Monday, July 31, 2017

LSD is a hell of a drug

There is so much style and depth of story and image crammed into every square inch of Pyre that I can almost overlook that the game is equal parts graphic novel and uninspired NBA Jam reskin. That sounds much more harsh than I intend as I am really enjoying the graphic novel portion of the game. Every location, character, interaction and bit of lore is absolutely fascinating. Then I have to play the game and am always desperate for the more interactive portion to be over.

And no, this is not just because I do not play sports games. Imagine if basketball was three on three but only one person could move at a time. If you have the ball you have no protection and can be run the fuck over by anyone on defense at any time. Everyone has a different special abilities: some can fly, some can jump, some can sacrifice themselves in giant explosions that wipe out the opposing team. Sounds interesting so far? Too bad, it's not.

Speed based characters rule the day for both the player and the AI. Slower characters are at too large a disadvantage to be interesting and the AI could, if it were allowed, destroy the player at any time. I honestly believe that the only reason the player wins is because the AI allows them to, something like a meatbag mercy rule. It will bust on crazy tech, like beaning one of the player's characters in the head with the ball and therefore removing their 'aura' so they can be killed, at random times.

I have only lost one rite so far but that loss was terrible. I am afraid that there is more to come. But as I learned, most of the time it is not important who wins the rite, just to participate is enough.

The lore is deep here. So deep that I have stopped trying to read the 100+ page in game tome as pages are unlocked, opting to read it as a whole once the game is done. Everything in this world is based on tradition and belief, in doing things the way they have always been done. And when the Nightwings, the player's triumvirate, behind to try to new things the whole world, or at least the Downside, may come to an end.

It's heavy shit. There are choices to make that aren't easy, choices that would feel at home in (good) Telltale games. There is equipment to buy from a slug who lives on top of another, larger slug, though that equipment is less important after each member of the Nightwings is put through a trial by a 1000 year old spectre who lives in a crystal and given their own custom accessory.

Pyre is a fever dream of creativity, one that has invaded my sleeping hours, based not on what I am doing, but what I am reading and seeing.

I said on the podcast that it is sometimes necessary to indulge trusted developer's whims, that they should be allowed to take chances. I am not sure that Pyre is a worthy follow up to Bastion or Transistor but it is an experiment that I am happy to be a part of. It doesn't fit in any one genre, and I do not enjoy all it offers, but what is good is magical.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Next!

I am finally finished with Horizon Zero Dawn and I do not feel like writing much more about it. There has been plenty of 'reacting' over the past few weeks, most of it sincere, just a little bit designed to get a rise out of my podcasting partners. The ending was fine. It stopped just short of having Aloy walk on water while still making it abundantly clear that she was Jesus for the new world. I am not sure if Hades or Sylens is Satan in this representation. Hades is obviously evil but Sylens is completely self serving and would trade the rest of the world for more knowledge. He is not exactly a nice guy, either.

This is going to make some people angry. Are you ready? Horizon Zero Dawn is on the same level as The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild*. It's a good game. Almost very good. Horizon doesn't force weapon durability on the player (THANK GOODNESS) but the combat swings from too difficult to pointless very quickly. By the time Aloy has all of the tools she needs there is no reason to kill anything any longer as she has hit her level cap. I had all of the toys and all of the skills and just ran away from everything because there was no reason to do otherwise.

Horizon also crunches the entirety of its interesting story into the final five or so hours. The story is quite interesting and I would like to see it explored further, just not in this game. Give me a Bethesda style RPG set in this universe and I will play it for 100+ hours, guaranteed. I believe that I have seen almost all of what this game has to offer and a lot of it was not worth the time. I may have enjoyed it more if I was not slave to the map screen, visiting every spot, working down the list of tasks.

There are better open world games out there. I do not believe that Horizon will be spoken of in hushed tones like Red Dead Redemption is or be given the same reverence as Far Cry 3 (or 4, depending on your taste). It's not bad, it's just not the most fun I have had with a game this year.

*remember that I thought Breath of the Wild was merely good.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Picard > Kirk?

Picard - Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.

Kirk - Slave girl. Green. Hot.

Sisko - I can live with it. It's a fake. Hot.

