Let’s Talk About: SOMA

Before I get started discussing Frictional Game’s latest release, SOMA, I do want to mention that this post will have full spoilers for the entire game including themes and plot. IF YOU HAVEN’T FINISHED SOMA YET I RECOMMEND YOU BOOKMARK THIS AND GO PLAY THE GAME.

This is your last chance to turn back now, lest the game be spoiled for you.

You’ve been warned.

Ok. So. SOMA! I’ll start by saying that I really enjoyed my time with the game, for the most part. What I found most engaging about the game was the plot and theming of the game.

Let’s start by talking about some of the plot. I thought the opening was particularly effective, especially considering the marketing of the game ahead of time. Opening in a normal guy’s apartment after having gone through tragedy was a curveball for players and set up for a more effective cold open upon the underwater facility where most of the game is spent.

I really enjoyed the doomsday scenario and how it played out with the player character, Simon, coming to learn that what he originally was died a hundred years prior. Setting up the reveals in waves (underwater facility -> 100 years in the future -> his original self being dead -> mankind extinct except for anyone alive in the facility) helps set up the story for the rest of the game. This is one of the few games where a character not knowing about the word around him makes sense instead of just the typical “amnesia” trope.

I thought the themes of the game were particularly effective. There are a few choices throughout the game where the player is given a moral choice that has no effect on the game aside from a few lines of dialogue right afterwards. This was an excellent choice by Frictional because it puts the entire emphasis on the morality of the choice and not the results of what the choice will be. There is a moment where you can choose to delete a scanned person or simply shut them down, leaving them alive but in stasis. Additionally at the end of the game you can honor the request of the last living human by killing her (and therefore the human race) or leave her alive to suffer and linger until her eventual death. Asking the moral question of the player simply for the philosophical thought involves the player and makes them think about the choice itself.

What I love about SOMA is that it asks the philosophical question that we, as humans, have struggled with for centuries and frames it in the context of the possible end of the human race. It doesn’t shy away from asking what makes a person a person. Is it their body? Their mind? Is there a soul? Is it some combination of all of these things? Is living life as nothing but a computer scan of a brain in a matrix-esque computer simulation a life that’s worth living? That’s heady territory where not a lot of games go and SOMA is so much better for it.

But let’s talk about the elephant in the room — the game’s gameplay. This is where it starts to fall off the rails a little bit for me. My number one problem with the game is the enemies you face throughout the game. There’s no clear explanation of what abilities the different enemies have. In fact I’m writing this without having done a ton of research into the true mechanics of their behavior, so I may even be wrong about these enemies as I write about them, but it is what I experienced.

There’s an enemy partway through the game in a giant diving suit in a crashed ship. He’s the guy with the Big Daddy-esque helmet and he seems to only really aggro onto the player if they are looking at him. It seemed almost like a Slender type of mechanic. But there were times where it didn’t seem to use that mechanics.

There were other enemies who seemed to have random walking patterns or patterns that didn’t allow the player any opportunity to safely pass. Early in the game I was in a room with only one exit hiding behind a desk. The enemy kept walking into the room I was in, back out of the room a half dozen or so steps and then would turn around and go back into the room ad nauseam. The only way I could get by him was to get his attention and then play ring around the rosy with the desk and sprint out of the room.

At the end of the game when you are trying to get to Alpha running from the giant swimming worm monster (I wish these things had names that I could refer to), it seemed the best way was to just brute force. After being chomped on by the thing it was hard to tell which way you were supposed to be running and there was one time that I was standing next to a safety light and still got ate by the thing. It was (apparently?) impossible for me to game over so it just led to me trying to run over and over towards the exit until I made it while getting eaten every few steps.

Getting away from frustrations with enemies, the other portion of this game that frustrated were some of the puzzles. I should mention that this was far from all of the puzzles in the game, but just enough to make it a sticking point for me. So, here are a few examples:

Midway through the game Simon is tasked with getting a security code from a scanned person by tricking them with a simulation of their real life. Everything you need for this simulation seems to be in one of two laboratory rooms. You get a memory card with the people on it and a memory card with simulation locations on it. But these alone aren’t enough to trick the person into giving away the information. You have to backtrack back to the person’s quarters. This wasn’t really made clear and I ran around these two rooms for probably about 20-25 minutes looking for something to help me until I finally said “screw it, I’m tired of wasting time” and looked up a guide. This, to me, is not great design.

