Monday, July 26, 2010

My Happy Place

I'm at a real good place right now with video games.  Peace Walker is friggin' great, I got a free game from Valve that is really fun (Alien Swarm), and for less than ten dollars/Euros, I got two more great games in Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions for PSP, and the independant, one man production Minecraft (PC/Mac browsers).

I was just playing some Peace Walker and had another epic battle (Extra Ops 80-something) vs a bombing helicopter.  I wasn't even really attempting to win it, just trying out different weapons as recon for a future run, but I managed to neutralize all of the ground troops and get the chopper pilot to stupidly hang his head out of the cockpit, which meant that some splash damage from one of my surface-to-air missiles took him out and netted me the machine for Outer Heaven's hangars.  I wasn't aware that was even possible; I thought you had to tranquilize pilots to capture the vehicles.  I suppose not!

The PSP redux of Final Fantasy Tactics arrived from Amazon today, and I played it for about 45 minutes, long enough to get through the intro stuff and to the world map for the first time.  Yep, that's my good old FFT, but damn the translation is a hell of a lot better in this version.  I can't wait to play all the way through and experience the story the way it should have been told over a decade ago.  My last playthrough was just before moving back to the US from Japan, but I only got to somewhere in the midst of Chapter 4, probably about 75% of the way through the main game.

Yesterday I jumped back into X3 for a while and ran a couple of trade routes and explored a couple of new sectors of the galaxy, and then decided to check out Valve's gift to us all, the free Alien Swarm on Steam.  It's a top-down co-operative class-based action shooter, kind of like Left 4 Dead meets Gauntlet or Smash TV or something.  I ended up playing all the way through the game over the course of a couple of hours with random people on Steam.  One guy was a total douche, spouting racial slurs and always rushing everyone through the levels, but thankfully he was easily ignored.  I didn't feel like grabbing another group just for some quick action.  It's a pretty quick game, especially if everyone knows what they're doing.  Only the d-bag had played before, but even with 3 greenhorns we didn't have much trouble, on the normal difficulty setting.  I could see myself playing more; the game has got a cool class system with weapon unlocks and experience points, and the action is tight.

I read on NeoGAF about an awesome little (though actually fucking huge) game called Minecraft.  You're dropped into a tile-based and randomized 3D world, that looks a lot like the recent game 3D Dot Game Heroes, or what you would expect a 3D 8-bit world to look like.  You start with nothing but you can punch trees to get lumber and then craft various things like a workbench that lets you craft more complicated things like pickaxes or hoes to till the soil with.  From there, you can go mine in the world, just anywhere, it seems, or go do whatever.  It's basically a huge randomized world/construction set with monsters and caves and all kinds of crazy stuff, and it's really neat looking and interesting.  Check the thread

In the 30 minutes or so I spent checking out the game tonight I generated two worlds, did some climbing and exploring, and other stupid things like digging straight down for a hundred feet and not being able to get back up.  I have no idea what this game is about, but it's awesome.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Outer Heaven?!

I've been playing a lot of Peace Walker, and I'm liking it.  I've got the plot all reconciled with the greater continuity now: after the events of Portable Ops, Big Boss joined the Patriots, was unwittingly cloned in the Les Enfants Terribles project, and fell out with Zero, Para-Medic, and Sigint over the interpretation of The Boss's will.  Big Boss left the cabal, with Eva and Ocelot also breaking off and going their own ways.  It was from there that he went on to found Militaires Sans Frontiers, meeting McDonnell "Master" Miller, and establishing a presence at a ramshackle base on the Colombian coast before being approached (at the beginning of Peace Walker) with the proposition of ousting a foreign army from Costa Rica in exchange for a newer, more permanent base for MSF, and one in international waters--the perfect placefor Big Boss's vision of a nation for soldiers that are for hire to any government but beholden to none, a vision he calls "Outer Heaven."

