Tag Archives: multiplayer

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Starwhal

Starwhal is an easy game to purge from my PlayStation Plus collection on the PlayStation 3. Why’s that? Because it’s heavily dependent on local multiplayer for fun times, and I have no fleshy friends to join me on the couch and play against. The entire point of this fake future sport that forces narwhals to battle each other to the death is to poke each space narwhal–a starwhal, if you will–in the heart with their pointy horns. Do this enough times and be the last one standing to claim victory and enjoy a buffet of whatever it is that narwhals enjoy eating. Hold on, I’m actually looking this up.

Seafood. A lot of seafood, like squid, Greenland halibut, shrimp, Arctic cod, rockfish, flounder, and crab. I’d enjoy some of that too, honestly.

Anyways, the game’s options are limited. You can play a deathmatch mode either versus your fleshy friends or add in AI-controlled opponents. I tried this three or four times and didn’t really enjoy it. The starwhals are purposely difficult to control, and I never found myself getting a good grip on steering them in the right direction. They feel unmanageable and remind me of trying to guide a squire on a leash across a field full of nuts and other squirrels. There’s a whole lot of flopping about. If I managed to damage an enemy, I promise you it was purely accidental, and I didn’t win a single match against the computer. Oh well.

There’s also over 30 Obstacle and Target challenge levels to hone your combat skills, but again, I struggled with simply controlling my green-colored, wig-wearing starwhal from one side of the screen to the other. Couldn’t even beat the gold time for the first challenge area. I figured they were only going to ramp up in difficulty after that and decided this was just not for me. Similar to things like Sportsfriends and Crawl, these types of gaming experiences are better with friends, where you can together laugh and cry out in frustration as your starwhal flops the wrong way, causing you to lose the match. Without them there, it’s just me and a growing grimace, listening to some pretty rad tunes.

Paulwhal, out!

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.

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Ultimately, Dragon Age: Inquisition is a whole lot of nonsense

Sigh. Well, here we are. Some nearly 80+ hours later–and I’m not including the time I put into the PlayStation 3 version, which was all kinds of borked–and I’m just about done with Dragon Age: Inquisition. I want to be done-done, but there are a few things left to see and try, such as the fact that this game has an online multiplayer component to it, and after putting this much time into the bloated beast I feel compelled to see it all…because I never want to go through this again. Ever. Y’all heard me. Sorry, Achievements for beating the story on higher difficulties–ain’t gonna happen.

Anyways, I have a lot to say about Dragon Age: Inquisition. Probably too much. As mentioned above, I’ve put a good number of hours into this thing, almost on par with Disney Magical World 2. In the end, the latter is the much better game of tasks and rewards, dressing your avatar up in various outfits, and engaging combat. Yes, those are fighting words, and I’m ready to fight. That said, there’s a good chance I’ll forget something and that this post will be somewhat frantic and unorganized. I apologize in advance, but if you continue on and read through this whole dang thing, grinding out each and every word, I promise you a reward at the end: a weapon, named something like M’ahlbrogger Gur’s Justice or Stormstrangler and in purple font, but several levels lower than the weapon you are currently equipped with. Sorry. You can immediately mark it as junk and sell it to the nearest vendor. Or destroy when your inventory becomes full. I understand. After all, that’s how the game is played.

Let’s talk about story first, however, since this is a massive roleplaying game set in a fantasy land full of magic and magical beings. That means story is big, larger than life, and it definitely is just that. I found it daunting early on, less as time progressed. Dragon Age: Inquisition‘s story follows you, known as the Inquisitor, on his or her journey to settle the civil unrest on the continent of Thedas and close a mysterious tear in the sky called the Breach, which is, unfortunately for all that live in this world, unleashing demons. The Inquisitor is viewed by some as the “Chosen One” and because of this forms the titular Inquisition in an attempt to stop Corypheus, an ancient darkspawn, who opened the breach to conquer Thedas all by himself. Phew. Got that? Basically, good versus evil, with some shades of gray sprinkled throughout.

