2015 Game Review Haiku, #39 – Breeze

gd games completed 2015 breeze wp phones

You are the flower
You are the breeze, pushing on
Watch those walls and spikes

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified requires you to kill the Outsiders

gd impressions the bureau xcom declassified

There are four difficulty levels in The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, and they are as follows: Rookie, Squaddie, Veteran, Commander. The game defaults to the third one, Veteran, and I’m prone to playing games on their default settings, as I imagine this is what developers intend for players to select. That said, the naming convention here confuses me, as you’d think a veteran would be the harder difficulty since veterans have already gone through trying times while commanders are seemingly still in it, giving the charges; also, for some reason, I want to swap the order of Rookie and Squaddie.

Regardless, Veteran is pretty tough to play on, especially in the earlier sections, and I nearly gave up on the game as a whole because it is no fun restarting entire sections four to five times in a row, simply because your team now takes more damage easily and enemies absorb bullets like walking sponges with laser guns. Actually, here’s what makes this difficulty different than others:

Enemies are challenging and use different tactics. Companions, who are not healed in time, die permanently. New agents can be recruited only between missions.

Fine. Though I’ve not yet played XCOM: Enemy Unknown–it is still sitting quietly and patiently in my long string of PlayStation Plus titles, I understand that, similar to Fire Emblem: Awakening, permadeath is a big part of the gameplay. You name your characters, you grow attach to them as they level up and earn more skills, and then you feel it in your heart when they go down, down for good. I lost a handful of dapper dudes early on in William Carter’s quest to save Earth from alien takeover, but I did not shed a tear or even remember who bought the farm by the next level, considering you can just grab another generic soldier-man from the vault, so this difficulty’s impact of permadeath was not very impactful.

Okay, I’m getting ahead of things as usual. Plot summary time! It’s 1962, John F. Kennedy is President, and the nation is gripped by fear due to the Cold War. A top-secret government unit called “The Bureau” begins investigating and concealing a series of mysterious attacks by enemies from outer space. Gotta keep things hush-hush. The Bureau’s mission is pretty simple–survive, adapt, and overcome the enemy threat. Good thing that every soldier in The Bureau has superpowers, like lifting an enemy up and out from behind cover or creating a support drone from thin air or laying down a landmine from thirty feet away. I kid, I kid–after all, it’s just a videogame.

Here’s a lot of what I liked about The Bureau: XCOM Declassified: one of the earlier levels opens with a Connie Francis song playing, the infected people are genuinely disturbing to look at and listen to, you can wander the base between missions for side quests and extra bits of dialogue and collectibles, soldiers’ clothes can be altered in terms of cool colors, overall the experience has style, and totally dominating a group of enemies before they even knew you were there thanks to the aforementioned superpowers feels out-of-this-world amazing.

Unfortunately, there’s more to dislike than like here, and the set difficulty really put me off for a while, but a lot of that was my stubbornness to stick with it. Still, after leveling up a few soldiers and learning what abilities/combos worked best (I was a big fan of a support agent and engineer agent helping Carter out), I was doing just fine through the last two-thirds, only occasionally surviving a firefight by the skin of my teeth. Until the final fight that is, which ultimately required I used a whole different cast of characters since some abilities are better than others during the final mission’s onslaught of waves. A big bummer. That said, your companions are complete dolts and require an extremely high level of babysitting, to the point where you spend more time pulling up the companion wheel and issuing commands than firing your gun at the distant enemies. It gets even more tiresome the minute one friend goes down, as everyone needs to drop everything to revive them ASAP.

However, in the end, it just wasn’t a ton of fun to play, and perhaps part of that is, despite being a rather new genre from last generation, I am not extremely excited by cover-based shooters mostly because they are highly predictable. There’s a post about this growing in my drafts folder, as games like Mass Effect and Gears of War make it crystal clear when a fight is about to go down. You know this because you’ll go down a tight corridor or hallway and emerge into a larger space, one dotted with walls and other means of cover. Alas, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified does this every time too, with maybe one or two spots where it caught me off guard. The story implies that you’ll be doing a lot of “covering up,” but only a few missions or dialogue choices talked about this, with a lot of the story simply being kill aliens, destroy their technology, and save the humans. Perhaps I’ll enjoy XCOM: Enemy Unknown more, whenever I get around to it.

