Tag Archives: open world

There’s too much trivial chatter in Batman: Arkham City

Twice a month, I go to my local oncology center, sit in a fairly comfy reclining chair, get hooked up to a machine, and have poison, along with other substances, pumped into my body for three to four hours. It’s not exactly what I’d describe as fun, but it is what I have to do to continue living the life I want to live, a life with cancer. I’m never alone there, and sometimes the room is quiet, with everyone reading a book or listening to music or sleeping, as I’m wont to do, and other times it is just bursting with mindless chatter. Thank goodness for headphones. I tell this story because it actually relates greatly to Batman: Arkham City, believe it or not.

Can Batman just get one moment of peace to look out over Arkham City without having to hear some nearby conversation between Goon #1 and Goon #2? Please, it’s all I want. It seems you can’t go anywhere without picking up a stray conversation, and the majority of them are just fluff, nonsensical, pointless chatter to clog up your ear-holes. Someone somewhere is always talking, and it quickly becomes grating. Plus, there are occasional conversations you do need to pay attention to, such as when a political prisoner is being attacked or threatened, as it is a side quest activity, and parsing those out from the clutter can be tough. I don’t remember Batman: Arkham Asylum having this issue, but a lot of the game was spent in-doors, whereas here you are constantly gliding from rooftop to rooftop via a pretty open world brimming with enemies.

That said, I’ll now talk about the game proper. Written by veteran Batman writer Paul Dini with Paul Crocker and Sefton Hill, Batman: Arkham City is inspired by the long-running comic book mythos. In the game’s main storyline, Batman is incarcerated in Arkham City, a huge new super-prison enclosing the decaying urban slums of the fictional Gotham City. He must uncover the secret behind the sinister scheme “Protocol 10,” orchestrated by the facility’s warden Hugo Strange, all while also dealing with a number of other big-name baddies, such as Mr. Freeze, The Penguin, and, of course, The Joker. It plays and feels a lot like Batman: Arkham Asylum, but bigger and more explosive, with more things to do.

The same freely flowing combat from Batman: Arkham Asylum returns here and, while it can feel mashy at times, it does also feel purposeful. Batman can dynamically punch, kick, grapple, and Batarang through crowds of tough guys or, if you get the jump on a solo dude, take him down stealthily. Players gifted with superior button-pressing timing and the clarity of mind–in short, not at all me–can also use Batman’s fist and gadget tools to elevate these brawls into something much more. A violent dance, perhaps. Not all of Batman: Arkham City takes place outside; in locked rooms, Batman is a true predator, stalking enemies from the shadows and plucking them off one by one. I’m much better in these scenarios than I am trying to take on eight unarmed enemies and three guys with guns, all while trying to counter here, punch there, dodge this way, leap that way, etc.

At times, Batman: Arkham City has too many distractions, and I even found myself unable to figure out where to go next for the main mission, having veered off to answer payphone calls and attempt to collect some Riddler trophies. I say attempt because, for many of them, they are quite puzzling and seem like they require tools and abilities I’ve not yet unlocked. I do like that you can tag any Riddler trophy you see and it’ll add it to your map so you can return to it later, if that’s something you want to do. I highly doubt I’ll be going after all the collectibles in this one, despite that being a task I love doing in many other games. My goal is to just get through the story and see how things ultimately unfold for Mr. Wayne.

Currently, I’m in a large museum, trying to carefully make my way across a small pond of frozen ice to save some cops from The Penguin. If you are too reckless or take the wrong path, the ice will break, and a shark will eat Batman. Let me repeat that last part–a shark eats Batman. It’s probably the best thing I’ve seen so far in Batman: Arkham City.

