Tag Archives: 2K Games

Over the weekend, I played Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel for free and found it to be okay

I don’t normally partake in many “free game weekends,” usually because I am too busy with other stuff to find the time to start something new, but also because I don’t like the pressure it puts upon me to hurry up and see as much content before this thing goes away in two days. That said, this past weekend, you could play Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel for free as a promotion to up some pre-orders for the forthcoming Borderlands 3, and I decided to jump in. I’ve already played a skag-ton of Borderlands 2, but I never got to try the other one when it came out a few years back.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel begins some time after Borderlands 2 and Episode 3 of the subsequent game Tales from the Borderlands, on the flying city of Sanctuary, where the three former Vault Hunters Lilith, Brick, and Mordecai interrogate the ex-Atlas assassin Athena after having captured her from the Atlas Domes. Athena recounts her story, starting after the death of General Knoxx, when she received an offer to go find a Vault on Pandora’s moon, Elpis, from a Hyperion programmer named Jack. She joins fellow Vault Hunters Claptrap, Nisha, Wilhelm, Timothy (a doppelganger of Jack), and Aurelia on a spaceship headed for the Hyperion moon base Helios. On the way, they are ambushed by the Lost Legion, an army of Dahl soldiers led by Colonel Tungsteena Zarpedon, and crash-land onto the moon base. After meeting up with Jack, they attempt to use Helios’ defense system, but realizes there is a jamming signal coming from Elpis. They attempt to escape, but they are stopped by Zarpedon, along with a mysterious alien-like warrior. Jack sends the Vault Hunters to Elpis via a moonshot rocket.

It’s perfectly fine. To me, it mostly comes across as just another entry in the series, and you could play any of them and have basically the same experience of killing monsters and discovering a thousand different guns, shields, and grenades to equip. The only difference from one to another is really how the Vault Hunters play, and for this one I went with Athena. She’s a gladiator, first seen as an NPC in The Secret Armory of General Knoxx DLC. She uses her Kinetic Aspis shield to block enemy attacks and can return the damage collected by her shield by throwing it at an enemy. I followed the Phalanx tree for upgrades, which focuses on combat support and improves the offensive and defensive capabilities of the Aspis.

Here’s the thing I disliked most about Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel–the oxygen meter. See, most of the gameplay takes place on a moon or in outer space somewhere, and so, instead of just giving every Vault Hunter a spacesuit you must now pay attention to an oxygen meter. Run out of it, and your health begins to deplete. There are certain areas that refill your oxygen, but it just becomes a pain and one thing extra to monitor along with your shield and health bars. Plus, if you want to use a jump boost or ground pound move, it depletes the oxygen meter too. I’m not a fan of it and often found myself relaxing more once inside a building and not having to worry about it.

I’m now left with the choice to purchase Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and keep playing…or just wait for Borderlands 3 to come out. I think I’ll do the latter. Besides, I still have stuff to do in Borderlands 2 if I want a little more action.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #37 – The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

gd 2015 games completed the-bureau-xcom-declassified

William Carter must
Destroy the Outsiders threat
Tactical shoot, hide

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

Making difficult decisions in Spec Ops: The Line’s war-torn Dubai

spec ops the line gd impressions

It’s no big secret that I lean away from realistic military-driven shooters, with the last one I gave a shot–pun intended–being Battlefield 3, of which I only experienced the bombastic single player campaign and removed the game from my PlayStation 3’s internal hard-drive without even giving its online multiplayer a kick. I’m not into the competitiveness of war, but generally curious to see a, hopefully, captivating story spun around tank battles, sniping, and yelling commands at comrades. A good story can generally carry a stinky load.

Progress is being made to clear out some space on my PlayStation 3. I recently finished up and uninstalled Prototype 2; afterwards, I took another scroll through my PlayStation Plus-heavy list and saw another title that called out to me…for a number of reasons. Spec Ops: The Line is, a first glance, a typical cover-based shooter, and it really isn’t the sort of game, based on its premise, I would drift towards. However, I remember the reviews for the game being fairly positive, praising its story above all else, that there was a narrative here worth seeing, even if it meant playing a perfunctory take on the genre.

