Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The good Platinum

I think it may have been a mistake for Nier: Automata to have such an outstanding beginning sequence that was also released as a demo prior to its launch. Following three hours of play that opening sequence was easily the best the game had to offer but I had already played it. The hook was used up and instead of being excited I was a little bored.

That being said, there is still a lot to like about Automata. The good Platinum showed up this time so the combat is smooth and responsive. Enemy variety is low, but again, I have not played for that long. Skill customization is a deep, dark hole that I have already fallen into, weighing the benefits of being able to see my own hit points versus doing slightly more damage. It is brilliant and insidious.

The game is also not shy regarding where it pulls some of its mechanics: there is some Souls in here. From the moment you press start the game warns you that there is no auto-save. There is an in game FAQ that explains that dying means losing all of your physical items, that they need to be retrieved on your next life, and that dying on the way to your old corpse equals fuck you, thank you for playing.

I did not drop it like it was hot because, while dying is a very bad thing, I have not felt in danger of doing so yet. Recovery items are cheap enough and the combat itself is forgiving enough that the bullshit Souls death penalty the cost of failure is more of a threat than a real consequence.

Nier was bizarre and obtuse, at least least on the first play through when you could not understand what enemies were saying. Automata plays its hand early, with robots that scream in fear as you approach and beg you to stop killing them. 2B is slightly disturbed but not enough so to stop carving a swath of oily destruction though hundreds of them. That will come back to bite her, I assume.

It's good. It's really good. Now if only Tekken 7 didn't come out on Friday. I care more about that game than Injustice 2, a title that I have already forgotten about.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Hard pass

Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 was a Far Cry game minus all of its character. Pagan Min was replaced by unreasonable difficulty and a terrible checkpoint system. No thank you. At least it only took about an hour and a half for me to figure out that the game and I were just not going to get along.

Friday, May 26, 2017

It still hurts my thumbs

As a general rule I do not enjoy retro games. I played games that looked that bad, and yes they look bad, it is not a stylistic choice, when I was young so why should I play more games that look bad now? Shovel Knight does not look exactly bad but it certainly looks simple: limited colors, limited animations, etc. But god damn if it was not a tight, focused, strangely touching experience that lasted exactly as long as it needed to.

Let's not mince words: Shovel Knight is made in homage of Mega Man. If it wasn't good I would call it a rip off but it is good so I will give it the creative benefit of the doubt. Instead of gaining powers by killing other knights the Shovel Knight must purchase them but the effect is the same: he has a slowly expanding stable of abilities that increase the complexity of the combat and keep the game interesting.

I hesitate to call it difficult as I am not sure if my failures were due to not having played a game like this in quite a while or the fact that the left joy con on a Switch doesn't have a fucking d-pad. Regardless, deaths were plentiful in some areas but t never felt cheap. The game goes out of its way to educate the player, introducing a concept in a room where death is impossible before pulling the rug out.

For example: Shovel Knight comes across a large pit of lava that there is no way across. There is a strange green blob at the edge and, because it is the only option, he hits it, knocking into the lava. The lava is turned (temporarily) into a trampoline, allowing him to cross. Next room has two pits, third room has multiple green blobs. It builds on itself in complexity without being frustrating. Some modern games could learn a thing or two from this process.

The 8-bit-ness of the graphics and music did not wear on me as I expected. Would it be nice if it was hand drawn, high res sprites like Dragon's Crown? Of course, but this was a Kickstarted game so I will take what I can get.

Shovel Knight was started on a flight from Detroit to Austin. It was played on and off in my hotel room, then on a flight from Austin to Dallas and finally, thanks to an on tarmac delay in Dallas, finished as I landed in my home town. Every moment of it, including a surprisingly heart felt ending, was worth it. So this is what a hand held system is for.

Podcast - minus me

The boys soldiered on in my absence and turned in an exceptional performance:


Chamberlain and Chance - Everything is perfect

Monday, May 22, 2017

Limited updates this week

I am going to be out of town on 'business' for a few days which will give me an opportunity to the Switch for more than a underpowered console. Previous attempts have caused physical pain but I hope that Shovel Knight's 8bit-ness will forgo the right analog stick in favor of the buttons.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Solo heroes

In order for me to invest time and effort into a fighting game there has to be at least one character that I really enjoy playing. Sometimes this character is a holdover from a past game and other times I find him or her by chance but if this personal investment is missing my interest in the game falls off quickly.