The narrative was somewhat simple to follow…early on, when you only had a small base in Haven and a limited number of areas to explore and side quests to deal with. However, once Haven bites the bullet and you are forced to move into a so-not-like-Suikoden abandoned castle in Skyhold, the story stops feeling important. Sure, to everyone in this world, it is of the upmost importance that this Breach is closed, but the game doesn’t really hammer this home; instead, you are given plenty of breathing room, as well as meaningless quest after quest after quest to do because…well, I guess people like doing a lot of different things in RPGs. I do too–I just prefer that there’s meaning, a reason. In every big area the Inquisition can run around in, you can do lots of things, such as: go discover every region, establish a number of camps, complete requisition recipes, claim a bunch of historical sites as yours or at the very least under your protection, scan for shards, scrounge up all the shards, complete a select amount of Astrarium puzzles to unlock a hidden cave, figure out illustrated treasure maps, close Breach rifts, harvest plants and minerals, ping the area for hidden items, loot dead enemies, recruit agents, and more. All of that is of course mixed in with normal combat and main quests that often have you fighting tough bosses or doing specific things, like impressing royalty while simultaneously investigating something mischievous.

Hey, while we’re at it, please help fill out this timely and totally relevant poll of mine:

 

Right. I’ll also say that about fifty hours into the game…I started skipping cutscenes and mashing my way through dialogue trees to get through them as fast as possible. I knew that, if I wanted to maintain good relationships with everyone and be mostly neutral to a lot of situations, I had to select the dialogue option to the top right most of the time. You know that’s a bad sign for me if I’m just trying to rush through it all. Several years ago, I remember being shocked to discover a buddy of mine doing this for Fallout: New Vegas, a game I loved to listen to and ate up every conversation, but maybe that felt to him like Dragon Age: Inquisition did to me after so many hours in: just wasting my time. Also, I’m evidently not alone on this matter.

Okay, let’s switch over to combat, as that is a big part of all of this, and I might even go as far as to say it gets in the way nine times out of ten. In Dragon Age: Origins, combat was something you paused the action for and planned out, to ensure your survival. I skipped Dragon Age II so I don’t know how it was there, but here, in this one…there’s barely any strategy involved. I’ll present to you how I tackled every single encounter in this game and did more than fine. It went like this:

  1. Enter combat.
  2. Hold RT to attack targeted enemy from a distance with bow and arrow.
  3. Use three specific powers, generally in this order–Explosive Shot, Long Shot, Leaping Shot.
  4. Continue holding RT and wait for cooldowns to cool down.
  5. Rinse and repeat.
  6. (Sometimes I’d poison my weapon or use Full Draw, but these were rare moments in time and only when I noticed the icon for them was ready.)

I only occasionally switched to other members of my party to give them a health potion, but never bothered to control them individually or give them specific tasks to do. They seemed fine on their own. Again, about halfway through my journey, I gave up caring and just used the “auto level up” button on Dorian, Varric, and Blackwall, the only three dudes I stuck with for the long haul. Considering we took down 10 dragons, over 75 Breach rifts, Great Bears, and the final boss rather quickly, I guess it all worked out fine. However, when it came to trying to run to a specific area or get a bunch of shards, combat just got in the way and slowed progress down. There’s no easy way to duck out of an encounter, so you might as well finish it, otherwise it feels like running through molasses if you try to leave the area.

Romance was a big part of Dragon Age: Origins, and it is not the main focus here. Gone are the days of giving a woman shoes and watching a meter go up. That’s actually a good thing because that’s simply not how a relationship works. However, you still earn likes and dislikes from party members based on actions you take in the story and conversations, most of which you can enter a romantic relationship with–I went with that bearded beauty Blackwall. This romance option was probably the most interesting part of Dragon Age: Inquisition all in all, as I found his character intriguing and mysterious, and there’s a quest chain to follow after you and he do the dirty deed, which really goes places and changes his future involvement in the campaign. However, I never felt compelled to dig into anyone else’s backstory. There were too many people to pick from, and because of that I went with one only and dug deep. Sorry, Sera, I’m sure you had a zany bunch of quests to do.