Janeway - Seven of 9? Yeah. Hot.

Archer - Can't do it. Not hot.

...


Chamberlain and Chance - Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Probably more than six degress

If I have to fight one more stormbird in Horizon Zero Dawn I will, well, bitch about it and push on because I am almost done with the game. It a title full of tedious fights that one is the worst. So far I have had to defeat two for quests and it boring both times. Thunderjaws can be interesting and I fought a challenging combination of three behemoths and a few shell-walkers, but stormbirds can collectively go to hell.

Oh, and I have proof that no one at Guerilla Games has seen Tremors.

The final corrupted zone had all of two enemies: a rockbreaker and another, angrier rockbreaker. The second snuck up on me so I retreated to what I thought would be a safe place: a large set of conspicuously placed boulders. I assumed that the rockbreaker would not be able to get through, that their free movement was limited to dirt. Like this:



Nope. The rockbreaker clipped (note: did not break) through the rocks and attacked me anyway. How I can like a game whose developers clearly hate Kevin Bacon? It is not possible.

Shit, I was wrong. Ashly Burch to Kevin Bacon in fucking 2.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Legit this time

Some of my criticism of Horizon Zero Dawn has been tongue in cheek, less than serious devil advocating designed to get a rise out of Chance. Some. I really do not understand what he sees in the combat and it has taken just under thirty hours for me to figure out why: enemies are introduced before you have the appropriate tools to deal with them. Now that I have a good collection of weapons (most of which I still do not use because after your main bow and a good sharpshot they are all superfluous) the only non-trivial encounter is the stormbird.

At the start Aloy has a crappy dodge roll and weapons that do little more than tickle larger enemies. The first encounter with a sawtooth was bad news because I just could not do enough fire damage without resorting to crap shoot tactics like laying a mine and hoping he doesn't step on it until I am out of the blast radius. Now? No problem, only it is not my skills that have improved, it is the tech and Aloy's abilities. She has a better dodge roll now and my bow does a shit ton of fire damage.

Enemies did not scale down very well to introductory weapons and they do not scale up very well to more powerful ones. The thunderjaw sure looks scary but by the time I saw him I had a sharpshot bow that I could nock two arrows on, simultaneously. I have never died to a thunderjaw because of when I ran into them, not because of how good I was.

This is the danger with walling a player in with enemy difficulty instead of more natural obstacles. Once that enemy difficult is eclipsed, what is left? I can explore freely now and the only enemy types that pose a threat are corrupted ones, and even then it is just because they have more health. At the first the combat was unfair, then for a few shining moments it was just right, and now it is too easy.

How to fix this? Make the opening enemies easier and slow the weapon power curve. And prevent players from going where they shouldn't go with gameplay mechanics, not enemies that they cannot kill efficiently yet.

Horizon is still a pretty good open world game and I will play it like I play all open world games: if there is an icon on the map I will got there and collect whatever is there. It is going to take a while and I know that, when I am finished, I will not have enjoyed it as much as Watch Dogs 2.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Three points to Horizon!

Breaking news! Scientists say that the T-Rex could not have run! In fact, running would have broken its leg bones.

The most scientific link I could find. I am not giving hits to Fox News.

The thunderjaw in Horizon can run. He can run pretty damn fast. And he has rocket launchers. Thunderjaw better than t-rex, confirmed!

...why does everything take so long in Horizon? Or does it just feel like everything takes forever? It has been hours since the main plot has had any movement. Right now my Aloy is just wandering the wilderness, killing anyone and everything she comes across and picking interesting shit up off of the ground. She is a psychotic Indiana Jones, minus the cool hat, plus a cool bow.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Real(ish) people doing real(ish) things

Yes, I am still playing Horizon Zero Dawn. No, I have not changed my mind. All the bad things that I said about it I meant and I doubt that it will do anything to change my mind.

However, I must give credit where credit is due. Last night I rescued several villagers from a slaving operation. Most games would present said slaves in some sort of suggestive manner, especially if they are female. Horizon instead has them all appropriately clothed and the one female among them picks up a bow as soon as she is loosed and helps fight off the next wave of attackers.

