Saturday, December 1, 2012

XCOM: Enemy Unknown [Game][PC]

Amount Completed: One play through the campaign. 

Story: XCOM is the officially branded remake of the critically acclaimed strategy game created in the mid 1990s. The basic story is that UFOs have started to appear and major nations are funding your group to protect the planet from whatever comes up. The plot is like the original game in that you begin by knowing little of the aliens but through research and numerous battles learn more and more about what is going on. Non-spoiler: the aliens are not coming to earth in peace. Along the way if you fail to protect nations they will stop funding your group making things a bit more difficult. There are also some comical (well intended to be) interactions between the head of the scientists and the head of the engineers. The additional characters with a bit more depth felt appropriate but they play little role in the game itself. Instead of making things feel any more creepy or mysterious both characters come across as cheesy stereotypes and sometimes detract from the original game's dark/serious tone.

Art: I was not overly impressed with the art of the game. The characters were passable but up close felt very plain and lacking in detail. The cutscenes were alright but they had to use a lot of video files which were blatantly obvious in contrast to the in-game footage. I guess with the art quality they are going to have an easier time porting it to the PS2 and keeping up the framerate.

Sound: The music became stuck in my head. Just about every song. The music was very well implemented. I cannot say the songs are awesome and I want to hear them outside of the game... but they do work very well in the context of playing the game.  The sound effects were fine and did not detract.

Gameplay: The game consisted of three basic game modes: base management, combat, and air combat. The progression of the storyline appears to be static with a few key plot points occurring along the way.

Base management differs from the original game in that you only have one base. You have to invest your funds and resources carefully to maximize your capabilities in combat and progression in the storyline. You'll also need to plan for how long manufacturing and researching technologies can take. Without a clear picture of what is actually further out the planning is very haphazard. As with the previous game your first play through is really just a matter of learning about what is to come. To pass time you can actively scan for ships. This is how research and manufacturing is completed. You will also be interrupted with plenty of UFOs and missions of various types. After battles you can sell off the random resources you gathered in the "grey market" for much needed cash. If you're careful (as in know what actually matters) you can really empty your inventory of junk you won't ever use and rack up cash.

The combat for the game is turn based between the two sides. The only way to act on your opponent's turn is to use the overwatch functionality to catch your opponent's movements and take a shot. This makes the battles feel one-sided on the given teams turn. This is exactly as it was in the original game and it still is a lot of fun. The combat also employs a cinematic camera to attempt to add a bit of excitement to combat. I found the cinematics to add very little as I watched a lot of scenes of my team running from cover to other cover with nothing of interest along the way. I think the cinematic camera could be made much more exciting. Combat in general could be much more visually exciting without changing the actual functionality with a bit better direction. Another oddity with combat is whenever you first spot the aliens (always in packs apparently) they "roar" and run for cover. The cutscene introducing them comes across as cheesy and doesn't really make much sense... were the aliens just hanging out drinking forties waiting for soldiers to show up? The cover system is a very welcome change as the original functioned best when your character walked around a corner and stood out in the open to see/shoot enemies.

The air combat is even simpler than in the original XCOM. Your ship approaches the enemy ship and they proceed to blast weapons at one another. If you have researched and/or purchased interesting things you can make the battle go slightly better... Unfortunately it is still not all that interesting. Visually the air combat is almost worse than the original. Plus the extra abilities they offer to improve your chances seem to cost a lot resource wise. It seems more like an alternative resource dumping ground so you don't just sell off the resources. The air combat really needs to be made a lot more exciting and I dare say turn based like the ground combat.

Remakes Comment: Before this game came out numerous unofficial remakes attempted to recreate the experience of XCOM. One in particular that had great potential was UFO: Aftermath. The main appeal for me was the pause-time combat. This made for a lot more interesting and exciting sequences whereas XCOM is based around turns taken between the two entire sides interrupted only by overwatch (generally). Unfortunately the rest of the game was rough...

Gut: XCOM is a lot of fun! It is very easy to play but takes some time to get an idea of how to best proceed. While not perfect I think it is a worthy remake. It's a blast to play and I look forward to more games like it.

Bonus! Meet the Squad
This is the squad I used for most of the play through. The nicknames were applied to the characters by the game. I created the actual names either based on other media or my own insane naming scheme.

Rico Norte - Heavy - "Nova" - The Squad Leader. He's a heavy that after 22 missions still has a weapon hit success rate of zero. He's good with a grenade and knows the infirmary well.
Alexis Shepard - Support - "Scotch" - The stunner. She runs and stuns when she can. A very good friend with everyone in the infirmary. When aliens see her they know that the only weapon she can hit them with will result in their captivity. She knows the "Mass Effect" of an alien menace.
Ellen Ripley - Assault - "Double Down" - A survivor of four nearly solo alien attacks. She runs and guns with ease. Her favorite alien to kill is the thin men because she finds them cheesy and feels no remorse for killing such corniness.

