Saturday, May 27, 2017

...It's been almost a year since my last post. I kinda missed the old blog, so I popped back in to check things out, and it was good to see this familiar face again.

Life is super busy these days, and I started this blog when I had a lot more time on my hands...

Since then, my kids have gotten older, I've been working more hours at my day job, GameCritics has hugely expanded and we're putting out more content than ever before, the So Videogames podcast I do with @CoreyMotley has been keeping me busy...

...and hell, I even try to play a game here and there.

But as I look back, I realize that I've kinda missed the off-the-cuff stuff I used to post here. I originally thought I'd do something similar and just post it at GC, but that didn't really pan out. Too busy editing other people's work and doing a review of my own, once in a while.

My free time situation has only gotten worse, but who knows... Maybe I'll pop back in and do a little rambling once in a while.

If you saw this, you're awesome.  ^_^

Thursday, March 16, 2017


Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening – Special Edition

Main Review by Brad Gallaway on April 4, 2006
Score: 8.5

It’s interesting that Scott mentioned my quote about preferring games that revolve “around what you do, not how you do it” in regard to DMC3 because I think this is one of the rare times when my usual stance doesn’t apply. Frequent readers of the site will know that I have no love of this series, and I’d say that the original Devil May Cry is one of the most overrated games in recent memory, its numerous flaws and rough edges granted a complete “pass” by fans the world over. However, after playing through Dante’s Awakening, I think I can finally see what people like about this series… though I would argue that it wasn’t really there until now.

Before going further, my second opinion is based on the Special Edition of DMC3, released domestically under the PlayStation Greatest Hits banner. There are a number of differences between this version and the version that Scott reviewed such as a new boss encounter, the ability to play as Dante’s twin brother Vergil, and a bonus mode with a 100-floor dungeon. However, all of those things pale compared to the most significant addition: adjustments to the difficulty level.

I tried playing the first release of DMC3 and was completely put off by the absurd challenge present.  I know that Scott said it wasn’t very much different from any other action game, but I would have to strongly disagree. I don’t mind some difficulty, but I’m also not in the market for a stress anxiety disorder.  I thought that Capcom was crazy for some of the choices they made, but everything I didn’t like the first time around has been completely rectified.

With the simple inclusion of mid-mission checkpoints that should have been there in the first place, almost all of my frustration was completely eliminated.  Besides that, the Easy difficulty is now even easier than it was before (for those who want it) and the new Gold Orb restart system lets players continue the battle exactly where they died. Since all of these changes are optional, the same level of challenge is there for players who crave it, but it’s only a good thing to have more options. I can’t stress enough what a significant improvement in design and accessibility these new changes are, so huge kudos to Capcom for that.

Now that my thumbs and blood pressure can finally take a break, it was a lot easier to appreciate the things that Dante’s Awakening brings to the table. The variety in weapons is excellent, and Dante has butter-smooth animation to bring his ferocious attacks to life. Like I said earlier, this game is one rare example where “how I do it” actually takes precedence over what I’m doing. Switching on-the-fly from whirling nunchuks to sparking pistols to flaming uppercuts and finishing a group of reapers with a french kiss from a rocket launcher is entertaining enough on its own to make up for the simplistic goals of each level, although I must say I am a bit surprised to admit it.

 Impossibly, the cutscenes are even more over-the-top than the action, and while I don’t usually appreciate this sort of Goes-To-Eleven approach to videogame virility, I have to disagree with Scott and say that it works here. Similarly, I thought that the game’s attitude towards characterization and storytelling were equally effective-- neither will win any awards or stand out as an example of excellence in writing, but there is a strange release in experiencing something rabidly, offensively gonzo and being okay with it.

Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening still has some issues.  Regardless of the difficulty, I don’t think I will ever be a fan of going back and repeating stages for the sake of collecting upgrade points, and the developers should invest in a copy of God of War to learn a few things about good camera placement.  However, I can’t deny that DMC3 is a runaway freight train crashing through the walls of moderation with a load of nitroglycerin and testosterone in tow. And besides, I thought that purple bat-shooting hooker-guitar was pretty cool.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

You Can't Vote With Your Heart -- You Need To Use Your Brain  

Welcome back to Coffeecola! It's been a while.

