May was a strange month, wasn’t it? Between the sudden cold snap followed abruptly by intense heat, the back to back protests with wildly different outcomes, the out-of-nowhere reveals of a new Paper Mario that actually looks decent. May 2020 has continued the trend of making the preceding months seem vanilla and tame by comparison. It’s been a really great time for people like me though; people who respond to even mild stress by locking themselves away and playing video games for 20 hours straight then passing out for 30 hours. I really hope everyone is holding on and doing as well as they can do; if nothing else here’s a brief glimpse of the ways I’ve been dissociating myself from reality.
(Woo, Usagi Meme!)
Wolfenstein: The New Order sounds fairly plain on paper, it’s an alternate future where World War 2 ended differently and now you have to try taking down a Third Reich who’s had about 13 years to build up infrastructure, and popular support. Alternate futures based off of World War 2 going differently, as far as concepts go, is about as vanilla as suggesting fantasy dwarves dwell in mountain caves, and elves commune with trees, but for a first-person shooter it gives you all the context you need to mow down new world authority figures with fully-automatic shotguns in each of your meaty mitts. The first time I played this was years ago when I picked up a copy for cheap on the PS3, but I got stuck and stopped playing until recently. This past month I played it again on PC, and it’s been an almost completely different experience.
(Wolfenstein: The Not Quite As New One)
For one thing the difference in load times, graphical fidelity, and ease of use, is extreme on PC compared to the last-generation Sony console I was more used to. As much fun as I had with it this past month, and however many years ago, I don’t know when I’ll play through it again. The New Order is really tough, even on medium difficulty. An aspect that I had trouble getting to grips with were those times when gameplay would shift from explicit action to stealth. If you don’t take out the generals in a stealthy manner, they call in reinforcements which make the inevitable gunfight that follows much more difficult. Most of the time, shootouts happen in relatively large arenas with plenty of places to hide if you need to, and plenty of things to break that will provide you with extra ammo, armor, and/or weapons. Any time a specific battle would give me trouble, it was usually easy for me to change up my strategy and make it through on a second or sometimes third attempt.
I like how the levels are laid out, and I like the enemy variety well enough, but I wish there were either more boss fights or the boss fights didn’t all happen right at the end of the game. They’re not necessarily back-to-back, but the bosses you fight don’t show up until the final three or four chapters. It would have been great if they were spread more evenly throughout the campaign instead. It’s a really good campaign, and I’m glad I finally made it to the end. A part of me would be happy to just stop now and pretend the series ended with New Order, but I do have some morbid curiosity regarding the rest of the current series.
Thief, that is the remake of the PC stealth series released in 2014 on most consoles and PC, not the original stealth game released on PC in 1998, is a game that I tried getting into a few times and tried getting into again this past month. I really want to like this game, but there are always factors that are holding me back. I first borrowed the PS4 version from my brother a few years ago, but Final Fantasy XV and Bloodbourne were much more engaging for me. I bought the game for cheap last year on PC, but I’ve run into a weird bug that doesn’t play the voice track. From what I’ve seen in reviews though, this is probably a blessing in disguise given how cringe some of the things that come out of Garrett’s mouth are. Besides, it’s the stealth and theft that I’m interested in, not the monologues about the night and how it sets you free. While trying to fix audio issues I found that the auto-save didn’t want to work with me until I completely finished the opening mission or missions and made it to the clock tower. It’s not a particularly long stretch of gameplay, but the first time I made it that far, it still took around a half hour or 45 minutes, give or take. I had to repeat this process several times though because of stopping, restarting, and reinstalling while I monkeyed about with different files and settings.
(I'm glad we don't live in the reality where this game was called Thi4f)
Having to restart the opening of a game is a great way to sour one to the experience as a whole, but these technical issues were mostly my own...until I realized that quick-save and quick-load didn’t work until after a set of story things happen. I took a week or so off so I could play a different game or five, but when I did get back into Thief 2014 and finally get into it. I had a pretty good time sneaking through relatively small, densely populated areas. What made me stop and uninstall again though was a set-piece chase that occurred when I reached the overseer’s office of a crematorium for a plot mission. I had made it that far without being seen, without raising any alarms, I didn’t even knock anybody out. Once I solved a simple puzzle to open a chest though, an NPC opened the door and raised the alarm in a cutscene, triggering a high-alert escape from the place and back to the safety of the city. What I didn’t like about that is how it set a precedent and made me lose my trust in the rest of the narrative. What I wanted out of Thief was the opportunity to freely break into, sneak, and steal, then sneak my way right out again. Instead I’m concerned that every time I walk through a door I’ll have to watch a cutscene and be pushed along a story path that I don’t really care about. I’ll probably get back into Thief 2014 again in a month or few since the gameplay wasn’t terrible, but it just wasn’t as engaging as I had hoped.
