Review

Don’t Starve Together: A Lord of the Flies parody

So I picked up the Frontier pack to get in the Don’t Starve Together beta. I’ve been playing around with it for a couple of days.  As it stands it is exactly what we expected out of the upgrade; it’s a multiplayer version of the game you already know and love.  My experiences have ranged from friendly gifts of food to a starving man to being mugged in a burnt down forest.

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Do not trust the mustache.

The main advantage I’m seeing out of the group is that greater obstacles are much more achievable.  The wolves on day 9 for example are nothing more than a minor annoyance to 3 people waiting in a fortified shelter with log suits and spears. At one point I even tracked down a Warg and lured back into the waiting spears of teammates…we died shortly afterwards, but we did kill the beast.  There are still a few strange bugs and trying to coordinate multiple people into a common goal is an obstacle in its own right, but at the end of the day having the advantage of several different characters at once and being able to divide your efforts into research/crafting, gathering, and hunting for food in some ways makes the game too easy.  I am fully expecting Klei to add in more difficult encounters and events into the final version of Don’t Starve Together Together to create that challenge of surviving against the wilds that we found in the original.  As it stands this is a great addition to the game that’s bringing me back to it in a big way, if you already have Don’t Starve I would highly suggest getting the Frontier Pack and start starving with your friends as soon as you can.

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The Last of Us: Remastered (Review) Not Enough Dad Jokes

My gaming tastes have changed since I became a dad and not just because I didn’t have time anymore either. You see having a kid really moves around your perspective and goals and desires. It also changes who you identify with in the media you consume. Kratos from the God of War series was someone 16 year old me knew intimately. I could get into his brain and understand the frustration and alienation that drove his madness.

Then, boom, I have a son and suddenly Kratos seems immature and impotent.

I mean, I still enjoyed God of War because of the fighty bits, but I couldn’t pump my fist in solidarity with our rage-filled protagonist because I found his motivation to be laughable.

So now I’m a dad and I don’t get certain games anymore.

Then, suddenly, a bunch of games with Dads as protagonists start coming out.

So what does all of this have to do with The Last of Us?

It stars a great father who turns into a psychopathic killing machine because his daughter dies.

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Ellie’s totally talking to Joel here.

It’s no wonder that all of the most recent high profile “dad games” focus on a father-daughter relationship rather than a father-son relationship. I don’t think the men working in Video Games are quite ready to tackle just how complicated it can be to raise a son in our modern era. It’s much easier (read: Lazier) to cast a daughter and then have her be victimized by the antagonist(s).

Wait, scratch that, we do have a great example of a father/son relationship in The Walking Dead in which Duck gets zombified half-way through and you have to shoot him. He’s really just a prop. A reason to MAKE the player choose whether or not they can shoot a dying kid in the face. Would the developers have put a daughter in Duck’s place?

Anyway, back to The Last of Us. Joel starts the game as a single father just making it by and being at least present in his daughters life. He’s not the best, he’s forgetful and acerbic and awkward in his role but his daughter appreciates him none-the-less. So of course things go to shit quickly and his daughter bites the dust because of a trigger happy soldier. By the time you and Joel get to the end of the game he’s become a pathetic effigy of “father”. Someone who lies and kills and steals because of the IDEA of being a dad. The type of father who life vicariously though their kids and can’t let them save the world by having their brain removed (don’t get me started on that scientific bullshit).

That’s the main theme I can take away from this game. It’s stuffed with thoughtful characters and atmospheric music and innovative combat systems that are hampered by bad writing and repetitive puzzles and unnecessary combat sequences.

Take, for example, the non-combat wilderness scenes. It gives a the player room to breathe between climactic scenes in the narrative but this room is few and far between as most often that reflection is shattered by another boring combat room. Your enemies aren’t smart enough and are too numerous to present any real excitement or enjoyment. Even on the harder difficulties the bad-guys remain dreadfully stupid and one by one walk into your stealthy crouch of death where the only thing stopping you is the durability on your home-made shiv.

Which brings me back to my main point, that of Joel as a father and relatable figure turned murder-machine. His motivations quickly morph from “grieving for my dead daughter” to “protecting my daughter proxy from any and all harm” and the one time Joel isn’t there to protect Ellie she almost gets raped.

Ellie, after being a complete badass who is able to hunt, shoot, and track a huge buck through a snowy wilderness. Who kills scores of zombies with her unbreakable shiv (take THAT Joel) and who single handedly burns down an entire town full of well-meaning cannibals, somehow can’t take down a 50+ year old man who’s been stabbed multiple times. She has to just wait until Joel comes to save her. I mean, I get it, he’s the player character and his job is to do everything but he was not 3 hours ago passed out in a fever coma from being run through by a metal pole because of his blood thirst. Why not let Ellie take care of herself this time? Because we need to be worried for Ellie in some way and the laziest way for writers to do that is to put her in danger of being raped.

The next time we see our dynamic duo, Joel is having trouble understanding why Ellie is being so distant and quiet. Maybe it’s because the writers fucked her over.