The supreme art of war in Metal Gear Solid IV is to subdue the enemy without fighting

mgs iv act one gd early thoughts

Well, the timing of me playing Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots could not be any poorer. Giant Bomb is gearing up (pun totally intended) for their next neck-stab at Metal Gear Scanlon, and, as with previous playthroughs, I like to experience it all first and then enjoy watching Dan and Drew figure things out on their own. Unfortunately, from this point on in the series, I’ve not touched any of the subsequent games, and so it is extra imperative that I see how Old Snake fairs before anyone else. Alas, I’m about to head out of town, and I only just finished the first Act, with many more hours to go, which means I’ll have to barrel through it all as soon as possible upon my return to New Jersey.

My biggest gripe so far with Old Snake’s revenge-driven plight against Liquid/Revolver Ocelot has to do with items, specifically the number of them you pick up in Act 1 alone. It is staggering and overwhelming, and all I found myself doing was ignoring the majority of guns and non-weapon items and sticking to the tried and true arsenal of Snake’s previous adventures. Like the tranquilizer gun and cardboard box, or, in the case of the Middle East, a deadly drum can. I’m also not completely sold on the item of earning points for picking up duplicate weapons, which you can spend through Drebin 893, a black market arms dealer. So far, I bought a sniper rifle, used it once, and haven’t looked back.

Amazingly, despite the epic scope and constant what-the-eff moments in the series, I can summarize the plot of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots in a single sentence. Here we go. Shortly after learning that he only has a year-long lifespan because of Werner’s Syndrome, Snake is given a mission by Colonel Roy Campbell to assassinate Liquid in the Middle East. Naturally, from there, things get crazy. I’ve run into some familiar characters, like Otacon and Meryl, as well as met some new, fairly untrustworthy sorts. Namely–Drebin and his monkey.

Gameplay picks up and remains constant from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, with players now assuming the role of an aged Solid Snake. Lovingly called Old Snake. He still uses stealth, close quarters combat, and traditional gun mechanics. Most aiming with a gun is via an over-the-shoulder angle, but thankfully there’s an optional first-person view via the toggle of a button, which I found extremely handy when aiming with the tranquilizer gun. Basically, it’s the same ol’ Metal Gear I’ve been playing this last year and change, with one big change–old bones.

Welcome to the Psyche Meter. Basically, psyche is decreased by non-lethal attacks and influenced by battlefield psychology. Stressors, such as temperature extremes, foul smells, taking damage, and being stalked by the enemy, increase Snake’s stress gauge, eventually depleting his psyche. This then affects Old Snake’s ability to aim, more frequent back pain, and a higher possibility of him passing out upon receiving damage. There are a few methods for restoring psyche–eating, drinking, smoking, reading an adult magazine, or making a Codec call to a certain someone I will not name to keep this spoiler-free. All that said, I’ve found everything pretty manageable, but please also note I’m playing on the standard difficulty, only dying a few times due to not paying attention to the health meter and equipping a ration in time.

As I expected, I have a lot of questions about Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Like, what’s up with Meryl and her team? In my playthrough of Metal Gear Solid 1, I was unable to endure the torture sequence and save her, but I guess the canon outcome is that she lived. Hmm. Also, um, at the start of Act II, one of the Beauty and Beasts Corps, a team of female PMC operatives in mechanized suits, took on the visage of Old Snake in a way that did not sit well with me. Lastly, how come Rat Patrol’s “Akiba” was unaffected by Liquid’s mind-controlled gas? I’m sure the answer is “because he shits his pants,” but part of me hopes there’s more to the man than that. Guess I’ll find out…in a few weeks. Until then, Old Snake and friends.

