Monthly Archives: June 2014

2014 Game Completed Comics, #31 – The Binding of Isaac

2014 games completed 31 binding of isaac resized

Every videogame that I complete in 2014 will now get its very own wee comic here on Grinding Down. It’s about time I fused my art with my unprofessional games journalism. I can’t guarantee that these comics will be funny or even attempt to be funny. Or look the same from one to another. Some might even aim for thoughtfulness. Comics are a versatile form, so expect the unexpected.

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Shooting the Covenant and the Flood for some reason in Halo 3

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You might say I play the Halo games wrong or, at the very least, in the wrong order. Other than dabbling around with the first level in the original Halo a few times on the PC many moons ago, here’s how my Halo history has gone down so far: I played Halo 3: ODST, which I found a bit lackluster, and now three years later I just beat Halo 3. Y’know, the game that came before the previously mentioned one. Truthfully, I don’t think it matters because these games seem to have generic, paper-thin plots that are there to set up firefights or crowded hallways of enemies, as well as a vehicle-driven sequence or two, which all boils down to shooting aliens. I suspect I said the same thing minus the alien bit about Battlefield 3, but I’m really picky about my first-person shooters, usually going for ones that focus on non-shooting mechanics and stealth.

Anyways, recently, I jokingly tried to sum up the plot of Halo 3 on Twitter, which went something like this: You are Giant Soldier, out to shoot bad aliens. Then foreign plant aliens show up, and you shoot them too. At one point, these plant aliens are your allies, and they help you shoot the bad aliens. Then they get mad at you, so you are back to shooting all of them. Lastly, a planet blows up. The end. Sure, that might sound a bit dismissive, but really, that’s kind of it, unless you want to also discuss the post-credits scene, which is there to remind the Bungie loyalists that, don’t worry, you’ll get to do all of this again in the next forthcoming title. It probably also didn’t help that I played the first two missions back in October 2013 and didn’t get the urge to play again until after finishing Crackdown and wanting to keep the 2007 hype train a-rolling.

If there’s one thing I really didn’t like about Halo 3, it’s that Master Chief can’t run. Or, if he can, I have no idea what button sets those bulky feet into motion. The game, in general, moves extremely slow, but when you are trying to rush over to a Wraith to pop a sticky grenade in its engine and crawling babies are passing you–something is terribly wrong. Yeah, Master Chief can jump really high and regain his health/shield, but I’d trade all that and a limited edition Needler that shoots green spikes to be able to run up a hill. I guess speed is not a concern for Halo fans, but games like Borderlands 2 have spoiled me too much.

Also, let’s talk a bit about friendly AI and the wonky, unpredictable physics of flipping vehicles. Master Chief, on occasion, is accompanied to firefights with a handful of soldiers, and most of them will die before the end, either by the enemy’s hands or your own. In my case, I ended up running over a lot of them with a Warthog. They are terrible at flanking the enemy, and sometimes end up in weird, buggy states, like standing still or running up against a wall. I found myself on at least three different levels sitting idle in a Warthog while an AI-controlled soldier got in the driver seat, sat staring ahead, and mumbled, “Need a ride, sir?” until I got out, removed him from the driver’s seat, and drove away on my own. Enemy AI is pretty decent, as the goons and grunts will take cover and try to surprise you now and then. For true hilarity, when your vehicle tops over, you can press a button to flip it upright, and sometimes that works, and sometimes the entire thing does an Olympic gymnastic routine that would surely garner high scores.

After finishing the game and immediately deciding not to replay it all once more on Heroic or Legendary difficulty, I went hunting for skulls. These are tiny collectibles you can find in the levels that, once grabbed and turned on, make the game harder, but also give greater rewards. Sort of like the god shrines in Bastion. Alas, these skulls are teeny tiny and aptly hidden, making hunting hard. In other words, I looked up a guide and followed along, grabbing all of them within an hour, with only two proving quite tricky (Fog Skull and Famine Skull). First-person platforming is no easy thing.

