Category Archives: Steam

What I’m Playing This Week

I’ve played a lot of games over the past week or so (surprise). There was a Steam sale on and though I should be saving for Christmas, I gave myself a small budget to knock a few things off my wishlist.

Here’s what I’ve been playing…

Fallout 4

It’s finally over. It started out well, but eventually turned into a real slog. That happens with all the open world games, really. I may write up a real review of this one soon.

Dead in Bermuda

I started playing this game on a Friday night and basically didn’t stop playing until Saturday night, aside from a few hours of sleep. This game has a “just one more turn” factor, like Civ.  You play as a group of 8 people who have crashed on a desert island. While doing the normal resource management stuff – finding food, crafting, gathering materials – you also explore the island and run into some mysterious beings who mention a prophecy that you can fulfill which will grant you the power to escape the island. The goal is to find out more and fulfill the prophecy before you all die from starvation, injury, sickness, or from throwing yourselves off a cliff. The encounters while you explore the island are quite amusing, and each day ends with a discussion among the characters which may have implications on their physical and mental state.

Dead in Bermuda

The game is really attractive with a nice, clean interface. It’s not overly complex once you get the hang of it, and it does save your progress each day do you don’t necessarily have to start over if everyone dies. A big part of the game is leveling up the characters. There are 16 different skills that all impact some element of the game in some way – people with high gathering skills find more materials, people with high constitution get less fatigued.

There’s not a ton of incentive for replay, as it seems very little of the game is randomized aside from exactly where things are located and a few character interactions. Hawever, I had a lot of fun with it. I recommend it to those of you who are looking for a good survival/resource management game that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Jade Empire

After all the Bioware talk last month, I felt the need to play the one game from them I’d never tried – Jade Empire. It’s from the same era at Knights of the Old Republic, and it feels very similar. Rather than a user of the Force, you play as a Spirit Monk. Your village gets attacked at the start of the game, your teacher (who seems to be more than he appeared) disappears and you have to go find him to find out the truth about who you are and why you have strange powers.

As expected, the story and interactions with companions are the highlight of the game and there are a lot of interesting sidequests. The combat in the game is quite different than any of Bioware’s other games though. It’s mainly melee combat and each fight is a balance of weak and strong attacks, blocking and dodging. There are multiple different fighting styles and you can switch between them freely. I’m really enjoying this and it’s making me want to replay KOTOR.

Morningstar: Descent to Deadrock

I’m a sucker for an adventure game (or any game) set in space, so picked this one up not too long ago. It’s an okay point and click adventure. Your aim in the game is to repair your ship which has crash landed on a mysterious planet. The story is decent, as are the controls. It does run into the adventure game problem of having a bit too much inventory to deal with – it seems like it could have been reduced for clarity (i.e. do we need both a steel pipe and a steel rod to solve problems?) This resulted in some mindless attempts at combining objects to get past certain puzzles. Also, the voice acting of the main character wasn’t great. Overall it wasn’t bad, but I don’t really recommend this one.

Banished

Banished is a city building strategy game. While I generally like strategy games, this one made me realize how little patience I have for learning complex new games. There are so many features and things to build, it was overwhelming. After spending 20 minutes doing one tutorial and realizing there were 4 or 5 more to go, I decided this probably wasn’t the game for me.

BRoken Sword: Shadow of the Templars

It doesn’t really feel like it, but this point and click adventure game is 20 years old. It follows George, an American lawyer, and Nico, a French journalist as they solve a mystery that involves intrigue, murder, and Templars. I surprised I hadn’t played any of the Broken Sword games earlier, as I love adventure games and I was playing a lot of them when this first game out.

Broken Sword: The Shadow of the TemplarsThe game has it’s good and bad points. The writing is clever and well done, though occasionally too verbose.The puzzles are hit and miss. I had actually started this earlier in the year but quit after the first series of puzzles, which were particularly bad. It started with a sliding block puzzle – not a bad puzzle, sliding blocks are just my personal kryptonite – followed by a ridiculous inventory puzzle that involved using a bullet casing for pretty much everything and a lot of back and forth in order to get into a secret room.

I’m glad I came back to it, as the rest has been pretty good and there have been different puzzle types, like ciphers, which I’m particularly fond of. I think I bought the whole series at one point, and I’ll likely continue on with them when I’ve finished this.

What have you been playing?

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.

Organizing Steam

This is day 14 of Blaugust.

Today on Knifesedge Blogs, there was some commentary on organizing Steam. My Steam collection is up to 151 right now (too many), and I use a few custom categories in order to sort everything.

Steam organization - GamesFirst, there’s the defualt – Games.

This has a lot of stuff in it. It includes both games I’m currently playing and games I plan to play sometime in the near-ish future. Games that I continually go back to (like Civ 5 or CS:GO) are in here, though now I’m thinking they should have their own category.

