It’s nearly 5:00 pm and I’m only now getting over last night’s NyQuil haze.  This doesn’t bode well for future winter-related headcolds, and I barely managed to put this thing together as it is: 1.  I’d hoped to unveil a new feature today – the SFTC KILL COUNTER, which would be a running tally of how many …

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pre-Thanksgiving status report

November 21, 2012


Just a quick status report:

1.  There will be little to no posting over the holiday weekend, as I’ll be away from my consoles and PC and there’s only so much I can say about Chip Chain, other than that I’d love it if they patched in an “Undo” button.

2.  Has that mega-patch for Assassin’s Creed 3 landed yet?  I thought it hit yesterday, but I didn’t get an update prompt when I fired it up last night.  That game is really starting to try my patience.  If there was only a way where I could turn off the meta-challenges, that might make it easier to deal with in the moment-to-moment gameplay.  But every single major historical event that I’ve run into has been downright farcical in its execution; this does not bode particularly well for the rest of the game.

3.  Downloaded the new Borderlands 2 DLC last night, also, but couldn’t seem to find how to start it.

4.  Downloaded the new Marvel Civil War table for Pinball FX2 this morning; my wife is a huge Marvel fan and an even bigger Civil War fan, and so this was a no-brainer.  It’s kind of a bland table, at least when compared to the Avengers table, but still:  it’s incredible how well they’ve supported that title.  When all is said and done, that might be my most-played game of this console generation.

5.  I sent Halo 4 and CODBLOPS2 back to Gamefly today.  I suppose I feel bad for not giving them more of a shot, but I just don’t think I’d ever see myself really digging in and getting into them; I just don’t have that kind of time anymore.  But I also feel obligated to at least try Hitman Absolution and Lego LOTR, too, as those are next in my queue.

6.  Speaking of not giving things a fair shot, I don’t see myself getting a WiiU any time soon, if ever.  If I were to suddenly get a job as a games critic (anyone?), I suppose I’d get a system and check it out, if only to fulfill my professional obligations.  But I’m not a games critic, and I have a baby on the way, and the WiiU seems like a waste of money right now.  (I’m not the most objective person when it comes to Nintendo, though.)

7.  Since the year is more or less over as far as compelling new releases go (Far Cry 3 notwithstanding), today I started doing the preliminary work on my GOTY post.  I used to have a bunch of zany categories in previous GOTY posts, but the first thing I noticed as I looked over everything I’ve played is that this was a pretty un-zany year.  No real risks, apart from some pretty amazing arcade stuff that surfaced on PSN in the 2nd half of the year, some of which I’ve yet to play (i.e., Tokyo Jungle and Unfinished Swan).  I’m not sure this was a bad year, but it certainly wasn’t great.

Here’s hoping you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

 

weekend recap: honorable intentions

October 22, 2012


[I had grand visions for this post, but then (of course) work got in the way, and so I have no idea if what follows is coherent or interesting or what.  Many apologies.]

Lots to talk about, and some of it has nothing to do with gaming.  In fact, I might as well dive in and get this shameless plug out of the way right now:  I’ve finally, FINALLY built a website for all my music-doings.  Please feel free to visit vosslandiamusic.com and check it out; there will be more content coming soon, but for now it’s, well, what it is.

Back to the subject at hand, now.  This was another in a series of inadvertent three-day weekends; I’d been somewhat successfully battling a cold last week but I woke up on Friday having lost the cold war, as it were, and so I stayed home and sneezed and coughed and decided to get caught up on gaming stuff, since the living room was all mine.

Last week I wrote about my Dishonored glitch:

…I completed Slackjaw’s quest, and was on my way to head back to his distillery to turn it in, when the game suddenly told me I’d failed the quest, and even though none of his men were trying to kill me, he certainly was.  I didn’t understand what I’d done wrong.  Tried re-loading several times, tried entering stealthily as opposed to waltzing right in – but no matter how I entered the zone, as soon as I’d crossed some invisible barrier, the game decided I’d failed.  This was very, very frustrating (as you might imagine), and since I didn’t see any solution (beyond waiting for a patch), I decided to take it out of the 360′s tray and leave it alone for a little while.  Some quick googling revealed that a lot of people are having the same problem – not everyone, but enough for me to feel like it’s not just my own peculiar problem.  That being said, since I don’t know when the patch is coming (if indeed it’s coming at all), I might just take the opportunity to start over from scratch, now that I actually know what I’m doing.