I also tried a match or two of online multiplayer–yes, people are still playing Halo 3 competitively–and that’s fine fun, but again, it all moves so slow. You die, you respawn on the opposite end of the map, and by the time you get over to where everyone is shooting at each other, they’re all already dead.

Which is your favorite Halo game? Should I try any others or just call the series average at best and move on with my time? I could live life just fine if I never had to shoot another stream of Flood monsters ever again…

2014 Game Completed Comics, #30 – Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures, Episode 2 – “The Last Resort”

2014 games completed 30 the last resort resized

Every videogame that I complete in 2014 will now get its very own wee comic here on Grinding Down. It’s about time I fused my art with my unprofessional games journalism. I can’t guarantee that these comics will be funny or even attempt to be funny. Or look the same from one to another. Some might even aim for thoughtfulness. Comics are a versatile form, so expect the unexpected.

Crackdown was goofy fun, but instilled fear to protect the populace

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Crackdown has an uninspired story, dated graphics, wonky controls, and yet remains a decent blast to play some seven years thanks to its open-endedness and the freedom it gives the player to do whatever they want, in whatever order is desired. It’s been a great game for picking up and playing a little bit, and then putting down for a few months while other more narrative-driven videogames demand my time. Recently, I put my nose to the grindstone and took out gang leader after gang leader, eventually wiping Pacific City clean of baddies. No, really–the entire post-game map seems to be void of anyone to punch, shoot, or blow up, which kind of throws a wrench into my progress for a few desirable Achievements.

Again, there’s very little story here, except to say that you’re a supercop working for the Agency who can grow in strength over time by punching, shooting, exploding, and driving just right. Meaning, no going all Grand Theft Auto III and killing an entire street’s worth of civilians, as that’ll actually take away from your level up progression. You are tasked with taking out racist-themed gang leaders and their subsequent goons, and that’s all the story you get for 95% of the game–until right after you finish the final fight. Sorry, but I’m going to have to spoil the twist here to prove a point: your commander, y’know, that directions-giving voice in your head, reveals that he was the one to give so much power to these gangs, to make the populace fear them and be grateful for when the Agency came sweeping through to save the day. It’s not far off from Syndrome’s plan in The Incredibles, and the twist comes out of nowhere and immediately fails because there’s no substantial story actually backing it up. You spend the whole game killing gang leaders, and the ending still would have fallen flat if your commander simply congratulated you and shot fireworks into the night sky.

Crackdown is basically a mix of shooting and platforming, and neither of the two felt stupendous throughout my entire playthrough. Certainly, the jumping is more fun and tighter than the shooting, which gave me a lot of trouble, especially when I was trying to target a different armed enemy, but it kept locking on the one closest to me. That said, jumping from building roof to building roof, even with upgrades to increase the height and length of a leap, still proved a gamble, and I found myself falling to the boring streets below quite often. When you can nail a string of rooftop jumps, it does feel pretty awesome and superhero-like. Overall, the shooting never felt effective, as if you were blasting walking bags of sand until, eventually, they fell down.

There are a few side activities to occupy your time while you move between gang leaders, and they are as so: Agility Orbs, Hidden Orbs, Street Races, Rooftop Races, and Stunt Jumps. Let’s get this out of the way first; I did maybe one or two Street Races/Stunt Jumps and immediately decided to never do them again. Since the driving in the game is so arcade-y and unpredictable, these two activities proved more trouble than fun. As for Rooftop Races, they can be a good time so long as you are upgraded enough to leap here and there. I ended up doing one that brought the Agent all the way back to HQ, but couldn’t finish the race because it was asking me to climb to the tippy-top. Boo and grrr.

