• July 25, 2014

The Play Button

Rachel Kaser
  • Rachel Kaser
  • Blogger
  • News, reviews and commentary on video games.
Thursday 07/17/2014
Coming Soon: Unrest

In the middle of doing all this writing about role-playing and how to get the most out of your RPG experience, I noticed that a game called Unrest on the slate for this month. I felt I needed to take a moment and tell everyone that this game is coming and those of my readers who play RPGs need to check it out.

 

Unrest is a game funded by Kickstarter. It has been compared to Papers, Please, that inimitable bureaucracy simulator, though only in the most tertiary sense. That might be because it’s very hard to describe in terms of the games to which it relates. Most other games on the market can be described in relation to another game: Mass Effect is a spiritual successor to Knights of the Old Republic. Titanfall is Call of Duty with mecha suits. Tomb Raider 2013 is Uncharted with Lara Croft baffled as to how she got there.

 

That seems to be difficult where Unrest is concerned. The connection to Papers, Please seems to be based on the unrelenting grimness of the reality. Honestly, just reading about it leaves me at a bit of a loss. It sounds like nothing I’ve played before.

 

The blurb for this game on its Steam pre-order page goes thus: “In Unrest, there are no heroes of legend, there is no mystical quest, and fate has not chosen you. You’re on your own.” There’s no better way to make the game sound like the direct opposite of everything that most of the RPGs I’ve been speaking of are about at their fundamental level.

 

You play several distinct characters in a fantasy version of ancient India, in a state called Bhimra. These characters range from a peasant girl who desires to escape an arranged marriage to a priest suffering spiritual doubts to a mercenary captain struggling to fulfill a contract. And you’ll play them all over the course of the game.

 

One notable, if not unique thing about this RPG is that when characters die, they die. Their choices and the outcomes of their stories, up to and including their deaths, become a part of the story. This is a story you craft and shape, for good or for ill, through a spider web of lives and choices.

 

The art in this game looks beautiful. The character sprites are all clothed in bright colors, and the architecture from the palace to the slums looks like it has a history all its own. That description goes for all of Bhimra: Beautiful, colorful, with a lineage that may or may not be commented upon in the game.

 

I’d give this game a go. It looks like it has an identity, and I’m eager to see how the story will play out.

Posted in Blogs/playbutton on Thursday, July 17, 2014 2:15 am. Updated: 9:08 pm. Comments (0)

Wednesday 07/16/2014
Role-Playing Chronicles for a Down Week: Part 2

In my last column I gave some tips for naming your character in a significant and lore-appropriate way. Most of these tips are for those who don’t play RPGs very frequently. I do like everyone to get the most out of such things, especially since “role-playing” is right there in the title. Now here are a few tips on character appearance.

 

Most of this is, as with the names, superficial. However, everything you do when you build your character can be used to inform the character’s life and decisions. Some of these choices can have a direct effect on your gameplay, such as race in The Elder Scrolls. I’d advise against making the character look cartoonish and strange. Most RPGs can hold you for roughly three or four days of playtime, so having a funny-looking weirdo will get old quickly.

 

Your character’s appearance can cause you to reinterpret their life and attitude the more you learn of the game’s lore. When I made my first Dragon Age character, a human noble, I gave her an asymmetrical face tattoo. What I discovered over the course of the game was that tattoos are rare amongst civilized humans in Ferelden; your sheltered companion Alistair doesn’t even know what they are. For my highborn character to have a tattoo, I concluded she must have befriended the local wildling tribes and had one of them do it for her in a moment of youthful rebellion.

 

The most fun I’ve ever had crafting a character was in the Saints Row series, which offers the best suite of options I’ve seen. I used the same character throughout the entire series, having to take notes on the specifics so that I could make her again as closely as possible. Every Saints Row game begins with a sequence where your character’s face is concealed, so you can get the feel for the surroundings before you even build your avatar.

 

My female Boss had to be cool and intimidating in the second game, which is where I initially built her. I thought it’d be great if she looked the part of the femme fatale with a bit of an edge. I gave her long black hair, light olive skin and big red lips. When I got her into the game world, I promptly decked her out in enough tattoos to embarrass a Russian gangster.

 

Subsequent to that, when I remade her in The Third and 4, I altered her appearance to reflect her new status. As a media darling, she had less garish makeup and a short jetsetter cut (thank you Volition for the breadth of your character creation system) which mixed well with the superhero outfit she was always wearing. When she was elected President, I gave her a Bettie Page hairstyle that made her look more stately while still retaining her edge. She never once lost her sleek, in-charge persona over three games.

 

Have fun building your character! Final entry still to come…

Posted in Blogs/playbutton on Wednesday, July 16, 2014 2:55 am. Updated: 1:09 am. Comments (0)

Saturday 07/12/2014
Role-Playing Chronicles for a Down Week: Part 1

It’s a bit of a gray period for me. New games are thin on the ground, and I’m still finishing the final episode of The Wolf Among Us. Also, the Summer Steam Sale happened, and I’ve spent most of my time making sure the money I spent on those package deals didn’t go amiss.

 

So, in lieu of a game-specific article, here’s what I have been up to on the role-playing front. I’ve been playing both old favorites and a few new discoveries this week. Building a character is such an intricate process for me that I could probably devote a thesis to it, but I won’t go over the top indulging myself. Here is the first of a few tips for building characters for RPGs:

 

One of the most important factors to creating characters, for me, is the name. I always try to create a lore-appropriate name for the character I’m going to be using for the whole game, if only because whimsical names get bothersome after a while. Names can also give you a way of fleshing out your character’s backstory, or tie them more firmly to an existing one. Come up with something that means something to the character rather than you; because, as most RPGs are very long, the name will swiftly come to belong to the character rather than you.

 

For example, with Skyrim, my character was ethnically a Breton, but I imagined her as having a Nord mother. As Nords have Norse or Germanic names, I gave my Dragonborn the punchiest German name I’ve ever heard: Heike. I decided it would be her great-grandmother’s name.

 

Very slight SPOILERS: I knew going into Fallout 3 that a biblical verse was going to play a role in the main storyline. I also knew that I was going to be forced out of the safe shelter where I had spent my life. To that end, I had two names at the ready, one for each gender. My mussy-haired Wastelander became an Eve.

 

Finally, when I created my two Shepards for Mass Effect, I was new to roleplaying games. I wanted something dramatic. I named my first Shepard Athena, and she later became my wise Paragon. Inadvertently, I’d also filled in a story gap in my own head: Everyone in the Mass Effect series calls Commander Shepard by their last name, even their close friends. When I thought about it, the reason for this was that my Shepard’s parents had a fascination with classical mythology, but practical Shepard had no use for such a lofty handle and insisted everyone use her surname. When I went back to make my Renegade Shepard, I gave her an appropriate myth name that was similarly unwieldy: I named her Sekhmet.

 

More tips on building RPG characters to come!

Posted in Blogs/playbutton on Saturday, July 12, 2014 11:35 pm. Updated: 1:10 am. Comments (0)

Top 5 Games I Recommend to Friends

Since I’ve begun this column, I’ve had multiple friends and acquaintances ask me to recommend a good game. I understand; the amount of games that are on every website’s list of top scorers, just counting games that have come out in the last ten years, is staggering. It’s much easier to get the recommendation of a friend. I have a core group of solid favorites at the ready. These are the games which I consider the most solid overall experiences, and there’s something for everyone in their ranks.

 

1. Batman: Arkham Asylum

The entirety of the Arkham series is pretty sterling, even if they did run out of steam in Origins. But you can’t beat the original. Asylum has both the mythos references necessary to set it up as a faithful adaptation, and the perfect set of controls to make gameplay incredibly fun. Add to this the sensation that you’re trapped in the freak show at the mercy of Batman’s most interesting enemies, and you’ve got the Batman game everyone’s always wanted.

 

2. Syberia

The highest praise I can give to Syberia sounds damningly faint: It shouldn’t work, but it does. This fantasy ranks higher than any other point-and-click adventure game I’ve ever played, and I can barely find the way to express why. The closest I’ve ever come was in a blog post I wrote years ago, where I described it as being “as clear, sad, and beautiful as the tears of a unicorn.” It’s so strange and fantastic. It shouldn’t be so appealing, but it is.

 

3. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

I’m limiting myself to one Bioware game on this list, for the sake of brevity. It was between this and Dragon Age: Origins, and I chose KotOR for one simple reason: Customizable lightsabers. The ability to build your own lightsaber has never failed to be a draw to anyone. It’s also a solid and fun RPG, with Bioware’s gold standard of writing and not so many of the gameplay problems that plague some of their later games (*cough*Dragon Age 2*cough*).

 

4. Bioshock

Few first-person-shooters demand much of your mental faculties. While you could play Bioshock with a breezy nonchalance, you really shouldn’t. It’s a game that wants you to think about the question it’s asking you. I won’t spoil what that question is, but suffice to say that it’s a good game with a little nugget of intellectualism at its core. Not to mention the plasmids are fun!