Thief II: The Metal Age isn’t a sequel to the 2014 reboot of the Thief series, but it is the 2000 sequel to the original Thief that launched in 1998. I played this alongside Thief 2014 to see what came before and like with the remake, I didn’t play this for too long. I just did the opening level which has a fairly simple premise: knock out guards so that your friend Basso can save his girlfriend from an arranged marriage and elope with her. There’s also a ring you’ll need to find somewhere in the manor, so have fun looking around through a bunch of chests of drawers and end tables. As for payment, just grab whatever isn’t nailed down and you’re good to go.
(Pay my rent or get the Hell out of my way)
The manor you sneak around in is fairly large but still densely populated with patrolling guards. Since this is a game from 2000, they have trouble seeing you if you’re on a different plane from them (for example: if you’re on a staircase you’re basically invisible to guards who are above and below you). If you get spotted you can defend yourself with a sword or your blackjack, but if you kill guards you’ll eventually hit a failstate: after all, Garrett is a thief, not a murderer. Once you get a feel for how quickly you move compared to guards, what their patrol patterns are, the boundaries of where you are and aren’t invisible, things fell into place and I started enjoying myself.
I spent just under an hour roaming around the manor, stealing things, bonking guards on the head, and by the time I had decided to move on and look at the next level I was told I had only found a fraction of what was hidden in that first level. It’s easy to forget that, despite how ugly games from this era could be, they’re utterly packed with hidden rooms, chambers, hallways, and just...stuff. Sure, I could move onto the next level, which is asking me to steal X amount of gold because I have rent to pay, or I could go back to that first level and try to find all of the treasures I missed on that first run. Or I could move on and play some other games this month.
Alien: Isolation is a game I played briefly a few years ago on the PS4, but I stopped playing fairly early on because I didn’t like the idea of losing potential quarters of hours every time I failed to hide from a xenomorph, robot, or scavenging murderer. I didn’t plan on playing A:I again, but then I bought it on Steam because it was cheaper than a Big Mac. I’m glad I gave it another chance; this time I made it much farther before I uninstalled it out of frustrated anxiety.
(It probably hears you...and sees you...and it's probably about to undo the last 20 minutes of your progress)
The first time I played Isolation, I was killed by the Xenomorph when it’s introduced because I didn’t know how to call the tram to my location. This happened about 3 times before I quit, but this time I made it all the way to the medical wing where I was told to find a way into the medical supply closet so I could get a doctor to help me heal an NPC (I think, I was on the fifth chapter when I quit this time). Up until then, I managed to sneak around this massive space station in a way that I thought was random, but which always seemed to lead me to the next crucial piece of equipment that I needed.
After a while I began to recognize some tells; for example, if a vent is spewing drool and a black miasma, I should probably avoid it. If I hear people screaming and loud lip-smacking noises then I’m probably safe to run the Hell away down any other corridor since the Xenomorph is occupied. After a while though, the tension broke and I just lost interest. I played until I was killed by the alien, but I put a few bullets into its carapace with no noticeable effect. I say this a lot, but I mean it when I say I’ll probably go back and try again later on. Honest, I’ll try again sooner or later, really.
Did you know that the servers for Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U are still active? I didn’t know that until a few weeks ago. I played for a couple of hours, going up against a surprisingly active player base and doing as well as finishing 4th in one of my races! I played Mario Kart 8 quite a bit when it was new, but I never got so into it that I put hundreds of hours into it. I played it a bit more when it re-released on the Switch a few years ago, but again I didn’t put hundreds or even dozens of hours into it. Since the Switch won’t let you play online unless you pay for the ‘service’ I’m glad there’s an option for someone like me who has a Wii U, but who isn’t willing to pay for Nintendo Online. Not that I see myself playing Mario Kart 8 again in the foreseeable future. It’s a fun game, but I had my fun long ago and am ready to move on.
