Monthly Archives: June 2011

Games Completed in 2011, #21 – Fallout: New Vegas, Honest Hearts DLC

I managed to type up my first impressions of Honest Hearts, the second slice of Fallout: New Vegas DLC, back when I was playing it, and I meant to write more about the Courier’s trip to oppressed Utah, but, unfortunately, I completed the DLC shortly thereafter, clocking in at a surprising few measly hours. I guess that was my fault…for, um, following the main story missions? I don’t know. It was over fast, and that’s a bummer as it, from a design perspective, stood mountains taller than Dead Money.

Add-on DLC for Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas has always struggled with overpowered characters because the majority of us have already been building our stats and weapon caches up long before these new bits of adventuring come out. To compensate for this, we’re often stripped of our gear, forced to survive with whatever new stuff we find. This always feels cheap and annoying, but Honest Hearts tries something different, enforcing a weight limit as to how much we can realistically carry from the Mojave Wasteland to Utah. I still wasn’t in love with dropping some of my beloved weapons and armor to the ground, but it worked better in that it allowed me to continue on with what I was already comfortable with. So, um, two irradiated thumbs up for that idea, Obsidian.

Dead Money was very claustrophobic…on purpose. You were meant to feel stuck, closed in, on your own as you tried to get inside the Sierra Madre, and even then, with the massive hotel filled with poisonous red clouds and broken hallways, things got cramper. You don’t feel like that ever in Honest Hearts. It’s all open sky and winding rivers and abandoned campgrounds and tiered landscape and a good sense of scale. This was, pun intended, a breath of fresh air. I liked looking up at the clear sky, or listening to the rain fall (yes, rain!) as I slept under the stars. They nailed the atmosphere for sure.

Disappointingly, Honest Hearts features a severe lack of new enemy types. The best Obsidian could do was create larger cazador and bring back Yogi Bear yao guai. Otherwise, it’s the same wildlife we experienced from before, and the human enemies aren’t anything to get excited about, even if they have crazy names like Stare-at-Sky and Eats-Dirty-Shoes. At least there were no “unkillable” Ghost people, I guess. But still, would’ve liked to have shot at something new and different for a change as everything has become predictable after many hours of using V.A.T.S.

At this point, I barely remember much of the plot. The Courier goes to Utah with a traveling caravan, watches them get slaughtered by the angry natives, meets Joshua, also known as “The Burned Man,” does some effortless fetch quests, and then makes a decision to either evacuate the people of Zion National Park or stand and fight back. I high-tailed it, which still felt like fighting back in that there were a lot of skirmishes before reaching the zone’s exit. I feel like there were missed opportunities in speaking with Joshua and that other dude between the few quests, and while a few sidequests for others popped up, I decided to stay focused on the plan at hand, and for that I was punished with a quicker conclusion. You can return if you want, but I think I’ll just wait for the third add-on, Lonesome Roads, to hit sometime this month.

It was nice exploring a new place, one rather untouched by bombs, but still plagued with problems. I only wish it had lasted longer and gave us, the players, more decisions to think about in terms of siding with Joshua Graham or the White Legs or the flaming bears. I guess it was worth it to get the black coffee recipe for crafting at campfires. I do love me some coffee.

Games Completed in 2011, #20 – Fallout: New Vegas, Dead Money DLC

I’ve decided to count DLC as completed titles for my super cool and impressive ongoing megalist of games I’ve conquered for the year so far, considering most of the DLC I’ve bought 1) is purchased with real money, 2) takes a decent amount of time to complete (3-8 hours), and 3) has end credits. That’s good enough for me, and so I figured before I get to discussing the Honest Hearts DLC I’ll first have to tackle musing gravely on the Dead Money DLC. Oh wait. I’ve already done that…like a ton. Just click on the links below so I don’t have to regurgitate for y’all:

Take the Dead Money and run

All my greatest critics in the Mojave Wasteland think I’m a hack

Fallout: New Vegas – Dead Money DLC is more like deadweight

In summary, Dead Money is too frustrating to be fun, even if it is more Fallout: New Vegas. Next!