Now, for a lot of players, Crackdown is Agility Orbs. These are green glowing balls of light, often on roofs, which you can collect. There are…500 in total. When you get a certain amount, your jumping skills increase, so they are a collectible worth going after, but be prepared, as there are 500 in total, and they do not appear on your map. You gotta keep your eyes and ears open for ’em. By the end of the game, I had found 400+. Oh, and there are something like 300 Hidden Orbs–blue balls of light that provide a boost of experience to all of the Agent’s abilities–and I had only grabbed around 75 or so by Crackdown‘s conclusion. I don’t think I’ll be going back to track down anymore despite the collector in me screaming otherwise.

Alas, I can only imagine how much more fun and amazing this was in 2007, but Microsoft gave out a free copy of Crackdown for Gold users only recently, and so I’m playing it in a completely different industry era. Times have changed, controls have changed, and standards are a bit higher. It’s fine, truly, but games like inFamous 2 improved on the formula greatly. Well, I’m glad I got to at least experience it, knowing that a new one is forthcoming. Speaking of that…

Recently, thanks to the E3 news that a new Crackdown is on its way, Jeremy Parish from USGamer put together a retrospective on the original game that is very much worth your time.

Eat bread, make friends, belt out a ballad, and more in Tomodachi Life

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Since its announcement, I’ve been pretty excited for Tomodachi Life. Watching the gang over at Giant Bomb play through some of its silliness and strangeness during one of the latest Unprofessional Fridays really helped seal the deal, and so I went right out the next day to snag a retail copy of the game. True, this is the sort of game one might want a digital version of so they can pop into it any time they want, but I’m a physical collector at heart. Truthfully, I was surprised to see it priced at $40.00 and initially balked, but decided it is ultimately better to support the quirky titles from Nintendo in hopes of more quirky titles from Nintendo. Paying it forward, y’know.

Anyways, you start out by creating an avatar to be your first island inhabitant. Naturally, narcissistic tendencies took over, and I selected the Mii modeled after me from my Mii Plaza. They refer to this dude as a “Pauly look-alike,” which is pretty cute and, at the same time, alarming. The clones will overtake us all. You can then fill an apartment with more Miis; some I downloaded off the Internet, a few more came over from the Mii Plaza, and I made one or two new ones from scratch. If you want a taste of what my islanders amount to, then here: Shaq, April Ludgate, Ron Swanson, Matt Mason, Minerva McGonagall, Satoru Iwata, and more. Plus, I have about six-seven more empty apartments to fill, but I’m in no rush to see those rooms occupied.

Tomodachi Life is a game best played in small bursts, and slowly at that. You navigate the island, which is more or less a collection of different button prompts, via the touchscreen and stylus. You can go to the food store and see what the daily specials are, you can visit the town fountain and watch as your Miis donate some coin, and you visit event spots like the beach or park to see if anything neat is going down. The main meat of the island is the apartment building, and here you can check in on your Miis. Some may be sleeping, some may be out at their day job, and some may be in someone else’s pad, schmoozing and boozing. Here, you can loosely interact with the Miis, giving them food, clothing, and accessories, and they’ll occasionally want to play a mini-game with you. Some are real simple, like grab an item as it falls, and others are more fun, like guessing what a pixelated item ultimately is. As you interact with these Miis, they level up and can gain additional items, songs, and catchphrases, as well as grow to like–I mean that romantically–other Miis.

I love how Tomodachi Life looks and sounds. Let’s start with visuals. We’re all pretty familiar with how Miis look at this point in Nintendo’s history, and despite just how little customization there actually is around them, they always end up looking strikingly similar to their inspirations. Like, my Ron Swanson…it’s uncanny. Speaking of looking like real-life stuff, the pictures of the food you can buy–as well as the hilarious flavor text–really help sell the entries as digital representations that I actually want to purchase. Just ignore that fact that the shopkeeper is a man with a block of wood for a head…

Audio plays a big part, too. There’s not a ton of background music, but what is there is fine. However, it really does all come down to listening to the Miis talk, whether they have a super high pitch or deeply deep growl. And they say whatever you want them to say, granted you can’t get too crass or pervy as Nintendo is wont to censor that kind of stuff. I love hearing the game refer to them by their actual names out loud. In the past, when you get to name a character, like in an RPG, it was always disappointing to never hear other characters audibly call him or her out in a cutscene. Whenever you win or lose a mini-game, an unseen studio audience cheers or boos, respectively, and you can also have Miis perform some karaoke or write your own songs; I’ve not really delved too deep into that stuff, but it seems ripe for silliness.

