pre-Thanksgiving status report

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: so many bullets

[This recap is a day late, and edited to reflect yesterday evening; my entire Monday was spent at the DMV, which was about as awesome as you might expect.  I’m just going to leave it at that, because I really don’t want to think about it any more.  It’s not like you need to hear about how miserable the DMV is, anyway; we’ve all been there, we’ve all experienced purgatory on earth.]

Here are some stray observations from a dissatisfied weekend:

  • I was a bit reluctant to get back into Assassin’s Creed 3 until that mega-patch landed (I think it lands today [Tuesday], as a matter of fact).  But when I got back from the hellish experience that was the DMV, I decided to give it a go and see what else was in store.  As it turns out, this may have been a bad decision.  I’d written the other day about how underwhelming the Boston Tea Party mission was; well, you also get to experience Paul Revere’s Ride, which very well might win my 2012 award for the Most Poorly Conceived and Poorly Executed Mission Of The Year.  Instead of a lengthy chase sequence on horseback, which is what I was expecting, Paul Revere sat behind me on a horse and yelled out directions in which I should turn, and we had to do this quite slowly so as not to attract attention (even though Paul Revere was still shouting “I THINK IT’S THIS WAY!” every 20 seconds), and we only ended up knocking on 3 or 4 houses (in which the same NPC answered the door).  I’m not really sure why I’m continuing to bother, to be honest.  This franchise started losing its way last year, when it started to confuse ambition for enjoyment.

 

  • I haven’t necessarily forgiven Halo 4 for its teleportation sins, but I’m still slowly forging through the campaign.  I’m impressed with the graphics – this is easily the best looking Halo game in the franchise – and I certainly appreciate 343’s attempts to mix up the action and pacing with vehicle and turret segments.  (Also, flying a pelican is pretty neat.)  Still, I think my biggest problem with the game now is that none of my objectives are particularly interesting; I’m clearing landing zones, I’m shutting down 2 or 3 towers to open up a new thing or whatever.  It’s grunt work, basically.  And a lot of the enemies are bullet sponges (or, at least, they are when I’m shooting), and that can get dull.  

 

  • I forgot to mention that I’m also playing Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.  Totally forgot I’d put it on the rental queue.  Shooter fatigue notwithstanding, it’s actually pretty fun, even if I don’t really care about these characters.  I think the biggest thing I’ve noticed is that there’s a huge difference in feel between Halo 4 and CODBLOPS2.  In Halo 4, enemies take lots of damage before going down; whereas in COD, everything is more or less a one-hit kill, and so you feel like you’re moving through the game a lot faster.  Similarly, in Halo 4 you run out of ammo pretty quick, so you’re constantly picking up and experimenting with new weapons.  In COD, your first gun will pretty much get you through the whole mission, and as such there’s no real need to experiment with found weaponry (unless it’s clearly given to you because you’re going to need it.)

CODBLOPS 2 is pretty fun, I guess, although I’m currently up to my first Strike Force mission, which is a weird not-quite-tower-defense / real time strategy sort of mission, where I’m defending 3 different points on a base, alternating between an eye-in-the-sky, a weird mech-tank-dog, and individual soldiers.  I have no idea what this has to do with the story; nor do I know why the designers thought that radically changing the action would be a good idea, especially since the friendly AI is incredibly stupid and useless, and the only way to really accomplish anything is simply to make yourself one of the soldiers and kill everyone, the way you’d normallyplay.   Still haven’t finished that mission, either; I was getting my ass kicked quite thoroughly and had retreated all the way so that I was defending the last point on the map, whereupon I got killed, and then the game crashed.   Haven’t felt compelled to give it another go since.

As much as I’d like to finish these three big games before the end of the year, I’m not sure I’m going to; all of them are driving me a bit crazy, and I can’t say I’m truly enjoying myself in any of them.  Nor am I sure there’s anything else coming out before the end of the year that I really need to get my hands on – I don’t care about Far Cry 3, and I’ve never been good at previous Hitman games, so Absolution doesn’t really sound all that appealing.  I do want to finish the last 2 episodes in The Walking Dead, and I must confess to wanting to give Lego Lord of the Rings a try, since the wife might enjoy playing that with me in co-op.  The second bit of DLC for Borderlands 2 came out today as well, although it’s getting somewhat weak reviews.  I suppose I could always go back and play some more XCOM

Still, expect a GOTY post sometime in December.

a special episode of Real Talk

It’s time for REAL TALK.

I’ve been ignoring Halo 4 for the last few days, partly because I’ve been giving Assassin’s Creed 3 every possible benefit of the doubt I can muster (and I’ll get to that in a bit, believe me), but also because I’ve been diagnosed with Stage 4 Shooter Fatigue. Essentially, unless a shooter has amazing graphics, or has a really compelling narrative (or, barring that, at least some interesting characters), or at least is trying to do something different, it’s really hard for me to give a shit about shooting thousands of enemies in the face. In the immortal words of Jay Cutler: “DOOOONNNNTTTTTT CAAAAAARRRREEEEEEE.”

That being said, I listen to gaming podcasts and read all the major sites, and they all seem to really like Halo 4. And my friends seem to like Halo 4, even the ones who don’t really care about multiplayer. They assured me that the game is well paced, that it mixes up the action, that you’re never bored.

So, after finishing a major story mission in AC3 (which, really, I’ll get to, because WTF), I decided to give Halo 4 another shot. Maybe I was being too impatient; maybe I was too focused on my pre-conceived notions about shooters to allow myself to be truly objective. After all, I’d only played the first 2 missions of the campaign; I knew there was still a lot more to go.

So I started up Mission 3. I immediately got a bad feeling when I immediately recognized the form that the mission was going to take. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a ship’s outgoing transmission is being jammed, and there are 2 relay stations on opposite sides of the planet that need to be un-jammed in order to clear up the signal. Right? Like we all haven’t done THE EXACT SAME THING IN EVERY GAME EVER MADE.

But wait! It gets “better”! We finally have new, non-Covenant enemies to shoot! And some of them teleport.

Oh sweet mercy. Oh sweet sassy molassy. Oh sweet fucking merciful crap. TELEPORTING ENEMIES.

Halo 4: fuck you. All future games that feature enemies that teleport: fuck you, too. I’m officially done with teleporting enemies, the single cheapest and most bullshit tactic in games. It doesn’t matter what genre, either – it pissed me off in Diablo 3, and it didn’t exactly sit well with me in Dishonored, even though I could teleport, too. As soon as I fire on an enemy and that enemy decides to warp out of the way of my bullets and land on my head, I am turning the game off, removing the disc from the tray, and setting it on fire.

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*sigh* The rest of this post will have to wait for another day.

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

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.