Tag Archives: multiplayer

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.

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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.

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.

This fresh meat is Rage’s latest MVP

I’m still not completely enamored with Rage, which is somewhat striking considering its similarities to Borderlands and Fallout 3. Granted, it’s not exactly the same as those other games, but it has elements or an essence of, such as kooky character designs, a barren wasteland thriving with mutants and bandits, and the use of vehicles for getting from point A to point B.

Evidently, Rage also has some online multiplayer, and it’s on a separate disc, too. Split into two types, there’s the Legend of the Wastes co-op challenges and Road Rage matches. The former are specially created missions meant to be played with a partner, and the latter consists of racing around a map, shooting other players and collecting special nodes to acquire points and hold the lead. Chances are I’ll never get to play Rage co-op–unless someone reading this has a copy of the game for Xbox 360 and wants to be my friend, then please, by all means, message me (gamertag: PaulyAulyWog)–so I did some Road Rage matches for about half an hour, climbing from a Level 1 wasteland racer to a Level 4 wasteland racer. Woo. I also earned the following two Achievements:


Fresh Meat (10G): Complete a public Road RAGE match


MVP (20G): Get first place in a public Road RAGE match

The first one’s pretty simple, but let me tell you how I got the second one. Sure, there’s a story; there’s always a story. For Road Rage, I ended up getting into an online party consisting of two little boys (both Level 1s) and some male adult (Level 20). Yeah, it was a little awkward. Anyways, the first few matches consisted of the Level 20 guy murdering us; me, I was still learning the rules and how to play, and the kids, well, they were little kids, not too skilled and very vocal about it. Eventually, the Level 20 guy mentioned he had to use the restroom, but that we should continue with a match anyways. And so we did. The two kids, who I assume were friends, ended up getting stuck in rocks or the landscape right from the get-go, begging each other to shoot the other in hopes of respawning–which never happened–and so I was free to roam the map, collecting all the power-ups and points and killing an idle Level 20’s vehicle over and over and over. I won the match with ease and never said a word to anyone.

So, yeah, I cheesed my way to the top of a match, but whatever. I probably would’ve gotten it eventually, as Road Rage isn’t too difficult to figure out. It’s somewhat fun, but there’s not a whole lot of incentive to keep playing; leveling up earns new vehicles and weapons for these vehicles, but I did just fine with the little ol’ scout. You can also unlock new badges and skin jobs, but meh. Plus, and here’s where y’all can call me a whore, there’s no more Achievements left associated to Road Rage matches.

Back to shooting mutants badly in Rage and running out of ammo, I guess.

Rock of Ages is weird and not the latest add-on from AC/DC for Rock Band

Little did you know, dear Grinding Down readers, but I used to collect rocks as a young lad. Mostly from my own driveway. Laugh all you want, but I had a bucket kept deep in the garage of the most special, most weirdly shaped, most coolest of cool solid minerals. No collection was greater than mine, and I was constantly adding to it, picking up “rarer” items like feldspar, milky quartz, and tiger’s eye from road-side travel shops when out vacationing with the family. Can’t recall what ultimately happened to it, but I suspect the rocks were dumped back into the driveway, from whence they came, like the One Ring, and are now no longer part of my collection, but that of the driveway’s, at the house I grew up in, but no longer see. It’s all kinds of sad.

Anyways, I’m thinking about rocks and my once beloved rock collection because I just watched a Quick Look of Rock of Ages, a game I saw mentioned from time to time online and completely assumed it had something to do with the Rock Band franchise. Um, nope. Evidently, it’s a…um…a tower defense title where the player rolls a boulder across a map and tries to knock down an opposing team’s castle’s doors. The majority of the action takes place from the boulder’s perspective, and you roll this rock through such ages as Ancient Greek, Medieval, Renaissance, Rococo, and Romanticism. Such a serious game requires such serious undertones, with a Monty Python-like humor, quirky music, and fart noises when you lose a match. Toot!

Yeah, it’s weird, but it actually makes more sense when you realize this creation is coming from the makers of Monkey Ball and Zeno Clash. I’m not a huge fan of the tower defense genre, as it always feels like a lot of waiting and planning, little action and doing. However, putting you in the role of the boulder tumbling down the hill is genius, and worrying about things like momentum while watching out for angry cows or sneaky catapults helps to keep things tense despite all the goofiness. If anything, I’d definitely give the demo a shot–if there is one–as this could be a fun time for Tara and I.

Maybe this is the start of my new (videogame only) rock collection?