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CoD: Mewtwo

May 28, 2015


I am really bad at playing games in series order.

I got introduced to the Call of Duty series with the second installment, enjoyed that enough to buy Modern Warfare within the first week or two of its release – and even PLAY it almost immediately, which is always a problem, followed THAT up by making a video card purchase decision based partially on the included copy of World At War… and then pretty much put the series down for several years, until I needed SOMETHING to show off on my shiny new PS4 and bought Ghosts.

Since then, I’ve played BLOPS2 and Advanced Warfare, both of which were pretty neat in a borderline science fiction way.

ANYWAY, now that I have lost any gaming hipster cred I might have ever had, I will admit that I’ve been going through my rather depressing backlog looking for games to play that are on the short side, and Modern Warfare 2 practically fell out of the list.

It’s almost embarrassing how much I enjoyed it.  It’s not exactly a cerebral game, though there IS a continuing story that made me realize how little of the original Modern Warfare I remembered and made me commit to actually playing the third one before I completely forget what went on in this one.

Rather, it’s designed to grab on to the parts of the lizard brain that like watching stuff blow up and give them a good tickle, and it does that very well.

At the time of release, it made a bit of press for itself by including a terrifically tasteful level where you play as a member of a terrorist group shooting up an airport.  That may actually have been why I avoided buying it back in the day, come to think of it; I am somewhat allergic to manufactured controversy.

Fortunately, you can skip the level – I don’t remember if that was a launch feature, or if it was patched in later – and I took the skip option with zero guilt.

There isn’t much point in talking about the “game bits” – it’s a Call of Duty game, for crying out loud, so you fight an endless horde of respawning enemies, always trying to make it to the next check point, while your squad mates tell you what to do. Things explode, there are neat set pieces, people say stuff like “tango” and “foot-mobile” and “hooah”, and the good guys mostly win.

I will give a special bit of attention to the achievements, because they’re just about perfect.  You get a set number of achievements just for completing the story mode, a few more achievements are based around the optional “Spec Ops” missions, which are 5-10 minute affairs reusing parts of the single player maps, and there are a handful of achievements for doing assorted other goofy things, like using five different weapons in a row or killing two enemies with a single bullet.  I wound up with 50% achievement completion without really needing to try very hard, which is way above the 30-40% achievement rate I aim for.

Yes, I set my sights very low.

Anyway, I’ve blown through 9 games and two Skyrim expansions since coming back from China and am feeling much less guilty about buying Splatoon on Friday.  Backlog progress always feels good :)


Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae

May 25, 2015


Normally I try to come up with clever titles for posts.

At first, I considered “The Only Thing That Can Stop A Bad Girl With A Sword Is A Good Girl With A Sword”, but that seemed excessively long.

Then I considered “Putting the Broad in Broadsword”, but that was (a) demeaning and rude and (b) inaccurate, as neither of the main characters uses a broadsword.

On the other hand, I am now desperately in need of a game featuring a Japanese anthropomorphic feline swordsman, so I can write a post titled “Putting the Kat in Katana”


So, back to Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae, the game I started off talking about before I decided to get all clever.  As you might have guessed, it’s a game about two women with swords, one of whom is the Bad Guy.  She’s been possessed by the spirit of an evil sword which is draining her life force and blah blah blah she’s bad, go kill her.


For no logical reason, she has a small army of mooks that you, as the Good Guy, need to brutally murder in your pursuit of vengeance.


I guess they come with the sword.

If you’ve played Oneechanbara – and if you haven’t, get on it – you’ll be familiar with the basic principle.  You get dumped into the middle of an arena, enemies spawn and try to swarm you, you kill them, occasionally you fight giant bosses.


UNLIKE Oneechanbara, this is a little more tasteful, with not much more than the occasional panty shot to roll your eyes at.  That may or may not be a plus, I’ll leave it up to you.

On “Normal”, I got my pleaty-skirted arse handed to me my the first boss, so I started over on Easy and cleared the game without too many issues, which then let me start a second playthrough on Normal with all of my upgrades from the Easy clear intact.  I suspect this is how you’re supposed to do things, but if you can clear it on Normal without doing a New Game+, more power to you.

It’s not a long game.  On easy, I cleared it in under an hour.  That being said, there are lots of upgrades to unlock and difficulty levels to clear, so it’s got some replay value.

What it is lacking in length, it makes up for with some very satisfactory swordplay and acrobatics.  Your character has a ton of different animations and watching her dash, roll, and slice her way through an encounter is a blast.  I suspect that this is REALLY designed for people who like to calculate frame counts in moves and put together sophisticated combos, but even a scrub like me can get some impressive moves out.

Two thumbs up.


Hard Reset – No Paperclip Required

May 24, 2015


Normally I consider a game’s story and setting to be more important than the actual mechanics.

