Monday, May 20, 2019

A mild defense of Anthem

I said some unflattering things about Anthem last week, summed up by the statement 'It is a sad game.' And it is. But it is also not a bad game. It is not the game that most people were expecting not is it the game that EA advertised. I also believe that it is not he game that BioWare wanted to make. There are bits and pieces of very good ideas here: interesting characters and a world with a tremendous and largely unexplored backstory. In a better game, a game not forced into the money shaped hole left behind by Destiny 2, it could have been much better, but that does not mean that what is here is all bad.

It must be said that I played the game incorrectly. Anthem is designed as a squad based shooter and I turned that option off at the first opportunity. It warned me each time I started the game and each time I said 'fuck off, I can amuse myself' to which it replied 'sure thing spanky, but I am not going to make anything easier on you just because human interaction give you a rash.'

We came to an understanding.

The act of playing Anthem, flying around in a javelin and shooting wave after wave of very similar enemies, is fun. It's not Destiny fun. because BioWare is not Bungie, but I played it for around twenty five hours and my eyes did not pop out of my head. The game did not give me cancer. It was fine. Most of the game was fine. The world was detailed and fun to look at, though exploration was a bit cumbersome. Missions were straightforward, if a bit repetitive.  Enemies were fun to kill, though the game's idea of increased difficulty was simply 'MORE MONSTERS,' not different monsters or more interesting attacks.

It was fine. 7/10.

The sadness kicks in when the BioWare bits shine through the 7/10 and it becomes apparent what the game might have been. The characters in the game are capital C characters: well written, well voice acted, but poorly animated and residents of a very detailed but stagnant world. There is a scientist who is split into three people, each new entity reflecting part of himself, that would have been more at home in an RPG than stuck in the same idle animations in his house, never leaving his tiny little world. The whole fort is filled with NPCs that never move, looking more like an exquisite diorama than a functioning fort.

Anthem's world is being constantly torn down and rebuilt by shaper relics, leftovers of a long dead civilization that do as much harm as they do good by tapping into the anthem itself, an unexplained but ever present power that fills the world. Think The Force but less subtle. Instead of churning out moody bad guys it creates giant scorpions or titans the size of buildings.

It could have been good. It could have been more. The real problems don't kick in until well after my time the game has ended. End game content is almost entirely absent leaving players to grind randomly created missions with the end goal of, well, something. I never touched any of that so I don't hate the game but I at least understand why players looking for more than a twenty or so our campaign would be frustrated.

Anthem was fine. Sad, but fine.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Not him again

Far Cry New Dawn feels like a more reasonably sized Far Cry 5. It's not the wild, interesting departure from the norm that Far Cry Primal was, it is just Far Cry 5 plus a few years, a nuclear apocalypse and by the way, never mind that Rage 2 comes out soon.

I would be lying if I said that it wasn't fun. The Far Cry style of open world shooters works better on a smaller scale. This is a smaller map with less to do, less places to clear out, less outposts to take over, literally less of everything. And that's okay. Maybe open neighborhood is a better term than open world.

Games don't need to be 100 fucking hours long. I am looking at you, Assassin's Creed Odyssey. Yes, you were good, but god damn did you need an editor.

That is not to say that New Dawn does not have at least one capital P Problem, at least plot wise. Far Cry 5 featured a terrible downer of an ending. Joseph Seed was right, there is a nuclear attack and to top it off the player character ends up trapped in a bunker with this maniac until the world is not quite so radioactive.

Spoilers coming!

Joseph Seed is still alive in New Dawn and the game seems to be trying to redeem him as a character. he has saved his people, holed up in the north of Hope County in an anti-technology stronghold. He then left his son in charge (and if you played a female rookie in Far Cry 5 this has terrible, terrible implications) and hid out in a shack waiting for the current player character to find him.

And when you do? He literally plucks a forbidden apple off of a tree, makes you eat it, at which point you fight the evil in your own soul. In the form a big ass bear. Subtle, this is not.

I don't think anybody wanted more Joseph Seed, especially after how the last game ended. And now to humanize him? To try to paint him as almost sympathetic? Icky.

It should be over tonight. And then? And then it is time for Anthem. Prepare yourselves.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Back in the saddle

The towers in Mortal Kombat 11 are just as bad as you have heard, possibly worse. I do not care much for unlockable cosmetics, so avoiding them would not be a problem if it were not for the brutalities hidden in the krypt. Brutalities are far and away superior to fatalities. They are sudden, short and (most importantly) infuriating to the opponent. Brutalities have specific requirements, like ending a match with a particular move at a certain amount of health, so they take planning.

They are exceptional for trolling. And let's be honest, MK and trolling the opponent go hand in hand. Why else would 'quitalities' be a thing? I threw so many fans at someone a few nights ago that he quick mid-match.

So yes, I am playing online again, but only in casual matches. If you see me online just remember that the normal fan can just be ducked, you do not need to hold block. Blocking the fans is just giving away chip damage. Duck the mid fans, block the low fans, and get close to me, then you will probably win. But good luck with that, I have a lot of fans.

Back to the towers -  I need coins to unlock chests in the krypt to, just maybe, open a chest with a brutality in it. So far I have found one for Kitana. It required a move that I do not use in my build, so it was worthless. The hunt continues. At least a whole pile of apology coins should drop tonight.


Friday, April 12, 2019

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Who am I again?

I have things to say about how The Walking Dead ended. Some nice, some not so nice, but they are reserved for the podcast. Tune in tomorrow for dead hot takes.

...

