It’s been a slack month for posts. Mostly, of course, that’s because the majority of what I put up here is me talking about games I’ve been playing lately, and most of the games I have been playing through have been fanservice-heavy visual novels.
I did play through “Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor”, which was an interesting twist on Qix, but that’s an old game and has been praised to death by people who are much better at words. I’m also frustratingly close to finishing the main story of FFXIV’s “Heavensward” expansion, but wasn’t able to find a group over the weekend to tackle the final dungeon so I really can’t talk too much about that just yet.
On the other hand, I did play through the latest Call of Duty, “Black Ops III”, this weekend. I always feel a little guilty admitting that, because it absolutely ruins my image as a niche gamer, but they are spectacularly-polished spectacle games and I have really been enjoying the crazy futuristic stuff that Activision has been packing into recent entries in the series.
…well, Ghosts was pretty bad, in retrospect. It had a cool dog, at least.
I’ll warn you in advance that some of the following will contain story spoilers. I don’t think they’re anything particularly bad; I’m not going to talk about the Big Twist Ending or anything. Still, I usually avoid going into specifics and I’m breaking from that pattern.
Because it’s set 50 years in the future, CODBLOPS3 gets to pretty much throw reality out the window. It doesn’t have the hover bikes of Advanced Warfare, or anything like that, but the plot centers around human augmentation, specifically direct interfaces between brain and computer, and there are a lot of pretty trippy scenes where virtual / augmented reality starts bleeding in to the real world. This is kind of a cornerstone of the Black Ops subseries, come to think of it.
Most CoD games have pretty unambiguous endings – the overall plot may be all kinds of twisty and full of double-crosses and things that are Not As They Seem, but eventually the story leads you to The One Bad Guy Who’s Responsible For All The Bad Stuff, and you kill him. Sometimes, you get to wear giant stompy robot suits, which is a plus in my book.
CODBLOPS3, by contrast, had a seriously ambiguous ending, and I’m not ashamed to admit that it had me reaching for Wikipedia for a plot summary immediately after finishing. I needed some help understanding what had just happened, and I’m still trying to process it. I’m pretty sure that it will wind up as one of my favorite CoD stories; I just need some time to think on it.
The missions are better at simulating some freedom of choice than previous CoD campaigns. They’ve been very successful, over the years, with a formula of “walk from point A to point Z, shooting everything as you go”, but BLOPS3 adds a lot of branching paths to each campaign level that really open things up. It’s no Deus Ex, and “stealth” is never a real option, but it does a good job of distracting you from realizing that you’re basically playing a carnival shooting gallery with pretty graphics.
You’re also given the option to choose which weapons, gadgets, and augmented abilities you take into missions, which is something that took me a few levels to realize and really get the hang of. Some of the abilities are FUN, particularly one that lets you hijack enemy robots. There was one particular firefight, against a swarm of enemy soldiers and their Don’t-Call-It-A-Tachikoma robot, that was a particular source of frustration until I realized that I could, if I avoided being shot for long enough, turn said Tachikoma to my side. I was rewarded with shouts about said robot being compromised, an achievement went Ping, and I got to let out all that pent-up frustration in a matter of seconds.
Apparently, there’s even a second “Nightmares” campaign that has you playing through much the same events, but with a largely different story, and that might give more insight into exactly what happened. I’m rather keen to give it a try.
That said, the game treats one of the female characters with a particular kind of brutality that I’m surprised anyone ever thought was OK, and I’m particularly perturbed by it BECAUSE it’s such a big release – Activision proudly announced that it had made $550 million in its first weekend, and that is a ton of copies sold.
The game’s first half has you facing off against an organized crime / private army group lead by a brother and sister pair. As they are villains in a Call of Duty game, you’re going to wind up killing both of them; this should not be a surprise.
The brother gets cut down by a hail of bullets in a chaotic scene; it happens so quickly that I didn’t actually realize that he’d been killed until the characters start talking about how his sister is going to be mad now.
The next time you meet his sister, you just happen to need to open a biometric lock that needs her handprint.
So, you knock her unconscious and cut off her hand. You even have a little gadget that seems to exist solely for the purpose of cutting off hands, it’s a sort of wrist cuff thing that clamps on and makes a happy little whirring sound.
Then you have another conversation about how she’s going to be SUPER mad.
The NEXT time you run into her, you wind up killing her by holding her head in the path of an open flame, while looking directly at her face. There’s no “tasteful” camera cut away or anything, you just get to watch yourself burn someone alive.
