Hey there guys. Let’s sit down for a while, maybe have a chat about the video games. Thankfully, my haul from the Steam thanksgiving sale was decidedly low-impact, or at least as low impact as one can do when they’re purchasing stuff from steam because “shiny”. In this case, I got The Walking Dead, KotOR 2 (you know, just in case I ever need to trash that game again), and Dishonored, two of which happen to be the main subjects of this blog.I also bought the PC version of Dark Souls from Amazon for $15, and then won a copy of Gauntlet Dark Legacy from Ebay in a moment of nostalgia/poor judgment. Also I paid for the THQ humble bundle and gave it all to charity, which is to say that I gave it all to THQ. While I’m usually not one for RTS games that came out after 2002, I find that Relic’s more tactical affairs are the exception to the rule, and considering how awesome I think Dawn of War II is (I should really finish that, shouldn’t I?) I bet that Company of Heroes is in a similar vein, and I’ve wanted to play Darksiders for a while. (Metro 2033 and Red Faction are icing, if anything). See? I play modern games too, on occasion.
Modern Games 2: On Occasion
The Walking Dead is barely a video game, and yet it is one of the best narrative experiences I have had in a long time. While the first episode does make a somewhat half-hearted attempt to be like the rest of Telltale’s ilk (Man, I should really play more Sam and Max), any pretense of TWD’s “gameplay” being anything other than filler between the amazing writing and dialogue is in full effect by the second episode. And know what? That’s fine. The Walking Dead is less about “Use Axe on Zombie” then it is about making terrible, horrible choices that inevitably lead to people hating you or dying. Not since I finished up The Witcher (I should probably finish The Witcher 2) have I made a choice I immediately regretted after seeing the outcome. While the story itself is, for all intents and purposes, pretty much the same regardless of how you choose, the way the choices are presented and referenced give a strong illusion that what you’re doing has weight, though I still think The Witcher has it beat in the “actual gameplay consequences” area. But whereas The Witcher had an ok, if overly padded RPG underneath its great writing, the brisk pace of TWD and the extreme shortness of the gameplay segments that don’t involve you mashing buttons means that it’s being great (and by great I mean emotionally draining and unremittingly depressing) almost all of the time. I almost feel like I can’t talk specifics because it’s the kind of experience that would probably be cheapened if you knew anything about the story going in and in a surprising deviation from my spoiler-happy internet viewing, I went into it without much foreknowledge of what was going to happen and I think that really made it for me. All you need to know is that Lee is a great character despite just being a proxy for the player, and Clementine is a rare example of a child character being written in a way that comes off as realistic. If I have any sort of qualms that aren’t philosophical in nature, they’re probably directed towards some of the supporting characters, namely the ones featured in Episode 4, but if I elaborated it’d probably go into nitpicky territory, and we don’t want that. Thus, I end with my ringing endorsement (it’s going to be high up on my GOTY list for sure), and suggest that if you are not a cold, emotionless robot like me, maybe you shouldn’t play through multiple episodes in one sitting. Considering that this game got any sort of emotional reaction out of me at all suggests that normal people will not take well to the awful happenings therein.
Dishonored is the best Deus Ex game since the last Deus Ex game. Considering that Arkane Studios Austin is apparently brimming with Ion Storm alumni, this is not a surprise. What was a surprise is that I liked Dishonored more than Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a game that I like a lot despite its occasional hiccups (mostly stemming from the part where there were totally stupid and pointless boss battles in direct contradiction to what the rest of the game was trying to do), and perhaps even more than the first Deus Ex. But perhaps I’m overselling this comparison a bit. Yes, Dishonored is one of those games where you can approach a situation from whatever angle you see fit, be it stabbing dudes in the face and neck or sneaking around every single one of them and not killing a single person (an attempt I made on my initial playthrough, foiled by someone I must have accidentally killed at some point), but it’s certainly its own game and while if you like Deus Ex, you’ll probably like this game, even if you didn’t you possibly may like this game as well. Where it differentiates itself is partially aesthetic in how steampunk it is with its whale-oil powered machinery and Victorian costuming (also, you can tell that Dunwall was designed by the guy who designed City 17), but it’s mostly in the way that traversal is handed. Corvo’s ability to blink teleport from the first non-tutorial mission onward gives a pretty clear message that you won’t be needing to play “find the vent” nearly as much as that other one. With that teleporting magic, the incredibly useful Dark Vision, and maybe some Possession and some Time Stop, I found that I was not only enjoying my attempt at a no detection/no kills playthrough, but actually succeeding (though I didn’t get the achievements for some reason, which is fine by me since the game is short enough that doing something like that again wouldn’t be too time consuming). Unsurprisingly, being able to silently teleport both vertically and horizontally makes slipping past or behind guards (so you can choke them out and throw their unconscious bodies in a pile) far easier than in some other games, where I feel like most enemies have an almost preternatural sense of being able to detect you from far too far away. Of course, having gone through half of the game again, but with the intent of killing everyone I encounter, I can confirm that the more direct route is also not very challenging, at least on Normal difficulty. Either way, Dishonored is an enjoyable time.