Kingdom Hearts III is kind enough to include a six part primer on the events that led up to it. I watched all six parts before starting the game and understood less than when I started, in fact I think that trying to comprehend the Sisyphean morass that is the over arching Kingdom Hearts 'plot' has forced other more important information out of my brain. Things like where I live and how to breath.

It's like anime watched more anime and decided it could out anime the anime.

If nothing else the game does outrageous spectacle well and often. Fights against standard heartless enemies can culminate in Sora, Goofy and Donald jumping into over sized tea cups and crushing their enemies before them. It may get old eventually but at only two hours in I still find it at least amusing. 

Friday, April 5, 2019

Filling the space

Good morning internet.

I feel that I should apologize, not to anyone in particular, as this blog has never been for anyone other than myself, but to this space in general. It was supposed to be a daily exercise, an outlet after the review gigs dried up. This was many years ago, and while it never really was 'daily' it was certainly more often than it has been as of late. Excuses are many, actual reasons beyond not being in the mood are few, so this is something that I intent to remedy.

Mood is relative, right? I should be the master of my mood, not the other way around.

As chronicled in the podcast, my gaming space has been in pieces for the last two weeks. The carpet was gross and the suspended ceiling was a mess, thanks to a water issue from the floor above, so it was it time to bite the bullet and pay people far more skilled than myself to make it livable again. They have done so. All that is left is the painting, which I am doing myself, and I have severely underestimated the task.

It's not that I have never painted before. I painted every god damn wall in my last house at least once. This is different enough to make it arduous: grey paint going over yellow on walls with no texture. The paint will just slide off when the roller gets dry, but you can't see these spots until the paint itself has cured.

Translation: I have to do the whole thing twice and I haven't even started with the edging yet.

But this is not This Old Hours and I am not Norm Abrams (REFERENCES, HA!). I have managed to play a few things with my television transplanted into a different room. Darksiders III was bad and I shudder to think what they will do with a forth game. It is a shadow of the first two tainted by the current souls-like hotness, just done poorly. Frankly, I am amazed that I made it through to the end.

Call of Cthulhu was also bad, but no one should be surprised by this. I knew it was going to be rough when they mispronounced Cthulhu. CUH - TOO - LOO, seriously? It was a walking simulator with very little to do or say with a final five minute out of nowhere visual spectacle that almost made the previous three evenings of work worth it. Almost.

Trust me, don't play this one, either, just look up the endings on YouTube. Here:


I did not get the first ending. My Pierce was far too crazy by that time to do anything other than kill himself, finish the ritual, or finish the counter ritual. Pay no attention to the janky animations and just look at the clouds in the background. Not bad. Not worth the rest of the game, but not bad.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Better late than, well...

Obviously I am not playing Sekiro. I don't want to play Sekiro, it sounds custom made to anger me, meticulously honed into just the right shape to hit all my rage pressure points simultaneously. But what I am missing us the internet community aspect of playing something at the same time as everybody else. The end of last year of good for that. I played Red Dead Redemption 2 at release and Spider-Man not too far after. It was nice to be part of the buzz instead of weeks, or months, late.

So be it. Someone had to play Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom. Someone had to play Darksiders III. Might as well be me.

Monster Boy was not originally on the list as I had some fun with the last game but not enough to make me loyal to the series. The last game was a reskin of the original Master System title, and it felt like it. Looked good, felt bad, and was burdened with antiquated mechanics. It also required quite a bit of internet help to finish.

Then Cursed Kingdom showed on a top ten list on Digital Foundry. Fine, I'll play.

Cursed Kingdom is not a reskin, it is a whole new game. Looks good. Honestly looks very good. Does not feel bad, but certainly doesn't feel good. And the game? Ehhhhh... I do not like it when a Metroid-vania does not at least give some direction on where to find something (which is part of why I cannot play Hollow Knight). Cursed Kingdom does this a few time but those road blocks came when I was too invested, time wise, to give up.

So this game, much like the last one, was finished with the help of various let's play videos. I don't have the time nor do I have the patience to re-explore vast areas, looking for the one piece out of five of the magic dingus that I need to finish the game. In this case I am happy to have played the game late; someone else had done all the hard work for me.

...

Darksiders III is, at best, mediocre. But Fury is awesome. She hates humans. She hates the other horseman. She thinks, no, believes that she is better and more powerful that everyone else. She deserves a better game than a mostly linear action RPG with the worst parts of a Souls-like, unfair combat situations and losing souls when you die, bolted on.

I will soldier on, for now, but I cannot promise to see this one through to the end.

Friday, March 22, 2019

meak poast

Hm, what does this 'new post' button do?

meak poast

Well shit, look at that!

Chamberlain and Chance - It belongs in a museum

Monday, March 11, 2019

I am a simple man

Crackdown 3 forgot what it was in the final few missions, specifically, it got too hard. I spent a solid forty five minutes on a giant mech and his infinite minions before dropping the difficulty from 'Terry Crews' to 'Dwayne Johnson' and finishing it off with little effort.

I'm just kidding, Rock, you know I love you, don't kill me.

I maintain that there is little wrong with Crackdown 3 but there is also little to recommend outside of playing it for simple amusement. It is a game that exists for the sake of its game-ness, something that is apparently not good enough anymore.

It's just a game, okay? It's not breaking anything down or improving anything, even iteratively. It's a game that existed and exists again, after a ton of delays. That's good enough for me.

Speaking of good enough for me...

Phone rings.

'You've got Wang.'

Tee hee.

Lo Wang. Shadow Warrior 2. There are any number of things that I should be playing, things that are actually on the list, and instead I nosed around Game Pass looking to take advantage of the rest of my $1 month.