Hunting the West’s most notorious outlaws and making it up as I go

call of juarez gd impressions screenshot

Sixes and sevens! Did I really beat Call of Juarez: Gunslinger over a month ago and have still not officially written more than a haiku about it? Grrr. That’s summer for you, when I can only keep my head down, power through games, scribble a slimsey attempt at Japanese poetry, and move on to my next conquest. Makes me wonder when I’ll get around to finishing that post on The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, but enough of that–today is all about one cowboy’s quest for revenge after his life became a cropper. Yes, I looked up a bunch of Western slang for this intro post; did you know folk used to call onions skunk eggs? Makes sense to me.

Fortuitously, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger arrived in my PlayStation Plus library a day or two after I rewatched Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, which is not necessarily a Western, but does star some bounty hunters and pistols being quickly drawn. Plus intense and over-the-top violence. The big difference between those two properties is not just that one is a game and one is a film, but rather Tarantino’s work is a train-driven narrative, and Call of Juarez: Gunslinger openly and playfully skirts the edge of a reliable narrator and plot. Without that uncertainty, it would be another ho-hum first-person shooter with little to it, as other entries have dabbled in similar mechanics and visual styles.

The story is as so: legendary old bounty hunter Silas Greaves enters a saloon in Abilene, Kansas, in 1910 and regales the patrons with tales of his adventures in exchange for free drinks. The patrons–Steve, Jack, and a teenager named Dwight–are amazed at first, but grow increasingly incredulous as the ludicrous stories go on and on and on, in which Greaves takes credit for the killings of numerous legendary outlaws, including Butch Cassidy and Newman Haynes Clanton. See, Greaves likes to embellish where and when he can, and this plays into the gameplay, where scenarios and events will change on the fly based on what is being told and what is being questioned. The first time it happens, mid-action, I couldn’t help but smile at the swift change of course.

I’ve never touched any of the other Call of Juarez titles–namely the first one, Bound in Blood, and The Cartel–but they sound like they share similar elements. Gameplay in Gunslinger consists of completing linear objectives to progress, and these usually involve shooting dudes who are shooting at you until they stop shooting at you because you shot them down. Occasionally, you’ll have to dodge bullets via a quick time event or act honorably–but deadly–in a traditional gunslinger duel. Those duels are a ton of fun, as you have to pay attention to multiple aspects and timers, like heartbeats and the location of your hand, and not draw too early or else you’ll be labeled a dastardly varmint. Thankfully, all villains were shot down honorably in my playthrough.

Other than that, there are collectibles called “Nuggets of Truth” to find, of which many are easy to spy as they sparkle in-game. If that’s not enough, you can unlock a perk to have them play a jingle and vibrate your controller when nearby. Still, I missed a few, but they offer some interesting tidbits about the multiple characters and legends of the Wild West. In an action-driven game, I found it difficult to steer off the main path in search for shiny doodads and playing cards.

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger does a fantastic job at dumping you into an ever-changing world and giving you all the abilities to be an unstoppable force–without actually making you unstoppable. Even on the standard difficulty, I ran into some trouble, though most had to do with the few boss fights and figuring out the best way to approach them over a handful of tries. The game’s tone is outlandish in all the right ways, keeping the action frenetic and unpredictable, and my only complaint is that I wish the ending had been more profound instead of simply a twist, one played far too straight for a man like Silas Greaves.

The Raven’s old-fashioned mystery is not enough to captivate

the raven adventure game gd impressions

The truth is this–it is way easier to write about a bad game than a good game. Also, much more fun. Gushing over fantastic gameplay mechanics or a clever story is all well and good, but nothing makes the eyes dilate or lips quiver like venomous prose, the kind that pins its prey to the wall and tortures it into unconsciousness. See, already enjoying this opening paragraph greatly.