Both of these are done in cutscenes, removing the player’s “agency” and absolving them of any actual guilt – there is no BioWare-style paragon vs. renegade choice involved.
In the context of some weird niche game that won’t ever sell more than a few thousand copies, it’s distasteful but largely ignorable. In the context of a game that will probably sell probably ~20 million copies, it’s pretty terrible.
I’ll get off my soapbox now.
There’s also a multiplayer mode. I played two matches and served mostly to boost the kill count for the opposing team. I think I’ll stick to shooters like Titanfall and Splatoon, where you can help your team out even if you’re absolute bollocks at the shooting other players part.
Another day, another short iOS game knocked off the backlog.
Lili (the “Child of Geos” subtitle seems to have been added for the PC release) is a surprisingly well-crafted iOS adventure game, especially when you consider that it can be had for a quite reasonable 3 dollars.
The gist of the story is, you’re a student of magical vegetation – stay with me – who needs to finish her final project by going to a deserted island and picking flowers. It turns out that the deserted island ISN’T deserted (are they ever?) and is instead populated by two different groups of magical entities:
First, the Constructs:
Constructs are friendly wooden golem sorts of things who are happy to see you show up and generally nice to you. Some of them get a little …weird… sometimes…
…but, by and large, they’re good folks. Sadly, they are both the creations of and the slaves of Spirits, who are a little less good.
Well, let’s just put it right out there: They’re jerks. They bully the constructs around, dismantle them if they get uppity, that sort of thing.
Naturally, you get caught up in the whole thing when you meet a construct who offers to train you and asks if you wouldn’t mind defeating the Spirits and freeing the Constructs in the process.
As for HOW you defeat the Spirits, well…
…well, OK then. I certainly have more than a few games involving deflowering spirits, but I wasn’t expecting to get one from the app store.
As you might expect, the Spirits are more than a little upset about this:
…well, MOSTLY upset:
OK, OK. I’ve milked the gag long enough.
The Spirits have flowers growing out of their backs, and you defeat them by jumping on to them, riding them like a bucking bronco, and pulling the flowers out. There are, of course, certain hindrances – some of the flowers are thorns, the Spirits are trying to shake you off the whole time, and they occasionally break out in bombs.
Spirit biology seems like a very complex thing.
There are a bunch of side quests you can take from the Constructs, there are little hidden things everywhere to uncover, the Construct/Spirit Village is a neat place to run around in general, and the entire affair is just generally a fun way to spend a few hours.
There are some iAPs, mostly cosmetic, but some which give you quite a bit of power. I didn’t need to use any of them to finish the story on “Normal” difficulty, so I think they’re only for the most impatient players.
I don’t know if the PC version has the same iAPs.
In between running instances in Final Fantasy XIV, I’ve been knocking out some of the shorter games in my backlog. I figured that I might as well do a quick run-down of some of the recent ones.
Sekai Project has a basic formula that works well for me: Short visual novels with few branching paths and lots of fan service.
Sakura Fantasy is one of the more ambitious, story-wise. It’s a very JRPGesque story, with a young swordswoman with a tragic past, friends with magical powers, a world suffering from a not-well-explained calamity, and a mysterious empress who sends everyone on a quest to Uncover The Secrets Of The um something or other.
Also pretty much all of the characters are cute girls with a bad habit of walking in on each other when they’re in the bath or changing.
As of now, only “Sakura Fantasy: Chapter One” is available, and it is really going to annoy me if Chapter Two never happens, because I actually really want to see where the story goes. It may be tropey as all get out, but it’s a fun read.
As sold on Steam, this is a PG-13 visual novel. Played on Mac, also for Windows and Linux boxes.
Karateka, by comparison, is full of buff shirtless men pummeling each other in manly manly fashion. It’s got more sausage than a Hickory Farms catalog, is what I’m trying to get at here.
It’s an iOS remake of the Apple II classic with pumped up graphics and dumbed-down fighting, and it pushes some nostalgia buttons for those of us who remember the original. There’s a lone hero, a horde of random guys to beat up, and that godawful annoying hawk.
Sadly, it lacks a “bow” button, so there’s no getting all the way to the end and then having the damsel in distress kick you in the head for lacking respect. Minor points lost there.
For anyone without fond memories of the original, um, it’s pretty and you actually get a full game for your buck-ninety-nine as opposed to being bled slowly to death with microtransactions.
