Category Archives: Games

Rule of Rose (Retro Game Review)

I’ve got a new video review up. It looks at the rare and somewhat controversial PlayStation 2 game, Rule of Rose. Check it out if you’re into survival horror.

What I’m Playing This Week

Between the long weekend and being off sick from work one day last week, I’ve had a chance to play a lot of games over the past little while. Here’s what I’ve been playing.

Gravity Ghost

Gravity Ghost

I picked this one up a while ago and just tried it out this past week. What a thoroughly charming game. It has a great art style that looks like pastels on dark construction paper and very relaxing gameplay. It’s about a little ghost girl who is searching the cosmos for her lost fox friend and it manages to be both sad and uplifting. Each level has you collecting stars, or sometimes reuniting animal spirits with their bodies. The game plays with gravity, with different types of celestial bodies causing different reactions and pulls on your character. While there’s a bit of a puzzle solving element in reaching your goals, its also feasible to just float around until you find your way there. Like a happy accident.

Undertale

I heard this was a great RPG and I was interested to try it out, but not in any rush. When I heard the gameplay used bullet hell mechanics my need to play became more pressing. Undertale is quite charming. It’s full of wit and humour and put a smile on my face at times. However, I’m not overly fond of the gameplay. During combat, you can attack opponents or interact with them in some other way. When you get attacked is where the bullet hell mechanics come in and they really aren’t great. It’s basically a tiny box in the middle of your screen with your character represented by a heart and you need to move around to avoid objects that start moving through the box. I guess that’s technically what a bullet hell (minus the quite important ‘shooter’ bit) is, but it’s not fun or flashy and you have to move around with your keyboard. Ew.

Undertale’s big draw is that it subverts normal RPG tropes. The biggest one being that you don’t have to kill monsters – you can talk to them or interact with them in some way to make them surrender. However, without killing things you gain no XP so the no-kill route is the harder path. I’ve heard people complain when things get too tough that they don’t want to ruin their no-kill playthrough. There’s something very unnatural feeling about this – choosing how you’ll play a game beforehand. Placing these kinds of restrictions on yourself, and having gameplay that totally supports and even encourages this, feels  strange. Inorganic. My favourite parts of many RPGs are being able to use your character’s particular set of skills to complete an objective without combat. Often pumping skill points into things like Intellect or Charisma means you’re not as good of a fighter when combat is unavoidable. Undertale takes this to a whole other level by completely removing any measure of character progression, a very important part of an RPG, and replacing it with… feeling good about yourself for not killing monsters? It does raise questions about how much punishment you’re willing to take to do the “good” thing, but I’m still in the camp that thinks gameplay should be enjoyable. Maybe I’ll write some more about this when I’m further in.

The Beginner’s Guide

The Beginner's Guide

The Beginner’s Guide is… a game. It’s from one of the co-creators of The Stanley Parable, which I loved. This game, on the other hand, I didn’t love as much. It tells the story of a developer named Coda. A narrator walks the player through games created by Coda, giving us his interpretation of what they say about their creator. I think The Beginner’s Guide has some very apt things to say about player entitlement and not respecting the boundaries, of projecting ones own needs and interpretations onto games and their creators. The problem is that it’s just not very fun or interesting to play. The games we’re introduced to are all quite dull, and the narration becomes very disturbing by the end. So, while I appreciate some of the messages, the game itself was repellent to me. What I do like though, is all of the great discussion it has spawned. See Cameron Kunzelman’s review at Paste, or Laura Hudson’s article at Offworld, or Spidey J’s post on Medium.

Silent Hill

PS1 and PS2 survival horror games hold a special place in my heart, but I’ve never beaten Silent Hill. I played it as a teenager, for a very brief amount of time. The sound the radio made when monsters were near creeped me the fuck out and I quit. I maybe played for 30 minutes.

Now I’m older, wiser, and hopefully braver, so I’ve started playing again. I’ve made it to the school, so I’m already doing better. While the graphics of the PS1 don’t hold up particularly well the game still manages to be unnerving. The fixed camera angles are effective and the sound effects are chilling. I’m not thrilled with the tank controls but I want to know what happens enough to continue on.

