. There had better be some goddamn gold in that final chapter.

Monday, April 18, 2016

In the nick of

Stories ended just in time. I had seen all of the levels, upgraded all of my swords, broken the combat by combining two different skills and generally run out of things to do. There was still one more truth do find, one more correct run before I could make the final run. Instead of forcing me to find the right combination of levels (and risking that I just walk away) the game acknowledged that it had just about run its course and told me what I needed to do.

How novel. It made an attempt to keep the player engaged even if that meant bending its own rules a bit. After the last truth was obtained I had to do one more run through many of the same levels but once again the game made it plainly obvious which was the right way to go.

I do not have a problem with the gaming going out in this way. With a ton more content, more weapons and a more interesting skill tree I could play a choose your own adventure style game with branching story paths, most of which end in hideous defeat, for quite a while. That is not what Stories is, it probably didn't have the budget for that, so instead of forcing the player through hours and hours of boredom to get to 'the end' after the game is basically done it clears the path to its finale.

Not to gloss over its problems too quickly...

Combat was broken by the inclusion of one ability that was far too powerful: upon reaching a certain hit chain all enemies are killed in one hit. The first level of this skill requires 20 hits, which is a little high, but the second only required 10. In combination with a skill purchased much earlier that doubled the value of precisely timed hits I could get this rolling in 5 attacks and then mash to my heart's content. It removed all challenge, all fun, from the combat.

And the voice acting... I cannot find the gentleman's name who was tasked with reading some of the silliness required for this game but I do not envy what he was put through. His voice is not great but it is not offensive either. What he was tasked with saying, though, is often unbearable, including pop culture references that have no place not just in the game, but anywhere at all. The script tripped over its own attempts at cleverness.

This is not a bad game, it is a limited game, and it is aware of these limit, making what good it does have much easier to appreciate.

...

Republique? Kickstarted episodic game originally intended for iOS and Android devices and later ported to PS4? Plays like the (more) boring hacking section of Watch Dogs? Im understandable dubious.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Close enough for government work

I tried to get through some of the end game content Nights of Azure had to offer, I really did. Things were going just fine until the boss with an insane amount of health and status effects that covered the entire battlefield. I cannot find a picture so naga-like creature with four arms, clutching a giant stone pillar in its tail will have to do. She also starts off with four generators that constantly spawn tough little minions that distract you, your helpers and worst of all, the camera.

Once those are done she bounces around the area throwing metal discs at you that need to be blocked, not dodged. This leaves time for your servans, if they are still alive, to do damage. The boss will have none of that, so she coats the ground with ice that is both slippery and poisonous. This kills the servans. Quickly. If you bring them back while the ice is still there the poison kills them again. Yes, I know I could grind out money for items that resist poison, but that would be pointless, because read on.

This leaves you all alone, chasing the boss while blocking her attacks. Damage comes in spurts and never amounts to much as finishing a combo leaves you unable to block the next attack. Somehow I whittled her down to around one third health and she removed the poisonous ice. Good, I needed my healer back anyway.

She replaced the ice with an attack that turns your servans against you. My healer healed the boss, back to full, and I was done with the game. This still counts as finished in my book. I got to an ending, if not the ending.

...

That segways nicely into Stories, a game all about making the wrong decisions and starting over from the beginning. Each mission begins with a choice, usually to go to one of two areas. At the end of each missions, and occasionally in the middle, there is another binary choice. These choices take you down a path that will almost assuredly end in your death. So far I have been stabbed in the back by a traiter (twice), destroyed the entire universe and achieved enlightenment just in time to be set upon and killed by dozens of giant ravens.

Believe it or not this has not killed the game for me because, so far, there have been enough different binary choices that I have not repeated many levels. Starting over at the beginning of the story also does not remove any of your accumulated skills or items, plus new paths are opened as you unlock more weapons. Think Groundhogs Day with big swords. There are four different 'truths' to find before you can actually get a good ending. Having found three I think I have run out of new levels and I need to figure out what order to do them in for the final truth. This is good because the game's weaknesses are becoming more difficult to ignore.

First, the fighting. It is Arkham Asylum combat with even less depth. Counter, attack, counter, attack is about as deep as it gets. Enemy variety is also on the low side and that is being polite (Four. That's it.) When you try to do cooler things, say start fools on fire with your fire sword or steal a shield with your grappling hook, the busy-ness of the graphics and the distance of the camera make it impossible to see what is going on. This leads to encounters that either go just as planned or kill you quickly. There is no middle ground.