 

5. Minecraft

The only reason I include Minecraft on this list is because I’ve recommended it to people in the past. I’m not sure I should anymore. What tends to happen is I recommend they start playing Minecraft, they thank me; then they begin playing and I never see them again.

Posted in Blogs/playbutton on Saturday, July 12, 2014 11:20 pm. Updated: 1:10 am. Comments (0)

Sunday 06/29/2014
Going Casual: Awakening: The Redleaf Forest

We’re back to Big Fish Games, because one can never sing the praises of the hidden casual gems enough. The final game in the Awakening series is currently available there.

 

The Awakening series is a curious beast. Most casual game series – see Dark Tales, Dark Parables, Mystery Case Files – tell individual stories within the games, with only a few tentative continuity threads joining the whole thing together. The best of them have some kind of overarching narrative, but nothing that will really alienate a player starting in the middle. The whole point of casual games like this is to be the easiest thing to pick up and play.

 

Awakening, on the other hand, has one core heroic narrative and it has stuck to that from the beginning of the six-game series to the end. The heroine is Princess Sophia, who wakes up in the first game in a beautiful, empty castle with no memory of who she is or how she got there. The first two games were her learning the story of her birth and enchanted sleep, how she is prophesied to defeat series’ Big Bad Dreadmyre, and what happened to her parents.

 

In fact, in a curious inversion of almost every video game hero narrative I can think of, Sophia’s goal in the last two games has been to rescue her comatose parents, whose spirits are held captive by Dreadmyre. Over the course of the last five games, she has become the savior of the people and even ascended to the throne, and yet love for her parents drives her to confront Dreadmyre in his fortress to save them.

 

Redleaf Forest is the final game in the series. Sophia has traveled to the titular forest, and must make allies of the feuding centaurs and dwarves. After settling this final bit of dissent in her kingdom, she will have all the tools she needs to make her final stand.

 

The puzzles of this puzzle game remain a high point. They are not as challenging as in previous games, but the last one is surprisingly hard. Hidden object scenes round out the challenges, and those are always easy for an old hand.

 

One thing I could have done without is the sudden voiceover from Sophia. She’s never been voiced before, and the actress sounds very bad. Also, compared to the other games in the series, this one is a bit short. I finished it in a few hours without skipping any puzzles.

 

Still, you know how there have been gamers clamoring for more and better video game heroines, and more diversity in general, particularly after the tepid showing of white men at this year’s E3? I never thought I’d say this, but maybe AAA developers can stand to take a lesson from small games like this one. Sophia is a female hero who has been able to solve any problem with intelligence, willpower, and diplomacy. Can we have more like her, please?

Posted in Blogs/playbutton on Sunday, June 29, 2014 6:15 pm. Updated: 10:36 pm. Comments (0)

Thursday 06/26/2014
So Women are Hard to Animate, Huh?

As we’re still filtering all of the canned sound bites to come out of this year’s E3, there are a few things that have risen to the surface, like scum on the surface of an empty pond. My personal favorite, and the one I’ve heard the most about, is the “#womenaretoohardtoanimate” backlash against Ubisoft.

 

Several different people from Ubisoft have said in interviews that they had originally planned to have playable female protagonists in Assassins Creed: Unity but scrapped the idea due to lack of resources. The four cooperative protagonists appear to be white men.

 

As excuses go, that one rings pretty hollow. Just about everyone I can think of has sounded off on this, and the general consensus is that Ubisoft is trying to cover its social regression in Unity, and badly too. I could call Ubisoft out for that, but I’m certain that “#womenaretoohardtoanimate” was its own parody before it was ever much of an outcry. That’s not to say this isn’t a problem in gaming. It is, but let’s take a close look at who we’re talking about.

 

If we’re looking solely at the Assassins Creed series, I’d like to remind everyone that Ubisoft has never bent over backwards to give us a range of diversity: The very first protagonist was indeed a Middle Eastern man … who looked Caucasian and spoke with a flawless American accent. The second through fourth games starred the same European character; who, despite an accent which verged on comical, is also pretty white by the standards of the American market.

 

Connor? Sure, Connor was Mohawk. But his spell in the limelight centered entirely on the American Revolution, the original story written by and for privileged white men. As for Edward Kenway, he comes across as the writers caving and writing the character they’ve been inching towards the whole time: The cavalier, morally neutral, white male.

 

Ubisoft has hidden behind poor Aveline, claiming that they could and have made playable female protagonists. Aveline was the star of exactly one handheld game and one piece of standalone DLC. Counting phone games, Ubisoft has made three games about Altair and four about Ezio. Add it up, children. The equation does not show Ubisoft to be a bastion of social progression.

 

Unfortunately, the refrain I hear in this case is a mournful call of “It would have been nice.” I agree with that, but if you’re looking for someone to deviate from the white male party line, I have to make this clear: It was never going to be Ubisoft.

 

That’s tragic not because they could do it, but because the set-up practically demands that they do it. The whole motto of the series is that everything you know about history is misinformation. “Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.” Ubisoft might surprise me in the future, but in the meantime I could not possibly be surprised to see yet another white male, or four.

Posted in Blogs/playbutton on Thursday, June 26, 2014 1:50 am. Updated: 12:36 am. Comments (0)

Thursday 06/19/2014
Electronic Entertainment Expo: Impressions Part Four

My extended list of impressions of E3 news concludes, as indeed it must, with the old guard Nintendo. And my overall impression is: Wow. Nintendo introduced so many games that I was still being fed news via Twitter and Facebook while I took a necessary break to fetch some groceries.

You know back when I wrote about Bayonetta 2? Do you remember that I asked Nintendo to provide Bayonetta with good company on the Wii U if they insisted on keeping her exclusive? Some heathen god was apparently listening, because the company that could . . . has. New Zelda. New Star Fox. New Pokemon. Enough Mario to keep us all busy for years!

To begin with, there was a lot, and I do mean a lot of news about the new Smash Bros. The new fighters shown were the Miis, Pac-Man, and Palutena from Kid Icarus. The game is also getting its own version of the Skylanders figurines, called Amiibos. You’ll be able to customize special moves for your Miis, as well as whatever characters you have with Amiibos. It sounds complicated, but I’m sure someone will have it all figured out and will have a comprehensive guide out before I need worry about them.

There is going to be a new Legend of Zelda, and the theme is open world. I admit the trailer, if you can call it that, was gorgeous. I expected there wouldn’t be much gameplay, and there wasn’t: Just a rather androgynous Link shooting an awesome arrow at an enemy. But we were also assured that the game would be fairly non-linear. This announcement went hand-in-hand with the trailer for Hyrule Warriors, a Zelda-branded hack-in-slash. Link, along with Zelda and Midna; will duke it out with hoards of enemies, Dynasty Warriors -style.

We got yet more footage of Bayonetta 2, with my favorite witch! This one is definitely not a kid’s game, and I suspect the game is going to be ruinously difficult. Also not kid-friendly is Devil’s Third, an action game long stuck in development hell that is finally coming out.

We’re also getting Xenoblade Chronicles X, first announced last year, which looks interesting if nothing else. Another game which looked fun to me was Splatoon, a fun little paintball simulator in the style of Super Mario Sunshine. The goal is to cover more surfaces with paint than the opposing team. Simple premise, certainly, but it sounds like barrels of fun.

The announcement of the remake of Pokemons Ruby and Sapphire, as Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby. Still, the announcement of Mario Maker sounds like something that aims for and will reach its intended niche audience.

Speaking of Mario, the trailer for Yoshi’s Woolly World makes it look like an almost painfully adorable puzzle-platformer. We also got trailers for Kirby, Sonic Boom, and Mario Party, and less than that for Star Fox. I have to remind myself that each of these games has the capacity to be terrible, because they’re presented so well.

That wraps up my impressions of E3 2014. Overall, not a banner year for any company or gaming as a whole. Still, we’ve got a little bit of juicy gameplay footage to chew on. I’m not content with that, but I also know that I cannot expect much more from this particular event. Any game you’re looking forward to? Anything you think I should examine in more depth? Let me know in the comments section!

Posted in Playbutton on Thursday, June 19, 2014 8:00 am. | Tags: Nintendo , Games , Legend Of Zelda , Bayonetta , The Legend Of Zelda Series Characters , Action-adventure Games , Video Games Developed In Japan , Gaming , Gamers Comments (1)

Tuesday 06/17/2014
Electronic Entertainment Expo: Impressions Part Three

I cannot say a single conference on Day Zero surprised me. Sony was no exception. Still, there were some pleasant announcements. They started everything off with Destiny, Bungie’s glossy successor to Halo. I distinctly heard Peter Dinklage’s voice assuring the player that they were the last hope of humanity and, “You know, no pressure.”

There were some nice bits of gameplay shown. The Order: 1886 showed off some steampunk-action chops and looks good for new IP. Little Big Planet 3 dragged on a little too long, but it was adorable. The colorful No Man’s Sky looked like it might, just might turn out to be good. However, the insufferably artsy Entwined, which was put on the Playstation Network during the show, is probably the only thing we’ll see from them for a couple of months.

