Hotline Miami 2: Second Verse, Worse Than The First

(Before I start, I admit that I have not finished Hotline Miami 2. I played enough of the game to know that I could not continue.)

I like Hotline Miami a lot.

Now, I'm not crazy obsessed with it...I think. I haven't done a Hotline Miami cosplay (yet?) and I'm not here to share my 20 thinkpieces I've written about it. But it was by far my favorite game of 2012 because at the time, I'd never played anything like it.

Each level of Hotline Miami is a thrilling action puzzle, supplemented by the fact that you could choose a different power with the variety of masks. If you want to play run-and-gun, sure. If you want to be patient and take out mobsters one by one by baiting and luring, it allowed that too.

Not only that, but what really drew me into Hotline Miami were the story and themes. It's still one of the VERY few video games I can recall with a unpretentious critique of violent media as part of the plot. They don't draw a line about if your character or yourself are a bad person. Violence is prevalent in video games, movies, and television and it's impossible to escape. It's entertaining. Is it bad to be entertained by violence? Is your character a psychopath or the hero? What the hell happened in those Biker levels anyway and who actually died?

Reading through fan theories and analyzing the story and themes of Hotline Miami were just as much fun for me as playing it. The game is the total package and remains one of my favorites of all time.

Which is why I'm so disappointed in Hotline Miami 2, which is not even half as good as the first game.

Hotline Miami came out around the same time of Super Meat Boy and other “ultra-hard” games and was kind of lumped into that trend. It was very difficult, but fair and catered to multiple playstyles due to the unique abilities of each mask. For the early parts of Hotline Miami 2, I was getting exactly what I wanted: more maps, more masks with new abilities, an incredible soundtrack, and the same pulse-pounding gameplay that hooked me in the first place.

But then I started losing. A lot. Like, more times than I died in Hotline Miami in the comparable early stages. I understand spiking up the difficulty for the sequel, but these deaths felt cheap and unavoidable.

The maps are incredibly huge compared to Hotline Miami 2. This leads to my problem of getting shot across the map from a guy I can't see.

There's windows all over the maps and enemies so far away that you can't even move the screen far enough to see them. So on the stage I just linked, I kept getting shot over and over from people I couldn't shoot back...either I couldn't see them, or random bits of furniture got in the way and it's VERY UNCLEAR what furniture you can shoot over or through!

My character has “Lethal Throws” that make any thrown item kill instead of knock down. But I am basically being forced to use guns because there are too many enemies to actually use my special ability on.

I'm not allowed the strategy I was in Hotline Miami 1. I'm not personally a fan of using guns, but you GOTTA use guns in Hotline Miami 2. YOU MUST. You use guns, or you die and if you don't like guns deal with it. So the “combat puzzles” that allow different players to solve different stages in different ways aren't really a thing in most of the stages I played: there is always an optimal strategy. And that strategy says “if you want to melee, you are wrong”.

The story in Hotline Miami 2 has no mystery, no interesting themes or shades of gray. If Hotline Miami was a subtle critique of violence, Hotline Miami 2 is a cynical celebration of it. Scenes of sexual violence are tasteless, cynically added as shock value and to get publicity for the game. Even the beginning of the game just has a bunch of bored slackers deciding to go kill for fun/sport. Jacket wasn't a good guy, but I still got some enjoyment out of piecing together why he was killing. Was he brainwashed, confused, or just really bloodthirsty?

In Hotline Miami 2 I know why these people are killing. Because violence is fun and cool! Did the same writers even work on both games?

I don't like Hotline Miami 2 nearly as much as the first. I can admit my extreme bias here as the first is one of my favorite games EVER and I replay it from time to time.

But in Hotline Miami 2, I didn't care about the story or the characters. The stages were overly frustrating instead of tough-but-fair. If it all turns around later in the game and the level design gets better and the story improves, that's great! But I played several hours of the game and was so frustrated by the experience that I've shut it off and haven't touched it in months.

I'm glad Hotline Miami exists, and I'm even happier that there won't be a third.

22 Comments

I Suck At Fighting Games: Mortal Kombat X

Before I start digging into this game, I'll get the positive points out of the way. Of all the games I've played in the series, I believe Mortal Kombat X is the best. It has an insane amount of content for single player, which is appreciated because many fighting games do not. The variation system is brilliant, allowing you to find something you like about any character in the game due to their diverse movesets. Despite all the variance, it's surprisingly balanced and I've never fought a character that felt frustratingly overpowered like Martian Manhunter or Batgirl were in Injustice. The combo system is very lenient and easy for beginners to play.

The reason I started making “I Suck At Fighting Games” blogs was to analyze the genre from the viewpoint of a new fighting game player. I want to show the games that are easy for people to pick up so they can get into it and start enjoying the genre.

In terms of teaching new players and giving them the basic skills to succeed, Mortal Kombat X is incredibly lacking.

You get the option to play the Tutorial when starting a new game, which looks like this.

I like parts of this tutorial for giving you basic fighting game info like

-mid attacks can be blocked high or low

-low attacks must be blocked low

-overheads must be blocked high

-How to gain meter

-Benefits of EX Special Moves

-Reversal & Wakeup attacks (props for putting "Reversal Window" and "Wakeup Attack" on the screen. Every other fighting game, do this)

And explaining some of the game's weirder systems like

-Enhanced Throws

-Breakers

-Delayed Wakeup

But there are a few flaws with the Tutorial. It doesn't explain how Kombo Attacks work: you have to input the button combination (usually three buttons) as quickly as possible.

It doesn't explain that Tech Rolls not only give you space after a knockdown, but that they are faster than normal wakeup. It also does not explain that Tech Rolls cannot be performed after every knockdown (can't do it after being thrown, for one example).

It doesn't explain how very important the Neutral Jump Punch is. Every character in the game can do a combo if they connect with a Neutral Jump Punch, as the move causes a huge, dramatic ground bounce. Most characters can even hit their X-Ray cleanly after a Neutral Jump Punch. They make the player do a few combos with Neutral Jump Punch but do not stress its importance as part of regular play.

My biggest issue is the complete lack of character-specific tutorials.

Injustice: Gods Among Us had bad character-specific tutorials. They were buried in S.T.A.R. Labs and you had to unlock the tutorials for characters, instead of having them all available from the start. However, each of these tutorials was still helpful. They gave you a handful of combos for your character and let you practice the inputs for special moves. It's better than nothing.

Mortal Kombat X has nothing like this. There's Fatality Practice, regular Practice, and Tutorial. That's it. I'm not expecting every fighting game to have character tutorials on par with Skullgirls because that particular bar is way too high. But MKX is a step back even from Injustice's flawed system.

Developers can't keep doing this. This game is already unique and very different from Capcom fighting games, and the extra layer of “there's no character tutorials” makes it even more inaccessible for new players. I want the fighting game scene to grow, and putting the tools into the game to teach new players isn't just “a nice thing to have” any more. It's essential.

How to do it right

One more negative point: in the move list for each character, there's a “Move Data” section that gives you...a bunch of data on the move! I feel like it should be fleshed out more though. A handful of the moves have text that tell you unique properties:

But not enough of the moves have this text. If a Kombo Attack hits low then overhead, put some text in there that says “First Hit Low, Second Hit Overhead”. There should be more data in there for more of the moves.

Aside from the poor tutorials, I think Mortal Kombat X is quite accessible. Tagging moves, a great feature from Injustice is back.

You can have any move in your list tagged to appear on screen. Trying to remember a combo? Just tag it and it'll stay on the screen. I've used this to remember certain combo string while online because I tend to freak out and forget.

The Training Room has pretty much every option you could ask for, unless you're asking for hitbox displays :)

But you can customize the AI to “auto-block” to see if your combos are legit. You can program them to do any of their special moves or Throw as a Reversal or Wakeup. You can change your Variation within seconds, not even having to back out to Character select. You can even set the “restart point” to a certain side of the stage, but I do prefer Persona 4 Arena Ultimax's method of just pressing Select/Back + a direction to teleport into a corner.

The actual gameplay itself is easy to pick up. Instead of having to time your button inputs precisely and do one frame links, the Kombo Attacks are basic, dialed in strings. You just have to hit the buttons as fast as possible. Once I got better at the game, I found it very easy to do interrupts by only inputting half of a Kombo Attack. Connecting Kombo Attacks and Special Moves feels very natural. With only four buttons and the way the system feels, Mortal Kombat X is remarkably easy for new players to pick up and get into.

The gameplay of Mortal Kombat X is easy enough for new players to get into, but the tutorial material is severely lacking.

Each character should have a specific tutorial for each Variation. The Move Data section could be filled out more. The tutorial itself doesn't go far enough and left out important details like how good Neutral Jump Punch is.

