bluegargantua: (Default)
Hey,

It's been a while since I last wrote. Part of it was that Assassin's Creed 3 was so bad I didn't want to keep up with the series (although I heard good things about the pirate-assassin installment that followed) and then I just sorta stopped playing video games.

Over Christmas, I picked up a new Xbox One (because I'm a console scrub who has brand loyalty) and I've been playing through a few games.

First up, is Forza Horizon 3, an open-world, arcade driving game like Burnout Paradise City or Burnout: Most Wanted. The game is set in "Australia" and you go bombing around rain forest, beaches, farmland, outback, and urban centers. You unlock new cars and new events and just try to go fast and look good doing it. I really like it. The controls are responsive, and the physics are pretty good. I will say that, being Australia, there's a lot of off-roading so while the Lamborghinis and Ferraris are beautiful, they lose that luster once you get off the road. So my car of choice has been a Subaru WRX 05 rally car that handles highways and dirt roads no sweat. It's a solid game and I've been enjoying it.

Next, I gave Far Cry 4 a try. I really enjoyed Far Cry 3 and I was curious to give it another spin. So, often the series has a bit of the old "white guy saves native people" problem, although it does put twists and spins on it that helps it avoid a lot of this trope's issues. This time, you are Ajay, a refugee from the Nepal-like country of Kyrat. So although a bit of an outsider, you are actually a member of the ethnic group you're trying to save. Of course, you never really see your face and you wear gloves so it's not like your confronted by that visually very often but still.

Anyway, you're here to scatter your mom's ashes but then you get pulled into the civil war that caused you to flee in the first place. So you run around, kill bad guys, get near-supernatural powers to hunt down bad guys, and kill lots of endangered creatures so you make a bigger bag to store your ammo in. You liberate towns, forts, and radio towers. You take on various missions and eventually you reach the end only to realize it was all a huge waste.

See, the rebels have two rival commanders who have different approaches to waging war. You, as the son of the former rebel head, are used as a political football to help one or the other reach the top. So you'll get a mission where each rebel leader wants you to do something different. Despite the fact that you are the long-lost golden child of a fondly remembered rebel leader and despite the fact that you actually get stuff done, you can't become the actual head of the rebellion, nor can you try and work out a compromise between the conflicting things the rebel leaders want you to do. In the end, no matter who you back, you feel like you've just made things worse somehow. Which, actually, is something I kind of like about this series -- interventions may not always produce successful outcomes.

So the game is fun, but it gets a bit tedious and given your complete inability to actually affect any positive change, I mostly just pushed through to the end of the story and then dumped it.

What replaced it is why I'm writing to the Master of Assassins. I didn't pick up a new Assassin's Creed game, instead I picked up Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.

Um...this game is awesome.

So you play Talion, a ranger who works at the Black Gate protecting Gondor and watching over Mordor lest evil returns. Then...evil returns and kills everyone, including your wife and son. You, however, are fused with the spirit of an ancient elf and return to get revenge on the forces of Sauron.

You start off with a sneak attack and that's about it. Even two or three orcs will quickly overwhelm you. But as time goes on you gain more skills, your weapons (sword, bow and dagger) get runes that you can use to swap in and out various bonuses or powers. Eventually, you just wade into dozens of orcs and just straight-up wreck them. Even better, you eventually gain the power magically brand the orcs and put them under your control. So you sneak around, brand a bunch of mooks and then turn them against their boss.

The coolest part of this game, however, is the orcish chain of command. You've got your mooks and then your captains, verterans, chiefs and warchiefs. All of these guys have special powers and weaknesses and you don't know what they are until you track down and interrogate special "informant orcs". You can pick them off without researching them, but it helps to know more about them.

All well and good, but the brilliant bit comes when you kill one of these ranking orcs. See, when you do that, there's now this hole in the chain of command. Eventually, some lower-ranking orc will be promoted to fill his place. On top of that, if you get killed by some random mook (and it will happen), that mook will get promoted to captain and gain a name and special powers. And if a ranking guy kills you they often get stronger gaining new powers.

So you get killed by a mook and they become a captain. You go after him, but he kills you a second time, getting stronger. Let me tell you, you get real invested in killing this guy after a while. On top of that, ranking orcs have power struggles so the chain of command can change without you doing anything. On top of that if you mind-control an orc, you can help him rise through the ranks. To take out some of the later high-ranking warchiefs, I mind-controlled his lower-ranking bodyguard and had them turn against him. The overall effect is to create this dynamic environment of targets to go after and you feel like your actions are really making a difference.

Just a really solid game and I highly recommend it.

So no Templars, no business dealings, no bevy of beauties to strike down targets, but probably the best assassin's creed game I've played in a while.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (default)
Hi,

So recently I finished up a couple of games that were both pretty good. What made them good wasn't the gameplay itself so much but the story you were playing through and the chances that both games took.

The first was Spec Ops: The Line. This plays pretty much like any standard third-person shooter. You play as the leader of a three-man team of Delta Force operators. Your job is to go into Dubai (which had been buried in a massive sandstorm) to make contact with an American Army regiment that stayed behind to try and evacuate survivors and hasn't been heard from in months. Soon enough, you discover that soldiers and civilians are in a complex fight in the sand-choked city.

