Archive for the ‘Game Impressions’ Category.

Lost in Skyrim

Just so you know why I’ve been absent recently from the blog. This is by far the most time I’ve ever put into a game that’s not an MMO in the last twenty years, and I’m not even done with the main quest yet. At some point in the future I’ll write some more detailed impressions of the game. In the interim, if you have any questions leave them below.

I love Arkham City, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Batman: Arkham City is an excellent sequel to Arkham Asylum. If you are a fan of Batman, then I assume you’ve already played the standard game.  Arkham City is just like it except it’s more and better. Go play it now, although if you haven’t finished Arkham Asylum and intend to then do that first or Arkham City will spoil the ending for you.

It is the Mass Effect 2 of the Arkham series. Rocksteady has improved the combat with more animations, gadgets, and moves. I particularly like the smoke pellet and I can remember panicking and dropping down into a group of armed enemies in AA many times, so it’s nice to have a countermeasure. The boss fights are also better here. They are challenging but not stupidly so, there’s always a trick involved and they don’t require multiple deaths to figure out. There are no hitpoint sponges. In general, the game does a good job of introducing new mechanics, training you to use them, and then building on those with additional challenges. There are no sudden increases in difficulty, and no sudden shifts in play-style.

I played and beat the game on normal difficulty, which is the mode I usually pick. There’s a hard mode which removes the counter indicator and makes the enemies more difficult, but I prefer to err on the side of too easy than too hard. After all, I mainly play games for the story and the experience of the environment, not for any sense of achievement.

Besides the combat improvements, Arkham City has similar pacing to Mass Effect 2. The game’s plot is a combination of urgent main storyline and explorable open world with side-missions. I know that mix of pacing really bothers some people, but I’m not one of them. If you prefer to just focue on the main story, most of the side-missions are completable after the main story mission is finished (and the one or two that aren’t are obvious, or were to me). In some ways that might be a better way of finishing the game, since there are areas you can’t reach until you get certain gadgets which you don’t get until you’ve completed sections of the main story. I spent a lot of time trying to get to certain Riddler trophies before I had the means to actually do it.

One item I was a little worried about was the number of villains being added to the game. As a child of the 80’s and 90’s, I’ve seen several comic book hero movie franchises including fall prey to the “too many villains” trap, where they try to pack so much into a single film in order to top the previous one that they don’t have from for plot, dialog (beyond one-liners), or character. Fortunately, Arkham City pulls it off. The main story focuses on Joker, Penguin, and Strange, and they are all fleshed out well (although the Joker steals the show as always). The cool part was the side-missions which included Bane, Mad Hatter, Deadshot, Riddler, Zsasz, and several others. The Catwoman/Two Face side story was fun too. With the exception of Joke and Riddler, I enjoyed the shift in focus from Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, and Killer Croc in the original game. Hopefully in the third (I’m assuming they’ll be one) game Rocksteady can pull out a few more interesting villains for Batman to face off against.

So like I said at the beginning, if you liked Arkham City then Arkham Asylum is that plus a little bit more. More combat, more gadgets, more environments, and more villains.

Partners in Science

When Portal 2’s co-op mode was originally announced, I didn’t expect to actually play it. But when I mentioned the game a few weeks ago, MMOGC pointed out the amazing deal Amazon was running and we ended up planning to do the co-op portion.

The co-op game took us about five or six hours to finish, across three nights. I ended up as Blue (naturally) and GC played Orange. Organized as five courses, with eight puzzles in each, there’s nearly as much humor and story in the co-op mode as there is in the single-player game. Check out GC’s review here.

I thought having a co-op review for a co-op game would be fun, and GC agreed to do a little question an answer with me (this section is on GC’s blog as well)…

BlueKae: I had expected the co-op game to be fun, but it turned out to be a lot more fun than I realized. Challenging in different ways than the single player, and somehow easier too. What surprised you about playing co-op?

