Sliding, spotting, and shotgunning through the Gears of War 4 Beta

gd gears of war 4 beta impressions dropshot

I’ve not popped back recently into Tom Clancy’s The Division for a couple of reasons. One, after grabbing every single collectible on the map, I’ve found that it’s a shockingly empty, bland world and terribly lonely to play by yourself, especially when you don’t have a goal to go after, like nabbing all those cell phone recordings. Two, all of my Division buddies have been playing the Gears of War 4 Beta for the last week or so, which makes diseased New York City doubly abandoned. They got into the Beta seven days early for being special money-tossing loyalists to the series, but it went open to all on Monday, which means I get a week with the thing, which is plenty of time for me to figure out if I’m cut out for this kill or be killed multiplayer-driven world.

So far, I don’t know. I’m not great. Surprisingly, I’m probably not the worst player out there, but by no means am I at the top of the end game stats list. Getting more than three kills in a match is something worth getting excited over, and, if you think that’s silly, think back to your first time with the game, any game, and whether or not you were an unstoppable tank then or a fragile mosquito desperately facing down a shower of bullets with little to no luck on your side. I believe I did try once or twice to play a multiplayer session in the original Gears of War, which I was getting into some seven years after its initial release, and that didn’t go over terribly hot. In terms of my performance, yes, but also with how many people were still into that mode after fancier, enhanced editions were available for consumption from Gears of War 2 and Gears of War 3.

Let’s see. This Gears of War 4 Beta is…all about the multiplayer. Here’s what you get access to. There are two modes: the returning Team Deathmatch and brand new Dodgeball mode. To play these two modes, there are three available maps–Harbor, Dam, and Foundation. At this point, all I’ve played is Team Deathmatch on all of the maps, with my favorite one being whatever is the brightest one set during a nice afternoon with no clouds in the blue sky. My old man eyes are able to see the other team’s players much easier on this map, whatever one it is. I’m leaning towards Dam, but don’t make me swear on it.

The goal: murder everyone that doesn’t look like you. You’ll get randomly selected to play as either the humans or monsters before the start of each round. Each team only has so many lives and respawns, and everyone must work together to take control of the map. If not, the other team will slaughter you, and you’ll feel bad about yourself and probably not want to play anymore, especially if your own teammates are reinforcing these thoughts in your head. Thankfully, my gaming group has been relatively kind to me considering I’m brand new at all this, and I can see myself improving in small ways from round to round, but the nagging thought that I’m bringing everyone’s experience down a wee bit is a lingering friend nonetheless. My biggest hiccups are not moving around enough, going from cover to cover to cover, and learning how to blind-fire effectively.

My strategy is to generally follow a team member or two and stick near them like glue, helping where I can. A lot of my co-op online experience comes from The Division, and I had a role there too, which was dropping turrets, healing/reviving everyone when needed, and occasionally taking a shot or two at the bad dudes. Here, you really need to be on top of yourself, alerting everyone about what you are doing and where people are and how many and so on. This means a lot of communication, which is not my strong point when gaming online. There were definitely a few times where an enemy team member took me down and I didn’t say anything, and then that player took out a few more of my friends due to my silence. Whoops, and I’m sorry.

As a “thank you” to those participating in the Gears of War 4 Beta, anyone who reaches XP Level 20 will receive the Beta exclusive “Vintage Kait” character model, an emblem, and a special Vintage Kait bounty, as well as the Vintage weapon skin for the Lancer and Snub Pistol. Hmm. Lot of vintage going on here. Okay, I guess. I’m somewhere around XP Level 10 or so, with a few more days left to play, but if I somehow don’t hit this mark and get these mostly cosmetic freebies, I’ll live.

If anything, the Gears of War 4 Beta has inspired me to pop back into Gears of War 2 and make some new progress in the solo campaign (on its easiest difficulty, of course), for better or for worse. More on that later in a separate post, but let me just tease you with this: having a limited number of chances to toss a grenade into a boss sea monster’s mouth on a boat that is prone to glitches and having the characters lock up on its geometry and then having you do it all over again from the very beginning if you miss on those grenades because there is no other way to damage the beast is not fun. I’m currently on attempt number seven, if you are curious.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #35 – Jamming with Grandma

2016 gd games completed jamming with grandma

At one point, some twit
Kidnaps Kaitlyn, ties her up
To sweep jam contest

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

Antenna’s quadrupedal machine searches for answers to loneliness

gd final impressions antenna game

The really dangerous part of playing numerous short, free indie games is that, if I don’t get to writing about them immediately, I forget a lot of details. They lose that initial woah impact, and my memory is not all that it is cracked up to be these days, and I blame knowing too many Game of Thrones family trees on that. For example, I completed Antenna a couple weeks ago and, other than a tricky puzzle involving matching rhythmic audio tones, I’m having trouble remembering much of what unfolded. Or maybe that’s exactly what LWNA’s Antenna is supposed to be–a mysterious adventure into the unknown, where the darkness hides the light, where you are just as lost as the quadrupedal machine you control.