Here’s the gist: Captain Martin Walker, Lieutenant Alphanso Adams, and Staff Sergeant John Lugo are traversing, on foot, through a storm wall on the outskirts of a mostly-buried Dubai. They come into contact with a group of armed survivors speaking in Farsi, referred to as “insurgents,” who have captured a squad of 33rd soldiers. Contradicting his orders, Walker decides to follow the insurgents and find out what has happened in the city. The story twists and turns from there, rather darkly, and to say any more would ruin its impact, but it often presents Walker with a moral choice, many of which result in dire consequences.

Spec Ops: The Line is a third-person action game, or, as the kids call them these days, a cover-based shooter. You move forward, you find cover, you hide behind it, and then you pop out to shoot human enemies in the head, dropping back safely when the going gets rough. I’m sure some people don’t even use cover, but I never found that a feasible option for surviving. In fact, I played the game on its standard difficulty up to the third chapter, eventually getting stuck in a tricky hallway and bumping it down to its easiest of difficulties, which, in a few spots, still gave me grief. You can laugh all you want, but I wasn’t really here for the perfunctory gameplay, so playing on easy was not one of the more difficult choices placed upon me.

Unfortunately, due to all its hype and praise, I knew to expect something narrative-wise as I gunned down human after human, and so the big reveal was not that big of a reveal to me. Still, it’s pretty good and more risky than you’d expect to see in a, from the outside looking in, straightforward war simulator, but I wasn’t blown away. I did, however, love hearing the voice actors change dramatically from beginning to end, at first being stern and ordering commands to ragged shouting and fuck protocol, save yourself attitudes. Honestly, Captain Walker’s voice was so strained by the end that I couldn’t believe it was Nolan North and not Troy Barker.

I will say this: the setting of Dubai made each checkpoint worth getting. Almost like with a point-and-click adventure game, I desperately wanted to see the next area, and most of them, especially those set inside a building or near the city limits, are astoundingly unique. I wish there had been more ways to use sand in battle, or, at the very least, more opportunities to use it, as sandstorms and dropping sand on an enemy soldier’s head grants Walker and his partners more strategic options than simply zooming in and firing until they stop moving.

After completing the game, I loaded up the final chapter to see a few of the alternate endings and earn a couple more Trophies. I also popped back to chapter 3 and beat it on the normal difficulty, putting all my hardened skills to use. That said, I have no interest in playing the full game a second time, nor do I need to go back and see how every other choice would play out. Just like with Battlefield 3, I won’t be even giving the online multiplayer a chance, as the main gameplay of hiding and shooting did little to excite me throughout Spec Ops: The Line‘s campaign; at least games like Mass Effect 2 and The Last of Us give me powers or other options for taking out enemies.

At least now I know what Spec Ops: The Line was all about: the tough calls.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #31 – Spec Ops: The Line

2015 games completed gd spec ops the line

On reconnaissance
Captain Walker finds Dubai
Changed, traumatic, shot

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

Another tour of BioShock Infinite’s American exceptionalism

bioshock infinite DONTDISAPPOINT_ONLINE_wideuse

In this post over yonder, I said I had beaten 73 games in total for all of 2014. I wrote that because it was true and, at that time, I hadn’t expected to complete anything else during the madness of Christmas and traveling and New Year’s Eve hijinks. Surprisingly, I was able to sneak in one more game before that big disco ball dropped in Times Square and Terry Crews took his shirt off to flex his chest muscles, clearly making Carson Daly uncomfortable; I really should’ve been watching The Twilight Zone‘s “Midnight Sun” at that exact moment, but it wasn’t my place, my television set.

Here’s the truth. Ever since I rushed through and beat BioShock Infinite in early 2013, I’ve wanted to replay it. Not on a higher difficulty or with a plan to use the Huntsman Carbine more over the Paddywhacker Hand Cannon or even to nab some missed Achievements, but just to experience it again. At a slower pace. A gentler walk through this strange yet familiar land–when obviously not in a skirmish or zipping along the skyhook tracks–to absorb every last sign, poster, painting, smeared blood writing, and hung piece of Columbia propaganda. There was a lot of talk happening and surrounding Ken Levine’s darling during its initial release, and I was shockingly interested (pun intended) in being invested in these dialogues, which meant hurrying through the game to get to its muddled ending. That way I too could have trouble comprehending it for a few days, along with seemingly everybody else. The word zeitgeist would probably work here.

