Dance of the Demos

Opinion, Video Games

By William Chandler

I really enjoy game demos because they bring me back to a time in my life when I played video games all day because I had precious little else that needed doing, whereas I now have to knowingly neglect real world things in order to get in a decent amount of game time. They remind me of a time when my primary concern was how I could manage to stay up later than my mother wished and still be able to wake up in time for the super early episodes of Dragon Ball before school.

Before I was allowed to play M rated games, I would always try to get my hands on the demo discs that came with magazines. One I remember in particular was the Metal Gear Solid demo for the PlayStation. I must’ve played through that damned intro sequence fifteen fucking times, merely imagining what could possibly come next and unknowingly committing those first couple in game hours to memory where they will undoubtedly remain.

Demos have fallen out of favor since the latter half of the last console generation, particularly pre release ones. Perhaps they are too much work in a world where the rising costs of game development have caused even some of the most storied game development companies to collapse under the financial burden. That said, I’ve noticed a few pre release demons popping up here and there recently and I’ve decided to talk about them here.

Let’s start out with the big one.

Rapid Fire Reviews: 9-20-14

Opinion, Video Games

By William Chandler

A semi-regular segment in which I am too lazy to write full reviews of various games I’m playing so I instead write a couple of shorter ones.

Pay no mind to the fact that both of these ended up being pretty long this time. But, fuck it man. I dunno.

Destiny Critical Analysis

Opinion, Video Games

By William Chandler

I don’t know what the hell happened, man. Is this Destiny the one Bungie seemed super excited to make or did that game get lost somewhere in development? After all, Bungie have always been known for injecting some great personality into their games, if nothing else. Cortana’s likeability as a character, silly dialogue from the Grunts, and a sometimes playful tone really afforded Bungie’s Halo an identity unique to itself, as well as a style that we haven’t really experienced in anything since. It was something that was sorely missed in Halo 4, in my opinion, and is really what makes Destiny feel like such a letdown.

For all intents and purposes, Destiny is a fine game. It plays perfectly well (even to the point of feeling a bit like Halo in some regards), it looks gorgeous, and there are no major bugs or stability problems to speak of. But the game starts to crack apart and show its hollow shell not long into its ~18 hour ‘campaign’.

Most of these issues reside in the story, or lack thereof. The game takes place in a post apocalyptic future where a force of pure evil, simply known as the darkness, has been quite busy in its quest to devour all life in the universe. The player, as a warrior of light, must ensure that the darkness does not continue to do that by killing quite literally every living thing you see. Apparently it’s chill if you do it but fucked up if those other guys do it. And that’s really all you do. You never actually do anything else. Fuck, you don’t even push a button or touch anything other than a weapon with your hands. Need to use a computer? Your robot companion does it for you. Need to contact another human for a side mission? Your robot takes care of all that. Seriously, Guardians must be some legitimately fucked up people if they never actually do anything but shoot other creatures in the face and make quips with a robot. The player’s role as a Guardian is never really fleshed out either, considering that the game never even bothers to show you what’s at stake, nor does the final city on Earth that you are in charge of protecting ever fall into immediate danger. Honestly, you seem less like a Guardian and more like a glorified assassin by the end.

Counterspy Critical Analysis

Opinion, Video Games

By William Chandler

Counterspy – Purchased on PSN and played on Vita and PS4

I’ve been constantly on the go as of late and this has led to me paying much more attention to my poor, often neglected handheld homies. A couple weeks ago I picked up Counterspy as a cross-buy title on the PlayStation Store and I instantly found it to be pretty damned charming thanks to the cool 60s spy era aesthetic and accompanying music reminiscent of some less bombastic Team Fortress 2 tracks. I played a couple of levels on the PS4 and thought it was a pretty fun side scrolling shooter that, regardless of the name, really has less to do with actual spy sneaking and more to do with the brutal murder of hundreds and hundreds of missile base guards, and the subsequent looting of their file cabinets. While it is certainly possible to sneak your way through a level, bypassing as many guards as possible in order to give you that tingly spy-like feeling of completing your objectives stealthily, this method of play appears to actually be discouraged because you can get a vastly higher score by just straight capping people in their dome. Not to mention the fact that non-lethal weapons are few and far between and are often times not terribly effective. Like the sleep dart gun which alerts nearby guards because the guy you just darted will likely have wondered aloud what just pierced his flesh, moments before he tucks himself into bed.

