Recently Played: No More Heroes 2 - Desperate Struggle

No More Heroes 2 online for 15 dollars means a sure sale for me. I beat it recently, so I thought write it up.
 

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle (Better Beam Katana Action: The Game)

 Travis becomes surprisingly human this time around
My roommate introduced me to the first No More Heroes back when using the Wii Remote speaker to simulate a one-sided phone call was a novel concept. I thought it was a decent game with some personality and some great boss characters, but I wasn't compelled to beat it after Bad Girl because the final boss kinda paled in comparison to the rest of the cast of killers. Not to mention, boss fights took forever. You really had to wail on dudes to kill them. With No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle the gameplay has been tweaked to become damn near perfect. It's really fun cutting up guys and performing suplexes when the mood strikes you. Bosses are just as tricky, but they no longer take three hours to kill.  The game plays better... at the cost of assassins not being as memorable as the first batch.
 
Then there's Travis Touchdown... who actually develops as a character by the end of the game. I'm not sure if that undermines the concept No More Heroes was going for in the first place, but it's interesting none the less. I'm still on the fence about it.
 

Hackin' and Slashin'

If you don't know (although it seems unlikely), this game is brought to you by Suda 51 who also had a hand in the extremely bizarre Killer7. Usually these games have tons of personality and style while being a little rough when it comes to gameplay. Desperate Struggle has mostly ironed out that issue. Assassin ranking challenges roll out one after another. You no longer have to grind quirky mini-games to get enough cash to kill guys. What mini-games there are have been turned into NES-style 8-bit throwbacks that I found completely awesome. For the most part, they're optional. Cash will get you clothes, weapons and upgrades for strength and stamina, but it's entirely possible to play through the game without touching any of it. Not that it's recommended. Bosses might not take fifty million hits to kill this time around, but they have plenty of highly damaging moves that will catch you unaware the first time out. What I'm saying is that a little breathing room is nice.
 

Kill, Killer

Like No More Heroes, this game is a boss game. Fighting expendable henchmen is not the heart of the matter, but rather like an appetizer before the main course. The best part is the quirky boss encounters that come in the form of the Assassin Ranking Battles. Of course, these people are not so much assassins but loud, noticeable psychopaths with crazy weapons. You have a guy with a boombox that transforms into mechanical hands, a girl who uses anti-material rifles with scythe blades attached to the butt stocks, an old man with a gold plated luger that shoots money, and much much more. I enjoyed the cast of killers that Travis goes up against. There are a few standouts, a few familiar faces, and some bland ones. Overall, the assassins are fine but maybe not as memorable as the first game. You may feel different.
 
Also, I really miss the boss intros that used the artificial voice, a quip from the assassin and a mean guitar lick.


The Awesome
 
 Reaper, reaper, that's what people call me
My favorite boss out of the bunch is probably 4th rank Margaret Moonlight mostly because she's such a hodgepodge of ideas that somehow... work out just fine. And her damn song. Her boss fight was also pretty entertaining despite chasing her all over the roof of a grocery store. Not to mention her weapon of choice involves two sniper rifles that look like a cross between a Barret and a scythe. Which is crazy. I'm glad we have the concept art on the site to help wrap my head around that one.
 
Her boss song "Philistine" is a definite guilty pleasure in this game. It's not a great song, but it's funny and pulls the double duty of characterizing Margaret instead of the cutscenes that usually sandwich a boss fight. I'd like to think Margaret is way better at killing people than carrying a tune.
The Cool
 
 "Do you remember me. Question mark."
Dr. Letz Shake walks a fine line between awesome and a disappointment. Originally he was the unfought 5th rank boss in the first No More Heroes. He had some of the greatest scenes in the game where you were teased and blocked twice from a boss fight. The tantrum Travis throws after finding out he ranked up without actually killing anyone was solid gold.
 
Now that Letz is actually a boss... well, expectations will always fall short of reality. Dr. Letz Shake is pretty funny with his phallic design and verbal tick. But unlike Margaret, chasing him all over the room was not fun. Especially with all the waiting between his countdowns and earthquake attacks. I really wanted this to be more fun but... what can you do. Question mark.
 The Terrible
 
 Fuck you. He shoots money.
Probably the blandest bland that ever blanded, I can't really figure out what's going on with Million Gunman. It should be awesome enough that he has a gun that shoots money. It should be awesome enough that he has enough money to use as ammunition... but when it comes down to it... The dude has zero personality. Zero.
 
Considering how things go in No More Heroes 2 is, this might be completely intentional. Rich white man is rich. But as it stands, he is such a boring boss fight. It also doesn't help that he repeats his very few lines of dialogue over and over again. The only thing saving this encounter from being a total chore is that you fight him with Shinobu. His boss theme wasn't bad either. But man... lackluster character to be sure.
 
 

The Motherfucking Frustrating
 
 Why is this guy such a bitch?
I found it odd that throughout the entire game, there was no boss harder than Matt Helms (well, not including the final boss). He's only the third boss (fourth if you play your cards right) but for whatever reason, I died on him dozens of times. No More Heroes 2 started out strong, but came to a grinding halt as soon as I got to this guy.

I realize it may be a fluke, maybe I was off my game, but man... I beat 2nd rank Alice in one try. Fighting Matt Helms was like headbutting a fucking brick wall. There's really no good way to approach him. At a distance he throws fire bombs that double as landmines, and up close he just cracked me in the face with his axe whenever I tried to roll out of the way. In the end, I got lucky and beat him with one little pixel of health left. He feels more like a boss from the first game than anything else. Do not want.
Honorable mentions go to New Destroyman for having the best cutscenes and Alice Twilight/Moonlight for being a predictable but good fight. The final boss is a real bitch with some really cheap moves... but I didn't really expect otherwise. The less said about that, the better.
 
 

The End of Travis 'effing Touchdown?

Lastly, we have Travis. The way I see it, he's not a good character by any stretch (not that this game makes it a point or anything) but he's entertaining with the things he says. At least the guy is enthusiastic about his goals and murdering people. However, toward the end of the game he kinda (ever so slightly) shifts toward character development which is a tall order considering how terrible he is. Essentially he's cool with killing hundreds of thousands of people in order to have sex with a woman who may or may not be french. Which works in the context of the game because it's all about being completely over-the-top with just about everything. It's a little jarring to hear him going on about "we're people too" and feeling sorry for bisecting other assassins. Maybe I found it a little unconvincing. It's hard to say. No More Heroes was pretty adamant about NOT having a sequel... but here we are. Maybe by the third game, Travis will move from cartoon character to full fledged human being. That might be interesting to see.
 

Great Music Though

Aww, true dat. 
Kill or Be Killed
Boys in the Bank
Steel Diamondback 
Losing Bowel Control
Philistine
 

So... what?

I really like No More Heroes 2. It certainly gave me a lot more drive to complete it than the first one. The revenge plot probably helped. There's plenty to get caught up on if you hate Travis as a character or don't enjoy fountains of blood or blatant boob/butt jiggle physics on nearly all of the female characters- but that's No More Heroes. It's completely unapologetic about being as ridiculous as possible.
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Going Overboard: Sakura Wars - So Long, My Love

If you don't know about Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love and have some time to kill, then you're in luck! Today I wanted to talk about the dating sim / strategy game that came out on the PS2 and Wii last year because, while it's not the hottest thing around, it's still pretty entertaining in a lot of different ways. You'll get to know a bit about the wonderful world of steam powered mechanized combat. Also relationships. And theater productions. There's a lot of that too.
 
I originally didn't want to write so much about an PS2/Wii game but... I got carried away. Whoops.
 