I’m enjoying my sporadic sessions with Tomodachi Life, though I do find it easy to burn through just about everything it offers in a single session, leaving me to just sit and stare at an apartment building’s windows, waiting for something, anything, to happen. This quirky title is not long for the world, but that’s okay. It’s a great piece of strange and unpredictable side content for Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and it should help fill in the blank days while we all wait–yes, you should be waiting, too–for Fantasy Life this autumn. I don’t know if I’ll write any further on Tomodachi Life, but you never know–it’s so unpredictable, like that time I gave Minerva a bowl of fried rice and she sky-rocketed into space, so delighted in tasting her favorite food. Yeah, it’s bizarre Nintendo at its best.

Oh, and if you want to add me to your island, by all means, show me a great time:

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Frodo Baggins can’t sneak past Sauron’s most terrible servants

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I know I’ve only played a Hobbit-sized amount of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring at this point and already gave it a decent enough blurb in the latest Half-Hour Hitbox feature, but there’s just something about this PS2 game that makes me want to dive a little deeper into it. Writing-wise, that is. I’m still not sold enough to play further, unless someone wants to come over and show a Hobbit how to creep effectively. Plus, I have a really good “game over” screen to share with y’all later, so that’s a fine enough excuse to get me writing about more things related to Lord of the Rings. At least I don’t have to write the word LEGO seventy-eight times.

Anyways, like just about every other Lord of the Rings games, this one starts off in Hobbiton. Y’know, during the safe and quiet times before the long journey ahead. Interestingly enough, from a gameplay perspective, the first hour of the game is extremely dull. You play as Frodo, and you have a long laundry list of miscellaneous chores and fetch quests to finish up before you can leave the green grassy hills of your home for Lothlórien. Personally, I loved this, as you just explore Hobbiton, talk to your fellow neighbors, and learn a few things about what Frodo can do. True, he has a stick and can swing it, but I never attacked a single enemy so far; the game purports itself to be hack-and-slash action, so maybe when you meet up with Aragorn it’ll become more like that. For now, it’s sort of a free-roaming adventure game–fine by me.

Alas, the wandering back and forth had to end eventually. Once you’re done collecting mushrooms, helping neighbors with their multitude of problems, stealing from Farmer Maggot, and giving the deed to Bag-End’s new owner, you wait for night to fall, ready to leave the Shire with Sam to bring the ring to those pointy-eared treefolk. However, your journey is instantly stymied as a Black Rider, also known as Nazgûl, arrives, searching for its master’s ring. And here’s where everything fell apart. You have to sneak past the Black Rider, but you have no control over the camera’s verticality–you can only turn it left and right, which doesn’t help when there are big hills on all sides–so you have to wait until you see a shadow approaching to know where he is, and by that time, you are spotted and it is game over. The first time I died, I learned the hard lesson that many PS2 games do not auto-save frequently, and so I was set back about 30 minutes; we’re so coddled these days where games save when you even hit pause.

I died at the “sneak past the Black Rider” section three times before I gave up entirely and played some other PS2 game for a bit–if I recall correctly, I enjoyed some fifteen minutes of bot-heavy multiplayer in Red Faction II–and each time you die, you get this gloriously unedited game over screen:

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As they say, one does not simply edit text all the way to Mordor.

YOU’RE QUEST HAS FAILED!

