Happy belated Leap Year! I seem to forget that February is such a short month every year, but even though I got a late start to my monthly blog, I had plenty of time in February to play a ton of games! I even beat a lot more games than usual this past month. I went a little bit nuts buying games from Steam, but it’s my Birthday month so I felt justified. Like I said before though, I beat a bunch of games this month so it isn’t like my backlog grew too much. Here’s the list of games I played this past month;
(Death Grunty is the best boy BTW)
So, which Tomb Raider am I referring to when I say I played Tomb Raider this past month? The first one that launched on the Sega Saturn and original Playstation? The Nokia N-Gage port? The PS2 remake of the original? No, though I would love to try the N-Gage one: I played the 2013 remake of the series Tomb Raider, simply and confusingly titled, Tomb Raider. In this version, Lara Croft is either fresh out of college, or a student, and everything is trying to murder her in the most brutal way possible.
During my playthrough, I was impaled, shot, set on fire, and utterly broken after falling from high places, just to name a few deaths. Tomb Raider 2013 is one of two games I played this month where the character you see in cutscenes, isn’t necessarily the character you play as in-game. Cutscene-Lara gets captured, beaten, and left for dead multiple times. Cutscene-Lara is close to tears when she has to hunt for food to survive in the wild, and nearly breaks down when she has to kill a man or be killed by that same person. Playable-character Lara, however, is able to murder scores of dudes and wildlife with gleeful abandon. The disconnect between who I’m playing as, and who I’m watching in cutscenes, isn’t that bad for people like me who skip cutscenes though. Since I chose to skip as much of the story as possible that left me with gameplay, and I really enjoyed what Tomb Raider 2013 has to offer. The shooting feels weighty and satisfying, even before you upgrade your weapons. There’s a melee system that also feels heavy and allows you to kill enemies as brutally as the game usually tries to kill you.
Platforming is fairly easy: walls that can be climbed have an easy-to-spot texture and color palette, and it’s also easy to tell what can be swung on. If you get stuck, Lara can see climbable surfaces using ‘Survival Instincts’ which literally highlights those surfaces in bright yellow. There’s a rudimentary stealth system here too, but if you’re spotted it’s usually easy enough to shoot your way out of a bad situation. There was only one instance where I failed a stealthy approach and was murdered more than twice, but for the most part I could just as easily shoot my way through an area as I could sneak by. I wouldn’t recommend sneaking by guards though, since non-lethal play doesn’t award you with experience points. Leveling up just allows Lara to unlock skills like the ability to find extra crafting material, or use more lethal attacks with her various weapons.
Other than combat, there are tombs that can be raided. Unfortunately, most of the tombs are small, single-room, single-puzzle affairs. Once you solve a tomb, you usually unlock an upgrade for one of your weapons. Combat doesn’t really evolve as you progress through the game: you’re usually fighting against dudes with guns, dudes with climbing axes, wolves, or dudes with swords. Since this was the first game of a new trilogy, I guess it would have been too much to ask for a tyrannosaurus boss fight. The encounters do start to feel a little stale though when you realize that the main change comes in the form of dudes who throw explosives and dudes who are wearing armor. Overall I had a lot of fun playing Tomb Raider. I don’t know if I’ll grab the other two games in the trilogy, but I definitely enjoyed playing this one.
(I should have stuck to calling it Last Tomb on the Left...)
Evoland and Evoland 2 were part of one game download: Evoland: Legendary Edition. The main thing that sets Evoland apart from other RPGs is that it evolves as you play it. The only thing you’re able to do when you first start playing Evoland is move your character to the right. As you open up chests, more complexity is added to the game. Full 2D movement, sound and music, an 8 and 16-bit color palette, and multiple forms of combat are unlocked among other things. At first, there’s Legend of Zelda style combat, but later on you unlock turn-based combat similar to that of early Final Fantasy titles.
The first Evoland only took me about 3 hours to beat, and in a lot of ways it felt like a proof of concept. It was a really charming experience, but Evoland 2 expands on the first. There’s more character variety (that is, different types of characters can join you), there seems to be more variety in terms of puzzle solving and level design too. I haven’t finished it yet though, because I got stuck. The story in Evoland was fairly simple: You’re basically making the world as you go, and there’s an evil force that’s threatening to destroy the world by destroying The Mana Tree. Evoland 2’s story involves a war between humans and demons, and time travel. I don’t think I made it very far in Evoland 2, but at the same time I feel like I’ve gotten more out of Evoland 2 than I have in the first. Either way though, I would highly recommend the Evoland Legendary Edition if you enjoy JRPGs or older Legend of Zelda games.
