>I apologize in advance if this post makes less sense than usual.  I was up until 2am playing Civ V.


But first, let me get Professor Layton and the Unwound Future out of the way. 

I still have a fondness for the Professor Layton games, although it’s mostly because they remind me that I own a DS, and I still have a fondness for the DS, because once upon a time it was a kickass handheld gaming machine that had tons of cool games coming out for it all the time. 

Still, though, the first Professor Layton game was charming and witty and unique, and while it may have had one (or ten) too many matchstick puzzles, it was still an enjoyable experience.  The second game was good, too, in a competent sort of way – in a way, it kinda reminds me of Bioshock 2, in that PL2 and B2 are technically better than their original games in terms of UI improvements and mechanics, and yet somehow not nearly as charming or as fun.  PL2 in particular had one of the most bat-shit crazy stories I can remember, which added to my sense of disconnection – the whole game is about solving puzzles, and yet you as the player are never given a chance to solve the fundamental mystery of the story; it seems as if it was pulled out of thin air.

This same problem is in PL3; the big reveal is completely ludicrous and borderline nonsensical, and you are never given a chance to actually figure it out for yourself – nor could you even guess, because it has literally nothing to do with anything you’ve already spent the last 10 hours dealing with. 

But whatever – you don’t play the Professor Layton games for the story, right?  You play them for the puzzles.  And here, the puzzles are very much hit or miss, and more often than not they feel unfair, in that they’re written unclearly, or misleadingly, or simply do not make any sense.  I ultimately used a walkthrough to finish the game, which makes the entire experience pointless.

And not only that, but the puzzles don’t take advantage of the DS nearly as much as they ought to.  Which is odd, because sometimes they do.  Let me explain.  There are a few puzzles which are fully interactive – the one I’m thinking of in particular is where a piece of paper has been ripped up into pieces, and you need to piece them back together in order to find a secret code.  And the game lets you manipulate those pieces with the stylus – it’s like a jigsaw puzzle.  Whereas there are other puzzles, featuring the same exact concept – a photograph of the end of a race has been ripped up into pieces, and you need to figure out who came in third place – but you can’t manipulate the pieces.  It seems odd and unnecessarily difficult.

Here’s what I’d like to see in a future PL title – I’d like the whole game to turn into a point-and-click adventure, with puzzles thrown in.  I’d like to take some ownership in how the story actually unfolds.  The puzzles don’t necessarily have to make sense in the context of the story (after all, they certainly don’t right now), but I’d like the whole process to be a little more involving than simply going from screen to screen and clicking on random people and getting nonsensical puzzles thrown at me.  And I’d especially like it if I, as the player, were given a genuine opportunity to solve the grand story for myself, instead of having some crazy deus ex machina do it for me.   Otherwise, why bother with a story at all, if it’s never going to make any sense?


Back to Civ V.

So last night I finished my first campaign; my Roman armies were beating the shit out of France until, inevitably, they surrendered. 

My initial impression of Civ V is probably not all that relevant to the hard-core Civ fan; I was introduced to the series through Civ Rev, which I promptly fell in love with and played on both the 360 and the DS.  Shortly thereafter, Steam probably had a sale on Civ IV, and I played with that for a bit, though eventually I fell back to the Civ Rev version.

Civ V is, to my noob eyes, a perfect mashup of the two.  It’s got insanely deep systems and tech trees and whatnot, but it’s also incredibly approachable and accessible and you don’t have to micro-manage if you don’t want to.  It took me about 70 turns to realize that I could automate my workers, which, looking back, was the right time for me to figure that out – that was around the point where the game started to evolve from simply settling and developing cities into building units and wonders and technologies.  I didn’t start the game with a desired outcome; I simply built my empire as big as I could, keeping all of my bases covered – in fact, if anything, I eventually decided I’d get a cultural victory – but I soon realized that I was miles and miles ahead of France, which was the only empire left on the continent, and I could probably just send a few rocket artillery units over and raze their cities without too much fuss, and that’s exactly what ended up happening. 

It is, indeed, a time suck.  I haven’t stayed up that late on a school night in years, and it certainly wasn’t my intention to do so.  I figured I’d play up until the 1400s or so and then come back to it later, but soon “one more turn” turned into “well, let’s just finish this particular Wonder”, and that turned into “OK, let’s build some rockets,” and ultimately Paris fell, and I rejoiced in my victory, and then fell dead asleep.

