A Really Late Blog on My Gaming in 2014

Is the sixth of January really that late? I think I posted a GOTY thing last year or the year before way into January. Shouldn't Game of the Year stuff be done when the year is over anyway?

Justifying my procrastination aside, I'm not even doing a list this year. Well, there is a list, but it doesn't make up the majority of what I want to post about this year. It's just some stuff I wrote about some stuff that I really liked playing in 2014, whether it came out in 2014 or not. I tried to keep it in 2014 but I didn't play a ton of 2014 releases, mostly due to not having a job between when I finished college and when I got lucky and stumbled across something decent.

Anyway, here goes! Stuff I played in 2014. Let's kick it off with something that turned a decade old in 2014!

The “My Opinion Of This Used To Be Lower” Award Goes To… Halo 2!

So you spend about an hour and a half there and then go gallivanting across the universe again.

I’m a Halo fan. I like all of the games to varying degrees. Halo 2 used to be one of those lower degrees, along with ODST. Earlier this year, I got the itch to play some Halo, so I played through all of the first game’s Anniversary edition – and then I played through all of the other first person Halo games (Wars and Spartan Assault aren’t included – I own Wars but never got into RTS’s and Spartan Assault looks like a subpar game).

Halo 2 still has some flaws. The first three levels are pretty stunning and actually quite excellent. The rest of the game never quite measures up to the first three levels – it doesn’t keep up that pace, it doesn’t keep up the interesting gameplay design, and some parts of it drag. But you know what Halo 2 does do well? Worldbuilding. Halo 1 introduces you to a single Halo ring in the middle of space and pits you against the Covenant and the Flood, and there isn’t really a singular antagonist. Guilty Spark kind of is, but he’s really just “the guy between you and destroying the actual bad thing”. Halo 2 not only gives the Covenant a face, but it also expands on their social hierarchy, gives you some a bit of insight into their government, and in general shows you a lot about them – and then upsets all of that to kick off a schism that separates the Elites from the Covenant. Keep in mind, this is only half of the game. About four hours, give or take an hour, are spent with the Arbiter and the Covenant side of things, and in that time we see so much about that side of the conflict, how it works, what its goals are. It’s not that these things are complicated, but they are shown to the audience very, very well, and not told to us with a lot of exposition. Master Chief’s side of this story is good, too, but it’s the Arbiter bits that I think make the Halo 2 campaign more memorable, and it’s mostly because of the Arbiter’s story. It helps that the Arbiter’s story in this game is actually a full-on story arc and not just a middle chapter with no real solid ground gained. Master Chief’s conclusion comes at the end of Halo 3, all of The Arbiter’s character arc is done here.

For the record, the rest of the Halo games are still pretty good, and I still think Halo 3 ODST is the least of them.

The “Game That You People Said Was Good For Some Reason” Award Goes To… Bravely Default!

No, this is not promotional artwork, this is an actual town in the game. And man, it looks great. I know it's pre-rendered, but even areas that aren't pre-rendered look really good.

OK, about that title, some people really like this game and that’s fine. I really, really wanted to like this game, but I can’t. It’s got a pretty bland and predictable story, and the only part that could be considered unpredictable requires you to essentially run through a Cliffnotes version of the game four times in a row. I knew about that before buying the game and said I’d be OK with it in the interest of good mechanics and… well, the mechanics here aren’t necessarily bad but they sure as hell ain’t no (insert Atlus’s entire 3DS output here). The “braving and defaulting” idea is great in theory but it mostly just means I’m braving four times for 250 damage each, rather than attacking once for 1000 damage, or something along those lines. Technically I’m going four turns in a row, but practically I never saw a reason to, and boss battles were never particularly hard. I just found the whole thing so blandly designed. Except for the art and visuals. Give credit where credit's due, this game looks absolutely fantastic. I would probably purchase a PC release just to play this game in a much higher resolution on a bigger screen. The game isn't overall bad, just disappointingly bland.

Consider the two Digital Devil Saga games runners-up, but those games have those SMT mechanics and those mechanics and the gameplay design using them are still pretty damn good.

The “Maybe Bravely Default Is Good But I Didn’t Think Much Of It Because I Was Comparing It To Giants” Award Goes To… Final Fantasy VI and Persona 4 Golden, Tied

...but FFVI still has better artwork than Bravely Default.

If you’re reading this, chances are you know what Persona 4 is. I finished Golden earlier this year, after watching the entire ER and playing P3FES last year, and like seemingly everyone else I thought P4 was pretty great. At this point, it can easily be considered one of those JRPG greats that everyone who ever tries JRPGs needs to give some time to, right behind Chrono Trigger and FFVI. Some people think the dungeons in Persona 4 are boring, and that’s fine, but I’d be happy if they made an entire Persona game focused on dungeons. Wouldn’t that be great? They could even make it a tile-based throwback in the vein of Etrian Odyssey or something. Persona 4 Golden’s turn-based combat feels on-par with SMT Nocturne’s to me, in terms of balance and strategy. Bump P4 up to hard like I did and I wouldn’t blame you for saying that you think P4G’s boss fights are actually better than Nocturne’s, and that’s one hell of a feat. It does get a little too grindy at times and never make me go back to find a fucking key in your random dungeon, but P4’s combat remains satisfying and challenging throughout on Hard.

The “I Should Have Played More Of This” Award Goes To… Legend of Grimrock 2!

And it's much easier on the eyes, too!

No, really, I should have. This game came out right around the time I got a full time job and my life started picking back up – not a good time to dive into a slow-paced very long atmospheric dungeon crawler. But what I’ve played shows that it’s a damn, damn, goddamn good one of those and you need to play it if you have even a passing interest in puzzles or RPG’s or good things. I also need to play it and I’ll get to it as soon as I finish messing with…

The “Game I Definitely Should Have Bought Instead Of Titanfall” Award Goes To… Dark Souls II

My brother called my character a "dumb atheist", which is totally fine by me

I’m still playing this game, I’m getting close to 20 hours in and I’m really enjoying it. Dark Souls I is the kind of game that I should love. Dark, oppressive, lonely atmosphere? Exploration? Remarkable difficulty? Not a particularly traditional story? Sounds a lot like Nocturne! I love Nocturne! And sounds a fair bit like Super Metroid, too! I love Super Metroid! But I never did. I could talk about why at length, but it basically boils down to me getting invaded. I don’t want any part of that, and the idea of another human being popping into my lonely game to stab me in the back sounds like the antithesis of why I care to play such games in the first place. I wound up buying Dark Souls II and putting the .exe behind a firewall so I'd never have to deal with the online stuff. Why didn't I think of that before?

Dark Souls II is pretty great. Personally, I think I've settled on using Vengarl's armor and a fully upgraded Greatsword for the rest of the game. I'd like to use the Smelter Demon's sword but a) not everything is weak to fire and b) the stuff to upgrade it is rare, so the regular-ass, notched, worn, old, Greatsword +10 is what I'm using. I also want to be fast, so I'm not using heavy armor at all. Instead, I've got 40 points in Vitality at the moment and a ring that raises my equip load, so I've still got a medium roll. As soon as I got enough strength to wield the Greatsword, I actually went naked for a few hours so I could keep a faster roll until I got my Vitality up enough to equip some real armor.

A side note - I thought you guys said this game was hard. I just got the King's Ring and I've only had trouble with The Pursuer and The Smelter Demon so far. I have finished off most other bosses in one, two, maybe three tries. I'm not trying to go "hey, I'm a badass!", but if there's one complaint I have about Dark Souls II, it's that a lot of bosses feel the same. Many of them feel like The Pursuer again. If I'm not dodging things the same way I dodged The Pursuer's attacks, I'm fighting bosses whose attacks take so long to wind up that I can go make a sandwich before I have to react. The eight and a half hours I played of Dark Souls 1 was way harder than anything I've come across here. Some regular enemies have given me trouble but not tons. It's not easy, certainly, but it's not brutally punishing either. Just be patient and pay attention to when you should hit.

The “Best Video Game Released in 2014” Award Goes To...

If you’ve seen me post anything about Shovel Knight, it’s probably been associated with the phrase “best game released this year”. And it is. It’s so great. My first console was actually the SNES so I played the successors of the games that Shovel Knight was based on, so maybe my view is a little bit different? In any case, Shovel Knight pushed all the right nostalgia buttons without feeling like it was pandering to me with references and ideas from those older games. Instead, it took some things that worked, refined them greatly, and put them in a game that is designed and plays beautifully. It’s a must-play in my book. I just don't have any complaints about it whatsoever, and I don't really want to bore you with things you've heard about Shovel Knight elsewhere.

The “2nd Best Video Game Released in 2014” Award Goes To...

I'm glad I went searching for images because I totally forgot about this! Er, does anyone know when it's coming out? Also were you looking for something relevant?