Out There

Out There

Out There is a mobile game. I’ve very selective about which mobile games I play, but an article by Kaitlin Tremblay on Playboy.com got me interested in this one. It’s a roguelike, a genre I’m generally not interested in, but I liked the concept. You play an astronaut, lost somewhere, in some galaxy, trying to find your way home. You jump from planet to planet, searching for resources that will keep you going, technologies that will help you, and even meet aliens. The events you encounter are mysterious, often deadly, and always deftly written. The resource management aspect of the game is very difficult and you will die a lot. I’d love to reach the end of the game but I’m pretty much done with it now. I enjoyed the couple hours I spent with it though.

Shadowrun: Hong Kong

The Shadowrun series keeps getting better. This isometric, cyberpunk, RPG sends you to China, where your foster father has been killed. Soon you find yourself wanted by the police and need to become a shadowrunner to find out what’s going on. The game sends you on all kinds of interesting missions where you can solve problems with force, magic, wits, or technology.

Shadowrun’s gameplay keeps getting smoother and more refined, and the stories and missions more interesting. Dragonfall was good, but ran a little bit long, around 30 hours. Hong Kong clocks in around 15-18 hours which I thought was a perfect length. I’m even replaying this one to see some things I missed, which is quite an endorsement as I almost never replay games immediately. Also, this game is full of lady characters! So many of the major players are women which is always nice to see.

Best 100 Games of All Time

This week Edge magazine put out a list of the best 100 games of all time. The list has caused some stir. Partially because most of the games are really recent. Partially because as far as I can see, the list is completely without context or explanation. And partially because “best” is a totally subjective term and the whole idea of the list is stupid.

However… who doesn’t love stupid lists? So, I’m making my own. I dunno if there even are 100 games I can apply the word best to, but let’s try!

1 Planescape: Torment
2 XCOM: Enemy Unknown
3 Portal
4 Shadow of the Colossus
5 Mass Effect (series)
6 Star Ocean Second Story
7 Shadow Hearts Covenant
8 Knights of the Old Republic
9 Saint’s Row 4
10 Civilization (series)
11 Beyond Good and Evil
12 Bastion
13 The Witcher (series)
14 Dragon Age 2
15 Super Mario Brothers (series)
16 Quest for Glory (series)
17 Mario Party (series)
18 Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines
19 Final Fantasy X-2
20 Wolfenstein: The New Order
21 The Guardian Legend
22 The Swapper
23 The Pandora Directive
24 Tomb Raider
25 The Walking Dead s1
26 Batman Arkham Asylum
27 Spec Ops: The Line
28 Gun Nac
29 Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers
30 Final Fantasy 7
31 Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
32 Monkey Island (series)
33 Under a Killing Moon
34 The Fall
35 The Cat Lady
36 Parasite Eve
37 Valiant Hearts
38 Final Fantasy 10
39 Snatcher
40 Alan Wake
41 Felix the Cat
42 Divinity: Original Sin
43 The Longest Journey
44 The Blackwell series
45 Ori and the Blind Forest
46 Dead Space
47 Shadowrun: Dragonfall
48 Fatal Frame 2
49 Legend of Dragoon
50 Metro 2033
51 Dead Rising (series)
52 Dragon Age: Origins
53 The Dig
54 ESPN NFL Football
55 TMNT: Turtles in Time
56 Limbo
57 Rayman Legends
58 Fallout (1&2)
59 Theme Hospital
60 The Last of Us
61 Baldur’s Gate (series)
62 Wasteland 2
63 Her Story
64 The Stanley Parable
65 Braid
66 King’s Quest (series)
67 This War of Mine
68 Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments
69 Tetris
70 Pillars of Eternity
71 Star Tropics
72 Gone Home
73 Remember Me
74 Planet of the Eyes
75 Dragon Age: Inquisition
76 Alice: Madness Returns
77 Gran Turismo (series)
78 Mario Kart (series)
79 Bioshock (series)
80 Deadly Premonition
81 The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
82 Afterlife
83 Resident Evil 4
84 Loom
85 Zuma
86 God of War
87 The Last Door
88 Fallout 3+
89 Lost Odyssey
90 Heavy Rain
91 Child of Light
92 D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die
93 Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
94 Sunset Overdrive
95 Spyro the Dragon
96 Until Dawn
97 Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
98 Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
99 Murdered: Soul Suspect
100 CS:GO

Well, what do you know – I got to 100. Honestly, after the top 30 or so the order doesn’t mean a whole lot. And after 60 or 70 I’m just listing games I liked a fair bit.