Imagine my surprise when I found a shooter that had new mechanics layered on top of it. There is a loot system that allows weapon and armor customization. Areas are large and filled with odd looking enemies whose limbs come off it a pleasing manner. The frame rate is solid, and visually it is good enough.

And it has juvenile potty humor. It is miles funnier than anything Duke Nukem ever did. Which isn't saying much, but at least there are no scantily clad women who have been impregnated by aliens.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Not a punishment after all

That powerful being that I thought I did wrong yesterday? The one who led me to Crackdown 3 after twenty minutes of Smash Ultimate and ten minutes with a surprise graphical novel? It turns out that he is much more benevolent than I thought. Crackdown 3 is not shit. Crackdown 3 is actually a lot of fun, so long as nothing more is expected of it than being another Crackdown.

I never really understood the backlash against the second Crackdown. It was more of the same, and for more there was nothing wrong with that. It was still a game about jumping around a city, collecting agility orbs, making occasional stops to shoot people and blow things up. And that is precisely what Crackdown 3 is, just a little shinier.

Ok, honestly, it's a bit too shiny. A bit too Tron for its own good.

This is not a deep game. Anyone expecting it to be a brand new experience is in for a disappointment. I am getting exactly what I came for, and after a scant three hours I will say that the moment to moment gameplay, the act of leaping tall buildings in a single build while firing a rocket launcher and anyone and everyone, is more fun than the moment to moment gameplay of Just Cause 4.

It also, if what I have read is true, has the sense to not be a gigantic time investment. Crackdown 3 is the unhealthy snack food of gaming. It's the Doritos of the game that came out last month. I like it in spite of its questionable quality, and left to my own devices I will finish the whole damn bag in one sitting.

That would make Metro Exodus the skunky beer of this February's releases. You can't make me finish it.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Contrition? Never!

Super Smash Bros Ultimate sucks. I played for about twenty minutes before giving up.

Death Mark was a god damn visual novel, how the hell did it end up on the list.

And now I have to play Crackdown 3. Clearly I have wronged someone or something quite powerful.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Gorilla gorilla

'So what are you playing?'

'A game about an ape messily crushing people into walls. And jazz fusion.'

'Uh hum.'

(walks away)

...

Ape Out is a simple game. You are an ape. You want to get out. There are many people in the way, most of them have guns, and they explode into the kind of red art Pollock would create after playing way too much Hotline Miami.

There are two buttons: one punches enemies and the other grabs them. Grabbed enemies can be used as shields, will file off a few shots of their gun in a panic, and then can be thrown into other helpless blood bags or the nearest wall, whichever you prefer.

It's a simple game. It's also almost brilliant.

The top down perspective makes determining enemy line of sight a snap. This is quite important because they will continue to fire at you from off screen, especially the damn rocket launcher guys who will one shot you long after you think you are safe. The visuals are simple but distinct. Enemies types are immediately recognizable, from the burly shot gun guys to the cowardly ones who have pistols. Everything needs to be processed quickly but it is not the enemies that kill, it is hesitation.

Any moment of hesitation equals death, or at least taking damage. When any enemy spots you there is almost always enough time to grab him before he gets off a shot as long as you do nothing else in the mean time. No time to think, no time to do anything, either you grab him (or hit him) or you get shot.

No stealth. No deep tactics. Just an ape going ape. And jazz.

Each level begins in silence. When the first enemy is killed the music kicks in, punctuated by cymbal hits when the ape crushes humans again the walls. It will rise and fall with the action, quieting down between fire fights only to reach a frenzied pitch when the ape is jumped by three shotgun guys, a flamethrower guy and a rocket launcher guy.

And that is where the game falters. Levels are proceduraly generated and can create no win scenarios. Not no win, I suppose, just dead ends filled with enemies. They are all also just a bit too long. Death comes quickly and and there are no checkpoints, something that becomes more annoying in the second half the game.

In spite of the difficulty spikes the game is also only about three hours long. There is a higher difficulty option, but that just doubles the level length. No thanks.

Ape Out had one good idea and it did it very, very well. For three hours/$15 dollars, that is all I an ask for.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Just 'cause?

The previous two Just Cause games were delightfully silly open world slide shows. Stuff blew up real good, so good in fact that the game engine couldn't keep up. I never found the performance issues unforgivable as the core game play, going from town to town and blowing up a list of objectives, was consistantly enjoyable.

So why in world would Just Cause 4, a sequel to games about blowing shit up, include significantly less shit to blow up and less reason to blow said shit up?

Discovered towns in Just Cause 4 no longer have a laundry list of things to level. You know me, I love my lists. Instead there are a number of pointless, unrelated stunts to perform, all of which boil down to getting yourself through a hoop, either quickly or in a specific vehicle. That's it. Some are creative, yes, but they are not nearly as much fun and taking the head of a dictator's statue with a rocket propelled grenade.

Even worse, after a mere twelve hours of play I have unlocked all of the upgrades associated with these stunt objectives. Some still unlock vehicles, and I will do those, but there no reason to do any of the others. Some though was put into these objectives, albeit misguided, and yet the game give no reason to complete them.

And none of that is what I want to do, anyway. I want to blow shit up. There is just not as much to blow up and enemies pour out of the god damn sky like locusts as soon as poor Rico starts making trouble. And they are incredibly persistent.

But the game has yet to crash on me and has impressively short load times. *side eyes Metro Exodus, which did neither*

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Two terrible tales

Artyom crouched behind the boulder, just out of sight of the slaves running the water pump. It was almost a relief to be underground again. The desert was hot and dry, two things that 20 years in the metro had left him ill prepared for. Several other spartans were already out of action thanks to dehydration. Artyon needed the water in this cave for both his comrades and their train. None of them were going anywhere without it.