Basically a runner-up category because Wolfenstein The New Order stuck out to me almost as much as Shovel Knight this year. FPS games with good stories have become fairly common, which is surprising when considering how meatheaded the genre is often assumed to be. Wolfenstein The New Order takes the original FPS meathead and turns him into a human. He’s still a walking death machine, but he’s a walking death machine who seems like an OK guy, and sometimes you really could see him having a BBQ one sunny Saturday afternoon, with a few kids running around and a cold beer in his hand. This is completely at odds with practically every other war hero in every other video game, ever. And the game does this while still being silly and gory (though, frankly, I found the gory parts mild in comparison to some other shooters, but then I played Brutal Doom around this time).

It gets the gameplay right, too. It's more than just competent, it's a downright blast to just play Wolfenstein: The New Order.

My only real complaint with Wolfenstein is the moon level. You don't have much ammo with your regular weapons, so you're forced to use energy weapons. This would be fine if you didn't have to keep running back to the damn chargers on the wall - none of the weapons really hold all that much ammo, so you're chained to recharging it during a battle instead of the fun running and gunning you've been doing since the beginning of the game.

The “Best Mod I Messed With in 2014” Award Goes To… Brutal Doom

I can't find a picture that is a) representative of Brutal Doom and b) something that won't get me banned, so here's someone painting a room red instead. You pretty much do this anyway.

Have you ever played a game where you can almost literally paint the walls red with blood? Would you like to make a place look like the lawnmower scene from Dead Alive/Brain Dead/whatever the fuck it’s called? Then have I got the mod for you!

I am not often bothered by gore in video games. It’s so fake and over the top, more so than most movies would ever even try to be. I played Brutal Doom for a few hours and walked away from it more than a little bothered, but then I came back to it. It started off disgusting, and it remained disgusting, but I was kinda fascinated at just how far SgtMarkIV had gone in this fairly popular Doom mod. I wound up finishing Doom 1 and 2 with the Brutal Doom mod and I still fire it up from time to time for what might be the most ridiculous gore I’ve ever seen in video games. God, it’s such a fucking mess.

The “Here’s A Fucking List Anyway” Bit

5. Titanfall – I probably won’t ever play Titanfall again. The number of people using the Smart Pistol just seems too high, and I was too frustrated the last time I played it to care. It feels like they nerfed the R101C so that it’s kinda useless against the Smart Pistol and nothing else feels useful against guys using the Smart Pistol. So now I’m running around trying to shoot guys who don’t even have to aim and that’s pretty frustrating, whereas before I could usually kill them just before they got a lock on me. But towards the beginning, when my complaints about the Smart Pistol weren’t so prevalent and I was running around, weaving between Titans, taking them out on foot, killing other pilots, mowing down dumb AI enemies – man, that was fun. And exhilarating. And tense. And exciting. If they make a Titanfall 2 and they remove the Smart Pistol, or nerf it to the point of uselessness, count me in.

4. Dragon Age Inquisition – This game isn’t good enough to change the minds of those people who were saying that this was Bioware’s “last chance”. It is good enough to make most of them grumble while they play it anyway, for God knows what reason. Full disclosure, I haven’t finished the game, I played about 25 hours and then gave it a break to play the next game on this list. Still, I bought this to run through magical fantasyland with some “dark” tendencies (read: not really dark, just fantasy-ass fantasy) and that’s exactly what I got. Huge, pretty, open areas, lots of stuff to do, some RPG stuff to mess with, crafting, etc... you know what? Dragon Age Inquisition is kind of overstuffed and nothing in it is stellar, but there is something in here for anybody who even remotely has an interest in open world RPG’s and I like a lot of the stuff in here, so count me in. It’s not stellar in any department but it’s pretty good in most and it’s basically crack-cocaine to anyone who wants or needs to do everything in an area before moving on.

3. Dark Souls 2 – I’ve described this one above

2. Wolfenstein: The New Order – again, described above.

1. Shovel Knight – So what if it’s “another indie platformer”? This game is proof that 2D platformers can still be relevant and good and fun and they need to remain a thing, so play it. Really. It’s so great.

Some Other Stuff

All of this is spoiler'd because this is actually a fairly long blog post and I don't want to make it seem longer, but there's more I want to write about!.

What did I miss?

Not so much "missed" as "haven't got around to playing much of yet".

I own Divinity, Transistor, Wasteland 2, The Banner Saga, Thief, and the PC release of Valkyria Chronicles, most of which I plan to play through at some point. Wasteland 2 is iffy. I feel like that game wastes a hell of a lot of time doing stuff. Can I fast travel to places I've already been? Can this lockpick be a "hit if I have the skill, miss if I don't" sort of thing? Can I have a medpack that heals everyone instead of waiting for some bar to fill up? I like the combat and the exploration and the setting and the writing is even pretty good but I don't really want to wait... and wait... and wait for seemingly trivial shit to happen. It's not much waiting in individual spurts, but you might spend ten minutes waiting for shit to happen for, say, thirty minutes of play. Or, well, that's what it felt like, I totally just pulled those numbers out of my ass.

The rest of that list consists of games that I'm generally interested in and I'll probably beat the ones that are twenty hours or less. The only game 2014 game I can think of right now that I don't own yet and still want to play is Alien Isolation. I may own South Park one day but, eh, I feel like I can live completely without South Park.

What am I doing in 2015?

Working! Moving out! Maybe finding a better job! Oh, gaming-wise. For January, I want to finish up Dark Souls II and play Resident Evil later in the month. I'd like to sandwich Splinter Cell Blacklist in between those two just to break up all of the darkness in both. To be fair, Dark Souls and Resident Evil have very different forms of "darkness", but they're both fairly grim in their own ways and I want to play something a little lighter. Never played a Splinter Cell game before, so Blacklist will be it if I manage to finish Dark Souls II before the 20th, which I probably will.

...oh, what's actually coming out in 2015 that I want to play? Nothing off the top of my head that I'm certain will come out this year. Persona 5 and Doom 4/The Doom/Doom 2015/whatever are both supposed to come out this year, but we haven't really seen much of either and I'll believe that Doom is out only when I'm holding it in my hands. The Witcher 3 is supposed to be coming out and it looks cool but I couldn't really get into The Witcher 1 or 2, as much as I tried with both.

Anyway, that's my 2014 year in gaming! I hope you enjoyed reading it, I hope 2015 is one of the best years this community has ever seen, and I hope 2015 has some way better games than 2014 did! Wait, you didn't think I was going to be the only guy writing up something about 2014 without mentioning how it kinda sorta wasn't so hot overall, did you?


A (Short) Defense of Skyrim

I have, for a long time, held Skyrim as my personal favorite game of the generation. To this day, it's a bit of a divisive game - some people claim it's pretty boring, some people strongly dislike its mechanics, etc. Of course those are valid opinions and I understand them, but I wanted to write down what I liked so much about the game. So I did. And I wasn't going to post it to Giantbomb, but after finishing it I thought I might go ahead and do just that. So, here it is.

I can’t sit here and tell you that Skyrim is a perfect game. Far from it. You even have good ground to stand on if you want to make a case for Skyrim as a bad game. I understand those reasons, I could elaborate on them myself in an article as long as this one if I so wished. Deep as they are, though, Skyrim’s flaws are easily ignored by me in favor of its world.

Skyrim is a place of rolling plains, shimmering ice caves, dark ruins, and great mountains. Scaling one of these mountains allows you to see a majestic vista below, full of trees, snow, plains, towns, cities, and other mountains off in the distance. Look up at night, and you’ll see an aurora borealis, a northern lights display that falls short only of the real thing. Wait until the morning and you can see the sun’s brilliance shine across those snow-capped mountains and you’ll find rays of its light shining through a tree’s leaves. On a grand scale, Skyrim is the most beautiful game I’ve ever seen. That I can be a part of this world, and I can go anywhere and do anything, only adds to that grandeur and that beauty.

Up close, Skyrim doesn’t lose any of its luster. Every plain, every mountain, every city, every cave, and every ruin has its own individuality. No single place in Skyrim is an exact repeat of another, save for perhaps the inns outside of cities that pockmark the landscape. Making a bee-line from one place to another is almost impossible as you stop to discover new places to visit and new dungeons to dive into. Towns and cities have many citizens walking about, talking with each other and going about their business. Go into Whiterun and you can hear characters chatter about the feud between two big families in the town, talk about the state that Skyrim is currently in, a woman complaining about her husband never leaving the Jarl’s palace, and more. Peek your nose into a dungeon and you’ll find various treasures, monsters and traps. If you’re lucky, you might find something that reveals a new quest or a new Shout or any other number of things that might catch your interest.

I am no Elder Scrolls lore expert, but a defense of this game cannot go by without some mention of the story and the lore. You can find books scattered about the world that tell you what kind of stories exist in Skyrim. These books encompass practically anything that can be placed between two covers, and there you’ll find plenty of information about gods, history, characters, and even details on how to, say, work a special forge near Whiterun. Outside of the written word, you can talk to practically anyone to hear opinions on Skyrim’s war, current events, gossip, and more.

