@RollingZeppelin: Great squad names :) I hope Captain Turanga Leela is kicking ass.
After the missions I wrote about, I ended up in some serious trouble with international panic levels. Here's what worked for me:
@RollingZeppelin: Great squad names :) I hope Captain Turanga Leela is kicking ass.
After the missions I wrote about, I ended up in some serious trouble with international panic levels. Here's what worked for me:
@KimChi4U: Thanks! One thing I always loved about the original XCOM was how much of the story arose organically from the gameplay, with these little randomly-generated, pixellated little soldiers developing real personalities in my mind. So far, Firaxis has seemed to capture that same feeling I had for the original. I was surprised how little I "made up" to write this... most of it seemed to come right out of the gameplay.
The following is an account of my squad's activities during my first 6 hours or so of gameplay of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. A remake of the classic PC strategy game, XCOM asks you to command an elite international task force defending Earth against a mounting extraterrestrial invasion. Pretty much everything I've written here is exactly how it happened in my game (though slightly embellished). I've included a few very minor spoilers, though there's nothing here that should surprise anyone who is familiar with the XCOM series.
First mission with the new squad, though I'm still in shock from my final one with Delta. Wilson, Lebedev, Matusumoto, and I had been training together for months. They were all better soldiers than me, but somehow I was the only one to survive.
Now I'm with a bunch of rookies. Two American women—a chatty one named Payne and a bull-faced brute named Smith—as well as a Russian medic named Golubev. They didn't stop talking the whole flight about how many "greys" they were going to kill. Well, this was my chance to get some payback for what happened in Germany, and I wasn't going to let a bunch of gossiping rookies get in the way.
The mission went pretty much like clockwork. Smith didn't keep her head down and caught a pretty nasty wound for it, but other than that we took out the hostiles without too much trouble. Before we knew it, the last two aliens were holed up in a small warehouse. Knowing first-hand what these things are capable of, I took the whole place down with my rocket launcher. Problem solved.
Feeling good about the success of our last mission, command sent us to extract a high-value asset trapped in Osaka. With Smith still laid up, they added a Mexican named Garza to our squad. She's a stone-cold bitch, but an unbelievable shot with a sniper rifle.
We contacted the VIP without too much trouble, but on the way back to the ship we encountered some new type of alien—the "Thin Man". At first they look sort of human, but once they move, you can tell they're anything but. Seeing those freaky bastards with their dead lizard eyes must have rattled me, because I got flanked and took some heavy fire. We got out of there alive, but now I've got 8 days in the med bay to think about my mistake.
One of our interceptors finally took down a UFO! They sent us in to the crash site to clean up and secure some of the alien tech. Just when I was getting used to "Sectoids" and "Thin Men", we ran into a new kind of alien, some kind of being made of crystal and energy. Well, Garza showed us that energy or not, a headshot kills it just as dead as anything else. Actually, maybe deader, since there wasn't much left of the thing afterwards.
I guess I've been doing a good job leading the squad, because after the mission the Commander promoted me to Sergeant. The guys have started calling me "Nova"... I assume because of my explosive personality, or maybe just my temper.
We got sent out to check out reports of an alien bomb in the Bangalore subway. This time the brass said they want us to snag one of the aliens alive. They gave us something the lab cooked up to stun them called an "Arc Thrower", but it only works at close range.
Well, we tried getting close enough to use the damn thing, but it wasn't easy since we were also trying to disable enough power sources to keep the alien bomb from nuking the place. We ended up having to shoot to kill, and got ourselves pretty shot up in the process.
Command was not happy about our failure to bring back a live specimen for interrogation. They made it very clear it was a top priority for our next mission.
Another report of alien abductions... this time in a cemetery, of all places. The squad was still beat up from the last mission, so we took a rookie with us, a huge Brazilian dude named Guzman.
I thought I had things under control, but then Golubev (we've been calling him "Doc") got separated from us and ended up trapped in a room with three hostiles closing in. Knowing he was probably done for, he rushed one and zapped it with the Arc Thrower. Then, just before the others got to him, Garza dropped one with an amazing headshot, while Guzman took out the other through a window.
We've started calling Garza "Demon", because if she so much as looks at something, it's dead.
Fucking brass. We brought back a live grey for them, so what did they want next? For us to do the same with one of those goddamn "energy beings".
