2017 Game Review Haiku, #28 – The Summit High

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Success and failure
A mountain of bare attempts
Your choice–climb or fall

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Gears of War 3 has bigger problems than just the Lambent

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I beat Gears of War 3‘s campaign the other night, on the normal difficulty, and the hardest part was at the very beginning, when our gallant troop of four from the Delta Squad–Marcus Fenix, Dominic Santiago, Anya Stroud, and Jayson Stratton specifically–would run up to the deck of the Sovereign and stare in astonishment at a surprise attack from the Lambent. You can see this depicted in the picture above. Trust me when I say I’ve also stared at it a whole bunch because it is this point in time that the game decided to freeze for me on multiple occasions, hard-locking the entire Xbox One and forcing me to do a reboot. I’m not sure if this was a common happening in the original launch version or has something to do with it being backwards-compatible, but either way…yuck.

Because I’m slightly loopy and couldn’t help myself, I began tracking the number of Xbox One hard-freezes I hit in Gears of War 3:

  • Act 1 – FOUR
  • Act 2 – ONE
  • Act 3 – ONE
  • Act 4 – ZERO
  • Act 5 – ZERO
  • GRAND TOTAL: SIX.

Now, six hard locks on the console might not seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things, but it is more than enough to be irksome. Especially for a game of this quality and number of people working on it. Thankfully, as you saw, it was more problematic at the start and steadied itself by the middle of the campaign, which meant I could focus more on shooting monsters in the face and less panicking every time a cutscene started.

Right. Gears of War 3 plot summary time. So, the Lambent launch a surprise attack. Before dying, Chairman Prescott gives Marcus an encryption to a disc, which reveals that his father, Adam Fenix, is still alive, but held as a prisoner on Azura, a secret COG base. Marcus and his pals then must fight their way to the Anvil Gate Fortress, where Hoffman possesses the necessary equipment to fully decrypt Prescott’s disc. Upon arriving at Anvil Gate, Marcus and his comrades assist soldiers in repelling a combined Lambent and Locust assault. There, they also learn that Azura is protected by man-made hurricane generators, making the island only accessible by submarine. The basic goal of the game is getting to Adam Fenix, with four and three-fourth acts or so of roadblocks that deter our protagonists into other areas first. Because videogames.

Gears of War 3 plays pretty similar to Gears of War 2 and Gears of War. I know, you’re shocked. Shook, even. You might also be surprised to learn that it does not exactly play like Gears of War 4 and that I had some trouble switching between the two. Like, I won’t even tell you the number of times I tried to run up to cover and mantle over it. I won’t. It also seems to move slower compared to the newest entry, and there’s no knife melee kill much to my chagrin. As previously mentioned, I played through on the normal difficulty and didn’t have any problems with the combat, occasionally dying to a well-placed Boomer shot or someone chainsawing me unexpectedly. There are a few vehicle sequences that are merely okay, though I felt like the submarine section towards Azura could have used more punch.

I don’t have any plans to play through the game again on a higher up difficulty, but I might check out the first few levels once more via the arcade mode, which basically scores every action you do. I’m currently going back to select chapters (on casual, you nerfherder!) to find all the collectibles and lost COG tags because I already stumbled upon a good chunk of them my first time through, so I might as well finish the job. A few of these shimmery items are hidden pretty well, so I’m referencing a guide here and there. No shame about it. It’s actually going faster than I initially expected, which makes me want to pop back into Gears of War 2 and Gears of War to grab their respective sets of collectibles. Once I start, I often can’t stop. I really do like how well Gears of War 3 monitors and tracks your progress, from collectibles to executions done to Achievement progress. It’s a small detail, but much appreciated.

After this, while I continue to chip away at Gears of War 4‘s multiplayer modes of Team Deathmatch and Dodgeball infrequently, I’ll eventually need to try out the black sheep of the series. Yup, the dreaded Gears of War: Judgment. I at least hope we get to learn more about where Damon Baird got his infamous goggles. At the very least.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #27 – The Shadow Realms Arcade

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Here, a dark arcade
Open back door, see hidden
Puzzles too obtuse

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Warning: enter Vault 713 at your own risk

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I waited a long time to play Fallout Shelter; I probably should have kept waiting. This free-to-play mobile room manager from big ol’ Bethesda was revealed and released to the world–well, for iOS devices–in June 2015 during the company’s E3 press conference. It later came to Android devices in August 2015. It never came and never will come to those that use a Windows phone despite that making some degree of sense. You might not know anyone in that last category, but if you are reading these words and follow Grinding Down, you at least know one sad soul–me. Well, it recently made its debut on Xbox One (and PC).

