Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Half-hour Hitbox: October 2013

halfhour hitbox oct 2013

I can’t believe we’re already on the third iteration of this passably new Grinding Down feature, which, in retrospect, I should have put together years ago. The months surely do seem to be flying away, but even that won’t stop me from writing a wee bit about the handful of games I got to play a wee bit of in the last thirty or so days. Again, this is probably not everything, just the ones that stick out like bright red sticks in the mud, and I solemnly swear to return to several of these at some point. Heck, I might even still be playing a few of them right now. Besides, I always seem to get a lot of gaming done during the Thanksgiving break, as I rarely go out shopping, preferring to spend those chilly days warm inside, hands on a controller, eyes somewhere far away. Which is all just to say that appearing on the Hitbox does not mean you’re a one-hit wonder, destined for forgetting.

Okay. Here’s October, in a nutshell.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

kingdoms-of-amalur-reckoning-pc-1307393218-046

Many moons ago, on the Xbox 360, I downloaded and played the huge demo for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. I swear it was around 2 GBs or something near that. Anyways, I found it an okay experience, with the bright, fantasy-ready colors being my favorite part of the standard action RPG fare. However, it suffered from tiny text syndrome, which made the lackluster dialogue and subsequent dialogue trees even harder to endure. A shame, as I am always mildly interested in big, epic RPGs, the kind that hold more than enough to keep one busy for a few months. Thankfully, this month, the game was given out for free to PlayStation Plus subscribers, and so I got to try again, and the tiny text is no longer a problem. However, I have only played a sliver further than I did in the demo, and I just can’t commit to it right now.

Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes

might and magic chess-layout

A puzzle game with a surprising amount of attention spent on story and characters. The actual puzzle part revolves around grid-based battles, wherein you have to move units around to create super units to deal damage and protect yourself. It’s easier seen than described, and I thought I was doing well with it, but the difficulty ramps up dramatically fast after the first chapter, leaving little room for error. Might & Magic certainly has a lot of style, but its hooks aren’t very deep in me; I also tried battling online and got my tush handed to me by, what definitely sounded like, two little boys.

Tetris Blitz

tetris-blitz--ipad-screen04_656x369

Another free game on my Windows 8 phone. It’s Tetris on speed. Speedy Tetris. Speed the Movie: Tetrisication. Whatever you want to call it. Basically, you have two minutes to clear out as many rows as possible and score big. This is helped immensely with power-ups. Of course, since it is a free-to-play title, there’s microtransactions and ads for them everywhere, and it seems sort of hard to get a really high score without paying a little money for those killer power-ups, which are quite expensive if you are attempting to pay for them with the in-game currency. Meh, that’s not me. But it’s a decent two minute killer, and who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky and score over 200,000 points all by my lonesome one day. Stay tuned for that…

Halo 3

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Another month, another Halo game tried. This time, it’s Halo 3, given to us petty Gold members for free from the Microsoft overlords, and I played the first two levels on whatever the default difficulty is–and it went all right. Not really following the story much, since I never played anything in the series before it, but Master Chief is found on some planet, told to go forward and shoot aliens, and, well…there you go. Died a bunch of times, actually, as I don’t yet have a grip on the combat. And at some point, Tara came over and said, “You’re playing this again?” She thought it was Borderlands 2. Not sure what to make of that.

Poker Night 2

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Already wrote a bit about how bad technically Poker Night 2 is, and I’ve not really gone back into it since then. Sorry, Brock and Claptrap–not your collective fault. Though now I am tempted to at least check out some of those Sam & Max games I have on Steam…

Dead Island

Dead-Island-Thumb

There’s a good amount to like about Dead Island, but I just can’t get over its breakable weapons. Now, for starters, I’m actually okay with weapons having durability and such; in fact, some of my favorite games, like Fallout: New Vegas and Dark Cloud 2, have you constantly repairing your gear to ensure you are in tip-top shape. However, on this island of living dead things, your weapons break fast, and you can only carry so many with you, which left me a number of times empty-handed and surrounded by enemies. Not an enjoyable system, especially when you can still lose a weapon you spent a lot of money on improving and upgrading. I get that it’s more realistic, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Otherwise, it’s good, with plenty of side quests to keep you busy. Love the kick button and looting every suitcase I come across. Some of the voice acting and character models are sub-par, but the zombies are effective and varied. Also, I’m going to admit that it took me several tries to get a vehicle moving, as for the longest time I didn’t realize the steering wheel was on the other side. Oops!

