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.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Living It Up in Mad Max's Wasteland & Five-Star Characters Hit Marvel Puzzle Quest  


Welcome back to Coffeecola!

If you follow me on Twitter, then you’ve probably noticed that I've been putting a lot of time into Mad Max, from Avalanche Studios.

I took a look at this one while I was at PAX, and the brief time I had with it left me with a very positive impression. Since I figured everybody in the world would be playing Hideo Kojima’s swan song, I decided to go the other direction.

Although my review isn't quite complete, I’m in the final leg of the game and I don’t think I have much more to go before credits roll. Not to spoil my final evaluation, but I've been having a really great time with it. Loving it, really.

Sadly, for the game and for the developers, Mad Max is one of the unluckiest titles of the year. Not only did it find itself in the middle of a controversy about scoring systems (sigh, yes, again) it released on the same day as Metal Gear Solid V -- could there be worse competition? On top of that, many of the reviews I read seem overly, almost aggressively dismissive of it, and people have written it off with lightning speed.

For whatever reason, critics seem to blow past all of the game’s good points, and get way too hung up on the negatives. Of course, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but I've been honestly surprised by the number of downbeat reviews I've read. Maybe people are bouncing off of the game because it's not a continuation of Fury Road, or maybe some are in a rush to get it over with so they can go recruit Quiet and start Fulton-ing some dudes… Who knows! But, whatever the case, I think it's a fine title and one that I would easily recommend to anybody who’s a fan of the films and their settings.

Since I’ve been tweeting about it and posting screenshots from the in-game editor, I've been asked by several people whether I found the game repetitive, which seems to be one of the common review complaints. To be perfectly honest… no, I haven't found it repetitive at all. I mean, of course there are certain elements that repeat, but that’s true of any game, and doubly so with open-worlders. Mad Max doesn’t strike me as being particularly egregious in this regard, so I wanted to post some detailed information about how I've been playing in hopes that it would illuminate things for prospective wastelanders.

Before I get started, I want to give props to @PKollar for his post offering six tips to get the most out of Mad Max. I read his guide before I started playing, and all of the advice he gives is super-solid.  Definitely give his piece a read! Now, for my experience…

After the game begins, it's not too long before Max and his buddy Chumbucket come across a friendly stronghold run by a guy named Jeet. This place will serve as Max’s first home base, and it’s a wreck. There are a number of home-improvement projects that Max can complete to help the residents of the stronghold, and helping them gives Max a constant supply of fuel, food, water and ammo. In a wasteland game like this, I think the benefit here is pretty easy to see.

The best thing anyone can do to speed themselves along in this adventure is to finish all of the vital projects at Jeet's before digging in to the rest of the content. 

As Phil mentioned in his own tips, go up to the outline of a project and hold X. The locations that contain the needed pieces are highlighted on the map, so if you only go to those locations, you’ll finish the tasks in short order and avoid any wasted time. 

Once the projects are done, all you have to do is go inside the stronghold, and all of your resources will be automatically refilled. This means you don't need to scavenge for anything out in the wasteland, and it frees you up from doing busywork that you may not be into. Also, don't bother doing the projects that ask for donations of 500, 1000, and 1500 scraps. They don't add anything except a completion percentage, and it's just scrap (aka money) that you could be spending on upgrading Max or his car.

After getting the stronghold completed, I drove around the first area and did one or two of each of the activities -- I took down a “Top Dog” boss, I tried the races, I tore down a few scarecrows, I cleared a couple minefields, and so on. I wanted to get a flavor for what the side activities offered, and after doing those things, I was actually overleveled for what the story required to progress.  

I know some reviews mentioned being frustrated at having progression gated by arbitrary requirements, but I find that quite puzzling because I didn't spend a lot of time grinding and I definitely didn't 100% anything. I just played as I naturally would, and that was more than enough. 

At this point, I did all the campaign quests that were open, and when there weren’t any, I did the “Wasteland” quests offered by main characters, which were some of the most interesting content in the game. Wash, rinse, repeat, and hey hey, I'm at the end of the game with no fuss

To summarize: I built up the first stronghold, did a handful of activities in the first area, and then started doing story and Wasteland quests. I never had any progress blocked, and never felt like I was grinding through sidequests for money or EXP. There’s no need to build up the other three strongholds (just fast-travel back to Jeet’s for a fill-up) there’s no need to do all the races, no need to clear all the enemy camps, no need to scavenge all of the loot areas, no need to beat the Top Dogs, and no need to be bored doing anything more than you want to, really. 

Once you’ve got the groundwork laid, skip anything that’s not fun and just enjoy being in this amazingly-rendered Mad Max world. I can only imagine that George Miller would be pleased with the great work Avalanche has done here. 

If you play Marvel Puzzle Quest then you probably already know this, but just in case you don't…  Today marks the first time that a five-star character has been introduced into the game. It’s none other than Norrin Radd, everyone’s favorite Silver Surfer.

MPQ players have long been speculating whether the developers would ever go above the previous top tier of four stars, and now we've got our answer. This change isn’t just a simple bump up in power, though.

Below is the information sent to me by MPQ PR, and it's a good outline for what to expect. Basically, these five-star folks (yes, there are more coming!) are going to be a pretty big deal, so get your phone fingers ready and start matching some colors…

How do you earn Silver Surfer and future 5-star characters?

You can earn 5-star characters via the brand new Legendary Packs.  These packs will contain only 4-star characters and better.  The odds will consist of 90% 4-star characters and 10% 5-star characters (however, only 5% until we release the second 5-star character).

How many 5-star characters will be coming to Marvel Puzzle Quest?

We plan for three 5-star characters by November and even more after that.

How strong will 5-star characters be in Marvel Puzzle Quest?

5-star characters will be good to go out of the gate.  Meaning where 3 and 4 stars may need 8 – 10 covers before it’s ready to shine, the 5-star characters will be leading your rosters after just receiving one or two covers.  Now that will be something that every roster can use!

Will 5-star characters be available for purchase?

5-star characters can’t be purchased.  They are set-up to be epic and rare and developing these characters will be a long term goal.  Players will need to collect each of the covers, and they will need an actual cover to upgrade the abilities.

All the ways you can earn Legendary Packs are the following:

They are the progression reward at 1300 in Versus, starting on 9/10.

One is added to the progression rewards in Story events, starting on 9/10.

One of the 4-stars in the Deadpool Daily Quest Vault is replaced with a Legendary token, starting on 9/11.

They are the top 100 alliance reward each season, starting in Season 19.

An additional season progression reward awards one at 10,000 in Season 19.

In Heroic and event packs: 42-packs become 40-packs plus a Legendary token.

And! We’re adding a new mission type to Deadpool’s Daily Quest.  Every 5 days, there will be a very challenging face-off mission between one particular 4-star and one opponent. Beat that mission and you’ll get a Legendary Pack. The first mission of this type will appear on 9/15.

We’ll also be introducing new ways to earn Legendary packs in new features we’re working on now and aren’t quite ready to announce.