Used games, DRM, and everything else, all my thoughts on the current state of the game industry

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2013 by caseystorton

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-I know I haven’t reviewed anything in a while, movies or games, but I just haven’t gotten to it. I still play games, and I still watch movies, I just don’t write about them as much I guess. I’ll try to get to the theater some time soon and review whatever I end up watching, but don’t hold your breath. Anyway, I’ve got an afternoon to kill, and some stuff I want to say. What follows is my own opinion coupled with arguments borrowed from other gaming journalists with much more experience than me (Jim Sterling, Grey Carter, Bob Chipman, among others). Anyway, let’s get started.

DRM

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-We’ll start with DRM, short for Digital Rights Management, a practice that more and more publishers are putting into place in order (hopefully) prevent people from illegally acquiring their games. While various forms of DRM have existed for quite some time as online activation codes and CD keys, recent years have seen the emergence of “Always on DRM.” In short, “Always on DRM” means that the player must have their system connected to the internet at all times in order to play the game with the DRM. It doesn’t take a genius to see the problems with this, and indeed, one need only cite Diablo 3 and the recent Sim City as examples of what happens with DRM backfires.

-The most alarming thing about DRM is that it may actually start becoming more commonplace. As of this writing, there is still a chance that the PS4 and Xbox One will have DRM in some capacity. Now, I’m sure nobody is even thinking about this, but I’ll mention it anyway. A next generation DRM console would hardly be the first time that a game company put something in a console specifically to keep the player in line. All the way back in 1991, three full years before I was born, the Super Nintendo included a special “lockout chip” that was meant to prevent players from using their console to play unlicensed games and illegal copies. The thing is, though, the lockout chip has no negative effects on anyone that just plays the console like a good person. The every-man that played legally purchased games on his legally purchased console was probably never explicitly aware that the lockout chip existed. It only served to hinder those that were attempting to play illegal games, which was never an issue for everyone else. DRM on the other hand is something that everyone has to deal with so that game companies can try to stop people from stealing games in a world where illegally obtaining digital media has never been easier.

-While they may not mean much harm by their actions, companies that implement always on DRM cripple gamers with unstable connections and put an unnecessarily heavy load on game servers.

Used Games

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-Here’s a little scapegoat that developers and publishers have recently been blaming for all of their problems. Gaming executives just love to tell you about how used games are killing their profits and don’t do the industry any good. Recently, an article published by one Ben Kuchera at Penny Arcade claims that the death of the used games market would actually be a good thing (http://www.penny-arcade.com/report/article/the-death-of-used-games-and-control-of-the-second-hand-market-could-be-the).  Ben seems to be under the impression that without used games, publishers would make more money, and therefore be able to charge less, citing examples Steam, where used games are not even mentioned, and prices are kept relatively low with daily sales. I wish this were the case. I really do. But the thing is: that won’t happen. That will NEVER happen. While there isn’t a whole lot to go off of, there are still real-world examples of such things not being true. Let’s take a look at Origin, EA’s overpriced, entirely pointless digital distribution service. They now have full control over every new game made by them that is released on PC. Nobody can buy them used. And guess what? They still charge $60 for new games. Activision’s Bobby Kotick has explicitly stated that games would be even more expensive than they are now if he was put in charge of universal pricing. So the thought that games would be cheaper in the absence of a used market is wishful thinking at best and dangerously incorrect speculation at worst.

-I’d also like to point out the demonetization of Game Stop as some sort of leech on the industry that drives profits down with it massive library of used games ripe for the picking. Quick question: do you know why Game Stop pushes pre-owned games so much? While it’s hard to know for sure, I speculate that it has a lot to do with the insanely small amount of money that game retailers make on the sale of new games. While I sources are conflicting, the general consensus is that out of the $60 you spend on a new game at Game Stop, the actual store will only see about $2 of that, with the rest going to the publishers. Basically, Game Stop needs to push used games because they’ve realized that they can’t run a store on such a small profit margin. Also, if publishers and developers wanted Game Stop dead so much, why are there so many “Game Stop Exclusive” pre-order deals for every major release these days? Publishers know that selling new games at Game Stop gets them a large amount of their money, so they try to add on whatever minimal effort gimmicks they can think of to try to entice people into buying their games. I can’t believe the hypocrisy of people that will simultaneously blame all of their problems on something that they then turn around and support in order to further their own goals.