The game makes no excuses that it's cribbing from Heart of Darkness and so things get confused and very dark as you go along. By the end, the game is dragging the character over the coals of madness and despair in a pretty compelling way. It's not ham-handed, it's effective at putting a set of bad choices in front of you and then pitilessly making you regret/second-guess them. You know how many games have little game hints during the loading screen like "press A to sprint" or "flashbangs stun enemies"? The game starts off with those, but as the game progresses it slowly switches to plot points and then to accusatory statements about what's going on.

At the very end, you're confronted with some stark choices that seriously affect the ending you get. Luckily, the game makes it easy for you to go back and re-load the endgame so you can test them all out. All the choices seem to matter and a "right" choice is probably a matter of opinion.

The only thing that I might fault the game with is that there are a number of either/or choices in the game. You can choose to do A or B and that has minor impacts on the rest of the game. However, at the end, you are mercilessly flogged for one really big decision you made -- except there was no A/B choice at that point. In fact, at that point in the game, an NPC asks for options and your guy says "there's no other option here". You literally can't progress in the game unless you do what you're supposed to do. So to get yelled at about it later pushed me out of character. I feel like there was at least one other option that the game could've offered you at several points and had you accepted, the game would've been much different (and shorter) but richer.

Anyway, it's a tour de force in games as storytelling, but once you try out the various endings it has almost no replay value since why would you go through all that again?

The other thing I played through was Brothers: A Tale of Sons. This is a simple story about two brothers who go on a quest to find medicine for their sick father. You control each brother with one of the two joysticks on your controller and the associated trigger button causes a given brother to perform some context-sensitive action. So brother A goes to the base of a wall and sets up and brother B comes along and vaults off of A up onto a higher ledge.

There's been some criticism about how dual characters on dual sticks can be hard to control and it can be. I tried to keep each brother on the side of the screen associated with the stick that controls them and that helps a bit, but there were a couple of scenes that got very confused when the brothers ran all over the place. Still, the game has a lot of lush scenery and fun, if not terribly difficult, puzzles to work out.

The game does a very good job of getting you emotionally invested in these two characters and you don't really notice that too much until the end of the game where they face some challenges that put them in danger and separate them from one another. I don't want to say too much because it's worth your time to play through. I will say that this game does the whole "Hero's Journey" deal better than most major fantasy titles. The only real issue I had with the game is that the two major female characters either go into the fridge or put you there. Irksome. Still...that ending is powerful and goes to a very different place than most games of it's ilk.

Mercifully, Saints Row 4 drops next week and I can get back to what games are really for -- mindlessly slaughtering cartoon people and pimping out my action figure PC in the latest latex gear and high-tech firepower.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (default)
Hey,

Oh LJ, I'm falling down on posting to you. Let's put that to rights, shall we? Herein I talk about the various media I've consumed over the last fortnight.

Movies


I've seen two. First was The Painting (their website is down at the moment). This is an animated French film dubbed into English. It's really quite good, sort of an artistic Toy Story. You have this painting done up in this colorful, slightly abstracted style wherein live the All-Dones, the Half-Dones and the Sketches. The Painter has been away for some time and the All-Dones figure he's never coming back and wouldn't now be a good time to rid themselves of the incomplete people in their picture. One of the All-Dones, Ramo, is in love with a Half-Done. He, along with Half-Done Lola and a Sketch named Plume find their way out of the painting and into the artist's studio where they move from painting to painting trying to track down their creator and get some help.

It was a fun little movie. There was a fairly dense amount of story going on for an animated film and the style was a refreshing change of pace from Pixar-like precision. Sadly it's not playing locally anymore but it's worth hunting around for.

This past week I saw Furious 6, the latest installment in the Vin Diesel franchise. It's trying hard to draw the threads of it's previous movies together to create a sort of Fast and Furious-verse where punk street racers are the world's most successful thieves. It's not high art, but this movie knows exactly what it wants to be and it's exactly what it wants to be as hard as it can. So I call this a pretty good movie.

How good is this movie? Normally, if a film makes me go "wait a minute, how is X even possible?" that's the sign of a bad movie. I should be so engrossed in the film that the flaws don't hit me until afterward. In this movie, there is a huge problem with the final set piece of the film and I couldn't stop thinking about it...and I just didn't care. Fast cars, punch ups, heists, the movie just piles it all on like a Thanksgiving dinner of action movie. Oh, and the main bad guy doesn't rely on being captured by the good guys to show off how smart he is/complete his fiendish design. Sure, his plan has a lot of terrible flaws, but at least being captured isn't a vital part of it.

Video Games


I've been playing way too much Borderlands 2. I don't know why I like this stupid game so much. Kill things, take their stuff, level up so you can kill tougher things and take their better stuff -- ok, so maybe it's self-evident why I like this game so much. But exploring the different character types means I'm playing through the same content again and again....and then I'm playing through it again on super-hard mode to level up my guys and gain funky new powers.

