I’ve never claimed to understand the appeal of game streaming; why would anyone watch other people play games, when they could be playing the same game themselves?  Even if the streamer is funny or insightful or entertaining, it seems like a perverse way to spend one’s time. But by the same token, I’m one of those …

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In last week’s entry, I sounded pessimistic about the Fall 2015 videogame release schedule.  Not much has changed since then; unfortunately.  We had company on Saturday and I was laid up with a nasty head cold on Sunday, and so I only had a few hours of game time, and yet I was still kinda …

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There’s been no posts this week; coincidentally, I’ve played no games this week.  My rental copy of Rayman Legends is somewhere in the aether, and in between reading Night Film and just trying to get caught up on sleep, I’ve not had much time or inclination to play anything in my Steam backlog.  I’m running out of …

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real talk, part two

November 16, 2012


Apologies for yesterday’s postus interruptus; as per usual around here, I tend to get very busy only when I’m working on blog stuff, and since the first half of yesterday’s post felt particularly good coming out of the fingers, you would be correct to  assume that I got absolutely buried in work bullshit before I was able to get to the second half.  Right now, none of my bosses are even in the office, so this is a perfect opportunity to start writing; of course, I didn’t end up playing anything last night except for my two current iOS obsessions, so I’m feeling a bit detached from the Assassin’s Creed 3 rant that I never ended up writing.

Let me start with the iOS stuff first, since I’m in a good mood.  I’m still playing the hell out of Chip Chain, and now I’ve gotten my wife into it as well.  Here’s how addicting and engrossing it is – I missed my subway stop yesterday morning because I forgot to look up from my iPhone.  I told my wife as much, and to be careful on the way home.  She then missed her subway stop coming home from work, even though I’d warned her, because she forgot to look up from her iPhone.  We are both fully obsessed with it; I’ve finally unlocked everything there is to unlock, and my scores have been getting better, but I’m still not quite the zen master that I feel I could be with just a few dozen more hours of play.

Ironically, the one thing that’s helped me curb my addiction to Chip Chain (besides my day job keeping me insanely busy) is another new iOS game called Dream of Pixels (itunes, $0.99).  The easiest way to describe DoP is that it’s Tetris in reverse; a solid wall of blocks slowly descends from the top of the screen, and you have to carve a given tetromino shape out of the wall before anything touches the bottom of the screen.  I’ve never been particularly good at Tetris, and I’m sure my scores in DoP are on the low side of things, but goddamn, it’s really well made – it’s got a really beautiful and soothing art style and sound design (For some reason, the art style reminds me a little bit of Braid, even though the only thing you see are block-shaped clouds), and even though things can get hairy, it never feels as chaotic as regular Tetris.  It even gives you a nice compliment after you lose, which is quite lovely.  I think the only knock I’d give it is that it doesn’t appear to let you listen to your own music/podcast/etc., but that’s certainly not enough to dissuade me from giving it a full-throated recommendation.  UPDATE:  Turns out my iPhone was just being weird; DoP certainly does let you listen to your own audio.  Fantastic!  No knocks to give!

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OK, so.  You may recall in yesterday’s post that I very much wanted to discuss what I’d just seen in Assassin’s Creed 3, but that I needed to get my Halo 4 rant out of the way first.  There are SLIGHT STORY SPOILERS ahead, but let’s also be pretty clear here – AC3 takes place during the years leading up to the American Revolution, and considering the events that the previous games let you be privy to, you have to assume that your character will be an active participant in certain notable events in American history.  Let me also state that even though I’ve been playing for a dozen hours or so, a lot of those hours have just been dicking around in exploration mode; I’ve not really advanced the story all that much, so what follows is still relatively early in the game.

The whole reason why I even bothered to put Halo 4 into my 360’s tray was because I’d just finished the Boston Tea Party mission, and I literally couldn’t believe what I’d just seen.

I’m not sure what the right word is to describe just that mission’s terribleness, especially considering just how all-encompassing that terribleness actually was.  It was downright farcical.  For a franchise that generally takes itself incredibly seriously (notwithstanding Ezio’s Uncle Mario, as well as everything about Leonardo da Vinci), the Boston Tea Party was a goddamned travesty.