Fair warning, tonight's topic is not about videogames. Sorry, but it's gotta be done. 

So, my wife and I have been talking about the upcoming election a lot -- pretty much every night -- and I think we're both still in shock that America has somehow come to the precipice of putting a racist, fascist, sexist demagogue who doesn't even try to masquerade as a reasonable person in charge of the country. As ordinary people we feel like we don't have a lot of power to directly affect events that are larger than us, but we can do something

I had been considering writing a piece or starting a twitter campaign to unite good-thinking people against Trump, but the wife beat me to it, and she speaks for both of us below. She doesn't have a blog or any visible place of her own to post her message, so I'm blowing the dust off of Coffeecola tonight to give her a platform, however meager it is. 

These are her words, and I support them entirely.


I didn't know if I would say anything. Wasn't sure if I was someone who should say anything… But I decided I should, and I am.

So, this election… I'm sure everyone is sick of hearing about it, talking about it, fighting about it. I know I am, but I make sure to keep reading. I keep informed, even when I don't want to hear one more rotten thing about any of it.

I don't like to discuss politics -- it tends to get people upset and confrontation is not a comfortable thing for me. I know what I'm going to say here will probably cause some to get riled up. It isn't my intention (I swear, I don't like to fight or argue!) but I feel like I need to say this because we're on the precipice of something terrible in this country, and I don't want to look back and regret that I didn't add my voice. I don’t want to look back and know that I kept quiet.

I was not thrilled with any of the choices we’ve had for the presidency, before the nominations or after. The one thing I know with 100% certainty is that I won't vote for Trump -- no way in hell.

I felt that Bernie had a better chance to take on Trump than Hillary, but now that decision is out of my hands. He isn't a nominee, period. I know there are many out there that feel completely shattered by that, and I get it, I really do. I saw how he rallied people, how strongly people felt for him but he's no longer a choice.

Now what?

It’s this "now what?" that’s been bothering me so much. There are so many articles and experts out there that talk about all the reasons why a third party can't win this presidential election. They explain in detail how to make a third party a viable choice -- we must start locally and work up from there. The fact is that we, as a country, have not been doing that. So basically, what we are left with is the two party system. Democratic or Republican, Clinton or Trump.

Even knowing that their third party choice can't win, I still hear and read people say…

"I can't in good conscience vote for Hillary."

"I have to follow my heart and that isn't Hillary."

"I have to vote this way and make a statement."

I hear you. I can totally see why you feel that way. I mean, I really like the idea of voting for someone other than Clinton, but what I want most is for Trump to not win. The fact that people aren't terrified of Trump becoming president and doing everything in their power to stop that from happening makes me incredibly sad.

Privilege is a word used a lot lately and I know it makes some people bristle to even hear it, but it is so much a part of this election.

I have privilege, a lot of it. It doesn't mean I'm rich or that everything is easy, but it means I am not directly affected by a lot of the terrible shit out there. I'm white, I'm straight, I'm cis, I grew up in the suburbs, I speak English, my husband is white, my child is white, I am not physically or mentally disabled, the list goes on.

It is because of this inherent privilege that I have a moral responsibility to do everything I can to make sure Trump does not become president. If he does, it is guaranteed to go poorly for people who are not me. He will do things that I will 100% disagree with, but it will be nothing compared to what will happen to people of color, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community or any people who veer away from what Trump deems acceptable.

I can not and will not allow myself the luxury or the privilege of voting for someone other than the only choice that has a chance to beat Trump. I owe it to every single person out there that doesn't have the privilege I do. This is my way to fight for them, and to do what I know is right by making sure Trump isn't allowed to win, even if it means that the lesser of two evils wins the White House.

I get wanting to do what you feel is right in your heart. I get why Clinton is seen as a poor choice. But if we’re being honest --truly honest -- then we know that she is a better choice for the country as a whole than Trump is, and we know that no one else has a chance to beat him.