(This is Zephyros...Zephyros...ZEPHYROS!!!)
Stacking is a fun puzzle game I originally played on the Xbox 360 many, many years ago. I picked it up on Steam for about the price of a sandwich and played through it to the end of the story. In Stacking, you play as the smallest member of the Blackmore family, searching for your missing family. It may seem like you’re at a disadvantage, considering you’re so damn small, but luckily you and every other NPC in the game is a Matryoshka doll, a Russian stacking doll. Everybody has a special talent that they’re good at: some NPCs can punch, others can burp, others can spot people with rare abilities.
Charlie Blackmore, your player character, has the very special ability to hop into larger Matryoshka dolls and use their special abilities for himself. By possessing people, and using their abilities, you must solve puzzles that will allow you to free children from forced labor, and eventually find your missing family. Stacking is presented like a silent-film in cutscenes, but it plays out in the usual third-person viewpoint. As for the puzzles, most of them can be solved multiple ways. Even though I’ve finished the story mode, my actual completion percentage isn’t even 70% yet. Stacking makes the most of its modest number of levels, and it feels like it was a labor of love. I can’t recall much about the original Xbox Live release, but the Steam version did have a few issues: missing sound effects, and frame skips, but there weren’t any major bugs that stopped me from wanting to get back into the game. If you haven’t played it before I strongly recommend it.
(He is the smallest of his family. He will override your free will)
I’ve continued playing Fire Emblem Echoes in a very casual sort of way this month. That being said, I made a bit of actual progress in the story. Celica, after having defeated pirates and making it back to the mainland, has finally reunited with Alm. Unfortunately, they had a fight and have gone their separate ways. Now Alm is heading east, and Celica is heading north, but I don’t think either are too concerned with reuniting quite yet.
I don’t like MMO-RPGs. I almost exclusively play single player games, and even though World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV didn’t force me to play with other people, the quest structure, and way combat worked didn’t really appeal to me. I can’t recall why exactly I chose to purchase .Hack//G.U. Last Recode other than it was on sale and I used to watch the original .Hack//sign series when I was a teenager. Last Recode is a collection of the 4 games in the G.U. series, a sequel series to Sign. This month, I played through the first of the four parts of Last Recode, .Hack//G.U. Rebirth. I was a bit worried that combat would be based around cooldown timers and auto-attacks, but playing G.U. Rebirth reminded me more of Kingdom Hearts: You hammer on the X button to attack enemies and can use special abilities by holding R2 and selecting the attack you want to use from a list that gets a bit more robust as you master whichever weapon you happen to have equipped. These special attacks are tied to a cool-down timer, but I never felt like I was waiting too long to damage enemies.
Enemy encounters are based on the zones you load into and can be skipped more often than not. G.U. is somewhat odd in how it’s structured: the main menu is similar to a PC’s operating system. You can access a news source, a forum, a settings menu that allows you to change the wallpaper and background music of your desktop, an email client, and two games: Crimson Vs is a collectible card game which doesn’t seem to ever be available in G.U. Rebirth, and The World. The World has its own news source and forums, and it’s from these menus that you can find new keywords. Once you log into The World itself, you’re automatically put into the last hub town you were in when you logged out, usually Mac Anu but potentially Lumina Cloth. The former is a town with a handful of shops, and lots of NPCs to talk to.
When you’re in Mac Anu, there’s a central warp gate that can take you to one of a handful of dungeons: an archipelago, an archipelago but it’s night time, a Japanese style building, or a cave. Where you go, the power level of enemies, and what you need to do once you get there, is decided by keywords, which I mentioned previously. You can use a preset combination, or you can mix and match up to three words. No matter where you go, you’ll only have 1 of 2 goals if you don’t visit the quest shop in Mac Anu: Either kill the boss, or enter the temple by finding 3 symbol fragments.
After you achieve that goal, you can continue exploring the dungeon you’re in, but enemies, chests, and breakable objects don’t respawn so there isn’t much point in lingering unless you think you missed something major. This gives dungeon diving a feeling of diminishing returns to me. You’re going to see everything fairly early on in the game. If this was an 80 hour JRPG, that would be absolutely horrible, but Rebirth took me about 20 hours to beat so the repeated settings didn’t annoy me as much as they could have. What did annoy me about Rebirth was the overall difficulty. If you run into a dungeon on your own, and that dungeon is four or more levels above you, there’s a good chance that you’ll be knocked out. The opposite is also mostly true: If you enter a dungeon on your own, and you’re more than 2 or 3 levels higher than it is, you will mop the floor with every mob in there.
