Thursday, February 25, 2016

New Arrivals Appear on the Scene

Two new contenders for GOTY have appeared this week! Devil Daggers and Talisman: The Horus Heresy. Here are my top 4 2016 releases thus far, in no particular order:

The Witness
Devil Daggers
Talisman: The Horus Heresy

Just so I don't forget what actually came out this year that I have played. It is paramount that I have a definitive, rigorously considered GOTY each year, of course.

What I have been playing lately:

Rocket League - a few matches the other night. There really is something great about a 5 minute round of something as a palate cleanser or itch scratcher. This game is really lots of unadulterated fun, too. The production values are nice and crisp--Rocket League is just a great package all around.

Elite - I'm back to long-range exploration as my main modus operandi. I took a trip our to the Merope system in the Pleides nebula the other day to get a first-hand look at the "barnacles" that have been found out there. Getting to the system was a cinch in my exploration-optimized Asp, but getting to the specified coordinates on the planet was a real bear. It was a very cool thing to do, though. After that I returned to civilization to top off my hull repair, sell data, and dove back into the abyss. I'm working on a roundabout way toward VY Canis Majoris, this trip. I should mention that I also made a trip to Betelgeuse before going to Merope. Betelgeuse is very near the settled bubble, and an impressively large star. Unfortunately, like an idiot, within just a few light-seconds of a dock to sell that data, I decided to check out a Distress Call instance. Never again. I was torn apart by multiple assailants with no provocation and before I could even get my FSD more than a third of the way charged. And this was with 5D shields! Live and learn, and that was at least a million credits down the drain, figuring in re-buy costs.

Mass Effect 3 - I cured the Genophage, and won the support of both the Krogan and Turians in my galaxy-spanning war on the Reapers. It sounds like a real feat, but it only took less than a couple of hours. I have a lot of side quests to be doing, and I'm going to have to mediate a conflict between the Quarians and the Geth at some point, I know. There's still a lot of game left here. I should finish it before going to Japan for a few weeks in about a month's time.

Devil Daggers - This game came out of nowhere, as far as I'm concerned. I first saw a screenshot of the title screen on twitter, and then it was everywhere. It's Geometry Wars but in Quake, in a nutshell. The single round, one hit death, survive as long as you can play of the former in the perspective and motif of the former. The object of the game is primarily just to survive as long as possible, and presumably also to collect as many red gems as possible, which are dropped by certain enemy types. I'm guessing collecting enough will trigger some sort of power up. This game is very difficult, and very addicting. It is also very, very intense. It's a blast, as I love the feel and look of it. I'm currently at the top of my friends' leaderboard, though there is only one other person on it, with a time of 62-some-odd seconds.

Talisman: The Horus Heresy - It's Talisman Digital themed in my favorite Warhammer setting and characters. I was naturally going to pick this up, loving the license and liking the game well enough. I've played 4 games so far, trying out different characters, who all have unique traits. There is a very heavy luck component to any game of Talisman, this one being no exception. In my last game as Konrad Curze, I wandered around the periphery of the board barely accruing any strength or resources at all, where my partner Angron (this version is team-based, rather than a free-for-all) snowballed early and rolled right through all comers to slay The Emperor very quickly and win the game for us. It's only lightly interactive, and mostly dependent on dice rolls and card draws, so strategy is less emphasized, but I enjoy a game of Talisman here and there, and as an unrepentant Horus Heresy enthusiast, I'll be playing this game quite a bit in the future, I think.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Play Salad

I've been into a ton of different things in the past few days:

Firewatch - I finished it. It was alright, overall, but I didn't end up liking it as much as I anticipated. Maybe I was just not in the mindspace for this type of thing. The high points are the style of the game's art and believable characters on display, though I don't quite buy that it is set in the mid '80s when the characters speak the way they do. Something about it just seemed off. Hiking around the nature areas was nice, but got old kind of quickly, and I was soon dashing everywhere, and dashing through to the end of the game.

Torchlight II - I'm not sure why, now, but something made me want to go back to revisit this game, as I felt like we had unfinished business. I feel like I'm finished with it now, though. I realized while playing it for a while that I wasn't particularly in love with either the play or the world in this game, and my time would be better spent elsewhere.

Borderlands 2 - Same story here as above. I haven't been able to get into Borderlands 2 for whatever reason, after a couple of tries. I played all the way through the first and all the DLC for it, and while I do enjoy the combat in these games, the randomly generated guns don't really do all that much for me, and I don't particularly like the world they've built here, unique though it is. I could play any number of other shooters and probably eventually find one that clicks in a way that this one doesn't.