Batman: Arkham Asylum

batman-arkham-asylum-landscape

Despite my lackluster love for Batman as a superhero character, I’m quite enjoying my time exploring the inner (and outer) workings of Arkham Asylum in…um, Batman: Arkham Asylum. It’s a mix of Super Metroid, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and the combat from the more recent Assassin’s Creed games, and it’s totally a blast. The attention to detail is perfect, and everything really gels with one another, from the Riddler stuff to the exploration and even the boss fights. Alas, of the bunch, this one seems like the best, so I’m trying to take my time with it.

The Half-hour Hitbox is a new monthly feature for Grinding Down, covering a handful of videogames that I’ve only gotten to play for less than an hour so far. My hopes in doing this is to remind myself that I played a wee bit of these games at one time or another, and I should hop back into them, if I liked that first bite.

Pretty late to the Joker’s party in Batman: Arkham Asylum

batman-arkham-asylum-3 impressions

Batman: Arkham Asylum came out in 2009 to nearly unanimous praise, and four years later, during a PSN summer sale, after consecutively not experiencing Rocksteady Studios’ take on the Dark Knight year after year after year after year, I bought it for a silky smooth $5.00. And then a couple months later, simply because everyone was getting back to praising the place where it all began after seeing how lackluster Batman: Arkham Origins turned out to be, I installed the game, booted it up, and saw the errors of my ways over these past few years. It’s more or less Deus Ex: The Bats Revolution.

First things first, the story setup: in Arkham Asylum, the Joker instigates an elaborate plot to seize control of Arkham Asylum and trap Batman inside with many of his incarcerated foes. Subsequently, the Joker also holds the power to detonate hidden bombs he placed around Gotham City before getting himself captured. Batman must now fight his way through the asylum’s loose inmates, save some named people, and put an end to the Joker’s plans. He’ll do this by playing detective, being sneaky, hanging from gargoyles, and punching rhythmically when the scenario says so.

Before I get into my impressions, here’s a bunch of silly comics about Bats from my recently completed 365 BAD COMICS project:

batman bad comic 001

batman bad comic 002

batman bad comic 003

Right. Couldn’t resist the chance to shamelessly plug my art.

Anyways, I’m having a lot of fun in Arkham Asylum, and I’m only at a 14% completion rate. This is even more surprising when you realize that, as a superhero comic book character, I don’t find Batman very interesting. Definitely more so than Superman, but that’s it. Everybody else comes ahead. I’m more of an X-Men follower, but Bruce Wayne is kind of just a rich man in a costume beating up poor criminals with fancy gadgets and a throaty voice. I’m sure I just made a lot of people angry with that statement. However, all his toys do make for fantastic gameplay, which is what this game delivers on tenfold.

Batman is trapped in Arkham Asylum, which is actually called the Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane and found isolated just outside Gotham City. Has hints of Alcatraz prison. You’ll come across good guys and bad guys as you move from building to building, all while the Joker teases you from afar, promising a party you’ll never forget. It’s a mix of open-world-like areas and more linear hallways and rooms, and I think it works great. You can explore a bit and find interview audio logs and Riddler trophies or you can stick to the pretty obvious path to see the story unfold at a healthy clip. I’ve done a little bit of both, but I think I’ll just keep pushing the story forward from now on, even though those Riddler trophies sure are dang tempting and do at least reward Batman with a pinch of XP. And you need XP to unlock gadgets, combat moves, and armor upgrades.