The wheel turned and a slave stumbled. The tribal master turned to yell and Arytom made his move, along the edge of the cave, up the stairs and into a small radio shack. There was another tribal sitting, talking on the radio, just out of reach. Artyom crept forward. This had to be quiet.

In an instant he was behind the tribal. A quick hit to the back of the head was all it took. After a moment of satisfaction Artyom found that he could not stand. Moving to knock out the radio operator had placed him between a chair and a wall, a space so small that he had no right actually fitting into it. He didn't fit into it, but he could not move. Not forward, not backward. And the chair itself was impossibly heavy. He was stuck.

There was a voice in Artyom's head. 'Reload,' it said.

'What?'

'Reload, you fool, before it's too late.'

Artyom, quite sure that years of radiation exposure had finally melted his brain, looked for the source of the voice. He saw no one, and then, out of the corner of his eye he saw the words 'CHECKPOINT SAVED.' Before he could react, the voice came back.

'You dumb fucker.'

There was a flash, Artyom blacked out and then was back almost before he noticed the change. He was still stuck between the immovable chair and wall of the shed. Looking at his watch he noticed that it was exactly one minute before he had heard the voice.

'Oh for fucks sake' came the voice. Artyom blacked out again.

He was back, shooting this time, trying to get attention, hoping that an errant shot from one of the slaves would knock him loose. They never made it into the radio shed but one of their attack dogs did. Artyom fired at it reflexively, killing it, and its corpse flopped on top of him. He still could not move and there was now a dead dog in his face.

CHECKPOINT SAVED

'What, how, come the fuck on' came the voice.

In a flash it was two hours earlier. Artyom was back, not stuck, but standing where he was two hours before the incident in the cave. In his last moments he heard the voice one more time.

'Nope. Not doing this again.'

Artyom's world ceased to exist.

And Chamberlain was out $60.

...

Okay, Immortal Unchained. Stupid name.

I see a stamina bar. Not looking good. Dodging, running and melee attacks consume stamina. What's that smell?

Kill a few enemies. The controls function as advertised by the in game prompts. Use pillar to level up. Seriously, what is that smell, it's getting worse.

Hey, a mid boss type enemy. Jesus he hits hard. Killed him but used up all my health whatevers. I should head back to the pillar to recover. Why are all the enemies back, I just left the room two minutes ago. Holy shit, that smell, my eyes are watering. What is it?

Oh crap, I died. Where did all my credits go? Sitting there on the ground?

AH HA! SOULS LIKE! FUCK YOU!!!


Friday, February 15, 2019

Next on versus

First, let be in known that I have nothing against covers. My favorite version of All Along the Watchtower is by Dave Matthews Band, for pete's sake. So here we go. The new:



And the old:



First reaction was position. For a few minutes. Then, well...

Ok, rap break is fine. It's fine. It just doesn't fit in the some, rhythmically or otherwise. The only reason I can think of it being there is that guitar guy from the new version is not Tom Morello and they had to do something to fill in the break.

...we really need Rage Against the Machine back, don't we?

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The greatest dick move

Remember that section of Battlefield 5 I complained about yesterday? I got past it, died, then quit. When I cam back to it instead of starting at the last check point I started at the last cut scene, before the psychic tank fight.

Dick move, game. Dick move.


Chamberlain and Chance - Can I go now?

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The tank that can see through walls

Battlefield V suffers from the same 'fake open level' syndrome that many other Battlefield, and for that matter Call of Duty, titles. It presents the player with a large(ish) open area with multiple objectives and the illusion of choice. In reality there is one way to succeed.

For example, I needed to soften up a town's defenses before the rest of my battalion attacked. There were three targets: a tank and two big ass stationary guns. I tried sneaking around to the stationary guns first, hoping to use those on the tank, but no dice, neither had the tank in their field of fire. I then tried to sneak around behind the tank, which was the right idea in the end, but it took me a goddamn half hour of reloads to find the correct path. Being seen by one Nazi alerted them all, as Nazis have an indelible psychic link (or something like that), and then the tank blew my ass away.

The final solution was to sneak along a very specific path, kill two very specific guards, then attach three pieces of dynamite to the tank before alerting it. That's not free form that's linear as shit. It was interesting when I alerted the enemies because the fight that followed was always chaotic and different but it ended in my death, every time. The only solution was also the most boring one.

I do need to acknowledge that the game does have building destruction down to a science. The first time I alerted the tank I ran inside of a building. Surely, I though, I will be safe in here.

BOOM

A whole wall is gone. Then I died.

Next attempt I hid behind the building. No boom. Instead the tank drove through the building and flattened by ass. It was amusing the first few times, before the psychic Nazis got old, and I just wanted to quit.

...

Tetris Effect was pretty good. Not mind altering. It's no Rez. But it's pretty good. I did not play it in VR yet, as the final level is hard enough without a wearing a helmet, but I will get around to it eventually.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Something doesn't fit

Lego DC Super Villains was fine. It was fine. It was a Lego game, what more could it be? I stand by complaint about the voice. Only Lex and Batman were correct, as they either got the actual performers or some really damn good impressionists. Joker and Harley were bad.

Yes, I am complaining about the voice acting in a Lego game. This is what my life has come to.

Speaking of difficult revelations, the opening of DC Super Villains forces the player to create a new super villain. This new character is not always in the active party but he or she does gain powers as the game progresses, acting as a catch all solution for puzzles. There is also a nifty 'choose you side' moment at the end. The Justice League is back and are willing to forgive 'the rookie' but of course the villains want him to stay nice and evil.

