Podcasting, Gaming, and Whatever strikes me at the time.

Archive for April, 2014

Post Game Wrap Up! ICO

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ICO is a game with a huge cult following. Released in 2001, it might be the first real example people reach for when you make the argument that games can be art. I haven’t played this game since I played it once back in 2001. I never had much interest in it then, and by the time I had a PS2, it never crossed my mind to hunt it down. It’s a game many people tell me is a stand out title for the PS2. So a while back, I bought the HD collection of ICO and Shadow of Colossus, because I never really played either one. So, after many months of putting it off, I finally sat down to play ICO, mostly to see if the game lived up to its hype. After beating it, I couldn’t figure out how best to put my thoughts on this, so I mulled it over for a couple days. And I can only stand by my initial reaction.

 

ICO is many things, but ICO is a terrible game.

 

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Now, I should explain what I mean by that. I really hated my time with ICO, for a lot of reasons. But, in its defense, I also saw exactly what makes this game a cult classic. Never have I had a harder time deciding what makes a game good and what makes it bad. In that respect, ICO is brilliant. I’ll get into it deeper, but first I should probably explain myself.

 

ICO is the tale of Ico, a boy locked in a haunted castle, as he was born with horns, which in the village he’s from is a bad omen. After an earthquake frees Ico from his sarcophagus, he begins to explore the castle looking for a way out. Shortly after, he meets a girl by the name of Yorda locked in a cage, which beyond being deathly pale, also speaks a completely different language. Ico frees the girl, only to be set upon by shadows trying to recapture her. Ico takes it upon himself to escape the castle with Yorda in tow.  The story is a very simple one, like many things in the game, but that was done with purpose, in what the designers would call subtracting design. This comes more into play later, but keep this on your mind for ICO, as it was the driving force behind making it.

 

My problem with ICO can be summed up like this. I couldn’t decide in what way was fair to judge the game. Was it a game? Not really, as it was trying to be an immersive interactive experience. But at the same time, it wasn’t an interactive movie experience, as the player is not really able to shape the story the way they want to. Games like Beyond: Two souls and Heavy Rain are unique in that they truly are interactive movies, but are also terrible games from a game play perspective, being nothing but really quick time events. And yet your success or failure of those QTE’s change how the story progresses, making it uniquely your own. ICO isn’t like that either, because your character can die, the game can end in only one way, and there are many elements that are in the game solely to keep it a game. So I spent 3 days trying to figure out how best to judge the game, and frankly I never came up with a good way to do it. To be fair to ICO, it was one the first games that really wanted to be that interactive experience, and I highly doubt games like Heavy Rain or Beyond: Two souls would exist without it. So, I can only judge it as a game. Which is why as a game, ICO sucks.

 

The biggest reason behind that is based on controls. ICO is, to put it in a genre, a 3d puzzle platformer. By the time ICO came out, we already had some excellent platform games available, thanks to Super Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie, among many others. Those games did 3d platforming perfectly, while ICO feels stiff and awkward. That may have been the point, but it doesn’t excuse ICO, as unlike Shadow of Colossus, you’re not climbing a moving mountain, I’m trying to leap from platform A to platform B, something gamers have been doing for decades. The camera might also be at fault here, as the camera is hardly ideal for platforming, and you have little control over it and at times it can be placed awkwardly to keep you from gauging distances. It’s worse indoors than outdoors, though.

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(I hated this puzzle, because Ico can’t grab something in front of him)

But beyond even that, the other mechanics are shallow. Combat is really an afterthought. Again, I understand the concept, the player is supposed to be a child, devoid of any combat skills. You don’t even really kill the shadows, as at best they simply retreat to take you on other time. But it needs to be said, it’s shallow and void of any depth, mash square until the music stops. It’s also one long, nearly unbroken escort mission. Even the puzzles are shallow, while on the subject. While there are a couple of puzzles that stand out, mostly because they span multiple rooms, most won’t take long to figure out. It’s no surprise the game can be finished in less than two hours.

 

BUT… and I say this with as much capitalization as I can, ICO also has some shining moments. I’m hard on it for being a game, but I have to contend that there are a few things that make this the cult classic people say it is. As I mentioned earlier, this game was built with the idea to be as immersive as possible with the subtracting design approach. The first thing that really shines to me is the world itself, the castle, as it feels empty and hollow. Immersion plays a huge factor here in a lot of different ways. A lack of music is the first big step. There is sound in the stages, but it’s mostly ambient noises, like seagulls, wind and so on. The only time music is heard is when shadows attack you, and that music feels and sounds perfectly alien and creepy, and even still is very subdued. Of course, there is no HUD, which at the time was a big deal, as I can’t think of any games that didn’t have one in 2001 or at any time prior. While I complained about it earlier, the camera is used excellently to give you a sense of scope on the size of the castle, with big sweeping views of the larger, park like outdoors and the musty indoor settings, largely thanks to the bloom lighting techniques that were pioneered here.

