Infamous Incursion

Note: Spoilers beyond this point.

In an effort to prepare for the upcoming Infamous: Second Son, as well as play through a backlog of PS3 games, I began pushing through the first two games in the franchise. I probably should have given more time between the two to fully enjoy both, but oh well.

Infamous:

The feeling of wielding superhero powers to save "your" city is incredibly satisfying.

Right away the first Infamous didn't exactly hook me. Released two years after Crackdown, a game I played plenty of, Infamous looked and felt like a beefed up version of the same game. And in some ways it really is. Open world, hidden items that improve your character, earning experience points, spending points on upgrades, and the idea of verticality all are obvious focuses of design in both.

What finally hooked me was the tight focus Infamous had married with its game design. Leveling your character up, purchasing new powers, and exploring the world and combat with these powers feels really natural. Just as I began to get tired of the beginning island (and this was after playing through a good chunk of the side missions) the second one opened up and the enemies got a little harder. Soon the story got more interesting, even with Zeke's annoyances, and I earnestly wanted to see how my decisions would play out.

The comic book style of the cut scenes underscore the game design in a subtly awesome way.

The one piece of design I didn't enjoy were those decisions. The morality felt more tacked on than a part of the overall design and game play of Infamous. It felt like someone had the idea to add morality and no one expanded upon or evolved the idea any further.

The story was another weak point. While I did want to see the ending, and enjoyed fighting my way through the myriad of gang bosses within the game, it felt as if what was being set up would be grander. Both games have TVs placed around the world that show you how the outside world is responding to the in-game events. Neither cash in this set up though. While I knew what Infamous 2 was doing, Infamous 1 felt like this was one thread left untied.

But when it came down to it when I finally finished Infamous, I just wanted more.

Infamous 2:

Whereas the first Infamous left me with a lackluster initial impression, Infamous 2 blew me way with in the first hour or so. The visuals were turned up, the art within the game became more bright and colorful, and the tweaks to characters, powers, and overall art design really made Infamous 2 seem more like a true AAA title of its era. However the further along I went into Infamous 2, the more it's continuing sore spots wore heavy on me. I couldn't get enough of the well designed side missions and collectibles in the first game but in the second everything felt tacked on or easier.

Color!

Blast shards are the game within the game of Infamous 2. In the original the first batch on each island were a good mix of low hanging fruit and cleverly hidden. Some of the tougher ones would force you to climb the highest tower or stare at ledges for several minutes as if figuring out a complex PushMo puzzle. In 2, the majority of these shards are all easy to grab. Before opening up any new areas of the game I had already wrung the shards out of the first area completely. This was repeated several times through each new section of the game until the final area only had a scant few on really high buildings or structures.

New Conduits and swapping powers kept the game from becoming too stale.

The game play also felt as if it was getting in the way of itself rather than serving the overall design. You're meant to be a running electrical storm and yet each new batch of baddies would terrify me as soon as one had a rocket launcher. With deadly aim and one blast these bad guys could have you on your ass while a few more bullets put you down even before your animation allows you to move again. A similar death trap occurs when the Ravagers, a tougher to beat enemy that would roll around with other swamp monsters, would catch you in a melee charge. This charge would trap you on the ground and require you to mash R1, shocking the Ravager off of you. The problems happens when the other swamp enemies would also rush you while trapped in the Ravager escape animation. Now your health is dwindling at twice the rate with no where to run.

The Beast, and it's impact on the story, was truly amazing. Just one of those great video game moments I'll remember.

Making me feel trapped within the confines of the design when I should feel like a superhero severally cut my enjoyment of Infamous 2 the further I went along.

The story was both a plus and minus. Overall I enjoyed the broadening of the Conduit concept, allowing more characters with powers allowed the writers more room to play around in. Where it felt more lackluster was the execution. Both the swamp monsters and the sudden appearance of 'the plague' went unexplained long enough that I almost thought it never would be. For a few hours I wondered if these new story hooks would just sit around and just be wasted time. Finally though the story came around on itself. Revealing John as the beast, Kuo and Nix switching moralities in the end, and all the characters feeling more well rounded. Even Cole and Zeke's bromance felt like two real friends than a pestering Zeke and gravel voiced Cole.