I didn’t start leveling up until the start of the tournament arc (oh yeah, this game has a tournament arc). Before leveling, my team was between level 22 and 23. I haven’t been knocked out in combat before, but those encounters were mostly story based so everything seemed to scale with me. I ground up to level 30 before starting the Tournament because it seemed like it would be made up of characters who were shown to be absolute power houses. At level 30 though, I wiped out the entire enemy team during the first round of the tournament with one attack. Then there was a cutscene showing an exhausted Haseo (player character), on the verge of failure, winning only because he cheated. This happens a few more times in the story too! From the tournament onward, I was massively overpowered, eventually hitting the level cap (Level 50) and even though there wasn’t an enemy that could harm me, cutscenes kept depicting Haseo as a vulnerable, easily defeated character. I’m sure there’s a word for this kind of disconnect between characters in cutscenes, and those same characters in gameplay, but I’m just going to say it made me laugh and move on. I really enjoyed Rebirth! There are a handful of characters I didn’t like and several who were introduced late into the game, but I’m sure they’ll be fleshed out in later chapters.
(This has been an INCREDIBLE plesant surprise)
I’ve recently gotten into the habit of steaming myself playing games, so of course that got me to re-install Dark Souls 2. I’m not really playing for any specific goal; I beat the game before and I’m not interested in the DLC. I’m just playing for the fun of playing. Recently, I’ve been killed by the Smelter Demon, but I made up for that by killing the Old Iron King. I’m hoping the other Souls games go on sale soon. I want to replay 1 or 3 soon, and I’d rather play those on PC than on console.
I didn’t spend too much time with Damsel this month. For whatever reason, it wouldn’t recognize my controller, and trying to play it with a keyboard felt really cumbersome. I played long enough to get that if I could control it properly, Damsel should be a really fast and fluid action-platformer. You rush through levels, potentially juggling attacks to stay off of the ground, as you kill vampires and save humans. It’s possible to accidentally kill the humans, and doing so ends that attempt to finish the level. I can see the good in Damsel; it’s presented in a fun comic book style, and the action feels like it would be satisfying if I wasn’t playing on a keyboard.
Resident Evil 6 is absolutely awful. The first thing you do is a tutorial level with no apparent way of skipping past it. In the tutorial, you’re in the middle of an outbreak in a major city, but there’s no feeling of danger since you’re not alone, and you’re armed to the teeth. In between forced sections of slow-walking and exposition, there are sections where your movements and controls are limited. The tutorial section is very linear overall, with quick-time-event set pieces forcing you to watch overblown cutscenes as they play out. After this section, you’re given the choice to play as either Leon, Chris, a new-comer whose name I can’t remember, or Ada. I’ve heard an overwhelming number of people claim that Leon has the best campaign, and if that’s true then I can’t imagine how bad the other three are.
Leon’s campaign starts with the man himself trying to reason with a zombie in a cutscene. After that, when you’re given control, you quickly find that the layout of the college campus you’re trapped in is just as linear as the tutorial level. You shuffle slowly through small rooms and hallways until zombies start waking up and waiting for a head-full of delicious, hot lead. The way zombies move actually makes it a challenge to land headshots, and there’s partial gibbing too so there are a couple of positive points. I get the impression that if I wanted to, I could dismember a zombie with gunfire if I was so inclined. Killing zombies is fairly straight-forward and simple though, and like in previous entries they drop ammo so it almost seems encouraged to just mow everything around you down. If you really don’t want to shoot zombies, Leon can also karate kick enemies, but it doesn’t seem to be as reliable. If a zombie is on the ground the karate kick button becomes a stomp button, and all it really did was make me want to play Yakuza or Dead Space again. I stopped playing in the subway level that you get after the campus. After having played through a linear school, I was kind of surprised that the game design would be so blunt as to continue on with a subway. I got a refund and I’m not going back to that entry in the series.
Yooka-Laylee was one of those very rare 3D platformers that I enjoyed playing. As much as I liked it, I’m glad to see that the sequel is a 2D platformer, since those tend to sell better than 3D ones and I would be happy to see more people get into Yooka-Laylee. The demo for Impossible Lair starts off in a level that can’t possibly be the lair itself, but which might be. It was an easy enough level to platform through, but the fight against Capital B was challenging enough to beat me and I was tossed out of that level and onto the overworld screen. From there, the demo offered about four and a half levels to play through. It was more than I expected, and if you’re wondering about that half, that’s not me alluding to the impossible lair level.
