Multiplayer shenanigans

I've been playing a lot of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive lately on the pc. Having not touched any CS in many years, it's very refreshing to come back to a multiplayer FPS game that's so barebones, for lack of a better term. What I mean by that is that there's no XP, weapon unlocks, loadouts, kill streaks or anything crazy. It's just you and your gun. I played a lot of old CS back in the day, starting from 1.0, which I credit for really teaching me how to play FPS properly. Situational awareness, watching your flanks, being aware of where enemies might come from, it's all key to playing effectively. These map layouts are so ingrained in my mind I can practically sleepwalk through them.

What's so great about it is that every round, every match is different. It's a tug-of-war, in a sense. As the attacking team you're trying to gain ground to get to the bomb site or the hostages, depending on the map. As the defenders it's usually a case of covering all points of ingress and quickly reacting when your teammates call out enemy locations. Smart teams might send 4 of their guys one way in a feint, while one guy with the bomb goes the other way to plant stealthily. This leads to its own risks, as the one guy with the bomb has to be capable of handling any possible defenders that stuck around. It's all about calculating risk. Do you think you can rush the enemy team down and hopefully catch them in a flank, or are they too crafty for that? Do you spread out or all cover one site and hope you predicted the enemy's movements accurately?

Counter-Strike is a harsh mistress if you've gotten used to modern FPS games. There are no ironsights or snap-to targeting, and the weapon recoil models are much more difficult to handle than in most games. Holding down the fire button on an assault rifle is a good way to spray bullets at everything but your opponent, generally speaking.

The game also has some fun casual modes, if you're not looking for serious competitive play. There's team deathmatch, where you don't have to worry about money and can just use any weapon you want, and it doesn't really matter if you die. There's also Arms Race, aka gun game, where every kill earns you a new weapon and the first player to get a kill with all weapons (including the knife at the end) wins.

The rest of my gaming time I've been spending playing Mass Effect 3 multiplayer on the 360. I downloaded the Citadel DLC, intending to finally hunker down and do my second ME3 playthrough, but after jumping in the multiplayer for the first time since the month after launch, I've been completely hooked on it. Bioware's released so much free DLC for it, it's kind of crazy. Of course it's all subsidized by the players who buy equipment packs with real money, but I haven't been doing that and have gotten decent luck with the RNG, unlocking some good weapons and crazy new character classes, including a Krogan Warlord who swings his hammer for massive damage and runs around the battlefield smashing everything, laughing maniacally all the while.

Teamwork is also paramount in ME3 if you want to survive the gold, or god forbid Platinum, difficulties. It's easy to get overwhelmed by enemies and it's sure death or a quick retreat when you do. Sticking by your teammates is must, so they can revive you if you get downed, and very few classes can take out the tougher foes on their own in a timely fashion so as not to get overrun. I'll confess I'm hooked on the slot machine nature of the upgrade packs, as I'm always looking to unlock more characters, weapons, or upgrade my current weapons. It's a little frustrating that you have no control over what you unlock at all, but at the same time that's what keeps me coming back, besides the satisfying gameplay. Working with your teammates, setting off bionic detonations and tech combos, biting your nails as you watch the lone surviving teammate trying to finish the wave, falling in love with a new class you've unlocked, it's all great fun.

So that's what I've been playing. I also finished Assassin's Creed 3 recently and will probably write a review on that soonish. Lots of thoughts about that game. Spoilers: I didn't hate it, but it's problematic. I also liked it better than Far Cry 3.

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RIP Vigil Games

While the curtain hasn't fallen with certainty yet for Vigil Games, it seems unlikely that they will be bought if no one at the auction was willing to bite. Vigil isn't the first studio to fall, and it certainly won't be the last, given the increasingly oppressive climate of AAA development. Budgets are ever-increasing, development teams get bigger, and publishers are only investing in sure-fire hits because the risk is too great, and there's no longer a market for mid-tier games. The competition at the $60 retail level of games is fiercer than it's ever been. Darksiders 2 didn't do the business THQ needed it to do, their next game is a ways off, and thus, in the current climate, Vigil probably isn't a smart buy for most, if not all, publishers.

It's always sad when a developer closes its doors and people lose their jobs. It saddened me when Black Rock, developer of the criminally underrated Split/Second, closed its doors in 2011. It disgusted me when Activision closed down Bizarre Creations after making them pump out a crappy 007 game that clearly wasn't in their wheelhouse. But no studio closure breaks my heart like Vigil's. Here's a studio with a unique creative voice, an identity, tons of talent and passion that just bursts through the surface of their games, and nobody wants them. Because sadly, Zelda-like fantasy action-RPG's aren't the hot ticket they ought to be. Here's a studio further breaking down genre walls and building out a franchise with a ton of potential. Remember seeing the ending of Darksiders? Remember all the possibilities and potential it heralded?