Please, please, please see beyond yourself and realize how truly serious and dangerous this election has the potential to be. We are in a situation where we must sacrifice for the greater good – we must not vote for who we feel we want to vote for, but we must vote for someone who can beat Trump.

So now I’ve said my piece, but there’s more to be said.

I've been following Shaun King on Twitter and Facebook -- he's a justice writer for the NY Daily news. He wrote a great article about being an absolute supporter of Sanders, and why he feels he must now vote for Clinton and not a third party. Give it a read, it's worth it, I promise.

There’s also this one from The Stranger, written by Megan Burbank. It offers some great points.

Please do the right thing. 


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Blowing The Dust Off  


Wow, so it's been a while since I updated, and yes, this is going to be one of those posts.

If you're reading this then I'm sure you've noticed that I haven't been writing anything here at Coffeecola lately -- not trying to make excuses, but the simple fact is that life has just gotten too busy. Between the day job, running Gamecritics at night, spending time with the family and trying to, y'know, actually play some games once in a while, I had to cut back on some things and the blog was one of them. 

On the plus side, I'm still writing, reviewing, and generally being out there... That energy just hasn't been focused here, though. I don't plan to stop blogging, but it's not the priority that it once was. I'll still post things that aren't a good fit elsewhere, but I think my days of multiple updates a week are probably over, at least for now. 

If you still want to keep up with me and what I'm doing, here are four good ways.

1> I'm still the editor at, and all of my written reviews run there. 

2> I'm active on Twitter, and you can follow me at @BradGallaway. I'm more frequently available at night than I am during the day, but if you tweet at me, I'll usually respond. 

3> Although our recording schedule is semi-random these days, we're still putting out new episodes of the Gamecritics Podcast

4> If you want more of me in your ear, I'm also a very frequent guest on the VideogameBreak Podcast, and while it has a very different flavor than GC's own homebrew, I think it's a lot of fun. 

So, this might be the last post here for a while, but I'm not taking this blog down and I'm sure there will be new bits popping up here and there. In the meantime, thanks for all your support and I hope to keep interacting with everyone who's been reading in the ways listed above.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Division's First Add-On Is Here, And... It Sucks  


So, the new update for The Division dropped yesterday, and it’s called Incursions. It’s the first of two free updates, and frankly, I’m glad it was free because I’d be pissed if I paid for it. A general list of content and changes is at the bottom of this post.

On the plus side, this add-on finally fixes the Dark Zone. In this blog I talked about how broken it was, to the point that some sad individual who had been mega-grinding was able to become effectively invincible because his gear was so much better than ours. It was awful. The devs have now added a new feature called "gear score", which is the remedy.  

Basically, every higher-level piece of armor or weaponry has a points value associated with it, so the game somehow adds all of those up (it doesn't seem like straight addition) and assigns a total overall value to a player. Then, it separates those players into different categories when in the DZ.

The new starter category is a gear score of 0-160, so everybody who’s been farming or crafting the best stuff is no longer in the same zone with people who play more casually, which is a godsend.

After this change went into effect and the superplayers were moved elsewhere, my group went back into the DZ and we were able to score lots of loot because we were working together, we were holding our own against rogues, and there were plenty of AI enemies to kill. The experience was finally back to what it had been before things became so imbalanced.

There's also a new kind of supply drop in the DZ that randomly occurs and everyone nearby races to grab it. It doesn't happen quite often enough so far, but it's neat.

 On the other hand, the gear score seems like a double-edged sword. We were excited to jump into the newest mission, Falcon Lost, but we didn’t meet the minimum gear score of 140, so we weren’t allowed to start it. Surprised and frustrated, we went back into the DZ and earned enough loot over two nights to finally clear the bar for entry.