Similarly was a puzzle closer to the end of a game. You are in a hallway guarded by an enemy (another one of those seemingly random patrols) with a door that says that it needs a charged battery to open. You continue past the locked door that needs the charge into one more room that is a dead end. There isn’t a battery to be found, so I backtracked looking for a battery or a charging station or something with no luck (all while dodging this enemy). Again similarly, after about 20 minutes I got tired of wasting time so I looked it up and found out I was supposed to know to pull a piece of paneling off of the wall to reveal the charging control. You may be reading this thinking that it wasn’t hard to figure out, but the design was just weak enough that it didn’t give enough of a push in the right direction for me.

Let’s talk about one more thing before we go: the ending. The ending had two points that brought it down for me. The first is how dumb Simon is about the “copying of the brain” portion of the brain scan. The whole game talked about people killing themselves to try to get around the fact that it was a copy. He himself being a “copy” of his original self is talked about multiple times, especially once Simon figures out what his current body was actually made of. Yet at the end of the game he is still having trouble with the whole concept of the copied mind? Secondly, when Simon is upset about being left behind with the game closing on him in the dark begging Catherine not to leave him alone I thought it was a very poignant ending. Then after the credits they showed the “second” copy of Simon on the Ark meeting with Catherine and it just took some of the mystery out of the game for me. The player only ever experiences the perspective of one copy of Simon when he is copied the first two times in the game. The final time the player is allowed to experience both perspectives, which I think is a cop out and weakens the impact of the message of the ending.

“So how would I have ended the game,” you ask? After the credits you should the satellite in orbit around the destroyed earth floating off into space just like what was done. And over the top of that scene you hear the Simon who was on the bottom of the ocean still begging for Catherine not to leave him. Maybe follow that up with the crack of the pressure destroying his body while the satellite floats away. It leaves the player to wonder: Is the Ark functioning? Did Simon get transferred after all? What is the Ark like? Are all of the other people there as well? It would emphasize the themes that Frictional Games was going for while reinforcing the heartbreak and demise of the “original” copy of Simon.

All of that said, the first few hours of the game were solidly in “Game of the Year” territory for me, but some frustrations with enemies and slightly unintuitive puzzles knocked it off a notch for me. Is it still solidly one of the best games of the year? Absolutely, but just not great enough to be the best. Anyway, thanks for reading. I’d love to hear about your thoughts on SOMA if you’ve played it (or once you finally do!).

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First Thoughts: Dying Light, or What Techland Learned from Dead Island

Full disclosure before we start: I just finished the last half of Dead Island this week before starting Dying Light. I have not played Dead Island: Riptide, also by Techland, but from what I’ve read it was a lot more of the same as Dead Island. I’ve played approximately 3 hours of Dying Light so far and have done 2-3 sidequests past the tutorial.

Here are some of my initial thoughts on Dying Light and, in my eyes, what Techland learned from Dead Island and has used to make Dying Light a better game.

Techland is a Polish studio and released a number of games, but most notably the Call of Juarez series (which I have not played) and the Dead Island series until the release of Dying Light this week. Though not in the same series as Dead Island (which is owned by publisher Deep Silver) you could call it the spiritual successor and, arguably, the game that Techland originally wanted to make.

Let’s talk a little about Dead Island first. If you haven’t played it you will probably remember it most for this beautiful announcement trailer. 

You may also remember Dead Island for being pretty forgettable after release even after that wonderful announcement trailer. (Ironic, huh?) Otherwise, you may not know much about Dead Island if you didn’t play it. It’s another in a series of generic zombie games in the last 10 years.

Dead Island had a number of problems that kept it from rising above simply being a servicable zombie slaying simulator, but also did a number of things right. The gameplay was kind of janky in that it wasn’t as smooth as it should have been. The story is largely forgettable as the characters aren’t really anything that most players will invest in. However, Techland did some good things like the crafting system (think Dead Rising, but a little less ridiculous/over-the-top) and the first person melee focused combat.

Techland seems to have learned from all of this, though. Because Dying Light has improved on a lot of the things that made Dead Island fall into obscurity. Or at least through 3 hours it has.

Zombie health bars are now gone. This is a screenshot from Riptide (Dead Island 1.5), but gives you an idea of what you see when you fight a zombie.

Zombie health and energy bars were visible when fighting in the undead in Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide (which this screen is from).

In Dying Light both of these bars, the enemy’s name, and the enemy’s level are all gone. This improves gameplay in a few different ways. You don’t always know how many swings it will take to kill an enemy. You also don’t know if they are going to fall over and stay down while you wail on them (which the blue bar in the screen was for). I generally hate talk of “immersion” because you’re playing a video game, but in this case I think removing those bars and the name actually helps the player suspend disbelief a little more.

That leads us to the zombies themselves. Zombies are much more dangerous in groups, leading the player to find ways to take on zombies one on one or one on two. In Dead Island it wasn’t unheard of to jump into a group of zombies and come out relatively unscathed, even in the early portions of the game. Not so in Dying Light. Granted, this could change as better weapons/abilities are unlocked, but as of right now the increased capabilities of zombies in numbers changes the way the player has to play.

