I Am Going To Beat Games 2013: March Edition

In case you missed January or February, I am on a mission to beat as many games as I can this year, and am chronicling my conquests in a monthly blog. As always I want to hear about what you guys think about these games or what I'm doing, enjoy!

Crysis 3/3/2013 - Completed story on Hard

I bought Crysis years ago during a Steam sale. To be honest, I didn't really buy it because I wanted to play it; I just wanted to look at it. I didn't have a very good PC back then so it didn't really impress me. I ended up uninstalling it without giving the actual gameplay a chance to win me over.

So now its 2013, a new game in the series has come out, I have a PC that can make the game look good, and I'm doing this thing where I try to beat a bunch of videogames and then write about them. It seems like as good a time as any to give Crysis a second chance. After completing it, I was definitely more impressed than I previously was.

The game still looks pretty good.

For the first third of the game or so you are doing what you do in most shooters, running around and shooting a bunch of people. The combat situations are simple and the enemy routines are too stale to make it interesting. Soon enough, you uncover a massive alien invasion force that has been lying in wait and is finally ready to release an onslaught of cold death upon the earth's unsuspecting populace; Thank god too, I was really getting bored.

After about an hour of wading through the alien's plumbing, the game finally gets interesting. The new enemy types offer greater and more interesting challenges compared to their bipedal counterparts. The Ceph, as they are called, will come at you from all angles. I found myself being flanked by even the most basic aliens.

As the gameplay gets more interesting, the visuals get less interesting

The human enemies from the first third were so easy that they ended up reinforcing my habit to use only the most banal of shooter tactics. First I clicked the right mouse button, then I held down the left one, and then everything in front of me died. While the basic action of shooting the Ceph was a possible avenue to victory, their high speed and maneuverability made it a disorienting strategy rather than just a boring one. The added annoyance was enough to actually get me to give the nano-suit powers a try.

I began having much more fun with the game at this point. I would use maximum speed to dodge enemy fire from cover to cover, or to make long leaps across rooftops. Maximum strength was useful for getting to elevated positions quickly. Strength also allows you to turn barrels and boxes into deadly projectiles. By far the best use of strength however, is using it to pick up aliens while punching them in their stupid alien...faces?

Its not all sunshine when it comes to Crysis I'm afraid. The shooting sucks, and in a First Person Shooter crappy shooting has a pretty big impact. Impact is really the problem I have with the shooting too, in so far is that it doesn't feel like there is any. Firing a weapon in Crysis doesn't feel like a significant event. The sound, animation and result don't connect in a cohesive and satisfying way. The guns don't feel powerful and the aiming doesn't give me consistent feedback. Oftentimes there is no different feeling between a shot that misses, and a shot that connects, and that makes for a wholly unsatisfying experience.

Crysis Warhead 3/4/2013 - Completed story on Hard

I shouldn't have written so much about Crysis, because Warhead is pretty much more of the same. The storyline of Warhead takes place in parallel to the events of the original. This time the player character has a British accent however. You still run and jump around in a skin tight super-suit and punch enemies in the face.

There are some new weapons like dual-wielded micro-smgs that destroy anything within four feet in front of you. I didn't find these very useful however, as I rarely found myself within four feet of an enemy that wasn't already dead. The addition of a melee class of enemies could have made the micro-smgs infinitely more useful.

This feels a bit too familiar

Warhead did make an effort to make the engagements with non-alien enemies more fun. A greater percentage of the human enemies were wearing knock-off super-suits, which gave them increased mobility and resistance. The alien encounters were still far more engaging though.

Wizorb 3/4/2013 - Completed story

Wizorb is a neat little game. I tend to like creative Breakout games and Wizorb doesn't change that tendency. It plays well, both with a controller and with mouse, but the gameplay isn't what makes this game special. What immediately grabbed me about the game was the art style and the animation. The use of bright colors and the jaunty sprites makes the aesthetic of the game really charming.

This game is so jovial

The gameplay itself is nothing mind-blowing. It's Breakout dressed in beautiful coat of paint with some decent tunes and a couple cool powerups. There is also a strange town building mechanic that ends up being almost exclusively superficial; however, I mean that in an extremely positive way. Far and away the game's greatest feature is its aesthetic, and having a progression meter in-game that is constructed of that aesthetic is genius. It's understated, and certainly isn't a selling point by itself, but I found an odd sense of appreciation in the care that was put into it.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary 3/10/2013 – Completed story

Tomb Raider: Anniversary was an extremely frustrating game to play. Growing up with an N64, I had no reverence for the series, but the release of the reboot made me wonder if there was anything in the past of the series that was worth experiencing. Having finished Anniversary, which I understand to be a remake of the original title, I don't feel like I was missing much as a kid.