Well, this was supposed to be a routine crash recovery mission, but it all went to hell. We had the energy being locked down, but when Payne rushed in to take it out, it had its plasma rifle ready. Seeing Payne hit the ground with half her head melted off, I said a big "fuck you" to command and shoved a rocket up that thing's ass, or wherever it is you shove things in a being made of goddamn crystals and energy.
Another alien abduction. I think the squad is still pretty shook up about Payne. We've got two new recruits, VanDyke and Konig, but no one has paid much attention to them, including me.
We ran into some new aliens again—crazy rocket-powered things we called "Floaters". They move so fast, they even got to Garza in the rear guard. She was bleeding out, and there was no way I could get to her, but I wasn't going to lose another soldier. So, I rushed in like a maniac and mowed down the last two. I took heavy fire, but it was worth it... we got her out of there just in time.
We must have pissed off the bugs, because they launched an all-out terror attack on Melbourne. We were too late for the initial strike, but we dropped in to try to rescue some of the remaining civilians.
We encountered another new alien, some sort of giant four-legged metal bug that turns people into zombies. No shit... actual zombies. Well, they were in for a surprise, because after a childhood full of video games, I'm pretty damn good at killing zombies. Not only did we take out all of the remaining hostiles, we also managed to save all but 3 of the 18 survivors in the drop zone.
Who makes up the stupid code names for these operations?
We were still riding high after kicking ass in Melbourne yesterday, when command sent us in to counter yet another alien abduction. I think we'd be a lot better off if we could get these fuckers before they touch down.
I think VanDyke had something to prove after sitting the bench during yesterday's mission, because she went out there guns blazing. In fact, she got a little too out-of-control, because once she started taking some heavy fire, she started to lose it.
The squad was able to keep it together though, and we brought everyone back alive. I even got promoted to Major. I'm really starting to believe that we can win this thing, and send these bug-eyed monsters back to wherever they came from.
Things were quiet for a while, but then they sent us in to deal with another alien abduction. It seemed like a routine mission, so I brought along VanDyke and a rookie named Gusev. But instead of Sectoids or Thin Men, we ran into a totally new kind of alien—these giant, hulking green monsters that you could unload an entire clip on, and they still wouldn't go down.
It was a massacre. We thought we had them pinned down, but then one of the brutes threw some sort of alien grenade. It killed Doc instantly, and messed up VanDyke real bad. Guzev totally lost it and ran off in the opposite direction of the ship, shooting wildly and screaming.
I didn't want to leave Guzev behind, but with VanDyke and Garza both in rough shape and those green monsters closing in, I had to abort the mission. A small, dark part of me hoped that Guzev was already dead, so that we weren't really abandoning him... but then I swear I heard him yelling as we took off.
Maybe this war is going to be a lot worse I thought.
@Mesoian: I actually only found out about it because a friend (who actually has no interest in video games whatsoever) noticed a blurb about it in the Boston Globe. I'd totally be interested to find out more about smaller local events (game jams, festivals, etc). There's definitely such a huge focus on E3, PAX, and GDC that I usually don't hear about the little stuff.
October is going to be a great month for gaming. Not only am I looking forward to the releases of Dishonored, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and Assassin's Creed III, I'm also eagerly anticipating the 24-hour video game marathon I'm doing on Saturday, October 20th as part of the Giant Bomb team for Extra Life 2012, to benefit Boston Children's Hospital. (Here's the link to my donation page! Give, for the children!)
Of course, even though October appears pretty stacked, September certainly was no slouch. Here's a quick rundown of the games I managed to play last month during the calm before the storm.
"Roguelikes" seem to be the hot indie trend for 2012. Unfortunately, I tend to view the genre as the video-game equivalent of the band Wilco: I keep giving them a shot, but for some reason I just can't see why people like them so damn much.
In case you're unfamiliar with it, the term "roguelike" refers to the 1980 Unix game Rogue, which was characterized by certain gameplay elements like an aggressive level of difficulty, randomly generated levels, and permanent character death. Today, these gameplay elements seem to have found a wider audience of people who demand crushingly difficult and frustratingly unpredictable game experiences, because they seem to be popping up in every third indie game that comes out.
One such game is Spelunky, a roguelike action platformer released this summer for Xbox LIVE Arcade. Having never played the original version (which was released for PC in 2009), nor having played any similar games (such as La-Mulana), Spelunky was a new experience for me—an experience that involved dying a gruesome death and restarting the game from the beginning about every 2 to 3 minutes.
