Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Play Log 2014 - Within The Evil Within

As much as I love "survival horror" games, I have to come out and say that The Evil Within is just a bad game.

I guess I really shouldn't have expected much different. When I heard previews of this game, I was a little shocked that the comments were so derogatory. It seems most outlets (this was IGN) are willing to give an unreleased title the benefit of the doubt. We all want to see a game succeed, but this one was condemned before it was even born. Then, when it was released, Joystiq gave it a 2 1/2 out of 5, which they seldom drop on most games. Some reviewers were a little kinder, but in general it didn't fare well.

Now that I see the end result, I have to say it deserved all the criticism.

I did a Gamestop "rental" on it and as of this writing it has been returned after 4 1/2 fairly joyless hours. Yes, I know, it's a horror game. I'm not "supposed" to enjoy it, but this game felt more like work. Most of this was because the game has no story to speak of. And when I say that, I mean there are characters, but you have no idea why you are there, why things are happening they way they are, or what you are trying to accomplish other than to not get killed. The best game comparison I can make (and most other reviewers made) is with Resident Evil 4. But at least there you started with a goal of finding the President's daughter (though what she was supposed to be doing in some decrepit, Eastern European farm town I never figured out). What bothers me the most is the feeling that a story was left out of this game on purpose because the people making it may have just thought, "The 20-something demographic that buys this game most doesn't care about anything but shooting monsters, so why waste the time?" I think we've hit an "uncanny valley" of a different sort - one where these real-life looking environments seem like empty shells when they don't have at least an attempt at a story behind them.

Of course, this game also suffered from some mechanical issues. The camera gave me problems from time to time and, as I captured in the video below, the decision to make every door opening animation super slow led to unnecessary injuries. (By the way, why does this guy take doors so carefully when Ripley, in Alien: Isolation, would bash open a door when she came out of hiding? You'd think she would have wanted to be a bit more discrete!) I would also like to know why the developers wanted to pepper these areas with tripwire bombs? That level of sophisticated booby-trapping made no sense considering the enemies I was fighting and the setting I was in.

However, I was proud of this sequence. I had been killed multiple times before I got Mr. Chainsaw here and figured out this little tactic on my own.



Out off the time I played, this was the only part I thought was worth highlighting - which tells you something.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Play Log 2014 - We're Streaming Now!

After working out a few kinks, I think I've got the hang of this streaming thing. I've only had a couple of people watching, but that's okay. The point is if I'm streaming, someone could watch and I'm archiving the streams at the same time. From these archives, I'm making some fairly amusing highlights - little segments of interesting action from an hour or more of gaming.

How to Survive Image How To Survive - I picked this up for a couple bucks on Steam the other day. I guess you would describe it as Diablo meets Zombieland. You fight zombies (and other creatures at night) while finding amusing "handbooks" on survival. It's a unique way to build in a tutorial, but in some ways I just wish it would leave me alone and let me explore the world. The combat is wonderfully brutal (who doesn't enjoy chopping up zombies!) and the environments are nicely detailed. I didn't really play much of it, but I think I will come back to it someday soon and finish it up. In the meantime, here is a clip of my favorite battle from what I did play. I like that I was able to tackle so many zombies at once and still win!



Alien: Isolation Image Alien Isolation - I have always been an Alien fan. I remember seeing the first film back when the words "In space, no one can hear you scream" and the cracking alien egg poster were just becoming icons for a new generation of horror and science fiction films. I've seen every Alien movie since, including an unforgettable birthday celebration viewing of Aliens in a theater filled with real Marines. (They loved their future counter-parts and were having a ball showing it!) When I heard that Alien Isolation was made as a sequel to the original movie, I was intrigued. When I heard it was going to be a flee-not-fight kind of game, I was worried that it would be too long for that level of tension, publishers being unwilling to try to sell a short game for $60. That turned out to be only one of its problems, but not one that I had to worry about.

After hearing and reading some reviews, I figured a Gamestop 7-day rental would be the best course of action. I'm glad I did. The first hour or so of the game is very slow and you get the feeling that you are walking around the baggage area of an airport. When you meet other inhabitants of the station, they generally want to kill you, which leads to some interesting fights.



I did finally end up seeing the Alien, but fortunately, from a distance. Still, it can be unsettling.


I actually had more trouble with the androids than the alien. They are hard to kill and seem to be patrolling everywhere you need to go. If they catch you, they do a lot of damage. They do have a trick or two of their own, I'll admit. Note: the following clip is best viewed in full screen.