Just because I like making lists: Street Fighter IV - Blanka, Mortal Kombat 9 and X - Kitana, Killer Instinct - Thunder, Guilty Gear - May, Injustice - Green Arrow, Tekken - Nina. Notice that Street Fighter V, King of Fighters and Marvel vs Capcom 3 have no favorite character. I landed on Necalli in SFV by default but I don't really like him, King of Fighter requires picking three characters and I don't like anyone other than King. The same is true for Marvel.

Green Arrow was found by chance in the original Injustice. I wanted to try out Scarecrow this time around but he is, for lack of a better term, really weird to use, so I have have returned to old habits. The story mode is incredible, the game looks very good and the voice acting is of mostly high quality (Harley is a little cringy) but I do not see myself playing it much online, if at all.

I do not think I have, or rather, can make enough time to not be terrible at Injustice 2. NRS games have a very specific, juggle heavy, staccato feel that I have a hard time adjusting to. Kitana in MK works for me only because I have been using Kitana on and off since MKII. Injustice is further complicated by being the one NRS game without a block button and a control layout that favors a controller over a stick.

These are not (just) excuses and it is a shame because, if nothing else, the game is interesting to look at. Character faces actually look like people, levels are alive with movement and damage, even the trademark terrible NRS animation is a little better here than usual. I just don't feel the urge to play it online, against people. I want to get back to my mediocre viking Diablo clone.

It has finally happened - my hermit-like ways have migrated to my online persona. I don't even leave the basement virtually anymore.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

It's not the same

Yesterday was in interesting day. Phantom Dust dropped with little warning, for free, and Injustice 2 came out. I was at a bit of a loss on which to play so I decided to let the consoles decide. Phantom Dust was a 9 gig download. Injustice 2 had a 950 meg day one patch. Both machines are on the same network, plugged into the same switch, and were downloading at the same time.

I cannot wait to be done with PSN. Phantom Dust was downloaded in about an hour and a half and the Injustice 2 patch took significantly longer. Take me home, Scorpio, take me home.

So I played Phantom Dust, a game whose pending arrival I have talked about several times on the podcast in glowing, slightly creepy terms. It is exactly as I remember it, to a fault. It really is an oXbox game resurrected to run at modern resolutions, a not insignificant task undertaken by a small team with a passion for a very niche game. I should be thrilled. But I am not.

It is not that I did not enjoy myself, I did, but my memories of playing Phantom Dust are tied to who I was playing it with. Being a semi-professional asshole I assumed that this was secondary to what I was playing and that throwing glowing balls of energy at randoms would have the same effect. It did not. It was honestly a bit hollow.

Getting into multiplayer games was on the difficult side and the total lack of voice chat outside of the party app is a significant loss but the rest of the game remained intact. From the outset you can download a free starter pack of skills. This allowed me to skip the single player portion entirely, a good thing, as it has not aged well at all. I made it through about a cutscene and a half before turning it off.

For the impatient there are all sorts of micro-transactions, ranging from in game currency to unlocking one copy of all 300 skills. It was so tempting but I did not do it. Instead I parlayed my winnings into junk packs, collections of five random skills. Cheap loot boxes purchased via in game funds. I am nobody's whale.

I will play Phantom Dust again but it is not return of a long lost love that I predicted. She's back, still looks good, still quirky and flexible, but I have changed, and I am not sure I have time for her anymore.

...

The last house I lived in before getting married was a double wide trailer inhabited by four guys, all of whom were eager to not live at home or at school and be able to drink as much possible at any time. It was a good six months, the end of which saw me move back home for six more while student teaching.

During a break from school I went back to that double wide trailer and tried to return to the old ways. A great deal of vodka was consumed, I blacked out, and the next hazy image was of me on my side and a good friend sitting in a chair next to my bed, making sure that I did not choke to death on my own vomit. Satisfied that I was out of danger, he rose and headed back to his room.

'You never can go back, can you,' I said.

He stopped, turned half way back towards me and shook his head.

'No.'

I learned then a lesson that I keep learning, that living in or for nostalgia is cowardly and disappointing. There is always more that will be than has been. Time to play something new(ish).

Monday, May 15, 2017

It worked for me and that is what matters

I promised to talk about Sniper Elite 4 and now I finished it and I don't want to say about it. It has been years (YEARS!) since I attempting to write up honest reviews. One site folding and another just kicking me to the curb tends to dampen one's enthusiasm. In defense of the second site, I went back and read some of what I wrote for them and it was all shit. I deserved to get kicked to the curb. Due to either lack of skill or discipline I am not much for long form, in depth, 'informative' reviews. I am more of a hot take kind of guy (lazy) and have much more fun picking on bad games than extolling good ones (asshole).