Counterspy’s art style is really nice and the game still looks great on the Vita, but the frame rate takes a pretty big hit, which proved to be annoying when I first switched to the handheld version. That said, I was admittedly bothered less and less by this the more I played of it. The gameplay is unhindered on the Vita version and continued to be enjoyable far into the game but, ultimately, rests pretty comfortably on the easy side of things from start to finish. The missions never really became any more difficult despite the game’s attempts to simply stuff a room full of an absurd number of guards, many of which are armed with various weapons that one would likely not find to be held by base guards. I’m no military expert but I really don’t see the need for three guys with rocket launchers to guard a catwalk that is suspended inside a nuclear missile silo. That shit is just wildly inefficient, yo. Aside from my usual gripe with 2d side scrolling shooters that insist on having enemies in the background, a tradition which this game dutifully upholds, there really aren’t many problems present in the gameplay. Although, the level design can become a bit samey after a while considering that they are randomly generated, providing me with a pretty strong feeling that I’d seen everything the game had to offer after only a couple of hours.

The story is barely there and filled with shrug worthy “We tried” humor and the gameplay is simple, functional, and very enjoyable. Counterspy knows exactly what it wants to be and accomplishes that pretty handily, providing a pretty decent five hour distraction from the needlessly complex and padded out titles that we often surround ourselves with. I’d say it’s worth fifteen bucks but, then again, I’d play just about anything while trapped in a hotel room.

Playstation Now…ish?

Opinion, Video Games

By William Chandler

PlayStation Now has been in open beta for about two weeks now and I’ve finally taken some time to give it a shot in between furthering the agenda of my Argonian land tycoon in Tamriel. Seriously, building mansions in Skyrim has been, like, simultaneously the best and worst addition to that game.

PlayStation Now exists nestled deep and snug in the UI of the already poorly designed PS Store. Navigating to the PS Now tab initially gives you a few informational cards on exactly what PS Now is, and the navigation bar on the left side provides options to peruse the library or test your internet connection to see if it will survive in the PS Now gauntlet. Don’t worry about having to get excited about any of the games on offer because the current library of streamable titles is absolutely fucking abysmal. What a rollercoaster of emotion I was while I attempted to decide between the absolutely amazing offerings of Dead Island: Riptide, Ben 10 Omniverse, and Greg Hastings Paintball 2. The lack of some major first party titles like Uncharted or God of War is pretty shocking, BUT you can play the overall mediocre Killzone 3. Since you likely will not be able find a title that you actually want to play, you won’t have to worry about being upset by how ridiculous some of the pricing options are. Asking for three dollars to rent a game for four hours just smacks of absurdity. Especially considering that you wouldn’t be able to near completion of most titles in that span of time anyway.

After deciding that perhaps I actually would like to subject myself to Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, I thought it wise to ensure my ability to play the game by testing my connection. After a couple of seconds spent staring at a loading bar, PS Now was kind enough to tell me that I could utilize its service as intended but neglected to provide any additional information. Perhaps I would like to know exactly how much above the recommended specifications my particular network fell? Nah, obviously not. I’m just a controller using, console playing mongoloid who couldn’t possibly comprehend such things.

So I rented Enslaved for the thirty day time period at the great price of $9.99 and was treated to excellent visual compression and screen artifacts in the opening cutscene. Enslaved was already known to be lacking in responsiveness but streaming it brought new meaning to the term input delay.

I’m going back to smithing nails so I can hang some doors in my alchemy laboratory.