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Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, a big ol’ boring collectathon

I started playing Assassin’s Creed Syndicate when I came home from the hospital last August; I’m still playing it. It’s a long one, bloated with things to collect and many uninspired missions that I no longer even care about completing the way the developers clearly want me to, but I like finishing things that I start, and so I’ve stuck with it still despite it being really boring. Those are both my words and Melanie’s word; the poor thing has had to endure watching me run around like a maniac in search of every single collectible. I’m currently in sequence 8, with one more sequence to go, along with a few Achievements to unlock because, at this point, I’ve put in a good chunk of work to unlock them already…might as well see them pop.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is set in a fictional history of real-world events and follows the centuries-old struggle between the Assassins, who fight for peace with liberty, and the Templars, who desire peace through order. The story is set in Victorian-era London and follows twin assassins Jacob and Evie Frye as they navigate the corridors of organized crime and take back the city from Templar control. Naturally, this being an Assassin’s Creed game, you’ll run into many a notable figures as you stab and loot your way to victory, such as novelist Charles Dickens, biologist Charles Darwin, inventor Alexander Graham Bell, political theorist Karl Marx, nurse Florence Nightingale, Duleep Singh (the last maharajah of the Sikh Empire), Sergeant Frederick Abberline of the Metropolitan Police Service (known for his investigation of Jack the Ripper), and Queen Victoria. Phew.

It’s an Assassin’s Creed game, which means it does all the same things previous ones have done, but on a grander scale, this being on the Xbox One and not the Xbox 360. It’s got main missions, side missions, a thousand collectibles, gear to upgrade, income to earn, gangs to upgrade, skills and perks to unlock, and so on, just like Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag–maybe the last one I’ve truly enjoyed–Assassin’s Creed II, and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. I wasn’t thrilled with Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, and all I remember from it is that is focused heavily on bombs. Anyways, taking place in a bustling place like London, the buildings are bigger and more closely connected to each other; to help get around somewhat faster, both Jacob and Evie have access to a grappling hook device that shoots a zipline from one place to another. This still doesn’t make all the running around fun or that much quicker, as climbing can still be iffy, with the occasional leaping off of rooftops to your swift death below.

Here’s something funny I’ve been doing while running around from one place to another simply to collect a pressed flower, a poster, a beer bottle, or a chest full of crafting/upgrade ingredients. I’ve been telling Alexa–that robot lady everyone seemingly now has in their house–to play a playlist of polka music. Honestly, it makes all the to-ing and fro-ing much more enjoyable, because it’s not like any interesting dialogue is happening at this time, and getting from A to B can often take a couple of minutes, depending on where you are and whether or not there’s a fast travel viewpoint nearby. At some point, I have to give up the notion that I’m going to open every single chest in this game because…there are just too many.

Combat in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is still a button-mashy mess. You can string together a couple of combos, as well as counter an incoming attack from a different enemy, but only if you time it just right. Then, some enemies, require you to break their stance by stunning them before you can begin a new combo. This sounds par for the course, and it is, but things go sour real fast the minute you have four or more enemies attacking you at once, as well as snipers on rooftops that you have to dodge. I eventually began using hallucinogenic darts from a distance to get enemies to fight each other, with me sneaking in at the end to finish off the remaining survivors. It’s not the coolest way to go about it, but it works. Also, while the skill trees make it seem like Evie is the sneaky one and Jacob is the more aggressive combatant, both play exactly the same way and can unlock the same abilities for fighting…so there’s really no point in having two playable characters other than for story-related reasons.

Looking at my games to install list on the ol’ Xbox One, I still have Assassin’s Creed III to play. Also, this month, we’re getting a free copy of Assassin’s Creed: Rogue from Games With Gold. Ugh. I’ll never be done with this series. Plus, there’s the newest ones, Origins and Odyssey, which, according to podcasts I’ve listened, sound like they are too big for their britches. Can’t wait. Part of me enjoys the idea of a collectathon, but maybe only one that is both not this big or a bit more fun to play. Heck, I enjoyed collecting 10 eggs recently in Dear Cousin more than anything I’ve accomplished in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Please pray that I’m finished with this beast sooner than later.