As it turned out, there was a patch ready for me to download Friday morning, but when I loaded my last save, the quest was still glitched out.  So I did end up restarting from the beginning, which also made it much easier, since I already knew what I was doing (and had a much better idea of how to do it better).  Took no time at all to get caught up to where I’d been glitched, and everything seemed to be working fine at that point.  Made much progress, then; I happened to glance at a walkthrough online just to see how far into it I was, and it would appear that if the game has three Acts, my next mission would be the end of Act 2/beginning of Act 3.

Here’s the thing; I kinda don’t know if I care enough about the game to bother finishing it.

And yet the game matters enough to me that I would really like to know why I’m feeling so apathetic about it.

This particular problem is made thornier in that after I took my leave from Dishonored on Friday, I also spent a great deal of time with the first bit of DLC for Borderlands 2, which is absolutely fantastic; and also that my weekend eventually got pretty busy with things wholly unrelated to gaming (see first paragraph above).  Also: my rental copy of Forza Horizon should be arriving later this week, which I’m very anxious to get my hands on; and next week comes Criterion’s Need For Speed Most Wanted, which is looking every bit like the spiritual successor to Burnout Paradise that I’ve been craving for years.  (And meanwhile my XCOM campaign lurks on in the background.)  Basically, I’m very much aware that I’ve got a very limited amount of time in which to give the rest of Dishonored the attention it probably deserves, so there’s a weird sort of pressure there.  I fully acknowledge that this isn’t Dishonored’s fault.

HOWEVA.  There are some things that are Dishonored’s fault.

Before I get around to killing it, though, let me first sing the praises of the art direction, which are absolutely wonderful.  Let me also say that my favorite parts of the game are, basically, everything I do before I have to dispose of my target.  I love Blink-ing around* – it’s fun and useful and arguably even more satisfying to pull off than Batman’s quick-evade.**  I love exploring every nook and cranny of the environment, which is very much designed to reward such exploration – every open apartment window on a non-ground-level floor holds at least one goodie (and, also, tells some wordless, sad story in its tableau).  I love doing reconnaissance, basically, and the game’s tools for performing such recon work are exquisitely designed and endlessly rewarding.

But, yeah, then I have to actually go about my business.   And that’s where I run into problems.

The game tells you that it’s better to not kill.  But it also gives you lots of ways to kill.  And sometimes you run into a situation where there’s nothing you can do but kill, unless you decide to reload your last save, and that can be tedious.  Furthermore, as far as I can tell, the game only tells you of the benefits of acting non-lethally during loading screens – nobody in the game actually tells you to not kill anyone.  Indeed, your handlers at the Hounds Pit are asking you to kill people in order to advance their cause.  Your sidequests generally offer you a way to achieve the same result without killing, and after each mission I’ve gotten a rather handsome reward waiting for me in my room, but I’ve also had to kill a number of guards in order to get where I need to go, too, and nobody gives me much grief about that.  It’s not like I’ve gone on a murder spree or anything – my overall chaos meter still reads “Low” at the end of each mission – but I’m certainly not getting the Achievements for mercy, and in any event, that kind of meta-challenge ends up changing the reason why I’m playing in the first place.

**SLIGHT STORY SPOILERS AHEAD, ALTHOUGH THE KEY WORD IS SLIGHT** The story isn’t terribly interesting, either; it’s not bad, but neither is it the sort of tale where I’m wondering what happens next.  The supernatural business seems a little hokey.  Hell, the assassins who appear in the beginning of the game are very much Blink-ing their way around, which leads me to believe that the Outsider isn’t necessarily laying all his cards on the table, and that’s not terribly surprising.  And in looking at that walkthrough I mentioned, I couldn’t help but notice that I’m about to be betrayed, but let’s be honest – that sort of “twist” is something you can see a mile away.  **END SPOILERS**

