Sunday, January 12, 2014

2014 Pick-Up

I've started the year off right, having tied up a number of loose ends, and dabbling in a nice array of games.

Putting the cherry on top of the AC IV sundae, I completed both the Adewale and Aveline DLC/bonus content. That about polishes off Blag Flag for me, though I might dip into the multi-player modes some. Liberation HD is coming out very soon, too. I'm very curious to get into that, but I'm not sure how much of an investment it will be, and I'm not sure how ready I am to hurl myself into another AC just yet. I'd hate to burn out; there's sure to be another on the say this fall.

Speaking of burnout, I have been perilously close with Hearthstone. Sometimes you just feel like nothing but a fool of the random number generator with this game. It's gotten to the point where I will play a match, maybe two, and probably be done with it for the day after one loss. I gave up on completing dailies weeks ago, and I question my reasons for playing it at all other than just to kill some time here and there. Mia likes to watch it, too, so there is that.

I thought it was time for another attempt to familiarize myself with Paradox grand strategy, but rather than try Crusader Kings II again or Europa Universalis IV, I thought I would give Sengoku another go. Anyone who knows me would naturally figure the Japanese history angle would make me bite, and they would be right, of course. I just find these games to be nigh on impenetrable, though. I can't say I've done much more than poke around at EU III, Sengoku, and CK II, but I just don't get it. I literally could not figure out how to go to war as Oda Nobunaga. I levied my armies, I recruited some ronin, I clicked the "Declare War" button, and I ordered my army over to the target province, and nothing seemed to happen. I even R'd TFM, albeit after uninstalling, and couldn't see what my war was lacking such that no one showed up. I'll give CK II another go next time.

I finished up Uncharted 3, but I don't really have anything to add on top of what I wrote last post. I'll say that I do enjoy the series, and I'll play the next, and I would especially be interested in it were it about Francis Drake as opposed to Nathan Drake, as one more out there rumor seems to suggest. While I'm on Naughty Dog, I began The Last of Us, thanks to Call Of Podcast listener volt1up, who game-shared me his PSN copy of the game. I've gotten Joel and Ellie out of Boston and just met up with Bill of Bill's Town. I'm going to call this a functional improvement on Uncharted's mix of story and play. It's a different type of story, of course, more gritty survival story than adventure romp. The addition of stealth, and thereby the making of combat avoidable, makes me happy. As does the addition of systems like skill evolution and tool crafting. I still feel like the game side of the equation is a little shallow, but these are steps in the right direction. Already I am amazed by the quality of the writing and characterization on display, too. Naughty Dog really are at the pinnacle of that stuff in games.

Chocolate Castle is a light little puzzle game by Lexaloffle, a small independent developer apparently made up of foreigners in Tokyo, I just learned. I picked it up in the Humble Voxatron Debut ages ago, and ran across it a few days ago as one of my non-Steam games on the Humble site, and decided to give it a go. It's a great little game that involves sliding blocks of colored chocolate around and then having the appropriate cartoon animal character eat all of the chocolate of one color at once, clearing space on the board. The level is complete when all the chocolate has been eaten. If that sounds like your cup of tea, look it up. This is another Mia favorite. There is a balloon festival at the end of each level, which she enjoys.

My attempt to do more reading has me pushing further into Clancy's Red Storm Rising, his tale of the Cold War going hot in the mid-'80s. It's fast-paced and enjoyable so far, which is good, because I've got almost 600 pages left to go.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year's Tidying

With the new year, as always, comes a period of reflection and resolution. I have an unbelievable backlog of games I want to address, and I'm beginning 2014 with an eye toward that. I'd like to polish off my library of PS3 games in the coming months. A few stragglers remain from the previous console generation. The first on that list is Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception.

I enjoyed the first two Uncharted games, though with a large crop of reservations as compared to most. I typically do not care for the play in these games--there is too much combat, and it goes on for far too long. Drake and his animations are weirdly out of synch with the environment as you run around. I am totally in agreement with the wide consensus on these games outside of those gripes, though. That is why I have elected to play through Uncharted 3 on easy. So far, so good. I played the first seven chapters in one session (with interruptions--I do have a toddler vying for my attention, too) yesterday. The characters and writing and setpieces and graphics are all very well done, of course. I still contend that I would rather watch a condensed movie version of all this, though. Maybe it's that it's too linear, maybe it's that there is no agency given to the player in the plot, maybe it's that the Dual Shock 3 is a terrible controller for first- and third-person shooting. Whatever the reason(s), I don't have this complaint with too many other games.

I wanted to quickly mention Toki Tori. I loaded it up on my PC last night with my daughter sitting on my lap just to entertain her for a few minutes. I wanted to mention it to warn people off what appears to be a slapdash port from iOS. Big, touch-friendly (not mouse-friendly) interface bits make it seem like a quick cash-in port job, and the game itself is bland cookie-cutter copy/paste-with-different-palletes-and-call-it-done puzzle pap. I hope Toki Tori 2+ actually comports itself like a proper desktop PC application, at the very least.

I ended up finishing off the much-ballyhooed suburbs hit in Hitman: Blood Money, but I think I'm done with the game, now. I adored Hitman: Silent Assassin, and have had good times with Contracts and Blood Money, playing about half of each, but I'm not sure I need much more of that formula. Not now, at least. I have plenty of other stealth games to catch up on, though, so no big deal. I even just recently bought Hitman: Absolution for about five bucks; a game which is apparently not much like the prior trilogy. I have the original Hitman, as well, which I should check out just for curiosity's sake.

I finished up Assassin's Creed IV, the story of Edward Kenway the pirate Assassin in the Caribbean. I liked that game a lot, and ended up doing almost everything you can do in the game; I only lack collecting the rest of the animus fragments and some miscellaneous community challenges. I killed a white whale and took down all of the legendary ships, fully upgraded the Jackdaw, and collected every outfit and set of swords and pistols available to me.

I am playing through the Freedom Cry DLC now, featuring Adewale, Edward's Trinidadian quartermaster, former slave, and devoted Assassin, now shipwrecked in Port Au Prince and fighting to liberate slaves from the huge slave trade there. It's like a miniature Black Flag, and I wonder why they couldn't just sell this as a stand-alone like Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon or Call of Jaurez: Gunslinger. Wouldn't that make more sense, and wouldn't more people pick it up separately than as DLC? I can't imagine a lot of people buy DLC. It just doesn't seem to make much sense to present it this way, and its unfortunate because Adewale ends up being treated like a second-class protagonist because of it. Contrast this to Aveline, the female Assassin from Liberation, formerly a Vita game, about to be re-rereleased on PC and console digital platforms. People are always going on about diversity in gaming characters, and Ubisoft admittedly does a lot with this series to progress that front--why not give Adewale top billing in is own $10 or $15 stand-alone AC mini-episode?

I've done relatively little gaming over the last week or so, having been on a road trip. I did take my Vita and Spelunky with me, though. Daily challenges were attempted, and many fun runs were had. I made it to the temple for a second time. I still have yet to progress much further than the entrance to 4-1, however.