"Third Person Shooters featuring Aliens" and other wonderful uses of time and money

Posted by ArbitraryWater (11994 posts) -

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

A striking cover, if nothing else.

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!

Your agents CAN be useful, but you really do have to baby them to make that happen

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.

Congratulations 2K Marin: You salvaged this mess enough to ship a game that wasn't constantly on fire.

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

Lemme tell you guys: This game looks really good, and it probably works in its favor that it reminds me a bit of King of Dragon Pass

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?

Anime lolis be damned. These games are pretty good.

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.

#1 Edited by Oldirtybearon (4866 posts) -

I liked The Bureau while I played it. After I finished it (and the end twist was pretty clever) I kept thinking about the game that was promised two or three years ago; that game was a great idea. That game had potential. That game was what I was looking forward to. Polygon has a pretty good article about how and why The Bureau turned into a fucking mess (spoiler alert; it had nothing to do with whiny X-COM fans), but every time I think about what the game could have been I get angry. It's bullshit that mismanagement and 2K Marin basically co-opting another studio's game (only to make a much shittier version) turned XCOM into, well, The Bureau.

What frustrates me the most is that it had so much goddamn potential; the aliens were truly alien and weren't cartoonish caricatures from a decades old turn-based strategy game. They were scary, unknowable, and imaginative. The first time I saw a sectoid in a trailer for The Bureau it was a red flag. Then I found out they incorporated even more junk from the strategy games. Not even the stuff that makes an XCOM game XCOM, either. Just the alien designs and some hair-brained plot about eternal elementals or something.

The ironic thing is that the original vision for the XCOM reboot was far more in line with what XCOM was; it had a huge focus on stealth, reconnaissance, and research in order to prepare and equip your fighting force to combat the alien menace. Why the hell someone looked at a game that was Men in Black meets the X-Files and said "nah, needs more generic shit" I'll never understand.

Fuck, now I'm angry because we'll probably never get a look at what the original XCOM was striving for. Nobody's going to take that kind of crack at alien invasions like that again. 2K Australia deserved better.

#2 Posted by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -

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.

Please tell me that these are the actual G-Men from Psychonauts, or clones of the G-Man. The voices alone would be worth it.

#3 Posted by ArbitraryWater (11994 posts) -

@oldirtybearon: After reading that Polygon article (which I linked to in this blog), I am convinced that I would also have been way more interested in the game they originally showed in 2010, if only because it was way crazier in scope and ideas. The mistake they made was calling it XCOM in the first place, and this game's half-assed attempts at tying into Enemy Unknown actually make me like it less. Of course, I'll also believe that version of the game just straight up wasn't working and they had to scrap it, but that's the dirty business of games development I'd think.

#4 Edited by pyromagnestir (4333 posts) -

You made the right choice picking up The Bureau, if only so this blog could exist.

#5 Posted by Hailinel (25201 posts) -

@oldirtybearon: Of course, I'll also believe that version of the game just straight up wasn't working and they had to scrap it, but that's the dirty business of games development I'd think.

That's the impression I got from reading the article. It sounded like the ambitions of their concept and the reality of what they could pull off in a game that was not only functional but also actually fun/entertaining/challenging to play just didn't match up. I wonder if the might have been afforded more leeway in developing the concept had they not branded it XCOM (and had Firaxis not stepped up with an actual strategy game more in line with what the franchise is known for).

#6 Posted by ArbitraryWater (11994 posts) -

@hailinel: It's always fun to look back at scrapped versions of games and play the "What If" game, but for the most part those versions were always scrapped for a reason. Still, I'd love to see the alternate universe where that 2010 game was the one that came out, just as I'm incredibly interested in seeing how that Resident Evil 1.5 restoration thingy will end up.

You made the right choice picking up The Bureau, if only so this blog could exist.

That's certainly one way of looking at it. I was attempting to break the vicious cycle of me playing bad games for the sole purpose of writing angry things about them on the internet, but I guess I haven't broken the habit just yet.

#7 Edited by Tennmuerti (8172 posts) -

Ugh Bureau. That shit was mediocre indeed. And that's all it would have remained, but the game had to go and pull all it's dumbassery in the last quarter, that just couldn't leave me neutral towards it.

