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Monday, June 22, 2015

Why Can't We Have Good Vampire Games?

This is somewhat of a personal topic for me. Generally speaking, I love vampires. The whole mythology, the violence, the whole allegory of how man becomes or births it's own monsters. All of it is awesome. But what makes that such a difficult topic to transfer to video games? I know what you're saying: "But what about Vampire the Masquerade?" Yes. It is a good game. In fact, its the best vampire game we have. But that's inadmissible here. Just about everyone knows about that game, and even if you don't its sure to be brought up if talking about vampire games. Its basically the one exception to the rule so we're going to look at my personal points on why we haven't had a good game and possibly how to make a good vampire game.

1. Understanding what a vampire is.
"What is a man but a miserable pile of secrets?" Generally when adapting a famous character or a certain famous monster, the problem becomes in representing said monster well. Most people end up fantasizing the hell out of vampires. In terms of movies, Twilight being, "I know he's a horrible monster, but he's MY horrible monster!" or to Dracula Untold trying to make one of the most heinous and the first well known serial killer in all of history, Vlad the 3rd or Vlad the Impaler who is the real world inspiration for Dracula, and trying to make him a sympathetic character are both wrong. That's not to say a good film, game or any piece of media can't be made out of this but the ultimate problem comes from the crutch you've already made for yourself in which this thing has become more than its supposed to be. Vampires are at the same time blood sucking monsters who prey on the living while also being everything about men amplified. Greed, lust, hatred. All of these things make for a great vampire. From a gameplay standpoint, understanding that a vampire is basically a human but who has ultra awesome powers gives you a clear enough template for a good narrative and understanding how said character you're playing may act or what kind of abilities the player will have access to.

2. Picking the right genre.
Essentially, any game can be made into a vampire game. Slap a coat of paint on XCOM, change a few game mechanics and you've got a vampire strategy game... which sounds awesome. I would love to play that. Generally the best way to go is Action/Adventure and if you really want to make the player feel awesome and have as much control as they should, add a dash of RPG leveling/progression. Last vampire game I played was DARK (no, that's not a typo. The game is called Dark, but for some ungodly reason the developers felt like they needed to have the game's title in full caps) which was a very very bad game. It took my worst game of all time before I fell into a worse game. The game was a stealth action game. Loose on the action point. As annoying as some of the mechanics were, the fatal flaw became making you as a vampire a joke. You couldn't use guns at all and if you strayed from using stealth, you either had to use any one of the powers you got to kill them because the game was predicated on one hit stealth kills and if you tried attacking head on, all the enemies blocked your attacks. Not to mention that the game had blood points for each attack that made no sense. So the skill that makes the enemy look one way takes the same blood point for the skill that reaches across the room and kills an enemy instantly. While vampires are far from being invincible, they are extremely powerful. Anything that takes power away from you is going to be a negative in the sense that not only are you being unfair to the gamer but you're also not being sensible when it comes to being true to vampire mythology. Your character needs to be like Adam Jensen in Deus Ex. They're powerful and have a lot of skills focused on whatever they need to do. In stealth, they're a silent predator. In combat, they're their enemies worst nightmare.

3. The 'Superman' principle.
If you're unfamiliar with this its basically Superman can never have his own game that is good. Depowering Superman is a bad idea if you want to fit it into the plot to make everything seem less like a cake walk. If you give too much power, you'll be boring your audience. Force the audience into a structured narrative and you'll make it boring. RPGs have their own sense of progression. In Skyrim, I don't start out with all the best spells, armor that can't be penetrated by anything and a weapon that can kill anything with one shot and unlimited ammo/durability. I have to work my way to that point. Kill all the dragons, gain all of the shouts, craft and enchant the gear that suits me perfectly. Superman is very cut and dry. He can do basically anything and when he's faced with something that can kill him, he evolves in a contrived way or he absolutely crushes it. I shouldn't feel my vampire isn't 'vampire' enough. I should be able to explore different abilities that vampires may have, use strengths that seem plausible and be able to be my own character. Basically if I can't place myself in a character and get invested in them, why try at all?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

"I will not be preordering the new Batman and here's why"