The one thing I could have done without is the full-blown fanfare for console ports. Sure, it’s cool that The Last of Us, GTAV, and Grim Fandango are coming to the PS4, but this was an excessively padded conference that could have easily cut these parts out. They also droned a bit too long about television. Sony stopped a smoking-hot conference dead in the water in order to have Brian Michael Bendis ramble about something called Powers.

One trailer I wasn’t expecting was a gameplay trailer for Mortal Kombat X. They showed some new characters, including a hulking brute with a little clawed thing on its shoulder. My favorite Twitter moment of the day was reacting to that by saying “What are Jak and Daxter doing in Mortal Kombat X?”

The two gameplay bits that stick in the mind the most are Far Cry 4, which showed a base capture mission done with the help of a nearby elephant; and Batman Arkham Knight, which showed off the expanded Gotham City map and the newly-available Batmobile. I’m looking forward to both of these games almost in spite of myself.

The plethora of mostly-cinematic trailers made up the remainder of the notables. The creators of Dark Souls showed some nasty-looking Victorian horror called Bloodbourne. Suda 51, maker of quirky games like No More Heroes, has a PS4 exclusive called Let It Die on the way. The one that takes the cake in the trailer department was the fully cinematic trailer for Dead Island 2, which followed a just-bitten jogger as he morphs from male model to walking abomination. It’s neat, but I seem to recall the last Dead Island having a cool yet ultimately irrelevant trailer.

They closed the show –finally—with footage from the next Uncharted game. When footage popped up and I heard the inevitable sound of Nolan North’s dulcet pipes, I said “Oh, that game.” The subtitle is called “A Thief’s End” and both Drake and Sully insist that it’s “one last time.” Oh, Naughty Dog, you don’t fool me a bit. It was like a microcosm of the whole conference: Pretty, glossy, but very vague and intended to set the hype machine rolling.

Posted in Playbutton on Tuesday, June 17, 2014 2:50 am. | Tags: Digital Media , Mortal Kombat , Electronic Games , Sony , Application Software , Gotham City , Games , Xbox , Brian Michael Bendis , Gaming , Gamers Comments (0)

Saturday 06/14/2014
Electronic Entertainment Expo: Impressions Part Two

Back to the games, shall we? Both EA and Ubisoft showed off their bread-and-butter franchises during their conferences. Here were some of the heavy hitters:

 

EA’s ace in the hole was likely supposed to be Battlefield: Hardline. Unlike Advanced Warfare, I really don’t think the devs intended for info on this title to be leaked. There wasn’t much of a “wow” factor to the footage, apart from the location, but it would have been an awesome display if we weren’t sure what to expect. Equally lacking in “wow” was Sims 4, which just looks like more of the same.

 

There was some footage of the new Mass Effect title in the works, but I use “footage” in the loosest terms. I realize that Bioware needs to hang on to the fanbase created around what is by far their most popular franchise. But I’m telling you: There was nothing to see with regards to the new Mass Effect. We’ll leave it to Dragon Age: Inquisition to be the acid test of whether or not Bioware can still deliver their Bioware-y goods. Speaking of Dragon Age, we got more footage of that! They proffered up footage of a dragon fight, which looked pretty cool. I’m hoping they can come back from the disappointment of some of their recent titles.

 

The two games that intrigued me were Star Wars: Battlefront and Mirror’s Edge 2. The former looks interesting if only because it showed off footage in-engine; that’s always nice, if a little vague. The latter showed the beginnings of an improved combat system, which was one of the major sources of complaint about Mirror’s Edge, especially from me.

 

Ubisoft started off with a five-minute cinematic cutscene from Far Cry 4. Looks like fun, sure, but we wouldn’t get any gameplay footage until the Sony show. It’s also starting to look like Blood Dragon was a one-off, which is sad. The bad guy is very Joker-esque; that worked well for them in Far Cry 3, so why not go back to the well?

 

More footage from Tom Clancy’s The Division, if only in the form of a CGI trailer. I say “Looks pretty cool,” which was the tune I whistled this entire show. Time will tell. In addition, we got some surprise Rainbow Six footage! More Tom Clancy, please: I haven’t quite reached saturation yet! This new game . . . looks pretty cool (again), but it’s too early to tell.

 

We got footage of Assassin’s Creed: Unity. It is set in Revolutionary-era France. The gameplay I saw was all about the Assassins siding with an angry mob over an aristocrat, which sounds like just the sort of thing they’d do. Unfortunately the gameplay revolved around one particular mechanic that turned my stomach the moment I saw it. Ubisoft wants to “make history” by introducing 4-player co-op.

 

Are. You. Serious? Ubi, I’m pleading with you: Tell me that I’m not going to have to deal with this handicapping my single-player campaign. I just want to play in your gorgeous period-appropriate environs in solitude. That’s my only request, Ubisoft. Don’t fail me. (With regards to #womenaretoohardtoanimate, I’m saving it for another time.)

Posted in Playbutton on Saturday, June 14, 2014 8:55 pm. Comments (0)

Electronic Entertainment Expo: Impressions Part One

If you’re like me and couldn’t make it to the floor for the E3 conference, fret not. Thanks to Twitter, Twitch, and the generosity of all the large game sites, I was able to see pretty much everything of consequence. And did I like what I saw? Yes, and oh my goodness NO. Those were pretty much the two extremes.

 

I should preface my impressions –and yes, this will be a series – by saying that I wasn’t looking forward to anything in particular, so I was fully prepared to spend the entire time rolling my eyes at company foolishness and cinematic trailers. It did not end up being quite that bad. It wasn’t great, but not a total disappointment either.

 

Let’s start with the Microsoft show. I admit they hit me with lots of footage, and I wasn’t entirely unenthused. Starting me off with the latest in the Call of Duty series was not a wise move, though. That’s not a slow start; that’s getting hung up at the gate. I didn’t see much footage of that game, but I hardly think that matters. I don’t think CoD is going to deviate too much from the party line.

 

Evolve looks to be quite fun, if only because I’ll get the chance to play as a Kraken in a 4-on-1 match. It looks like an upgraded Left 4 Dead by way of Predator, which is a compliment. I also liked the look of Sunset Overdrive, which didn’t seem to take itself too seriously and graced us with actual gameplay footage. Fable Legends, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have any clue what it was doing, because it looks nothing like any Fable game I’ve ever seen or played.

 

I knew exactly what I was going to see when the Halo music began. The complete Master Chief Collection will be available for Xbox One, though you won’t be getting ODST or Reach. Fans only, or will new players be able use this convenient collection to get into this classic series?

 

We got some gameplay footage for The Witcher 3. Geralt will be making his triumphant reappearance, and he’s on the hunt. This footage was fun to watch, if only because it came bookended by cinematic trailers. Crackdown and Phantom Dust saw fit to show us those. Tantalizing, but insubstantial.

 

Also, you might not want to get me started on the new Tomb Raider, the trailer of which features reboot-era Lara Croft in therapy. Am I the only one who remembers Lara Croft as a rich, educated lady of the world who went adventuring because it was, you know, fun? Also, Rise of the Tomb Raider? That’s just a placeholder title, right? You’ll come up with a better one later, right? Please?

 

I saw lots of trailers and precious little gameplay at this show. This does not mean the games for those trailers will be bad, but it’s not terribly engaging. More to come in Part 2.

Posted in Playbutton on Saturday, June 14, 2014 2:02 am. Comments (0)

Sunday 06/08/2014
Should You Buy? Watch_Dogs

The answer to the above question is actually quite simple: If you bought into the hype and you believe that Watch_Dogs was supposed to have been a game-changer or landmark in the history of video games, then you probably should not buy Watch_Dogs. If you want a sandbox stealth shooter that doesn’t feel like a carbon copy of Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row; then yes, you should buy Watch­_Dogs.

 

It’s the near-future, and Chicago is running on a Central Operating System, or ctOS. Everyone is watched, and no one’s info is safe. Roguish hacker Aiden Pearce attempted to game the system, and has suffered tragedy as a result. Now he’s out looking for the people responsible for the threat to his loved ones, and is willing to take the whole ctOS down to do it.

 

One of my favorite lines from the trailer is Aiden saying, “They think I'm a man out of control. But I've never had so much control.” When this game gives you a task to accomplish, it allows you to do so in ways that make you feel practically omnipotent. I don’t just mean stealth, either.

 

During one mission to hack a laptop in a heavily-guarded building, I kept getting shredded by gunfire when I tried to make my way through on foot. After several tries, I abandoned that approach and found a hiding spot. I discovered a better way to bounce my signal through the camera feeds, found the laptop and hacked it remotely, never killing anyone or putting myself in harm’s way.

 

This game is not perfect, and the sandbox does suffer from a dearth of collectibles or side missions. There are only so many times you can hack a civilian’s phone to hear details about their private lives before you get bored. Luckily I was able to keep myself occupied with the campaign, as well as the side missions you do get, which involve uncovering the history of the ctOS and the anti-ctOS grey hat movement.