Every village needs a name, and Tarrey Town is lovely

I loved playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but hated completing it. Not because that meant the game was over and no longer playable–it’s not at all, in fact, as it weirdly drops you back into Hyrule moments before you take on the final encounter so you can fast-travel away though your save slot now shows you completed the final encounter even though you could, theoretically, do it again; it’s a bit messy–but because I found the final fight to be less-than-impressive. Exploring Hyrule at my leisure and taking on what I wanted to take on, in my own way, is where the game shined the most, and the final boss fight seems to be a linear affair, without many options. Also, after it’s done, there’s a pretty short and underwhelming cutscene, and that’s it.

Ultimately, this post is not about that stuff per se, but I’ve been meaning to say something about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild since doing the completion thing shortly before 2017 came to a close. I mean, after all, it was one of my top ten games last year, coming in at the number three spot. Instead, I want to talk about houses and building a community of like-minded people and mundane tasks like gathering wood for construction purposes and watching things change. I want to examine one of my favorite tasks to chip away at while I hunted down more shrines and Korok seeds even if I ultimately have not played that much more of the game since seeing credits rolled. It’s something I think about maybe more than I do, for fear of not having it around as an on-going quest. Of something perpetually to see grow.

Tarrey Town is a new town in Hyrule–so new, in fact, that it doesn’t exist until you steer an up-and-coming architect named Hudson to its foundation to begin constructing it. First, however, you must save a house in Hateno Village from demolition at the hands of the Bolson Construction Company. After that, the flamboyant and cool soundmaker boss Bolson that the company is named for transfers Hudson to Lake Akkala and suggests that Link goes and pays him a visit sometime. Sure thing, chicken wing. Upon Link’s arrival, he sees Hudson mining away at a chunk of rock, and Hudson requests that Link help him construct the new town. On it, my friend.

So, obviously, if you’ve been around this blog of mine for some time now, you know I love the Suikoden series. Well, Suikoden and Suikoden II, really. I still haven’t gotten too far into Suikoden III, and my memories of Suikoden V are as faint as a lantern in a field of fog. I love the notion of building a base and bringing people to it, watching it change with inhabitants and become more than just brick and mortar. If I recall correctly, there was even a town-building mini-game called Faerie Village in Breath of Fire III that I got deep into…though I don’t remember all expansive it ultimately was. Also, Mass Effect 2 had you bringing back recruits for your team to the Normandy, and that was good fun.

The quests to bring Tarrey Town to life are somewhat simple and repetitive. It all begins with gathering some wood. Next, you need to find a Goron with a name ending in “son” because them’s the rules. After that, it’s back to gathering more bundles of wood, as well as finding a tailor. Then 30 bundles of wood and recruiting a merchant. Yes, it’s that task again, but I enjoyed cutting down trees and thinking about all the people I’ve met in Hyrule that have a name ending in “son.” After 50 bundles of wood–seriously, we’re running out of trees here–you need to find someone to officiate a wedding, which turns into a really cute scene Hudson and his new wife. After the wedding is did and done, Tarrey Town is considered complete, and you get three diamonds for all your hard work, plus a free inn to stay at. The end results don’t turn it into a bustling metropolis, but it’s still a busy town with people living in it, and it feels so good to know that, without Link, without your help, none of this would exist.

Spoiler zone ahead. While doing some research for this post, I discovered that a secret shop opens on one of the building’s rooftops, and you can purchase some good gear there. This gives me the perfect reason to return to Tarrey Town and see how its folks are doing. Yeah, yeah, maybe I’ll do a shrine or two along the way. That’s just how The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild works–you start with one idea, and get distracted by several others. Either way, the world continues to thrive, thanks to you.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Midnight Club: Street Racing

This might be hard to believe, considering my long and well-documented love for all things racing games, but I willingly bought a copy of Midnight Club: Street Racing for the PlayStation 2 some time back in that wacky, inexplicable decade known as the aughts. I suspect I got it for cheap at the Blockbuster near my college’s campus when they started selling used games–or rather “previously rented”–but that’s just a suspicion, based mostly on the fact that that is where I got a small chunk of my early PS2 collection during my poorer days eating ramen noodles and working a few hours during the week in an art gallery. For the record, and yes, I just looked, here are all the games still in my collection rocking a “Previously Rented Game – Quality Guaranteed” label from the now defunct Blockbuster business:

Yup. Quite a super-squad there. With that said, let’s get on to the star of today’s show. Everybody, start your engines. Vroom vroom vroooooom…

Surprisingly, for a game centered around driving speedy cars quickly and aggressively, Midnight Club: Street Racing kind of had a story behind all its engine-driven action. Granted, around that timeframe, my experience was fairly limited to car-related adventures through things like Vigilante 8, Super Mario Kart, and Crash Team Racing, where vehicular combat was the central element, and it didn’t matter who was behind the wheel so long as they could toss projectiles out like everyone else. So, taking place in both New York City and London, you’re a bored-as-bored-gets cabbie looking for some street-style racing action…for reasons. Magically, you stumble across your first challenger named Emilio and are then invited to join the titular Midnight Club to continue proving your worth and burning gang leaders in races. There’s no real introduction, and the dialogue sections are flat images with character portraits speaking while two cars sit idly next to each other. Look, it’s not Great Expectations, or even Fast Five, but it’s something.

Not shockingly, when you see that Rockstar had a hand in this, but Midnight Club: Street Racing is a bit open-worldish. Y’know, a genre just starting to hit its stride then. You’re able to cruise around the respective cities, looking for trouble in the form of hookmen, which are visible on your mini-map, which, when you glance at the screenshot above, defies the definition of the word mini greatly. I mean, that was the UI for the era–big, bright, and loud. Anyways, once you get behind them, you’ll have to keep up with their ride until they feel that you’re worthy of a race, which is you against that driver’s entire posse. Also, you can call up these hookmen on your cell phone–a novel concept back then–for a more fair one-on-one race. If you win the race, you get to add your opponent’s car to your garage, which I guess is akin to carving up a dead animal and wearing its skin as a prize. I don’t know a lot about cars.

I remember being initially impressed by the scale of Midnight Club: Street Racing offered, but do remember the cities feeling lifeless and empty. Now, I’ve only ever been to New York City, and I remember a lot of cars and honking while there, as well as swarms of people; here, it is just mostly empty streets, with little traffic to deal with, and that just wouldn’t cut it today. Still, one must consider that this game came out before things like Grand Theft Auto III and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2. It was also frustrating that, to even start a race with another member of the Midnight Club, you needed to follow them to the starting line first, weaving through traffic and praying they didn’t get too far ahead of your slow whip, which was often more challenging than the race itself.

Most races are checkpoint races, which means you can veer off the beaten path so long as you hit all the checkpoints and cross the finish line before anyone else. That might sound like there’s a ton of freedom at hand, but this is a condensed city-scape and not miles of Smuggler’s Run‘s open terrain, and there were generally only one or two ways to get the job done efficiently. If rubbing and racing isn’t your thing, well…there’s an arcade mode, which lets you set up head-to-head, checkpoint, and two-player races. Also, some sort of capture the flag mode where you need to bump into the car carrying the flag to steal it and then deliver to some hotspot on the map. I don’t believe I ever took down the gang champion of New York City, thus never even seeing the second half of the game set in London.

I have no idea if Midnight Club: Street Racing hold up in 2018, and I’m not interested in finding out. Still, if I had my copy around, I might pop it in randomly one night for a zip down memory lane, but oh well. Much like Blockbuster, this franchise stalled years ago, and newer, more efficient racers have taken the lead, like Burnout Paradise.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

You gotta swim to survive in Subnautica

I was lucky enough to get a copy of Subnautica from the Humble Freedom Bundle back in February of last year before they ran out of keys for it. However, I didn’t even install it until two weekends ago, kind of waiting for it to finish up treading water in Early Access and release as a full-as-full-gets-these-days game to play. This way I don’t know what has improved or changed or stayed the same, and all I see is a crashed spaceship and an endless amount of ocean to explore, same as you or your brother or your brother’s mother, most likely your mother too. Right…I’m ready to dive in, even if my lungs are not.