I chose evil. Because fuck Superman, he's a bore.

Anyway. it took me an embarrassingly long time to settle on a design for this throw away character. I went back and forth between models, powers, walking animations, etc. Literally paralyzed by choice to settled on one of the premade options, naming him Handkerchief McBeardFace. This is why I played the default male Shepherd in Mass Effect - when forced to create my own character I freeze. Too many choices equals no choice equals default option.

...

Battlefield V is surprisingly ugly. I was not expecting anything more than a serviceable shooter, and I suppose it works, but textures are strangely muddy up close and you can see them pop between resolutions in the distance. Character models and death animations are not at all impressive. This does not feel like a AAA tent pole release. Perhaps Call of Duty was right to jetisson the single player portion in favor of another battle royale mode.

My shooter of choice comes out in a few days and there might, just might, be a new Doom this year so I am not hurting for single player FPPs. It is just strange to see one of the big two falter so hard. Battlefield 1 was actually pretty good. This? Not so much.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

That's all I can stands, I can't stands no more

The final boss in 'Warhammer 40,000 Inquisitor Martyr - Oh lord, help me, I need an editor' was stupid. He was a bullet sponge who summoned other bullet sponges. It was an attrition based fight that I could not lose as dying dumped me back into the same room, over and over, until the damn thing died.

There was a brief piece of resolution regarding the plot that I had lost track of fifteen hours ago, credits, and then I was dumped back to the central hub. With a new mission.

That was 200 points higher than my current power level. Just for grins I ran through a random side mission. It was boring and I upped my power lever by about 5 points. In order for this last series of missions to be feasible I would need to grind for equipment for hours. Lots of hours. More hours than I wanted to give the game.

Did I finish the game? No, I suppose not, but I saw enough of it. I forced my way though the campaign until the big bad died, the maguffin disappeared, and I was hit with adds for DLC. More than enough.

If forced to make comparisons, Shadows Awakening did not wear out it welcome. It was not good but it was not good for just long enough. Warhammer 40,000 Inquisitor Martyr was tiresome before I got done reading the title.

...Warhammer 40,000 Inquisitor Martyr make sure to over pronounce every syllable and add a bad British accent.

...Warhammer 40,000 Inquisitor Martyr Part of an incredibly dense and huge mythos that only the neck beardiest of neck beards can understand.

Yeah, that's enough.

Monday, February 4, 2019

When did I get so nice

First, I neglected to post a link to my own podcast week. Please see nifty ShoutEngine player at the bottom of this post. Not that there is anyone who frequents this blog that is not actually in the podcast. Still, sorry boys, my bad.

Second, I fear that I was a bit too kind to Warhammer 40,000 Inquisitor Martyr totally not based on Event Horizon the game of the miniatures. Levels are based on about three different templates and blend together. Disparate weapons all feel remarkably similar. Crafting remains baffling and oddly ineffectual. And the leveling system...

I mentioned before that each mission has an arbitrary number attached to it - arbitrary as it the next is always more than the last. The number is compared to the player's power level and if they come in about or below additional penalties are bonuses are applied. It's monumentally stupid and serves only to force the player to grind sub-missions for identical but slightly more powerful equipment in order to attempt the next story mission.

A 10% increase doesn't sound like much, but where there are a dozen things shooting at you, that shit adds up fast.

Odd difficulty spikes add the frustration. One leader type enemy has the power to heal itself over time. It does not have this active at all times but when the skill is kicked off the best the player can do is maintain fire and wait it out. This keeps the enemy from healing. Too much. Fighting two of these at the same time was total bullshit.

At least there are no lives in story missions. Death has no penalty other than lost time. I am only playing this because Metro isn't out yet.

...

Chamberlain and Chance - Baby it's cold outside

Thursday, January 31, 2019

I hope you like text

Warhammer 40,000 Inquisitor Martyr has too many words in its name. But it's Warhammer, so being overwrought, wordy and far too complicated for it own good is a given. If it didn't have any of the over serious superfluousness then all it would be was another mediocre Diablo clone, which seems to be a theme for this year. Instead it is yet another mediocre Diablo clone that has layers of mechanics that I do not understand, are never explained, and that do not seem to required to not get killed.

There is one, and I mean only one, interesting mechanic that I would describe as unique. On top of the normal hit points gauge there is a suppression meter. As the player takes fire it does damage to both and, depending on the attack, it can harm one more than another. As the suppression meter decreases successful attacks have a greater chance of causing the inquisitor to stumble and fall. If the the gauge is depleted the inquisitor is officially fucked and can be stun locked to death.

In the realm of a 40K game, where bullets are everywhere and taking damage is not usually a problem, it makes sense. Sure, I have almost a bottomless well of hit points but taking a ton of fire hurts like hell and eventually it is going to knock me down.

I suppose I could describe it as a machismo meter, but I can't, because, well, current year argument.

That's it. Equipment management is boring and forces you to choose equipment base on its  'level' instead of it actual stats as the combined level of all equipment determines bonuses or penalties for missions. If your power level is below that of a mission it is not enough that the enemies are a little tougher, there are additional penalties to damage done and received.

There are multiple crafting areas that I have opened up a few times and never looked at again. Perks are earned based on requirements so deeply buried in menus that finding them is an achievement all its own. I am sure all of it would make sense if the game made an effort to explain anything. Instead it is preoccupied with using as many word as possible in basic conversation.