Sakura Wars So long, My Love

US Cover Art: Decent Representation of the Game
So, I know a bit about the Sakura Wars franchise. It started as a release on the Sega Dreamcast that spiraled outward into the kind of merchandise blitz you'd expect of a popular property...  but only in Japan of course. This surprising (almost shocking) US release is actually the fifth game in the series that coincidentally takes place in New York, New York during the late 1920's. It follows an alternate time line where the world has been revolutionized by steam powered everything. Steam powered cars, clocks, cell phones, computers and (most importantly) mechanized suits built for fighting demons. Yes, there are plenty of demons that absolutely despise everything about humanity. Oddly enough, they also fight in steam powered machines. 
 
I should point out right up front that this game is pretty silly and very glass half full. It's more concerned about spectacle than it is rationalizing why Times Square can suddenly transform into a launch pad for a giant airship. Don't expect the story to explore what it means to be human or the complex relationships between man and women. However, this also makes it extremely awesome because it can get away with a lot of ridiculous stuff without losing face. It's also extremely colorful. I guess your mileage may vary, but I can dig it. I don't need every game to be as fucked up Silent Hill 2, or as dancing-with-chainsaws as Gears of War.
 
After all, turn based mech combat!

But the meat of this game is the dating sim element. It's kinda like Persona 4, only instead of unlocking more powerful persona you're encouraging your team of mech pilots to fight better in turn based combat. Instead of traditional RPG level building by slaughtering X number of monsters, you're building camaraderie to make your team a well oiled demon killing machine. That involves lots of dialogue. It's an interesting system that is mostly timed (make your choices fast) and sometimes NOT answering and keeping silent is the best choice. But this ain't no Mass Effect, sometimes choices aren't all that clear and you end up doing something you didn't intend. An unfortunate problem from translating Japanese to English, really.
 
Mechs, as Promised
I guess I should mention that these pilots you're talking with? They're all women of varying age that you can make moves on at the appropriate (or inappropriate) time. Hand waved with an explanation that the vast majority of good steam powered mech pilots are all women. It requires spirit energy that most men don't have. Or something. The only man who fights in this game is also the player character, Shinjiro Taiga. Due to a Japanese gag of "theater troupe" and "combat troupe" sounding insanely similar when spoken but different when written out, this entire operation is hidden by a theater production on Broadway. That's right. By day they're live on stage, by night they fight demons in mechs. Of course, due to some elaborate launch sequences, it's not so much Black Ops and more like Superman disguising himself as Clark Kent with a pair of glasses and a nice suit.

Let's meet the cast, shall we?
 

The Team (also known as Star Division)


Shinjiro Taiga

 
 Shinjiro, doing his Thing
You play as this guy. He's one of those plucky "never say die, never give up" types that fashions himself as a modern day Samurai. Really, this just means that he has a pair of insanely sharp swords he cuts stuff with. He's a new graduate of the Imperial Japanese Navy who gets sent to New York to captain the Star Division. It's one of those Anti-Demon World Coalition deals.
 
He has a million different names because everyone goes out their way to avoid saying Shinjiro. I think Shinjiro is a pretty badass name, but instead you get Shin, Shiny, Shinster, Shinmania, Shinmillion, etc.
 
Fujiyama Star: "Star" is the name of the mechs the heroes use in this game. They're kinda shaped like trashcans but it works because it seems like a plausible early robot design. Kinda. Shin's uses a pair of giant Katanas (one with a reverse grip) and it looks pretty cool for being the Mario of the game.
 

Gemini Sunrise

 
(Not Pictured) A Cowboy Hat
Looks like Gemini, sounds like Ge-mini (like Mini Cooper). She's from Texas doing the cowgirl thing and dreaming of becoming a Broadway star. Rides her horse around New York without violating any traffic laws or sanitation rules. She's one of the first girls you have a chance of befriending once hitting New York soil... but becomes playable insanely late in the story. You won't use her much. For a country mouse in the city, her personally isn't all that annoying... HOWEVER-
 
Her voice actor uses a very exaggerated Southern accent. It's really hard to listen to her for any length of time. It leads to a lot of "Skip Dialogue" A button mashing events.
 
Rodeo Star: Her fire themed orange-and-red mech has a gunblade. Yes, very Squall from Final Fantasy VIII. The revolver isn't built into the blade, but sits on top of it. No Guardian Forces though *rimshot*.
 

Cheiron Archer

 
Swears to beat out the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth out of you
Looks like Chair-on, sounds like Karen. She's a lawyer from Harlem that has a short temper and a fiery personality. Her gimmick is justice and the law but in battle she's more judge, jury, and executioner to a worrying degree. Her character as a whole is completely crippled by her introductory chapter where she tries to sell out her neighborhood (Harlem), her friends, and her family to a corrupt corporation and THE MAN. They try to show it as a "blinded by mindless devotion to justice", and you do get plenty of opportunity to show her what's what in a mock trial...
 
But it's really unsatisfying. She's such a complete dick that you just want to punch her in the face. By the time she gets better it's really a case of "too little, too late." Not to mention she's fairly worthless in battle. Slow and short range movement. If this was a more traditional RPG she would be off the team.
 
Highway Star: Of course a character as bad this has to have an awesome Deep Purple reference (and one of my favorite songs). Plus, he mech's weapon is a chain whip Road Rash style. It's also painted jet black. That's kinda cool. Right?
 

Subaru Kujo

 
Guess and Win a Prize
Subaru is an eccentric genius who tries to transcend gender roles by talking in the third person. "Subaru is Subaru. Nothing more, nothing less." However, because of the limitations of translating Japanese to English, Subaru gets referred to as "she" by pretty much everyone. I'll even lapse into "she" just for simplicity sake of writing this damn thing. But really, her gender is supposed to be a complete mystery and you can spend the entire game trying to coax the truth out of her. However you roll, Subaru looks pretty good in a suit, or a dress, or a kimono. She also likes paper fans reinforced by steel razors.
 
As you can probably guess, being a perfectionist genius means Subaru has zero social skills and zero patience for other people. She will frequently trash talk you in the beginning of the game to a nauseating degree.
 
Random Star: Subaru probably has the coolest mech in the game. It uses giant weaponized paper fans for an area attack, stands at attention when not active, and moves around Flash Step style. Yeah, that's a TV Tropes link. I can't think of another way to describe it. Sorry.

 

Rosarita Aries

 
Never Not Shooting
Here's the token loli character. She's a ten year old bounty hunter that uses gold and silver revolvers. There's a black hole where her stomach should be so she's a big eater. In the event that she can't find any food, she has a backup plan to eat her pet ferret Niccolo. Loves Pancakes. Hates bad guys (which is a broad term for her). For the most part, she solves all her problems with a hail of lead and fires at the slightest provocation.
 
I guess she's not as annoying as you would think. Her voice actor puts on a tolerable Spanish accent (much better than Gemini's accent anyway). Has a weird phobia of failing others due to some family history involving her father and a raging river. At least her gold and silver revolvers are pretty cool. But Revolver Ocelot she is not. Don't expect any awesome gun tricks.
 
Shooting Star: HA! Get it? Shooting Star! Cause she uses guns! Yeah. Even with that terrible pun, her mech wields some pretty badass double barreled revolvers the size of bicycles. I'm not sure how it works, but long range is always nice in a fight.
 

Diana Caprice

 
Heart of Glass
Lady. Doctor. Doctor lady. Diana will be your healer for the game. She's kind of sickeningly nice when you first get to know her. She loves birds so offering up fried chicken is a bad way to break the ice. Vegetarian. Not to mention she's kind of a friend to all living things and birds crowd around her Disney style. This is explained in her introductory chapter and you can take it as you will. For the most part, Diana is a wallflower who is more into peace than war and would probably faint if someone sneezed on her. Also a big fan of dollhouses.
 