Even though I am disappointed with the tutorial materials, I would recommend this game for new players. There's a TON of modes for solo and multiplayer, there's so many characters to choose that you'll probably find at least three you like, and the basic gameplay is easy enough for the average person to get into.

And that's all I got on Mortal Kombat X. Even if you never get “good” at it, you can at least punch someone in the nuts so hard that their eyeballs fly out.

If you're looking for a good Mortal Kombat X tutorial because there's none in the game:

SupermanSajam has general tech tutorials and character specific ones.

UltrachenTV has a long series of MKX tutorials.

8 Comments

I Suck At Fighting Games: 2014 Recap

Since 2012, I've played a ridiculous amount of fighting games. I've tried to commit enough time to each of them to gain a basic understanding and maybe win some matches.

Turns out, that takes a long time. So long that I didn't even finish enough games to put together a proper Game of the Year list for 2014. Instead of doing that, I'll go over all of the fighting games I put time into in 2014 to determine if I am any good at them (probably not) or if I'll stick with them in the future.

Injustice: Gods Among Us

http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/perfidioussinn/blog/i-suck-at-fighting-games-injustice-gods-among-us/106748/

After being pretty cold on Mortal Kombat 9, I'm surprised at how much I continue to enjoy Injustice. I spent a huge amount of time messing with the S.T.A.R. Labs and other single player content. When I finally got online, I was winning matches within a few days.

I like how easy this game is to control. Unlike MK9, everything in this game just clicked with me. The combo strings aren't overly harsh on their timing or requirements, and allowed me to quickly start innovating my own offense instead of just copying what I saw online. I also like how important meter management is in this game. It's important to get the first hit because it awards you with bonus meter. And there's so many ways to use it that all feel equally important. Except for Super attacks though, nobody uses those.

I stuck with Raven and Hawkgirl through my entire time playing it, two different but equally enjoyable characters. Raven's long-range projectile tactics were great fun, and got me a fair amount of hate mail from people on Xbox Live.

My biggest complaints with Injustice were the somewhat spotty netcode and a few of the top tier characters. Every character has reliable, damaging combos which make comebacks very possible, but some matchups just feel crazy difficult. Batgirl is definitely the strongest character I've faced in ANY fighting game I've played, and I struggled against Batgirl players greatly. Even bad Batgirl players can ruin my day with her high damage and lightning-fast mixups.

I will keep playing this game because I like it so much, but to be honest I'll probably switch to Mortal Kombat X when that comes out. Online numbers for Injustice seem to be pretty small and the community will probably switch over to MKX for good, so I'll follow. I have high hopes for that game after Injustice.

Divekick

Long combos are lame. The least interesting part of fighting games is dialing in a 156-hit combo from muscle memory, or getting hit by said combo and just watching it for a bit. I'm all for short, flashy corner loops, but long combos put me to sleep.

No, the good parts of fighting games are tricking your opponent. Making them think you're going to do one thing, but doing something else that catches them off-guard. Hitting your opponent out of the sky so many times that they're afraid to jump. Punishing a whiffed attack so hard that they never use it again. The mind games are the interesting part.

With that said, I love how Divekick takes away the execution barrier and lets people of any skill level immediately experience the good parts of fighting games. This was one of the few games I entered a major tournament for, and shared with people who don't play fighting games at all.

There is still a skill gap involved between new players and dedicated fighting game players. I got a few victories at UFGTX in Divekick but ultimately lost to a better player. The game lacks a training mode or character tutorials. I feel these should be included because special moves are so important and some of the characters have strange specials that are hard to describe.

However, Divekick succeeds because the skill gap isn't enormous. I won't ever be good enough at Street Fighter to beat a veteran, but didn't go 0-2 in a tournament for Divekick. I had a lot of fun playing this game in casual and competitive settings, and I feel like I'll be busting it out to play with friends for years to come.

Ultra Street Fighter IV

http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/perfidioussinn/blog/i-suck-at-fighting-games-ultra-street-fighter-iv/106920/

Out of all the games on the list, this is the one I am the worst at. Makes sense, too. It has been out since 2009 and people have been practicing for years. As a '14er, what chance did I have against them?

Still, this game did make me realize what I appreciate and don't appreciate in fighting games. My main characters were Rose & Poison, which made me realize how much I rely on fireballs. I picked up Elena because she had no projectiles, forcing me to learn how to play without that resource. The one thing that draws me back to Street Fighter IV is the characters. They have tons of personality, lots of cool alternate costumes, and ridiculous win quotes.

What kept me away from Street Fighter IV was...everything else. I played the game for months with outdated, unusable Trials so I couldn't even get an idea of how to play my characters of choice. The netcode is inexcusably poor for a modern fighting game. And the biggest issue for me was controlling the game.

I don't like 1 frame links at all. It took too much practice time for me to complete many Trials. And the netcode online made 1 frame links even more difficult. I couldn't consistently do Hooligan Throw-style inputs or 720 inputs consistently, and input shortcuts made me accidentally do moves I didn't want to.

I don't think Ultra Street Fighter IV is a good game for new players, but some parts of it kept me coming back. Poison is one of my favorite characters to play in any fighting game and Omega Mode is fun in a “crazily unbalanced” kinda way. I can play the game a few times a month but it gets frustrating quickly, so I don't touch it often. And yet, I'm still excited for Street Fighter V. Maybe Q will be in it.

Persona 4 Arena: Ultimax

http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/perfidioussinn/blog/i-suck-at-fighting-games-persona-4-arena-ultimax/108356/

This year, I learned that a lot of fighting game players import their games. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax was out for months in Japan before America, so lots of players downloaded a Japanese copy. They got a head start, and I definitely felt it. If there are “newbies” in Persona 4 Arena Ultimax online, I haven't seen them yet and most of my matches have been a challenge.

I also learned that PS3 became the place to play fighting games. The PS3 version of Ultimax has more features than the 360 version and a much larger playerbase.

As for the game itself, it's nuts. Some Shadow characters have consistent touch-of-death combos, or at least ones that can take 70% of your health. Everyone was buffed, which makes things both more fair and more unbalanced as the weak got average and the top tier got even stronger.

And I keep playing it. I curse the screen when I keep getting reset over and over by Minazuki, but cackle like a madman when I hit him with a command grab that does 70% damage. I groan when getting hit by Shadow Chie's death combo but smile when winning with Kanji's “1.5 million frames of invincibility” DP. It's not the most balanced game in the world, but it's so much fun that I don't care. In the end, I appreciate having fun more than having a game that's “100% fair” (I put that in quotes because none of them are)!

I'll definitely keep playing it until I can get a PS3 and access to the larger world of anime fighting games.

Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate

http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/perfidioussinn/blog/i-suck-at-fighting-games-dead-or-alive-5-ultimate/105024/

I played about 100 matches of Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate and pretty much stopped. I like the game, I love that it has one of the best tutorials in any fighting game, and it has plenty of stuff to do single player. It's one of the few games where I stuck to one character and didn't pick up any substitutes. Rachel's combination between grappling and slow, heavy strikes ended up fitting my playstyle very well. It's one of the few times where a fighting game character perfectly fit how I wanted to play, and playing as Rachel is so fun that I still load up the game from time to time to do so.

The only reason I quit is because the online netcode is bad. The online menus are clunky and load slowly. Sometimes matches that started off good would have huge lag spikes in the middle. It's ideal to play fighting games locally, but since I don't get many opportunities to do so, I rely on multiplayer. If the online is bad, I stop playing.

Still, I enjoy playing the game enough that I'm about to buy it a third time. Dead or Alive 5: Last Round is coming out next year and I'm looking forward to it. Just hoping that the netcode is better this time.

Nidhogg

This is not a fighting game, but it's worth bringing up. It's 1v1, competitive, two dimensional...close enough, right?

Nidhogg has online gameplay but I have only ever played it locally. It's more complex than Divekick but still accessible for new players, and there is a surprising amount of nuance. Holding your sword high counters divekicks. If you want to face off on the ground, your sword stances actually allow a fun fencing game. And there's also the tried-and-true tactic of sweeping the legs and ripping your opponent's heart out.

Just like any good fighting game, Nidhogg relies on your analyzing your opponent's strategy and countering. I've fought people who love divekicking, so I adapt by holding my sword high whenever they take to the air. I tend to stay on the ground a lot, so I'm extremely vulnerable to the sweep & heart rip combo.

This is another game that has the soul of a fighting game but simple rules that allow anyone to play. It's another game that I'll break out in gatherings with friends for a long time.

Playing Offline

http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/perfidioussinn/blog/i-suck-at-fighting-games-ultimate-fighting-game-to/106169/

This year I made it to Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament X, a major tournament in Chicago. I used the time to play a lot of casual matches and ask questions while playing. It was an invaluable experience, as I learned nuances of the game systems and matchups that I can't really get online. Turns out, people are pretty nice and willing to help out when playing fighting games offline!