The final detail I must describe is this game’s music. Previous Elder Scrolls games have had a largely triumphant soundtrack. Morrowind starts with triumph as you emerge from the boat in shackles and ragged clothes. Oblivion’s music tends to have an air of whimsy about it, especially some of the town tunes. Both of these soundtracks are great, but Skyrim’s gives a distinct feeling of bleakness. It is not a soundtrack without triumph, but it also isn’t one without sorrow. It’s largely made up of slower, deeper sounds that really help to deliver the world’s desperation.

And if you’ve made it this far, then here is where I must wrap all of this together. What makes Skyrim different from other RPG’s? After all, doesn’t practically every RPG have towns that try to give off a feeling of a living, breathing community? Can’t you talk to everyone in Dragon Age Origins? Doesn’t Just Cause 2 have some brilliant vistas of its own? Doesn’t The Witcher 2 have those small details? Yes, but none of these games come together quite like Skyrim does. There’s a certain atmosphere of bleakness and dark times in Skyrim that no other game I have ever played gives off, and it’s only compounded by the northern, harsh conditions that these people live in and the uneasy, constant threat of another war erupting. You can spend all your time diving in caves if you want to, but you would be ignoring the larger conflict sitting above ground. I’ll be the first to admit that actually participating in the conflict between the Stormcloaks and the Empire isn’t a great quest, but the talk that you hear from citizens surrounding it does so much to cement the world. The discussion of troubles and the harsh world that these people live in does just as much to tell you that, even without a war, there would be considerable issues to deal with. And yet these people keep living on, and Skyrim does a fantastic job of placing you among them.

In any other form of fiction, this would seem cliché, but Skyrim places you right in the thick of it and it does so in the best way I’ve ever seen. Are any of its parts perfect? No, but Skyrim gives off such an aesthetic brilliance and absolutely nails its bleak atmosphere and tone so well that I can’t help but forgive its inadequacies, and its high points appeal to my own specific interests so directly that I can’t help but call it my favorite game of this generation.


The Ten Best Games I Played This Year Are...

...well, first off, note the wording on that. There are some 2013 games on here, but when making a top ten of 2013 list I found myself including entries that I kinda didn't think were GOTY material. Good, yes, but there were way better games I played this year that I wanted to give more attention, so some of these are games that I finished for the first time this year but did not come out this year. And some I haven't even actually finished, I've just enjoyed what I've played so much that they belong.

For the record, I did play The Last of Us, and I did enjoy the story and the writing and the cutscenes a whole lot. But I didn't enjoy significant portions of the gameplay, and I have a hard time putting a game on an awards list when its actual gameplay has problems. It's definitely well-worth playing for the visuals, the story, the environment, tone, setting, atmosphere, and pretty much everything except gameplay.

So... here we go!

10) Grand Theft Auto V

This dude was seriously considered for character of the year. And he won. I hate this guy.

I haven’t played much of the GTA series before. I’ve played a few hours of the fourth game and about half an hour of one of the PS2 games on my cousin’s PS2 a long time ago. And about five minutes of one of the PSP ones. And I haven’t really finished GTA V yet. Hell, I haven’t even quite made my way to the second heist yet, so maybe I haven’t made my way to the best parts yet. I haven’t made it partly because college tends to get in the way of long-ass games like this, and partly because I spent a lot of my time simply admiring the game world. I rarely pay attention to the environments in open-world games and couldn’t picture much of their worlds in my head, but for GTA V I can think of several places. And not big places that you’re constantly visiting, either, just something as simple as a pool in a backyard or some places in the northern parts of the map or some bit of the highway that I ran off while policemen were chasing me or the sewers that I spent two hours doing loop-de-loops around. It’s hardly perfect (surely Rockstar can afford someone who can write better console aiming code so you don’t have to default to a lock-on? And why does controlling planes and helicopters fucking suck?), but then few games this massive are. And here, the world is both massive and finely detailed and full of crazy, strange, weird, and worthwhile things to do.

9) Shin Megami Tensei IV

Spoiler Alert: This is Lucifer, which makes SMT IV the stealth most sexist game of this year.

My opinions on this game have fluctuated quite a bit. I think I suffered from hyping myself up too much. Its predecessor, Nocturne, is brilliant and I loved every inch of that game. This one... not so much. Don’t get me wrong, it’s number nine for a reason, but that comes with the caveat that the story falls apart at every seam and the first and last five hours of the game are weirdly unbalanced in that the former is very hard and the latter is very easy. The middle thirty five hours or so of that game, though, are pretty great in both mechanics and atmosphere. The game does a really good job of showing you the oh-so-perfect, idealistic (or so it appears) upper world of Mikado and the chaotic, post-apocalyptic literal underworld of Tokyo. And the game also does a great job of presenting you with interesting demons, bosses, dungeons, and treasures to find. I’m currently on my second playthrough of this game and I’m completely disregarding the story. There’s no payoff there, but there’s tons of payoff in filling out my Demonic Compendium and fighting bosses and other demons and doing a lot of the sidequests that I didn’t do before.

8) Fire Emblem Awakening

If you're one of those people that's squeamish when feet are shown, then this game is for you. No feet, whatsoever. Except maybe in those animated cutscenes, in which case nevermind.

This was the first turn-based strategy game that I ever really liked. I’ve tried X-Com and Disgaea since then but, really, this is the one that I’ve come back to a few times. Like a few other games on this list, I haven’t finished this one, but it’s not for lack of playtime. My 3DS says I’ve got 60 hours of this game logged, about 15 of which were actually my brother’s. I’ve just been doing all of the random encounters and working on the paralogues and marrying people off. The only real issue it has, for me, is the way it sometimes tosses new enemies into the battlefield, which sometimes feels a little cheap. It’s also an issue because I like picking the battlefield clean of enemies. But, hey, that’s not a big deal, especially considering how great the rest of the game is. Every character is given a personality, a unique name, and some dialogue; even though the characterizations are usually pretty thin, it’s enough to make you feel bad when one of them goes down. I played on Casual because I don’t like restarting my 3DS whenever someone died, but I still felt bad when someone went down just because I knew it was my bad playing that killed them. I also felt great when one of them succeeded or got really lucky, especially against a powerful enemy.

7) Tomb Raider

You'll want to protect her, probably because it's the easiest job you'll ever have to do.

So the story is competent at best and there’s some dissonance between the way they want to portray Laura and yadda yadda yadda. Did you see the arrow that just went through that motherfucker’s head and caused him to do a backflip? Awesome! Oh, yeah, and solving tomb puzzles and whatnot to make a WW2-era shotgun upgrade into a modern shotgun is pretty goddamn game-y but then everything in this game is pretty game-y when you think about it. And that’s one of the things I loved about this game – it didn’t try to hide game-y parts in service of a narrative that I didn’t care about. It was proud to have campfires that you can fucking teleport between, specifically climbable walls, curiously hidden tombs, loads of collectibles, etc. And on top of that it was one of the best third person shooters I’ve played this generation. I like it because its gameplay was solid and it then built interesting set pieces on top of that, not because its gameplay merely worked well enough to get through all of the impressive set pieces. It’s Uncharted done right, and it’s damn good.

6) Final Fantasy XII

Yes, it's true. This man has no dick.

Never thought I’d put this on an awards list. Neither the mechanics nor the world open up for about 8 hours. I played it off an on for an hour or two once or twice a year, for two years. And then, suddenly, the game becomes pretty big and you’re going places and you’re doing things and you’re progressing the story and, before you know it, you’ve got 30 hours invested into this game and you’re ready for more. I only started playing this in November and haven’t managed to quite finish it yet, but I’ve found myself very interested in the story and most of the characters and the gameplay. Sure, it plays itself some, but you’re really just setting up parameters that do what you would have done anyway. I can totally see why you wouldn’t like this game, but I really enjoy it.

Also, you have to roam around towns as Vaan, which becomes far more bearable when you just think of him as the go-getter while everyone else stops at the local Bar and Grill.

5) Persona 4 Golden

Truly a masterpiece in writing.

You guys know. C’mon. I don’t even need to describe this game. I’ve seen all of the Endurance Run but haven’t finished the game myself, I’m about 25 hours in and in Rise’s dungeon. One thing I’ve noticed while playing this and P3FES is the super quick gameplay loop in which this game runs. You can pick it up and play it for fifteen minutes and get something done and it just feels a little satisfying every time. You’re not going to play it for an hour and not make any headway against a tough area of a game or feel like a level is too long. If you’re tired of the dungeon you’re in, Goho out of there and do a social link or two, then come back.

4) Persona 3 FES

I don't know if Persona 3 wins the "most emo art online" award, but it must certainly be in the top ten, what with the main character looking like he puts Fall Out Boy on repeat, kids shooting themselves in the head, and an emotionless robot-girl who is in a vulnerable, helpless-looking position plastered all over approximately 3/4 of the official art for the game.