As nice as Diana is, her "sad" expression is one of the best in the game. Maybe I just find it cathartic since she comes off holier than thou.
 
Silent Star: Her blue mech uses magic water as weapons. Okay. It's more like water at such a high pressure it can cut steel. She's not into guns and swords so I guess it's the least she can do. Her armor is also about as durable as tissue paper so she's a 
conscientious objector to the very core. Also, steam powered robotic birds!
 

Ratchet Altair

 
Nice Suit
Ratchet here is more of a guest star party member. You only see her in combat during the tutorial and one other time. She starts out as captain of Star Division before having some problems with her spirit energy and becomes mission control...
 
Okay, I can't stand it. Her last name is identical to Altair from Assassin's Creed. Do you know what her mech's weapon is? Throwing knives. Yeah. Throwing knives! The only thing missing is an option to stab a demon mech in the face with a wrist blade and it would be a blatant reference. Without it though... it's just a coincidence. A damn eerie coincidence.
 
She looks nice in a suit though.
 
Silver Star: Ratchet uses a silver-ish mech. Like I said before, it uses throwing knives. I guess all the other weapons were taken at that point.
 
If you're curious, I went with Subaru because I like mysteries and black hair. There's also other supporting characters like people who help run the theater and Michael Sunnyside. He manages Star Division from behind a desk. He's also way into Japan and has a house in the middle of Central Park. Because he's filthy stinking rich. He also has bottomless nicknames for Shinjiro.
 

Other Stuff (...like Combat)

 Shinjiro Moving Out
When you're not chatting it up with your pilots and other people, you do combat missions. It's turn based but moving and attacking is more like Valkyria Chronicles. Everyone has an action gauge they spend by moving, attacking, healing, and using special attacks. This gauge often changes in size depending on how your team is feeling. If someone isn't properly motivated, they'll have less of a gauge and won't get much done. If they're in the zone though, they can skip halfway across the battlefield and rip an enemy a new one. 
 
The gauge is separated into blocks and certain actions use more blocks than others. Defending, for instance, only works if you have two blocks in your gauge. If you only have one, you'll just have to leave your rear exposed until the next turn. Attacking only uses one block, and you can chain five in a row. The tutorial is pretty good about spelling this all out. Best of all, it's optional if you've already cut your teeth on this kind of thing. 

Ground combat is what you would expect. But there's also flight combat. All the Stars can transform into a flying mode when taking on enemies that are the size of Godzilla or King Kong. Most of this takes place in cylindrical shaped battle areas (with the boss in the middle). So it's more like flying around a key target instead of free flight like All Range Mode from Star Fox 64 or straight up combat sim Ace Combat. There are a few variations on this cylinder style flight, but for the most part it handles like ground combat except it's a pain in the ass to target things in this mode. The game gets picky on deciding when you're in proper range of enemies. Battles are not very hard, but they're long. Not to mention, if Shinjiro gets killed it's game over regardless how well your other teammates are doing.
 
Combat gets more complicated with Command Styles that shift the emphasis on attack, defense, and balance. This often changes the amount of blocks it takes to do things like defend, charge, etc. Since you can shift this at any time as long as it's Shinjiro's turn, you can abuse it if you want to. It's not gamebreaking, but it helps.
 

Victory Pose!

I said before that I'm kinda blown away this game was even released in the US (for two consoles no less). Mercifully the Wii version doesn't try to force any motion controls and it's all just good old buttons and analogue sticks. You do some screen pointing, but that's about it. The game does suffer from a criminally small soundtrack. Expect to hear the same handful of tunes over and over again until you develop Pavlovian reactions to them. There's also a lot of cinematics for special attacks and boss intros that might wear on you overtime. Good news is that you can kind of skip them (more like shorten them just a bit). The instruction manual mentions you can skip cut scenes.... after you beat the game once. So there's that too.
 
This is probably more text than the game deserves... but it's kinda charming in a weird way. Probably because I knew what to expect and wasn't disappointed. That doesn't keep a lot of it from being cringe worthy. But I don't know where else you'd find such an odd mix of theater productions and steam powered mechs.
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Past Expiration Spotlight: Killer7

Past Expiration is my little term for talking about a game way past its prime. In this case, it's about a game that defies explanation that originally came out on the GameCube in 2005. Topical!

Killer7 (What The Hell?: The Game)

 A Luchador and a Gimp Sidekick: Totally in this Game
The main reason I'm blogging about Killer7 is that I found it for 9 dollars online, brand new, for the GameCube and played through it again. It's one of those games that... hell... where do I even start? From the style to the gameplay to the story, Killer7 refuses to fall into any easy category. For that reason, it's probably one of the most polarizing games I've ever seen. Whether you love it or hate it, there are TONS of reasons for both sides. To be straight up, I love this game for its endless quirks and style. One thing that Killer7 isn't short of, it's personality. And blood. Lots and lots of blood. This doesn't make it any less weird, but it does make it one unique experience.
 
...if you can stomach the gameplay I suppose.
 

What It's About (I Guess)

To get started, you play as the Smith Syndicate (a gang of assassins) contracted by the United States Government to eliminate the Heaven Smiles terrorist organization. Heaven Smiles are grotesque smiling creatures that attack via suicide bombs in order to kill, destroy, and create terror for the sake of creating terror. They chime in with very distinct laughter right before they explode. Oh, except this is a weird future Earth where the world is at peace, commercial air traffic has been discontinued, and every continent is connected by super expressways. As Harman Smith, you control seven different personalities with different skills to take down Heaven Smiles wherever they may be. The other personae you play as have weapons like scoped pistols, knives, grenade launchers, revolvers, and a pair of semi-automatics that can dump like no one's business.
 
And that's the simple version.
 
One of the strengths and weaknesses of this game is how utterly complex (or garbled) everything is concerning the story. On top of assassins fighting monsters, there's a political conspiracy between East and West (US and Japan), personality disorders, and an eternal duel between Harman Smith and the leader of the Heaven Smiles, Kun Lan. They might be godlike entities. Maybe. Attempting to wrap your head around everything that goes on in one playthrough is just about impossible. Killer7 achieves that movie-like status of making repeated playthroughs more appealing as you notice things you didn't before and attempt to connect events together. It's also fair if you feel it's just one asspull after another, becoming a jumbled mess of fifty different plot threads. 

 "You see, people judge books by their covers."
However, I like how goddamn strange and striking the whole experience is. It really requires your attention, and hanging on presents you with some pretty cool cutscenes. Some great characters too. The mission involving Andrei Ulmeyda is probably my favorite part of the game. There's also the completely despicable Curtis Blackburn who must be seen to be believed. He does some completely rotten shit with children to give you a small idea. 
 
 
I have some of my favorites scenes in the links below. I'd almost post the whole game with a little less restraint. In another time and place, I might say they were spoilers. But without context (even with context) you'd have to try pretty hard to hurt the narrative. 
Russian Roulette
Cloudman
Curtis Blackburn
Harman and Kun
 

A Game, You Say?

 Laughter has Never Been so Lethal
Playing Killer7 is just about as weird as the story. It's some hybrid of a rail shooter and an FPS with character leveling. While third person, the camera is very classic Resident Evil style. You can only move around on set tracks, but you go at your own pace and can choose to branch off or backtrack whenever you want. This gives the game plenty of opportunity for dramatic camera angles or low shots of your character running. When it comes to fighting, you aim and shoot FPS style. 
 