The crafting system is terrible. There, I said it. I struggled to figure out how to do most of it, though tinting armor and weapons to be a certain color was fun. Basically, you have a recipe to make a weapon, and depending on what materials you put into it, you’ll get different results. Obviously if you use higher-rated materials like dragon scales, you’ll make a stronger thing. That said, there was no easy way to compare this weapon-in-progress with one you had equipped, so you had to remember the stats and hope for the best. A majority of the time I ended up wasting dragon-related materials on a weapon that still turned out to be weaker than the unique bow or staff I got from beating a story mission’s boss. In fact, the entire UI for equipping weapons and armor is frustratingly slow to slog through, and I found myself storing my unique, purple-font weapons away without so much of a glance. What did it matter? I was taking down everything in my Inquisitor’s path without a struggle.

Let’s see. What else, what else. Oh yeah, Dragon Age: Inquisition is broken or always on the edge of breaking. Like an ice cream truck on a thin sheet of ice. It’s a game that asks players to do some platforming even though it was clearly not designed to be that kind of experience. Here’s me trying to collect a shard. Speaking to people can be problematic too, with the dialogue wheel sometimes not activating or activating in the middle of nowhere. Here’s me talking to a dude and then suddenly entering combat. And sometimes you just want to sand surf. Several times, the game crashed to the Xbox One dashboard without warning. Thankfully, it autosaves frequently, and I got used to making hard saves.

DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition has been weird. This version that I bought last year during the Black Friday sale came with everything: Jaws of Hakkon, Dragonslayer, Spoils of the Avvar, The Descent, and Trespasser. Since I wasn’t playing the game from release day with an eye to the sky for more, I didn’t know what was what and what order things should be played in. I also got a whole bunch of special armor recipes, mounts, and things like that right from the get-go. I did know that one piece of DLC was only accessible after completing the main quests. I’ve now completed all the DLC, but finishing Jaws of Hakkon and The Descent very late into the game, with the former being finished after I beat the main campaign and Trespasser, sure felt like a waste of time and energy. There was no point to even looting any enemies or chests because I wasn’t going to play any further after I finished them off.

And now I’m just going to cop this style from The A.V. Club and leave everyone with some…

Stray observations

  • Clicking in the left analog stick to ping the environment for interactive items is officially one of my least favorite things in modern game design
  • I rode a mount two times total, one for a story mission in the Hinterlands and the other when messing around in a menu and accidentally hitting the button
  • I’m the Inquisitor, the Chosen One, leader of a great army, and I have to pick all these flowers and rocks myself?
  • I killed a bunch of nugs near the end of my time with Dragon Age: Inquisition to help pop the Trial of the Emperor Achievement, and I feel like a monster
  • Anthem better not be Dragon Age IV, but sci-fi, or I’ll cry on my controller and break it
  • My character’s name is Felena, but now I wish I had named her Felicia, so I could say that thing all the kids are these days

Trying my best to be a team player and not get hypothermia in The Division

tom-clancy-the-division-survival-gd-impressions

Tom Clancy’s The Division sure has had an interesting year and change, and I’m actually quite mixed on the game. Like a piece of delicious chocolate that is marred by the powerful taste of disgusting coconut, there’s good and there’s bad. It did make my list of my five favorites for all of 2016, but I know that a lot of that backing had to do with simply just how much time I put into it over the few months I dug deep over getting all them dumb collectibles. However, I quickly found that the end-game material was less appealing and eventually drifted away from snowy, apocalyptic New York City as my shallow pool of online friends greatly dwindled, returning briefly to play a bit of Underground, its first expansion last summer.

Since then, two more expansions have dropped, namely Survival and Last Stand, bringing about a number of changes to The Division‘s inner workings and plethora of systems involving math, as well as making running around the Big Apple worthwhile even after hitting the level cap. Well, not entirely worthwhile, but more. There’s still a hollowness to the running around, but at least new meters are filling up and check-boxes are being checked on a frequent basis. I’m really good at the daily challenges involving destroying weapons and gear for crafting materials that I’ll never ever use; I can hold the stick in for days.

