My 2013 resolution.

Time to make commitments I can’t hold up! So here’s the plan, I’m going to log every game I finish! This could be a challenge as I’ll be graduating and starting a new job and moving this year, among other obstacles to spending all of my free time playing video games. Here are my personal rules:

1. Log every game finished.
2. Every game I finish after January 1st counts, even games that I’m halfway done with because it still requires me to pick it back up.
3. Halo 4 doesn’t count. I’m very close to finishing it now. It wouldn’t be fair.

Mopping up.

I’ve got entirely too many games in my Steam account that I haven’t finished, so I’ve dedicated the last couple weeks to cleaning them up by wrapping up a few that I’d started. Trying to clean up the easy ones means linear shooters, so here’s what I think of a few of them!

Homefront could have been called Call of Duty: Red Dawn, except instead of Soviets, it’s the Koreans (primarily North Koreans) that are invading. The game goes to some lengths to try to make you hate the Koreans, typically in the same manner used in Red Dawn. Americans have been round up and put in camps! They’re executing us in groups! Mass graves! But this is the game that sank Kaos Studios, because the guns all feel the same, and the single-player game is so short. Four hours short. And I guess the multiplayer community died quick, but I don’t particularly care about that. It’s okay. C+

Transformers: War for Cybertron is a good Transformers game. Wrap your brain around that. High Moon Studios clearly cares about the franchise, and went to some lengths to include a large number of popular Transformers, as well as lesser known ones. This game is not related to the Michael Bay movies. Even if the action is a little repetitive, it’s a bold move to make a three-player coop, no cover system, third person shooter nowadays. The voice acting is fantastic, and the last couple missions are really awesome. If you like Tranformers, It’s a solid A. For everyone else, it’s a decent action game.

A lot of people hate Brink. I guess they never played Quake Wars and were expecting a multiplayer Mirror’s Edge. I, however, loved Quake Wars, so I guess I was a little surprised at the smaller focus of Brink more than anything. The movement system, which looks cooler than is actually useful, doesn’t make up for the lack of vehicles and sprawling outdoor maps, but the persistent stats help. I played the whole game solo, despite that not being the game’s strength, and there were a couple of missions where I got exceptionally frustrated at the lack of AI support. At times, it felt like the enemy team had more players, or at least better focus. Regardless, it looks good and plays pretty well (considering the complexity), even if Splash Damage can’t live up to their previous games. C

If I had noticed that Inversion was developed by Saber Interactive, the same team that TimeShift, I probably would have passed on it. When I bought it, I think I might have confused it for Hybrid, which is another cover-based third-person shooter but it’s made by 5th Cell, who made Scribblenauts. I like Scribblenauts. I think TimeShift was a big letdown. Inversion is also a letdown! Here’s Inversion: take Gears of War (literally all of it, the bad guys coming out of the ground, the cover system, the two weapon and grenades limit, the “find my ” story, buddy of Hispanic descent, everything), and add in some goofy gravity tricks. You’ve got a gun that can lower gravity and raise gravity in small areas. You pass through some zero gravity areas by moving from one chunk of environment to another. Your gravity gun can also pick up and throw stuff, like cars, which only becomes useful when you’re forced to do it to defeat a boss. The story is just as quickly vomited out at the end as it is in Gears of War. This game is Gears of War, except not as good-looking, and not as fun. D+

I still have a pile of games, even good games like Skyrim, and Darksiders 2, and Saint’s Row: The Third, but Borderlands 2 is out soon.

Binary Domain

All of the descriptions of this being a Japanese Gears of War are completely accurate. It’s a third-person cover-based shooter, with a quirk in that you can influence how much your team likes you by speaking to them using your headset. You get prompted with yes/no questions pretty often, and they like/dislike you depending on your performance in combat. Shoot a bunch of robots, they think you’re great! Shoot them, and they complain. Something I didn’t necessarily realize is that the social system affects your ending!

The game looks great. It’s super-smooth, with only a bit of slowdown when I’d have like 10 robots exploding at the same time, and that was really rare. There are a ton of boss fights, but none of them are frustrating as they all subscribe to the “shoot the blinking parts” philosophy. The controls work great with mouse and keyboard. The voice acting isn’t perfect, but your team is composed of soldiers from different nations. Some of the accents are bad, and some are passable, but what thrilled me is that the Japanese police, who would have no business casually speaking English to each other, actually speak Japanese with subtitles! That tiny attention to detail means a lot to me. When Return to Castle Wolfenstein came out and all the Germans spoke English with German accents, I was totally disappointed.

