New Site. New Blog. Here's what I've been playing.

(So I had planned on posting this Sunday evening, but when I sat down to post it I had the belated realization that it would probably be gone Tuesday morning, when the new site launched)

Turns out that when you've got a job and you adhere to the "I ain't spendin' sixty bucks on every game" life philosophy, you can afford a surprisingly large number of games. Problem is, I haven't beaten many of the games that I've bought, so I've gathered quite a backlog for myself. It's annoying, some of these games I've barely even got past the tutorial of and a few are ones I've never actually played before. So, you guessed it, this is just something of a backlog-blog where I play a game until I either beat it or just plain have no interest in it anymore and deliver some of my thoughts on it here. Maybe if I have some outside reason to stick to a game, I'll stick to it better?

Anyway, here goes a few of my thoughts on three games I played last week. One I completed, one I didn't (hence the "'til I just can't anymore" clause above), and one which has no real endgame. I'll try to edit this and put some images in here, but no promises - I'm already afraid the site will eat this top part and I'll have to repost the whole damn thing.

Q.U.B.E.

Q.U.B.E., henceforth referred to without the periods and caps, because fuck that’s hard to type, is a first person puzzle game in the vein of Portal, which seems to have popularized them. Apart from Narbacular Drop, I can’t name any that existed before Portal. But not many of them seem to understand that it’s the story and dialogue that kept people involved in Portal, not just the mechanics and puzzles, though most of us had fun with those too. Qube is pretty cool in that it just tells a very abstract story. There was intended to be one, with voices and everything, but instead you just run through these super sterile environments and then… well, stuff happens. Not a ton of stuff, but stuff nonetheless. Still, that stuff won’t draw you in much. You should come up with your own little story to liven things up a bit.

So what about the puzzles themselves? Well, the game isn’t really structured like Portal. There are several different areas with different ideas, and once you pass an area that’s it. That never comes up again. That means the beginning of the game shows you the basics, and then the next area introduces a new mechanic and challenges you with that, and then scraps it for something else entirely. The only things that ever stay the same are base mechanics. And I can’t say that is entirely a bad thing, but I also can’t say that I wasn’t a little bit disappointed that there wasn’t some final puzzle that combined all of these things. Nope, there’s the last puzzle to the last room with the last mechanic and then PRESTO! You move onto the finale, which is just one big and awesome set piece. And it is, indeed, awesome – but for all the brain-bending puzzles you just solved, there isn’t a single one that’s the brain-bendiest.

Qube isn’t that long, at only three hours, maybe four if you suck at puzzle games. Two if you’re really good at them. This is fine by me – any longer and it would get kinda boring. No, what we have here is a short little puzzle-game snack for a rainy Saturday afternoon, with a very satisfying little showpiece at the end to reward you for your hard work.

Red Faction Armageddon

This game is the perfect case for “just ‘cause it works right doesn’t mean it’s good”. The developers didn’t seem to understand that the mere presence of a mechanic does not make it interesting. The Gravity Gun would not have been as awesome as it was if Gabe & Co. just gave it to you and never gave you any reason at all to use it. Unfortunately, that’s precisely what Red Faction Armageddon does. Guerilla kinda had the same problem, but it was nowhere near as bad because there was this entertaining open world to destroy stuff in and, while the game didn’t seem to particularly care if you did or did not destroy things, it at least designed areas where abusing the shit out of Geomod could be advantageous. Here, destroying things with your rocket launchers, melty-guns, and the Magnet gun often seems to hinder you more than help you. More than once I’ve died due to accidentally tripping over broken materials in a dark fucking room with aliens jumping all over the walls.

Speaking of that magnet gun, let’s discuss what is potentially the only interesting thing about this game. You put a magnet on one thing, another magnet on something else, and the first magnet takes everything in its near vicinity to the location of the other magnet. Now imagine being in a large room, attaching magnet A to small building A, and then attaching magnet B to big bad generic alien B, and watching the entire small structure slam into the bug. Sound great? Now repeat it ad nauseum. In the time that I played this game, I never once came across an actual reason to take out the magnet gun. There is one other interesting mechanic – if you mess up, you can hold a button to shoot a sort of short-range repair beam to put something back together. You would think that the developers would have, I dunno, made some puzzles or some interesting set pieces combining these two things, right? Right? Nope. That the mechanic was introduced to solve the problem of players fucking their progression over is not a bad thing; that such an interesting mechanic was never used beyond “repair this generator” is a terrible thing.

We could talk about the terribly boring aliens, the repetitive level design, the dull writing, and everything else about the game, but I’ll just say this: The game’s damning fault is that it is boring. Not that it’s terribly designed, like Daikatana; not that it’s buggy, like Big Rigs Over the Road Racing; not that it’s bad but has a certain charm to it, like Deadly Premonition. It’s (and I know this word is overused) simply uninspired. There is nothing to this game, it’s a shell of a game without any meaty insides. All the right parts are there on the outside, and they’re fine, but once you dig in you find… nothing. At all. That I can say that about a product from the same developer as Saints Row the Third, something with a very obvious idea and vision, is baffling.

Let’s talk about something positive next!

