A quick addendum, and then a quick adieu

I’m going on vacation tomorrow, and so unless I get really bored and/or really sick and can’t do anything with my family, this blog is going to be silent for the next week.

But before I go, I just wanted to make a quick adjustment to yesterday’s Trials Fusion impressions.  I’d downloaded and played the game on Tuesday night, and so Wednesday morning I’d made mention of the excruciatingly long load times after races.  I played a little bit last night, though, and those long loading times are gone.  Like, completely gone.  So maybe the servers weren’t working right, or something – you can never tell with Uplay-  but in any event, consider that particular demerit scratched out.

I’ve been filling up my iPad with some stuff to play – Hitman GoWarhammer QuestFTLShadowrun, and then finally Hearthstone, which people are flipping out about.

I’m a little concerned about playing Hearthstone, though, specifically because my Blizzard account is totally screwed up.  Back when I was addicted to Diablo 3 on my PC, I’d used the iPhone’s Authenticator app for some added security.  Problem is, the original iPhone that the app was on broke, so I never had a chance to formally remove it or de-authorize it or what-have-you; and when I tried logging in a few months ago, I had to re-download the Authenticator and it was never able to sync up with my account.  So then I tried removing the Authenticator entirely from my account, which is something that apparently requires a passport and possibly a lawyer.

I’ll need to get that problem resolved eventually – there is a part of me that really wants to check out the recent Diablo 3 expansion, either on PC or on PS4 – but in the meantime, I might just have to create a dummy account and hope I don’t screw anything up too terribly.

Anyway.  That’s my problem, not yours.  I’ll see you all on Monday, April 28.  Maybe I’ll have my Vita back by then!

Weekend Recap: Trials and Tribulations

This was an absolutely perfect weekend, weather-wise; it’s true that I’d settle for anything after the winter we’ve had, but this was a beauty, and we were able to enjoy it to its fullest.

Of course, now it’s Monday and I’m utterly exhausted.  But I’ll still consider the weekend a win.

There’s not a lot of gaming happening these days, though; the Vita’s (finally) in the shop, I’d already gotten 100% completion in Infamous Second Son, and my attempts at playing side missions in Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes immediately reminded me why I kinda hate that series.  I’m kinda plugging away at Rayman Legends on the PS4, and it’s fun and charming and also frustratingly difficult – though at least it’s not as intolerable as, say, Dark Souls II.

The one thing I’m playing with any sort of intensity is Trials Frontier for iOS, which I’ve been playing pretty much non-stop since its release last week.  I’m a huge Trials fan anyway, and I’ve already pre-ordered Trials Fusion for the PS4 (which I think comes out tomorrow?), and I’m pleased to report that Trials works about as well as you can hope for on an iPhone.  New to the Trials experience is an actual narrative, which (surprisingly) isn’t terrible.  It looks gorgeous and feels pretty good – I mean, I do wish I was playing it with a controller, and I must admit that my thumbs are kinda mushed from pressing them so tightly against the iPhone screen, but it definitely works, and you can more or less do the things you need to do without too much difficulty.  That being said, I think I’ve started to reach that inevitable point in any Trials game where the things I need to do are just beyond my abilities, so… there’s that.

Other than that, it’s quiet.  I’m getting my iPad loaded up for my upcoming vacation, which is at the end of this week; I’ve got FTL ready to go, and Shadowrun, and a very cute and charming puzzler called CLARC, which I’ve played a few levels of on the iPhone already but which I’d like to see on the bigger screen.

Finally, my first post over at Gamemoir should be going up later today, which is pretty exciting.  More about that in a bit.

3 is a magic number

It’s been very quiet here since the last podcast; honestly, there’s not been a hell of a lot to talk about.  If I were a professional games writer, I’d find stuff to post, but I’m pretty sure that those of you who find your way to this corner of the internet aren’t looking for hot scoops.

I’ve been in a rut, basically.  The initial wave of iPad euphoria has subsided, and I’m no longer buying every game that comes out.  (Well, I did buy Lost Winds 2 yesterday, but haven’t played more than the first 20 seconds of it.)   There are plenty of good-looking distractions to be found in the App Store, to be sure, but I am craving a meal, not a snack.  Or maybe I’m just waiting for the iOS ports of Walking Dead and Botanicula to show up.