She then kills the main bad guy quickly because 'my father taught that all animals deserve a quick death.'

It was pretty bad ass and not exploitative in any way. I am not the one who takes up the banner of any cause for any reason (ask my podcasting partners) but it is nice to play a game that portrays people in a realistic manner without any pretense.

...I just wish I enjoyed the combat. I fought a thunderjaw and rockbreaker last night and both were just chores. The thunderjaw because I knocked his weapons off from such a distance that I could not find them to use myself and the rockbreaker because the game's hit detection is often times total bullshit.

...

I am seriously thinking about a radical change to how I play games. Replaying games is not an option but living by GameFly's schedule and playing AAA to AA titles of varying quality is not doing it for me anymore. There are new, interesting, little games that come out every week on both PSN and XBox Live. Would the graphics whore in me be satisfied with just those?

Is playing just about everything (eventually) making me hate everything?

Monday, July 17, 2017

EVO 2017

It was a game-less weekend save for a single match of Worms with one of the short people that live in my house and I feel refreshed, if only slightly. Nothing made me angry over the weekend, nothing raised by blood pressure, nothing forced me to check myself before controllers were hurled across the room. I hung out with family, drank a bit and watched some of EVO 2017. Less than I would I have liked, but only because what I was interested in was on at the wrong time.

Or too late and I fell asleep.

Friday night was King of Fighters XIV. I did not have a horse in the race but the game is always fun to watch. The meta seems to have shifted since last year (less Nakoruru and more Kula) but there have been at least two patches plus a visual overhaul. It looks better but still behind everything else. I did not make it to the end of top eight, a refrain that will be repeated once more with more tragic results.

Saturday during the day I caught some Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2 (take that, autocorrect!) and the game is as inscrutable as ever. I recognized individual parts of what people were doing but how it fit together was a mystery. Guilty Gear is the best looking fighting game around right now and will remain so until Dragonball FighterZ comes out next year. I almost wish I still played it.

Sunday morning I managed to catch the finals of the last ever Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 major tournament. If I remember correctly the early day of MvC3 were dominated by Dark Phoenix, a character that only appears if you have Phoenix on your team and five full bars when she dies. She was OP, at least in the beginning, in spite of her quickly draining health pool. I do not remember who used her but she won a lot. People hated her.

The game evolved and solutions were found. I cannot even pretend to know enough about Marvel to go over many other popular teams, but Phoenix and was replaced. Just about everyone played Virgil. Zero showed up and was a problem. Doom became ubiquitous. There was even success with team Big Body - Hulk, Haggar and Sentinel. Last year Chris G got his win with Morri-Doom: Morrigan/Doom/Sentinel.

He was back this year in the finals but lost to RyanLV's Chun L/Morrigan/Phoenix. And the last match of course came down to Dark Phoenix showing up. Full circle.

Tekken 7's result was apparently predictable. All I saw were super-human Korean's doing things that are impossible for mere mortals. Tekken is hard, too hard for me, but watching the best in the world do anything is always enjoyable. Unlike most other tournaments that make me want to play the game once it is done watching world class Tekken has opposite effect. It is like watching tight rope walkers and saying 'Yeah, I can do that.' Np, I can't, but I will watch someone else take that risk.

This was the first EVO that saw an American player coming in as the favorite: Punk. I do not know much about Punk. He plays a very efficient Karin, is not very emotional and is a sweet, summer child at the age of 18. He came into top eight on winners side with the weight of a country's expectations on his shoulders and the following tweet dogging him:


Tokido was on losers side of top eight. Punk put him there.

Punk's first opponent in top eight was Itabashi Zangief. He thought that Zangief was a bad match up for Karin so he pulled out a pocket Nash and beat Itabashi, 3-0. Tokido snuck past Filipino Champ, someone who no one even considered for top eight other than Champ himself, in the best match I have seen in a long, long time, 3-2.

Winners finals was Punk again Kazunoko, the 2015 Capcom Cup Champion. He made it look simple, 3-0. Then he had to wait. And watch.

Tokido continued on his quest for revenge, beating Nuckle Du, last year's Capcom Cup Champ, Itabashi Zangief and finally Kazunoko. They were not close matches but I would not call Tokido's performance as dominant. It was also during his loser's final match again Kazunoko that yours truly fell asleep. I am a tired old man.