Heaven Smile enemies start out invisible but they give themselves away with hideous laughter. You have to scan the environment in order to locate and shoot them. Every single one of them has a weak point that can kill them in one shot. This gets more complicated as the game goes on and Smile tactics get more erratic and dangerous. Killing Smiles gives you blood that you can use to upgrade six of the seven Smith personalities. Add on top of that special abilities for each character, and damn, it looks like there's a lot to keep track of.

And there is, but the game is pretty good about helpful hints and reminding you (just about every single time) what character can tackle the next obstacle. Anytime a major enemy appears, there's a guy that appears to give you hints about what's going to happen. It's never a straight info dump, as the support characters go off on tangents and play to their own personalities.
 
Now, the buttons to get all this done is pretty awkward compared to today's standards. You don't use the control stick to move around. You hold the A button like driving a car. If you want to turn around, you press B. Aiming and Shooting is simple enough, but if you're expecting to whip around modern shooter style guns blazing... you will be SORELY disappointed. It takes... getting use to. But it's not impossible. I had adjusted by the second mission. Still it's a legitimate stumbling block.
 

Shoot to Kill, Unload to Reload

Shooting styles between the various characters is really well done. One of my favorites is Coyote Smith. He holds his revolver upside down and sideways. Recoil pushes your aim down instead of up. It's a completely ridiculous... but it makes killing things an accomplishment. There's also Con Smith, a blind teenager that uses a pair of semi-automatic pistols. He can pour bullets on targets at the cost of accuracy. Shoot fast enough and sometimes sheer quantity will take care of your problems in a hurry. He also reloads his guns by some sort of hackey sack motion by kicking magazines off his feet. All the characters have some sort of stylish way to reload their guns (with the exception of Kevin who uses throwing knives). Killer7 makes reloading an art style even if it's nowhere near physically possible. These aren't exactly normal people anyway.
 
I feel like I should mention that on rare occasions you'll use Harman Smith (an old man in a wheelchair). His weapon is an Anti-tank Rifle. It's that kind of game.
 
Bosses are also made interesting by the sheer variety. At one point, you fight a pair of old Japanese men with their heads blown to pieces. They attack by throwing brains at you. There's also a French black ops dude, an boss you kill by shooting his afro, and a showdown with a group similar to the Power Rangers. Most of the time with no explanation given. Confusion is natural with Killer7.
 

"I don't follow."

Most, if not all, of the time it will feel like Killer7 is going out of its way to punch your brain. But that's what makes it so great. It's worth it to see all the non sequiturs and there is enough plot you can follow that when you get to the end, it feels fulfilling. The gameplay is pretty bewildering. If there's one stumbling block in Killer7, it would be that. If you can deal with it, you're in for a ride.
 
It also has some cool game completion bonuses. It won't make anything less crazy, but there is a tommy gun involved.
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So... I beat Halo: Reach on Legendary by Myself

I thought it was funny, and a little lame, that there was an achievement for beating Reach by yourself on the hardest difficulty. I've always had to beat Halo games on the hardest difficulty alone because everyone else was smart enough to stay away or play on Normal or Heroic where it's actually fun. Actually getting rewarded for it is a little more "Congratulations! Moron." than "How Awesome are you?" considering how many times I died. I wanted to put my thoughts down in a blog because Legendary gives you a lot of time to think between deaths.
 
How It Works
Not as bad as you might think. It's not the hardest Legendary Halo game I've played, but far from the easiest. The only weapons you really need is the DMR (or the awesome Needler Rifle) and the Plasma Pistol. Distance is your one and only friend in this difficulty. Forget everything else. Headshots from far away is the only method for wading through the truckloads of Elites and Brutes they dump on you throughout the game. The Plasma Pistol is a great way to deal with white armored Elites and their bullshit Concussion Rifles. Overload their shields, then fire a bullet between their eyes. Or any Elite really. Fuck all those guys. 
 
One of the most frustrating parts of this mode is anytime the game forces you to start with an Assault Rifle. I feel like it's giving you a toothpick and saying "NOBLE SIX! TAKE DOWN THAT WRAITH!" The Assault Rifle of the Halo series is one of the most useless guns I've ever seen in any game really. Even when you're using it on Grunts, the lowest form of enemy in the game, it takes WAY too long. If you try to shoot serious enemies, you can watch as it does absolutely no damage to their shields and they kill you instantly with plasma fire. You know what weapon you start the last level in the game with? The Assault Rifle. F' that S'. 
 
Even the Checkpoints are Out to Get You
Considering the high chances of death on Legendary mode, the problems of this game's checkpoint system come in loud and clear. Sometimes there are hot zones where you can get the game to checkpoint over and over again. Little pockets under stairways or in corners. I found a few on New Alexandria in the hospital that came in handy. But most of the time the game is terribly uneven. Sometimes I can kill three Elites, six Grunts, a Hunter and a Jackal only to die by some plasma grenade and have to fight through the same group over again. Sometimes I can shoot one Grunt and trigger a checkpoint in the most random places. I found myself running around areas without enemies desperately trying to trigger a checkpoint zone. The worst area had to be the last level with the first group of Covenant around the bridge in the very beginning. Fighting through these guys over and over again because the game wouldn't checkpoint my progress (even in a safe zone) was washing the nice feelings I had for this game down the gutter.
 
Halo: Reach, The Comedy
Legendary turns the somewhat serious drama of an entire planet getting wiped out into a comedy. When the game starts out, your new boss, Carter is all like "No Lone Wolf stuff, we're a team." But you're the only one that gets anything done. You as Noble Six take down parades of Elites while your team flounders about uselessly. Hey Emile, how long did it take to kill that Elite? Five minutes? But he uses the shotgun all the time! Jun, is even worse. He has a Sniper Rifle. The best tool to headshot aliens in the game. It takes him dozens of magazines to kill a grunt. Are these guys doing this on purpose? Is that why Emile drives five miles per hour through a field of Scarabs? Noble Six seems WAY overqualified for this team.
 
Also, a laugh track should kick in every time you pick up an Assault Rifle. Or actually, every time an assault rifle is on screen. You know why Kat died? The team was using Assault Rifles. Coincidence? I don't think so.
 
Fun?
Well, the hardest difficulty on any game really isn't about fun. A rare few games can mash fun and challenge together. Reach is too busy being extremely cruel, but there are a few exceptions. The best levels were "Long Night of Solace" for that sweet space combat section (that wasn't really hard even on Legendary), and "New Alexandria" because you get to feel like a badass by flying around a fucking fantastic gunship and dumping on alien fools stupid enough to mess with you. You're practically a killstreak. Guys call you in and you wreck shit. It's awesome. Not even Legendary difficulty could screw that up. I wish the whole level was just you flying around destroying things.
 
The Worst
Anytime an Elite appears with a Concussion Rifle. There's also a Brute with a Fuel Rod Cannon in the last mission that will haunt my dreams forever and ever. This asshole specializes in dropping in Batman style and killing me with explosive green snot globs. He's never in the same place twice when I respawn. Trying to track him down only means that he finds and kills me sooner. He's unofficially the last boss of the game as far as I'm concerned. I had problems with him on Heroic, and on Legendary he was a god damn Nemesis. The Anti-Noble Six. I only killed him because I got lucky with a Gravity Hammer and pounded him into oblivion. Why they felt it was necessary to give him shields I'll never figure out.
 
Your Thoughts
If you've read this far down, I'd love to hear your take on the Legendary Campaign, or any funny things that happen. It seems unlikely I'll ever play Legendary co-op considering how random Matchmaking is (pulling a campaign level at random? Huh?), but if you've had other people along for the ride. I'd love to hear that too.