This means that when I come across an OK game, a serviceable one that passes the time without raising my blood pressure, I don't know what to say about it. Sniper Elite 4, more so than its predecessors, is exactly that kind of game. The previous games managed to wear out their welcome before ending and this one did not. It was precisely the correct mix of sneaking and shooting, at least on the Normal difficulty, and was entertaining all the way to the end. That's good, right?

Okay, I am at work with nothing to do so I will force myself to dig deeper. Why did I enjoy Sniper Elite 4, an admittedly average game, and so quickly gave up on Hitman, an excellent one? Because Sniper Elite 4 let me play the way that I wanted to and when I fucked up, which was often, forced me to deal with the fallout and gave me the tools and leeway to do so. Hitman wanted me to play it like Hitman and when I was not good enough to play it as Hitman it killed me. No leeway, only death.

Hitman let me fail all over the place. It encouraged it. It even mocked me by extending a helping hand in the form of opportunities. The difference is that, when I made a mistake, the game ended. 47 cannot, be design, hold his own in a firefight. It is not that kind of game and will tolerate absolutely no foolishness on the part of the player. Learn by dying, noob.

Sniper Elite 4 had the same kind of hand holding in the form of targets on the map, only when I made a mistake, which was often, and all of the nazis in a quarter mile radius were alerted to my position, I was able to change genres, from sniping to third person cover based shooter, and deal with the mess that I had made. The game wanted me to play one way but allowed success in another just by making the shooting work (let's me honest, the actual shooting in Hitman is not very good) and by making the hero a little more robust.

This is a video game after all, not an assassin training simulator.

Hitman is a very good game if you want to play Hitman. If you don't want to play Hitman, or if you are not very good at playing Hitman, it could not care less. Sniper Elite 4 is a good enough game that will meet the player half way.

...

Viking is also good enough in that I have not played a Diablo-clone in a while. All mediocre games, all the time!


Friday, May 12, 2017

Lists are fun

Moviebob put out a list (in his Game Overthinker persona) of the top 10 home game consoles of all time. I was ready to disagree vehemently but it is a list that pretty much writes itself. I may take issue with the order, specifically the Wii should be 10th or an honorable mention, but the console hits and misses are not difficult to deduce. Strike that, fuck the Wii and replace it with the Gamecube.

So what is there to talk about? Why, how many of each did I own?

10 - XBox 360

  • Number owned - 3
  • Personal favorite games - Culdcept Saga, Gears series, Lost Odyssey, Forza series, a ton more that I am missing. For hours used this system is only surpassed by the PS2. 
9 - PSX
  • Number owned - 3 (I think)
  • Personal favorite games - Final Fantasy series (yes, even Final Fantasy Tactics), Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid, Tekken 3, Castlevania Symphony of the Night. I bought my first PSX on a whim while in college. The first game I played on it was a bad Street Fighter Alpha port. I also got a little too deep into game piracy on this system, something that I am not proud of, but this was before GameFly existed and I was fucking poor.
8 - Wii
  • Number owned - 0
  • At one point in time I trusted Nintendo. The Gamecube (which should be on this list) gave us Rogue Squadron and a new look for Zelda and Ikaruga and the best version of Resident Evil 4. The Wii gave use wonky motion controls and shovel ware by the boatload. For good or ill, gaming will never be the same.
7 - Sega Genesis
  • Number owned - 0
  • My friends and I were all Nintendo diehards. It was an era when you picked a team and defended it, irrationally, violently. This meant that I never got to play Contra Hard Corps or a good Sonic game.


6 - Nintendo 64

  • Number owned - 1
  • Personal Favorites games - Goldeneye, Doom 64, Conker's Bad Fur Day. I waited in line for an N64 (college again, what else did I have to do, go to class?) and bought neither of the launch titles. Doom 64 was the first, and for a long time only, game I owned for the system. It is a lost classic that needs to be remastered. Oh, and Goldeneye was a phenomenal drinking game, but you already knew that.
5 - Dreamcast

  • Number owned - 1
  • Personal favorite games - Skies of Arcadia, Grandia 2, Soul Calibur, Phantasy Star Online. My first console purchased as a grown up, released on my birthday. Also my first real introduction to online play. I actually had the SegaNet ISP. And two phone lines. For PSO. Don't judge.
4 - Atari 2600