MMOGamerChick: From the start, I knew co-op was going to be about playing together, but what I didn’t expect to see was how often we were put into situations where we had to work together…but separately. Initially, I think I was picturing something akin to a two-player platformer, where you and your partner would go everywhere together, do everything together. There were some puzzles like that, but I’d say most of them involved each person doing very different things, sometimes in different parts of the room. It made things more interesting, in my opinion. It’s still very much about the teamwork because our chances of success still depended on both people accomplishing their respective tasks, but that meant trust was also very important — especially when we couldn’t see what the other person was doing and had to rely on coordination and communication.

Okay, my turn to ask a question. What did you find was most challenging about co-op?

BK: Remembering that I was playing with someone. I mean we were chatting the whole time so I knew you were there and all, but after playing through on single player I was so used to running into a new puzzle and starting to throw portals around that it was an adjustment to remember I was playing with someone. I know there were a few times when I wiped a portal of yours out with one of mine because I wasn’t thinking.

I very much agree with your surprise about how the co-op worked. I assumed that our portals would link up instead of being separate. It was definitely more about communicating, coordinating, and trust. The spike maze comes to mind. 🙂

The best part was having a second person to help figure out how to solve the puzzles. I wasn’t tempted to go look at Youtube once. If/when there’s a Portal 3 are you looking forward more to single player or more co-op?

MMOGC: Both. I mean, obviously the co-op is a huge draw, but single player has its moments. And both portions were filled with humorous moments, GLaDOS doing her thing. That’s what made the whole game, I think. It would be difficult for me to say which I prefer or look forward to more.

And I totally agree with you about remembering that I was playing with someone. Though with regards to wiping out each other’s portals, I just like to think of it more as both of us being on the same page. Great minds think alike and all that!

BK: True! I think the single player had a bit more personality, maybe that’s because it stretched across two games. Did it seem to you like the single player was more about how to solve a puzzle and the co-op was more about actually doing the solution?

MMOGC: Oh yeah, definitely. I approached single-player and co-op very differently. In co-op (and I think you might have noticed this too), the first thing both of us did with a new puzzle was run in there and start exploring, playing with whatever buttons or stuff we found. I found myself “working backwards” in co-op more than I did in single-player. First find the exit, then “do” the solution.

BK: I wasn’t quite that organized about it. Mostly I was just trying to make sure that when we picked a solution that it was using all of the different parts in the puzzle.

MMOGC: Let me ask you another thing. Were you stressed at any point? ‘Cause I know I was. I kept thinking, “Oh crap oh crap oh crap, I’m going to let Blue Kae down and he’s going to think I’m an idiot.” I’m not the best when it comes to coordination and reflexes. There were several times that I botched a jump or a portal and I just felt terrible.

BK: A couple of times, definitely. I worried about getting you killed on a couple of puzzles where there was timing involved. But most of the time it was so easy to run back in, that I didn’t worry much. I can’t remember getting frustrated at all though.

MMOGC: Well, it was definitely much more enjoyable to play with a friend.

BK: I totally agree. The frustrating parts for me in the single player game were figuring out what to do next. Having someone to talk with and point out things I missed made the game much much more fun.

MMOGC: I totally carried you. Haha, just kidding.

BK: There were definitely puzzles that you just got right off that I didn’t and vice versa. There was only one puzzle, I remember, that stumped us both for a bit.

MMOGC: That part really was cool. I saw where my own weaknesses were, and was grateful when you figured stuff out that I couldn’t. I was really happy that we were able to figure everything out between us without going to outside help.

BK: Yeah, I ended up hitting Youtube twice for puzzles in the singleplayer game when it stopped being fun.

MMOGC: And fun is what it’s all about.

Terraria

I decided to check out Terraria recently. It’s a 2D game similar to Minecraft that everyone has been excited about. I’ve only put about five hours into the game, and I’ve had fun but I haven’t gotten sucked into the game in the same way I did with Minecraft.