So how can the player compensate for increased zombie fighting potential? Freerunning. The addition of Mirror’s Edge-like parkour into the game gives the player options in getting around zombies. The verticality of the game was an inspired choice, in my opinion, to open up the map to the player. It gives escape routes and it gives tactical advantages in places where the player might otherwise get overwhelmed by a horde.

The freerunning portion of the game allows for the inclusion of securable safe houses. Letting the player unlock safe houses across the map gives additional security when transversing across the map. It also adds to any immersion that the game is trying to set up since most people actually in a zombie situation like this would probably attempt to set up safe houses in a city that they are trapped in.

The day-night cycle is a good inclusion as well. Zombies get riled up and the world is much more dangerous at night. I have to say that I haven’t been out during a nighttime, yet, but from what I have seen nighttime really is something to be reckoned with. This adds a nice wrinkle to gameplay that otherwise could become a little stale at times in Dead Island.

The item system in Dying Light is very similar to Dead Island, but with a few crucial tweaks. Techland added a “survival sense” that helps the player find items with which you can craft weapons and items. It’s not the most realistic thing, but in this case breaking some realism to add some convenience is a most welcome addition. The weapon equipment system has also been mixed up a little with separate equips for weapons and equipment like firecrackers (a distraction tactic) or molotovs. This lessens the amount of clutter when switching weapons and gives a separate active button to use equipment. Crafting and item repairs can be done from the menu without having to find a bench like in Dead Island. The convenience allows the player to more freely stay out on the map without having to spend time finding a repair bench.

Probably the most crucial, for me at least, was the changes that Techland made to the UI of the game. The entire UI both on the HUD and in the menu system is greatly improved. It’s more fluid, simpler in looks, and more intuitive to use. In Dead Island to move the map you had to right click and drag. In Dying Light they revert it back to left mouse button. The current durability of items is much easier to see and you can even repair a broken item without having to bring up the menu. When I spoke of the “janky” nature of Dead Island a lot of this came from the UI and menu systems that were sluggish and didn’t always make the most sense to use. This has nearly all been fixed with the new systems in Dying Light. Probably the most indicative thing, to me, is that items you pick up never replace items in your inventory. Nothing was more infuriating to me than when I picked up a molotov or bottle of alcohol in Dead Island and having it replace the melee weapon that I currently had equipped. Techland did a masterful job in fixing these issues.

Health and item UI in the HUD is more minimal and clean. You can see how depleted the weapon is in a bar underneath the weapon icon.

You can see separate equips for Weapons and Equipment. This makes it simpler in-game as well. The screen is much tighter and cleaner than the menu in Dead Island.

Finally some character and story improvements. There will be very little spoilers in this, but if you don’t want to know anything about the premise please feel free to skip this paragraph. So far the main character, Crane, seems relatively bland, but what Dying Light has done through its first few hours is create a mysterious backstory and reason for Crane going into the city undercover that it has not yet shared. Then in the opening moments of the game it has Crane get bit by a zombie, thus being infected and needing a drug to stave off the infection. These things help the player get more invested in the character and more interested in the mystery of the main story at large and the mysterious GRE company that Crane is working for.

All of these changes are much, much needed from what Techland made with Dead Island. Is Dying Light perfect? No, but Techland has made major strides in the spiritual successor. The basics of the game are much more solid and they’ve made innovations in their design and technique. Can we really ask any more of game studios?

Games for Ygg

Our friend Yggdrasilly is sadly on his next adventure. Ygg has 31 games as of yet unfinished. I think it would be a fitting way to honor our friend if everyone played one of his unfinished games for him. You can buy something if you want, but if you share an unfinished I think that would be just as fitting. There’s no rules here, but I think it would be neat to have all 31 beaten (or completed?) by someone who hasn’t yet. If you want to participate shoot me a twitter message — iErebus — and I’ll add your name where appropriate. Also let me know if you finish one so I can update.

Italic names are in progress and bold names have finished the listed game. Let’s-a go!

