Saturday, November 14, 2015

Fallout 4? No, Witcher 3!  


Welcome back to Coffeecola! 

So, that Fallout 4, right??? 

Yeah, not so much. I have a copy of it here, and while I wouldn't say I was overly hyped for it before release, I'm definitely a Fallout fan... Fallout 3 was really good, and New Vegas was one of my all-time faves. I was in the market for more Fallout

Then I started playing it, and it lost me in a hurry

Real talk: the beginning is pretty awful. Events happen too quick for my taste, and the opening 'motivation' is cheap and distasteful. Once I got into the game proper, the writing was dull, the quests were dull, and the emphasis on crafting is something that I'm not really interested in at this point. The interface for building structures was abysmal, as well. 

My playtime is pretty limited these days, so picking up a bajillion pieces of junk and spending an hour trying to mod a random handgun or combing the wasteland for roofing materials just isn't what I want my focus on in a game of this type. I put about four hours into it, and then I shelved it. 

I really doubt I'm gonna come back to it anytime soon, but a side effect of being disappointed in Fallout 4 is that it lit a fire under me to return to The Witcher 3 to wrap it up. 

The last time I went riding with Geralt was around June or so, so it's been about six months, give or take. At the point where I quit, I had put in 60 hours and had made it to Skellige, but burnout was hitting me pretty hard. It was just way too much content, but ironically, it was content I didn't want to skip. The writing was great, the quests were interesting... It was physically impossible for me to not do them, but it's got to be one of the most content-heavy games I've ever played. 

There's. Just. So. Much. To. Get. Through. (And that's not even counting the map icons, monster quests, treasure hunts and all the other minor stuff!) Anyway, I decided the time was right so I fired it back up and... I had no friggin' idea what was going on. I mean,  Yennefer wanted me to do something that I didn't remember anything about, I lost the main plot thread, and I had forgotten most of the systems in the game. 

Putting the search for Ciri on hold, I fumbled around with the controls for a bit and decided to clean up some of the secondary quests that were left hanging as a warmup exercise. 

Thankfully, I got back into the groove pretty quick, and my time away from the game reminded me of why I liked it so much in the first place.  I'm glad I came back. 

That said, I wish the devs had structured the adventure a bit differently... It would be great to have more emphasis on the main quest and to have left most of the secondary stuff for after credits roll. 

A big problem for me was that I didn't know what quests would fail if I didn't do them, and their general quality is so high that major FOMO kept hitting me every time I felt like I needed to critpath it. Knowing that I could focus on the central plot without fear of losing content would have helped stave off exhaustion, for sure.

In any event, it's good to be back in The Witcher and I'm really hoping to close the book on it.  And hey, who knows... I may even pop for that DLC! 


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

4 guys, 1 Steam Machine - SFW  


Hey all, just a quick redirect tonight - A group of my friends got together to weigh in on the new Alienware Steam Machine. You can read my writeup on their thoughts over at @GameCritics right here.  I'll be back with a regular update next time.  Thanks!


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Playing Catch-Up!  


Welcome back to Coffeecola!

I’m currently between review assignments, so I’ve had some precious free time to play pretty much whatever I want without feeling guilty about it -- AKA, the best time of year!

So, what’s been on the docket?


>The Talos Principle: Deluxe Edition (PS4)

Despite hearing all the praise last year, this one kind of snuck up on me. I honestly didn’t expect to like it as much as I did.

While it’s very Portal-like in many ways, I really liked the different aesthetic of the game, and the writers did an outstanding job with it. The themes of humanity and free will were a great fit with the puzzle-based gameplay, and the world had an awesome atmosphere and style.

While I didn’t love some of the in-game text (the myths and historical writing found on PCs weren’t effective at all) Talos is one of the exceedingly rare instances where the existence of audio logs not only made sense, but actually did a great job of enhancing the story. Even better, the ending was both perfect and amazing, and it left me glowing with contentedness for the rest of the day.

In fact, the story is really what carried the day here. I think the game is too long by a third, and the final bunch of puzzles were exercises in frustration. If I hadn’t been so invested in seeing how things turned out, I’m certain I would have quit before the end. Thank god for GameFAQS, amirite?? Speaking of which, mega props to nomercyrider for his awesome FAQ. I used it and I am not ashamed.

Despite getting a bit burned out on it by the end, I am very, very glad that I pushed on through – it really was a wonderful experience overall.  I haven’t touched the Road to Gehenna DLC because I’m feeling pretty burned out on the puzzles right now, but I’m pretty sure I’ll give it a shot once some time has passed.


>Leo’s Fortune (PS4)

I have to say, when I saw this one pop up on PSN I wrote it off out-of-hand based on the screenshots, but I heard some positive things later on so I decided to give it a shot. I'm glad that I did.