In terms of story, it’s more of a question–am I alone? This is what our leading robot ponders and then sets out to answer. It scans the radio spectrum for answers, hoping to be heard, while also wondering if it is meant to be heard. There’s a lot of ambiguity to Antenna, and this is especially clear in some of the radio chatter you pick up, which hints at life elsewhere, but never stays long enough to prove the theory true. I’m okay with there not being a whole lot here, as it is, in this case, more fun to wonder than it is to know.

Yet here’s what I do know. The game has a simplistic, but stunning look, one that continues to impress me since the hey-days of 2010’s LIMBO. The forefront is all dark silhouettes and white pupils, and the backgrounds are misty, murky swaths of muted color. Just enough to make you believe there is more in the distance, even if you’ll never get there. Antenna‘s in-game world is not massive or that diverse, but you’ll move your four-legged tank beast across empty plains where radio towers grow, as well as underground, and your imagination will fill in the necessary gaps. I imagined this place as some failed project to build a station on another planet that all got left behind, with our little WALL-E wannabe left to keep things going.

Naturally, a large part of Antenna‘s world and mechanics revolve around sound, which comes from…Arddhu. Not sure if that is a person or company or magical lost city in space. Either way, make sure you have the volume turned up, though I did find a few parts of the radio static hard to listen to or just a wee bit too sharp for my delicate man ears. When not solving puzzles based around specific sounds, there’s a good amount of atmospheric, ambient sound, like drips of water on metal pipes or the cling-clang of the robot’s legs as it walks.

Interestingly enough, the game requires extensive use of a keyboard, as well as the mouse wheel, to be played. No controllers allowed whatsoever. Originally, I tried playing this in bed on my laptop, with no mouse, not realizing how essential it was to even begin the game. You’ll do a lot of holding in keys and pressing other keys simultaneously, and at one point it felt like a game of finger Twister as you tried to keep everything in place, but still do one more action. There’s also some puzzles to be solved, but they most involve finding a particular pitch or tone and matching it with another to turn on some machinery or move to the next scene. Alas, the game didn’t run great on my ASUS laptop, stuttering from moment to moment and dropping audio occasionally, but I was able to see the whole thing through regardless.

I don’t know. Antenna‘s a neat thing from newcomer studio LWNA, and it’s free, so I can’t not recommend you at least give it a try and see if the sensation of uprooting a tower piece by piece using the powers of your fingers and keyboard gets your senses all thingy. I mean, it did for me, but to each their own. I might not have picked up on the game’s meaning or subtleties, but I like its look and courage the developers have for dropping something like this out into the wild with not much behind it in terms of description. May we never be alone, surfing the airwaves, praying that someone else is out there doing the same exact thing. Though I’d be totally okay with being a spider-esque, tower-building robot.

Samantha Browne’s everyday adventures are all too familiar

gd samantha browne game final thoughts

Social anxiety is one of my better and constant companions these days, but something I only really noticed hanging around my unshapely body in college, when I struggled with simply walking across a crowded campus or through the halls of the art building, especially after I decided that art, at least in terms of study, wasn’t the path for me. Still, I continued to work a few hours a week in the art gallery, which is naturally located in the college’s one and only art building, forcing me to interact frequently with former students and professors that, in my mind, viewed me as a failure. Every now and then, I’d be tasked with having to deliver something to a professor’s office, and the getting up and going was actually the hardest part, hindered by panic and uncertainty and an increased heart rate and a feeling that everything is madly spinning away from me. So, I completely understand Samantha Browne’s struggle to go make oatmeal.

I’ve had my eye on The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne for a few days now. I don’t recall exactly what brought Lemonsucker Games’ choice-driven adventure game to my attention, but I immediately added it to my wishlist on Steam. The game released just the other day and for free. It won’t take you long to get through it, and there are multiple ways it can all unfold, but I’m content with just having played it once and living with the choices that forced the game’s main protagonist, one highly introverted and nervous Samantha Browne, out of her comfort zone and into the unknown.