What do you think? Any omissions (that are likely omitted because I haven’t played them). Any surprises?

Dragon Age: Injudicious

Dragon Age: Inquisition was one of my favorite games of the year last year. It had its shortcomings to be sure, but there was enough sweet story and charming interactions with other characters to make up for it. Plus, it was a Dragon Age game!

I played through the game once. However, it was a 300 hour playthrough. I did everything. I always meant to play again. I wanted to choose the Templars instead of the mages, I wanted to have another romance (or 7), I wanted to let the Chargers die and leave Hawke in the Fade. I want to find out who the hell this Blackwall guy is that I totally missed. But, after 300 hours of playing I needed a nice, long break from the game.

I finally went back to it this past week when the Trespasser DLC was released. I picked up all three of the DLC packs and hopped back in. I started with Jaws of Hakkon. This was a mistake. I wish I never played (or paid for) this content. The few hours of gameplay it offered put a spotlight on all of the annoying aspects of the game and offered none of the good parts. It also made me re-examine the game as a whole.

We all know where Dragon Age shines. It’s in the conversations, friendships, romances, and rivalries with your companions. It’s in the choices you make and seeing the results of those choices in the world. It’s in the banter. It’s in shaping an Inquisitor into what you want her to be. The rest, looking back at the game a year later, is kind of shit. Open world was a huge mistake. Adding the ability to jump (and making it use the same button as interactions) introduced all kinds of annoyances. Collection quests are bullshit. Inventory management and the crafting process are annoying (even if the gear is pretty). The codex… fuck the codex, I shouldn’t have to read a novel to understand what’s going on. Making your average conversation with an NPC have a free-roaming camera instead of fixed, more “cinematic” fixed camera angles make conversations feel cold and unengaging. Combat could be okay, if every fight didn’t take a million years and feel exactly the same. Also, I’m pretty sure this game gave me a repetitive strain injury from clicking left stick every 3 seconds to look for items.

DAI map

There’s just so much shit to get through in order to get the parts that make the game worthwhile. Jaws of Hakkon just added another huge, open map with more shards to collect and too much combat and travel time, with nary a glimpse of what makes Dragon Age charming. And it made me realize…that’s what 90% of my experience with the main game was.

I continued on to play through the other DLC. The Descent was good. It didn’t fall into the same traps that Hakkon did. It was nice and linear, there was more story and interaction with other characters. I actually got to see close ups of characters I was talking to during conversations. There was still some shitty collecting of gears but there was an actual purpose to it (opening doors) and you didn’t need to get every single one. It did have a lot of boring combat and for some reason there are no walls in the Deep Roads, meaning I Leaping Shot to my death about a billion times. If you don’t play an archer, Leaping Shot is the most fun and visually appealing ability, plus it makes noise like bowling pins being knocked over, so not using it is not a reasonable option. However, the DLC was decent. Some of the Dragon Age Charm was there.

Trespasser is the last story DLC so I expected a lot of story. For the most part I got it. It had a number of charming bits. Seeing my companions again after so long was nice. Though when I met up with my boo Cullen, I said hello then 3 seconds later we were married. That was a bit jarring. It was great to go to the theater with Josephine and the spa with Vivienne, to hear the bard sing again. Then there was a bunch more combat in more high up areas with no walls. Lots of falling. The end was alright, though it’s the narration during the credits that ended up being my favourite part of the whole thing. Cassandra’s great. Makes me almost want to play the game again to romance her.

However, I think I’m done with my Inquisition experience. Going back for the DLC made realized just how much useless, un-fun filler is in the game and I just can’t bring myself to take part in that again. No matter how much I want to kiss all my companions.

Snatcher (Retro Game Review)

Everyone’s been talking about Metal Gear Solid 5 lately and I’d never played a Kojima game (aside from PT). I do plan to play through the Metal Gear series at some point, but thought I’d start with one of this other games, Snatcher, on Sega CD.