Well, instead of devoting a post to each piece of DLC and clogging up Grinding Down in all things The Division, I figured I’d lump everything together for one single critical damage attack since I’ve now gotten to dabble in every expansion though I do not claim I was often successful. In fact, I mostly died a bunch. Still, there are thoughts, so out into the contaminated snow we go…

Underground was the first expansion released for The Division and focuses on exploring the uncharted underworld of New York City. Players are tasked with chasing after enemies with up to three other Agents through a maze of tunnels and subways. Or, if you are like me, you’ll play it solo and on the easiest difficulty in hopes of finding all the collectibles which, thanks to the randomly generated levels, are found only on a wing and a prayer. I think I’ve collected five of one type and four of another so far and have leveled up my overall Underground rank to about 13. As you level up this rank, you can modify each run with restrictions, like being unable to use your abilities or even have a mini-map, and being successful with these turned on results in greater rewards. There are a few scenarios you can play through, and a solo run with no modifiers can easily be completed in 10-15 minutes, which, when there was not much else to do in The Division, was enough to occupy my brain and hands for a bit.

In the Survival expansion, players must–and hear me out first–survive as long as possible after a horrible helicopter crash. I’m not sure why I included the adjective horrible there, as if there is such a thing as a delightful helicopter crash. Anyways, this expansion is quite different from Underground, as well as the main campaign. You are alone in an extremely hostile environment, and the only way to continue breathing and making it back to safety is by gathering essential supplies and high-tech equipment to call for help and get your frozen butt extracted back to your base. It is without a doubt my favorite mode to play, as it feels extremely fleshed out and there’s a lot of tension in every move you make, considering the longer you hesitate the more likely you will die.

Now, by essential supplies, I’m talking about scarves and jackets and, I guess, weaponry, but this mode is all about the clothing on your back because you not only have to worry about being hit with bullets but also hypothermia; you combat the elements by dressing appropriately and huddling near trashcan fires. This mode makes clothing matter and exciting, though the fact that you are sick and in constant need of medicine can be too stressful. This is why I don’t play things like The Long Dark or Don’t Starve–there’s too much to worry about, and I really just want to wear comfy clothes and walk slowly from one waypoint to another, enjoying the view. Still, Survival is exactly what I wanted to see from The Division‘s DLC–a unique endeavor that forces you to think strategically instead of simply hiding a wall or car and blind-firing until all the enemies are on the ground.

For Last Stand, things become a little more traditional. This DLC pits teams of eight against one another on a section of the Dark Zone where the goal is to capture and hold as many terminals as possible. Naturally, the team that holds more terminals builds up their score quicker and wins. Sounds both simple and familiar, yes? Well, there are a few wrinkles. Such as the fact that enemy mobs still roam the battleground area. Players can eliminate these scrubs to earn a currency used during the match to build defenses like turrets or scanners that detect enemy movement in a designated area. Lastly, all gear is normalized to make things as fair as possible…if a bit uninteresting.

I’ll probably continue to poke at The Division throughout 2017, especially since Ubisoft plans to remain supportive of the game for the near future, even offering up two more expansions for no cost to the player. I suspect I’ll revisit Survival the most of the three DLCs as it offers something very different from the standard experience. Look, this game has been and remains often confusing and clunky, and yet I enjoy the firefights, dressing up my avatar, and the idea of having a full gear set that really plays to my strengths, which are healing other players and taking potshots from a safe distance. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there, but the dream is enough to keep me logging in now and then.

Gears of War 2 continues its virile fight against the Locust horde

gd impressions on gow2 xbox 360

A part of me somehow knew that if I waited long enough I could get all of the Gears of War games for free thanks to Xbox’s Gaming with Gold program. Well, not exactly free, as I am paying money to be a Gold member, but free from the outside looking in. It started out with the first Gears of War, which I played through and found myself dumbfounded over how this became a popular, blockbuster series, even if I was having fun with the active reload mechanic. I find it perfunctory and fine, but nothing amazing, and you can feel free to call me names in the comments (if I approve your abhorrent name-calling comment for all to see, that is). Then Microsoft gave out Gears of War 3 and Gears of War: Judgment, but I was holding my breath for the second entry in the series so I could at least play them in some sort of sensible order. Lo and behold, it was a freebie for February 2016, completing the path forward.