Well, I like this game for largely the same reasons that I like Persona 4, except I actually think the writing and story here is better. Not tons better, but I think it holds up a little better under scrutiny and doesn’t immediately make you question motivations and such in the last few hours of the game like P4 does. Persona 4’s dungeon crawling mechanics are better, but there are some really great fights in Persona 3 FES and the final boss was one of the most memorable in a long time.

3) Bioshock Infinite

Pictured: Six month's salary of your average working class person.

This is, no joke, the only game that I finished twice this year. I can point out some problems with its gameplay, and many people have pointed out the issues with its story, but I don’t care. I was quite wrapped-up in its finale and was pretty satisfied by its ending, even after giving it some thought. It was something of a brain-bender and it’s got plenty of holes, but I don’t think that Ken Levine was looking to “plug the holes”. I think he was trying to give the story’s ideas and characters some conclusion to this whole thing, and in that I think he succeeded. Besides, like Jeff Gerstmann has said, anytime you deal with either time travel or dimension hopping you get logic holes and issues. Here, there are both.

I also get to slide on skyhooks in a city above the clouds and jump off and bash someone off the other side of the ledge with a skyhook, then send a flock of crows to take out a few dudes coming after me, then shoot any other dudes that are coming after me. So how is this game not fun again?

2) Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan

Matt Rorie's anime alter-ego

OK, look. Wizardry-inspired dungeon crawlers aren’t very popular. But something about this particular game really struck me. It started out with a devilish grin derived from the stupidly hard (but very balanced) difficulty. Then it grew to a certain satisfaction from finding treasure boxes in the dungeon. Then I found that I’d finished drawing my first map and I felt even more satisfied with my amateur cartography skills. And then the game drew me even more in when I found that I had to lead gigantic, pissed-off bears to equally gigantic piles of logs so they would clear them out in their blind, ferocious, one-shot-my-entire-party anger (and then there’s something to be said for the satisfaction that comes from beating them using only auto-battle forty hours later). And then I managed to kill one of those FOE’s, incredibly over-leveled enemies that you often have to navigate around. Finally, I got to the first stratum’s boss, a massive red bear, and managed to take him down. And then I started to realize the crazy number of class and skill combinations I could have used to do that entire thing. The sheer number of skills you can mix and match to form tactics and strategies is pretty staggering, and that it’s all quite balanced makes the whole thing a very impressive mechanical achievement.

Make no mistake, though. This game is all mechanics, through and through. There’s no voiced dialogue, and not really a ton of dialogue considering the game’s length. There’s context given for why you’re doing what you’re doing, but just barely enough. The world is made up of square tiles that look the same. Sure, the game has an aesthetic and an art style, but that’s hardly relevant. I would play this game if its art consisted of nothing more than lines, because it would largely be the same game (though I’d rather keep the aesthetic, it’s not entirely pointless). And all of these mechanics are just extremely well-balanced. Difficult and brutal, but always fair. I don’t think I’ve ever been one-shotted, and I somehow almost always manage to escape from encounters with FOE’s if I accidentally fell into a fight with one. I do wish that the game’s leveling moved faster so that I could unlock more skills, and I do wish it didn’t take as much time to develop new party members, but those are pretty minor nitpicks. Etrian Odyssey is the best game I’ve played this year from a pure mechanics perspective.

Also the music is just plain awesome. All of it. I can't name any songs that I don't like hearing.

1) Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne

I bet this game makes for some... ah... "interesting" cosplays.

So where do I start with this one? It’s pretty much the game that got me into dungeon crawlers in the first place. It’s not first person but it might as well be, with clearly marked tiles all over the place, damage floors, floors with holes in them, random encounters, insanely hard bosses, and not really a ton of story. Actually, more on story later.

I did claim that Etrian Odyssey had better mechanics, but I’d tell you that this was the better overall package. The press-turn system in Nocturne sounds like something that wouldn’t lend much depth, but in reality it’s what makes this game’s battle system. Essentially, when you hit an enemy’s weakness or get a critical hit, you get an extra turn. If you miss or hit something it deflects, then you lose a turn. The enemy is also under the same rules. It’s also a game of buffs – like the press-turns, this sounds like a trivial difference but in reality, learning and knowing the buffs and debuffs is absolutely crucial to every boss fight past Matador. Weaknesses, strengths, buffs, and press-turns all play into everything you do and it’s such a brilliant combination. It’s also more difficult than Etrian Odyssey, and sometimes unfairly so. And it has a far fewer number of skills, which is why I said that it’s slightly less impressive mechanically.

It has everything else in spades, though. Did you ever think that a JRPG could have a lonely, oppressive atmosphere in a post-apocalypse where only five humans are left alive? No? Well, this is it. It’s one of the darkest apocalypses I’ve ever seen and it’s chock full of tragedies and a lack of hope. Forget The Last of Us, that world is going to get back on its feet. This world? It’s dead. And that’s pretty much the point. You exist for the purpose of choosing a direction for a new world, or destroying the world altogether and leaving only a blank wasteland. The story is pretty minimalist. You’re only given what you need to know, and nothing more. But the way it’s presented, and the world you’re placed into, is so original and unique and weird and striking and downright awesome, from top to bottom. It quickly became one of my favorite games of all time and I’d say that you should give it a try if you ever wanted a new spin on the post-apocalypse.


Uncharted 3's Mediocrity And A Dilemma Between P3FES And P3P

Remember that blog I did a while back and said that I was going to try and make it a more regular occurrence in an attempt to start completing games? Well, here's part two of (hopefully) many! Still not sure when and how often I'll be able to do this but I'll eventually get the ball rollin'.

UNCHARTED 3 SPOILERS IN THE PLOT PARAGRAPH. You'll know it when you see it.

Uncharted 3

If you've ever heard me say anymore than half a sentence about the Uncharted series, then you know that I think it's a fairly mediocre third person shooter with some occasionally witty dialogue and some pretty graphics. And Uncharted 3 does... absolutely nothing to change my opinion.

So where should I start delivering my thoughts on this game? Well, what about the good stuff? It's technically astounding that this game runs on the PS3 at a generally good framerate. It's quite a pretty game for a console game, and it's just full of stuff to gawk at. Well, it is if you've never played a PC game. You're right, I'm going there. Compared to the PC games that I played for quite a while before suddenly jumping interests to JRPG's, none of this stuff really made me go “wow, that looks good”. It always came with that “for a console game” qualifier”. Back to good stuff – the set pieces are often very exciting and interesting, at least until you leap off a ledge you thought was the right one but wasn't because the game sometimes doesn't do a good job of directing you where you need to go when you're being chased/chasing someone. Or maybe until you try to make a jump but don't quite make it and think that you're supposed to go somewhere else, only to find out that the original jump was the right one and the game just decided to let you fall that time just to be a dick. Or maybe you weren't entirely sure which ledge to leap to because some look like they can be jumped on and some can't. All right, all right, I said mediocre and not bad! The dialogue is mostly well-written and good enough, and the characters are generally consistent and likable. Except... I'm kidding, there's nothing more to say on that front.

So what about the bad? Well, nothing really strikes me as actually-bad, just plain mediocre. The shooting controls (as compared to other console shooters, not the mouse) feel awkward and unrefined, for one. They're OK, but popping off headshots feels like an exercise in luck and frustration instead of honed skill and precision. Considering that some enemies have nutty amounts of health unless you put lead in their craniums, that can be quite frustrating. Lucky me, I played the game on Very Easy and didn't have this issue – but I know it's there! It's really not hard to tell that on higher difficulties, this game's balance is completely fucked. Shotgun dudes and riot shield dudes might just be “a bigger nuisance” on the lower difficulties but if they're anything like they were in Uncharted 2 – which I did beat on Normal – then they just feel cheap and unfair, not refined and well-balanced. The actual meat of this game's gameplay simply isn't very good.

I've already gone on for what I feel is too long, but there's one more thing I want to talk about – plot. The plot here is something of a mess. Threads are brought up and dropped without explanation on occasion. Talbot, the secondary bad guy, keeps disappearing in street corners and gets shot at least once without any repercussions, which is brought up several times but never resolved. Marlowe, the Big Bad, pulls a card that says “tower” out of Cutter's jacket and says something along the lines of “I knew this would happen! The cards say so!”, as if she had some way of predicting things, just before trying and failing to kill him. Some middle eastern guy who talks about a genie shows up to rescue Drake out of nowhere and is barely characterized. You spend the first half of the game with Nolan North, I'm-too-old knockoff Danny Glover, Niko Bellic, and that chick that got eaten in half in Pitch Black, and those latter two disappear completely for the last half of the game. It just feels like something that was cobbled together from notes and haphazardly thrown into some sort of sensical order. It's not without sense and I was never at a loss as to what the main plot thread was about, so as far as video game plots go you might even say it's a good baseline – but captivating fiction this is not.

Persona 3 FES vs Persona 3 Portable

Well, here I am stuck with a dilemma. I have had P3P for a long time but when I last started it, I dropped it in favor of something else. Two weeks ago, while playing Nocturne, I picked it back up and decided that I wanted to play it on the big screen in HD on the PS3. So, naturally, I bought it there, knowing that I would have at least one major issue with it.