I entered Divekick and Street Fighter X Tekken tournaments, but ended up spending a lot of time with Injustice. When I think about it, I enjoy that game so much that I wish I entered the tournament for it.

I also realized how bad my tournament nerves are at UFGTX. My days of practice were shot as I forgot my combos, fumbled around in button checks, and had to calm my shaky hands before playing. I suck at tournaments, which is why I need to play locally more.

To do so, I found a local scene to play fighting games on Tuesday nights. I also found a game club at college, and we play fighting games together occasionally. Just by going to these meetups, I've been able to calm my awful “tourney nerves” and play more consistently at a local setting. Hopefully this will translate to better results in the future if I go to more tournaments.

2015's Fighting Games

There's a lot of fighting games to look forward to next year. Mortal Kombat X is looking great, and I'm even more excited for it after loving Injustice. Dead or Alive 5: Last Round might be more of the same, but I enjoy DOA5 and the same game with better netcode will be good for me. Tekken 7 might come out next year, and I will definitely check that out. I liked Tekken Tag Tournament 2 for everything except the “tag” part, so Tekken 7 looks like it's for me.

If I can get my hands on a new console, I'd love to play Guilty Gear XRD, Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late, and Super Smash Bros. For Wii U.

Will I ever get good at any of these games, or place high in a tournament in 2015? The answer lies...in the heart of battle.

And the title of this blog.

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I Suck At Fighting Games: Persona 4 Arena Ultimax

If you would like to avoid spoilers, play Persona 3 and 4 before reading this.

For the first few days, I had no idea if I even liked Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. I anticipated it for months because the previous game is one of my favorite fighting games ever. This sequel takes the base of Persona 4 Arena and piles on a ridiculous amount of extra content like new characters, stages and game modes. They also changed the systems and the characters themselves so much that parts of it are unrecognizable.

I enjoy Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, but not every change improved the game.

What's good about the game?

1. It's not too complicated.

In 2012, I praised the original Persona 4 Arena for its wealth of tutorial and training systems. Fighting games are extremely difficult to get into, but even a new player like me eased into Persona 4 Arena and could actually win matches.

I'm happy to say that this game continues that trend. It quickly teaches you all the important mechanics, and is a great game for new fighting game players at a low level.

The Lesson Mode is even more detailed this time around, with more tutorials and more detailed descriptions.

There's also Challenge Mode that teaches you the moveset and several combos for every character in the game, along with Demonstrations where the game shows you a brief video of what you should be doing. Every fighting game should have this!

The Training Mode is one of the best around, with multiple pages of options that allows you an unprecedented level of customization. Want to know exactly how fast Junpei recovers health with Victory Cry and 31 runs on the board? You can do it.

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax already has simple inputs compared to most fighting games. 90% of special moves are quarter circle forward or quarter circle back, and there are only four buttons. Combine that with robust tutorial modes and an excellent training mode, and it remains one of the best fighting games for newcomers.

2. Lots of new stuff.

A lot has been added to this sequel. It's far from a simple expansion pack because of the amount of added content AND the changes made to each character.

New Characters: The characters added in this sequel are so cool that I wish I could play them all (except for Marie). Including downloadable characters, Margaret, SHO Minazuki, Sho MINAZUKI, Ken & Koromaru, Yukari, Adachi, Junpei, Rise and Marie are brand new. I won't waste too much space talking about them, but for the most part I found these characters enjoyable to play in their own individual ways.

Playing Ken & Koromaru tested my dexterity because they are basically two separate characters to control, with the dog even having his own health meter. When played properly, they are devastating. You can attack with both of them at the same time, covering some of Ken's slower moves with Koromaru's quick attacks. Fighting this pair can lead to situations where you're blocking for a LONG time because it gets overwhelming and you don't know when you can counterattack.

Junpei is possibly the worst character in the game, but he has the coolest mechanic I've ever seen in a fighting game. He is a baseball player with a BASEBALL METER on screen. Connecting with bat attacks builds up a run counter, and when you have 10 runs he goes into a super mode where he gets more powerful as well as regains health and meter slowly. More runs = more buffs. You can also lose opportunities to build your score, as whiffing attacks or getting blocked count as strikes! You're playing baseball in a fighting game, which is the coolest and most inventive thing I've seen in the genre in a while.

Junpei struggles to win against most of the cast, but he is so much fun to play as.

All of the returning characters also received new moves and a Shadow mode. The Shadow mode isn't too special for most characters, but for some it is a major buff. More on that later.

The rebalancing and addition of new moves has lead to the returning characters playing differently from the last game, which has both forced me to learn new combos and drop characters like Yosuke because my brain couldn't reconcile how much they've changed. Overall, I appreciate how far they went to make the characters play differently, giving them new options and tactics. The tiers are slightly closer, and those extremely difficult matchups from Persona 4 Arena feel more manageable.

There are a handful of new universal mechanics that change up tactics as well. SP Skill Boost are EX Supers, costing 75 meter but dealing much more damage. Fatal Recovery is added to certain moves, meaning that getting counterhit after them is always a Fatal Counter. Guard Cancel Evasive Action allows you to roll out of blockstun and get some breathing room. And of course, the Shadow characters have their own quirks.

New Score Attack: In Persona 4 Arena, Score Attack was a brutally difficult variant of Arcade mode where you fought Boss variants of every character. Now, it's a bit different.

New Score Attack allows you to pick your difficulty and your course, the latter of which determines what 10 characters you will face. Depending on your difficulty, you could face five Bosses, ten bosses, or none. You don't really unlock anything if you're not on the highest difficulty, but the mode is good for a challenge against tough but fair AI.

Golden Arena: This is basically Survival Mode from any other fighting game with RPG elements. You fight several battles in a row, some of them being against stronger boss characters. All the while, you gain experience points that allow you to raise your stats, equip skills and customize your character just like in Persona 3 & 4.

This mode is a cool way to tie together the RPG side of Persona games with the fighting game, but it has a few issues. You “equip” a partner for buffs, but unlocking them is explained. Rise is provided and it's shown that there are other Social Links to unlock, but you aren't told how to unlock them. Even after completing the first course (46 fights!) I was stuck with Rise with no hints of how to get anyone else.

The game also doesn't mention when your progress is saved. From what I can tell, the game saves after boss fights. However, it doesn't tell you this and it's not obvious when you are fighting a boss. From what I observed, bosses are probably the characters with slightly higher stats and are decked out in all-black colors. The rules could have been explained better on that. Still, Golden Arena is a cool twist on the Survival mode that some fighting games include.

3. Excellent Online.

I can't speak about new lobby system because I'm on Xbox 360. Get the PS3 version if you can because that thing looks awesome.

Besides that, the online experience in Persona 4 Arena is still great. Unranked matches allow for 8 player “Open Arena” lobbies where everyone can play with no waiting or spectating. Ranked matches allow you to “Enlist” and then back out of the menu.

While Enlisted, you can play the majority of offline modes while the game searches for matches in the background. When that happens, you get a little pop-up and can jump directly into a match. After that, it puts you back into the mode you were in.

I found this very useful while training. I'd warm up and practice combos in Training Mode, and a match pops up. I'd take the match and seamlessly get put back into training when I was done. It's a great feature.

Aside from that, the netcode is comparable to Persona 4 Arena. It's much better than most fighting games and rarely stutters online, even in situations where the bars look low. Just make sure you watch the intro before an online match, and any stuttering will magically fix itself.

What's not good about the game?

1. Marie is in the game. Remove her please.

I'm kidding. I don't actually want her removed....unless you're gonna do it.

2. Shadow characters might be overpowered.

The Shadow characters in this game work a little differently than normal characters. They have lots of altered properties, but these three are the most important:

-More health

-Higher meter gain

-Access to Shadow Frenzy

To simplify Shadow Frenzy, it gives the character infinite meter for a few seconds and lets them cancel any move into any other move. This lets you do stylish combos and loops...which can do 50 to 100 percent damage on other characters.

Shadow Chie and Shadow Naoto are the best at this. They have extremely painful combos that are difficult to burst out of. If you used your Burst earlier in the round against Shadow Naoto/Chie, you're probably gonna die.

Most Shadows don't seem as good as those two, but I've seen and been hit by insane combos from Shadow Yukiko and Shadow Akihiko as well.

Shadow characters might be overpowered because their advantages are not balanced by many disadvantages. They do less damage overall, but their Shadow Frenzy combos can kill easily. They WILL get Shadow Frenzy at some point because of their increased meter gain and the fact that their unused super meter carries over through rounds.