 

My biggest complaint is the music. Not only does the score go quiet for long sections only to come roaring out of nowhere at the strangest moments, but the music playing on the car radio is terribly inappropriate. When I get in the car to go find the man who ordered the hit that killed my niece, hearing Vampire Weekend blaring out of the radio kills my whole sense of immersion. This isn’t GTA; not every sandbox game needs an in-game radio.

 

Overall, I’m glad I got the chance to play as Aiden and explore the world of Watch_Dogs. I’m still on the fence as to whether Ubisoft’s marketing campaign, with its assurances of a Great Big Game, worked to the game’s detriment or not. If you want a new GTA, this won’t be it. I recommend this game as a grim yet involving cyberpunk sandbox game, which is the only recommendation it really needs to find its audience.

Posted in Blogs/playbutton on Sunday, June 8, 2014 4:15 am. Comments (0)

Friday 05/30/2014
Pre-order blues: Give me a reason

I don’t think I’ve pre-ordered a piece of media since the Harry Potter series was still being released. At the time, I had a reason: The copies were finite, and, being my little nerdy self, I’d have sooner extracted my own eye-teeth than wait for them to restock. However, I’m currently looking with bemusement at the range of pre-orders available for video games. Why would someone want to buy a video game that is, theoretically, infinite within the digital space? Let’s look at some examples:

Example #1: By the time this article is published, the nigh-legendary Watch_Dogs will be available for purchase. One of the seven or so versions available was the special collector’s elite edition. I believe the retail price of that game was over twice that of the regular game. What you got for it were a few small perks, a statuette and an Aiden Pearce mask. Was the game really worth it, especially since it’s built up enough hype that even a perfect game couldn’t measure up?

Example #2: The latest game in Rocksteady’s excellent Arkham series was recently announced. The “bonus” you’ll receive for pre-ordering is the chance to play as one of the series’ female characters in the challenge maps. Who then? Perhaps Cassandra Cain? Pre-Oracle Barbara Gordon? Nope, it’s Mr. J’s banal bimbo herself, Harley Quinn.

Perhaps this is just me; I’ve never found Harley as interesting as the Bat-games, -comics, and -shows tell me that I should. Getting to play as her is perhaps the least-fulfilling “bonus” I can think of. But she’s nevertheless supposed to be the distributor’s ace-in-the-hole.

Example #3: Far Cry 4. One prevailing issue that occupied the press after the reveal: The allegations of racism. The art released in the announcement was of a suave man who appeared to be very Caucasian with one hand on the head of a native to the Himalayan setting.

Since Far Cry 3 was about a very rich, very white man dominating tribalistic natives on a savage island, this wasn’t as absurd as it seemed. Those allegations weren’t helped by the fact that the image released for the inevitable pre-order was of a white man holding an upward-thrust harpoon gun at hip level. I feel the pre-order bonus is actively working against the game, as it sets a certain image for the game which may not dovetail with what the developer’s intended.

I think pre-ordering benefits only one party, and that’s the distributor. Their game is already paid for and bringing in a profit before the critics have a chance to vet the game’s possible quality. I’m quite certain the party who benefits least is the customer. When you are waiting eagerly for your next game, I say save your money. Not every video game can be worth its price tag, and you should buy the game based on quality, not a quaint cosmetic add-on.

Posted in Playbutton on Friday, May 30, 2014 11:40 pm. | Tags: Harley Quinn , Video Game , Harry Potter , Cassandra Cain , Barbara Gordon , Batman , Special Collector , Rocksteady Studio Comments (0)

Should You Buy? Wolfenstein: The New Order

I love historical fiction, especially when it concerns World War II, one of the most tumultuous and fascinating periods in world history. There can never be enough fiction and nonfiction about it for me. So believe me as a fan when I say Wolfenstein: The New Order is not historical fiction.

The sitch: It’s 1960. After a failed attempt by Captain B.J. Blazkowicz and company to assassinate top Nazi scientist “Deathshead,” the Nazis have perfected mech designs and conquered the world. An injured, amnesiac Blazkowicz reawakens after 14 years and sets about taking them down with the help of the resistance.

I have some small complaints, like love interest Anya, who couldn't be more of a one-note character if she actually spoke in monotone. There’s also a supposedly impactful choice made in the prologue, but which doesn't impact the overall story. Honestly, that one feels less like player choice and more like the dev team couldn't make up their minds.

My big problem is that it doesn't have the impact it wants to have. I appreciate the attempt at realistically conveying how the world would change had the Nazis won, but the realism vanishes when I’m faced with giant robots. You can’t ask me to empathize with the Allied side (more than I already do) while also presenting an enemy almost totally divorced from the ones they were actually fighting. Also, let’s be honest: I don’t need another reason to kill Nazis. They’re Nazis!

Still, the game is fun just from a gameplay perspective. The shooting is some of the most satisfying I’ve had in a while. Each gun and weapon has weight, and, even better, you can dual wield almost all of them. There’s nothing more gratifying than taking on a small army of Nazis with an assault rifle the size of a sheepdog in each hand.

There’s also an in-game mechanic for armor and health that involves stats which regenerate when you collect the pick-ups laying around. There’s no inventory and the only thing Blazkowicz keeps on his person are his guns. It’s nice and simple, if a bit of a bother at times.

Finally, I haven’t been able to update my gaming PC in a while, so I have neither the inclination nor the wherewithal to play games on the highest graphical setting. It could just be a difficulty peculiar to me, but I've never had this many texture pop-in problems. Half the time I’d sidle up to a nondescript mass only to have all of the details appear five minutes later.

Wolfenstein: The New Order is big, loud, and fun in its gory way. Not to be construed as an historical work by any means, it nevertheless has a certain charm to it. Taken on its own, it’s old-fashioned but functional and makes for a breezy game to play when you just need some guiltless shooting.

Posted in Playbutton on Friday, May 30, 2014 12:25 am. Comments (0)

Thursday 05/29/2014
YouTube to acquire Twitch? What does that mean?

Rumor had it that YouTube, or rather Google is going to pay $1 billion to buy Twitch. That rumor has now been confirmed to the best of my knowledge. When this rumor was making the rounds, there were two types of responses. One was an immediate outpouring of trepidation; the other was, “Google’s buying what, now?”

If you happen to fall into the latter category, let me save you the trip to your preferred search engine: Twitch.tv is a livestreaming website that has become the go-to place on the internet for game viewing. Yes, gaming is becoming a spectator sport.

I do not really partake myself, not regularly anyway. It’s possible I’ll eventually try streaming. But the primary attraction there is competitive eSports, which I don’t play. If you’d asked me two years ago, I would not have said such a website would have been as popular as it is. It would never occur to me that someone would pay to watch others play games.

BUT . . . while I certainly couldn’t have predicted the popularity of Twitch, it does make sense when you think about it. The primary reason is the massive competitive gaming scene and the broadcasters who have built ESPN-style streams around it. I can completely understand why many find it entertaining; it’s the same reason I find it rather entertaining.

If you watch the right stream, you get to watch the moves of a player more skilled than you are, which is a great way to pick up tips, especially if you game competitively. Some players are funny; others have a lot to say on the game’s story, or the development of the game itself. The developers have been known to show footage of games before release on Twitch streams.

So there is a good reason why this deal was as expensive as it allegedly is. However, there is another portion of the audience worried about the implications of this purchase. There are some upsides, and Twitch no doubt gets the better monetary part of the bargain in the short term, as they will be able to upgrade their technology in ways that they cannot currently.

Twitch and YouTube have not established a rivalry, per se, but the livestreaming site is the first to truly challenge YT’s video dominance, and having a potentially motivating competition cut off by the application of a load of money rings hollow for some. Also, YouTube has notoriously angered its userbase over such things as last year’s copyright crisis and the Google+ integration. Many who use Twitch, either as streamers or as viewers, are afraid that the relative freedom they enjoy will be curtailed by the larger site’s oft-restrictive rules.

So there’s the long and the short of the Twitch purchase, and what it might mean for gamers. We’ll just have to wait and see if the fears or hopes are justified.

Posted in Playbutton on Thursday, May 29, 2014 2:30 am. | Tags: Video Game , Twitch Gameplay , Twitchtv , Youtube , Google , Twitch Comments (0)

Saturday 05/24/2014
You should be playing: Nancy Drew: The Shattered Medallion

In The Shattered Medallion, the 30th adventure in the Nancy Drew series, Nancy asks a character if he’s been leaving certain items around specifically for her to find. He responds, “I think the line between something existing and something waiting to be found is smudgy in your case.” In that one quote, Sonny Joon sums up the Nancy Drew series as only he could.

Nancy and her friends Bess and George have been selected to participate in a world-travel reality show, a la The Amazing Race. They discover that not all is as it seems, and that they may actually be at the mercy of the show’s gadabout producer. When George is injured in an act of sabotage, Nancy must uncover the truth behind the charade.

It’s actually a bit curious to me that these games have been so terminally overlooked by the mainstream gaming media. Sure, they’re not going to break Grand Theft Auto’s sales records, but the series has been one of, if not the most consistent and reliable that I’ve ever even heard of. It’s like a perfectly-mixed vanilla milkshake: Not the most exciting thing, but always well-made and refreshing.