PS Later

The hater’s guide to enjoying Skyrim

Opinion, Video Games

By William Chandler

Me (pictured above), screaming in rage from what I then percieved as an inherently dull Elder Scrolls game

I’ll admit, I was pretty pissed when Skyrim came out. Like, I only put 60 hours into it so it’s like I basically didn’t even play it. A big part of my frustration came from the complete removal of stat point allocation in favor of a more streamlined “perk” like system that would, in theory, provide more of a direct understanding of the ways your character improved over time. But, as a long time series fan, all I could see was the complete bastardization of what made The Elder Scrolls franchise an RPG and the subsequent attempt at pandering to a more mainstream audience. Plus, they took out Acrobatics as a skill and with it my ability to make an Argonian trapeze artist that could nearly leap entire structures by endgame, so fuck that. Another massive issue is the seemingly apparent choice of quantity over quality in regards to many of the dungeons, as the land mass has several times more dungeons than Oblivion (despite being smaller) but all of them felt like slight variations of the same dreary gray crypt filled to the fucking brim with Draugr and giant spiders. And can we please take a moment to shit on giant spiders as an enemy? Like, giant spiders are seriously the most generic and unimaginative trope in the fantasy genre and I would prefer a more sparing use of their stupidly disgusting asses in the future.

Anyway, the series has admittedly always suffered from having a distinct lack of dungeon variety, but it seems considerably more apparent with the increase in the number of dungeons. Plus, I preferred the style of dungeons in Oblivion to the ancient Nordic theme. But what’s truly remarkable is the fact that the main questline managed to be less immediately interesting than even the ridiculously shitty one in Oblivion where Sean Bean turns into a dragon. At that point, even the improvements made to combat, the addition of a sprint button, the massively improved quality of voice acting, and the fact that shouts are just straight up dope couldn’t stop my steadily flowing river of discontentedness. Disappointed in Bethesda and disgusted by Skyrim, I lived for two years as a Skyrim hater. However, that all changed two weeks ago.

I now present to you my guide to allowing yourself to appreciate Skyrim.

Step 1: Get drunk

Yeah, yeah, I know. Just hear me out. The ingestion of alcohol is admittedly what led to me returning to Skyrim at all. Like, to be honest, I just wanted something kind of relaxing to play and I thought walking through the ridiculously atmospheric woods of Skyrim sounded like a great idea. So, I create a new character and just start roaming. Like six hours later I find that I’m actually enjoying myself. Fucking weird.

Step 2: Mod that bitch

(I’ll add a full list of the mods I’m using to the comments later when I can see them)

And I don’t mean be a dumbass and add some fucking lightsabers or throw in a logic core from Portal just for the lulz. I mean find some mods that actually improve the atmosphere and the core systems of the game without completely changing it. For instance, there are some excellent mods improving graphical fidelity, upgrading blood textures and damage decals, improving sound design, and even drastic enhancements to the visual styles of the towns. Seriously, do anything and everything to elevate the game beyond the apparent limits of being ‘designed for consoles’.

Step 3: Change your mindset (a bit)

Expecting (or, more aptly, demanding) another Morrowind or Oblivion is what ultimately led to my inability to appreciate Skyrim for what it is. On some level, this type of thinking is ultimately unavoidable as you always want to preserve what you love about a beloved franchise or series. That said, it is sometimes necessary to judge a game solely on the basis of its own merits and try to leave previous entries mostly in the past. Don’t go all soft and completely forgive a game’s downfalls either because that shit is decidedly pedestrian. Rather, just try to keep an open mind. Feel free to apply this principle to other aspects of your life like meeting people and trying exotic new drugs.

And it really is just that easy. I can now enjoy the more streamlined and accessible Skyrim AND the fucking hardcore as fuck, ‘death to accessibility’, Divinity: Original Sin at the same time with no real consequences to my self worth.

What I imagine the Destiny moon level to be like as someone who has actual obligations

Opinion, Video Games

By William Chandler

For those that are unaware, Bungie announced earlier in the week that it had a limited time promotion for Destiny beta users on Saturday if they logged in during a two hour window of time, more specifically from 2 to 4 PM Pacific Standard Time (meaning from 4 to 6 PM in my Central time zone). They neglected to go into further detail at the time of the announcement but one could imagine that it would merely be another one of those emblems or whatever that you put on your character card. La di da. This being of little importance to me, I payed it no mind, as I would be obligated to helping out my mother at her store for the day while an employee was away and wouldn’t be able to log in during those hours anyway. Imagine my surprise when I returned home to find that they’d revealed earlier during the day that they would be opening up the moon for a small taste during the aforementioned two hour time window, and that the emblem reward was tied specifically to this. Well, at least I was right about one thing.

