DXHR: the first few hours

Here’s how low I sunk during this summer’s release drought; I started playing World of Warcraft again.  Thankfully, I didn’t get terribly far into it – it’s free-to-play up until level 20, and I think I burned out at around level 16 or so.  This is good, because I used to have a serious WoW problem, to the point where I was taking sick days from work just to stay home and grind.  And I wasn’t even that good at it, to be honest – I took my first character up to level 46 or so, got sick of him, then re-rolled a hunter and got him up to the 20s, so it’s not like I ever came close to seeing all the end-game stuff.  Playing it now, it feels archaic and weird and repetitive and boring, frankly, and most of all it’s lonely.  NOBODY is in the low-level areas, which means you have to solo like crazy to get anywhere, and there’s only so many “kill 7 beasts” quests I can do before I’m shaking my head and asking myself why I got so hooked on this in the first place.

Also, I re-rented Tiger 12, and somehow I leveled up my dude to the point where he wasn’t totally terrible.  Putting still feels unfair (like it did when I first started out), but I suppose that’s what makes it “realistic.”  I still feel that Tiger 12 is a half-baked game compared to earlier iterations – by and large, the career mode is simply 18 holes at a time, which is a substantial time commitment.  Yes, for each “event” there are 2 smaller, less time-intensive events, but I don’t give a shit about Bingo-Bango-Bongo or Skins and the XP rewards aren’t all that substantial either.  I was pretty much just playing it to fill in the hours and pick up Achievements, which is sad.

The point being, I have not been enjoying my summer gaming time all that much, which is why this week’s release of Deus Ex: Human Resources – er, Human Revolution is so welcome.  Especially since it’s actually quite good!  I didn’t have that great a feeling about it leading up to the release; I kinda just figured it was a late summer toss-off, and thus destined to be disappointing.  Not so!  It’s the real deal.

It’s been so long since I played either of the first 2 games that comparisons between this new title and the originals are more or less irrelevant.  My memories of the first game (which I liked) are limited to a few scenarios, some ugly graphics and endings so convoluted that I needed a walkthrough just to make sense of what the hell I was doing; my memories of the second game (which I didn’t like) are limited to ridiculous load times and a bad quicksave on my part towards the end of the game that made progress more or less impossible.  My gut feeling is that DXHR is being respectful of the first game’s innovations, while still feeling modern and approachable.

I’m not that far into the game just yet – I’ve played for about 5 hours or so, and my current save is right before the first real boss.  The problem I’m having at this particular moment is that I’ve elected to go non-lethal, and as such I have no real weaponry to attack this boss character – he’s impervious to my tranq darts, and I can’t get close enough with my stun gun without being killed.  Furthermore, it would seem that I’ve invested my XP into all the wrong things for this particular encounter – I’ve got no armor, no invisibility, and all my hacking prowess is useless.

I was going non-lethal specifically to chase an achievement, but I’m reading that this non-lethal achievement also extends to the tutorial mission, which is unfortunate, since I did kill dudes with guns.  The lethal/non-lethal thing makes almost no difference in terms of gameplay, as it turns out – you’re still making dudes horizontal, but if you’re doing it non-lethally you run out of ammo much quicker.  Here’s how Rock Paper Shotgun puts it:

It seems reasonable to argue that the finest achievement of the Deus Ex games is to offer some choice about how you handle combat situations. They are combat games, really, but since they are based around infiltration, rather than direct confrontation, there’s considerable scope for activities other than shooting men to death. Getting them to lie down and have a nap, via a range of persuasive implements, also becomes an option. The role-playing ramifications of that are pretty profound, especially when set against the backdrop of most of the games we play. You get to be the guy who doesn’t murder hapless goons (thus neatly sidestepping the “think of the Goon’s family” guilt-joke from Austin Powers) and instead drags their unconscious forms into airducts, traumatising them forever.

I enjoy being stealthy in this game; it works, for the most part.  The cover system works, and the switch from first-person to third-person is never jarring.  Sometimes I’ve been spotted by dudes who can’t possibly see me, which seems unfair, but that’s been something that’s been in games for years and years and isn’t really a new problem.   Sneaking into vents and hacking people’s computers is thrilling, though – indeed, the hacking system here is riveting and genuinely stressful, which it should be.  And there are enough nooks and crannies throughout the world to make exploration genuinely rewarding.

That’s the news from SFTC HQ.  Look for a site redesign shortly; I’m getting bored of what we’ve got going on right now.