3DS
Bravely Default  — Paladin, Starpendle, Leonia, John, Jean, Nekomittchi(:C:), Ivy, Sobou, Thrallia, MarkShark, Meimi, Hojo(:C:), FELord
Phoenix Wright: AA – Dual Destinites — Drumble, John, Jean, PaperLink
Super Smash Bros. 3DSMastermind(:C:), Jean(:C:), PaperLink(:C:)

PC
Child of LightiErebus, John, Jean, Starpendle(:M:), Manablade

Playstation 2
Final Fantasy XII — Hoboriss(:C:), Jean, AlienJesus, Kariohki, FELord
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES — Lyndis, MSFeather
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 — WaluigiCubed

Playstation 3
Eternal Sonata — Orbo(:M:), John
Final Fantasy X HD — Derkomai, Nekomittchi, John, PaperLink, Meimi, Jaina
Final Fantasy X-2 HDSlythex, John, Kharg, Meimi
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch — Ashe, John, Jean
Okami HD — PaperLink, John, Ivy, Ginger(:C:)
Star Ocean: The Last Hope — Kamiwoo(:C:), John, Lovely, Meimi
Tales of Graces f — Starpendle, Altrius, BG_Hojo72(:C:)
Tales of Xillia — CouryC, John, Jean, MarkShark, Meimi, FELord, WanderingMind(:C:)
Zone of Enders HD — Hoboriss, Jean, Sobou
Zone of Enders 2: The Last Runner HD — WanderingMind, Jean, Sobou

Playstation 4
inFamous Second Son — Corvak, John, Lilith(:C:)

PSP
Kingdom Hearts: Birth By SleepAstraeaFeres, Jean, Kovaelin, John

PS Vita
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy HavocTry4ce, John, GundamDyne
Persona 4 Golden — Kyon, John, Cherry, Majoracle, WhaleBeard, Axemtitanium, Thrallia

SNES
Terranigma — Drumble, Gendo, Lyndis, Jean

Steam
Dust: An Elysian Tail — iErebus, Jean, Lilith, Sobou, Jaina, FELord
Sonic Generations — StarKirby(:C:), BG_Hojo72

Wii
Metroid: Other M — Gendo, GunarmDyne(:C:), Sobou, AlienJesus, Kariohki

WiiU
The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD — Dia, PaperLink, John, Majoracle(:M:)
Mario Kart 8 — Endesu, BedroomComics
Super Mario 3D World — Moomba(:C:), MarkShark(:C:)

XBLA
Bastion — Paladin, Jean
Perfect Dark — Enchilada(:C:)
Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game — Enchilada(:C:)

We’re all thinking of you Tai.

Edit: I’ve been told from the BL Staff that once at least one person has finished each game that Tai’s profile page on BL will be given a :B: badge, so even more reason to honor our friend by finishing a game for him!

My Favorite Games of 2013

With mere hours left to go in 2013 I thought I would write about some of my favorite games of the year. Before we start into this I should mention a caveat. There are a lot of games that I haven’t played from this year. Like a lot, a lot. And quite a few of them are contenders for a lot of “Game of the Year” lists. To be clear I thought I’d list some of them before I start in on my 10 favorites (pending playing some of those about to be listed). So here we go.

Games I unfortunately didn’t get to play this year, and hence weren’t eligible to go on my list: Tearaway, Tomb Raider, Metal  Gear Rising: Revengence, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, Dead Island Riptide, Super Luigi U, Deadpool, Muramasa Rebirth, Papers Please, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, Metro: Last Light, Killzone: Mercenary, Infinity Blade 3, Batman: Arkham Origins, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, Assassin’s Creed 4, Ys: Memories of Celceta, Republique

That’s quite the list. I just wanted to put them on paper to avoid “Well, where’s Papers, Please on your list?!” etc., etc. 

Now, before we start on my 10 favorite games (for now), let’s look at three of my disappointments from 2013.

Disappointment #1: Slender: The Arrival

Like is the case with the other two that you’ll read about in a minute, Slender is by no means a bad game. It’s just … disappointing. It has some creepy atmosphere to it, I’ll definitely give it that. Unfortunately the random generation aspect of the game plus the lack of proper map feature makes the game more frustrating than hard.

I did get this screenshot, though, so there’s that at least.

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Disappointment #2: Dragon’s Crown

Again, Dragon’s Crown is not inherently a bad game. That being said, it takes a while for the game to truly open up. You can’t do online play from the start (not until about halfway through the game). Also halfway through you unlock chaining levels, which saves time when trying to level and can get you better gear. I see the reasoning for locking these away for some of the beginning, but they stay locked for too long. Also, despite having very pretty art, it can be easy to get lost in the busy-ness on screen. (Note: I played this on Vita)

Disappointment #3: The Last of Us

I don’t think I really need to say that The Last of Us is a good game (though ironically I just did), but it just felt like a disappointment to me. The story telling was very good, but the combat didn’t do it for me a lot of the time. There were just too many enemies on a lot of occasions (something I feel Naughty Dog was also guilty of in the Uncharted series). There were times where I thought I had cleared an area only to come back a little later to find more guys spawned. I even had an enemy spawn right in front of me once. The stealth option throughout most of the game also felt useless because of the spawning of lots of enemies if you were seen. I also didn’t care for the ending, which probably didn’t help this not be a disappointment in my eyes.