 

 

 

Steam organization - Games 2Next, there’s Games 2. These are the games that I plan on playing… maybe. A lot of them are games I got as part of a bundle that don’t totally spark my interest, but I plan to try them out at some point. Some, like Fallout 1 &2 are games I’ve played before but plan to play again at some point.

Steam organization - HmmThe cleverly named Hmm category is for games I haven’t quite decided if I will play. Some, like Warlock or Syberia, I’ve tried and they didn’t totally catch my interest.  Others I haven’t tried yet.

Steam organization - Go awayGo away houses the games I don’t want to see because I don’t plan to play them, for a variety of reasons. Some I never chose to add to my library, like DOTA, which seems to be forced on all Steam users. Others, like Prison Architect or Face Noir, are games I played a bit of but had no affinity for. And some came from bundles but don’t interest me at all.

Steam organization - FinishedThe Finished category seems pretty self-explanatory. These are finished, done, complete. I beat them, I won. Yay!

Sunset (Review)

Sunset is the latest, and probably last, game from Tale of Tales. They make rather unconventional, open ended games that attempt to provide meaningful narrative experiences. I like what they’re trying to do, though the execution is sometimes lacking. I really enjoyed The Path, while their (even) more abstract The Graveyard and Vanitas didn’t really connect with me.

With Sunset, Tale of Tales attempted to make a “game for gamers.” Whatever that means. They seem to think it means adding field of view sliders and multiple control modes? It’s kind of puzzling. I suppose Sunset has slightly more conventional gameplay than their other games, but to what end?

In Sunset you play Angela Burns, an American living in a fictional Latin American country under an oppressive regime. Angela is the housekeeper for Gabriel,  a powerful man in the government. Though the backdrop of civil unrest and revolution is potentially interesting, the game itself often isn’t.

Sunset game elevator

Each day you take an elevator up to a posh penthouse suite. While Angela narrates some thoughts you are presented with a list of tasks to do, though you can do more (or less) if you’d like. The main mechanic of the game is that you can perform tasks warmly or coldly. How you perform these actions affects your relationship with your absent employer. I didn’t even notice there were options on how to perform tasks until a few days in. Then all of a sudden, after choosing to paint a wall red instead of blue, leaving some lights on, and moving some slippers, Angela and Gabriel were on the cusp of a romantic relationship.

The idea of romancing your boss, especially given the nature of the working relationship, wasn’t one I was entirely comfortable with. The fact that Gabriel wasn’t even present in the game, and Angela never met him, made it even more strange. However, once I was started, I continued down the romantic path to see where it went. After a while, Angela and Gabriel start communicating via notes left around the apartment, though the content of these notes don’t seem to affect Angela’s narration events, at least in the beginning.

Sunset started out on rocky terrain by making the gameplay about housekeeping. That’s not really something I want to do in my own apartment, never mind choosing to pretend to do it in a video game. The story isn’t strong enough to make up for this. It takes a long time for anything interesting to happen. Days and days went by before the gameplay started integrating into the story of civil war. About an hour in, I was quite bored. Eventually some interesting tidbits of information started appearing, but they were spread too thinly throughout the game.

Sunset isn’t completely without charms. The voice acting is good, the music is great, and I enjoyed the increasing focus on art. But it’s just not enough. The good things in this game are few and far between. Had the game been 2 hours instead of 4 I think some of the issues could have been solved and the pacing would have been better but, as it is, Sunset just wasn’t an engaging experience.

Rating: Not recommended. Making a “game for gamers” seems to have backfired on Tale of Tales. As I read about how they tried to make this game appeal to the masses and see the options screen full of resolution options and horizontal smoothing sliders, I wonder – was Sunset made to mock “gamers” or was this really an attempt to go mainstream? Either way, I don’t recommend going out of your way to catch this Sunset.

This is my 9th post for Blaugust.

Steam Summer Sale Haul

The latest Steam sale happened to coincide with me receiving a job offer after 3 months of unemployment, so I promptly purchased just about everything from my wishlist. There go my bragging rights that I’ve played more than 50% of my library. I’ve even had time to play a number of them. Funny how much gaming time I have when I take a break from The Witcher 3.

Here’s my haul:

2015-07-02_00001

Hand of Fate – Roger wrote about this on CMP a while back and I’ve been wanting to try it. I’ve spent quite a few hours on this already. It’s a sort of card-based dungeon crawler with occasional combat. You go through randomly constructed dungeons, picking up armor and items, meeting merchants, getting quests, and fighting monsters with the goal of defeating a boss at the end. One of the things I really like about it is that it’s a game I can play while doing other things. I need more of these in my life. Making dinner? I can take a turn or two while I wait for water to boil or the oven to pre-heat. I can even chop things at my desk while I play. The combat is the only thing that really requires full attention (and both hands) and fights don’t take too long. Being able to play while distracted may not seem like a ringing endorsement, but I do really like it.

