Category Archives: first-person shooter

Bouncing from era to era for key items in TimeSplitters

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Get ready, but I’ve never played Perfect Dark, and the only time I’ve spent with GoldenEye 007 was something like ten years after its release, being all illegal…with an emulator. Don’t think I even got past the first level, that oh-so-iconic dam. Shh, don’t tell anyone. Good thing I’m only posting this on my secret, private NotePad blog on my computer’s desktop and not a powerful, crippling entity like the Internet. The fact is I never had a Nintendo 64–I went the PlayStation 1 route, see–and so I missed out on just about every single big release from that system; my childhood BF-not-F had one, but we mostly ate up  wrestling games, as well as the multiplayer mode in Turok 2: Seeds of Evil.

And so when I read or hear the comparisons of TimeSplitters for the PlayStation 2 to those two previously mentioned name-heavy franchises, I kind of just shrug my shoulders. Because I don’t know left from right. That said, TimeSplitters is a bunch of goofy fun, even if it is a first-person shooter boiled down to a mostly multiplayer focus. Speaking of that, here’s the modes you can expect to hit X on at least once: Story, Arcade, and Challenge. I didn’t include the map editor there because map editing on the PlayStation 2 is a little scary, so I’ll just advise y’all to keep your distance and fire with precision.

Story mode in TimeSplitters is a big lie, even more so than in The Tiny Bang Story. The levels work more in a “time attack” manner than following a narrative and exploring at your own pace. Basically, you pick your level and difficulty (easy, medium, hard), and either a male or female character to play as. These levels are themed across nine fictional locations spanning the years between 1935 and 2035. The goal of each level is to grab an item–let’s just go ahead and call it a MacGuffin–and then make your way to the exit, which is generally not where you started. The split second you pick up the item, deadlier monsters begin warping into the level, making the return trip that much more hazardous. On easy, you can complete each level in a matter of minutes, and the main point of this mode is to unlock Arcade mode elements, like multiplayer bots, additional multiplayer modes, and so on.

Arcade is the multiplayer hub, and you can play against bots, but it’s still pretty soulless. Yes, that’s a remark coming from someone who ate up bot multiplayer sessions in Red Faction II and Killzone. The bot AI can be tweaked to five different levels of smarty-pants, but it still just feels like mindless chaos, like there’s no strategy at work. I imagine four-player multiplayer sessions are more lively. The standard modes are there in various forms, like capture the flag (well, capture the bag here) and deathmatch.

The Challenge mode can only be unlocked by beating all the Story missions on at least the easiest of difficulties, which is, obviously, pretty easy to do. It’s the best thing in TimeSplitters. Right now, I have three challenges in total unlocked: one involving killing zombies in specific ways with a time limit, another is murdering a bunch of duck-men before time runs out, and the other tasks you with holding onto a bag for a total of a minute in a three-minute arena filled with opponents. These are neat and fun; however, the difficulty in these challenges is beyond believable. So far, I have only beaten the zombie one, and it literally came down to beheading the last zombie a second before time ran out. For the bag one, I don’t think I’ve held onto it for longer than a total of twenty seconds so far. Bah humbug.

If there’s one thing that still stands out with TimeSplitters some fourteen years later, it’s that the game moves fast. Like cheetah speeds. The action moves at at extremely spiffy frame-rate and high resolution, still looking good for its day. In fact, it moves faster than more recent first-person shooters–sorry, BioShock Infinite, but you dropped your walking cane–and almost feels like your character is skating on ice, blasting away enemies and monsters with polish.

Something to not praise though are the outrageous character designs, which often have the men looking macho and powerful, while the women are given Twizzler-sized waists, large breasts, and sexual poses. Even the robotic forms. Still, there are some funny names to smile at, like Hick Hyde and Ravelle Velvet, but none of the characters, as far as I can tell, play differently from each other. The choice is welcome, but the gender portrayals are too stereotypical.

At this point, I’ve unlocked a good amount of TimeSplitters‘ content, but other than giving a few more Challenge missions another go I think I might call it quits. Again, the multiplayer isn’t filling me with joy or excitement, and I have no interest in replaying the Story levels on tougher difficulties because it just feels unbalanced and punishing. It sounds like later games in the TimeSplitters series, of which I have none, treat the story more traditionally and weave it better into the action.