-Let’s get back to Steam here for a moment. Yes, Steam is an example of a market where used products are non-existent, and yet games are kept relatively cheap and have constant mark-downs on prices. However, this isn’t because there is no competition, and thus more money to be had. Quite the contrary. Steam is cheap and accessible the way it is because it has competition in the form of GOG, GamersGate, Desura, Amazon, Origin, and numerous other private sites and distribution services that offer Steam’s same level of convenience that force each-other’s prices down by way of good old-fashioned competition.

The Xbox One

Image-Let’s take a break from anti-consumer bullshit for a moment and talk about what everyone on the internet has been talking about for the past week or so: Microsoft’s next console. I’ll try to keep this short, but here’s a brief rundown of what I got out of the Microsoft press conference last week. Granted, I was unable to watch said conference, as I was in class at the time, so the only way that I was able to get the information that was presented was by reading my Twitter feed. So yeah, the Xbox One does a lot of stuff that helps you use it to watch TV. Yay, how about some games?  Nope, now they’re talking about the new Kinect thing that needs to be on all the time and is always listening in. Alright, there’s no way anyone will hack these things and use them to spy on people, but whatever, games? Now they’re talking about the controller, and apparently Steven Spielberg is working on a Halo TV series. Okay, we’re getting there, now how about you at least mention some games? Now here’s some stuff about the new Call of Duty and FIFA games. Neat I guess, they aren’t exclusives, but they are games. Oh, I guess all the games are being shown at E3 next month. Well okay then, I guess that’s all? Yep, that’s all, you can go home now.

-Let’s talk about why the system they sold us at that event is a stupid idea. The whole internet on the TV and multitasking while watching TV and stuff? Yeah, there are smart-TVs with that kind of stuff already built in, and they don’t require you to have that big ‘ole rectangular monstrosity in the room. I know it really doesn’t matter what the console itself looks like, but that doesn’t mean it has to look like an early 90s VCR that doesn’t even have the excuse of a front-mounted clock. Also, the required Kinect thing is just a completely terrible idea. If it’s always listening to you all the time, couldn’t that be considered an invasion of privacy? Some people seem to think so, as there are already some Australian policy makers discussing the possibility of Microsoft having to register the Xbox One as a surveillance device before it can be sold in Australia. There’s one more thing I’d like to mention about the console, and it’s something that most people haven’t really thought about yet. Remember back at Sony’s PS4 conference when we knew the specs of the console right away? In that case, you may also realize that Microsoft didn’t really mention the specs of the console at the show, and people had to coax the information out of other Microsoft executives and PR reps after the show was over. Do you know why this is kind-of a big deal? You see, the PS4 conference wasn’t perfect, but they made it clear that while there are other neat features being implemented, the focus was still on marketing the PS4 as a video game console, hence why Sony made the specs so publicly known so that hardcore fans could salivate over all of the games that they could play on their new game console. Microsoft didn’t really see fit to make the specs widely known, because it is becoming increasingly apparent that playing games will just be a little part of what the Xbox One is supposed to do. It’s a TV hub, an entertainment center, a web browsing, and oh yeah, it plays games too. Technical specs don’t really matter in a TV provider, so why even bother including them in the big reveal of your new TV machine that also plays games?

Backwards Compatibility

Backwards-Compatibility

 

-One of my ever so gracious friends read this article in its original state, and said that I should add my thoughts on backwards compatibility into the mix. Well Anthony, that’s actually a really good idea, and a much more complex issue than people think it is, so let’s dive in.

-Just for the sake of clarity: the PS4 and Xbox One will NOT be backwards compatible with games for the PS3 and Xbox 360 respectively. However, the Nintendo Wii U is backwards compatible with Wii games. While this looks like a simple case of “why not?” there’s actually a lot that can go into implementing this kind of feature. For example: despite the fact that the PS3 used new CELL processor technology that made developing for it an entirely new experience, the first batch of consoles released were still capable of playing games for both the PS1 and PS2. Considering the unique architecture of the system, more parts needed to be added to allow for the emulation of older games, hence the bulky design of earlier models. While this did ultimately make the console more expensive, it did show that Sony was dedicated to making the system better for consumers. The Xbox 360 was a bit tricky. I don’t really know the specifics, but basically only some original Xbox games are playable on the 360, with more being made compatible by way of console updates. I’m still now quite sure how this worked or why compatibility was such an issue, but I know that early models were already made smaller than they should have been, which ultimately lead to the infamous “Red Ring of Death.” On the other hand, the Nintendo Wii came out of the box with full support for every single game released for the Nintendo Gamecube. They even had to physically alter the outside of the system in order to allow Gamecube controllers and memory cards, but they still made it work.