The puzzles are this game’s bread and butter, and they live up to every standard. I quite enjoyed the challenge of some of them, the submarine puzzle being a particular favorite. Also, I cannot remember the last time I had to take out notepaper and write down all of the clues so that I wouldn’t miss an essential bit of information, but I had to do it for this game.

One of the best things about the writing in the Nancy Drew series is the sense you get that every character has an internal monologue to which Nancy is not privy. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the person of fan-favorite character Sonny Joon. Originally a one-off gag character mentioned in Secret of the Scarlet Hand, he’s been mentioned in several of the games. Here he comes across as nutty, but there’s a method behind the madness. He is set up as a foil to Nancy: Both have extraordinary minds and are looking for answers, though Sonny’s are not quite as domestic as Nancy’s.

The set-up for this game could be a little more fleshed-out. We are told in just so many sentences that we are on a reality show, and then told immediately to go solve a puzzle. Also, the story takes place in New Zealand, but you can hardly tell because there isn’t a lot of lip service paid to the history of the location. There’s some, but not much.

Still, I’d rather play the least of the Nancy Drew games than some of the other titles on the market. For any of my criticisms of the execution, the game has style and substance to make up for it. If you are an adventure gamer or an ardent puzzler, do not miss this title!

Posted in Playbutton on Saturday, May 24, 2014 2:20 am. | Tags: Nancy Drew Computer Games , Nancy Drew , Secret Of The Scarlet Hand , Amazing Race , Sonny Joon , Mainstream Gaming Media , Grand Theft Auto Comments (0)

Wednesday 05/21/2014
Going casual: Recommended Nancy Drew Games

I have mentioned the Nancy Drew series a few times now, but I’ve not yet had the pleasure of doing a review for this blog. That will be rectified in a few days, when I receive The Shattered Medallion, the thirtieth in the series. I’ve been a Nancy Drew fan since childhood and these games are what tided me over my early teenage years. So here are the five games I recommend, must-plays for adventure gamers everywhere.

5. The Deadly Device

My first recommended game skirts the line of appropriateness since it’s one of two games in the series to feature an actual murder as the catalyst of the mystery. With a host of puzzles to solve and as plausible a backstory as you’re likely to get tying them together, this game is far and away the best of the newer games.

4. Haunting of Castle Malloy

If you can handle positively atrocious British/Irish accents from the voice actors, then you’ll enjoy this game. It doesn’t make pretentions to being a horror game, as some of the spookier titles do, but instead it allows the story to be a bit campy and gives a cursory glance at Irish folklore. The series can and has done much worse with ghost stories.

3. Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon

Lucky game thirteen is one of the most puzzle-heavy in the series: You’ll see some in the very first stage that you won’t be able to solve until near the endgame. Taking place almost exclusively on the titular train, the game is tightly paced and makes up for in pretty art design what it lacks in character animation. This game also marks the digital debut of the Hardy Boys, Nancy’s longtime compatriots.

2. Secret of the Scarlet Hand

If you want puzzles, this game will be more than your match. In a sort of Nancy Drew/Indiana Jones hybrid, Nancy must solve the riddles of an ancient tomb while within the confines of an American museum. While most of these games aren’t so hard for the critical thinker, this game goes out of its way to throw down the gauntlet. If you want a challenge in your mystery game, pick this one up.

1. Treasure in the Royal Tower

My personal favorite of all the games, this story has the most entertaining and least condescending backstory of them all. When Nancy gets snowed in at a ski resort, she’s drawn into an historical mystery involving the French Revolution and a treasure hunt. This game has the best balance of puzzles and story, and the art design is superb yet subtle. If you can hunt down this older title, definitely give it a try!

Posted in Playbutton on Wednesday, May 21, 2014 12:50 am. | Tags: Nancy Drew , Nancy Drew Computer Games , Hardy Boys , Games , Entertainment , The Hardy Boys , Treasure In The Royal Tower , Nancy Drew Games Comments (0)

Tuesday 05/20/2014
Coming soon: Wolfenstein: The New Order

Dealing with older franchises I have no truck with seems to be my lot for 2014. Between Strider, Metal Gear Solid, and now Wolfenstein, I’ve spent a quite a lot of time doing rapid, on-the-fly research to try and familiarize myself with these ancient bloodlines. I feel like a college student who changed my major to archaeology in my senior year as I am scrambling to catch up.

Of all the properties being brought back this year, Wolfenstein is one of the oldest, the Sumer to Metal Gear’s Rome, if you will. This series takes immensely long coffee breaks between games. Castle Wolfenstein came out in 1981, the classic Wolfenstein 3D came out in 1992, and Return to Castle Wolfenstein came out in 2001. A sequel, just called Wolfenstein, came out in 2009, but I ignored it in favor of Arkham Asylum, which came out the same month. I suspect I’m not the only one.

Wolfenstein: The New Order is set in an alternate history in which the Axis powers won World War II (I assume; they’ve only shown the Nazis in all the promotional material). Recovering two-dimensional sprite B. J. Blazkowicz emerges from a period of amnesiac daffiness to take his place with the resistance. The Nazis have sinister new tech powers, developed at the behest of perennial antagonist General Deathshead.

TNO looks to be the offspring of Duke Nukem, with its upfront machismo and ham; and Fallout, with its cheery yet fleeting acquaintance with real-world history and politics. At least that’s what I hope it is. I’m concerned that it might take itself a little too seriously considering its premise: I know that the Nazis winning is a doomsday scenario, but we’ve spent too many years defanging the Nazis for that to be anything other than a campy plot.

Anyway, the game is a first-person shooter, naturally, with most of the usual bells and whistles. One which seems to be missing is regenerating health, a staple of the genre for the last eight years or so. Far from magically growing a skin on his open wounds when he ducks behind cover, B. J. needs meds and body armor to make it through his turn as the resistance’s one-man army.

As for cover, this seems to be another thing that is going away. I mean, from the footage I’ve seen, B. J. can duck behind things, but only insofar as the player can strafe him around parts of the environment; as opposed to his character model pressing rigidly up against the scenery a la Gears of War. Here’s hoping they do away with quick-time events, just to complete the trifecta.

Overall, this one looks promising, though I once again reserve my recommendation. We’ll see if this game lives up to its history.

Posted in Playbutton on Tuesday, May 20, 2014 12:45 am. Comments (0)

Wednesday 05/07/2014
You should be playing: Child of Light

I noticed this unassuming little RPG title for sale on Steam for $15. My thought was “I’ve spent more than that on less pretty titles lately. Time to indulge myself.” It was the best purchase I’ve made in a good long while!

The greatest thing I can say for Child of Light is that it is a game I sincerely wish I could have played 10 years ago. This is a game that is compatible for people of all ages, and one of the few I can say is perfectly appropriate for children or young teenagers. I would recommend it to either a child or a mother. The gorgeous art, simple story, and rewarding strategy system add up to a charming and surprisingly deep game.

Little Aurora, whose flowing red locks make her look like a young Nariko from Heavenly Sword, is the protagonist. She is the daughter of a duke who falls asleep one night. When she doesn’t wake up the next day, everyone except her father assumes she is dead, but she is actually in a world called Lemuria.

The game throws you, and Aurora, right into the thick of it. You wake up in Lemuria, disoriented and with no goal. I spent about ten minutes just playing with the controls and exploring. Eventually you meet a firefly named Igniculus, who tells Aurora that a seer might be able to help her find her way out. And off you go!

The combat system is a strange beast, if a distinctive one. It’s a mix of turn-based and real-time strategy, with enemies and allies racing in an on-screen slider to see who can attack the fastest. Aurora and her companions (she picks up several over the course of the story) are kitted out with a suite of attacks and defenses. It’s very easy to figure out, but tricky to play effectively. Do you stop to take a health potion, or gamble that your attack will slow the enemy down? Again, easy to play, tricky to play well.

If I have a tiny complaint, it would be the dialogue. While clearly intended to be metric verse of the heroic variety, it sounded more often than not like I’d walked in on a bad poetry slam. Luckily it didn’t prevent me from loving the characters, though it did make the story a little hard to suss out at first. Is Aurora in the dream with her father, or is she trying to get back to save him? Is he even in danger, or is Aurora just desperate to escape? Help, Igniculus!

This adventure, with its host of colorful characters and beautiful environs, is well worth the price. I recommend it freely to anyone who wants to play a game that has the right balance of style and substance and who isn’t afraid of quirky gameplay mechanics.

Posted in Playbutton on Wednesday, May 7, 2014 12:18 am. Comments (0)

Monday 05/05/2014
Cameos in Call of Duty: Kevin Spacey joins the rogue gallery

I've already covered celebrity cameos in video games, and my general opinion of them. In short, they work as long as knowing the celebrity’s name is a side joke, not their character’s entire raison d’être. Having a character in a game for the sole purpose of filling a slot on someone’s IMDb page is just bad writing. However, in this and other things, the Call of Duty series operates under its own set of rules.