 

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 (so pretty.)

I also have to give credit to the characters themselves in some way. The game was built off an idea of a boy meets girl story, and the game design reflects that. Ico and Yorda can’t even speak the same language, but despite that fact, through the game’s limited cut scenes and the way the two characters react to each other, you get the sense that they end up caring for each other despite the fact they know nothing of each other. It’s sweet, and feels organic. I’m also very happy the game doesn’t make Yorda speak Ico’s language at any point in the game, only translating for the player if they play the game a second time. There is also a child like wonder in the way the two characters physically interact, like when Ico takes Yorda’s hand and runs ahead of her, or when he calls out to her and waves his arm to get her to come to him. It’s a lot of little things that make not only the story sweet, but the characters themselves so endearing as well. Actions do speak louder than words after all.

 

So, as you can see, I was so torn on this game by the time I was finished with it, I had no idea what to make of it. How do you judge something like this? As I noted, I never did figure out a good way to do outside of it being a game, but in a lot of ways, ICO is more than that. Untraditional is one way to put it, and like a minimal art piece, it gives you just enough to allow you to see what you want to see, and it means something different for everyone. To me, it’s a game that despite having some standout moments, still sinks under the weight of its horrible gameplay. It’s harsh to be true, but in this case the good does not outweigh the bad. It makes it hard to recommend, yet somehow I still find myself doing so. ICO should be seen at the very least, perhaps through a let’s play of some kind. If nothing else, getting it and Shadow of Colossus for $30 bucks bundled together is a steal, and who knows? Maybe you’ll see it differently that I did. I can’t say it’s one of the must play games on the PS2, but if you’re curious, it’s worth checking out somehow. It was free for Playstation Plus subscribers a few months back, if you still have access to it, maybe you should check it out. Or a let’s play may be better. It’s a tough call either way.


Post game wrap up: Infamous Second Son!

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Well, as the title implies, I just finished Infamous: Second Son. It’s the must own game for the next gen right now, and is probably the one exclusive title everyone wants to play. And I can’t blame them. The first two games were stunning examples of a sandbox title with super powers, with lots of collectables, fun and varied powers, and a kick ass, if not a bit silly, story. If you haven’t checked out Infamous 1 or 2, I strongly recommend them. But we’re not here to talk about them, we are here to talk about second son, and how it does feel inferior to the older games.

 

Set 7 years after the events of the second game, you play as Delsin Rowe, a small town delinquent living in the shadow of his cop older brother Reggie. After a government vehicle crashes in his small town, freeing 3 conduit convicts with powers, Delsin discovers that he too is a conduit, the series version of a mutant, who can absorb other conduits powers by touching them.  However, the head of the DUP( Department of Unified Protection) Augustine, captures one of the escapees with her own Conduit powers of concrete, and to be sure no one is harboring any conduits, she tortures the town for information by lodging concrete inside people’s bodies. The only way to remove the shards is the same way they were put in, which gives Delsin the idea to head for Seattle with Reggie  to absorb her powers and save his village.

The story has its faults, much like any comic book does, but the story in broad strokes is not too bad… at first. We get a good sense of the way the world is now, terrified of the conduits living among them, even if they have done nothing wrong. It’s pulls a lot of its story out of the pages of any X-Men comic, but it starts strong. Delsin is a good lead, with a lot of room to grow as a person, as he either becomes a hero or a villain, depending on the choices you make. However, the game feels rushed. The story flows really well at first, by introducing new characters, and building the bond between brothers Reggie and Delsin. You get the sense that they have been at odds since they were kids, but they do love each other and trust each other, even if Reggie is a bit skeptical of this new gift his brother has. but then at about the halfway point,the story grinds to a halt, then jumps to its ending abruptly not long after, never really finishing its character building.  It feels like a 1/4 of the game is  missing. The morality of the game is also very black and white, almost to the point of being funny and feels disappointing compared to the last game. The morality system of the series has never been its strong suit, but this felt like an afterthought. It also doesn’t help that sadly Delsin never really changes, he starts out as a delinquent hipster bro, and finishes the game that way, more or less. You can only listen to him make fun of the gamer conduit so many times about D&D and being a virgin before you roll your eyes at the whole thing. The villain Augustine isn’t much better, who is cold bitch throughout the game, but by the games end shockingly has a good reason for why shes such a bitch. The say that the good villains are the ones that don’t believe they are the villain of their story, so while I give points for trying, the game falls way short in the story department by the time you finish it.  The only saving grace is the very unique (and free) DLC called the Paper Trail, which even has some interesting ARG stuff attached to it. I haven’t finished it all yet, as it’s episodic and not all released yet, but they have a interesting murder mystery story to it, that fits in well. Hopefully it ends better than the actually story did.