Both games have a pixellated art-style. Both games focus heavily on exploration and building, but Terraria has more of an adventure game side to it. You have more health than you do in Minecraft, and there’s a lot more combat in the game both in the daytime and the nighttime. Ironically, I never felt like I was in as much danger in Terraria as I have in Minecraft. Because it’s a 2D side-scrolling world, zombies can’t sneak up on you, and even if one get’s the drop on you, you can live much longer even without armor.

For me, the 3d perspective is just more engaging. In Minecraft, I feel it when I stand on top of a cliff and look down. When I’m mining run across a cavern, the yawning black space is much scarier and more exciting than coming across a cavern in 2D.

I’m planning to continue playing Terraria occasionally, but it scratches a different itch than Minecraft does.

The Humor Makes the Game

No spoilers, I promise.

Portal came out as part of the Orange Box back in October 2007, nearly a year before I started this blog. I originally bought the Orange Box for the Half-Life 2, but I got so much more enjoyment from Portal than either that or Team Fortress 2. That’s especially surprising because I don’t like puzzle games or platformers. I’m not a fan of the Mario or Sonic games. I quit the first God of War (and the series) when I got to a wall of blades jumping puzzle.

The game was concise and fun. It had challenges but always prepared me in advance to solve them. These bits made for a very good game.

The humor made the game great.

So, four years later (roughly) Valve has released Portal 2. I’ve been looking forward to the game and yet avoiding nearly all of the marketing. Since it came out right as I was focused on Rift, I figured I’d wait until I was ready to play it then buy and download it (I’m trying to keep my mountain of unplayed games shorter than Everest). I was excited to play Portal 2 but wasn’t feeling and urgency to play.

Amazon forced my hand though by offering the PC version for $30. Even better, I apparently had $15 off promo for a game too which I found out when I checked out, so I ended up getting Portal 2 for $15. That’s a steal.

I feel bad though. I bought a physical disc and had it shipped to me, yet all I used was the license key. I literally opened the box and typed the key into Stream then started the download. The disc never left the box.

While not giving away anything whatsoever of the plot, let me just say that right from the first second of the game the humor is back and it’s amaaaaaazing! I had a great time making my way through the environments and enjoying the humor and personality in the game. It’s able to build on the history of the first game so there’s no ramp like in the first game where you don’t actually know there’s a story for the first half of the game (assuming I remember the pacing rightly).

As far as the pure mechanics of the game, puzzles are less about reflexes and more about understanding your environment. That can lead to some minor frustrations, but if I could figure it out then anyone could.

All in all, I think Portal 2 is an excellent sequel. I’m looking forward to trying the co-op when GC is ready.

Spider-Man, Spider-Man

Does whatever a spider can.

Watching the reruns of the 1967 animated series in the 80’s was my first exposure to Spider-Man, and the theme song from the show is usually the first thing that pops into my head when I think of the character. He was my favorite superhero as a kid, more than either Superman or Batman (although Batman was a close second). So when I saw a preview of the new game Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions as few months ago, I preordered it from Amazon.

It showed up on Tuesday this week and I’ve played about four hours so far. My initial impression is: great game, I’m having a lot of  fun, but I’m a little disappointed.

The graphics are absolutely amazing. The game looks very very good, both the world and the animations. Beenox has really managed to make the comic book art-style come alive. Playing in the game is like being in a comic book, but it looks and feels like a real world. What’s more, each of the four universes: Amazing, Ultimate, Noir, and 2099; have their own recognizable style both in graphics and dialog.


click for a larger image

Besides the graphics, the voice acting is also very well done. Neil Patrick Harris does the voice for Amazing Spider-Man (he did the voice for Spider-Man in the New Animated Series). Christopher Barnes does voices Spider-Man Noir and originally worked on the original animated series from 1994. Josh Keaton is the voice for Ultimate Spider-man (he did Spider-Man in the 2008 Spectacular Spider-Man show), and Dan Gilvezan voices Spider-Man 2099 (he did Spider-Man in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends from the 80’s). Of the four, Neil is my most favorite and Gilvezan is my least. They all do a quality job and have good dialog, but something about Gilvezan’s voice bothers me (while I wrote that part after the tutorial, after the first 2099 mission his voice is starting to grow on me). Oh yeah, and Stan Lee narratives, and it totally fits.