The story is well written. It’s a nice sci-fi, what makes a man yarn. It has a pretty lighthearted tack to it, without being completely cartoonish. It’s more like a good action movie that occasionally asks serious questions. It sets up a sequel, which I’m looking forward to, but I don’t think we’ll see. I don’t think Binary Domain sold all that well, and it’s a serious departure for its creator who previously made all the Yakuza games. I never played any of them, but they have a rather dedicated following.

Next time Binary Domain goes on sale somewhere (I got it from Amazon, Steam-redeemable), you should get it. Don’t be completely turned off by the B grade cover art. It definitely exceeded my expectations.

PC Ports

I’ve been hopping around from game to game out of boredom, and playing some games has given me a serious appreciation for good PC ports. Not every PC game was designed particularly for the PC platform. When porting a game from console to PC goes bad, it shows. Sometimes it’s even hard to distinguish between whether a game was made for PC first, then ported to consoles, or the other way around. Here’s what I think about a few cross-platform games in relation to how well they work on PCs.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus Ex is a monolithic example of prime PC gaming. It got a PS2 port but that was well after the PC release and clearly a PC-to-console port. The sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War, however, was a console game first, and it shows. On PC, the game was hindered by the limitations of consoles at the time, and it suffered for those limitations. Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a cross-platform release, but it doesn’t feel like it. This is a game that does cross-platform right. It feels like a PC game. It works perfect with mouse and keyboard. It has a ton of gameplay options that cater to grognards who don’t need handholding. It looks amazing and takes advantage of PC graphical power. It almost makes up for Invisible War.

Dragon Age: Origins

Here’s another game that was cross-platform, but you’d never know it playing the game. DA:O feels so mouse-and-keyboard driven that I have a hard time wrapping my head around why anyone would want to play this with a controller. It’s dense on text, and inventory management, and party control. How it accomplishes those tasks efficiently on consoles, I will probably never know.

Portal 2

Portal 2 is an interesting case. The first Portal game was cross-platform, but it was pretty clearly a PC game ported to consoles with some puzzles requiring some pretty precise portal placement and timing. But it was also part of the Orange Box, which included two other major PC titles, and it was the one that prompted probably the fewest expectations. Portal 2 plays great on PC, and I would not say it was a console title, but the maps, though highly detailed, are typically small in size and the puzzles in Portal 2, in general, require less precision and have more forgiving timing than those in Portal. Portal 2 was going to be a signature game combining PS3 and PC players until the PSN hack mostly blew those plans to hell, and I think that level of attention to console gamers affected the creation of Portal 2.

Any game that came out on XBLA before PC

XBLA ports on PC are so freaking obvious. XBLA has certain requirements. Leaderboards, How to play screen, achievements, demo. Most of these come along with the PC port, whether they make sense or not. XBLA ports have perfect controller support, but mouse-and-keyboard support can be lacking sometimes. They typically map the controller buttons to the keyboard and replace the button graphics with keyboard letter graphics and that’s it. You can count on XBLA ports not to take particular advantage of PC hardware.

Assassin’s Creed

Assassin’s Creed on PC looks so good, it’s almost easy to overlook its serious flaws as a PC port. Controls are particularly weird on mouse-and-keyboard because it was made to be played with a controller. Most actions utilize holding a trigger and pressing a face button, which doesn’t translate well to keyboard and mouse. It usually ends up as a game of finger Twister. And when you want to quit Assassin’s Creed? On console, you’d probably just shut off the console, or escape to the dashboard. On PC, you have to back out of the game, back out of the save menu, then back out of the main menu. There is a fair amount of loading time between those menus, which makes it worse. You’re better off just pressing alt-F4 to quit out.

That’s all I have. Consoles and PCs have a weird relationship. I think PC gaming is on a good upswing, but that will probably only last until the next generation of consoles come out. Console ports of PC games have a similar history of spottiness and butchery, but the 360 just got a fantastic port of The Witcher 2. I think good console ports of PC games are about as rare as good PC ports.