-Now that we’re caught up on past generations, let’s move on to next gen. Sure, it’s kind of a bummer that the PS4 isn’t backwards compatible with PS3 games, but they’ve already discussed a cheap, convenience streaming service that allows users access to digital copies of their old games for a small price. No work on how much exactly, but it’s nice to know that Sony is at least trying to make this work, and the CELL processor technology of the PS3 would make emulation a bit of a chore on a new console. The Xbox One on the other hand, doesn’t really appear to have much of an excuse. Sure, the switch to a Blu-ray drive likely adds another step to the process, but stand-alone Blu-ray players can run DVDs just fine, hell, they actually IMPROVE the quality of any DVD that’s being played on them. I’m not really seeing the problem with including backwards compatibility with the Xbox One, especially when Microsoft themselves boasted about how easy the console was to develop for, which leads me to assume that emulating a 360 would be easier than emulating a PS3.

-I’d like to stress, I’m no mechanical engineer. I don’t know much about the inner workings of a game console other than what I’ve read online/been told by other people. Backwards compatibility has never really been ubiquitous in the console gaming world, but it’s still very much a selling point of a console, and I really wish that companies cared more about it than they currently do.

Conclusion

Look, I honestly applaud anyone that read this whole thing. I spent way too long writing this, and I’m sure it’s riddled with typos, but I really just wanted to get my thoughts out there. Considering the thought process of most game companies is shifting from “what can I do to make this experience more fun?” to “what kind of annoying bullshit can I get away with while still securing a sale from loyal fans?” I’m glad I have my gaming laptop and Steam library to remind me that all hope is not lost for medium of video games.

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Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2013 by caseystorton

Image-A little late? Maybe, but I’ve kinda been putting this review off for a while now. I finished the game a few days ago, but I still wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it. Anyway, Blood Dragon started off appearing as an April Fool’s joke, but was eventually leaked and later officially confirmed by Ubisoft to be the real deal. An interesting thing about this game is that it isn’t a piece of downloadable content like many had speculated, but rather a stand-alone game for the low price of $15. So I thought, why not check it out?

-Our story takes place in the dystopian future that is the year 2007. A decent chunk of the world has been nuked to shit, and now we’re on some island somewhere. You take control of Cyber Commander Rex Powercolt, voiced by semi-forgotten 80s action guy Michael Biehn (Aliens, Terminator, Planet Terror). Basically there’s this big bad motherfucker named Sloan that’s trying to take over the world (of course!) and it’s up to Rex to stop him. While the story does rely very heavily on long cut-scenes to explain its narrative, the actual plot and style of said cut-scenes are funny enough that I’m willing to forgive the overlong delivery of some story cinematics.

Image-The gameplay is very similar to that of Far Cry 3, with many of the mechanics like performing melee take-downs to instantly kill unaware foes and the radial weapon selector intact. There are a few minor changes that all serve to streamline the experience to make it fit better for a project of this scope. The leveling system is now completely linear, with new abilities granted automatically upon leveling up. Syringes are entirely absent, with the exception of health syringes, but I didn’t actually think about that until now, as I never really made a point to use syringes in the original Far Cry 3. There are also far fewer weapons, with attachments unlocked through side-missions rather than simply purchasing them, but this actually wasn’t really an issue, as you get every gun for free, and the sci-fi look and feel of some of the weapons encourages experimentation.

Image-Something you may or may not be wondering about is the origin of the game’s subtitle “Blood Dragon.” Well, Blood Dragons are in-game enemies that roam around the island attacking anything and anyone that they come across. Fighting the dragons is never easy, even once you unlike the intentionally overpowered fuck-off laser thing for the last mission, the dragons can still present a slight-challenge if you don’t aim for their weak spot.

Image-From a visual standpoint, the game has a very fun sense of style to it. Everything is very hazy and dark, with bright, blinding lights coming off of the Blood Dragons and humanoid enemies to present the overly glowy aesthetic of an early-80s sci-fi movie. The loading screens feature some of the funniest “tips” that I’ve ever read, and the tutorial literally had me laughing out loud at the silliness of it all. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is one slick looking game.