John Vallins - Support - "Bishop" - The old soul of the group. He smoked a lot of dope years ago and claims to have psionic powers which makes the stereotypical crazy German scientist happy. We made him some special armor so he could interface with some glowing disco ball so we could fly out to some "not-exactly-hidden" ship. Don't disrespect your elders.

Ole Dorimi - Sniper - "Zero" - Like Vallins, Dorimi claims to have psionic powers. On occasion we saw him hold out his hand at an alien and its head would burst. I figure it was a ruse setup with the other sniper Sesay.
Sefu Sesay - Sniper - "Stalker" - Sesay is a no nonsense sniper. He never moves from his original position on the battlefield and can somehow fire at every target that anyone else can see. He and Dorimi have an ongoing "double tap" competition where they try to rack up the most kills.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Saints Row 2 [Game][PC]

Amount Completed: All on-map missions (not all the activities). I played the game using the Gentlemen of the Row modification (the standard set) in hopes of avoiding many of the issues that apparently plagued the PC port. 

Story: Saints Row 2 (SR2) follows the leader of the Saints gang breaking out of prison and re-establishing their power over the city of Stilwater. Along the way the Saints have to battle with 3 gangs (Brotherhood, Sons of Samedi, and the Ronin) and one 'gang-like' police force (Ultor). While the story is mostly over-the-top with parodies of gang activities, the actual events/cutscenes are at times very gritty and dark. I appreciated the dramatic mix and found the lack of ability to choose whether to to perform a given action created a different relationship/association with the character I controlled (unlike SR3 where choices were mine to make). There are some brutally violent twists in the story, especially within the Brotherhood gang storyline.

Unfortunately the beginning of the game was so poorly executed I was close to quitting. Only after progressing a bit in the Brotherhood storyline did I feel it was worth continuing.

Later I found it strange that I apparently opted to ignore the Ronin gang until last. This flowed right into the final few missions against Ultor. The Samedi and Ronin stories were fine but the Brotherhood storyline seemed to deliver the most drama and intrigue (though ridiculous at times). Unlike SR3, most of the game felt a bit underwhelming. The story was not as rushed but definitely felt like it needed a bit more drama/excitement in the end (the final few missions did not exactly make sense). I guess the questions as to "why?" are probably lost on this kind of game/plot. The answer is: "It's an insane gang hell bent on taking over."

Art: SR2 has decent art with the exception of the Johny Gat model and a bit of the Shaundi Character. Johny Gat looked so completely pale and out of place due to his character design I had a hard time taking him seriously. Shaundi on the other hand had some weird art issues with her hair. None of the other characters seemed to stand out as problematic. The city was very populated visually and looked as expected.

Sound: The music of SR2 was fitting but only a few of the songs stood out to me. Also the quality of the music seemed to be very low. While somewhat acceptable to fictionalize radio play it sounded awful when played in the main menu and in a few other instances.

Gameplay: SR2 is an open world game in the spirit of Grand Theft Auto. Throughout the game money and respect are earned. From what I gathered, respect was required to play story missions and earned by playing the side missions. The side missions of the game were familiar to me as many are reused in SR3. I was surprised to find a number that were unique to SR2 that really should have continued into the next game. The FUZZ side missions seemed very entertaining/appropriate (albeit caustic and sarcastic). I was glad to see the septic side mission stayed only with SR2. It was incredibly boring and did not provide the over-the-top entertainment that some of the other activities delivered. To complete the game I actually just played through a couple of the side missions and then stopped. I happened to do just enough to finish the game without running out of respect.

Driving and running around were in-line with my previous expectations of a GTA style game. The combat did not involve anything beyond running and shooting. There was no specific cover system or otherwise. The inclusion of additional gang members (up to three can join you later in the game) was incredibly fun and critical to surviving later in the game. Driving was easy to pick up. Flying a helicopter in the game was not. The controls on the PC resulted in my slamming into buildings and flipping upside down often. One of the helicopter activities was simply impossible for me so I gave up. I could not even get past a few checkpoints of the race. It was not worth the frustration.

The purchase of ammunition was the primary use for money. The actual cost seemed incredibly high for how much you end up using to play through the game. There were also other elements that were unique such as purchasing music for addition to your own custom radio station. I cared so little for much of the soundtrack that I ignored the functionality. 

Gut: SR2 delivers a bit more depth in the story than my experience with SR3 but fails in a few other departments. There are thousands of things to do and I found that I was glad I was able to skip them and continue with the story lines. If you enjoyed SR3 or any of the GTA3 series games then SR2 is worth a try. I highly recommend the Gentleman of the Row (Steam compatible) modification as the PC version was/is plagued with bugs. While not free of bugs the modification undoubtedly helped a lot! There is a lot to do and explore and I probably hardly scratched the surface. I dare say they put too much into the game!