I suppose it was the end of the mission I’d just finished that really soured my attitude.  The mission required me to attend a masked ball being hosted by 3 sisters, one of whom I needed to kill/abduct.  The recon work in determining which sister to nab was enormously fun, and the mansion itself was a wonder to explore and examine.  But then I actually had to do the deed, and it must be noted that the manner in which I knocked out the sister and carried her to her waiting boatman/captor resulted in one of the most unintentionally hilarious chase sequences I’ve ever had the misfortune of participating in.  Here’s the point, ultimately: while the poor execution in the woman’s abduction was undoubtedly my fault, it was the game’s reaction to what I did that made me wonder why I’d bothered being so careful and stealthy in the first place.   It’s actually a bit difficult to describe just what happened, except to say that in a game that at that point had been remarkably graceful and poised, the game suddenly became very artless and charmless and basically just turned into very obvious AI routines that ultimately were defeated with comically swift decapitations of startled guards.  I’m doing a terrible job describing what happened, I know.  The result, though, is the important thing – all the grace and skill I performed in my stealthy preparation were rendered moot; once everything went to shit I bulldozed my way to the ending and achieved the exact same result, since my mark was never killed.  So why even bother being stealthy?  Why bother performing well?  Suddenly the rich, detailed world of Dunwall instantly transformed into a clunky collection of polygons and AI scripts.

Now, granted, the game’s artifice had already been made glaringly obvious by the aforementioned glitch.  Still, as a regular player of games, you take that stuff as part of the deal; code breaks all the time, the world’s an imperfect place.   It’s only when I’d surrendered to the game’s fiction and then had it clumsily torn from my hands that I started wondering just what the hell I was doing with my time.

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* Indeed, I was weirdly disappointed when I jumped over to Borderlands 2 and found that I had to walk everywhere, like a chump.

** I’m blanking on the name of this technique – it’s how you traverse long distances in Arkham City, swinging around, vaguely Spiderman-ish.

weekend recap – a much better ending

October 1, 2012


The big news is that I finished the Borderlands 2 campaign.  Ended at  level 33; put in approximately 40 hours.  Did a lot of the sidequests, but not all of them; it’s a little exhausting, frankly.   And yet, it must be said that it’s a tremendous game, vastly improved over the first – and especially as far as the ending is concerned.  I am torn between starting over in True Vault Hunter mode (which makes the game harder, but where you get much better loot), or starting over with a new character (I’m intrigued by the Siren and the Gunzerker).  I may very well decide to take a break from it, however – it’s a lot of fun in short bursts, but over the course of a long marathon it becomes a little tedious and I end up running to my next objective instead of shooting my way through.

I’ve been struggling to determine the game’s pleasure loop – the thing that keeps me so engaged and eager to press on.  Yes, there’s tons of loot, and there isn’t a single empty crate in the game, and I’d easily say that the ratio of usable loot to trash was far better than the year’s other loot-heavy game, Diablo 3, where I’d spend literally dozens of hours before finding something worth swapping out (although it should be noted that the Auction House played a large factor in that particular instance – I found far better stuff in the AH than I ever did in the game).  But loot is, ultimately, junk – there’s so much of it that it ceases to mean anything after a while, and money eventually becomes no object.  (Which is handy, since I died repeatedly during the final gauntlet – the one right before the final boss, the one that ends with a gigantic Constructor bot – so much so that I ended up losing over $20,000 in resurrection fees.)  The actual shooting itself is fun, although reloading is still a bitch.  The story isn’t terribly engrossing, though it should be noted that the characters are really well written and acted.   I suppose I’m drawn to the exploration of the world – and what a huge and varied world it is – although the game threw so many enemies at me that I never felt that I had the time to truly savor every nook and cranny.

(Honestly?  I’m kinda wanting to go back and re-explore Skyrim on my PC, now that it’s been almost a year since I last played it and don’t really remember everything about it.)

*      *      *      *      *

I also dabbled a little more in Torchlight 2.  It’s… OK.  It’s very hard to not constantly compare it to Diablo 3.  And while I had my problems with D3 – especially in terms of how choppy and laggy that game could be – it can’t be denied that D3 looked fantastic, and (when it ran smoothly) it felt fantastic.  T2 is a far smoother experience than D3, which is very much to its credit, but… well… left/right clicking doesn’t seem to pack the same sort of punch.  It also – and I hate saying this – looks cheap.  Like a top-down World of Warcraft, except somehow with less clarity.  (My PC isn’t a screaming graphics machine, but it’s not shabby, either, and I’m running it with everything turned way, way up.)  I’m not doubting the game’s credentials, or diminishing the work that went into it – Lord knows I loved the hell out of the first game and was eagerly awaiting the sequel – but it feels like a budget title (which, lo and behold, is how it’s priced).  I need (and want) to spend more time with it, of course, both offline and on, before making up my mind; it just makes an underwhelming first impression, I guess, which is a little disappointing.

