31 July, 2016

Keepalive: Soma, Outlast, EDF 4.1, Yakuza: Dead Souls

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 31 July 2016

Soma (3 of 5)

DISCLAIMER: I cheated my way through Soma.  I used a mod that made the monsters blind.  They could still find me by sound and in certain scripted sequences could chase me, but that was it.  After Penumbra Overture, Penumbra Black Plague, and Amnesia: The Dark Descent, I've had enough of playing hide and seek.  It doesn't help that Metal Gear Solid V and Dishonored spoiled me by putting many more stealth tools in the tool chest.

That said, Soma was a good experience.  The setting is imaginative.  The puzzles are decent.  The production values are impressive.  Philosophically the game is at its best when it's putting the player in difficult situations and letting them decide for themselves what's ethical.  I don't think it actually makes any points other than people are dumb, which isn't news.

I'm similarly cheating my way through Outlast, but thanks to many quick scripted sequences, I'm being forced to hustle a good bit more than in Soma.  Outlast doesn't seem to have any philosophical dilemmas, but it's a solid scare fest so far.

I've been playing a fair amount of EDF.  I leveled my Ranger and spent some time working on my Air Raider and Wing Diver.  The Air Raider really needs co-op play to shine, and overall I've been happy with the players I've met online.

I'm in part three of four (I think) in Yakuza: Dead Souls.  It replaces the good but not great brawling with okay shooting and replaces human enemies with zombies in a fanciful "what if" story.  Ultimately I kind of don't care about the story.  And the mechanics / enemies aren't particularly great either.  The tragic tone also takes some of the fun out of things.  I don't know if I'll finish it.

Looking on Wikipedia I saw that Dead Souls came out only a year after Yakuza 4 and a year before Yakuza 5.  I think it may have gotten squeezed in the middle, resource-wise.

24 July, 2016

Review: Yakuza 4

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 24 July 2016

Yakuza 4 (3 of 5)

I enjoyed Yakuza 4.  The focus of the game was around having four different characters and telling their interwoven stories.  I liked the characters.  I liked learning their somewhat different fighting styles.  I played the game on easy because the engine's still pretty clunky and I don't want to bother retrying tough fights.  I just want to see what's next.

I don't really mean the story, though.  It was alright.  It tied into earlier games in nicely unexpected ways.  And it felt easier to follow than previous games which is an achievement for having multiple protagonists and timelines in the mix.  But women are treated poorly, and there's a tremendously bad plot twist.

I more wanted to see what random nonsense would pop up on the streets.  The street level crime wasn't as varied or interesting as previous games, but there was still random stuff that I did enjoy, like working at a dojo to train fighters or helping some homeless guys take care of some stray cats (though the actual game play parts of that line were mostly tedious).  I could go on, but that'd spoil the best stuff in the game.

It's got enough rough edges that it's hard to recommend (except to Japanophiles I suppose), but I enjoyed it.

19 July, 2016

Attention! Earth Defense Force 4.1 Is GO!

written by Blain Newport on Monday, 18 July 2016

I've only run through the first mission as all four classes and played the second mission online.  But so far everything works fine.  It even runs at 60 frames per second on my old GeForce 660, though we'll see how that holds up when things get crazy.  From what I can see on the steam forum, people seem pleased, except for people with AMD Phenom II processors who are experiencing some crash bugs.

There aren't as many options (no field of view control, no fancier types of anti-aliasing, etc.) as PC gamers might want.  The menus are clunky.  High resolutions don't do the art assets any favors.  But a real EDF game exists on the PC.  The world is a tiny bit better today than it was yesterday.  Thank you Sandlot.

The game is $35 for the first week, then goes up to the suicidally high price point of $50, so grab it now (or wait for the winter sale).

17 July, 2016

Keepalive: Journey, Tales From The Borderlands

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 17 July 2016

I don't really know why I dropped Yakuza 4.  I suppose when a game has multiple acts the places between are natural stopping points.  And the last act of Yakuza 4 features Kazuma Kiryu, the most known quantity since he's the protagonist of the first three games.  Plus the Yakuza games all sort of drown in their own melodrama near the end.  I'll get back to it when I want to wander the Kamurocho again, but there's no rush.

Earth Defense Force 4.1 should be out tomorrow.  They're still not taking orders and the Steam page is so bare bones it doesn't even name the four classes...  please don't suck.