I'll be the first to admit Darksiders 2 was a bit of a let-down for me. I'm 20 hours in and haven't finished it yet, due to other games coming out, some pacing issues and a story that was going nowhere, and going there slowly. But even still, mechanically it's a great game. It looks great, it's got a killer soundtrack by the fantastic Jesper Kyd, punchy, satisfying combat, and that Zelda/Metroidvania feel I wish there was more of in modern games. And all this talented group got to make was two Darksiders games. I feel like, had this group come together 20 years ago with the same boundary-breaking sensibilities, they might be regarded as one of the all-time greatest studios now. Vigil splitting feels like one of my favorite bands breaking up. Makes me wonder if Joe Mad saw the writing on the wall when he left the studio last year.

There is hope, slim though it might be. Platinum Games has expressed some interest in the Darksiders IP, and while it certainly would be cool to see what they would do with it, it's not the loss of the IP I'm mourning so much as the loss of the studio that created it. There's also an off-chance some company or publisher could swoop in at the last moment to buy Vigil, but truth be told, I don't see it happening. And that really is a crying shame.

Farewell, Vigil. You went before your time.


Shuffling along: Looking back on Telltale's Walking Dead

Spoiler warning! This is going to be something of a story analysis for The Walking Dead, so if you haven't finished the season yet, stop reading.

Videogames and traditional storytelling seldom make for a good pairing. The best game stories are often the ones player created themselves by playing with the systems. The Walking Dead is more of an interactive story than a game in this sense, as player agency is limited to the choices you’re given by the developers. It mostly does a great job of making the experience feel like uniquely your own, though. Through dialogue choices and decisions made during key moments, the flow of the story changes, as do the characters that accompany you, but ultimately the core of the narrative stays on a singular track. There’s something to be said for this approach, as giving players too much choice and too many divergent paths will result in an overload of work for the developers, which can result in some unsatisfying conclusions. Given the limited time and budgets of game development, especially for a small studio like Telltale, it’s admirable that they knew the story they wanted to tell, and knew just how much freedom they could give to the player without short-changing them or sacrificing narrative potential.

Certain story points were always going to be set in stone, like Lilly shooting Carly, or Duck getting infected and Katjaa commiting suicide. The player has agency, but you can’t prevent all the bad things from happening, as in life. It speaks to the strength of the script that I never felt like these moments were cheap or unearned, or that I had no control where I should have had some. As the season went along, though, I did find myself seeing the seams - it becomes easier to tell which choices will ultimately not make too much of a difference in the flow of the story. By the fifth and last episode especially, it became pretty clear that the season was going to resolve itself in a specific way. It doesn’t have Heavy Rain’s amount of mutability in the eventual outcome, focusing on smaller, in-the-moment decisions rather than decisions that can quite radically change the outcome of the story. Lee was always going to die in the end, especially from the moment he got bitten at the end of episode 4. The choice, then, isn’t “how can I save Lee” but rather “in what way will I have him die”.

The argument against this is that as soon as you realize this, which to Telltale’s credit didn’t really happen for me until episode 3, it’s easier to distance yourself from the choices you’re making. The player has to maintain a certain suspension of disbelief to believe in the choices they’re making. Some people commented about episode 5 that the choice to cut Lee’s arm off to try and buy him some more time didn’t matter, because they felt they already knew Lee was going to save Clementine and die. That’s the story Telltale wanted to tell. Again, it speaks to the strength of the script and the believability of the characters and their motivations that I had no problem keeping up that suspension of disbelief, and agonized over every choice.

As I said, by episode 3 I realized that whatever my choices, the narrative was going to stay on a particular track - which, wonderfully, happens to literally be a train at the end of that episode. It seemed to me that I couldn’t have prevented Duck and Katjaa’s deaths, though I could affect how Duck’s passing played out. In my case, I couldn’t bring myself to shoot him or to have Kenny do it, so we left him wheezing against that tree. A truly horrible moment, whatever you decide to do. This feels in line with the philosophy of the game - you aren’t the ultimate agent of destiny, you’re just trying to make the best of a shitty situation. You’re not ‘the Shepard of the galaxy’.

On the nuts and bolts level of plotting, I did have some issues with how episode 5 played out. There was a big build-up with the mysterious voice on the other end of Clementine’s walkie talkie, and the mysterious stranger stalking the group. In episode 5, this barely comes to the fore. The walkie talkie is almost entirely ignored for the duration. Instead it focuses, for the most part, on Lee’s gradual decline and his relationship with what’s left of the group - Kenny, Omid and Christa, in my case. Telltale missed an opportunity to ratchet up the suspense in the final episode. There was no great build-up to meeting the stranger on the other end of the line. At the end of episode 4, with the climactic cliffhanger, I expected the stranger to play a Simon Says-esque game with Lee, in a Die Hard 3 kind of way. Instead, Lee just figures out where he’s hiding out by simply guessing that it must be in the hotel where Clem’s parents always stayed.