The gameplay primarily consists of puzzle solving and traversing the environment. You work your way various levels in search of keys and items that will open up a path that will get you further to your goal. While some of the puzzles I found quite clever and fun to solve (particularly a handful of puzzles themed after Greek gods), most of the puzzles were rendered tedious and frustrating due to the poor controls.

No you're right Lara, jumping towards the ledge we were facing was a silly idea

It feels like I spent most of my time in Anniversary struggling with the controls. Every time I jumped off of a ledge, it was up in the air whether Laura would reach the destination that I intended. Sometimes she would find her way to my target, but sometimes she would just jump into a pool of lava. The rules that determine Lara's trajectory didn't seem to have any discernible consistency, but the thing that puzzled me the most was the series of gymnastic moves that Lara is capable of. There are four or five gymnastic combo moves that Lara can perform, but none of them have any sort of useful application for progressing through the game. There was also an extra long animation that would play when Lara was climbing a ledge that got me killed countless times. After completing the game, I really don't understand why anyone would want to bring this IP back, but maybe that is a little too harsh seeing as I never had any formative experiences with the original games.

Puzzle Quest 3/21/2013 - Completed story

Prior to now, Puzzle Quest was one of my favorite puzzle games of all time. It took a tried and true gameplay structure, match-three puzzles, and put a unique spin on it that gave it a greater context. Unfortunately I did two things during this full play-through of the game that made me see this game in a lesser light: I paid attention to the story, and I actually played the game to completion.

The game's story is pretty standard fantasy fair; there are elves, dwarves, humans, ancient gods, wizards, and minotaurs. Each of the factions play predictable roles in the universe. Elves are an ancient race of wise and recluse knowledge seekers, dwarves are studious builders, and minotaurs are tribal shamans. None of this would bother me in the least if the main character wasn't a raging asshole.

The core gameplay is still fantastic

Honestly, the main character in Puzzle Quest is one of the least likeable main characters I have ever played in a videogame. Every other character in the game has a unique character flaw that makes them something other than a bland stereotype, but the main character never ceases to tear them down emotionally for it. The dwarven companion tends to ramble about things like dwarven history and mechanical engineering, and instead of shutting up and learning a thing or two about the world, the main character interrupts him in the rudest way possible every time.

The game lasts about 6 hours longer than it should as well. If you do a decent amount of side-quests, you will end up with a pretty high level character around halfway through the game. Once you reach the late levels, you stop earning new abilities as quickly and the gameplay begins to stagnate because of it. I ended up spending hours fighting what were essentially the same battles over and over and over again until my dick of a protagonist finally worked his way across the map, stealing ancient artifacts, reviving vengeful gods, and just being kind of a racist along the way. I still think Puzzle Quest is a great game, but parts of it are so annoying that I can't call this one of my favorite puzzle games anymore.

March is in the books.

Well I was a little late with this one. Unfortunately my schedule with school hasn't allowed me to play as much as I would have wanted. Hopefully this summer will open up and allow me to clear some of these games that have been stacking up. See you next month.

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I Am Going To Beat Games 2013: February Edition

I Am Going to Beat Video Games 2013: February Edition

In case you missed last month's entry, I am on a quest to beat as many video games I can this year, and will be chronicling my conquests in a monthly blog.

So I totally forgot that February only had 28 days in it. I procrastinated too much this month, and as such I didn't really get to write as much as I would have liked to about certain games. But lets get started anyway.

FarCry 3 2/2/2013 - Completed story.

The Island Looks beautiful on PC

Far Cry 3 really tested my resolve. I knew going the game that I probably wasn't going to empathize with the hero of the game, and that the story was nothing but a base power fantasy; I just didn't think it would interfere with my enjoyment of the game as much as it did. While playing Far Cry 3, I was constantly fighting my tendency to get my fill of the enjoyable parts of a game and then move on anytime I saw something I didn't like. This one was certainly a tough one to finish.

