Announcing the Summer of Harry Potter!

I missed the boat on Harry Potter. I was just a tad too old to get into it when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was released, let alone popular. I wasn’t into it, my friends weren’t into it. Some of their girlfriends (later, wives) were into it, but that was kids stuff! I distinctly recall waiting in line with them for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, except me and my friends were playing Zelda: Four Swords. I was having fun, and they were waiting in line for a kids’ book.

But I missed the boat on a lot of things and I’ve gone back to enjoy them greatly, such as actually reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy way after I saw all of the movies. Good fiction is good fiction. I’ve proven myself countless times to be shortsighted when it comes to looking down on things that are actually awesome but I’m too dense to see it. I’m going to correct course on Harry Potter.

This is the Summer of Harry Potter. I’m going to read all of the (core) books. I’m going to watch all of the movies. I’m going to strap in to the Harry Potter train, cut the brakes, and see where it takes me. I fully expect to learn that Harry Potter is awesome, and if it’s not, I’ll at least have an informed basis for that opinion.

In the next couple months, expect to see impressions and thoughts and whatever comes to mind as I read these books and watch these movies and dunk myself in the lake of Harry Potter. I have seven extremely popular books and eight somewhat less popular movies ahead of me, so I’m sure to have something to say. Some of it might be worth reading if you care about the opinions of a middle aged man experiencing Harry Potter for the first time. The Summer of Harry Potter starts now.

24: Legacy episode 1

I just finished episode 1 of 24: Legacy. It’s still 24, and that’s a bad thing.

I think I made it through the first two seasons of 24 before calling it quits. I didn’t see it going anywhere besides “Mooslums are bad”, “white guy saves the whole free world”, and “torture works”. It was huge while I was enlisted and I found it all insulting on many levels. I felt like a product of a dark time.

In the first episode, 24: Legacy checks two of those three boxes in the first 5 (real time) minutes. It’s like the GWOT and the alternate reality where the GWOT was a good idea never ended for this show. It feels exactly how I remember the show feeling, and I hate that. I don’t know why I was looking forward to this in the first place, but it’s not what I want. The Bomb hasn’t made an appearance yet, but they’re still chasing an item to keep it out of the hands of evil foreigners who hate us for our freedom.

It’s bullshit.

Quantum Break

This isn’t a review, but I really like Quantum Break. It’s a qualified kind of like; it has quite a few problems. But I’m really into it overall, and I need to put some words on screen to get some thoughts about it out of my head. There may be spoilers here but I’ll mark them or I’ll put them at the end.

My first impression of the game was very poor. It looked beautiful, it ran terribly. It was barely playable on whatever the default settings were. But what I saw was interesting, and it immediately started with Alan Wake 2 teaser that was absolutely amazing. I love Alan Wake so much that the teaser could’ve kept me going through Quantum Break just for a chance to see another one. I eventually got it running smoothly.

To note, the way I did it was capping the framerate at 30fps, turning off v-sync, and disabling AA. It was disabling AA that got the most obvious benefit. I didn’t go back and try uncapping the framerate or enabling v-sync to see if they’d make any difference.

I kind of view Quantum Break as three separate part; there’s the combat loop, the exploration loop, and the TV show. Where Alan Wake often threw combat in with the exploration, it basically never happens in Quantum Break. However, the combat in Quantum Break is a lot more varied because there’s a greater variety of enemy, and your time powers give you a lot of tools to fight them. Weapon variety is limited to fast shooty or big shooty, but freezing people in time bubbles and dashing around is a lot of fun. Somehow, you can make time explode. I can’t explain it, but it’s cool. Later, there are enemies immune to your time powers and their direct effects (so you can’t freeze them in bubbles) but dashing behind them and time blasting still works. The only time I had much trouble with a fight was at the very end.

A lot of the game is exploration, surprisingly enough. Quantum Break has a lot to say, and it can’t quite say much during combat. The game goes through a lot of locales, and they’re all extremely well built with tons of environmental details. The whole game looks incredible. It doesn’t just look good either because, throughout the game, time is breaking and it gets worse as you go along. Time stops, starts, reverses, speeds up. It’s hella cool. But there in these sequences between combat, there are a ton of emails to read and radio shows to listen to. It’s overwhelming, and really wrecks the pacing. At some point, I committed to finding the collectibles but reading them later, and then I never ended up reading most of them.