Subnautica begins with a bang. Well, more accurately–a crash. You have smash-landed on alien ocean world, and the only place to explore is down beneath the waves. In the distance is your spaceship, on fire and full of radiation, and though the game never explicitly says you should go back there, one feels the need to get inside it and see if there is anything salvageable, figure out where things went wrong. But first, you’ll need stuff, like food and water and gear, if you are to survive Subnautica‘s shallow coral reefs, treacherous deep-sea trenches, lava fields, and bio-luminescent underwater rivers. You’ll also need to manage your oxygen supply as you explore kelp forests, plateaus, reefs, and winding cave systems, and the water is teeming with life, both helpful and harmful. No one ever said swimming was easy.

So far, I’ve put about two hours and change into Subnautica and don’t have a whole lot to show for it. That’s okay. I’m in no rush, so long as I can continue to catch plenty of bladderfish and peeper to sustain myself and various meters. Actually, I have made some better oxygen tanks, fins to swim faster, a repair tool, and a radiation suit, but there’s plenty more to craft via the fabrication panel inside your still-floating escape pod and I haven’t really left the safety of the initial area.

Here’s the problem I am dealing with: I’m not certain exactly what I should be going after and why. I mean, like Minecraft, which is perhaps the only other “survive” style game I have an association with, the goals are sometimes up to you. Clearly, you want to survive as a general rule of thumb and keep your health, food, and thirst meters healthy and high, but after that…you decide. Maybe you also want to construct a better submersible craft to explore the ocean depths or are interested in cataloguing the various fish and underwater life you come across using your scanner to learn more. Ultimately, I do wish the breadcrumb trail was clearer as even a quest log of sorts would help; right now I feel like I’m stumbling my way to progress, and even that is coming about through mere happenstance and not any specific action I took. For instance, I knew that creating a repair tool was important because there were two things inside my escape pod that couldn’t be fixed without it, but then I struggled to find cave sulfur and had to look up a guide outside the game for it, which was frustrating.

Visually, Subnautica is delightful and terrifying. Granted, again, I’m still only in the starting area and suspect there is much more to come, but the variety of underwater alien life balances itself well between recognizable sea creatures and straight-up weirdness. Every new fish or piece of coral is a fun surprise, and you can generally tell whether something will bite you in the face or not. Exploring at night is extremely unnerving because, not surprisingly, it gets dark, and you only have a flashlight and flares early on. The game runs well enough on my laptop, with just a little pop-in here and there, and I’m thankful that you can play it with a controller too.

I recently tried to get ABZÛ running too on this new laptop of mine, but it seems like that one is real heavy on resources, even on the lowest settings I could find, and so I’ll just have to wait until I magically get a copy on Xbox One or something. Surprisingly, when you search the keyword “underwater” on Steam, you only get a handful of games covering this topic, and most of them are horror titles or VR experiences, which, look, I get. I’ve seen enough of Sir David Attenborough’s The Blue Planet to kind of know what lurks in the dark depths of our planet’s oceans. Still, I like exploring underwater areas in a more leisurely fashion, like with Treasures of the Deep, or the time my sister Bitsy brought home a copy of Endless Ocean: Blue World and played for a bit, and it was so relaxing–not boring–that I dozed off.

So I’m going to stick with Subnautica a bit more because it is definitely my speed, but also in hopes that it really opens itself up more and dangles some carrots before my face to keep me pushing forward for reasons. Besides, I’d really like to see one of those time capsules for myself that are all the topics of discussion these days.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #130 – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Traverse through Hyrule
Destroy Ganon at own pace
Pleasing sound effects

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Let’s all go exploring with Breath of the Wild

It took me a little over four hours to complete the initial opening chunk of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and that’s perfectly fine. I’m talking about the part when Link, after emerging from the mystical cave of resurrecting people after 100 years because it’s cool to do so, must go complete four shrines to acquire all the necessary powers and hang-glider to start him proper on his journey to destroy Calamity Ganon. I’m not mad. Really, not even the slightest. Those opening hours helped teach me tricks and techniques that I’m still using currently to survive and puzzle my way to victory in Hyrule, some twenty-ish hours later.