I haven't been keeping up with mobile lately, but apparently this one was a successful mobile title that got ported. It doesn't really break new ground, but it's very focused on being a physics-based platformer, and it does what it does very well.

The main character is a big fuzzball who can puff himself up, and the developers have done a good job of designing levels which are a mix between straight-up platforming and puzzles which involve environmental manipulation.

I have to say, I also thought the story had a certain sort of magnetism. Although it was totally simple, it took a dark turn by the end and finished with a positive message that I didn't see coming. It could've used a little more story sprinkled throughout, but I appreciate what was there.


>Shovel Knight (3DS)

So, I first played this when it dropped last year, and I have to be honest, I didn't click with me. That retro vibe was pretty clear, but it just didn't seem to be doing anything that was interesting at the time, and I put it down pretty quick. Of course, it went on to receive so much praise and love that I couldn’t ignore it. I decided to give it a second chance and I finished it.

Now that I've done the main campaign, I definitely recognize it as a quality product and can appreciate what the developers were going for, although it never lit my world on fire.

I think that part of my apathy is that the visual design of Shovel Knight himself leaves a little bit to be desired… Something about it just doesn't pop for me, and his shovel feels underdeveloped. I mean, it could've basically been anything besides a shovel, so that feels like a gap needing to be filled there.

Anyway, don't get me wrong. It's definitely a good game and I'm glad that I came back to it, but… yeah. Probably not gonna end up on my ‘favorite 3DS games’ list.

Side note: the free Plague Knight DLC is pretty nuts. It’s basically a whole new campaign re-using some of the old levels, but the new character has all-new moves and different strategies. It feels a lot more technical and demanding than the vanilla content, so check it out if you need some of that.


>Sunset Overdrive, XBO

Now that I've got an Xbox One in the house, I've been trying to go back and see all of the games that caught my attention before I had access to one. This was at the top of the list.

Although I'm pretty tired of open world games, I do appreciate that the traversal in Sunset is fairly unusual and ends up lending it an energy that others have been lacking. Since the main character can grind/hang/wall run/bounce/air dash, getting from point A to point B is a lot more fun than simply crossing the city in standard open-world style. It reminds me of Crackdown a bit in that respect.

On the other hand, the missions haven't exactly been very interesting (I absolutely despise the base defense) and it feels like there's a little bit too much going on at times. Since the main character is a sitting duck when on the ground, having to constantly stay in motion while dodging things/targeting/managing crowds/working the camera leads to moments of pure overload, so it's probably a good thing that the save points are pretty generous.

Style-wise, I've seen a lot of people bounce hard off of it, but I found it to be genuinely humorous for the most part – some of the lines in the script are pretty sharp. It's definitely a little too "in-your-face" at times, but not horribly so given the irreverence at its core. I really like the female voice actress, so maybe that helps?

The things that I find more offputting are the different menus and "amps" that the game offers. These power-ups feel like an extra layer that I don't want on top of things, and it's presented in such a cluttered and busy fashion that I end up ignoring most of it. I wouldn't mind some streamlining in this area. Also, pausing when using the radial menu to change between weapons would be super welcome.

I'm just doing the main story missions and I’m happy to say that the game is going by pretty quickly -- I think I'm past the halfway point and not tired of it yet, which is a good sign. Dunno if I'll be up for any of the DLC once I roll credits, but it's been a thumbs up so far. It's not something that feels like a system seller, but it if you already have an Xbox one, then it’s recommended. 

Oh, and it's great to see Insominiac finally finding the fun again. They felt really lost when they were churning out those dreary Resistance titles, and as a fan of the studio, I had a hard time understanding where they were coming from and what they were going for. Sunset feels like a more logical progression for them and I'm glad to see that they've got some of their spark back.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Hands-On with the Alienware Steam Machine!  


Hey hey, welcome back to Coffeecola!

Just a quick redirect tonight... I posted hands-on impressions of the Alienware Steam Machine over at @gamecritics, and it's a pretty fab piece of hardware. 

For my thoughts on this kit, head over to the page at GC.

While you're there, I'm giving away five copies of The Talos Principle (PS4) and a Valve Key which grants a copy of every game Valve has ever made, and every game they'll ever make in the future

All you have to do is leave a comment. So easy! 


Monday, October 5, 2015

Blood Bowl 2, Paddington, and I'm on TV!  


Welcome back to Coffeecola!

First off, I was a guest on the new @VideogameBreak TV show which is now airing on local Seattle stations. The show is just now getting off the ground, and host Carlos Rodela does a great job with it. If that name sounds familiar, that you might know him from the @VideogameBreak Podcast,and he’s also @Onawa on Twitter. 

In any event, here the first two complete episodes are also on YouTube in case you don't get local Seattle TV.

Episode 1 - Mad Max, Senran Kagura 2, Underfall and CYOA games.

Episode 2 – Game preservation and journalism stuff

So, what have I been playing? 