Here’s what I thought of it. It’s a bit longer than my usual videos (and took forever to put together), but I had a lot to say.

Top 5 Gaming Pet Peeves

I’ve got a new video up about my top 5 gaming pet peeves. Who doesn’t like talking about things that bug them in games?

If you’re not a video watcher, my pet peeves (right now) are:

  1. Games that don’t let me invert the Y-axis.
  2. Episodic games.
  3. Durability and gear repair.
  4. People who constantly correct you about minor details, or try to “teach” you about a game that you clearly already know a lot about.
  5. Quibbling about review scores.

Feel free to share your pet peeves!

 

Things I Don’t Get About Gaming: Respect for One’s Time

So here’s something I’m becoming more and more perplexed by as time goes on – gaming’s relationship with time. More specifically, the relationship between time and enjoyment.

I’ve talked before about how I find it strange that “short” is so often used as a criticism of games, or something included in the negative column of a review. I’ve actually made a whole video about it. I love short games. They don’t overstay their welcome, you have less of a chance to get bored. There’s less “busy work” like fetch quests or loot grinding. If it’s a story-focused game, the narrative is usually tighter. That’s not to say I don’t like long games too – I love a lot of those but honestly I probably would have enjoyed Witcher 3 or Dragon Age: Inquisition more if I spent 50 hours with them (which is still a very long time) rather than 100+. Did looking for weapon and armor patterns or shards add anything to the game but extra playtime? Not really.

Destiny loot grind

Today there was an opinion piece about Destiny over on Polygon. My history with Destiny is quite short. I picked it up not long after release and gave it a fair shake. It looked nice – not exactly glowing praise. Are there really any current gen AAA games you can’t say that about? The shooting mechanics were solid. The story was almost non-existent, and what little there was was wedged into a phone app rather than in the game. The gameplay got repetitive and boring real quick. Playing alone was dull. Playing with a friend (who outleveled me) was dull (and full of death). Loot grinds are dull. Plus, the number one strike against games for me right now – it doesn’t end. So I quit. This was not the game for me.

Anyway, one quote from this article made me kind of sad.

I’m like many of you in that I only have an hour, maybe two, of non-working game time every night. So I tend to play games that allow me to make some forward progress in that time. Diablo 3 was a perfect game for that rhythm, as you could play a little here and there and always gain a bit of level or some loot.

Destiny actively pushed players like me away with its endgame leveling scheme, which depended on an arcane “Light” system. You were completely reliant on random item drops to level up and, while there were certain things you could do to maximize your time, if you didn’t pull any good items in your evening of playing, you were sunk. The time was all but meaningless.

It felt like a grind that ended with a slot machine that would determine whether or not you wasted your time. It sucked, and it sucked hard.

I understand that things like gears and levels serve as both goals and rewards in games. However, shouldn’t the simple act of playing the game be something worth your time? Shouldn’t playing be fun? Fun might be a bit reductive – but it should be engaging, or entertaining, or thought-provoking, or interesting. If the time you spend with a game is only worthwhile if X happens (you get a piece of gear, you gain a level, you get an achievement, you win) but is considered a waste of time otherwise, is that a good game? Does it deserve your time?

Say you play for an hour. At the 58 minute mark you get a piece of gear. Whether it’s useful or not will certainly impact your enjoyment and mood for those last 2 minutes of the game. But what about the first 57 minutes, before the loot dropped. Were you enjoying yourself? If not, why are you playing?

My thoughts on this have evolved over the years. I can think of many, many times in World of Warcraft where I spent hours in a raid and was just miserable the whole time (heroic Garrosh springs to mind). These times weren’t contained to a certain tier or xpac, there were lots times I spent in WoW that were unequivocally NOT FUN. But I did them for some larger goal – an achievement, a boss kill, a better arena ranking.

Now I’ve come to a point where if I were to play a game for 2 hours and consider my time wasted I don’t think I’d be going back to that game. Life’s short. There are a lot of games to play.

What do you think? Is it worth it to power through uninteresting gameplay, to do things you consider a waste of time, in search of some bigger in-game goal? The more work you put in, the better the “win” will feel? Or do you think games should always be fun (or at least interesting) to you in some way?