As for hopes for things you backed on Kickstarter. I would advice erring on the side of lower expectations when it comes to Wasteland 2. The early backer "beta" did not do it any favors imo. If you're thinking of a second coming of a real Fallout sequel at least in spirit, that it ain't. The custom party, ability to use any one of them for dialogue stat checks and lack of any actual dialogue (it's basically exposition buttons) pretty much removes any sense of individualism and character from your dudes. It's closer to F:Tactics in a way, except without good sprite art and not as fun combat. It still needs a ton of work. If they can pull it off, maybe it will be something ok in the end. But I'm skeptical.

Project Eternity on the other hand still leaves me with plenty of hope.

#8 Posted by ILikePopCans (767 posts) -

I'm am now done with Kickstarter pretty much. I have one game I back for a few bucks which I know for a fact will never be a product. Another one where it was a IOS game that was going to be $5 when release during the kickstarter, but when release was free to play. And almost all the games I backed are delay from the due date set during the kickstarter (I know games are hard to make, it is a flaw with kickstarter itself.) The only positive thing I kickstarted was a webcomic comic that was being release in a book, and that's probably because it not a game.

I don't think the kickstarter model is good to back the making of a game. It is too big of a thing that can go wrong in so many ways. Than again you can look at the whole thing as a donation and negate many of my complaints, but I can't really do that, I look at it as a pre-order thing. Bye kickstarter (unless your making sweet anime T-shirts or something, person in kickstarter)

I have not seen The Banner Saga but I like strategy games so page me interested.

I still kind of want to play The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, even though I will be thoroughly disappointed because I heard what they wanted that game to be before they release it.

I love Dead Space 2, so I need the play the first even if I not to big of a fan of the scarey stuff. I guess I should play 3 for that matter also.

#9 Posted by ArbitraryWater (11994 posts) -

@ilikepopcans: Can't blame you for being done with Kickstarter, being burned like that. I think I'll stick to established studios known for shipping video games if I ever use it again. The Banner Saga was originally supposed to come out in spring of 2013, and more than a few backers were upset that they used some of that donation money to make a Free-to-Play multiplayer game. Crowdfunding is a heavily flawed model and it's easy to see how things can fall apart. Still, I haven't been burned yet, so maybe I've been lucky... or maybe everything will go catastrophically wrong this year. It's not a terrible idea to wait, that's for sure.

@tennmuerti: In regards to Wasteland 2, I think I'd just be happy with a nonlinear party-based RPG that does what I wished Shadowrun Returns was capable of doing. Maybe it's because Fallout 1 and 2 aren't my personal golden standards for classical CRPGs, or maybe it's because I've enjoyed my share of middling RPGs but I don't have much of a problem if it doesn't end up as a "classic for the ages". Still, I'll keep your words in mind and move my unrealistic expectations towards Pillars of Eternity instead.

#10 Edited by Tennmuerti (8172 posts) -

@arbitrarywater:

BTW if you get your hands on Divinity Original Sin early on I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on it, as I am still decidedly undecided yet after watching the dev game play. And I haven't backed it either (obv).

#11 Posted by Budwyzer (620 posts) -

- The Bureau: X-COM Declassified -

At first, I started out playing this with a controller, so that I could lay back in the living room and enjoy it on the 70". Unfortunately, this only led to me rage-quitting the game for a week due to my AI partners never-ever-ever doing what I told them.

I say playing with a controller led to this because when I gave my AI partners orders with the radial wheel, they would turn to go accomplish their assigned task, stop, pivot in place, then try to continue doing whatever idiotic thing their AI scripting told them they should do. All of this stopped when I started playing with a mouse & keyboard.

I don't know why it started working better with the mouse & keyboard, maybe it had something to do with the radial command wheel, maybe not, but it did and I enjoyed the game immensely from that point forward.

#12 Posted by ArbitraryWater (11994 posts) -

@budwyzer: Interesting. I played just fine on a controller, but I generally prefer a controller for most console-oriented shooters. If I'm playing a game made for the ground up for PC, or one that demands more precision, I'll definitely go for M+K. The bureau was not that game.

@tennmuerti:

I don't have Beta access for Original Sin, but it's supposed to come out next month. I backed it on a whim, and I don't think Larian has an especially fantastic track record (Divine Divinity seemed sort of great, but Divinity 2 was a real stinker), but their claims of crazy reactivity do appeal to me.

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