Even at around 12 hours on the Normal difficulty, I’d say that BioShock Infinite is still too short of an experience and needs more time to open up for exploration and reflection, not more unsatisfying and rarely rewarding skirmishes. The shooting/Vigors-lead action is merely filler, a buffer between Booker looking at something interesting and finding something even more interesting to gawk at. Namely, a story beat. If there are any parts that I continued to rush through, it was blasting people in their faces with crows and then taking them out with a shotgun, though tossing people off the world later near the end of all things with the water stream spell was, admittedly, pretty enjoyable, but maybe that’s because it is a quicker and quieter kill than loading them up with bullets. The combat and violence constantly feels shoehorned; please explain to me again why equipping this hat helps me do better melee damage with the skyhook.

Anyways…it’s 1912, and Booker is trapped in a flying, floating city built on racism, heavy religious undertones, and American exceptionalism. Think about that for a bit. Try to name another game that uses those pillars as foundation for its game’s world; I’m struggling to think of many. Because of this, everything you see and hear is slimy, tinted with a second coating of meaning. That poster might seem positive, cheering on so-and-so, but it’s actually deeply dark, labeling people of color and the Irish as barely human. This is a place bursting with warm sunlight, children playing in the streets, and astonishing views that also harbors a disgusting, contagious sickness, the kind that poisons a community and changes it for the worst.

You’ll get a decent amount of this if you follow the main path, but searching out every nook is where the world truly comes to life, like examining the difference between upper-class and lower-class bathrooms, spaces you are never forced to visit for plot purposes. Hold on. Let me tell you about a really small, special moment I discovered, something I missed during that first sprint through in 2013. In fact, it’s easily missed if you begin shooting too soon in this specific area, as doing so scares away all the NPCs. Right, well…while exploring around Soldier’s Field, near a carousel, I discovered a young black man smoking a cigarette just behind a building, clearly in hiding. The man asks Booker to not tell on him, and Booker is friendly, promising his secret is safe.

In a game fueled by racism and racists, many of whom want to physically harm the player, it is a little strange to not hear Booker be more vocal about his opinions. I mean, he comments on mostly everything else around him. Like giant, mechanical bird-guardians. One gets the feeling he’s not 100% on board with how Columbia operates, but he also doesn’t openly condone it. Early on, during the lottery sequence, you do a QTE that boils down to a choice: throw the baseball at an interracial couple or throw the baseball at the announcer. Either pick results in the same story moving forward, but if you spared the couple some pain, you’ll run into them later and collect a piece of unique equipment. Booker doesn’t decide this; you decide for him, but it’s a rare moment of choice. Later, when Elizabeth’s sheltered innocence asks why one bathroom is for colors and the other for whites, Booker replies “It just is,” and keeps on moving. You don’t get to decide that he goes on a tirade, forcing everyone to swap thrones and be nice to each other for the good of all humankind.

Once again, I tried to find all the Voxophone audio logs and telescopes/Kinetoscopes without a guide, but missed a few by the end. A shame as some of the better and more interesting story bits are hidden away in these, like how Fink Manufacturing operates or what’s the deal with the Lutece twins. Pretty sure I hit the same numbers as my first go, which is funny, but I guess I walk the path I walk and look where I look. I suspect that you can get to a few hidden areas via the skyhook rails. I ended up using the same weapons/Vigor combos as before, relying way too much on the bronco one to lift enemies in the air and then a pistol to take ’em down. It was always a straight line to end combat as fast as possible, which meant always opening a tear to a gun turret over a Mosquito or mechanized robot-warrior.

Alas, after two full playthroughs, I still can’t tell if BioShock Infinite is the bird or the cage, but it remains an undeniably interesting audio/visual treat set in a genuinely unique world, a gorgeous walking simulator constantly sidetracked by racist goons and crank gun-wielding George Washingtons trying to blast holes in your chest. I’ll probably play it for a third time later this year, and I don’t know why. It just is.