Finally, there’s the TV show. Between the five acts, there are four episodes of a 22 minute professionally produce TV show. They’re not about Jack Joyce or any of the protagonists, but from the perspective of the bad guys, which is pretty interesting. It manages to make sympathetic characters of some of them, but it’s almost so deep into the background that is barely touches the game. What’s weird is the “quantum ripples”. These are things you find or do in the game that affect the TV show. However, they’re so incredibly minor that you might miss them if you’re not paying attention. For example, an early one is setting up an audiobook to read over the Monarch radios. Then in the TV show, someone hears that audiobook playing over the radios and remarks “what’s that sound?” and that’s it. Between the TV show and the huge amount of collectible stuff to read, it’s almost as if Quantum Break is trying to draw out the experience as far as possible. It’s not quite a complaint on my behalf, because some games just jam so much action in that I can’t really stand playing them for long before my nerves are shot, but it’s weird to play.

Then we get to the time travel, and here’s where I’m going to get spoilery. What in the fuck is going on with the time travel. It is Primer-esque in its complexity, and I still can’t tell what they’re saying about it. They make a big deal about The End of Time and how it’s unavoidable and it’s a direct result of the fracture. But by the end, Jack has averted or at least significantly delayed the End of Time. This means Serene’s premonitions were wrong from the start, or the timeline can be changed, which goes against every other thing that happens in the game. What I’m lost on is where one timeline breaks from the other and why. Was the End of Time a result of a timeline without Jack working to prevent it? Did the timeline change when Jack retrieved the CFR, or was it when he stopped Serene from preventing him from using it? Also, Serene, more than anyone, is convinced that the timeline is immutable. So how is it that he can make a decision at the end of every act that changes how the next act proceeds? He can clearly see the branching paths and their results before him, and he chooses a path. Why didn’t he just choose a path where he works with Jack and Will to activate the CFR and prevent the End of Time, rather than developing the Lifeboat protocol to eventually, maybe fix time.

Quantum Break’s a wild game, and it’s given me a lot to think about. I’m sort of bummed that it didn’t seem to do well, through a combination of being an Xbox One console exclusive, and the PC port being kind of a mess. I love everything Remedy makes, and I want more of this. And more Alan Wake. I want Remedy to be able to make more cool stuff.

 

Hyper Light Drifter

Hyper Light Drifter is a game that looked cool on Kickstarter, but I passed on backing it. Then it came out and it still looked cool, but I’d read a lot of comparisons to Zelda and notes on high difficulty, so I passed. Zelda’s not a series I have a lot of love for, and I’m not attracted to games that get a lot of buzz just for being difficult. However, when it got a lot of love during the Giant Bomb game of the year deliberations, I finally took it as a hint that it might be more than Hard Zelda.

The good news is that it is more than Hard Zelda. The action is much more varied and nuanced than classic Zelda. It requires taking a hit-and-run approach more often than not, and the game loves ambushes and overwhelming numbers. It’s a game where I had to be prepared for almost anything because it’d suddenly trap me behind a wall and drop a dozen enemies in the room.

A sorrowful tone permeates the game. The drifter regularly goes into (scripted) coughing fits between fights, leaving behind pools of blood. The landscapes are littered with skeletons and remains and the color palette is muted. It’s style is more Saturday morning cartoon than Warhammer 40K, but still evokes grim imagery. Combined with an amazing Disasterpeace soundtrack, it sets a perfect mood to explore the world, kill monsters, and die slowly.

Where it doesn’t really work is in the story and characters. The only written dialog is in a cypher scrawled on monoliths hidden throughout the world. The rest is conveyed through images; when you talk to anyone that has something to say, you hear sounds but see pictures of what they’re describing. It’s not always clear what the message is. There’s a short cutscene at the start, and a short one at the ending. Between those, if you find enough puzzle pieces in each of the four regions of the world, you’ll get another short cutscene. They’re not particularly revealing. As far as characters go, there’s one other character with any sort of agency. You’ll find them amid a pile of enemy bodies, and they’ll mark where the boss is on your map. Hyper Light Drifter is a lonely game by design, but it suffers from having so many NPCs around that do basically nothing. There’s more in this world, and they’re not saying anything about it.