This has probably been been controversial enough already, so let’s just get right down to my favorites, in no particular order …

Favorite #1: Rocksmith 2014

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I’ve only spent a handful of hours with Rocksmith 2014 so far as it was a Christmas gift, but I can safely say that it is going to be one of my favorites from this year for a long, long time. It is very deep, with modes upon modes of skill building exercises and ways to play songs. I haven’t even discovered all of the things in the game yet and there is still plenty to keep me busy for hours and hours. If you’ve ever wanted to pick up a guitar and learn how to play, seriously give this a look. Remember the fun of nailing Guitar Hero or Rock Band songs? The satisfaction is that much higher with Rocksmith because you’re actually making some of the music.

Favorite #2: Device 6

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Cue the “Huh? I’ve never heard of this!” If you’ve never heard of it, seriously go give it a look. Device 6 is an iOS game that is kind of like an interactive book. It is very story based with interactive puzzles throughout. It’s short, but it’s very unique. There are sound effects based on what you are reading and sometimes the text is even shaped with what is happening in the story. If the character turns a corner the text will turn a corner, forcing you to rotate your device to keep reading. If the character walks into a dark hallway the screen will darken until the lights turn on, where the text will continue. It is somewhat short, but the puzzles are clever in that they aren’t telegraphed, but the hints are there to spot with enough thought. If you have an iOS device go download this. Definitely go check out a gameplay video either way.

Favorite #3: Super Mario 3D World

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What could be better than cat suits? Seriously, though, this game was an absolute joy to play. 3D World has more moments of joy and bliss packed into it than most other games from this year and a lot of Mario games on top of that. There are a ton of memorable levels, power-ups, and little things packed throughout. (Try to find every 8-bit Luigi hidden throughout. They’re everywhere!) If you have a Wii U and you haven’t played this yet, you need to reevaluate your priorities. Ok, that’s probably too far, but this is one of the reasons to buy a Wii U. It is that good.

Favorite #4: Dead Space 3

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Some may be wondering how this made my list, but looking back on it it really was one of my favorites of the year. It’s not quite the same as previous Dead Space games, but at the same time it still felt like Dead Space. I wasn’t sure how to feel about the universal ammo and weapon crafting when it was announced, but it really was a good way to mix up the series. It might not be survival horror any more, but that’s ok, it doesn’t have to be. The space sections were as fun as ever and there were more than a few creepy side quests. I think Dead Space 2 is still my favorite in the series, but this was a fine entry into the Dead Space mythos.

Favorite #5: Outlast

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This is what Slender was trying to be. (And from what I hear Amnesia: Machine for Pigs, but I’ll save that judgement until I’ve played it.) The atmosphere was perfectly creepy. There were just enough supernatural elements to not have the game flooded with them, but still keep the player on edge. The villains were fantastic. Especially one you meet in the middle of the game … The camera feature with the night vision was a stroke of genius and implemented to near perfection. The game loses a little steam three quarters of the way through, but all in all this game proves that horror games (and indie horror games on top of that) are far from dead.

Favorite #6: The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD

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Unfortunately not all of the screens I’ve used originated from me, but this one did! I never got to play Wind Waker as I never owned a Gamecube and came into the Wii relatively late in its cycle, so this was my first experience with Wind Waker. Boy, was I missing out. This game, albeit a bit short, was fantastic from beginning to end. From what I’ve read some of the additions and changes really help focus and streamline the game. Both the art and sound design are fantastic. Nintendo did a great job making this look like a fresh, brand new game from something that was released two generations ago. Yet another reason the Wii U is having a great fall.

Favorite #7: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

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I must start with a confession. I’ve never finished Link to the Past. It just never was able to hold my attention once I got three quarters of the way through the game. Link Between Worlds, however, is a completely different story. The dungeons were well designed (though difficulty curve was an issue). The rent system was a good change up for the series. The story was actually very well done. Switching between worlds to find different treasures and to get to different parts of the world was very engaging. And the music is nothing short of gorgeous. If you haven’t played this, do yourself a favor and grab a 3DS and get to it. If nothing else at least go check out the soundtrack. (The Lorule overworld theme is my favorite. In fact I’m going to go cue it up right now …)

Favorite #8: Dota 2

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You might say that it is cheating to use this game as part of 2013’s list, but Dota 2 did see it’s release from Beta and is now open for all to play. Dota 2 is super deep. Even with almost 900 hours on Steam and hundreds of hours with Dota (the Warcraft 3 mod) I still have not come anywhere close to learning everything there is to learn. With a hundred heroes the number of combinations you see in one 5v5 game is going to be different every time. The learning curve is steep for newcomers, but there is a large reward and a lot of fun for those willing to give it the time to learn. I highly recommend checking it out, even if it’s just to learn what all the hubbub is about.

