Wednesday, August 29, 2012

New Vegas is a Better RPG Than Skyrim

When I played Skyrim, it was obvious to me that it was a pretty shallow, mediocre RPG with a lot of problems. I had a whole bunch of criticisms to lay against it, and I still don't understand how people consider it such a great, phenomenal game. Replaying Fallout: New Vegas made it painfully clear that Bethesda really has no idea what they're doing when it comes to implementing RPG mechanics and designing sophisticated, compelling gameplay. New Vegas is a better RPG than Skyrim, and here's why.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Mannaging in Mann vs Machine

I have a bitter relationship with Team Fortress 2. I tried to get into it a few times (once in 2008, then again in 2010) and just didn't see much lasting appeal in it. I'm not a big fan of PVP shooters in the first place, and once TF2 became a hat simulator I almost completely wrote it off. Then more and more of my friends started playing and I got dragged back into it. I still hold very mixed opinions of the PVP modes (sometimes it's real fun, other times it's stale and monotonous, other times it's pure rage-inducing), so my curiosity was piqued when a new co-op mode was released: Mann vs Machine.

The concept sounded vaguely similar to that of Killing Floor, a game in which I've invested hundreds of hours over the past two years; both are co-op shooters with six players per team, both task you with fighting waves of mindless droning enemies, and both have you spending collected money at a trader between waves. Essentially, Mann vs Machine is Killing Floor with TF2 classes and its own unique premise, and I think it has the potential to be a really great game mode. I've had a lot of fun with MVM over the past week, but I do have a few issues with it. Here's my pseudo-review of MVM.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Impressions of Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition

As an ardent PC gamer, I've long lamented the fact that the Souls series remained exclusive to the console boxes. When I'd heard that Atlus were planning to take down the servers for Demon's Souls, I bought a PS3 just so I could have a chance to play Demon's Souls before its final curtain call. I haven't done much with the console since. So when I'd heard that Bandai Namco were planning to release a PC port of Dark Souls, I was very excited.

As news poured in that it was going to be a straight port with no fancification for the PC, my hopes dwindled to reserved skepticism. Over 100,000 PC gamers signed a petition asking for a port, but I don't think this is exactly what anyone had in mind. I've played about eight hours of Dark Souls now, and I can confirm that it is a rather rubbish port. If not for the new content, the Steam integration, and the fan-made resolution patch, I would almost recommend against the PC version. As for the game itself, well, I have a few opinions on that, too. My thoughts await after the jump.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ranking the New Vegas DLCs

I first played Fallout: New Vegas shortly after it was released (back in the fall/winter of 2010), long before any of these DLC packs had been released. I'd spent so much time in my first playthrough that I had no desire to go back and do it all over again, just for the sake of some new content. I needed to let some time pass for everything to feel fresh again, so I'm only just now getting around to playing the DLCs. For the most part, they're all enjoyable and add a lot of variety to the game, each with their own unique charm and personality (though I still may have preferred a single extensive expansion than four separate, smaller DLCs). Either way, here are my thoughts on the four New Vegas DLC packs.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Adventure Lantern - July Issue

For those adventure gaming enthusiasts out there, I'd like to direct your attention to the latest issue of Adventure Lantern. Adventure Lantern is a monthly pdf magazine produced by fans, featuring news on upcoming adventure games as well as interviews and reviews of both old and new games -- whatever we happen to be playing, really. This month's issue includes reviews of Botanicula, Metal Dead, Lume, and Scratches: Director's Cut, along with my own reviews of Adam's Venture: Episode 3 - Revelations and The Walking Dead: Episode 2 - Starved For Help

This issue is 39 pages long with a lengthy news section providing the scoop on dozens of upcoming games. It's also the first issue to introduce a new design and layout (courtesy of Constantin Starodub), making it the most visually impressive issue yet. There's a lot of great stuff crammed in here, so I hope you'll check it out and enjoy reading through it. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

At the Smithsonian: The Art of Video Games

A while ago I visited the Art of Video Games exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC. I spent about two hours looking at all of the exhibits and was generally pleased with the experience. It's nice to see video games getting some national recognition from such a reputable institution (and by extension, the government), validating the notion that video games may indeed constitute art. After all, video games are just as expressive as other visual art forms, but with the added element of interactivity potentially enhancing the individual's experience.