'Login rites and rituals to the machine spirit' is said without a hint of irony. So 40K, I guess? I have no love for painting miniatures so my knowledge of the source material is next to zero.




Thursday, January 24, 2019

January blahs

I finished Shadows Awakening last night. It made an attempt at humanizing the demon but none of the characters, alive or dead, were fleshed out enough to care about. My reaction was 'oh, that happened, time to move on.'

And move on I shall. To another mediocre Diablo clone.

...

Chamberlain and Chance - January blahs

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Armchair developer

It's easy to just label a game as mediocre and call it a day. Shadows Awakening is about a generic as they come. What's harder (and more interesting for blogging) is to play armchair developer and diagnose why it is generic and how it could be fixed. The isometric action RPG is a well established genre with stellar examples: Diablo 3 comes to mind as do older, classic console titles like Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath (rest in peace, Snowblind Studios).

So what is Shadows Awakening missing, besides a name that makes sense?

First, and easiest: the loot drops suck and leveling up is unsatisfying. Diablo 3 works, as grind heavy as it is, because loot drops are constantly giving the player something new and shiny to use. A new piece or armor or a new weapon or even a new gem for slotting lands ever few minutes, keeping the player interested. Loot drops in Shadows Awakening are almost always worthless. It feels like the only good weapons are from scripted events which makes the loot drop lottery no fun to play because you never, ever win.

There are also not enough skills to learn to make each level gained feel tangible. Each character can only have three assigned skills at a time and the list of skills to choose from is not much larger. There are passive bonuses gained every three levels but they are almost all the same between characters and most of them are boring. And leveling itself takes far too long and suffers from tremendous XP inflation.

Second, and I will credit Chance for this term, the combat has no crunch. Hitting something in a game provides no tangible feedback beyond a little controller vibration so the impact must be presented visually and audibly. A good heavy hit should rock both the screen and the subwoofer. A bystander should take notice and cringe.

Combat in Shadows Awakening feels like fighting air. Just hold A and things fall down. Or disappear in a cloud of smoke. It just doesn't feel right.

This is a prime example of how a game can do nothing 'wrong' but still be a bore.

...

I have read the Game Informer article on Sekiro. It all sounded good, right up to the point where the director refused to discuss what the death penalty will be. I don't trust you, From Software, I just don't.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Bland bland bland

I am past the beginning of the year and things are calming down. I mean, working for a living is still not the way I want to live, but if I can convince myself that I do not need fast food every day I will have more time to to spend here. The blog has become an unfamiliar, empty place. It is not that I have nothing to say, it is that I have had precious little energy to say it.

Which is a pretty lame excuse.

Shadows Awakening is Diablo 3 with all of its good level and art design boiled away. It is the 7Up of games: bland and inoffensive but altogether unsatisfying. It is a game, mostly, so I will play it, but at the end of a session I feel like I have not really done much.

...

Sekiro comes out in a few months. I am not going to play it. Not even on a dare. I will read an article about it that has appeared in Game Informer but that is all the attention and effort I am will to provide. Unless I do play it and stream the attempt and subsequent nervous breakdown.

...

Podcast!

Chamberlain and Chance - 2019 Hype List

Sunday, January 13, 2019

I could see for miles and miles

I was not lying when I said that Mega Man 11 was hard but it is an authentic, well worn difficulty that has had its edges rounded off. Getting all the way through a level and through the boss in two lives is still nigh impossible on the first attempt. That attempt nets more than just information: accumulated bolts allow the player to purchase extra lives, energy tanks and power ups.

It's still Mega Man, it's just a modern Mega Man, and it makes Mighty Number 9 look even worse for getting almost everything wrong.

Much to my surprise I actually finished this one, something I had not managed to do with Mega Mans 9 and 10. It would not have been possible without the judicious use of armor power ups and, admittedly, and easier than expected final form of Dr. Wily. The game gave me a break when it was not expected, as if it knew that I was at my limit.

...

Beat Saber is is PSVR's killer app for me. I have not been back to it lately, as I am waiting for more songs, but it is the reason that the device was purchased in the first place. There was nothing else that I really wanted to play. After investigating the demo disc I did come up with one: Moss.

Moss didn't need to be a PSVR game. It could have been a perfectly average third person, physics based platformer whose hook was an impeccably animated, almost painfully cute mouse protagonist. I am thankful that it did more than this as perfectly average platformers grow on trees and Moss, save for one major misstep, is something quite special.

Much like Pyre, the player is an actual character in the game. Other character speak directly to the play, coincidentally call 'the reader.' but thank to the game being in VR the player is literally in the game. The first time I looked down into a pool of water and saw my own reflection (at least the reflection of my avatar looking back at me) it was almost magic.

As the reader I was looming over the world of Moss, a benevolent specter charged with guiding the hero mouse through her adventures. It works most of the time: specific items in the environment are moved by physically reaching out with the controller and pulling them. The same can be done to enemies, but this is where it break down. It is quite finnicky getting enemies into the right place, doubly so when you have to control the mouse at the same time. Not game breaking by any means, just something that needs to be polished up for the sequel.

And that, unfortunately,  is the game's big problem: it's just too damn short. I knocked it out in about two and a half hours. I had seen all there was to see and Moss thanked me by saying that Moss chapter 1 was done and that there was more to accomplish...

...just not in this game.

I wanted more. I wanted more of the mouse communicating in sign language, of her reaching out for a high five and a difficult puzzle had been solved.

Oh well, something PSVR related to look forward to, I suppose.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

A good beginning, a good middle, but...

It took hours but I finally got to the 'end' of Assassin's Creed Odyssey. Well, all three endings to the three concurrent story arcs. And none of them were satisfying. Seriously, hours and no real ending? This is the worst case of blue balls ever.

