Monday, February 27, 2012

Where Have All The RPGs Gone?

I thought 2012 would be the year of me whipping my RPG pile into shape. So far, it's taken on a more action-oriented nature.

I finished off Max Payne before going out of town, with a minimum of pain in the ass factor. That is a game very heavy on the quicksave and quickload functions, though. Overall, my impression is that it's very much a case style over substance. The substance is good; it's just that Max Payne only really has one mechanic: the bullet-time shoot-dodge. Cap guys before they can cap you by either slowing down time to get the jump on them, or painstakingly memorizing each goon's placement and trigger point. That's the game, in a nutshell. It's all gussied up with a hammy hard-boiled motif, which is fun, but nothing to write home about. It's pulp gaming, which is probably what Rockstar and Remedy were going for here, so I guess it's a success. I raise an eyebrow at anyone treating it like an unassailable classic, however.

Dota 2 has been a consistent evening favorite. I like to play a match before bed if I'm not too tired; that's the time I'm most likely to be able to game out uninterrupted, these days. The multiplayer hour, I hereby coin it. All other gaming needs to be pause-friendly.

That I have yet to mention it here is an accurate reflection of how deep I've gotten into it--I've restarted KOTOR on the PC. Several years ago I tried playing the Xbox version emulated on a 360, and that was a real mess, so I gave up after maybe 5 to 10 hours. I was on the Jedi academy planet, as I recall. Well, on my second go 'round, I've made it as far as checking out the first cantina in the first major area on the first planet--maybe 90 solid minutes of play time. This will be a back burner game for a while to come.

Guild Wars keeps hovering just above my forget-about-it line, but I keep dipping into it here and there. It's a good game to mindlessly click through while I kill time listening to a podcast. I finally left behind Ascalon, both pre- and post-searing, so the scenery is improving. I still haven't run into any interesting plotlines or much cool gear, though. I'm not sure why I keep playing; it's some melange of wanting to cap out and earn GW2 stuff (a game I'm not even sure I'll play), wanting to see more of the game, and the fact that my podcast co-host Esteban is still playing.

I booted up Half-Life 2 for a short while yesterday, and had a nice time with it before having to go take care of something else. Man, Valve's Source engine games just feel so good and smooth. So much better than just about any other games out there. It's not just the framerate, either. There's something else about that engine. Or maybe it's the rock-solid game design. Whatever it is, Half-Life 2 has got it, just like all the others. I'm still not very far in, but I think I'm about to get to the hovercraft.

So I guess that all brings me to my focus game for the time being, if I could be said to have one. That is Batman: Arkham Asylum. I began the game some months ago on PS3, but only just began it. I'm now playing the PC version, and I'm quite a bit further into it, this time. You have no doubt heard it before, but this is a fantastic video game. It feels awesome to control Batman, the graphics are amazing, the pacing is great, the environments are nicely varied, the world is decently open to explore in a Metroid-like fashion, and there are a good amount of equipment and skills you gather and upgrade as you progress. The production values are high, and the game is a lot of fun; this turned out about a thousand times better than your average licensed super hero game. I'm very late to the party on this one, but those are my impressions after 4 or 5 hours. I'm currently past the Bane fight, and in Arkham manor looking for some documents. I'm not a big fan of the comics or anything, but there are a ton of little bits of fan service in the game for those who are. The PC port is even pretty well done! Bravo, Rocksteady, for that. I hear Arkham City is a more iffy prospect, however.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Of Games, This Day, February 14th, Twenty-Twelve

I'd like for this blog to be more than just an info dump on what I've been playing, but at the very least it has to be that. So, here goes:

Dota 2: Awesome. Valve takes another mod and redoes it AAA-style; it's a story we've heard again and again. I think this will end up being the most accessible game in the MOBA genre, for a few reasons, not the least being that it'll be native to Steam, which has an enormous userbase, will likely be free-to-play, and will have a built-in suite of training tutorials, a mentor program, and spectator mode. These games have a steep learning curve, but if anyone can level it out, it'll be Valve. I would also bet on the playerbase being more casual than HoN or LoL or the original DotA, making for an easier experience to new players. I've played twelve or thirteen matches, and have found a character I like: Windrunner. I'll focus on learning her while trying to improve my game in general.

Max Payne: It's finally starting to be kind of fun. There's not a lot to this game beside a film noir motif and lots of bullet-time gun fights. I might be able to finish it in the next day or two, which will be nice. The sequel sounds at least a little more interesting, and then we have Max Payne 3 coming out later this year, of course.