I am probably most surprised at my feelings on the story. I am typically into the whole power fantasy thing. I have seen people poo-poo on on games like Skyrim for being nothing more than a power fantasy. To that I usually say “Fuck ya its a power fantasy! I am a Dragon-Man that shouts at bears to set them on fire!” I am usually way into that kind of thing. You can set bears on fire in Far Cry 3 as well, but what troubled me is the in-game reason as to why you can set bears on fire. In Skyrim the reason is obvious; you are a Dragon-Man. In Far Cry 3 they don't really tell you what makes Jason Brody so special, it is left up to the imagination.

I wasn't really into all the trippy drug scenes

I started looking at the similarities and differences between my character and the NPCs of the island. We all have guns and access to other special equipment, so that can't be it. Presumably we all have these special tattoos, so that isn't it. There is no way in hell Jason Brody is the first person to have his friends or family abducted by Vaas and his gang, so it can't be his lust for revenge that makes him unique. There was only one reason that I could divine that set Jason Brody apart from all the other Rakyat warriors on the island. He wasn't from the island. The implications this presented disgusted me. Not in a “oh god, this game has opened my eyes” kind of way; more in a “oh god, this game is fucking disgusting” kind of way.

I am probably making too big a deal about it though. Despite my issues with the narrative of the game, I still had a good time with FarCry 3. The island was fun enough to explore, especially once you acquire the wing suit, and most of the missions were paced well and had some well designed shooting galleries. The game is pretty gorgeous as well. The lighting is incredible, but this also means that at night the island isn't nearly as impressive as when the sun is up. The overall package is a good one, even if I think the story was pretty atrocious.

Hotline Miami 2/2/2013 - Completed Story

THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP. THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP. Dipidipi-dipidipi-dipidipi-dipidipi-WAAA Dipidipi-dipidipi-dipidipi-dipidipi-WAAA Dipidipi-dipidipi-dipidipi-dipidipi-WAAA dipidipi-OOWEOOWEOOWEOOOOWWWWWwww. Seriously though, I didn't really like this game.

Haunt my dreams

I think the best word to describe Hotline Miami is unsettling. Nearly everything about the game is unsettling. The soundtrack, character portraits, and visual style are all things about the game that I enjoyed being unsettled by. The plot, violence, and gameplay, are all things that I hated being unsettled by.

Chances are if you have heard of this game, it was in the context of how awesome the soundtrack is; and it really is awesome. The soundtrack does a great job of setting the mood, whether it be depressing and desperate in the main character's apartment, or manic during the combat missions. The visual style does a great job of reinforcing the mood set by the soundtrack. The character portraits and masks are all ugly and surreal. The filters and tilting that happens with the camera are more great touches that do even more to reinforce the basic themes.

Thank god for the visuals and sound, because Hotline Miami is maddening as all hell to actually play. The basic game play loop is similar to games like Super Meat Boy; trial and error is the name of the game. The problem is, the game's mechanics aren't solid enough to curb frustration. Too many deaths come cheaply from enemy AI that doesn't seem to operate on any consistent logic. Sometimes a mobster will see you from across the map, out of your own range of view, and sometimes you can just walk right by a pair of enemies, seemingly without their notice.

When you are spotted and the action starts, it all unfolds quicker than the game's clumsy controls allow you to react. I tried both the mouse and keyboard setup, as well as the gamepad controls, and neither option left me with the feeling that I was in total control of the character. I ended up having to rely on exploits and boring repetitive tactics in order to trudge through the game. This type of gameplay can work for some games, but for Hotline Miami it never felt satisfying for me.

I found myself losing the cursor alot

I also didn't care for the plot and violence. The game rewards you for being more violent. For instance, punching a guy to the ground, picking up a dart, then stabbing the guy to death with it will net a much higher score than simply shooting the guy with a silenced pistol. The violence was a bit to over the top for my tastes, but I think it only really bothered me because it was compounded with my frustrations with the gameplay. The plot also seems to just be about violence, which I didn't care too much for.

Also, why do people still insist on putting one-off stealth levels into their games? What about it seems like a good idea? Stealth is a niche area in videogames, and is a genre that is hard to pull off when all development resources are put towards making stealth gameplay fun. I have never once in my thousands of hours of playing games been happy about playing a stealth section in an otherwise non-stealth game. I am not saying that developers shouldn't keep trying, just don't make gamers play through it if it turns out bad. Better yet, make it optional. Give me the chance to try it and maybe enjoy it, but if I hate it, let me watch a cutscene to get the narrative instead.

