There was good and bad over the weekend as far as games are concerned, so let’s start with the good. THE GOOD: 1.  This is something I never thought I’d say, but here goes: GTA V Online is starting to grow on me. Right off the bat – it is 1000% more stable than it …

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belt tightening

June 26, 2013


Last night, the wife and I had a tough conversation about money.

Our 3-month old son (that’s him in the site’s header image, by the way) had his first “transition” daycare visit this morning, and he starts going in earnest in 2 weeks.  And for us to be able to afford daycare – and keep ourselves in baby supplies, and pay the rent and the rest of our bills, and also eat – well, we’re already cutting it pretty close, and there’s not a hell of a lot of wiggle room.  I’ve also got some rather sizable debt to pay off, too, and while I’ve made considerable progress on that front I’ve still got a ways to go, which makes this all the more anxiety-inducing.

Something’s got to give, basically.

And after some online banking and some soul-searching (and a little bit of drinking), I came to the realization that the only thing I really spend any extra money on these days is games.

This kinda sucks, as you might imagine – I am a self-professed consumer whore – but the more I think about it, this is not the worst time to be a broke gamer.   If I’m truly honest with myself, there’s really only one game coming out this year that I need in any sort of non-negotiable way.  Steam will have having its Summer Sale any minute now, too, and I could probably see myself picking up one or two things on my wishlist if they’re discounted enough – but let’s be honest here, after all the previous Steam Sales, there’s really not all that much that’s left for me to buy.  And I can certainly pare down my Gamefly account to one game at a time, as opposed to three, to be able to handle the rest of the to-do list.

Hell, let’s look at that to-do list (aka my GameQ) while we’re here, and I’ll take this opportunity to debut a new feature I’m calling Keep or Cut:

  • Shin Megami Tensei IV (3DS) – I don’t even know what this is, to be honest – I’d just heard some positive word of mouth, and I wanted any excuse to keep my 3DS busy.  Will most likely CUT.
  • Mario & Luigi Dream Team (3DS) – if I can finish The Last of Us quickly enough, I should be able to rent this close to its release date.  Since Mario Golf: World Tour got pushed to 2014, this is the only must-have 3DS game I can see for the rest of 2013.  KEEP.
  • Saints Row 4 – I’m a big Saints Row fan, but I’ve had my doubts about this ever since they first announced it.  I do not expect high review scores, though I’d love to be pleasantly surprised.  KEEP, but with reservations.
  • Splinter Cell: Blacklist – this was always only going to be a rental.  Chaos Theory was the high watermark for the series, and everything since then has been pretty disappointing.  Haven’t seen any indication that I should revise my expectations.  CUT.
  • Rayman Legends – Assuming this is as delightful as Origins was, this is an automatic KEEP.  Though I really ought to go back and finish Origins first.
  • GTA V – I’m not sure why this is still on my rental queue, as I’m probably going to pre-order it as soon as I finish this post.  (Still hoping for a PC release, though.)  KEEP.
  • Beyond: Two SoulsIs this the PS3’s final swan song?  More to the point – do I care?  While I remain in awe of David Cage’s wild ambition, I never finished Heavy Rain and didn’t really enjoy what I’d played, either.  Still, I’m cautiously optimistic, so this gets a KEEP.
  • Batman: Arkham Origins – as far as I can tell, this is the last “big” release of 2013 for current-gen consoles that I have any real interest in, since I don’t care about Call of Duty and I’ve lost all my faith in Assassin’s Creed.   But we all know this isn’t a Rocksteady joint, and this game is starting to smell like a cash-in.  CUT.

Now, you’ll notice that there’s no next-gen titles on this list.  That’s because I probably can’t afford a next-gen console this year; but even if I could, I still haven’t yet decided between the PS4 and the Xbox One.  I’m obviously leaning towards the PS4, but if Microsoft continues its backtracking ways and decides to play ball with indie developers by putting a less-restrictive self-publishing policy in place, well, that might keep the pendulum swinging the other way.  In any event, the only real “next-gen” game that speaks to me in any meaningful way is Watch Dogs, and that’s also coming to PC – which is a platform that already speaks to my current gaming habits anyway.

And speaking of the PC, the other clear upside to being on an austerity budget for the foreseeable future is that there’s really no excuse anymore for me to not finally tackle the GIGANTIC backlog of unfinished games I have in my Steam library.  Hell, even if I only stuck to seeing all the stuff in Skyrim that I never saw on the 360, that would be plenty.  (Now I just need to get over my seething Skyrim rage, which I’ve never quite managed to quell.)

