Category Archives: video games

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 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: Injustice: Gods Among Us

Watching Wednesday #5 – Wowin’ Whacks

Injustice: Gods Among Us: God Among Storymodes

The short of it: Injustice manages to do what Warner Bros. and DC couldn’t do with billions upon billions of dollars and dozens of stars. It gives classic characters that have been done to death life again with its character-driven story. 

There’s lot of stories under the DC banner– some are brilliant studies of what it means to be human, some are flopping insults to fans. After the lukewarm  Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, it seemed like DC’s fighting games were doomed to mediocrity. And then a God was born.

That’s overly dramatic, but a metagame/metahuman joke wouldn’t have made as much sense. The point is, with the release of Injustice: Gods Among Us, Netherrealm and DC created a new standard for fighting games. Whereas Mortal Kombat X created an devent story by killing off old characters and introducing interesting new ones, it could hardly be considered character-driven. Injustice dedicates itself to the description.

The game (and preceding comics) comes up with a plot that manages to turn both Superman and Lex Luthor into more than the Flanderized forms of themselves in most other media. It’s the familiar story of the fallen hero. After being tricked into committing the Herculean crime of killing his wife and daughter (triggering a nuke in Metropolis in the process), Superman turns to judge, jury, executioner for the world’s criminals– and heroes. The heroes that try to stand up to Superman’s domination of democracy are brutally cut down by the god-emperor. Batman is the sole living opponent to Supes’ iron-fisted rule; he uses an interdismensional transporter to pull Justice League members from a universe where the League stopped the plot/nuke.

The game does lack of characterization for the typical villains; fortunately, its depiction of struggles of the former heroes turned to villainous pawns is enough to satisfy the bad guy side of things. Sure, Sinestro is still kinda lame, but The Flash’s growing uncertainty about whether or not he’s on the right side is fascinating. And it’s fun– the wit and charm from the animated series is present in the game’s burner lines after matches conclude.

Now, of course, being that this is a video game, it should go into Fun Fridayz. But I’ve never played Injustice. Hell, I’ve haven’t played a Netherrealm game since MK9. And I was bloody terrible at that; combos and timing escape me. I watched the game’s cutscenes in movie format thanks to some YouTube heroes.

Check it out:

This vidyagamemoviewhatever is super. It’s like a league of justice. It’s Batman. Whatever, it’s just dope.

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: 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.

#GAMERGATE

Author Edit: Full honesty, I wrote this as a weekly post for a class. Looking back on it, I cringe at the over-simplification and over-looking of some pretty major aspects of this issue. My feelings and thoughts about this aren’t as one dimensional anymore, and I’m happy to discuss it with anyone. But this post is no longer a conclusive or accurate description of my outlook.  

I love video games with a passion. There’s nothing I want to do more than lose myself in the game industry. Nothing. I’ll take anyone on if they doubt my dedication to the medium. But it’s the love I have that gives me the ability to not take it seriously. I understand that video games are a damn art form. But they, like movies and paintings, aren’t a matter of life and death. They aren’t a field for hard-hitting investigative journalism (mostly).

The idea of “ethics” in a wholly subjective medium that typically revolves around, “Should I buy this?” is strange. Disclosure is absolutely necessary– FCC regulations exist for a reason and readers don’t want their content to be transformed into native advertising. I understand and want that too; that’s as black and white as it gets. “We want legitimate writings, not decorated ads.” Understandable, right?

That being said, it’s certainly not worth the spite directed towards organizations like IGN. Criticize them, sure. But I’d hardly consider the issue of #gamergate worth the militant attitudes and unrepentant hate without any clear goal other than a vague call for “ethics.” However, this bites into the argument that I’ve absolutely despised– #gamergate is just another vehicle for gamers (who are also “dead” because of reasons) to harass indie developers/women/people who are alive.

It’s this weirdly annoying arena where game hotheads call out “SJWs,” corporations, and women as being professional victims and such and twitter hotheads call out gamers for death and rape threats and such. The problem with this stupid battle is that the two never clash– they draw in the moderate crowds on both side (gamers who want more disclosure and people who feel like there are some issues that need to be addressed in gaming culture) and make it impossible for the two to hold any kind of discourse.

Totalbiscuit’s blog post about this was one of the few responses I actually looked into– two parts in particular stick out.

