28 June, 2016

Keepalive: Long Form Games, Dying Light: The Following

written by Blain Newport on Tuesday, 28 June 2016

I've been switching between a number of longer games lately.  Switching keeps things fresh, but drastically lengthens the time between write ups.  Currently I'm mostly playing Dead Rising 2: Off The Record with some Yakuza 4 thrown in.

It's not much of a spoiler to say that Off The Record is basically still Dead Rising 2, but I played Dead Rising 2 multiple times and this gives me an excuse to play it again.  I actually miss Chuck Greene and his daughter.  Replacing them with unattached Frank West lowers the stakes considerably.  Plus his camera mechanic makes Frank kind of a vulture.  On the plus side there's some new content.  Also, the game runs really well.  And the Steam integration even includes the ability to import your Games For Windows Live save file.  They got a lot of technical bits right.  I'm sad they didn't have the resources to do the same for Dead Rising 3, which by many accounts has performance issues.  I picked it up anyway to see how it behaves.  It'll go in my new PC hope chest if it chugs.

I started to play Yakuza 4 yesterday.  My character has just had a tearful reunion, and I was eager to see what came next.  But then some random guy in a yellow gi asked me to help his struggling dojo, so I took two young fighters (one trying to impress a girl and one trying to get some self confidence after losing his job) and trained them up to the point where they won local championships.  This was a fully fleshed out mini-game where you choose training activities for your fighters, upgrade your dojo with the prize money they win, and even go out drinking with them to learn what motivates them and build trust.  I'm guessing it shares underpinnings with the hostess management mini-game, but not knowing it was there still made it a ridiculous surprise.  The surprises are what keep me coming back to the Yakuza games.

Dying Light: The Following (3 of 5)

This is a random glamour shot at a scenic park.  You can see the tour buses parked below, the countryside, and Harran, the city from the original game.  The scale is awesome, even if I had to turn down the settings so much that everything looks all scratchy.

I enjoyed Dying Light a lot.  First person parkouring is still pretty great and makes many other FPS games feel stuck in the mud.  I'd forgotten how much I missed that freedom until I was stuck in a room with too many zombies and suddenly realized that windows, purely for looking / shooting through in most games, could be climbed through.  Oh yeah.  Like in real life.

Okay, so I still appreciate the core of Dying Light.  Unfortunately they added a buggy.  I'm not against the idea, but it didn't work for me.  The buggy sucks initially.  There are tons of obstacles on the roads so there's no feeling of freedom.  It's like they wanted the buggy to follow the same trajectory as the parkour.  It starts weak, but as you add abilities and learn the lines of the map, you gain satisfaction from mastery.  But starting from zero again was a drag when I already had maxed out parkour abilities.  The new abilities gained for the car didn't change the lines I could take through the map in interesting ways.  And, most importantly, I wanted the buggy to be a change of pace, and it wasn't.  It felt like the parkour but not as good.

I enjoyed The Following.  And even though the buggy wasn't great.  I'm glad Techland didn't just play it safe.

26 June, 2016

Keepalive: Steam Summer Sale, Retro Game Crunch

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 26 June 2016

The Steam Summer Sale is on until July 4.  Since they don't do daily deals anymore, you can browse sale items at your leisure.  My method of choice is going to Steam DB and looking at the deepest discounts with user reviews of 70% favorable or higher.  I didn't look at anything less than 70% off because that was still well over a thousand games to browse.  This is a good problem to have, although I would absolutely love the ability to build a filter list to never show certain games after I've viewed them and decided they're not for me.

Retro Game Challenge (3 of 5)

This is Shuten, one of the seven NES style games in Retro Game Challenge, and the only one I finished.  That's odd because I'm not much of a shmup guy, but Shuten does a couple nice things.  Firstly, you keep the gold you grab regardless of whether you finish the mission, so you're always making progress towards upgrades.  And second, you have a sword that reflects enemy bullets, so if it gets too bullet helly, just lay on the sword button and let the enemies eat their own spam.

Most of the other games were okay, but either wore out their welcome or just weren't my cup of tea to start with.  But for $2 I got five hours of fun puttering around with them.

22 June, 2016

Review: Assassin's Creed Brotherhood

written by Blain Newport on Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood (3 of 5)

ACB is not a bad game.  But it mostly just adds busy work.

The traversal mechanics are the same.  They're just as boring when you're scaling the umpteenth tower.  And they're just as frustrating when the character does things that make no sense, wasting the player's time.

The combat is mostly the same.  It seems easier, but it's been long enough that maybe I just forgot.  They add a bunch of weapons and tools you don't really need.

The main addition to the combat is the ability to call in trainee assassins with a single button press.  I didn't need it much, so I didn't use it much.  But a couple times when I was trying to tail or chase down a target and just needed some guards out of the way, it was pretty cool to be able to have my recruits jump them and get back to the task at hand.  It was less cool when they wouldn't despawn and I had to revert to an earlier checkpoint, but open world games are always janky.

They were also one of the sources of busy work as they needed to be sent on missions every ten minutes or so to get enough XP to level up.  As idle / incremental games go, it was pretty bare bones.  But I still became kind of attached, trying to make sure I didn't give my first two assassins (Paulo AKA Grape Face and Carlotta AKA Blondie) too many babysitting missions and being happy to see them kicking butt when called into to main game.