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Opening 2011 with a Strong Closer

Due to having to work early on New Year's Day and some other stuff, I was unable to enjoy copious amounts of alcohol. So, instead I enjoyed copious amounts of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood until the clock struck twelve. Basically 20 minutes into the new year I got the "Strong Closer" achievement. That was a great little moment to kick off 2011. It's one of those accomplishments you'll get if you keep playing, but imagined getting to level 40 something and still not having it.
 
I got it with a class I call "The Shootist" that includes the Hidden Gun and the Charge move. It's great for hanging out on rooftops and waiting for your mark to roll by. Aerial Kills are always preferable, but if you can still take a shot if you need it for a killstreak bonus (or other people are on your target). If your killer climbs up to your rooftop, you can wait until the last moment to use the charge and stun them for more points. There's not a whole lot of room to maneuver and no hiding places, so it's easy to target would-be assassins. I haven't had an issue yet where someone has whipped out a throwing knife or other device to stop me, although it's probably a matter of time. I try to mix it up with other classes if it seems too predictable but so far it works great.
 
It worked perfectly on Florence. I was 2nd place in the last ten seconds and charged one of my pursuers that climbed up onto a rooftop to win the game. It's not quite a party, but I'll take it.
 
Happy New Year, Everyone

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Choices Choices: AC:B's Gallery of Assassins


 Only Killers Hang Out on Rooftops
The multiplayer in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is all kinds of awesome if you're into the careful cat and mouse mentality it plays on. Causally walking up to someone, stabbing them, and walking off like nothing happened has never been more satisfying. Story wise, agents of Abstergo have it made. They get to stab people all day for training purposes. Lucky.
 
But what I really want to talk about is the cast of stabtacular characters you get to play as while sneaking (or running) around looking for your target. Of course they all play the same, but this game is more about style than individual stats. When you kill someone, it has to look good. I've played the original cast plus the Blacksmith, so I wanted to put down some thoughts on the various characters after my play time so far.
 

The Priest

Probably my least favorite character in Brotherhood. The Priest is one bland dude. Sure, he's bald, he wears robes, he masquerades as a man of God who kills people two handed style. His weapon is okay (the pop-out blade is nice) but compared to the other assassins... he's really not that exciting. Thankfully there are enough characters that even when you're late to a full game, there's someone else to choose from. 
 
Favorite Animation: They're all serviceable... but if I had to pick, I'd say the one where he sneaks up behind people and uses both his hands to stab them in the back.

The Doctor

In with the syringe, the Doctor is my favorite character. Plague Doctors are already kind of freaky with the bird masks and the tinted glasses, so one running around intent on killing someone is an easy fit. It also helps that his mask makes death animations come off more smoothly. It doesn't take long to notice that multiplayer character's faces don't animate when they're stabbed. They have one expression and it's the only expression they'll have on the entire time, even when they're getting killed. The Doctor has a mask, so it's not really a problem. I know it's a fairly small nitpick- but it's a little annoying to throat stab a guy and see him go down with the same face he had on before. C'mon.
 
Favorite Animation: When you run up on a target head on and he drives his syringe right into their neck. A needle that long looks excruciatingly painful.
 

The Prowler

The Not-Ezio character is not a real assassin, but an incredible simulation! Watch how he pulls off a passing resemblance to the single player character with a wrist mounted stabbing utensil. Thrill as Not-Altair leaps into haystacks with the greatest of ease! Read in amazement as I suspect this guy was put in just to curb the complaints of "how can you play Assassin's Creed in any capacity without some assassin-y looking dude to play as?"
 
Okay it's not that big of a deal. He still puzzles me. Early screen shots (and a loose familiarity with the game) I kinda thought this guy was Ezio or at least someone from the Assassin's side of the fence. Plus his name, "The Prowler" makes me think he's just some creepy voyeur who occasionally kills people. I guess he's okay.
 
Favorite Animation: Considering how close he looks to Ezio and Altair, dropping down from above to kill people feels appropriate with him.
 

The Nobleman

Weirdest character award goes to The Nobleman... who I thought was the Prowler for the longest time because he's a hunchback weirdo with a prosthetic arm. If I saw this guy walking around on the street, I would probably call him a prowler. Now, as cool as his claw arm is I don't find he really uses it in a satisfying way. For the most part he clubs people with it or uses it to slash them. I would expect if he had a fake arm with claws he'd drive it into people's stomach and tear something out. Or maybe carve up someone's face with it- anything that looked extremely painful. He's quirky, and I do occasionally use him if the Doctor is taken.
 
Favorite Animation: When he tears a target's neck out is pretty good. I'm a little bummed he doesn't go further with it considering how psychotic he looks.
 

The Courtesan

The pretty lady has a pretty awesome weapon in the form of a razor sharp fan. Practical and deadly, it can cool you off on a hot day, or open your throat with a careful swish of the arm. However, whenever I play as her I usually get wrecked and end up in 5th or 6th place. I know that's just coincidence, but she's quickly falling into the "cool character I'm terrible with" even though she plays identical to everyone else in this game. What.
 
Favorite Animation: She does have that cool move where she leapfrogs her victims by rolling over their back acrobat style then turns around and slices their throat. Surprise!
 

The Executioner

This guy has some absolutely brutal moves for a "low key" assassin... but his character design doesn't really do much for me. I admit I don't know what else you could do with him. He's got a hood and an axe... and he's an executioner. That's about it for people with that line of work. Maybe if he wore black or something? I don't know. He's okay.
 
Favorite Animation: When you go head on with a target and he jumps up before bringing his axe down on a their face. Ouch.
 

The Engineer

I like this guy a lot. Not only does he have a cool hat, but also some cool glasses to compliment his dude stabbing. The beard is a bonus. I used to think he had a switchblade as a weapon but it looks more like some kinda tool. Either way I don't mind playing this guy if the Doctor is taken or the player choices have been wittled down. Probably the one character who would look at home wielding a gun.
 
Favorite Animation: The one I enjoy the most is when you're face to face and he forces his target to bend over so he can stab them in the back of the neck.

The Barber

This Not-Sweeny Todd or Not-Daniel Day Lewis character uses a straight razor to do his dirt. Heh. Okay, so he has some style. He's got a bitchin' stache and doesn't waste a whole lot of energy killing people. Although, he's more of a slasher than a stabber. Most of the games I played it's pretty hard to select this guy before someone else does. Again, this is more my experience than fact.
 
Favorite Animation: Although it's pretty cool when he kicks in someone's legs and just straight up cuts their throat, I like the one where he jumps in front and does two quick little swipes with his blade to kill someone.
 

The Captain

If I had to pick someone out of this gang of murderers as heroic... I suppose it would be this guy. He doesn't look all that shady compared to the others. I guess it helps that he uses a sword instead of a concealed weapon or masquerades as someone performing a public service like the Doctor or the Priest. His armor is pretty cool too. One of the reasons I don't often use The Captain is because his assassinations aren't that flashy. He uses his sword in the way you'd expect someone would use a sword to stab a guy.
 
Favorite Animation: When the Captain does his best swashbuckler routine and does a fancy double stab with his sword. I think it's the one when you're face-to-face with your victim. That one is pretty good.
 

The Smuggler

I find the Smuggler is funny compared to the other assassins, because her retractable blade is so obviously mounted on top of her arm. "What's that spring loaded contraption on your wrist? I hope it's not dangerous!" She doesn't come off very professional in that way... but I may be giving her more personality than she really deserves. Whether a wannabe or overconfident, she does have a pretty smug expression. I'll give her that.
 
