Monday, July 28, 2014

2014 Play Log - Valiant Hearts, Steam games, and SDCC

I'm going to mash some stuff together in this post so I can get back on track. It was originally supposed to be an in-depth review/essay on a great game I played, Valiant Hearts: The Great War. However, I put the following paragraph together (which I think came out quite nice)...

 Wars represent the worst of Mankind's creations. And it is arguable that the most abominable of these was World War I, or as it was known at the time, The Great War,  there having been no conflict before it that affected so many peoples. Never has there been a struggle between nations that was so wantonly profligate with human life over such trivial stretches of land. It was birthed from the Industrial Revolution gifting the Old World military's with killing power that they neither understood or could control. What was expected to be a short, "traditional" European battle turned into four years of trenches, machine guns, artillery barrages, and gas attacks.

Onto this blood-stained parchment of human created horror and suffering, Valiant Hearts writes its story.

...and everything I wrote after that was awful. Part of this was due to the fact that I wasn't able to write more right after playing. The lapse in time diminished some of my inspiration for better writing. I wanted to put down how the game made me feel and how the game played, but it all seemed too heavy handed (me, not the game). This is a wonderful story that is told by playing the game. Some of it is easy and some of it is even entertainingly silly. Some parts, like the repeated cries of the injured, are haunting even if you know that they are just looped sound clips. And it keeps a respectful connection to the actual struggle with historical notes and item descriptions, something more games should strive to do. The experience of playing Valiant Hearts will stay with me a long time as we head into this centennial anniversary of The Great War.

Now, on to some quick Steam game plays...

 Alan Wake's American Nightmare - I loved playing all the way through Alan Wake and the bonus content, and I was looking forward to exploring his ongoing adventure in American Nightmare. But I just couldn't take it. The whole tone of the game was different. Lost was the ominous tension, the tweed jacket, the quirky townsfolk, the tortured writer, the haunting music at the end of an episode, and the lush Pacific Northwest scenery. Instead we get some moron trying to do a Rod Serling impersonation every time something happens to our now automatic weapon equipped hack! Even Rod knew to only talk at the beginning and end of the show. Anything more is just idiotic parody.

 140 - If we received a video game from another planet, this is pretty much what it would look like. Interesting, but not worth staying with.

Adventures of Shuggy - I think I got this one free and that's good, because it is not my kind of game. Aside from really floaty platforming, the goal of levels is to pickup all the gems. I stopped playing games like this back on the SNES.

And that brings me up to date. Yes, I did go to Comic Con 2014, but game-wise it wasn't much to write about. But it does give one an idea or two for a game. For example, someone should make a game about how to sneak into Hall H, or the quest process of getting a Funko exclusive which includes defeating Stoner Dude to get into the line!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

2014 Play Log - Alan Wake - UPDATED

Alan Wake Image It took about 15 hours of play (ie, almost 2 weeks by my usual gaming schedule) but I finished Alan Wake.

You play the game as Alan Wake, a famous writer along the lines of Stephen King. He's "the good guy", but he has his flaws - a drinking problem, writer's block and a slightly rocky relationship with his wife, Alice. When she and the cabin the two have rented in a small Washington state town disappear (an event that appears to have happened years before but is never explained), Alan has to fight through numerous encounters with The Taken, people and things that have been possessed by The Darkness. His main weapon is unique to survival horror games - light, either from handheld flashlights or overhead lamps. However, to finish off the creatures he needs to go all Guns and Ammo on their asses with either a revolver, shotgun, rifle or flare gun. Who knew a writer could be such a good shot? Pools of light can also defeat The Taken and act as welcome checkpoints.

I played the game on Easy since I'd heard that you can get into trouble quickly by running out of batteries and/or ammo. Even with lots of both, I still found some of the fights challenging. The Taken will attack in groups and usually from more than one direction.

The game had an entertaining roster of characters (his agent, Barry, was funny) and good game mechanics for the shooting, probably a result of having been developed by the studio that did the first two Max Payne games. The particle effects when "killing" a Taken never got old. The graphics for the scenery, the great outdoors of Washington state, were very well done and especially nice on the PC.

Then there's the story. Sigh. Maybe the story sounded better when they were working on the game. Something in the lake, this Darkness, is making creative thoughts come to life and it seems to affect authors the most. Wake is the second writer to fall under it's spell, we being told about a previous writer and his troubles, but I never really understood who was who. A better backstory with real character models for cut-scenes would have helped. It was the kind of story that would have gotten a one star rating on Netflix. Let's face it, any game (or movie) that ends with the line, "It's not a lake. It's an ocean!" can't be expected to make much sense. But the thing that kept me playing this game was the way the story was presented, being narrated by the writer himself and him finding pages of the novel he's supposed to be writing. There were also the amusing Twilight Zone-esque TV shows that kept everything more than a little weird.

