August 11, 2017

8 years later... I'm moving to

This blogspot site has served as a short-sighted outlet for my on-the-side critical writing in games and music for several years and I'm grateful to have had a free place to set my thoughts. I'm now moving over to a site GRIZZLY BUTTS.COM and taking some small steps to update the look and quality of the things I write. From 2009 to 2017, almost a full eight years of posts and video game obsession, and I think I've improved some over time. I've tried to become more conversational and less expository, to write as I would speak and not wax poetic like a first-time science fiction writer. I'm hoping that my work will improve as I just now have a plan to take this hobby more seriously.

 Thanks for reading! Check out in the future.
This is one of the first posts, where I railed on a Pathology professor who I complained about. He was later fired after several students complained of his incompetence. 

Early Nintendo DS emulation posts.

Frustration with trying to install Final Fantasy XI and it basically never worked.

June 1, 2017

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (PS4, 2014): Completed

 What could be more exciting that a new, good story from the Lord of the Rings universe that comes in the form of an award winning video game? Well, unfortunately this game was more or less a PS3 game that they were able to upscale and improve for PC and consoles as the PS4/XBOX One arrived. No fault here for me but several years into the PS4 this is decidedly ugly when it comes to human character models and animations. Despite the ugliness of parts of this game it is, for me, an excellent display of what an open world game really was at the time of perfection. This is essentially Batman: Arkham City but in the LoTR setting with an amazing Uruk (Orcs) nemesis AI system that improves the power of Uruk captains that defeat you (or anyone that defeats you). You can almost instantly run to each tower and unlock missions, collectibles, and other story related tasks if you know what you're doing. The combat is one part Assassins' Creed II and Batman: Arkham series and this game borrows the best elements of both series plus provides a story that is an amazing addition to the LoTR universe.
Pretty sure that's Sauron. He's a bad boy.
You're some ranger in Mordor as the Dark Lord uprises and you're killed, sacrificed and bonded with an unknown guy (the Bright Lord, Celebrimbor) who -spoilers- is a smith who crafted the rings of power and the one ring that would rule them all. He tried his best but Sauron defeated him and by the end of the game this story is concluded in a wonderful way that points directly to a sequel... Which is Middle Earth: Shadow of War, coming out this year. So, this is yet another game I've had to basically replay twice to finish and this time I bought the GOTY edition with DLC and such but the DLC is separate and I will do reviews for DLC as separated items at one point if I get around to them. For this game, I will play the DLC for sure because the story is the coolest part of the game. 

The actual gameplay loops you into some very repetitive tasks that are always pretty fun. Combat is fast and relies on Assassins Creed style button prompts and it can feel a bit like a QTE fest if not for the Arkham Asylum style combos that allow for more moves as your hits combo above certain limits. The Far Cry (or whatever) style upgrade system eventually allowed me to hit just 3 times before I could do 2 executions in a row. The sheer number of amazing powers you get equally between the stealth knife, ranged bow, and sword makes this game very fun and I haven't even mentioned that you can just soul-grab Uruk and pop their heads off, or just convert them to followers en masse and easily have them kill off entire Strongholds while you watch. There are few open world games that allow for such interaction and possibility in combat that this game really makes up for the worst of the PS3 open world era. 

This isn't a perfect game though despite that I love the IP, the controls, the combat, the story, and such because after you've reached a certain point in power and the exhaustive number of missions and quests (about 150 mission style tasks and actual missions) it really does feel too easy and repetitive. The trophy list gives a few funny challenges such as getting killed by a captain, then controlling him, raise him to the level of warchief and then kill him... but beyond that I felt ready for more story when there was none. It's not often that I really do want a ton more story from a game but coming off of story-lite games like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Final Fantasy XV I was equally frustrated with just wanting more in general. I'm glad there is a sequel because I loved this game and it'll be interesting to see if they screw it up and add weird crap like Assassin's Creed's tower defense or ship battles to muck up the already satisfying gameplay. I'll definitely go back and platinum this game with the DLC and all that. At this point I'd gotten sick of the Uruk voices and the noises they make when I chop them up and just finished the story/missions. Highly recommended if you don't mind the ugly.


Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (PS4, 2016): Completed

Here's the follow up to one of my favorite games of all time Deus Ex: Human Revolution. HR is the type of game that left a huge impression on me and inspired me to play the original game in the series and try out several franchises I'd never thought I'd bother with (Dishonored, Thief, Hitman, Metal Gear Solid) it was a game that inspired me to keep playing video games. I loved Human Revolution enough to get the Platinum trophy, beating it a total of three times and to be honest I've played through Mankind Divided 1.5 times and I'm not sure I'm so passionate about it that I want to do it two more times to Platinum it as well. Why not? Damn, well unfortunately it suffers from the same issue as Rise of the Tomb Raider but with a few more years of anticipation. It simply isn't as much of a game, most of it takes place in a very large and very detailed version of Prague but it isn't -that- large and you have to travel between a few hubs to really get around. It isn't more of a game, but rather a sequel that is about half the size with a third of the variation. 

I actually like Adam Jensen as a character, he's straight to the point and you can make him more of a dick or a sympathetic hipster to your liking. The augment system gets several additions but honestly they're mostly just creative ways to kill enemies that are entirely pointless. Yes, you get an arm blade to slaughter people with, but the game parces out the ammo so infrequently that it always seems like a waste. The other upgrades are completely awesome, you can scrap guns and trash to make multi-tools (I had 60 multi-tools by the final area, hacking is more fun), you can multi-tase a room full of thugs. Here's the thing: If you go around killing everyone you're not penalized at all, that includes cops, pedestrians, etc. so at one point in my re-playthrough of the first area (lost my save) I had killed every cop and robot, they didn't show up again until the story progressed. Much like HR the story takes place in chapters that push forward as you complete missions, but this time the story beats push forward and the locale never does. 

Yes, this game has an amazing bank to rob (twice!) and yeah there are thug hideouts and apartments and literally 30 hours of looting and hacking to do... but honestly this is the first Deus Ex game that completely insists that you play it a certain way, then replay it a certain other way, then replay it a third different way in order to experience everything. What's my issue? Well, if you aggro an enemy it is likely the boss or leader of the criminal syndicate etc. will also never forgive you and you'll have to kill or knock him out. So? This means that lets say you needed to access the hidden office of a crime boss to get a bonus towards the last boss fight, if the crime boss dies or gets knocked out you lose access to the side quest. Or lets say you need access up an elevator and you kill a cop, oh wait the quest giver who you can barter with also shoots you and you're forever his enemy. Choices I made in combat always affected which quests I could complete or not and that means knowing precisely each enemy that can see you, which will aggro and which you should avoid. So I ended up having to reload old saves for almost every chapter and replaying missions so much that I decided I wouldn't Platinum the game. This is very strange for me to give up on, I'm a weirdo who loves difficult trophies. 

Story was everything in the previous game and moments like infiltrating a prostitute den, then a bar, then exposing a guy over the NY Times Square style TV displays in a popular area were incredible back then... Now in this game the most you get is infiltrating a hacker news association and then jumping on a building to fix their antennae (Far Cry 3?). None of it really hit a beat hard, and having a series of benign tasks that you can just gun through like a super hero left me feeling like the game needed bigger ideas and a lot more money. Hell, they did away with the weird boss fights in the first game and basically included one boss fight at the very end of the game. The whole story lacks compelling characters and instead opts for Sci-Fi style sitcom folks who are all so military-meets-Mr. Robot (tv show) that it is sickening dull. I bought a social augmentation and only had three conversations with it, one with a guy who was immune to it. Ugh.

