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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Red Faction: Guerrilla Sucks

Red Faction: Guerrilla is one of the worst games I've ever played. That statement's a bit hyperbolic, I admit, but even when I don't like a game I can usually find some sort of redeeming value, some reason to maybe like it in spite of its problems. I can't do that with Red Faction: Guerrilla. Sure, the Geo Mod 2.0 system, which allows you to reduce towering buildings to piles of rubble through a full-fledged physics-based destruction system, can be a lot of fun, but literally everything else in this game -- vehicles, combat, missions, the story, the open world -- is either underwhelming or completely rubbish. It's like they had this idea for a great destruction system and then slapped a bunch of stuff together to make a game out of it, without bothering to make sure any of the actual game was any good.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Armello Review: A Poorly-Designed Board Game Dressed Up Like a Video Game

Most digital board games are merely adaptations of actual, physical board games; they keep all the same gameplay elements and components of the physical game and simply add a digital interface so that you can interact with the components, and therefore actually play the game. Platforms like Board Game Simulator and Tabletopia are just physics engines with digital versions of board game components that play virtually identically to the real thing, with you picking up and moving your pieces across the board and dragging cards into the play area, substituting your hands for a mouse cursor. Armello -- successfully Kickstarted in May 2014 and released on Steam in September 2015 -- may be the only digital board game without a physical counterpart, since it was designed from the ground up to be digital. As such, it's basically a hybrid game with the design concepts of board games and the functional feeling of a video game.

Armello is a fantasy-themed turn-based strategy game for up to four players, in which everyone plays as different anthropomorphic animal clans (represented by their hero) vying for control of the animal kingdom after a dark poison known as the Rot has overtaken the land and driven the lion King mad. The game lasts up to 20 rounds, with the king -- positioned in the palace at the center of the hex-based board -- losing one health from Rot poisoning every other round, at dawn, until he eventually dies. If it comes to that, the player with the most Prestige (ie, victory points) wins the game by being the most worthy successor to the throne. However, players can also end the game early by breaching the palace and assassinating the weakened king, or by collecting four spirit stones and bringing them to the palace to cure the king. A player who kills or cures the king wins, regardless of prestige.

You'll be rolling dice based on your stats to complete quests, survive perils, and to fight monsters and other players, while using limited action points to move across the board towards specific objectives and to maneuver past obstacles. You'll also be managing a hand of cards, drawing up to your hand limit every turn. These cards consist of different types of equipment, spells, and trickery cards, all of which have some type of cost to use. Equipment cards can be permanently equipped to your hero for various benefits, while spells and trickery cards can be played at any time (even when it's not your turn) on enemies, tiles, or other players. You'll complete quests to increase your stats, claim settlements to increase your income, defeat monsters to earn prestige, explore dungeons for random rewards, and play your spells and trickeries on other players to influence and control the board.

I play a lot of video games, obviously, but I'm also an avid board gamer. I've actually spent more money on board games over the last three years than I have on video games (which includes money spent upgrading my computer), and I've even reviewed a few board games on this blog. It's safe to say that I'm exactly the kind of person this game is intended for, and yet I just don't like it very much. Perhaps that's in large part because this just maybe isn't my type of game (I'm not a huge fan of dice-chuckers, although many of my favorite games use dice and I do enjoy games like Run Fight or Die and Cosmic Run), but Armello features several rules and gameplay features that I and a lot of gamers consider to be objectively bad. While I can tolerate or even embrace some of these things in the right context or in small doses, Armello takes some of them to the extreme, with too much prevalence in a game that's a little too long and serious for what it ultimately is.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Darksiders: Derivative, Redundant, Uninspired

Darksiders (2010) is essentially the love-child of The Legend of Zelda and Devil May Cry. Picture, if you will, a Zelda game in the vein of Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess, set in modern times after a war between Heaven and Hell has wiped humanity off the face of the earth and left its landscape a ruined mess, in which you play as War -- one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse -- trying to clear his name after he's framed for prematurely bringing about the apocalypse, by going into Zelda-style dungeons to solve puzzles and unlock special items that will help you defeat the boss and unlock new areas of the world map, while fighting enemies using a combination of a giant sword, scythe, and pistol to build combo-chains Devil May Cry-style. That's Darksiders in a nutshell; it's a carbon copy so similar to those two games that a cynical person might say it straight up plagiarizes them, while others might say that it is more of an homage in the style of those two games.

I certainly qualify as a hardcore cynic, but I generally enjoy Zelda games and there aren't enough 3D Zelda-clones out there to scratch the Zelda itch while waiting years on end for a new Zelda game to come out (on a brand new console that you can't afford until the price drops several more years later). I was looking forward to playing Darksiders, hoping that it would offer that same Zelda feel but with a more mature theme full of grimdark imagery and bloody violence. Darksiders succeeds on both fronts, but at the same time it feels a little too rote and mechanical, as if the developer, Vigil Games, was so focused on reproducing the Zelda and Devil May Cry formulae that they forgot to put any of their own creativity into the game, thus leaving us with a perfectly functional and decently enjoyable game that's ultimately too derivative, redundant, and uninspired for its own good.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Problem With Open World Games, or "Why Open World Games Suck"

The joint release of Horizon Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild -- two of the biggest and most ambitious open-world games ever made -- within days of each other has spawned a lot of discussion about which game handles the open world formula better, and which represents the future of open world gaming. I've not played either one so I won't be commenting on that issue directly. Instead I'll be giving my thoughts on open world games in general, based on observations and trends I've noticed in the open world games I've played over the past 15 years.