The PSP version has a trimmed-down “real” world setting, where instead of running around and seeing people, you see a static image and move a cursor around it. It's essentially a very advanced image map. Sort of. In concept. Anyway, all you get for characters are static images and there are no anime cutscenes, two things that take a lot of personality away from the game after playing FES. I tried to go back for reasons that I will elaborate on in the next paragraph, and all I could think of was the aimless running in circles while I decided what to do next and seeing the surprisingly good animations for a PS2 game and then those little anime shorts and those crazy emoticons which added some character to the, uh, characters as well as the game. They do a fairly good job of delivering the story to you on the PSP but it's often obvious that this is not the way the game was originally meant to be played. Sometimes it's even hard to know exactly what's going on in certain scenes because the action itself is heard and not shown.

So why not play FES? Why would anyone pick the PSP version over the PS2 one? Because FES includes the completely baffling decision of not allowing you to control your entire party, at least not in the traditional JRPG menu way of “here's your characters skills, pick which one you want him to do”. Instead, you've got “tactics” that you can set – rather ill-defined tactics, I might add, and not really much in the way of customization – and this just doesn't make up for the ability to say “Main, do this; now Junpei, do this; now Mitsuru, don't freaking cast Marin Karin, Diarama Akihiko because he's nearly dead again.” It ends up in this scenario where you do one move and then you watch the rest of the game play out in front of you instead of doing anything yourself. The PSP version was completely rebalanced to allow Persona 4-style “control your whole party” to even out the visual novel-esque telling of the rest of the story and the fact that part of me wants to drop the 25 hours I've put into FES just to do this reveals how much I wish I could control my whole party. Now that I've said all this, I must be completely frank – the teammate AI generally does a good job of things and it generally helps me instead of hinders me – but “generally” here means “it occasionally screws up in a way that I never would have”. Not that I don't screw up but I have never knocked a game for my own screw-ups.

Do I recommend that you play Persona 3? Absolutely, without a doubt. It's original, it's interesting, and you should absolutely check it out when you've got the chance. I just think it's such a shame that a version that includes both full party control and the “real” world isn't available; you'll have to pick the issue that you would rather deal with, and to be honest I kind of wish I would have stuck with the PSP version. There's no turning back now, though, and I don't regret my time with FES.


New Site. New Blog. Here's what I've been playing.

(So I had planned on posting this Sunday evening, but when I sat down to post it I had the belated realization that it would probably be gone Tuesday morning, when the new site launched)

Turns out that when you've got a job and you adhere to the "I ain't spendin' sixty bucks on every game" life philosophy, you can afford a surprisingly large number of games. Problem is, I haven't beaten many of the games that I've bought, so I've gathered quite a backlog for myself. It's annoying, some of these games I've barely even got past the tutorial of and a few are ones I've never actually played before. So, you guessed it, this is just something of a backlog-blog where I play a game until I either beat it or just plain have no interest in it anymore and deliver some of my thoughts on it here. Maybe if I have some outside reason to stick to a game, I'll stick to it better?

Anyway, here goes a few of my thoughts on three games I played last week. One I completed, one I didn't (hence the "'til I just can't anymore" clause above), and one which has no real endgame. I'll try to edit this and put some images in here, but no promises - I'm already afraid the site will eat this top part and I'll have to repost the whole damn thing.


Q.U.B.E., henceforth referred to without the periods and caps, because fuck that’s hard to type, is a first person puzzle game in the vein of Portal, which seems to have popularized them. Apart from Narbacular Drop, I can’t name any that existed before Portal. But not many of them seem to understand that it’s the story and dialogue that kept people involved in Portal, not just the mechanics and puzzles, though most of us had fun with those too. Qube is pretty cool in that it just tells a very abstract story. There was intended to be one, with voices and everything, but instead you just run through these super sterile environments and then… well, stuff happens. Not a ton of stuff, but stuff nonetheless. Still, that stuff won’t draw you in much. You should come up with your own little story to liven things up a bit.

So what about the puzzles themselves? Well, the game isn’t really structured like Portal. There are several different areas with different ideas, and once you pass an area that’s it. That never comes up again. That means the beginning of the game shows you the basics, and then the next area introduces a new mechanic and challenges you with that, and then scraps it for something else entirely. The only things that ever stay the same are base mechanics. And I can’t say that is entirely a bad thing, but I also can’t say that I wasn’t a little bit disappointed that there wasn’t some final puzzle that combined all of these things. Nope, there’s the last puzzle to the last room with the last mechanic and then PRESTO! You move onto the finale, which is just one big and awesome set piece. And it is, indeed, awesome – but for all the brain-bending puzzles you just solved, there isn’t a single one that’s the brain-bendiest.

Qube isn’t that long, at only three hours, maybe four if you suck at puzzle games. Two if you’re really good at them. This is fine by me – any longer and it would get kinda boring. No, what we have here is a short little puzzle-game snack for a rainy Saturday afternoon, with a very satisfying little showpiece at the end to reward you for your hard work.

Red Faction Armageddon

This game is the perfect case for “just ‘cause it works right doesn’t mean it’s good”. The developers didn’t seem to understand that the mere presence of a mechanic does not make it interesting. The Gravity Gun would not have been as awesome as it was if Gabe & Co. just gave it to you and never gave you any reason at all to use it. Unfortunately, that’s precisely what Red Faction Armageddon does. Guerilla kinda had the same problem, but it was nowhere near as bad because there was this entertaining open world to destroy stuff in and, while the game didn’t seem to particularly care if you did or did not destroy things, it at least designed areas where abusing the shit out of Geomod could be advantageous. Here, destroying things with your rocket launchers, melty-guns, and the Magnet gun often seems to hinder you more than help you. More than once I’ve died due to accidentally tripping over broken materials in a dark fucking room with aliens jumping all over the walls.

Speaking of that magnet gun, let’s discuss what is potentially the only interesting thing about this game. You put a magnet on one thing, another magnet on something else, and the first magnet takes everything in its near vicinity to the location of the other magnet. Now imagine being in a large room, attaching magnet A to small building A, and then attaching magnet B to big bad generic alien B, and watching the entire small structure slam into the bug. Sound great? Now repeat it ad nauseum. In the time that I played this game, I never once came across an actual reason to take out the magnet gun. There is one other interesting mechanic – if you mess up, you can hold a button to shoot a sort of short-range repair beam to put something back together. You would think that the developers would have, I dunno, made some puzzles or some interesting set pieces combining these two things, right? Right? Nope. That the mechanic was introduced to solve the problem of players fucking their progression over is not a bad thing; that such an interesting mechanic was never used beyond “repair this generator” is a terrible thing.

We could talk about the terribly boring aliens, the repetitive level design, the dull writing, and everything else about the game, but I’ll just say this: The game’s damning fault is that it is boring. Not that it’s terribly designed, like Daikatana; not that it’s buggy, like Big Rigs Over the Road Racing; not that it’s bad but has a certain charm to it, like Deadly Premonition. It’s (and I know this word is overused) simply uninspired. There is nothing to this game, it’s a shell of a game without any meaty insides. All the right parts are there on the outside, and they’re fine, but once you dig in you find… nothing. At all. That I can say that about a product from the same developer as Saints Row the Third, something with a very obvious idea and vision, is baffling.

Let’s talk about something positive next!


So I’ve kind of flirted with Minecraft several times since my brother got it and downloaded it onto my laptop, now on my computer. And by “flirt” I mean I’ve played it several times but never really completed much of anything. I get really excited and I start coming up with huge, grand ideas, I start gathering resources and tapping away…

…and then I give up a week or so later to go do something else. I should probably moderate myself more when playing this, but when that bug hits it’s a pretty bad one. I just can’t stop thinking about how I’m going to decorate my blocky new home. Right now, I’ve set up a local server and my brother and I are building an underground house. At first I had this grand idea to clear out an entire mountain but decided to build it way underground. Why? Well, because our big mine is actually a deep, natural waterfall that we found that goes pretty far down. We just go into the cavern where it’s located and drop all the way down to a pool, around which we have furnaces, crafting benches, an enchanter thingy, an anvil, chests stacked full of stuff… anyway, I thought it might be a great idea to have a house down there and so that’s what we’re doing! Can’t say whether I’ll finish it or not, but this project is miniature in comparison to my previous idea of “build a gigantic castle in the middle of a massive body of water on top of floating dirt blocks that had an area of 128x128.”


So Here's My Top Games of 2012

This was kind of an odd year for gaming. You'd expect the likes of Halo 4, Assassin's Creed 3, and/or Mass Effect 3 to top everyone's list - but instead, most people are putting the likes of Journey and The Walking Dead in their number 1 spots.