I kinda don’t feel so terrible about this anymore.  I’ll call that a win.

the first few hours: Tomb Raider

March 7, 2013


[For some reason I feel it necessary to tell you that there’s a bunch of other posts I’m working on, including a special Subway Gamer 3DS post and a revival of the Everything Old is New Again feature (as I play the 3DS version of Ocarina of Time).  In the meantime, I need to talk about Tomb Raider, so here we go.]

I started writing this post yesterday, but I lost interest in it after a while; I couldn’t quite figure out what I was trying to say, and it soon became clear that I just hadn’t played enough of the game to know how I felt about it.  Of course, the whole point of these “first few hours” posts is to provide gut reactions and first impressions, but still – I wanted to at least get past the early tutorial stuff and experience a bit more of what the game had to offer, as that first hour is pretty linear.

So now I’m around 4 hours in; I just made base camp outside the helicopter in the shanty town, if that means anything to those of you who might’ve finished it already.  And I can sum up my experience thusly:  I am enjoying it very much, even if it is not quite the game I’d like it to be.

I never played the original Tomb Raider gamesand from what I understand I’m not necessarily missing all that much.  I did enjoy the 360 games, though – LegendAnniversary, and even Underworld, to a lesser extent.  And the XBLA top-down co-op game that came out a few years ago was quite fun, too.  Those games did well enough for me in the  exploration-to-combat gameplay ratio to make them entertaining; the combat felt obligatory, but at least it was over pretty quickly.  The stories were utterly ridiculous, but I didn’t really care – I liked exploring the tombs and solving the puzzles, and that was enough for me.   As for Lara Croft herself, well, she seemed to be a comic book character with superhuman parkour abilities and some overly generous (some might say borderline-gratuitous) physical endowments.  If I were a 13-year-old boy, it would be one thing.  But as a mid-30s man, it started to get a little embarrassing – sadly, this is pretty much par for the course as far as female videogame characters go.

character design

(source)

This reboot is clearly less about globetrotting and raiding tombs and more about trying to redefine who Lara is – she is young, inexperienced, and is frequently in a great deal of pain.   She is, refreshingly, not gratuitously sexualized; if anything, one could argue that she is perhaps overly victimized.  Terrible things happen to her with a frequency that would be almost comical if she weren’t constantly gasping in agony.

The key part of that last paragraph, though, at least as far as I’m concerned, is that there are hardly any literal tombs to raid – there are certainly some optional tombs to explore, but the three that I’ve found so far consist of basically one puzzle each and took me around 3 minutes to figure out and solve.   That being said, there are certainly a lot of environmental traversal puzzles, and tons of hidden objects to find, and I do enjoy those parts immensely.

In many respects, Tomb Raider reminds me less of, say, Uncharted, and a bit more of Far Cry 3 – especially as there’s one section in Tomb Raider where Lara has to climb a radio tower.  It’s a lot more linear than FC3, but that’s actually OK; the game gives me clearly explained reasons for pushing forward, and so while there’s no countdown urging me to the next objective, I find myself eager to see what happens next.

*       *       *

It’s been interesting (and a little confusing) to hear other people’s reactions to this new Tomb Raider reboot.   I’m only around 4 hours into it, after all, and I can’t necessarily speak to the things these professional critics are responding to – even when they talk in a non-spoilery way.  Rock Paper Shotgun’s review details an experience almost completely different from what I’ve been going through – their guy talks about this feeling of the game constantly interrupting you and your control over the action, but I haven’t really felt that way at all.  And this week’s Giant Bombcast discusses, among other things, the disconnect between Lara’s intense discomfort and revulsion at the things she has to do (like killing people), and the unlocks and perks you can unlock that let Lara perform incredibly gruesome kill maneuvers.

The Bombers also talk about what they wish this game actually was, though, and in that I can absolutely agree.  While I appreciate that the combat in the game is actually pretty good, it’s still the part that I like the least.  What I (and they) love is the exploration and puzzle solving.  I felt this way in Far Cry 3, and Uncharted (both 2 and especially 3), and even Skyrim to a certain extent (not that there’s many puzzles to solve in Skyrim, of course).  I would love a game that forgoes combat altogether and simply gives you a world to explore and solve.  That sort of game is probably too risky to spend AAA development money on, but it’s clear to me from listening to critics and talking with friends that there’s definitely an audience for that sort of experience; hell, look at the success that Dark Souls found in catering to a niche audience.

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.

Here’s hoping you all had a wonderful, loot-filled holiday season.  I certainly did. Lots to cover today, so let’s get to it: 1.  I finished the main story in Skyrim – almost by accident, similar to what happened at the end of Fallout 3 –  and I think I need a little time away from it.  Certainly …

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