Combat requires rhythm and reminds me of what the Assassin’s Creed series has been doing as of late, with countering attacks simply keeping the flow going so you can chain together attack after attack for bonus XP. Personally, I’ve tried getting through most scenarios as a silent pounder, loving the inverted takedowns from gargoyles. But unfortunately, you can’t play the game the whole way in that fashion, especially when boss fights pop up. Detective Mode really helps, which makes enemies appear as visible skeletal frames on the map, so you know exactly where everyone is. Reminds me warmly of the good times in Deus Ex: Human Revolution–see: not the boss fights–of sneaking through vents and using the augmentation that lets you look through walls for enemies.

So call me surprised. Call me stupid. I wish I had started playing Arkham Asylum a long time ago, but I’m pretty okay with seeing it now and enjoying a slower pace through the halls of this creepy psychiatric hospital. I might be late as frak to the party, but I’m still celebrating.

My first “Paul Plays…” video, covering Deep Sleep

Okay, so here’s the thing. I played a bit of Deep Sleep, which I recently wrote about, and talked as I pointed and clicked. I’m tentatively calling these things “Paul Plays…” with the intention of naturally doing more. My audio is relatively low compared to the game’s audio, and it’s been an ongoing process, learning how to do this on my own. I will try tinkering with my microphone settings some more before the next go. If any of y’all have tips or suggestions, by all means–share with me. Otherwise, give it a click.

Thanks for checking it out!

Wake up or just keep dreaming in Deep Sleep

deep sleep capture

I apologize for being late to the party–though I’m always late to the party or never invited to begin with, cue the industry standard wah wah waaaaah sound effect–but I’ve just discovered this Game Jolt website, which is full of free-to-play Flash and downloadable games, spanning all the genre categories we’ve come to embrace over the decades, such as action, adventure, platformer, and so on. Basically, it is stuffed with stuff, and I’m sure not everything is the height of excellence, but one will never know until they look. I already examined my fear of lakes with Lakeview Cabin, which I found to be really engaging despite the lack of a clear goal, and now I’m here to share with y’all the point-and-click spookiness that is Deep Sleep.

No surprise here, but the game is about lucid dreaming. That’s the rare phenomenon when a person becomes aware that they are dreaming, existing in a peculiar place between consciousness and not. I can’t really say I’ve experienced it myself, though I do occasionally have dreams where a bell or phone is making noise only to snap immediately out of it and realize my alarm clock is going off. Don’t think that’s the same thing, but the queer feeling taking over my body a second after all that goes down is still hard to shake. It’s not explicitly clear who you are playing as in scriptwelder’s adventure-horror game, but you have somehow gained consciousness within a nightmare and must find a way to wake up.

As a point-and-click adventure game, Deep Sleep works just fine. You move across various static screens and click on items to pick them up or receive a description. Some puzzles block your progress forward, but they’re designed logically, so you basically just have to think about how you would, in real life, open a very hot crank handle to a boiler. Oh, and there’s a wee bit of pixel hunting, as some screens are very dark before you get the flashlight, and even then you might miss some key detail nestled in the corner. I did finish the game without using all the items, so I’m not sure if I just missed the spot to use the piece of coal, golden statue, and hook or if they were superfluous to begin with.

As a horror game, Deep Sleep is pretty effective, though I found it more unnerving the entire way through than downright scary. The “you have to wake up” recording is exceptionally creepy, as is the monster design and unsafe feeling you get as it follows you from room to room. There’s some fantastic sound design, with locked doors still shaking me on the inside thanks to my recent journey through Silent 2‘s apartment complex hallways. The game has a grainy look to it, which actually works better than you might initially suspect. And like a dream, it is piecemeal and littered with gaps in its storytelling, as well as a dab of uncertain world-building, but that’s okay–that’s ultimately the point. It is meant to keep you guessing, a mix of the real and unreal.