Of  the three arcs...

THPOILETH!

Being sealing Atlantis, killing all of the cult members and reuniting your family (or killing your sister if you are an irredeemable dick head) only sealing killing off the entire cult had any sort of connection to the Assassin's Creed universe, and even that was tenuous as it showed scenes referring to past (future) games.

I suppose getting the family back together was supposed to be the feel good moment of the game but unlike Alexios I could not as easily forgive Deimos for trying to kill me at every turn. And sealing Atlantis does lead to Alexios showing up a alive in modern times. He look damn fine in a suit but then he dies and it is back into the animus.

What I fear is that the actual ending has been excised to be sold back later as DLC. It is difficult to complain as the game still gave me hours. almost all of which was fun...

...but it's still bullshit. Part of the reason I play Assassin'e Creed games is the silliness. It needs to be kept at a minimum, as in Origins, but it still needs to be there. Instead Odyssey is a pretty good open world action RPG with no ending.

...

Mega Man 11 is fucking hard, yo.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Top ten games of 2018

It's blog clean up day! Time to trim the 'this year's games' list down to one and stare with bewilderment at the actual backlog. It's bad this year. I blame Assassin's Creed Odyssey.

My personal top ten games of the year were already codified aurally but I think it best to write them down here as well. I have not changed my mind about any of them. They are all precisely where they should be. If I must add an honorable mention then it goes to Beat Saber for being the single most expensive piece of software I purchased this year, at least when all of the bits of electronics required for it are added in.

This is my list. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

10. Assassin's Creed Odyssey

When I initially compiled by best of the year list I was twenty hours into Assassin's Creed Odyssey. That was twenty one days ago. Aside from dabbling with PSVR, Odyssey is all I have played since. Last night I passed ninety hours. That is past The Witcher 3 and edging dangerously close to the all time champion of time devouring, Skyrim. This is not to say that taking forever to get through is a positive, it's not, but holding my interest for that long is certainly an accomplishment.

I must admit that I am playing Odyssey the wrong way, which is to say, the same way I have played all of the other Assassin's Creed games. At its outset Odyssey offered two ways to play: the way it is meant to be played - with the pinpoint question marks on the map removed in favor of general directions from NPCs - and the way the old games were played, with every discoverable location illuminated as soon as the player arrives in the area.

It took ninety hours but I understand why the new way is the correct way: no one is supposed to find everything in this game. It's just too big. The player is supposed to take vague directions, like 'go south along the coast past a bunch of trees,' and strike out into the world, perhaps discovering something else along the way. I am playing a guided tour of glowing question marks.

It's still fun but I do think that I have robbed myself of the game's true intent.

Aside from that, this is barely an Assassin's Creed game. This is an open world RPG set in ancient Greece with reasonable combat, excellent stealth and a pretty good loot system. Is it better than Origins? No, but being cooler than Bayek is almost an impossible task, one that Alexios was just not up to.

9. Iconoclasts

There were a lot Metroid-vanias this year and the one that most people would call the best, Hollow Knight, disagreed with me on a cellular level. Iconoclasts is not as deep or as long as even as polished as its peers but it does not punish me for being bad at video games. It's playable, if a bit easy, and that is all it needed to be.

It also tells a pitch black story with a few incredibly grotesque scenes hidden behind its bright exterior. Robin goes through some ridiculous circumstances, all without speaking, and it worked because of her incredible animation.

For the first two thirds of the game Robin would shrink back in terror when terrible things happened. No words, just a very obvious 'oh shit, I am going to die' reaction. When the last boss arrives (and it was an out of left field last boss) instead of being afraid Robin flexes. She's ready. The game has seen her grow tremendously and it was conveyed with a simple and effective animation.

8. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

More indy games in your top ten?! Chamberlain, are you well?!

I'm fine. Mostly. And I am not joking about Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon. It is a modern day 8-bit Castlevania with none of the slow down or flicker and just the right amount of modern day concessions to make it enjoyable. It also has a brilliant new game plus mechanic.

Much like Castlevania III the player can choose from three different characters any time. Different areas and bosses are better suited to one character's abilities and if one dies off the player starts again a few screens back with one of the remaining characters. At the end of the game one of them dies and, in the manner of Ghosts and Goblins, the player is sent back to the beginning of the game.

The bosses are harder and the player has less options. It was so good that I almost attempted it. Almost.

7. Dragon Quest XI

Speaking of well done post game content.

Spoiler: I have never played a main series Dragon Quest game before. I do not know how it stacks up against previous entries. And the game is far from perfect. The music is terrible and enemy variety drops off a cliff in the second half of the game.

So why is it here? Because it is the best JRPG that came out in 2018. The world was big, it told a sprawling story full of sacrifice and heartache and the combat was simple but effective. It was everything that a modern JRPG should be: loyal to genre tropes but not averse to streamlining things for the player.

And the post game content nearly got me. I almost looked past the silly time travel bit and played on. One last complaint, though: please allow the main character to talk.  I understand that this is a Dragon Quest thing but it just doesn't work any more.

6. Guacamelee 2

My running gag of 'not being very good at video games' is mostly true but I do take some small amount of pride in my NES and SNES honed side scrolling platformer skills. There are reflexes living in may hands that I forget about for months at a time only to have them roused by games likes Ori and the Blind Forrest, another game that is higher up on the list, and Guacamelee 2.

I do admit that Guacamelee 2 is not as good as the first game. The developers hand is a bit too obvious in places. You can almost here them say 'Oh, you manage to do that, did you? Well do it again, but as a chicken, in a windy area, where touching any wall will fucking kill you.