Assassin’s Creed

Why Assassin’s Creed is Awesome

  • The process of investigating a target leads to some interesting options. You have to do at least half of the investigations, but doing all of them give you a clearer picture of how you should go about killing the dude you’re supposed to kill.
  • The Middle East crusades setting is a nice change from the typical game setting. Despite being in the Middle East, it’s actually less brown than some other games!
  • The game is really beautiful. Climbing to the tops of tall buildings is required as a gameplay mechanic but it’s also an amazing view.
  • I like that the bulk of gameplay is (in the game) a guy basically playing a video game. It’s a sci-fi premise in a historical fiction setting!
  • There’s a fair amount of non-english spoken dialog, even if all the non-background dialog is in poorly accented english.

Why Assassin’s Creed Fucking Sucks

  • The sword fighting is god awful. There are essentially two options: mash the attack button and hope you win, or hold the block and wait until each attacker takes a swing so you can counter it. And sometimes the counters don’t result in a kill, so you have to do it again.
  • This game is so, so, so repetitive. To complete those investigations, you have to find informants. To find informants, you have to either search every corner of a large city or climb specific tall buildings. Even then, most of the objectives are saving citizens, which involves sword fighting between three and five soldiers. Saving people gives more options to help escape soldiers, which becomes important post-assassination when you’re trying to escape.
  • Some of the actual investigations tasks suck. Stealth archer assassinations are awful because if you fail one, you have to start all over. Escorts, like all escort missions, suck because it’s just more sword fighting spread out into four or five small fights.
  • Beggars, drunks, and crazy. They’re people in the streets who are there to be obstacles. Did you know a slight female beggar can stop a deadly assassin from walking past her entirely? Me neither! And forget about getting past two or three crazies in an alley. because they just push you into each other. It’s awful. And if you punch them to get them out of the way, the city guard takes offense and then it’s time for more sword fighting!
  • The final sequence of events is a series of sword fights. But by that time I’d spent so much time sword fighting that it really just ate up my time as I waited to counter attack 20 separate attackers three or four times in a row.
  • The “real world” ending is really underwhelming. It’s like they just stopped the game right where it was without a lot of resolution.

Games For Windows Live sucks

There is no way I can put it any better; Games For Windows Live (GFWL) is awful. Not only is it cumbersome, especially when combined with other forms of DRM such as those built into Steam, but it openly punishes gamers who most want to use Microsoft products.

Way back when, my first encounter with GFWL was Fallout 3. At first, I thought it was pretty cool that I could play Fallout 3 on my PC and get achievements in it that were reflected in my Xbox Live account. I don’t recall having any problems with using my Xbox while playing Fallout 3, so I didn’t get why so many other people had complaints about GFWL. It was just one more login to get it started, what’s the big deal?

Not too long ago, I bought the Game of the Year edition of Fallout 3 through Steam so I could play through all the DLC that I missed. I wasn’t thrilled to find out that even the Steam version had GFWL, but that didn’t immediately make me regret buying it. Since then I’ve gotten Fallout: New Vegas, which uses Steamworks, which provides the achievements and the ability to buy DLC through Steam.

I’ve played through Fallout: New Vegas and purchased all the DLC separate from my initial purchase, and never had a single problem. Throughout almost the entire game, I’ve watched TV shows and movies through Netflix on my xbox 360, which requires me to login to my Xbox Live account because an Xbox Live gold account is required to use Netflix.

Now I want to go back to Fallout 3 and play through it again, except when I start the game, it logs into my Xbox Live account and promptly disconnects from my xbox. GFWL and Xbox Live will not allow me to be logged into both services at the same time on the same account, despite the fact that I’m doing entirely different functions on two different devices.

I want to play Fallout 3 on my PC, and watch Netflix (which requires its own login and account, with its own costs!) on my Xbox 360. Because of Microsoft’s policies, I cannot do both without some inconvenience, being either having to re-login every time I finish an episode of a TV show or movie, or risk having achievements malfunction and not being able to use the DLC that I want to play in Fallout 3.