Second Son:

I don't know what I want from a new Infamous, and I like that. Ending Cole's story after two games felt right. They set up the plot in 1, then knocked all the pins down in 2. But they left a complicated and changed world in their path. Playing around in this new world, with new characters, and new stories sounds more interesting than anything I think they could come up with for an Infamous 3.

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A Long Overdue Thanks to Giant Bomb

The Bombcast set the bait, the Endurance Run reeled me in.

In late 2008 I was not in a great place in my life. I had just gone through a breakup and was on the tail end of an discouraging job. I was faced with a familiar place psychologically and that was depression. I wasn't unstable and I wasn't in need of serious help, I was simply sad and unhappy with where I was. In my spare time between making sandwiches and playing some video games I began looking for a place online to put my time into. One of those places was the iTunes list of video game podcasts.

I had always been interested in video games but never was able to dive too deep into the business or enthusiast side of things until college. After listening to a handful of shows I stumbled upon only one really stuck out with a level of energy and enthusiasm that I was drawn to. That energy was led by Ryan Davis, the first voice you hear on most Giant Bombcasts, who drew me into the site itself. Soon I was an avid user watching the Persona 4 endurance run daily and burning through the older Bombcasts eventually reaching Arrow Pointing Down.

Shame and breast milk.

Eventually I was a user and then a member. I explored the site itself and eventually discovered Comic Vine and Anime Vice. When they launched I tried out Tested and then Screened. In particular Screened was a place I rediscovered my love of movies and TV and could openly express it. In what all seems like one big blur I was a moderator and now community manager. Quite simply Giant Bomb led me to a paid position at a Whiskey Media website.

I never met Ryan Davis, nor any of the Whiskey Media family of staff. But each one of them has gotten me through some good days and some bad days with a smile. They've challenged me to think of the things I love differently and did it in a way that entertained me. So I'm taking this moment, albeit way too late, to give one big thank you to those of you in front of, and behind of, the cameras at Giant Bomb for years of smiles and laughter.

I apologize, this was more stream of conscious rather than well thought out. I'll miss Ryan Davis and owe him more than a thank you.

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12 Hours In: My Thoughts on Dark Souls

You started all this, I hope you're happy.

Since before the release of Skyrim I had been craving to play a video game with depth, with systems, with a certain quality that would both challenge me, allow me to craft my own character, and not leave me wanting. Skyrim did just that for long long time, more than one hundred hours worth of time. But yet that game finally worked it's way out of my system and I was left again with something akin to RPG blood lust. And not any RPG could do either. I wanted something deep and engaging that would snatch hours away from me at any given moment and leave me battered, bruised, and happy. Basically I wanted a game to beat me to a pulp and make me happy for it.

Somehow in context with these other games, FTL feels casual.

In that time plenty of challengers rose up to fight the good fight and plenty of them were well worth my time. FTL was chief among them. After dabbling in Oblivion (a game I need to restart and play through) I wanted a game that didn't necessarily require a time commitment. With the RPG elements I wanted and the difficulty level I craved FTL is a nice game to just have for a few hours when you want to play a game but might be unable to commit to a full on RPG. I still need to unlock more ships and I've spotted a few mods that give custom ships from various science fiction sources, so it's a great game that feeds the addiction but just doesn't cure it.

Then, on a whim, I purchased Dark Souls. Recently it had been on sale for something around $20 after sitting at $35 or $40 for the longest time (just like Forza 4 >.<). I thought this my time to strike, to try out this divisive game that I'll admit, intimidated me to no end. Without knowing exactly what that game is you're left with the impression of sheer difficulty that harkens back to games for the NES or worse, the arcade which are only trying to get more quarters out of you. Finally, after weeks of debating, I had a fresh 20 dollar bill in my pocket and spotted a $17 used version at Gamestop. Spontaneity overtook me and I was already at home popping the game in.