>pardon the cobwebs

>I would say that there’s no excuse for the absence of posting here over the last month, but that’s not entirely true – there are several valid excuses I could come up with, and I’m sure I could make up a bunch as well. 

But here’s the deal:  the last entry here talks about my failure at Starcraft 2.  Since then, here’s what I’ve played:

  • Madden 11.  I’ve always been one of those long-embittered 2KSports football fans who hated Madden and EA and everything it stood for.  But Madden won, of course, and if you have a serious jones for videogame football, it’s Madden or bust.  And, as it happened, I started getting inexplicably excited for football season to start, and this year’s Madden got good reviews, and I had some credit on Amazon that was burning a hole in my virtual wallet, and so there it is.  I’ve played about 10 or 11 games in my Franchise, which is set on Rookie difficulty, mostly so that I could get all the Achievements I cared to get as quickly as possible.  FUN FACT:  It is almost impossible to get the “Return 2 kicks for TDs with the same guy” Achievement on Rookie difficulty, because the opposing team is so terrible that they almost always go 4 and out, and you’re lucky if you get to return just one kick – the one that leads off a half.
  • Lara Croft & the Guardian of Light.  It’s pretty good for what it is, and I imagine it would be a ton of fun if the online co-op ever got turned on.  Unfortunately, I think I’ve played all I’m ever going to play of this one, because now that Halo Reach is out I’m not sure that anyone will care enough to go back to this. 
  • Mafia 2.  I actually did prepare a blog post for this; I had taken a sick day right after it arrived from Gamefly and accidentally/inadvertently finished the whole game in about 10 hours.  Here’s what I can salvage:

Sometimes you can tell, just from the first 5 minutes of play, if a game was cared about in development.  After all, in today’s ADD world, where developers have the balls to charge you to participate in a “beta”, 5 minutes might just be all you get, and so it’s probably a good idea to put your best foot forward (while still keeping the big guns for later in the experience).  Sometimes it’s painfully obvious – the frame rate might be shitty, or the controls might be clunky and unresponsive.  Or, perhaps, it’s just that certain areas of the game received more attention than others – sure, things explode pretty good, but the dialog and the voice acting both feel like first drafts; or, the driving model is responsive, but the combat sucks.

Mafia 2 was cared about.

But that doesn’t make it a great game.

I was out sick yesterday, and I convalesced by playing the entirety of Mafia 2 (and, also, something else that I am not at liberty to discuss, wink wink nudge nudge).  And when I was going to sleep, I started thinking about how I would write about it, and I had this really well-written opening paragraph all set out, which was going to reference both this Joystiq article about how venerable games industry analyst Michael Pachter thought that Mafia 2 would probably be unprofitable, and this very well-written Rock Paper Shotgun review, which (among other things) made the salient observation that comparing Mafia 2 to GTA4 totally misses the point, and how Mafia 2 really needs to be compared to Mafia 1.

  •  Anyway, yeah, there wasn’t much to talk about after I finished Mafia 2.  It is a bland experience in an otherwise beautiful world.
  • Professor Layton & the Unwound Future.  This just arrived in the mail on Monday, and… it really bums me out that I don’t like these games anymore.  And the reason why I don’t like these games anymore is because the puzzles, i.e. the reason why this game exists in the first place, have a tendency to be poorly written.  They can be unfairly difficult.  Or, most egregiously, they can only be solved with a walkthrough, and even then, the explanation for a puzzle’s solution is obtuse or unclear.  The story is interesting, though, at least.
  • Mass Effect 2: Shadow Broker DLC.  This is kind of a big deal, if you’re a Mass Effect nerd.  The nuts and bolts of the DLC are pretty much just more combat, with a cool little vehicular chase scene (with the requisite shitty controls); so in that regard it’s nothing special.  But from a story perspective… wow.  The ending of the DLC seems to be a pretty big deal, in terms of the ME universe, and yet the fact that a lot of ME2 fans might not see it would indicate that it won’t really have that big an impact on ME3, which is kind of a bummer.  Anyway – if you’re an ME2 fan, it’s highly recommended.
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum.  I got excited for the sequel and decided to give this another playthrough.  And it’s still as good as it was the first time.

And that brings us to yesterday, when my copy of Halo Reach arrived.

I’ll have more to say on Halo as I get further into it, but basically:  it’s Halo.  And, also:  I don’t know if I like first-person shooters anymore.  Or, rather, that the third-person action genre has gotten so good that first-person shooters kinda feel a little antiquated.  As in:  how come I can’t use cover?