There's been a bunch of DLC, but the new gameplay content gets blown through very quickly. There's one final DLC to drop and it involves one of my favorite NPCs so I'm back at the grind, but seriously.

Board Games


There was a game called Glory to Rome that had a reputation as a fantastic game with terrible artwork. There was a kickstarter to produce a new version with better art that I backed. This turned into a minor shit-storm as the guys running the kickstarter were swamped by their success and poor post-funding management. The kickstarter ended in August 2011, they announced a Christmas delivery and I think I got my copy in Oct/Nov of 2012. There were failures but I think it was compounded by backers who expected too much from a kickstarter and made the whole thing worse.

Anyway, I got my copy and I got to play it last week. Glory to Rome is a card game where you try score victory points through completing buildings, stashing away valuable materials and a few other ways. Each card can be used as a building, an action, a raw material, or victory points depending on when you play it and where you play it from. There's a lot to take in. My poor girlfriend was hopelessly confused (we were playing in a high-distraction zone).

Her trouble with the rules did not stop her from beating me. I came in dead last in a four player game. There are a lot of things you can do and many paths to victory. I got caught up in building buildings so I built buildings that gave me advantages to building more buildings. But I wasn't stocking my vault with VPs so by the time my build-all-the-buildings strategy started to kick in the game was over and I had nothing.

I'm totally ready to get in a few more rounds of this.

Books


My usual stomping ground.

I did not finish The Age of Scorpio by Gavin Smith. It had a lot of promise from the blurb and I ordered it from the UK and...it was a letdown. I was expecting sci-fi, but I got sci-fi, fantasy Celtic, modern-day occultish-si-fi in three interleaving stories that left me cold after a few chapters.

So then it was on to Love Among the Particles by Norman Lock. This is a collection of Mr. Lock's short stories and the first few were much stronger than the end. Early stories about an interview with Mr. Hyde or a mummy travelling to New York to consult on the film of his life are quite good. After that, the stories get kind of same-y. In particular, the titular story could replace several others since it all covers the same ground.

After that it was time for Hello America by J. G. Ballard. The novel is set in the future after the energy crisis of the 70's never got any better as world oil ran out. American's fled their country to re-settle in European enclaves. A dam built over the Bearing Strait changed ocean currents and turned everything east of the Rockies into desert and everything west into rainforest.

The book follows a small expedition that sets out to investigate unusual seismic and radiological signals coming from the continent. It's supposed to be a quick look around before returning home but the exploration team is made up of American descendants and all of them have their own dreams for the New World.

So yeah, the book has a lot of problems on a factual point of view, but it's not that kind of book and as the Great American Wastelands test the members of the team (in particular, a stowaway named Wayne), it's a look at what drove Americans in the past and even today (accounting for the fact that the book is almost 30-years old). A fun read.

Oh, and I also read through Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley. This is an autobiographical comic about Ms. Knisley and her relationship to food and her family. She was raised by foodies in a family of foodies and that has shaped a lot of her experiences. She's far from being snotty about her food (indeed she really loves junk food -- partially because it pissed off her parents and mostly because it's tasty) and covers a lot of ground through the lens of food.

She also includes wonderfully illustrated recipes for the foods she loves from pickles to fried mushrooms to sushi to shepherd's pie. Each recipe gets a 2-4 page spread and they're all very enticing. Indeed my girlfriend made the fried mushrooms and they came out astonishing well. I'd kind of like to see her do a whole cookbook this way.

So...yeah, that's what I've been consuming lately. The little dudes are coming along as well. Actually, it's the little buildings in this case. Hopefully there will be a post (sooner than a fortnight from now) where I can show off what I've been putting together.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (default)
...who is no longer me, Ezio Auditore...because I'm no longer Ezio Auditore.

Now, my name is Ratonhnhake:ton.

Yeah.

So my trainer just calls me Connor and that's what I tell the folks in Boston town.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure that Ezio had a lot more fun than I'm having. This game just doesn't have any flow. Often I'll have a lengthy cut-scene at the start of a mission. Then I have to move five feet and go through another cut-scene to actually start the mission. The streets of Boston just aren't as good for rooftop parkour the way Rome or Constantinople were so I'm mostly hoofing it -- and not with a horse because the street layout isn't well-suited for fast movement via horse (something that will plague this city for eternity).

There's an arboreal tree-jumping system that seems cool, but you have no idea exactly where you're going and it's not always clear which direction you can proceed in so you wind up jumping out of the tree and then you're stuck walking again. And while you're in the woods you can get jumped by bears or wolves or whatnot and that triggers a quick-time event so...yeah.

I don't have much choice in recruits so no squad of lady assassins this time around. There's a lock-picking mechanic that appears to be broken until you figure out that what you thought was a visual cue on how well you're doing is actually a timer and if you don't succeed before it runs out you have to start over. In fact, most of the new features and mechanics are poorly explained and the in-game "manual" is laughable.