Favorite #9: BioShock Infinite

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Is Infinite the deepest shooter out there? No, it certainly has its flaws. I wish that it hadn’t moved to the “two guns at a time” mechanic, but there was still a lot to do and to try. Infinite was one of the few games I played this year that I just had to know what happened. The story kept me enthralled for the two days that it took me to finish the story for the first time. Elizabeth is superb and the Lutece’s are written and acted with mastery. The music is excellent and the art direction is nearly unsurpassed. This is one that I’ve been itching to replay, but haven’t had the chance yet. But I look forward to it and every replay to come.

Favorite #10: Guacamelee

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At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of Guacamelee, but I am very thankful I decided to give it a chance. The Metroidvania is becoming somewhat of a lost art, but Guacamelee nails it right on the head. It is colorful and infused with culture and style. The humor is excellent and it really knows and understands its roots. The combat is deep, with extra levels of depth for those that would like to master the art of stringing together combos. The platforming, while frustrating on a few occasions, is really bolstered by the Living and Dead World dichotomy. A wonderful game with a lot to explore.

Honorable Mentions: Injustice: Gods Among Us, Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm, DmC: Devil May Cry

 So there you have it! My favorite 10 games of 2013, or at least so far. I expect there might be a few changes to this list a few months from now or even a year down the road when I’m able to play some more of the excellent games that came out this year. I’ll leave you with 3 of my most anticipated games of 2014.

2014 Anticipation #1: The Walking Dead Season 2

Yes, the first part is out, but the majority of them will be released in 2014. The first season was just so fantastic that I can’t wait to see where they will take it next. With the show’s quality going downhill somewhat I can say that I am looking forward to this Season 2 moreso than the rest of Season 4 of the TV show.

2014 Anticipation #2: Watch Dogs

Unfortunately with the delay a lot of the hype has died down for Watch Dogs. The media blackout also has me a little bit nervous, but I think this game still shows a lot of potential in terms of story and what the new generation of hardware can do. Hopefully the media blackout is just necessary to get the game where it needs to be.

2014 Anticipation #3: Destiny

I’m not really sure what to expect from Bungie on this one. But I do have to say that I trust them to try to make something with a wide reach, but still with quality. I’m not sure I will get this on launch or that it will really be my style of game, but I’m excited to learn more about what they are going to try to bring to the table with Destiny.

Honorable Mention: X, Smash Brothers 4 (I put both of these here because I’m not convinced they will come out in 2014.)

So there you have it! Hope you all had a wonderful 2013 and here’s to a wonderful 2014 in all regards.

First Impressions Are Deadly, Or: Why Resident Evil 6 Is Not A Good Game

Resident Evil 6 just released and there was a lot of excitement and, of course, typical review controversies — most notably over Jim Sterling’s 3/10 score. I want to be crystal clear here before I start getting into this in earnest: RE6 is not a 3/10. I’m not going to make that argument, because the production values alone tend to vault it past a 3 in my book. Further caveats: I haven’t gotten very far in the game yet. I’m in Leon’s campaign (solo) and have played maybe 3-4 hours. I’m just past the first chapter. I’m playing on Veteran. Would some of my problems be gone if I was playing on Normal? Maybe, but not all of them. So without further ado my first impressions and gripes after a few hours of play …

Helena’s AI is terrible. I would be willing to say that so far her AI is worse than Sheva’s from RE5. I’ve had multiple times where she runs ahead of me to the door I’m supposed to go to abandoning me to whatever is around. Most notably this happened in a “you need to get away” section where just as the door opened that you have to run through I was downed by an enemy (more on the problems with this scenario later …). Helena had run ahead to do the getaway and couldn’t get back to me due to a jump thereby leaving me to die to restart a previous checkpoint. There are also times where she will stand there instead of firing at enemies. I understand Capcom not making her full Rambo since she has infinite ammo, but, c’mon man, sometimes it’s just too ridiculous.

There are too many times where it’s impossible not to take a hit. This is way more of a problem than it should be. I can’t count the number of cheap shots that I’ve taken and the number that are completely impossible to dodge. My main problem is the, way too frequent, times where a “dead” body gets up to attack you as you approach or when you pick up an item. I can remember at least 3 times off the top of my head where you have to grab an item and a body next to you when you pick it up gets up and gets a free hit. When you’re playing Veteran one hit takes away 2-3 bars of your 6 bar life gauge. This is exacerbated by the fact that healing items are few and far between. I went at least an hour and a half without seeing an herb. The number of times you get knocked down and have to pop a small pill to get you out of “red heartbeat flashing mode” is a little much.