While you’re on the overworld, you can expand it by spending quills to unlock literal paywalls that Trowzer has been erecting. There are enemies on the overworld who can be attacked, and power-ups that you can find which can affect levels directly. If you eat an ice berry for example, you can freeze one of the level books, which completely changes how that level plays. Other than Capital B, I don’t recall there being any other boss fights in the demo. It’s technically possible to complete the Impossible Lair without going through any other levels, but that may not have been possible in the demo. It’s not something I tried, and I liked seeing what new abilities I might be able to unlock while exploring the world map and available levels. The main reason to go through the levels is to free a bee that’s been trapped at the end of them. Finding bees lets you take additional hits in the Impossible Lair. I already knew I wanted to pick this game up, but playing the demo basically sealed it for me.
Bioshock was a really good game wasn’t it? The trilogy has been on sale through Steam frequently so I bought the remastered editions of Bioshock and Bioshock 2, the only two worth playing. This past month, I started playing Bioshock remastered. I remember it as a first-person shooter where you’re able to shoot bees and fire out of your hand if you get tired of gunning people down. What I had forgotten was that the true essence of Bioshock is Pipe Dream. Pipe Dream is a classic arcade puzzle game that tasks players with lining up pipes to allow for an uninterrupted flow of fluid from one side of a block to the other. Essentially, Pipe Dream is a tile matching puzzle game that uses the aesthetic design one might find under their sink. The experience of playing Pipe Dream is very simple, and can be very calming.
To keep players from experiencing too much of a sense of zen, these frequent games of Pipe Dream are broken up by shooting galleries. There are a variety of people who attack you, and a variety of ways to deal with them. The Splicers, as they’re called, are addicted to a substance called Adam, which is the future resource that allows people to safely install and use Plasmids. Plasmids come in a wide range of varieties: most of them offer passive abilities like greater defense, being able to more efficiently play Pipe Dream, or getting more out of healing items and snack food. Then there are offensive Plasmids which can give you the ability to make Splicers attack each other indiscriminately, make un-hacked machinery hostile towards enemies, or give you various forms of kinesis (tele, pyro, cryo, and so on).
Splicers don’t usually use offensive Plasmids, but passive ones can explain why there are some who are more stealthy, some who are deadly with pistols, and some who stick with explosives. Stealth isn’t really an option, so if you’re in the middle of a firefight your fat ass will likely end up in front of a camera. If a camera notices you for too long, you’ll be attacked by flying drones. If you stay within line-of-sight of a turret, those will usually attack you too with either machine guns or rockets. Cameras, drones, and turrets can be stunned with lightning and hacked fairly easily, thus bringing them onto your side. Between hacking and rage Plasmids, it’s easy to make enemies fight each other on your behalf, even the largest and most destructive of enemies can be manipulated with the right Plasmids.
Big Daddies, which come in the form of Rosies and Bouncers, are those massive diving-suit wearing heavy weapons tanks you might have noticed if you looked at the cover image, or cover art, for Bioshock. Big Daddies walk slowly around levels, keeping to themself and just generally acting passively. You can easily live-and-let-live and go through the entire game without killing a single one. If you want to collect Adam though, you’re going to have to fight them to the death. The earlier fights against Big Daddies are massive drains on your ammo and health; they take a lot of damage and can kill you fairly quickly if you’re not on guard. The problem with Big Daddies though is that their stats are basically constant, but your stats are always improving. In the second level, Neptune’s Bounty, part of the main goal is finding a research camera. Taking pictures of enemies (thus researching them) unlocks damage buffs and special Plasmids which makes fighting them easier. Another feature late in Neptune’s Bounty is the first of many Power to the People stations: it’s a one-time-use kiosk that allows you to upgrade your guns. Finally, a lot of Plasmids have multiple levels. A level 1 Plasmid isn’t as powerful as a level 3 Plasmid, and it’s possible to buy more Plasmid slots as you progress through Bioshock. Keeping this in mind, the first time you fight a Big Daddy, you might have 2 offensive Plasmids and 3 guns, you might have armor-piercing ammo, and you’re not going to have a large HP pool. For later Big Daddy fights, you’re going to have more guns, which are likely going to be upgraded. You’re going to be able to use more Plasmids, you’re likely going to have more health and maybe even some damage dampening Plasmids, and if you’ve been photographing Daddies they’re going to take more damage per shot.