Besides that, dying in one combo just feels unfair. It wasn't a regular occurrence in Persona 4 Arena, where Awakening mode gave you some more health and meter for a comeback. Fights against Shadows can feel hopeless as you get hit once and eat an 80% combo. It feels unbalanced in a game that is mostly fair.

3. Everyone got buffed.

In order to bridge the gap between low tier and high tier in Persona 4 Arena, every character seemed to improve in Ultimax. I play Kanji and I have appreciated his changes. His autocombo is much better, the Skill Boost versions of his supers allow him to do high damaging combos and make crazy comebacks, and his new shoulder charge move allows him to close the gap on zoning characters more easily.

However, buffing everyone made some balance problems worse. Yu Narukami was one of the best characters in Persona 4 Arena, but his buffs just made him annoying to fight against. He has a new command grab and his Cross Slash super has been made even better. Shadow Narukami is an entirely new level of ridiculous. Labrys has fallen even further in the tiers as the stronger characters around her got even better. Junpei is hopeless. Minazuki (with Persona) is so much better than Sho that he makes the latter irrelevant. Shadow Chie and Shadow Naoto make their regular versions irrelevant.

It took me a while to decide, but I ended up enjoying Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. However, it is a very different game than the first Arena. It's less balanced and has many more instances where a stray hit can turn into a fatal combo.

Despite all that, I don't get truly frustrated playing this game. It could be the combination between my unhealthy Persona obsession and the fact that every character has SOMETHING unfair in their arsenal. It's rough getting trapped in Minazuki's long, easy to execute, high damaging combos. But once I get into Awakening I can land a 70% super grab and turn the tide. It's unfair but enjoyable to employ those scumbag tactics. You could say it's FUNfair!

I'd recommend it to fans of Persona 4 for the story mode and other single player modes. At a low level, it's still great to get into for newer fighting game players due to its easy inputs and great tutorials. But if I wasn't already somewhat experienced, I'd probably be more upset at some of the insane things that happen. I still enjoy the game and recommend it, but I find myself playing online for shorter sessions than I did in Persona 4 Arena.

A common argument is that every fighting game is unfair or unbalanced in some way, and your personal preferences will determine what type of unfairness you're willing to put up with. Compared to its sequel, Persona 4 Arena: Ultimax is MUCH less fair and balanced. But I can put up with it.

Is that damning it with faint praise? Maybe!

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I could not finish Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas HD.

I couldn't complete Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas HD. After 10 hours, I hit a wall. I probably could push on and finish the game at some point as I've done many times in the past. But this time, I absolutely could not motivate myself to see it through until the end.

There's a lot of quirks that makes this game difficult to return to, especially playing it after Grand Theft Auto V. But even after dealing with them, the failure of one mission caused me to turn the game off.

I appreciate this port adding checkpoints. Without them, I would have had to drive about five minutes back to the mission start point and retry. So after failing, I hit “Retry From Last Checkpoint”.

It returned me to the beginning of the mission. I turned off the game, and I doubt I'll turn it back on.

For a ten year old game, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas still has some cool tricks. The world feels larger than even Grand Theft Auto V, even though that may not be true. The character customization is still cool, as you can completely change CJ's clothing and physique. If you want to make a buff Mr. T impersonator complete with mohawk and tacky gold jewelry, you can. If you'd rather eat a lot of fast food and get fat, you can. And there seem to be hundreds of lines of dialog related to your character's physique and clothing that change as you alter those parameters.

There is a ridiculous amount minigames and collectibles scattered around the game. It's possible to go through the story and never encounter pool, blackjack and poker, dating, hidden packages, and an entire line of sidequests. I know I won't encounter some of these, because I can't bring myself to finish the game.

At $3.74, I couldn't resist delving into the Grand Theft Auto nostalgia. I know the game is technically a mobile port, but I'm completely fine with the updated visuals and improved draw distance. It only took a few minutes to get over the weird faces and blocky hands.

The dated graphics aren't the worst part of the game.

It's a known issue in this port that sound will cut out during cutscenes. I've played the game for about ten hours and it happened during four cutscenes. It's a low percentage, but considering that it NEVER happened in the original version, it's an unacceptable percentage.

The control scheme is imperfect compared to the original. I prefer total free aim and played both IV and V without using lock-on targeting once. In San Andreas HD, you can use Free Aim only...but I do not recommend it. Even after tweaking sensitivity settings, I never got the aiming to feel completely natural. Slight movements would cause the reticle to fly way off, and I could never aim onto targets as fast as I needed to. I switched to Lock-On targeting which limits your targeting to ONLY Lock-On. If you're trying to use Free Aim with this control method on, you can't. It locks onto the nearest human, making it completely impossible to aim for a car's tires or gas tank when you really want to.

I know I'm not remembering things incorrectly here. In the PS2 version, you could lock on to someone but then move the reticle, smoothly transitioning you to Free Aim. It wasn't Free Aim Only or Lock-On Only. This change makes an already awkward combat system feel worse.

The dated controls are only a minor reason why I gave up. I remembered shortly after starting the game how poor the pacing can be. The missions where you are stranded in the mountains involve large amounts of travel time across uneven terrain. There's no GPS line on the minimap, which lead me to many situations of driving across the grass and up mountains because I didn't know which road to take. After a mission ends, you often must drive several minutes to get to the next one.

Rockstar probably wants you to get distracted by side missions between story missions so the travel time feels less repetitive, but I've played this game to 100% completion in the past. I only focused on finishing main story quests, and that meant a lot of monotonous driving back and forth. After a few hours, I was begging for a fast travel system. The 5+ minutes of driving after every mission is boring now.

I had a few more reasons to stop playing San Andreas HD apart from being completely fed up with driving everywhere. There's a San Fierro mission that locks you out until you build up your Lung Capacity, which meant spending some time swimming underwater and resurfacing over and over. I've never spent the time building that stat, so it would be a session of level grinding that I have no motivation to do.

My favorite parts of San Andreas were the Las Venturas and Los Santos missions near the end. I loved the storylines of setting up an elaborate heist and returning to Los Santos to retake it for Grove Street, and looked forward to the missions where you visit Liberty City, skyjack an airplane, and break into a military base to steal a jetpack.

Most of those missions are in the latter half of the game, however. The initial Grove Street missions are basic, the countryside missions are annoying due to the travel time and dealing with unlikable characters. The San Fierro missions are largely uninteresting. San Andreas has major pacing issues, and for every spectacular mission there are five uninspired ones. The controls actively hindered my enjoyment of many missions, particularly ones that involved drive-by shooting.

Still, there are parts of the game that were good to revisit. Going into fast food places to restore health and being able to customize every part of your outfit individually were missing from Grand Theft Auto V. It still seems like there are more random hobbies and side missions in San Andreas compared to the latest game, and they have tangible, useful rewards for completing them like increased maximum health or armor.

The sheer amount of things to do in San Andreas is impressive, but the dated design of the game wore me down too much. It was worth the three dollars to revisit, but I've been spoiled by its successors. I couldn't finish Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas HD, but going back makes the newer games look even more impressive by comparison.

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I Suck At Fighting Games: Ultra Street Fighter IV

I've looked at a lot of games since I started taking fighting games seriously around two years ago. I've covered most of the subgenres and found what I like and dislike about most of them. However, this is my first time covering a game that isn't finished.

Street Fighter IV isn't a new game, and I guess some of its various problems and weird glitches can't really be fixed in this incremental update (Check out this article for more on that). There's things wrong with Ultra Street Fighter IV that were wrong with the game when it first came out...but the bug list is pretty intense. http://forums.shoryuken.com/discussion/190962/usf4-bugs-and-improper-set-character-data-list-please-contribute/p1

I don't care enough about frame data to get upset about some of this, but there are things that affect the characters I play, and I can feel it.

For Poison,

“On block Super grants the opponent 100% of the "on hit" meter.

Ultra 2 input cannot end with any UP input. 2X half circle back -> up back +3P results in EX Rekka instead of U2. Fireball input cannot end with any UP input. QCF+Up results in a jump instead of canceling the prejump frames into fireball.”

For Elena,

“Move list priority is incorrectly set. Elena's super and ultras are ranked as higher than appeal or focus. This allows for canceling focus attack into ultra / super by utilizing an armor absorb cancel.

Most multi hit specials are inconsistent on a large majority of the cast resulting in mid move drop outs.”

It may not mean much to new players, but I ended up spending around $35 for this game ($20 for the base game, $15 for the Ultra update) and that's a lot of money for a game that's not finished. The weird glitches aren't the only reason why I say this. There's things that I found which hampered my ability to learn SF4 as a new player.