Speaking of cheap shots there is one particular scenario I need to talk about. This might have a slight spoiler, but it’s just a description of a fighting set piece, so if you consider that spoilers consider yourself warned. There is a set piece early in Leon’s campaign where you run across survivors fighting off zombies at a gas station. You’re told your objective is to “kill all enemies,” so you start to go to work. The survivors are fighting backed up against a corner by this gas station. So naturally you go over to help them kill enemies. You’re there for a while with enemies spawning and coming at you. Suddenly a runaway ambulance shows up in a short cutscene and it crashes into the exact spot where the survivors had been and most likely the spot you had been fighting since there wasn’t much reason to move around from a position that was relatively easily defended. Unfortunately that’s where that ambulance crashes, so if you hadn’t moved it kills you. Instantly. How is this considered good design? I died twice to this thing because first I didn’t know it was coming and second because I didn’t see the path it took to crash the first time. Twice I got mowed down by this ambulance.

There are too many times where there are too many enemies for too small a fighting space. Similar area where you are with survivors you are in a small apartment trapped with a huge fatty of enemy and several smaller guys. That makes one enemy that takes up probably 1/5 of the room, 2-3 smaller enemies, your partner, 4-5 survivors and you. Nowhere near enough room to be able to do anything. Another area finds you fighting continuously spawning enemies with some that turn into tougher enemies. I fought this battle with 2-3 of these tougher enemies swarming around me following a pattern of getting knocked down, Helena helping me up, popping a pill, running to get some space, getting knocked down, etc. etc. There is little strategy, little reason to where enemies spawn, and little strategy involved where sometimes you have to run in circles occasionally poking a melee attack while waiting for allies to gun down some of the enemies so they don’t all swarm you over and over.

I think this is my biggest problem with RE6: questionable design. Their intro chapter barely tells you what the controls are — especially the dodge roll would be helpful to know — and they don’t tell you any other things like how to spend skill points or how to equip skills. I had to look up online how to buy skills and at what point you can do this. Found out you can only do this from the menu or after a chapter. Why? What is there to gain by making someone wait through a somewhat long first chapter to buy a skill? I still don’t know how to dodge roll. Through an entire chapter and I don’t fully know all the controls. And I couldn’t find anywhere in the menu where it will simply display what the buttons on the controller does.

All things considered: is it a good game so far? Yeah, it’s good. Decent might be the better word. Is it a great game? No. Is there a lot of wasted potential? Yes. I hope these first impressions don’t stick, but you know what they say about first impressions …

Gaming Priorities Through Thanksgiving

So because of my new job my time to be able to spend on the gaming hobby has been cut fairly significantly. I decided to chart out things I’m planning on getting and where I should be spending time. Of course none of this is set in stone, it’s more of a guideline to make sure that I actually play the stuff I’ve been purchasing. Otherwise why purchase stuff, right?

Games I’m looking to pick up:

Resident Evil 6 (10/2)
Dishonored (10/9) (If reviews are good)
Ragnarok Odyssey (10/18) (Depending on reviews/Vita repair)
Okami HD (10/30) (Might delay if busy)
Halo 4 (11/6)
P4:Golden (11/20)

The only things really set in stone are Halo 4 and P4:Golden. I’m also considering picking up the MGS HD collection on Vita and since I currently have a WiiU preordered I’m looking at ZombiU if I get anything from the launch. Might end up reselling if the going rate is high, who knows. PS All-Stars is also on the table if funds are ok at that point …

So that gives me a +6 through Thanksgiving with the possibility of picking up and additional 2-3.

So what’s on the plate to play? Obviously I’m going to play that stuff as it’s purchased, but here are my priorities of things I have right now and a tentative deadline to do it by:

1. Beat Persona 3 Portable before P4:Golden comes out

I’m currently about 2/3rds of the way through the game (I believe), so this isn’t a far off goal. The in-game date is around 11/10 I believe? and I’m about level 56, so that endgame is approaching. P4G comes out on the 20th of November, but it’s shipping home so I’ll probably get it either the 21st (before Thanksgiving) or the 23rd (after). This gives me a solid 2 months to get this done. Definitely within range (though harder now that I have to send my Vita for repair …).

2. Only play Dota 2 when I have buddies to play with

This one is fairly obvious, but I think will be fairly hard. I enjoy playing Dota as it’s something competitive that is not nearly as twitch based as most shooters. The problem is a single game could last from 30-60 minutes. It’s hard to play just one, so often a play session could last a few hours. This hurts the goal of being able to buy other games I buy, so I’d like to cut down the time I play it unless I’m playing with people I know.