Friendly fire is not be tolerated in Battlefield 3, so they say

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When it comes to war-based videogames, I’ve always kept my distance. This is a twofer: a severe disinterest in using a digital gun modeled after a real-life version and shooting a digital person modeled after a real-life counterpart, and stories that all seem to blend together, usually constructed around the ideas of straight-up terrorism and accented patriotism. It’s not that I don’t love the country I live in, it’s just that I don’t love it enough to want to blast open someone’s face with an M16A4 and then high-five my buddy and toss back a beer.

In all honesty, I can count the number of interactions I’ve had with war-based videogames on a single hand. First, I once dabbled in Battlefield 1942 back in my summers off during the college days, as a friend then constantly had it running at his house, and all you ever had to do was sit down in front of the computer and start playing. I was never any good, but we always had a laugh when trying to fly a plane only to end up crashing three seconds after takeoff. Think I also watched some friends play SOCOM. Then there was that time I tried out the demo for…um, it was a Call of Duty game on the Xbox 360, but I really don’t remember which one. There was snow and falling in snow and maybe infiltrating an airbase of some kind. Maybe Modern Warfare 2? And my third dip into the political warfare pool has been with Battlefield 3, given out for free the other month to PlayStation Plus members.

I found it to be a mindless, but educational experience. As well as reconfirming. Battlefield 3‘s single-player campaign is both traditional and not; the story it tells is generic “save the world from the bad guys” stuff, with you know who playing their respective roles, but its narrative structure will toss your mind overboard. You begin at the end, playing as Staff Sergeant Henry Blackburn in hot pursuit of a man behind some terrorist attacks. However, you then hop back to eight months before all this goes down, investigating a possible improvised explosive device in Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan. Things happen from there, and eventually you end up playing as a couple other characters, some shadier than others: Sgt. Jonathan “Jono” Miller, a M1 Abrams tank operator deployed in Tehran; Lt. Jennifer “Wedge” Colby Hawkins, an F/A-18F Super Hornet Weapon Systems Officer; and Dimitri “Dima” Mayakovsky, a Russian GRU operative. These side stories all eventually form a bigger picture. Levels are varied in location and objective, but more or less, other than driving a tank or flying a Super Hornet, you are running down a corridor, shooting enemies until they fall down.

So, the biggest thing I learned from my short time with Battlefield 3, and probably all other realistic-looking first-person shooters, is that I would make a terrible soldier. Now, it is common knowledge that my eyesight is worsening every day, but I got new glasses last year, upping my ability to see things father away much clearer. However, in a game with super realistic graphics and lighting and a lot of shadows, I had a hard time deciphering friend from enemy, often shooting a team member thinking they were evil. When you shoot a friendly person, a message pops up: FRIENDLY FIRE WILL NOT BE TOLERATED! This would alert me to my mistake, and I’d target somebody else. Further down in the mission, I’d get the message again. Rinse, shampoo, lather, whatever…and so on. Evidently, if you cause too much friendly fire damage, you’ll fail the mission, but I was never that consistent. To me, it felt like a warning that was never acted upon. That said, I’m glad I was allowed to get by with so many blind bullet mistakes because otherwise I might never have made it out of those darker levels.

Oh, and I’m not afraid to admit it: I played the game on Easy difficulty. That’s what it defaulted to, and so I kept it. Considering how fast you lose health and can frak a mission, I doubt I’d have gotten very far on a higher difficulty. I’ve not yet–and probably never will–touched the multiplayer aspect of Battlefield 3. Some wars just can’t be won.

2013 Game Review Haiku, #25 – Battlefield 3

2013 games completed Battlefield 3

Help Sergeant Blackburn
Tell his story, of terror
Corridor shooting

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.

Gordon Freeman loves exploding Striders and collapsing portals

half-life 2 ep 2 overall thoughts gd copy

Well, looks like I’ve finally caught up with the videogaming community, having to now join the hordes of many waiting for Valve to release Episode Three for its Half-Life 2 series. Or the hordes that have given up waiting. Take that, you sneaky headcrabs, bullet-sponge Hunters, and dozen-plus Striders from the final battle. No, really, take it, and never bother me again because that final fight was a bit overwhelming.