But, it’s also a short time. I beat the game in around 6 hours, in which some save scumming and some pretty extensive exploration was done in my vain quest to not be detected or kill dudes (I also replayed some missions a few times because I accidentally killed some people). That’s actually fine and dandy, considering that there is something to be said about a game that exercises brevity and doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s also worth multiple playthroughs if you want all the achievements, a task I am very much considering. You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned the story at all. This is intentional. While Dishonored is very much a game that succeeds by being mechanically sound and exceptionally polished on the gameplay front, I can’t say the same for the story. This is partially because, for as much world-building can be found in whatever scattered books you find laying around, the fiction that is built up is never truly capitalized on as well as it could be. Thus you are left with a tale of “kill the people who betrayed you, but then there is a twist”. Twist: The people who you were working for betray you for ill-explained reasons. I didn’t find any of the main characters particularly interesting, and the side characters who seem interesting are just side characters. All of this leads to a surprisingly flaccid, underwhelming conclusion ending with one of two voiceover narrations depending on how many dudes you iced throughout the course of the game. It should be stated that while it can’t compete with the likes of Mass Effect 3 or Assassin’s Creed 3 in pure disappointment, the ending to Dishonored is pretty terrible and unsatisfying. If I had to nitpick something about the gameplay, I’d probably say that it’s a bummer that most of your items and some of your powers aren’t useful if you’re trying to go the nonlethal route, but that’s probably intentional. Qualms about the narrative aside, Dishonored is probably also going to be pretty high up on my GOTY list, and I also suggest you purchase it for a monetary sum. It’s also led to me taking another look at Arx Fatalis and keeping an eye out for the eventual occasion when Dark Messiah of Might and Magic will be on sale. As a nifty bonus, it totally ran at a smooth 60fps the entire way through with most of the settings turned up pretty high. While that’s probably more the part where Dishonored’s visuals rely more on art design than technical prowess, it was still a pleasant surprise, especially since Dark Souls wants to run at like 20 FPS the entire time despite the part where my computer far exceeds the recommended requirements. Stupid unoptimized PC ports.
Oh right. I guess I should probably talk about the rest of those interplay games, now that I’m almost done with all 8 of them.
Interplay Junk, I guess if you’re still reading this far.
Jagged Alliance 2: Unfinished Business is a standalone expansion to Jagged Alliance 2, which is to say that it’s a game I like on a conceptual level but actively fail on an executional one. I’m not entirely sure what doesn’t click with me, or what I’m doing wrong that ends with me getting half my guys killed on any given encounter, but I bet it’s probably the best game of the 8 Interplay titles that were part of that bottom tier in the “Pay what you want” promo. So that’s cool, I guess?
M.A.X. is a turn based strategy game that seems kinda like what would happen if the original C&C was a TBS. No, it’s not full of amazing FMV, as far as I can tell, but it does have a near future setting and base building and junk. It seems nifty, and may be the first game in this set of 8 that I won’t immediately uninstall. I did get wrecked by the computer on the tutorial mission though, so we’ll see one way or another. Sadly, M.A.X. 2 doesn't seem to work on my computer.
There’s one Interplay game from that promo left, but I’ll keep it a surprise (also I haven’t played it yet). Instead, I’ll just say that if you tell me your favorite method for playing the Deus Ex-like games of the world, I may send you a GOG code for the game in question, because I already owned it. Have fun?