In case you missed it, the trailer for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Activision’s 2014 release, dropped this week. It was supposed to be out on Sunday, but they had to release it early after it was leaked. I should say “leaked,” because an early trailer would explain why all of Activision’s games have been up for Steam sale since midweek. (I’m going to buy Vampire: The Masquerade and Prototype.)

CoD has never been shy about showcasing their celebrity talent in trailers. I’d wager a good chunk of their expenses go toward the actors’ fees. The in-game voices have included Sam Worthington, Gary Oldman, Michael Rooker, and Lance Henriksen; and Megan Fox even made a cursory cameo in the Ghosts trailer.

Now the latest actor to join their stable is Kevin Spacey, recently of House of Cards. Since that series has several sequences of Spacey’s character, Frank Underwood, playing Call of Duty to relax; I prefer to believe that this is some kind of exchange. Rumor has it that this will be more than a cameo: Spacey will be playing the primary antagonist, the head of an evil PMC.

Time for a quick reality check: While I think Spacey is a superb actor and I love House of Cards, I don’t for a moment think his presence will elevate the surrounding game. If the game turns out well, it’ll be because the new developer has put in a huge amount of work and improved upon the formula. At best, Spacey will be too good of an actor for the game.

 I will say this: Giving the role to a relatively mild-mannered actor who plays the part of a cutthroat and controversial politician on television is much better than giving it to an actual, dyed-in-the-wool, controversial politician. Remember Black Ops II? Not only did we have Oliver North of the Iran-Contra Affair as a behind-the-scenes military adviser and as his younger self in a minor role, we also had David Petraeus as the Secretary of Defense. Yes, that game came out a week after he resigned his position following the 2012 Petraeus-Broadwell scandal. Timing, huh?

Posted in Playbutton on Monday, May 5, 2014 12:51 am. | Tags: Kevin Spacey , Call Of Duty , House Of Cards , Frank Underwood , Sam Worthington , Gamer , Gaming Comments (0)

Wednesday 04/30/2014
Don't Waste Your Money: Ground Zeroes

Well, I haven’t used this form of title in a long while. In fact, I believe I’ve only used it once before, and for good reason. Usually I just sort of presume every game has some kind of merit to a specific audience, which means it gets a “Should You Buy” article.

That might be the case here. Certainly the Metal Gear Solid series has its audience of devoted fans, but I sincerely implore them to approach this game with caution. I won’t deny that it has appeal and character. But it’s a prelude to a (presumably) larger game. I want to see that game, not this one.

For myself, I’ve never been able to get into Metal Gear, in much the same way that I’ve never been able to get into Tolkien or General Hospital, though I acknowledge the influence and appeal. The series is like a 30-pound sugarless doughnut: Big, dense, and rather flavorless, just in my opinion.

The game is a sequel to Peace Walker, which I’ve never played. It concerns Big Boss, the former Naked Snake, rescuing some young compatriots from an American prison camp in Cuba. This is more or less all there is to the story. I’m fairly certain I would have had to play Peace Walker to understand the significance of the two kids in the grand scheme of things, but they are just a goal here.

When all is said and done, this game is the length of a demo and costs around $30, and I bought it after Konami dropped the price. For what it offers, which is a bare preview of a presumably deep and involving sandbox stealth game involving a single mission and a few side challenges, that seems steep.

Let me be clear: My franchise-based misgivings notwithstanding, I’m looking forward to The Phantom Pain. Ground Zeroes has done its job in that regard. The stealth is interesting to play. I gave the upper difficulties a try and it was quite the challenge.

Think about how easy this was for Kojima and Konami. They could have offered this game for around $10 US, if not for free. Imagine how different it would have been had they done so: Fans would have had their first entry in the Solid series in four years (or six, depending on how you feel about Peace Walker). Non-fans would have said, “Oh, I recognize that series’ name, and it’s cheap. Might as well give it a try.” The game publisher could have made their money back easily and we could have had a tantalizing glimpse of a juicier game.

I've got my fingers crossed for Phantom Pain. Please don’t mess this one up.

Posted in Playbutton on Wednesday, April 30, 2014 12:55 am. | Tags: Gaming , Gamers , Metal Gear Solid , General Hospital , Metal Gear , Peace Walker , Konami , The Phantom Pain , Ground Zeroes , Kojima Comments (2)

Tuesday 04/29/2014
Coming soon: Outlast:Whistleblower

I never really had the pleasure of putting all of my thoughts about Outlast in the original article I wrote. This is mostly because I hadn’t finished it then. I could lie and tell you it was because I simply never had the time, but the truth is . . . I got too scared.

But can you blame me? Outlast was a scary game. This is despite the fact that it adhered to several genre clichés, especially the trope of the isolated mental hospital; I’m now convinced there have been more asylums in horror movies and video games then there have ever been in real life.

The story of Outlast is the one part of the story that I think could use a bit of shoring up. Protagonist Miles Upshur, a freelance journalist, gets an anonymous tip that something is wrong at Colorado’s Mount Massive Asylum. He drives up there (alone, natch) with a video camera and the best of intentions, ready to get the story of a lifetime. Instead, he spends one of the most harrowing nights on record trying to escape. SPOILER ALERT: He doesn’t make it.

Whistleblower is an expansion of the game’s story, and has promised to be both a prologue and epilogue. You will play as Waylon Park, the man who sends Miles (and other journalists who don’t take the bait) his tip. You will get a first-person view of the fall of Mount Massive, and an insider’s perspective on the craziness and horror of which Miles gets just a late taste.

The problem is that Outlast’s story was a bit lacking. Sure, the premise I outlined above is promising enough. However, near the end of the game, some late twists involve Nazis, some kind of X-Files-style secret conspiracy, and a mysterious energy called The Walrider that may or may not be a demon. It gets ridiculous very quickly. I’m not sure there’s anyway Whistleblower could expand on that premise in a truncated way without seeming itself equally ridiculous.

And, let’s be honest: Mount Massive Asylum is not Black Mesa; I don’t need an extended prologue showing the normal, day-to-day operations of the place just so it’ll seem worse when it all goes south. It’s plenty creepy when I walk in and see body parts laying everywhere.

With that being said, I will buy this DLC. I liked Outlast enough that I think this would have to be an absolute disaster to truly disappoint me.

Posted in Playbutton on Tuesday, April 29, 2014 6:00 am. | Tags: Gaming , Gamers , Mount Massive Asylum , Outlast Whistleblower , Black Mesa , The Walrider , Whistleblower Comments (0)

Saturday 04/19/2014
You Should Be Playing: The Wolf Among Us

I love film noir. Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler. The streets steam while cloaked figures with hidden agendas prowl along the edges of the muted lamps. Beautiful women with large eyes and tight dresses stand framed in doorways, aloof yet inviting. Rugged wolf-men take drags from cigarettes to prevent the emergence of their lupine glory – wait, what?

Yes, that was my reaction verbatim. Meet The Wolf Among Us . . . not your typical mystery game!

If you’re looking for a good noir-ish video game, and you've already finished L.A. Noire, then The Wolf Among Us is just what you’re looking for. It’s one of Telltale Games’ episodic series. I’m sure I've mentioned this game, and its parent series the Fables comics before. I just got around to playing the third episode, released earlier this month.

You play as Bigby Wolf, and I’ll give you one guess which story he’s from. Wolf is the Sheriff of Fabletown, a neighborhood in New York City inhabited by hard-bitten, jaded versions of our favorite fairy tale characters. The game begins with Bigby meeting a mysterious young woman hours before her brutal murder, the first murder that’s happened in Fabletown in years. In the most recently released episode, as of this writing, he’s discovered that this is the tip of the corruption iceberg that is Fabletown.

This entire article could be solely about the game’s story, without touching the gameplay. That’s because there’s precious little of it. It’s not a puzzle game or an adventure game. I would call it one or the other, except for the fact that you’ll be surprised by quick-time events that appear now and then. You could be controlling Bigby through a tame investigation scene, and then you’ll suddenly have to participate in a speedy chase. It’s schizophrenic, at best.

I know I said this already in my article on the Dark Parables, but there is something very strange about this tendency to turn classic European fairy tales into grim bloodbaths. They were already that in their original form, but at least they tried to provide a cautionary tale. My first thought is that it’s a backlash against childhood naiveté as personified by Disney films. But these characters seem to be their own people, rather than elaborate caricatures.

Perhaps this is some kind of elaborate satire, a commentary on how the cautionary tales of yesteryear have become subsumed by the modern predilection for senseless violence for its’ own sake. Whatever else I can say about this game, it’s a beautiful thing to look at. For a game so lean that it borders on the casual, it’s certainly a rich experience.

Posted in Playbutton on Saturday, April 19, 2014 2:05 am. | Tags: Military Personnel , Fabletown , Telltale Game , Fables , Bigby Wolf , Raymond Chandler , Dashiell Hammett , Dark Parables , Gaming , Gamers Comments (0)

Friday 04/11/2014
Should You Buy? Sony's Playstation 4 (and inFAMOUS Second Son)

I am now convinced that there will not be a compelling reason to buy an eighth generation console for at least another year. I knew they would need to build up a head of steam just to matter, but I didn’t realize it would take this long. Since I adamantly refuse to buy a Playstation 4, no, I have not actually played Infamous Second Son. If you think this admission vacates the integrity of either myself or this article, go ahead and click away now.