Monday, April 30, 2012


Amount Completed To the "Game Complete" screen (all crew saved).

My statistics were:

Time - 2:04:54
Flips - 3554
Deaths - 777
Most Deaths - 46 in The Final Challenge
Story The story of VVVVVV follows the captain of a space shipe stuck in another dimension and his efforts to rescue his crew. The missing crew are spread out across a grid of screens (and a bit more). After finding each there is often a sequence in which the captain and the crew member have to travel together through a few additional screens. Other than rescuing the crew you can explore and discover more information about the dimension you are trapped in. I tried to follow the story but I was too busy slamming my head against my desk to remember much due to the unrelenting difficulty of the game (at times).

Art VVVVVV was clearly intended to be a Commodore 64 game and looks accordingly dated. The sad and happy faced characters (and the big weird elephant) fit perfectly and expressed emotions effectively.

Sound The sound is very well thought out. The few number of sound effects express a lot of emotion and again fit the Commodore 64 theme. The soundtrack to the game was catchy and enjoyable.

Gameplay The game is a twitch puzzle game that is very forgiving in that you are allowed to repeat things nearly immediately. Unlike games where one bad decision results in the repetition of twenty minutes of gameplay VVVVVV generally respawns the player immediately adjacent to the difficult puzzle. With respawns being so immediate the puzzles themselves were afforded a lot more difficulty. Playing the game on the keyboard would be alright if the game were a bit less analog. The character has a bit of drift/float as he moves around in the world. At times you can only somewhat predict what pressing a key will actually cause the character to do.

Gut While I can appreciate the difficulty of the game and how it may appeal to some... I have to say that this game was simply not worth putting my fist through a wall for. Frustration gives way in too many of the puzzles. Only a few puzzles were designed where the end result was entertainment, instead most were designed with an end result of relief. Instead of solving a puzzle I felt myself fighting with the controls to the point that I was better off not even looking at the screen and instead counting the milliseconds to hold a key and/or press another.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Dead Space 2 [Game][PC]

Amount Completed: Played through the main storyline. I have no comment on the multiplayer component as I did not try it.

Story: The general setting of Dead Space 2 is about the same as Dead Space. You play as a guy running around in a big metal maze among the stars. You even revisit the big metal maze from the first game. A cult is obsessed with the creation of a large marker from which great things are supposed to happen. Instead nasty creatures run rampant killing and some of them even create more nasty creatures. There are some minor twists as your character is deceived and supported by a small cast of characters throughout the journey. The journey is primarily your own with your current “friend” (might turn on you at any time!) playing navigator. I was hoping for something a bit more grand in terms of the story but instead it was a lot more introspective with your significant other from Dead Space often haunting you. While initially I was not exactly pleased with the approach, it actually became more interesting as more interactions were had with her. In general the story was fine, but I would have liked a lot more real-world events.

Art: The art of Dead Space 2 seems like the art of Dead Space. It looks fine and does the job. The lighting and type of rooms seemed to be more varied in this game. There is a creepy day care center and a lot of other areas intended for day-to-day human life unlike the first game. The creatures look mean and a bit gross with the exception of the supposed tough versions which looked less like their bloody-gory counterparts and more like walking blobs of fecal matter due to their coloring.

Sound: The sound itself is effective at drawing the player into the game. The music is nothing special and sadly forgettable. As with the Dead Space, the sound is what had me jumping from my seat for the first quarter of the game. Unfortunately (well actually fortunately) I learned to expect certain things so the audio cues did not come as a shock after a while. The game used music to indicate that a battle was starting/still-in-progress and I ended up wishing it was not playing at all. That kind of audio hint actually destroyed the suspense that I felt in my first few hours where I had no idea what horror might jump out or remain in an area. 

Gameplay: Dead Space is a third-person game where your character eats up about a third of the screen. It is alright in this day and age of wide screen monitors (I played on one so my experience was acceptable). You explore areas, collect items, improve yourself/weapons, and shoot at enemies. The formula works and has hints of RPG elements with the need for your character to continuously improve.

Like just about every horror game, Dead Space 2 uses scripted events to trigger the introduction of enemies. They will sneak in from behind you, arrive in massive numbers (hint the music changes!), or just jump out in front of you. When I started playing I was jumpy and would react probably more so than even intended... but as time went io I just learned about the likely trigger points. As with Dead Space I even found that in some cases the best approach was to run right through an area that looked dangerous, turn around, and finally blast everything that followed. I recall one storage room in particular I dashed across and started blasting from a corner. I took out ten-plus enemies from the safety of the corner without a scratch. Also I believe you can use objects to trigger the enemies. I swear I shot a box around a corner and an enemy came running out. (I guess I would too if someone hit me with a large box)

Gut: Dead Space 2 is likely enjoyable for fans of the horror genre. I am not one of those fans. I am someone who happened to purchase Dead Space and was curious enough to follow up with purchasing the sequel (both Steam sales). At $10 it was well worth it. Dead Space 2 does take longer than Dead Space. It started to drag at the end when I just wanted to finish the game.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Saints Row: The Third [Game][PC]

Amount Completed: All on-map side missions and the main story line (not all Saintsbook, barnstorms, or other side items).