I'm pretty comfortable with the controls now, and I'm settling in for a long ride through the game.  It takes a lot to build a nation based on the war economy.  I've made it past the third major boss encounter, a battle versus an "AI Weapon" called Pupa.  These battles are the best analog to a Monster Hunt in the game, and indeed I even played it once in co-op, using the PS3's adhoc party app to find another person out there in Internet land playing the game.  It was pretty cool, though it's a lot of hoops to jump through for the experience.  I later went back and replayed the encounter solo just to see if I could pull it off, and I did without much difficulty.  The incentive for replaying like so is basically to get better drops (AI Weapon parts), and to use those to build the MSF's own bepedal nuclear tank, Metal Gear ZEKE.  Once operational, ZEKE will be MSF's own nuclear deterrent, protecting the fledgling nation from outside aggression via Mutually Assured Destruction.

So, aside from the dubious choice of platform, I'm pretty happy with Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.  It seems Kojima has actually decided to put it in the series' chronology in an epoch that both makes sense and needed a little elucidation.  I'm nowhere near done yet, though, so we'll see how it goes from here.

Changing The Rules Mid-Game

The sheer number of good games that are coming out these days combined with gems from the past acquired at very little cost have made my backlog incredible.  I've been operating this year at a more or less one in, one out pace, which does nothing to thin out the pile.  I've contemplated even just trying to go for a year without buying any new games as a measure to catch up, but I'll keep that as an option of last resort.  For now I'm going to double the cost in completions of new games priced at $10 and above.  That should help some, first just by basic math, but secondly by requiring me to narrow my interests some.  It used to be that a gamer could play just about everything that was any good, and I think I've been operating in that mindset for way too long.  In other words, I'm getting too old for this shit.

There are other factors at play here, too, though, like the facts that I tend toward long RPGs, other long-term experiences that demand skill and experience, multiplayer games, or MMOs.  I just don't hit a lot of the sub-10 hour campaign experiences anymore.  This is not to mention my limited time for gaming, as someone with a full time job, long commute, and family.  Those things considered, I do get to spend a heck of a lot of time gaming, easily 2-3 hours most days, if I so desire.  It comes at the cost of watching no TV and less movies and reading less, but still.

I'd thought to wait until the new year to adjust my policy, but all this is just getting out of hand.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Million Roads Diverged In A Yellow Wood

...and sorry I cannot travel them all.

I finished up Call of Duty (the first) this past weekend, and enjoyed it thoroughly.  I'm tempted to jump right into the expansion, United Assault, I think it's called, but I should probably knock out at least something else from my stable of games 'in progress,' first.  What, though, is the question.

Waffling, I have dabbled a little in Rez HD and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 the past couple of nights.  I'll never quite get the former, though it is a curious flashy thing.  I'm not sure how much longer I'll be playing the latter, either.  I'm considering letting my Live account fall to silver level.  There's plenty of good shooters that I own on Steam and that are currently neglected.  I don't play online enou----oh fuck, I just realized that I have to stay gold to maintain Netflix instant watch.  Goddamn you, Microsoft.  I guess that settles that.

I have enough RPGs in my backlog that the single genre could probably equal the playtime of all other games on the list, so I'm thinking I need to constantly be working on one amongst everything else.  Planescape is down, and currently I'm working my way (slowly) through The Witcher.  It's great, and I'll have more to say about it on the next Call Of Podcast.  I kind of want to hit Fallout (the first) next, but who can say.  It may be months before I'm done with Geralt of Rivia.

I've played a little bit of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker every day since purchasing it.  It's good for an hour here and there; a quick 2-3 missions, some Mother Base maintenance, and I'm done.  It's definitely a descendant of Portable Ops, but done better.  I did go back and try the controls in PO, and PW's are an improvement on one variant of that game.  There are key differences though, that are not reproduceable in PO.  I won't go into them, but suffice it to say that PW's setup is better, overall.  Peace Walker is satisfying in a long-term growth kind of way, but the individual missions so far have been pretty easy.  I've had one major 'boss' fight, and it was on a whole other level from the rest of them.  It was pretty tough to do the stealthy, recruit/abduct everyone way, but pretty satisfying when I finally pulled it off.  I'm into the game, so far, just not head over heels, yet.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Metal Gear?!