Hard Reset proved a very notable exception to this rule, because it does not have a deep story.  It’s more like “Once upon a time, there was a man with a lot of guns who hated robots, so he shot them all.  The End.”

This is unfair to the author of the ACTUAL story, I admit, because there’s a heavy cyberpunk thing going on with an evil corporation and malevolent AIs and nanomachines and a robot uprising and oh for the love of God just go and re-read some back issues of Mondo 2000 and watch Blade Runner for the 30th time, then come back when you’re ready to shoot robots.

So, let’s talk about the mechanics a little bit, because the story isn’t the important bit for a change.

Hard Reset is, in just about every way, a love letter to Doom and other FPS games of its era.  There’s no regenerating health, no cover system, no iron sights, no 2-weapon limit.  You pick up med kits to heal, ammo boxes to refill your bullet supply.  Every level has a ton of secrets to reward exploration, and you are given a score at the end of each level based on how many secrets you found, how long you took, how many things you blew up and so forth.  Enemies almost never come one or two at a time and you are almost always fighting a swarm of mixed nasties.  The best thing you have on your side is that you can use the environment against the swarm; every level is full of stuff that explodes or electrocutes, and steering the oncoming hordes into harm’s way is fantastically satisfying.

The environment, being mostly ruins and wastelands, is fairly bleak, but it IS pretty, and also full of all kinds of sexy physics objects to get knocked around by explosions.

hardreset02 hardreset01

There are a couple of notable differences from the Doom formula.  First, the game uses checkpoints rather than allowing you to save freely.  This is usually OK, but there were a couple of places where checkpoints were spaced maybe just a LITTLE far apart and I wound up seeing the start of one particular level far too many times for my liking.

Second, you don’t pick up weapons.  You earn currency from blowing up robots and from finding it scattered throughout the levels.  You use this to buy upgrades, and the same currency is used for upgrading armor and abilities and for buying and upgrading weapons, and this is where I went terribly wrong in my playthrough.

If you are smart, you will spend your first few upgrade points on buying the Railgun, which is a gun that SHOOTS THROUGH WALLS, and has an optional scope upgrade that lets you SEE THROUGH WALLS.  Oh, and it’s a hitscan weapon, meaning that there is no lag between clicking the mouse button to shoot and when the thing you are trying to shoot gets hit.  This differs from the game’s rocket launcher, which has a significant travel time from firing to impact.

If you are dumb, you will not buy this until you are nearly done with the game and incredibly frustrated with the apparent difficulty level.

So, yeah, it’s possible to really do yourself a disservice there.

I also ran into a compatibility problem with my AMD graphics card.  It turns out that, if you are forcing antialiasing through the AMD drivers, there are no menus and no videos when starting the game.  You see a blank spot where there obviously should be menus, but you can’t actually do anything.

Need I mention that trying to search for information on a game called “Hard Reset” is not the easiest thing in the world?  Google returns page after page of people trying to reboot their phones or other electronics.

Sometimes PC gaming can be an exercise in frustration.

When Hard Reset originally came out, it was a seven level game that ended abruptly after five or six hours and left a lot of folks confused and wanting, so the devs added five extra levels and made them available to anyone who’d bought the original game.  That’s pretty solid on their part.

Short version: minor gripes and one AMD-specific issue aside, this was one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played this year.  Seriously recommended.

Some Craigslist Weirdness

May 23, 2015

I can’t decide whether this is funny or really sobering, but it’s definitely one of the stranger things I’ve seen on Craigslist – and that’s a pretty high hurdle to jump over, considering what gets posted on there from time to time.

I can’t take credit for finding this – my wife was looking for volunteer opportunities and it caught her eye.  I just thought it was worth sharing.


Fatal Frame 4 / Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse

May 22, 2015

FF4_CoverI am utter crap at playing games in a timely fashion, and also pretty terrible at playing series in order.

Case in point: The Fatal Frame / Zero series.  I bought the second game in December of 2004, actually played it in 2008, played the first game in 2010, bought and started the third game shortly after finishing the first game, put it aside for a few months while I went to Japan, bought the fourth game while I was in Japan, never got back to the third game, and just finished the fourth, five years after buying it and seven years after it was released.

If you had trouble following that, I can’t say I blame you.

This is a series I claim to love, by the way.

And I do, really, clunky controls and weird premise and generally opaque plots aside.   They’re seriously creepy games, not gore-fests; they get their scares from unsettling environments, superb audio work, and stories that are like onions of awful, with each revelation serving to peel another layer of horrors back.

Wow, that was possibly the most pretentious writing I’ve ever inflicted on anyone reading this blog.  Sorry about that, moving on:

The first three Fatal Frame games make up a loose trilogy – 1 and 2 don’t have much in common, but 3 serves as a sequel to both games.  Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is a completely stand-alone game, and it’s my understanding that the upcoming WiiU game will likewise be its own thing.