Story: Saints Row: The Third (SR3) follows the leader of the Saints gang as they re-rise to power in the city of Steelport. The Saints are already well established with legitimate, albeit humrous, businesses. Essentially their business is to hock their image and glorify gang activity and lifestyle. Arguably they are selling a slick high-class lifestyle not necessarily the rough gangs I imagine the world is actually full of. The Saints are pitted against a conglomerate of three gangs known as the Syndicate: Morningstar, Luchadores, and the Deckers. Each one has their own unique style and capabilities. The story is primarily the removal of the Syndicate from the city. Along the way a major military presence, known as STAG, creates essentially a fourth gang to fight with. The story in SR3 is rough and unpolished. It mostly comes across as rushed and/or confusing with weird leaps in logic that even in this bizarre in-game world seem out of place. One of the major issues is simply pacing. In one long mission three brand new characters are introduced with little fanfare and back story. If there is another game I hope they give the story a bit more time to develop.

Art: SR3 looks very good in my opinion for this type of game. I am not a graphics snob so my only concern was with whether any of the art detracted from the overall theme or experience. The character clothing was fairly limited. There were numerous items I would not even consider. Although to each their own... hopefully someone out there actually likes what some artist poured their time into. The character creation was extensive. Unfortunately my character looked a bit different once in different lighting. She looked more like an albino than just some pale woman.

Soundtrack: The music of SR3 was fitting and enjoyable. I did not hear anything that I am a new fan of, but did not find the music grating either. Only rarely would I change the radio station specifically because I did not want to hear a song.

Gameplay: SR3 consists of core storyline missions and a number of side missions/activities to earn money. Money is used mostly to buy upgrades to make the game easier/more fun. You can also buy ammunition which is critical because you will be using a lot! In the beginning of the game you can fairly regularly afford to purchase upgrades to weapons making the experience completely different (easier!). The explosive shells in the pistol seemed like a must in my opinion. For the most part SR3 plays like GTA with a slightly different feel. The driving takes a bit to get used to and in the end works fine (unlike Just Cause 2!). My only complaint would be that the non-helicopter airborne vehicles are way too slow. The VTOL (a jet) feels like it moves like a car. (Jets can go 70mph max right?)

Gut: SR3 is a lot of fun and delivers a unique and rarely frustrating experience. The soundtrack is fitting and provides a good backdrop both in scripted form and randomly.

My playthrough blog:

Saturday, January 28, 2012

RAGE [Game][PC]

Amount Completed: Main story completed and most of the races won. (enough to get all the vehicle upgrades)

Story: RAGE follows the story of a character waking up in a post-apocalyptic world. You soon learn that your character is supposed to be one of many people intended to restore the planet. The plot is very straightforward and without much depth or any twists whatsoever. The Authority represents the ultimate evil in the world throughout. They represent a powerful group bent on … I have no idea (seriously, I have no idea why the Authority exists). Unfortunately without any character representing the authority, beyond the random soldiers you fight against it, the enemy is faceless and actually presents little threat to your “acquaintances” throughout the game. Nothing bad happens to any character you could even remotely care for. At one point the Authority takes a punk of a city leader and it has no effect on the game at all. It is just another event in a mostly bland string of events. The plot moves along slowly and has no climax. There's a conclusion at the end but it is so quick and lacking in any substance that they obviously are planning some kind of sequel.

Art: The art of RAGE does a fine job of immersing the player. As expected the post apocalyptic world is really dirty and generally bland. A couple of minor things pop in the game but for the most part I did not ever find myself admiring the artwork. The characters look good and unfortunately are backed up with no depth worthy of the visual.

Gameplay: RAGE plays like a standard shooter with lots of inventory items to play with to make your experience a bit less than just an outright shooter. Unfortunately the combat just did not feel very good. Many of the enemies seemed to take way too many shots to take down. How many head-shots should it really take? I saw this less as a sign of difficulty and more as a sign of making the player spend in-game currency on ammo in huge quantities. Also the enemies feedback to being shot felt strange. In some cases they seemed delayed taking the shot as though the game was waiting to finish a previous animation before acknowledging the hit. The car combat was simple and worked reasonably well fortunately.

Gut: If you just love high resolution neat graphics, and not much else, than maybe RAGE is for you. If you play the game with any expectations beyond a fairly generic shooter with a bit of car combat you will be disappointed.