And then you meet the Stranger. I was a little underwhelmed that it turned out to be a guy you’ve never met before. Narratively, it’s rarely satisfying when the great antagonist turns out to be some guy with grievances that kind of comes out of nowhere, and it’s more than a little hard to believe that he followed Lee and co. for three episodes, including a train ride to Savannah. To compound the problem, he turns out to be insane, talking to the zombified head of his wife/child in a bag (how does that even work?) Him reflecting all the choices you’ve made back at you in a negative light might have been effective if he didn’t turn out to be a complete psychopath, but as it was, him kidnapping a child and holding me at gunpoint didn’t do a great deal for my esteem towards him. Whatever Lee’s failings, there was no way I was going to let this guy take Clementine away. Had it been Vernon, as Lee originally guessed, I would’ve actually felt sympathetic towards him, and I might’ve doubted myself. When Vernon offered to take Clem off Lee’s hands at the end of episode 4, I actually considered the notion. Story-wise, I think this is the only episode where Telltale didn’t quite sell me on what was going on. I also expected Clementine’s parents would be involved in a big reveal somehow, but just encountering them as zombies on the streets and moving on from there also felt like missed dramatic potential.

The episode was redeemed by its ending though. Lee was always going to die, and I also predicted that Clementine was going to have to do for him before he turned into a zombie, and that’s exactly what happened. This isn’t a case of the story being too predictable, rather it’s Telltale knowing exactly how to exploit the situation for maximum dramatic potential. Lee imparting some last lessons to Clementine before he passed, and in my case, forcing her to shoot me, felt like the culmination of Lee and Clementine’s relationship up to that point. I always saw it as Lee’s task to prepare her for the hardships of life in a zombie outbreak, and that includes having to do some really terrible things.

Telltale created a gripping interactive experience with some of the best characters and writing in the medium, and it’s rightfully being celebrated as such. There’s already another season coming. I, for one, can’t wait to be bummed out again.


Revisiting Diablo 3

Like many of you, I bought Diablo 3 on day one and loved it, right until I reached Inferno difficulty. Getting frustrated by the game's difficulty, I swiftly put the game, and my level 60 Barbarian, down. I dabbled a bit with the other classes (got a Monk about midway through Nightmare on hardcore before dying unceremoniously) and stopped playing the game entirely for several months, along with most other non-crazy people, for whom Diablo 3 was simply the hot "game du jour".

With patch 1.05, I decided to jump back in and see if it affected my modestly geared Barbarian at all. Much to my surprise, it did, and to great effect. Suddenly, Inferno was no longer a gruelling war of attrition, more about playing the itemization metagame than the actual gameplay. I was able to make good progress with startlingly few deaths. I cleared the remainder of Act 2 and swiftly mopped up Act 3 and 4 some time later, in a mixture of solo and co-op play.

If you don't know what patch 1.05 added and changed, check out the changelog. The addition of Monster Power seems to have coincided with a general nerf of Inferno difficulty, which to my understanding has happened gradually over the last few months, so my newfound success probably can't be entirely attributed to this one patch. Monster Power seems like a great change: it adds further difficulty tweaks with added rewards for those who are, at this point, horribly overgeared for regular ol' Inferno. For those people, the new Infernal Machine event adds a new challenge and goal to pursue. This is somewhat beyond my current gear level though.

Going back to Diablo 3 after playing some Torchlight 2 also served to remind me just how enjoyable D3's combat mechanics are. There's a real weight behind your moves that communicates your character's power to great effect. The skill system holds up well also - your loadout will radically change the way you play your character, and if your build doesn't work or you get some new items that make you want to adopt a different build, switching it out is as easy as returning to town and pressing a few buttons. Inferno, as it stands, is just hard enough to make you think carefully about what abilities and runes you want to equip, without making it so that only a select few playstyles are viable. They've finally achieved that difficulty sweet spot that was so sorely lacking in the original release.

In recent months, Blizzard's done a good job of listening to fan feedback. Legendary items have seen buffs and the addition of cool new unique effects, Inferno has been made approachable without anything but top-tier gear and incredibly specific builds and item drop rates have been improved across the board. This is anecdotal and may be completely incidental, but I found a Legendary item in Act 3, whereas I never found any Legendaries in my Act 1 Butcher runs on Inferno back in the original release.