Diablo III beta: Stupidly great. I've maxed out a monk, wizard, and demon hunter thus far, though my monk was lost to an update wipe. I'm going to try a Witch Doctor next, probably. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that some of the beta-only achievements will carry over to the full release, though it's not very likely.

Dirt 2: It was only sale for $5 not too long ago, and since people say it's better than Dirt 3, I decided to check it out. I don't know about better, but it is a lot of fun. I'll play more. For some reason I've been more interested in rally racing games lately than street or track racers; not that I play a lot of racing games at all, though.

Super Meat Boy: I tried it out for the second time ever the other day, this time with the 360 pad hooked up. I'm stuck on level 20 of the first world. This game is okay; I liked VVVVVV a whole lot more, though.

Half-Life 2: I began it a couple of weekends ago because I wasn't really in the middle of an FPS since finishing off Bioshock 2. It's fantastic, thus far. I'll be playing this for my shooter fix once I finish off Max Payne. It's past time I played through it and the episodes

Guild Wars: It's an MMO without the fees or need for other players. That is almost too good of a summation of the game, actually. To it's credit, it is also much more user-friendly than your typical MMO--it offers fast travel, respecs, and other nifty touches that would make FFXI or WoW or what have you better on players. I wouldn't say it goes so far as to be as compelling as an offline RPG, though. It is still a bit of a grind, and light on anything you'd call interesting story. It's just good enough that I will keep it in my rotation; it has a huge world, and I'd like to see more of what is on offer there.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Loose Ends: The Tie-ening

Well, I did finally finish Bioshock 2. It was a collection of levels strung together with some semblance of a plot, and an interesting mix of weapons and plasmid abilities. That was all middling to good fun, but I question the decision to include the little sister protection mechanic. It slows down level progression with a situation where the player is forced to be reactive to oncoming attackers, and to concern themselves with fortifying and defending an area from splicers while a little sister extracts ADAM goo from corpses in the environment. Rapture is a pretty unique and interesting environment, still, which is good because the city and its design aesthetic are half or more of the fun of Bioshock.

More remarkable than Bioshock 2 itself is its DLC standalone expansion, Minerva's Den. In that, a wholly separate 2-3 hour Bioshock campaign, you are again playing as a big daddy (Subject Sigma, now, as opposed to Delta in the main game), on a mission to Rapture Central Computing to help Dr. Tennenbaum (a side character in Bioshock 1 and 2) bring up to the surface world the powerful experimental computer that runs all of Rapture, called the Thinker. Minerva's Den is like a more condensed version of a Bioshock campaign. All of the weapons, plasmids, and gene tonics are there, but the progression is sped up dramatically--it all takes place over two and a half levels the size of the ones in Bioshock 2, where there are more like six or seven. There are loads of new art assets and environments, as well as new weapons and plasmids not found in Bioshock 2, proper. I thought the story was much better, as well, and benefiting from a shorter run-time and thus less padding.

So, with Bioshock 2 off the pile for good, Max Payne came to mind. I had completed the first few hours last spring and set the game aside, not really sure if I wanted to play any more. Well, I'm given to understand that it's a pretty short game, and because it is very simple but still fun enough, and has a cool film noir sensibility, plus the fact that a Max Payne game is seeing the light of day this spring, I figured I would hop back in and work toward adding another skull to the pile. If it goes well, I might even play Max Payne 2 sometime in the next.... while.

Prior to a couple of weeks ago, I would have ranked both Dead Space and Batman: Arkham Asylum higher in my list of half-finished games to polish off, but I went and sold both of those; I had PS3 copies of each, and I've decided I'd rather own and play both on the PC, instead. With Batman, it's no big deal, since I was only a couple of hours in (though I will need to repurchase the game next time it's on sale on Steam), but with Dead Space I was about halfway through the game, so that's a significant chunk of time lost. Fortunately, I thought it was a pretty good game, and on my second time through the first half, I can make different decisions about where to spend my upgrade points.

I had a very nice session of Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising this past Sunday. The baby was soundly taking an almost three-hour nap, and the wife was similarly asleep on the couch behind where I sit at my PC. I was lost in  the cacophony of war coming from the shitty iphone earbuds I use at my PC, owing to the fact that I don't want to wear my noise-cancelling Sony headphones in case I need to hear something my wife says to me or the baby crying in the other room. Anyway, it was great. I played through three or four straight missions, killed tons of Chaos Space Marines, and collected much wargear in service to the Emperor of mankind.It was glorious.I hope for a recreation of that experience this weekend, sometime.

Oh, I began this post with the intent to discuss the betas I have been playing of Diablo III, Dota 2, and Tribes: Ascend, but those will have to wait for another day. I still need to write that Guild Wars post, as well.