The problem with every game ever playing in GTA’s sandbox

In 2001, a little game called Grand Theft Auto III by Rockstar ushered in a new form of gameplay, what we now call “sandbox,” wherein you’re free to roam the world and do what you want until you actually want to play the dang videogame. It offered total freedom and had its pros and cons; some gamers couldn’t handle the lack of direction, would drive around for a bit, cause some trouble, and never dig into the story. That’s me. I lose interest fast. Others, I guess, did actually play the game straight through, undeterred, undistracted. Kudos to them.

With greatness comes imitation, and every game developer post-2001 wanted to dish out some of GTA III‘s pie. I know this for a fact because over the past two weeks I’ve played three different PlayStation 2 games that are basically GTA clones in terms of structure and gameplay, mini-map and all. One did not surprise me, but the other two…yeah. If only they hadn’t been so blatant about it. Right, let’s muse about these three cloned sheep.

Mafia. Fine, yes. Understandable. It wanted to be GTA III in a different time period with a focus on the under-workings of the mob. No surprise here, and I do appreciate that the developers placed an importance on obeying the posted speed limits. The HUD is a bit clunky and cluttered, and the city streets are so devoid of life that one must ponder if the developers actually forgot to program in day-to-day citizens.

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. This didn’t reveal its GTA III-ness until after the tutorial missions were done. Then we’re dumped into a hub world based around the duo’s terrace house on West Wallaby Street. It’s then split even further into four areas: The Town Centre of Wallersy, Grimsley Harbour, an industrial area, and Tottington Hall. You walk around and pick up missions from select neighbors, which appears as colored dots on your mini-maps. You can’t highjack vehicles in this one; if I could, those deranged rabbits would be roadkill sooner than later.

Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 2: Bush Rescue. And here’s where it gets sad. I had a wonderful time with the original Ty game, which was yet another platformer during that crazy platformer-led era, but it was a solid time, with a strong focus on collecting, as well as exploring the levels high and low. I popped in Ty 2 last night now that I have extra memory card space for it, and I was shocked to discover the franchise’s formula changes, going from a focus on collecting to mechs. I’m fine with the mechs, really. But it’s all set in a giant hub world that you can explore as you please, with vehicles to help get you from one place to another. But man, I played for over an hour last night, and I did like seven side mission thingies, leaving the main storyline to the Australian side, which has me worried that the emphasis is not on taking down Boss Cass again, but doing mindless tasks for mindless friends. Let’s hope not…

Claude Speed may give his approval, but I’m so exhausted over mini-maps at this point. BE YOUR OWN GAME.

Pre-owned PlayStation 2 memory cards tell the best stories

GameStop likes to email me, and I occasionally read said emails, but the majority get glanced at and then deleted. Except for the most recent one, which hit home deeply in that they were advertising pre-owned PlayStation 2 memory cards for only $4.99–down from $9.99. And I’ve been needing more save space desperately because I’ve run out of room on the sole one I’ve had since the very first days of gaining that special console, and there’s only so much data I can delete. Yup, even though I no longer have my copy of Suikoden V, I can’t bring myself to delete my 80+ hour save. That’s like throwing out a kid you birthed or helped birth.

But now I no longer have that problem because, after having corrected the local GameStop employee that they should cost $4.99 and not $9.99, I acquired another full 8 MB of space to use for all those new PlayStation 2 titles I’ve bought recently. But first, I had to delete everything off the pre-owned memory card, and man oh man, Grinding Down readers, did the logged games on this card paint a picture. There were at least three different save sessions for various Need for Speed titles, several sportsy ones like Madden and NHL, lots of Medal of Honor games, and then came the oddballs: LEGO Star Wars II, Spider-man 2, and Karaoke Revolution.

A quick Google search helped me find the memory card’s original owner(s):

Ugggggggh.

But seriously, that’s more or less the picture being painted here from game saves alone. There’s about 80% typical fratboy games (guns, balls, fast cars), and then a few that do not seem to fit, that exist maybe solely to entertain a roofied girlfriend for a bit. They all got deleted. I’m sorry if you’re a fratboy or a drugged girl and I offended you. Really, I am.