A year ago when I built my current computer I picked up Final Fantasy VI on Steam and modded the Hell out of it. I kept getting distracted by other games, but this past month Final Fantasy VI distracted me and roughly 27 hours later I’m at a point where I’m murdering dinosaurs before I storm a massive tower to fight God.
(One of the best games in the franchise)
I’ve only played through Final Fantasy VI once before, and even though I’m doing more during this playthrough than on my previous one, I’m not intending on making this a 100% run. For one thing, teaching Gau his Rage attacks is utterly tedious, same with Strago and his blue magic. I don’t really care for the colosseum, but since it’s purely a numbers game I’m sure I’ll be able to get a lot out of it after a few more hours of grinding. I’ve had a little bit of trouble with a couple of fights too, which I wasn’t expecting, but which I found refreshing. Leviathan killed me a couple of times, and the Magic Master stumped me until I found the Phoenix magicite and learned what ReRise is.
If I wanted to, I could probably end my playthrough right now, since I have the master scroll, the Soul of Thamasa, and several of the item that reduces the cost of casting spells to 1MP. I at least want to get everybody up to level 50 before I go back to Kefka’s Tower, I want to finish off the last two dragons, I want to go to the Dragon’s Den and Soul Chateau or whatever the new secret dungeon is called, before I call this playthrough done...and then I did. Between drafting and publishing this journal entry, I killed God and started exploring the Dragon's Den. I may have even killed two of the nine dragons, I'm not sure because I was killed by the third and I don't know how far back the auto-save goes.
Dark Souls III was on sale on PC, I picked it up, and I wanted to see how it ran on my system. Then I ran around for half an hour jumping off of a specific tree, fighting the worst Gundyr, and deciding that I don’t have enough time in a month for as many time sinks as I wound up playing. I played through Dark Souls III last year, or possibly the year before, and I’m sure I bored everybody talking about it when I did. I surprised myself when I was able to knock out Gundyr on the first try, since I remember having trouble with it on the PS4 version. I’m more than likely going to play through this game next month since it’ll be relevant to my decade project.
I’m surprised I didn’t start playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution DX sooner. When I installed it a couple of months ago I meant to play and refresh myself on it. I wanted to have a better idea of what I was writing about for that section of my decade project, and I thought I would need a refresher. Instead, I spent a huge portion of May sneaking through Detroit, Hengsha, a freighter, an oil rig, and all sorts of other strongholds. Human Revolution was a game I liked so much when I played it on the PS3, that I picked it up again when it launched on the Wii U. I liked it so much on that platform that I picked it up again on Steam. I feel like I always play this game the same way though: I do my best to play non-lethally (and succeed!) but on my latest playthrough I failed to unlock the no-alert achievement.
(Stay out of the women's restroom, or don't)
When I first played through the DLC in the Wii U version, and when I played it recently on the PC, I didn’t like how it completely de-powers you. At first anyway; On my most recent playthrough I appreciated that aspect more since before that point, and after that point, I was essentially over powered. I got to a point where I had spent my praxis points on everything I needed and had a surplus. I never really bought the plot of the game either: I just don’t see people discriminating against a group of people who have prostheses because of those prostheses. I imagine a scenario where a very young child gets a synthetic heart because her organic one was malformed or otherwise damaged. She wakes up, begins to recover, and right outside of her window are a group of protesters calling her the second coming of Joseph Stalin. The thing that happens towards the end of the plot that justifies a lot of the prejudice is probably something that should have happened earlier, but even if it did it seems like a shaky basis to form a prejudice. I want that Foxiest of the Hounds achievement, and I’ve got a new game+ waiting for me. I’m pretty sure that specific achievement is linked to alarms being set off, so I should be fine going lethal during my next playthrough.
I’ve never played a Jazz Jackrabbit game before this month, and when I did it was the one that never actually launched. As part of the Destructoid Band of Bloggers prompt for May, a prompt about cancellations since it seemed poignant, I downloaded the demo for Jazz 3 and played it for about half an hour. It reminded me a lot of the Sega Dreamcast era of games. The world presented was open, 3D, and filled with those weird, old metal textures you may remember. Every time you fire your blaster it generates a glow effect that lights up dark areas, but that was one of the features the Unreal Engine was known for.
(There are a lot of fonts going on up there...)