Naturally, I’d discovered this fact roughly two hours later than would be necessary to get my glimpse at that shiny white marble in the sky.

The following is my rendition of exactly how such a space trot would have gone were I able to attend the event.

My warp drive nestled me somewhere on the dark side of the moon while I unironically bumped Pink Floyd through my ship’s speakers in celebration of this event. Clearly visible structures, once erected (heh) by humans and long since abandoned, mark the surface of the moon just as frequently as the massive craters that make it up. While my ship’s computer calculated an approach vector and feasible landing location Peter Dinkla- I mean my Ghost droned endlessly about our mission objectives and other relevant information. The bulk of which I, of course, dutifully ignored. All I really needed to know was that the darkness was prevalent here and I needed to spread some light via a muzzle flash. You know. Because muzzle flashes produce light so they eliminate darkness but they also produce bullets which kill the enemies of light. It’s funny. Anyway, I step out of the cockpit and drop lightly down to the surface and-

WOW OH MY GOD HOLY FUCK THE MOON IS DOPE. THIS IS UNBELIEVABLE LIKE DID YOU KNOW THAT GRAVITY HERE IS ONLY ABOUT 16% OF WHAT IT IS ON EARTH LIKE WOW THAT IS SO COOL. HOW THE FUCK ARE THESE BULLETS WORKING OUT HERE IN SPACE I DUNNO BUT IT’S COOL AS HELL

Something like that. Yeah, I’m sort of peeved that this event had such a short window of time, especially considering they easily could have made it a whole day thing, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I suppose I can’t really complain considering I was basically given free access to their game for an entire week but, you know, I enjoy complaining.

The Destiny beta is now over and release is just on the horizon with a launch date of September 9th.

Rapid Fire Reviews: 7-27-14

Opinion, Video Games

By William Chandler

A sort of regular segment in which I demonstrate just how lazy I am by deciding to only write brief analyses of various games I’m playing.

The Bureau XCOM Declassified: 3 hours in, bought as part of the 2K Humble Bundle and played on PC using an Xbox 360 controller.

Yo, this game fucking sucks.

I remember all of the pre-release shit that went down with The Bureau during its evolution from an investigative FPS to more of a tactical third person shooter, neither of which pleased fans of the franchise, but I still held out hope that it would be alright. After all, 2K Marin did the impossible and actually served up an enjoyable sequel to my beloved original Bioshock. And, to be honest, I vastly preferred Bioshock 2 to Bioshock: Infinite. But for whatever reason, they simply could not pull this game together in the end and I’ve been avoiding it since its release for fear that it would be not good. Well, not only is it not good, it is actually an absolutely agonizing experience and I feel worse off as a human being for having been subjected to it.

Cons: The story shifts exclusively between complete nonsense and tired tropes, but it is thankfully propped up by equally nonsensical dialogue that was probably written in a single afternoon after several bottles of ‘looming deadline’ whiskey. In addition, all voice acting does the poor writing complete justice by managing to make it sound even more stupid than it probably did on paper. The game manages to be absolutely unimpressive graphically yet also runs like a pile of poorly optimized ass on the PC. The gunplay is only serviceable which is a crime considering how shitty every other aspect is. The AI probably doesn’t actually exist but I’m pretty sure the enemies did at least move on occasion. The game, sadly, does exist.

Pros: It has video AND sound. You don’t actually have to play it.

The Bureau is fucking soulless drivel. Do not play it. Do not think about. Just leave it be and maybe it will go away.