Beyond the sights and sounds, the action is fun but linear. The game opens with a tutorial mission that sets up the conflict of the story and introduces you to each of the four Spider-Men. Once that’s completed the first four stages are unlocked, one for each universe. When you pick a stage you select a difficulty level (easy, normal, hard). When you finish the stage, the game rates you on speed, use of combos, and how many collectibles you found. All completed stages are marked with which difficulties you’ve completed (so if you finish a stage on normal, then easy and normal are filled in). Each stage also has a dozen or so challenges that you can complete for bonus points (which are used for combat and character upgrades). The stages/ so far, are linear starting with an encounter with a villain and progressing through a series of areas to a final boss battle. Re-playability is limited to playing again on a higher difficulty or playing to finish a challenge that was missed (some of them are optional and some aren’t).

I’ve finished the first four stages (all on normal), which completes Act 1 and unlocks a cut-scene and the next four stages.

While I’ve really enjoyed the game so far, the disappointment I mentioned above is in the linearity. This is completely a problem of my own expectations. After I preordered the game I put it on my media black-out list. My assumption was that like most (all?) of the recent Spider-Man games it would have an open explorable world to web-swing through and include a series of story-line missions. If I’d thought it through, I would’ve realized this isn’t really possible considering there are four different universes to populate, which have been a ton of work I’m sure.

So my disappointment with the game has nothing to do with the game itself, but is just from a mismatch between reality and assumption.

I’ll write a follow-up, once I finish the game.

Silver Hunter and the Serpent Lantern

Serpent Lantern, the first Adventure Pack from Cryptic Studios for Champions Online, came out last week. I’d been looking forward to trying out the new content, even though my level-capped Silver Hunter still has quite a bit to do in Vibora Bay. I’ve been spending more time in the Alpha Quadrant and Middle-earth than Millennium City, recent and I was looking to SL to reawaken my interest.
Continue reading ‘Silver Hunter and the Serpent Lantern’ »

Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption: good or bad? Neither, it’s awesome! To illustrate how much I like this game let me give you the list of Xbox 360 games I’ve completed: Crackdown, Fable 2, Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, and Red Dead Redemption. That is a very small subset of the 360 games I own, so any game that I actually finish before I lose interest and move on is something special.

I finished on Sunday evening, the in-game stats read that I’ve complete 96% of the game and spent 5+ days playing. The percentage seems about right given the number of unlocks and side-quests I’ve done, but the time played can’t be right. Raptr has me clocked in at 44 hours, which seems more accurate to me. Just as a comparison to Rockstar’s last game, I played GTA 4 for about 3 hours.

Continue reading ‘Red Dead Redemption’ »

Mass Effect 2 is Amazing

Mass Effect 2This post is 100% spoiler safe.

I absolutely loved Mass Effect 1. Not only was it one of the main reasons why I bought an Xbox 360, but it is on a fairly short list of games that I’ve finished.

With Mass Effect 2 coming out at the same time as Star Trek Online, I decided to hold off on buying the game for a couple of weeks. I knew I would be able to play both at once, and I wanted to get enough time in the headstart and get to Commander rank and qualify to captain an Akira class.

Also, I was a bit hesitant about whether or not the sequel would live up to my expectations. Quite a bit of the recent marketing for the game was hinting at a fairly dark tone. After trying to play Dragon Age: Origins and failing to get hooked, I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy a darker look at the Mass Effect universe.

After Bryn’s promotion to Commander earlier this week, I decided it was time to pickup Mass Effect 2. Plus, I didn’t want to wait too much longer to pickup and play it, because I have a feeling that it is going to be hard to avoid spoilers soon on the various blogs and podcasts, not to mention twitter.

