Monthly Roundup, January 2015

After last month’s gaming-fueled break, it was back to the grind this January. School picked up as if it had never let off, and my gaming time all but disappeared once more. Still, while I don’t have nearly as much to talk about this month as I did last month, I still managed to play a few (smaller) games here and there that are worth speaking to. So with that short preamble out of the way, let’s dive right in!

This War of Mine

There's a lot to manage early on. If only it kept it up.
There's a lot to manage early on. If only it kept it up.

I started This War of Mine right at the beginning of the month/year, and managed to successfully complete the game after two to three weeks of on and off play. Despite all the positive praise I heard about the game, I was still unsure of what to expect going in. I had heard modest comparisons made to, weirdly, both The Sims and Papers, Please, but all I really knew was that it had people interested and talking about it, and that I wanted to check it out for myself. After doing so, I can see where people come from when they make the aforementioned comparisons, but This War of Mine also manages to feel like its own thing. By day you manage a group of survivors in a war-torn city, tending to their every need in their desperate struggle. By night you venture out into the city to search for much needed supplies. The former is a light management sim, the latter a light stealth game, and while neither half is that strong on its own, they bounce off of each other pretty well. You need to take risks at night to get the resources and crafting materials you need during the day, and if you don’t make sure your survivors are fit and healthy by the end of the day, you’ll have a tough time at night. I enjoyed engaging with this dynamic for a while, and the way the two halves interact is easily the game’s most engaging aspect to me.

Unfortunately, while it started off strong, I only became more and more bored with This War of Mine as it went. In short, I don’t think its progression is that strong, and I found myself becoming almost completely self sufficient about halfway through the game. Early on I had fun trying to plan and upgrade important features for my safe house, weigh risk vs. reward decisions on where to raid at night, and establishing an efficient routine for survival. Then that routine became, well, too routine. After about 20 in-game days I had acquired all the important upgrades (along with some equally unimportant ones), and had a pretty good system for producing my own food and water. All I needed were a few basic “materials” per day (the game’s most easily obtainable items), and I could seemingly live out the war forever. What ensued was another 20 days of rote repetition, with no risks or fear of failure; the game ended with a whimper of nothing more than watching the days calmly pass by. This War of Mine could have really used a big end-game hurrah, or at least something to make things interesting down the home stretch. Instead, this otherwise clever game wore out its welcome well before it ended, leaving me feeling pretty middling about the entire thing.

The Wolf Among Us

While I very much enjoyed the first season of The Walking Dead back in 2012, I was also not nearly as high on it as a lot of people were. It was an extremely well written adventure game that made good use of the kind of player choice games like Mass Effect, The Witcher, and Heavy Rain had been using for some time, but wasn’t much more fleshed out than that. And while there’s absolutely a place for such games (especially when done that well), Telltale’s subsequent explosion of similarly structured licensed adventure games almost felt like too much. Or at least, too much for me to care about in any serious capacity. I more or less pushed off the idea of playing any more Telltale games unless they met the following criteria: the entire season was complete, I could get it on a sale, and I was in the mood for a predominantly story-driven game. As it turns out, that’s the situation I was in during the most recent Steam sale, so I went ahead and grabbed The Wolf Among Us.

Come on Bigby, give up the smokes.
Come on Bigby, give up the smokes.

I just finished the season yesterday, and I enjoyed it overall. I don’t think it’s as sharply written as The Walking Dead’s first season was, but it’s done well enough. I particularly liked some of the characters as they developed, and many of them revealed more nuance as the season went on. I also really liked the setting’s bizarre take on well known fairy tales, and their struggle to adapt to a more human environment. I think playing the entire season through within a two week span helped too. Some of the episodes were pretty short, with relatively minor happenings, but by playing them all together I felt like it flowed pretty well. The one thing that I didn’t like as much were some of the dialogue choices, which goes back to the weaker writing I mentioned. While I get that Bigby is his own character, there were plenty of times where all the options available were merely permutations on being a big jerk, primarily by yelling at or fighting someone. The game seemed to really want to make every conversation as heated as possible, despite it often feeling totally unnecessary; many shouting matches I would have preferred to avoid altogether. It ultimately made the story feel less dynamic than I would have liked, or maybe it just didn’t coat it as well as other games have (including The Walking Dead). Anyway, The Wolf Among Us is a good adventure game from Telltale, and it’s certainly worth it if you like their style.

The Other Stuff

Gotta keep up with that phat beats.
Gotta keep up with that phat beats.
  • I wrapped up Velocity 2X at the beginning of the month, having played most of it in December. The last few levels were certainly the best and craziest in the game, and those levels are what ultimately set it above the original Velocity. I still think the game could push those ideas further, and apply a better progression throughout the entire game (parts of it can drag in its simplicity), but it’s a decently enjoyable action game nonetheless.
  • Mutant Mudds Deluxe took Velocity 2X’s place as my go-to short burst Vita game (also courtesy of PS Plus), and is a similarly simple game that can still be enjoyable here and there. That said, I also don’t know if Mutant Mudds has quite enough variety to carry me through. I’ve completed the first four worlds, and I’m already feeling like I’m just going through the motions. This is as no frills as platforming gets, with basic enemies and level design, and the controls aren’t exactly best of breed. As someone who’s played (and loved) a lot of platformers, Mutant Mudds just doesn’t have the chops, and I haven’t decided if I want to play any more of it yet.
  • I picked up Crypt of the NecroDancer during the holiday Steam sale, which makes it the first Early Access game I’ve ever bought. My research led me to believe that the game was in a pretty good state despite not being completely done, and I’m pretty happy that turned out to be true. Anyway, while I appreciate the rhythm aspect of the game (that’s what got my attention), including its great soundtrack, Crypt of the NecroDancer very much resembles games like Spelunky in its design. It does have some permanent progression to it (think Rogue Legacy), but it mainly focuses on the “rogue-lite” style gameplay that can be hit or miss for me. So far I’ve enjoyed it in spurts (I’ve played about an hour), but have no idea how deep I will get into it. I’m certainly not done with it, but it’s more of a “when the mood strikes me” kind of thing, and I haven’t the slightest idea how that will continue to unfold. I would kind of like to try it with a dance pad though...
  • Against my better judgement, I picked up Pokemon Alpha Sapphire this month, and put a few hours into it (I just got the 3rd badge). In some ways it’s a fruitless time sink, but the original Ruby/Sapphire are the only generation of Pokemon games I’ve never played, and I still haven’t shaken the Pokemon bug I caught from Pokemon X/Y last year. Plus, a breezy handheld RPG like that seemed like perfect comfort food to consume during work breaks this semester. So, for better or worse, here I am plugging my way through another Pokemon game. So far so good through the early hours, and I’ll have more substantial updates as I get further into it.

Looking Ahead to February

February will surely be another busy month at school, and we’ll see what that means for my gaming time. For now I’ll continue to play Crypt of the NecroDancer and Pokemon Alpha Sapphire as I see fit, and I’d like to work in OlliOlli and/or The Vanishing of Ethan Carter if I can; they’re currently at the top of my lengthy backlog. Evolve, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, The Order: 1886, and Apotheon are the February releases I’m keeping an eye on, but I doubt I’ll get to any of those this month. I think any of them could be great, or could be a dud, so I’ll wait and see how they shake out (and until I have more time). Anyway, that’s going to do it for now, and we’ll see where the month takes me!