I put Infamous to bed over the weekend.  I have a review haiku that pretty well sums up how I feel about the game, but as a teaser: it's pretty forgettable.  It's well done, and the story is batshit insane, but ultimately all of the mechanics are cribbed from other games, and mostly overdone, too.  I grow tired of going from point to point around an open city doing the same handful of activities, and this game's superpower set are just analogs of your typical pistol/rifle/grenade/rocket launcher kit of every other open-world game.  Climbing is well done, but the environments are mostly extremely bland; big rectangular buildings with little in the way of tricky navigation to be done.  Meh.

Among my spoils of the Steam Summer sale are the majority of the Call of Duty franchise, and I've sunk my teeth deep into the first game, and it's a lot of fun!  It's a balls-to-the-wall, no-thinking exercise in shoot, advance, shoot, and for what it is, pretty awesome.  I kind of want to power through it and a bunch more of the series, too, all of the WWII games available on the PC.

Last night I did some monster hunting (Tri), finishing up a couple of the online 1-star quests, and collecting materials for a sword/shield combo I wanted that both matches my Jaggi armor set and will stay sharp longer than the tomahawk I've been using (though it's a bit weaker per hit).  Very addictive.

Then, today, my passion for gaming got the better of me, and I rationalized myself into a MGS: Peace Walker edition PSP bundle.  See, I had a $100 gift card from being employee of the month at work, plus $60 from when I sold my original PSP a long time ago, so all I needed was the price of MGS: PW itself to make up the entire price of the bundle.  Plus, I am kind of a collector of MGS games (NA editions, anyway), and this is a limited edition bundle.  I'm a little let down that the UMD didn't come in the proper packaging for the game, but just a little cardboard sleeve, but it would be idiocy to buy another copy of the game just for that.  Right?  I do own every version of every MGS that has been released here, though, aside from the VR missions and Portable Ops Plus.  I guess I should have pre-ordered at Gamestop and gotten the very limited camo PSP, but fuck Gamestop.  I hate them.

So, the game, Peace Walker, then.  I played it for a couple of hours tonight, and so far so good.  I'm using the new "shooter type" control scheme, though I'm not convinced it's much different from one of the schemes available in Portable Ops (it has been a while, though...).  Anyway, it's working sufficiently thus far.  I realized today that with the way the 3DS is looking, I'd better just go ahead and get comfortable with a single analog for some games, and try to avoid those where it's just too much of a hindrance.  I managed to finish MGS: PO, though, so I'm sure I can manage Peace Walker, if the purported Monster Hunter difficulty of some of the bosses doesn't get in my way.  The base building and team building stuff also seems really reminiscent of PO, along with the mission structure, so I remain skeptical about this game being all that much of a quantum leap over the prior PSP game.  Again, it's been a while since I played PO, though, so I could be misremembering. It does seem clear that the scope of PW is greater, though.  I can already see that there are a ton more side missions and things to build up and research in this latest game.

The plot pretty much has to end up being more important to the overall series arc, too.  PO's plot, while definitely a part of the MGS canon, is pretty dispensable, and entirely omitted from the intro to PW, which wants to bridge the gap directly from Snake Eater.  I'm not sure how I feel about this move, which is tantamount to a retcon of the first PSP series entry.  At the time PO was about to come out, all we were told was how much of a legitimate entry it was to the series entire arc.  We'll see about that when all of Peace Walker's plot comes to light.  I remember being a bit unsatisfied with the events of PO.  Big Boss still hadn't exactly gone rogue enough to end up where he had by the events of the first Metal Gear (sans Solid).