Ultra Street Fighter IV has no tutorial. The previous iteration Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition 2012 had no tutorial. And despite the theory that Street Fighter IV is great to get beginners into fighting games, I don't see it. I'm not new to the genre, but I am new to this game and there is just one included resource to learn how to play: an in-game text manual.

Do you know what a Focus Attack is or how to perform it? I didn't without looking it up! I also didn't know that Focus Attacks have three levels with different attack properties or how to do the extremely important Focus Attack Dash Cancel.

The “Trial” mode is the closest the game comes to a tutorial. You're given a set of 24 combos to perform, the first few teaching you how to input some of your character's special moves and Ultras.

The problem is that Trial mode is one part of the game that's currently unfinished. Upon entering Trial Mode you see this screen:

This game has seen many iterations since 2009. The Ultra Street Fighter IV versions of characters have changed since the previous iteration, AE2012. Trial Mode gives you combos that might not even be possible in Ultra. The inputs for Super or Ultra Combos are occasionally inaccurate, since a handful of them did change with the latest update. And Trial Mode never teaches you about the new mechanics for Ultra, Delayed Wakeup and Red Focus. There are entire characters missing from Trial Mode, so you'll have to go to Training Mode to try out their movesets.

And even if this mode were fully updated, it would be inferior to Persona 4 Arena's challenge mode. That challenge mode displays your needed inputs for Special Moves on screen at all times, allows you to quickly reset both characters positions with one button press, and includes a Demonstration where you can see the computer performing the combo so you can tell what you need to do.

For a game where combos are extremely reliant on timing and 1 frame button presses, it's crazy to me that there's no Demonstration so I can even see how the combo should look.

Since the game just straight up leaves out the resources you'll want or need to learn it, I looked elsewhere. Luckily there's a large database online, and I'll link a few videos that helped me a lot in learning.

UltraDavid and James Chen go over the basics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aq3pJ-LvxVA&list=PL45-KVgrSkf7Yz5S3dGWZ3Sfti-3A8k0d

The USF4 Guidebook by MetalMusicMan04: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiWHE0iGG74

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wf35PwXonb0

Shoryuken Bruh on Combos, Links and Timing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CU7xRoVRUxQ&list=UUrq8B--z8VyqzrQBtv5JxOw

It's good that this game has been around so long that people are REALLY good at it and willing to teach.

So, since there were no Trials for my character of choice, I jumped into Training Mode and just messed around for a while. Training has its ups and downs.

+You can set the CPU to “Auto Block” which is crucial for learning the timing on combos. If you time your combo correctly, every attack will connect. If you mess up, the CPU will block and you'll know that the timing is wrong. “Random Block” is also useful for learning to cut your combos short if they're getting blocked.

+Input Display lets you see if you're inputting a move incorrectly, so you know why it's not coming out.

+It's very easy and quick to record and replay a training dummy's actions

+You can turn on Fight Request from here, allowing you to train while waiting for online matches. Way better than sitting in a lobby!

-You can't quickly restart the training state by hitting the Back or Select button

-You can disable Fight Request from Training Mode, but you can't turn it back on

-It takes too long to leave Training, pick a character, and go back in due to the load times

-You can't set the dummy to break throws

-You can't set the dummy to do Delayed Wakeup

The last one is also silly because Delayed Wakeup affects some characters significantly. Characters like Ibuki and Cammy prey on opponents getting up after a knockdown because they can put them in an extremely difficult to block situation, but Delayed Wakeup can throw off their timing when used correctly. So why isn't a Training option? The game's not finished.

(Your worst nightmare until you get good at the game)

So, after spending not enough time learning my commands I jumped into Ranked mode online. I would highly recommend going into Ranked over Endless Battle, and be sure to set the skill level to “Same Skill”. Jumping into Endless Battle or Ranked (not on Same Skill) is like diving into shark infested waters. This game has been around for so long that basically everyone playing it is good, or at least better than you will be at first.

I found getting into matches via Fight Request in Training was preferable, because the experience of going to “Xbox Live Battle” is a mess of refreshing, clicking lobbies as they disappear and kick you back a layer, loading, refreshing the search, loading, loading again.

Once you get online, the netcode ranges from “OK” to “atrocious”. I've had many matches where “Waiting For Player” messages pop up every few seconds, making the game nearly unplayable. I've had matches where the game felt fine but my controller inputs were blatantly not coming out, resulting in it registering two simultaneous button presses when I presses three, or a double QCF registering as only one. I've been playing with friends for several matches in a row, and for some matches it randomly decides to make the netcode much worse for no real reason. It's not the worst netcode I've ever experienced, but it's outclassed by nearly all of its contemporaries.

Playing Ultra Street Fighter IV online actually wasn't an endless loop of me losing every match like I expected, but I'm sure it's only because I'm on Same Skill. I win the majority of my matches in my rank, but if I'm fighting someone more skilled it's never close. I feel like I'm stuck and won't ever be able to beat people at a higher rank than me, no matter how often I play.

But I can admit Street Fighter IV is a unique case here. There are people playing this game that have been playing since 2009. I can't realistically expect to get to that level because I can't make up for the several years of practice other people have on me. It's one of the reasons why I wouldn't recommend this game to beginners.

The timing for combos and inputs for certain special moves makes this game even more difficult to get into. Many combos rely on one frame links which rely on pressing buttons in some esoteric, unexplained timing. There are a few characters with “Target Combos” which work like strings in other fighing games (input moves as quickly as possible) but not everyone has the benefit of having easy, reliable combos. Some special moves like Cammy's Hooligan Throw have weird inputs like

360 commands are very difficult to do without jumping, so playing grappler characters as a beginner is an exercise in accidentally jumping forward when trying to do a command throw, and your opponent realizing you're trying to do a command throw and avoiding it. I still can't do double 360s consistently without jumping. I've had issues pulling off Delayed Wakeup even though I input it correctly, and I can't really explain why.

What I Liked:

+Large cast of unique characters. Even the ones who fall into the same class feel different

+Launching into online Ranked mode straight from Training or Arcade

+Animated cutscenes in Story Mode

+Ability to individually change character voice languages

What I Didn't Like:

-No tutorial

-Trials aren't helpful

-Online netcode isn't good

-Combos rely on strict timing and it's difficult to tell how to do them correctly

-Numerous glitches, some of which affected my gameplay (like hurtbox glitches and inputs being overlapped)

-Some special moves have very complex inputs

-Training Mode lacks a few options like setting the dummy to break throws or use Delayed Wakeup

-Arcade Mode isn't useful for learning the game because the AI reads inputs, making it an unfair match

-Online menus are clunky

-Lots of loading

Ultra Street Fighter IV is an update of an older game and will understandably have some drawbacks. From my perspective as a new player trying to learn it, it wasn't very enjoyable. I think it's difficult for new players to get into in terms of gameplay and its dated presentation. The only reason I've won 100 online matches so far is because I've built up fundamentals playing other games. I keep it simple online and never try to do advanced combos, partly because of online lag, partly because I find the combo system awkward.

Ultra Street Fighter IV is a good game to get into if you've already been playing Street Fighter IV for a while, or you're incredibly dedicated and want to dedicate your time to making it the only fighting game you play. For new players, trying to play this game as your first will be frustrating and I'd recommend other, more modern games.

Here's some links again for beginner tutorials that helped me out.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aq3pJ-LvxVA&list=PL45-KVgrSkf7Yz5S3dGWZ3Sfti-3A8k0d

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiWHE0iGG74

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wf35PwXonb0

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrq8B--z8VyqzrQBtv5JxOw

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I Suck At Fighting Games: Injustice: Gods Among Us

I can't claim to know much about the history of DC's heroes and villains. I never watched the Batman or Superman cartoons when I was a kid, and I've read a grand total of five comic books in my life. The appeal of DC characters punching each other didn't draw me into Injustice: Gods Among Us. What drew me in were the things I saw in Injustice that no other current fighting game had.

The mechanics that makes Injustice stand out aren't new. Dead or Alive had level transitions for years. Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee had interactive objects as a major part of gameplay, as you threw bridges and buildings at your opponents. Still, seeing these elements combined in one game immediately set it apart from other 2D fighting games. In movies and cartoons, superheroes and villains always smash their opponents through buildings and throw heavy junk at each other. It only makes sense to put it in a game about superheroes.

To beginners, the interactive objects in Injustice can seem cheap. They do a punishing amount of damage for what seems like relatively low risk. However, the tradeoff is using any interactive object has a slow startup that can be punished easily. If the object is a thrown item, it always travels in the same path. I quickly memorized how each object would react so I could jump out of the way or evade it with the small amount of invincibility frames on backdashing.

The level transitions are very painful to get hit by, but not every stage has them and are only activated if you get hit by a slow wall bounce move that is easy to avoid.