3. Finish the 2s

Two recent sequels that I picked up need some rather significant time to make progress in: Darksiders 2 and Borderlands 2. I’m under the impression that BL2 will take more time than DS2, but DS2 seems like a much bigger game than 1 was, so who knows. I’m hoping DS2 can be done in a weekend sometime and that I can chip away at BL2 as the months go on. I’d like to finish DS2 by the end of October and BL2 by Thanksgiving at the latest.

4. Play portable games in chunks when time is available

I have a bunch of portable stuff — Infinity Blade II, Rayman Origins, Kid Icarus: Uprising, etc. — that can be played in smaller chunks. If I can go through these in 15-20 minute chunks as I have time, but not time for a full session of anything than I can make a lot more progress than I could just playing big chunks.

Games I’d like to have beaten by Thanksgiving:

Persona 3 Portable
Darksiders II
Borderlands 2
Halo 4
Resident Evil 6
Rayman Origins
Kid Icarus: Uprising
Dishonored (If purchased)
Splinter Cell: Conviction

That’s 6-9 to add to the collection and 9 to set goals to knock off. I’d say that’s doable for the next two months. Let’s see how I do!

Top Ten: Games Involving Time Travel

With the release of Final Fantasy XIII-2 this week I got thinking about other games that use time travel as either a plot device or gameplay mechanic. As a result this list has been born. Enjoy.

10 — The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom/Braid

Yes, it’s technically cheating to have two games here, but they are similar games — puzzlers with some time mechanics to them. Braid is the more well known game, but don’t sleep on P.B. either. What P.B. doesn’t have in length or difficulty really it makes up for in charm and quality. (Plus no pretentious ending cough Braid cough.)

9 — TimeShift

Yes, TimeShift is an average FPS from the beginning of the PS3/360 era, but there are still some well done time mechanics going on here. You have a suit that can help you slow time, stop time or reverse the flow of time in short segments. Overall the plot is pretty forgettable and the gunplay is average, but the time mechanics both in combat and in some puzzles scattered here and there are well conceived and implemented.

8 — Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Of course you couldn’t have a time travel best of list without putting Ocarina of Time on there. It’s hailed as a classic so I won’t say much more about it here. I will, however, say that is goes pretty low on the list because the time aspect from a gameplay perspective isn’t as heavy as it is in other games.

7 — Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

I don’t really have comment for whether the better game is Ocarina or Majora’s Mask, but the reason that Majora’s landed higher on this list is because of the ever present time constraint of the Moon crashing down to the earth. This constant give and take of time is what landed it a slot higher. Sorry Ocarina.

6 — TimeSplitters 2

An FPS throughout history that’s actually good! (I’m looking at you Darkest of Days … and don’t worry, we’ll get to you at the end of this list …) A fun little romp through time and certainly a hidden gem in the Gamecube/PS2 library.

5 — Singularity

A recent release to the PS3/360 library with really solid time mechanics. With your time device you can open rips in time to move back and forth through time, you can age enemies turning them into dust, you can sphere where time is frozen, and you can even age or reverse the aging of objects in the environment. All of that would be enough to make the list, but the ending of the game is enough to land it in the top 5. Worth playing to experience the different endings.

4 — Final Fantasy XIII-2

Yes, this made it pretty high on the list despite the fact that I’m only 8ish hours in and have no idea how it ends. Why this high? It’s almost like a modernized Chrono Trigger in a weird way. It’s an RPG using time travel that actually takes into effect paradoxes and diverging timelines. The fact that SE actually address these things in the game has really impressed me from a “game about time travel” perspective regardless of how you feel about the game as a whole.

3 — Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

If you haven’t played this game go find a copy right now. Excellent platforming with rewinding time mechanics to make it more forgiving and you’ve already got a classic. Add in the quality of the platforming, puzzles, voice acting and story and you’ve got a real winner on your hands.

2 — Chrono Trigger

Duh? Do I even need to say more? I guess the only question is what time travel game could possibly beat Chrono Trigger?

1 — Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time

BIG APPLE 3 A.M. But seriously, one of my favorites of all time and I think it does everything right to narrowly eek out Chrono Trigger for number one. I mean who doesn’t like Prehistoric Turtlesaurus?

Honorable Mention — Final Fantasy VIII

Yeah, it’s got all that crazy Time Kompression shit. Mainly mentioned because they actually used a K on Kompression.

Mention of Shame — Darkest of Days

With a developer name like 8monkey labs how could you go wrong, right? It almost feels like 8 monkeys actually were the entire development team. If you want to get a sense of how bad it really is I think there’s a demo on XBL. Not sure if it’s still up, but if it is you can see for yourself …