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Gaming Update: Dec 2011

Well, it’s been a while since I last posted about games, and in that time I’ve played quite a lot of them. I’m not going to mention all of them (I’m sure I’ve forgotten quite a few), but I will say a few words about some of the more notable ones. In no particular order:

Skyrim

… nah, just kidding. Unlike apparently about two-thirds of the whole Internet, I don’t have this and aren’t playing it. I have little doubt that I will pick it up at some point, but I’m holding out for the inevitable GotY edition which includes all the DLC, and for the modding community to fix some of the more annoying bugs that undoubtedly survived the original release. Don’t get me wrong: I know that BethSoft do squash a large number of bugs, and that in such a large world it’s impossible to get them all before release, and that most of the ones remaining end up being cosmetic rather than game-breaking. But I do find it a bit odd that once they have been identified they only patch a few of the worst, leaving the modding community to deal with the rest. I guess it’s cheaper that way though. (And besides, I still haven’t finished the main story in Oblivion.)

Saints Row the Third (Amazon, Mighty Ape, Steam)

I’m still playing this one (about 30 hours in, and about two-thirds of the way through the storyline), so maybe it’s too early to call it, but this is definitely a blast. If you’re familiar with Saints Row 2, it’s basically more of the same. They’ve increased the graphics quality, decreased some of the flexibility (clothing options are more basic, and there isn’t as much variety in activities and diversions), removed the requirement to perform a certain number of diversions before doing missions (although they’re still important), and ratcheted up the absurdity factor by several thousand notches. If you’re not familiar with the series, then it’s basically in the same sort of style as GTA: Vice City, before that series started getting all serious about itself (and seemingly wanting you to not play the game while playing it, with the in-game TV and frequent calls to play pool and darts etc.) — basically an open-world free-roam crime/gang simulation, except insanely over-the-top. I might revisit this in another post once I’m done, but it’s a great deal of fun so far. Especially the Decker missions and activities.

Batman Arkham City (Amazon, Mighty Ape, Steam)

Long-awaited sequel to Arkham Asylum, and essentially pure awesomeness presented in game form. I’ve apparently pumped about 43 hours into this one, and I’m basically done now — I’ve completed the storyline and all the side missions, found all the Riddler trophies and riddles, and have only a couple of the physical challenges remaining. I haven’t yet done any of the challenge maps or New Game Plus, though; no doubt I’ll be back to try some of those later, after I’ve played something else for a while. But anyway: the premise is fairly basic; once again Batman is plunged into a den of iniquity populated by a rogues gallery of his classic opponents (both major and minor), and it’s up to him (and on occasion, also Catwoman, who is a playable character for some small segments of the game) to save the day, generally by beating a lot of people into the ground (but not killing them), preferably in a stealthy manner (since you get XP bonuses for instilling fear in your opponents and taking them down silently). The main difference is that now the game world is larger — instead of being confined to a small island, you now have a whole city district to roam over — and since you have the Batclaw right from the start and its range has been extended, you can get around quite quickly despite the larger size.

The Riddler makes an appearance in this one as well, but this time around there’s only a few riddles (and in particular, only one of the “use detective vision to match up an invisible question mark” riddles per area, which is a good change). Instead most of the time you’ll be collecting little question-mark trophies. Some of them are simply in obscure places, but often you’ll require a particular gadget or a certain combination of skilled moves or timing to unlock (in particular there are a few where you have to jump or glide from pressure pad to pressure pad without touching anything else in between, and a couple where you have to hit a pad with a lot of force, generally requiring a dive bomb from a height, which can be tricky to aim properly, and others where you have to hit pads or switches in a certain order or timing). There’s also (as a side mission) some special puzzle-laden rooms to solve to rescue various hostages. The variety is interesting, though, and overall I think it’s an improvement from the previous game. Plus, the Riddler is actually inside the prison this time, so you’ll get a chance to take him down directly rather than just over the radio, as before. And if you’re really struggling to find the trophies, or the other Riddler objects, you can get your in-game map updated to show where they are once you’re about half-way through the game (and after doing something else I’d rather not spoil, but it’s much more interesting than stumbling across the maps as in the first game).

Another improvement is that despite the game still requiring GFWL (which wasn’t unexpected, since its predecessor did too), this time around if you bought it via Steam then you simultaneously get both Steam and GFWL achievements, instead of only one or the other (which is what most other games do). Which is good if you’re into that sort of thing.

I’m not going to comment much on the story (since I don’t like giving spoilers), but it seemed to me that this game was a lot darker than its predecessor, especially given the reason behind Arkham City being built in the first place, and how things end up, particularly withso many characters dying. Still, this is based on a comic universe after all, and as one of the inmates points out during the after-end-game gameplay,”How many times has Joker died already?”, so it’s likely that the inevitable sequel will see the return ofmost of those who “died” this time. I’m looking forward to it.

Alice: Madness Returns (Amazon, Mighty Ape, Steam)

Another sequel game, this time to American McGee’s Alice, a decade-old darker reimagining of the characters from Alice in Wonderland (which I’ve discussed before). This game continues on the same theme, this time with a slightly older Alice, now outside of the asylum and trying to piece her memories back together. And in the end you do discover what really happened to her and her family, which is a little predictable in some ways but it does provide good closure. The gameplay and world is just as twisted and brilliant as before; for those unfamiliar, it’s essentially a puzzle-platformer in gorgeous madness-inspired environments sprinked with a bit of equally madness-inspired opponents. There are even a few places where you get a bit of a paradigm shift, such as a few 2D side-scrolling sections and one in which a giant Alice rampages through a group of smaller opponents while dodging cannon blasts; these help to keep things interesting.