The exhibit itself is divided into three main sections: one section chronicling the history of video games with video displays of iconic examples from every notable gaming platform; one section with playable demos (on large-screen projections) of about a half-dozen games; and one section for concept art and displays of specific gameplay mechanics. It's quite an impressive set-up, but I have to wonder how educational it really is for gamers and non-gamers alike. As cool as it was for me to see and experience everything, I didn't feel especially enlightened when I walked out of the exhibit.

I would have liked to have seen a little more emphasis on the underlying characteristics of video games as art. For the most part, the exhibit felt like it was glorifying video games themselves, as specific entities, rather than the medium as a whole. They have a handful of monitors set up rotating video loops of developer interviews and commentary which is where most of the deeper substance is to be found, but these often felt like they were preaching to the choir, telling me things I already knew or understood. Still, they were interesting to watch, and I imagine they'd be more enlightening to a non-gamer.

I feel like they could've tapped the subject matter a little better by discussing things like how games are created, the challenge of making effective games, how developers specifically approach artistic decisions, and so on -- the things you don't get to see in the games themselves. That would've been a little more interesting for someone like me. Either way, it's an impressive exhibit with a lot to experience, so if you find yourself in DC before the exhibit closes at the end of September, it's worth checking out. I've got more pictures and descriptions in the full article.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Disappointed Movie Review: The Batman Rises

For the first time ever, I'd like to talk about something other than video games. You see, I recently saw the latest Batman movie, the one with the derivative suffix for a title, The Dark Knight Rises. Like most people, I thought it would be nearly impossible to top the excellence of The Dark Knight, and therefore didn't hold particularly high expectations for the third and final installment of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. But while I didn't necessarily expect it to be a great Batman movie, I still expected Rises to be a good movie. There's a lot to nitpick here -- plot holes, inconsistencies, illogical character behavior -- but what disappointed me most were ordinary shortcomings in things like structure, pacing, and story.

The movie starts out interestingly enough, but reaches a low point (both literally and figuratively) about midway through where the narrative momentum sort of falls apart. Despite these kinds of problems, Rises is still a pretty good movie that deserves positive praise, marred primarily by the fact that it simply can't outshine the legacy of its predecessor. But whereas most people would simply say "it's good, but not as good as The Dark Knight," my take is more a matter of "it's not as good as The Dark Knight, and not even as good as it had the potential to be."

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Diaries From Day Z: Day Five

Day five of this place. Seems like every time I start to get myself properly equipped, I get killed by bandits or end up starving to death. A harsh circle of life that seems more apt to punish me for no great failing of my own. I do the best I can with the knowledge I have, and always seem trumped by poor luck and circumstance. So I keep coming back to this place, hoping to make it longer in my next life, to learn from my mistakes, hoping to find better loot and more interesting locations, wondering if I'll come away with any unique and exciting stories. I respawned on the coast near Balota in the middle of a sunny day.

A small village was visible on the horizon to my left -- presumably Balota itself. Ordinarily, that would be the first place to go, with a large number of houses guaranteeing at least some sort of valuable loot. But I saw something that looked far more promising: an enclosed camp of military tents. Military tents crawling with zombies. Zombies in full military combat dress, and even a few in officer's uniforms. Accustomed as I am to sneaking past zombies unarmed, I managed to get through two or three segments of double-gates, crawling through the grass to avoid detection, slinking into every tent in sight. 

And there was nothing to loot. No food, no ammo, no bandages, no tools, no weapons. Not even a pile of empty tin cans. Losing hope for finding anything worthwhile, my eyes lit up when I found a rack full of AK assault rifles. Yes, this was what I had come here to find. This is what would make all of this careful snearkery worth the time and effort. My eyes, formerly filled with bright optimism, shed a tear as I discovered those rifles were merely pieces of environmental decoration, not actually programmed to be usable items.