Yup, that’s right. Over the weekend, on a random whim–are there really any other kind?–I popped in The Orange Box, loaded up my last hard save for Half-Life 2: Episode Two, and remembered why I walked away from that game some many months ago. First, for those keeping score at home, I played through maybe fifty or sixty percent of Half-Life 2, but ended up getting stuck on the “Nova Prospekt” level due to a nasty switch glitch. Bummed out on that, I simply skipped over to Episode One, and burned through that adventure rather fast, enjoying it quite a bit, especially for its bite-sized aspects. I don’t remember when I started Episode Two, but it probably wasn’t directly afterwards. I’d check Achievement dates, but I’m too lazy; now there’s some stark honesty for y’all.

According to my last manual save, I stopped playing at the part where two large and very aggressive antlions are attacking Gordon, Alyx, and one of those Resistance-friendly alien dudes. If he/she/it had a name, I no longer remember it. Gorbak? Zymla? Naaaah. Anyways, took me three attempts to figure out how to kill both antlions effectively without losing too much health and ammo. Once they were out of the way, the path was pretty clear, and Freeman and Alyx hurried down it, eager to reach White Forest and pass on the data they had, which could help in closing the Combine’s looming sky-portal. Along the way, there was a bridge puzzle, some seriously great zombie sniping by Alyx, a short bit of sneaking, really bad driving from points A to B to C, and then a pretty tough final fight with a lot of to and fro and frantic shooting. I had to try that final fight two more times before I got it right.

Despite being released about six years ago, Episode Two still holds up extremely well, mostly from a story and pacing perspective. The graphics are fine though clearly dated to what most current gen titles can produce, like how boxes break into large, polygonal chunks. Some gameplay elements like no third-person view for driving and a lot of first-person platforming feel stiff and unfriendly. Also, you can’t zoom in with all the weapons and shoot, which is a bit weird, considering every FPS these days at least lets you look down ironsights. Also, this is one of those rare games where I actually used the shotgun more than any other firearm, and that’s because it can take down enemies wielding headcrabs in one clean shot. Pistols were complete junk, as was the Gravity Gun, surprisingly. The Magnusson Device, which is introduced during the final fight, is not easy to pick up, especially since you mostly have to guess how to arc the sticky bombs; I would have appreciated getting it earlier on to test it out on the field against live, moving targets. Oh well.

Thanks to Alyx, D0g, and Alyx’s father, the story is emotionally engaging, which makes the adventure to White Forest feel burly and vital, and like I mentioned, once I got past those two antlions, I burned through the remainder of it all, having to see it through. I appreciate that for most dialogue, Freeman is free to walk around and explore the area while still listening to whoever talk. Sometimes, like with Alyx’s father, I just stood there, locked into his words, but it is nice to know that you are not forced to. Shame the whole story ends on one crazy big cliffhanger…

Maybe one day I’ll go back and see how Half-Life 2 played out, though I kind of already know from Episode One and Episode Two. And now we wait…

2013 Game Review Haiku, #13 – BioShock Infinite

2013 games completed bioshock infinite

Steal Elizabeth
Constants and variables
Wipe away the debt

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 sky’s the superpatriotic limit in BioShock Infinite

bioshock infinite impressions woo

The way my brain works, I can literally come up with any excuse to buy a new videogame. The latest? Well, I’m trying this juicing fast thing for a few days, and the worst days are generally the worst, which I planned ahead for and made sure were on the weekend where I could hide out at home and crawl into bed if the hunger troubles growled too loud. I figured I could also use something new to play on either the Xbox 360 or PS3 as a way to distract myself for several hours. And so, on my way home from picking up more green groceries, I snagged a copy of BioShock Infinite and immediately flipped the cover art from macho-man-centric to art deco. I kinda wish all game boxes came with reversible cover art.

Anyways, before I get into Infinite, let me talk a bit about the original BioShock, a game I came to late that I can appreciate, but had a lot of trouble playing. I found Rapture and its inhabitants to be frightening; no, really. The creaking of floorboards, everything wrapped in shadow, the way voices of enemies would find me in any corner–gah, I can’t. It made for slow playing, as I was continuously anxious about moving to the next location, especially once I got the ability to turn invisible when standing still. But I did eventually soldier on, comprehend what the Internet had been talking about, and finished the game. Never even picked up BioShock 2.