After logging a few good hours of play, I did eventually develop some basic Spelunking skills like running, jumping, climbing ropes, dodging spiders, whipping bats, rescuing damsels, murdering shotgun-toting shopkeepers, and not getting impaled by spikes, to the point where I even finally made it to the second of the five major areas in the game. Unfortunately, by that point I'd decided that Spelunky was probably not the game for me, at least not if I wanted to make it to Thanksgiving without hurling my Xbox controller through my TV screen.
By contrast, a roguelike that does it right is The Binding of Isaac, a Steam title from 2011 that I only recently started playing. A deeply disturbed interpretation of the Bible story of the same name, The Binding of Isaac follows the child Isaac as he flees the murderous zealotry of his mother, descending in to a dungeon of unholy terrors armed only with his tears.
Gameplay-wise, Isaac is sort of a dungeon-crawling shooter, like a comfortable mix of The Legend of Zelda and Smash TV. As a roguelike, it's certainly difficult, and death is very much permanent; however, what it really captures about the spirit of roguelikes is the element of randomness. Every time I play, I encounter something I've never seen before (and often, something I hope I never see again). Moreover, the game is balanced such that randomness of the powerups and items firmly guides the gameplay, without undermining player skill to the point where you feel like you're simply a sinner in the hands of an angry random-number-generating God.
Having had my fill of indie roguelike self-flagellation, I abandoned for a time playing as either an archeologist with a death wish or a crying child. Instead, I turned to the other extreme: becoming the baddest ninja warrior that has ever existed. Mark of the Ninja is hands-down my favorite XBLA game of the year so far, and may well be my favorite game for 2012 overall. Pretty much everything I wanted to say about the game I put in my recent review, so I think I'll leave it at that. Mark of the Ninja: play it!
In my recent Darksiders II review, I claimed that I prefer a game that is too ambitious to one that plays it safe. Well, that claim was put to the test last month by Borderlands 2, which is basically an expanded, more polished version of its predecessor.
Still, sometimes it's the little things, and Borderlands 2 improves a lot of the little things. The difficulty is a little better balanced, the missions are a little less repetitive, the weapons are a little more diverse, and the enemy AI is a little less moronic. All of these little changes—along with some genuinely funny writing—add up to a total Borderlands experience that I've really been enjoying, so much so that perhaps I was full of crap with that whole "respecting games that take risks" nonsense. I'll say more in the review I'll be posting this week, but for now you should know that Borderlands 2 is a pretty solid pick, especially if you either never played or you absolutely loved the original.
So, that was my September. For my October, I'm really only searching for two things: (1) donations to help sick kids, and (2) suggestions for games I could probably win when playing against sick kids. I mean, I'm willing to donate money to help them fight cancer, but I'll be damned if I let those punks beat me at Halo.
Saturday was a gorgeous day, the kind of bright and sunny, yet breezy and temperate weather that makes me love autumn in New England. However, rather than spend outdoors one of the few perfect September days we get here in Boston, I chose to lurk in dark auditoriums and elbow my way through crowded (and by the afternoon, fairly pungent) exhibit halls. Why? Because Saturday, September 22 was Massachusetts Independent Game Development Day, which I spent attending the first ever Boston Festival of Indie Games (Boston FIG).
Co-presented by the MIT Game Lab and the Boston Indies community, the inaugural Boston FIG was a free(!) event showcasing the vibrant indie video and tabletop gaming scene in the New England region. In addition to several lectures, a game jam, an art show, and movie screenings, the exhibition halls boasted more than 30 game demos, primarily from New England indie developers.
After attending a keynote by game journalist and Gamasutra editor-at-large Leigh Alexander, I decided to brave the exhibit halls (and by "exhibit halls" I mean "crowded MIT classrooms") to check out some of the local talent. Here are a few of the games that caught my eye.
After the keynote, I plunged headlong into the exhibition throng and gravitated to the first game that caught my eye. Lost Marbles is an homage to the classic SNES action-puzzle game Lost Vikings, reimagined by developer Binary Takeover as a 3D Marble Madness style game (hence the name "Lost Marbles").
I enjoyed the clean, bright cel-shaded graphics (which I thought really worked for this kind of puzzle game), but I honestly had trouble telling if Lost Marbles was actually fun or not. I found the controls to be pretty twitchy, and I spent most of my time driving my marbles off the narrow paths they were supposed to be traversing. After a few dozen restarts, I scraped together what was left of my dignity and went off to look for something that demanded a little less in the fine-motor-skills department.