Tomb Raider II - Another game not really on my backlog, since I did play all the way through it back at release on the original PlayStation, but that I did want to revisit. I bought the entire collection of Tomb Raider games on Steam a while back, and I want to try each of them out, for a while at least. I never played past the second when these were contemporary, nor ever played Legend, Anniversary, or Underworld in later years. The next TR game I played after II was actually the 2013 reboot. I still really like these original games in the series. No other game has done quite this sort of 3D world navigation puzzle with a very well defined move set and a collection of levels planned out so exactly. I hypothesize that the advent of the analog stick cut short this evolutionary path in gaming.

Rocket League - It continues to be a great game to dip into for a few minutes at a time as a break here and there during the day, or in the evening as a warm-up for more serious fare.

The Witness - The more serious fare, often. I've made some really good progress lately. I'm up past 250 puzzles solved now, I think, with 5 or 6 laser beams activated. I really like this game.

X-COM Enemy Unknown - My campaign continues. I'm at a stage where I have to infiltrate an alien base, and I'm just trying to build up resources and prepare my squad before doing that. I don't know if it's time sensitive or not, but it probably is, at least in the sense that alien activity is going to keep happening, and I can never address all instances of it. Eventually everyone will just pull out of the whole X-COM project. One nation already has, Russia, if memory serves.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night - I have a game in progress that I am half-serious about completing, and that I keep going back to when I feel like a quick hit of action play and the PS3 is on, usually because Mia and Juno have been watching something.

Elite Dangerous - I finally made it back to civilized space with my tons of exploration data, and sold it, making about 8 million credits, which was enough to bankroll the best FSD available for my Asp, as well as other improvements, and now I'm off out into the black for another run. I don't know where I'm headed, other than to the bottom of the galaxy, and rimward of the bubble of settled systems. One of the new toys I want to test out is my SRV, the rover that can be deployed to drive around the surfaces of planets (rocky and non-atmospheric, for the time being). I need to do more and longer expeditions if I'm going to make enough money to buy an Anaconda or other large ship, and if I'm going to rank up to Elite in exploration. These are long, long, long term goals. I can play CQC mode in between bouts of jump, scan, jump, scan, jump, scan, and so on.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Steady As She Goes

The Ship is an older entry in my Steam library. As I recall, everyone who purchased the game ended up with a few free copies to give away to others. They were as common as dirt for a while, it seemed. I finally decided to try the game out, since it began with S, and I could at once knock out three separate entries in my unplayed Steam list (The Ship, The Ship Tutorial, and The Ship Single Player). It's a mainly multiplayer game of the type where every player is given one other player to kill, while avoiding being killed by whomever is hunting them. At the same time, your character has various needs that need to be met, such as having to eat, drink, sleep, shower, urinate, socialize, read, et cetera. The game is a balancing act of hunting, evasion, and character upkeep on a Titanic-era ship on the high seas. It's a good idea, and seems to have been executed competently. It's a shame then, that several years on, there are no players on the servers. It does have a functional bunch of bots you can play against, at least to get a sense of how the game is supposed to play, and the single player mode is a sort of campaign-tutorial mélange that seemed to mean well, but lacked a quick save, meaning lots of repetition. No, thank you.

Horizons, the first major expansion to Elite: Dangerous was on sale recently, so I added that to my game and was able to make my first planetary landing on a random body in a random system still several hundred LY outside of civilized space. I don't have a rover yet, so landing is really all I can do, but it was still cool.  When I get the feeling, I'll make my way back to civilization and hopefully be able to make some money from my exploration data to then afford one of the rovers. They look like a lot of fun!

Progressing through some of my 2016 planned gaming syllabus, I have been working on both XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Dawn of War II: Retribution. I suppose the XCOM2 hype and rave reviews have influenced me some, but I've gained some ground on my Normal Ironman campaign. I still feel overwhelmed and lack satellite coverage, but I may be able to claw my way to success with some luck. I've never made it even this far in a campaign, though, so who can say? I ran one mission in Retribution last week, but it's got me wanting to run more. I'm playing it through as the Blood Raven Space Marine squad this first time, at least. It might be interesting to try some of the other factions, too.

A quick update on The Witness: I keep returning to this game and managing to figure out a little bit, and make a little bit of progress before being stumped and putting it down. Figuring out the rules that govern a set of puzzles is a really nice feeling, though. It makes me want to go back and keep trying until I figure it all out.