I just finished Blood Bowl 2 (PS4) and it's been taking up all of my free time over the last week or so. Although I've never played the tabletop game that it’s based on, developer @CyanideStudio has taken a second stab at porting it to electronic formats, and in this case, the second time's the charm.

For those not familiar with Blood Bowl, it's essentially football played by fantasy races (elves, orcs, ratmen, humans, etc…) along with a large dose of violence and fatalities.

Now, if you read this blog with regularity or you know me from the @Gamecritics podcast, you might be wondering why I'm even remotely interested in a sports title, and the answer is: I'm not. Despite the fact that American football is definitely the basis for Blood Bowl, it plays a lot more like a turn-based strategy RPG than it does like Madden, and that's what hooked me. 

While the tutorial doesn't quite do its job and the production values are lower than I'd like, there's no denying the deep strategy and tactics here. Playing a great match is like XCOM on a field, and with all the special abilities, cheating, and bizarre circumstances, it makes for an incredibly entertaining experience.

Now, while the online is pretty robust and you're able to have a full season with friends, I was thrilled to see that the developers have included a full single player campaign, complete with special challenges, cutscenes, and an actual ending. I haven't tried multiplayer, but I had a great time with the story mode, and a special shout-out goes to the two voice actors who played Jim and Bob, the announcers. The pair did a great job, and really help sell the entire experience.

Although @GC_Danny is handling the review for @Gamecritics, this title comes totally recommended by me, and I give it an absolute thumbs up. It's easily one of my favorites this year.

While on the subject of games, the good people at @MommysBestGames just released a bundle on Steam, and it's a pretty killer deal. For only $8, players can get four lovingly- handcrafted indie experiences from the twisted mastermind of Mommy’s Best, Nathan Fouts. 

For those of you unfamiliar with Nathan's work, it just so happens that I reviewed three out of the four games offered in the current bundle. They are:

1> Weapon Of Choice – 8.5/10

2> Shoot 1UP – 8/10

3> Explosionade  - 8.5/10

So, if you know how strict I can be with games, then you know the scores I gave his work are no joke -- that’s a lot of great game for not-a-lot of cash. If you like indies and never tried these when they originally debuted on XBLI, now’s your chance.

Now, about TV and movies...

While we’re waiting for some of our favorites to return (Season two of The Flash, yo!) the wife and I were checking out some other shows that we heard were good, and one we tried out was iZombie.

This show is based on a 2010 comic by Roberson and Allred, but to be perfectly honest, I didn't care for the book, and I was more than a little surprised to see that someone had picked it to develop into a TV show. That said, we gave it a spin, and I'm happy that we did – it’s been a nice little treat.

In a nutshell, the main character is infected with a zombie virus, but by eating brains she maintains most of her humanity despite being incredibly pale. She works in a medical examiner’s office, so she has frequent access to food, and a side effect is that when she eats a brain, she remembers some of that person's history and takes on some of their personality. Naturally, since most of the people coming into the morgue have been murdered, she uses this ability to help solve the crimes.

It's a goofy premise, but luckily the show doesn't take itself too seriously. It's more about getting fun performances out of the cast, and everyone does a great job. Also, someone in the writer’s room must be a gamer, because they drop a lot of game references that are actually on-target and make sense. I was impressed! I'm about halfway through the first season, and we're down for the rest… It's light, peppy, and pretty cute.

One final thing for the blog tonight… As parents, we're always on the lookout for some quality entertainment that the whole family can watch -- Something that's not too intense for the young ones, and not too insipid for Mom & Dad.

I'd heard a lot of good things about the 2014 remake of Paddington, but the movie trailer looked like absolute crap. I couldn’t understand where the good word-of-mouth was coming from, because just seeing those few seconds of clips from the film really turned me off. However, it was for rent on iTunes for .99 one rainy afternoon, so we risked the buck.

I have to say, I was quite surprised by the quality of the film -- the trailer was full of kiddie crap like burps and pratfalls, but the film was actually quite smart, had a lot of sophisticated visual storytelling, and told a wonderful tale rich with magical realism.

If I was the director of the film, I would've been pulling my hair out at how stupid the trailer made it seem, but I'm glad that we decided to give it a chance… Everyone in the entire family enjoyed it, and I can't recommend it enough to families with kids. It's a movie that's entertaining on many levels, and much, much better than I had ever expected. Absolutely recommended.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Final Thoughts On Until Dawn  


So, Until Dawn.

I’ve been hearing a lot about this one lately, and two of my fellow writers at @Gamecritics liked it a lot, so I was excited to check into it. Apart from the positive word-of-mouth, I'm generally into the "choose your own adventure" game genre, and adding a horror twist was intriguing.