Because I have no self control I looked up the results before watching the replay. Tokido won, resetting the brackets against Punk. How could this be? The answer is simple: experience. Tokido has been playing fighting games for longer than Punk has been alive. He has been on the EVO stage before and lost. He has studied yoga in an effort to control his nerves, to calm his breathing, to be able to play his very best when it mattered most.

Tokido reset the bracket, 3-1, and Punk cracked. There was no hope and everyone in the building, from James Chen at the commentary desk to the scrubs in the back row, knew it. The reset went 3-0.

I watched the awards ceremony and was amazed at how well Punk held it together. He is 18. I was an idiot at 18. So were you. So is everyone. He was obviously upset but he stood tall, accepted and wore the medal, generally behaving like more of an adult than F Champ was just a few feet to his right. I hope that his loss does not affect him for long.

On the bright side, it was good to see Tokido win. When asked if he had anything more to say he took the mic:

'Fighting games are great.'

The audience cheered. James Chen (and Seth Killian, holed away on the ESPN broadcast) wept. And it was done for another year. I'm still retired.


Friday, July 14, 2017

Can't blog, EVO

Horizon continues to frustrate me. It's EVO weekend.

...and I am considering deserting AAA gaming and playing nothing but little, downloadable games. At least then disappointment would not last as long.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A deserved beating?

Not a physical beating but I was definitely struck about the head and neck a few times by hard words.


Chamberlain and Chance - Two on one is fair

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Heresy time

This post, unlike the last one, is entirely serious.

Horizon Zero Dawn is now old, in gaming terms, so I doubt anyone is interested in a cranky man's opinion about a game they have already played. Tough, I am going to give it anyway. And it isn't all sunshine and lollipops.

At its core Horizon is a Far Cry game, full stop. It is not just cut from the same cloth, it is stitched together from Ubisoft's leavings. This is not a bad thing. I would be lying if I said that I wasn't eagerly anticipating Far Cry 5. Everyone is anticipating Far Cry 5. The problem, and this will cause fights, is that Horizon is not as good of a Far Cry game as 3, 4 or Primal.

In Horizon you are constantly foraging, constantly looting, constantly picking shit up off of the ground (and consequently getting very tired of the animation). Picking healing herbs never stops and it slows the game down to a crawl. Far Cry is a walk in the park compared to this. It allows you to play longer without having to stop and make more arrows or traps. This was a choice that Horizon made, to emphasize the surviving part of being out in the wild amidst killer machines, and I wish it hadn't.

This would be fixed, at least partially, by giving me the option to turn off the foraging animation. Over the course of the game it would save at least an hour of watching Aloy bend down and stand up again, maybe more.

Combat in Horizon veers wildly between too easy and fuck you, this is not a Dark Souls game. Some of this is again, by design. Smaller to medium sized enemies go down in a hit or two, assuming that you have the correct weapon (which is does not always give you) but large enemies are a slog. Yes, I am hitting their blaze tanks, no, I am not attaching them to the ground first because it takes half a dozen ropes to do so and they inevitably end up covering their explosive bits when they finally fall down.

The combat is work. Fighting in Far Cry is never work. It is rarely difficult, and I am fine with that, but scouting an encampment of mercs and then attacking is more fun than laying an explosive trip wire under a Sawtooth and watching it do almost no damage or running into a Fire Bellowback before the game bothers to give you any ice weapons.

Which is hasn't yet and I have run into two of the damn things. Which brings me to the checkpoint system.

*Ahem*

There is no checkpoint system, or at least what is there is not consistent. Sometimes when you die you are moved away from where you were and any items than you used in the encounter are gone but experience gained and quests completed remain. Other times you are placed back at the most recent camp fire with items returned but experience removed. Both are unacceptable. Both are lazy on the game's part. Every other open world game on the market (not by From Software) is kind enough to quick save for you before big encounters. You died? That's fine, try again.

Get ready for a long walk when you die in Horizon. And anything you killed on the way is back again.