I both hate and love bonfires. They're life saving save points and monster re-spawners.

Dark souls isn't a game for a "casual" gamer. You already know if you want to try Dark Souls out or not. No demo, no few hours with the game, can really leave you with an accurate impression of what that game is. It's a game you must spend a weekend with before finally feeling positive or negative about it. It's frustrating, annoying, requires large amounts of your attention, and worst of all can be very cheap. Most sessions with Dark Souls feel like I've accomplished nothing, or worse that I've regressed. My first invasion, wherein someone can come into your world and hunt you down, the played attempted to kite me towards a larger and tougher enemy which I had already stumbled upon and died. He wouldn't stop. Eventually he killed me, both having more experience and simply griefing me until I just didn't care anymore. I lost 4,000 souls (a currency and upgrade mechanic for the game) and after dying attempting to recover them (which loses them forever) I shut my game off and didn't come back for a day.

Endlessly frustrating doesn't being to describe that feeling. I felt like those 12 year olds who yell "hax!" whenever you kill them. I was honestly cheated and game didn't actively discourage, in fact the game set it all up, as if the game wanted me to lose all my hard work and set me back to square one. Which is why, 4 hours later, when I beat the boss of that area, and moved onward to a fresh part of the map I felt amazing. I walked around my house exclaiming to my roommates about my victory and about a game they only had a limited interest in. Later on after beating the next boss I interrupted my roommates phone simply to say that "I did it".

I'll never invade someone...until I'm strong enough.

It's a delicate balance between shoving your face in death and failure and rewarding you shortly afterward. The game hates you, doesn't want you to win, and builds itself up to be something you despise. Which is why when you beat it, playing within its tight rule set and parameters you feel all the better. I beat you at your own game and there is nothing you can do about it. It's like the game had been bullying me for years and one day I come to learn it's just been hired at the company I run. I don't want revenge, I just want the game to know that I had won.

Of course with Dark Souls every victory is met ten minutes later with another series of strong enemies leading up to a seemingly unstoppable powerful boss. Checks and balances I guess. I haven't scratched the surface of Dark Souls and can't tell if I'm hopelessly addicted or one cheap death away from breaking the disc in half, or both. But Dark Souls is an accomplishment. It exists, it's popular, and it made money. All in a world that values slightly iterative sequels and the most popular of games are almost always shooters and sports sims. Maybe secretly we're all just masochists.

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Misadventures in S-Ranks

We all covet the S-rank, the ability of a gamer to completely beat a game. Not just the story but everything the developers deemed important. 
So as we all work hard to attain more S-ranks there will inevitably be a game or two that acts like a constant mocking monkey that never leaves our back.
 
The game: Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution for the Xbox 360 
 
I absolutely love the Civilization series and when I heard that it was coming to consoles I was all in. 
A lot of these achievements are super easy, and despite some 3 point achievements, everything balances out after a few playthroughs. 
The trouble comes in the form of a handful achievements asking to beat the game on the highest difficulty. Now Civilization, to me, is about a relaxing strategy game where I will dominate and destroy all others. And I do play on higher difficulties so that when I do win my ego is boosted. 
But this game offers 4 separate achievements for beating the game on the highest difficulty. 
Even after following online guides I am stuck on 3 remaining achievements and about 100 gamerscore trapped in limbo. 
Beating the game on 2 of the harder difficulties by domination (military victory) and 1 for beating the game before 1000 AD, which gives you about 100 turns to win.  
 
It's not that these remaining sons of bitches are hard, it isn't that guides don't exist making these much easier to attain. 
But in the end I've spent hours trying and always seem to be just that short. 
  
The next game: Forza Motorsport 3
Do you guys have any games you never seem able to S-rank?

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