Second, well, what do you remember about Bastion? When I think of that modern near classic the first thing that comes to mind is the voice of the narrator, that wonderful, gravelly tone that sounded like the bearded guy sitting at the end of a bar in a western who does nothing all day but drink whiskey and dispense truth. That narrator, whoever he was, took what could have been an annoying feature and made it central to the game,

In Stories it is an annoying feature. The voice is no good and the writing is often terrible. 'The kid' is repeated in the tutorial level so many times that it loses all meaning. Mother fucking pronouns, people! Use them!

I am not annoyed with the game. Yet. Yet.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Falsies?!

I should feel bad about such a terrible pun being featured as the post title. But I don't.

...

Nights of Azure spends a lot of time building up the relationship between Arnice and Lilysse. It comes off as a bit heavy handed on a few occasions, but this is about as close as a videogames gets to using romance as a non-exploitive plot device. To be plain, I but it. I buy that Arnice will sacrifice everything to protect Lilysse and that Lilysse really doesn't care that Arnice is an immortal half demon and that their initial meeting was orchestrated by a shadowy organization that may or may not be both the good guys and the bad guy.

It's complicated and I am not quite sure I understand. A real ending would have helped. Instead I got a truncated, that was pretty good but play it again with feeling, ending. The game assumes that the player will be willing to run through it a second time (just like Nier) to get the whole story. Nights of Azure is not a long game but there is no way I am slogging through it a second time.

Thankfully it's not quite that bad. After scratching my head through the credits I loaded up the new game plus save just to see what would happen. It was not at the beginning, instead it placed me at the last save before the final boss and let me jump back to the hotel where I was warned that there are new quests and that the level cap (that I did not hit anyway) had been raised. That's good!

The new quests so far have been terrible boring retreads through old areas. That's bad.

But it said that there were two new bosses! That's good.

One of them may be on the bottom of a grind heavy dungeon.

That's potassium benzoate.
It gets part of one more night before being sent on its merry, if oddly proportioned, way. I have other things to play - Stories and maybe, just maybe, a little more Salt and Sanctuary. Which I may stream.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Shallowness everywhere

It is obvious that Nights of Azure was designed with the Vita in mind and not just because it looks like a better than average PS3 game on the PS4. Gameplay runs on a daily cycle with the night being used for adventuring, exploring, and in general killing bad things and the day is filled with automated tasks and running around the hotel, talking to your servans (think familiars) and enduring absurdly earnest cut scenes.

The night portion is limited to fifteen real time minutes, at the end of which you are automatically sent back to the hotel regardless of what you are doing or where you are. This burst gameplay is perfect for when you have a few minutes to throw down on a lunch break but it is a little off putting when you want to marathon a few hours in a row. It's not a deal breaker but there is no story reason given for this limitation.

Daytime tasks are used to either earn money, blood (for leveling) or skill points in one of four disciplines. These skill points are then traded in for skills, some of which are quite useful like the ability to equip more items or do more damage with your sword and others just unlock different daytime tasks. This is separate from actually leveling up the main character which is down by taking an elevator to a dream world and making a blood offering while wearing the skimpiest 'pajamas' in the world. I did not make any of that sentence up.

This is also separate from how servans level. Thankfully they operate in a more traditional kill things, gain levels, manner.

The complexity doesn't bother me. The lack of payoff in the combat does. Servans are assigned to 'decks' with four slots and you can unlock more decks to take into battle. Summoning servans costs magic points but once they are out they stay out until they die so there is no reason to not run around with all four out all the time. The servans themselves have a special ability that pulls from their own magic point reserve and switching decks removes all active servans. Translation - have a healing servan in all of your decks.

All of this sounds interesting, yes? It would be if the combat was not so easy. There is some strategy with what servans are used together and what attacks the main character actually performs but none of it is required, at least not yet. Right now I am finding the most stylish way to tear through tissue paper.

I have a feeling that it will improve as more areas are unlocked but reports are that the game is not very long so it does not have much time to ramp up how involved I need to be in the combat. And I promise not to complain about how the characters look any more after today, but damn. What the hell is this?