Which brings us to The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief. Well, at least the first episode (of three), developed by KING Art and published by Nordic Games Publishing, which stars Constable Anton Jakob Zellner, a soft-spoken but determined man of the Swiss police force, as he solves the mystery of The Raven, an art burglar who has stolen one of the legendary “Eyes of the Sphinx” from a British museum in London in 1964. It’s a point-and-click adventure game, though the version I played was on a console–specifically the Xbox 360–which means it is more accurately described as a control-a-character-and-move-around adventure game since there is no cursor for pointing.

The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief‘s story is middling at best. I will give the game credit for presenting us with a non-typical protagonist; in an industry built upon the burly shoulders of rugged, frowny face men wielding shotguns, Zellner comes across as a for-hire mall Santa Claus during the off-season. He’s soft-spoken, observant, and always up for a conversation. Later on, when aboard a cruise ship, it appears that he is cosplaying as the leader of a local bowling team. There are moments that I’m sure the developers would like to think of as “twists,” but they can be seen coming from a good distance away, and this first episode ends on the reveal of a character that clearly didn’t try to hide their true identity along the way.

To move the story forward, you must solve puzzles, all of which are grounded in logic and reality. They are not hard, save for a few instances where the developers try to mix things up, like introducing a one-off lockpicking puzzle or a game of shuffleboard. Truthfully, the most difficult part of solving these puzzles is finding the required items, as controlling Zellner is about as graceful as maneuvering a drunk tree. If I was playing on a PC, one could simply navigate the cursor over the desired item and click on it to have Zeller investigate; here, instead, one must walk him, using everyone’s favorite tank control scheme, over to the item, which is not as simple as it sounds. Actually, once he is close enough, the item will highlight itself with a button prompt, but only if Zellner is looking in its general direction. Something else to remember is that examining an item more than once will provide further details and clues.

Now let me tell you about the most frustrating part of Episode One for The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief. It’s around the middle, right after, spoiler, something causes the train everyone is on to crash. This plunges the game into chaos and darkness, with your first goal being to make a torch of some sort. That way you can see who needs help and what to do next. That’s all well and good, but the game, at this point, becomes so dark it is nearly impossible to tell where Zellner is walking and what items are around him. Eventually, I blasted the brightness on my television screen to full in order to see what was where, which just made everything seem extra ridiculous.

There are also a huge number of technical issues throughout, ranging from audio clipping, silly path navigation, and way too lengthy loading screens, which become a huge hassle during the third act. There, you can visit a number of screens and must do to backtracking, but going from one to another requires a long load–each and every time. The graphics certainly seem at home for an early Xbox 360 game except until one realizes this came out in 2013. Also, the dang thing froze on me once when I tried to pull up my inventory immediately after some dialogue tree. Lastly, there is an entire hint/score system that is never introduced or explained, but there none the less, like some strange afterthought.

Unfortunately, while this first episode of The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief was a Games With Gold freebie, I won’t be spending any money on the additional two episodes. Not even the crazy quick cliffhanger ending got me by the wallet. If anything, I may watch them on YouTube to see how things unfolded story-wise, but I don’t expect the gameplay or puzzles to change wildly, which is where the game truly lost me. Oh well. At least deleting this off my Xbox 360’s hard-drive won’t be as difficult as getting Zellner to talk to the suspicious man with the newspaper and not head outside the door next to him.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #38 – The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief (Episode 1)

gd 2015 games completed the raven episode 1

Catch the art burglar
As Zellner makes for Egypt
Beyond tedious

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.

Five things make a post, and Suikoden III is an undeniable PlayStation 2 classic

gd bought suikoden III again on psn

Activity on Grinding Down has been sparse as of late, which is pretty much par for the course when it comes to the summer months. Truth be told, between moving from one state to another, working, burning the midnight oil, frowning over piles of paperwork, living a life, and eating up several episodes of House of Cards on Netflix every night, I’ve not been juggling many games at once, continuing to focus on my current mainstays: Pokémon Shuffle, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, and a handful of mobile entries, one of which I’m not even ready to openly admit to “playing.” What a tease!