In the good old days, Ezio would buy a local business and it'd start making money for him on a regular basis -- you didn't have to think about it. Here I have to manage this small colony. So I have people who produce raw materials and some artisans who build up finished products. Then I have to ship the goods to sell them at various locations. It's possible for my caravans to get jumped which means I have to run all over New England to locate the caravan and rescue it. Right now, my caravan has three slots. Each can only hold one type of good and they only hold one unit of it. This means that while I could sell milk and eggs, I don't because 3 units of beaver pelts beats anything else I can produce now.

Look, I'm an assassin. My job is to kill people and be a bad-ass. I'm not here to help speed the process of my people's displacement from their ancestral lands...except that's exactly what I'm doing.

I do enjoy the new ship combat mechanic. The change of venue is nice even if it's been poorly done. I'm still super-interested in Modern-Day Desmond's story and that's pretty much why I'm pushing on through this game, but they really fell down on this particular go-round.

In for a penny, in for a pound
Connor
bluegargantua: (default)
Hey,

So you know how in the Street Fighter video games they had that bonus stage where you demolished a car with your bare hands (Unless was is Zangief! Zangief wreck car with BEAR HANDS!).

Yeah, that's a lot harder than it looks. Today on my luchtime walk I was walking between two parked cars and swung my hand out just a little too far.

OW!

I'm fine, I'm pretty sure I didn't break anything, but I'm going to have a shiner on the back of my hand. (I gave it ice and Ibuprofen so it looks a lot better now).

I realize I wasn't focusing my chi nor doing a stand-off attack with a sonic boom, but still...ouch!

So yeah, not going to go into international, underground street fighting any time soon.
Tom
bluegargantua: (Default)
Hey,

So I recently finished up Sleeping Dogs for the XBox. It's a semi-open sandbox world where you run around a Hong Kong analog. You're an undercover cop infiltrating one of the Triads and you have to balance your responsibilities to the law vs. not getting your cover blown. It's trying hard to evoke Hong Kong action flicks and it does a pretty good job.

There is slow-mo bullet time action, but alas, no doves fly up when you do it.

Not that there's a lot of gun play. This is Hong Kong and so you beat the crap out of people. There are also some sweet environmental effects so you can slap a guy with a fish or drop kick them into a telephone booth and then beat them down with the receiver. It's a bit like a cross between Grand Theft Auto and Batman: Arkham City in that you can run around and do everything but the rocket launchers are replaced with martial arts combos.

It was fun and in the summer doldrums I'll take a fun video game but it had a couple of problems.

  • While you could enter slow-mo bullet time, I had a lot of trouble getting it to trigger, so I'd go sliding out into the open to get my clock cleaned.
  • The driving leans to the realistic end of the spectrum (well, I can leap from car to car and take them over, but it's the driving physics I'm talking about here). The problem is that I want to hit the emergency brake and go sliding around a sharp turn all Tokyo Drift style, but I pop the brake, the car slews to the side and then just stops. It's very hard to slalom through the streets.
  • When you're on a mission you get docked Police XP for doing bad things -- killing innocents, stealing, and property damage. Lot of high speed chases in this game and even just driving to a mission checkpoint you can ding a fender or loose barrier and start losing points. The problem is that when you aren't in mission mode, these don't apply so you often forget when you start a new mission and then your police score gets ruined from the outset when you take the fast lane across the island to your next location.
  • The dating mini-games are pretty terrible. You go on one date and then never see the girl again.
  • There are karaoke mini-games. Ugh.
  • The ending is 80% you being a bad-ass but 140% someone else handing you a resolution. You basically beat up a lot of people so someone else can solve your case for you. Bit of a letdown.

I'm mostly quibbling though, like I say it was a great game for mid-August when nothing is out, but once the fall sets in you'll have much better options.

* * * * *


On to comic books -- sometimes people will recommend stuff and I'll look at the artwork and go "meh" and never bother. Then I pick it up and it's like "hold up, let me get on the bandwagon!". Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was like that and now we can add Finder to that list. The first volume in the Finder Library was on sale for cheap the other day so I picked it up and devoured it.

Finder is a weird mix of sci-fi and fantasy and usually that's the kiss of death for me, but here Carla Speed McNeil does an amazing job of bundling it all together. It seems to be set in the far future where most people live in domed cities made from ancient technologies no one understands but what they do understand lets them live a pretty comfortable life. Almost everyone belongs to a clan of some kind and if you're a member of a clan you tend to strongly resemble others from your clan...which might be a neat trick letting the artist get away with drawing fewer people.

The book mostly revolves around Jaeger Ayers who occupies a pretty low rung on the ladder of society. He's a mixed-clan member of a nomadic clan and he took on the role of a sin-eater within that clan. But first and foremost, he's a Finder -- a scout, a thief, a tracker and general problem-solver. He works with a mix of practical and mystical tools to change things. Hopefully for the better, but even he admits he can't be sure. The bulk of this first collection is about Jaeger trying to resolve the complicated relationships between his former army commander (who went nuts) and his wife and children (who constitute the closest thing to a family Jaeger's ever had). It's a tangled plot that teases itself out in strands here and there until it starts weaving back together into a climax.