But what finally killed the game for me was the complete lack of checkpoints. By the time I got to the point of the following clip, I had been dodging those murderous dummies for over an hour. I had also transitioned through two zones (ie, loading screens) and never saw any save stations on my map.


I mean, what game in this day and age doesn't do an autosave when you transition from one game zone to another? Apparently, the developers of this game wanted it to be "hardcore". Well, screw them! The game has been returned from whence it came and I will not be buying it, even when it drops to the inevitable $20 range. The one thing I can say is that this is the first game that I broadcast and archived all of my playtime in. I only wish it had been a better experience.

At this point, I think I'll be doing some much needed palette cleansing with some mindless Need For Speed racing.

Monday, October 20, 2014

One Night Stands - The Playstation Plus Edition

When I realized that a) I would want to get a PS4, and b) PS+ was going to be giving away Resogun, I took the plunge and bought a subscription. Over the months I've owned it, they have been giving me at least 2 games per platform (PS3, PS4, and Vita). As long as you don't mind the $50 a year (less if you get a good deal during the year), you will end up with a significant number of new games to play. I've actually had to start an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of which games I have and what they run on. (PS4 is the only platform that has a good way of seeing what you have in your "library".) I figured it was time to start going through a few of these and also use them to do some stream testing.

Road Not Taken Image Road not Taken - It turns out that this is actually a puzzle game. You have to save children who have been sent out to pick berries and gotten lost in a terrible snowstorm. (Oh, the horrors of forced child labor!) Your character, who reminds me of a Jawwa wizard, has the power to levitate any object around him that can be lifted. But you have a limited amount of time to keep these things in the air. When you release them, they fly until they run into something or the edge of the area you are in. (This led to a rather amusing thing with a cat I found myself owning.)
I'm not big into puzzles, so I only played through the first couple of missions. I'm not sure what the significance of the title is; I guess you have to play more of the game.


PIX the CAT Image Pix the Cat - Talk about Pac-Man flashbacks! So, you play as a cat, who has to collect eggs, which hatch into ducks, which follow you around and are dropped off onto targets that turn into tiles. And this is all timed and when the timer runs out, you start all over again on the same boards. This part makes it somewhat less interesting to play - while you can get good at a particular pattern, it gets old quickly. I do like how the next board is actually "hidden" in the current screen and then everything sort of collapses back onto itself at the end. Neat touch. Below is one of my better runs.


Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Yesterday's Worlds #6 - Back on the PS2 Trail

Wow, I didn't realize that #5 was way back in January! Where did 9 months go??

(I'll tell you, after soaking my eyeballs in HD graphics for that long, PS2 games take a little getting used to again. They look muddy and dull at first, but after awhile you get back into appreciating the older graphics.)

Checking my PS2 collection and where I left off, my next games on the shelf were

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence ImageCastlevania: Curse of Darkness Image Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (KCET\Konami\2003) and Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (Konami\Konami\2005) - I know I played a little of one of these games, but I'm not sure which one. However, it really doesn't matter - I have something against Castlevania games in general. I've never been able to explain it or understand why, but they've never really caught my interest. (So why did I buy these? Probably to have a more complete collection is my only defense.)

Champions of Norrath ImageChampions: Return to Arms Image Champions of Norrath (Snowblind\SOE\2004) and Champions: Return to Arms (Snowblind\SOE\2005) - Back in the day, my brother and I turned to these games as a suitable sequel to Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance. They were, in fact, made by the same designers (while BG:DA2 was done by a less capable developer). I'm not sure how far we got, but I know we never finished them. They are great co-op games, however the lack of a "jump" button makes for some needless frustration when you can't get over a small obstacle. I suspect that I will dig deeply into Champions of Norrath one day and finish it. But not this day...

Clock Tower 3 Image Clock Tower 3 (Sunsoft\Capcom\2003) - This one proved to be an interesting blast from the past. You play as Alyssa Hamilton, a teenage girl who was sent away to boarding school, but returns home to find her mother missing and a strange (and scary) man in her house. She shortly finds herself in the position of being a Buffy-esque fighter against evil, dealing with infamous killers from various historical times. These hulking brutes are possessed by evil forces that feed off the souls of the killer's victims. She also has to put spirits (ie, ghosts) to rest by returning sentimental objects to their rightful place. The gameplay is very reminiscent of Resident Evil (not a big surprise being a Capcom game) with fixed camera angles, but better overall character control - even stairs are handled much better. You don't have guns or other weapons, but use Holy Water to ward off enemies and open sealed doors. A Panic Meter acts as a health bar - get it too full and Alyssa freaks out, making her susceptible to being killed. Other than that, it's a matter of finding objects to open areas or things and solving simple puzzles. But the stories are what caught my attention. The designers of the this game did not shy away from brutality. The first entity you have to defeat is a huge man who killed a child with a giant sledge hammer and the second one throws people (including an old blind woman) into vats of acid - oh, and pours more acid on them! The graphics aren't very detailed (this is an early PS2 game) so you don't see any gore, but the nature of the crimes is more than a little disturbing. Unfortunately, I only got to the second "boss" before I got stuck - this is one of those Japanese games that shows no mercy. After 4 or 5 attempts at a fight that lasted over 10 minutes each time, I called it quits.