Before talking about the mission itself, it’s worth noting that gear with a better score was almost always worse than what I had previously equipped. By using stuff with better rank, my DPS and Health both dropped drastically, even after using mods to offset the difference. I find it absolutely baffling that requiring a player to get “better gear” means that their stats drop to unacceptable levels far worse than what the “low level” gear provided. It makes NO sense.

Another thing to note? The next free mission coming up requires a gear score of 220… Considering how long it took us to get to 140 and the sacrifices in our stats that had to be made, I don’t see how getting to 220 is any kind of desirable goal.

In any event, we finally started Falcon Lost and it was awful. The mission description states that it’s designed for a full squad of four with top-level gear, and by golly, they weren’t joking. My team of three with the minimum required gear was getting demolished from all sides, and the goal of defeating 15 waves of enemies while an APC fired grenades at us was impossible. We died and retried several times and eventually threw in the towel. There was just no way we were going to get it done. So all the work we put in to gain access to the content? For nothing. And farming it for gear? Don't make me laugh.

Overall, I can’t say that I’m too thrilled with the direction The Division is going. I get that there’s a certain segment of players out there who want MMO-style endgame content and an infinite amount of stuff to grind and chase, but that just doesn’t appeal to me.

I was really hoping that the devs would release content that would be right for dropping in, getting it done, and then dropping out again… I really have no desire to grind and farm just to access new content, especially if the content is going to be harder than anything reasonably achievable by someone who isn’t playing the game as a full-time job. Making matters worse, the game has no greatly increased the mats required to craft things, so an already tedious grind is now even grindier.

My review praised the game for being a good middle ground between MMO design and console sensibilities, but the devs are now swinging too far in the wrong direction. Maybe someone likes the idea of having to pour a lifetime into The Division just to keep progressing, but that’s the opposite of what I was looking for, and it’s a shame. Jumping in with friends to knock a few missions out or getting some DZ time is great, but when a forced grind comes into the picture, that’s when I bounce and find something else to play.

Today, Ubisoft® announced that the first content update for Tom Clancy’s The Division™ is now available for all players on Xbox One, PlayStation®4 computer entertainment system and Windows PC. As part of the post-launch plan to keep players entertained after the main story arc is completed, Incursions is the first of two free updates. Incursions is comprised of new activities, features and items that continue to build upon the gameplay experience.

•       New Incursion Falcon Lost: Developed specifically for squad play, players team up with the Joint Task Force in an epic fight against the Last Man Battalion and their new deadly weapon.
•       Dark Zone Supply Drops: Players need to be on the lookout for air supply drops in the Dark Zone from Division command. These global events provide non-contaminated gear that are ready to use and don’t require extraction.
•       Assignments: Tackled alone or with other agents, these lucrative timed assignments will offer players additional rewards.

•       Trading: As one of the community’s most-wanted features, loot trading has been added to allow players to share items within the same group by simply dropping them from their inventory.
•       Gear Score: Now players can size up fellow agents and gauge the power of items by comparing gear scores.

•       Gear Sets: By completing challenging activities in Manhattan, players can collect and wear new gear sets to unlock powerful bonuses and stats. Find the set that best suits your playstyle:
-       Tactician's Authority – Enhances electronics and support capabilities.
-       Striker's Battlegear – Provides bonuses for assault capabilities.
-       Sentry's Call – Enhances marksman capabilities.

-       Path of the Nomad – Provides bonuses for lone wanderers.


Friday, April 8, 2016

The Effort/Reward Equation, or, Why I'm Quitting Gungeon.  


I picked up Enter the Gungeon a few days ago, and I’ve been playing it in short bursts here and there. The graphics are super cute, the controls feel dialed-in and responsive, and I like the idea of coming up with a solid pun and building an entire game around it.

So why am I about to quit it?

It's essentially a roguelike -- the player enters the gungeon and tries to get as far as they can, defeating enemies and picking up new guns as they go. It has a bunch of bullet-hell DNA in its makeup and plays a lot faster than most roguelikes, not to mention that it doesn't mess around with inventory or turn-by-turn strategy.