In the end, I did really enjoy my time with The Last of Us. The story it told was more mature than most anything modern videogames produce and the post-apocalyptic world Naughty Dog built is full of nasty life. I can’t be completely happy with it though because of both the gameplay and narrative tropes it falls back on.

For once, I want my Video Game developers to give their consumers more credit.

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LttP: Alpha Protocol

Alpha protocol

 

Last week I was going through Green Man Gaming looking for something new to play and found one of a new (to me!) Obsidian game on sale.  Now as a modern gamer, the siren call of the sale cannot be denied.  Thus began my love of Alpha Protocol.  It’s a tactical espionage spy simulator complete with double agents and shady quasi-legal organizations.  Underneath that it’s also an extremely satisfying third person action game with RPG elements. Obsidian rarely disappoints me when it comes to gaming and this one was a very fine addition to their catalog.

Shhhh don't tell anyone, it's a secret

Spy stuff is going down

At this point in my playthrough, I am attempting to play the sneakiest man alive.  Unfortunately,  sneaky spy stuff often fails and I have to gunfight my way out of situations though honestly this doesn’t bother me.  After all, who didn’t enjoy Hitman?  Alpha protocol is very fair about its sneaking mechanics and every time I have been caught it as been due to my own failings and not a fault with the game.   I had heard that the PC port was incredibly buggy (like most Obsidian titles) but so far I have only once dodge rolled through the planet, I choose to believe it was just the best action roll I’ve ever done in my life.

It's a high teir you probably haven't heard of it.

Skills, ability to dodge roll through planets not shown

I’ve not played more than a third of the way through Alpha Protocol, but the potential replayability seems high.  I think I’d rather enjoy playing a solider and just blast my way through to the sound of 80’s music.  At the time of this writing Alpha Protocol is on GMG for $14.99 USD and I would heavily suggest it to anyone who enjoys spies, espionage, and sneakily going through objectives.

Batman Arkham Origins: Blackgate Review

Blackgate

I get WHY they chose that naming convention. It’s an Arkham style of Batman game that’s a spinoff of the specific Origins game and title, itself, Blackgate. It just seems so clunky. You could have named it Batman Blackgate or Arkham Blackgate or something. It’s a name that’s serviceable, understandable, and a bit unwieldy. This perfectly describes the game it’s titling.

Maybe that’s a bit unfair. Blackgate (as it will be referred to from here on out) starts out a bit dull. You’re Batman and there’s been an escape attempt at the Blackgate prison. So it is your task to go in there and beat up people until they stop trying to escape. This may sound very similar to part of the plot of the previous game (Batman Arkham Origins) so you’d be forgiven for questioning the administrative ability of Gotham’s correctional staff.

catwoman

If you forget the other Arkham games and where this story takes place in the continuity then the game has a very good Batman story making good use of the villains featured. In fact, the setting is surprisingly well thought-out and vast with 4 separate maps of maze like corridors each with multiple levels to traverse in well rendered 2.5D space. The problem, then, comes with the actual traversing of those levels. At the beginning you’re only tool is the Bat-Grapple that allows you to pull yourself up to higher levels. This makes you feel rather impotent as Batman, the world’s greatest detective, is unable to navigate what seem like simple obstacles for lack of the specific tool. Lack of navigation makes the map utterly useless for the first few hours of play because you’re location is not well defined on the single level map within the multiple levels of the world.

Thankfully, the villains and your battles with them make up for these early game blunders. Each fight is unique and matches the criminally insane opponents very well. Black Mask blasts Batman with dual machine guns if Batman reveals himself, so you have to sneak about distracting him and knocking out lights. Penguin employs multiple gun toting henchmen and actual remote controlled drones, but is a pushover himself, etc. These moments are when the games mechanics and story come together in a cohesive and satisfying way… unlike when you’re clumsily stumbling through levels trying to find the next item you need to continue.

I will say that the last few hours provide relief from the world traversal because you’ve found ever gadget you need and are able to finally make sense of the terrible in game map. For the last few hours you’re jumping about on tightropes and crossing previously uncrossable gaps and gliding around in what almost feels like a Bionic Commando style platformer. It’s a bit too little too late though, as it only makes you regret the previous hours of dumfounded walking.

The Joker

If you’re a fan of Batman, like me, I think Blackgate provides the best examples yet as to what the relationships in these games should be between the Dark Knight and his adversaries (especially The Joker). And while the game takes a while to find its legs, there’s enough there to get you into the meat of the game and it finishes very satisfactorily. Maybe Armature felt a bit wobbly at their new home and needed a bit to really find their stride. Here’s hoping their next game is a banger from beginning to end.

Did a new browser game come out?

So Michael Townsend (follow him on twitter!), the creator of a dark room (you know you love it) mentioned (on twitter) a recent article on IGN. Apparently everyone’s favorite new form of games are “Idle games”.

I did not agree to this.  They’re browser games…

And they’re awesome.   But whatever.  The real point of this post:

There’s a New Browser Game!

Shallow

Cookies.

Cookie Clicker, which actually came out awhile ago…but we missed it. Sorry.