This is a bummer because it feels like all of this sorrow should have something to say and it just doesn’t. It’s a beautiful, dark game with some fantastic gameplay, but there’s not much to the mystery. It’s only skin deep. But the challenge will get you through it, if you’re hooked by the combat loop, and it’s well worth playing for that reason. I don’t want to play a game that frustrates me, and Hyper Light Drifter nails difficult without getting too close to unfair.

2016 Games of the Year

10 – House of the Dying Sun

Some parts Battlestar Galactica mixed with some parts TIE Fighter makes a pretty good space dogfighter. Missions are short and to the point, and it’s got a real nihilistic feeling to it.

9 – Headlander

It’s a Metroidvania where you can’t jump. It’s pure 70’s sci-fi: weird, colorful, and full of lasers.

8 – Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

It expands the scope of the Call of Duty series in ways that I never expected. They could’ve called this a Halo prequel and they wouldn’t have been far off from how it feels. It also does a better job of building up actual characters than any other Call of Duty.

7 – Shadow Warrior 2

Sometimes repetitive, but I couldn’t stop enjoying it. It’s got tons of weapons and options for destroying endless hordes of demons.

6 – Rise of the Tomb Raider

This was a great followup to Tomb Raider. It expands upon that game in smart ways and it’s a fun action game.

5 – Firewatch

Calling this an outdoor Gone Home is terribly reductive, but it’s pretty close. The story kind of hand-waves away some of its problems, but it’s engrossing from beginning to end.

4 – Quadrilateral Cowboy

I love everything Blendo Games makes, and QuadCow is no exception. It’s got a great aesthetic and I love the retro command line puzzle solving.

3 – Salt and Sanctuary

I could never get into Dark Souls like I got into Salt and Sanctuary. That’s likely because S&S inherits as much from Castlevania as it does from Dark Souls. It’s a game that’s sometimes frustrating but I could never stay away for too long. There’s a huge number of enemies, and the memorable bosses will haunt your dreams until you finally vanquish them.

2 – INSIDE

LIMBO was okay. INSIDE is amazing. It’s short, but impossible to stop playing. The less said about it, the better, but I will say that it’s one of those games that keeps doing incredible things until it explodes at the very end.

1 – DOOM

I like all of the Doom games, even Doom 3, and I was skeptical that DOOM would be good. It spent a lot of time in development hell. It was all worth it. This is an amazing game that retains the feeling of the original while giving it a 2016 makeover.

Honorable mentions: Oxenfree, Asemblance, Batman – The Telltale Series

Games I probably should have liked but didn’t really grab me, so I didn’t spend much time with them: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Dishonored 2

2016 Steam Awards Nominations

For the first time, Steam has introduced some player-chosen game awards called The Steam Awards. They’ve chosen a handful of unique categories, set no release date restrictions, and cut the internet loose on it! While I’m certain this internet popularity contest will be gamed to the degree that it will surely be a disaster, I tried to give it a somewhat measured approach. I tried to stay recent and relevant in my choices, but more importantly chose things I could easily defend. That said, here are my picks for the Steam Awards nominations.

The “Test of Time” Award – Doom II – This is the oldest game I nominated, but for good reason; it best deserves this award. Doom II is a timeless classic that I enjoy going back to at least once a year. It’s one of the best games of all time.

The “I’m Not Crying, There’s Something In My Eye” award – Wolfenstein: The New Order – It’s impossible for me to discuss why I chose this game without spoiling it, but it’s absolutely deserved. I’ve said it before but The New Order doesn’t take any shortcuts. You may not go into it expecting real, interesting characters, but the game is much more than murdering Nazis (although there is a lot of murdering Nazis).

The “Just 5 More Minutes” award – Endless Legend – Endless Legend is a fantastic 4X/Civ style game that improves the genre with wildly different factions and quests that give your simple playthrough a story to tell and explore.

The “Whoooooooaaaaa, dude!” award – SOMA – Here’s another one that can’t be discussed without spoilers, but SOMA is a game with a lot of brain meat to it. It’ll give you a lot to think about humanity and consciousness.