The Lost City is another iOS game, and it is again a complete game that you pay money for and then play in its entirety. It is a sad comment on the state of affairs that I feel the need to say that, but there it is.
It’s an adventure game with all that implies; you wander around some very pretty outdoor scenes, solving puzzles as you go. It’s a pretty big game, with 40 or so locations, made bigger because the game’s central gimmick is your ability to change the seasons on command – so, for example, you may need to find a flower that only blooms on a certain screen in summer, or switch over to winter to freeze a lake so you can walk across it.
It doesn’t have buff shirtless men OR girls in impractical fantasy “armor”, and the plot can be summed up as “Your grandmother was an archaeologist. She brought home a magic rock. Might be cursed. You should take it back or something”, but I still enjoyed the two or three hours I spent with it.
I had Little Inferno recommended to me two or three years ago, but I am bad at playing games in a timely fashion.
It’s a little hard to describe; it’s a gloomy game about stacking toys in a fireplace and setting fire to them, then watching the interactions as they burst, melt, and explode. Think Gomibako / Trash Panic meets Edward Gorey, and you wouldn’t be far off the mark.
While you’re burning things, they occasionally spit out coins, which you can use to order things from mail-order catalogs.
Then you burn those new things too.
There’s a puzzle aspect to the whole thing; the game gives you a list of 99 combos and you need to figure out how to put the combos together in order to unlock new catalogs to buy new stuff from to burn to make new combos to…
…it all gets a little cyclical.
The combos aren’t spelled out, but their name tends to give you a hint towards what’s needed – and even if you’re not looking at the combo list, you can often just pick a few things that seem to go together and trigger one of them. “Road Rage” is triggered by burning a toy truck, a schoolbus, and a bicycle together, “LOLCats” is burning a stuffed cat and a camera, that sort of thing.
While you’re burning all of these things, you get a series of peculiar letters and you start to get the sense that the world away from your fireplace is a very odd world indeed.
The game’s ending is left more-than-a-little open to interpretation, but pretty much every interpretation I could come up with is pretty bleak. It really does lure you in with a quirky hook before it lays the despair on you, though, and I’m glad that I finally made a couple of hours to play it.
Played on Mac, also available for Windows, iOS, WiiU, probably everything with a screen by now.
and I’ve been working like a dog.
As I mentioned yesterday, Final Fantasy XIV is still the new shiny toy that has been occupying most of my non-Lombax-related gaming time, and there are a few reasons for this which I will now drone on about at length.
First, of course, is that it lets me play as a catgirl in a pretty dress with a unicorn mount and a fairy pet, a statement which I feel needs to be followed up with a drastic and definite defense of my masculinity. Perhaps I will watch the football and drink the beers. I may belch.
Second, as I’ve mentioned before, it addresses one of my biggest pet peeves with MMOs, the bit where you can make the wrong choice at character creation and find out, months later, that you should have chosen something that would be more in demand. You can learn any of the game’s 13 “jobs” (other games call them classes, and FFXIV does have the concept of classes, so it gets a little confusing) and switch between them at will, so you never wind up benched. In addition, even once you switch to a specific class, you can make use of a small set of skills from other classes, as long as you’ve played that other job enough to earn the skill.
That being said, if your character’s primary function can be summed up as “dps”, it can take a little longer to get groups than if you are a tank or healer. We’re talking maybe a 15 minute wait here, though, not the hours-at-a-time sitting at the Sebilis zoneline of Kunark-era Everquest.
Because flexibility is such a focus, I wound up getting three separate jobs to the level cap (50) and then had to grind a couple of other classes into the low 30s to pick up a couple of skills from those classes. Now, I can fill any hole in a group, and if I wind up sitting on the sidelines, it will be because I’m either not very GOOD at a particular function, or because my gear isn’t up to the challenge.
For the record, that’s level 50 in Warrior, White Mage, and Bard, 34 in Scholar and Lancer, then 26 in Thaumaturge, 22 in Gladiator, and 15 in Pugilist. That’s a lot of grinding, but I am very happy with the outcome.
Another point in FFXIV’s favor is that it has very small group sizes. Regular dungeon groups are four people, most instanced raids are eight people, a very very few raids actually use “Alliances” of 24 people. I haven’t done any of the 24-player raids yet, but queuing for the 8s so far has been reasonably quick and painless, even as DPS. The only downside is that two years of mudflation lets the player base steamroll over most of the level 50 content without paying TOO much attention to mechanics, so there are raids I’ve done a half-dozen times and still have no idea how the script is supposed to work.