Minecraft

So I’ve kind of flirted with Minecraft several times since my brother got it and downloaded it onto my laptop, now on my computer. And by “flirt” I mean I’ve played it several times but never really completed much of anything. I get really excited and I start coming up with huge, grand ideas, I start gathering resources and tapping away…

…and then I give up a week or so later to go do something else. I should probably moderate myself more when playing this, but when that bug hits it’s a pretty bad one. I just can’t stop thinking about how I’m going to decorate my blocky new home. Right now, I’ve set up a local server and my brother and I are building an underground house. At first I had this grand idea to clear out an entire mountain but decided to build it way underground. Why? Well, because our big mine is actually a deep, natural waterfall that we found that goes pretty far down. We just go into the cavern where it’s located and drop all the way down to a pool, around which we have furnaces, crafting benches, an enchanter thingy, an anvil, chests stacked full of stuff… anyway, I thought it might be a great idea to have a house down there and so that’s what we’re doing! Can’t say whether I’ll finish it or not, but this project is miniature in comparison to my previous idea of “build a gigantic castle in the middle of a massive body of water on top of floating dirt blocks that had an area of 128x128.”

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So Here's My Top Games of 2012

This was kind of an odd year for gaming. You'd expect the likes of Halo 4, Assassin's Creed 3, and/or Mass Effect 3 to top everyone's list - but instead, most people are putting the likes of Journey and The Walking Dead in their number 1 spots.

If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that my top games would have been these, I'd have probably laughed at you. In fact, I didn't have much interest in actually playing any of them, but I eventually did and they are all great. But before I really start, I have to give props to the biggest surprise of all, and that is a little JRPG called Chrono Trigger. I don't even generally like JRPG's a whole lot - I usually get five hours or so into one before I get tired of something and give up - but this one was different. It has become one of my favorite games of all time now that I've finished it, but since neither it nor its DS rerelease were released this year, I can't really put it on this list. I also can't make this blog post without mentioning that game. Play Chrono Trigger at some point!

One last thing - there are some games this year that were kinda disappointing, but still did some interesting things that I wanted to give mention to. That section of this post eventually became too long to fit in here, so I made a different blog post and it is here if you have any interest in it.

And, without further ado, I present to you Believer258's Top Five Games of 2012.

Number 5: Journey

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Between the shockingly creative thread title and the under-mentioned pick that is Journey, you must be reeling from all the originality here, which is a shame, because Journey deserves a whole lot of attention. It’s not so much a game as it is an audio-visual treat that you interact with, and boy is it wondrous. Gorgeous vistas, excellent sand and lighting effects, and some great set pieces that do not at all rely on quick time events are what make this what it is. Well, that and one other thing – the co-op. Now, this game could stand on its own without the co-op, but its inclusion makes it even better. It’s hard to describe why it’s such a great addition. You’re walking along this desert and suddenly someone else who looks very similar to you starts beeping and you begin looking around and exploring together. Really, there’s not much reason to except to find things that extend your scarf, but I found myself doing it all the same. Certainly it’s short, at only an hour and a half, but that’s because you’re supposed to play it in one sitting. And when you do play it, make sure it’s at a time when it can have your full and undivided attention for that whole hour and a half.

I’m actually going to recommend waiting the least amount of time possible to play this game despite it being number 5 on my list. I seriously doubt that its co-op is going to have any sort of real longevity and if you wait too long, that part of the game simply won’t be active due to everyone with an interest in it already having played it and moved on. Again, the co-op isn’t necessary to make Journey what it is – but it does do a fair bit to improve the experience so get it now if you have a PS3 on hand.

Number 4: Forza Horizon

Hey look! There's (one of) my car(s)!
Hey look! There's (one of) my car(s)!

I’m not big into racing games. Occasionally I’ll get an itch to go ‘round and ‘round a track and get first place, but that’s usually something that goes away after a few races in something. But this was a bit different. Forza Horizon does a good job of giving the goings-on some context and it’s more than just one sentence, too. It isn’t a story, per se, at least not a good one, but the whole game feels like a racing festival is going on. There are actual characters running it, there are actual characters in the races (though they're pretty flat), and your racer is referenced sometimes (though he’s never given a name, just a generic face). It’s just enough context and story to give it a summer party-like feeling, but not so much that it ever gets in the way of actual racing, and the racing itself feels really good most of the time. Meaty cars like classic American muscle feel heavy and like they could take a beating, light and quick to accelerate cars really feel pretty quick, and the class designations do a pretty good job of making sure you don’t take an old, heavy Mustang into a race with a lot of tight corners. If I have any real complaints about the game, it’s that there’s a ton of loading. Otherwise? Nothing much bad to say about it.

Number 3: Torchlight 2

My brother and I, toward the end of the game. You can see one of our dragon-chickens in the corner.
My brother and I, toward the end of the game. You can see one of our dragon-chickens in the corner.

I’ll admit, I’ve never really gotten into loot games. You just do a whole lot of clicking on things and often have to go back to town and sell most of the junk you’ve collected. But Torchlight 1 was a game that I liked for a longer amount of time than I expected, and Torchlight 2 is a game that I’ve really liked, and I’m not entirely certain what they do different from other ones. Granted, I haven’t played many, but it must be something other than the loot. Maybe it’s the generally soothing music, or the consistently colorful and cartoony look and tone of things, or the way the combat feels whenever I blast a giant cannon or smash something with a massive wrench and they gib. And the things I dislike about loot games weren’t gone, but in both games they are greatly alleviated, most importantly the inventory, which in this game is pretty big. When that inventory gets full, you can fill up your pet with all of the stuff you don’t want and send him back to sell it, as well as send him back to town to buy a bunch of potions and scrolls in case you’re low on either.

There’s still no single thing that Torchlight 2 does to really differentiate itself from other click-y Diablolikes, but I do know this – I had to tear myself away from three and four hour sessions of Torchlight 2 multiple times, something I haven’t had to do with any other game this year.