And if you still find these elements of the game too distracting or unfair, you can turn them off. The Injustice community has generally accepted level transitions and interactables as fair for tournament play, which is cool because it's one of the things that sets the game apart from others, especially its predecessor Mortal Kombat 9.

But before I started worrying about getting hit in the face with air conditioners, I tested out various single player options to see if Injustice would be a game I could get into. The tutorial is highly recommended, as it teaches nearly every aspect of the game quickly.

I had a couple of issues with the tutorial in the end. One is just an issue with the Reversal system. After you block any attack you can input a special move and do it faster than normal, which is a feature in most fighting games (Street Fighter comes to mind). I like how it says “Reversal Window” when it's possible, but the timing is so awkward that I never really go for Reversal moves because I don't know if they'll come out or not.

The second issue is that the tutorial doesn't teach you enough about your meter.

You can hit the meter burn button while using an interactable to gain several hits of armor, making many of them basically safe to use. To assist in stage transitions, you can also meter burn your wall bounce (back+heavy) and your ground bound (forward+heavy). The tutorial also doesn't teach you which interactables can be Meter Burned, which might be understandable because there's a lot of them.

After the tutorial, I jumped into the Story Mode. Similar to Mortal Kombat 9, you play a large cast of characters through the story, giving you a chance to learn their moves. I also enjoyed the minigames that took place between fights to break the monotony. But what was up with Superman killing all those civilians?

That's not all for the single player content. There's Battles mode where you fight several characters while hindered by a gimmick like draining health, handicap matches or a shortened time limit. There's S.T.A.R. Labs that contain a huge amount of challenges for each character. If you want to learn more about how to play a character, the S.T.A.R. Labs all contain a mission that acts as a brief tutorial. There's even some missions that are execution drills, forcing you to use a handful of special moves over and over until you can do them easily.

There's one issue with S.T.A.R. Labs as a training device, however. You have to unlock later character's missions by getting enough stars on the earlier ones. If you want to play Wonder Woman or Ares' tutorials, you might have to beat over 100 missions just to unlock them! Also, some of the downloadable characters don't have tutorials at all.

For those characters, the excellent Training mode makes things a lot easier. On top of expected features like full control of the AI's states including record and playback, you can turn on a detailed display that tells you how much damage a move did and what region it will hit (mid, high, low, or overhead). You can highlight where you need to stand to use an interactive object or transition. You can tag up to six moves to appear at the top of your screen so you don't forget them as you practice, eliminating the need to return to the pause screen and look up moves every couple of seconds.

That last one is something I think should be included in every fighting game. Tagging moves is amazing. You can even tag moves for multiplayer matches if you're the type of person to freak out and forget your moves mid match (I am!)There's frame data on each move and combo string, but I've heard it's not accurate.

(credit: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-HApsuNV7Qb5QAxXVucW0g)

So in my quest to Get Good, I found the S.T.A.R. Labs missions were actually more helpful than I thought. Missions where you can't let you opponent hit you once are a quick drill on your character's movement options and keepaway attacks. Missions where you have to hit a high-damaging combo force you to innovate on the spot and maximize your damage. Of course, looking up YouTube videos like the one I linked above helped a lot too.

Now that I've been playing online a lot and winning enough to get a fair amount of hatemail, I've really found out what I enjoy about Injustice. With the exception of maybe The Joker and Cyborg, there aren't any matchups that have felt hopeless. Most characters can perform a 20%-30% basic combo with one bar of meter, and their Character Power helps them out of desperate situations. I play lame in most fighting games, which naturally drew me to Raven as a keepaway character. Raven's Character Power lets her cover basically anywhere on the screen with projectiles and grab her opponent from full screen. The Character Power is a great feature that makes each character feel totally different even as they share the universal inputs.

I feel like the game is fairly easy to pick up because of the universal mechanics like down+Medium for launchers and back+Heavy for wall bounces. If you can hit those, you can get a quick and easy combo. It just takes training to maximize your damage off of that one hit.

With the exception of a few weird command grabs and Close/Far projectiles, the inputs aren't difficult and the combo strings aren't dependent on strict timing; you just input them as quickly as possible and they work. Clash is an interesting twist on a traditional “combo breaker” because you only get one and it's dependent on meter, so even if you break the combo you could still be one hit away from losing.

I've enjoyed Injustice: Gods Among Us more than I thought I would, and I've been playing it regularly since April, just recently passing 200 matches played (with a little over 100 wins). The game is balanced well enough that you can get wins with most characters (except for The Joker and Cyborg probably), and I have fun playing it. It would be an injustice if this game doesn't get a sequel with even more DC characters I don't know.

What I Liked:

-Execution barrier is low. Most combos don't rely on strict timing and are easy to execute

-Many strategic uses for meter

-Story Mode that lets you try out many characters, and has fun minigames

-S.T.A.R. Labs provide more solo content than most other fighting games

-Very detailed and customizable Training mode

-Daily Challenges gives an incentive to keep playing online

-Unique online multiplayer modes

What I Didn't Like:

-S.T.A.R. Labs contain character tutorials, but they aren't all unlocked from the start.

-Netcode can be unreliable

-Lots of quitters online

-Awkward inputs for some special moves like command throws and Close/Far projectiles

-Damage effects don't look good

-Load times are frequent and too long

-Input window for reversal attacks is difficult to discern

If you're looking for a good starting point to learning a character, check out http://testyourmight.com/forums/choose-your-hero-villain.233/

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GTA Online: 100 Tiny Cuts

Since the initial trailer, Grand Theft Auto Online seemed like a dream coming true for me. I've been a fan of Grand Theft Auto for a while, and have lots of memories playing the game with friends locally. I remember the extremely limited and strange feature in San Andreas that allowed you to play brief 2 player Rampages.

The online function of Grand Theft Auto IV was a little better, but the awkward menus and my growing apathy toward most of the game kept it from being the GTA Online experience I really wanted. I liked Grand Theft Auto V a lot more, and the online function looked like exactly what I wanted.

Creating and leveling your own character, participating in structured Jobs and Missions with friends, or just roaming the enormous game map. It was everything I wanted and I couldn't wait to jump into it with friends.

I've played Grand Theft Auto V for about 300 hours now, and about 100 of them were spent in GTA Online. While I'm still having fun when teaming up with friends, and while the game has significantly improved since release, I have a handful of issues with it that I'd like to see improved with future patches. I want Grand Theft Auto Online to be the best it can possibly be, and maybe fixing some of these issues will help with that.

Character Creator Is Bad

I have very few positive things to say about GTA Online's character creator. It's confusing, convoluted, and probably worse than every modern character creation system out there. Instead of choosing your character's physical appearance with sliders, you choose what your parents and grandparents looked like and they give you an appearance linked to that. You also choose your character's lifestyle with a weird time assignment system that doesn't seem to affect anything but starting stats...which doesn't matter because you'll level all those stats up to full naturally.

The biggest problem here is that your character looks different in the Creator than they do in the game. So I had to start over after creating them and sitting through copious load screens, because they had a weird face in game. My proposed solution is to incorporate a plastic surgeon in GTA Online so you can fix your appearance as needed. It might link back to the same broken character creation screen, but it's better than having to remake them from scratch.

Failed To Find A Compatible GTA Online Session

Revisiting the image I posted at the top of the article.

I get this message 90% of the time that I try to join GTA Online from the main menu. The process is as such:

1. Hit A at startup to join GTA Online

2. Sit through several minutes of loading time

3. Failed To Find A Compatible Session

4. Sit through brief load time to get kicked into GTA V single player

5. Try to join GTA Online again

6. Sit through several minutes loading time

And if I don't get step 7 (get kicked out again), I'm in the game. It's silly. My proposed solution is to put me in a solo session if I can't connect to a group one. Kicking the player back to GTA V for them to start the loading process again is maddening, especially when the game takes so long to load up in the first place.

GTA Online separates lobbies by your Targeting Mode: Free Aim, Traditional GTA, or Assisted Aiming. I only play Free Aim and I assume the other lobbies are more populated, which could lead to my repeated “failed to join” experiences. But don't punish me by making me wait longer. Just put me into a Solo Session if necessary. There are plenty of things to do solo! I really don't mind!

Passive Mode and the Broken Spawn System

Most players in GTA Online lobbies want to kill you. A lot. In theory, you can go into Passive Mode and be left alone while you go about your business. Passive Mode protects you from getting shot by other players.

In practice, Passive Mode isn't passive enough. I've found in this state, you can still be killed if a player runs you over or kills you with explosives. If you get into your car, they can shoot you and your car can be blown up.

If you're getting hounded by a player who is killing you over and over, Passive Mode is near worthless because of another oversight: the respawn system. After death, you respawn close to where you were killed and in many cases, close to the player who killed you. I have had more than a few instances of getting killed by a player, respawning, trying to get a car to drive away, and getting shot down because Passive Mode disables when you're in a car.

