Category Archives: fun fridayz

PCP: Watch_Dogs

Fun Fridayz #9 – Free Fun

Watch_Dogs: Worth Watching, Dawg

The short of it: Despite accidentally boarding a machspeed hype train during its release, Watch_Dogs is an incredibly fun, complete game that looks fantastic. 

When it was first revealed at E3 a few years ago, people lost their minds. We hadn’t quite slid into our cynical echo chambers where we declare that anything that doesn’t look exactly the same as its promotional material to be lying garbage.

Many hypestorms later, it came to Games with Gold, and I’m absolutely loving it.

It’s a basic story of wronging the wrong guy– Aiden is a techno hacker wiz with gun skill and gristle, desperate to protect his sister and nephew from a mysterious badmandude.

As far as I know, he’s the greatest Aiden in gaming. The only other one I can think of is the dumb stupid force ghost Aiden from 2 Beyond 2 Souls, but still.

Of course, Aiden is a tad generic. He’s a low-talking white guy, with short, dark hair and scruff. But I can’t help but like him. His drive to protect his family is relatable, making his almost cringy lines about messing with the wrong guy actually touching and relatable.

It’s what’s really propelling me through the game. The progression system is satisfying, allowing the player to jump from hacking wallets to hacking helicopters, but it’s not an emotional motivator. It’s not what lets me look past the incredibly lackluster driving physics and obscene car camera controls.

Instead, watching Aiden’s willingness to become the type of guy he’s fighting against to protect his family makes me want more. His refusal to change and lack of desire to better himself is painfully relatable. He’s not taking the dark path like a hero willing to go the full length to stop evil. He’s just a really flawed guy watching out for his family.

PCP: Lethal League’s Prototype

Fun Fridayz #8 – First Fun, Finished Fun-ner

Lethal League‘s Prototype: Dodge Baller

The short of it: It says something about a game when its prototype version is good enough to stand on its own. Tight controls and a fun aesthetic make this lil’ demo a brilliant argument for buying the full version.

Demos are usually great ways to give possible players a taste of what the full package involves. Sometimes it stumbles, like Prey’s Opening Hour, and sometimes it over succeeds, like Lethal League‘s in-browser prototype.

The game’s simple– don’t get hit. It’s dodgeball with a dose of dynamite, with ball speeds maxing out at a million miles an hour and special moves allowing players to add spin to the ball or teleport it to behind opponents.

It’s bonkers in all the right ways. I owe Best Friends Play for introducing it to me in one of their old Friday Night Fisticuffs.


But here I am, with my stomach in a semi-permanent Gordian knot from losing a paycheck or two in less than 24 hours due to a brutally timed rent/deposit/car replacement parts/car breaking and needing more replacement parts cataclysm.

I’m fine, everything’s paid,  but my bank account’s sore from being squeezed. So I’m squeezing blood from this turnip of a demo. Turnip meaning a highly nutritious and valuable product.


So I’ve restricted myself to the prototype version of the game until I’m back to breathing room financially. Fortunately, it’s more than a demo. It’s a fully challenging slice of Lethal League‘s full package. Out of the fifty or some games I’ve played against the AI, I’ve won exactly one. And that was with a fair amount of cheesing on half of the points.

Point is, this is such a fun little tide-me-over. It demonstrates mechanics first and foremost; rather than trying to entice the player with a plot twist or an extreme display of graphics, it lets the player feel how the core game works before the polish.

Plus, you get this hype track as you try to stop the unflinching robot AI.

PCP XL: Mortal Kombat XL

Fun Fridayz #6 – Man My Madness is Mad

Mortal Kombat XL: Mortality Shortener

The short of it: With a refreshing emphasis on character over classics, MKX is a brilliant reawakening for a series that just saw a decent reawakening. Stunted by wearied cheapness instead of challenge, its single player options end up less than they could’ve been.

I’m straight terrible at fighting games. Arguably, I’m bad at all games, but fighting games really reveal how godawful I am at every facet of gaming. Learning from mistakes, proper timing, understanding mechanics, everything. I just shell up and scream, bashing on buttons like down-down-up-left-right-select-x-x-y-start-down-bumper-bash-the-batteries-out would do anything.