Cold Fear Image Cold Fear (Darkworks\Ubisoft\2005) - The easiest way to describe Cold Fear is as a lost Resident Evil game set on a ship instead of in an old mansion. But while the setting is unique and presents its own flavor to the game play (the screen is constantly rocking back and forth), playing the game is not as entertaining as even the tankiest portions of RE. The worst part is that for some reason, the developers either chose not to have in-game maps or were unable to implement them due to budget or time constraints. Instead, the three maps of the ship you are stumbling around on are reproduced on one-page of the manual. Without any other sort of guidance (ie, waypoints), it's often frustrating to figure out which direction you should be heading in, especially when the camera angle keeps changing when you move around. A promising survival horror game done in by unfortunate design decisions.

Cold Winter Image Cold Winter (Swordfish Studios\Sierra(VU)\2005) - I don't know why, but this was one of those PS2 titles that I always an aversion to. I didn't really know anything about it, but for some reason I thought it was an espionage-style game - something with little action and dull interactions with spies and embassies. It never occurred to me that it was more like Goldeneye and Time Splitters. And I'd never have known this without going through my collection alphabetically. (It's lucky it wasn't called Winter Cold!) The game is set in China first, where you rather undiplomaticaly dispatch a whole bunch of Chinese soldiers escaping from their prison. Honestly, I thought they would have picked a slightly more contentious location like North Korea. As FPS's on the PS2 go, this one handles very well. Character models aren't perfect, but they do react to head shots. I'm playing on Amateur (ie, easy) and I manged not to die during the whole first chapter. Starting the second chapter in the Middle East, I can start to see a lot of duplicated assets like the gun emplacements, but it still holds up. Another plus is that Tom Baker is doing some of the voice work. I'll play any game where he's talking!

Now, I'm going to stop playing Cold Winter and my other PS2 games for the time being while I get my Elgato capture device hooked up. I want to start capturing my gameplay in order to show it here and also be able to watch it later. Do I need to? No, but since I can, I feel that I should at least try. The world of gaming is changing (again) and it almost feels like its written word is incomplete without a video record to go with it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Play Log 2014 - Murasaki Miniature

Murasaki Baby Image It's sort of strange to go from massive titles like Destiny and Dark Souls (I dipped my toes in for an hour), games I know because of their size and complexity I will never finish, to a game that I completed in about 3 hours. Murasaki Baby is a short game but one that touched my heart in a way that the full length ones never will.

When I heard the game mechanics described on one of the podcasts I listen to, I knew I had to get it immediately. It's a puzzle/platform style game, but instead of using standard thumbstick and button inputs, you lead this little child and her heart-shaped balloon around a demented world by holding her hand on the touchscreen of the Vita. But you have to be careful - pull a little and she walks slowly, pull a bit more and she speeds up, pull too hard and she either slips from your grasp or falls down. The connection I made with her was so strong, I felt I needed to apologize anytime that happened. In playing it, I was reminded of Limbo, but I never felt this kind of attachment to the character I was controlling there.

The worlds and creatures in it are bizarre - like what Peanuts would have looked like if drawn by Edward Gorey or Tim Burton. They are also disturbingly amazing! The amount of art in this little game makes it worth the asking price alone. The backgrounds, which affect things around your little charge, are an array of strangeness - electrical storms in a sea of batteries, a giant eye, a Godzilla-sized rabbit, and a dead-grey heart that turns the balloon to stone. Then there are flying safety pins, one-eyed spiders, and tooth throwing ghouls.

In addition to trying to find her mommy, you also help some of the other inhabitants of this world. There's just enough story telling through actions and pictures that you get what's happening. Everyone has mouths on the top of their heads, but I think it's more of a matter that everyone's head is on upside down - maybe to denote a different view of this odd life.

About half way through the game, the little sweetie is just so tired, she sits down and falls asleep. From the left comes a strange buggy device that gently picks her up and tucks her into a seat for a brief "mine cart" segment - the only time the thumbsticks are used. The tenderness of this tentacle trolley was just beautiful.