*      *      *      *      *

Also finally tried the XCOM Enemy Unknown demo; oh man.  OH MAN.   Did the very first mission – the ultra-tutorial – and didn’t even do the base stuff before logging off and keeping the rest unspoiled.  I am READY.  (I played it with a 360 controller instead of mouse/keyboard; still felt like a true, solid experience, and it looked great on my PC.)

*      *      *      *      *

Finally, I must pass along this pre-alpha footage, released over the weekend, of the forthcoming HD remake of Abe’s Oddysee.  I don’t know that I’ve written all that much about the Oddworld games recently, but the short version is that while I’d always been into videogames, I more or less stopped playing altogether between 1993 and, say, 1998 or so – the college years.  I grew up with an Atari 2600, and then played a lot of my younger brother’s Sega Genesis, and that was pretty much it for me until a work colleague bought a PS1 and the Oddworld games (alongside Crash Bandicoot and a Cool Boarders game, I think).  The Oddworld games immediately brought me back into the fold – they were intelligent, they were funny, they were absolutely gorgeous, and they were fun to play with a friend – tossing the controller back and forth after each death, trying to figure out each new dastardly puzzle.  And so looking at this remake – the developers would call it a reimagining, anyway – is making me all sorts of giddy.  Those first two Oddworld games hold a very special place in my heart, and seeing them get this sort of loving treatment for a new audience makes me very happy indeed.  I’m especially intrigued at the change of getting rid of the screen-by-screen design in lieu of a fluid, continual level – back in the old days, one of the ways of fixing a tricky puzzle was simply to step back into the last screen, thereby resetting the next one.  What they’ve done here is changed the enemy AI so that if they’re alarmed, they’ll go on a short alert, then go back to their predefined state, rather than simply resetting (since that’s now impossible).   Anyway, check out the footage – it looks fantastic.

weekend recap: many dead things

September 24, 2012


I probably added around 12-15 hours to my Borderlands 2 campaign after Saturday’s post.  I have a lot more to say about it.  But before I do, there’s a couple other things to talk about:

– Firstly, one can’t talk about cel-shaded graphics without talking about Jet Set Radio, and when I needed a break from Borderlands 2 this weekend I remembered that I’d downloaded the XBL demo of Jet Set Radio HD.  I’m thrilled that a lot of beloved old games are getting HD remasters, but I’m also noticing a recurring problem – the games always played better in my memories than in my hands.   (The Tony Hawk HD thing from earlier this summer also comes to mind.)  JSR looks absolutely fantastic – after all these years, that art style is still brilliant – but it also feels incredibly stiff in my hands, and I found myself making the exact same mistakes in maneuvering that I did 10 years ago (or however long ago it was).  That being said, I still love the HD remastering treatment, and I can’t say it enough – I would LOVE to see a Skies of Arcadia remaster.  FACT:  JRPGs don’t have the same control problems that 3D action games do.  Let’s make this happen!

– Speaking of demos, I also played a tiny taste of the demo for Resident Evil 6.  There are three different chapters in the demo, and I played around 10 minutes of the first one on the list.  (I’m not a big enough fan of the franchise to really care about it one way or the other; I’m well aware that I’m one of the only people on the planet that thinks that RE5 is a much better game than RE4.)  So, the biggest thing, obviously, is that you can move while aiming!  Welcome to 2012!  And yet, it’s still incredibly awkward-looking!  I sometimes feel that the developers of these Japanese mega-franchises – RE, MGS, FF, etc. – live in a hermetically-sealed bubble, unaware of the advancements in animation, storytelling, and general gameplay conventions that have transpired over the last 20 years.  I appreciate their slavish devotion to keeping each game true to its roots, but, I mean, Jesus Christ.  Have they never seen people walking around and carrying guns in other games or films or TV shows?   Besides that, it should also be noted that the graphics look a little rough – RE6 is nowhere near as nice and clean and crisp as RE5, though this may be because the demo is an early build.  In any event, I didn’t really have RE6 very high on my priority list, and this demo didn’t really do anything to change that.  It’s still on the GameFly queue, for whatever that’s worth.

– At some point this weekend I received an email that included a code for the first DLC for Darksiders 2 – Argul’s Tomb.  As much as I love that game, I’ve gotta say that this little self-contained mini-adventure was a little… meh, actually.  I hate using that word unless I have to, but that’s pretty much the best way of putting it.  It’s around 2 hours long, there’s no achievements, it’s very combat heavy, and none of the loot I picked up was particularly good.  It’s free, though, so it has that going for it, which is nice.