This all sounds pretty negative, and I do mean it, but the game is not bad. It is just not as good as other similar games. It is not even the best game that I have played this year.

Update: going over the list from this year, it may be the 'best' game I have played this year. But I had more fun with Watch Dogs 2.


Friday, July 7, 2017

Without Keanu, though

I don't enjoy games to the same level as my friend Chance. When he loves a game he loves the game. He becomes emotionally invested in it, plays nothing but it for weeks, sometimes months at a time. I am always so concerned with what game is next that every experience, even the good ones, becomes less enjoyable as it drags on. Spending more time than is absolutely necessary on any one game is unthinkable.

On top that the games that he falls in love with are almost always games that I do not enjoy, examples being Darkest Dungeon, Galak-Z and Overwatch. Two of those I own and stopped playing and the third I played for an hour or two before sending away. Dank memes and hot fan art are not enough to sustain me when I am terrible at the game and have no patience to improve.

There have been times where everything lined up, Wolfenstein The New Order and Far Cry Primal are among the best. Then there is Horizon: Zero Dawn. Chance has already declared it his game of the year. In July. I broke one of my cardinal rules and skipped over Prey to start it last night.

It's good. Very good. It is the game that validates my owning a 4K television. It plays like the best parts of Far Cry and I have not even begun to ride robotic dinosaurs. But all this agreement will not make for an interesting podcast next week.

So what am I to do?


...

I'm kidding, the game is great. He was right.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

It never gets old

The tragedy of Andromeda

I must rescind of few of my previous statements about Mass Effect Andromeda. To be specific, I called the supporting cast boring. This is not true, I just had not gotten to the loyalty missions yet. They are not all likeable, in fact two of the six would have been airlocked into deep space after their missions if that was an option, but not being likeable does not mean that they are not interesting characters.

Their interactions with one another also improved as the game went on. There was no equal to Tali's self aware snark 'I have a shotgun' from Mass Effect 2 (how could there be) but parenting advice from a 1000 year old Krogan is right up there along with Jaal and Liam standing feet apart, butt naked, learning how to insult one another. Jaal also flirted with Cora quite a bit and I got a little jealous (of Cora). My Ryder got none but if he did he would have totally gone for Jaal.

The game also mustered up a decent ending and some sensible (and sensibly short) post game content. The good guys find the Halo life generating Dyson sphere, there is a big fight in which allies made throughout the game make cameos, a pretty good boss fight and everyone lives happily ever after. Ryder talks to each of his crew one last time and, after all planets are at 100%, he has a planet named after him.

It was the planet his father died on, but don't think about that too hard.

There was also blatant hints at either DLC or a sequel. A message from the Quarian ark arrives staying to stay away, the Archon's second in command escapes and Cerberus (and the Illusive Man) were clearly involved in the initiative's funding. Cerberus scientists actually show up in a missions doing terrible things to non-humans.

It is most unfortunate that there will be no pay off for any of this. This is part of the tragedy of Mass Effect Andromeda. It is a good game. Barely. With a better developer, or better oversight by the publisher, or a more constrained scope at its outset, or a different game engine, or any other of the million things that went wrong with it during its sordid path of development going right it could have been great.

For every flash of excellence here, like Jaal dodging a bullet or Vetra beating the pathfinder at rock climbing or Liam having his internal combustion car sent to his new home at sub-light speed, there is a janky animation or piece of abhorrent voice acting or game breaking crash in a cut scene. The way it ties to the original trilogy, that the entire initiative is a desperate attempt to save the Milky Way species from the Reaper invasion most likely funded by Cerberus, is wasted. The game makes this reveal about thirty hours too late and then never comes back to it.

I want to know about the politics behind the initiative and if the benefactor really is the illusive man. I also want a better enemy as the kett, let's be honest, the borg, have no depth beyond assimilate, er, exterminate, sorry, exaltation. They are evil because the game required an evil race and are easily the weakest part of it.

By the smallest of margins, Mass Effect Andromeda is good. It being merely good killed it and may kill the studio that made it. With Bioware moving on to more Destiny like environs this may be the last true Bioware game we see for a long, long time which makes Andromeda's happy ending a little less happy.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Good thought for the day




Yeah, this makes me happy.