Its not often that I talk about outright not playing/black balling a game. I'm generally a positive person. One of my worst reviews on this site was a 5/10. Long story short, I like to have fun rather than be a snarky internet critic or jaded for the sake of being jaded. We have enough of those people and some are really good at it. But this... THIS is something I need to say.
I will not preorder Batman Arkham Knight. I may not even buy it at all. And the simple reason is because of our old enemy, 'Preorder exclusives'. Today I went to Best Buy and GameStop. I was just browsing the shelves for some missed gems so I could quickly drain my bank account as usual. At GameStop I saw it: the Batman PS4 bundle. Basically you can buy the game (when it comes out of course) bundled with a PS4. Nothing wrong with that, in fact its great. Might get some more PS4 units sold which I have no qualms about. But GameStop has their own deal. A deal designed to screw you over.
Preorder this bundle and not only will you get your PS4 and a copy of the game, you will also get an EXCLUSIVE TO GAMESTOP ONLY access to play as The Red Hood. Oh, and also the ability to play as Harley Quinn with 4 EXCLUSIVE challenge maps. Oh, but here's the best part. EXCLUSIVE TO PS4... ONLY, Preorder and you'll receive two Batman skins as well as one for your Batmobile. Also access to PlayStation EXCLUSIVE Scarecrow Nightmare Missions.
NO. NO NO NO NO. STOP IT. This is awful. So, if I don't have a PS4 I can't get this extra content? Oh, I'm sorry. If I don't have a PS4 AND preorder the game, I can't get this EXCLUSIVE content? NO. That is terrible to everyone. Let me further clarify that Xbox One owners get none of their own exclusive content. And looking on Steam right now, the only thing you get for your preorder is free access to the Season Pass. Don't preorder it but still want the Season Pass? Prepare to shell out FORTY DOLLARS. THAT IS ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS SEPARATELY FOR THE GAME AND SEASON PASS.
I've personally always been on the fence about preorders. They're not bad. They offer up an incentive to get a few bits of extra content while you reserve a copy of the game. Understandable. But, when you can't get that content later, you've just been fucked by the company. When other platforms don't even get access to that content, you've just been fucked by the company again. Now I can understand that maybe Sony shelled out some money to get some extra exclusive content. Fine, they deserve that. Special content only available at a certain store? I don't even have a problem with that. But THIS. This is something I have a problem with. If you preorder it on any other system, you miss out on the skins and a few missions. If you preorder it for PC, you get absolutely nothing other than saving a few bucks. This. Is. Not. Good. I don't think I have to tell you why this isn't. No, I SHOULDN'T have to tell you why this is bad.
Am I demanding that Rocksteady give exclusive content to the other systems? No. Am I calling for a boycott on the game? No. The purpose of this is to inform you. Inform you about these poor business practices. Inform you that you are being screwed over, Xbox One players. Inform you that you weren't even a second thought, PC players. Buy the game if you will. I will not. I hope the game is fun for your sake. I also hope that this will stop. That this annoying trend of exclusivity will come to a halt immediately. That we as the consumer are treated as business partners rather than walking wallets.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Dwelvers PC Review - 8.5/10

Dwelvers is a dungeon management game. Dungeon management is kind of like an RTS except all your troops (or in this case minions/monsters) all follow their own agenda unless otherwise instructed to. The goal of the game is to mine into other dungeons, kill other monsters and heroes in order to have the biggest and best dungeon ever. The game is in its pre Alpha state but the product itself is finished enough to give me a decent review.

The Good:
I never thought I would have this much fun with a game like this. I always wanted to play Dungeon Keeper but I could never find it on Steam or anywhere else. While I believe this game doesn't have as much content, you could consider it a spiritual successor at least. Your main objective is to basically just mine through the small area you've been given. Within your area, you construct various pens and rooms to satisfy or strengthen your minions. The biggest problem you'll be faced with is the fact that you'll need to keep building more beds and such to satisfy your troops throughout the massive dungeons otherwise they'll have to walk back miles to get back to the main dungeon's first room.
The game has a good amount of strategy to it. Your troops can die but they can either be brought back to health just by sleeping in a bed or even become ghosts who can still fight for you. You get new troop types by killing other, newer monsters. Taking over enemy locations will allow you to build those places in certain cases. I've only found two, though I suspect this number may go up once the game is fully finished.