However, the look of BioShock Infinite is too good to ignore. We are no longer deep underwater; in fact, just the opposite. The city of Columbia, which separated itself from the United States for reasons, floats high in the sky among the clouds. Buildings bob up and down, and zeppelins move to and fro, with streets disconnecting as sections of the city move around. Mechanical skylines allow for speedy travel, too, if you’re into high-soaring sensations. You do go inside places as well, but nothing so far has been as stunning as throwing open a door and walking over to a balcony and just sitting the world below, opaqued by a layer of clouds.

You play as Booker DeWitt, a less-than-good man who is tasked with stealing a girl from a locked tower in Columbia to wipe away his past crimes. What his past is all about is a mystery, as is the girl who he is off to steal; her name is Elizabeth, and she has the power to open “tears” to other realities. Stealing her from the tower happens relatively early in the game, and the plot only becomes more complicated from there. In honor of spoilers, I won’t say much more about it just yet though the racial themes presented throughout make me very uncomfortable, much more than the religious elements.

Story aside, BioShock Infinite is a videogame, and just like in the original game, you have magic spells in the left hand and guns in the right hand. At this point, I have four spells unlocked–now called Vigors instead of Plasmids–and my favorite is naturally Shock Jockey, which sends lightning into an enemy, temporarily stunning them just long enough to get popped in the face with a gun. Weaponry is rather standard, with pistols and shotguns and RPGs, and I’ve been most comfortable with smaller guns, relying more on Vigor powers to take dudes down. The Possession one is also great for turrets or the larger-than-life Patriots, letting others do Booker’s dirty work.

I’m enjoying the game despite the turmoil it puts in my non-superpatriotic heart, and a part of that has to do with the fact that, thank Comstock, it’s not very scary. The old-fashioned music and art style puts me at ease, as does being out in the beautiful videogame air, swinging wildly on the skylines. I am definitely taking my time as there is a lot to grok in Columbia, from posters to shop windows to audio logs and those movie things that I can’t recall the name of. It all exists for a reason, to make a world whole. Most fights so far often take place in well-lit areas, and I’ve done absolutely zero crouching, just confidently tossing open doors and seeing what’s on the other side. However, sometimes the movement of the vendor robots freaks me out if I turn around and don’t remember they are there. That said, nothing to keep me at bay here.

I’ll be back later to talk more about BioShock Infinite. Especially that lottery scene.

Borderlands 2 level cap will increase, but at a price

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Well, it’s finally happening. The level cap in Borderlands 2 is set to increase from 50 to 61 on April 2, 2013. Woo, yay, and exploding buckets of confetti! Well, no, maybe not all of that. This has process has taken longer than many Vault Hunters first imagined and hoped for, as this change required re-balancing, re-tuning, and re-testing the entire game, according to Gearbox Software. Granted, I don’t remember how long after the original Borderlands came out that we got a level cap increase, but I do remember this much: it was free.

That’s right. You’ll be able to gain more levels past 50, but you will have to chalk up $4.99, unless you have already purchased the Season Pass, which I have not based on the lackluster second and third DLC packs. Phooey on that, and phooey on me. Granted, you get more than just the level cap increase with this purchase, as powerful new “Ancient” E-Tech relics and rare Pearlscent-grade weapons will now be found within the Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode (more on that in a sec). Pearlscent-colored weapons are originally from Borderlands though I never found one back then.

At this point into Borderlands 2, I don’t really play as much as I did during its initial months out, especially when I had some friends online also playing, like Lee Bretschneider and Thomas Rothlisberger. My specifically specced Siren has been capped at 50 for awhile now, and I’ve been lucky enough to find and trade for some amazing legendary guns like the Rapid Infinity through friends and farming. Even got a (now nerfed) Bee shield all on my own. Anyways, I’ve felt pretty over her at this point since there’s no more room to grow, and I have been tinkering with an Assassin character (somewhere around LV 25), but it’s not how I like to play. So I’d love a chance to get back and see my Siren enhance her abilities and get even crazier weapons and take down bandits in the upper 50s.

Now, alongside this paid level cap DLC, Gearbox is patching Borderlands 2 with some free additions. Here’s the list they’ve come up with:

  • Adds new items to the Black Market:
    • One additional ammo upgrade for each ammo type, at 50 Eridium each.
    • Two more backpack storage space upgrades, at 50 and 100 Eridium respectively.
    • Two more bank storage space upgrades, at 50 and 100 Eridium, respectively.
  • Increases the maximum amount of Eridium players can hold from 99 to 500.
  • Adds a new playthrough balanced for top-tier play: Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode.
  • Various bug fixes.