Image-Overall, Blood Dragon is a great little distraction. The main story can be completed in about 4 hours ignoring side-quests and collectibles, but for only $15, that’s not bad considering what you’re paying for. 91/100

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Spoiler ramblings: Bioshock Infinite

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on April 17, 2013 by caseystorton

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-I’ve seen/read a lot of discussions dissecting the story/ending of Bioshock Infinite lately,  and I just wanted to throw in my two cents for those that care enough to hear it. I will reiterate, there will be plenty of spoilers all throughout this post, so if you haven’t finished the game yet, don’t read this, as I intend to discuss plenty of major events that you deserve to experience first-hand. Sound good? Okay, let’s begin.

-First, we’ll talk about the centralized plot-point of the whole game: the existence of an infinite number of alternate dimensions. Some have complained that there are a few choices early on in the game that end up having no bearing of the story as a whole (bird necklace or cage necklace, heads or tails, ect.) but I feel like this may have been part of the point of it all. The major assertion of the game is that since there exist an infinite number of alternate dimensions based entirely around Booker DeWitt or anyone else making a decision that differs at least slightly from a decision that they made in any of the other dimensions. Nobody really has control over anything since each and every dimension exists solely for the purpose of being different from all of the other ones. Choices really don’t have consequence because for every negative repercussion that occurs in whatever dimension Booker and Elizabeth currently inhabit, there are an infinite number of other dimensions where such repercussion does not exist and things are better for it.

-On that note, I’m still deciding whether or not the paradox of the ending was intentional or not. Even after Booker kills Comstock, he and Elizabeth decide that they need to stop him from ever existing, and as such this Elizabeth as well as many others drown Booker there in the Baptistery in order to ensure that he doesn’t become Comstock and create Columbia. However, since there are still an infinite number of dimensions, for every dimension that Elizabeth kills Booker to erase Comstock, there are infinite others in which she doesn’t, and Comstock still exists. I feel like this may have been one final assertion of the writers’ point that nobody in this existence really has any choice about anything, but I don’t think that I’ll ever know for sure.

-On the point of the ending, despite the fact that it doesn’t really “end” anything in the story, it was really the best ending that the player-character version of Booker could ever hope for. This becomes a little more apparent once you begin to examine the subtle similarities between Booker DeWitt and Father Comstock. While they are trying to be different kinds of people, they did both have to find ways of dealing with themselves after the horrible things they did at the Wounded Knee Massacre. The Booker DeWitt that you play as dealt with his guilt by becoming a drunk and a compulsive gambler who was so morally bankrupt that he sold his own daughter to pay off his debt, whereas the Booker DeWitt that became Father Comstock dealt with his guilt by trying to baptize away his past and change his name, and while neither of them are good people, both did at least make an attempt at fixing themselves for their future.

-Now that we’ve (mostly) covered the plot, we’ll talk about some of the other things. Most importantly: the Vigors. There really is no reason that the society that is Columbia would ever want or need Vigors. In the original Bioshock, it made perfect sense for the citizens of  Rapture to experiment with Plasmids and Gene Tonics given the nature of their existence there. The whole point of Rapture was to allow scientists and visionaries freedom from things like morality and societal norm so that they would have the means to pursue the perfection of the human form in every way that they saw possible. In that world, it made perfect sense that the citizens were quick to charge a heavily armed man with nothing but a bit of pipe, because all of their splicing had screwed up too much of their brain for them to think through such things. In Bioshock Infinite, everyone there is just an overly religious racist that holds contempt for anyone that isn’t an overly religious racist along with them. Flawed as they may be, they aren’t insane like the Splicers were, and it appears that Vigors don’t inspire such tendencies in people like Plasmids did, which continues to beg the question of why enemies bother rushing you with clubs there there’s a drink that allows them the launch fireballs at you sitting on the ground ten feet away.

-There’s been a lot of talk lately about how violence effects the narrative in the game, and I’m still not entirely sure where I stand on the subject. The main sticking point for most people is the executions that you can pull off with the sky-hook once a target’s health gets low enough. Violence has always been part of the Bioshock series, but it hasn’t ever been quite as in-your-face as it was here, excluding a couple of gorier moments from the first game that were intentionally grisly in order to achieve a reaction, which I never considered a bad thing given the context in which they were used. Bioshock Infinite, however, allows you to tear the throats out of hundreds of generic foot soldiers with a series of dull hooks. I personally never really got used to seeing it, but that may just be because melee combat was never really viable in the context of the gameplay. The main question is: does the borderline sadistic violence in Bioshock Infinite detract from the seriousness of the story? While I personally didn’t have that big an issue with it, I will admit that the executions did not need to be as ridiculously graphic as they were.