The Bad:
The game doesn't really explain much. Sure, there is a tutorial mode, but I shouldn't have to play it in order to know basic things. For example, every time you build something it costs materials. However, those materials need to be picked up manually by your troops. You can easily become overwhelmed with tasks once you've gotten a pretty good ways through the game. Resources to build these things are not infinite apparently. The one big problem I faced was trying to get more wood... however, there is no wood in the game at least not in this build. Does wood come from vines that are sometimes in the walls? If so, that is finite as well, or as far as I've seen. Apart from digging into my floors, I just can't find any more vines. After a while of messing around, I found that there is a mining block you can build over certain blocks. However, even that takes wood to build so build it too late and you can't build it. Even then I have no idea if the vines are even being mined. My wood count doesn't go up in the slightest and it doesn't look as if the vine is being mined at all. I think you're supposed to trade with other tribes but the game told me that after I had already exhausted my resources in order to build a trade station.
Speaking of not explaining much, I have no idea how to get more troops or get newer troops. Sure, I said that you get them by killing newer monsters but that doesn't always work. If you want to build a kitchen and a bar you need a Piggeh, a special type of monster for that. To get one you need to build a bed for it and they will just appear/be made. One time, I mined into a labyrinth, which I never found again after that playthrough. In that dungeon, there were these minotaur like creatures. After I killed them, nothing happened. I didn't get to make them or have them made for me. So I just didn't care after a while and then the game spits out one for me without any notice. A few times, a lot of my troops will complain they are hungry despite the fact I have a place where they can eat as well as a farm that gets the food. Am I missing something?

The Meh:
This is one of those games where you need to be using a mouse and not a track pad. Unfortunately, I have a laptop so I'm stuck using my USB mouse. I say need because you need to use the scroll wheel to move the camera 360. If you don't, prepare to A) not be able to finish the tutorial and B) constantly have your view obscured. You won't be able to see past walls unless you tear them down, which is bad if you accidentally bring enemies back to your base because they'll trash the place much easily now that nothing is impeding them. If this game could have a 'lower wall' tool like in The Sims, that would be greatly appreciated. At the very least, a few walls would be nice.

This is... actually a really good game. While I have a few gripes, its nothing to keep from playing/enjoying this game. For 15 bucks, its not a bad buy. The state the game is in may be incomplete, but there's enough to get me wanting to play it a little bit more.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Witcher 3 PC Review 10/10

The Witcher is (presumably) the last game in an RPG trilogy. Each game has done it's own unique take on the RPG genre. The first game was a slow, methodical, PC exclusive game. Its combat was rich, complex and very non newbie friendly. The combat was overhauled in the second game when it was released for 360 to draw in new players though it still stayed somewhat off putting when compared to other games like Elder Scrolls in terms of simply being able to pick up the game and play it without knowing the subtle nuances of every single detail.

The Good:
Another game that reminds me I need to update my graphics card. This game is beautiful in just about every way. From the striking scenery to the character models, this game does it's best to make sure the world feels real. The game still runs but its choppy at the lowest settings for my PC. Then again, 'still runs' is better than doesn't run at all.
It has been a few years but from what I remember of the second game, but from what I remember I can say that the combat has been improved. Wards feel properly like awesome magic while sword play is balanced through dodges, blocking, counters and the like. Its less mashing either the quick or heavy strikes and more skirting around opponents to get the best advantage and using your magic properly to affect the outcome of battle with as little damage gained as possible if possible. The enemies vary drastically as well. Men use various tactics but nothing too surprising in terms of what you'd expect a human to be able to do. Monsters on the other hand are the exception. Sure, you might understand how they work after a few times battling them, but they always seem to surprise you. Maybe the jump from out of the ground or even just circle around the marshes and uneven terrain to get the jump on you. You also have to be careful around them considering fighting something like a drowner or even a wolf is no easy task and should be handled with utmost caution if you don't wish to die. Basically, combat is good. Best I've seen in the series in fact.
One of the things I wasn't too happy with in the previous titles was the story. Well, I suppose the lore is a better way to say it. You were told about some things but you never really had the full picture. I know I never really finished either of the first two titles, but I shouldn't be left wondering about simple facets of the world when I'm halfway through the game. I'd hear about important characters through single sentences or characters that had pivotal moments for other characters in vague details. It wasn't bad, it just felt like I was the odd man out in a conversation I was desperately trying to interject myself into. Here, a lot more is talked about. "Where are the other witchers?" I asked myself while playing the second game. Now, I can see more than one witcher as well as their base. I always wanted to know what the Wild Hunt was and now I know... kind of. At the very least I can see what they look like.
Exploration seems to be key but you can be punished for running into enemies that are far above your level obviously. Then again, if your skill triumphs over the enemies you can pretty much do as you please. Apart from that you can also go underwater and apparently other enemies can be in the water with you as well. I've only seen drowners so far and, true to their name, they try and drown you. Areas vary from forests, marshes, bogs, cities and just about everything in between. There's a lot of varied places you can go to and they're visually stunning enough so that you're not always going to be bored.