While not perfect (it crashed on me once, could have used a few more checkpoints, and my big, fat fingers were not the easiest to see around), but I'll happily support a title like this - one that tries something very different on an obscure platform. My time with Murasaki Baby may have been brief, but I'll remember that little girl and our adventure together for a very long time.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Play Log 2014 - My Destiny

Destiny Image Actually playing a game when it first releases is still something unusual for me. I either don't want to spend the full price (they always get cheaper) or I don't feel like I can give it enough time right away to make it worthwhile. Destiny was a game I decided to make an exception for in a big way.

In a case of terminal impulsiveness, I jumped in with both feet and got the $150 Ghost edition with Release Day shipping. Was it worth it? Well, most of the "stuff" in the Ghost edition is also available in the Limited Edition (which goes for $100), so you're basically paying $50 for the little Peter Dinklage voiced, plastic Ghost module (or as it's called, the Dinkle-bot). From the standpoint of ultra-geekiness, it was worth it. From any practical standpoint, no, not really. It's heavier than it looks, is rechargeable (but without an indication of when it's "full"), and can either be set to just be "on" (lights only), or set to lights and sound (ie, Ghost voice). It activates by sensor so it needs to be in front of a light source. When the light source is "dimmed" (by someone walking in front of it), it activates. I don't know how many phrases it says, but I hear the same one ("This place is amazing!") a lot. It also makes a sort of lightsaber noise that gets really annoying after about the third time you hear it.

But that's just a toy. What about the game?

Well, I like the premise of the game; Earth is visited by a benevolent sphere called The Traveler who brings vast technological advancement to humans but at the price of being the next victims of the things that have been tracking it. You play a resurrected Guardian who is tasked with fighting back against the forces of darkness called...The Darkness. Oh, how imaginative. And that's about all the story you get. From there it's mostly just a series of firefights first on Earth, then onto the Moon, Venus and Mars. Since Bungie pretty much created the sci-fi shooter genre with Halo, the game looks and plays great. There's just not much holding the battles together. So far, I've played three missions (I know, not much) and they were a matter of fighting to a "boss zone" (ie, no respawn if you die mid-battle) through similar enemies. As this is a multi-player game, I saw other real players in my areas, but I couldn't talk to them. They could shoot some of the guys trying to shoot me, but that was about it.

There's upgrades and "loot" like an MMO, but I think the thing that will keep me coming back is getting to hear more Peter Dinklage.

**Update #1** - After talking to a Gamestop guy, I found out that the class I chose, Hunter, is basically a "thief" class and that I should probably pick the Titan (ie, fighter) class if I'm going to play solo. So, I restarted last night and played the first couple of missions again. It was easier, but I think it was mostly because I knew the game mechanics better, not that my character was more suited to combat. What did strike me was how shallow the story is and how some of the stuff we see in-game makes no sense.

According to the intro, Earth was visited by the Traveler and what followed was CENTURIES of "golden times" where we built cities on other planets and started to explore the stars. So, I ask you...why does my character start in an area that looks like it's from a slightly updated Fallout 3 set? Rusted cars? Crumbling freeway overpasses? Why are there still relics of these Twentieth Century technologies? And the Cosmodrome? It would be as antique as the Egyptian pyramids are now!

Well, I'm going to do the next mission and see how well I'm prepared for the one after that since it was the one that made me rage-quit the other night. If playing as a Titan isn't any better, I will probably chuck Destiny aside at least until they do a better job of making a single player game worth playing. In the meantime, I'd rather play Uncharted 2, Diablo 3 or try Skylanders! Teaches me for buying the "Balls of Destiny" edition!

**Update #2** - Well, I have to say that last night was the first time I played Destiny and enjoyed myself. And I think a lot of that comes from knowing what to expect from the game and knowing what it isn't going to provide. I realize now that Destiny is a pretty, shiny Faberge Egg...with nothing inside and for that, we have the current gaming environment to blame.

Bungie wanted to make a game that would play well on Twitch streams and be picked up for televised gaming events. The idea of futuristic worlds that you could explore and a meaningful story to experience was entirely secondary, at best. This game has as much single player focus as Left 4 Dead. You never get to name your characters, you can't see in numbers how much experience you have, and any interaction with NPC's takes you out of the environment you meet them in (sort of like interviewing someone against a blank wall). Plus, grinding (ie, playing over the same areas to gain experience points from repetitive kills) is mandatory if you are solo. Bounties, extra jobs that you can get at The Tower, are nothing but "number of this" kinds of things with no overlaying story elements. While visually stunning, the battlefields have almost no interactive elements save for a few rolling cans. Nothing can be shot up or broken.