While it isn't a true sequel, I will be playing Alan Wake's American Nightmare very soon. It takes place after the events in Alan Wake and I'm hoping it will explain the ending.

*** UPDATE (7/16/14) *** - What do you call included DLC you didn't know was there until you finished the original part of the game? For me, I call it a welcome surprise!

I had gone back to play some of the video commentary in the game and noticed that there were two new chapters in the menu - The Signal and The Writer. These were apparently purchaseable DLC episodes that were included for free in the complete edition that I got on Steam. They take place right after the end of the main game, when Alan has been sucked over into the other world where The Darkness lives. I can't say it's doing anything to improve the overall story (you spend most of the time following the previous writer, Zane, as he tries to help you escape/wake-up from wherever Alan is), however it's been extremely entertaining - in some cases more than the original game. With only one exception (that I can tell), the location, character, and creature assets are just reused from the original game (saves on developer costs), but the dream world you are in has many surreal challenges to overcome like a rotating house and rocks that float in mid-air. There's also more humor (from Alan and an ethereal Barry) plus more explosive encounters. In some ways, if feels like the developer had a chance to go back and really push the engine (which they now had a better feel for) and be more creative without having to worry as much about ratings and deadlines. If anyone has played the full game and liked it, it would be a shame if they didn't also play these two DLC chapters.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

2014 Play Log - Somewhere in the Middle

You could probably just call this one a "filler". Since my last post, I haven't played any new games and I haven't finished any old ones. On the PC, I'm working my way through Alan Wake and on the Vita, Persona 4 Golden. I will obviously be done with Alan Wake way before P4G!

Like many games these days, I wish Alan Wake was about half the length it is. Don't get me wrong - it's not boring. I'm enjoying the story and exploration, but part of me would like it to be closer to movie length (or at least mini-series). Maybe what game designers need to do is make games with normal running times then have an option to play the "extended edition".

Persona 4 Golden is holding my interest and makes for a nice break from gaming at my desk. I'm only about 8 hours in, so there's a loooong way to go.

I behaved myself pretty well during the Steam summer sale. Of course, now I have a bunch of new games that I want to get to so finishing Alan Wake will be my primary goal.

It's been 6 months since I started my "24 Games in 2014" project. So far, I've gotten to play:

  • Alan Wake - Not originally part of the list, but I realized it should have been, so I swapped out Max Payne 3. (It can be part of the 2015 list.) Loving the storyline and doing a pretty good job of the combat. The game may be a little too combat heavy, but at least the "light-as-weapon" mechanic is different.
  • The Stanley Parable - This didn't take very long, but I'm glad I played it to see what all the fuss was about. Honestly, not that big a deal.
  • The Wolf Among Us - I've played 2 of the episodes of this, have the 3rd and 4th, but am having trouble getting back to it. Frankly, I don't really connect with the characters; not in the same way I did in The Walking Dead.
  • Diablo III - I really wanted to dive into this game and be enthralled...but it feels so "sterile" when you compare it to something like Skyrim or Amalur. Worse, I picked a character class who might as well be armed with magical Uzi's. Not enough up close and personal sword swinging.
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds - The only Zelda game I have ever finished was Link to the Past back on the SNES and I think that is making it hard for me to really get into this one. So much of this game was copied from LttP which is great for anyone who didn't play it. For me, it still feels like an update/mod of the original.
  • Mario & Luigi: Dream Team - *Sigh* Why do I keep getting games that I know I probably shouldn't have gotten in the first place because I didn't like the previous ones? These games are hard RPG's buried under the Mario license along with lots of annoyingly "amusing", overly redundant, and time-eatingly long dialog trees.
  • Tearaway - Ok, this one I really liked! Not only was it a fun platformer, but it gave a chance to really get to know what it was like to play on the Vita. And I found I liked it, better than my 3DS.
  • Device 6 - And back to the "not so good side". I gave this weird, text bending iPad game a try, but got stuck on the first "puzzle" and lost interest pretty quickly.
  • Infamous - I played a fair amount of this one (3 or 4 hours), but the actual story didn't work for me enough to continue with the it. As a starter game for a franchise, you get this problem where the "new thing" (in this case the main character's powers) becomes the designer's main focus and you start to feel that the rest of the game is just there to show it off. So you start to see repeated locations, repetitive tasks, and uninteresting side characters.
Well, that's 9 out of 24 - not even half. And a lot of the games still to play are pretty major titles. I guess I picked some of the easier ones to start out with!