  • Number owned - 1
  • Personal favorite games - Pitfall, Adventure, Combat, Starmaster, Kaboom. I did not get an Atari until the great crash was in full swing. Being a little kid, this just meant that there were a ton of cheap games in bargain bins. Yes, even E.T.
3 - SNES

  • Number owned - .5
  • Personal favorite games - Super Mario World, Super Metroid, Super Castlevania 4, Contra 4. I say .5 because this system was shared by my family and when I went away to college I left it to my brother and purchased a 3DO. One of us got the much better deal. My parents purchased the system without telling us just so they could get to Super Mario World first.
2 - NES

  • Number owned - 1
  • Personal favorite games - Tetris, Castlevania, all the standard games that everyone played. I remember more of the NES than the Atari 2600, everything from blowing in games to get them to work to breaking a window with a thrown controller because Jaws was just so bad. And password saves. Fuck password saves.
1 - PS2

  • Number owned - 1 (that's right, I had a launch PS2 that never stopped working)
  • Personal favorite games - Final Fantasy series (yes, even X-2), Silent Hill 2, Fatal Frame 2, Guitar Hero 2, God of  War, more than I can possible remember. The PS2 years were probably the happiest I have ever been as a person who plays video games. There was always something new and different to play. I was running an EB Games at the time so I was surrounded by games and fellow enthusiasts. More so than even the SNES, it was my golden era of gaming.
Remove the Wii because that system was a blight and replace it with the Gamecube and it would be a pretty good list.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Truth, hot and heavy

The internet landed in our laps without creating a curriculum that empowers you to know when someone online is full of shit.

    - Neil deGrasse Tyson


No reference point

I really should listen to other podcasts. I think we are good. Then again, I very much enjoy the sound of my own voice. And Chance's? Swoon.


Chamberlain and Chance - The price of admission

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

I must be strong

Look at this shit:



Yeah. Yeah. I want to play that. At least I think that I want to play that. Let's do a little research...

'...I'd get stuck in no win situations...' - IGN

'Strafe is basically Spelunky in first person.' - Destructoid

Well then, that's a no, at least at full price. It was also called unfair in several reviews and mouse and keyboard controls were deemed required. I like the idea of Strafe, just not enough to pay $20 for it and push the backlog back further.

Here is the plan: when the game hits $10 I will buy it and stream the results. I should have documented my attempts at No Man's Sky, Bloodborne and Nioh in the same manner. 'Chamberlain swears at games he is bad at' could be a new feature. That means that I need to buy a mic for my PS4, but still, it could be amusing.

...

Sniper Elite 4 is the game that I wanted the new Hitman to be: easy and tolerant of foolish mistakes. More in a day or two but I can say at the moment that it brings nothing new to its niche genre and I am fine with that.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Nightmare is right

It's a wonder that there have not been more games like Little Nightmares: whole cloth rip offs of Limbo and Inside that come close in some ways but are wholly deficient in others. Neither of those games are perfect but they do nail an unsettling atmosphere and control well enough that their intuitive physics based puzzles are not a chore to complete. Little Nightmares has two out of three of those and but the one that is missing is really, really bad.

While not as dark as the games it apes it does have a very unsettling, almost nauseating mood, partly because what is happening is downright bizarre and partly because the whole game slowly shifts back and forth. This is explained later, and the explanation makes sense, but if you happen to suffer from visual induced motion sickness you may want to avoid this one.

Little Nightmares is also just as inscrutable as Limbo but has at least some sense of journey to it like Inside. It may not be clear where you are going, but you are going somewhere with a purpose, and it does keep the game's momentum moving forward. There are also actual boss encounters that create clean divisions between the sections. Creepy, unsettling boss encounters that can end with your little character being eaten alive or stuffed into a fish. It's weird shit.

The one issue with Limbo that was solved in Inside was the game's total lack of a crescendo. Limbo started out as good as it was going to get and trailed off from there. Inside built up to a bizarre conclusion and Little Nightmares does the same, saving the Tim Burton meets Spirited Away fever dream section for the very end.

So what was the problem and why was it so unforgivable? Little Nightmares decided, foolishly, to exist in a 3D world instead of a 2D world. Platforming 101: when jumping in a 3D setting some clue needs to be given as to the player's orientation in the world. Usually this is done with a shadow below the character. It's a simple solution that has been is used for fucking decades. Guess what little nightmares does not do.