Saints Row: The Third 2/9/2013 - Completed story

So since the release of Grand Theft Auto IV, I have held a personal conviction about open world crime-centric video games: they are boring, and I just don't like them. Enter, Saints Row: The Third. A game so ridiculous that it can't help being endearing. Saints Row solves a couple of my major issues with GTA IV and thus corrects my mistaken views on the genre.

I loved the customization options

Saints Row: The Third follows the typical format for these types of games. It plops you in an open world, tells you that you can only explore part of it for now, and gives you a steady stream of missions and side missions to complete in order to advance the story, open up the world, and get new items and abilities. On paper, Saints Row should bore me, but it fixes so many problems I have had with the Grand Theft Auto games that I ended up having a great time.

One of my biggest complaints about the Grand Theft Auto games (by the way when I refer to the series, I mean from GTAIII and on) are the cutscens and plots. I have just never been able to identify with, or care enough about any of the characters in order to sit through the amount of cutscenes that are in that game. I have the same problem with movies that have similar themes. I just don't find criminals doing crime all that interesting most of the time.

Another complaint I have about the GTA games is the pacing and content of their missions. Even when a cutscene finishes and a mission starts, it seems like half the time the first task of the mission is to sit in a car with some guy and listen to him talk for 5 minutes. Then after some guy I am giving a ride finally shuts up, I find out that the mission consists of a stealth section...in a car. These are the worst missions in these games, the ones where you have to stay a certain distance away from a car as you tail him to some place so he can do some crime. The fact that the combat in the games isn't that great sure doesn't help.

Saints Row: The Third rectifies these issues. Firstly, the main character is customizable, which creates an immediate bond between me and him/her. The protagonist of the game is my protagonist, so I am more willing to get invested in her story because I have already put some effort into her appearance and the way she presents herself.

The homies system seemed underdeveloped and useless

Secondly, Saints Row isn't always trying to make me empathize with the other characters. A lot of the characters in the game are presented in such a ridiculous way that empathy isn't the end goal, its hilarity. I actually found myself more interested in what characters had to say when the way they said it was amusing. I never thought I would actually like a pimp in an open world crime game. Pimps seem like they would be horrible people in real life; then I found the pimp whose voice is always autotuned. I enjoyed hearing him talk, so I was more willing to sit through a short cutscene and learn about his purpose in the game and what we would be doing.

Finally, the mission structure is much more interesting, at least in the main missions. The tools the game gives you during combat are far more interesting. Calling down airstrikes, riding flying motorcycles, being a toilet. All of these things make an otherwise mediocre shooter entertaining. I may not have fallen in love with Saints Row: The Third, but I at least liked it enough to prove my preconceptions about the genre wrong. I may never give GTA V a shot, but I am now more open to trying other titles with similar themes. Titles like...

Sleeping Dogs 2/14/2013 - Completed story.

Now Sleeping Dogs I did fall in love with. Enjoying Saints Row gave me the courage to try a game with a more grounded setting, and I am certainly glad that I did. Sleeping Dogs is certainly a jack of all trades, and master of none. Pretty much every major gameplay system in the game is fun on its own. Fighting, shooting, and driving are all solidly implemented and come together to make a fantastic final product. All of this is tied together by a serious narrative that I was actually able to get into.

Refreshing to see a game that isn't filled completely with white dudes

The narrative is competent enough and has its share of twists and turns, but the characters and the actors' performances are what really steal the show. The game puts you in the shoes of undercover cop Wei Shen embedded in one of the major triads of Hong Kong. The fact that the protagonist is a cop makes it easier for me empathize with him and the characters around him, even if he does end up killing hundreds of people. I found myself actually caring about Wei and his difficulty balancing his orders to bring criminals to justice with his quest for personal vengeance against the people he blames for his sister's death.

Most of the justice and vengeance in the game is dealt out with your fists. The melee combat system is pretty similar to the Batman Arkham games. You have basic light and heavy attacks that you can string together to make combos and enemies glow red before they strike to indicate an opening for a counterattack. What sets Sleeping Dogs apart from Batman is the environmental kills. Scattered around melee fights are environmental hazards that Wei can use to brutally finish his enemies. Hanging enemies on a meat hook, impaling them on swordfish heads, or smashing their heads with payphone receivers; the game can get pretty brutal. Normally I would avoid using these tactics as an undercover cop, but I actually found myself using these violent finishers more and more as Wei's personality got more erratic in the story. I thought this was a cool way of encouraging the player to try different combat styles by giving them a narrative justification.