So around 11:30 or so I unwrapped the box and popped the disc into my Elite.

I finally tore myself away from the game and staggered to bed around 5 am. At some point during the play session, I started looking at the clock on my phone and calculating how much sleep I really had to have.

All my concerns about the darker tone and disappointed expectations were forgotten in the first 60 seconds.

That’s all I’m going to say about the game right now, except you’re really missing out if you don’t finish ME1 first. I don’t think that I would be having the same emotional response to ME2, had I not already “lived” through the prior events in Sheppard’s life. I know a few people who are struggling a bit to get through it, but in my opinion the payoff is well worth it.

Then again, games are supposed to be fun. So if you didn’t like ME1, I can completely understand why you wouldn’t want to grind through it before starting ME2.

Trekking Online

After having a productive posting month in January, I’ve been pretty quiet so far in February. Partly because I was taking care of my son, who got strep throat, but mostly because I’ve been spending my evenings in the Star Trek Online headstart and then launch.

Basically, I’ve either been working, parenting, or captaining (with a little sleep and food occasionally). So this is a little later than I’d luck, but better than never right?

Headstart

I know lots of people had a pretty rough headstart, but I wasn’t one of them.

My playtime runs starts around 7 pm and runs until midnight (GMT-5), once my son is asleep and my wife is occupied with a book or television. So I didn’t get into STO on the Friday headstart launch until late. Which is good since I wasn’t part of the initial rush of players when the server went live in the afternoon. I bought the digital delux edition from Direct2Drive, so I also managed to dodge the Steam issues with re-downloading the whole client. All in all, I ended up playing 9 hours Friday night (until 4 am) and don’t remember having any issues.

Saturday was a little rougher, I did experience some longer loading screens and rubberbanding right up until late Saturday night when the server crashed, but I figured better get some sleep anyway since it was 2 am.

In total I put in about 20 hours of play time (according to my Raptr profile) from Friday to Sunday. I had one server crash, but I was busy with other stuff during most of the queues, hanging loading character lists, and other problems.

Even better, I met my goals for the headstart by reaching Lieutenant Commander as a science officer and requisitioning a Nova class science vessel. Here’s my alien Bryn Aen, a Kae from Nalyl-6, at his promotion ceremony and his ship the U.S.S. Grace.

Lt. Commander Promotion Ceremony

U.S.S. Grace, Nova class science vessel

Launch

Launch day seems to have been pretty smooth for everyone, it definitely was for me.

My one complaint getting started was that D2D didn’t bother to email me that my key was available until nearly 6pm, by which time I’d already checked my D2D account page, registered the retail key, and was in the game playing. I had no problems logging into the website and registering my key from the link on the home page, although it is odd that the same link isn’t on the account page. The redemption method through the in-game store is a bit odd, but I was already used to this from playing Champions.

Bryn in his Original Series era uniform.

The whole week has been pretty smooth up until Friday and the weekend. While I still haven’t seen any queues, I did get some pretty frequent disconnects during missions (mostly Sunday for myself), and there were several unscheduled maintenances (which means the server crashed). All in all a typical MMO launch, although definitely toward the LotRO end of the scale and not the Anarchy Online end.

Hopefully the hardware upgrade Cryptic has been promising is in place before this coming weekend and resolves their stability issues.

Second Impressions

While definitely not a review, these really aren’t first impressions either since I was in the closed and open betas. That said, I have started to get into content I hadn’t experienced in the betas including spending more time with the Tier 2 ships. The game really starts to get more interesting once you upgrade from the light cruiser everyone starts with. The episode missions also start to develop more story. Of course if you just click through dialogs looking for the objective, you’re missing out on a good portion of the experience.

In the end, I’m having fun. When I sit down to play, I always seem to end up in Star Trek before any other game. Of course this is pretty regular for my during the honeymoon period for any game. Long term I can easily see spending time popping in to play some fleet missions or deep space encounters just for the fun of blowing some ships up.