I died to missed jumps more than I died to anything else. These are easy missed jumps that saw me fall either in front of or behind my target because I could not tell where in the world I was. There is no excuse for this. I don't care if adding a little shadow did not fit with the developer's vision of the world, it is a gameplay mechanic that is required.

This problem with perception is not limited to jumping. There are a few chase sequences that would be quite exciting if fitting into small gaps was easier. I ran into walls died slightly fewer times than I missed jumps. A quick look at Tarsier Studio's history and this makes sense: they are responsible for the most recent Little Big Planet, a games whose platforming is as loose as its idea of what makes a good mascot.

I cannot recommend Little Nightmares in its current state. Not because it is only about five hours, I actually have come to enjoy short games, but because those five hours are overshadowed by poor controls. The game's world is confusing to both navigate and live in. Only one of those makes for a good experience.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

I am trying to be positive

I was fully prepared to say lots of nice things about For Honor. I was going to compliment how smoothly it runs, how good it looks, how the combat is much, much deeper than it first appears. I was going to highlight how it manages to have a story in a campaign mode that is clearly designed to funnel players into the multiplayer, how it creates reasonable characters in a short amount of time. I was even going to single out its villain, Apollyon, as being very powerful and really creepy at the same time.

But...

Last night I was working on what I assume is the final mission. It was late, I should have gone to bed, but I pressed on because the story had momentum and I had just conquered several difficult boss fights in a row. I was fighting the aforementioned Apollyon and she is a straight up badass even without the random mooks she has around to assist.

A message popped up: Servers are going down in ten minutes for scheduled downtime.

No worries, I am playing single player, right? I soldiered on. The Apollyon fight was hard. After half of her health was gone the room was hit by giant rocks launched from catapults. She fled, taunted me, and then took up a position at the top of the large flight of stairs. She had the high ground, could hit harder than me and was faster. This has to be the end.

The message popped up again: Servers are going down in five minutes for scheduled downtime.

I fought and died to Apollyon for those five minutes, never thinking that the servers going down would kick me out of a single player game. It did. When that five minutes was up a final message appeared saying that the connection to the Ubisoft servers had been lost. I could still hear the battle happening behind the message. The game was still running, I just couldn't play it any longer.

Bad form, Ubisoft.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Finally something to play

I need to qualify which pile of games Hitman needs to be added to, or rather what else is in that pile. It should be stacked alongside Bloodborne, the collection of games whose quality I acknowledge but that are just not 'for me' and not be associated with No Man's Sky, which was shit. I know that Hitman is giving some people exactly what they want. I can see and understand why they are enjoying it. I may even approach that level of satisfaction on occasion. But more than a few hours of exposure and I am just a angry mother fucker looking for something inexpensive to break.

Case in point: the third section of Hitman has two targets. I know my limitations with this game so I took the easy route and just followed the opportunities. The game quite literally gave me a series of checkpoints which, when followed, got me to the targets. The first went well: I disguised myself as a new chef and added a pinch of rat poison to the spaghetti sauce. This caused the target to flee the table and I pushed him off the cliff he vomiting over. It was quite amusing.

The second target was having an affair with a local golf coach. I found a love letter which led me to said coach and I waited. Eventually I knocked him out (and was seen by the dozen guards who can all see through walls) but before I had to reload I examined his phone and arranged a booty call. Then I died. I reloaded and this time the golf coach made his own call, arranged a tryst, and then wandered around the sausage festival golf course which was patrolled by five or six guards.

This make no sense. If you know that a little something something is waiting for you, you fucking go. Quickly. Also, why were there so many guards on the damn golf course? I tried to knock one of them out and steal his clothes and was once again busted by the one I didn't see who had x-ray vision. Trial and error became error and error and I gave up. It's a shame because the game looks quite good and the levels are gigantic. They are designed for multiple play throughs, something that I would never do. Hitman and I will never work out. Going our separate ways is for the best.

...

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is gold. All is as it should be: I can destroy my children but going online sees me leading the race and then eating half a dozen red shells with half a lap to go and finished dead last. It is as God intended. 60 fps while running two player split screen is a nice bonus.

...

You may not believe this, but For Honor is pretty good as well. I will have more to say after another evening's play but right now it hits all of the same buttons as Ryse Son of Rome, only it looks better and the combat is deeper. I am aware that the single player campaign is just training me to play online (which will not happen) but that has not kept it from being exciting.