2014 is here. Well, it's actually been here for 2 weeks, but between dealing with some personal junk and going back to school, my time with the vidja games has been here and there. I was going to write something up about Splinter Cell Blacklist, but because my brother uses the Xbox pretty much exclusively as a FIFA machine I was unable to finish it over the holidays or bring it down with me (spoilers: It would've ended up on the GOTY list had I played it earlier). Same goes for that Wii U box thing (Spoilers: My brother actually has almost beaten Wind Waker HD and I'm pretty proud of him for playing a video game that isn't FIFA). Instead, I just have this increasingly precarious laptop and my 3DS. So be it. I'll probably do a lot better this semester if I have less ways to distract myself (but of course the part where I'm writing this is in and of itself is probably a distraction from reading about Art History or some equally dire class that I've taken). But hey, it's okay. Because I certainly spent my limited video games time in great ways thus far!
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified
I told myself I was going to do better this year, that I wasn't going to deliberately go out of my way to play questionable and bad video games to feel alive, at least not to the same extent last year where I was buying that Sonic RPG and willingly playing through Grabbed by the Ghoulies among other things. I've clearly screwed that up already. While not outright bad, I'd say that The Bureau definitely falls into the “questionable” end of the spectrum, in that it doesn't actively make me want to stab myself with a rusty nail, but there's probably no reason for any of you to ever play it. “Competently mediocre” is the word I will use.
Remember back in like... 2010, when 2K announced the game then only known as “XCOM” and we all flipped the hell out because it was yet another beloved PC game being rebooted as what appeared to be a shooter? Yeah. It's funny to think back on that, given the way things turned out. Firaxis made Enemy Unknown, about as good as one would realistically expect a modern incarnation of that game to be, and the shooter thing known as XCOM went through a bunch of development problems before becoming the game that I played this week. It shows. The Bureau feels very much like a game made up of the pieces of a more ambitious title. The idea of G-Men running around Main Street USA and fighting secret aliens while covering things up is a great premise for a video game. It's a pity then, that the story of The Bureau is so... bleh. There are characters who you never really are given a reason to care about, there is dialogue that won't set your world on fire, there are plot twists that are amazingly dumb, and a protagonist who might as well be named McGruff, if not for the part where that name is already taken by a crime-fighting cartoon dog who tells you to take a bite out of crime. I'm not going to go into the specifics of how stupid things get, but I'd suggest looking up the last mission if you're really interested. It even comes with a really half-assed tie in to the good modern XCOM game!
But the Bureau is also a squad-based 3rd person shooter, and on that front it's... fine, actually. Remember Mass Effect? It's sort of like that, but not as good. It's a little more tactically demanding, but that's mostly because your AI squadmates aren't very bright on their own and require constant micromanagement to be especially effective. You can set up some sort of grand strategy involving the various tools at your disposal, and that's actually pretty cool. Flush dudes out of cover so they can walk into a mine, use a decoy to draw their fire and then hit them behind for more damage, have your commando taunt an enemy and have your support throw a bubble shield on him, throw down a turret to mow dudes who get too close down, etc. I didn't really have to do much of that on normal though. Spamming abilities for the purpose of doing things worked pretty well most of the time. I'd imagine that the game asks a lot more of that on the higher difficulties, but given the already squishy nature of you and your buddies along with the absurdly quick bleed-out time, I'd rather not deal with the exercise in pain that would turn into. There's also the part where you walk around your base talking to people like it was The Normandy, which would be great except for the part where: A. No one in this game is as interesting as any character on the Normandy, and B. There's not much reward for solving everyone's petty problems. There are also side missions you can go on and “deployments” you can send your agents on (like it was all the guild stuff in any given Assassin's Creed game), all for the benefit of backpacks with super circumstantial bonuses that ensure that you'll never use them. Same goes for weapons, actually. Sniper Rifles simply don't have enough ammunition to compete with the AR equivalents, and the Blaster Launcher is disappointingly tame for a weapon bearing that moniker. The shooting feels decent, if unspectacular.
All of this comes together to form a game that “entertained” me in a superficial sense, but probably won't leave much of a lasting impact. The Bureau is not an affront to nature like some of the things I played last year, nor is it a disappointing waste of great ideas. It just... is. I only paid $10 for it, which was an acceptable price, but in the end my time (and probably your time as well) is more valuable than that. If it was a better game or more of a trainwreck I could justify the 10 hours I spent on it, but I'm sort of having trouble doing so at the moment. This all being said, time-management is one of my personal weaknesses, it only makes sense that I would make the mistake of spending time with an utterly unremarkable game like The Bureau. I knew I should've bought Brothers instead. If there were 10 games better than it, the Bureau would likely not be one of them.
Dead Space the first
Unlike the above game, Dead Space 1 is still great. Just thought I'd let you all know. Maybe I'll go for the crazy and play Dead Space 2 while I'm here.
The Banner Saga
Seems really good and I feel pretty okay about giving those guys $10 like two years ago. More to come later. Actually, speaking of alien games, those jerks making Xenonauts sure are taking their sweet time. I've had that game in my steam library for months and it's still in some sort of half-broken alpha state. You're literally just making X-COM again, it can't be that hard. (note: I know it can be that hard, I was being sarcastic. But seriously guys.) Oh, and since we're on the topic of things I backed on kickstarter, Wasteland 2 and Divinity: Original Sin should be coming out pretty soon. I have high hopes for one and realistic hopes for the other (if nothing else, Original Sin will be an interesting mess, something that I couldn't really say for Divinity 2). And then there's Pillars of Eternity and that will hopefully be awesome as well. Basically, 2014 is the year that makes or breaks Kickstarter, and I'm excited to see the final results of me giving $15 to strangers on the internet in the spring of 2012.
Japanese Dungeon Crawlers?
Yeah, I'm on the 5th stratum in Etrian Odyssey III, and I've learned some important lessons along the way. While that game is definitely hard, with proper party building it becomes a lot more manageable, and the game itself is flexible enough to allow for more unorthodox compositions of dudes. Now I just need to slog my way through the last 4 floors, no doubt grind to fight an absurdly powerful final boss and then I can move on to the much better looking Etrian Odyssey IV (as opposed to the “Remake of the first game, but with a set party and an actual story” known as Etrian Odyssey Untold, which I also bought for badly thought-out reasons). Consider me a fan. As a contingency, I also have Shin Megami Tensei IV, and I played enough of that game to know that it admirably succeeds in its goal of being extremely difficult and sort of unfair at the start and also making sure that I don't like any of the obvious characters who are obvious (Hmmm... I wonder which guy represents order and which guy represents chaos...?) But I also never finished Nocturne (I did get further over the break, so don't pretend that I'm not making progress... now I just need to bring my PS2 down to school), so any attempts at the new one will be tempered by the fact that I'd really rather play the old one anyways. So expect my blog of SMT IV in the summer of 2017, where I talk all about satan, or whatever.
And that's it for now. You can expect things to be more sporadic from here on out, and actually if I'm being consistent with my blogging that probably means there's something wrong with my academic performance... so expect my Might and Magic X blog in two weeks.