Number 2: Doom 3 BFG

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Whoa, wait – this game is 8 years old? What is it doing here? Well, honestly, there’s only one game this year that I enjoyed more and I can’t help but give this game a high spot. Some people really don’t like it, and I can see why, but man, I did. I was never truly terrified, but the atmosphere and the enemies really kept me on my virtual toes. The game design holds up pretty well for me in pretty much every respect – the shooting is satisfying, the levels feel natural and easy to navigate without needing a waypoint, and that lighting is still pretty good. It’s a little too easy, granted, and the Cyberdemon is definitely way too easy, but Doom 3 is a fantastic game as far as I’m concerned; not quite flawless but I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of all of this game – Doom 1, 2, and the Doom 3 expansions included.

Note - yes, I know about the Chrono Trigger thing above. But this particular rerelease actually came out this year, and this is the version that I played. I also played the Xbox version to completion this year, making this the only game on here that I have completed twice.

Number 1: Sleeping Dogs

Wei Shen has a very dangerous heel
Wei Shen has a very dangerous heel

No single game this year impressed me as much as this one. Obviously, that’s why it’s my number one pick. It doesn't do anything wholly original, but everything here is interesting and worth doing for some reason or another. It’s a refinement of many ideas rather than an original concept, and those refinements are things that other games should pay attention to (*ahem* Rockstar and their controls in any game). The fighting that makes up most of the game feels refreshing when put against the melee of most open world games, the story is one you’ve heard before but its presentation and the characters within are easy to care about and, in some cases, feel really sorry for. Really, I won’t list off the game’s entire list of good features because, well, all of them are very well done and worth seeing. Play this game!

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Some Honorable Mentions for this year

An hour or so ago, I was busy writing up a little rough draft of what my own little Game of the Year list would look like, and I wanted to do some honorable mentions of games that, while not necessarily great, did some things that I really wanted to give some kudos to. Originally, I had only planned to give each game a little sentence, but it wound up being pretty long and I felt like it would be better to give these "honorable mentions" their own blog post rather than have an incredibly long one full of both. And so, here they are, a list of games that I felt did some things really, really right that deserve recognition, but also did some things pretty badly.

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Darksiders 2 was, like Mass Effect 3, one of those AAA disappointments of the year. It didn’t really capture the magic of the first game. Players spent a lot of time traversing dungeons whose end prize was just a boss fight. Which is fine, boss fights are a great prize, but the original game had you traverse dungeons where you had to find an important tool that often had many different uses beyond just “use this to get here” (this is not an original idea, but it’s a damn good rip-off of Zelda). However, what Darksiders 2 did do is lay a good foundation for a third person loot game. Remember how Borderlands took Diablo and applied that to shooters? Well, imagine a game that takes Diablo and applies that to action games like God of War or Devil May Cry. It seems to me like that was what Darksiders 2 was trying to do, and hopefully a developer somewhere, or Vigil themselves, will take that formula and do it much better next time, maybe combine that with the Zelda formula of finding a special tool to get through a dungeon.

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Mass Effect 3 isn’t a game that I’ve been kind to in retrospect. I’ve always made sure to say “it’s not a bad game” right after bashing it for its bland gameplay, its cheesy-in-a-bad-way dialogue, and its terrible hole-ridden ending. But you know what? Time to be a bit kinder to it. There are some genuinely cool moments in this game. The level where you cure the genophage, for instance, or fighting a Reaper just before deciding the fate of the Geth and the Quarians. Beyond those, however, I must commend it for incorporating a pretty good multiplayer. Say what you will about the rest of the game, or about how multiplayer ruins single player games, Mass Effect 3 managed to include a really good, really interesting multiplayer component that kept me plenty busy for far longer than I ever expected it to.

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Far Cry 3’s first half is fantastic. If the entire game had held up as well as its first half does, then it would probably be on my own personal GOTY list – but it will not be simply because the latter half is pretty lackluster. Its greatest character isn’t in the latter half, the missions boil down to one silly guy telling you to go here, then here, then here, and they are often way too scripted and way too linear-feeling to take advantage of the game’s considerable strengths. However, this game presents one of the most fun open worlds to romp around in that I’ve played in a long time. Taking out outposts could have been pretty repetitive, but each one is carefully designed around tagging all of the bad guys, knocking out the alarm boxes, and then killing everyone in either spectacularly explosive fashion or knife-y sneaky fun. The radio towers are each a tiny little jumping puzzle of their own, which is normally a bad thing in any shooter but here it feels pretty good most of the time. And, really, “feels pretty good” is an apt description of most of the things you do in the game. Just don’t be surprised if you’re a bit annoyed at the end because there’s no real payoff. And… save your friends. Do not join Citra. Trust me on this one.

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You could take any single part of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and point out why it might be boring. I didn’t personally think it was terribly boring, but it’s not necessarily what you might think of as “exciting”. Still, this game placed you in this weird and colorful world, full of its own little oddities and differences, enough to make it stand out from your everyday Tolkien-esque fantasy. Unfortunately, the game’s combat mostly consists of occasionally dodging, mostly mashing a button to keep interrupting whatever you’re fighting and knocking it into a wall. I have the game turned up to the highest difficulty and it’s mostly not that difficult. If there had been a second one – or if whoever owns the rights gets to make a second one – find a way to give more variety to this combat other than pausing between hits. Do that and make the dialogue more interesting, and you could have a recipe for a great RPG. As it stands, this one’s good, but I wouldn’t spend any more than 25 hours in it.