The “Villain Most In Need Of A Hug” award – Doom (2016) – This is a fairly silly award, so I gave it a silly nomination. I guess a hug could solve the problems the antagonist of Doom has. Whatever. Doom is great.

The “Game Within A Game” award – Jazzpunk – Jazzpunk doesn’t get anywhere near enough love or respect, but it’s one of the best comedy games of all time, and it’s got a ton of funny minigames in it. Some are more fleshed out than others, but they’re mostly great.

The “I Throught This Game Was Cool Before It Won An Award” award – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Okay, so The Witcher 3 was getting awards before it was even released, but I’ve been a big supporter of this series since The Witcher and I’m glad this one is enjoying some fairly mainstream success.

The “Best Use Of A Farm Animal” award – Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – I guess this one’s a stretch, but a horse is a farm animal, MGSV has D-Horse, and D-Horse is a pretty good horse. Easily more obedient than The Witcher 3’s Roach, and you can make D-Horse poop on command and use that poop as a distraction device.

Write-in award: The “Game That Deserves A Sequel” award – Half-Life 2: Episode Two – This is the only award where I’m doing what other people on the internet are doing. We’ve gone too long without a new Half-Life. I don’t even need multiple sequels or a franchise out of it. I just want a conclusion.

Steam Summer Sale 2016: Indie Greats

On the last day of the sale, I want to call out some indie games that I’ve enjoyed that are super cheap. I love supporting indie developers because they often take more chances with their games, and the developers have more to lose personally.  I want to see them succeed and expand their scope.

  • Bastion/Transistor -75%/$3.74/$4.99 – Supergiant Games might be one of the bigger indie developers on this list, but they’re still an independent studio. Bastion and Transistor are amazing games and I’ve written a lot about them. Get both for under $8, but I also recommend you get their soundtracks. They’re absolutely music worth listening to outside of the games. http://store.steampowered.com/app/107100/ http://store.steampowered.com/app/237930/
  • Axiom Verge -40%/$11.99 – It’s hard to imagine $12 as pricey, but this one is worth it. It’s a brilliant Metroidvania, made by one person! You don’t get much more indie than that. http://store.steampowered.com/app/332200/
  • Dust: An Elysian Tail -80%/$2.99 – Another single developer game that’s extremely impressive. It’s also a Metroidvania, with a greater focus on melee combat, combos, and clean art. http://store.steampowered.com/app/236090/
  • Volume -75%/$4.99 – The second game from Bithell Games is not a followup to Thomas Was Alone, but the Metal Gear inspired Volume. I’m not good at stealth, but everything about this game works well and gives it a puzzle game feeling. http://store.steampowered.com/app/365770/

 

Steam Summer Sale 2016: FPS Highlights

Since the 2015 winter sale, Steam’s changed the way sales work. Now, the price stays the same through out the entire sale. No daily deals, no flash sales, no community sales. It’s good for consumers because there’s not as much time pressure to jump on a good deal, and you’ve got the entire sale to make your purchases. I’m here to take a moment and point out some good deals on games I really liked. I guess I have a type, because these are all FPS games. But they’re brilliant.

  • Doom -40%/$35.99 – This is the new Doom, the one that came out a little more than a month ago. It is absolutely worth this price, especially so close to release. The game is fantastic if you’re a Doom fan, a FPS fan, or just really love good action games. It’s great. http://store.steampowered.com/app/379720/
  • Dishonored: Definitive Edition -40%/$11.99 – Dishonored 2 is coming soon. It looks amazing, but it’s got to live up to Dishonored, which is one of the best stealth action games ever. Definitive Edition bundles the base game, with all of the DLC. The important parts are The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches, which add almost another whole campaign to the game. http://store.steampowered.com/sub/31292/
  • Deus Ex Collection -75%/$8.24 – You get all of the Deus Ex games for less than $9. Deus Ex: The Fall is absolutely skippable (a mobile game port), and some people hate Deus Ex: Invisible War, but Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Human Revolution are crucial cyberpunk FPS games. http://store.steampowered.com/sub/49738/
  • Metro Redux Bundle -75%/$7.49 – Both Metro games in their enhanced Redux form. These are grim, post-apocalyptic FPSes that are essentially Half-Life mixed with STALKER. http://store.steampowered.com/sub/44169/
  • BioShock Triple Pack -85%/$10.51 – This one counts as a good deal, not great. All three games are amazing and absolutely worth the price. However, they don’t include the DLC for Bioshock 2 or Bioshock Infinite. Minerva’s Den for Bioshock 2 and Burial at Sea for Bioshock Infinite are how DLC gets done right, so I recommend getting those as well. http://store.steampowered.com/bundle/572/