And then, unfortunately, there’s a small chunk of save space on the memory card labeled “corrupted data” that cannot be deleted; this worried me at first, and I really did not want to have to return a used PS2 memory card for another one, but this corrupted data actually does not seem to affect anything. I was able to start saving game progress for Tokobot Plus: Mysteries of the Karakuri immediately.

With plenty of save space available, I’m now actually inspired to start playing some of these PlayStation 2 games I’ve got collecting dust around here. I know, it’s 2011, and I’m only just getting to ’em now, but the PlayStation 2 is so not dead; it’s a great system that is only now making its way out the door, but there’s plenty of life left in it, so long as you got enough memory cards.

How to play Caravan in Fallout: New Vegas

Currently on my third playthrough of Fallout: New Vegas, I’ve logged somewhere around 120+ hours in the Mojave Wasteland, and, amazingly, I only won my first game of Caravan last night. Now, this wasn’t my first time trying to earn some extra bottle caps in a friendly card game between strangers, but each time I did try I’d end up throwing cards down misinformed, losing quickly without any notion as to why. I even looked up a few videos and tutorials online, and the dang thing still did not click. Until, without warning, it did, and then I won three games in a row against NCR ambassador Dennis Crocker, unlocking this pretty gem:


Know When to Fold Them (10G): Won 3 games of Caravan.

Unlike other Caravan players, Crocker will continue to play even when he runs out of caps, and each win still counts as a win. So far, I’ve beat him 11 times. Just need to do so another…uh, 19 more times to unlock the Caravan Master Achievement.

Right. How to play Caravan. The point of the game is to create three stacks of cards equaling 26. Your opponent is also trying to do this so the speedier you can get there, the better. This is why it’s important to have as many 10s, 9s, and 7s in your Caravan deck because 10 + 9 + 7 = 26 exactly. A Caravan deck must consist of at least 30 cards, and many online tutorials suggest taking out everything from your deck that is not a 10, 9, or 7 before playing; however, this can be very time-consuming, and I found it fine to just hit “random deck”. Once a match begins, before you play your first card, you have the opportunity to discard as many cards from your hand as you want, and I did this until my hand was mostly filled with 10s, 9s, 8s, 7s, and 6s. Face cards like Kings and Queens won’t help you, same with Aces despite what you might assume, so drop those like they’re laced with cazador poison.

After you’ve discarded enough to get a good handful of desired cards, try to place a 10 (of any suit) in each of the three rows first. Next, try to place a 9 beneath each 10 (it has to go below as cards can then only be played in descending order). Lastly, aim for a 7 below the 9 in each column to make for a perfect 26; more than likely, your opponent is still struggling to build strong Caravans on their end, and then you’ve won a match in a matter of a few turns. Rinse and repeat.

It sounds simpler than it first appears to be, and the biggest problem for me was that I kept trying to place cards next to the first card I played, only to have them turn up red and “unplayable.” I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong, and decided that Caravan was not for me despite my love for many in-game card games like Triple Triad, Tetra Master, and Xeno Card. I’m glad I went back to try again, and now I’ve got some grinding to do for that “win 30 games of Caravan” Achievement, with victory match #30 being the last match of Caravan I’ll ever play.

Loading up my 3DS with some new and old gaming experiences

Suddenly, there’s a whole bunch of new stuff on my Nintendo 3DS, and some of it I actually want to play–I know, pretty crazy times right now. Duck and cover!

Basically, I was finally able to get the eShop running the other day on the little handheld that couldn’t and decided that I would buy $20.00 worth of…$20.00 for shopping purposes. Yay, no more pointless points! Except, strangely, at the very end of my buying blitz, I still had an annoying $0.73 leftover, now doomed to sit unspent for–most likely–many months. Unless Mega Man Legends 3: Prototype Version drops tomorrow. But yeah, $0.73. Kind of like how I still have 10 Microsoft Points in my account, and there’s nothing I can spend it on. Oh well. For some reason, despite downloadable games for the Nintendo eShop being priced like so–$1.99, $3.99, $7.99–I kind of forgot to factor in tax, so my $20.00 splintered quickly, leaving my “account” to have some change left standing.