 

Game play is where the game is both interesting and bad. One of the hand, giving Delsin access to 4 different types of powers gives him access to 4 different ways to play the game. One power set is for sniping and long distance stuff, one is meant for a bull rushing and in your face style of play, while another is stealth, and the last is a tank power set. I give the game credit for this as it allows you to play your way, with a power set that fits best for you. But the sniping power, Neon, comes away as being the most all around useful, as the other powers only really work in certain situations, while Neon can be used in a variety of ways to make it fit the situation. 2 big problems stand out as well. The first being that you cannot switch between powers at will. you have to find a power source to drain, then you can use it. This makes switching up your powers when you need to annoying at best, especially if the game puts you in a situation where it wants you to use a specific power.  The second being that the tank power set, or concrete, doesn’t come until the end of the game, where they force you to use it in the final boss fight. By the time you get it, you may not even care to use it, as again, Neon is the most versatile power you have, and you can strangely only power concrete by draining baddies who use concrete powers, rather than the concrete your standing on. It’s weird, and despite the fact its plot important, feels like an afterthought, like this should not have been the final power you get.

 

It’s also disappointing in that there isn’t a lot of variety in either the enemies you face or the missions you do. There is only 4 different enemies types, and they never change. For the most part, any power can take them down, but one or two of them are more difficult unless you have a specific power, which you may not be able to easily find when you need to take these guys out. Every story mission is also the same, go here, kill enemies. Then go here, and kill enemies. The sub missions don’t fare much better, usually boiling down to finding stuff. Collecting stuff is also drastically reduced. There just doesn’t seem to be as much to find or see or do in Seattle as opposed New Marias or Empire City.  The city is very pretty, and very well detailed, and feels like Seattle, even though admittedly, I have never been there. The soundtrack is also wicked, but there isn’t much else to say on that front. It looks good, and sounds good, but plays wonky.

 

Overall I find myself very torn on the whole of Infamous, and Second son feels like a lame follow up to the first two games. Maybe I’m being too hard on it, but I certainly feel let down a bit by the time I finished that one. Hopefully some of the DLC that is bound to happen will make up for it. As far as a being a launch game, its a solid release, but hopefully there are better things to come in the future.

 

 


Video

The Three Guys Podcast! Captain America The Winter Soldier!

As always, you can grab the MP3 version here! http://goo.gl/Jh72Ki

The Three Guys wonder what the cost of freedom actually is, and wonder if the Falcon can ever be cool, It’s Captain America The Winter Soldier!

Well, I said I was gonna post these more often. So I did. Here’s the newest one!


Diablo 3 :Reaper of Souls

Ya know, I keep telling myself I will keep this blog up to somewhat date, and try to add something new weekly. Well, I keep messing that up. Two reasons for that, 1. I do a lot of work on my bi-weekly podcasts called The Three Guys that keeps me busy. If you like movie podcasts, check it out, I’ll start posting them here more frequently than once in a while. The second thing is I’m a rather finicky writer. Without assignments, I tend to only write when inspiration hits. I have a ton of half finished ideas, and I should definitely  get those down at some point, as I think there are some interesting ideas in there, but it’s hard for me to sit down and write. Also, gaming happens, because outside of stuff I want to review, there are just games I want to play. And I can’t think of a bigger time waster that caught my attention recently than Diablo 3 Reaper of Souls.

 

 

Truth be told, I was never HUGE into Diablo. By that I mean I was never wrapped up into it as big as some people get. I had a friend who gave me his copy of Diablo 2 because he was losing sleep over playing this game, he was addicted to it. He later went on to play WOW when  it was released. That was my revenge though, as I had gotten him into it.  But when Diablo 3 was announced, I thought to check it out. And that was when I first learned, not even the mighty Blizzard is immune to day one PC issues.

 

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Still, that was eventually worked out, and I think my opinion on it was the same as many others, meh. It’s a game that tries too hard to be WOW and Diablo at the same time, and not really succeeding in either. It’s passable, but it was never going to be the game changer that Diablo 2 was, by far. To be fair though, it was never gonna live up to that hype, but it wasn’t much more than passable.  I eventually put the game away after completing it, I never even bothered to level up one guy to max level, and let it sit on my shelf.  Then it’s expansion was announced, and like every other time Blizzard does it, the intro cinematic/trailer got me hyped.  Eventually, I got the game. And let me tell you, it succeeds in bring Diablo 3 back to form. So lets talk quickly about it, and give you my impressions.