I really enjoyed it. I'm still not a huge fan of the artwork, but it's not the worst I've ever seen and the story really makes up for it. So yeah, go grab Finder it's aces.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (Default)
Hey,

So there's this indie game out called Artemis. The pitch is that you're the crew of a starship and you boldly go, etc.

The twist is that you play on a team of six people. All of you really are the crew and one guy sits in the middle and acts as captain. It's a high-tech Star Trek LARP (or Red Alert, the LARP).

I kinda desperately want to play this. Preferably with someone who has a projector so the captain's "main screen" really is. The game is $40, but that includes a license for the six computers you need to play and I'd totally spring for it.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (Default)
Hey,

Awesome news!

"Sega has confirmed that an "upgraded HD version" of Jet Set Radio (known as Jet Grind Radio in North America) will be coming to PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, and Windows PC digital download this summer."

I hope that Jet Set Radio Future will be quick to follow.

Yay!
Tom
bluegargantua: (Default)
Who is, of course, me, Ezio Auditore.

Today I'm writing from lovely Constantinople (not Istanbul). The Ottomans seem to be a pretty nice bunch of guys. I'm here because I wanted to find out some ancient Assassin secrets, but first I had to find a bunch of magical doo-hickeys that Marco Polo's dad hid around the city.

I'd say I'm getting too old for this shit, but frankly, I still really enjoy being a bad-ass. Constantinople is pretty much just like Rome. I've got to deal with various Templar plots. Run around and revive the local economy to get some money flowing my way. Recruit a bevy of beauties to act as my Assassin agents and send them all over Europe. It's pretty much everything I've been doing for years and years now, but, as I say, it's fun to be a bad-ass.

They do have two new things here in Constantinople. The first is that if I don't bribe the Heralds to shut up about what a menace I am, eventually the Templars will try and retake areas I've already cleared out. When that happens, the local custom is for me to stand on a rooftop and position minions to take out wave after wave of invaders until they either break through or break off. The locals call it a "Tower Defense Mini-Game" and I call it a huge waste of time and no fun at all. So I keep my heralds well and truly bribed.

The second new thing is that their Assassin blades have hooks on them which mean that the various ropes strung up around town can be used as zip-lines. Zip lines are *awesome*! I'm cruising all over town like some sort of giant man-bat. And dropping down on some fool from the line is fun too.

Oh, I guess the Assassins here are really big on various bombs. You get everything from fragmentation grenades, to bombs that splash everyone with blood to make them freak out. Honestly, I never used them all that much. It was always easier to just whistle up a horde of minions to take people out.

Anyway, I'm bouncing around town and just cleaning house. I pretty much outclass everyone I've come up against and there's only been a few times (like that Tower Defense thing) where it was really hard or frustrating. So I figure I'll get this all wrapped up real soon, open up Altair's tomb to find his secrets and enjoy a nice comfortable retirement. Oh, and I may have more chats with some genetic descendant of mine.

I am the greatest
Ezio

p.s. The game is definitely more of the same, but it's been fun and this really seems to be the end of the "past" and the next arc of games will be on Desmond and the "present".
bluegargantua: (Default)
Friends,

Do you love tile word games like Scrabble or Bananagrams? Do you like shifty/slide-y games like Bejeweled? Do you own an iPhone or iPad?

Then friends, for the love of god, don't buy W.E.L.D.E.R. because it will suck away all your free time like a black hole.

You get a field of letter tiles, swap them around to make words of 4-letters or more, score points, more tiles drop in, do it all over again. The catch is that you have a limited number of swaps and only get more by scoring lots of points. As the levels get higher, you get fewer swaps, less useful letters and a larger quota. This is offset by bonus score tiles and special power swaps to help you keep up.

You open it up thinking you'll just do a couple of words and when you look up an hour has gone by. Seriously dangerous and a heck of a lot of fun.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (Default)
Hey,

So this Fall has seen a bumper crop of video games and I've been playing them. Here's what I've been playing and what I thought of them:

Gears of War 3 )

Batman: Arkham City )

Saint's Row: The Third )

Battlefield 3 )

So that's what I've been playing lately. You'll notice that Skyrim isn't on the list. Not my cup of tea, although I see it's been consuming the souls of a lot of you out there.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (Default)
Hey,

So here's a couple other things I've been goofing around with.

First up, the Summer Issue of Lapham's Quarterly is out. The theme this issue is Food. How we get it, how we consume it, how we relate to it and everything in between.

As always there's a wide range of interesting voices discoursing on the topic from a variety of times and places. Unfortunately, the topic as a whole doesn't grab me as much as some of the previous entries have. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love food, but it just wasn't a thriller for me this time around.

Perhaps that's because a number of pieces were things I'd already read. Consider the Lobster, The Botany of Desire, To Kill A Mockingbird and a few others made their way into the volume (as well they should) and so perhaps because not every single thing was new might have contributed to my less-than-enthusiastic reception. But, there's still a good selection of stuff and foodie friends might find it very endearing.