If you abandoned Diablo 3 for reasons similar to mine, I recommend giving it another shot.


How the press is missing the point: Entitlement, ME3 and you

Note: I will avoid Mass Effect 3 spoilers in this article, but I will link to them, so click at your own risk.

If the Mass Effect 3 ending controversy has underlined one thing with a neon marker, it is the fact that there is a huge divide between the people writing about videogames and the people reading about them. This is something that's been on my mind for a while, but hasn't been so starkly pointed out until now. The problem as I perceive it is the nature of the games industry, and the people covering it: Always looking forward, seldom looking back, or taking the time to thoroughly analyze a game. There is not enough actual critique in mainstream games coverage, especially reviews.

Mass Effect 3 plays into this in an obvious way: The game is sitting on a metacritic average of 93/100, which the site classifies as "universal acclaim." Skim the reviews, and look at how many of them actually call out the ending, which, as has been repeatedly and thoughtfully critiqued, is quantifiably bad? Of course, this opinion isn't shared by everyone, but there is simply no denying that the ending, taken at face value, makes no logical sense, or at the very least, has many, many plotholes that cannot be explained. At best, it is a tonal U-turn for the franchise that disregards established facts in its fiction in favor of asking some pretty vague philosophical questions that don't tie in to the main themes of the franchise particularly well. Even Bioware writers have come out to criticize the ending, apparently.

People have come out to defend the ending as well, so it's not fair to say that the conversation has been entirely one-sided, with only disappointed fans coming out of the woodwork. We've been hearing from both sides. So what's the difference, where is the disconnect? You're always going to leave some people disappointed. Games end badly all the time, or at least in ways that people don't like. Metal Gear Solid 2. Prince of Persia (2008). Halo 2. Deus Ex: Human Revolution. People move on. Certainly no ending has sparked as much fervent discussion as this one. I'm getting to that, but let's look at the defense.

'Gamer entitlement' is a phrase that comes up time and time again. Sometimes it's valid. You can't read comments about any sort of DLC announcement without some people chiming in to say "this should have been free" or things of that nature. What gamers are doing here is voicing their discontent with an ending that, for all intents and purposes, is broken. It's not just a matter of people not getting what they expected, but people have been lied to by Bioware leading up to the release numerous times. There's no other way to put it. Pre-release quotes about the ending have promised fans things that the specifically wouldn't get, only to end up getting exactly that. If gamers feel entitled, it's because Bioware delivered something exactly opposite to what they said they would. At this point, it's not entitlement, it's being a responsible consumer to call out the company in question for failing to deliver. Going to the Federal Trade Commision is going a little far, though.

If you've read some of the criticisms of the endings I linked to, among many others, it should be clear that solid, logical points have been made. Yet I see these same arguments popping up a lot: "You wouldn't ask an author to change the ending of a novel", or "fans just wanted a happy ending", or "Mass Effect 3 is the ending! If you liked the game, you liked the ending."

The first is a patently ludicrous comparison. Games are an interactive medium, and Mass Effect is a series all about player choice, which has been delivered satisfyingly, for the most part, right up until the endgame of Mass Effect 3. The second is just deliberately misleading, as the articles will point out. Thirdly, Mass Effect 3 may be the ending of a trilogy, but it's still a story with a three-act structure. Arguing that simply because Acts 1 and 2 are fine, it's okay if Act 3 is mostly nonsensical, well... No. The ending is the last thing players see, it's obviously very important. The ball was dropped. To add insult to injury, the very last thing players see is a message encouraging them to check back for future downloadable content. We can't speculate what that will be, but Bioware's recent comments seem to suggest they'll definitely do something about the ending. Whether that was the plan all along, as certain theories postulate, seems increasingly irrelevant, and even unlikely, unless Bioware is simply playing dumb.

Thirdly, the reactions from writers. This is the disconnect. Writers being writers, whether writers of fiction or reviews, are inherently opposed to the idea of someone else coming in and changing their work. They look at Bioware's responses to the ending criticisms, and the idea that maybe they'll change it due to feedback, and they freak out. For most writers, authorial intent is everything. Especially in a field like reviewing, where changing the text can change the tone and thus the intended message of the writers. Here's the thing: Video games aren't reviews, they aren't book, and they aren't movies. They are commercial products and they can be changed after the fact. Bioware themselves have gone so far as to say that they and the fans are co-creators of their stories. By extension, shouldn't it be incredibly cool that fan feedback can lead to a change in the narrative that so few fans are happy with? Fortunately, some writers do think so.