Invisible, Inc.

Invisible, Inc. – I heard the game referred to as XCOM-like, and that’s really all you have to say to sell me a game. I played this for a bit on Canada day. It’s enjoyable, the artistic style is great, the characters are diverse, the story is enough to grab me. It’s not overly intuitive though. Some things which should be simple aren’t. It took a bit to figure out where exactly I have to stand to revive a fallen squadmate. I’m still unsure about how I get more ammo for guns. Credits are used for all upgrades from character skills, to weapons, items, and augmentations, and I don’t feel like the game did a great job at giving me enough information so I know what to buy or know when I’m “prepared” for the end of the game.

Her Story – An interactive movie where you watch police interview tapes and learn about a murder that took place in the 90s. I really enjoyed this and am planning to recommend it in my next Short Games for Busy People.

Technobabylon – This is a point and click adventure by my favourite modern adventure game company, Wadjet Eye games. The games always have great characters and puzzles that aren’t too frustrating, and based on reviews this could be their best game yet.

Fallout 1&2 – I think I actually already own these on GoG, but they only cost $2 and it was right around the Fallout 4 announcement, so I was excited.

Dead State – Turn-based, zombies. Enough said. This one has been on my wishlist for a while.

Morningstar: Descent to Deadrock. Desolate alien planet. Adventure. Exploration. Could not turn down.

NaissancE. An experimental exploration game with a stark colour palette.

Sunset – Tale of Tales latest, and unfortunately, last game about a housekeeper in the midst of a Latin American revolution. Not totally sure I want to spend gaming time cleaning things, but I’ve appreciated Tale of Tales other gaming experiences.

That leaves my wishlist rather bare. I only have Gravity Ghost (I’m actually not sure why I didn’t pick this up) and Darkest Dungeon (which I refuse to buy until that early access tag is gone) are left.


How did you make out? Pick up anything you’ve been waiting for? Have you played any of the games I bought?

The Fall (Review)

As The Fall begins, we see an astronaut free falling through space, crash-landing on a seemingly abandoned planet. The astronaut is rendered unconscious, so the combat suit’s artificial intelligence, ARID, takes over. ARID’s prime operating parameter is that she must protect her active pilot, so she sets out on a strange and dangerous journey to find medical attention.

The Fall - mission parameters not found

The Fall is the first effort by Over The Moon Games, and what a game it is. It deftly combines great dialogue, eerie atmosphere, and intelligent story-telling to create one of the best games I’ve played lately. Gameplay combines point-and-click adventure puzzles with side-scrolling shooting action. The combination felt a little odd at first but once I got the hang of it, it worked really well. The amount of combat isn’t excessive, but it helps keep the pace of the game on track, breaking up exploration and inventory puzzles with cover and timing-based action.

The controls are a bit unintuitive at first, but didn’t take too long to get used to. Items are examined by pointing the flashlight on your gun at them using the mouse, while actions are taken using the keyboard. The puzzles can be challenging, though the solutions make sense. If you find yourself stuck, you’ve likely missed an object – exploration is important.

The Fall shooting at a robot

Story is where The Fall really shines. Damage has rendered a number of ARID’s functions inoperable and a big part of the game involves regaining access to those abilities. However, getting past obstacles often requires going against her other operating parameters. This raises a number of questions about artificial intelligence. Is this AI just a computational series of rules and protocols or can a machine display general intelligence? Can it have free will? What happens when a machine acts contrary to its programming?

One of the most clever parts of the game had ARID undergoing tests in order to prove her worth as a domestic robot so she could continue on her journey. These tests involved seemingly simple things – setting the table, calming a crying baby – but all involved some very creative problem solving as ARID is not programmed to be a domestic robot. The way the “humans” in the test treat her also raises concerns about roboethics.

The Fall operating parameters

The dialogue in The Fall is well-written and fully voice-acted. There aren’t too many characters in the game but each is voiced perfectly, especially The administrator, and AI who alternates between robotic precision and human inflection. The sound is also well done, and adds to the general atmosphere.

The Fall is similar to The Swapper in a number of ways – it has a similar aesthetic and setting. Since The Swapper is a game I rated 10/10, this is not a bad thing. The story and gameplay are different enough that The Fall does not seem derivative.

It took me about 3 hours to finish the game, which is the first of three planned episodes. It’s available on PC and Wii U, and is well worth the $10 the price tag. I’m really looking forward to episode 2, which will hopefully be out later in 2015.

Verdict – Highly recommended. The Fall combines great dialogue, eerie atmosphere, and intelligent story-telling to create a unique and thought-provoking game experience. Though the controls are not the most intuitive, once you’ve gotten used to them the gameplay provides very satisfying puzzle solving and combat.