Journey (4 of 5)

Journey is an game for PS3 by thatgamecompany.  You are randomly paired with other people online as you explore ancient, somewhat alien ruins.  It's pretty and atmospheric.  There's not a huge amount to it, but it's a good experience.

Tales From The Borderlands (3 of 5)

TFTB is an adventure game from Telltale set in the world of Borderlands, a series of first person shooters from Gearbox.

It sucks being smarter than the characters in an adventure game.  Watching them keep secret or blurt out information you know they shouldn't (and knowing almost precisely what the consequences will be) is bad enough in other media, but games ostensibly give you control, so it's particularly galling.  That happened in Life Is Strange.  But it was worse in TFTB.  At some level it's not about being smarter as much as knowing story-telling tropes.  But it undercuts the experience regardless.

That aside, TFTB is about what I expect from a Telltale game: pretty good writing and characters, player decisions that I want to engage with but are mostly cosmetic, and mediocre QTEs.  I knew all that going in and got what I expected.

15 July, 2016

Review: Life Is Strange

written by Blain Newport on Friday, 15 July 2016

Life Is Strange (3 of 5)

Life Is Strange is an adventure game that lets you rewind time to change your decisions.  I really enjoyed some of the theatrics / drama, and the puzzles were mostly good.  The time mechanics allow crazy things to happen.  But ultimately the characters are a little forced / random, and the ending blows.  But there were parts of a great experience in there.

14 July, 2016

Attention! Earth Defense Force 4.1 for PC releases in FOUR DAYS!

written by Blain Newport on Thursday, 14 July 2016

Steam page

I will be buying the game (but not the DLC.  I want to earn my weapons) as soon as they let me.  I will report back if it's a good port or not.

I love EDF.

I love the spectacle.  EDF plays out on a gigantic scale.  Giant ants come swarming over buildings.  Streams of silver space fighters are released by mother ships.  Giant robots tower over the player.  Player weapons knock down sky scrapers and send giant spiders pinwheeling into the air.  Fights can level city blocks.

I love the weapons.  EDF has crazy weapons.  Some are inaccurate.  Some are dangerous to the user.  Some fire in high arcs that make it challenging to hit.  Some require laser guidance from another player to reach their full potential.  Learning the weapons and how to best used them is it's own game.  And different map and enemy types make those choices meaningful.  A down side of that is that sometimes you just don't have the right kit and have to start a mission over.  But it's a puzzle and finding a solution, especially when it's highly unorthodox, is uniquely rewarding.

I love the nonsense.  EDF knows it's a silly thing.  The friendly AI cannon fodder talk trash to the bugs, freak out, and say random stuff about getting steak when the battle is over.  Meanwhile news and military broadcasts play up the scale of the devastation and the importance of success.  It's a big goofy melodrama.

The controls are clunky.  The friendly AI repeat themselves too much.  Depending on what class you are there can be rough difficulty spikes.  And the game reuses maps like crazy.  But I still love it.


If the port is good I will be inflicting co-op on anyone who will let me.

10 July, 2016

Parade of Meh

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 10 July 2016

I decided to try a lot of older games I wasn't sure I'd like, looking for a diamond in the rough.  It was just rough, but I at least got a good feel for what they actually were, not just their reputations.

I'm also still playing Yakuza 4, but I'm doing a lot of side content and wandering around, so it's slow going.  I just started the last quarter of the game.

Fuse (3 of 5)

Fuse has good qualities.  The graphics engine is good for the time, with scenic vistas and some nice lighting.  But ultimately it's a cover shooter based around combo-ing team abilities, and when playing with the AI, it's not that great.

Dead Rising (didn't complete)

The original Dead Rising didn't have combo weapons.  And the enemies are more lethal.  And the survivors are less intelligent.  You can make yourself stronger and overcome these issues, but even when I was decked out with three pairs of never-break mini-chainsaws, I wasn't enjoying myself.  At some level I feel like the game has a good rep and became a franchise because 360 owners were starved for first year content and Dead Rising was the only game (apart from Geometry Wars) that wasn't better on PC.

Golden Axe: Beast Rider (didn't complete)

Beast Rider is to God of War as Tootsie Rolls are to quality chocolate.  Beast Rider is a bland, poorly paced character action game with control issues, and very few of the things you do in the game feel satisfying at all.