-It’s hard for me to think about everything that I want to say about Infinite at any given moment, so I’m sure there are things that were left out of this post that I wanted to cover. So, here’s my deal: I don’t post that contact info at the bottom of all my posts for fun, I do it so you can contact me with questions, requests, or whatever else you want to say to me. So, if there’s something you want me to address that I didn’t mention here, send me an e-mail, tweet it to me, post it on my Facebook page, or just write a comment here on WordPress. Okay? Okay.

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Far Cry 3

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2013 by caseystorton

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-This right here is the reason that I didn’t finish Bioshock Infinite sooner. You see, I was on Spring Break last week, and I was scheduled to work 38 hours that week at my old job. However, I only had this game at home, and I couldn’t take it back to college with me, so it got most of my attention even after Infinite came out. But was it worth it?

-You play as Jason Brody, one of a group of 7 kids right out of college who are on a sky diving trip or something out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean somewhere. Basically, you get captured by some crazy pirate slaver named Vaas. After a bit of intense scenes with Vaas, you and your older brother Grant manage to escape from your cage. After a bit of stealthing around the camp followed by Grant’s death at the hands of Vaas, you escape and wash up in a nearby village run by a resistance group that’s fighting Vaas’s organization. You and the village leader Dennis start working to get your friends back, but as time goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that Jason will have to lose a big part of himself in order to get his friends back and destroy Vaas’s organization once and for all. For a game like this, there’s a surprising amount of weight to Jason’s character development. It’s clear that he knows he’s slowly turning into a bloodthirsty monster, but thinks that maybe this is the only way he can get what he wants.

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-On the gameplay side, Far Cry 3 is a lot of fun to play around with. There are a lot of RPG elements to the game’s progression, but they feel very central to the design, so it makes sense that they have the opportunity to take up so much of your time. A big part of the game’s progression involves hunting animals in order to acquire the  skins necessary to upgrade all of your various holsters for ammo, weapons, syringes, ect. On the note of the syringes, a big thing about Jason’s character is that, while he’s always been a bit of a daredevil, all of this stuff has him very much scared out of his mind from the beginning, and he must eventually grow into his role as action hero by way of constant, life threatening danger and taking a whole lot of drugs. Yes, really.

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-While the story progression never really stops, you’ll want to take a break from it every now and again in order to make progress in other ways. Areas on your map aren’t visible until you’ve activated a radio tower in the vicinity, so it pays to run around and just activate all the radio towers pretty early on so the entire map is visible. There’s also the continuing mechanic of liberating outposts from enemy control by killing all of the inhabitants. While it is possible to eventually win by simply running in and shooting everything in sight, you get a significant XP bonus for clearing it out before the enemy sees you. Sometimes, though, this can lead to some rather strange occurrences. On at least two separate occasions, I was crouch-walking around outside of an outpost, marking all of the enemies so I could keep track of them, and just when I was about the move in a freaking tiger strolls on in and murders everyone in sight. It is a little weird, but the random, uncontrolled nature of this sort of thing is a nice change from the over-orchestrated set-pieces of games like Call of Duty and Battlefield.

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-Overall, Far Cry 3 is a great game. It’s got plenty of fun, open-world action and randomness and a surprisingly personal and engaging main-character arc for Jason Brody. It’s a great value for what you’re getting, and the open world means plenty of collectibles for those that desire them. 89/100

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Bioshock Infinite

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2013 by caseystorton

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-I’ve been looking forward to this one for a long time. The original Bioshock is possibly my favorite game of all time, with the major competition being Resident Evil 4. Bioshock 2 wasn’t bad, it just had only a few rudimentary upgrades to gameplay while taking a severe hit in the story department and suffered for it. With Bioshock Infinite starting off fresh with an all new story and setting, I was interested to see the franchise evolve beyond its roots in the underwater city of Rapture.

-You play as Booker DeWitt, a mysterious man with an equally mysterious debt that can only be paid off by going to the flying city of Columbia and bringing back a girl named Elizabeth. The first major difference you will notice between Infinite and its predecessors, is that unlike Jack and Subject Delta, Booker DeWitt has both a face and a voice, as well as an actual personality that evolves as the story progresses, with more than a little help from Elizabeth. On the note of Elizabeth, developers, this is the new standard for a secondary character in an action game, and any future game that can’t do escort characters this well is automatically getting marked down for it. Once you first rescue Elizabeth, she follows you around wherever you go. As soon as you get her, you see a message that says “You don’t need to worry about Elizabeth in combat, she can take care of herself.” I was skeptical about just how true this was, but ultimately, they were right. Enemies don’t ever bother with her, and in the midst of a battle she will toss you health, ammo, and salts, which are fuel for Infinite’s version of Plasmids called Vigors. She also has the uncanny ability to open “tears,” which are basically holes into another version of reality. These can yield things like weapons, health kits, and friendly turrets to aid you in battle.