My solution to this problem is allow you to respawn at a chosen location after death/suicide. The handy Interaction Menu allows you to set a waypoint for major landmarks at any time. How about adding an option to choose your respawn point on death? If you want to stay near the place you died, leave it off. If you need to get out of there and avoid spawn kills, pick a location from the menu. Seems like an easy fix.

"On Call" Doesn't Actually Work

I've complained multiple times about no one joining lobbies in GTA Online. Maybe it's a complaint about the playerbase as a whole, but I haven't had a race or mission start quickly in months. People just don't want to join. This could also be linked to Free Aim lobbies having lower population, I admit.

So, was my routine. I'd make a lobby for a race/deathmatch/whatever, and wait.

I've waited up to 20 minutes for games to start before, even using the “Auto-Invite And Play” button which allegedly “Finds players to quickly start a session” for you. No dice. I've probably spent more time waiting in empty lobbies in GTA Online than doing anything else.

So, in a recent patch Rockstar added “On Call” mode. You can queue up an event and continue to roam the open world as players join. But I've never seen anyone join. Tried every match type, waited for over 10 minutes, and nothing. Does the feature even function? Can I still change match options when I join?

No one really knows!

I guess my solution is to yell at everyone playing the game to make them join lobbies, but that's unrealistic.

No Tracker For Online Goals

One cool things about GTA Online is that you can level up and are given a HUGE amount of tasks and challenges to complete to help you level faster.

It's anything from spending cash on clothes to killing people in Deathmatches enough times with a shotgun. A lot of these challenges can be completed alone, so I still enjoy jumping into GTA Online alone just to grind through some of them. It's a cool feature that gives GTA Online some added value outside of “roaming about” and “doing missions”

My nitpick is that you can't tell how much of a challenge you've done until you finish it. Well, you can't tell QUICKLY at least. To look at your progress you have to pause the game, go to Stats, go to Awards, and find the progress of what you've done by scrolling through multiple pages. The pause menu isn't really slow, but it doesn't load quickly enough!

You know what would be nice? A progress tracker that pops up as you get closer to completing an Award. Think Gears of War.

See how the bars in the bottom left aren't fully filled, just a reminder of how close you are? GTA Online should definitely have that.

In the end, a few of my problems can be solved just by “get more people playing matches”. The general mindset of GTA Online players seems unfocused on the missions and more on killing random players; just go into any lobby and see how many people with bright red Mental States you see. Even though I prefer playing races and co-operative missions, I can't change how those people want to play the game (yet?)

GTA Online is fun, and I wouldn't have put 100 hours into it if I weren't enjoying it on some level. But there's a lot of improvements to be made before it can reach its full potential, and I hope they are made so it can really become the multiplayer Grand Theft Auto experience I've always wanted.

Heists.

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I Suck At Fighting Games: Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament X

Some of the pictures used in this post are from Old Abbot. https://www.flickr.com/photos/124173938@N02/sets/72157644502259238/. They're the ones that look great, in comparison to the ones I took myself on my phone.

Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament 9 was a blast in 2013. I chose wisely for my first tournament ever, and had fun throughout the weekend even when I wasn't competing. I was a little bummed to hear that this year's event would be the last Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament, but I also knew that going to it was a necessity.

In contrast to last year, I entered less games which allowed me to manage training time better. I learned from playing in 2013's event that there are certain games that I just don't do well in competitively and avoided them this year. My tournament results benefited from doing so, but only slightly.

Friday

Street Fighter X Tekken:

http://ufgt10.challonge.com/UFGTX_SFxT_PoolC1

Here's what I observed from SFxT at this event. The game isn't drawing in a large amount of new players, and isn't extremely popular. Some games had multiple tables at UFGTX to run a large amount of pools, and Cross Tekken was one of the games with just one table.

However, the people who still play this game are extremely dedicated and very good at it. In my pool alone there were several strong players that I had recognized from their tournament results on streams and past events. I may have psyched myself out a bit and gotten too intimidated before playing because of that.

In this tournament, I lost 0-2 and I only remember winning one round in any of the games I played. I didn't know the matchup against characters I played against like Lars and Elena, which is my fault. There's a ton of characters in the game and I never prepared in training for those I rarely see online, so my lack of matchup experience got me knocked out fairly quickly.

I was disappointed in my performance, but not upset at the end of the day. I had some adjusting to do offline, as far as having no lag and no access to my custom gem sets. Mostly, I wish I made better use of my time to play more casuals and ask the better players for tips. I did that a bit, but not as much as I would have liked to. Still, this tournament made me want to train for the game even more.

Divekick:

http://ufgt10.challonge.com/UFGTX_DK_PoolD1

I have no way to play Divekick at home. The last time I played was before Addition Edition, a huge balance patch that changed the majority of the cast. However, since Divekick fundamentals are impossible to forget, I got back into the swing of things very quickly. I also got some help from other players during casuals, asking them a lot of details about the changes my characters (Markman and Mr. N) received as well as theirs. That's what I've found in general when playing fighting games locally. If you've got questions, 99% of people are nice enough to help you.

In the tournament, I lost my first game, won the second, lost the third and got eliminated. I'm fine with that because I am completely out of practice and Divekick is a game that never makes me upset (for long) when I play it. I still think it's great fun to play casually and a good way to secretly turn your friends into fighting game fans. What I really liked to see were the people who play Divekick as a main game and are incredibly good at it. It's so exciting to watch at high levels, and see how different the game looks a year later.

Also, shoutout to the guy playing Divekick with Donkey Konga bongos.

Saturday

Mystery Game: http://ufgt10.challonge.com/UFGTX_MYST_PoolI1

I wouldn't have felt right if I went to UFGT and didn't enter the Mystery Game Tournament. I was quickly eliminated after playing Bloody Roar and another fighting game I cannot recall (which involved leveling up or absorbing enemy powers Mega Man style...it was unclear) but this tournament is always fun and moments of it had me laughing harder than anything else all weekend. I saw people playing Burnout, indescribable Japanese minigame collections, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Tournament Fighters, and it all culminated in the most unbelievable Grand Finals of the night: Don't Break The Ice.

I can't wait for that video to go up.

That was it for the tournaments I entered. Here's some other observations I had throughout the weekend.

Playing Casuals

I made sure to play many more non-tournament matches this weekend than I did last year. In my downtime, I was playing Injustice, Street Fighter X Tekken, Divekick, and a little bit of Skullgirls. The whole time I made sure to ask questions. It was extremely helpful to get some matchup experience against characters I don't really see in online play. I didn't enter the Injustice tournament, but I played a lot of casual matches against people better than me. I lost a lot, but I learned a lot more and I'd love to play that game in a tournament some day.

As I try to improve in more fighting games, I've found that this is a lot more helpful than grinding out training mode alone. Having people to share ideas and strategies with is great, even if you're still losing a lot. Really, I just wish I played more casuals during the weekend.

Side Tournaments

Through Saturday and Sunday, I heard a TON of side tournaments being announced over the speakers. I remember hearing them for Persona 4 Arena, Chaos Code, Melty Blood, Super Turbo and more that I surely missed. It was really cool to see people organizing these tournaments for games that weren't on the main schedule. Some of the games I've put a ton of time into and enjoy are less popular, but it was encouraging to see that there's basically a scene out there for any game if you're looking hard enough.

The Crowd Experience

Since I entered less games this year, I had more time to spend just sitting in the crowd watching people play. Even for games I know nothing about, it's so much fun just to watch them being played on stage. There are countless moments that I can't capture in photos or videos that weekend. The crowd broke out in dueling “Let's Go Cena/Cena Sucks!” chants while WWE All Stars was played during the Mystery Game Tournament. People loudly heckled and cheered for players on stage during the Marvel X tournament, excited to see many characters that almost never show up in tournament play. I came dangerously close to losing my voice cheering for Double A as he got extremely far in the Marvel X tournament (good job dude! Follow him on Twitter!) I might not be good enough play on the stage, but watching people play on streams is nothing like seeing it in person.

The ending of Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament is a little sad. Even though I've only been for two years, I've grown attached to it as it was the very first tournament I went to. The brackets ran very smoothly again thanks to the people running pools (and Keits, of course) wasting zero time screwing around, and I appreciate it. I can only hope any future tournaments I go to run as well.

Going to these tournaments has been a strong step forward into me becoming better than “mediocre” at fighting games. I still enjoy playing Street Fighter X Tekken and Injustice a lot, and playing casuals made me just want to play the games more and improve. I'd like to check out some local tournaments around my area now that I have more free time and the ability to get to them.