If you’re still with me, I’d like to explain something: The “Should You Buy” series is intended to give some games a more tentative recommendation than “You Should Be Playing.” Usually, I save it for games that I believe will be best for a limited or niche audience. In this case, the niche audience is “PS4 owners.”

So when I pose the thesis implied in the title, which is “Should anyone buy the new InFamous,” what I mean is “Does buying this game in anyway justify a Playstation 4 which has already been purchased?” Is this the game which will finally give you the full experience of a fun game on a piece of superior hardware?

If the question were “Should you buy a Playstation 4 just to play Second Son?” the answer would be a swift, decisive no in about fourteen languages. Buying a console to play one game is unwise, to be generous. Wait another year, or even a few months, and the console should have an additional set of next-gen games, with some exclusives like the Uncharted sequel.

As for the game itself, I can only make a few cursory judgments, and judging it really wasn’t what I wanted to do. But here goes: The game looks quite fun. Honestly, when I eventually get around to the next-gen games, it’s top of my list. If you already own a PS4, I say get the game if you haven’t already.

I do have a question, though: They’ve quite obviously scanned their three main actors in as the faces of their characters. I can tell the cutscenes have been mocapped, and the three actors also provide the voices. So, Sucker Punch, why didn’t you just make a movie? I would have been quite happy to see Laura Bailey, a personal favorite of mine, on screen in all her glory.

If there is one thing you can say about all new-gen games, it’s that they certainly look very good. The graphical improvement from the last generation is certainly not infinitesimal, but I do wonder how long that will hold appeal as younger gamers grow perpetually more used to snazzy graphics.

As with all things of the new generation, I’m content to wait it out and watch.

Posted in Playbutton on Friday, April 11, 2014 1:05 am. | Tags: Playstation , Sony , Laura Bailey , Playstation 4 , Video Game , Gaming , Gamers Comments (1)

Wednesday 04/09/2014
You Should Be Playing: Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode 2

With three games and two episodes of DLC behind us, I’m convinced Ken Levine’s primary goal with the Bioshock series has been to get us talking. Why would he make this elaborate epic steeped in philosophy, politics, and the nature of freewill and predestination if not to get us to ask questions? If that’s the case, I’ll indulge him.

Here’s my first question: What does everyone have against Edith Piaf? I like Edith Piaf! I associate her voice with warmth and love. Between this and Inception, everyone keeps trying to get me to tie it to unsettling things. The game opens with a beautiful but spooky dream sequence on the streets of Paris to the sound of La Vie En Rose. The sequence quickly devolves into a nightmare that has protagonist Elizabeth screaming and crying. I’m right there with you, girl.

In case you’re just joining us, SPOILER ALERT. At the end of the last episode, we discovered player character ‘Booker’ was just another version of villain Comstock in a KotORian twist. Now timeline-jumping damsel Elizabeth is our playable protagonist, and she’s trying to save Sally, the little girl she reluctantly exploited to lead Comstock to his death.

Unlike the last episode, which was set in Rapture without really being so much about Rapture, Episode 2 gets things going right away by introducing us to characters we met all the way back in the original Bioshock. This story is about Rapture to a degree, as Elizabeth must navigate the swiftly-decaying utopia. It’s falling apart in much the same way Columbia of Infinite did when confronted with its own conflicting ideals.

But make no mistake, this episode is primarily about Elizabeth, easily the most likable and compelling character in the entire series, and wrapping up her story. We hear a bit about Rapture’s destructive decadence, the twisted concept of the Little Sisters and Big Daddies, and the schism which will ultimately topple the whole flimsy façade. However, we mostly hear about this through the lens of Elizabeth’s involvement.

Despite the fact that this game will twist you up in an emotional pretzel, it’s strangely peaceful. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Irrational Games is gone and Ken Levine has moved on, but this game feels like a goodbye to us as much as it does the end of a story. I felt very calm, especially towards the end, when the game surprises by leading almost seamlessly into the events of the first game.

So if this is goodbye, then it’s a beautiful goodbye, Irrational. As much as I like Bioshock, I hope its new custodians respect this firm and definitive end and allow the series to enter the respected annals of gaming history where it most deserves to be.

Posted in Playbutton on Wednesday, April 9, 2014 2:40 pm. | Tags: Bioshock , Ken Levine , Bioshock Infinite , Rapture , Edith Piaf , Digital Media , Games , Biopunk , Application Software , Burial At Sea Comments (0)

Wednesday 04/02/2014
Coming Soon: Daylight

In my list of the Top Games of 2013, I said that Outlast made the list for its peerless ability to scare me. I maintained that I’m not difficult to scare, and that’s true; at least when it comes to the sort of things I’m told must be scary. For example, Slender Man doesn’t scare me, because he doesn’t do anything. I know I’m supposed to be at my most scared when there is a dark, empty room ahead of me. But . . . no, I find the crazed inmates at Mount Massive Asylum charging at me screaming to be infinitely more frightening.

However, perhaps I’m just not trying hard enough. After all, an environment by itself can be a hundred times scarier than anything which actually moves. That was what I loved about the point-and-click adventure game Dark Fall. Set dressing and atmosphere have scared me in movies like Session 9. Oh look, another abandoned mental hospital!

How about we try some more of that? After all, whatever has the capacity to scare me into blithering hysterics once has the capacity to do it a second time! On that note, a game called Daylight is coming out for PC and PS4 at the end of the month.

Note that I’m not comparing the two. Daylight looks like a much more character-centric game than Outlast. Protagonist Sarah wakes up in the hospital in the dead of night with no memory, armed only with a cell phone. She’ll have to find ways of outwitting a supernatural threat which seems to have it out for her, personally.

The hospital and accompanying environments are “procedurally-generated,” according to the developers. I think that means “randomly-generated,” but it’s just obtuse enough that I’m not sure. In practice, though, it’s the same thing; no two play-throughs of the game will be exactly alike.

I hope for the game’s sake that it doesn’t squander the potential this sort of premise offers. Granted, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before: Amnesia, abandoned mental hospital, demonic threats in the shadows are all staples of a formula we can recite in our nightmares. But that gives them free rein to surprise us.

The key to a good horror game is vulnerability. Daylight appears to be a story centered on the main character, if Sarah’s panicky and sob-wracked voice-over in the trailer is anything to go by. We’ll have to wait and see if she’s a character we can identify with. If she is, we’ll probably share her fear. Here’s hoping I’ll be in blithering hysterics all over again!

Posted in Playbutton on Wednesday, April 2, 2014 10:50 pm. | Tags: Survival Horror , Dark Fall , Mount Massive Asylum , Daylight , Zombie Studios , Gaming , Gamers Comments (0)

Monday 03/31/2014
Going Casual: Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher

Remember when I said I wanted more games based on literature? Take this casual series as an example of how to do it correctly. It is, as the subtitle implies, made up of adaptations of classic Poe stories.

 

The player character is the friend of C. Auguste Dupin. Dupin, the prototypical genius detective (early progenitor of my beloved Sherlock Holmes, in fact), is only in a few of the Poe mystery/horror stories. Here, he and his friend the Narrator are the detectives called in to solve the mysteries based on a wide variety of Poe stories, from the original Murders in the Rue Morgue to The Black Cat to The Premature Burial.

 

In this latest game, you and Dupin must travel to the home of the Usher twins, who share an empathic bond and mysterious failing health. It’s a detective spin on this classic psychological horror, as you and Dupin have arrived just before the climax of the story and must attempt to save the twins from the mysterious force that seems to mean them ill.

 

I’ll be honest: Compared with Rue Morgue or Cask of Amontillado, Usher is not a favorite of mine. I don’t dislike it, because Poe at his least interesting is still one of the most electrifying writers to ever set quill to paper. However, I’ve never been able to figure out if the story is meant to be truly supernatural or metaphorical, or reconcile the idea that it could be both.

 

Maybe I’m just a fool, but, if the game is any indication, I’m not the only one having that difficulty. The story makes noises about the creepiness of the twins, but they’re quickly pushed aside in favor of showing the maliciousness of the sentient Usher estate. There’s not a lick of ambiguity here: The house is alive and must be constantly satiated with blood.

 

Whereas the previous games have managed to balance the Poe stories with a vibrant aesthetic and crime-procedural pacing, this game plays like a passionless take on one of Poe’s darkest tales. The puzzles are downright obnoxious in how they’ve been implemented into the locations, and there are some baffling story threads about ghosts which never seem to go anywhere.

 

If the idea of a game series based upon the works of Poe intrigues you, start with The Black Cat, Rue Morgue, or Masque of Red Death. This game, while still good for what it is, is not really for someone looking to try the series out.