Gears of War 2 takes place shortly after the end of the first game. The Coalition of Ordered Governments continues its fight against the Locust horde, who are attempting to sink all of the cities on the planet Sera. Sergeant Marcus Fenix leads Delta Squad down into the murky depths of the planet to try to stop the Locust from destroying Jacinto, one of the last remaining safe havens for humans. I feel like, other than the part about sinking planets, you could use this same description to summarize the first game, too. Either way, there are a couple of small side stories to explore, such as what happened to Dom’s wife Maria and a civil war brewing between the Locust and the Lambent.

Gameplay remains largely unchanged from the first Gears of War, though you can now pick up fallen enemies and use them as cover against incoming bullets. These are lovingly referred to as meatshields, which I approve of greatly. Regardless, you’ll push forward in linear levels, hiding behind cover and popping out of it to shoot the bad dudes. You’ll also have an AI-controlled partner with you for most of the missions, and I assume this character can also be controlled during the co-op campaign. I found Dom, at least on the “normal” difficulty, to be mostly a waste of space, especially during that boss fight against the Leviathan. Truth be told, and maybe this has to do with my recent practice with the Gears of War 4 Beta, I did pretty good in the campaign, only seeing red a handful of times, and those really only occurred during the two separate fights against Skorge, as I wasn’t sure exactly of what to do. Okay, okay…maybe an unseen Ticker got me now and then as well.

Alas, I’m still not enthralled with the running and gunning of the Gears of War series. I liked finding the collectibles in the levels, which should not surprise anyone following Grinding Down, as well as when you got to ride a Brumak near the end and just massacred everything in front of you. There’s also one level inside a giant monster where the focus is not on pelting Locust with bullets but rather surviving all the weird internal organs.  Those stand out as the highlights of the campaign for me.

Since beating Gears of War 2, I’ve been dabbling in its multiplayer modes. For various reasons. One is to clean up some Achievements I’m close to getting, like performing all the different execution methods or using proximity mines to kill ten enemies. Two…is that I fully expect to never return to Gears of War 2 once I start playing the third one, which I’m in no rush to load up, and so I want to make sure I get everything out of this game that I can. Or rather, that I want. I managed to get into one online multiplayer game with real-life people and had my butt handed to me swiftly, and so now I’m sticking to local matches against bots, as well as the Horde mode (solo and on “casual” difficulty). I also plan to pop back into the campaign and grab the remainder of the collectibles, considering I already got half of them my first time through this brown, brown world.

I’m definitely not immediately launching into Gears of War 3, even with the way this campaign ended on a cliffhanger. I’m okay waiting a bit. There’s plenty of other games currently in circulation too, such as Sunset Overdrive, I Am Alive, and Saints Row IV. In the meantime, if you are in the mood to play some Gears of War 2 and want to help me progress through Horde mode (I crashed into a wall around wave 6), hit me up on Xbox One.

Sliding, spotting, and shotgunning through the Gears of War 4 Beta

gd gears of war 4 beta impressions dropshot

I’ve not popped back recently into Tom Clancy’s The Division for a couple of reasons. One, after grabbing every single collectible on the map, I’ve found that it’s a shockingly empty, bland world and terribly lonely to play by yourself, especially when you don’t have a goal to go after, like nabbing all those cell phone recordings. Two, all of my Division buddies have been playing the Gears of War 4 Beta for the last week or so, which makes diseased New York City doubly abandoned. They got into the Beta seven days early for being special money-tossing loyalists to the series, but it went open to all on Monday, which means I get a week with the thing, which is plenty of time for me to figure out if I’m cut out for this kill or be killed multiplayer-driven world.