This War of Mine (Review)

It’s dusk. The city has been under siege for a month. You haven’t eaten anything today because yesterday was your turn to eat. You’re sore, exhausted, and starting to feel sick. The temperature is hovering dangerously close to freezing and, though you’ve chopped up all the dressers and shelves in the house, you’re almost out of wood. You do have one book left, but reading is the only comfort you have and you don’t want to burn it. Not yet. You have a choice. You can go scavenge for food and medicine, probably having to steal what you need, possibly running into patrols who could shoot you on sight. Or you can stay in to guard the meager supplies you have left from others. What you really want to do is lie down, shut your eyes, and get some sleep. Maybe the shelling won’t be so bad tonight.

As you can probably guess, This War of Mine is not a fun game. It’s not a game you turn on to relax or clear your mind. But it is a very good game. Part of the appeal of video games is that they can take us to places we’ve never been and that includes places we would never want to be.

This War of Mine crafting

You play the game as a number of different civilians who have banded together in an abandoned house to try to wait out the war. You need to find food, medicines in case anyone gets sick or hurt, and fuel to keep warm. There’s also a crafting system that lets you build things that will help you to survive. Everything from beds and stoves, to weapons and ammo, to contraptions that can help you create your own materials – animal traps, rain water collectors, herb gardens. You can also build a radio which gives not only the comfort of music but also news which can help you be prepared for what’s coming next, whether it be cold weather or roving thieves.

The gameplay is fairly simple, but involves a lot of decision-making. During the day your characters can craft items, eat, use medicines, catch up on sleep, or do activities that will relax them, if available. There’s also a chance you’ll have visitors, whether it be people looking to trade or people asking for help. Night time is when scavenging is done. One character can be sent out to look for resources, while the rest stay at the house to either sleep or guard it from hostiles.

This War of Mine character

There are about a dozen playable characters. At the beginning you choose a group to start with and they’re the ones you need to try to keep alive for the game. Each character has their own habits and skills. Marin, for example is a handyman, so he is able to craft items with fewer materials. A very useful skill. Katia is good at bargaining, so she’s the best character to use for trading. Some characters can carry a lot of items or are very stealthy, making them good scavengers. The characters’ mental states are something that need to be managed throughout the game as well. Some characters are smokers, who can be relaxed by a cigarette. Some are sensitive – they become depressed very quickly if you need to steal from or kill other civilians, while others have an “it’s us or them” attitude. Make too many decisions that negatively impact a character’s mental state and they can become broken, effectively removing them from gameplay

11 Bit Studios have taken both war games and resource management to a new place were the challenge doesn’t come only from the mechanics, but also from the kinds of decisions you need to make. Will you steal from your elderly neighbors who have plentiful supplies and won’t defend themselves? Or will you risk venturing out further to avoid stealing from good people to get what you need? If you steal from your neighbors you will be responsible for shortening their lives. If you go to a more risky area then you could be hurt or killed yourself.

This War of Mine house

This War of Mine is a very challenging game, especially at the beginning. During my first couple tries, I quickly got my characters killed. After a bit I was able to get the hang of it and successfully completed a game. I was able to finish the game without fighting or killing anyone, and I appreciated that this was a possibility. I did steal, I did get shot at a few times, but I was always able to run away. The game does throw curveballs at you. As you get to a “comfortable” state where you have enough supplies, suddenly the weather will change and you’ll need much more fuel to keep warm. Or your go-to places for scavenging will dry up or become unreachable due to enemy attacks.

The game does have a few mechanical annoyances. It’s really easy to have the wrong character selected when you give a command. It’s not a huge deal to correct, but it happens so often. Combat is also quite awkward. Now, I think this is somewhat intentional. Given the setting combat should not be fun or easy, however I think it could be a bit more smooth. I also found the game lasted too long. In my first play, the war ended after 45 days. My second game lasted 25 days which I found a much better length. Again, given the setting, there’s merit to design choices which make the player uncomfortable, but there needs to be a balance between message and mechanics.

There is a decent amount of replay value in the game. There’s a lot of randomness, whether it be the house and supplies you start with, the locations you have access to, or the season the game starts in. Playing with different groups of characters can also change the experience. It also has the “just one more turn” addictiveness of something like Civ or XCOM.

Verdict – Highly recommended. This War of Mine is an achievement which combines a fresh take on war with challenging resource management and compelling gameplay. It forces you to make hard choices and has real emotional impact. While there are some mechanical annoyances, I highly recommend the experience.

Content warning – Obviously there’s a lot of dark stuff in this game. Content that can be encountered includes gendered slurs, allusion to rape (of non-player characters), violence, depression, death, and suicide.

If you’re looking for some tips on This War of Mine to get you started, check out my next post.