In the meantime, I’d been kinda tooling around with my backlog.  Finally finished Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, which was a bit dumb.  I mean, it had been dumb for quite some time – I think I ultimately spent over 30 hours in there – but towards the end I just wanted to finish the final boss and be done with it.  I still have at least 20 side quests to finish but I do.  not.  give a shit.  The narrative – to the extent there is one – was boring and uninspired and in any event I couldn’t skip past it quickly enough.   I kinda feel bad for 38 Studios, who are going through some pretty serious money problems; wait a minute, what am I saying?  I hate Curt Schilling.  I feel bad for the non-Curt Schilling people of that company, let’s put it that way.

And I also decided to give up on Tiger Woods 13.  There used to be a time when the Tiger games could easily fill the slow months of the release calendar, but not so much these days.  I appreciate that they’re still making adjustments to the controls, but I can’t help getting annoyed when my perfectly lined-up putt curves away because of some arbitrary stat math.

And yeah, I guess I was also one of the million people who ended up buying Minecraft on XBLA, even though I’d never played the PC version – indeed, I never wanted to play the PC version.  That much freedom is intimidating to me; I have no idea what to do.  (This is is also why the Hitman games tended to scare the hell out of me, too.)  I spent an hour or two with it last weekend; I was pleasantly surprised at how accessible it was, but I’m still not sure I’m going to do very much with it.

This is all to say that yesterday’s releases of Max Payne 3 and Diablo 3 were big fucking deals for me, and I’d guess that if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably either at work, or just taking a break from playing those games.

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I fired up Max Payne 3 first.  I don’t recall how long I played for; I know I finished the first two chapters.

Gut reactions:

  • It’s probably the best-looking game Rockstar’s ever made, especially with regards to the lighting engine – everything is super-crisp and colorful.  This is also probably the best use of that Euphoria physics/rag doll system first seen in GTA4 and later used to marvelous effect in Red Dead Redemption  when you kill people, man, you fuck them up.
  • It’s really remarkable how well they’ve managed to both keep the game feeling fresh while, at the same time, staying true to the iconic features of the original games – the pills-as-powerups, the bullet-time, the noir.  A lot of this has to do with Rockstar’s incredible confidence in its cut-scenes.  Ever since GTA4, those mid-mission story beats started becoming real treats to watch – the dialogue’s always been great (if a little heavy-handed at times), but the scenes themselves became very cinematic – the camera was always in an interesting place, the motion-capture work was expressive and clear, and the characters themselves were engaging and entertaining.  I never found myself impatient and wanting to skip past a scene, the way I do with almost every other game out there.  Anyway, my point is that when the cutscene is over and Max is back in my hands, it still feels like the original games did – even though it’s got a lot of new technology behind the scenes.
  • If there’s one thing that’s a little off to me, it’s that I’m playing this game on the Xbox360.  I played the first two games on the PC, and the mouse and keyboard always felt intuitive and easy to use.  I also played the ports of those games on the Xbox, and the shift to the controller never felt quite right.  That not-quite-right feeling shows up here as well, which is somewhat of a bummer.  Bullet-time – the defining feature of this franchise – is activated by pushing in the right thumbstick, which is not at all intuitive and, if anything, makes it more of a pain in the ass to use.  On the PC, bullet-time was both super fun to watch and useful from a strategic perspective, but here I find myself using it just because I want to see it, not because I need it.
  • Haven’t yet touched the multiplayer, although it looks interesting.  Will try to give that a good look over the next few days, in between breaks from the campaign.

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As for Diablo 3… well, honestly?  I’m a little bummed.  I played for around 5 minutes last night – long enough to see that the weird latency/lag issues that I had in the beta a few weeks ago were still present in the retail release.  This is especially weird since my PC uses a wired connection to my router.  I haven’t yet tried tweaking the graphics settings – I wasn’t sure if this was a CPU issue or a lag issue – but I know that other people are experiencing similar problems.

I’m debating whether or not to install it on my MacBook Pro; the Mac is mainly for music and writing, and I’m a little afraid of
installing such a distraction onto that machine.  But, then again, if it runs better there…

No matter.  My plan is to focus on Max Payne 3 for the time being, and then, hopefully by this time next week, Blizzard will have solved some of these issues and the experience will be smoother.

weekend ramblin’

Ever since I finished Mass Effect 3 last week, I’ve been in somewhat of a holding pattern as far as writing goes. Hell, I guess that extends to playing, too – I honestly haven’t been playing very much, aside from half a dozen apps on my “the new” iPad.