Thank you, senor, may I have another.

5. Red Dead Redemption 2

Put your pitchforks down and disband your posse. Stop it. Stop it.

Everyone started out 2018 thinking that Rockstar's western magnum opus was going to be the best game of the year. And parts of it certainly were. Arthur Morgan is the best character out of any game that came out in 2018. He is the best written and is impeccably performed. His quiet moments, moments of introspection and, at the end, fear, are heart wrenching.

The world of Red Dead Redemption 2 is equally impressive, at least visually. Environments are varied and all equally gorgeous. From the swamps surrounding Saint Denis to the rolling plains further west, this is as close to a real, living, breathing place as has ever been encoded on to plastic discs.

So why not higher? There is an arrogance to Red Dead Redemption 2 that cannot be ignored. It stems from the arrogance of a company whose representatives reportedly stood up and left the VGAs when their game (rightfully) did not win game of the year.

A small example: Arthur skinning an animal is a very well done, detailed animation. It would have been fine to see it in its entirety the first time and then a shortened version thereafter. At least give the play the option to skip it. Nope, that lengthy animation plays out every single time. Red Dead Redemption 2 got so far up its own 'western simulation' ass that it forgot to be a fun game to play.

If there was a category for excruciatingly detailed simulation then this game would win. It would win this year and probably would win the same award again and again, forever. I don't know about anyone else but I am here to play games, not watch games.

And I don't care what anyone else says, the shooting sucked.

4. Forza Horizon 4

If there is an entry on this list whose position I cannot adequately defend, this is it. By my own admission Forza Horizon 4 is just more of the same. It is Forza Horizon 3 repackaged in the UK (which was just Forza Horizon 2 repackaged in Australia). It also has a few pieces of the game carved off into multiplayer and carrot on a stick mechanics designed to pull the player back in for the next season.

But this is also the best looking racing game I have ever seen. 4K, 30fps, all day, every day, regardless of what is going on. It continues to ride the fine line between arcade and sim racers, eschewing its name sake in favor of balls out, over the top racing with just enough sim in the mix to make the player work for it.

But this is the last time I will open this package, see that the contents are the same, and be satisfied. Playground Games is officially on notice. Time to shake things up.

3. Celeste

I am not properly equipped to speak about Celeste as anything more than it is on its surface. Its deeper themes are somewhat lost on me. So that is all I am basing this placement on. At its core it is a 2D pixel art side scrolling platformer whose difficulty is a hairs breath away from Super Meat Boy territory. Translation: I died a lot in Celeste. I died a lot and I kept coming back for more.

If a game is going to require nearly pixel perfect inputs then the controls themselves had better be both streamlined and responsive. Celeste does both. The player is never overloaded with skill choices, and as new powers are added they are skillfully taught through use instead of text. They feel natural before the player is asked to be perfect with them.

And then the player is asked to be absolutely perfect with them and dies, over and over, until they get it right. This is not the kind of punitive nonsense that I despise in games like Dark Souls and their ilk, this is a more old school 'you missed that jump because you took off too late, try again.' Try again from the same screen, mind you, not minus any progress or collected macguffins, just try again. And again. And again.

And then you get it right, and you are the top of the mountain, and the sun is rising, and everything is okay, at least for a little while.

2. God of War

I am not embarrassed of the original run of God of War games. I refuse to retroactively apply modern jadedness to things that worked in the context of their time and place. That being said, it is very good that this God of War is not that God of War. It would not have been okay.

This shift is applied to all facets of the game. It is now an over the shoulder action game that never cuts away. Combat is more personal, much closer up and a lot crunchier thank to the change of weapon. The world is now more open. Not quite open world, more of a hub with many linear areas spun around it, but there is something to be found around every corner, and most of it is useful.

Kratos has mellowed quite a bit in his old(er) age. He is quite self aware - he knows what he was and he doesn't want to be that any more. He wants to shelter his son from both his past and his burdens, even when that sheltering causes the boy pain. I believed his hesitance to retrieve an old weapon, making it all the more powerful when he literally confronted the ghosts of his past to try and save his son's future.

Much like Red Dead Redemption 2, the game is not perfect. There are perhaps two boss fights of any size and scope. The rest will bee soon forgotten. The Valkyrie fights are thankfully optional because they are difficult in the all the wrong ways. Freya is a terrible character, Baldur is under used, and the game ends and what should be the starting point for the third act.

But it got a lot more right than Rockstar did. Just not as much right the next game.

1. Spider-Man

Why do any of us play videogames?

To be entertained, of course. We play games because they are fun. We play games to escape for a few hours at a time. We play games to indulge in child like fantasies that have long since been burned away by decades of grown up life.

We play games to forget. We play games to remember.

Every single moment of Spider-Man accomplishes this. It is intuitive, it is satisfying, it is beautiful. The swinging feels like a long lost skill that is quickly dusted off and ready to go. Combat is fast, precise, and always at the sweet spot of not too easy but not too difficult. The game world is relatively small but more tasks are unlocked in the same space as the game progresses. creating a familiarity with the world that is not possible in the sprawling expanses of other open world games.

Characters are well written and well acted, Peter especially feels lived in, like he has the whole Spider-Man thing pretty well figured out and is getting a bit bored with it. He just wants to be able to pay his rent on time.

This is a list of the best games of 2018. Not the best simulations. Not the best apology tours for previous sins. Not even the best returns to well worn genres or tropes. Spider-Man is hands down the best game I played. It is a reminder of what games can be:

fun.