RAGE 2

I’m terribly disappointed in RAGE 2 so before I go on and on about why I think it sucks, here’s what I liked, in bullet point form:

  • Enemy heads have a huge hitbox and pop in a satisfying manner
  • The ground punch attack feels great
  • It looks good and there’s no loading once you’re in the world
  • The cars sound meaty
  • Exploring the world is fun even if a lot of the map markers are just boring “kill everything” activities

The game starts off okay, with The Authority (the primary antagonist in RAGE) razing your fledgling community. After this tutorial (and honestly, who needs a tutorial in a FPS anymore?), you’re given a car and an open map and set to work. The work is meeting three characters that will help you overthrow The Authority. You gain their support by completing open world activities.

Minus the grinding to build support, the game is more or less just 7 story missions. It’s amazing how short the story is. There was just so little in the narrative to keep me interested. The open world activities are mostly just “kill everything”. There’s one ally whose support is gained through search and recovery missions, which I found to be not only the most interesting but the most rewarding. There are arks scattered across the world, where the game dispenses either a new weapon or a new ability. Since they’re so rewarding, they’re well worth searching out and they build your support with one ally. I finished the game with that ally’s support maxed out and all the others only half full because their missions are just slogs through enemy nests that give you resources to buy things.

The problem with dispensing abilities and weapons through open world activities is that if you never find that ark, you miss out on something that makes the game more fun. When I finished, the map revealed the rest of the arks I hadn’t found and I finished the game without three weapons and two abilities. Considering I found use for almost every weapon and ability I did have, it’s baffling that the game was perfectly happy with letting me finish it and not give me the tools to make the game more enjoyable. I specifically sought out arks because they give gameplay-affecting tools, but I guess that was my bad because I could’ve finished it with just a pistol, an assault rifle, and a shotgun. I’m really curious what the bare minimum of this game you have to play before hitting the credits.

Beyond taking away the things that make the game fun and hiding them on an enormous open world map, the travel between points was worse than boring, it’s a waste of time. Driving from one area to another in an open world wasteland should be more dangerous, but I was rarely attacked, and everything that attacked me was easily shrugged off or ran away from. At one point I unlocked a flying motorcycle that just hovered high enough above the ground to make all ground obstacles pointless and I couldn’t be attacked, so I was making straight line flights from one point to another. I may as well have had fast travel.

So most missions are a grind, exploring isn’t necessary, and travel is a waste of time, but how’s the shooting? It’s okay. Nothing has the id Software signature feel to it. Enemies are mostly bullet sponges unless you aim for the head, which is comically easy to hit. It’s like bullets are magnetically attracted to their skulls. I found that most fights boiled down to whether I shoot them in the head at a distance with the assault rifle, or run up to shotgun them in the torso. I had a rocket launcher that was useful for big enemies, and a pistol that shot rounds that would catch on fire that I didn’t find particularly useful, but, again, I didn’t find three of the weapons in this game. Maybe they were super cool. I’ll never know!

The worst part of RAGE 2, the unforgivable part of it, is the bugs. Holy hell. One location never flagged as 100% complete because I opened a chest, died, and the chest remained opened but the counter locked it at unopened. There were a handful of times when the game just hard locked. Once the game crashed my OS. One time I beat a boss but died at the same time. It played the “you beat the boss” cutscene, but I came back dead and had to quit to restart it.

I didn’t think RAGE would ever get a sequel, and I question what this is doing for anyone. The original wasn’t a great game by any stretch but it was better than this one in almost every measure. There’s a lot more to do in RAGE 2 and the open world aspect might appeal to some people, where RAGE was more of linear game, but more to do isn’t a benefit when what you’re doing isn’t fun to begin with.