If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that my top games would have been these, I'd have probably laughed at you. In fact, I didn't have much interest in actually playing any of them, but I eventually did and they are all great. But before I really start, I have to give props to the biggest surprise of all, and that is a little JRPG called Chrono Trigger. I don't even generally like JRPG's a whole lot - I usually get five hours or so into one before I get tired of something and give up - but this one was different. It has become one of my favorite games of all time now that I've finished it, but since neither it nor its DS rerelease were released this year, I can't really put it on this list. I also can't make this blog post without mentioning that game. Play Chrono Trigger at some point!

One last thing - there are some games this year that were kinda disappointing, but still did some interesting things that I wanted to give mention to. That section of this post eventually became too long to fit in here, so I made a different blog post and it is here if you have any interest in it.

And, without further ado, I present to you Believer258's Top Five Games of 2012.

Number 5: Journey

Between the shockingly creative thread title and the under-mentioned pick that is Journey, you must be reeling from all the originality here, which is a shame, because Journey deserves a whole lot of attention. It’s not so much a game as it is an audio-visual treat that you interact with, and boy is it wondrous. Gorgeous vistas, excellent sand and lighting effects, and some great set pieces that do not at all rely on quick time events are what make this what it is. Well, that and one other thing – the co-op. Now, this game could stand on its own without the co-op, but its inclusion makes it even better. It’s hard to describe why it’s such a great addition. You’re walking along this desert and suddenly someone else who looks very similar to you starts beeping and you begin looking around and exploring together. Really, there’s not much reason to except to find things that extend your scarf, but I found myself doing it all the same. Certainly it’s short, at only an hour and a half, but that’s because you’re supposed to play it in one sitting. And when you do play it, make sure it’s at a time when it can have your full and undivided attention for that whole hour and a half.

I’m actually going to recommend waiting the least amount of time possible to play this game despite it being number 5 on my list. I seriously doubt that its co-op is going to have any sort of real longevity and if you wait too long, that part of the game simply won’t be active due to everyone with an interest in it already having played it and moved on. Again, the co-op isn’t necessary to make Journey what it is – but it does do a fair bit to improve the experience so get it now if you have a PS3 on hand.

Number 4: Forza Horizon

Hey look! There's (one of) my car(s)!

I’m not big into racing games. Occasionally I’ll get an itch to go ‘round and ‘round a track and get first place, but that’s usually something that goes away after a few races in something. But this was a bit different. Forza Horizon does a good job of giving the goings-on some context and it’s more than just one sentence, too. It isn’t a story, per se, at least not a good one, but the whole game feels like a racing festival is going on. There are actual characters running it, there are actual characters in the races (though they're pretty flat), and your racer is referenced sometimes (though he’s never given a name, just a generic face). It’s just enough context and story to give it a summer party-like feeling, but not so much that it ever gets in the way of actual racing, and the racing itself feels really good most of the time. Meaty cars like classic American muscle feel heavy and like they could take a beating, light and quick to accelerate cars really feel pretty quick, and the class designations do a pretty good job of making sure you don’t take an old, heavy Mustang into a race with a lot of tight corners. If I have any real complaints about the game, it’s that there’s a ton of loading. Otherwise? Nothing much bad to say about it.

Number 3: Torchlight 2

My brother and I, toward the end of the game. You can see one of our dragon-chickens in the corner.

I’ll admit, I’ve never really gotten into loot games. You just do a whole lot of clicking on things and often have to go back to town and sell most of the junk you’ve collected. But Torchlight 1 was a game that I liked for a longer amount of time than I expected, and Torchlight 2 is a game that I’ve really liked, and I’m not entirely certain what they do different from other ones. Granted, I haven’t played many, but it must be something other than the loot. Maybe it’s the generally soothing music, or the consistently colorful and cartoony look and tone of things, or the way the combat feels whenever I blast a giant cannon or smash something with a massive wrench and they gib. And the things I dislike about loot games weren’t gone, but in both games they are greatly alleviated, most importantly the inventory, which in this game is pretty big. When that inventory gets full, you can fill up your pet with all of the stuff you don’t want and send him back to sell it, as well as send him back to town to buy a bunch of potions and scrolls in case you’re low on either.

There’s still no single thing that Torchlight 2 does to really differentiate itself from other click-y Diablolikes, but I do know this – I had to tear myself away from three and four hour sessions of Torchlight 2 multiple times, something I haven’t had to do with any other game this year.

Number 2: Doom 3 BFG

Whoa, wait – this game is 8 years old? What is it doing here? Well, honestly, there’s only one game this year that I enjoyed more and I can’t help but give this game a high spot. Some people really don’t like it, and I can see why, but man, I did. I was never truly terrified, but the atmosphere and the enemies really kept me on my virtual toes. The game design holds up pretty well for me in pretty much every respect – the shooting is satisfying, the levels feel natural and easy to navigate without needing a waypoint, and that lighting is still pretty good. It’s a little too easy, granted, and the Cyberdemon is definitely way too easy, but Doom 3 is a fantastic game as far as I’m concerned; not quite flawless but I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of all of this game – Doom 1, 2, and the Doom 3 expansions included.

Note - yes, I know about the Chrono Trigger thing above. But this particular rerelease actually came out this year, and this is the version that I played. I also played the Xbox version to completion this year, making this the only game on here that I have completed twice.

Number 1: Sleeping Dogs

Wei Shen has a very dangerous heel

No single game this year impressed me as much as this one. Obviously, that’s why it’s my number one pick. It doesn't do anything wholly original, but everything here is interesting and worth doing for some reason or another. It’s a refinement of many ideas rather than an original concept, and those refinements are things that other games should pay attention to (*ahem* Rockstar and their controls in any game). The fighting that makes up most of the game feels refreshing when put against the melee of most open world games, the story is one you’ve heard before but its presentation and the characters within are easy to care about and, in some cases, feel really sorry for. Really, I won’t list off the game’s entire list of good features because, well, all of them are very well done and worth seeing. Play this game!


Some Honorable Mentions for this year

An hour or so ago, I was busy writing up a little rough draft of what my own little Game of the Year list would look like, and I wanted to do some honorable mentions of games that, while not necessarily great, did some things that I really wanted to give some kudos to. Originally, I had only planned to give each game a little sentence, but it wound up being pretty long and I felt like it would be better to give these "honorable mentions" their own blog post rather than have an incredibly long one full of both. And so, here they are, a list of games that I felt did some things really, really right that deserve recognition, but also did some things pretty badly.

Darksiders 2 was, like Mass Effect 3, one of those AAA disappointments of the year. It didn’t really capture the magic of the first game. Players spent a lot of time traversing dungeons whose end prize was just a boss fight. Which is fine, boss fights are a great prize, but the original game had you traverse dungeons where you had to find an important tool that often had many different uses beyond just “use this to get here” (this is not an original idea, but it’s a damn good rip-off of Zelda). However, what Darksiders 2 did do is lay a good foundation for a third person loot game. Remember how Borderlands took Diablo and applied that to shooters? Well, imagine a game that takes Diablo and applies that to action games like God of War or Devil May Cry. It seems to me like that was what Darksiders 2 was trying to do, and hopefully a developer somewhere, or Vigil themselves, will take that formula and do it much better next time, maybe combine that with the Zelda formula of finding a special tool to get through a dungeon.

Mass Effect 3 isn’t a game that I’ve been kind to in retrospect. I’ve always made sure to say “it’s not a bad game” right after bashing it for its bland gameplay, its cheesy-in-a-bad-way dialogue, and its terrible hole-ridden ending. But you know what? Time to be a bit kinder to it. There are some genuinely cool moments in this game. The level where you cure the genophage, for instance, or fighting a Reaper just before deciding the fate of the Geth and the Quarians. Beyond those, however, I must commend it for incorporating a pretty good multiplayer. Say what you will about the rest of the game, or about how multiplayer ruins single player games, Mass Effect 3 managed to include a really good, really interesting multiplayer component that kept me plenty busy for far longer than I ever expected it to.

Far Cry 3’s first half is fantastic. If the entire game had held up as well as its first half does, then it would probably be on my own personal GOTY list – but it will not be simply because the latter half is pretty lackluster. Its greatest character isn’t in the latter half, the missions boil down to one silly guy telling you to go here, then here, then here, and they are often way too scripted and way too linear-feeling to take advantage of the game’s considerable strengths. However, this game presents one of the most fun open worlds to romp around in that I’ve played in a long time. Taking out outposts could have been pretty repetitive, but each one is carefully designed around tagging all of the bad guys, knocking out the alarm boxes, and then killing everyone in either spectacularly explosive fashion or knife-y sneaky fun. The radio towers are each a tiny little jumping puzzle of their own, which is normally a bad thing in any shooter but here it feels pretty good most of the time. And, really, “feels pretty good” is an apt description of most of the things you do in the game. Just don’t be surprised if you’re a bit annoyed at the end because there’s no real payoff. And… save your friends. Do not join Citra. Trust me on this one.