So far, I don’t know. I’m not great. Surprisingly, I’m probably not the worst player out there, but by no means am I at the top of the end game stats list. Getting more than three kills in a match is something worth getting excited over, and, if you think that’s silly, think back to your first time with the game, any game, and whether or not you were an unstoppable tank then or a fragile mosquito desperately facing down a shower of bullets with little to no luck on your side. I believe I did try once or twice to play a multiplayer session in the original Gears of War, which I was getting into some seven years after its initial release, and that didn’t go over terribly hot. In terms of my performance, yes, but also with how many people were still into that mode after fancier, enhanced editions were available for consumption from Gears of War 2 and Gears of War 3.

Let’s see. This Gears of War 4 Beta is…all about the multiplayer. Here’s what you get access to. There are two modes: the returning Team Deathmatch and brand new Dodgeball mode. To play these two modes, there are three available maps–Harbor, Dam, and Foundation. At this point, all I’ve played is Team Deathmatch on all of the maps, with my favorite one being whatever is the brightest one set during a nice afternoon with no clouds in the blue sky. My old man eyes are able to see the other team’s players much easier on this map, whatever one it is. I’m leaning towards Dam, but don’t make me swear on it.

The goal: murder everyone that doesn’t look like you. You’ll get randomly selected to play as either the humans or monsters before the start of each round. Each team only has so many lives and respawns, and everyone must work together to take control of the map. If not, the other team will slaughter you, and you’ll feel bad about yourself and probably not want to play anymore, especially if your own teammates are reinforcing these thoughts in your head. Thankfully, my gaming group has been relatively kind to me considering I’m brand new at all this, and I can see myself improving in small ways from round to round, but the nagging thought that I’m bringing everyone’s experience down a wee bit is a lingering friend nonetheless. My biggest hiccups are not moving around enough, going from cover to cover to cover, and learning how to blind-fire effectively.

My strategy is to generally follow a team member or two and stick near them like glue, helping where I can. A lot of my co-op online experience comes from The Division, and I had a role there too, which was dropping turrets, healing/reviving everyone when needed, and occasionally taking a shot or two at the bad dudes. Here, you really need to be on top of yourself, alerting everyone about what you are doing and where people are and how many and so on. This means a lot of communication, which is not my strong point when gaming online. There were definitely a few times where an enemy team member took me down and I didn’t say anything, and then that player took out a few more of my friends due to my silence. Whoops, and I’m sorry.

As a “thank you” to those participating in the Gears of War 4 Beta, anyone who reaches XP Level 20 will receive the Beta exclusive “Vintage Kait” character model, an emblem, and a special Vintage Kait bounty, as well as the Vintage weapon skin for the Lancer and Snub Pistol. Hmm. Lot of vintage going on here. Okay, I guess. I’m somewhere around XP Level 10 or so, with a few more days left to play, but if I somehow don’t hit this mark and get these mostly cosmetic freebies, I’ll live.

If anything, the Gears of War 4 Beta has inspired me to pop back into Gears of War 2 and make some new progress in the solo campaign (on its easiest difficulty, of course), for better or for worse. More on that later in a separate post, but let me just tease you with this: having a limited number of chances to toss a grenade into a boss sea monster’s mouth on a boat that is prone to glitches and having the characters lock up on its geometry and then having you do it all over again from the very beginning if you miss on those grenades because there is no other way to damage the beast is not fun. I’m currently on attempt number seven, if you are curious.

It’s time to kick ass and chew bubble gum, Duke Nukem 3D

duke nukem 3d ps3 early impressions gd

If you’re wondering how I can go from playing something like The Incredibles to Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition in one fell swoop, keep on wondering. Call it a palette cleanser, call it a leap of faith, or call it fortuitous timing–whatever helps you sleep at night. See, while I’ve had a copy of 3D Realms’ risqué tour de force from 1996 on the PC, it has sat untouched, uninteresting, especially since I struggled with its keyboard controls upon initially trying it some months back. However, this month, for PlayStation Plus, the first-person shooter with enough catchphrases to appease any 90s macho man action movie fan is a free download, and so I bit. Cue some tastelessly sexual one-liner from the man of the hour.