Right. I got a copy of Breath of the Wild for my Wii U back in June, after I finally finished putting together the second chapter of my ongoing journal comic project Death, Divorce, and Disney. I’ll use this very sentence to plug it hard, so please click and read away. I’m not going to talk too much about the game’s plot, for two reasons. One, from a summary stance, it’s pretty bare bones. And two, there’s a lot I don’t understand yet, like Link’s relationship to Zelda and Hyrule’s people or why these shrines exist, and so on. That all said, we’re playing as an amnesiac Link, who awakens from a hundred-year slumber to a mysterious voice that guides him to defeat Calamity Ganon before he can destroy the kingdom of Hyrule. It’s not too far off from A Link to the Past, where a non-amnesiac Link awakens during a nightly thunderstorm, summoned to the castle by Princess Zelda’s voice to stop…uh, Ganon.

Back to my original point, about how long I spent in the “tutorial” section of Breath of the Wild. I got hung up for a while on how to access the two shrines located in the colder, snowy section of the Great Plateau. I assumed I needed better clothing to keep Link warm, and I was mostly right. It turned out I needed to figure out a recipe for the helpful Old Man and, once satisfied, he’d pass over some magical shirt to keep Link from freezing his nipples off. The problem was I didn’t know how to cook, and in a very non-Nintendo way, the game did not provide me with a hand-holding walkthrough to ensure I knew how to do this. I figured I just walked up to a pot on an open flame and there would be a prompt waiting for me, kind of like what happens in Fallout 4. Nope. All I kept seeing was “sit,” and so I sat, stuck. Turns out, you need to go into your inventory, pick a bunch of ingredients to hold, exit the menu, and then stand by the pot to get the prompt–so far, it’s one of two things I’ve had to look up for the game, and I deeply regret it.

I’m now much deeper into the story and map, but also totally not. It just feels that way to me because the hour count on the game’s save slot has gone way up. There’s still a lot to discover. In truth, I’ve completed a smidgen of shrines, found a few Korok seeds, climbed a couple tall towers, unearthed three lost memory spots, and haven’t taken down a single Divine Beast, though I do have the quest from the shark-people to do so whenever I please. But that’s up to me and my discretion. Personally, I like the less intense side quests, like finding horses or returning chickens to a pen, or just collecting ingredients to try my hand at cooking. Also, taking pictures of weapons and bugs and flowers to fill out the Hyrule compendium is good, wholesome fun that reminds me dearly of Beyond Good & Evil.

When it comes to waging war, I’m not great at combat, and part of that is me feeling like I’m missing a dodge button or something. Early on, I remapped the jump button, and that has helped a bunch, but timing your way around an enemy’s attacks is still a bit tricky, which has, naturally, made me rely more on loosing arrows from afar and being a sneaky elf. Y’know, just about how I play every RPG I get my grubby mitts on. Like many, the idea of breakable weapons breaks my heart, but at least unlike in Dark Cloud, Link isn’t far from a full inventory of things to use when one weapon breaks. It does, however, mess with your head a bit because you’ll find a cool, powerful weapon as a reward in a shrine and then be reluctant to use it in the field because you don’t want it to disappear. I don’t know. It’s a weird system, and I need to learn to not love my gear because nothing is permanent.

Also, Breath of the Wild is the game that actually got me to admit defeat and buy one of these plastic things:

I kind of want more, which is a dangerous thing to say out loud. And not just because they make a magical chest full of fish and raw meat fall from the sky once a day. I have a love for tiny figurines.

Anyways, Breath of the Wild. It’s really good, and I’m completely content to take my time with it. Sometimes I’ll play it for several hours in a night and then not return to it for a few days. That’s okay. Despite having a quest called “Destroy Ganon” since the start of the game, the in-game world is seemingly in no rush to see that actually happen. At least that’s the vibe I’m getting. If anything, my current adventures are leading me far away from Calamity Ganon for the time being and into the fins of a bunch of shark-people that taught me how to swim up waterfalls.