Yes, this is me admitting that I have frequently gotten into a raid and spent most of the time trying to dodge the OBVIOUS fire on the ground while co-incidentally being carried through by the other seven players who DO know what they’re doing. I have limited shame.
It ALSO, and I think at this point I have gushed almost-but-not-quite enough, ALSO means that my wife and I, and a friend from work and HIS wife, can do all of the single group content without needing to mix with strangers. It’s a remarkably relaxing way to play an MMO.
I think I’ll try to make this my last WOO FFXIV IS SO AMAZE post for a while. It’s coming close to the end of October and I wanted to at least try to play through a couple of horror games this month.
As much as I advocate being a Sensible Consumer when it comes to games, I will admit that there is a certain thrill to anticipating a new game for months, buying it on day one, taking it home, ripping into the shrinkwrap and telling your adult obligations to beat it for the rest of the day.
For me, this goes all the way back to “Sonic 2sday”, which was the first time I’d preordered any game – really, the first time I’d been introduced to the idea that you COULD preorder a game – and I have fond memories of clocking out from my $9/hour tech support job for lunch, making the 45 minute round-trip walk to the local mall to buy my copy, and marking time / compulsively reading & re-reading the manual for the rest of the day until I could take it home.
Sure, there is the occasional crushing disappointment when you actually dig in to your new purchase – the less said about “Homefront”, the better – but at least you get the buildup and the HYPE HYPE HYPE.
With “Fatal Frame V”, Nintendo has tried very hard to front-load the crushing disappointment. We’re getting a digital-only release, and one that takes well over half of the WiiU’s pitifully-small internal storage, they’ve altered cutscenes for content – in an M-rated horror game – and they’ve replaced some of the original bonus costumes with bizarrely out-of-place Zelda and Metroid outfits.
Nonetheless, I will not allow them to deprive me of my deserved HYPE on this, the day of release, and I have constructed a small prop to assist me in maintaining appropriate HYPE levels until such time as I can rush home after work and, uh, I guess, punch in a code and press the “Download Now” buton.
I should have brought in a blank DVD case, though. I could have printed out a custom insert for it, even.
So, Final Fantasy XIV continues to fill the role of “new MMO which is consuming all available gaming time”, but I’ve actually made some time to finish up a goal I accidentally set myself a few years back.
Looking at my PSN download history, I apparently downloaded the demo for “Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction” on November 9th, 2008. My other download that day was “Still Alive” for Rock Band, if that helps cement the era we’re talking about.
I really liked the demo, but I hadn’t played any of the other games in the series, so I could tell that I was missing many of the gags. So, instead of buying that, I played the first PS2 Ratchet & Clank game, and it was pretty good, enough to convince me to buy ToD.
But, obviously, there were still several games between that and the Future series, so I didn’t jump directly into the PS3 game. Instead, I tried to immediately start the second R&C PS2 game, which didn’t work out very well. It took me a year or so to get back to it, but I finally started that in October of 2009. Around this time, a second R&C Future game came out, which meant a price drop on “Quest for Booty”, the download-only sequel, and I bought it.
I played the THIRD R&C game in the summer of 2011. So, roughly three years after trying that Tools of Destruction demo, I was at the point where I was sufficiently seeped in series lore to give it a go… and found that I was completely burned out on the games. I put it aside again.
Skip ahead to September of THIS year, though, and Tools of Destruction finally comes back off the shelf as something I can play on Saturday mornings, and that took four weekends to play through, and then Quest for Booty took up the Saturday morning after THAT, and now I am finally caught up to Ratchet & Clank as of, roughly, late 2008.
To add an extra bit of shame to the whole affair, “Quest for Booty” ends with a Shocking Reveal that the Real Big Bad Guy was someone who I’d completely forgotten. I had to go to Wikipedia to realize that he was the primary antagonist from one of the PS2 games, so all the time I spent catching up with the series was more or less a waste of time in that regard.
In any other regard, it was far from a waste of time. While there were some spots of frustration here and there in the five games I played, they were consistently a high-quality mix of light platforming and heavy weaponry.
That last phrase sounds suspiciously familiar and I may have stolen it from somewhere.
There are two more games in the Future series, “A Crack in Time” and “Into the Nexus”, and I don’t own either. I’ve sworn off buying any more PS3 games, though, so I may just need to let the Quest for Booty cliffhanger go and assume that it all worked out in the end.