Real quick–and this will truly be real quick–here’s my history with the Duke Nukem franchise: I played one, and only a little bit of it at that. Yup, of the 15 or so iterations in the series, the only one I can remember experiencing, and through a demo at that, is Duke Nukem: Time to Kill for the original PlayStation. The clearest memories I have of it are time-traveling pig cops and strippers, so there you go. It was not a first-person shooter either, following more in the footsteps of Lara Croft.

Duke Nukem 3D‘s “plot” is nestled not so elegantly between a loud fart and the menu options: As Duke heads for Los Angeles in hopes of taking a vacation, his spaceship is shot down by unknown hostiles. Quickly, Duke realizes that aliens are attacking LA and have mutated the LAPD into horrible monsters. With his vacation plans now ruined, Duke vows to do whatever it takes to stop this alien invasion, including spouting a bunch of corny one-liners if necessary. That’s it. You’ll go from level to level, shooting aliens, with the next goal after that of shooting more aliens. I’m guessing the final action Duke takes in this game is shooting an alien.

This is no graphical masterpiece, nor will I sit here and believe you when you say it was at the time of its release. Everything is pixelated, and not in a good way. The enemies are flat, and I don’t mean that in terms of their personalities; they vanish if you strafe around them too fast. When you use the kick button, Duke tries to stomp whatever is in front of him, and depending on what you position him against, his foot either looks like a kid’s foot or a giant’s foot. That said, still ridiculous. I’m also not a big fan of how Duke appears when presented with a mirror, seemingly ice skating on solid ground. The shooting, y’know, the thing you are doing for the majority of the game, is okay, but often feels empty, like putting a number of bullets into an enemy pillow; I can’t even tell if these shotgun blasts are connecting, but I guess they are since I’m not walking in a bloody pile of skin and bones.

Here’s the best thing about Duke Nukem 3D: secrets! This game is loaded with them, and I’m a big fan of clicking against a wall and having it suddenly swing open to reveal extra health or a new weapon. Ideally, the library in my future dream house with have many hidden cubbies, accessible only if you touch the specific copy of The Hobbit or A Separate Peace. There’s a Trophy for finding at least seventy of them, but there are well over three hundred based off the stats screen. I’m not trying to look up every single one for every single level, but when I do get curious or lost and unsure of what to do next, I’m finding this site to be very helpful.

Progress-wise, I’m just starting the Lunar Reactor, which is level 8 from episode 2, conveniently called Lunar Apocalypse. I really burned through the entirety of episode 1: L.A. Meltdown the first night I started playing, but it seems like the levels have steadily gotten both longer and more challenging. I am also finding myself saving and re-loading more often in fear of losing problems due to some problems I’ll mention in the next paragraph. After this episode, there are two more episodes to go, plus three expansions. Whew, that’s a lot of listening to Duke say “Damn… I’m looking good!” I hope to get through it all, but it might be just the four main episodes, we’ll see.

All is certainly not well in Megaton Edition. For starters, I’ve had the game hard-lock twice (though not at Duke’s war table), stutter and even skip ahead, and lose rewind progress to corruption. It’s a buggy port of an old game, no doubt about it. And then there’s the multiplayer aspect. Oh boy. Granted, I really shouldn’t have expected anything, but I wanted to give it a try. There are two modes after you select a ranked or non-ranked session: one on one or a free-for-all with up to eight players. Unfortunately, horrendous lag makes it nearly unplayable, and any actual interaction, meaning your Duke shooting another Duke, is purely comical. I’ve managed a few kills, but it all came down to auto-aim luck or a decently tossed pipe bomb. It’s just a sad mess.

Here’s to many more dead aliens and outdated pop culture references as I continue forward to be the brainless action hero Duke is destined to be, but only that.

The hostile inhabitants of Yamatai have nothing on this Tomb Raider

tomb raider crash impressions

As you all know, I have a sickness, and that somewhat imaginary disease is downloading videogames–both free and paid for–and then not doing anything with them for a very long time. Actually, this also applies occasionally to retail products, seeing as I got both Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection and Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story back in October 2013 and have yet to even crack their cases. Sure, I’ll install a game on Steam and check to make sure it runs, but that’s as deep as I go sometimes. I mean, really…there are moments where I feel catastrophically overwhelmed with content to consume, considering I get a free game a week on PlayStation 3 thanks to PlayStation Plus, two games a month for being an Xbox 360 Gold member, and countless titles on the PC from bundles or cases of freeware.