But here I am, absolutely loving MKX.

For the past few days, I’ve been destroying my blood pressure playing through the surprisingly good (but not quite as good as Injustice) story mode as well as struggling to succeed against the easy AI in 1v1. It’s been fun, at least, until I hit the final boss and dropped down from normal to very easy. But I guess that’s classic MK, or even just classic fighting game, where devs create a super dope system for combatting others but consistently fail to create a final boss that’s challenging rather than cheap. Much like Shao Kahn in, well, every single iteration of Mortal Kombat, the final boss of MKX is the same ol’ 25 percent damage taking, unblockable chainable projectile dealing cheapskate that’s far less of a triumph to beat than a relief.

Yet, I still love it. Giving every character three styles almost triples the already decent roster. Netherrealm finally stepped up and made new characters that are genuinely good, in both design and play. Erron Black’s sick design allows him to stand on his own, while Ferra/Torr’s classic big bulk/little spike playstyle allows them to fit in the classics. Kotal Kahn manages to hold his own as a less outrageous Shao Kahn, and D’Vorah’s instrumental place in the campaign makes her hard to ignore.

Everything just feels great. Sure, some animations are a little choppy or weird, but there really isn’t anything that’s pulled me from the heat of the battle. I’m frustrated by start up times and delays, but those are classic fighting game mechanics. My frustration is with myself, not the game, which is both calming and infuriating.

That aside, it’s still a fun ride. The only real problem with the story is the weird amount of stage wedging. By that, I mean that it’s obvious there’s a fairly select number of stages that the story has to force the player into– one of the fighters has to do some grandiose move to force the fight back into the market stage or the forest stage. That being said, I’d rather the stages be tight than the roster.

I think the real tragedy of Mortal Kombat, aside from the krappy side games and characters, is the fact that it took until a year post-release for this game to truly be worth reviewing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely excited to see what MKXI has to offer, but it straight up sucks that it took until 2016 for a 2015 game to be “complete.” I desperately wanted to play Injustice 2 after watching the campaign and various tournament fights, but I’m going to have to wait till Injustice 2 XL or whatever it is to feel like I’m getting my money’s worth of content.

Maybe it’s my discomfort with the rapidly growing trend of microtransactions as the profit base of games nowadays. Hell, maybe it’s about time for devs to really get the value they’ve earned after painful hours of coding and programming. But it’s still feels bad. It’s why I’m so divorced from Grand Theft Auto V after adoringly buying every DLC I could for its predecessor. It all feels like some kind of weird corporate trick, where a mixture of the cream and the crap is skimmed from the final product to be delivered later. And the messed up thing is that it makes sense for characters to be slowly developed and refined after the game’s release. But then there’s this day one pre-release nonsense, coupled with the microtransactions for easy fatalities.

It doesn’t quite feel right, I guess. Yeah, I’m just some dude and I’m bad at games. But it feels like a weird separation between player and developer– it seems to have slipped from relationship to business. There’s less hype about sick kombos and more about “additional kontent.”

But I’m still here, having a bunch of fun with these challenge towers and Test Your Luck with friends. Is the discomfort of post-release support worth the reward of a complete package a year later? I can’t say. All I can say is how much I’m liking the game, and how I’m deadass terrified of entering the online multiplayer. It’s a mortal fear.

PCP: Banjo Kazooie’s Mad Monster Mansion

Fun Fridayz #5 – Functioning Freedom

Banjo Kazooie: Mad Monster Mansion’s Mad Fun

The short of it: Yeah, the entire game is great. But this level specifically is pure concentrated Banjo. Everything that works in the main game works perfectly here. Spooktacularly. 

Banjo Kazooie’s almost a genre in itself– it’s the height of 3D platforming and collectathons, backed by goofy humor, brilliant map design, near perfect music, and just the right edge of dark.

Although its placement is hard to nail down thanks to the game’s fairly open structure, Mad Monster Mansion might be the peak of the game’s design. And one of its key features is its soundtrack.