 

By the time the expansion came out, the real money auction house was gone. I never had a problem with this in theory, because players were already buying and selling gear black market style in Diablo 2. I can’t blame Blizzard for trying to get in on that action, but when it effected drop rates is what bothered me. In order to get the best gear for your class, instead of playing the game it often turned into a shopping trip. Drop rates have such been reworked with the auction house removed, so now in order to get that rare drop, you can actually just play the game. A novel concept. To prevent the black market from returning though, Blizzard implemented a tool they used in WOW, binding it to an account as you pick it up, with only the other players who were there when it dropped being able to access it. Everyone still gets their own loot still to prevent  ninja thievery, another lesson they learned with WOW.

 

Speaking of gear, stats have been reworked dramatically. Gear now has a tendency to drop only stats that you need, rather than some seemingly global pool. If your like me, and have a old character from way back when, you probably noticed all your gear has some stats you need, and many you don’t. Gear drops have been reworked so more often then not you get stuff that is actually useful to you, with only the stats you use, like Intelligence for Wizards and Dexterity for Monks. Sure you still get gear for alts you have at times, but it makes it easier to build an alt at the same time while gearing your main.  This gear fix was a godsend, exactly what the game needed, to keep the player playing for loot.

 

But Reaper of Souls  is not solely a loot pinata. I mean, that’s why many people play it, and Diablo 3 in general, but there is a great deal more to it. The story is actually rather good, and a solid follow up the original game, and is in a lot of ways, better.  In Reaper of Souls, the former Archangel of Wisdom Malthael, who vanished after the corruption of the world stone in Diablo 2, has returned and stolen the Black Soulstone with the essence of all the Prime Evils, and intends to use it for… well, not to spoil anything, but he calls himself the Angel of Death now, I bet you can guess what he plans to do with it.

Malthael-ROS

(if you guessed he’s here to sell you girl scout cookies, your sadly mistaken)

 

 

Admittedly, this is a much more direct plot than the original game.. but, two things really help carry it.  First,  the character of  Malthael  is lore related, tied to something series long players have actually done in the past, and is a well known name, a Diablo series celebrity if you will. You would be surprised how much facing a boss that is more than a random bad guy can have an affect on the story.  The second point is Diablo 3’s story.. wasn’t all that good. It tried to create a sympathetic character with Leah, a girl with a dark history that would fall to evil, and  it was all destined from her birth, she could not prevent it.  The framework is OK.. but Leah herself is not all that interesting, and is usually a damsel in distress more than anything else. It just felt really hollow to me, and was by the numbers rather predictable.  This expansion however is a little more natural feeling, and hopefully with expansions in the future(should we get any) The story of Diablo will continue in this nature of established ideas.

 

The two other big things to talk about are Crusaders and the adventure mode. I can’t say much about the Crusader, as I haven’t played one, but from what I can tell they appear to be very much like the paladin from Diablo 2, or like a cross between a barbarian and a monk, so while I can’t talk too much about that, I can say it seems fun. Adventure mode however kicks ass. You do have to beat the campaign (Reaper of Souls included) to access it, but once you do, it’s game time.. No fussing about with specific chapters or plot, your able to jump in and go to any location in any of the 5 acts and complete bounties, which are quests, and generally run around causing mayhem as only you can. Each act has 5 bounties which range from killing certain mobs and bosses to clearing out a floor or a random event. Do all 5 bounties in a act and you are given a Horadric Cache, which is a fancy term for a box of loot.    It’s a great way to just run around and just randomly kill mobs with friends, much like Diablo 2 did, only without the fussing of which act you were in or what part of the plot you were on. You can even preset the game to any difficulty you want, and even raise it or lower it once while playing.  It’s also the fastest way to level an alt, as once you unlock it, its usable by all your characters. This might be the best part of the expansion, hands down.  It’s a truly does make the series feel like Diablo again.

 

I do highly recommend  the expansion, even for folks that were bored of the vanilla version of the game. Once you unlock adventure mode, the game feels just like it should, but the actual campaign segment of the game is no let down. If you are not a diablo fan of course, nothing here will change your mind, it’s just solid Diablo fun.  For anyone who still plays, feel free to add me on Battle.net (TGnerd#1689) and me and my monk can help stomp the forces of diablo, and whack loot pinatas.