As the title already states, I have some major issues with open world games. It's not that I don't like them, or that they're all bad across the board -- in fact, many of my all-time favorite games are open world, or at least semi-open world. There are a lot of good things to like about open world games, hence why they've become so popular lately, but I feel like very few developers do the open world concept justice. It seems like most of the mainstream AAA open world games that I play end up subtly or outright disappointing me, and consequently I've grown apprehensive of games that consider their big open worlds to be their main selling point.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Dark Souls 3: The Ringed City - DLC Review

The Ringed City is the second and final DLC for Dark Souls 3, and supposedly the final piece of content that will ever be produced in the Dark Souls series. Its story continues where Ashes of Ariandel left off; after defeating the final boss of the Painted World of Ariandel, you gain access to a bonfire that warps you to a new area, the Dreg Heap, where you go on a brief journey through the dilapidated ruins of past Dark Souls environments en route to the Ringed City, where Slave Knight Gael (who beckoned you into Ariandel) hopes to find the Dark Soul of Man so that his niece, the painter from Ashes of Ariandel, can use it to create a new world.

This DLC introduces two new areas (the Dreg Heap and the Ringed City itself), four new bosses (one of which is optional), a new covenant, all new enemies, plus a bunch of new weapons, armor sets, and spells. As part of the release, FromSoft also released a patch for the base game which tweaks some balance issues (mainly buffing strength weapons and heavy armor) and which also adds two new maps to the PVP arena, which is only accessible if you've purchased either of the two DLCs. The first DLC, Ashes of Ariandel, felt a little too short and underwhelming to recommend to anyone but die-hard fans; for the same price, The Ringed City offers over twice as much content, a lot of which is pretty unique stuff that's never really been seen or done before in a Souls game, so it's pretty easy to recommend.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Great Games You Never Played: Wizardry 8

Wizardry 8 is a first-person party-based dungeon-crawling three-dimensional open-world role-playing game. Released in 2001 as the final entry in the long-running Wizardry series (which began in 1981 as one of the very first computer-RPGs), Wizardry 8 completes the "Dark Savant" trilogy that began with Wizardry 6, throughout which you're trying to stop an evil villain known as the Dark Savant from gaining access to the Cosmic Forge -- the tools used by the gods to create the universe, which hold the power to create, destroy, or change anything in the universe by simply writing its history into existence. Despite being a continuation of the story from the previous two games (your save files can be carried through all three games), Wizardry 8 works fine as a stand-alone title, although you'll miss a lot of references and it might take you a little longer to understand the backstory.

As part of a game series borne of the 1980s, Wizardry 8 definitely has that vintage, old-school vibe to it, but with the advantage of a much more modern skin which makes it a much easier game to get into. That's absolutely crucial, because this is a truly great RPG that easily ranks among the best RPGs ever made. It's not perfect, mind you -- there's one crucial problem that made me almost want to quit, and it's a little rough around the edges due to developer SirTech's dwindling budget -- but it's got one of the most robust party-creation systems ever implemented in a video game, and one of the best turn-based combat systems of any RPG. Not to mention a fairly sizable open-world with an interesting blend of fantasy and science-fiction elements, and a non-linear main-quest-line that allows for a lot of rewarding exploration and discovery.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Pathologic: The Marble Nest - Demo Impressions

The original Pathologic, released back in 2005 by Russian developer Ice-Pick Lodge, is one of the most unique and interesting games ever made. I reviewed it five years ago and had a lot of high praise for it. The legacy of the original game is so strong that Ice-Pick Lodge took to Kickstarter a few years ago planning a remake that would fix some of the original's critical problems while re-imagining and improving many of the story elements and gameplay mechanics. As part of the process in developing the new version, they've recently released a free playable demo called The Marble Nest, which consists of a stand-alone scenario meant to showcase some of the game's more prominent gameplay mechanisms while condensing the full game experience down to two hours. 

For the uninitiated, Pathologic is a type of survival-horror adventure game played in first-person, in which you take the role of one of three different healers who have arrived in a strange town with a bunch of bizarre and mysterious customs just as a deadly plague breaks out. The game takes place over the course of 12 days, with the town changing dramatically as the plague spreads and more and more people become infected. Each day comes with a main quest that must be completed while the clock continues to tick, leaving you a limited amount of time each day to complete your tasks. Meanwhile, you have to manage your own condition on various statistical gauges, which involves scrounging the environment for resources and manipulating a fickle economy where sometimes your only hope for survival is to sell your only weapon for a few slices of bread.

The Marble Nest maintains all of these ideas, but trims some of the more complicated survival systems and economy management down while putting you in a scenario that spans only one day. In it, you wake up some time after the plague has already wiped out most of the population, after your final quarantine zone has been breached. With seemingly all hope lost, you watch as the city collapses around you, and then the game flashes back to 14 hours prior, giving you a chance to possibly prevent the catastrophe from happening, although you'll most likely fail and everyone will die horribly, as is the true spirit of Pathologic