Deus Ex series' freedom of choice absolutely still exists, though it doesn't look like another game will get made, but it has become a set of mechanics that feels punishing unlike the HR and the original Deus Ex. That could be ignorance on my part but the bottom line is that this is a Deus Ex sidestory and not a full featured game. It's almost hilarious how limiting this game feels when compared to Hitman's episodic content. For all my gripes I really loved being in this world again and it really is a beautiful, stylized game with such distinct character I only wish they'd gone as big as they did on Human Revolution. As such, it's just a shiny new expansion (like Half Life 2's episodic content, for example) and overall sorta ho-hum. I know I've been a whining bitch about Square Enix games lately but they are genuinely disappointing to me (also, I'm currently playing Star Ocean... wait for that one if you thought FFXV was rude) and discount a lot of that because I just love this series and felt this game could have been better. It is still great and totally worth all of the DLC (which is far better than the main game, overall) and the Breach mode isn't terrible at all just difficult at first. Highly recommended but track down Human Revolution first if you don't mind returning to the last generation of games. 


Rise of the Tomb Raider (PS4, 2016): Completed

The twenty or so hours I spent with the overly long Rise of the Tomb Raider were frustrating and mind-numbingly tedious. This was a huge surprise because the Tomb Raider reboot from a few years ago was incredibly fun and had just enough variety in environment and challenge that I kept me relatively engaged to the end. It isn't RotTR's fault, because it can only manage to do more of the same with some very meaningless upgrades to the quality of life and mobility of Lara, without really giving any reason to implement any of it. Climbing challenges are less of a challenge, enemy camp/base level designs are more open world and well... more open. There might be more room to move around but Lara pretty much only has one way to approach each goal, the way the waypoint tells you to. Lara is far less interesting as a character as she is now battle hardened and her exposition is limited to save points, and if you skip her dialogue by accident you are kinda shit outta luck if you want to hear it again. Lara just doesn't matter to the story and she barely finds the time to process her father's death and life's work between trudging through the snow and running errands for strangers.
 It still isn't an open world, a theme shared between other Square Enix games that I've played lately: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and Final Fantasy XV... where each has large open areas that are connected by travel points, and RotTR has the advantage of making you physically climb between these areas before being able to fast travel. The majority of the game is played in a snowy area full of Russian soldiers (yawn) as you seek to help a tribal people who are linked to the holy grail or whatever, some stupid sci-fi Indiana Jones knock-off plot that is somehow more contrived than Uncharted and told half as well. This is all very depressing to me as I'm a big fan of 3D attempts at the metroidvania thing and this game actually does limit progress depending on your abilities, the problem isn't the linearity and such but rather I never felt like throwing an axe attached to a rope to swing along a random hook created anything more than an extra button push to rushing along in a straight line. It seems like everything about Lara's control scheme is meant to just make it harder for the place to walk in a straight line towards her goal. Sure, I can turn that stuff off right? But that'd be infuriating to try and figure out and the story just has no grip to it for that to be worthwhile.  
I had initially put a lot of time into this game exploring the first area of the game nearly 100% completing the Siberian cold areas until I realized that what I was doing was completely fucking boring and the story just wasn't getting told. It turns out, much like FFXV, there wasn't much of a story to be told this time around. Two people betrayed your father, we learn this very early on, and we're out to find the holy thing first and maybe get revenge. Spoilers, you do and some magical shit happens too. Whatever.  I don't mean to be so cynical about this game but I waited a year to play it on PS4 so I could do all the DLC and it turns out the extra story DLC was good... but the game itself was a wobbly controlling sticky-footed bitch fest. Tomb Raider was such a badass game in 2013 and this was just way too much of the same thing minus the big fire-fights, minus the crazy well designed set-pieces. The weird thing is that this game amped up the actual tombs that you raid and those offer some really disappointing puzzle challenges. The first one you'll find is perhaps the best with the water puzzles, the rest hinge their design on looking complicated and actually being very simple. 

Like most Square Enix games this generation it feels slightly unfinished story-wise and seems to be a rushed sequel. There was no point in playing this game where I went "Ewww!" or "Fuck yeah!" or "Wow, that was fun." like I did in the first game and I'm left wishing I'd waited for this game to go on sale for $10-$20 instead of pre-ordering. Even if you love the source material and genre like I do, you might be at least a little disappointed.