Lastly, the problem with the gaming industry, as I stated before, is that it's constantly forward-facing. I don't think that enough writers care about deconstructing and analyzing the games we consume, and that's a shame, because there is a lot to be learned from all this. Mass Effect 3 does a whole bunch of things right in wrapping up a trilogy and making it feel like your choices from the past two games matter. It fumbles at the end in a big way, but a trilogy with this kind of scope and scale his simply never been done before. The tragedy is that unlike the writers of Lost, or seemingly, Assassin's Creed's meta-story, Bioware didn't write themselves into a corner, and were in a position to wrap up their story in a satisfying way for most people.

The upshot is that they still are. Games are not static things, and in my opinion that's something to be celebrated.

Thanks for reading, and share your thoughts!


Star Wars the Old Republic: Tales from the beta

Figured I'd share some of my experience playing the TOR beta today. If you want the short version: Much, much better than I expected.

First off, and maybe this is redundant, but don't expect this game to reinvent the wheel. It's an MMO as we've come to know them post-WoW, meaning it's a lot like WoW. There's classes, hotkeys, mount vendors, reputation vendors, quest givers, auction houses, all the stuff that's pretty a given. Let me just do a bullet point list because I'm lazy.

  • Combat

It's pretty good. Enemies react well to getting hit. As a jedi consular I had an ability that would knock guys back, and they'd do that. As a bounty hunter, you're exploding guys all the time and flying around, which is pretty satisfying. Rolling with 2 bounty hunters we were basically juggling guys up into the air with rockets. The abilities are cool and fun to use. Unlike WoW where you mostly fight one or two mobs at once, you'll be soloing groups of three or more mobs fairly often. There are plenty of abilities in the early game so you aren't just going 1,1,2 for hours on end also. It's solid, if a tad unremarkable.

  • Classes

Only tried two, the Bounty hunter and the Jedi Consular. Bounty Hunter is pretty awesome. You've got a blaster, rockets, flamethrowers and a shoryuken-like rocket punch. It's a lot of fun, especially against crowds. Jedi Consular I only played for a few levels. They've got lightsabers and force powers, nothing too fancy early on.

  • Quests

This is where the game really shines. Every quest, at least so far, is fully voiced and offers dialogue options, and most of them involved some sort of story development as well, meaning you get to decide on the outcome of the quest. Your character has a voice and if you so choose an actual personality and it makes you that much more attached to your character. You're basically playing your own Shepard. Quests and dialogues are very Mass Effect-y. When playing in a group, both players select a dialogue option and roll is made to determine which character speaks up, which is really cool. I'd ice a guy in a cut scene by shooting him, but when I was rolling with a sith sorceror, she'd zap him with lightning. There are unique dialogue options per class too. It's all really cool. There haven't been any dumb 'collect X of Y' quests yet so far. I did one instance which was also heavily story-driven. Basically you can forget you're playing an MMO if you turn off the chat window, which is possible. But grouping is also a lot of fun because everyone gets to do something in cut scenes. It's kind of the best of both worlds, the storytelling of a Bioware game and the social aspects of an MMO.

Now I've not played that much, this was my first beta weekend, but if I feel like adding anything after some more play tomorrow (if the servers are still up), I will. For now, I need sleep. PEACE


Skyrim: early impressions

Once again, street dates have been broken and I have obtained a copy of Skyrim for the Xbox 360! Having put like 14 hours into the game over 2 days I can with some authority say:

This shit is awesome.

Let me get something negative out of the way first: If you install this game to the hard drive, some textures will look messed up. So, just a word of warning, you might want to put up with the horrible disc noises. It's not game-breaking, but it's definitely ugly in spots.

With that out of the way, let's talk about the good stuff. First and foremost, you should know this is a sequel to Oblivion. Didn't care for that game? You probably won't like Skyrim, either. Combat isn't radically different, though there are many, many options at your disposal. I find myself using one-handed weapons, sometimes dual wielding, and a lot of magic. Didn't care for magic in Oblivion, but it's too much fun not to use here. Conjuration and Destruction are my schools of choice, which lets me summon an elemental (Flame Atronach) to help me out or resurrect fallen enemies as temporary allies. Also, I can conjure up a magic sword out of thin air, which is awesome. And of course I can throw fireballs, shoot ice or zap enemies with lightning. There are some new melee finishing move that seemingly trigger at random, but be warned: enemies can also finish you off when your health is low, even when it seemed like I could've taken several more hits. If you want to play it safe, wear heavy armor and/or use shields, I guess. I'm mostly wearing light armor or robes for sneaking and more effective magic use, respectively.

