Kicking ass and making games.

The Goings On, June 11th

Sadly I started this post nearly a week ago. It really is that tough to get time in front of the computer lately. Ah well.

A Weekend for Gaming

Back at the end of March I managed a marathon gaming weekend (well, for me it was pretty epic). Frustrated by the lack of gaming I’ve been able to accomplish I focused on some quick-play three-hours-or-less games to tackle…

I started with the second episode of The Wolf Among Us (just in time for the third episode to be released, btw). For anyone that hasn’t played this series, it’s based in the amazing comic that I used to follow, Fables. It’s dark and gritty and a ton of fun. The level of polish and writing is a big step up from TellTale’s The Walking Dead series, which is pretty impressive in its own right. Taking on the role of Sheriff Bigby in his efforts to solve a series of murders provides an engaging backdrop, accented by some pretty rewarding action sequences. I really need to get back to that and continue with episodes 3 and 4 now that they’re available.

This was also the weekend I played through both Year Walk and Brothers, both of which I’ve already written about (and still highly recommend!).

Lastly for this weekend, I started up Double Fine’s Broken Age, which takes me back to the classic point-and-click adventure games Tim Schafer is known for. I’m sad to say I just wasn’t feeling it, however. The game is made up of two separate stories, and during the weekend I completed Shay’s first act, set on a space station, and proceeded partway through the counterpoint tale following Vella’s experience at her town’s sacrificial Maiden Feast. Now, to be honest, the game looks adorable and the stories are full of the fun you’d expect from Double Fine. What got me was the lack of patience I had for the puzzle solving and backtracking, partially due to my hurry to get as much gaming completed before the weekend was up and partly because I just don’t have a lot of patience anymore. It’s quite sad, I know. I will eventually return to the game to complete Vella’s story and continue onto the second and final act when it’s released next year, and hopefully I’ll have the patience to avoid GameFAQs.

Out Like a Lamb

April was a somewhat quiet month, as I prepared for and eventually rejoiced in the birth of my daughter. I did spend some time continuing my slow slow slow journey through Batman and I played through the tutorials of Reus, which seems to be a pretty promising little city-builder strategy title.

The bigger gaming accomplishment for the month was playing through Thomas Was Alone, a game that’s been recommended by a number of friends. It’d been a while since I’d played a platformer for fun, and this game did the job. The mechanics feel bare bone while providing a good range in gameplay scenarios, and the art while similarly simplified avoided distraction while creating immersion. The unique characters, abilities, and even story (with narration!) helped to carry the gameplay across the focused levels, each of which could be beaten in a handful of minutes, or less. For me, this fell apart in the final third of the game’s progression, where mechanics and characters felt too scattered and haphazard, forcing me to forget the impact the preceding gameplay had had on me. Overall a nice game, and a short play, but one that could have been trimmed a bit for a more cohesive and impactful experience.

The other new title I had a chance to try was Ghost Recon Phantoms, a free-to-play squad-based shooter. I have always had a soft spot for the Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six series, but wasn’t expecting much here. First off, free-to-play is more often done poorly than properly in my opinion. Secondly, I’m not a big FPS player, nor a big competitive gamer (I haven’t touched Call of Duty in forever. I can safely say that I was pretty wow’d by Phantoms. The gameplay became immediately addicting, and the strategic elements to the level designs and classes fit seamlessly into the experience. Even with my lack of FPS hardcore-ness I found myself quickly learning the ropes and balancing my kill and death counts. It felt rewarding and empowering – here was a game that I could play against others and succeed at. The unlocks and challenges kept me going long enough to earn a range of new gear, before I decided to get back to something with a story; something I could “beat”. I haven’t played Phantoms in a while now, but I’m definitely keeping it installed and look forward to playing a few more rounds as I have time.

All the Little Things

I touched a bunch of additional games, without really playing much, over the past three months. Some I just wanted to check out briefly and come back to, while others I just didn’t have enough time for, and the rest may possibly be the casualties of a Steam sale. In the interest of completeness, these included:

Wrapping it All Up

I also managed to finish up a few long-standing games that were floating around. Yeah, these few quiet months are starting to sound like they were actually full of quite a bit of gaming, weren’t they…? Sadly these were all console games and I got no snazzy screenshots of the gameplay.

The first big accomplishment was settling down to finish up the second half of Heavy Rain, a game which I’d been playing off and on (whilst looking for good rainy days) for over a year now. I really enjoy David Cage’s work, and am eagerly awaiting a chance to play through Beyond: Two Souls. The atmosphere of this title does just what I’d want from a mystery thriller, and the story backs it up quite well, though the controls (I didn’t play with a Move, for those wondering) can be a bit clumsy. Towards the end the game started losing me a bit, and I’m not really happy with how the story ended up, but I’m pretty sure that’s just one of several endings. This one I might actually return to for the additional content.

Sort of the opposite experience, The Last of Us was a game that had me on the edge of my seat for the first ten minutes, then really let me down as I bypassed the prologue. Similarly opposite to Heavy Rain, I’ve never been a big fan of Naughty Dog’s games, though I do recognize the experience and craft they put into them. I have yet to play their Drake games past the first, as it was one of the very very few games I had to rip from the console and retire to the shelf while praying I could somehow get my wasted minutes back. However, when I returned to this one and started playing into the later two-thirds, I found myself becoming quite invested in the gameplay and story. It definitely had some rougher bits, like the combat (which overall felt very “Playstation” to me – probably a simile for feeling like it came from Naughty Dog), but the presentation and characters made up for these shortcomings. I still wish the entirety of the game were set in the prologue timeframe though, surrounded by chaos, caught by surprise, and using every last breath just to survive. If you have a chance, at least play those first ten minutes. They. Are. Epic.

I played through the first half of Space Marine on a day I was home sick from work. That was three and a half years ago. I’ve been a big fan of the Warhammer stuff for over twenty years now, and Space Marine is no exception. In fact, all of Relic’s titles were (and are) outstanding, and I’m sad to see them go. I don’t recall this one releasing to much fanfare, but not only is it a solid and fun game, steeped in the lore (spoiler: there’s a titan!!!), but it’s also held up well over the years. At least three and a half of them. If I had to gripe about something, I guess it would be the camera FOV, especially when taking big destructive swings with a Thunder Hammer. On the other hand, it does justice to how unwieldy something like that must be in a suit of Power Armor. I even tried the multiplayer briefly after completing the story campaign to find that there is still an active community of players and, though I’m not a huge fan of competitive multiplayer like this, it was reasonably fun. I ended up picking it up in a Steam sale as well, to replay after I retire – for now I’m just going to get back to waiting on Homeworld 3.

Finally, after an even longer seven years, I revisited The Darkness. This one was mostly because I wanted to try the sequel, which I’ve heard good things about. And because I enjoyed the comics back in the day, despite the game being just “okay”. And I’m a huge Mike Patton fan. The game had its moments, but I had a tough time believing the protagonist’s motivation, which made it difficult to take on the role of the protagonist. The Darkness’ powers were pretty impressive though, and some of the weird twisted Hell environments were pretty fun to explore. We’ll see what the sequel brings.

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