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And finally, Syndicate. I did not even touch the co-op of this game, but the single player campaign is actually well-worth checking out. The graphics and aesthetics of everything are very clean and bright, which is in stark contrast to the dull gray, brown, and green of most shooters. The shooting itself feels pretty good, but really isn’t all that different from most modern shooters and most of the game is that way – a modern shooter with a fresh coat of paint. However, this game managed to include some really good boss fights as far as I’m concerned. Most of them are the antithesis to Deus Ex Human Revolution’s boss fights in that they really take advantage of the game’s hacking-mind-chips idea. None of the bosses are just enemies with bigger health bars, they actually ask you to take the skills you have gotten up to that point and use them in a creative way. Plus there’s a boss fight against a helicopter on a train that’s high above the city. Awesome! If you have a capable PC and haven’t picked this up on one of the many sales it’s been on, what’s stopping you?

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Bulletstorm Shows Some Things Shooters Need To Change

Go play Bulletstorm

Well, if you haven't yet anyway. I just wanted to make it clear that this is a fantastic game before I start really tearing into it.

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Not to get too steeped into the history of this all, but here’s the short version: Polish developer People Can Fly made a low budget FPS a few years back called Painkiller, the kind of game that would normally have flown way under the radar had one Yatzhee Croshaw not found it in a bargain bin and subsequently declared it one of his favorite games. With a skyrocketed popularity level due to this one 5 minute review, Epic Games picked them up and put them to work on Bulletstorm, a new FPS with a similar type of attitude and several occurrences of made-up dirty phrases. I’ve recently made my way through this game and while it is a fantastic shooter that does things the industry could learn from (a blog on that later), it’s also got a few things about it that I found rather annoying and a textbook case of things shooters should really just stop doing. So, without further ado, here we go:

1) Weapon wheels

I can understand why a modern military shooter like Call of Duty or Battlefield would limit you to two weapons, and for Halo it was a stylistic choice that was pretty different at the time, but I can’t help but feel that there aren’t many games that can honestly justify a necessity for a two weapon limit. This is my single biggest issue with Bulletstorm and it’s one that has been growing on me a lot lately in other games, too. Singularity was in dire need of the ability to hold every gun, and even the Ur-example Halo could very well benefit from being able to hold every single gun in the entire game. But this game especially needs to allow it. Some of the worst parts in the game were the ones that just handed me a sniper rifle and told me that I had to use it. Sure, it’s technically feasible to get through those parts using your trusty pistol or, later, the drill gun thingy, but it’s far handier to use that sniper rifle. I should just be able to pull up the weapon wheel, whip out my sniper, pop a few noggins, and then pull out my trusty shotgun when I’m done. As it stands, I have to pick up this stupid rifle, use it, and then pick my other gun back up when I’m done with it. I don’t want to keep the damn thing, it’s only useful in certain situations anyway. The game’s skillshot system could make far more uses out of a weapon wheel than just three guns, one of them never changing. Imagine if one of the harder skillshots were to use the thumper to knock at least six dudes into the air, and then kill each with a different gun as he slowly falls to the ground. The sheer number of different ways to dispatch a group of enemies would increase by an order of magnitude if every gun were available at every time in this game. Some might say that this limit is for something like “balance” or “thinking ahead and using tactics to choose your weapon”. If you are that person, then place yourself in the shoes of Snow:

2) Health Systems

Someone just read that subtitle and thought “Yeah, FPS games really need health bars and medpacks!” Now, hold on, because that’s not what I’m saying. The health system itself is fine. Actually, I’d say that it would be cool if we could buy and/or find armor to go over our regenerating health. As it stands, though, we’ve got a perfectly functioning way of making sure that someone doesn’t walk into a big, act-ending fight with an immeasurably tiny sliver of health to make their way through on. That sort of thing is quite frustrating. No, what I’m mainly talking about here is the red fucking jam that feels the need to invade our television screens every time the player takes a virtual bullet. Again, there’s at least one (weak) argument that can be made for this red jam – it makes it easier to tell when you’re about to die, but if you say that you should also place yourself in the shoes of Snow, above. There’s no reason why we cannot have an actual bar tucked away in a corner of the screen that flashes red when a player needs to get behind something and get out the Band-Aids. Halo 2 did it. Halo 3 sort of did it but I believe it still had some red jam around the edges, though not nearly as much as any modern shooter. Hell, Halo ODST did the red jam to the extreme and that game has no refilling health. Yep, a few shots and you had a hard time seeing through that red filter until you found a health pack.

For the record, I’m still of the belief that every game is different and therefore there is no single “best” type of health system that everyone should use no matter the game. This means that regenerating health, health bars and medpacks, or the oft-praised but not often used hybrid health are all very much viable design decisions.

3) Bosses

There really isn’t much in the way of handholding in this game, but it happens a lot on what should be bosses. There is precisely one actual boss and two other “minibosses” – two other things are in the game which should be full-on bosses. The first is the Hekaton, which is essentially Godzilla. The player must defeat it by getting on a helicopter and shooting its weak point with a turret while some dudes yell at you. This ought to be among the game’s highest points and an incredibly memorable moment, but instead you’re left trying to aim properly while a helicopter swings about. At least in Modern Warfare the helicopter stayed still while you were shooting tiny targets – here, it’s a bit difficult and a bit infuriating to keep your aim on the Hekaton’s tiny red spot. Instead of this, a better scenario might have been to have you pilot a helicopter (preferably with some practice beforehand) to take it out, or maybe have you actually kill it on foot though I can see why that wouldn’t be preferable because you’d just be shooting at his toecheese (if you were on the ground) or just cleaning out the gunk between his teeth (if you were on a building). The second thing which should be a full-on boss is Sarrano himself, the General who you’re trying to get rid of. You beat him (not kill him) via Quick Time Event. After mowing, stomping, throwing, blasting, blowing up, and otherwise decimating your way through hordes of bad motherfuckers, you get to the baddest motherfucker and he (literally) throws you around a bit, knocks out the token girl, and kills (but not really) your best friend. This is right after you do the Modern Warfare 2 thing of pushing the left and right buttons to crawl to the nearest weapon, and it’s not fun. It wasn’t fun there and it’s just infuriating here. And what makes it worse is that the game essentially ends the boss fight for you! You have to push the leash button and the kick button and some of that to do a very specific series of events to kill him (not really). If by some odd chance any developer happens to read this, this is not fun. This is not satisfying, this is not interesting, this is not a good way to kill your big bad guy.