My familiarity with the American Revolution is, admittedly, a bit rusty.  That’s partly why I was so interested in playing AC3 in the first place, though; I was really interested in seeing what these events might have looked like.

Wikipedia describes the Boston Tea Party as “a key event in the in the growth of the American Revolution.”  What the game presented, though, looked more like a frat party stunt gone awry, with just 3 dudes heaving boxes of tea off of a ship (or, at least, trying to heave boxes of tea off a ship – when I tried to do it, I was just as likely to throw a box into another box, or a ship’s mast, or even backwards), and also in a world where “awry” means the violent, acrobatic murdering of 20-30 British soldiers in front of a cheering (though utterly silent) throng of colonists.   And when it was over – when 100 boxes of tea (no more, no less) had been thrown into the murky depths of Boston Harbor, the cutscene that followed basically just showed 3 dudes walking, and the camera was actually drifting off of their faces – it looked like a bad take, frankly.

The whole thing could not have been more anti-climactic, which is the literal opposite of the intended effect, I would think.  I couldn’t believe that such an epic moment of American history could have been treated so sloppily.  And considering that this is but the first such moment I’ve come across, I shudder to think what else this game is going to have me do.  (I’ve already heard terrible things about Paul Revere’s Ride, which certainly doesn’t bode well.)

UPDATE:  not moments after I published this post, Kotaku revealed that Ubisoft is putting out an absolutely massive patch next week that should fix a lot of what’s broken.  That list can be found here, but I must also submit that there’s plenty about the game when it’s working properly that’s still a bit messed up.

weekend recap – AC3, Halo 4, and an iOS GOTY contender

November 12, 2012


1.  I’ve found a possible contender for iOS game of the year, and it is called CHIP CHAIN (itunes, free).  It’s a fiendishly addictive combination of Triple Town and Drop 7; if either of those games mean anything to you, you will get sucked into Chip Chain immediately.   For the rest of you, here’s the developer’s description:

Place and match 3 or more identical poker chips to earn a more valuable chip, then chain together matches for huge bonuses! Play power-up cards to make combos, extend chains, and maximize your score. The dealer tosses chips to get in your way, but if you play smart and think ahead, you can turn the tables and use them to your advantage. Earn gems to spend on better chips, more powerful cards, bigger hands, gem multipliers, and more!

It’s free, and while there are in-app purchases, they’re certainly not necessary – you earn in-game currency at a pretty steady pace anyway.  The only negative criticism I can offer is that it tends to suck battery life rather quickly; my morning-commute iPhone gaming usually drains from fully charged to around 80%; this morning’s commute drained me all the way down to the low 70s.  Hopefully that will be addressed in a patch.  That aside, I give this my highest recommendation.

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2.  I have given up on Need For Speed Most Wanted.  I tried playing a bit more on Friday night, and found myself cursing and ranting and saying things that I really ought to not say out loud, even if I’m in an empty room, yelling at the television.   Understand that it breaks my heart to do this.  Understand that underneath all the frustration and the bullshit and the cheap shots and the magnetized traffic and everything else that makes me seethe with white-hot fury, this is still a Criterion driving game, and as such there are still moments of breath-taking exhilaration to be found.   But there’s SO MUCH BULLSHIT you must endure before you get to those fleeting moments of glory, and I don’t have the time any more to put up with a game that makes me angry.

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3.  I don’t know if I’m giving up on Halo 4.  I did the first 2 missions and then put it down, and I haven’t really thought about it much since.   It looks gorgeous, and it still feels like Halo, which is what it’s supposed to do, I guess.  But the truth of the matter is that it only took about 5 minutes before my ongoing issues with shooter fatigue kicked in.   I’m really, really tired of shooting things, especially the Covenant.  I’d still like to try the co-op stuff, I suppose, but even that isn’t all that appealing.  I will say this, though – I tried the SmartGlass app on my iPad, and Halo 4 takes advantage of it in some pretty neat ways.   I suppose if I were really into multiplayer, I’d really get into all its stat-tracking and everything.   It’s certainly not essential, but it’s a nice feature to have if you’re into that sort of thing.

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4.   I did finally receive my Gamefly copy of Assassin’s Creed 3, which, as it turns out,  is very much the kind of game I’d rather be playing than shooters and frustrating driving games.  It’s a shame, then, that so much of it is broken.