Let’s do a quick rundown of the shiny new:

Excitebike 3D

It’s the same ol’ Excitebike, but with a 3D coat, which no one is forcing you to wear. I tried it on and then took it off quickly. Didn’t do much except make the towering ramps stick out a bit. The classic levels, sounds, and controls are all there, and it’s still a blast to hit a ramp and land successfully, and it’s still not a blast to crash and yell at the little pixel dude to “Hurry up!!!” It’s hard to complain too much about this as it’s a free download from now until some time in late July. A nice new feature is the ability to save your course creations.

Pokédex 3D

Another freebie, but this one seems to be a freebie for all eternity. You start out with a random selection of Pokemon and unlock more via SpotPass and StreetPass and PokePass and a thousand other ways. You can organize as you please, but its best feature is that all the ‘mon are animated in 3D and look gorgeous. Audino never looked so huggable. Still, I’d have loved to have seen some kind of bonus interaction for us portable gamers that actually had a copy of Pokemon White/Black as a nice “thank you” for buying the game. Maybe special skins for the Pokedex based on how many you’ve caught in the retail game or something like that. I dunno. It’s nice and fun to click around on, but it can only do so much.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

It’s been a struggle, but I’ve resisted playing this so far, and here’s why: I’d like to cover my first 30 minutes with it for The First Hour as it’s a game I’ve never played, but–judging from screenshots only–seems to play a lot like my absolute favorite videogame of all time (OF ALL TIME!). That would be The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, naturally. Hopefully soon I can find a pocket of time and a place with air conditioning to take notes.

Music On: Electric Piano

I nabbed this based solely on a suggestion from the comments. It’s a keyboard simulator with some drum tracks and knobs to play with. A fun, silly time-killer, and cheap to boot. You can speed up and slow down background beats, as well as pitch the keyboard notes to high heaven. Haven’t figured out how to record anything yet, but will do so eventually. And then it’s on to music stardom, headlining for Lady Gaga and singing about how we’re all beautiful, inside and out. Can’t wait. Tour starts Winter 2012.

Simply Mahjong

The game’s title says it all: it’s mahjong. But here’s the thing; I’m a closeted mahjong addict. Something about the match-two-but-with-strategy gameplay gets me every time. I’ve done a couple of puzzles so far, and it’s exactly what was promised. There’s three sets of difficulty, which each tier getting its own bundle of puzzles to complete. I’d say there’s probably over 100 in total. What’s funny is that when you type in “mahjong” in the 3DS eShop search box, you get like five different titles, all of them more or less the same thing. I closed my eyes and picked this one, but I’m sure any of them would be satisfying.

Classic Scrabble

Ahh, yes. The game of words for wordsmiths worldwide. Love me some Scrabble. I played one game so far and dominated my A.I. opponent, but that was on default difficulty. Gotta ramp it up. It’s nice that every word played also gets a definition so you can’t call BS on words like EDS (education) or LING (a heath plant). Only weird thing is you gotta turn the device sideways like a book to play it. Not a deal-breaker, but odd nonetheless.

And that’s about it for now. It’s nice to have some extra games to fiddle with on the go other than Find Mii or Face Raiders (which isn’t always playable depending on where you are playing). I do look forward to Mega Man Legends 3: Prototype Version, as well as the free download of The Four Swords in September, but other than that, not sure what else I’d be interested in getting. Unless they dropped a ton of SNES games for download, which I doubt will happen. Please happen.

30 Days of Gaming, #22 – A game sequel which disappointed you

I remember it well, tearing apart the floor of my bedroom closet in search of the original case for PlayStation’s Metal Gear Solid; unfortunately, as a younger fleshling, I was not as good as I am now about being organized and keeping good care of my videogame purchases, and I desperately needed this case. Without it, I could no longer progress. See, on the back of the jewel CD case was a screenshot of Solid Snake communicating with Meryl, giving her codec frequency the limelight. In-game, ArmsTech President Kenneth Baker mentions all of this, and it’s up to you, the gamer, to put it all together. I do believe the Internet was happening back then, but it was much slower to look things up on, and so, without the case to find that special codec signal, all future stealthiness was lost.