This is basically a lightly interactive story about a college student and the overwhelmingly large dilemma she deals with in her quest to make some oatmeal in her dorm’s communal kitchen. You never see Samantha’s face, which makes her an easy host to embody, and some of your choices are seemingly inconsequential, like what type to make (I picked apples and cinnamon, obviously) and how much to stir the oatmeal after adding hot water, and others are large enough to give you pause. Like in a Telltale Games story, when the moment hits where you have to decide to betray a close friend for everyone’s safety or side with the villain in hopes that nothing further goes wrong. Except these moments for Samantha are whether she should greet the other girls in the communal kitchen or not. Whether she should ask on how to properly use the kettle. For an introvert, while there are often choices, they always all feel wrong. The phrase “between a rock and a hard place” kept coming to mind as I clicked, as it constantly felt like deciding between two terrible scenarios, none better than the other.

So, The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne is a game of unfair decisions. All of these affect Samantha’s hunger/stress meter. I assume there is a “game over” state if it fills up, but I never got to that point. Every decision you make affects the meter in different amounts, meaning there is no ultimately safe path, and I completed the game with Samantha feeling somewhere around 75% mentally overwhelmed, but at least she had a mug of decently cooked oatmeal (two packs!) to eat back in the safety of her room. We’ll count that as a small victory.

The game is clearly quite personal, written and produced by Andrea Ayres Deets, and features original artwork and animations by comic book artist Reimena Yee, along with a soundtrack by Adrianna Krikl. Some scenes are highly detailed and others minimalist, reminding me of the early seasons of Home Movies, minus the squiggly lines, but the art style is both colorful and interesting without being wholly distracting.

Something I’m not sure of, but the game opens with Samantha instant messaging a friend online while a TV show plays in the background. You get slices and pieces of the dialogue as you read their chat log, but it was hard to truly make out what the show was about. I do recall it being somewhat vulgar, with a line related to ripping someone’s nuts off. Hmm. I don’t know if that’s an inside joke or something, but, after seeing everything else in The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne, it feels a bit out of place tone-wise. Granted, there’s some super silly stuff here too, like picking the right spoon, so maybe it all balances out. Also, there were a few sentences that read awkwardly, which could be cleaned up with a quick editing pass.

Look, The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne is important. Many might not see what the big deal is with going down the hall and making some food, but that scenario can be and is just as daunting as performing live on stage for a large audience or asking a stranger for directions or so on. Sure, you expect those situations to bring about a lot of anxiety, even in people not suffering it daily. It is meaningful to understand that not everyone experiences everything in the same way. This is about anxiety, and if you don’t know what that personally feels like, then this is about empathy. Please take the time to see which you relate to more.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #34 – The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne

2016 gd games completed average adventures of samantha browne

The fear of leaving
Your safe space, for food, contact
Crippling, all too real

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

Y’know, you have to explore the darkness to move forward in Lampshade

lampshade gd indie game impressions

I recently got a ring in Stardew Valley that emits a small circle of light around my character, which makes exploring the dimmer parts of the mines much easier, especially for my old man eyes. Thankfully, it’s not my only source of light, and it plays a super tiny role in the grand scheme of raiding a mine for resources that you can sell or use back at your house to help fill out those progression-essential Community Center bundles. Wait, I’m not here to talk once more about Perdido Farm. Certainly not until I get through my first winter, at least. This post is about Lampshade from Mister No Wind’s Studio, where you are, more or less, the only source of light, which makes navigating through a dark, labyrinthine cave all the more troublesome. Step by step, as the song goes.

Lampshade tells the story of a nameless woman–let’s call her Lamprini–who must travel through some mysterious, dark cave across six different chapters…for one reason or another. It’s not explicitly said, and the things that are said are said slathered in lyricism and pretentiousness. This is an odd retro world full of platforms and dangerous spikes, but also glitches and strange, old men and rules that are meant to be broken. Also, ghosts that affect your vision upon contact. Every chapter switches things up, and so the simple platforming found in the first chapter becomes hindered by total darkness in chapter two and then completely bonkers after that, with the edges of the screen no longer predictable as merely edges of a screen. It reminds me, as many things often do, of Fez, of Persist.

I’ve had to write some stuff down for Lampshade. I suspect many other players did too, unless they have the mind of three elephants combined. In which case I don’t know if they need to go to the hospital or a museum first. Right, writing. It’s a good thing I like writing because the notes-taking for this under-lit adventure feels…wholly unnecessary. Sure, it is necessary for me to map out where to jump on platforms in pure blackness, but it’s not like the path changes every time I die or if it is even different for other players in their game. It’s the same road, just hidden, and that I guess equates to puzzle platforming. The challenge comes from not being able to see, but that twist doesn’t make it a lot of fun to play.

By the way, Lampshade is played in a browser, using only the arrow keys. Up jumps, and left and right move Lamprini around the level. However, the longer you hold the up key, the higher she jumps. You can use this to your advantage to master hopping up stair-like platforms, but I still found myself losing control of her and missing a landing here and there. Or simply walking off a ledge. You’ll occasionally need to pause in front of lamps, which will reveal the entirety of the screen until you move away from them, leaving you to your memory and platforming skills. Sometimes you have to traverse across several screens before getting to the one you are supposed to have memorized, which can test your total recall ability.