Honestly, I have nothing much else to say. The game just hits all the right spots and I've enjoyed myself so far despite the choppiness I've had to deal with, but that's my computer's limitations. Its a really great RPG and it seems every other reviewer thinks so as well. Buy it if you like challenging RPGs and rich stories.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

In the Minority

I really miss the days of cartridge gaming. Weird topic, huh? Oh well. I've been playing with my 'new' PS2, buying all the games I've never had before and mostly being disappointed because next gen has spoiled me so much. The thing that I disliked most about the PS2 was the fact it required memory cards. Yes, plural. If you're trying to get every single game for the system, you're going to have to go through a few memory cards in order to do so. Not to mention the immense backlog for the PS1, and now you've got double the amount.
The advantage cartridges have over disks is pretty easy to see. Each one has its own contained memory where as a disk requires memory to be copied. So instead of having to delete stuff from a hard drive or a memory card, all you have to do is plug and play. The downside is the fact that each cartridge has its own internal battery that holds the game's memory. As we should all know, batteries don't last forever. A few years ago, there was a big thing going on where people realized that the batteries for the original Pokemon Red and Blue should be dying around this time. A game that's so recognized and launched an entire series, this was kind of big. Not insanely but thinking about all those Pokemon you caught and kept (if you grew up when it was released), that's a pretty big punch in the gut for everyone who grew up. Or a wake up call to say, "Your childhood has been over for quite some time."
"But why don't you just get a higher memory space on your memory card?" I hear you asking. Well I have. Got the biggest one I could find, in fact. 128 mb, which by today's standards is pitiful. Weird thing is, this cartridge acts like its an 8 mb and only holds as much as the 8 that I got with it. So screw me, right? I can't seem to find why this is because obviously no one really cares anymore.
Internal memory always has its own problems. Its better if you can upgrade it, but you're always going to be stuck in that place of "I will never have enough memory for every single game," which sucks. The idea of not having to worry about that with things like the Jaguar and the SNES was amazing. Now I'm constantly deleting things from my PC or console because "There just isn't enough room for all these games." Currently I have about 538 games on Steam and I'll just let that sink in. I can never have enough room for ALL of those games, so most times I'm not even bothering to download them. I've probably only played about 25% of those games and even then there's a select few I actually care to play again. Right now I've got a little over twenty that I either play frequently or just enough to let them continue taking up space on my hard drive.
What's my point? Well, nothing really. I've always been fascinated by the divide from the generations. Each one has its own leap that sort of trumps the other. From the PS2 using DVDs and memory cards to the PS3's blu ray and hard drive. Of course the original Xbox's standard memory to the 360's jump to a up-gradable  hard drive that you could take out and put back in working order in less than a second. Is it progress for progress' sake or is it a logical jump? I certainly can't say for sure.

Blog Update

Hey everyone. Sorry about the lack of posts. Not a lot of games have been coming out so... ya, no reviews. This is just more or less a quick update on the blog and what we're doing/what we will be doing or are thinking about doing.
I actually wanted to pick up Majora's Mask for 3DS as well as the Xenoblade, but my 3DS has a problem (which I'm told is common) where the shoulder buttons just don't work anymore, so I'm a bit cautious when picking out 3DS games now and reviews are probably not going to be flooding in for games. Xenoblade also REQUIRES the newest 3DS model which has a circle pad and apparently you can't play the game without it so I'm thinking about picking up that... when I have enough money...
I've been doing some serious thinking into getting an Xbox One so I can broaden the reviews a bit. Mostly its just been PC for various and obvious reasons. While I'd personally like to get a better PC (or even better to build one) it doesn't seem like that's going to be all that possible, money wise and time constraints at least.
We've been seriously thinking about starting a Youtube channel, mostly starting with the PS4 just for it's ease of use and all that. Its not definite but its definitely on the horizon. If we do, I'll be sure to tell you how you can see our videos. On a somewhat related note, we've also been starting a retro games collection, starting with a PS2 and an original Xbox. We've got a few games but if there's something you'd like us to look over specifically feel free to tell us. I've personally just been getting all the games I never had as a kid because I never owned a PS2 before. We'd like to make this into a thing but we're not sure if that's even possible at this point, its just more for fun's sake than anything and pure nostalgic value.
In any case, thanks for reading this blog. Its always nice to see those views pile up and I'm always grateful to see people reading my work. I'm not sure if any games are coming out in a while so you may or may not see a review come in. In the meantime I'll just be talking about random things or whatever I feel is pressing on me at the moment. Thanks for the support!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Why is no one talking about this? - Dreamfall Chapters, Ori and the Blind Forest

I think one of the more infuriating things about this industry (apart from the shady business practices) is the great or just good games that get over shadowed. We all know what the next Call of Duty is but most games slip under the radar. Its even more unusual when it seems like no one is talking about a game at all. Youtube has its own people posting about their "Top 10 Underrated Games" lists but even then that doesn't cover all of them. This weekend, I picked up two games, one I heard about but never played and another I'd never even heard of.