In terms of gameplay, I didn’t have the best experience. The frame rate was wildly inconsistent, and with it my control of Jazz himself. These were high frame rates too, but I couldn’t say what the numbers actually were since I didn’t have that information on-screen while I played. I never totally lost control, but when things went from fast to ludicrously fast it felt like I was trying to navigate over ice. Enemies would come at me from around corners, but there wasn’t enough feedback for me to realize I was taking damage a lot of the time. Attacking enemies was fairly satisfying, and there were even powered up enemies who I would consider to be mini-bosses. They dropped upgrade items that I couldn’t figure out how to use, but in addition to a blaster I did find a slightly different weapon (a grenade launcher type thing) that didn’t seem too much better or worse.
It didn’t seem like a terrible game, but I never really knew anybody who was into Jazz Jackrabbit at all when I was a kid. I guess that might explain why Jazz 3 never released, but I didn’t know about a lot of games when I was younger: Deus Ex, Grim Fandango, Rocket Knight...I guess those weren’t popular among my friends either now that I think about it.
I have very mixed feelings on Saints Row IV. For one thing I only played it for about three hours, and in that time I played through a tired, boring tutorial level all about killing terrorists in a cave, a tired boring turret section when aliens invaded, and a quirky yet boring 1950’s tutorial thing that turned into a pretty fun tutorial kind of thing. After all of that mandatory tedium was out of the way I got into the meat of the game and that game is Crackdown.
(This got really old, really quickly)
I really liked Crackdown back when I had an Xbox 360, and maybe 2 other games aside from it. It’s pretty fun running up the side of a building, jumping off of it, gliding for a quarter mile, then suplexing 2 dozen aliens. It’s just kind of a shame that the spectacle wore off so quickly for me. Steelport doesn’t seem big enough to take full advantage of all the new movement based powers you get. It’s easy to move from one end of the map to the other, and back, with no real adversity along the way, and in only a minute or three. All of the cars, therefore, are basically rendered pointless since running and jumping is a far more effective way to get around.
There seem to be a wide variety of guns, but the shooting seemed really bland to me: Stand in place or crouch in cover, trade shots with aliens who do chip-damage to you, shoot their heads once to kill. This was fine in Saints Row the Third, but in that game I couldn’t run at enemies and powerbomb them at the speed of sound.
The story goes a little something like this: The leader of the Third Street Saints infiltrates a terror cell, stops a nuke, and is then made into the President of the United States. Five years of bland leadership later, aliens invade and abduct you and your entire cabinet (except for your hacker Kenzie). She hacks the alien supercomputer you’ve been hooked up to, thus giving you autonomy in a simulated world.
Kinzie hacking the matrix is the explanation for you collecting power pellets, you becoming a superhero, and the textures of buildings and people glitching out and looking terrible. I was drawn in, and the moment-to-moment gameplay was fine, but it just wasn’t Saints Row to me and that’s what I wanted to play. I was kind of surprised I was able to play this game at all: When I first got it (and 2, and 3) none of them wanted to run on my PC. I don’t know what I did, or what changed, but this one decided to start working out of nowhere so maybe the good one and the phenomenal one will start working now too. Find out with me next month!
This past month there was a Sierra bundle on offer through the Humble store. It was a collection of titles including the complete Space Quest series, Quest for Glory series, the 2 Phantasmagoria games, but what drew me to it at all was the complete season pass for the King’s Quest revival that launched in 2015 and concluded in 2016. Velocity 2X was part of the bundle and it was the only other thing from that bundle I’ve tried so far.
(It only just hit me that I don't know that person's name...)
From the screenshots, it looked like a metroidvania type of game where you explore space stations from the inside and out. What it actually is, is an arcade-style game that asks you to quickly fly and warp around linear stages collecting energy shards. It seems downright archaic to me, and the presentation puts me in mind of a mobile game aping the design of one or two arcade games from decades ago. That’s not to say it’s a bad game, it’s just a very familiar trek down a well worn street to me. The main goal is to make it from the start of each stage to the end as quickly as possible. Enemies aren’t even introduced until about the fourth or fifth stage if you want an idea of how unimportant combat is to the experience as a whole. It’s not something I plan on spending a lot of time with, but Velocity 2X is functional, and fairly entertaining in really small doses.
