Monday, September 23, 2013

Urban Exploration

In my last post I talked about playing a lot of DLC. I'm still doing that, really. I did finish up the Mass Effect 2 content with Arrival, a cataclysmic event for one star system that sets up the lead-in for Shepard's trial in the beginning of Mass Effect 3. I'm going to have to play that game sometime.

For further DLC adventures, and to scratch that GTA itch while V is released for the consoles but not yet for the PC, I decided it was time to check out The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony, the two extra modules available for IV. I thought they were both pretty well done, and succeeded in introducing new protagonists and cadres of characters with interesting enough stories to tell that also interwine with and do a little bit to flesh out the story of Niko Bellic, the original GTA IV protagonist. I think one reason these two mini-GTA campaigns worked so well for me was their smaller scope. They don't bog you down in too many irrelevant missions before moving on with the key events of the story. Additionally, I was doing very little of the ancillary stuff in the games. I would move from story beat to story beat very quickly as compared to how I have played these games in the past. I think this approach just works better in the more self-serious world of GTA IV. Overall, I thought Johnny Klebitz and Luis Lopez's stories each made for solid smaller-scale entries in the GTA series. Having them both also set in Liberty City I'm sure was convenient for Rockstar, but it also worked well to show us the city from other angles, to give it a more well-realized feel. I would recommend playing these, probably prior to playing GTA V.

I've dug into a trio of 2D platform cave exploration type games recently; Cave Story+, Spelunky, and La Mulana. It was recurring discussion of Spelunky on a couple of podcasts I like that kicked it off. I already owned Cave Story+, and had heard good things, but had never played it. Checking that out, first, it seemed ok, but didn't really grab me. It seemed very talky, and I wasn't really into that at the time. I may try it again sometime in the future. Spelunky, though, did a pretty good job of grabbing me right off the bat. Where these other two games are broadly similar to a Metroidvania type game, Spelunky is a roguelike in the form of a 2D platformer and has very nice production values. Where Cave Story and La Mulana look and sound like 16-bit games, Spelunky looks and sounds like your memories of 16-bit games. It's a challenge, and a lot of fun. One of the coolest features of the Steam version of Spelunky is the daily challenge, where everyone who plays that day is given the same randomized world to play a single time, and a leaderboard rank to compare scores with other players around the world. Finally on this tip, I started playing some La Mulana. It turns out this is a pretty hardcore Metroidvania type, and may take up to 30 hours or so to finish. Having seen someone fight the final boss and finish the game, I doubt I'll ever have the patience to go through that, but I do plan to play some more of the game. I like what I've seen so far, and they've just announced a sequel, as well.

I should write about Dear Esther, but it would be hard to say much without spoiling either the game or the effect of playing the game, so I'll just say that if you already own it through some means, or are able to pick it up for a few bucks, and you have an open mind about "gaming" "experiences," you should play it. I thought it was great, and absolutely gorgeous. It only takes about maybe an hour or 90 minutes to walk through. Walk through--because you won't be doing anything but walking, be advised, but I thought it told a story well enough just the same.

Elsewhere, I've played a little bit of Skullgirls, which has a nice tutorial mode that teaches the complete novice fighter such as myself essential skills like blocking and such. I've also checked out The Basement Collection, a compilation of stuff by the creator(s) of Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac. That was full of odd things. I checked that my Anmesia save file does still load, and tentatively queued up more Fallout: New Vegas DLC for sometime soon. I need to toss some more hours into 2013 releases, too.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

DLCOTY, More Like

Because I spend way too much time placing importance on things utterly and compltely without it, I am a little bit alarmed that it is already September 2013, and I only have one half-hearted contender for my Game of the Year in mind. I'm not sure that that is even a reflection on the quality of the 2013 release slate; indeed several factors have come together to prevent me from digging into this year's crop of games. First, I have been, more than ever, playing games of yesteryear. Yesteryear always has the advantage, of course, by dint of the fact that it encompasses every year that is not the current one. Second, my game time has been pretty drastically reduced since taking a new job mid-July--and it was suffering anyway, due to being busy with a two-year-old. Finally, I seem to have found a voracious appetite for DLC in 2013. DLC modules for Fallout 3 and New Vegas, for Dishonored, and now for Mass Effect 2 have all been keeping me pretty busy. Even Bioshock Infinite will probably have some good stuff out this year--oh, and I have been meaning to play the GTA IV DLC, as well. Strange how these things happen, isn't it?

I mentioned Mass Effect 2 DLC--I finally broke down and picked up ME3 for $5 on Origin, and so I also figured it was time to bite the bullet and use the busted-ass POS Bioware site/DLC distribution system to download all of the ME2 stuff. I hadn't touched the game since it was released in 2010, continuing to hold out for some uber edition that would not require me to jump through EA's ridiculous hoops to finish preparations for Shepard's third outing. Alas, that never happened. EA's (lack of) support for this otherwise great game is extremely disappointing. I guess it is the nature of a stupid profit-hungry beast, though, to forget its past and always focus on the short-term. ME3 and it's DLC are available on Origin, incidentally.

Ranting done, I plowed through several ME2 DLC packs this past weekend--Kasumi, Firewalker, Overlord, and Lair of the Shadow Broker, leaving only the final piece, Arrival, left to finish off. They were all pretty fair quality, with Shadow Broker being the best, and Firewalker the least best. I would say its fair to consider them all as read in a complete playthrough of ME2, for future reference. Long time readers may recall Mass Effect 2 being my GOTY 2010. Maybe it's just DLC being DLC, but I can't help but feel that some of the shine has worn off in the intervening 3.5 years since I played it the first time. It is still a lot of good fun, though.

Otherwise, I have spent most of the last several weeks flitting from game to game with little attachment. I am sort of trying to clear a few things off my backlog, but mainly it has just been a case of not feeling like committing to any one thing. The closest I have come to doing so is playing several battles of Tactics Ogre all in a row. I may get back to that after finishing of ME2 for good.

Here is a short and briefly annotated list of things I've touched lately:

Tomb Raider - Still pretty fun, still not exactly hooked, but want to be.
The Binding of Isaac - The stuff of nightmares, really. Fun briefly.
Fate of the World - Nice idea, but too much data-diving. I do that at work.
Sir, You Are Being Hunted - Not sure it holds up for 30-ish fetch quests.
Halo 4 - Yup, it's Halo. Sold with 360.
Red Orchestra 2 - Played a bit, fun multiplayer times.
Civ V - Getting my Hun on. Still in progress.
Final Fantasy XIV beta - Surprisingly nice time for a couple of hours. Sub no thx.
AC3 Tyrrany of King Washington - Looney tunes. No real interest in finishing it.