Reference: Avalanche Studios and id Software. RAGE 2 (Bethesda Softworks, 2019)

Source: Purchased from Steam

Pre-E3 Thoughts: Destiny 2 F2p and Google Stadia

Hey, E3 season is upon us and I have more thoughts in my brain than is worth trying to tweet out. Instead of blasting your Twitter feed, I’ll just put them all in self-contained blog posts that you can safely ignore. But maybe don’t ignore them because I take video games too seriously for being someone not in the industry.

Kotaku – Bungie Outlines The Future Of Destiny 2: Cross-Save, No Exclusives, Free-To-Play Base Game

Ever since Bungie left their publishing deal with Activision, I’ve been curious about what they would do with Destiny. Destiny was intended to be a 10 year-long supported game, and Bungie didn’t quite get through their decade of support. Would support continue like it had before, with regularly released expansions and seasonal events, or would they drop Destiny because they were tired of making it?

With today’s news, I’m going to contend that the answer is both. It’s going free-to-play, and Bungie are doing everything they can to put as many people into a common environment as they can, with cross-play and cross-platform progress transfers. Destiny has had two teams supporting it, a core development team that worked on the retail releases, and a live team that supported the seasonal events. Cross-platform integrations and offering a free-to-play version feel like a way to keep the player counts high. The game will also continue to receive “season pass” expansions.

But these feel like a way for Bungie to hand the game entirely over to the live team to babysit until it can feasibly call it quits. This isn’t Destiny 3. This is extending the life of Destiny 2 in lieu of a Destiny 3. My baseless speculation is that Bungie will use their core development team, previously working on major Destiny expansions, to make something else. Destiny’s history isn’t perfect and I personally stopped playing because I felt like I was being milked for cash entirely too often, and I think Bungie is taking this opportunity to both fulfill their commitment to Destiny with as little resources as possible, and come back later with a clean slate product.

Kotaku – Everything We Learned Today About Google Stadia [UPDATED]

Eugh. Let me get this straight. The future of gaming, a pure streaming platform that lets you play your games anywhere, is going to start with an initial investment (buying a Chromecast Ultra and Google Stadia controller for $170, not unlike purchasing a traditional console), charge a monthly fee for access, and also charge for individual games. Google says this isn’t a permanent condition, that we will be able to use Stadia with our own web browsers and without a monthly fee in 2020, but this initial launch feels like the worst of both worlds.

You have to own discrete hardware. You have to pay monthly for the privilege to play your games. You have to dump handfuls of money into individual games, and you own nothing except your Chromecast Ultra and Google Stadia controller. Combine this with Google’s nasty habit of throwing out a product as THE BEST THING EVER for a couple months, letting it rot for a couple years, and then killing it, and I’m extremely skeptical that Google will give this a long lifetime. And if they don’t, you won’t have anything to show for it besides their hardware.

Given Google’s history of poor support for less than stellar products, Google Stadia’s initial release is strictly for gamblers. It won’t be a future of gaming until it delivers on that promise of any game, anywhere, any way you want to play it. Right now, it’s just another upstart console.

Darksiders 3

When I beat Darksiders, I thought it was the best Zelda game I’d ever played. It’s not Zelda. It’s really a mash up of a lot of good games, but its most obvious influence is the 3D Zelda games. Darksiders 3 most obvious influence is Dark Souls, but it’s not the best Dark Souls. It’s not even the best Darksiders.

The story of Darksiders 3 is convoluted, and it doesn’t help that there’s not much “in the previous games” lead up. The short of it is that you are one of the horsemen of the apocalypse, Fury (not an actual historic horseman, but whatevs), and you have to hunt down and kill the seven deadly sins. They’ve been set free on Earth in the middle of the apocalypse. Now there are demons, angels, and sins to kill.

After release, Darksiders 3 got a couple significant updates to address some of the major complaints reviewers had. One of those was “classic” mode, which was intended to make the game more like the previous two installments. I played the whole game in “classic” mode, and I still felt the Dark Souls influences in nearly every aspect.

