Monday, December 15, 2014

2014 Play Log - Just Trying Things Out

I debated whether or not to even bother with this, but I thought it would be good to at least scribe something. Most of my gaming other what's here has been tablet based as I just haven't had the initiative to dive into a serious title yet. (And by "serious title", I snobbishly say any game that doesn't have in-game app purchases as it's main reason for existing.)

I tried out a series of PS3 demos last week. They were:

Blood of the Werewolf Image Blood of the Werewolf - This one was developed by the same studio that did the 2D Bloodrayne game that I hated, and I quit it about five minutes after starting it.

Toybox Turbos Image Toybox Turbos - One of the games I used to play back in my SNES days was a top-down racing game based on the Micro Machines toys. Toybox Turbos is an updated version of that and it's simultaneously much easier and less interesting.

Tales from the Borderlands: Episode One - Zer0 Sum Image Tales From The Borderlands - I was hesitant to give the demo for this a try. While I loved the first Walking Dead game from Telltale, I didn't care for either the second one or The Wolf Among Us - was I just "done" with that style of gameplay? Add to that the incongruity of a point and click adventure game set in a FPS shooter world and you'd think it would be a recipe for disaster.  However, this one was so entertaining in the first half an hour that I decided to stop I could enjoy the full game when all the episodes are released!

LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham Image Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham - Well, first Lego messed with their winning formula by giving the figures voices in the games. Then, they managed to give what has always been a comfortingly simple game system a whole new level of aggravation by assigning multiple functions to buttons based on how you press them - quickly or by holding them down. It may make for a "deeper" platformer experience, but I just found it annoying.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

2014 Play Log - No-vember Bundle

November 2014 will be remembered as "No-Vember" since there were many things that happened that if I had had my choice, I would have said "No" to. (Not that saying "no" would have done anything.) As a result, I'm way behind in both my gaming "schedule" and updating this blog (neither of which are really very important, of course).

The month started with a bug (ie, virus) that got the better of me for most of a week. I had Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Day Zero Edition in my hands....and I couldn't stay awake at night long enough to play it. Oh well.

One game I did play a little of was...

 The Binding of Issac: Rebirth - There was always something about this game that put me off. The original (I played the updated version) has been on sale several times on Steam for practically nothing and has very high ratings, but the image of the little crying child/baby, lying on his side surrounded by monsters, bothered me so much I didn't want to buy it. If it hadn't been one of the "free" PlayStation Plus games for November, I still wouldn't have tried it. Now that I have tried it, I guess it wasn't as bad as I thought, but it is a bit unsettling anyway.

The story starts with Issac and his mom living a happy life together. Then mom starts hearing the voice of "God" tell her that to save her son, she has to sacrifice him! Mom grabs a knife and Issac jumps into the world's worst basement in history. What follows is a very Rogue-like game (more on that later) where dying happens a lot but the levels are always randomly generated. This gives the game considerably more replay value than something like, for example, Pix the Cat. If you die, your run ends. You don't really advance unless you clear 4 levels and a boss. Needless to say, this is not a game I will ever finish. I played it on the PS4 and Vita (since I got both versions in the deal). As a little diversion/time killer, it's not bad. I don't get killed so often that it's annoying, and have even taken out a level mini-boss once in a while, but it's still a rough game. A simple enough concept (sort of a Robotron-esque design) with some fun power-ups. I'll probably pick it up for a quick fix between other games - which isn't a bad thing to be.

Now, as for the issue of "Rogue"-like games: I'd like to go on record as being one of a rare cadre of gamers who can say, "I played Rogue, on a PC, in colored ASCII characters, somewhere back in the mid '80's." It looked like this:

...and it ate up huge amounts of my time!

The other game I played most of No-Vember was one I didn't even buy for myself. I got it for Diane because someone had mentioned on a podcast that it was like Animal Crossing with better quests. What it's like is a cross between a Zelda game and Skyrim, and I can't stop playing it!

Fantasy Life Image Fantasy Life - It seems odd in a way to be spending so much of my gaming time (something I don't have a lot of) on a fairly simple handheld game. I own a number of HD consoles and numerous unplayed Triple-A titles, but when the hour gets late, all I want to do is settle down on the sofa with my 3DS and do more missions and explore more areas in this game. There's no voice work - it's all reading and lots of it! My character doesn't talk but there's a "butterfly" that does the talking for me. Her dialog is really rather funny and everything is done in a fairly kid-friendly manner (it's rated E10, presumably because of the complexity and combat). But it wasn't until my first "boss battle" that I started to have real respect for the game.