Next, from high culture to high-tech bang-bang. The video game company Pandemic made Mercenaries which I really enjoyed. Then they made Mercenaries 2, which I thought was really weak. Finally, they made the game Saboteur and promptly were disbanded by EA. So a few weeks ago, I picked up Pandemic's Swan Song and took it for a spin.

You play Sean, an Irish race car driver trapped in Paris at the start of WWII, you join the Resistance and promptly start setting explosive charges on everything with a swastika. The game has it's issues, but I've been having quite a bit of fun. Mostly because this game feels very much like Assassin's Creed Brotherhood but it was made two years earlier and set 500 years later than AC:B.

Seriously, you've got this city where you run around, blow up Nazi stuff, assassinate Nazi leaders, free up sections of the City one at a time, organize the Resistance and clamber all over famous Paris monuments to get a better angle on the guy you're going to peg next. You can run around and steal cars and tanks so it's got a bit of Grand Theft Auto going on, and you don't open up businesses everywhere, but otherwise it's very much like a WWII Assassin's Creed.

And that's why I loved it. I like the way Assassin's Creed is moving through time, from the Crusades, to the Renaissance, but it's sorta stalled out and I was (am) hoping that the series will have Desmond relive some past lives in other time periods -- his past life as a member of the French Resistance would've been spot on with Templar-Nazis making trouble. So this really scratched my itch in this genre.

The game isn't perfect, the camera is just-not-quite at the right angle when you drive and climbing around the rooftops of Paris is nowhere near as elegant as Assassin's Creed, but the game has been happily occupying my time for a couple weeks now and it's in the cheap-o bins so it's an easy recommendation if you like GTA or Assassin's Creed.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (Default)
Hey,

So here's a couple other things I've been goofing around with.

First up, the Summer Issue of Lapham's Quarterly is out. The theme this issue is Food. How we get it, how we consume it, how we relate to it and everything in between.

As always there's a wide range of interesting voices discoursing on the topic from a variety of times and places. Unfortunately, the topic as a whole doesn't grab me as much as some of the previous entries have. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love food, but it just wasn't a thriller for me this time around.

Perhaps that's because a number of pieces were things I'd already read. Consider the Lobster, The Botany of Desire, To Kill A Mockingbird and a few others made their way into the volume (as well they should) and so perhaps because not every single thing was new might have contributed to my less-than-enthusiastic reception. But, there's still a good selection of stuff and foodie friends might find it very endearing.

Next, from high culture to high-tech bang-bang. The video game company Pandemic made Mercenaries which I really enjoyed. Then they made Mercenaries 2, which I thought was really weak. Finally, they made the game Saboteur and promptly were disbanded by EA. So a few weeks ago, I picked up Pandemic's Swan Song and took it for a spin.

You play Sean, an Irish race car driver trapped in Paris at the start of WWII, you join the Resistance and promptly start setting explosive charges on everything with a swastika. The game has it's issues, but I've been having quite a bit of fun. Mostly because this game feels very much like Assassin's Creed Brotherhood but it was made two years earlier and set 500 years later than AC:B.

Seriously, you've got this city where you run around, blow up Nazi stuff, assassinate Nazi leaders, free up sections of the City one at a time, organize the Resistance and clamber all over famous Paris monuments to get a better angle on the guy you're going to peg next. You can run around and steal cars and tanks so it's got a bit of Grand Theft Auto going on, and you don't open up businesses everywhere, but otherwise it's very much like a WWII Assassin's Creed.

And that's why I loved it. I like the way Assassin's Creed is moving through time, from the Crusades, to the Renaissance, but it's sorta stalled out and I was (am) hoping that the series will have Desmond relive some past lives in other time periods -- his past life as a member of the French Resistance would've been spot on with Templar-Nazis making trouble. So this really scratched my itch in this genre.

The game isn't perfect, the camera is just-not-quite at the right angle when you drive and climbing around the rooftops of Paris is nowhere near as elegant as Assassin's Creed, but the game has been happily occupying my time for a couple weeks now and it's in the cheap-o bins so it's an easy recommendation if you like GTA or Assassin's Creed.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (Default)
Hey,

Just for the record:

I slept with the purple alien chick because she was from the previous game so I knew she was trustworthy and because there were achievement points in it. Also, the human chicks are both genetic experiments to produce the ultimate human and have Issues. I didn't quite stick it to the Illusive Man in the end game because I was hoping for something a little more fist-in-the-face and he really is the lesser of two evils.

Also, the resource-collecting setup for this game is just tedious. I have a bazillion credits, but I can't buy the elements I need to conduct R&D, I've got to go space mining for them. I'd much rather that each planet had some sort of mini-dungeon where you go in, shoot-up some bad guys and collect a large haul...of course I would, I'm a D&D guy from way back. Maybe something in the GTA mode where I save human colonies and they provide me a steady stream of resources.

Maybe in the third game I can finally make out with Joker.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (Default)
Hey,

Just for the record:

I slept with the purple alien chick because she was from the previous game so I knew she was trustworthy and because there were achievement points in it. Also, the human chicks are both genetic experiments to produce the ultimate human and have Issues. I didn't quite stick it to the Illusive Man in the end game because I was hoping for something a little more fist-in-the-face and he really is the lesser of two evils.