In a game where you play as Fury, there’s a dearth of fury shown. Enemies rarely come in groups larger than three, and they’re mostly durable. It has a somewhat slow pace, especially compared to the rest of the series, with a focus on watching attacks and dodging them to counter attack and punish the enemy. I was slightly surprised at how few huge monsters there were, especially considering that huge bosses are staple of the series. The sins themselves are rarely bigger than Fury and follow the same approach as the basic enemies: watch the pattern, dodge, and punish.

There’s nothing really spectacular here. It’s an okay action game that obviously apes a lot of mechanics from Dark Souls. The problem is that Dark Souls‘ mechanics match its world and Darksiders 3 does not. Darksiders is a world of comic book action, heaven versus hell, four horsemen riding, deadly sins running amok. The sins are just bosses at the end of uninteresting dungeons. It mashes in some Metroidvania qualities by adding movement options when you get new weapons, and there’s some degree of non-linearity to the middle game. It doesn’t use the Dark Souls influence to elevate the world, and it never turns down the comic book influence to match the more methodical gameplay.

Darksiders 3 is confused about what it wants to be, and I hope Gunfire Games can sort it out by the fourth game and possibly the conclusion of the series. I’d hate for them to get to the end of it and never overcome the greatness of the first game. Darksiders 3 is not going to do it.


Reference: Gunfire Games. Darksiders 3 (THQ Nordic, 2018)

Source: Purchased from Green Man Gaming

Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner – Mars

Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner – MARS (ZOE2) is not a new game. It originally came out on Playstation 2 almost 16 years ago. But in the year 2018, Konami saw fit to brush it up again and release it on PC, and that was a great idea. ZOE2 hasn’t lost a single bit of luster.

You are Dingo Egret and you’re on the Jovian moon of Callisto, mining something in a rickety old mech. After some slow walking and clumsy movement, you stumble upon a hidden mech called Jehuty. From there, the rest of the story is anime nonsense, but you can ignore it. The game itself is super fun.

That introduction in the mining mech serves to demonstrate the contrast between the mechs of this game and the Orbital Frames, particularly Jehuty. Those few minutes in the mining mech are painful. It’s slow, unresponsive, and clumsy. Jehuty is like a surgical knife with jet engine. It moves like liquid and it’s armed with a half dozen types of attacks before you even get to the subweapons.

ZOE2 is the anime mech game you dream of. Instead of plodding and counting ammo, you soar through the air, slice up enemies with your sword, light up the air with homing lasers, and augment your attacks with a dozen different subweapons, from a gatling gun to giant laser that takes 10 seconds to charge. The missions span from arena fights against handfuls of enemies, to traditional boss battles, to battlefields full of enemies and allies.

It’s not perfect though. By the time you’ve acquired all of the subweapons, which don’t really build upon each other in power but give you different options, you’re near the end of the game. It’s short, almost to the point of being too short. I had so much fun with it that they could’ve doubled the length and I still wouldn’t have gotten tired of it. Unfortunately, it does pad the time a bit with the last two boss fights, which are significantly more difficult than any boss leading up to them. Out of the six hours I logged in the game, I must’ve spent two of those hours on those last two bosses alone. I died over and over and over again. And they weren’t fun either.

In 2019, I can still recommend a game that was released in 2003. It’s not the looker that it once was, but it’s still sharp and the gameplay itself absolutely holds up. I would’ve preferred if the last two boss fights were more fun, but the rest is so great that I don’t mind. At 16 years, it might be time to call Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner a classic.


Reference: Konami Digital Entertainment. Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner – MARS (Konami Digital Entertainment, 2018)

Source: Purchased from Humble Store

The Hex

The Hex is made by the same developer as Pony Island. In that game, nothing is what it seems, it’s super clever, and there are secrets everywhere. The Hex is a bit more ambitious and it still keeps those same qualities.

There’s going to be a murder in the Six Pints Inn. There are six potential murderers at the inn, and they’re all displaced video game characters. Throughout the game, you control each character to explore their backstory, their interactions with other characters, and resolve the mystery.