The shooting in the game isn't terribly interesting on its own. The cover system in the game is pretty clunky, but it doesn't matter all that much. Cover in the environment is really meant to be vaulted over instead of ducked behind. Stylishly vaulting over cover allows you to enter into a bullet time mode and line up easy head shots. The only thing actually remarkable about the shooting is the tutorial for it. While a character is teaching you the controls, you are also framing a rival triad member for murder in order to incite a gang war. The scene plays out in a stylish manner and really left a lasting impression on me, more so than any of the on foot shooting missions.

Dating turned out to be just another collectable hunt

The on-wheel shooting missions, on the other hand, were pretty incredible. Most games that I have played that task you with driving and shooting (including Saints Row:The Third) fail at making the combined experience enjoyable. You are somehow expected to watch the road and aim at enemies at the same time. Sleeping Dogs solves this problem by slowing down time when you aim while driving. It is such a simple solution, but it ends up being so effective. Leading your aiming reticle to account for the speed of the bullets while whizzing down a highway at high speeds is exhilarating And popping a car up by shooting out the tires, and then gunning the gas tank to finish your enemies never got old for me.

Sleeping Dogs ended up being my favorite game of the month. If you told me I would say that about a game that was once used in the same sentence as the True Crime series, I would have never believed you. Saints Row convinced me that maybe I was missing something by ignoring the open world crime genre, but Sleeping Dogs has given me the confidence to try similar games in the future. I'm still not going to get GTA V though.

Spec Ops: The Line 2/17/2013 - Completed campaign on Suicide Mission difficulty

So I finished Spec Ops: The Line entirely in one sitting. That was probably a bad idea. There came a point in the game where I felt compelled to keep playing, no matter how long it took. The narrative in Spec Ops is very thought provoking. Plenty of writers better than me have written pieces about Spec Ops: The Line's story; I will keep it brief and just say that the game does a great job of resolving the story in a way that made me feel emotionally drained in a satisfying way.

Parts of this game are downright beautiful

I think I ended up enjoying the combat in the game much more than most people seemed to as well. I found the AI to be very challenging, and some of the battles were constructed in a very interesting ways. Most of the battles were multi-leveled and provided a pretty impressive degree of verticality.

A particular standout took place in an abandoned water-sports stadium. Snipers were taking pot-shots at me from lighting fixtures above while I made my way through the stands down to the play-field below. I also really enjoyed the art direction in the game. The desolated wastes of an abandoned Dubai makes for some very striking imagery. I'm not sure if the interiors of buildings were based off of real life locations, but they were a very beautiful backdrop for a shooter. I really liked Spec Ops. It wasn't perfect, but the story is something I am glad I experienced, and the gameplay was a nice surprise.

Legend of Grimrock 2/25/2013 - Completed campaign on hard difficulty

I got Legend of Grimrock in some Humble Bundle and it intrigued me enough to give it a try. Grimrock is a first person dungeon crawler, which isn't exactly my favorite genre. But hey, I liked Doom RPG, so I gave it a shot.

Cool enemy designs

It took me a while to get into Grimrock's battle system. You control a party of four that moves as one unit. You click on weapon icons to perform attacks and choose combinations of runes to cast spells. The strange thing (at least to me, this could be standard for the genre) is that everything takes place in real time. At first I was really put off because it wasn't a turn-based system, but after I spent a few hours delving into the depths of Mount Grimrock, I really started to enjoy it.

The combat actually reminded me a lot of my days playing World Of Warcraft. Setting up the best attack orders for your party to maximize DPS and minimize cooldown times was pretty fun. I found a comfortable mix of casting ice spells to freeze enemies and maneuvering around the frozen enemy to set up backstabs.

The UI takes some getting used to

The most intriguing thing about Grimrock was the world. Your party is a group of prisoners that has been sentenced with banishment into a prison called Mount Grimrock. You enter the mountain from the top and work your way down through a multileveled dungeon in order to earn your freedom. At the beginning you get to customize your crew of convicts and the options are pretty wild. My party ended up consisting of a Lizard-man who was good at throwing stuff, a Human lady who only used her right fist as a weapon, a Minataur-dude who smashed things with maces, and a Praying Mantis (lady?)wizard.