The first chapter of the King’s Quest revival is free, and I liked going through it a month or five ago. I didn’t like how the game bent-over backwards to make sure I won in the end, but that first chapter made me really interested in picking up the other four chapters. The bundle has been on sale a few times, but those past sales were never as good as the humble bundle I ended up buying: $12 for King’s Quest chapter 2 - 5 isn’t a deal I’ve seen before, but it comes with the Police Quest series too!? Score!
(...and then I walked 4 steps to the right and I was eaten by a crocodile)
This month I played through King’s Quest chapter 2, and things changed in a huge way. The first chapter of King’s Quest was fairly slow paced, I could solve the puzzles in any order, seemingly in any way, and it doesn’t seem like anything too terrible can happen. In chapter 2 you’re working against a ticking clock, and for me I was too slow to save everybody. I felt terrible when I realized there was no way to go back, and undo the horrible mistakes I’ve made. I plan on starting a new playthrough from scratch, but for this one I’m determined to get through without a guide.
The gist of the story is a little something like this; the newly crowned King Graham is overwhelmed by his new responsibilities as King, so he goes out for a walk and is kidnapped by goblins. It seems like every familiar face from the last chapter was also kidnapped, and it’s up to you to save them before starvation sets in and they die. Since I had no idea what I was doing, or who to help, I wound up watching as a number of people were taken away, seemingly dead. Despite this, I still went with the compassionate ending when I finally made it to the Goblin King (no, not that one) when I probably could have been justified in being more combative. By the end of Chapter 2, I’m still really liking the world and presentation. Part of why I plan on doing a second playthrough is because I want to see the best possible story path. I’ll likely have King’s Quest as a whole finished next month, so stay tuned!
If you noticed a theme in the games I played this month, it’s that I played a lot of stealth, and a lot of narrative-based games. Life is Strange, like King’s Quest , is an episodic adventure game that reminds me of a couple of movies. Unlike King’s Quest, which reminds me of Princess Bride, and Labyrinth, Life is Strange reminds me of a mix between Juno and The Butterfly Effect. You play as Max, a girl who can reverse time for some reason. I only played through the first chapter, so I’m sure the nature of her chronomancy is definitely going to be explained in one of the other chapters. I don’t know and I’m not going to find out because I quickly lost interest in this one.
(Unlikable people being unlikable, the game)
Navigation was a pain in the ass, and interacting with things that I wanted to interact with felt really unrefined. On paper, it should be easy: press the top face button to examine (triangle, Y, etc), press the bottom face button to use (X, A, etc). That’s what the game tells me, but there were instances where pressing ‘triangle’ caused Max to interact with a thing and change things around. That’s a little bit annoying, but if 2 interactable items are close to each other the system has a little freak-out and loses track of which one you might want to interact with. This comes to a head during times where there’s a time limit or an implied time limit. There’s a definite time limit when you try to find a hammer to smash a glass to pull the fire alarm. There’s an implied time limit when you break into your classmate’s dorm to hack her PC and print something off. I feel like the game could have done a better job telling me what was going on. Then again, the game itself might be an unreliable narrator since it explicitly told me to play with a controller instead of using the mouse and keyboard.
Since the magical time travel isn’t going to be explained, or exploited to make Max a wealthy God on Earth, the plot instead revolves around Max reconnecting with a friend from high school, Chloe. Chloe owes thousands of dollars to a drug dealer and is getting a lot of flak from her stepdad. He’s a militant jerk, but Chloe doesn’t seem very endearing either since she spends her time antagonising a drug dealer and smoking pot in bed. Maybe she has a redemption arc, maybe not. The gameplay frustrated me, I didn’t really like any of the characters, and the little bit of a plot that was there didn’t engage me. I’m glad I didn’t spend any money on this, but I don’t regret trying it. Then I watched a few reviews of the game and now I do feel like it was a waste of time.
Well, that’s May done then. The summer months are looming and even though things are starting to open up again I don’t see myself jumping at every opportunity to leave my house. There’s probably a Steam sale on the horizon, but even if it doesn’t happen until July I’ve built up a massive backlog of games that I could get into. I’m close to the end of Final Fantasy VI, so I’ll definitely be finishing that in the coming month. Once that’s over and done with, I’ll probably see if I can get my PC to play Saints Row 2 but even if it does, my half hour with Dark Souls III was more than enough to give me that old itch. There isn’t anything new that’s on my radar, but I only just found out what EYE: Divine Cybermancy is and that looks like it’ll hold me over until Cyberpunk launches once I buy it. Until next time though; stay safe out there.