Gunpoint: 4 hours in, purchased on Steam and played on PC using mouse and keyboard

I’ve been meaning to play this game forever and am just now getting around to it. It’s extremely stylish and humorous which lends extremely well to its old school sensibili– No, you know what. Fuck this. The Bureau drained me. I just can’t write any more.

Shed a tear for the unparalleled beauty of these Halo 2 Anniversary cinematics

News, Trailers, Video Games

By William Chandler

I’m absolutely failing at my self appointed position of obnoxious cynic as of late. But there is just far too much cool shit coming out for me to allow my duty to get in the way of pure, red blooded honesty. And, honestly guys, I’m super fucking stoked for the Master Chief Collection. Yeah, I’m aware of its nearly pointless existence aside from filler material until the next major entry in the Halo franchise can be released, but it legitimately seems like Microsoft and 343 are trying to do right by actually putting a lot of work into it.

The trailer above just shows the visual overhaul on the cinematics in Halo 2 Anniversary and, man, they straight up shattered my rose tinted nostalgia goggles. Honestly, I was under the impression that the studio would likely try to keep the visual style of the original in order to perhaps preserve some of the old school (or, well, old-ish) gaming charm but nah. They went all out instead and I’m extremely pleased that they did. Blur Studios, the company responsible for the beautiful cutscenes in Halo Wars, are reportedly in charge of these too, and it shows.

It’s just too beautiful. I’m softly weeping just like ten year old me did for the original version of Halo 2.

Destiny is basically just Borderlands if you take out the Borderlands and replace it with Destiny

Opinion, Video Games

By William Chandler

I’m pretty tired of people trying to compare Destiny and Borderlands. I mean, I totally get that it’s difficult to describe things to people, especially through the written word, so its often simplest to try and use preexisting things to describe the newer things. I get that. But forreal, saying that Destiny is basically just Borderlands just does both games a disservice. They’re both loot driven first person shooters, yeah, but the similarities really end there. For instance, a major way in which they differ is that I haven’t had fun with a Borderlands game since completing the original because I found the second to be a dreary, copy/pasted mess, and I’m actually having a ton of fun with the Destiny beta.

Perhaps it’s due to the fact that my expectations for Destiny just couldn’t have been any lower, but the beta has been a joy to play for the roughly eight hours that I’ve put into it so far. The shooting feels tight and enjoyable, just as one would expect from a Bungie game, but what Destiny nails that so many other games fail to is the way encounters are designed. In order to have a truly satisfying shooter, one must understand the importance that the environment, enemy design, and enemy placement have on a combat encounter. Every single encounter feels lovingly handcrafted in order to maximize player enjoyment while still providing an appropriate amount of challenge.

Enemies are designed in a way similarly to Halo in that the types and tiers of enemies are immediately obvious to the player so that it is clear what they can expect from the enemy in the way of attacks, as well as what they have found to be their preferred method of dispatching that particular enemy. There are grunt type enemies that are the most abundant and are often easily dispatched, the slightly tougher squad leader type enemies that are less frequent and require a more careful approach, and the more rare captain enemies that can often easily overpower the player. This is, of course, an extremely rough approximation of the enemy types, but is currently applicable between the two enemy races, the Fallen and the Hive, present in the Destiny beta.

Bungie’s thorough understanding of these enemies and their abilities, as well as their careful and intricate placement throughout the environment, allows for both an enjoyable difficulty curve and good pacing in the missions or instances. And really, this is the most notable area in which Destiny and Borderlands differ. The latter has a ridiculously large variety of enemies but it often seems as though they are all designed in a way that could allow them to present a very formidable challenge to the player. This on its own is not problematic, but without a notable difficulty curve to speak of (aside from the stat differences that come with a difference in levels) every single encounter feels just as deadly as the last which, in my experience, can lead to the player feeling exhausted and annoyed at the lack of shifts in pacing. I can think of multiple points in Borderlands 2 where my two man team became bogged down by an absurdly long firefight and the constant rinse and repeat of going down and rescuing one another due to an overwhelming number of powerful enemies in a single area. In Destiny, combat is short, sweet, and to the point.

What was the point to this article again? I dunno. Basically, Destiny is just Phantasy Star Online.