Firewatch has just come out, the walk and talk first person exploration and drama game from the new studio Campo Santo, made up of people formerly of Telltale Games, Double Fine, Irrational, Klei, and others, I'm sure, as well as members of the popular Idle Thumbs video games podcast. It features art by artist Olly Moss, whose style is very full of visual wordplay. You play one of those people that goes and spends the summer in a giant watchtower out in the wilderness and watches for brushfires and acts as a sort of deputy park ranger. Henry (his name) has some personal issues and he is in contact with Delilah, another firewatcher, and they talk a lot on the radio while interesting things occur in the parklands. I'm investigating a bit of a mystery at the point I'm at, now.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Witness the Turn

I'm at a pivot point.

I finally finished Knights of the Old Republic, as a Jedi Revan. I even managed to win Bastila back to the light side after she had been turned by Darth Malak while in his hands. Malak was killed, undone by his own hubris and the weaknesses of the dark side in the end. Isn't that always the way? It felt good to finally conclude the business between myself and this game after such a long time. I'm really looking forward to the Obsidian Studios-developed sequel which I'll play at some point.

For backlog diligence this week, I tried out Rage, the id Software shooter from 2011. Megatextures. It's got a great look, technically, and if it weren't for Borderlands already doing something similar, and more recently Mad Max itself entering gaming, Rage would also have a niche, artistically. Which would be nice, because mechanically there is nothing special about this game from the first couple of hours. It's by id, so the shooting is solid. There's also ATV and buggy driving, which seems fine, and faux-open world trappings and light RPG systems. I had a decent time in the first few missions, but I see no reason to play more, what with all the other potentially and actually better games at my fingertips.

A while back I played through Warhammer 40:000 Kill Team on PS3. It was not great by any means, but the PC version was very cheap recently so I picked it up on Steam for another go at greater fidelity. It's a very stupid game, and roughly made, like a bad old arcade game or something from the PS1 or N64 generation. I wanted to kill a few moments with it, though, so there you have it.

I'm keeping at The Witness, as well. I've activated two lasers, for what that's worth. One was in and under the desert, and the other the colored glass greenhouse elevator area. I wish I had some idea of what I'm supposed to do at the vaguely Asian temple area, with the diamond shaped puzzles on the garden wall, or the glass puzzle near the harbor with the twin lines. I did the apples-in-the-trees puzzle set last night, and I guess I'll roam the island for some more low hanging fruit when next I load up the game.

And I'm still leaning toward some Dawn of War II: Retribution soon.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Hit and Miss

Sometimes even good games can miss the mark for us personally, for whatever reason.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown has never really clicked with me, despite how plainly well designed and executed everything about it is. I certainly admire the game, and enjoy sessions of it, but it's one I have to make myself play. Even some of the best games require pushing through at times, but for whatever reason XCOM is always an uphill battle for me. I reached a mission last week that requires me to board an alien ship, and came across my first of the floating disc aliens, which promptly ended the runs of my entire squad. Now I am left with a bunch of rookies to face the same gauntlet, and I fear for the future of the XCOM initiative, and the world.

I checked out Payday: The Heist (yes, even though Payday 2 has been out for years at this point) as my P game for my mini backlog project. It was surprisingly fun playing alone with bots filling out the rest of my crew. I did the bank robbery heist, and thought seriously about going back to play more, probably trying the street battle scenario a la Heat, but then decided that was OK, I'd actually had enough. I should check out the sequel sometime.

This weekend saw some real leaps of progress in KOTOR. I started out just having arrived on Kashyyyk looking for the third piece of the star map, progressed through that and the scenario that followed which involved escaping Darth Malak's starship and the grand revelation that I was Darth Revan (before my turn as the light side boy scout I am now playing), and finally through the Korriban section of the game and acquiring the final piece of the map to the Stellar Forge. I think I must be pretty close to the end, now. Bastila is apparently being held by Malak, who is apparently also on the way to the Stellar Forge for some reason. I've heard Bastila can be turned to the dark side, but I'm unaware of whether it is a certainty or not. Perhaps it depends on what path the player character has taken. I'm squeaky clean, since for the most part the dark side options to me seem a little too moustache-twirling for me to roll with in this game. I've read that KOTOR II deals much more in shades of gray. I may play a bit more of a conflicted character in that game when the time comes.

Another very well done game that I'm not sure is really doing it for me is The Witness. I've never been the biggest fan of puzzles for puzzles' sake, but I do like a nice immersive world with enigmas spread about, and the game definitely has that. I'm not sure what portion of the puzzles I've done thus far, but I'd guess it's somewhere around 20%, probably. I've been wandering from place to place, abandoning areas as soon as they get a little too head-scratchingly obtuse. It's a neat game, to be sure, and I'll certainly keep plugging away at it, I just don't know if I'll ever figure it all out. I don't even know the totality of what there is to figure out, at this point.

For the next week or so, I'm really looking forward to finishing KOTOR. I'm not sure where to go from there, but perhaps back to Dawn of War II?