1.  In last week’s entry, I wrote that I was incredibly distracted and overwhelmed by the very real possibility that the house we’d fallen love with was going to be ours within a matter of weeks, and that the speed with which this whole thing happened was dizzying and disorienting.  In my excitement and confidence …

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So on Tuesday, I spent $60 to digitally download Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition for my PS4.  As I’ve already played and beaten this game (to 100% completion) twice already on the PC, I was a bit apprehensive about why I had to buy it; if I’d only been willing to wait a few more days, I’d have …

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WordPress says this is my 400th post, although that number includes the old posts at the now-defunct blogspot URL and some drafts-in-progress.  Still, though, 400 posts!  Let’s celebrate this historic milestone by talking about anxiety, depression, and my poor impulse control as it relates to Steam Summer Sales. You see, every time there’s a Steam …

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a postcard from Brooklyn, post-Sandy

November 1, 2012


So, first thing’s first – everyone’s OK here at SFTC HQ.  As far as the hurricane goes, I came out pretty great – never lost power, heat, water or internet.  I’m a little stir crazy, I guess, since me and the wife have been more or less stuck inside since Monday, but that’s fine.  There are hundreds of thousands of fellow New Yorkers who did not get off so easy, and my heart breaks for them.

Our neighborhood is one of the few that survived pretty much unscathed, but we’re certainly not in the clear.  Because all the ports are closed, and because mass transportation is still screwed up and the roads in and out of the city are filled with traffic, supplies aren’t getting in.  The local grocery stores and bodegas are running low on pretty much everything; the gas station a few blocks away from my apartment is out of gas, surrounded by perhaps a dozen vacant cars.  And I would make the argument that when supplies finally arrive, they really ought to go to the neighborhoods that really need it first, of which there are far more than mine.

It’s a little messed up, to be honest.  I’ve been living in New York City since 1997, and I’ve never seen anything like this.  As horrible as 9/11 was – and I don’t mean to diminish how traumatic it was – the city never felt quite as isolated and cut-off as it does right now.  And I mean that in the literal sense – it is damned near impossible to get anywhere in the city, as tunnels and bridges have been closed and traffic has been nightmarish.  It’s true that mass transit has sort of returned today, but going from Brooklyn to Manhattan via subways and buses is still an exercise in futility – see this Gawker post, for example, and know that the picture in that link represents but one-sixth of the actual situation.

Still, the city is picking itself up, slowly but surely.  Indeed, the mail came today for the first time since last Saturday.  (Alas, my Gamefly copy of Assassin’s Creed 3 was not part of the delivery.)

Anyway, even though I’ve been stuck at home for the last few days, there hasn’t been a tremendous amount of gaming, to be honest.  When the TV has been on, the wife and I have more or less been glued to NY1 to stay updated, and we’ve only taken breaks to watch James Bond movies.  I’ve managed to squeeze in a little bit of Forza Horizon here and there, and last night I spent a little time with XCOM.

XCOM, as it turns out, is a perfect “horror” game.  I can only play it in 30-minute chunks, actually, because (a) the battlefield gameplay is absurdly tension-filled, and (b) I am a huge pussy. And even though I’m playing it on Easy, it’s still monstrously difficult at times; when shit starts going wrong, it goes wrong really fast and before you know it your entire squad is either dead or zombie-fied.  I thought I’d been making good progress, actually – I’d cleared a few alien abduction missions without losing anyone, and the world council was very pleased with my overall performance, and I’d finally been able to create the Skeleton Key that granted me access to the alien base.  My squad was filled with experienced soldiers who wielded top-of-the-line equipment – those laser sniper rifles are insane – and I carelessly assumed that even with my overly cautious and methodical play style, I wouldn’t have too much trouble.

How wrong I was.  I cleared the first room easily enough, but then I entered the second room and encountered the Chyrssalids for the first time, and within 5 minutes my entire squad was overrun.

The turn-based nature of the game is actually a large part of the horror.  I suppose “dread” might be a better choice of word, because that’s ultimately what the feeling is; you know that no matter how long you stall in trying to figure out what to do, one of your soldiers is totally fucked.  You might have to walk away, go to the bathroom, get a glass of water, all the while thinking of a solution – but when you get back to the computer, your soldier (who has the only medkit, because you weren’t paying attention) is still about to get destroyed, and your other squadmates are either out of position or, even worse, are out of ammo and need to waste a turn to reload.