Also, the resource-collecting setup for this game is just tedious. I have a bazillion credits, but I can't buy the elements I need to conduct R&D, I've got to go space mining for them. I'd much rather that each planet had some sort of mini-dungeon where you go in, shoot-up some bad guys and collect a large haul...of course I would, I'm a D&D guy from way back. Maybe something in the GTA mode where I save human colonies and they provide me a steady stream of resources.

Maybe in the third game I can finally make out with Joker.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (Default)
Hey,

So I'm playing my way through Mass Effect 2. I'm not quite sure how far along I am. I'm mostly just playing to get through the main plot and I'm brushing off all the side stuff where possible, but I'm noticing a bunch of stuff.

1.) I wish I could turn off the transition cut-scenes or skip cut scenes. Especially the "we're landing on a planet/docking at a station" bits.

2.) I continue to opt for the "good" choices, especially during interviews/interrogations. It's only bitten me in the ass once (where I let a bad guy go), but it does result in some very odd behavior where I seem to be all for giving people second chances except when I don't. Oh and while the position on the response wheel indicates generally what kind of tone you'll use, sometimes it's maddeningly vague. Given the response, you think you're advocating for one course of action when really you do something else.

3.) In that vein, all the crew members I pick up to be on my team have a special "loyalty mission" where I help them resolve some problem and then they're super loyal to me and get benefits. Pretty much all of them involve family in one way or another. It's a parent or a child and they're in danger or need help or whatever. It's like I'm not so much a super-soldier as I am a family counselor with an assault rifle.

4.) They let you bring your character along from Mass Effect 1, but then they go out of their way to close off access to everyone and everything from the first game. Despite saving the galaxy, the galactic council brushes you off like a panhandler. There are supposed in-game reasons for this, but it's all pretty weak. There's also the old "starting at the bottom" issue that all RPGs have, but it's especially irritating in this game since you used to be Captain McBadAss and now you're stuck building up again (and you have to rebuild your team). Just sloppy.

5.) Finally, this game is weirdly sexual. I'm playing a male protagonist and women are just flinging themselves at me -- especially the personal assistant on-board my ship. She doesn't actually go on any missions, she just cues me in on unread emails and actual team members who need me to fix something for them. She's really a psychologist there to help me gauge the ship's mood, but she is relentless in hitting on me...when she's not thinking about making out with the most recent alien I've recruited. Just creepy. And there's a fair amount of side dialog you hear when moving through starports where people/aliens are discussing sex or hitting on each other. I'm not even talking about the blue-skinned female sex aliens, it's pretty much everyone.

Mercifully, there's only been one mission where rape has played any factor and anyone with childhood abuse has been of the "dubious medical experiments" type so...yay?

This game just doesn't seem to know what it wants to do. While I like the idea that my character could fall in love with someone and have a romance, the limitations of a game mean I can't actively pursue anyone I choose (especially not a same-sex partner), but the game tries to make it seem like I have options and....don't I have a larger mission on my mind? Y'know, saving the galaxy, again? It's just kind of a mess.

Despite all this, I think I've gotten everyone's personal problems sorted out and they're all super-loyal to me so now I'm going to drill down and see if I can't just get through the rest of the main mission. Oh, and at some point if I don't get the chance to stick it to the human-supremacy group I'm working for (they brought me back from the dead and it's one reason why no one wants to deal with me and I've got clear evidence that they've lied to me and done terrible things), I'm going to be really ticked.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (Default)
Hey,

So I'm playing my way through Mass Effect 2. I'm not quite sure how far along I am. I'm mostly just playing to get through the main plot and I'm brushing off all the side stuff where possible, but I'm noticing a bunch of stuff.

1.) I wish I could turn off the transition cut-scenes or skip cut scenes. Especially the "we're landing on a planet/docking at a station" bits.

2.) I continue to opt for the "good" choices, especially during interviews/interrogations. It's only bitten me in the ass once (where I let a bad guy go), but it does result in some very odd behavior where I seem to be all for giving people second chances except when I don't. Oh and while the position on the response wheel indicates generally what kind of tone you'll use, sometimes it's maddeningly vague. Given the response, you think you're advocating for one course of action when really you do something else.

3.) In that vein, all the crew members I pick up to be on my team have a special "loyalty mission" where I help them resolve some problem and then they're super loyal to me and get benefits. Pretty much all of them involve family in one way or another. It's a parent or a child and they're in danger or need help or whatever. It's like I'm not so much a super-soldier as I am a family counselor with an assault rifle.

4.) They let you bring your character along from Mass Effect 1, but then they go out of their way to close off access to everyone and everything from the first game. Despite saving the galaxy, the galactic council brushes you off like a panhandler. There are supposed in-game reasons for this, but it's all pretty weak. There's also the old "starting at the bottom" issue that all RPGs have, but it's especially irritating in this game since you used to be Captain McBadAss and now you're stuck building up again (and you have to rebuild your team). Just sloppy.