All of these shortcuts are the result of Bungie looking at the gaming-space and realizing that...crap, this is all gamers seem to care about these days! They don't want deep story (seen anyone play Mass Effect competitively?). They want to use their own names to show off their skills. They don't need fancy RPG style game mechanics - just give me the goods and let me get back to fragging me some noobs!

So, once I let this paradigm settle over me, I was finally at peace with what my Destiny experience will be and I started to have some fun. I'll play it from time to time, but not in a manner that will frustrate me. There's very little chance I'll ever finish Destiny since I don't enjoy multi-player games. Some leveling and the occasional mission will be nice. Right now I'm looking forward to my first trip to the Moon. Funny, but I sort of feel like Fry from one of the first Futurama episodes. There's still that little kid in me that remembers the first moon landing.

**Update #3** - And now I feel a lot like Fry did in that episode - disillusioned! Bungie, could you have at least tried to make a believable game around your mindless shooter? Ok, maybe that's too harsh, but imagine my disappointment when I get to the moon and a) it looks like there's atmosphere because of the blue haze on the horizon, and b) the gravity is exactly the same as it is on Earth instead of the 1/6th it should be. I "suppose" that the lore of this game could have included a section where The Traveler gave humanity the ability to change the mass of the Moon. It would have increased it's gravitational constant so it could sustain an atmosphere but without disrupting it's orbit around the Earth. If so, it's never mentioned anywhere, but I think it was done just to make the game design easier.

As an aside, I managed to find my copy of GameInformer from last year that covered Destiny in a 14 page cover article. I'm very interested to see what the writers said about it long before it came out. With three "under-delivering" triple-A IP's this year (Titanfall, Watch_Dogs, and Destiny), a lot of people have been pointing fingers at the gaming media for raising our expectations in service to their corporate advertisers. Frankly, I don't like to think in such conspiratorial ways - too depressing. I just want to compare what the media primed us for that might have not been delivered with the final game. In the case of Destiny, any emphasis on a promised "deep story" is going to be highly suspect.

After visiting the Moon (and dying repeatedly, but deservedly - I knew I wasn't ready), I went back and tried the mission I had so much trouble with before. This time I made it through, but I must have fought off two dozen Fallen in the process. Yes, this would be a lot easier with help, but I don't have anyone to party (ie, Fire Team) with. On the way to the objective, I ran into a level 3 character who was having some problems and helped out as best I could by flanking his attackers. It felt good to help out another player, but there was no way for us to communicate and team up. Or if there is, I don't know what it is because the game hasn't told me.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Play Log 2014 - Un-Defiant

I am done with Defiance. Not the show, mind you. I, like many other fans, am eagerly awaiting good news about a third season. What I want no more part of is the Defiance game. On the eve of Destiny's release, I decided to give it one more try and only ended up frustrated. Enemies that require a whole clip of ammo to take down and always come in groups of at least 6 plus a chain-gun wielding Bio-Man are more than a starting character can handle..and these were the only enemies I saw other than a few mini-Hellbugs at the start. Add to this that one of the first missions I took from the starting base wanted me to drive over 7 kilometers over terra-formed ground with no real path. I could see where I needed to go, but not how to get there. What a pile of shtako! After using the "Delete Local Content" option on my Steam menu, I stated up...

 Aliens Vs Predator - This game should really be called Aliens Vs Predators Vs Colonial Marines, but I guess that was too long. I started up the Marines campaign and it actually felt a lot like the action in the Aliens movie. The motion tracker pings, alien screeches, and pulse rifle noises were all spot on and added to the feeling of being on LV-426 (though I think this is supposed to be a similar setting in an alternate reality from any of the movies). Fighting aliens wasn't easy since they want to get in your face and tear it off, but the weapons I had were pretty well suited to killing them. Seeing them sink into the floor was pretty satisfying and an interesting way to get rid of the body for the game engine while still keeping with the lore of the monsters to some degree. The only problem I had was the unusual keyboard layout that it wanted me to use. To play this game well, I'll need to go in and map the various commands to my trusty Fangpad (the greatest gift any company ever made to PC gaming).

In an effort to start doing more modern game...writing...stuff, I used my video capture software (that came free with my Nvidia drivers, by the way) to document my experiences, because "showing is better then telling", right? So, here is my first YouTube video of gameplay for my blog.



Yeah, probably not my classiest move, but it was something that caught my eye. Truthfully, I tired to record my first alien kill, but I mixed up the keys I needed to press. Oh well. I'm still new at this.