The hook to The Hex is that each of these characters are from different video games, and visiting their past means playing those games. The games themselves simple but enjoyable for as long as they stick around. The controls are simple (just WASD, mouse, and left mouse button) so they’re pretty accessible. The best part about the game is the writing. All of these games and characters are interwoven and seeing how they all unravel is a real treat.

However, this intricate weaving combined with the plethora of secrets means you could miss or gloss over some of the little details that result in a somewhat unsatisfying ending. When I got to the end of The Hex, I knew and understood the main plot, but there were a small number of side stories that I was left feeling unresolved on because I hadn’t plundered the full depths of the secrets. Even with a guide, some of these secrets are pretty intricate. Absolutely not a deal breaker, but it may leave you wishing it were a little more transparent. Pony Island kind of suffered from the same issue.

The end result is a fascinating game that is intricate yet accessible, with some side plots that may vex you unless you follow some achievement guide. The Hex certainly has a target audience that grew up around 16 bit consoles and 90’s PC gaming, but it’s fun and weird enough to appeal to many more people.


Reference: Daniel Mullins Games. The Hex (Daniel Mullins Games, 2018)

Source: Purchased from Steam

Timespinner

Everyone slept on Timespinner. I know I did. I saw a Giant Bomb quicklook for it once, and then got a reminder of it during their game of the year articles, and that was it. This is the kind of game that Steam and other storefronts are doing a disservice to. It definitely would’ve landed on my best games list, and I barely heard about it.

In Timespinner, you play as Lunais, a time messenger. Lunais’ people have built a time machine, a timespinner, and they have to routinely send time messengers back in time to prevent the timespinner from falling into enemy hands. But after Lunais jumps into the past, the timespinner breaks and she has to sort out a conflict between two worlds.

I’m not going to dance around it. Timespinner is heavily influenced by Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It’s a 2D action platformer with character upgrades, multiple weapon types, usable and wearable items, experience and leveling, familiars, and a huge variety of enemies. In many ways, it improves upon Symphony of the Night. There aren’t as many weapons, but they level with use and that means there are fewer/no junk weapons. They nearly all have unique functions so it’s a matter of your taste or enemy weaknesses to choose what weapons you like. There are no subweapons, but you can equip two weapons per set, and switch rapidly between three sets. You also get powerful spells that use a mana-ish bar that are trivial to use. Instead of Symphony‘s fighting game inputs for spells, you just hold down a button.

The levels are good looking and the music is the best imitation of the excellent Symphony soundtrack I’ve heard. I got a bit overleveled by the end, which took away a lot of the challenge, but I was ready for it by that point. I had upgrades that made movement fast and easy, so when I wanted to blast through an area just to get to the other end, it was as simple as it should be considering I’d manually traversed the area before.

Timespinner is an excellent game that I should’ve been playing since release. But Steam is a hellhole and it’s just flooded with trash. A game like Timespinner not only has to compete against this endless chute of garbage, but also the super high budget, AAA game releases. Steam has all kinds of algorithms to show you things it thinks you will like, but it never put Timespinner on my front page. I’m looking at games cycling through it right now and half of it is stuff I have zero interest in. I get that no recommendation engine is going to be perfect, and Symphony is a console game, but it hasn’t learned that I love Metroidvania style games so it’s not showing me those. It’s showing me NBA 2K19 because Humble Bundle gave me that game once. It’s showing me stuff I own on other platforms. GOG is a more curated storefront, but it’s also not putting Timespinner in front of me. I had to search this game out.

Here’s my attempt to correct these wrongs. I’m singing Timespinner‘s praises. If you enjoy Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, or Super Metroid, or any modern Metroidvania, you should play Timespinner. After bashing my head against Hollow Knight for so long, I think Timespinner deserves as much praise as that game got. Timespinner is a better game. It improves on Symphony in many ways, and it has an actual story worth investing time into. It shouldn’t have been so hard for me to find and it deserves more attention.