As in previous entries, the basic gameplay revolves around exploring decaying and borderline ruined buildings, piecing together a mystery from journals and audio snippets, solving simple puzzles, and fighting off ghosts using a spiritual camera.  You also spend a fair bit of time fighting the control scheme, which is probably a deliberate design decision.

Case in point: When you are looking through the viewfinder of your camera, you aim left and right using the thumbstick on the Wii nunchuck.  Looking up and down is accomplished by tilting the Wii Remote – not pointing it at the screen, mind you, just tilting it up and down.  It’s no good pointing it at the screen to aim, and it’s actually better if you kind of think of it as a pedal rather than a pointer.

Oh, and once you’ve lined up a shot, remember not to pull the “trigger” button on the remote, as this lowers the camera and opens you up to attack.  The shutter release is actually the A button, on top of the remote.

The Wii Remote is also used in some infuriating musical puzzles, which I will touch on later.

The story hook is that, about a decade ago, five young girls were kidnapped.  Two of them have since died under mysterious circumstances, and the remaining three – and a private investigator who was a detective at the time of the kidnapping – are drawn back to the scene of the crime.  Over the game’s 13 chapters, you play as each of these four characters, each of whom has their own story and ending.  They never interact directly, but you’ll see their effects as you play – a puzzle box one girl solves will be open on a nightstand when another character enters the same room, for example.

In a very odd design decision, they have individual inventories, but share a couple of different sorts of currencies that are used to buy upgrades and items.  So, if you are willing to forgo upgrades to your camera on one character, the other characters can buy more upgrades when it’s their turn.

Since you only play one character in the final level, I elected to generally starve the others of upgrades.  This did make for some tense moments.

I can’t be objective about this series; I love it and I think everyone should play them.  Mind you, you’ll need to rig your Wii up to play homebrew software and download a translation patch, but there are plenty of resources online to walk you through the process.

The one fault I WILL admit with the game are those piano puzzles that I mentioned earlier.  In these, you need to follow along with highlighted keys on a piano keyboard using the Wii Remote, which is scarcely a precision device.  In the climactic moment of the game, you need to first beat the final boss and then do a musical puzzle correctly, or the boss pops right back up and you need to fight it again.

I hit one of these in a reasonably early chapter that very nearly had me giving the game up, because I could NOT get the timing right.

The trick was to set the TV to “Game” mode, which turned off image processing, and suddenly I could actually hit notes on time.  So… if you’ve stumbled across this in frustration with these terrible puzzles, give that a try.


May 21, 2015


When I got back from China, I set myself a goal of blogging daily for 30 straight days, and today’s post represents me succeeding at that.  This shatters my previous record, which was about three weeks of daily posts.

I’ll confess that some of my posts have been a little light on the content, but I never promised anyone QUALITY content on a regular basis, or in fact at all.

That’s one milestone down.

The second milestone, and I swear I didn’t plan for this to fall on the same day, is that this my 1000th post since I started writing this thing back in 2007.

That’s an awful lot of words, and I can probably sum the majority of them up as “I’m a bit of a geek, and I’m rubbish at video games.”

I don’t think either of those things is going to change soon, so let’s see if I can keep at this for a few years longer.  :)


On The Dangers Of Trusting Travel Apps

May 20, 2015

Part of my prepping for Beijing included installing the offline TripAdvisor application on my HiSense tablet, and it turned out to be both stunningly helpful and fiendishly traitorous.

To wit: It was marvelous at looking up hotels and restaurants and attractions and the like and it was top class at pulling up a map of the neighborhood and putting a GPS marker for where I was and another marker showing the location of the place I wanted to go.

Subway stations were always correctly placed on the map.  The GPS marker was also always correctly placed on the map, and updated in real time as I walked around.

The DESTINATION marker was invariably about six blocks east of where the actual place was, and a block or two north in the bargain.  This only seemed to affect restaurants and hotels and such, mind you.

As an example, in the following image, the red arrow indicates the ACTUAL location of the Jade Garden Hotel.  For extra confusion, there IS a hotel roughly where the TripAdvisor arrow is pointing.


And the red arrow in the next image shows where the Beijing Hooters really is:


The only benefit I realized from this, before i realized that I wasn’t actually crazy and that my tablet was actually trying to kill me, was that I made my Fitbit happy by racking up a phenomenal number of steps.

This odd offset seemed confined to the Beijing version of the TripAdvisor application.  I also had the Shanghai version with me and those maps seemed perfectly accurate.

Glitches aside, I would have been completely lost without the app, so this isn’t a sincere rant – more a good lesson for me in not blindly trusting technology.  It also made me very glad that I’d decided to drop $129 on the particular HiSense tablet model I have back when ArsTechnica was talking them up as a viable Neuxs alternative; it paid for itself on this one trip alone.

The other travel app I put on it was Kiwix, an offline Wikipedia reader, and the complete archives of Wikitravel.  I cannot recommend this enough as a suggestion.



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