Visual proof for y’all:

It was magical, for sure; a wall-breaker, a mind-twist, a clever punch to make the moment truly have a lasting effect, a foreshadowing of what was to come. There’s plenty of other great things in Metal Gear Solid to talk about–Psycho Mantis was impressed by how long I’d been playing Suikoden–but alas, we’ll have to save it for a GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH posting as I did, for some unknown reason, trade it in. Boo. Anyways, this 30 Days of Gaming topic is about sequels…

There was no such magical moment in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Yup, there were twists and turns and surprises, but nothing really hit the mark as well as the former title did. MGS 2‘s biggest letdown was, naturally, removing the character we all loved playing as and replacing him with…Raiden. Snake handled missions with force and raw determination; Raiden, with his effeminate looks and high-pitched voice, handled them less-enthused with the occasional argument between his girlfriend Rose. Cruelty burns bright knowing that Snake is still around, disguised as a marine and offering advice during the mission. And then, of course, there’s nude Raiden, a sequence that was bewildering and baffling, that more or less summed up the entire MGS 2 experience in that, yes, we’d all been had.

Now, there’s a lot I do like about MGS 2. Namely the first chunk of the game where you get to play as Snake, the boss battle against Vamp, and shooting bad guys with tranquilizer darts and then stuffing them into lockers for non-lethal kills. But overall, it just did not live up to the same thrilling, dramatic experience as in Metal Gear Solid. If anything, it got more zany, and while a little insane humor has always been peppered into the franchise, it was usually deftly balanced with a great story and characters to care about. I never grew to care about Raiden, and I did attempt to throw himself from Big Shell numerous times; it’s unfortunate to see that he’s still an important character in the franchise years later. Doesn’t Rose know anything about smothering lovers in their sleep with pillows?

Other nominees for disappointing sequels include: Jak II, Colony Wars: Vengeance, and Dragon Age II (saying this without haven’t even played more than the demo yet). What game sequel disappointed you, dear Grinding Down readers, the most?

Keeping it casual with Red Faction: Guerrilla

I was hoping to write this post before I completed the game, but it seems I was able to burn through Red Faction: Guerrilla‘s final missions pretty fast over the last few nights, and as the credits rolled, I did not feel a pinch of regret for the decision that made it all possible: turning the difficulty down from Normal to Casual.

I’ve been playing Red Faction: Guerrilla off and on since July 2010 (almost a year ago!), and I eventually got to a point that I could not conquer. I’m finger-pointing the missions to liberate the Dust sector of Mars, and I would do them in the same fashion that I would tackle Grand Theft Auto IV‘s mission, with a furrowed brow and curse words just begging to get out. Naturally, I’d die mid-way through the mission for reasons like unclear objectives or just getting caught out in the open and having six EDF troopers riddle me with bullets. It would be hard to go back so I’d instead wander around the map, knocking buildings down, mining ore locations, and occasionally doing a guerrilla side-quest.

Recently, as I journey towards trying to complete more games than buying more games and never finishing them, I went back to the liberating Dust missions. Died again. Only took a few shots, which was frustrating. In my Martian heart, I have to believe I’m not terrible at the game; so I decided to change the difficulty, something I don’t do often or with glee, something I’ve only also done as of late with Dragon Age: Origins, but I did it; I completed all the final Dust missions in one go, no deaths. The game suddenly changed. Mason took less damage, and enemies dropped faster, did not swarm in droves. I even feel like some of the mission structures might have been altered too, becoming shorter or more lenient.

Yes, I’d have loved to go through Red Faction: Guerrilla on the default difficulty, as it was meant to be played, but ultimately I’d rather experience the story and missions and crumbling buildings. Such are the sacrifices gamers must make from time to time. I’ll be back later with a full write-up. Until then, keep it casual y’all.

The Nintendo 3DS eShop opened later than expected

Yesterday morning, before heading off to the day job, I took a chance and tried to see if the system update for my Nintendo 3DS was available; it wasn’t, but I did find a message telling me a bit about the newest update and that it would be available for downloading this evening. Okay, I thought, I’ll get it tonight and have some time to tinker and explore before going to bed. The final result? I went to bed at 1:00 in the morning…eShop-less. What a shame, as I most definitely had time to kill considering I beat Red Faction: Guerrilla and watched an episode of Cheers.