You could take any single part of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and point out why it might be boring. I didn’t personally think it was terribly boring, but it’s not necessarily what you might think of as “exciting”. Still, this game placed you in this weird and colorful world, full of its own little oddities and differences, enough to make it stand out from your everyday Tolkien-esque fantasy. Unfortunately, the game’s combat mostly consists of occasionally dodging, mostly mashing a button to keep interrupting whatever you’re fighting and knocking it into a wall. I have the game turned up to the highest difficulty and it’s mostly not that difficult. If there had been a second one – or if whoever owns the rights gets to make a second one – find a way to give more variety to this combat other than pausing between hits. Do that and make the dialogue more interesting, and you could have a recipe for a great RPG. As it stands, this one’s good, but I wouldn’t spend any more than 25 hours in it.

And finally, Syndicate. I did not even touch the co-op of this game, but the single player campaign is actually well-worth checking out. The graphics and aesthetics of everything are very clean and bright, which is in stark contrast to the dull gray, brown, and green of most shooters. The shooting itself feels pretty good, but really isn’t all that different from most modern shooters and most of the game is that way – a modern shooter with a fresh coat of paint. However, this game managed to include some really good boss fights as far as I’m concerned. Most of them are the antithesis to Deus Ex Human Revolution’s boss fights in that they really take advantage of the game’s hacking-mind-chips idea. None of the bosses are just enemies with bigger health bars, they actually ask you to take the skills you have gotten up to that point and use them in a creative way. Plus there’s a boss fight against a helicopter on a train that’s high above the city. Awesome! If you have a capable PC and haven’t picked this up on one of the many sales it’s been on, what’s stopping you?


Bulletstorm Shows Some Things Shooters Need To Change

Go play Bulletstorm

Well, if you haven't yet anyway. I just wanted to make it clear that this is a fantastic game before I start really tearing into it.

Not to get too steeped into the history of this all, but here’s the short version: Polish developer People Can Fly made a low budget FPS a few years back called Painkiller, the kind of game that would normally have flown way under the radar had one Yatzhee Croshaw not found it in a bargain bin and subsequently declared it one of his favorite games. With a skyrocketed popularity level due to this one 5 minute review, Epic Games picked them up and put them to work on Bulletstorm, a new FPS with a similar type of attitude and several occurrences of made-up dirty phrases. I’ve recently made my way through this game and while it is a fantastic shooter that does things the industry could learn from (a blog on that later), it’s also got a few things about it that I found rather annoying and a textbook case of things shooters should really just stop doing. So, without further ado, here we go:

1) Weapon wheels

I can understand why a modern military shooter like Call of Duty or Battlefield would limit you to two weapons, and for Halo it was a stylistic choice that was pretty different at the time, but I can’t help but feel that there aren’t many games that can honestly justify a necessity for a two weapon limit. This is my single biggest issue with Bulletstorm and it’s one that has been growing on me a lot lately in other games, too. Singularity was in dire need of the ability to hold every gun, and even the Ur-example Halo could very well benefit from being able to hold every single gun in the entire game. But this game especially needs to allow it. Some of the worst parts in the game were the ones that just handed me a sniper rifle and told me that I had to use it. Sure, it’s technically feasible to get through those parts using your trusty pistol or, later, the drill gun thingy, but it’s far handier to use that sniper rifle. I should just be able to pull up the weapon wheel, whip out my sniper, pop a few noggins, and then pull out my trusty shotgun when I’m done. As it stands, I have to pick up this stupid rifle, use it, and then pick my other gun back up when I’m done with it. I don’t want to keep the damn thing, it’s only useful in certain situations anyway. The game’s skillshot system could make far more uses out of a weapon wheel than just three guns, one of them never changing. Imagine if one of the harder skillshots were to use the thumper to knock at least six dudes into the air, and then kill each with a different gun as he slowly falls to the ground. The sheer number of different ways to dispatch a group of enemies would increase by an order of magnitude if every gun were available at every time in this game. Some might say that this limit is for something like “balance” or “thinking ahead and using tactics to choose your weapon”. If you are that person, then place yourself in the shoes of Snow:

2) Health Systems

Someone just read that subtitle and thought “Yeah, FPS games really need health bars and medpacks!” Now, hold on, because that’s not what I’m saying. The health system itself is fine. Actually, I’d say that it would be cool if we could buy and/or find armor to go over our regenerating health. As it stands, though, we’ve got a perfectly functioning way of making sure that someone doesn’t walk into a big, act-ending fight with an immeasurably tiny sliver of health to make their way through on. That sort of thing is quite frustrating. No, what I’m mainly talking about here is the red fucking jam that feels the need to invade our television screens every time the player takes a virtual bullet. Again, there’s at least one (weak) argument that can be made for this red jam – it makes it easier to tell when you’re about to die, but if you say that you should also place yourself in the shoes of Snow, above. There’s no reason why we cannot have an actual bar tucked away in a corner of the screen that flashes red when a player needs to get behind something and get out the Band-Aids. Halo 2 did it. Halo 3 sort of did it but I believe it still had some red jam around the edges, though not nearly as much as any modern shooter. Hell, Halo ODST did the red jam to the extreme and that game has no refilling health. Yep, a few shots and you had a hard time seeing through that red filter until you found a health pack.

For the record, I’m still of the belief that every game is different and therefore there is no single “best” type of health system that everyone should use no matter the game. This means that regenerating health, health bars and medpacks, or the oft-praised but not often used hybrid health are all very much viable design decisions.

3) Bosses

There really isn’t much in the way of handholding in this game, but it happens a lot on what should be bosses. There is precisely one actual boss and two other “minibosses” – two other things are in the game which should be full-on bosses. The first is the Hekaton, which is essentially Godzilla. The player must defeat it by getting on a helicopter and shooting its weak point with a turret while some dudes yell at you. This ought to be among the game’s highest points and an incredibly memorable moment, but instead you’re left trying to aim properly while a helicopter swings about. At least in Modern Warfare the helicopter stayed still while you were shooting tiny targets – here, it’s a bit difficult and a bit infuriating to keep your aim on the Hekaton’s tiny red spot. Instead of this, a better scenario might have been to have you pilot a helicopter (preferably with some practice beforehand) to take it out, or maybe have you actually kill it on foot though I can see why that wouldn’t be preferable because you’d just be shooting at his toecheese (if you were on the ground) or just cleaning out the gunk between his teeth (if you were on a building). The second thing which should be a full-on boss is Sarrano himself, the General who you’re trying to get rid of. You beat him (not kill him) via Quick Time Event. After mowing, stomping, throwing, blasting, blowing up, and otherwise decimating your way through hordes of bad motherfuckers, you get to the baddest motherfucker and he (literally) throws you around a bit, knocks out the token girl, and kills (but not really) your best friend. This is right after you do the Modern Warfare 2 thing of pushing the left and right buttons to crawl to the nearest weapon, and it’s not fun. It wasn’t fun there and it’s just infuriating here. And what makes it worse is that the game essentially ends the boss fight for you! You have to push the leash button and the kick button and some of that to do a very specific series of events to kill him (not really). If by some odd chance any developer happens to read this, this is not fun. This is not satisfying, this is not interesting, this is not a good way to kill your big bad guy.

As for the above mentioned minibosses and the only actual boss in a game that should be full of them, they’re fine and fairly well designed and interesting but the game feels the need to make the other characters yell at you about what to do to beat them. Again, this isn’t rocket science. Kids have been figuring out how to kill bosses since the NES days and before, I’m pretty certain that anyone playing this game can figure out that “shoot the big red jello-y bits” is the right thing to do on the big boss. As for the minibosses, the first one has the player shoot a large enemy until he kneels down and the player then kicks him backwards, eventually into some spinning helicopter blades. The second is a similar fight and has the player knock him into some hanging electrical wires. These are fine, I just wish the game didn’t tell me what to do when I’d already figured it out.

These last three are very minor and aren’t necessarily things that are downright bad, just things that have the potential to make shooters more fun.

4) More open level design

Crysis got this one right, for one game at least. Linearity is by no means a bad thing and, really, many of the most beloved games of all time are uber-linear and ask certain things of you at times. Mega Man 2, Super Mario Bros., Half-Life, etc. are all quite linear. Still, these days even consoles have the power to make more open levels. Crysis is on the consoles if you don’t believe me. And, really, that’s the best example I have to give. I don’t necessarily need every game to be that open, but I would like to see more games give me a bigger battlefield to play on.

5) Movement speed

I don’t need Bulletstorm to move as fast as Doom did. Actually, that might be a bit too fast. Still, I would like to see FPS protagonists with the ability to put a little more giddyup in their step.

6) More varied enemies

Oh, come on. People can be creative. Everything in Bulletstorm save for the Hekaton and the plant-thingy is either human or human shaped. Why couldn’t we get to fight some crazy wildlife that had taken over the city?

And that’s all! Do you agree? Disagree? Anything you would like to add? Are some of these things you actually like and want to see more of? If so, why?


A First Timer's First Impressions

Steam sales got me again! The original Deus Ex was on sale earlier today (and still is) for $2.49. I've spent less on more before, so I picked it up and you guys know this story by heart now. Anyway, keep in mind that every bit of the following is after about 2 hours of play and I only just finished the first mission. At this point, I'm going to talk to Anna somebody.