-There is also one initially interesting thing about when in the city’s lifespan Booker makes his journey there. In Bioshock 1, Jack accidentally enters Rapture some time after the city has gone to shit from the drug-addicted splicers going crazy and breaking everything. In Bioshock 2, Subject Delta comes back to life long after Rapture should have by rights been completely destroyed by both the ever deteriorating structure of the buildings and the destructive tendencies of the Splicers. In Bioshock Infinite, Booker DeWitt ascends to a city that is still in it’s youth, teeming with life, promise and goodwill, without a murderous, disfigured addict to be seen. This interesting change in scenery goes a long way into seeing what Rapture may have looked like in its prime, as well as give us a picture of a utopian society in a remote location that doesn’t suck.

-The combat in Bioshock Infinite feels radically different from that of Bioshock 1 and 2. Given the underwater setting of the first two, areas were generally pretty small, and necessitated small scale fights with only a few enemies at a time. With Infinte taking place in a city in the sky, levels are much more open and expansive, which permits battles with larger numbers of enemies. Another omission from the previous games is the ability to carry first-aid kits on your person, but there are now much more health items scattered around the level, and you have a small, rechargeable shield that protects you for a bit before taking more permanent damage. There is also one very major change that actually got quite annoying throughout the game. Previous games let you keep every weapon you found and switch between them as you saw fit. Infinite sticks to the more recent practice of only letting you carry two guns at a time. While there are a lot more guns this time around, a decent portion of them are just more powerful variants on more common weapons, and were these extraneous guns eliminated, there would be 9 weapons, which while that is a lot for a recent game, it would still be freaking awesome to be able to carry every gun at once, which is just one aspect of the previous games that I really enjoyed. Here, it just feels unnecessarily restrictive, especially considering that you can have every Vigor in the game equipped at once.

-Storywise, the game is a little odd. Initially this is just an extraction job, but as you go on, Booker gets more invested in the fate of Columbia and Elizabeth, and starts to take it upon himself to get rid of “Father Comstock” or as I liked to call him “guy that wishes he could philosophize as well as Andrew Ryan.” Still, he’s better than Sophia Lamb from Bioshock 2. An interesting story point involves Elizabeth’s ability to find tears that lead to alternate realities where one thing or another is how you need it to be, at the expense of something else possibly being different. With this ability, you can go through to different versions of reality that exist alongside our own, and all kinds of things can happen. It sounds odd, but it surprisingly manages to not be confusing and serves as an interesting device that could have otherwise been employed simply as a Deus Ex Machina to get the writers out of a corner.

-Back to Elizabeth as a character, she’s certainly one of the strongest female characters I’ve seen in a video game for a long time. For someone who’s spent their entire life locked in a tower guarded by a giant mechanical bird, Elizabeth is much more than a simple damsel in distress that just goes along with whatever Booker, her knight in not-so-shining armor, wants her to do. She actively makes decisions that alter the story for both better and worse, just the same way that Booker does. Again, pay attention developers, THIS is how you write a female character.

-Just a bit of an interesting thing to note here: if it weren’t for the existence of the Vigors, this could have pretty much passed as an entirely different game, totally separate from the Bioshock brand. None of the weapons from the first two games are here, it’s in a different time and place, with different combat, no Big Daddies, no Little Sisters, no Adam, no Andrew Ryan, and no carrying every weapon ever. The thing is though, it would still feel at least tangentially related to the first two games by way of the old-school health system, steam-punk aesthetics, and philosophical antagonist.

-While there will always be a special place in my heart for the original Bioshock, Infinite does a great job of breathing new life into a property that was showing some age around Bioshock 2. The story requires no knowledge of previous games, so returning fans and newcomers alike will find something to love about Bioshock Infinite. 90/100

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Call of Duty: Black Ops 2

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 14, 2013 by caseystorton

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-Allow me to make it clear that I only bought this game because Steam had a “free weekend” for the multiplayer a while back. I decided that it wouldn’t be a total waste to just go ahead and buy the game, and $40 wasn’t that much, especially for a Call of Duty game on Steam.

-Black Ops 2 consists of 3 separate parts, and even allows you to install them separately, which is good for people needing to save hard-drive space. You get singleplayer, multiplayer, and zombies. Given the major differences in gameplay between the three modes, I’ll cover them independent of each-other.