The coolest new feature by far, at least for me, is the new leveling system. Gone are stats like strength and dexterity and all that other stuff. Before you cry "OMG DUMBED DOWN!", hear me out. Every time you level up, you can improve either HP, MP or Stamina, which governs sprinting, heavy attacks and carry limit. Additionally, every level you'll earn a perk point to invest in the skill tree of your choosing, and this is where the depth comes in. There are a staggering 18 skill trees. There's one for one-handed weapons, for big two-handerd, for blocking, for each school of magic, for sneaking, for archery, for lockpicking, for pickpocketing, for crafting, for enchanting, for just about anything. It lets you pick the skills that would be useful to your playing style.

The game is just bursting with content. There are so many quests to do, factions to join and dungeons to explore it can be overwhelming. It's very easy to get sidetracked. I hadn't even touched any story quests for the first 5 hours or so, past the introductory section. I can easily see this being a hundred-hour game, if not moreso. I have no idea how long it would take if you stick to the story stuff, but why would you want to? The dungeons are now all unique and no longer suffer from Oblivion's repetitive templates.

Oh, and a word of warning: Don't mess with the giants. Seriously.

If you have any other questions, feel free to ask.


Uncharted 3: early impressions (spoiler-free)

I got my copy today thanks to broken street dates. I played till chapter 10, which took about 4-5 hours.

I like the parts where I'm not playing that game the most. Now more than ever the shooting feels outdated and unsatisfying and the incredibly rigid scripting isn't really doing it for me anymore. There's no tension because there's no question about the outcome. Maybe you die and have to do the last 30 seconds again, not a big deal. I also think the platforming is too finnicky and similarly free of any real tension. Every third jump Nate makes something breaks off and he just BARELY makes it because of course whatever you're jumping to doesn't break off until after you jump off it. I dislike the shooting so much that I've actually killed more dudes by running up to them and punching them, which so far is perfectly doable on normal mode. The gameplay is passable, no more and no less.

I'm still enjoying it mind, but I'm really only interested in seeing the locales and watching the story unfold. I really like the characters and the banter, it's sharp as ever. The actual game part just isn't cutting it anymore, which makes all those 9s and 10s super baffling. Critics aren't actually very critical at all it seems, big shock. The Eurogamer review is the only one I've seen that sheds some light on the game's weak parts, they still gave it an 8 though, and of course the fanboys came out of the woodwork because it didn't jive with their preconceived notions/what other 'critics' were saying.

Here's what the Guardian says: "Uncharted 3, perhaps for the first time, represents what we all hoped games would eventually evolve into." I could not disagree more strongly. Uncharted 3 gives the player no agency whatsoever, and as a narrative it's just a movie within a game. This is not what games should strive to be, even if I think it's fine for some of them to be that (as UC3 does that part well).

I don't dislike Uncharted 3, I quite like it, but I don't think it's anywhere near as good as most critics make it out to be, and I'm usually not so far out of touch with the popular opinion. I think a lot of people are easily distracted by high production values and high-quality cinematics, or willing to tolerate average gameplay because they're too distracted by epic set pieces. I basically felt the same way about Uncharted 2 but it's exacerbated in the third outing because it's exactly more of the same.

Thanks for reading, and please keep an open mind about these criticisms until you've played the game (not that I expect I'll find much agreement).

Are you prepared to die? (Dark Souls Review)

My full review from here:, please rate :) Thanks

Things are grim in Dark Souls. The undead roam the world, looking for warm bodies to tear asunder, and here you are, just trying to figure out why everything wants to kill you so badly. It does not take long for you to stop wondering about the why's and wherefores, because survival instinct has kicked in. Staying alive is all you're worried about anymore, and to do that you'll need to kill almost everything and everyone in your path. No easy task.

Of course, the difficulty of Dark Souls and Demon's Souls, its predecessor, is well established at this point. It takes complete concentration to not die to the merciless attacks of even the lowliest of adversaries. Sword and shield in hand you press forward, always ready for an attack, always waiting for the opportunity to strike to present itself. This is not a game for the short-tempered, but rather for the patient and prudent. Die once and all your collected souls, which serve as money and experience points, are left behind where you left them. Die again, and those souls are gone, replaced by whatever you had on your person at the time of your latest grisly demise. Resting at bonfires allows you to spend your souls to level up and refill your estus flasks, limited health items, as well as providing a checkpoint where you'll respawn upon death. Resting also respawns all enemies except bosses and mini-bosses, however, so it's not entirely free of risk.

Locales are varied and interesting, sometimes beautiful, often eerie.

Dark Souls is a game of great risk and great reward. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the moment-to-moment clash of combat. Every missed attack leaves you open to a counterattack, but likewise for most enemies. Goad them into attacking you and missing, or taking the hit with your shield, and you're given the opportunity to counterattack. Circling around to the backs of humanoid opponents will reward you with a vicious backstab, doing critical damage. Parry an incoming blow and you can, more often than not, instantly kill your foe, but missing the timing is costly indeed. The real trick to combat is to take on enemies in single combat as often as possible, rather than fighting a two- or three-way battle. Luring enemies away from their allies with an arrow is often the best course of action.