There’s also a bit of a collection dynamic as well; along the way (usually in hidden locations) there are bottles and “memories” to collect; each memory unlocks a snippet of background conversation (some from before and some from after the events that caused Alice’s madness), while finding all of the bottles in a chapter will unlock bonus concept art. Unfortunately, quite a few of these are on side-routes off one-way paths, so if you happen to go the “right” way first you won’t be able to go back and collect everything. There’s a bit of mitigation for this in that you can replay chapters to collect anything you missed the first time around, but since each chapter is fairly long and the items are often hidden quite well this can be quite a chore, unless you cave in and use a walkthrough. (Or aren’t the type to care if you miss collecting something.)

Overall, though, a fun and interesting game, especially if you’ve played the original.

Dragon Age II (Amazon, Mighty Ape)

Oh look, another sequel. :) I’ve completed the base game and the Legacy DLC; I’m planning to play Mark of the Assassin at some point (yay, Felicia Day!) but haven’t yet done so. There’s probably not a lot that I can add to this that hasn’t been said elsewhere — the game is a lot of fun, the story and combat elements remain strong from the first game. I particularly like that you’re not out to save the world this time — just your own little corner of it. That’s something we don’t see enough of. It’s also told in an interesting fashion — it’s a framed story, ie. it’s being told by one of the participants, rather than happening directly. This allows for some hilarious moments, such as when during the narrator’s personal quest you first experience it as the single character in a heroic battle against an endless swarm of one-hit-kill opponents, before being called out on it and then things returning to normal gameplay.

The biggest downsides to the game were the way that the enemies tended to come in contrived waves (especially given that the subsequent waves would simply teleport in most of the time), and the ridiculously over-reused maps. Granted that there’s occasional justification for the latter (often you are revisiting the same locations at a later time, since most of the story happens in and around of a single city), but most of the time there’s no reason for “random cave A” to be absolutely identical to “random cave B” except for the placement of a few of the permanently-locked doors. Obviously this is cheaper and easier for the developers, but during gameplay it just seems like laziness. Fortunately, both of these flaws were remedied in the new DLC content (enemies still come in waves occasionally, but at least they do it by coming in through doors or over walls now, instead of teleporting), so hopefully the developers have learned their lesson.

Minecraft

Ah, Minecraft. I’ve actually had this for over a year now (I got in during Alpha), and have been resisting the urge to post about it for all this time because I’ve never been entirely sure what to say about it. That’s still true today, but I felt it at least deserves a mention, now that it’s been officially released. :) To be honest, I’m not really spending much time playing the game itself any more, but I do still spend quite a lot of time watching other people play it via YouTube LP videos (sometimes on special player-created adventure maps, sometimes on the regular game, just building interesting things). Some people have compared it to LEGO, and that’s a pretty good comparison — it’s a sandbox game that lets you build whatever you can imagine (within constraints, of course), even giving you the option to choose between a creative mode that gives you infinite resources to just go nuts and build whatever you want, or a survival mode where you have to gather the resources yourself, while fending off attacks from the monsters that come out at night. And some of the interesting interactions between its block physics systems and its redstone circuitry let you build some quite elaborate things — if you look around, you can find people who have built models of the entire globe, or secret doorways, or playable minigames, or even a working virtual computer.

Terraria (Steam)

Some have called it a 2D version of Minecraft, and there are indeed some similarities (and in some respects the two games have been getting closer to equivalence — Terraria was the first to have potion brewing, and Minecraft was the first to have a wiring system — but I think this is more a case of convergent evolution than actual copying). In many respects, Terraria is the more structured and less pure-sandboxy of the two games; it has distinct areas of increasing difficulty and “tiers” of equipment, eg. you have to beat certain bosses to get enough resources to craft certain items that will enable you to successfully fight or acquire resources in other zones, and each zone has unique enemies which have different levels of health and provide different resources (Minecraft does have a bit of this too, but there’s only three zones, one of which most players won’t see for quite a long time, and it’s easier to acquire the highest tiers of equipment, since they wear out over time instead). Unlike Minecraft, it has fixed-size worlds, but it provides a way to take a character (and their inventory, unlike Minecraft) between worlds, so once you’ve spent some time conquering one world and gathering its resources, you can take those to a new world and find some more. Since there’s quite a large number of unique items (some quite rare), and they’re scattered around the world in chests that you may never find the first time around, starting over like this can be quite beneficial, letting you find some of the items you never discovered previously. And additionally, of course, it allows you to build your house/base with much better resources and planning than you could the first time around.

Portal 2 (Amazon, Mighty Ape, Steam)

Buy it. Play it. Now. What more needs to be said? (Well, ok: play the first one first, if you’ve been hiding under a rock. You don’t have to, but it makes things a lot better if you do.) And I still haven’t really played the co-op mode yet.

Afterword

I think that’s enough for now. As always, I’ve played quite a few more than I’ve listed here, so if anyone out there actually cares about my opinions, feel free to suggest a game (either in the comments or the Suggestion Box) and I’ll respond or post about that too, if I’ve played it. You can even suggest one that I’ve already talked about, if there’s something more you want to know about it, or my opinion of it.

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