It’s a marvelous game, and I hate it.  I hate that I love it so much, and I hate that I keep having to walk away from it because I can’t take the tension.  Considering how much tension there is in NYC these days anyway, there’s only so much more I can take.

There’s not much more to report.  My copy of Need For Speed Most Wanted is apparently at my office, but I’m not going into Manhattan until the subways are running again (which probably won’t be until Monday at the earliest).  And as I said above, my copy of AC3 is in USPS limbo, though hopefully it’ll arrive tomorrow.  But really, the most important news is that everything here is OK; we are safe and warm and our dogs are keeping us company.  

weekend recap: the sneeze and the fury

October 15, 2012


[Note:  this post may be a bit rambly and incoherent; I’ve got a bad head cold and I’m working under maybe an hour of unrestful sleep (though I also did eventually have one of the most hilariously frustrating dreams I’ve ever had).  I did make it into work for some reason, though, so if this post does get rambly, it may also get distracted.]

Things to talk about today:

  1. Had to put Dishonored down due to a weird, game-breaking bug.  May take the opportunity to start over from scratch.
  2. Gave up on Resident Evil 6.
  3. Spent some quality time with XCOM Enemy Unknown.
  4. The difference between bad video games and bad movies.

1.  I was finally starting to get into Dishonored‘s groove.  At first I was incredibly intimidated by it (as I sort of am with most stealth games), as I wanted to try to be as stealthy as possible and not kill anyone, but I kept accidentally screwing up and suddenly finding myself in sword fights (that I often lost).  After a while, though, I decided that if the object of the game is to have fun, and if the game does in fact give you options for killing people in spectacular ways in addition to making it easier to sneak around, then, dammit, I was going to play it however the hell I wanted to.  To wit: mostly stealthy, but if push came to shove, then dudes were getting shivved.  No muss, no fuss.  And so everything was going great.  I was around 45 minutes into the third mission, doing a sidequest for Slackjaw who was going to help me gain entry into the Cat Parlor (or whatever it’s called).  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.   (I’m still terrible at the melee combat, but I’m much better now at stealth.)

2.  In my annoyance at having to put Dishonored to the side, I decided to give Resident Evil 6 one last concerted push before sending it back.  To that end, I played a little bit more of Jake’s questline – his is the most action-oriented, he runs quickly, and it’s not so methodical as the other two.  Started running into weird problems early on, though, where Jake would only pick up certain objects.  In a game like RE6 where ammo is always scarce, it is INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATING when you’re completely out of ammunition and there’s 3 boxes RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU that for whatever reason the game won’t let you pick up.  (And not just that it wouldn’t register a button press – it seemed to imply that I couldn’t carry any more, which was the exact opposite of my problem.)  Now, between the Dishonored bug and this apparent bug, and the fact that my 360’s been making some loud noises when I start it up, I started wondering if there was a larger issue at work, even though I don’t know how a hardware issue would affect lines of code on a disc.  Still, though, I continued to push on until HOLY SHIT THE SAME ENEMY THAT I’VE BEEN FIGHTING FOR THE ENTIRE GAME SHOWED UP AGAIN.  When even your poorly-written characters are incredulous about the shit that’s happening to them, to the point where they actually say out loud how goddamned ridiculous it is that they have to keep fighting the same monster over and over again, MAYBE IT’S TIME TO DO SOMETHING ELSE.

3.  So, what with Dishonored’s unfortunate glitch, and RE6’s bullshit, and the aforementioned loud noises that my 360’s been making lately, I decided to go back to my PC and spend some time with XCOM Enemy Unknown, which had been getting short shrift of late.  I am very pleased to report that unlike some games I could mention, XCOM actually works as advertised.  And even on the easiest difficulty setting, it is still challenging – there’s nothing more terrifying than moving your guys into what you think is appropriate cover, only to have a bunch of thin men show up and move to your un-covered flank, blasting you into smithereens.  I lost one of my best soldiers in such a manner, as it happens, and while I exacted a swift and merciless revenge on his killers, I’m still a little bummed about it.  That this feeling is the game’s intention is what makes the game special, and that it’s executed so well is what makes it remarkable.