As for the above mentioned minibosses and the only actual boss in a game that should be full of them, they’re fine and fairly well designed and interesting but the game feels the need to make the other characters yell at you about what to do to beat them. Again, this isn’t rocket science. Kids have been figuring out how to kill bosses since the NES days and before, I’m pretty certain that anyone playing this game can figure out that “shoot the big red jello-y bits” is the right thing to do on the big boss. As for the minibosses, the first one has the player shoot a large enemy until he kneels down and the player then kicks him backwards, eventually into some spinning helicopter blades. The second is a similar fight and has the player knock him into some hanging electrical wires. These are fine, I just wish the game didn’t tell me what to do when I’d already figured it out.

These last three are very minor and aren’t necessarily things that are downright bad, just things that have the potential to make shooters more fun.

4) More open level design

Crysis got this one right, for one game at least. Linearity is by no means a bad thing and, really, many of the most beloved games of all time are uber-linear and ask certain things of you at times. Mega Man 2, Super Mario Bros., Half-Life, etc. are all quite linear. Still, these days even consoles have the power to make more open levels. Crysis is on the consoles if you don’t believe me. And, really, that’s the best example I have to give. I don’t necessarily need every game to be that open, but I would like to see more games give me a bigger battlefield to play on.

5) Movement speed

I don’t need Bulletstorm to move as fast as Doom did. Actually, that might be a bit too fast. Still, I would like to see FPS protagonists with the ability to put a little more giddyup in their step.

6) More varied enemies

Oh, come on. People can be creative. Everything in Bulletstorm save for the Hekaton and the plant-thingy is either human or human shaped. Why couldn’t we get to fight some crazy wildlife that had taken over the city?

And that’s all! Do you agree? Disagree? Anything you would like to add? Are some of these things you actually like and want to see more of? If so, why?

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A First Timer's First Impressions

Steam sales got me again! The original Deus Ex was on sale earlier today (and still is) for $2.49. I've spent less on more before, so I picked it up and you guys know this story by heart now. Anyway, keep in mind that every bit of the following is after about 2 hours of play and I only just finished the first mission. At this point, I'm going to talk to Anna somebody.

Just incase you don't know what Deus Ex is, though, it's a first person RPG released in 2000 and it's been considered by many to be a PC gaming classic, up there next to System Shock 2 and Half-Life. JC Denton is our gravelly-voiced, sunglasses-sporting protagaonist, stuck in a cyberpunk world with a bunch of cybernetic augmentations all over him. He's some kind of police officer/security agent guy and, well, that's about all I know plot-wise. Well, that and I think this Gunther dude is a bad guy, but I can't be certain. I accidentally skipped half of the first cutscene - oops! - so I might have missed some details that I need to go to Youtube and find out.

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Speaking of cutscenes, that's where I think this game shows its age the most. As a game released in 2000, graphics that aren't up to par are to be expected. It was still kind of shocking to see characters open and close their mouths like a nutcracker might, and remember that this is a game where a lot of mouth opening and closing happens. I can get used to it, but it will never stop looking odd. What's more annoying is the award-winning voice acting on display throughout all of what I've played. Far Cry's voice acting is even better and both are far outpaced by the golden voice acting on display in House of the Dead 2, but this is well-worth hearing just for a laugh. Again, I can get used to it, but it's very much bad. And far less excusable than the bad facial animations, too. As for the rest of the graphics, they don't bother me much. They're flat and boxy and actually remind me of Doom, if Doom had been a first person RPG.

What about starting the game proper? The first thing I did was go through a training session, which lasted a longer time than expected. I knew this game was more complex than most games in the first person perspective, but I didn't expect it to last this long. I got done with the training (and finished doing a lot of keybind changing) and got my ass shipped off to the first level, a mission to kidnap a terrorist leader who is holed up in the top of what's left of the Statue of Liberty. This terrorist guy has captured some vaccine for a virus called Ambrosia, which kills people. I'm not certain of the rest of the details. Anyway, if this were a modern game you'd be given two guns, two grenades, and two feet to the left and right to dodge bullets with. Nothing wrong with extreme linearity, but here I was given the entire island to explore which is quite freeing. I have played the game's prequel, Human Revolution, and even that feels closed off compared to this place. There are several different ways into the Statue of Liberty. I explored around a bit, in the shadows, and eventually found a stack of boxes that let me climb up onto the statue. I did some exploring after taking care of a lot of bad guys and found at least one other way in - I could have gone to the North, to a double agent, and gotten some kind of key for the front door. I don't see what the advantages of waltzing in that way would have been considering how easy it is to die in this game, but the option is there nonetheless.