– I am an idiot.  I wanted to try out Steam’s Big Picture Mode on my HDTV this weekend, but it wasn’t until I’d moved everything around that I realized that my PC didn’t have an HDMI out, and that I didn’t have an adapter.  Oh well.

– It’s just as well, anyway, because had I gotten it to work, I would’ve ended up playing Torchlight 2, but with a keyboard and mouse on my couch, which would be weird.  I did spend 5 minutes with T2, actually, but the honest truth is that I think I’m still recovering from my Diablo 3 overdose, and left- and right-clicking for hours and hours just doesn’t seem all that enticing.  I will get to it eventually, though.

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OK.  Let’s get back to Borderlands 2.  I’m now around 24 hours in, and my commando is probably level 23 or 24.  (I really ought to write that stuff down before I begin a post.)

For the first dozen hours or so, I only had around 3-4 quests in my to-do list at a time – a main story quest, and then some optional side stuff.  Then a major story event happened (you’ll know it when you see it), and when I shook the dust off and got back to the main city, I’d found that the game suddenly opened wide up, and 20 new side-quests appeared in my quest log.  And so, now, I’m tackling all the side stuff, because the side stuff is, quite frequently, absolutely brilliant.

I have come to appreciate that the game does not take itself seriously.  At first, a lot of the dialogue came off as silly and adolescent (there literally is a “Bonerfart” joke – or is it “Fartboner”?) but as I’ve delved deeper into the side quests and gotten to know the characters a bit more thoroughly, I’ve seen that the game’s got some serious depth in its writing – even if, as I said on Saturday, the overall narrative lacks any real weight.  There are 2 moments that stand out in particular, and I’ll try to keep them spoiler-free (while at least alerting you as to where they are):

1.  Mission:  The Overlooked: “This Is Only A Test.”   The end of this mission was the first time that I’ve literally laughed out loud during a game since Portal 2, probably.  It’s a totally unexpected, expertly delivered, and deeply satisfying punchline, all of which comes after a very tough firefight and (at least for me) a reluctance to even do the thing I was asked to do, being that I didn’t think it was going to work.  (Fuckin’ Dave.)

2.  I can’t remember the mission name, but it was a side mission I was doing in the Wildlife Exploitation Preserve, which ultimately resulted in discovering the true nature of the relationship between Tiny Tina and Flesh-Stick (two characters that I’d met under completely different circumstances, 10 hours previously).  I normally hate how games use tape recordings to tell stories – it feels lazy and contrived and has become almost as ubiquitous as crates – but in this particular case the final reveal was shocking and very, very dark, and when I think about it now I’m not sure there’s a better way to tell that particular story.  Especially since there was no real reason to even include it, and especially since I very nearly walked right over it without even knowing it was there.  This made its discovery hit surprisingly hard, and caused me to think about my last interaction with those two characters in a much different light.   (It called to mind a similar hidden, optional thing I discovered in Psychonauts – during Milla’s psychedelic training level, there’s a hidden room where you discover a rather horrible truth about Milla’s past.  It’s a moment that rings true, though – it’s not manipulative or hollow – and so it carries a great weight.)

*    *    *

I find that even as I’ve improved a great many of my skills (including dramatic (and very necessary) reductions in my reloading time), I still get fatigued with the game’s core action.  This is not the game’s fault, of course – I’ve had a long-standing fatigue problem with the entire shooter genre, and it’s a tribute to everything else that Borderlands 2 does so well that I’m still as heavily invested in the game as I am.  I have no problem fighting my way to an objective, but once I’m done, I run like hell all the way back – I’ll throw down a turret if I have to, to thin out the crowd, but my overriding attitude is “fuck it, I’m done shooting.”  I’ve killed so many goddamned things already, and I’m not even sure that I’m halfway through the game, which makes me shudder at the thought of how many more goddamned things I have to kill.   (Especially if there are Threshers.  Oh, how I hate threshers.  Relentless bullet-sponging bastards, all of them.)

It would be nice if there were other things to do besides shooting, I guess.  (Well, there is a quasi-murder mystery in Sanctuary, but it plays out quite a bit differently than the one in Skyrim.)  I’m not saying this game needs box-pushing puzzles or crafting or anything, and I know I’ve not even come close to seeing everything there is to see and so it’s entirely possible that I’ll run into something that doesn’t involve heavy pressings of the trigger buttons over extended periods of time.   But.  The game’s relentless action can be a bit exhausting, is all I’m saying.

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