The level is found upon a haunted hill with tombstones lining the path. Upon entering the level, the player’s greeted by the smallest map in the game. In its six areas, it holds an absurd amount of atmosphere. Each level in Banjo Kazooie has its own atmosphere, of course. The ice level has penguins and polar bears, the water level has sharks and fish, and so on. These NPCs fit their scenery and so do their puzzles. But there’s something special in MMM.

The aforementioned edge of dark is partially to blame– the player expects to see goofy monkeys or honeybees in any of the other worlds. But the Mansion’s first Jiggy is inside a gooey ghost that must be stealthily entered. Like, that’s weirdly creative, even for this game. One of the next Jiggys requires Banjo to move an anthropomorphic glass to spell out a word, much like an Ouija board. Another forces Banjo to beat a disembodied hand in a piano playing contest in a massive haunted church. The transformation is the only in the game that turns B&K into an inanimate object– the most adorably tiny pumpkin.

It’s the step the game didn’t need to take. Clanker is creepy, but he’s not supernatural. All of his pieces are attached (mostly). The other levels don’t quite breech past hinting at something beyond nefarious.

Sure, mechanically, they’re all par for the course. But MMM perfectly funnels that player around the level without any hitches. It’s polish on polish, piled with the right amount of cheesy and creepy.

Mad Monster Mansion is up there with Halo: Combat Evolved‘s The Library as the best spooky levels.

PCP: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Fun Fridayz #4 – Force Fun Not Forced Fun

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed: Lightsabers, Lightning, and Legends, Oh My!

The short of it: A flawed but fascinating take on Darth Vader’s apprentice; before Ahsoka, Starkiller was Vader’s first student. Though this isn’t the first Star Wars game to put the player in control of a Jedi, it does manage to make it seem the most meaningful, powerwise. 

Have you heard the tragedy of Starkiller the Unwise?

I thought not. It’s not a story the cannon would tell you.

Of all the tragedies and triumphs of Disney’s unification of the Star Wars canon, I think I’m most disappointed in the loss of The Force Unleashed. Sure, Genndy Tartakovsky’s The Clone Wars deserves more than it got, but I don’t think there’s quite as much in-universe fun to be had.

On its surface, The Force Unleashed has a lot of problems.

  • Edgelord dialogue (performed well by my #2 man crush, Sam Witwer)
  • Painful loading sessions, both between levels and between customization menus
  • Video game/shonen levels of powering up that invalidate every character that isn’t Starkiller
  • Awkward squeezing into the canon
  • Level design that barely eeks into serviceable
  • Lackluster enemy AI that breeches farther into cheap than challenging

I could go on and bitch about what this game could have been– but that’s such a boring way of talking about media.


Note: I feel the same way about a lot of easy to make, hard to elaborate on criticism of adapted media. “Oh no, we won’t get Planet Hulk/whatever kind of adaptation of niche media!” Yeah, but it’s not like there’s going to be any other adaptation. It sucks, but a few canon shoutouts is more than a fan could ask for into a trillion dollar franchise.


So here’s what’s what: this game is hella flawed. It’s nowhere near a ten, or a nine, or an eight. But stick a saber in me and call me Qui-Gon, I love it.

When I first picked up The Force Unleashed years ago, it sold me in the first ten minutes. Using the Force, I picked up a stormtrooper, the last of his squad, and dangled him two stories above a TIE hangar. As he flailed helplessly in the invisible hand of a burgeoning Sith lord, he desperately grasped the catwalk’s railing. He held there with the tenaciousness of a bull. At least, until I put a lightsaber and ten million volts of force lightning through him.

It was a power play; I was the apprentice of the Dark Lord Vader. Everyone below me was a waste of space. And I embraced that, tossing rebel and stormtrooper alike into the vacuum of space.

There’s some level of catharsis of finally being the one– the player equivalent of Anakin or Luke, the person capable of being the genetically perfect (because Midichlorian bullshit or whatever, I don’t own a shovel to beat George Lucas with or anything) force of the Force.