Despite the fact that (on its surface) this game seems like it should be right up my alley, I found myself coming to the end of a run today and thinking that I was just about ready to delete it from my hard drive and move on. At a base level, I think it's asking for more time and effort than I'm willing to give these days, and the results of this effort/reward equation just aren't generous enough.

Playing Gungeon requires twitch skills and repetition to learn tactics needed for each kind of enemy, and also enough practice to be able to survive long enough to get to the progress-aiding unlocks, which @Broodwars64 informs me are in there, somewhere. I’ve made a number of attempts with virtually nothing to show for it, and at the point in my life where I'm at now, I have very limited time to play games each day -- usually only an hour or two if I'm lucky.

With such limited time, I feel like I need more tangible progress in order to keep me going -- I'm not afraid of “hard” games, but I need to feel like the time I'm spending nets me something in exchange, whether that's an enriched mastery of the mechanics, making it to the next level, unlocking something that improves my next attempt, or somehow otherwise makes it feel like the time I put in got me somewhere.

With Gungeon, I feel like it's asking just a little bit more than I want to put in, while not giving quite enough back.  

Compare this to something like Rogue Legacy, whose system of progressive unlocks and improving powers kept me playing far longer than I otherwise would have. 

In other genres, look at “hard” games like Monster Hunter or any of the Souls titles. They may be equally difficult in terms of challenge presented, but each one of those is excellent at giving just enough incentive to keep going, whether it's finally getting that last bit of material to make an amazing new weapon, or unlocking a shortcut that made a desperate dash through a dangerous area pay off. Balancing steep difficulty with the incentive to push through it is a tricky balance to achieve, and not every game is capable of pulling it off.

Honestly, it’s rare for me to say that something’s too easy in a negative sense… I have no problem breezing through something if it has neat ideas, great art, or is otherwise interesting in some fashion. I'm far more inclined to find something too difficult in the sense that the reward is outweighed by the effort required, and devs have to be very careful when they try to ‘go hard’.

The fact is that there’s a ridiculous number of games out there for anyone to choose from, and for the player on a budget (like me!) almost any title can be had for a song if someone is patient enough or flexible enough to play on different platforms.

Building up a backlog of quality titles is easier than it's ever been, and having a wealth of options combined with a lack of free time means that games which don't manage to absolutely nail the difficulty equation usually end up forgotten on a shelf (virtual or otherwise) and left behind in favor of something that delivers appropriate amounts of bang for appropriate amounts of work.

I like Enter the Gungeon a lot, but I honestly don't forsee myself putting much more into it unless I have some kind of miraculous breakthrough in the next day or two – the effort/reward equation is skewed just a little too far towards the wrong side for my liking.  


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Being harassed in The Division's Dark Zone  

So tonight, I "finished" The Division.

Altogether, I spent about 60 hours (more or less) and usually played in a team of three. We completed every main and side mission, and also maxed out the headquarters. I’m not going to collect all the random pickup doodads, but I will come back for the DLC after giving it a little rest.  

Over the course of playing the game, we dipped into the game’s online quasi-PVP called “The Dark Zone” a few times -- nothing too frequent, but we had some good runs. Sometimes we’d get some good loot, sometimes we’d lose it to other players, but overall I felt like it was a great idea and a neat twist on the usual PVP offerings.

We went back in today and had what is, hands-down, the worst experience I've had in The Division, and probably one of the worst online experiences I've ever had.

When we first entered the DZ, we were approached by another player. We were having headset difficulties at the time and none of us could hear each other very well, so we didn't think too much of it. After the connection improved, we started catching bits and pieces of this guy talking, and it was along the lines of "Let me join your group or I'll kill you".

Obviously, this is not the proper way to approach other players if you want to work together, and since he seemed like he had a screw loose, we moved on and ignored him.

The thing is, he did not ignore us.

He started following behind us silently, and I thought he'd eventually get bored and buzz off. However, he persisted. Once my team started taking down AI characters and accumulating some loot, he opened fire on us from behind and took all three of us out before we could do anything.
We immediately respawned and ran back to the scene of the crime, and he was still there.