My relationship with the Assassin’s Creed franchise is, for lack of a better word, weird.  I’m a devoted fan almost in spite of myself, because there’s just too damned much of it.

I really liked AC1, even if it was ultimately repetitive and shallow.  I genuinely loved AC2, which fleshed out the main story with a number of fun (and relevant) side missions.  And I still adore AC2: Brotherhood, which may very well end up in my top 5 games of this console generation.  The thing is, I never needed these games to come out every year.  Frankly, I suppose one of the reasons why I like Brotherhood so much is that I was legitimately afraid that it was going to suck – I worried that they were adding too much, too quickly, without giving the game enough time to properly cook (and without giving its audience enough time to achieve the proper level of excitement).

This is probably why I gave up on AC2: Revelations so quickly; my fear of diminishing returns finally came true.  AssRev was overly complicated, throwing far too many new ideas at the player – many of which were half-baked to begin with, and none of which felt particularly necessary.  I’d sunk over 100 hours into the first 3 games without ever once feeling like I needed to use smoke grenades, let alone a complex grenade crafting system.  I’d barely learned how to properly use the grappling hook in AssRev before I was being thrust into a ridiculous, nonsensical tower defense minigame.  And to top it all off, the controls were utterly fucked up; it felt like I needed to hold 4 buttons down just to run up a wall – something I’d already done at least a thousand times in the earlier games – and yet more often than not, I’d end up jumping into a ravine instead of climbing onto a platform.

And so, prior to AC3’s release, I must admit that I was a little worried.  I wasn’t sure I was ready for yet another Assassin’s Creed game, especially coming on the heels of the incredible disappointment of AssRev.  And I wasn’t sure how Ubisoft was going to fix all the things that needed fixing, while adding all the things they would inevitably add, in such a short span of time.

Indeed, I’m now 10 or so hours into AC3, and I’m still a little worried about it.  I am happy to say that I’m enjoying it a hell of a lot more than AssRev, but I’m also a little bummed out about how rough around the edges it seems to be.

The game is flat-out broken in a number of alarming ways.  And I don’t just mean that the player can get stuck in level geometry on a consistent basis, although that’s happened far too many times for an AAA title.  There’s one example I can point early on in the game where literally nothing makes sense.  

**SLIGHT STORY SPOILERS AHEAD**  

There’s a mission where Samuel Adams is ostensibly going to to show young Connor how to use the Fast Travel System.  The two characters walk towards the indicated waypoint, but the road is barred by soldiers.  Connor says, “How about I just take the rooftops and meet you there?”  Sam then says, “No, not that way.  You need to learn how to do this.  Follow me.”  Except he doesn’t move; he expects me to take him.    I don’t know where I’m supposed to go!

Here’s the catch:  I actually do, since I’d already explored this area during a previous visit and unlocked a few Fast Travel locations (before I actually knew what they were).  The problem is, when I try to take Sam to one of the other Fast Travel locations I’ve already discovered, the game tells me I’m about to fail the mission for leaving the mission area.

?!

I had to look at a walkthrough, which revealed that I actually did have to go to the place that was guarded by soldiers, and that the only way in was to climb over the rooftops and sneak in behind, which, as you’ll recall above, was specifically what Sam asked me not to do.

**END SLIGHT STORY SPOILERS**

At least I was able to complete this mission; the mission I had to do 2 missions before this one caused me to, for no reason at all, suddenly become attacked by dozens of soldiers.  Restart checkpoint – same thing happens.  There was no way to fix this other than to kill everyone.  And then Connor and Sam had a leisurely conversation, as if nothing had just happened.

Another thing that tends to get under the skin is the wildly uneven pacing.  I don’t mean in terms of the story – while a lot of critics have opined that the game starts far too slowly, I actually appreciate that the game has taken its time to set up where it’s going.  Instead, I’m talking more specifically about the errors of pacing where it’s clear that there wasn’t enough time to properly polish and edit each scene.  There are times when the game makes you walk 10 feet before a new cutscene starts; there are other times right next to them where you have to walk 500 yards to get to the next cutscene; there are times when you’ll start a mission and instantly jump to where you need to be; there are other times where you’ll start a mission and, as before, have to walk for 10 minutes before the mission starts.  I can’t say I know anything about game development, but I’d guess that if the game had even just a few more months of polish, these sorts of inconsistencies would be smoothed over and the overall experience would be much improved.  Instead, Ubisoft rushed it out the door in order to meet its quarterly earnings projections, and we ended up with something that isn’t nearly as good as it should be.