I firmly believe that focusing on the minority perpetrating harassment and abuse will perpetuate more of it and give them the power and attention they so crave. The media, either mainstream or gaming does not seem to agree with me on that one and keeps hammering out article after article after article on harassment. Does it help? Has it done anything what-so-ever to slow down the #Gamergate hashtag? Has it done anything to reduce online abuse? If it has I’ve seen no evidence of any of those things. Gamergate associated boards and subreddits continue to grow, the hashtag continues to go strong long after futile slacktivist efforts to kill it such as #stopgamergate2014 have imploded and gone away. Why you might ask? We wrote so many articles condemning harassment, why isn’t Gamergate going away?

Because you are peddling a one-sided narrative.

Additionally, in reference to mainstream media:

You gave them the mainstream media on a silver platter, you failed to learn the classic lesson about the internet, that you do NOT feed the trolls. I condemn harassment in all its forms and in whatever name it is perpetrated. I don’t believe condemning it does anything, but I’ll do it anyway just to reaffirm my stance, which by the way should be assumed as being the default position of a reasonable human-being.

When gamers get called “dead” or “the worst community” or get written off as perpetrators of death threats, all opportunities for discussion are quashed. It inflames the community as a whole– if one calls out a minority within a group as the whole group, it erases the responsibility of the minority for their actions and falsely labels the majority as the minority.

The main point of all of this is that every bit of this incident has been terrible. Every response from every side has sucked. The only solution for all of this is calm, rational addressing of the issue. “Here’s our policies, here’s how we enforce them.” instead of, “The internet is a jerk, we won’t say anything else!” The issue isn’t about whether or not a reviewer grabs a bottle of water in the middle of a convention (shoutsout to Greg Miller) but the relationship between parties. That small bit has been overswept by the sea of twitter trolls, which is just disappointing.

It’s a damn shame every avenue for discussion has been blocked by both sides: you’ve got a wall with one side yelling, “SHILLS!” on one side and the other yelling, “HARASSERS!” without either paying attention to everyone else not banging on the Berlin Wall of Gaming.

Harassment is bad. Failing to include relevant information is bad.

The fact that both happen does not nullify the importance of issues within our community. If this big a mess has been made, maybe we should just talk about it. 1v1 Final Destination Fox Only No Items this whole issue and move on to a better level.

That last sentence was something that’d be on a CNN article about #GAMERGATE. I’m sorry. 

 

DC’d- The problem with new media and old journalism.

I’ve spent my whole life playing video games– they’ve occupied thousands upon thousands of hours of my life. A deep love for the medium of video games has driven me to pursue journalism as a profession (of course, any position in the journalism industry is an extremely optimistic outlook). So when I see an article about video games in Vox, I get kind of excited. I heard about it in last week’s budget meeting, where I admittedly giggled at hearing an editor mispronounced Skyrim as “Skrim.” The article was interesting enough and the writer certainly localized it– I’m sure any non-video game oriented person could see this story and fully understand what it’s about.

But I’m a total jerk. Modding is hardly new– Doom was getting modified way back in ’93. This is where new media and old journalism conflict. There’s a very distinct line between fanatics and the unknowing/uncaring masses.

I know what modding is, I’ve downloaded and played with mods on multiple games. I read this article with no clue on whether not the two subjects write their own mods or just download off Nexus (which is where most Skyrim mods come from). It’s like reading an article about music that points to two locals that know what it means to produce a song.

On the other hand, older readers with no interest or knowledge of video games can easily be driven off by this article–either by the idea of fantasy worlds or the jargon. If I don’t think hockey is a real sport, why would I read about minor league hockey teams?

This is the struggle that comes with writing about video games in non-video game publications. You’re stuck between either alienating the masters of the subject or the larger group of confused newbies. The end product can often fail both sides and end up as an uninteresting, confusing mess (Vox avoided this and had a fantastic picture to boot, something I’ve never managed to do). This is how a lot of my ideas end up– it’s not easy to pitch video games to people or editors outside the realm of video game fanaticism. Despite the fact that a video game is the fastest selling piece of media  (12 million units on its first day and $1 billion in three days), it’s still nearly impossible to come up with a truthful, valuable piece that would belong in a daily paper.

Hopefully, I’ll come up with something soon. Games aren’t going anywhere– their audience is growing by the second. From mobile to console, they’re everywhere. Except the daily paper.