It was suggested to me that Until Dawn was best played with other people in the room (agreed!) so I recruited the wife to sit with me and the two of us went through the entire game in about three sessions. Now that we’ve wrapped it up, I can say that I liked it, but not nearly as much as everyone else on Twitter. As credits rolled, I was left fairly unsatisfied.

If you don't know what Until Dawn is, it's basically a Telltale-style title where the player has a group of eight college kids (Or were they teens? Hard to tell.) in a cabin deep in the woods, things start to get crazy and people start dying, and… Well, I'm sure you can guess how it goes from there.

What I liked best about it is that it really nails the teen-slasher film genre and translates it into a more interactive experience. The material suits the style of play well, and all the usual tropes are here, from the character archetypes to certain camera angles, and the way the music kicks in at certain times. It is rich in B-movieness, and as a fan of B-movies, that was great.

As for the rest of Until Dawn, it only delivers middling results.

Several sources have stated that it originally began as a PS3 title meant to use Move motion controllers, and that makes absolute sense. The bulk of the game is watching characters walk down hallways (actual hallways, mine shafts, narrow paths in woods and so on) and the camera always has a fixed angle. The developers are clearly pushing the player in a certain direction, which makes sense as someone holding a Move controller might not have the same level of functionality that a standard controller has.

Beyond that, there are a million little instances of the player grabbing an object and rotating it, grabbing an object and pulling it, grabbing an object and lifting it, grabbing an object and opening it, and so on. It’s clear that those motions were meant for someone with a Move controller to be acting them out. It would've been really gimmicky in that context, and it's not any better here.

As for the story, it feels confused and there's a little too much going on with it, but not in a good way. It's not terrible by any means, but it doesn't feel as tightly focused as a horror film would be, and some of that is probably due to the developers trying to extend the length of playtime. I think our run clocked in at about six or seven hours, and that felt way too long for what it is. Considering that most of the game is walking down a hallway and having a QTE once in a while, it could've been half the length would've been better for it.

Until Dawn also leans incredibly heavily on cheap jump scares, to the point that you can predict exactly when they’ll pop up. Not only is it the lamest way to make a game "scary", they get repeated so much that they lose all effectiveness. Sometimes they didn't even make sense in the context of what was going on!

As for the choices, I can't say that they were great. Apparently there's a lot going on in the game depending on each character’s interaction with each other, and that very well may be true, but during this initial playthrough it felt like most of the life-or-death choices were pure luck… Sometimes I felt like I was doing the right thing, and had a bad ending. Other times, decisions didn't seem to matter. I never felt like poor consequences were because I made a bad choice, but more that I made a random choice that just happened to be wrong. This lack of buy-in had me throwing my hands up in the air about halfway through, and I gave up on trying to make my choices matter – I might as well have been flipping a coin at each juncture.

As for seeing different outcomes, I have no desire to replay any of the chapters to try different things. I might if the game was shorter, but there's a lot of filler that I don't want to sit through again, and to be frank, now that I know what the story’s about, the desire to find out what’s going on has evaporated. With no mystery left in the plot, my drive to continue is gone.

Oh, and by the way, for those who are wondering, I finished with three survivors -- Emily, Josh, and Sam. Two of the deaths I incurred felt like total bullshit, and the other three… well, who knows.

Overall it’s fair to say that I generally liked Until Dawn for what it was, but I don't think I ever want to play through it again, and it's definitely not one of the best games of the year for me. An interesting experiment, but one that I hope leads to stronger works in the future.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Goodbye to Dylan Collins, 1980 - 2015  


Welcome back to Coffeecola.

Instead of the usual update, I wanted to take a few minutes to recognize and remember 
Dylan Collins, former host of the Podcast. I’m very sad to say that Dylan passed away passed away five days ago due to illness. He was only 35.

Although the podcast began with Tim Spaeth as the original host, longtime listeners will remember that after a number of episodes, Tim went on indefinite hiatus until just this year. When he exited, the rest of us were thrown for a loop, and we just didn’t know how to continue.

We didn’t want the podcast to end, but we also didn’t have any people who could assume the host's role. So, we put out an open call for anyone interested in taking on the duties, and after a brief period of auditions, Dylan Collins was the one we chose.

If you’ve never heard it, here’s his very first episode at the reins.

To be perfectly honest, I was thought he was crazy-brave for raising his hand and I didn’t envy him at all. Not only was he a complete stranger to the entire crew at Gamecritics, he was stepping into shoes that seemed impossible to fill. It can’t have been easy but he went for it and I'm glad that he did because if Dylan hadn’t helped us keep it together, I don’t think the podcast would have survived. That the show is still alive and kicking is due in very large part to Dylan.

We at Gamecritics owe Dylan a great deal, and although we lived thousands of miles apart and I never got the chance to meet him in person, I liked him from the start. I always admired his humor and energy, and I was glad to have the chance to record with him.  

Thank you very much, Dylan Collins. I'm genuinely sad that you're not with us any longer.