To sum this up so that I don't make it far too long, I first made my way inside the statue and mistakenly went down instead of up. When I got to the bottom floor, I took care of everyone quietly and rescued some bloke named Gunther, whom I mentioned earlier is a bad guy. I think. Anyway, right now he's a good guy. I also remember picking up a note of some sort that had the credit card account number and security code of a newlywed couple on a table and an ATM in the main room. Naturally, this being a video game and me not really caring about nutcracker-mouthed newlyweds, I stole everything they had. It's worth noting that I could have just taken 5 of their credits (the game's currency) or 199 and left them 1 measly credit. No, I was a right and proper thief and took it all. By this point, I had killed or knocked out everyone and thrown them all off of the balcony to the floor below for amusement as well as disabled all of the electronic devices except for one very bothersome camera and turret, which was placed on the stairs. I had gotten through it before, but I died a few times trying to make it back to the stairs so I found a different way out, headed all the way back around the mountainous statue, and climbed up the way I had originally gotten up there. I took out the few remaining bad dudes and found their leader, who must have been zapped with the pussification ray moments before because he immediately spilled the beans and offered no resistance whatsoever. And with that, the level was complete and I was told to go West, where I would find a secret underground base (or something akin to that) full of JC Denton's buddies. Because everyone was now dead, I could have just waltzed out the front door but my idiot ass walked all the way down and around the way I had come, which was a lot longer than heading out the front door and walking pretty much straight.

Above: Our very own Giantbomb duders made a Quick Look of Deus Ex, including the level that I talked about here. Also: Damn thing wouldn't let me put this as a note under the video.

So there's a summary of my first two hours playing Deus Ex. I've spent far more on far less experiences before, and if the first bit is any indication I'll probably have a good bit of fun with this game. I'd say that $2.50 has already gone a long way. It's nuts, really, how much more open this game seems than even its successor, Human Revolution. Well, its sequel was actually Invisible War, but it seems like we don't talk about Invisible War. I also greatly appreciate that it keep a record of all of the conversations you've had, it allows you to take your own notes whenever you need to, and many other things. I can already see issues with not including a good map or waypoint coming from a mile away, but I've dealt with such things before and can deal with it again. Besides, it might be refreshing to have to actually find out where something is in addition to finding a way to it, I just hope that the game doesn't ask you to find something the size of a micro SD card in the middle of a huge pile of junk.

In short, my first impressions have left me feeling good about the game. If you have a spare $2.50 and have never played this, get it. It runs A-OK on pretty much anything these days, so as long as you have a working computer it should be fine on there. Ain't no excuse for not playing it, except maybe you just hate mouse control that much.

On a final note, who the fuck thinks "Swimming? Fuckin' A, I want to train in that!" Does that actually have any use whatsoever?

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Improvements for Just Cause 3?

First off, no Just Cause 3 has been announced or even rumored that I know of. I was recently playing the second one and it’s a great game for certain, but some things could see a bit of an improvement if there ever was another entry in the series. I hope there is, I'd buy it in heartbeat.

1) Let me hold ALL TEH GUNZ! Well, not necessarily all of them. I think the game could use more freedom with a better combination of guns, though. Something along the lines of Saints Row 2 and 3’s 8 weapon wheel, only let us put whatever weapon we want in whatever slot we want. Being able to hold only one heavy gun and two smaller ones is fine, but I keep feeling like it would be so much more fun if we could just hold more than three guns.

2) A better weapon system all around. The guns included in JC2 are fine. They’re fun to use, they get the job done, but I think that there’s room for other things. Upgrades, in particular, could use a hint from Resistance 3. In that game, guns get both more damage and different functionality. For instance, the shotgun at first is a regular gun but a fully ugraded one fires flaming shells. Just Cause 2 could use some weapons like that, they would fit pretty well. However, I would rather the game keep the actual collect-a-thon system for upgrading. I know that "collect a thon" is a bad word, but since it's not the maiin focus here I think it works well. A better way to tell where these upgrades are when you're near one - like a pointer or better hint - would be nice.

3) The ability to hold more ammo. A lot more.

4) The menu where you buy things could use some work. For one, I would like to be able to buy more than one thing at a time. A “shopping cart” where you pick whatever you want to buy and then verify it before leaving would work. Also, I would be A-OK if they cut out the whole helicopter-dude entirely and just had it magically appear in front of me with no loading screen. Right now, I have to start up the menu, watch it load, mash A to skip the cutscene, pick ONE thing that I want, mash A to skip the second cutscene, and then use whatever I bought. If I want a car, a rocket launcher, two SMG’s, and some triggered explosives, that’s a lot of screens and cheesy cutscenes. Speaking of cheese:

5) I don’t want any more story than JC2 already has. None. In fact, less would be fine.

6) Objectives and better things to do. In Just Cause2, there is a lot of stuff to do but there’s not a ton of variety in objectives. That I can spend 30 hours in this game speaks to the quality of its mechanics, but I don’t think it applies them in as many different ways as it could, or even half of that. The game holds up because I can kill 100 guys, attach the last few to propane tanks and send them into the stratosphere, and then steal a helicopter and blow up a few radio towers during my glorious escape. The trick here will be to figure out how to make interesting objectives for the player without sacrificing that kind of freedom.

7) Regenerating health. This is a controversial mechanic, but I feel like it could work really well in this game. As it stands, I sometimes find myself frantically grappling around for health and I can’t help but feel that a slowly regenerating bar would be better than running around looking for health packs, then finding thirty elite mooks standing around the last one. Wouldn’t be a problem if I didn’t always start back at the last friendly base I was at, but as it stands if I die I have to do ten minutes of traveling to get back to where I was. Not fun on the fifth try. OR this could simply be a split upgrade path – more health and damage resistance or health that regenerates? OR the game could just use medpacks that you can buy and use at any time. Speaking of health, no red jam on the screen. That red jam thing needs to be punted out of games entirely.