Anyways, here’s a few–well, five, if the title of this post is to be believed–short topics I have enough words to spew about. Perhaps I’ll get back to longer, more traditional posts sooner than later, but I promise to make no promises. Except for that promise.

Onwards!

Steam Sale Has Shipped

I always imagine myself going crazy and buying game after game after game during Steam’s annual Summer Sale…but that never seems to happen. It should, as there are plenty of great sales, and I checked in on the marketplace at least once a day, almost pulling the trigger on Grow Home, but nope. This year, I spent a total of $0.74 for the Developer Alliance bundle, and of them, I’ve only got to enjoy one outing so far. The other titles are at least installed on my machine. Also, I tried out that weird meta “keep on clicking” mini-game about monsters battling, but had no idea really what the point of it was, other than contributing to unlocking additional sales.

Well, there’s always the end-of-year Holiday Sale to look forward to. Maybe I’ll spend over a dollar for that event. Maybe I’ll finally grab a copy of Grow Home before 2015 concludes. Maybe.

Welcome to tactical alien shooting

Naturally, I have a longer, much more detailed post in the works for The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, but the videogame-musing words have not been very forthcoming these last few weeks. Anyways, I finally beat this last night, but the final fight took–ready for this–nine attempts. Seven with my team of agents that I’ve been playing with since perhaps the second or third mission of the game, which was frustrating as the last fight seemed designed to undermine every one of their abilities. Instead, I had to swap out my generic-but-loyal dudes for two other dudes with different classes, and yes I totally understand that these are personality-less soldiers, but, to me, to CIA Agent William Carter’s journey as a whole, it made more sense that his long-standing comrades should’ve finished the fight with him than these newbies. Oh well.

The Flame Champion once more

The Suikoden franchise, as much as it hurts to write it, is dead. And this time, there’s no late-game manner of reviving it like there was with a certain Young Master’s friend. Clearly, Konami doesn’t even want to make videogames anymore.

Thankfully, there’s been a few gasps of air over the last couple of months with the bringing of Suikoden II to the PlayStation Network as a digital download. This fantastic trend is continuing, with Suikoden III popping up this week for fans of Konami’s star-studded RPG series to eat up. Yes, I purchased a digital copy immediately for a whopping $9.99; y’all might remember the time and length it took me to finally snag a (used) retail copy, but it turns out that my used discs are a wee bit scratched and unreliable. Now I don’t have to worry about that, though I’ll have to start the adventure over. Methinks I will once I get through Final Fantasy IX.

What in the world was that?

I burned through a guessing game on my non-fancy Windows 8 phone the other week called What in the World?, which basically presents you with a category, a low detailed drawing, and a bunch of letters at the bottom. Your goal is to guess what it is, and, for the most part, the answers are pretty obvious. Harry Potter, Madonna, Paris, Spider-Man, and so on. I struggled mostly with celebrity names and automobile brands, but if you get stuck you can use power-ups to remove unused letters or even put several correct letters in their final places. In the end, I unlocked all the Achievements and then deleted the thing from my phone.

Quote the raven

Once again, I’m tasked with making room on my fledgling of an Xbox 360, as I’d really like to download Just Cause 2 and see some chaos unfold. But first, let’s complete some other Games with Gold freebies from my hard-drive. Like…um, The Raven – Legacy of a Master Thief. Well, Episode 1 at least. It’s a point-and-click adventure game…on a console. Grrr. So far, I’m glad that this was free, but generally once I start something, I need to finish it, even if it is only the first episode. My favorite subtitle typo currently has been about a train patron when she “looses” her purse, but the next line contaiedn the correct use of “lose.” Can’t win ’em all, the creators of The Book of Unwritten Tales.

That’s all for now! I have to go find some lady’s lost purse, as well as trick a violinist into opening up his violin case. Videogames–am I right?