4.  The wife and I re-watched Prometheus this weekend.  We’d seen it in the theater, and I can’t speak for my wife but I found it to be one of the most disappointing movie experiences I’d ever had.  Part of this is certainly because my own expectations were sky-high – those trailers looked absolutely amazing, and I was very much looking forward to what was appearing to be a well-made, hard science fiction / horror movie.  Instead, what I got was an exquisitely photographed piece of shit, with plot holes larger than the actual movie, stock characters that were loathsome when they weren’t being mind-bogglingly stupid, and Guy Pearce in some of the worst old-man makeup in cinema history.   I am not surprised (but still disappointed) to report that it’s even worse upon a second viewing.  Frankly, it was the sort of terrible that is normally associated with video game storytelling – indeed, one might make an apt comparison here to Resident Evil 6, another highly-anticipated game that ended up being a piece of shit in part because of its awful approach to narrative.  At least with Prometheus, the movie ends, eventually, thankfully, and I never felt like it was my fault that it was so terrible; it’s not like I could ever get better at watching it.  Whereas with RE6, I’m sure I could get better at shooting enemies, even if the game is maddeningly inconsistent at telling me if I’m doing any damage; I could also scour every nook and cranny of every level in order to find hidden skill point packages, and then replay every level over and over again to find those same skill point packages, and then eventually have enough points so that I can level up my characters with more powerful weaponry, higher ammunition counts, better defensive skills, etc.  This, in turn, might make the combat a little less dreary (if only because I could get through it a lot faster).  The game’s narrative problems, though; that’s not something I can improve with skill points.

it gets better

October 8, 2012


1.  This weekend was insanely busy for me, and so I’ve advanced no further in Resident Evil 6 since Friday night’s session.   Here’s the weird part:  despite everything that annoys me about it, I must admit that I kinda want to keep playing it, even if I can’t really explain why.  I suppose it’s partially because I want to check out the 4th campaign, which only unlocks after you finish the first 3.  Finishing the first 3 campaigns, though, looks to be a rather sizable time investment, which may be a problem, because…

2.  …have you seen what’s coming out this week?  Between XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Dishonored, both of which are getting superlative reviews, my plate is full.  Not to mention that Episode Four of The Walking Dead lands later this week, too.  I think my earlier pronouncement of 2012 being a huge disappointment is about to get kicked in the ass.  I’d kept an eye on Dishonored but only ever considered it a rental, something to check out in an idle hour.  From everything I’ve read, though, it looks like it might be my GOTY.  (So much for keeping my expectations in check.)

3.  I did play around an hour’s worth of The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, thinking it might be fun to play with the wife.  I shall not be making that mistake again.  The solution to the tutorial mission’s crime – which is to say, the very first thing you play – is so convoluted and insane that I found the game impossible to take seriously.  The voice acting is stilted beyond belief – and it’s certainly not aided by some of the poorest lip-syncing in recent memory (seriously – if you can’t get it right, don’t even bother trying).  I’m sending it back ASAP.  I love a good adventure game, but this one’s flaws outshine whatever strengths it may have.

4.  On the mobile gaming front, I’ve been addicted to Super Monsters Ate My Condo, an updated release of  PikPok / Adult Swim’s strange yet endearing puzzle game.  It’s a vastly improved package over the original, with meta-missions and challenges and power-ups and boosts and the rest of it.  The only bummer is that you can’t listen to your own music while playing; otherwise I’d never put my phone/iPad down.

5.  I feel terrible for saying this, but I think I’m going to give up on Torchlight 2.  I squeezed in another hour or so over the weekend and I just don’t care about what I’m doing.  I may still be burned out from Diablo 3, or maybe I’m just turned off by how “cheap” T2 continues to feel.  Oh well.

It is entirely possible that a new Couchcast will arrive this week, depending on schedules.  I’m also hoping to line up some new guests for future episodes, too, just to keep the thing moving.  (I’m well aware that tiny podcasts for tiny blogs are not necessarily the most compelling content to seek out, but I’d like to get better at the format.)

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.

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