Well, I’m happy to announce that I fought back this week and immediately began playing Tomb Raider after it finished downloading–and installing further after that–and boy howdy, I’m pleased with the results. It’s one of March’s free games, along with Thomas Was Alone and Lone Survivor: Director’s Cut, and it’s actually only the second “traditional” tomb raiding game starring Lara Croft that I’ve played. Yup, I’ve played the original 1996 release–and beat it multiple times–as well dabbled with the co-op-focused Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, and now this 2013 reboot of the series. That’s it. A couple of the games in-between 1996 and 2013 did pique my interest, but many also seemed too unnecessary and too far from form, like when Lara was running around the Natural History Museum in London.

Strangely, while this new Tomb Raider is most definitely a reboot, it’s both close to form and far from it, as the focus is much more on QTE-lead action sequences and firefights than exploration, though some of that stuff is in there via optional tombs. The fact that the best aspect of an Indiana Jones-like videogame series is now partioned off to something secondary and missable is extremely depressing. But otherwise, I’m really enjoying it. My save slot says that I’m a wee bit past the halfway mark, and I’m focusing mostly on just moving from story beat to story beat, saving many of the collectibles for later after I’ve earned all the vital Metroidvania-inspired weapons which will give me access to hidden areas and such.

Well, here’s how a reworked Tomb Raider story takes shape in the current day and age: Lara Croft, an ambitious archaeology graduate with theories on where the location of the lost kingdom of Yamatai is, has convinced the Nishimura family—descendants from the Yamatai—to fund an expedition in search of the kingdom. The expedition eventually ventures into the Dragon’s Triangle, east of Japan, but the ship is suddenly struck by a violent storm and shipwrecked, leaving the survivors stranded all across an isolated island. Well, maybe not as isolated as initially expected, as Lara begins searching for her friends and stumbles across other inhabitants and a trend for nasty shipwrecks and plane crashes. No longer is Lara simply a rich archaeologist out for personal gain; she is young, naive, fragile, acting out of instinct rather than planned aggression, and it works…for the most part. That is, until it becomes a videogame again.

While billed as open-world gameplay, Tomb Raider is surprisingly linear, with sections of the map broken up by hidden loading sequences of Lara crawling under something or through a stretch of cave. Once in a section, there is some room to explore and find XP-giving collectibles, salvage, and crates of ammo, but the story path is always straightforward, from one place to another, and there’s usually no chance to tackle a scenario in a different manner. Much like in Mass Effect, you’ll arrive in areas where you’ll instantly know a shootout is about to go down, given the number of cover pieces and layout. Despite being all sad about killing a deer and reluctant to fire a weapon anymore, Lara Croft is a killing machine. An absolute sociopath when it comes to QTE kills and arrows to the head. Sadly, a lot of the gunfire moments force you to constantly keep Lara behind some kind of cover, so a lot of the melee moves and shotgun blasts are not utilized. But the bow is pretty awesome, especially once you can start lighting your arrows aflame.

I do have more to say about the distinct disconnect between Tomb Raider‘s story and its gameplay, but might save that for another post. I mean, you can’t watch Lara grimace at gutting a deer for food when she goes on in the next scene to choking a man out with her bow string, especially when you later realize that “food” is not a game concept and literally do not have to kill any other non-aggressive animals for the entire game. Ugh. Like I said, I got thoughts.

Oh, and there’s online multiplayer. Which I’ve not touched, and most likely won’t touch once I’m done with the story and finding the remainder of the trinkets, journal entries, and weapon-upgrading items left on the map. Looks uninteresting. No biggie, kids. That’s not what Tomb Raider is about, unless there’s a mode where you are each trying to grab a single item first before others get to it. No, no, not Capture the Flag. More like…Capture the Priceless Ancient Totem and Deliver it to the Museum for Zero Dollars but Some Career-pushing Recognition. Yeah, I’ll play that.