The halls of Grimrock held many secrets and I enjoyed the dark atmosphere that was accentuated by the excellent ambient audio design and music. Most of the puzzles were easy enough to solve, which is nice, and the map is automatically generated, which is even nicer. The game lasted longer than I expected it to. It could have been a bit shorter, but I enjoyed most of the 15 hours or so it took me to complete the game. Its good to hear that the game did well enough to warrant a sequel from the indie team that mate the game. The game ends quite well and I am excited to explore more of the world of Grimrock.

February is in the Books

Well that certainly was an interesting month. I feel like I expanded my gaming horizons. Any feedback on my writing is welcome, and I really want to know what you guys think of these games.

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I Am Going to Beat Games 2013: January Edition

I Am Going to Beat Games 2013: January Edition

So I will try to keep the intro on this brief. Two things you should know about me; first, I fucking love video games; second, I hardly ever finish things. When the new year came around and I reflected back on my life, I decided to make a change. I was going to finish things, so why not start with video games. Some of my favorite games of all time I have never finished. Games like Super Mario Bros. 2, Final Fantasy 6; hell, I have never even contiguously completed Ocarina of Time. As a person who hopes to one day make games for a living, I felt like this horrible trend needed to end.

Originally I wasn't going to write anything, but as I kept thinking about it, and about my past tendency to give up on this kind of stuff, I decided to make this public and permanent. If I chicken out of this again, I want my failure to forever be out there. I won't be able to live with myself otherwise, so I told myself “I Am Going to Beat Games”...2013...January Edition. I am going to give the title, date beaten, some context on what I mean by 'beaten', and then my thoughts on each game. Here we go.

Binary Domain - 1/1/2013 - Completed campaign on Survivor difficulty.

Amazing

So there are two parts to this game. There are the parts that are are legitimately amazing, and then there are those parts that are ironically amazing. Visually impressive robot designs, blowing those robots to pieces, some really intricate boss battles; all of these are amazing. Weird interactions with your squad-mates, French robot, Big Bo; those are amazing. All of this fit into a high octane 8 hour campaign that blew away my expectations. I know the game did horribly in the west, but hopefully the sales in Japan were good enough to warrant a sequel. It would be a shame if this universe didn't continue, the highs of this game are just too high.

The game does of course have its problems. The shooting controls were far too jittery. Even after an hour of trying to adjust the sensitivity of my mouse (both on a hardware level, and in game) I ended up just playing with a controller, and still wasn't completely satisfied. Despite a number of fantastic boss fights, one in particular seemed unjustly difficult and gave me cause to instantly hate a character I was just introduced to. The story can also get a bit too campy at times as well. Besides the poor aiming, all of these gripes are relatively minor and don't do much to diminish what I think is a great overall package.

Dishonored - 1/3/2013 - Non lethal playthrough completed.

Dishonored had a huge amount of potential. A lot of that potential was based solely on the fact that it was a new IP; I didn't know what to expect, so I set my expectations high. I am glad to say that most of that potential was fulfilled within the debut title of what will hopefully become a franchise.

I liked the Insights that The Heart provided as well.

The world of Dishonored felt like an interesting place to explore. The subtle fusion of anachronistic scifi and fantastical magic proved to be an absorbing combination. I am not sure if I am saying this because Bethesda published the title, but both the content of, and the way the lore of the game is presented to the player reminded me of The Elder Scrolls series.

People playing Dishonored do not need to know about the anatomy or mystical elements of that game's version of a whale in order to truly appreciate the world or the gameplay. Just as knowing about the Khajiit's creation myth isn't crucial to enjoying Skyrim (It involves cat-gods). However, the experiences are richer and more fulfilling when you do dig deeper. I just wish the actual narrative of the game lived up to the potential of the world.

Hugs aren't hard to come by when stabbing isn't an option.

On the gameplay side of things, my non-lethal playthrough wasn't as fun as I would have hoped. Although I enjoyed most of special ways you can eliminate story targets, I feel like the moment to moment stealth gameplay would have been more fun if I just chose to kill dudes. Other recent games have handled non-lethal-stealth in a much more engaging matter.

The stealth sections of the Batman Arkham games were a blast to play and proved that not-killing people can be exciting. Takedowns can be much more creative when you are not just stabbing guys in the neck. Deus Ex: Human Revolution included flashy takedown animations and engaging dialogue-centric avenues that made a non-lethal playthrough really enjoyable.