It’s clear why Deep Sleep earned first place for the Casual Gameplay Design Competition #10. If the stars ever align, I hope to be able to show you, too. Evidently there’s already a sequel ready for me to play, called Deeper Sleep. I’ll probably check it out soon, or maybe I should hold out for Even More Deeper Sleep. Thank you, thank you–try the fish.

Not bluffing over Poker Night 2’s poor performance

poker night inventory 2 first imp

Last month, I dipped my big toe into the videogaming poker pool with World Series of Poker: Full House Pro, which is basically a poker game captained by Avatars with some cosmetic-only items to earn to pretty up your table while you wait for other players to make their moves. It’s all right, though the camera is wonky and I found it quite easy to lose all my money in a single gulp, but maybe that latter part is my fault and not directly the game’s. I haven’t gone back since I first touched it because, well…poker. But also because it just wasn’t very exciting and actually a bit of a technical mess, freezing up on me a handful of times, enough to birth an audible groan.

Anyways, for October, PlayStation Plus was offering Poker Night 2 for free for subscribers, and I will literally snatch up anything on the DownloadStation 3 so long as the price on the store is crossed off and replaced by the word free and isn’t 145 GB big (sorry, Uncharted 3, not gonna happen–ever). I never touched the original Poker Night at the Inventory and–wait a second. Hold up, everybody. I just noticed something. Is the second game called Poker Night 2 or Poker Night at the Inventory 2? I am finding it written both ways rather consistently across the board on this strange, uncontrollable mass of data we call the Internet. Whatever, I’ll stick with the shorter title for posting purposes. Sometimes it really sucks being a copyeditor because you can’t unsee some things.

Poker Night 2 is both your standard poker game and not. Yes, you play a tournament of Texas Hold ‘Em (or Omaha) until you eliminate the other players or see yourself turning out empty pockets, and the rules remain the same. There are small blinds and betting and checking and folding and all that jazz. It’s who you play with that is strange and beautiful; these are not randomly created Avatars or even real players via online multiplayer. No, you are going head to head with Sam from the Sam & Max franchise, Brock Samson from The Venture Bros., Ash Williams from The Evil Dead franchise, and Claptrap from the Borderlands series. Oh, and Portal‘s GLaDOS takes a supporting role as the dealer and player insulter. It’s a bizarre group of guys (well, not counting Mad Moxxi as the bartender and GLaDOS), but that’s where the game gets interesting, watching them interact with each other. That feeling of just hanging out, shooting the shit, and playing some poker is nailed expertly here, and any time I got eliminated from a tournament, I selected to watch the rest play out instead of skipping to the next round, as I cannot get enough of Brock’s dry humor and Claptrap’s overzealous attitude.

But here’s a question: why is every product Telltale Games puts out glitchy as frak? Jurassic Park: The Game and The Walking Dead suffer from constant hitching and weird transitions from gameplay to loading screens. It doesn’t make sense to me, and you’d think a company like them, at this point down the line, would’ve figured it out. I mean, I’m no programmer, but from the outside looking in, Poker Night 2‘s engine does not look very taxing, and yet the game would constantly freeze for ten to fifteen seconds before a new conversation would start, which is long enough for me to consider powering down the PlayStation 3. This became a regular aspect of playing Telltale’s poker and now I’ve learned to live with it, but what a shame.

As you play and win, you can earn tokens, which can be spent on cosmetic items, like themed decks and table felts. I’ve unlocked all the Borderlands items so far, which not only change how things look, but also prompt some new dialogue from our gaggle of goofy guests. You can also buy drinks for everyone, which will loosen them up and help reveal their tells; I tried this, but I’m no better at telling when digital characters are lying–thanks, L.A. Noire–than I am at with real-life people. It’s definitely skill, one I will always lack.