Posted in Blogs/playbutton on Monday, March 31, 2014 2:02 am. Updated: 12:49 am. Comments (0)

Wednesday 03/26/2014
You should be playing: Dark Souls II

If you were to take the word of the players, you’d think the original Demon’s Souls and its successor Dark Souls were the video game equivalent of Mount Everest surmounted by Scylla and Charybdis. There’s Hard, there’s Veteran, and then there’s Dark Souls. So the hype would have you believe, anyway.

But wait, am I going to be the one who tells you that Dark Souls really isn’t as hard as everyone says? Oh god no! This game will kick you up the tallest building around and back down the other side.

The good news and the bad news? The sequel will do just the same thing to you. If you think the game has eased up to allow new users a more forgiving point of entrance into the series, then you really haven’t been paying attention. Dark Souls II not only meets its predecessor beat for beat, but might just have edged it out in terms of difficulty.

The world of Dark Souls isn’t the one of Campbellian heroics like Bioware’s Dragon Age or the focus-lite sandbox fun of Skyrim. In Dark Souls, you and your character exist to get eaten alive by a world that is more grim suffering than anything else. Dark Souls II ups the ante by instituting penalties whenever you die. You will die, too; the A.I. fights back intelligently.

For the Windows crowd, you will have to wait for late April for your Dark Souls fix. The PC version of the game will not be coming out for another month. I’ve never played the PC version of the first game, but rumor has it that it’s inferior to the console version and had to be extensively modded. I hope for all our sakes that’s not the case with the PC version of the sequel.

Dark Souls II has the potential to be one of those games, a challenge reserved for what one might call the “upper echelons” of gamer ranks, because it’s designed to punish the undedicated. I doubt it has the capacity to be a classic, for that reason if for no other.

So, if you’ve got some time to kill and want to give yourself the satisfaction that comes with overcoming an unforgiving challenge, you could do a lot worse than Dark Souls II. The game is currently available for current-generation consoles, the 360 and the PS3. The official date of release for the PC version is April 25.

Posted in Playbutton on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 1:50 pm. | Tags: Dark Souls Ii , Dark Souls , Games , Player Character Comments (0)

Thursday 03/20/2014
How not to write a character, courtesy of Thief 2014

So you all already know my opinion of the new Thief game. I didn’t get to say everything I wanted to say about the writing. Here’s the biggest problem: When you want to make a good story and draw the players into a world, you need good characters to whom they can relate.

None of the characters in Thief 2014 even approach likability. Romano Orzari plays Garrett as half-asleep even at his most agitated. Garrett, do you want to help the poor or don’t you? Do you want to stop the plague or don’t you? Do you have a heart in that klepto body or don’t you?

Most of the story problems could have been balanced had New Garrett been allowed to have any sense of self-awareness. A good long look at the fourth wall is all it would have taken for us to sympathize with him for living in such a trite, boring world. For example, as he’s escaping a brothel, he accidentally winds up in the room occupied by the primary villain and his favorite prostitute. I was waiting for Garrett to give an eyeroll and a “Why me?” face, but all he does is sit there through the cutscene like a bump on a pickle until somebody spots him.

This isn’t even mentioning Erin, Garrett’s protégé who is killed in the prologue and whose death is supposed to haunt Garrett. She’s the epitome of bad character writing. Without giving away any great spoilers (not that the story isn’t as predictable as the sunset), I’d say her big role early in the story cripples any hope the player has of bonding with the world or Garrett.

All of our impressions of her are poor by design: She’s noisy, unsubtle, relies too much on a tool, and she kills when she doesn’t have to. When Garrett justly and reasonably criticizes everything she does, she actually has the gall to accuse Garrett of jealousy and say that she’s better than him. Needless to say, she’s killed a few minutes later because she’s determined to try and steal something Garrett says isn’t worth the effort.

Even Garrett seems determined to forget her, like the one-off, tutorial-assist character she should have been, but the game keeps shoving her back in his face. “You’re upset that this person died,” it says. Are you absolutely sure about that, game? How was I supposed to care about the world and characters when this awful, one-note sidekick was all I saw of it for the whole first mission?

Even if this game hadn’t been part of the venerated Thief franchise, it still would have been considered bad. If I had to point to some of the worst parts of this game, I’d be pointing straight at the poorly-written characters.

Posted in Playbutton on Thursday, March 20, 2014 7:30 am. | Tags: Garrett , Romano Orzari , Thief , Eidos Montreal , Roleplaying , Stephen Russell , Gamers , Gaming , Game Character , Thief 2014 Comments (0)

Tuesday 03/18/2014
Should You Buy? Thief

First, I need to apologize. A little while ago, I wrote an article about my favorite series starring one player character. If I’d given myself more time to reflect and incubate, I’d have given the top spot to the character who most deserves to possess it: Master Thief Garrett from the Thief series. Sorry, Commander Shepard. Consider that list updated with everyone else bumped down a peg.

When I wrote that list, I hadn’t played any of the Thief games for a while. I’m currently in the middle of replaying Thief II: The Metal Age. Does this set my expectations of the new Thief very high? Of course it does, but the game has marketed itself as the legacy of an extremely well-regarded series. I can’t even allow Eidos Montreal the handicap of unfair expectations. They already managed it once with Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which is about as well-liked as a successor to a notoriously good game can possibly be.

Granted, the story isn’t very different from classic Thief. Supernatural-meets-steampunk aesthetic, warring city factions, and poor, sullen Garrett gets dragged into a social allegory against his will. So what makes this one less satisfying? If I used one word to sum it up, I guess it would be “toothless.”

The story is hopelessly one-note, filled with unlikeable and wooden characters, including Garrett himself. He doesn’t have half of the original Garrett’s deadpan sardonic humor. Most of the over-scripted jokes fall completely flat.

Speaking of flat, the city which functions as the mission hub is about as interesting as a model home and looks just as lived-in. After just two missions, I was already sick of walking around the place, and I got so bored I’d alt-tab out of the game for a Netflix break between rooftops.

The graphics are also poor for a game supposedly tailored for the new console generation. I like that you can see Garrett’s body, but do we really need to see his preternaturally spindly fingers hovering in a fist on the side of the screen every time he crouches, like he’s about to take part in the world’s most lackadaisical boxing match?

Do I have anything nice to say? Well, yes, the stealth mechanics are alright, somewhat. The guards are abnormally prescient when they want to be, but the really strange characters are the crows and dogs. You could scoot across the ground like a snake with new skin and they’ll still hear you. Still, when the levels bother to let you have some fun, you can pull off some good heists.

Bottom line: Skip the new Thief; buy the old games. This game failed to live up to the potential it claimed to have had.

Posted in Playbutton on Tuesday, March 18, 2014 5:45 pm. | Tags: Thief , Garrett , Commander Shepard , Video Game , Thief Ii: The Metal Age , Eidos Montreal , Deus Ex: Human Revolution , Gaming , Gamers , Supernatural , Steampunk Comments (0)

Sunday 03/09/2014
Going casual: Hidden Expedition: Smithsonian Hope Diamond

Big Fish Games is basically the Valve of casual games. Not only does it run one of the most popular digital distribution systems for its genre of games, it also has two of the best series of games on the market. Now Big Fish just needs to make an announcement about their own in-house operating system and the analogy will be complete.

Hidden Expedition is the yin to Mystery Case Files’s yang. While MCF focuses on paranormal mystery stories, HE tells adventure stories everywhere from the holds of the Titanic to the islands in the Bermuda Triangle. My two favorite games in the series so far have been Everest and Amazon.

In the latest game, they tackle one of the world’s most famous and most notorious shiny stones, the Hope Diamond. Almost as well-known for the trail of bodies that supposedly follows it as for its beauty; the Tavernier Blue is as good a MacGuffin as anything.

If I have one large quibble with this game, it has to be the story. Yes, I’m aware the façade of a story in casual games is a shaky one at best, but when a series is trying to create a big, multi-game story arc, they need to pay more attention. I know they can do it, because they’ve managed to do it with MCF.

So, see if you can follow this: In the first three games of the series, there was really no attempt to make a story. It wasn’t until Devil’s Triangle that it was implied that you were playing the same adventurer, a prized member of the Hidden Expedition organization. Hope Diamond opens with that same organization recruiting you with elaborate puzzles. And no, it’s not a prequel; they specifically mention that your exploits in Everest, etc. drew their attention. So am I a famed Hidden Expedition member or not?

Well, c’est la vie. Like I said, I’m not going to get too hung up on the tissue-thin story premise when there’s so much else to do. The hidden-object scenes are almost outnumbered by the puzzles, but those are all generally decent. You might not find any particularly big challenges, but you might have to stop in several places for careful thought. In a game which isn’t specifically about puzzles, that’s something.

This game is a nice little walk through history, as viewed through the lens of the Smithsonian and the Hope Diamond. It’s not a brain-melting challenge, but there are worse ways to spend a casual evening.

Posted in Playbutton on Sunday, March 9, 2014 7:45 pm. | Tags: Casual Games , Hope Diamond , Hidden Expedition , Smithsonian , Video Games , Big Fish Games , Gaming , Gamers Comments (0)