Favorite Animation: I feel like a lot of her kill animations are stolen from the Prowler (or loose variations). It's kinda cool to watch her tackle people and stab them in the neck considering how petite she is. Pull this off on a burly guy like the Blacksmith and it's even better. Speaking of which...
 

The Blacksmith

Stop. You know that joke. So instead I'll talk about the Blacksmith's bushy beard and his sledgehammer. At some point I feel like he's less an assassin and more a straight up murderer. Assassin implies some kind of technique or subtlety to killing people... at least in this game. So when the Blacksmith trips someone and just smashes their face in with a huge hammer... it doesn't feel especially clever. However, it's still awesome (and extremely painful looking) which makes the Blacksmith okay in my book. I take it he's not exactly popular considering I don't see him very much, even with high level players.
 
Favorite Animation: The sweep kick face crush feels too easy. The kill move found myself laughing about is the one where he flips a character up and breaks their back over his leg. When this happens to a tall character like the Doctor, it's even better.
 

Locating Other Blog Endings...

I'll get to the other characters eventually but I'm not sure if I'll add them to this list. We'll see. I do want to make an honorable mention to the Footpad, because people who play as him are total dicks. From my play time so far, people who use him are always tough targets who are constantly knifing me in the face at the worst possible moment. I already don't like him, and it helps that he looks terrible too. Man... I hate that guy.
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One Big Jump from DS to DSi

I got a Nintendo DSi yesterday, which doesn't sound like much except I've used the first run, regular ass DS since the system came out. Size comparison videos aren't hard to come by, but when you see it for yourself and you're able to feel the difference it's still something else. The thing I'm most impressed about with the change from DS to DSi is the screen brightness. Holy shit, the colors are so much richer compared to the regular DS. It's funny to play something like Advance Wars: Dual Strike and finally be able to tell a clear difference from red and orange when selecting CO colors. I guess it's not a life changing deal, but the screen is damn near blinding compared to the DS.  
 
Apparently this was taken care of as early as the DS Lite, but I didn't have a whole lot of reasons to spend money getting a smaller, lighter (easier to break as I've seen hinge cracks in action) version when my regular DS still worked just fine. Oh, and the upgraded Wi-Fi settings finally let me access the Wi-Fi in my house, which is delightful to see in action instead of error messages.

It's not all good though. Losing the GBA slot is a serious downside. To think it was taken out to make room for some camera technology is more than a little disappointing. I'm not a shutterbug. I don't have a phone with a camera. I'm not interested in taking poorly pixelated shots of [Slightly Interesting Thing A]. Opportunities to use the DSi camera will be few and far in-between. Considering how awesome the screen has become, I was interested to see how it would affect GBA games until I realized it couldn't play those anymore. Oh well.
 
I'm planning to get Shantae: Risky's Revenge from the DSi Store and review that later on. That game has a great look to it and it should be a solid platformer if the Gameboy Shantae game is anything to go by.

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Advance Wars Maps For All

I've been playing Advance Wars games for a long time; ever since the first one came out in 2001 on the Game Boy Advance. Of course, Advance Wars has its roots in the Nintendo Wars series that has a long history in Japan on the Super Famicon and the Game Boy. It's a very entertaining turn based strategy game with a rock-paper-scissors style unit balance and battles fought on chessboard-like grids. One thing that helps its replay value is the always awesome map editor, allowing you to make your own maps and challenges. I love to make maps and I've made a decent amount of them. And I've got a bunch of them in handy image files so I can share them through Giant Bomb.
 
The majority of them are for Advance Wars: Dual Strike, just so you know.
 
Of course, the downside is that this sharing process is fairly old school. You can't download them for games like Advance Wars 2 and Dual Strike. If you're interested enough, you'll have to eyeball it and copy them down to your own cart. It's not nearly as bad as it sounds, but it will take some time.
 
I've created Custom Map galleries for all the major Advance Wars games. You'll find them surrounded by gray borders, half-assed jokes, and weird fonts put together with the magic of Microsoft Paint (some of these are from a long time ago). I'll post a few of my favorite maps collections here to give you a visual example.
 
EDIT: For some weird reason the images aren't magnified to proper size here. They're easier to read if you magnify them in the image galleries.
 


City Slicking Series


 
Horseshoe Boulevard
 
Muscle Town
 
Rotor District
These are a bunch of maps I based around lots of pipes, roads, and cities. Hence, city slicking... and the GTA Price Down font. They're not all that difficult with the exception of Rotor District, which is one of my all time favorite maps. If you ever see a Sturm and Crossbones box in the corner, that's just a way to make things harder and get some extra mileage out of the map. I played around with game sprites a lot at one point in my life and you'll see some of that here.

 

Kirby Archipelago Series


 
Mr. Shine
 
Gordo
 
Shotzo
Here's a bunch of maps made to resemble characters from the Kirby franchise. Cause... why not, right? Gordo is my favorite and probably it's the closest I've ever gotten to making a map with the feel of the War Room mode from the games. I made Shotzo in Advance Wars 2 a long time before Dual Strike came out, and I had to delete a bunch of properties on the COM side because of the new AI. 

 

Warfare Variety Series


 
Shend Docks
 
Marvel Gardens
 
Plasma Oasis
Now, Days of Ruin has Wi-Fi map sharing... but the maps can't be larger than 10x10. That's really lame. However, I'm not too upset about it because I can't get my DS on Wi-Fi anyway. So I figured I'd just do it the old fashioned way. These maps are all about different objectives. You have a timed map, a map where you have to rout the enemy, and one map where you try and figure out how to crack the enemy's HQ. 
 
If you happen to go to the Days of Ruin image gallery, I did test myself to make a bunch of maps 10x10... and it's not easy to keep them interesting. I was able to make a really hard map called Naval Rail where you fight Caulder armed with a battleship. That's about the only 10x10 map I'm happy with at the moment.
 
Lastly, some details. If you're curious how I made these, there's a bunch of online map editors you can download for the first three advance wars games and Days of Ruin. Google search will probably help you find the Dual Strike one (It's been awhile) but you can get the Days of Ruin one here if you're really into this stuff. I certainly have fun. Hopefully you will too.
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Beat StarCraft: Brood War for the First Time

I managed to beat StarCraft: Brood War for the first time today and completed my play through of the original StarCraft games. There's a big gap from the first game compared to this expansion pack in a lot of ways, most strikingly is the difficulty. I had never beaten Brood War for good reason until now, so I have a lot to say about this new and improved add on. 
 
I feel the need to mention that there are spoilers in this post. I was surprised by the number of people who mentioned they were playing through StarCraft and Brood War for the first time in my last blog entry, so I kinda felt guilty dropping major plot points without thinking twice. So, if you somehow don't know what happens in Brood War and don't want it spoiled, I would recommend against reading further.
 

StarCraft: Brood War (Sarah Kerrigan vs. the Universe)

 
The cover of Starcraft: Brood War
For the most part, Brood War is a much better (and more exciting) game compared to the first installment. Blizzard has a lot more fun with map triggers and in-game cut-scenes so missions are a lot more memorable. They're also pretty good about mixing things up and throwing a lot of crazy army configurations together (both with your forces and the computer's).  I find the new characters are a lot more entertaining than the previous cast in some ways. And the things your player characters for each race get away with story wise is just awesome. To put it simply, you get a lot of stuff done in this game. Not to mention, each race gets some new units and a bunch of new upgrades to keep it fresh.
 
The trade off is that this game is much harder. I mean, it's god damn hard. Where StarCraft was nice enough to ease you into things, Brood War kicks off the training wheels and throws you down a cliff while Kerrigan laughs the entire time. The Computer AI has gotten a complete overhaul to make use of the new units and a lot of the old spell casting units from the first game. It's downright vicious. There is no better example of this than the Zerg Campaign. But I'll get to that eventually.
 