I can’t speak for all AC fans, but I can’t imagine anybody wants one of these games every year; I think they’d prefer to have these games to come out when they’re good and ready.  Because when these games work the way they’re supposed to, they are incredibly fun and engaging and immersive.  There’s really nothing like them, and that’s why they’re so special.

Nor would I contend that the thing that keeps people attracted to this franchise is all the crazy, random shit that has nothing to do with the business of assassinating.  Brotherhood remains the best game in the franchise for me because all the random stuff it added made sense, and added to the overall experience of being the head of an Assassin Guild, and most importantly – it was fun.

AC3, on the other hand, has a bizarre, overly complicated hunting system – which is fine, I suppose, except it doesn’t work all that well and it doesn’t do anything to enhance the experience, even though it’s incessantly shoving itself into your way.  (By way of contrast, look at Red Dead Redemption‘s hunting system – it was simple, easy to understand, yielded tangible rewards, and didn’t constantly remind you of its existence; it was there if you wanted to engage with it, and remained quietly in the background if you wanted to do something else.)

Similarly, I completed my first naval battle last night.  Let’s leave aside the highly questionable narrative decision wherein a seasoned British naval officer allows a Native American teenager to captain a fucking ship and engage in warfare on the open seas, and ask ourselves if this is something that ever needed to exist in this franchise.  Because even though the minigame itself was surprisingly well executed and even impressive, cinematically, it’s still totally unnecessary.

I’m not ready to give up on it, though; despite its brokenness and its near-desperate need to impress you with SOMETHING NEW at every turn, it’s a lot more fundamentally sound than AssRev.  I like these new characters; I like the shift in location and era; I like that the overall narrative seems to have gained some of the forward momentum it seemed to be lacking.  And, frankly, I miss this franchise.  Like I said above – when it’s good, there’s nothing quite like it.  And being that we’re in the middle of shooter season, this is a very refreshing change of pace.

Subway Gamer: airplane edition

June 14, 2012


I’m leaving tomorrow for a mini-vacation – a wedding followed by 2.5 days in Orlando – and since I’m not the best air traveler in the world (though I’ve gotten much better), I’ve been stocking up on iOS diversions to help keep my anxiety in check.  Likewise, there’s bound to be some downtime during this trip, so I’ll need some stuff to keep me occupied.

Here, then, is a quick rundown of what I’ll be checking out over the next few days:

Pocket Planes:  Nimblebit’s followup to the insanely addicting Tiny Tower arrived late last night, and I’ve become arguably even more hooked on PP than I was on TT.  Instead of building an endless skyscraper, you are gradually building an airline.  Right now, I’ve got 5 or 6 planes ferrying people and cargo along a narrow corridor in the Northeastern US (on my iPhone, at least – my iPad game is starting out in South America), and soon I’ll be buying airports in the Midwest and beyond.  It’s engaging, it’s non-stressful, it’s got the same charming 8-bit art style that TT had, and it’s FREE – and not in that annoying way where it’s technically free but you have to shell out real $$ in order to actually get anywhere.  Free, Universal

Temple Run: Brave:  Imangi’s follow-up to its mega-hit Temple Run, now with Pixar branding for its forthcoming film.  It is pretty much the exact same game as the original, except with better graphics and an “archery mini-game” which really just requires you to tap on archery targets as you run past them.   It’s a little awkward, but it does mix things up a bit.  $.99, Universal

Air Mail:  A truly gorgeous 3D flying/exploration game, reminiscent of Crimson Skies (but without the combat, at least so far).  It’s a little aimless at times, but it’s also one of the best-looking games on the new iPad.  $4.99, Universal

Defender Chronicles 2:  I’m not much for tower defense games, but this has been getting great reviews… $2.99, Universal

And of course, lots of 8-Bit Ninja, Spellsword and Fairway Solitaire.

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