By contrast, the nonlethal option in Dishonored is a bore. You either have the option of shooting them with a dart and hiding the body, or choking them out and hiding the body. I guess you could avoid them altogether, but that option seemed even less appealing to me than giving them a sneak-hug and being done with it.

Blinking around the beautifully ugly environments is a blast.

The gameplay of Dishonored is saved by the magic abilities. Chief among these is the blink ability. Blink makes this game. Moving around the game's levels with blink is intuitive and exhilarating. The blink reticule is genius in the way it provides you with the information you need before using the power. Dishonored also finds a solution for the energy problem I had in Deus Ex Human Revolution.

In HR, when you used a basic ability like a takedown, you would drain an energy bar, however only your final energy bar would refill. This meant I would go through the game, not using any of my powers because I didn't want to waste energy bars in case I needed to perform a takedown at a moments notice. By refilling your energy bar a certain amount after every ability use, Dishonored skirts this issue. Blink uses the same amount of energy that is refilled. Dishonored knows that the player is going to want to blink around like a motherfucker, and it doesn't let that inhibit the player's willingness to explore the other powers. Brilliant.

Paper Mario: Sticker Star - 1/7/2013 - Story completed.

I got what I expected out of this game. I knew going in that partners and some of the RPG mechanics were gone. In their stead was the new sticker system. Overall it feels like a net loss, but Paper Mario: Sticker Star is still a good game, and I had a ton of fun with it.

Why does my soul feel so cold?

So you don't level up in Sticker Star. If there is one game this month that made me question my own existence and placement in the grand cosmos, it was this game. Because you don't level up. Reading what I just wrote makes me think I'm angry, but I'm not angry. Honestly, I don't know what to feel. Every time I entered a battle in Sticker Star I found myself questioning my motivations as Mario, as a player....as a human being.

If Mario isn't slaughtering countless combatants in King Koopa's legion because he needs to, or better prepare him for the eventuality that he will need to, why is he? For the coins? For shinier stickers? Is Mario and addict? Am I and addict?

Have I as a player become so dependent on an experience counter that my prime and only motivation for playing RPGs is to level up? If I can feel this ambivalent over a set of arbitrary numbers, have I been doing this for the wrong reasons? Why am I doing this? Heavy stuff. So I just started avoiding a bunch of battles, no biggie.

The sticker system itself was alright; I just wish those 'thing' stickers didn't take up so much space. I didn't like having to stress about how many times I might need to jump on a goomba, or if I might need a special type of sticker to advance in the story every time I went into a level.

My soul's all better now, thanks.

Whats left of the writing without a unique partner character following you around everywhere is still funny and clever. If you like jokes about Toads, this game was made for you. Honestly, the mileage they get out of Toad humor began to surprise me by the end of the game, and it is all pretty good stuff. If you want to know what a group of Toad scientists would do with a giant bowling ball, play this game.

The real standout feature of Sticker Star is its music. I was completely blown away by the quantity and quality of what they had to offer. I simply do not remember enjoying the music in previous entries in the series as much as I did in this latest incarnation. The music will also subtly change as you work your way through the levels as well. A couple of tracks of particular note are the mini boss music (which I put below), and the theme from the snow world (which I put above).

Crashmo - 1/14/2013 - All 100 main puzzles completed.

FallBlox does feel like a more honest title.

Crashmo's predecessor, Pushmo, was a great game, and one of the primary reasons why I still try to check the eShop at least once a week. Without a game like Pushmo, I am not sure if I would have taken Nintendo's venture into the digital space seriously. Crashmo is an alteration on the same theme of Pushmo and offers more puzzles with different rules.

I do remember many of Pushmo's puzzles being quite difficult, but I don't remember the difficulty spikes being quite as drastic as they are in Crashmo. I found myself taking over 2 hours on some puzzles, then solving following puzzles in a matter of minutes. These spikes didn't do much to sour my impression of the game, just seemed strange. There's not much more to say about Crashmo, great puzzles, good music, great game.

Rayman Origins 1/16/2013 - 100% completion.

Visual splendor.

This game was absolutely delightful. Rayman Origins is an aesthetic joy ride. Each of the separate areas was visually distinct and impressive. The same can be said for the music which can be jaunty, intense, or even eerie depending on the mood of the level. Really the best part of the game for me were the chest chasing levels.