So every time I had to fix some miniscule pseudo-platforming bullshit to make it the next segment of murderizing some poorly-armored jobbers or every time I trudged through wave after wave of cheap-moving cheaters to make it the next powerful boss, I was excited. I was there, switching my lightsaber crystals to these beautiful new configurations that matched my increasingly terrifying Force powers.

It sucks. It’s far from perfect, and maybe, if it was separate from the beloved Star Wars franchise, this game would’ve died in alpha. But it’s there, with its classically Star Wars-ian not-so-subtle nods to its legends. Vader, Fett, Yoda, dodge in and out of this storyline that doesn’t quite make sense.

But y’know what? Who cares. I embrace it like the way Disney embraced the universe: here’s some super tight storylines and power fantasies, so let’s just absorb them. Maybe it’s not mechanically perfect, maybe it’s edges are as rugged as Sam Witwer’s jaw. But Force unleashed, ain’t it a sight to behold? More so, ain’t it a scenario to enjoy?

And yeah, there’s a lot more to be said about the improvements and failures of The Force Unleashed II. But that’s for another post– if I don’t milk this series, who will?

PCP: Prey .5

Prey: Predator to Predecessors

Prey released a surprisingly open demo of the first hour or so of the game. It’s got a nice, slick intro with flashy titles and studio names as building names as the player character rides a helicopter to work. Before he’s (either sex is selectable, but my first playthrough used a male) launched into space for his new job, Morgan Yu is asked to go through a few routine pre-flight tests by his brother, Dr. Alex Yu. The tests are simple enough, testing the player’s ability to press a button quickly or hide from a camera. After being asked a few morality-based questions, something attacks the testers before Morgan blacks out. He reawakens in his apartment– but something’s not right. A dead maintenance worker and a lack of exits serve as a warning that this isn’t part of the test.

Arming himself with a very classic wrench, he beats his way out into the rest of the lab with the help of a mysterious voice in his headset.

It’s hard to tell what’s homage and what’s trope.

A cheap way to describe it, thematically, would be a mix of System Shock and Bioshock– that is, it’s a game inspired by a game that’s inspired by a game about a technologically advanced society falling to technological and scientific hubris. But gameplay wise, it’s more in line with a slowed down Dishonored with passive abilities rather than active ones. The upgrade system seems to branch apart significantly to enable alternate pathfinding with different abilities (strength to move heavy things in the way, hacking to get past keyless licks, etc.).

The most interesting development is the GLOO Gun- a weapon that sprays a caulk-like substance that can be used to pacify enemies or create climbable platforms. It’s far more interesting than the game’s standard, if not difficult to aim, shotgun and pistol. With the scope attached to the D-Pad, most shots end up coming from the hip. Neither gun feels rewarding enough to mention; the shotgun is serviceable but not satisfying.

It pretty aggressively leads the way in its semi-open world, but the path is littered with nooks and dark crannies dying to be explored. Though this leads to some confusing leaps, it’s the reason I’m going to revisit this PCP once I replay the first hour a few more times. With the game coming out today, it’s worth trying to survive being Prey for the first hour to see if it’s worth buying.

 

 

PCP: Thomas Was Alone

Fun Fridayz #2 – Fun For Feelings

Thomas Was Alone: Shaped Gameplay

The short of it: Thomas Was Alone is the hyper-polished height of the first wave of indie game dev*. Simple platforming is given a meaningful narrative by meshing gameplay and aesthetics with story. In terms of clichés: the definition of short and sweet, with a low price tag that gets you more than you bargained for.


*This is not a valid or factual timespan, it’s just what I’m referring to as the first wave of formidable indie games that blew up on Steam around 2010, like TWA, The Stanley Parable, VVVVVV, etc. 


 

Everyone deals with their loneliness in different ways. Some turn to drinking or drugs, some slip into depression, some force themselves into social situations.

Thomas jumps on blocks.

This is, of course, a bit odd seeing as how 1) jumping is rarely seen as therapeutic (often the exact opposite of what therapy recommends) and 2) Thomas is himself a block.