Hoping to purge myself of the stink of failure, I looked around for a game that might play more to my strengths. Enter Popcannibal's iOS title Girls Like Robots, a self-proclaimed "romance, adventure, puzzle game about seating arrangements". (Apparently this game was at PAX East this spring, but I must have missed it there.) Reminiscent of the classical "ménage problem" in combinatorial mathematics, Girls Like Robots asks you to arrange various people in a space, each according to their particular preferences. For example, you might surmise from the title that the girls like to sit next to the robots.
Girls Like Robots seemed like the kind of fun, stylish, tightly-designed puzzle game that is perfect for mobile platforms. It has a light-hearted sensibility that plays well with its eccentric art style, and I'm sure it will be well worth the dollar or two purchase price via iTunes when it releases.
Next, I stopped by to visit my friends at the Intrepid booth, to talk to them about their upcoming game Prime's Quest, debuting soon on iOS platforms. Prime's Quest builds on the traditional "sokoban" (warehouse keeper) style of puzzle game, wherein the player has to shift a bunch of blocks or crates around a crowded room to make it to the exit. I've been playing the beta, and so far it's got some great new mechanics that make this classic puzzle style seem fresh. I'm looking forward to playing the finished product.
One of the great things about the game expo environment is that you get to see products before they are finished. Some of them, like Rite are still in the prototype stages, allowing you a unique opportunity to engage the developer early in the design process. Developed by Father Octopus (which is also the name of the founder's band), Rite is a puzzle-platformer where you guide some sort of futuristic priest through a maze of deadly traps. The primary puzzle element I saw was a "dimension-splitting" mechanic, wherein you divided the player character into two copies of himself, which you had to control simultaneously.
Given that puzzle-platformers have become a somewhat trite and overutilized genre as of late—they're basically like the dubstep of indie games— Rite may have a hard time standing out from the crowd. However, even in its infancy, I could tell the game captured a certain distinctive ambience, one that could really shine with right graphics and audio direction.
Of course, after disparaging the whole genre of puzzle-platformers, the next game I played was Snapshot, a puzzle-platformer by Retro Affect available now on Steam. I first played this game at PAX East this spring and really enjoyed it.
In Snapshot, you play as an adorable robot who uses his camera to capture items from the world, which he can then use to solve puzzles. Captured items maintain physical qualities such as their momentum, giving many of the puzzles a physics-based bent. One nice thing about Snapshot is that unlike most modern indie platformers, the grisly character deaths are kept pretty much to a minimum, meaning that I can play this game with my three-year-old without worrying that he'll be waking me up in the middle of the night because he thinks Meat Boy is trying to kill him.
One of the last games that really grabbed my attention was Candlelight by Idle Action Studios, a game that I'm not going to call a "puzzle-platformer" only because I'm sick of typing those words. In Candlelight, you to control two characters simultaneously with independent controls (e.g. with the WASD and OKL; keys on a keyboard, or eventually with dual joysticks, one would presume). The silhoutte-based graphics divide the environment into light and dark, positive and negative spaces over which the pair of characters can exert certain powers. For example, the one character's lantern might cause hidden platforms to appear, or remove certain obstacles from view allowing the other character to pass.
The game still has a long way to go, but the version I played at Boston FIG already had some really smart design choices. For example, when the characters became separated, the view gently separated into a split-screen arrangement, which gradually shifted to corners of the screen as the characters became even farther apart. The effect gave me a subtle sense of where my characters were in the world, and was a much more elegant solution than more traditional approaches such as zooming way out, or plotting my location on some sort of mini-map.
All in all, Boston FIG was a great event. Although I played plenty of other promising games, I hope the handful I talked about give you a sense of just how exciting the indie game scene is here in Boston. Speaking with one of the festival organizers late in the day, he shared that in his estimation, there were about 2-4 times the number of attendees than they expected—about 2,000 or so total. Hopefully the success of the event was such that Boston Festival of Indie Games will continue to be an annual tradition for years to come.
@Colourful_Hippie: Welcome! When I started I was impressed how friendly the folks here at GB were. In fact I ended up on this site because I wanted to participate in a gaming community and people here seemed the friendliest and most laid-back. Although, I probably could have done with fewer cartoons of anthropomorphised poo in my welcome thread.
@Ravenlight: I hear you on Dishonored; however, I feel a certain responsibility every once in a while to take a chance on a game. I really enjoy playing and reviewing new games, and it takes some of satisfaction out of it for me if I only play things I already know are going to be great.
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