8) Don't be incredibly concerned about game balance. This game is about doing awesome, awesome shit - give the player some base rules and let them go at it. If they manage to get enough upgrades to put rockets and grenade launchers into all of their weapon slots, then why not?

9) A jetpack as a later/halfway through game prize. Why? Just Cause.

EDIT: But a jetpack as optional, not mandatory. If someone wants to keep using the parachute/grapple combo, then let them do so!

What about you guys? Do you agree or disagree with any of this? What improvements would you like to see in the (theoretical) sequel to Just Cause 2? And next I'd like to see a spiritual sequel IN SPACE! Complete with spaceships!

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Deus Ex HR – What? I can change my opinion!

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A few posts here and there about Deus Ex: Human Revolution have, over the past little while, gotten me interested in giving the game another shot. And so while getting ready to run out the door to search for a job, I grabbed my copy of Modern Warfare 3 and traded it in to the local Gamestop for a used copy of Dues Ex HR. I got back home, popped it in, and started a new game on the “Give Me Deus Ex” difficulty while my brother watched. As of last night, I got past the Zeke Sanders bit. Saved the hostage, Zeke ran away, and I left behind more dead bodies than I meant to make. I tried to play the game with a clear and open mind, colored as little as possible with my opinions from the first run through it. Chances are that former low opinion had something to do with the whole “dead bodies” thing – I’m not going for the no-kills achievement but I would like to minimize deaths on this run. My original run was fraught with dead guys and big guns in an effort to make a Rambo-style playthrough, something I do not suggest trying with this game. Its strengths lie in stealthily making your way around the various situations placed in front of you with the various tools you’re given. Speaking of tools, that pistol still feels a little unbalanced – not complaining at all. One headshot and bam! He’s history.

You could just use the pistol for the entire game if you're good at headshots.
You could just use the pistol for the entire game if you're good at headshots.

It should be noted that some of the problems I had last time are ones that I can still see. Put simply, the presentation is second rate and here is where I think the game’s biggest fault lies. It’s a perpetual black-and-orange environment. Many rooms and areas felt interchangeable way back in August of 2011, and they still feel that way. Voice acting is pretty spotty and is too often grating. It’s odd that I have this complaint; anime shows are notorious for having spotty English dubs and it never bothered me there, so why on Earth it bothers me here I cannot tell. What I never really realized before is that the game itself – the game part of this video game – overpowers all of that. Its presentation issues keep it from perfection but its well-done gaming parts raise it up to be more than it appears, and this is something that I didn’t realize as I was busy shooting everyone last time.

Like these shades of black and orange? Good. Those two colors make up about 90% of the game's entire color pallet.
Like these shades of black and orange? Good. Those two colors make up about 90% of the game's entire color pallet.

No complaints about this game are complete without mentioning the outsourced boss battles. Frankly, though, I didn’t have many issues with them the first time. By the time I got to that first big guy with the red arms, I had been saving a rocket launcher and had some grenades. He went down pretty quick for me, and the rest were only marginally more difficult. The last one is a bitch (literally and figuratively), but then I remember hating the whole last hour of the game.

To wrap this up somehow, I think I might be changing my mind about this game. It’s certainly more interesting to me than the game I traded in for it – Modern Warfare 3 stayed on my shelf for some multiplayer here and there with friends, but it was hardly enough to keep it there. It just got boring to me, and thus far this game hasn’t been boring at all

Oh, yeah, and the knockout animations are great!

As a final note, these are just preliminary thoughts. I don't really think I can say "first impressions" since this is actually my second time playing this game (and "preliminary thoughts" is a bit of a stretch), but I still need some sort of disclaimer so if I do revert back to my original opinion, it won't be completely unexpected.

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The Effects of the Saints’ Ruckus

Here I am, typing my first ever blog post. This past week - well, almost two weeks now – I've done several things. First up is Mass Effect 3. I’m not really here to review it, just discuss my experiences with it. I’ll try to avoid specific spoilers but places and events will be referenced.

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I began the game with high hopes. The first two games were great, though I do have issues with them. As far as the gameplay goes, neither had particularly astounding ideas. They could certainly be fun at times but then mediocre firefights set in. Eh, with the exception of a few in the first game, none of them were downright bad, but none of them could compare to the then-fresh in my mind Gears of War 2’s cover based shooting. Biotics didn’t do much to liven things up for me and playing as a straight soldier the first time didn’t either. Mass Effect 3’s controls and combat are undoubtedly the best of the series, but like the first two they’re not going to sell it to you. They work, they’re interesting, and the game can be damn fun at times, but it does dip into samey firefights often enough to be noticeable. Three encounters stand out to me as the best in the game, and strangely enough each one marks the end of an act. They are, in order, the finale on Tuchanka, the finale on the Quarian homeworld, and the game’s last actual firefight. The happenings after each are debatable as far as “quality” goes, and here is where my main issues with the game lie: the writing.

Yes, the one thing that hurt Mass Effect 3 the most for me was the dialogue between characters. If this were any other game, I wouldn’t even bring this up. But this is the series known for its good writing and great characters. This game’s characters aren’t bad at all, but the dialogue they splurt out, especially at the most tense and dramatic of moments, isn’t always up to par. The battle chatter is the worst culprit – it consists almost solely of “We’re gonna do this” peptalks from Shephard. Remember the beginning of the demo where Shephard says that he’ll defeat the Reapers by standing together and fighting? That drivel is spread throughout the entire game. For dramatic effect, it should be used once or twice and then not for long. Here, though, you can bet that it will be done often enough to grate on your nerves. It isn’t always so horrible, but it appears often enough to worry.