Too Human (didn't complete)

Too Human is a character action game that's actually kind of nice early on.  It's got a unique control scheme which uses the right stick for melee attacks, so you just tilt the stick and flow around the battlefield.  It's relaxing.  Sometimes it's a little too relaxing and puts secrets and upgrades behind lots of walking, killing the pace.

Then it gets more difficult and it turns out the hit detection on larger bosses is problematic, advanced moves are kind of fiddly in general, and the tougher enemies are not more interesting to fight.  Plus it gets stingier with upgrades pretty quickly, which made me feel less rewarded for dealing with much harder foes.

It's got an interesting take on a far future based around Norse mythology.

Flower (didn't complete)

You are a flower petal.  Fly past other flowers to add petals and become a trail of petals.  Open all the flowers and move on to the next area.  It's very pretty to start.  But wandering around for five minutes because you missed some flower somewhere and can't progress at all kind of kills it.  I think I'd have liked Flower more if it had been less of a game.

06 July, 2016

Reviews: Transformers: Devastation, Dead Rising 3

written by Blain Newport on Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Transformers: Devastation (4 of 5)

I'm old enough to have had Transformers as a kid.  I watched the original show back when it was new.  So I may get more out of pressing right bumper to transform and hear that iconic noise than other people.

But as much of a kick as I get out of the nostalgia, I get more of a kick out of the feeling of control Transformers: Devastation gives.  Multiple times I found myself giggling with joy as I realized how much power and mobility the game allowed for.

In some ways the game goes overboard with options, with random weapon drops, four weapon slots per character, a weapon combining system, a random perk system / money sink, and experience points and credits.  Plus you have six different characters with subtle differences (except for Grimlock, the dinosaur robot, who is more distinctive).  At some level I don't care because you don't need to mess with most of it to complete the game on normal difficulty.  But it still seems like a lot of busy work and time spent in menus for an action game.

I suppose it was intended to distract from the fact that the game isn't long on content.  There's a city map you spend a lot of time in, a high tech map you spend a lot of time in, and a handful of set pieces, but that's about it.  And while you do fight a fair amount of named enemies, you spend a lot of time battling generic enemies and the named enemies are all re-used.

I probably would have felt cheated if I'd paid full price, but as it is, I had a great time.

Dead Rising 3 (4 of 5)

The Dead Rising games are games about killing zombies.
In silly outfits.

And, since the second game, using bizarre cobbled together weapons like this car battery sledgehammer combo.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, wandering around an evacuated downtown full of zombies is pretty amazing.  There's a hunting shop.  Let's get some guns.  I need food and I don't see a restaurant... maybe the gas station?  I wandered into somebody's house and am now wearing the basketball jersey they had hanging in the closet.  It's like the child's dream of getting free run of a toy store, only more violent.

It's kind of a shame when the gamey elements take over, but I like the other game that's in here too.  At some level I know it's just FnF (fight and fetch), but it didn't really bother me.  Between the weapons, vehicles, secrets, and learning the town, there was always enough to keep me feeling like an explorer.  Plus zombies.

01 July, 2016

Keepalive: Dead Rising 3, Yakuza 4

written by Blain Newport on Friday, 1 July 2016

In the first major section of Yakuza 4 the player controls Akiyama, a money lender and business person.  Akiyama owns at least one hostess club, a place where you can pay a lot of money to drink and chat with pretty ladies.  You can play a mini-game to manage and mentor the hostesses.  I didn't bother because it's creepy.
In the third major section of the game the player controls Tanimura, a young pretty boy cop who gambles while on duty.  He seemed like the type of guy who would go to a hostess club so I had him go to a club owned by Akiyama.  It sucked.  All the women seemed the same and had no facility with small talk.

I think it sucked because I didn't train them, which is awesome.

I'm in the last chapter of Dead Rising 3.  I feel like the game has an identity crisis.  It's trying to come across as more grim and realistic than previous games, but it's still Dead Rising, so I'm still attaching car batteries to sledge hammers and duct taping assault rifles to shotguns.  I'm enjoying myself.  Open world Dead Rising is really neat.  But those first couple hours where I was just messing around and didn't know almost any combo weapons were way more atmospheric than what followed.  I've seen multiple complaints about the gritty tone compared to the older games, but I thought that was kind of the best part, even if it was the least like Dead Rising.