Protoss Campaign

The first big change of Brood War is starting with the Protoss this time around. Since they're the first campaign, it's not as tough as the one from StarCraft. I had a much better time with these missions because of how varied they are. You'll still fight a lot of Zerg, but there's also some Terran engagements and you only spend one mission fighting Protoss (and no Stasis Lock spam!). It's great. Helping the entertainment value of the Protoss are the new units. The permanently cloaked Dark Templars are tons of fun as they ninja their way around the maps. And you can have a lot of stupid fun with the Brainwash abilities of the Dark Archon on the last mission. If you can snag a Zerg Drone, you can build a Zerg army with every unit and tech upgrade available to you. Mass produce Lurkers like they're going out of style.
 

Favorite Protoss Mission: Return to Char

 
Protoss and Zerg Living Together, Mass Hysteria
Return to Char is one of my favorite missions in the game because of how weird it is. You get to control a full Protoss army and a decent, but limited, Zerg army. This leads to all sorts of crazy combos like a full Zergling rush followed up by Dragoons and Archons. Or a carrier fleet backed up by Mutalisks and Overlords. You could bring in a flock of queens to cover Zealots marching on a bunch of Ultralisks. 
 
The number of ways to have fun in this mission only gets better where you can choose how to beat it. You can either navigate a canyon lined by a bazillion Spore Colonies or go visit an (new) old friend and wreck his shit. I think this was the first time I really had lots of fun playing Protoss in the story mode... and that's probably because I had the option to use Zerg to spice things up.
 
However, Blue Zerg is really, really ugly.
 

Terran Campaign

This is my favorite campaign in all of StarCraft. The Terran missions in Brood War are so much fun that I kinda regretted not starting with them in the first place. Basically, you play as the earth-based UED as they attempt to take control the Koprulu System. They run through major objectives like checking off items on a shopping list. Where Raynor and Mengsk took 10 missions to put down the Confederacy in StarCraft, the UED overthrow Mengsk and enslave the Overmind in 8. It helps that they're staffed by a bunch of badasses. I mean Admiral DuGalle is one "engage" away from being a Jean Luc Picard stand-in, and his No.2 is my favorite space Russian, Alexi Stukov. Working for these guys is great, and the only reason things end badly for them is because Kerrigan is simply more badass than they are.
 
Anyway, this campaign wastes no time getting to the good stuff. You get to hijack Battlecruisers in the second mission. By the fourth, you're launching nukes. For the fifth mission, you decide if you want to play counter-Nuclear Ops. or have epic Battlecruiser fleet showdowns. The game starts to get really hard by this point, but the missions are so well done that I didn't really mind the spike in difficulty. The last mission is particularly awesome considering you face off against the meanest Ultralisk ever. The Torrasque strikes unadulterated fear whenever I hear it coming for my base.
 

Favorite Terran Mission: The Emperor's Flight

 
The UED Delivers
The introduction to this mission has so much style that I really started to enjoy the way the UED operates. Basically, a bunch of Siege Tanks and Valkyries blitz a small Zerg colony to wipe it out. Next thing you know, an entire base is air lifted to your location. The rest involves competing with two Zerg forces and a Protoss army. They spend a bit of time fighting each other, so you can build up and destroy all of them however you want. I love the way this map is designed and the area you build your base leaves a lot of room to set up cliff-high bunkers and Siege Tanks with superior ground. You also get to play with the new Anti-air Valkyrie unit (that fires a shit ton of missiles).
 
What's probably my favorite aspect of this mission is the free-for-all atmosphere it runs on. I was never quite sure who would try to attack my base next. Not to mention, I absolutely love dropping EMP on Archons and killing them in two shots.
 

Zerg Campaign (It's Tough to Be the Villain -or- Those Goddamn Science Vessels!)

All the fun I had with the Terrans was quickly off-set in the Zerg Campaign where the game suddenly becomes brutally (nearly soul crushingly) hard. I mean, god damn. I'm reduced to profanity every time I think about it. It was probably made worse considering I'm not great with Zerg, so playing missions that demand flawless Zerg play is an exercise in extreme frustration. It seriously seems like someone at Blizzard had it out for anyone who skated by the final campaign from StarCraft and made sure that they would lose more than a few times trying to beat the game. The AI you go up against is loaded for bear, fully prepared to harass the hell out of you with every thing it can build or cast. Science Vessels with Irradiate are out in full force and comin' to get your Overlords! The last mission is so completely insane that... I'm not even sure how I managed to beat it. Holy Stukov, Admiral DuGalle, I used to think you were cool until you started shoving Battlecruisers up my ass!
 
However, the extreme difficulty of Brood War's last campaign made it clear to me that you play as the most badass Cerebrate the StarCraft universe has ever seen. Seriously, you play as the Chuck Norris of the Zerg. Kerrigan plays a pretty good boss casually making HUGE demands of your time on a regular basis... and you get out there and do it. It's like... Hey Cerebrate, retake Korhal from the UED all by yourself. "Not even a challenge." Hey Cerebrate, go kill two important story characters for me. "Got it, I'll be right back." Hey Cerebrate, go kill the UED's pet Overmind with a bunch of Dark Templars I scammed while you get hammered by waves of Siege Tanks, Guardians, Scourge and Battlecruisers. "Did it yesterday!" Hey Cerebrate, go fight everyone I ever pissed off ALL AT ONCE, COMPLETELY ALONE. "Wait... what? Hold on."
 
The Zerg Campaign is a far cry from fun, but beating it will give you a sense of accomplishment not found in the original StarCraft. And you get a pretty neat cinematic featuring old ass record players and lugers.
 

Favorite Zerg Mission: Reign of Fire

 
The Torrasque! Fuck Yeah, Dude!
The Zerg Campaign gets so damn hard later on that it's only natural that my favorite mission is the second one. It's a fairly easy map where you have to destroy a certain building to win but the real draw is the ability to snag some advanced Zerg strains hanging around your starting area. It seems innocent enough, a few Hunter Killers (tougher Hydralisks) and a Devouring Ones (tougher Zerglings). But if you explore long enough you can eventually find one of the best surprises in the game.  
 
You can find and command the fucking Torrasque.
 
The near unstoppable behemoth from the last Terran mission is now your near unstoppable behemoth. Once you get your hands on the Torrasque he can nearly destroy the entire enemy Terran base all by himself. Give the Torrasque some Hunter Killer and Devouring One back-up and you practically don't even need to build a single unit to win. This was the highlight of the Zerg Campaign for me, because the rest of it is downhill as it spirals into maddening territory.
 
Still, the Torrasque! How awesome is that? Totally awesome! Like, nuclear launch awesome!
 

Other Thoughts

Brood War feels much more complete than StarCraft, despite being an expansion pack with not as many missions. I suppose looking back, StarCraft can feel like a big tutorial at times where your only objective is "kill the other guys". The difficulty in Brood War can be insane by comparison, but it introduced some cool units and had a story where a lot of important things happened. The Bombcast mentioned how StarCraft II marginalized Brood War while recapping the story, and I guess I can understand why. There are a few weird things that occur like  Zerg Cerebrates fusing to become a new Overmind by jumping in a big love pile. The Dark Templars go from being nomads to having a home world that can be accessed by a Warp Gate... but those feel like minor issues compared to all the other awesome things that happen in this game.
 