Reference: Lunar Ray Games. Timespinner (Chucklefish, 2018)

Source: Purchased from GOG

2019 Goals

2018 is over and mostly successful, goals-wise. It’s time to write up some goals for 2019.

Exercise

I realized recently that I was in better shape and probably happier when I ran more. I’ve been avoiding running since I trained for and ran a marathon in 2016, which I blame for my 2016 kidney stone. While I have no intentions of ever running another marathon, in 2019, I will run more. In 2016, I ran 367 miles (counted on my Garmin). I’m not training for another marathon, but I need to log more miles than I did last year (~100).

Goal: Run 200 miles

Being a Person

I’m still looking to improve myself in non-video game things, and I’ve been watching too much Great British Bake Off. In 2019, I’m going to do better at making food.

Goal: Make a food item (not frozen or pre-made) at least once a month. (need to somehow document each thing)

Shhhh

Some goals I can’t talk about in public. It’ll either screw something up or cause drama or otherwise impact my ability to achieve the goal. This is one of them. I guess if I succeed, I can reveal it at the end of 2019, and if I fail, I won’t.

Secret Goal

2018 Goals Review

2018 is over, so maybe I should go back and look at those goals I wrote at the beginning of the year and see how they went! Introspection!

Writing/Production

Goal: One video per month

Hmm nope. But I did stream a lot of games, much more than 12. Most of that was my ongoing Stardew Valley playthrough, which is still in progress. Partial success.

Goal: One non-review per month

Not even close. Excluding video game reviews, WWE PPV reviews, and posts about streaming, I wrote four non-reviews. That’s too far from 12 to call even a partial success. Failed.

Exercise

Goal: Keep my body weight under 200 lbs.

I’ve hovered around 190lbs all year, so that’s an unqualified success. Success.

Goal: Increase max 5 rep weights

Completely abandoned after I hurt my back. I’m not even going to go back and check. I had some success here, but I’m not counting it. Failed.

Goal: Maintain the ability to run a 33:00 5K

I didn’t test this as often as I would have liked throughout the year, but I kept up this pace for every race and only dipped below on purpose (like doing a negative splits run). I ran 5+ miles today at a sub 10:30 pace. Success.

Being a person

Goal: Play each of these games once

I played half of those games. Partial success.

Goal: Go to a con

I went to two cons. Success.

Wrap Up

I’m genuinely a little surprised at how well I’ve done. I’ve been avoiding looking at my goals since March-ish because I thought I had blown all of them and I was wrong. I only completely failed one, and abandoned a second. The rest were either complete or partial success, and I’m quite pleased by that. In 2019, I will set fewer goals, but no less ambitious.

Donut County

Cute. Quirky. Colorful. Friendly. Light puzzle solving. Consuming small things to make a bigger thing. This describes Katamari Damacy, but it also describes Donut County. But also Donut County is a story about gentrification.

In Donut County, you make holes. And then you move the hole around to collect things. The more things that fall into your hole, the larger your hole gets. The goal of each level is to put everything into your hole. Also, you play as a raccoon (named BK) and you’re putting all these things into holes because you think they’re trash and you love trash.

While the gameplay is rather simple, the writing is rather good. It’s one of those stories that starts near the end as all of your neighbors and friends are mad at you for dropping all of their stuff into your hole. They’re mad but really kind of chill about it, and BK is kind of a dick about it but not really. He really wants a quadcopter and he has to drop all this stuff down the hole to get it, even if it means wrecking things. By the end, there is character growth.

It is a short game, but I would say that’s not a bad thing. Like many other shorter, more readily accessible games, it’s less of being too short and more of not overstaying its welcome. It’s over before the cuteness of it becomes annoying. Donut County is one of those games you can give to just about anyone and they will have a good time. It’s not a huge mind-blowing experience, but it’s fun and has a point.


Reference: Ben Esposito. Donut County (Annapurna Interactive, 2018)

Source: Purchased from GOG

Ne Cede Malis