Single Player

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-The story is largely a far-off sequel to Black Ops 1, skipping from the late 60s to the year 2025, with a few flashback missions taking place in the 80s and 90s. The story involves David Mason, the son of Alex Mason from the first game, going after some asshat named Raul Menendez who somehow gained an international following via the internet. The story is pretty silly, with tons of overdone betrayals and set-ups for you to ever honestly think that something will go right, which leads to a very cynical and detached way of playing the game. It was this very cynicism that actually sort-of hurt me in terms of timing my reviews. I posted a first-impressions of The Witcher 2 a couple of days ago because the story in Black Ops 2 was so dumb that I literally had no idea how much longer I had to play, when in reality I was only about 2 missions away from finishing the game. Also the ending is an abrupt cop-out that clearly sets up a Black Ops 3.

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-As far as gameplay goes, it’s standard Call of Duty fair, with a couple of changes both for better and worse. The better involves the interesting near-future technology, which manages to hit the magic sci-fi sweet spot of appearing possible while still being cool, with advancements such as localized radar and night-vision for your guns, EMP grenades, miniature remote-controlled plane things guns, and a few interesting new weapons to keep things from getting too dull. The thing is, I swear they made the series’ customary health system even worse. You appear to die much earlier than in previous games, as it looks like the blood effects on the screen are much more understated than they have been in previous games. I would say I liked the old way better, but I actually prefer it like this, if only to draw more attention that games like this are in desperate need of a NORMAL FUCKING HEALTH BAR.

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-I’ve been playing a bit of Serious Sam 3 lately, and I cannot tell you how incredibly wonderful it feels to simply glace at a corner of the screen and immediately know exactly how much health I have left by way of a straight-forward number, not an ugly, jarring blood effect that impairs my vision and leaves me guessing how much more I can take before I die. I’d give a score now, but considering that you still have to pay for the game as a whole, I’ll be scoring it as such.

Multiplayer

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-Multiplayer is a bit different from previous entries in the series, but anyone familiar with how it has worked in the past will most certainly see the similarities to earlier games. There’s the standard Primary Weapon, Secondary Weapon, Lethal Grenade, Tactical Grenade, first, second, and third Perk options, but they’ve added in a new weight system, where each item added to your created load-out is worth one point, and you can only have ten points of stuff on you at any given time. That said, there’s a considerable amount of freedom in how you can make room for extra gear. For example, if you want to add on a “Wildcard” that allows you to carry two lethal grenades, but don’t have the spot for the second grenade, you can get rid of one of your perks, or even one of your guns to make room for it. While not exactly practical, it is entirely possible to fill up all ten spaces and not carry a single gun. You could just run around with your knife, which while it seems a bit weird at first, the fact that the game allows for this level of freedom is a welcome change from the tighter restrictions of the Modern Warfare series.

-My favorite thing about Black Ops 1’s multiplayer was the new COD points system, which allowed you access to almost everything from the beginning provided you had the points for it, with only guns left for you to unlock through progression. This allowed people more creative freedom with weapon attachments and perks, and improved customization options in ways not previously seen in a Call of Duty game. Black Ops 2 does away with the COD points system, although on reflection, I think this was a very conscious decision. You see, with futuristic weapons come futuristic weapon attachments, and allowing everyone access to these attachments out of the gate could have provided problems. The one that really comes to mind is the Millimeter Scanner, a sort-of gun-mounted radar sight that allows you to see enemies through walls. Imagine a game of Team Deathmatch where every single player had a Millimeter Scanner on their gun. You’d just get a bunch of people hiding around corners, afraid to come out because they know someone can see where they are. While it is a bit annoying to have to unlock attachments again, this was only done in the name of balance, so I’ll let it slide.

-Modes are relatively standard, although if you play on the PC version like me, good luck finding a game anywhere other than Team Deathmatch and Team Objective. The maps are largely based on areas from the campaign, which is either lazy programming or the developers wanting to allow players to fight in familiar areas. Since I’m pretty much done with multiplayer discussion, I’ll go ahead and talk about the controls. First Persons Shooters generally play better with a mouse and keyboard than they do with a console controller, but it’s abundantly clear that Black Ops 2 was very much so designed to be played on a console controller, as a lot of the actions that are easily pulled of with a controller take a bit more effort with the keyboard. This awkward porting combined with me being too lazy to figure out where I wanted my mouse sensitivity to be led me to eventually give up and just play the game with an Xbox 360 controller. I’d go back and forth on numerous occasions, and every time I would note that I performed distinctly better with the controller. I don’t know if this is due to my own personal familiarity with the controller or if the PC controls are just that bad, but I didn’t experience annoyance on this level with Rage, Skyrim, Fallout 3, Left 4 Dead 2, or Saints Row the Third.