Every enemy is an obstacle and a very real threat, and every kill is a gratifying victory. Every swing of the weapon has a real sense of weight to it, especially if you decide to use heavy greatswords or big axes. The general rule of thumb is the bigger the weapon, the bigger the damage you'll inflict, but the slower your attacks will be, and thus the costlier a miss. Risk versus reward. However, these same rules apply to most enemies. Being fast and light can have as many advantages as wearing bulky armor and wielding a giant weapon. Ultimately, the choice is up to you. Regardless of your starting class, which impart some statistical bias and starting equipment, you can develop your character in any direction you wish. If you decide you want to be a magic user, you can do that, provided you spend your points in the required stats every time you level up. Feeling like you're getting knocked around too much? Pump some points into endurance so you can wear heavier armor.

Dark Souls rewards every play style in its own way, even that of a jack-of-all trades, as all but the heaviest weapons and most powerful spells have relatively low stat requirements. Statistical scaling on weapons has taken a backseat to upgrading your weapons to do extra elemental damage regardless of stats, so you won't feel forced to put the majority of your points into any single direction to do effective damage. And any weapon can be upgraded, so you never feel forced to use something you don't like because it's better.

The bosses of Dark Souls gate your progression, but don't feel as brutal as Demon's Souls', by and large. This guy's a doozy, though.

There is an amazing array of weaponry in the game. Dark Souls is a dream come true for any medieval combat enthusiast. Swords and axes in all sizes; spears and halberds; bows and crossbows; small shields and giant bulwarks, even Wolverine-style claws on your hands, it's all there. Almost every weapon has its own unique set of moves and properties. By the end of the game, you'll have a giant list of weapons and armor to scroll through, even if you keep only one of each in your inventory.

The world of Dark Souls is just as huge as its list of weapons. Doing away with Demon's Souls' hub world and disparate levels, Dark Souls takes place across a sprawling world that's entirely interconnected. As you progress to new areas you'll unlock shortcuts which allow you to severely cut back on travel time between sections of the world. For the first thirty or so hours of the game, it feels like there is just no end to it. You'll go deeper and deeper, and every time you think you've brushed against the game's ceiling, it opens up and reveals yet more. It wasn't until the timer was somewhere in the mid-forties that I felt like I'd just about seen the game's outer limits. An average first playthrough of Dark Souls will probably take between 50 and 60 hours quite easily.

Blacksmiths are some of the few friendly NPC's who will upgrade your weapons, at a cost of course.

There are a few chinks in Dark Souls' armor, however. It is equally punishing to the hardware that powers it as it is to the impatient player. While the game's myriad environments and bloodthirsty denizens generally look great, it can all prove to be a bit too much for the consoles. In some areas, the framerate will be consistently low, and not low as in "not great" but low as in "I am watching a slide show". In one area in particular this is pretty frustrating, as you have to navigate a series of narrow constructions and a slight input delay can result in a meeting with the abyss below. For a game as reliant on timing and precision as Dark Souls, it is nigh unforgivable that the framerate tanks as often and as badly as it does.

The brilliant online play also suffers from technical issues. Like Demon's Souls, Dark Souls has a unique multiplayer component in that it is on at all times as long as you're connected to the internet. As an undead, you can let yourself be summoned to another player's world to help him defeat the area boss. This nets you some Humanity, which you can then in turn use to resurrect your body, allowing you to summon people to help you. Resurrecting, however, also lets less benevolent players join your game as invaders, with the sole purpose of killing you (there's that 'risk versus reward' concept again). For Demon's Souls, this worked great because it ran on dedicated servers. Dark Souls instead uses peer-to-peer hosting, putting players in much smaller lobbies. This means that it can take a very long time indeed to be summoned to another world, either as an invader or as a helper. Even worse, the items that enable the invading of other worlds are single-use, and once used they are spent, regardless of whether a succesful connection was established. You'll also see fewer ghosts (apparations of other people playing the game) and bloodstains (the last moments before a player's death).

Player-versus-player combat is exhilarating when the connection works well.

It's unfortunate, because Dark Souls is the ultimate community game. The game's difficulty and sheer depth feels designed to foster a sense of community as much as a sense of accomplishment. Through the in-game hint system that enables players to leave notes on the ground for others to read and rate and through message boards, players of Dark Souls come together to help each other play the game and make sense of its world and its inhabitants. Rather than feeling intentionally obtuse for the sake of it, as Dark Souls doesn't explain many of its systems very well, it feels like From Software encourages players to talk to eachother to share experiences, strategies and facts.