I figured that the three of us would open up on him and get our stuff back, but even with three of us firing at him in unison and giving him everything we had, we barely scratched him.  He took the whole team down a couple more times without breaking a sweat. While he was doing it, he kept saying "You should have let me join your group." and "I thought we could be friends."

After repeatedly getting killed by this guy, we decided to bounce and go to a different zone, but he kept following us wouldn't leave us alone. Even after we completely left the DZ and came back, he still found us and wouldn’t stop tailing our group. The whole time it was the same M.O. -- he'd follow us and not do anything until we collected some loot, and then he'd kill us in a matter of seconds and take our stuff.

Don’t’ get me wrong here -- the problem is not that somebody in the Dark Zone killed and robbed us (it’s been clearly stated since before The Division‘s launch that this was part of the online) but the problem is that it’s absurd for one player to be able to steamroll a team of three with impunity, and then keep on doing it, effectively preventing us from doing anything in the DZ.

In The Souls series (another game with unusual online PVP) things are different. After getting beaten by someone, that person returns to their world and it's just luck of the draw if you ever see them again. Unless the servers are deserted, you probably won’t. I certainly don't mind getting beaten by someone who's better than me or who has better gear, but being beaten by someone and going your separate ways is not the same as being killed by someone and then having them follow you during every minute of your playtime to kill you over and over and over again.

Another difference is that there’s no talking in Souls. No matter how cheesy or awful someone might be, the devs don’t make you listen to their taunting or verbal abuse. In The Division, we went to PSN party chat to avoid hearing randos talk in the DZ, but we could still hear this guy talking (environmentally) when he was close to us.  Thankfully there are options in the menu which prevent verbal communication with other players, so as soon as we stopped playing, I shut all that stuff off. It's going to stay off. 

This experience was incredibly frustrating and discouraging, and is by far the worst time we’ve had with the game overall. Ubisoft definitely needs to address a few things in order to improve things here because there are always going to be people who want to be the biggest fish in a small pond, and if someone like that can be an active barrier to the gameplay of others, then action needs to be taken.

For starters, let’s talk about the balance. Prior to becoming level 30, the DZ is sectioned off to players in certain segments. Levels 1-5 play in one zone, levels 5-10 play in another, and so forth. My team were all level 30. The guy harassing us was also level 30. In The Division it’s possible to find or craft gear that improves individual stats regardless of level, and I’m guessing this is how he was crushing us – on paper we seemed like equals, but in practice this was clearly not the case. It seems like assigning point values to players based on their gear might prevent the sort of one-sided domination we saw here. People who grind for days to get the best gear should be matched against people who are doing the same.

Going further, despite the everybody-for-themselves nature of the DZ, I’d say this guy’s behavior was straight-up harassment. It's one thing to take a headshot in PVP or lose a match here and there, but it's something else altogether to have someone watching over your shoulder the entire time you're playing, arbitrarily stopping your progress and verbally taunting you.

In situations like this, I’d like to see some sort of system to let me avoid being instanced with an abusive person – if I tag them as being a harasser, let the servers put us in different games. There's a similar system in the phenomenal Helldivers. You can down-vote a player who's a jerk, and the game will then take steps to avoid bringing you two together, which is brilliant. If Ubisoft can't do that, then at the very least there should be some sort of reporting system. I know it might be hard to implement since anyone who gets their stuff stolen might want to ‘report’ the thief as a knee-jerk reaction, but I felt like this went way beyond gameplay and became full-on harassment.

If Ubisoft wants The Division to have a robust player base and become a persistent online platform, they’re going to have to take steps to stop people like the guy we met tonight from dominating the online component. If there’s nobody in the DZ except nigh-invulnerable creepers who get off on actively interfering with others, then they can kiss any dreams of long-term success goodbye despite everything The Division gets right, and it gets a lot right. Seeing all of that hard work go down the drain thanks to people abusing the system would be a real shame, but I’ve gotta be honest – after a session like tonight, I’m pretty reluctant to ever go back into the Dark Zone again.