 

Steam Summer Sale 2016

The Steam summer sale starts tomorrow, and it’s something I look forward to every year. Summer is a great time for a video game sale because there’s usually not a lot new coming out, and we’re months past the biggest releases (November-December timeframe stuff). It’s a great time to catch up. If you’re patient, big seasonal sales are also a good time to stock up on enough games to get you through until the next big sale. Here’s what I’m looking to pick up this year.

  • The Elder Scrolls Online and Elite: Dangerous – I’m lumping these together because they’re both (sort of) MMOs. They’ve both seen enough time since release to be refined and improved, so I’m ready to see what they’ve got.
  • Brigador, Shadwen, Salt and Sanctuary – Recent indie games that I’m really interested in. They’re not likely to have huge discounts, but I’m more excited about them than I am the other three, which means almost any discount will be enough.
  • The Magic Circle, Cradle, Soul Axiom – These are indie games that haven’t had a lot of hype but got some positive buzz. They’re not likely to be games that I’ll play for months, but good weekend diversions. The one I know the least about is Soul Axiom, but it’s from the people who made Master Reboot and I really enjoyed that.
  • Subnautica and Lego Worlds – Two Minecraft-y early access games. I loved the way Subnautica looked on a Giant Bomb quick look, and something about Lego Worlds seems right even if I’ve not read a lot of positive things about it.
  • Warhammer: Endtimes – Vermintide – I bought this before, during the winter sale. It suffers from a bad graphical glitch that makes it look the rats all have wizard beards. I gave it another run during its last free weekend, but it still has that damn wizard beard glitch. I’ve got a couple friends who are really into it, but I’m having a hard time jumping in. If it’s cheap, I’ll get it.
  • Hitman, The Witness, Steamworld Heist – These are basically brand new, not likely to have deep discounts, and I’m mildly interested in them. Steamworld Heist the one that seems most like something I’d actually finish, but the other two have gotten a lot of positive press.

Review: Hacknet [2015]

Way back when, there was this cool game called Uplink. It was a hacking simulator. You bounce your connection off of hacked machines, hide your steps, steal data. It was sort of close to how real hacking works, but it was just different enough and directionless to a point that it was kind of overwhelming. It was a hard game.

Hacknet is something of an Uplink-inspired indie game. It’s terms and tools are much closer to the real world. It’s also quite a bit more straightforward. It’s paced well enough, with a mixture of contract-type hacking jobs, and some narrative missions that lead to a story conclusion. The mission objectives are clear enough that I never failed for incompletion. However, I found some missions were either offered before I had the tools to complete them, or without ever having the tools and forcing me to abort the contract to continue.

To complete missions, you have to combine your tools with your knowledge. An early mission involves a counter-hack. Someone has stolen a file. You need to get on their server, find the file, and delete it. The tools will get you into the server, but you’re on your own for finding the file. Part of it is knowing where to look, and part is knowing what you’re looking for. If you think you’ve got it right, you send a reply to the customer, and get a “contract successful” email. If you didn’t, the game will stop you from replying with a “mission incomplete” screen.

On most servers, there’s no particular danger to browsing around and screwing up. However, some will start tracing your location. If you let the trace catch you, you’re thrown into a minigame in which you have to reset your own IP address by hacking your ISP. It’s on a short timer, so you move from the intense countdown of the trace, to an even more intense countdown before you’re disconnected. It’d make for some really cool moments, if it were a little better explained the first time it happens. I didn’t have a firm grasp on what to do, so I kind of just sat there until I lost. Not great.

But the highs of the game are rather high. It’s fun to try to solve the puzzles getting into servers, doing it under the timer of the trace, and getting out. Some parts are less developed than others, and the appeal might be limited to people who have an interest in computer security, but it’s a good game for a weekend. Or a day, it really only took me 5 something hours to complete.

Ne Cede Malis