Because of these hassles, I can barely muster the enthusiasm to play Fallout 3. During my vacation, I sank over 40 hours into Fallout: New Vegas and watched an unholy amount of Netflix because the DRM and copy controls were not preventing me, the legitimate, paying consumer, from using those products which I’ve paid for. The other side of that is Fallout 3, where the DRM is actively working against me to prevent me from using both products at the same time.

These frustrations are what drive so many others to video game and movie/TV piracy. If I were downloading movies and TV shows illegally, I could watch as much as I want while being logged into GFWL because watching local media on an Xbox 360 does not need an Xbox Live gold account. Similarly, if I were playing a pirated, cracked copy of Fallout 3, I’d at least be able to play the game while being logged into Xbox Live because the cracked copy would bypass GFWL.

This doesn’t just affect Fallout 3. I have Section 8: Prejudice, which also uses GFWL, which I also can’t muster any enthusiasm to play. Section 8: Prejudice is also mostly a multiplayer game which takes advantage of GFWL matchmaking services. There is no logging in, logging out, logging in like sometimes works out in Fallout 3. It’s either GFWL or Xbox Live but never both. With these kind of irritations, it affects the community of a game. If it’s a hassle to play Section 8: Prejudice because of GFWL, it’s easier just to play one of the bazillion other multiplayer action games on PC that don’t need GFWL.

DRM only punishes legitimate, paying customers. It’s not a hassle for people who illegally download and pirate games and movies. Games For Windows Live is particularly bad because it doesn’t just affect one product, it affects multiple products across multiple platforms. I will be more wary in the future not to buy games that use Games For Windows Live because it sucks.

Clive Barker’s Jericho is not Clive Barker’s Undying

I have a lot of love for Clive Barker’s Undying. It oozed Clive Barker from beginning to end. It was a colorful, imaginative, and well-made first person shooter. Jericho is basically the polar opposite of Undying.

The premise of Jericho is that you play a member of a team of witches, warlocks, priests, and other occult figures sent to investigate an opening hole in the middle east. A bad guy is trying to open a breach to release The Firstborn, the thing the Christian god created before he created mankind. The team jumps back through times in which others have tried to unleash The Firstborn and so goes from modern times, to World War 2, to the crusades, to ancient Rome, to Sumeria.

So your guy dies early on, but he can possess the other members of the team, which gives the game its strongest hook. You can freely jump from team member to team member, each with unique weaponry and special abilities. The weapons all sound and perform really weakly. It takes a full magazine to kill the most basic enemies and it sounds you’re firing a rapid-fire BB gun. They all lack power. Of the special abilities, only a couple are worth using. There’s one that lets you shoot a guided sniper bullet, which will kill three enemies in one shot, and another that shoots a fire demon that automatically hits enemies and sets them on fire.

The design also suffers. No matter what time period you’re in, the game’s color palette has three colors: black, brown, and red. The enemies lack imagination in their design. Take a body, wrap it some straps, put a bag on its head, and color it brown and black. Ta da! And they all just run at you until you’ve put enough bullets in them to put them down.

The ending, like the rest of the game, is a complete disappoint. Spoiler alert, that childlike figure that has led you toward The Firstborn is The Firstborn. The Firstborn is a glowing green toddler. Like the previous bosses, it takes a little use of your special powers to beat The Firstborn, and then the game very suddenly ends. No epilogue, no resolution.

I don’t know what to say. I’ve tried really hard to like Jericho but it just doesn’t measure up to Undying. Supposedly a sequel is in the works. Hopefully it’ll fare a little better.

Deep Fry Everything

Last night we got together at Jim and Andria’s and had a “deep fry everything” party. It was at least twice as amazing as it sounds. Katie made a batter and we just kind of ran with it. We deep-fried avocados, which were pretty amazing. We stuffed some jalapenos with Daiya, but I didn’t get to a hold of one of those. We also deep-fried some of the standards, round tater things, onion rings, tofu (which fried better without the batter), and sweet potato fries. We had grand plans to make things before deep-frying them, like taquitos, but we just kind of went nuts with the deep fry everything instead.

Then we played a whole pile of Rock Band 3. After moving all of our songs onto one hard drive, it turned out that Katie and I had a total of 358 songs. That’s with all of our Rock Band 1, 2, and 3 songs, but that’s an unholy amount of songs. The plus side is that there was a little bit of something for pretty much everyone. The down side is “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”.

Ne Cede Malis