Created by indie dev Mike Bithell, Thomas Was Alone is a brief, fairly easy platformer with a typical platforming goal: get from point zero to point one. Framed as an artificial intelligence test, each level comes with different challenges for the named AIs (represented by simple colored shapes) to solve. Unbeknownst to the scientists running the tests, the AIs accidentally slip into same testing areas, allowing them to use teamwork to advance beyond their areas.

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The AIs’ attempts to find meaning in their individuality and talents is surprisingly human. Instead of using typical robot tropes where sentience makes AI question humanity, the characters are presented as they are– James, a green rectangle, falls upside down, leaving him feeling isolated and alone. Thomas, with his genuine openness, accepts James, and the two solve several tests together. There is no internal struggle of defining humanity (where it always turns out that oh wow the robots have become more than human, humanity is the robotic one, what a twist).

Instead, the characters’ struggle is to define themselves: what makes them unique, what makes them different?

The overarching story is perfectly interwoven with the changing gameplay; the differences that make these shapes unique morphs the player’s ability to solve puzzles.

The star of the game is its narrator, played by Danny Wallace. Though none of the AIs speak directly, their thoughts and feelings are narrated as the levels progress. The mix of Wallace’s British inflection mixed with Bithell’s gentle wit and writing is the perfect vehicle for a story about individuality and teamwork. Wallace’s performance even earned him a BAFTA Game Award in 2012.

Thomas Was Alone is so damn genuine, which makes the massive amount of polish somewhat surprising. The lighting effects are brilliant, the gameplay is smooth, the control of every character feels unique without making any one character preferable.

It’s really in shape. Don’t be a square. Get on the (rhom)bus to buy this. Sorry for whole shape puns (rect)angle.

 


+ Refreshes the idea of a platformer
+ Fun writing and voiceover
+ Smooth controls
– Low challenge level
~ Priced fairly for its short length

Buy it:

Steam

App Store

Google Play

 

PCP: Titanfall 2

Fun Fridayz #1 – Go Go Fun Fun 

Titanfall 2: A Mech Made in Heaven

The short of it: Tight gameplay, brilliant design, and a campaign that does everything right make Titanfall 2 the most-improved-upon sequel since Assassin’s Creed 2. 

There’s a weird disparity between movie trailers and game trailers. Movie’s tend to give away too much, ruining key moments and otherwise exciting sequences; games often give too little of the final product. There’s the lackluster attempt to justify these never-going-to-actually-happen bits with, “Captured in-engine,” which just means that it’s possible to render that slow-mo bit.

Titanfall 2 is the first game in recent memory that’s managed to recreate and better those magical trailer moments. I managed to destroy a titan with a blast of thermite then detonate the pilot as they ejected into the sky.

But Titanfall 2 is worth a whole lot more than some slick kills in multiplayer. As much I’ve enjoyed my time with it (seriously, it’s crazy fun despite some lackluster maps) the campaign is the shining star here.

It’s a fairly standard trooper gets a battlefield promotion to the elite ranks story, gaining access to the AI/titan/robotic BFF BT-7274. It’s got its nice moments of emotion and humor, but the gameplay within the campaign is undeniably top-tier.

About three levels in, you’re on the run trying to escape a world-building factory, forcing you to suddently scale previously-horizontal levels that have become fully vertical. The world shifts entirely to the right as your use the sides of buildings as stepping stones. Then, the next level kicks off with another a timeshift dynamic that introduces Portal levels of warping around fun. There’s ultimate standoffs, desperate fights to gain ground against merciless mercenaries, titan tech battles where you cannibalize the weapon kits of the bosses you defeat, it’s a beautiful ride.

And then it ends. No level drags on, no bad cliffhanger to make you TF3. The campaign gives you time to try every weapon (each of which ultimately ends up fairly satisfying and usable for the entire level) and titan loadout (less balanced, more fun). It knows when to end, and damnit, it does it well.

Titanfall 2 is basically one of the new titans in the game. Sure, it lost a few customization options in the upgrade, but it’s got more than just a shiny new coat of paint. It’s got gears and guns that are oiled up and working perfectly. Prepare for Titanfall, because it’s been prepared amazingly.