What I really loved about these levels was how they really showed off the well designed jumping controls in Rayman. There are two types of jumps in the game. The first is a jump whose height is dependent on the amount of the time the jump button is held down, pretty standard stuff for a 2-D platformer. The second type of jump is a short jump that is activated by just tapping the jump button. This height of this jump is fixed. As long as the button press isn't held long enough to transition into the first type of jump, the height of the jump won't change.

The under water sections weren't horrible either.

I am not sure if this type of jump is standard in modern 2-D platformers. If it is, the only game that made me notice is Rayman. The game's levels, especially the chase levels and the livid dead stage, are designed fantastically around this two jump system. After about 10 minutes of my first chase level, the game had trained me to look at each jumpable gap in a binary way; either I needed to use the short jump, or I could use the long jump and correct my landing with the hover move.

Using the binary jump system was an amazing feeling on certain levels. The only feeling I can compare it to is when you enter a kind of flow while playing a playing a really difficult song in a rhythm game. This is the same feeling that I experience while playing Super Meat Boy.

Shooting sections were hit and miss.

There were things I didn't like as well. I felt that the shooting levels weren't nearly as strong as the platforming levels. They were also very inconsistent. Some of the levels were exciting, then a level would bore me, then a level would infuriate me. I also felt that the last world was noticeably lower in quality than the rest of the worlds. But still, I am excited for the sequel, I just have to buy a Wii U now.

Darksiders II 1/29/2013 - Completed the game on Apocolyptic mode

I was a pretty big fan of the first Darksiders. It filled a need that wasn't being fulfilled frequently enough by Nintendo. Darksiders did a great job of emulating Zelda in a way that didn't come off as shameful. After playing the game, I didn't feel like Darksiders was a replacement for Zelda. If anything, I had a greater appreciation of the Zelda franchise after seeing its mechanics in a different context. Despite all of that, I was disappointed by what I played in 2012.

The beginning was boring, but it looked nice.

Fortunately for me, in this case, because of this whole 'I Am Going to Beat Games' thing, combined with the fact that Darksiders II was still in my installed list on Steam, I decided to give the game a second shot. I really liked this game. In fact, for about 10 hours or so of this game, I was in love with it.

The beginning area of Darksiders II was boring. It wasn't so much that it was poorly put together, just that the dungeons felt so by-the-numbers. The game really shines once you get to the Land of the Dead, and more specifically, the City of the Dead dungeon. I felt like the combat in this area of the game really started to challenge me in engaging ways. Fights began to throw more complicated challenges at you than simply the 'dodge the big attack and stab it in the ass' tactic that seemed to pervade the game's early areas. The Land of the Dead certainly had its share of ass-stabbing, but the groups of enemies felt more varied and their tactics mixed in challenging ways.

Land of the Dead was incredible.

The puzzles and the art were splendorous in the Land of the Dead as well. The new abilities that are introduced are used in some really clever and fun ways in the dungeons. Again, the City of the Dead dungeon was a clear standout in terms of puzzle design as well. The art was probably the biggest surprise for me. I did not expect something called the Land of the Dead to look so good. It strikes the right balance of dreary yet pleasing. The details in places like the statues and doors were fantastic. By the end of that section of the game, I was in love with the pale green color that seemed to pervade everything. The enemy designs were fantastic too. I have seen hundreds of skeleton designs in games, but for some reason I can't quite put my finger on, the ones in Darksiders II were especially good.

I'm not sure I really even understood the part with this guy

I wish that the rest of the game past the Land of the Dead held up the same level of craft and quality. The final stages of the game seemed rush in comparison to the meticulous care that seemed to be put into Darksider II's middle chapter. An entirely new puzzle mechanic is introduced at one point that is only used for about 45 minutes in one area. The ending was especially disappointing considering we may never see another game in the series. I truly hope we do though, this IP deserves another chance, hopefully from a group of developers with as much potential as the guys and gals at Vigil had.

January is in the books

Well that was it for this month. I am happy to say I am feeling better about this little initiative of mine than I was at the start. February is promising to be even more packed. And it seems to me like my opinions on these games were a bit too uniformly glowing, so I think I will try to test myself with next month's crop.

So I really want to know what you guys think about all of this. Not just opinions about specific games, but about my mission in general. Have you guys tried something similar? Any advice? Also any comments or criticisms about my writing would be very welcome, this is really the first time I have tried something this big. Anyway, thanks for reading if you got through the whole thing, maybe I should be more brief, or maybe I should update this as I complete the games. Again, suggestions would be appreciated.

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