The other main source of busy work was the economy.  Buy businesses to get an income to buy more businesses.  Invest in businesses you already own to potentially make money but also to earn trade goods which you otherwise only get out of chests and off of one enemy type and are required to complete "merchant quests" to get some of the best gear, which you don't really need because the game isn't that hard.  Blah.

And don't take my statement that the game isn't hard to mean I want it harder.  My character often didn't respond as he should in combat, so harder combat would only add frustration.

To sum up, recruits were kind of cool.  The rest of the game was a dish twice reheated with a side of busy work.

20 June, 2016

Keepdead: God of War 3, Clive Barker's Jericho

written by Blain Newport on Monday, 20 June 2016

My first full Monday of not going to work... I breathe as a free man.

A free man who forgot to take the recycling out. :P

God of War 3 (3 of 5)

It was a bunch of big, dumb, bloody spectacle with the occasional boob for no reason.  It was okay.

I do enjoy their reimagining of Greek mythology and the ways the gods relate and behave.  They showed gameplay at E3 from the new game which will be Norse, so their treatment of that pantheon will hopefully be as interesting.

Clive Barker's Jericho (I gave it a 4 of 5 in 2008 and stand by that)

Jericho has a 63 on Metacritic.  I have a hard time reconciling that.  Yes.  It's a simple corridor shooter.  Yes.  It's a supernatural action movie, not a horror game.  Yes.  It's not Undying.  Yes.  It's only six hours.  Yes.  There aren't that many enemy types.  Yes.  It's mostly gray and brown.  Yes.  It has some QTEs.  Yes.  I got sick of Delgado sarcastically saying "That was easy" to the point where I wondered if the game was co-sponsored by Staples.

But it's fun to shoot monsters.  It's fun to use powers (most of them anyway).  I mostly like the characters, broad action movie stereotypes as they are.  And it's only six hours.  It's nice to be able to play a story beginning to end in a day.

Also, I feel sorry for a lot of the reviewers who never realized how great Jones can be.  Legionary enemies must have sucked for them.

(I had to download legacy PhysX drivers to get the game to work.)

Uncharted 3 (0 of 5)

The disc wouldn't read.  Apparently this is a very common problem.  Oh well.  I heard 2 was the best one anyway.

17 June, 2016

Keepdead: Uncharted 2, Infamous 2, Resistance 3

written by Blain Newport on Friday, 17 June 2016

I quit my job, so I started digging in on the old PS3 games I bought and never got around to playing.

Uncharted 2 (4 of 5)

Nathan Drake goes off in search of ancient treasure again. I got bored and stopped part way through Uncharted 1 because it just didn't move. Uncharted 2 moves pretty well, with traversal, puzzles, combat, and talky / atmospheric bits to maintain variety.

The set piece I've heard podcasters mention multiple times is the train sequence. There are actually multiple train bits, but the main one has you fighting your way from back to front of a train moving from a jungle up into mountains. You fight on top and inside as the train is winding its way to its destination. The gamer's natural enemy (helicopters) attack. There are a lot of games with train levels. Hell, Blood had a train level. But Uncharted 2's goes the extra mile. It's an impressive technical achievement that almost sunk the game.

My favorite bit in the game was the village wander. Nathan is following a man who doesn't speak a language Drake knows through the man's village. You can make Nathan try to talk to people to see if maybe someone else speaks English. You can pet bulls. And when you see kids playing you can make a funny face at them. I think the first bit is done through proximity and the others through button presses but with no prompts. The lack of UI makes these interactions seem more natural and spontaneous.

I petted two bulls. One of them was a little out of the way, and I wondered if I should back track and make sure I got them all. There might be an achievement. But that started ruining the magic, so I let the thought evaporate and pressed on.

Infamous 2 (3 of 5)

Infamous is an open world super hero game where you can complete the story as a good or evil character. Much as with Uncharted, I just couldn't push myself to finish the first game in the series, but the sequel was entertaining enough that I saw it through. Part of that was the way they parceled out new abilities. By the time I completed the first game's first zone (of three, if I remember correctly) I felt like I'd seen all the powers and didn't feel like just clearing a bunch of new territory of jerks was going to be much fun. The second game has you unlocking new powers or new variations on current powers throughout. It still drags a bit, and that's with me skipping tons of rinse and repeat side content. They even added a mission builder for players to make their own rinse and repeat side content. Not helping.

Infamous 2 also has train bits. You have to rescue some people from circus cage train cars.

Resistance 3 (3 of 5)

Resistance 3 is an alternate history game where the Tunguska meteor of 1908 carried a virus that turned people into high tech alien monsters. As the name implies, things don't go well for the humans, so you're a grizzled resistance fighter striking back at our alien overlords. (Breaking the pattern, Resistance 2 was the entry I couldn't finish in this series.) Resistance 3 is not a bad game, but it feels like a throwback. The visuals are good for the time, but the basic design feels like a PS2 shooter, mostly because there's no regenerating health. You have to find green canisters which sometimes drop from enemies. For being the most important item in the game, they're small and easy to miss, often being obscured by the corpse of the enemy who dropped them.

Resistance 3's train bit involves fighting off a bunch of jerks in jeeps and trucks (way too many to be remotely believable) while you try to escape on a train. I stopped shooting for a bit and realized that many of the enemies chasing us would just crash and die all by themselves. It was weird.