But otherwise, Poker Night 2 is at least a more original poker game, standing heads above its competition, and I give Telltale credit for selecting zany as its main attribute and turning it up to 11. I’d certainly rather listen to these characters chit and chat than simply hear nothing at all or, perhaps worst, some generic, uninteresting music looping. I’ll probably play a few more rounds in hopes of unlocking some other themed items, but after that, there’s not much else to do here. I’ll walk away poorer than ever before, but rich with great stories.

2013 Game Review Haiku, #35 – Deep Sleep

2013 games completed deep sleep

Lucid dreaming can
Distort reality from
Horror, must wake up

These little haikus proved to be quite popular in 2012, so I’m gonna keep them going for another year. Or until I get bored with them. Whatever comes first. If you want to read more words about these games that I’m beating, just search around on Grinding Down. I’m sure I’ve talked about them here or there at some point. Anyways, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry.

The gloomiest night in Lakeview Cabin will wear on to a morning

lakeview cabin capture

In Lakeview Cabin, as a burly, orange mustached manly man, you can drink beer, get naked, and use an outhouse. You can also mow the lawn, chop some firewood, or hunt a deer for food. Docks on either side of a small, summer island let you take in the lake’s tranquility and contemplate skinny-dipping, which you ultimately can’t actually do, as hopping in the water just spits you right back out onto land. Boo to that. Birds and bugs provide a calm, predictable soundtrack one might expect to hear at such a place. Really, a faultless postcard-esque vacation spot–that is until the sun sets.

Controls are straightforward, mostly because this is a Flash game. You move around left to right with the arrow keys. Z picks up and drops items, while X uses an item or throws it if possible. From what I played and saw after about twenty or thirty minutes, there’s no story text or narration. You just do things until you can no longer do things, and sometimes you’ll die from walking into a bear trap twice, and other times a nightmarish monster–who I suspect is maybe our leading lumberjack’s dead wife or girlfriend–will hop out of the lake and finish the job. Then you press R to retry…or O to “summon her,” whatever that means. I was able to accomplish various tasks, like killing the deer after perfectly setting the bear trap down and then chasing the animal into it, but never defeating the monster. Oh well.

Lakeview Cabin begins more like a puzzle game than anything else. I spent my first day/night cycle just interacting with everything I could, seeing how I could use items I interacted worked with other items. Such as filling up a bucket with water or using the axe to cut a wire in half, exposing electric danger. I also frustratingly stared at items I couldn’t get, like a key and shotgun. Nothing is immediately clear, and only through experimentation and retrying will you progress, but that’s kind of the name of the genre. Do what you must to survive; do anything.

I find lake-based horror to be very effective. Maybe there was a moment from my childhood that I’m just not ready to deal with personally and publicly, but I find the isolation and restriction to be the most crippling aspect of the ordeal, the most traumatizing. Truth be told, I’d rather run from a monster in the woods or even a building, but on a small island you have nowhere to go but underwater. Over the years, I’ve read a good number of Stephen King books and short stories, but Bag of Bones has stuck with me the most, as it is based around an author with writer’s block sequestering himself at his vacation house on Dark Score Lake. The movie What Lies Beneath, which I saw in Las Vegas all by my lonesome as a young lad, has some very effective scenes set around a lakeside home. Also, you can see me writing about this fear of mine in “The Feet Eaters”, a short story  published back in…oh, January 2007. The page seems gone from the Aberrant Dreams website, so maybe I should get around to reprinting it on my own sooner than later. But yeah: horror and lakes. Much as I don’t want them to, they go together like peanut butter and jelly.

I think developer Roope Tamminen has made something special here and could totally see Lakeview Cabin being expanded a bit–perhaps add an inventory to allow for multiple items and maybe some text-based guidance here and there–and put on Steam in the future. That’d be cool, even if I probably never survive past the first night. It’s a funny horror for sure, and one that doesn’t say everything it’s doing, which makes it simultaneously unnerving. Laugh while you die, I guess.