Allow me to run down what you do in Fallout Shelter since there’s no story to follow, save for whatever adventures you create in your brain as you tap and drag and force people to breed with one another. Basically, you build and manage your own Vault as an overseer–a.k.a., the never-questioned ruler of this nuclear safe haven. You guide and direct your Vault’s inhabitants, keeping them happy through meeting their essential needs, such as power, food, and water. You can rescue dwellers from the wasteland and assign them to various resource-generating buildings in your Vault, using the SPECIAL statistics system from the other Fallout games to key you in on their strongest abilities. Your dwellers level up over time, increasing things like health points and how good they are at producing resources. The number of Vault dwellers can grow two ways: waiting for new survivors from the wasteland to arrive at your doorstep or by pairing a male and female dweller in a living quarters room to, after some time has passed, produce babies.

Some other things exist to mix up the waiting on rooms-on-timers gameplay. You can take a risk and “rush” a room to completion. If you’re successful, you’ll get the resources right away, as well as some bonus caps. However, if you fail it, badness arrives in the form of fires, radroaches, or attacks from raiders. There are challenges to be mindful of, such as equipping a dweller with a weapon or gathering up X amount of food, and completing these will earn you caps or lunchboxes, which hold randomized loot. Once you build the Overseer’s room, you can send your people out on quests to find better items (weapons, armor) and caps. Everything takes time, and that makes way more sense for the mobile versions, but after sending out three people to shoot some wild radroaches I found myself staring at a bunch of rooms that wouldn’t be ready for harvesting for at least ten minutes with nothing else to do. Fallout Shelter is a game of waiting, which is not what I want when I plop down on the couch to play something.

On the Xbox One, navigating around the Vault is done via the thumbsticks. This can be a finicky process, and I once accidentally spent caps on removing boulders after the cursor jumped too far from the room I really wanted to select and gather resources from. This wasn’t the worst because, yeah, eventually I planned to clear them rocks, but I wanted it to be my decision, on my schedule. You can zoom in closer to the rooms to see some funny if frivolous bits of dialogue from your dwellers. The majority of the game is driven via menus, and accessing them is thankfully pretty simple and easy to use with a controller. That all said, I’m not a huge fan of the combat; it’s basically hands-off and hope you get some good invisible dice rolls like you’re back battling cliff racers in Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, which is frustrating to witness. Here’s a true scenario from my time in Vault 713: a teeny tiny radroach nearly depleted my level 14 dweller’s health as she missed shot after shot after shot with a decent hunting rifle. Blargh.

I should have mentioned this earlier, but it’s pivotal towards my future progress in Fallout Shelter, of which there probably won’t be any more, so here we go: my Xbox One is broken. Or perpetually breaking. One of those. Some time after Black Friday last year, something happened. My “pins” disappeared from the front dashboard with a message saying, “Sorry, we can’t show these right now.” Then I discovered that I could access the store tab, but nothing I clicked on would work. I could mash the “A” button to no effect. Same goes for a lot of the advertisement tiles on other pages, unless they were tied to the Internet Explorer app. I tried doing a hard shutdown, unplugging my router, resetting the WiFi connection, and checking for further updates. Nothing seems to work. I am not interested in a factory reset, and I’ve managed, for the most part, to survive. I can still access apps like Netflix and Twitch and download those Games with Gold freebies by logging in on my Xbox 360 and adding them to my account. Lifehack central, y’all.

However, the other night, after gathering enough food, water, and power to keep my people beaming with happiness, I saved and shut the game down. A message came up that said the game was trying to sync my save with the Cloud, and so I let it do its thing, not wanting to mess anything up. Which never seemed to finish. Five minutes went by, then ten. Then twenty. Then thirty. There’s no way a game the size of Fallout Shelter takes that long to sync save data that is probably as big as a Cheez-It crumb. Unfortunately, I couldn’t wait much longer and simply closed the console down as it was. When I tried to load the game up the next day, it couldn’t find my save even though it is also on my console’s internal memory, and the screen that shows your three save slots just spins infinitely, unable to find anything. I can’t even start a new Vault. This happened over a week ago, and I still can’t access Vault 713. And I was one room away from unlocking the Achievement for building 25 rooms. Grrr.