Finished up everything in Saints Row: The Third

Saints Row the Third final blog post

Back in May 2012, y’know, two years ago, I polished off the last of the assassination targets in Saints Row: The Third as I pursued completing that game fully to 100%. And by fully, I mean doing everything there is to do in the main vanilla game–I never ended up buying any of the DLC due to less-than-stellar reviews–and that includes a bunch of small things that, more or less, equate to grinding. Thankfully, fun grinding. Here, let me list what I still had on my saintly to-do list:

  • Complete all 30 vehicle theft targets
  • Complete all 41 challenges
  • Start the game over and complete Act 1 in a different way

Well, I’m happy to report that I finally, y’know, two years later, finished off all of these goals. Now, truthfully, it did not take me two straight years to do this, as I ended up playing Saints Row: The Third again sporadically, but when I did get back into it, it was for a good while.

I first focused on the vehicle theft targets, squeezing one or two in during my lunch hour whenever I did get around to turning on the ol’ Xbox 360. These missions were made much easier thanks to being able to use your avatar’s cell phone to wipe either the cop alertness or the gang alertness after you steal the car. This makes driving it back to the chop shop a breeze as nobody is now chasing you and you can cruise to the location in style, blasting anything but talk radio. But it takes some decent amount of in-game time to respawn the two wipes, so I’d usually just goof around for a bit or go after another goal while waiting. Stealing the army vehicles was probably the toughest, as the helicopters would get shot down before I could make the call, thus me wasting the opportunity.

The 41 challenges…by the time Saints Row: The Third was over, I’d say I had almost half of them completed. Many, like grenade kills, cars destroyed, and hoods found get unlocked easily by just playing the game. Other challenges, like streaking and robbing stores, I didn’t even know you could do, but were easy enough to polish off once I got the hang of it. And then there were the ones that just required grinding, doing them over and over and over: hostages taken, gang members taunted, vehicle surfing time, EMUs destroyed, and survival missions. Thankfully, the game is just fun from top to bottom and, due to all upgrades purchased, it is nearly impossible for the main character to die, so you can just go ape-shit with grenades and rocket launchers. The only damper was having to wait five minutes for your cell phone to ring to start a new survival mission, especially knowing you had like fifteen more to do after it; I guess I shouldn’t have ignored it so much during the main campaign, but, like real life me, I’m hesitant to pick up a phone when I don’t recognize the caller.

Starting the game over and burning through the first main missions of Act 1 again takes around an hour or so, and it’s still a blast. I forgot how many big and goofy moments are there early on, like parachuting into the penthouse. I decided to play as a woman this time around, and I noticed a few lines of dialogue had changed to specifically reference this. Anyways, at the end of Act 1, you get a choice to blow up a tower or save it by driving the bomb away. In my original playthrough, I protected the tower, but this time I let it crumble to dust and ruin, and listen to the sweet sound of the last Achievement popping. Well, the last one I can get without dipping into the unnecessary DLC. If I still had that list in the right sidebar, you’d totally see a green star next to its name.

So, Saints Row: The Third is a very good grieving game. It is a game you can lose yourself in without dedicating too much time or emotion, and it makes for a great slice of distraction. Want to just cause chaos with the cops for minutes on end? Go for it. Want to see how many people you can knee in the nuts in a row? Go for it. Ever try taking out a tank with a chainsaw? I have. Last year, after Ryan Davis passed away, I remember Jeff Gerstmann talking on one of the Bombcasts a little bit about replaying Saints Row: The Third with cheats turned on, just goofing around and not having a care about the consequences. It’s such an easy game to get into and play, and I’m thankful to have it in my collection.

Well, I’ve squeezed every last purple-colored drop out of Saints Row: The Third, deleted my save data, and put the game back on the shelf where it will sit untouched for, likely, the rest of my existence. Honestly, it’s more like a pile near my game shelf. But either way, it’s done, and I’m done with it. Had a fantastic time with it over the last few years, but I’m not moving on to Saints Row IV any time soon as I have plenty of other different games asking for my attention. Not sure what will hit that sweet spot next…