2011 in review (so far)

Well, it only took about 7 years, but I finally accomplished something this weekend that’s been very subtly driving me crazy – my Xbox Gamerscore finally ends in a ‘5’.  There was a 6-point achievement in Rock Band 3 for linking my band (“The Vosstones”) to the Harmonix website, and for some reason it finally worked today – I’d tried hooking it up a long time ago, but for some reason it never took.  (Indeed, it took a while to get working today – not entirely sure what changed, but whatever.)

I’m trying to remember what got my Gamerscore off in the first place – I’m thinking it was one of the early Ghost Recon games, or possibly Cloning Clyde, a long-forgotten XBLA title.  Whatever it was, having those strange numbers in my score was always a little irritating (and that’s probably why they don’t really crop up all that often these days); I couldn’t ever have a nice round number.   And so now, since most ‘cheevos end in either ‘5’ or ‘0’, I can finally get to an aesthetically pleasing plateau.

Speaking of which, my Gamerscore is currently at 72615.  I can’t recall exactly where I was at the beginning of the year – my 2010 year in review (which I wrote in early December) put me at around 64,200 – but in any event, I’ve climbed up quite a bit.  I knew this year was going to be good, and that I’d be playing a lot, but goddamn – that’s almost 9000 points in about 8 months, and we still haven’t hit the peak of the release season just yet.

And in keeping with that, I figured this would be a good time to do a year-so-far recap, since, well, why not.

The Game of the Year (so far):

  • Portal 2 – current front-runner for GOTY, and while I’m very much looking forward to seeing how Skyrim, Uncharted 3 and Batman try to usurp the throne, I don’t want to make it sound like Portal 2 is just a placeholder for the top of the list.  I’ve played this game on every platform it’s currently available for, multiple times, and even writing about it now makes me want to go back and hang out with Wheatley.  I’m also looking forward to playing this again when it’s time to refresh my memory for the real GOTY post; hopefully I’ll have forgotten some of the puzzle solutions by then.
The Very, Very Good:
  • Dead Space 2 – I’m glad I finished this one; it was a very enjoyable experience (although not particularly scary, or even all that creepy, aside from that eyeball sequence).  And believe me, I’m a huge sissybaby when it comes to scary movies and books and stuff.  The very first time a dog jumped through the window in RE2, I think I literally jumped 3 feet out of my chair.
  • Bulletstorm – I kinda miss this game, to be honest – once I finished the story and did some of the extra bonus stuff, I traded it back to Amazon towards something, and whenever I hear people talk about it I remember how much fun I had with it.  It is everything that Duke Nukem Forever wasn’t.
  • You Don’t Know Jack  – I can’t let this one get lost in the shuffle.  I’ve had a BLAST with this game every time it’s come out, whether I’m alone or with a group of friends.
  • Bastion – I finally finished this earlier this week, when I was home sick from work.  It’s a lovely, charming, exceedingly well-crafted experience, and a ton of fun to boot.  Had a great time exploring the world.
The Very Good:
  • Little Big Planet 2  – even though I was ultimately a little disappointed with this game, at least compared to the first one, I still think it’s a pretty remarkable experience.  I just wish I wasn’t so reluctant to try the level creation stuff.
  • Mortal Kombat – even though I’m not really a fighting game enthusiast, I must tip my hat to MK – it’s probably the most complete fighting game experience ever made.
  • L.A. Noire  – the more time I spent away from this game, the better I think of it.  It’s got a number of flaws that seem particularly glaring when you’re actually dealing with them – the open world is totally unnecessary, frankly, and the interrogations seem a bit broken and not particularly well-written enough – but the things that it does right are truly incredible.  And the applications for the facial tech seem pretty exciting, frankly – I’d even accept a delay to Mass Effect 3 if it meant they could get that tech in there.
  • Dragon Age 2  – it’s true that this got really repetitive after a while, but I still liked it enough to finish it.  it’s to Bioware’s credit that even an acknowledged misstep can still be a pretty good time.
  • Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet  – not quite as deep or engaging as, say, Shadow Complex, but still a pretty fun little game.
  • Stacking  – DoubleFine’s mini-titles have been a really nice direction for the company, and while I finished this game pretty quickly, I could easily see myself going back for a sequel.  Charming as all hell.
  • Trenched – I feel terrible that I haven’t finished this one – I had an absolute blast with friends when it first came out.  One of the best online co-op experiences I’ve ever had, actually.