Thursday, April 7, 2016

Quitting is good

My newly found ability to stop playing games that I find zero enjoyment in has come in handy. I play most every racing game that comes out but I do prefer them to be on the arcade side of the arcade/sim divide. Forza Horizon 2 is more my speed than Forza 6 which is much more my thing than, say, Gran Turismo. Sacrificing some realism for fun is just fine. Most rally games are much closer to a arcade game than a sim and I am guessing that is due to how insanely difficult it is to control monstrous cars on uneven roads with no clearance on either side.

Just be perfect and do it fast, that's all.

Sebastian Loeb Rally Evo is a serious racing game. It has all the mechanical bells and whistles of other sim racers that I never touch because I have neither the knowledge nor the patience to do so. They appear to be optional but my best times being well under those of the lead car (even on easy) say otherwise.

It tries to be serious about how the car controls as well, and does a good enough job that I start to panic when I get going too fast and the road gets uneven. There is a rewind function but it is a little more limited than in other games. After any crash you can rewind a few seconds to try and not die by hitting the breaks earlier. That one rewind is all you get for that corner as the rewind option is then locked out for several seconds. Instead of one try at a tough corner you get two which is honestly not enough.

Everything that should go into a rally game, varied courses, lots of cars, customization that I will never touch, is all included, but the game was no fun. I need to be in the right frame of mind to grapple with a sim racer and Sebastian Loeb Rally Evo arrived at the wrong time to garner that kind of attention.

So I turned it off, uninstalled it and sent it away. It was cathartic.

Instead I played Killer Instinct and found that everyone's ranks had been reset. I had just gotten high enough in gold to make most of my fight two out of three and now I am back in silver after re-qualifying, struggling to make it out. I suppose it makes sense, new season and new crop of players on the PC version, but I was still annoyed.

...

Nights of Azure... Where do I begin. Action RPG with a dash of Persona, specifically the velvet room and demon summons, and layers upon layers of complexity. I was looking forward to spending a second day with it but I am not sure if I actually like it yet. For one thing, the character models of the protagonist and her love interest are cringe worthy, especially in the upper deck and how they don't obey gravity. Here:


Ugh. UGH.

I am not what anyone would describe as a prude (incognito browsing is a wonderful thing) but oversized front court plus childlike face equals me being totally skeeved out.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

That last post was a little mean

I don't begrudge anyone for liking what they like. If anything I am little jealous of the those who have the patience it takes to fight through a Souls game. I know full well that if I could get past my knee jerk 'fuck this' reaction I would probably have a good time. Instead I will play it safe and run through another rally game because those seem to be in style right now.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Serious issues - podcast

Chamberlain and Chance - Serious issues

I don't get it

I played nothing all weekend. Saturday night was spent editing, which is done for you people, and Sunday night was spent drinking and watching Wrestlemania, which is done for me. A weekend well spent all around but no progress was made on getting good at fighting games or on shrinking the pile of discs sitting in front of my television.

And then there was the challenge that Chance leveled at me during the podcast.

He really wants me to give Salt and Sanctuary a try, to the point that he is willing to send the cash to fund this unwinnable endeavour. The list of compelling reasons is long and apt, but my caveat remains: what is the death penalty and why is it there? Better yet, why is it mandatory?

I would play Dark Souls or Bloodborne if there was an easy mode. The games have a lot to say but I am not convinced that their inane difficulty is integral to the experience. If I want to play the game as a walking simulator, too see the sights and be depressed by their brooding atmosphere, why not let me? Why is beating my head against a digital wall a requirement? Why are they gatekeeping their own content, content that a lot of time, effort and money was spent on?

The same is true for Salt and Sanctuary. Metroid-vania RPG sounds delightful. The closest we have gotten to that recently were Guacamelee and Ori, both of which were excellent. Ori was even on the more difficult side of things with platforming segments that rivaled the nastiest of Rayman's offerings, but the difference was that the only penalty for dying was being sent back to the beginning of the section.

Not hard core enough for a Souls game (or a Souls-like, goddamn, it's a genre now). No, you have to lose your accumulated macguffins on top of losing physical progress. This kind of draconian penalty made sense years ago when games could be completed in an hour. They were a way to disguise a lack of content. Lack of content is decidedly not a problem with Souls game, so why the arbitrary barrier?

The best I can come up with is that 'it's their thing.' It's their hook, the thing that makes them different from all the other gorgeous, dark, atmospheric adventure games that have Lovecraft running through their veins.

Oh wait, there aren't any? Hm.