What of the much-maligned ending? What, in a nutshell, did I think of it? Well, I thought it was a load of bollocks. Still, the ending is as Bioware made it and I can’t change it. Nor do I want it to change. But this doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be discussed, as the many threads made so far on the subject have proven. I will repost here a comment I’ve already made.

I didn't like the ending for two reasons:

a) It didn't have any real closure and

b) It didn't take anything discussed over the past two fucking games into account.

A good ending takes everything in the story thus far and culminates it, that is to say, it brings everything to a final point. Like a period in a sentence or a final paragraph in an essay, it wraps up all of a story's themes and ideas and delivers them in an interesting manner. This is why a deus ex machina is generally a bad idea for a story - it's a cop out. Incidentally, this is also why the Crucible is a deus ex machina - despite being introduced in the first few hours, all it does is kill all of the Reapers for you. Or takes control of them for you. Either way, it's not at all a good ending. A better ending of the game would have been Shephard joining all of the races in the galaxy together - Geth included - to fight the Reapers. This would have capped off the story's ideas of bringing humanity to more prominence in this new technological age they've come into. The Illusive Man would have been a great foil to Shephard and could have ended in a more interesting Paragon/Renegade choice. No, instead we just have this stupid spirit-child-Reaper-synthetic thingy that uses logic with more holes than you can think of. Really, the ending says "All right! You've done all this, now just push this button and we're done!"

I didn't play through three games to get to that moment. I played through three games to see Shephard's story culminate in a fantastic conclusion, not to fight some husks and then limp through the Citadel for half an hour.

With all of that said, even an ending that technically works isn’t always a good and satisfying one. May I point out the original Full Metal Alchemist’s ending? For all of you pointing out that Bioware needs to fix it, I point to the movie created after that series ended that was meant to wrap up the story better. It ended with the protagonist having the same problem that he ended the show with.

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But enough of endings. Let’s talk about Saints Row The Third! Yes, that’s quite a game, isn’t it? My critical mind still brings issue forth with it, but altogether I must admit having more fun with this game. My main problem with it is summed up in Zero Punctuation’s review for it – that it feels like it sold out just to make more money. I’m not as bummed about it as he is, though. I’m fine with buying something made just for money reasons if it means I have a good time, and I did have quite a good time. I created a female character and just blew the whole city to hell and then met Burt Fucking Reynolds. It’s when Burt Fucking Reynolds told me to go kill some zombies for him that the games’ biggest problem came up. Not only were the zombies utterly unnecessary to the plot – or anything, really – they were boring to shoot at. Still, any game where I can run up a tower to rescue my friends while the world around me burns and Bonnie Tyler’s “I Need A Hero” plays in the background is a good game. Throw in killing people with phallic objects and fart jars (I thought they were cutting those out?) and you’ve got a recipe for some good nuttiness. It doesn’t hurt that the game behind it is solid, if a bit formulaic at times. And it still doesn’t always run very well. Props go to Genki Bowl, though, I had tons of fun in those. I just wish the other side missions were better.

Oh, yeah, and that first female voice actor sounded familiar to me at first... but she was actually from something else entirely.

Rambling on after that, I finally come to the other nerdy thing I did over Spring Break. I watched Baccano! (“ruckus” in Italian), a sister series to Durarara!. It’s pure genius. For those of you who don’t know, it’s essentially made up of three only tangentially related stories, all taking place in 1930’s America. The first has to do with a few low-grade thugs accidentally coming across (read: stealing from a poor old man) a few bottles of liquor that, unbeknownst to them, makes the drinker immortal. What else happens but it gets passed around New York City? Throw in some other gangsters that these guys have pissed off and you already have a great recipe for a good story. The second story involves a train called (and I kid you not) “The Flying Pussyfoot” which becomes host to three different gangs (one not so bad) with three different intentions. Some people get caught in the crossfire and all-hell breaks loose in the train. This is by far the most prominent of the three stories if you decide to look the series up. The third story, and by contrast the least prominent, has to do with a girls’ search for her brother, who pissed off some gang members and stole the aforementioned immortality liquor.

Quite a mouthful to explain, yes? Well, there’s more to say. This show is absolutely nuts. More nuts than SR3 but in an entirely different way. Its characters are absolutely golden, with the exception of one minor annoying waitress lady who for some reason gets a cameo in the latter episodes. More importantly, though, its dialogue is in stark contrast to Mass Effect 3’s. Yes, I’m definitely going there. Here, the writers of this show had to fit more story strands than you can shake a stick at into one 13-episode show. OK, there’s 16, but the latter three are bonus episodes that wrap up some minor points. And they did it with gusto. Dialogue is supposed to be succinct and punchy (another quote from Zero Punctuation) and here it most definitely is. The whole show just comes together to become something greater than its parts, something that in my humble opinion must be seen.

Its only real caveat, by the way, is that since it’s told nonlinearly, the first episode and most of the second and third don’t actually make much sense. It’s only around the fourth and fifth that the goings-on start to make themselves clearer and if you haven’t paid much attention, prepare to be asking yourself questions. It’s definitely something you have to watch twice in order to catch everything – once to get the gist of everything, and once to notice all the other little details that you missed.

Oh, yeah, and that theme song is damned amazing. Bloody good work, whoever caught that gem. Here it is:

Well, that’s all folks. I don’t know if I’ll write another one of these and I don’t know if I can compare to the juggernaut blogs of Video Game King and the other blokes that post long-ass blogs, but here mine is. Constructive criticisms are welcome, especially if I’m going to keep doing this.

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