I could probably download Fallout Shelter on PC and either start again or see if my save in the Cloud carries over. I could, but I won’t. I’d rather play the Dead Money DLC from Fallout: New Vegas again. Or test my luck out in the wasteland proper. I thought I’d be more bummed about this, but there are a zillion other pieces of digital entertainment available at my fingertips.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #26 – Gears of War 3

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Find Adam Fenix
Save what humanity left
Hard to play post-4

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Figure out the connection between civilization and nature in Rituals

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I feel like I talk about bundles a lot here at Grinding Down…and for good reason. These packages keep me afloat through the years, often helping to fill in the gaps for those bigger games I missed out on or drowning me in lesser-known indie titles that are equally as entertaining. Well, Humble Freedom Bundle is one of the best yet, with a sickeningly number of games, digital books, and music to add to your respective libraries, as well as having all the money raised go directly to charity. United, we stand. As of this post, the bundle has raised over $5 million for the ACLU, the International Rescue Committee, and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, and it feels great to be part of such a gracious, overwhelming cause. I might not be able to do much, but I can do this.

I’m not going to list out every game in the Humble Freedom Bundle, especially when you consider they added a whole bunch more only yesterday. But there’s a lot, and a good number of them were already in my Steam library from previous bundles, such as Octodad: Dadliest Catch, Super Meat Boy, World of Goo, VVVVVV, and so on. Regardless of that, purchasing the bundle was still a no-brainer as it got me immediate access to many others on my wishlist, like The Witness, Invisible, Inc., and Subnautica. Plus, I now have a third copy of Stardew Valley, so if you are interested in that game and want a key, please reach out to me so I can share the love and joy that is pixelated farming. That said, I’m not in the right frame of mind to start a bigger game, and so I decided to see what Rituals, one of the more recent additions to the bundle, was all about first, given its small install size.

To get as simplistic as possible, Rituals is an adventure game clearly inspired by classic point-and-click romps. The kind where everything you pick up in the area is essential to you moving forward, as well as the kind that simply do not tell you the answer to every puzzle dangling before your confused face. I’m not going to call it a point-and-click adventure title despite the fact that you do often point and click on things. Just doesn’t feel right, and I think it has a lot to do with how you move around the game’s environments. More on that in a sec. You play as a nameless, faceless person waking up at his or her desk in a rather by-the-books office building. As you begin to explore the empty rooms around you, there are hints of bad things, and then suddenly you are transported to a mystical forest at night, hearing whispers in the distance. There’s got to be a connection between the two realms.

If that set-up kind of sounds familiar, then yes, I too immediately thought of The Stanley Parable upon loading Rituals up. It’s that minus the witty, sarcastic narrator. In fact, there’s not a lot of words here, with just a smidgen of text when you pick up an item or examine something important. The rest is up to you to deduce. Even with its minimalist, low polygon look, the game’s environments are fun to explore as the shapes and solid colors do more than enough to make you believe these places are what they are. And those places range from an abandoned office building to a dark forest to a lush jungle to a snowy graveyard and more. Getting to the next area is a reward in its own way.

Now, moving around is a different trick–the game is played in first-person perspective, but you can’t freely walk around. Instead, you click on navigation arrows to move forward or back or closer to areas of interest, and this can take a little getting used to. However, this means you only need a mouse to play the game, and I’m cool with that. Using an item is done by clicking on it from the inventory list at the top of the screen and dragging it on top of whatever you want, and this can be somewhat finicky, especially during the mortar and pestle part. It’s not the end of the world, except when it is.

Rituals didn’t take me very long to complete. My Steam data says around 77 minutes, and that’s a-okay with me. Again, from all the Humble Freedom Bundle provided (even more games were added since I started typing this blog post!), I wanted something quick and enjoyable, and that’s what this was. There’s a big ol’ decision to make at the end, but you can quickly reload the last checkpoint to see how the other option plays out. That said, I can’t speak with confidence that I don’t know what the relationship is between the tedium and struggle of the real world and the more fantastical aspects accessed via magical elevators, but sometimes it’s okay to not know. The important thing here is not being afraid to say so.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #25 – Rituals

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Civilization
Goes hand in hand with nature
Save or destroy it

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.