Just incase you don't know what Deus Ex is, though, it's a first person RPG released in 2000 and it's been considered by many to be a PC gaming classic, up there next to System Shock 2 and Half-Life. JC Denton is our gravelly-voiced, sunglasses-sporting protagaonist, stuck in a cyberpunk world with a bunch of cybernetic augmentations all over him. He's some kind of police officer/security agent guy and, well, that's about all I know plot-wise. Well, that and I think this Gunther dude is a bad guy, but I can't be certain. I accidentally skipped half of the first cutscene - oops! - so I might have missed some details that I need to go to Youtube and find out.

Speaking of cutscenes, that's where I think this game shows its age the most. As a game released in 2000, graphics that aren't up to par are to be expected. It was still kind of shocking to see characters open and close their mouths like a nutcracker might, and remember that this is a game where a lot of mouth opening and closing happens. I can get used to it, but it will never stop looking odd. What's more annoying is the award-winning voice acting on display throughout all of what I've played. Far Cry's voice acting is even better and both are far outpaced by the golden voice acting on display in House of the Dead 2, but this is well-worth hearing just for a laugh. Again, I can get used to it, but it's very much bad. And far less excusable than the bad facial animations, too. As for the rest of the graphics, they don't bother me much. They're flat and boxy and actually remind me of Doom, if Doom had been a first person RPG.

What about starting the game proper? The first thing I did was go through a training session, which lasted a longer time than expected. I knew this game was more complex than most games in the first person perspective, but I didn't expect it to last this long. I got done with the training (and finished doing a lot of keybind changing) and got my ass shipped off to the first level, a mission to kidnap a terrorist leader who is holed up in the top of what's left of the Statue of Liberty. This terrorist guy has captured some vaccine for a virus called Ambrosia, which kills people. I'm not certain of the rest of the details. Anyway, if this were a modern game you'd be given two guns, two grenades, and two feet to the left and right to dodge bullets with. Nothing wrong with extreme linearity, but here I was given the entire island to explore which is quite freeing. I have played the game's prequel, Human Revolution, and even that feels closed off compared to this place. There are several different ways into the Statue of Liberty. I explored around a bit, in the shadows, and eventually found a stack of boxes that let me climb up onto the statue. I did some exploring after taking care of a lot of bad guys and found at least one other way in - I could have gone to the North, to a double agent, and gotten some kind of key for the front door. I don't see what the advantages of waltzing in that way would have been considering how easy it is to die in this game, but the option is there nonetheless.

To sum this up so that I don't make it far too long, I first made my way inside the statue and mistakenly went down instead of up. When I got to the bottom floor, I took care of everyone quietly and rescued some bloke named Gunther, whom I mentioned earlier is a bad guy. I think. Anyway, right now he's a good guy. I also remember picking up a note of some sort that had the credit card account number and security code of a newlywed couple on a table and an ATM in the main room. Naturally, this being a video game and me not really caring about nutcracker-mouthed newlyweds, I stole everything they had. It's worth noting that I could have just taken 5 of their credits (the game's currency) or 199 and left them 1 measly credit. No, I was a right and proper thief and took it all. By this point, I had killed or knocked out everyone and thrown them all off of the balcony to the floor below for amusement as well as disabled all of the electronic devices except for one very bothersome camera and turret, which was placed on the stairs. I had gotten through it before, but I died a few times trying to make it back to the stairs so I found a different way out, headed all the way back around the mountainous statue, and climbed up the way I had originally gotten up there. I took out the few remaining bad dudes and found their leader, who must have been zapped with the pussification ray moments before because he immediately spilled the beans and offered no resistance whatsoever. And with that, the level was complete and I was told to go West, where I would find a secret underground base (or something akin to that) full of JC Denton's buddies. Because everyone was now dead, I could have just waltzed out the front door but my idiot ass walked all the way down and around the way I had come, which was a lot longer than heading out the front door and walking pretty much straight.

Above: Our very own Giantbomb duders made a Quick Look of Deus Ex, including the level that I talked about here. Also: Damn thing wouldn't let me put this as a note under the video.

So there's a summary of my first two hours playing Deus Ex. I've spent far more on far less experiences before, and if the first bit is any indication I'll probably have a good bit of fun with this game. I'd say that $2.50 has already gone a long way. It's nuts, really, how much more open this game seems than even its successor, Human Revolution. Well, its sequel was actually Invisible War, but it seems like we don't talk about Invisible War. I also greatly appreciate that it keep a record of all of the conversations you've had, it allows you to take your own notes whenever you need to, and many other things. I can already see issues with not including a good map or waypoint coming from a mile away, but I've dealt with such things before and can deal with it again. Besides, it might be refreshing to have to actually find out where something is in addition to finding a way to it, I just hope that the game doesn't ask you to find something the size of a micro SD card in the middle of a huge pile of junk.

In short, my first impressions have left me feeling good about the game. If you have a spare $2.50 and have never played this, get it. It runs A-OK on pretty much anything these days, so as long as you have a working computer it should be fine on there. Ain't no excuse for not playing it, except maybe you just hate mouse control that much.

On a final note, who the fuck thinks "Swimming? Fuckin' A, I want to train in that!" Does that actually have any use whatsoever?


Improvements for Just Cause 3?

First off, no Just Cause 3 has been announced or even rumored that I know of. I was recently playing the second one and it’s a great game for certain, but some things could see a bit of an improvement if there ever was another entry in the series. I hope there is, I'd buy it in heartbeat.

1) Let me hold ALL TEH GUNZ! Well, not necessarily all of them. I think the game could use more freedom with a better combination of guns, though. Something along the lines of Saints Row 2 and 3’s 8 weapon wheel, only let us put whatever weapon we want in whatever slot we want. Being able to hold only one heavy gun and two smaller ones is fine, but I keep feeling like it would be so much more fun if we could just hold more than three guns.

2) A better weapon system all around. The guns included in JC2 are fine. They’re fun to use, they get the job done, but I think that there’s room for other things. Upgrades, in particular, could use a hint from Resistance 3. In that game, guns get both more damage and different functionality. For instance, the shotgun at first is a regular gun but a fully ugraded one fires flaming shells. Just Cause 2 could use some weapons like that, they would fit pretty well. However, I would rather the game keep the actual collect-a-thon system for upgrading. I know that "collect a thon" is a bad word, but since it's not the maiin focus here I think it works well. A better way to tell where these upgrades are when you're near one - like a pointer or better hint - would be nice.

3) The ability to hold more ammo. A lot more.

4) The menu where you buy things could use some work. For one, I would like to be able to buy more than one thing at a time. A “shopping cart” where you pick whatever you want to buy and then verify it before leaving would work. Also, I would be A-OK if they cut out the whole helicopter-dude entirely and just had it magically appear in front of me with no loading screen. Right now, I have to start up the menu, watch it load, mash A to skip the cutscene, pick ONE thing that I want, mash A to skip the second cutscene, and then use whatever I bought. If I want a car, a rocket launcher, two SMG’s, and some triggered explosives, that’s a lot of screens and cheesy cutscenes. Speaking of cheese:

5) I don’t want any more story than JC2 already has. None. In fact, less would be fine.

6) Objectives and better things to do. In Just Cause2, there is a lot of stuff to do but there’s not a ton of variety in objectives. That I can spend 30 hours in this game speaks to the quality of its mechanics, but I don’t think it applies them in as many different ways as it could, or even half of that. The game holds up because I can kill 100 guys, attach the last few to propane tanks and send them into the stratosphere, and then steal a helicopter and blow up a few radio towers during my glorious escape. The trick here will be to figure out how to make interesting objectives for the player without sacrificing that kind of freedom.

7) Regenerating health. This is a controversial mechanic, but I feel like it could work really well in this game. As it stands, I sometimes find myself frantically grappling around for health and I can’t help but feel that a slowly regenerating bar would be better than running around looking for health packs, then finding thirty elite mooks standing around the last one. Wouldn’t be a problem if I didn’t always start back at the last friendly base I was at, but as it stands if I die I have to do ten minutes of traveling to get back to where I was. Not fun on the fifth try. OR this could simply be a split upgrade path – more health and damage resistance or health that regenerates? OR the game could just use medpacks that you can buy and use at any time. Speaking of health, no red jam on the screen. That red jam thing needs to be punted out of games entirely.

8) Don't be incredibly concerned about game balance. This game is about doing awesome, awesome shit - give the player some base rules and let them go at it. If they manage to get enough upgrades to put rockets and grenade launchers into all of their weapon slots, then why not?

9) A jetpack as a later/halfway through game prize. Why? Just Cause.

EDIT: But a jetpack as optional, not mandatory. If someone wants to keep using the parachute/grapple combo, then let them do so!

What about you guys? Do you agree or disagree with any of this? What improvements would you like to see in the (theoretical) sequel to Just Cause 2? And next I'd like to see a spiritual sequel IN SPACE! Complete with spaceships!

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