Zombies

-As silly as it is that this mode has persisted as long as it has, I’ll admit that Zombies is a pretty good time. It’s clearly meant to be played with friends, as it’s very easy for zombies to sneak up on you, but it is perfectly functional as a single player experience. Basically, you fight through increasingly difficult waves of zombies, barricading them out whenever possible and spending points earned by killing them on buying guns, perks, and opening up more of the map. It’s kinda fun for a bit, but there’s not all that much to it. Granted, it’s just another part of the game, and it isn’t supported nearly as much as competitive multiplayer, so I see no issue with it inherently.

Conclusion

-Black Ops 2 is the best Call of Duty since Modern Warfare 2… which is to say that it’s not too bad, and it passes the time. The laughable story appears to finally be demonstrating a bit of self-awareness, and the multiplayer is moving in an interesting direction. Not bad, but there’s no need to run out and buy it. 69/100

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FIRST IMPRESSIONS: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2013 by caseystorton

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-I’m starting to get just a little bit embarrassed by how long it normally takes me to put out a game review. The thing is, I usually just play whatever game I feel like playing that day, whether or not it’s something I’ve reviewed already or something that I should probably get to at some point depends largely on the day. That said, I’ve currently got several games in progress (this, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Serious Sam 3: BFE, The Walking Dead, F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin), and thought I’d devote some time to a “First Impressions” of the one that I knew would take me the longest to finish.

-The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings centers around Geralt of Rivia, a “Witcher” who is assigned to protect the king is Temeria from harm during a battle with some rebels. After a battle the king gets offed by a professional assassin and Geralt is blamed for it, forcing him to go on the run and pursue the king’s real murderer. It seems like a pretty standard plot, but I can already tell that there’s a lot more to this story than there initially appeared to be, with plenty of side characters and plot diversions to keep the pace going.

Image-Probably my favorite thing about the first few hours that I’ve played is the combat. I’ve heard some people complain about the difficulty, but really, it’s not a hard game. I’d heard some people mention the controls, so I went through the tutorial once with the mouse-and-keyboard and once again using an Xbox 360 controller, and while the keyboard setup doesn’t exactly have any major issues, I’m thankful that the game was designed with a controller in mind. Really though, the combat isn’t hard if you know what you’re doing. You can sort-of get away with simply charging into battle slamming the light attack button like a moron on Easy difficulty, but Normal difficulty requires at least a little bit of discipline to play. You need to effectively pick your targets, know when to block, dodge, counter, throw bombs, cast magic, enhance your sword, or drink potions in order to survive a fight. On the topic of potions, you can only drink potions before battle, which isn’t really an issue, as at least so far, combat happens in continuous bursts, and the first fight is never the hardest, giving you plenty of time to stop and drink a potion before heading to the next battle. The only real problem I have is with the targeting system, which doesn’t always work quite as well as I want it to, but a quick dodge or parry is usually enough to get me out of any bad situation the targeting got me into.

Image-I can already tell that the branching dialogue options will lead me through a long, well written, and very worthwhile story just by the huge variance each option has from the others. The dialogue isn’t really something that can be adequately explained, as it largely revolves around what you as a player want to do and who you want Geralt to work with. Major side-note, if you don’t have a relatively high-level gaming PC, just go ahead and buy the Xbox 360 version instead, because this is a very demanding game. For my more tech-savvy readers, I’m running it on an MSI gaming laptop with an i7 2.3 GHz processor, 8 gigabytes of RAM, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 660M with 2 gigabytes of DDR5 video memory. This is what my current settings are, and keep in mind I tweak a couple settings every time I boot up the game, and I experienced some minor drops in frame rate during the cut-scenes last time I played:

Image-It takes a LOT to run this game, so don’t think that just because the game is nearly two years old that it won’t take a powerful machine to run it on full settings.

-So far, I’m really enjoying The Witcher 2. The combat is fun, the story shows lots of promise, and the lack of hand-holding is incredibly refreshing for a modern RPG. Sure, the inventory screen is a bit weird, and the visuals may put a strain on your rig, but I’ll go ahead and give it an early recommendation. Also, there’s lots of sex in it.

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