Dreamfall Chapters is one of those kickstarter children popped out some time ago, October of last year to be precise. Its a continuation of the Longest Journey series that was around during the time of the original Xbox. I always wanted to play it if only for how unusual it looked and probably because of the lack of things people said about it. Even the worst games get their own time in the spot light to get roasted for their five minutes of fame, but this series was just that one title I always saw at GameStop (or EB Games back then; god I'm old...). I never got to play them because I was too young when it came out to pick up an M rated game, too poor to pick it up on the 360's arcade and not really interested to pick up the games on Steam. Too bad for me.
Its a standard point and click game. Pick up item, combine item with another item, solve puzzle with said combination. I've never really been a fan of these games though I suppose The Walking Dead series from TellTale has warmed me up to the idea. Its also sort of in the same vein as Walking Dead. There's a heavy focus on narrative but not in a bad way. Walking Dead was about the loss of humanity and the futility in trying to reclaim it. The story it told was never forced into your face and you were free to respond to it how you pleased. I can't really get a focus on the theme of this game other than "authority is bad" but it doesn't really matter. The writing is really good and haunting at times. Tragically beautiful at points and funny in others. Juggling both dry comedy and saddening writing is no easy feat but welcome when done right.
Speaking of writing, I really like the world building. I've never played any of the other games in the series but it never felt like I needed to. I decided to go in blind rather than get caught up. Thankfully there was an option for me to be caught up to speed in the game which is a nice tough. Its difficult to make a world feel real but the game did a pretty good job. Rather than be assaulted with exposition dumps or dragged kicking and screaming past terms and events I really wanted to know about, each dialogue felt natural and fluid. Though I missed a few terms, common sense filled me in pretty well. I knew what was a curse, what was their term for currency and generally all that was going on. In contrast, if you've ever read a book with just massive amounts of exposition filling the reader in versus a story like 1984 which doesn't hold your hand in anything, its leaning more towards 1984 but not too much so that its alienating.
I have my qualms about the game in certain areas but its a puzzle game and that's pretty par for the course.

Speaking of puzzle games, Ori and the Blind forest. I give off this groan whenever I hear that a game is going to be exclusive to a certain system, especially when it interests me. I can deal with it when its for a handheld system, especially in this generation considering the mechanics of both the 3DS and Vita are unlike any other system to date, but when it comes to consoles its really annoying. I don't have too many qualms about it, I understand the practice, but I just hate it how something might not get the exposure it should have gotten because not everyone had that particular system. Its like if your favorite series had its own cannon continuation but it was on a completely different system and then failed so now you can't expect to see any more games in the coming years. This game looked amazing to me and heart breaking. I was really excited for it but it just kind of fell through once I knew I couldn't play it for lack of owning and Xbox One. Lucky me it was on PC.
This is one of those few times when I debate giving a perfect score if I was reviewing it. Breathless is really a good way to describe something like this. Its like watching a painting move before your very eyes but slowly so you have time to appreciate it as the art itself begins to change. As far as puzzle platformers go, its pretty standard with a few variations. The story and visuals are really where it excels. There's combat but its done in a way I feel I can get stronger. If an enemy is too tough, I can usually end up using my cunning or just coming back later after I've gotten stronger or a better ability. Each encounter you have shouldn't be enraging but rather rewarding. If it is enraging, the player should feel in control so as to not feel as though they've reached and impassible point but rather have options apart from sticking it out to just straight up quitting the game.
Puzzles shouldn't be annoying as well. If I feel the need to window the game just to look up a quick commentary, then you've done something wrong. I did have to do it once, but it was more my fault. Rather than explore the puzzle, I got frustrated and looked up a walkthrough. Of course it was the easiest thing to solve so I felt like an idiot.
In terms of writing its more of a vacuum. Rather than dialogue, visuals are represented. While there is some text, most of it is just telling you minor things. "Go to Point A!" kind of stuff. Its difficult to make me feel sad or any emotion other than unintentional anger for a particular character. Its a greater feat when you make me feel for a character without even having any dialogue spoken. I don't like to feel heartbreak but it invests me in characters. Like how Tali is just my favorite character in Mass Effect for the things she did rather than me being told by the game, "SHE IS AWESOME. YOU LIKE HER NOW." An opposite example would be "Press button to pay respects."

Both of these games are worth their price tag. Good games that I had completely looked over until now and its unfortunate that I did.
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