However, the update was available this morning for downloading, which I did do. Took about five minutes or so. That means that it either went live in the two hours in Pacific time that would still allow it to count for its June 6, 2011, timeframe or it missed the mark completely. Either way, it was pretty disappointing; when given a launch date of June 6 for something special, no one–and I mean no one–assumes that the launch time would be something like 11:30 at night. Give it to us early in the day so we can, y’know, start using it. I don’t know. Nintendo will never really get with it in these terms, but still, it was frustrating. I’ve now downloaded my free copy of Excitebike 3D and the Pokedex thingy, but that’s all I could do as I then had to go drive to work. Will try out more of the shop, web browser, and freebie games tonight, I guess.

I’m sure most people were distracted by all the crazy E3 news as of late, but not me…I was hoping for some play time with my 3DS, a system that barely gets used for the reasons it was made. I haven’t switched on the 3D slider in weeks. Looks like Nintendo’s victory points are in another castle.

Anyways…got any suggestions for DSiWare titles to pursue? I like ’em cheap and kooky if that’s any help.

Games Completed in 2011, #19 – LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game

“A LEGO pirate’s life for me” would’ve made for a good post title. I’m just saying…

Traveller’s Tales has pretty much cemented their LEGO videogame formula, and it seems like they like what they have in the blueprints and are probably not going to stray from it too much. This is both good and bad. The good comes from the aspect that, nine times out of ten, the formula is fun and silly and an OCD gamer’s utopia, with a billion different things to collect and tasks to complete. The bad is that if you’ve played one LEGO videogame, you’ve played every LEGO videogame, whether it came out today or five years back.

LEGO Pirates doesn’t do anything new or shiny, but it is probably the second most appropriate franchise for LEGO-izing next to Star Wars because the Pirates of the Caribbean films are fun, light-hearted, goofy, epic, and made up of a variety of wild locations. Plus, there’s the character of Jack Sparrow, a man that sways and sways your attention towards him immediately; I still can’t believe how perfectly they nailed him and his persona in LEGO form, right down to the drunken swagger. It truly is a sight to see.

LEGO Pirates covers the main cinematic trilogy, as well as the newest film On Stranger Tides. The cutscenes do a great job of moving the plot along humorously, but a lot of giggles were lost on the fourth movie as I didn’t really understand what was happening and why; these games certainly do benefit from a gamer already knowing the tales in and out, allowing the jokes to resonate more without losing out on crucial plot details. Here’s my guess for the fourth film: Jack Sparrow doesn’t want to grow old so he’s off to find the Fountain of Youth. Blackbeard feels the same way. However, for the Fountain to work, they need to make mermaids cry or something. Then some stupid wannabe pirate girl gets stabbed, and we need to use the Fountain to heal her. Oh, and Captain Barbossa has a peg leg now. Maybe a mermaid ate it. The end.

As mentioned before, the gameplay remains the same. You play through a level by yourself or with a co-op partner, smashing everything in your path to collect studs and open new places to explore. Some new tricks include using Jack’s magical compass to find hidden treasures or looking through a telescope and tracking a certain someone as they move around. Other than that, the game is much more puzzle-heavy than combat-heavy, and sometimes the puzzles can be a little difficult to solve, especially when one requires you to have destroyed X over there to complete. I was particularly stuck on the final level of On Stranger Tides, mad to discover that all I was missing was pushing in a block that did not look, um, pushable. Grrr.

Strangely, I noticed that Traveller’s Tales did not include a level editor this time around, which previously showed up in LEGO Harry Potter, Years 1-4 and LEGO Indiana Jones 2. That’s fine. I only tinkered with it a few times and just didn’t find it too much fun, especially since there was no way to share levels online or download new ones. No big loss. I still think drop-in, drop-out co-op via online would be marvelous, as the screen splitting up is often headache-inducing.

If you’re not a fan of the LEGO videogames, this one won’t certainly convince you. However, if you do love collecting studs and building items from broken LEGO bits and listening to dozens of characters mumble their way through a scene or riding giant crabs, then you’ll love LEGO Pirates. There’s plenty to do, to see, to be, and if you love carrots you’ll be especially pleased to know that there’s a lot of carrot humor. Whatever that means.