Hmm. So, Gearbox is giving us a free third playthrough, but for most Vault Hunters, by that point you’re probably capped or near the cap. And so this is their way of nearly forcing you to buy the paid level increase; otherwise, there’s no point to UVHM. I do like that I’ll be able to expand my bank and backpack a bit more though increased Eridium doesn’t matter to me as I never go after those raid bosses. I beat Terramorphous the Invincible once, and that was good enough.

I don’t know. I’m rather conflicted over this. Five bucks to continue strengthening and playing with a character I love? Sure, it’s not a high cost whatsoever. It just feels rather undermining. Ugh. We’ll see. Chances are high I’ll get this, though maybe not just yet, as the fourth DLC won’t hit until the end of June, and a lot of my continuing on with Borderlands 2 depends on what that is and how it changes things for good.

2012 Game Review Haiku, #35 – Red Faction: Armageddon

2012 games completed red faction armageddon

Corridor after
Corridor of aliens
To boringly shoot

For all the games I complete in 2012, instead of wasting time writing a review made up of points and thoughts I’ve probably already expressed here in various posts at Grinding Down, I’m instead just going to write a haiku about it. So there.

2012 Game Review Haiku, #30 – Borderlands 2, Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty DLC

Pirate-themed desert
Home to back-stabbing captain
Anti-climatic

For all the games I complete in 2012, instead of wasting time writing a review made up of points and thoughts I’ve probably already expressed here in various posts at Grinding Down, I’m instead just going to write a haiku about it. So there.

Borderlands 2’s True Vault Hunter Mode is truly challenging

I beat Borderlands 2 a couple weeks back, finished up a few other sidequests I left hanging before taking on the Warrior,  and then even started over with a new character. I boosted Gaige the Mechromancer up to Level 5, just enough to see her robot in action. She seems like fun, but I couldn’t simply forget about my Siren. Not after all we’d been through. Not after I finally figured out how to spec her skill tree to my style of playing, which is based around stealing large amounts of health back and keeping enemies at bay with Phaselock to suffer from corrosive, burn, and slag damage.

And so I selected her to journey once more across Pandora in what the Gearbox folks have dubbed True Vault Hunter Mode. Basically, it’s New Game+ with some alterations. Most of those ramp up the difficulty, but with great challenges comes great rewards. Unfortunately, sometimes three Super Badass Maniacs stand in the way, and for the solo player, that’s just death–over and over and over again. You start the game over completely, but get to keep your level, weapons, equipment, skins, and Badass ranks. Enemies are scaled to your level the first time you enter  an area, which means I was taking on Bullymongs ranging from LV 35 to 37 right from the start, and all it takes is one leap-hit from them to deplete a shield. Yeah, I was mostly getting by on Second Winds for those first few encounters.

The original Borderlands had this feature as well, and it was great for speeding up the leveling process. My Soldier got to Level 61 speedily thanks to playing storyline missions a second time on a raised difficulty, but I really don’t remember them being nearly impossible to do. Tough, sure. But not like what Borderlands 2 has been throwing at my Level 35 Siren now. Well, except for some missions in The Secret Armory of General Knoxx DLC. Those Badass Crimson Lance Shock Troopers were tough buggers.

So, in short, it’s tough. Really tough, especially for solo players. And from some over-read Internet grumbling, I am not looking forward to running into any of the following by myself: Rabid Stalkers, Blood Varkids, Badass Wormhole Threshers, and Badass Constructors. This might be a case of where I swap between playthrough 1 and 2 to level up though that’s a much slower way to advance. And besides, all the best gear is in playthrough 2, especially as you creep closer to the current level cap of 50. Though the first DLC for Borderlands 2 looks somewhat uninteresting story-wise and mission-wise, it might be just what I need to level up a few levels quickly. We’ll see. But either way, all Vault Hunters should take this post as a healthy dose of warning: playthrough 2 is no joke. If you’d like to help me get through it, I’ll be crawling along the ground, fighting for my life, a Super Badass Maniac standing over me. Approach at your own discretion…