5.) Finally, this game is weirdly sexual. I'm playing a male protagonist and women are just flinging themselves at me -- especially the personal assistant on-board my ship. She doesn't actually go on any missions, she just cues me in on unread emails and actual team members who need me to fix something for them. She's really a psychologist there to help me gauge the ship's mood, but she is relentless in hitting on me...when she's not thinking about making out with the most recent alien I've recruited. Just creepy. And there's a fair amount of side dialog you hear when moving through starports where people/aliens are discussing sex or hitting on each other. I'm not even talking about the blue-skinned female sex aliens, it's pretty much everyone.

Mercifully, there's only been one mission where rape has played any factor and anyone with childhood abuse has been of the "dubious medical experiments" type so...yay?

This game just doesn't seem to know what it wants to do. While I like the idea that my character could fall in love with someone and have a romance, the limitations of a game mean I can't actively pursue anyone I choose (especially not a same-sex partner), but the game tries to make it seem like I have options and....don't I have a larger mission on my mind? Y'know, saving the galaxy, again? It's just kind of a mess.

Despite all this, I think I've gotten everyone's personal problems sorted out and they're all super-loyal to me so now I'm going to drill down and see if I can't just get through the rest of the main mission. Oh, and at some point if I don't get the chance to stick it to the human-supremacy group I'm working for (they brought me back from the dead and it's one reason why no one wants to deal with me and I've got clear evidence that they've lied to me and done terrible things), I'm going to be really ticked.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (Default)
Hey,

Finished up Portal 2 -- both single-player and co-op (thanks [livejournal.com profile] lucasthegray).

Fun stuff. Very fun stuff. Frankly, if you liked the first game, you'll love this one. Just more of everything and a startling amount of depth. There were only a few places I got stuck on, most puzzles were very satisfying in a "well, if I want to be there I need to be moving at speed out of here and that means...ah ha!". The game adds a raft of new test chamber elements to manipulate. From exotic-energy tractor beams and light bridges to various flavors of gel. Some gels reduce friction, others are flubber, others make non-portal surfaces portal-able. During co-op games, our iron-clad policy was that you cannot splatter enough gel on the test chamber surfaces.

The writing is top-notch, the voice acting a treat between mind-burning puzzles, and a lot more of Aperture is revealed (I'm still waiting for the implied collision with Half-Life. Also, Half-Life 3, isn't it about time you go that done before you guys all die?).

Co-op mode is almost as good as the single-player game. Working out these puzzles with a friend is a real treat. With your quick recovery, you feel empowered to take foolhardy chances because even if it means your utter destruction, your buddy might spot the missing link and then off you go.

It's all good stuff. I really want to go back and replay with developer commentary on. Should be lots of great details.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (Default)
Hey,

Finished up Portal 2 -- both single-player and co-op (thanks [livejournal.com profile] lucasthegray).

Fun stuff. Very fun stuff. Frankly, if you liked the first game, you'll love this one. Just more of everything and a startling amount of depth. There were only a few places I got stuck on, most puzzles were very satisfying in a "well, if I want to be there I need to be moving at speed out of here and that means...ah ha!". The game adds a raft of new test chamber elements to manipulate. From exotic-energy tractor beams and light bridges to various flavors of gel. Some gels reduce friction, others are flubber, others make non-portal surfaces portal-able. During co-op games, our iron-clad policy was that you cannot splatter enough gel on the test chamber surfaces.

The writing is top-notch, the voice acting a treat between mind-burning puzzles, and a lot more of Aperture is revealed (I'm still waiting for the implied collision with Half-Life. Also, Half-Life 3, isn't it about time you go that done before you guys all die?).

Co-op mode is almost as good as the single-player game. Working out these puzzles with a friend is a real treat. With your quick recovery, you feel empowered to take foolhardy chances because even if it means your utter destruction, your buddy might spot the missing link and then off you go.

It's all good stuff. I really want to go back and replay with developer commentary on. Should be lots of great details.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (Default)
I've been real bad about keeping you caught up on events. Short version is: I'm still a badass. Longer version, some occult conspiracy group kidnapped my friend Leonardo da Vinci and I had to run around and get him back.

It may surprise you to know that the occult conspiracy group wasn't our old friends the Templars, but some outfit with a kink for Pythagoras. Triangles and stuff. These guys talk a good game, but really aren't in the same league so it wasn't too much trouble to run them all down, clear out their strongholds and get Leo back. Oh, I also got more of that mystic Space God crap which apparently will only make sense to my great-great-great-great-great-great-- well, some super-great grandkid of mine.

It was a fun batch of capers. Nothing to new or challenging. I've really settled in to this assassin thing and I can pretty much figure out a complex acrobatic/mechanical puzzle to get in position for a killing strike with ease.

Anyway, it was fun for a few laughs. Stop on by my headquarters in Rome, it's pimped out as hell.

Livin' Large
Ezio

[Ed. Note -- a fun little piece of DLC worth it if you like the series, but there's nothing stand-out new.]

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