I suppose I should talk about the iPad, right? It’s my first venture into the iPad universe – when they announced the first one, I didn’t understand why it needed to exist, and when they announced the second one, I found it a bit more intriguing but felt I could wait until they hooked it up with a retina display. Which is what I’ve got, now. There’s no question that it’s a stunning bit of tech – say what you will about the sexiness of the Vita’s display, but when I first laid eyes on the iPad screen I was like Alex in “Clockwork Orange”:

Bliss and heaven! Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh. It was like a bird of rarest-spun heaven metal or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now.

Frankly, the display is so amazing that it kinda renders my iPhone obsolete, as far as game-playing is concerned. It’s so goddamned tiny in comparison!

The problem with the iPad, then, isn’t the device itself – it’s that there aren’t a hell of a lot of apps that really push the hardware. Sure, stuff like Infinity Blade 2 and Angry Birds Space HD look amazing, but Infinity Blade 2 looked great on my iPhone 4, too, 6 months ago (or whenever it came out). Honestly, the iPad game that’s taken up most of my time since I bought it is Draw Something, which – while fun and entertaining and frequently hilarious, especially given that each person’s drawings appear in real time, so you (the guesser) can watch the artist try to figure out how to draw their subject – is not exactly taxing the hardware. I think it’ll be at least 6 months before we start getting some serious business on the new iPad, and I’d imagine that a lot of iOS developers would be concerned about pushing the hardware too much and therefore alienating the owners of older hardware.

I don’t regret the purchase, though, by any means. There’s plenty to do on it as it is – my compulsive/impulsive nature means that I already had, like 100 apps for it when I first plugged it in – and there’s lots of cool music-making apps on it, too, which is partly why I was able to justify the purchase in the first place. It’s a gorgeous device and it’s everything I’d hoped it would be. If I’m disappointed, it’s that I was hoping it would somehow exceed my expectations and do some truly next-level shit right out of the gate – and I’m fully prepare to concede that I’m being a little bit unfair in that regard.

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What else, what else… I had a weird dream the other day where I was either playing or actually in the motorcycle gang in GTA4’s “The Lost and the Damned,” which was strange, since I never got particularly far in that particular bit of DLC. In any event, it caused me to pull GTA4 out yesterday afternoon and I jumped back into what appears to be the last few missions of “The Ballad of Gay Tony”. Time has not been kind to GTA4, which is a painful thing to admit. It’s just that, for me, Red Dead Redemption is a superior game in pretty much every way that matters – combat is far more approachable in RDR, for one thing, and the penalty for mission failure is a lot less devastating, which makes the overall experience a lot less frustrating. There’s no doubt that Liberty City is an absolute marvel of game design – I still love driving around and seeing what there is to see, and I especially love that the developers really understood New York City and its feel. Even if GTA4’s gameplay is antiquated at this point, it’s still got the finest open-world city ever designed. The city makes sense. It has personality. Every block is different – there aren’t any cookie-cutter building designs. You might get lost at first, but it wouldn’t be because everything looks the same. I fully concede that my status as a life-long New Yorker might bias me in this regard, but I must also acknowledge that it’s the only videogame that ever got New York City right.

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According to my to-do list, the next must-play GOTY contender is Max Payne 3, which doesn’t come out until mid-May. Yikes. Tiger Woods 13 comes out this coming Tuesday, and I will play it because that’s what I do, but I’m no longer as enamored of that franchise as I used to be. Ever since the current generation of consoles came along, that series has lost its way – the games on the original Xbox were insanely addictive and goofy and fun as hell, even if they weren’t truly groundbreaking on the graphics side. As the series has embraced realism, though, it’s lost a lot of what made it truly engaging on a primal level. So let’s just say I’m keeping my expectations suitably lowered for this year’s edition.

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I went back to KoA:Reckoning yesterday, just to see if some time apart from it would make a difference. (I hadn’t played it since before Mass Effect 3 came out.) It’s still pretty mindless; I don’t know that I’m ever going to finish it, beyond just pecking away at it during slow periods in the release calendar.

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Hopefully there’ll be a new Couchcast this week, schedules permitting.