Actually, now that I have gotten around to playing it here’s what I think:

It’s not great.  It’s no Dark Room or Candy Box.  It’s a very shallow experience.  It honestly reminds me of farmville or…city…scape?  You know those facebook games where the only point is to click click click.

There’s no point to Cookie Clicker, no deeper story like we saw in Dark Room, no delightful little quests like Candybox gave you.

Another thing I’m going to take a minute to complain about:
While the graphics are great and the game play is smooth, the whole game seems to be a bit too perfectly polished.  It doesn’t have the feel of a game someone created out of love.  But one created merely to have an excuse to put a donate button somewhere.

In short:
Candy clicker is a game I’m not sad I missed.  It’s shallow and boring.  Give it a pass.

Look, I put a gif in a post. This blog is crazy pants.  Anyway, let me know in the comments, if you think I’m wrong.  I would love to get more opinions on this game.

“Gone Home” What Are You?

Your casual gaming advocate here to talk about “Gone Home”…

Mild spoiler warning, I know some people are worried about even the littlest spoilers.

No, stop, I hear what you’re saying:

“But Rachel! Gone Home isn’t a casual game! It’s on steam!”

And some of you are thinking: “Gone Home isn’t even a game! All you do is wander around a house and click things.”

Where are they now?

Oh, fair blog readers, I think it is indeed a Causal Game, and here’s why:

Gone Home is a game that has no enemies, no clear goals, no time limits, no achievements.  It’s you walking around a house discovering what’s become of your family.  You’ve been gone for a whole year, your family has moved and no one is home.  There’s so much to see, to explore and discover.  How has your happy family changed?

This game won’t be for everyone, it’s very peaceful.  There’s quite a few places where the only sounds are the rain and the house settling.   You follow the footsteps of your sister through the house, and discover how she’s changed.   At the same time you feel a little like you’re snooping as you turn on all the lights and search through everyone’s underwear drawers.

The entire time you’re wondering why no one is home.  When is something going to jump out on you?

It’s a lovely game, but you have to be in the right mood to appreciate it.  It’s very story driven and you have to draw some of your own conclusions.  $20.00 on steam right now.  I recommend it if you’ve got about three hours to kill (no it’s not very long).

Virtue’s Last Reward gets quantum theory wrong, I could not care less.

Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward

Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward (Photo credit: Sagara Shinji)

Finishing Virtue’s Last Reward left me with a profound sense of incompleteness. It’s not that the story was unfinished (it was) or that there were plot holes left wide open (there were). The creator of the game,  Kotaro Uchikoshi, had given me the ability to jump through a timeline at will in order to complete the master plan set in place at the beginning of the game. Unfortunately by time that master plan had wrapped up, I had certain expectations. In normal games, death is simply a barrier to lateral progress. You die, you go back to a checkpoint, and try again with the character you’re controlling blissfully oblivious to the horrors that befell him in some alternate timeline. Unlike a normal game, Virtue’s Last Reward doesn’t do what you’d expect.

When you first start playing those normal expectations are very much intact as the interactions you have with the various characters in game seem odd, but no moreso than other games you’ve played in the past. You wake up in a locked room with Phi who seems to inexplicably know things that she shouldn’t. Okay so you run through possible reasons in your head. One of those tropes is probably the reason. Then you reach the end of that story and die, Game Over, and are presented with a branching patchwork of story. At this point it still didn’t click with me that this game was in anyway going to change my expectations. The branching path of narrative was just a creative way to present you with different options in your play through. All of those expectations changed as soon as the main character, Sigma, began to notice that he had knowledge of events that he couldn’t. He was becoming aware, that in some other timeline I had lead him to his doom.

Of course, his awareness didn’t extend beyond the fourth wall. He is not aware of some external controller that makes him do things he doesn’t want to. But he had some vague knowledge of times I had failed. That’s how the story is built in Virtue’s Last Reward. You follow a set of actions to their inevitable conclusion (sometimes hilariously unexpected conclusion) and gain a bit of information which you can use once you return to some other point to either advance the story, or save your skin. Death, then, was just another tool for the hero to win with. I no longer anxiously tried to stop bombs from going off, but instead embraced the end and quickly jumped backwards to make a different decision. Of course, all of this story jumping is built on top of a game in which you solve puzzles to continue certain parts of the story. I won’t go into laborious detail in this review, but the characters are forced into solving certain puzzles in order to maintain their life and for a chance at escape from the seemingly sadistic game they’re participating. Said puzzles are all well thought-out and very often logical in their conclusion. (Though some are, as Rachel would put it, “2+2=Fish”).

Why then, do I feel incomplete in my experience with the game? Because the expectations the creator built up in me cannot be accomplished within the game. I finished it, and the character who was me continued on to a new story while I was left to complete a crummy trophies list. I desperately wanted the story of Virtue’s Last Reward to continue on while knowing full well that at some point it had to stop.

Suppose for a second that I had Sigma’s special powers. I could travel back to 2012 and correct the mistake I had made in naming Walking Dead the GOTY. It clearly belongs to Virtue’s Last Reward.