I had a lot of fun at Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament X, and I'm glad I got to be there for the last one. I can't wait for Combo Breaker.

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Stepping Into The Next Generation

The “next generation” of game consoles isn't just around the corner anymore. We're fully into it and it's an exciting thing to observe. I've already seen how the Wii U, Playstation 4, and Xbox One have all found their places in the market and drawn unique audiences despite their general similarity.

Xbox One is still plagued by its bad reputation and weak start, but is making up for its stumbles with a price drop (and Kinect drop), dropping the Gold requirement to watch Netflix, and a handful of excellent exclusives like Killer Instinct and Dead Rising 3. It's still not the place to go for exclusive games, but there are enough titles there that make it a very attractive option for me. Mostly due to my overwhelming love of Dead Rising.

Playstation 4 has been riding high on its early trouncing of Xbox One, overshadowing it in support for indie games, less scumbag business tactics, and large number of console exclusives. They're pretty lucky that Microsoft messed up so badly right out of the gate, as I imagine that turned many indecisive consumers into surefire Playstation 4 buyers. Giving away free games with Playstation Plus and regular discounts can't hurt as well. If they're still in first place for console sales, it's easy to see why.

Wii U has seemingly struggled with the issue of games being few and far between. Mario Kart 8 was just released, but the next big titles like Bayonetta 2, Hyrule Warriors, and Super Smash Bros are still floating around with an annoyingly unspecific “2014” release date. I know Wii U owners that are upset with a number of things: the limited utility of the GamePad, publishers dropping support, paying for the console before the price drop and not having enough games to play. But at least those few games are genuinely great. Wii U might not take the lead as far as sales go, but I think overall it has the most games I'd like to play right now. In the end, that's what matters most.

So after considering the pros and cons for each system, I have a solid idea of which one I'd like to buy first. They're all worth a purchase for different reasons, but deciding which one to get first is important to me. It could be years before I get another.

Before that, however, I got another gaming platform. While I think most people are willing to pay attention to pros and cons of the major current gen systems, this one a lot less love. The games available range from shallow wastes of time to disgusting, blatant cash grabs in the eyes of gamers. But the funny part is most people already own it.

I received my first smartphone, an iPhone 4, as a gift last year. I probably spent more time fascinated by the features in the first month of ownership than actually making calls. It's a brilliant piece of technology to just have in my pocket at all times, and cuts down on the amount of time I spend struggling with my dying laptop significantly.

More importantly, there are games! A huge, scary App Store filled with them. There are clones of more popular games, games that I don't know why were even allowed onto the store, and even ports or adaptations of games I've played on other consoles. I feel like in my social circle, the general reception of iPhone games ranges from “negative” to “they aren't even games”. So over the past few months, I took recommendations and followed my own interests to see what iPhone games are like. There are obviously some duds in the bunch, but there are many more games that shocked me with their quality. For better or worse, iPhone games can accomplish things no other console games can do.

Device 6

Device 6 was probably the first iPhone game that surprised me with its depth, especially because most of the game is just reading. However, the developers took full advantage of the platform to make a game FOR the iPhone that feels like it. The text wraps and slinks around the screen, forcing you to rotate the phone as you slide through it. Clues for puzzles are hidden in strange audio logs and songs, meaning you'll need to put on headphones or be in a very quiet room if you want to progress. There's 'backtracking' that means you'll have to go back to a previous text passage/room to explore another branching path.

It's definitely challenging as well. I had a notepad beside me to scribble down notes on the more complex puzzles. It never gets as confusing as old PC adventure games, but it is surely a test. This isn't a game to kill time with at work. It's one you want to sit down at home by the fireplace with. Hot chocolate and notepad close at hand, obviously.

The only issue is as a puzzle game it isn't very replayable. Once you know the solutions to the puzzles it's tough to forget them. I've deleted it from my phone for now, but I'd love to revisit it in a year or later when I've forgotten how to automatically complete everything.

Sonic Dash

Sonic Dash, in comparison, is not a game that requires much brainpower or time investment. It's the game I played while sitting in a waiting room, on a bus or during downtime at work. A simple free-to-play endless runner with the hook of adding characters from the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. To be honest, this is the only game of its type that interested me because I do like Sonic games so much.

It was also my first experience with how an advertisement supported free-to-play game works. In this case, it was a little annoying. After every run, a skippable 15 second video ad plays. It'll be for another game or app that is not related to Sonic Dash at all. I was confused by this because the games are so unrelated, it's like a different company just bought ad space in this game! Also, it liked to replay videos every time you went from the game's shop or Challenge Menu back to the main menu...which led to me often getting stuck in a loop of accidentally watching ads over and over.

The game rewards you for continually playing. You get to spin the Wheel of Fortune once per day to get powerups or the Grand Prize (or you can spend an in-game currency for more spins). There are daily challenges that grant you score multipliers and more in-game currency (or you can spend in-game currency to automatically beat the challenges). I came across one challenge too annoyingly time consuming to bother with, and ended up spending $3 for enough in-game currency to bypass it. This also completely removed the advertisements from the game, which is a nice touch.

After working my way up to my goal over a month, I unlocked my favorite Sonic character to play as...and my motivation to keep at the game dropped. The challenges are now too difficult to reasonably complete, and I won't spend more money on the game to pass them. Since I've reached my personal “goal” with the game, I've played it much less.

Ridiculous Fishing

Ridiculous Fishing is another great game to play in short bursts, but has much more longevity than Sonic Dash. As a paid game, there are no advertisements, daily challenges, or even an option to pay real money to progress. It all depends on your skill. Even with the upgrades you can purchase, if you're not good at tilting your phone to avoid fish you will not reach to bottom of the pond. Speaking of tilting, this is the only time I've used the accelerometer in my iPhone. Didn't know it had one until playing the game.

It has an excellent sense of humor with the goofy encyclopedia of fish, constantly updated in-game Twitter parody, and the concept of blowing up fish with machine guns for money. Since reaching the ending I've played it a lot less, but its charm keeps me coming back as much as my drive to catch every fish in the game.

Injustice: Gods Among Us

Wondering how fighting games would work with a touchscreen, I picked up this game after spending a lot of time with the console version. Injustice mobile and console link up, rewarding you for accomplishing tasks in each game. Beat a tough challenge in the console version? Get a rare card for the mobile game. Beat enough battles in the mobile game? Get a new skin for the console game.

The gameplay is pretty simple. Taps are light attacks, swipes are heavy attacks, and you build up meter for special attacks which are simple minigames that grant bonus damage for doing well in. It's not too challenging or deep, but it's a mostly inoffensive time killer.

Where Injustice mobile falls apart for me is the currency system. You get very little money for completing each battle, from 400 to 1000 coins. The cool characters you actually want to play as start at 45,000 coins and go up. Also, the battles get progressively harder as you go on, so you WILL need to spend coins upgrading your special moves to get further in the game.

Overall, it leads to a feeling of never having enough coins. I'll beat the game by consistently upgrading my team, but that means I'll have no coins to buy a cool character I want. The struggle is eased a bit by getting a daily Login Reward, but those are rarely coins or good characters. I played many hours of this game before recently hitting the wall. Even if I kept playing it, I'd never be able to get the characters I want without spending money. And while the game is free and you never NEED to spend money, it's unreasonably time-consuming to get the Cool Stuff (TM) without spending money.

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

I have no idea how this game played on the Nintendo DS. I can tell you that it translated so perfectly to the iPhone that I never noticed it was a DS game. All of the information and gameplay options are on the one screen, and I never felt like I was missing a perspective by not having the second screen.

The game itself is excellent. The animation is fluid and beautiful, the music is so catchy it's almost annoying to have these tracks stuck in my head all day, and it delivers a mystery in a slow pace that makes big reveals even more satisfying. It is NOT a game to play on the go at all. There is a lot of text to read, and there are many opportunities to ignore the story and explore the world and its characters. I have my phone on me everywhere, but I only played this game at home so I could absorb every clue and line of dialog. And while the puzzles are mostly easy (there were only two I had to restart multiple times), seeing how I altered time and saved someone's life made me smile. It's not just “good for the iPhone”, I think Ghost Trick is a game everyone should play no matter how you get to it.

It wasn't my first choice for a new gaming platform, but I'm happy with my iPhone so far. Recently games like Hitman GO and Monument Valley have taken up my time, both of them being games I sit down at home with a good pair of headphones on to play. I have had more difficulty finding games to play in short sessions that interest me, now that the appeal of Injustice and Sonic Dash have worn off. Still, if the only games I have on my phone are ones that I can only play when I'm NOT on the move, I'm fine with that.

I've spent plenty of time considering what my next big console purchase will be, and getting that will cut into my time playing iPhone games significantly. Still, I'm glad I took the time to give the underdog a chance.

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