Diminishing returns aside, Big Daddies are strong enough that fighting them is never really boring, and the reason you’re fighting them to begin with never really diminishes; Big Daddies guard Little Sisters. Little Sisters are small children who harvest Adam from corpses, and the only way you can get that Adam for yourself is to touch the small child. Daddy won’t let you touch their child though, so you’ll always have to kill Daddy, to touch the Child, to collect the Adam, to buy new Plasmids and character upgrades. Little Sisters are also used to decide how the narrative of Bioshock plays out: if you save the Little Sisters, you’ll get a good ending, but if you harvest the Little Sisters, you’re going to get the evil ending. No matter how you touch the children, you’re going to get Adam but one type of touch gives you more Adam than the other kind of touch. By harvesting the children you get more Adam upfront, but the child dies and an NPC yells at you. If you save the children, you get less Adam up front but you’ll get gift baskets with extra Adam, extra Plasmids, and you’ll ultimately get more out of them than if you chose to play as an evil, murderous, bastard.
The first time I played Bioshock I was waiting for Halo 3 to launch on the then-new Xbox 360. I played Bioshock so many times before and after the launch of Halo 3 that I wound up unlocking all of the original achievements, and playing through on all of the difficulty settings. Bioshock is a fantastic shooter, it’s a vessel for Pipe Dream, it takes place in a unique setting, and even after a decade I still love playing it. If you’re able to, break it out and go through it again. I got the version I’m playing through Steam for about the price of a sandwich, and it goes on sale often enough that you can probably find it for cheap too sooner rather than later.
(Like most other games, This one is better than Bioshock: Infinite in every way)
When I was nine, South Park was introduced to the people who bought into (or stole) cable TV and had access to Comedy Central. Since South Park was vulgar and had a focus on scatalogical humor, I was basically all-in from the beginning. I probably shouldn’t have watched the show, I was asked to not watch the show, but I had a TV in my room so that obviously wasn’t going to happen. South Park video games were inevitable, but there wasn’t a truly great South Park game until 2014, when Stick of Truth launched. I didn’t play Stick of Truth this month, but I did start playing Fractured but Whole, the sequel.
Within the first half hour or so I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’ve done this before. Wandering around the town of South Park was charming in Stick of Truth, and it feels similar enough that I couldn’t feel myself fully getting absorbed into the game. Despite feeling a fractured sense of immersion, that funny thing happened where I checked the time after about half an hour of playing only to realize that I had actually been playing for over 4 hours. Just like in 1997, South Park had sunk its hooks into me and I’ve been enjoying my time in the little mountain town. I don’t remember enough about Stick of Truth to be able to compare that one with Fractured but Whole, but I do know the combat system is very different. In butthole combat is both turn, and grid-based: You and your enemies position each other on the field based on which attacks you plan to use.
Attacks could affect the space directly in front of you, but it could also affect a number of spaces in a cross-shape, or in a massive block of spaces. Positioning is incredibly important, not just to attack but also because certain enemy attacks are telegraphed and charged before they hit. It’s possible to move out of the way of an enemy attack and even possible to push another enemy into a danger-zone where they’ll take friendly fire damage and potentially be knocked out. Like in the previous South Park RPG, and like in RPGs in general, you can use status attacks that make your enemies bleed or vomit which damages them over time. At the end of battles and after finishing missions, you get experience points. Leveling up lets you equip more artifacts, and that’s what boosts your stats.
Instead of playing Dungeons & Dragons, the kids in South Park are dressed as superheroes and trying to find a missing cat. On the first day of this quest, I’ve learned that another superhero group is also trying to find the cat, but I was able to find a woman who knows the whereabouts of the missing cat. I nearly fought the mob, but instead I had to fight a nearly-nude man who was drunk off of red wine. I’m currently on the second day, and I won’t be getting any information from the woman we saved until I get her prescription. I’m not in a rush to get it though, since more of South Park opened up and I wanted to help out Jimbo, and Kyle. I’m very interested in exploring more of the town and getting more familiar characters to take selfies with me. I’m not sure what it’s building toward, but I’m sure it’ll be something either great or something funny.
(Making Jimmy a quickster type hero makes me giggle)
March is here and if you’re like me, you’re probably asking yourself what happened to the first two months of the year. Time flies which is understandable because I’ve had a lot of fun over the past couple of months. It was great jumping around on ancient things, building a couple of worlds, and farting on people’s balls. March is going to be a very interesting month: I’m ready to dive into the second part of an anime-JRPG epic but there are some major releases coming out this month too. Doom Eternal and Animal Crossing are both launching, but I’m the kind of wildcard who’s excited by GTA4 returning to Steam. I have Bioshock and South Park to wrap up, but after those I’m not completely sure what I’ll be playing. I’m probably going to look back at games from 2013 this month, but I don’t know which ones I’ll be looking at specifically. I hope you look forward to my next entry though.