Chapter 4 of Lampshade is most likely where many will walk away or rage quit. I certainly did…of the former. Despite giving you a map, which tells you very little actually other than what square cube you are in…in relation to the other square cubes, you are forced to replay many sections of the level if you make a single mistake towards the end in terms of where you jump and how you land. Naturally, you don’t know this the first time going into it, and so you’ll mess up and feel punished. It’s a cheap means to stretch out the gameplay in the middle, to ask a lot of a player already giving up things like eye-sight and security.

By all means, give it a go yourself. Do let me know what the last few chapters are all about and whether Lamprini ever sees the light of day. I don’t have a lot of faith that she does.

Grabbing all of The Division’s collectibles so you don’t have to

gd post the division all collectibles and jackets

Maybe this says a lot about my personality or how I’m wired, but I can’t not collect things in a videogame if there are things there to be collected. Especially if all you have to do is run around a map and pick up said objects with minimal obstacles in the way, and that is most definitely what you can do in Tom Clancy’s The Division. There’s even a great perk that unlocks all the collectibles as icons on the map once you finish all the missions in one area, which I purchased as soon as humanly possible. The feeling of euphoria is strong both when the map updates with a dozen icons to pick up and after I grab them all for my greedy, self-serving purposes.

There are a disgusting number of collectibles in The Division. A total 293 items to be exact. Here, allow me to break them down for you…

  • 24 Survival Guide
  • 130 Phone Recording
  • 40 Incident Reports
  • 16 Crashed Drones
  • 20 Missing Agents
  • 63 ECHOs

Last night, I finished getting them all. One after the other after another, and this is after a couple weeks of plugging away at this task while friends in my gaming group were killing rogue agents in the Dark Zone or bashing their heads against walls in the ultra-difficult “Falcon Lost” Incursion mission, which, they quickly gave up on after learning that Ubisoft is not giving out mission rewards for it due to people glitching their way to victory. Hmm. See, once I begin collecting collectibles, I can’t stop until I have them all. Especially if there’s a bonus reward to boot, such as an Achievement and special piece of cosmetic gear.

Without any further delay, here’s my level 30 character (level 37 in the Dark Zone, pfftt) wearing all the different jackets awarded for finding sets of collectibles spread across New York City’s disease-ridden map:

Meadow Jacket, for finding 24 Survival Guides

Meadow Jacket, for finding 24 Survival Guides

Highland Jacket, for finding 40 Incident Reports

Highland Jacket, for finding 40 Incident Reports

Sierra Jacket, for finding 20 Missing Agents

Sierra Jacket, for finding 20 Missing Agents

Rose Jacket, for finding 63 ECHOs

Rose Jacket, for finding 63 ECHOs

Frost Jacket, for finding 16 Crashed Drones

Frost Jacket, for finding 16 Crashed Drones

Shoreline Jacket, for finding 130 Phone Recordings

Shoreline Jacket, for finding 130 Phone Recordings

Look, the majority of the clothing options in The Division are drab and nearly identical. I try to make my outfit as bright and stylish as possible, and it’s quite challenging. So it is a great disappointment that three of these reward jackets–Shoreline, Highland, and Meadow–look almost exactly the same. Ubisoft has some gall to ask the player to collect 130 cell phone recordings, many of which are uninteresting, throwaway bits of story and banter, and then give them a jacket that is barely indistinguishable from the one you get for collecting a fraction of those collectibles in a different set. I personally think my character looks best in the Rose Jacket and don’t plan to change out of it unless something else nicer appears in future downloadable content.

That all said, I really can’t recommend anyone going out of their way to get all the collectibles in The Division. If one of these jackets strikes your fancy, then sure, focus on it and grab just those items to unlock it. I’m sure many of the other players out there, like me, beat all the story missions and hit the level cap before beginning to tackle these checklists, so it’s not like the XP you gain for getting them even does anything. The collectibles are definitely not scattered along the main roads/areas, meaning it is unlikely you came across many as you fast-traveled from your Base of Operations to whatever mission you wanted to do next.

I suspect I’ll not be dipping into The Division as much going forward, having completed a big part of it now besides Dark Zone stuff, raising my gear score (I think it’s around 178?), and missions on crazy hard difficulties wherein I die a whole bunch. Which is weird, because I worked so hard to get a fancy new jacket, and I have no future desire to wear it out in the world, to strut my stuff. Perhaps I’m ashamed of what I did, of the ridiculous lengths I went to. But I had to know, and now you know–choose wisely.