Favorite New Unit: The Zerg Lurker

Lurkers Gonna Lurk
Brood War added a bunch of new units for each race and as much as I play Terran, the Medic is kind of annoying to use and I can never justify spending money on the Valkyrie when I can just make Charon boosted Goliaths or Battlecruisers. So, my favorite new unit is the Zerg Lurker.
 
I love the Lurker because it feels a lot like a Siege Tank with shorter range. Considering how much I love Siege Tanks, finding out that the Zerg have a siege unit that can burrow underground was an easy sell. I love making a bunch of these guys and positioning them near choke points or running them into the middle of a base and letting loose. Through the Zerg Campaign, I was always impressed by their ability to cut up Zerglings like it was no big deal. Hydralisks don't fare much better and Lurkers are pretty good at discouraging Ultralisks.
 
I hear that Lurkers don't return in StarCraft II and that's a damn shame.
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Playin' Through StarCraft Again (and Brood War Eventually)

My laptop is about 4 years old and definitely can't run StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty no matter how badly I want to play it. It's tough to justify the purchase of a new computer to play one game (especially when I can play it on my friend's computer) so I did the next best thing I could manage and started playing through the original StarCraft and the expansion Brood War again. I've never been very good with computers, or had a computer that could run PC games faster than a slide show, but StarCraft has always run perfect on just about every computer I've ever had access to. Bonus points for being a game I love playing.
 

StarCraft (Serious Instruction Manual Detected)

The first time I had ever heard about this game was when my friend got it for my birthday. I wasn't really sure my PC back then could run it, so it sat on my dresser for a year before I eventually gave it a try. It was my first real-time strategy game. I remember that the missions took forever and it was god damn hard. But that was a long time ago. The last time I spent serious time playing StarCraft was in early high school so I've had plenty of time to reflect and I'm a lot better at grasping the concepts based around the three races. Back then I mined minerals with eight workers and never built more than one production facility for each unit type. It's no surprise that I could never beat the computer in Custom Games.
 
But that was back then. Playing through it again, it's not nearly as hard as I remember.

Terran Campaign

I love playing Terran (because they have the best toys) so I had a lot of fun with this campaign. Since it's built up as the first taste of the game for most players the computer takes eons before launching an attack and when it finally does, it's four or five guys. It gives you a lot of room to play around with the unit types without making a major mistake and getting overrun. A whole group of Science Vessels with Irradiate is hilarious when you drop in on the computer's mineral spot. You can also build a whole bunch of Siege Tanks and shell the crap out of everything in most cases. The only time things get tricky is the very last mission where you can get nuked without proper preparations. Oh yeah, and the shit load of Ghosts that use Lockdown if you so much as think about mechanical units. I need ComSat! STAT!

Favorite Terran Mission: The Big Push
 
Nuclear Silos: A Great Way to Start a Mission
The Terran campaign doesn't get much better than the Big Push. Sure, it kinda sucks because it forces you to destroy every enemy building on the map (even those Missile Turrets hidden on the very edges) but it doesn't matter because this mission introduces you to Ghosts and Nuclear Bombs. The landing zone has two free nuclear silos for your two Command Centers. Pretty much the first thing I did was build a bunch of Supply Depots, produce a nuke, and launch it on the cluster of bunkers right outside my base. Then I launched two more. At the same time.
 
I don't really care how unwieldly nukes are in the greater scheme of this game or how easy they are to counter. They're just fun. Ghosts are so badass Special Ops. the way they sneak in and out with a bang.
 
There's also Duke in a Battlecruiser... but I was having too much fun with nukes to pay attention to him even though he's nearly equipped to beat the entire map with a little backup.

Zerg Campaign

Any time a game lets you play from the villain's perspective is a big plus in my book. The only hitch is that I can't quite get a handle on playing the Zerg, mostly because they operate on the buddy system to the Nth degree. Zerglings with Hydralisks. Or Mutalisks with Ultralisks. Or Guardians with Hydralisks. It also has something to do with how they have strength in numbers... and at a certain point I can't keep control of a huge army. They require a ton of management so your Zerglings aren't getting caught up on something as they rush forward, or your army is attacking all at once instead of a convenient kill line for your enemies. Still, hanging with the Overmind and fellow brain slug Cerebrates was a big switch from the Terrans. The thing I hated most about the Zerg Campaign (both way back then and now) is that you spend most of the time fighting Protoss- and they're so damn durable compared to your squishy forces. Broodling to the rescue!

Favorite Zerg Mission: The Culling
 
Zerg on Zerg Violence: The Horror!
I'd like to think Blizzard spent a decent amount of time trying to figure out how a Zerg vs. Zerg mission would make sense in the context of the story. But no matter how they explain it, it's pretty awesome. Like any true new guy (Cerebrate), you get the shit job of wiping out a bunch of renegade Zerg after Cerebrate Zasz kicks the bucket. Sending Zerglings to fight Zerglings is a cool thing to watch as the little bastards tear each other up. This mission shows up after spending a bunch of annoying missions fighting Protoss, so the switch in enemies is greatly appreciated.
 
This is also the first mission where you can use Defilers. Even though I'm not great at using Defilers, I love them because they're so annoying. Flinging plague on buildings or a group of enemies is especially satisfying. They also make a lot of awesome noises and look like the meanest cockroach ever.

Protoss Campaign

As the last campaign, this is really the only time the game starts to get a little difficult. I don't like it very much, because a lot of the later missions are spent fighting Protoss and the enemy AI is programmed to annoy the hell out of you with Arbiter Stasis Lock. I felt like I spent half this campaign waiting for my units to pop out of stupid frozen crystals. It also might have something to do with the way the Reaver (the Protoss Siege Weapon) is the slowest unit in the entire game. Getting Reavers from point-to-point without transport shuttles is an exercise in futility. Launching an attack with Reaver support takes forever and once your primary forces are on the move, they're quickly left behind. At least Archons are awesome. And Carriers. Lots of Carriers. Carrier has arrived. It's also pretty nice that you have a Terran army in the very last mission. 

Favorite Protoss Mission: The Eye of the Storm
I Got Your Zerg Right Here! Heh heh heh!
So there's like a billion minerals and vespine geysers on this map. The Protoss have a really, really crappy base and the Terrans are sitting high and dry on superior ground with Jimmy Raynor riding shotgun. What are you gonna do? I built Battlecruisers. Tons of Battlecruisers. I built enough to put the UED and the Terran Dominion to shame. The Protoss spent their time collecting gas for my awesome fleet even though it was their campaign. It also helps that this mission isn't very hard. Like, not at all. Trial of Tassadar was leagues tougher and the Zerg can't hit you with Stasis Lock.
 
Safe to say there's a lot of different ways you can play this mission. A lot of those ways probably involve awesome Battlecruiser and Carrier fleets... but you could also crank out Archons and Siege Tanks for terrible, terrible damage. I suppose a secondary objective involves finding a base for the Protoss that doesn't totally suck.
 
After playing through StarCraft and beating it, it's not a very hard game if you have the important concepts down. Granted, it took me a few years to squeeze the most out of my playstyle, but it's still fun. Multiplayer is okay, although I never spent much time on it except with friends. I'm not into high level StarCraft action. When I play this game, all I want to do is make a bunch of tanks, battlecruisers, and nukes. I'm not interested in actions per minute or builds or whatever. Not to say that there isn't enough room in the world for serious StarCraft action... just don't talk to me about it, because I can't really add anything. I can tell you that Arbiter Stasis lock is really, really annoying.
 

Next Time... Brood War

I'm also playing through Brood War, but I haven't beaten it yet. So far, I've gotten to the Zerg Campaign, and for the most part, the expansion steps up its game considerably. Some of these missions get damn hard compared to StarCraft. but that's for another time.
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