The game gives you the option of about a dozen different "Lives" (ie, classes). Some are just for crafting items, and others are for combat. It becomes clear pretty early that you need to have experience in a few of them so that you can defend yourself and create items that you need to either save money or make it. I started as a Carpenter, added Tree Cutter,  then Mercenary since I needed to be able to fight well when I went looking for trees and when I was on the story missions. As I progressed up in levels for my Mercenary Life, I was able to knock out most creatures with little or no problem. (One thing I liked was that the game had some creatures in the wilderness that were not aggressive - I mean, would a deer just attack you in the forest? - which makes it more realistic.)

When I did all the quests and objectives for the level I was at, I found I had two to go that were much higher in value, but the game was insisting that I do at least one to advance. I headed over to the first one, which was closest to my area - a creature named Silverfang. I whacked it once with my great sword...and it did almost nothing to it! Silverfang then turned around and killed me in about 5 hits. Lesson learned; I'm not ready for this! So, I continued on my travels, visited the next city, bought armor upgrades, bought a new great sword, added an NPC to my party then went back and tried Silverfang again. The battle lasted a long time (I don't know exactly how long), and I used nearly all my healing potions while running around the boss and reviving my NPC (who was basically used as bait). When it finally fell and left behind a bounty to turn in I felt unusually proud of my efforts and realized that this game was deeper than I had given it credit for. Definitely a memorable boss fight! I don't know if I'll finish the whole game, but when I play it I will consider it a privilege and a good use of my game-time.

4 Elements Image 4 Elements - This is probably the most "casual" game I have ever played not counting Windows Solitaire. It combines hidden object, three or more matching, and find-the-differences mechanics into a single game with good graphics and sound. It's a pleasing way to pass time which this month has so desperately needed. When things are going to shit, a fun distraction is just what you need.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Play Log 2014 - Lords of the Fallen Standards

Lords of the Fallen Image Welcome to my third-in-a-row Gamestop rental review. No, this wasn't a keeper, but there's hope I might pick it up sometime next year when it drops in price.

Oddly, my initial reaction to this game was something that bordered on feelings of betrayal! It's hard to not think that game companies are skipping anything but the merest threads of a storyline in favor of being able to jump directly into the action. I figure that they a) don't want to spend money and time on story, b) don't think anyone who plays games now (teens to 20-somethings) will care, and c) believe that an extended introduction will make their games look like slow-starters which might affect their review scores.

While some of those might be true, I should have given some more consideration about where this game had come from, namely a developer I hadn't heard of before, and a publisher, Bandai-Namco, who isn't particularly known for deep, story driven games. Still, I knew more about the character and setting (not much, by the way) from previews on my podcasts than from what was shown in the game. Starting this game feels a bit like turning on the TV and watching a movie after it's been on for 20 minutes.

There were parts of this game that felt either rushed (like tutorials that only covered some features) or the victim of cost cutting measures late in development (I found what looked like a crawl space behind some bookcases, but had no way to crouch to go through). There were controller features that were listed in the manual but not on the settings screen in the game, for example.

Visually the game was, to be expected, stunning - a lot of special lighting and "dust" floating in the air. Combat was similar to something like Demon's Souls/Dark Souls, but a bit more forgiving. However, that didn't keep me from getting killed (a lot!) by the first boss. I did finally take him down, as seen here:

Probably the worst thing about this game, and the main reason I decided not to keep it, was that all of the non-boss enemies you fight respawn whenever you exit an area and come back. I even had a portal open up to a "bonus" zone after killing the first boss that had the same affect! It really saps your feeling that you've accomplished something when all the monsters you've battled pop back into existence when you reenter. In a way, I see it as another developer short-cut - it's much easier to just reinitialize an area than to try to keep track of what monsters died where.

All in all, not a bad game, but not one that's worth the full price of admission. When it hits the $20 mark (new or used), I'll give it a try again. In the meantime, I leave you with a little example of some of the surprises that this game provides:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Play Log 2014 - Within The Evil Within

The Evil Within Image 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.