Yes, the game is obscure at times. Yes, there is some memorization required. Yes, sometimes it feels quite literally soul-crushing. But it seldom feels unfair. From the game's sprawling world to its deep combat system, Dark Souls is a meticulously designed game that demands equally meticulous play. If you're prepared to unlearn some gaming habits taught by the last fifteen yeears of game design, then you're prepared to enter a world with unparalleled depth and satisfaction. You are, then, prepared to die.


I don't want to kill those cops: Part 1

Did you guys see that new Hitman Absolution trailer? I felt super bad for those cops getting picked off one by one! They gave the cops more personality than 47 ever had in all of the previous Hitman games combined. But that's the nature of the character, right? He's a sneaky assassin and doesn't afraid of anything. As a fan of the previous games, Blood Money in particular, I'm pretty stoked that there's going to be a new one, even if it seems a little bit more Splinter Cell: Conviction than maybe I'd like. But the developers already allayed fears before they even showed us plebs any of the game by announcing a difficulty mode for the 'hardcore' and the ability to play through the game without killing anyone except the target. It's rare that developers try to assure the fans so insistently before even showing off their game. I don't envy their task of placating fans of the franchise whilst trying to broaden the appeal of the game.

So as you may have noticed, I'm back to blogging. Hopefully some people will still see this on their feeds and read this (hello!), and maybe comment below. I'm just going to talk about some games I've been playing now, most of all Dark Souls.

I'm not going to talk about how hard it is.

Yes, it's a difficult game, but it's the part that always gets overstated. Slow and steady wins the race, in a lot of cases. I finished the game yesterday after playing obsessively for a week, clocking almost 60 hours. I went to every area and defeated every boss there is to beat. For a long time I felt this game just kept revealing more and more of itself, feeling almost endless. Sadly it does end, but with a first playthrough easily taking at least 50 hours, for a lot of people undoubtedly a lot more, there's little reason to complain.

Perhaps what I love more than anything about Dark Souls is how dense and deep it is. Unlike the extremely convoluted World Tendency system in Demon's Souls, Humanity is fairly easy to understand, even if the game goes to great lengths to obfuscate its meaning. There are nine covenants to join, some of them extremely well hidden, and most of those confer some pretty awesome benefits, like having a dragon-head that can bellow flames. NPC's will follow unique paths that intersect with yours, sometimes culminating in an epic battle, and sometimes in a tragic finale. The many different facets of this game encourage players to come together to talk about them and share knowledge and theories, both in the in-game hint system and on message boards. I'd like to think FROM made the game intentionally obtuse for just this reason. Just check out the gamefaqs message board. Look at it for 20 seconds, refresh the page and look again. It moves insanely fast. There's a sense of mystery and mutual discovery that very few games have anymore. Apparently even the official guide contains some errors.

I'm probably going to write a review soon, to say what I need to say about the game. It's a better game than Demon's Souls, and praise the sun that it got made.


I pre-purchased the PC version of RAGE on Steam, figuring that an id game would obviously be best on PC, right? Well, yes and no. After installing the latest Catalyst drivers and manually creating a config file to make the game look good, I'm still baffled by some of the low-res textures and some awful shadowing work. From a distance, the game looks great. Get up close to stuff, and oftentimes not so much. The disparity between the good-looking parts and the bad-looking parts is huge, like a 2011 game overlayed on top of a 2001 game. It's that serious.

Mutant Bash TV is a pretty great Smash TV reference

Looking past that, it's just a really fun game. The shooting feels exceptionally solid, which isn't really a surprise coming from the company that basically invented the FPS, but it's nice to know they've still got it. The card game is also surprisingly fun and addicting, actually making you want to find the collectibles for reasons other than achievements. There's not a lot else to say, it's just a fun, no-nonsense shooting game in the same way that Singularity was last year, only nobody gave that a second look, which is unfortunate for that game and Raven Software.

Resident Evil 4 'HD'

The battle over HD Remasters is still raging on forums the world over, mostly because a number of companies insist on slapping 'HD' behind the title of a PS2-era game, upscaling it to 720p and shoving it out the door. This is another such case, where no apparent work was done on any textures or models to make them look better. While I may not approve of Capcom's recent mercenary ways of taking old content and repackaging it with some new content overlayed on top of it, it's hard to argue against the notion that this is still probably the best incarnation of Resident Evil 4. Compared to the recent ICO collection, which clearly has been lovingly updated by the same team that did a damn fine job on God of War 1 & 2, or likewise Ocarina of Time 3D, it just doesn't deserve the HD moniker.

So should I feel bad about supporting this practice or just enjoy RE4, looking decent on a 37" HDTV, because it's still a damn fine game for $20?

Thanks for reading!