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Stream Recap – Tomb Raider: Anniversary

tomb-raider-anniversary1In which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

After SOMA, I needed something easy going for my next game. What happens, you see, is that after I play a big, modern game with an emotional wrenching story with limited game play options I tend to need something that’s more traditional. I need a jump button. The power of a jump button should not be dismissed.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary has a jump button. But also a grappling hook. And nerve-wracking swimming. And unlimited bullets. It’s a reskin/reimaging of the first Tomb Raider game, which is a game I never played. I did, however, play Tomb Raider: Legend, which was a beauty of platforming when it was released. Anniversary uses that engine, though it’s never as pretty or impressive as that reboot.

Anyway, Anniversary! Is it fun? Sometimes! Other times, boy, is it frustrating. It can be buggy, which means that my live stream was sometimes me looking at my phone for tech help. That bit where the game wouldn’t register Laura grabbing the ledge high above a death fall until I switched the V-synch? Yeesh. But, other times, it’s darn impressive with it’s platforming. It made me want to play more games like that, not the collect-o-thons that Mario 64 wrought upon us.

Even though I didn’t play the early Laura Croft games, it made me nostalgic for games of old. It reminded me that I miss the days of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time or Maximo: Ghosts to Glory. Luckily, I still have Tomb Raider: Underworld, which I’m looking forward to after the slightly archaic nature of Anniversary. Glad I played it, met some viewers who had good feelings about the series and it delivered on the “game” sensibilities I needed after SOMA.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Stream Recap – SOMA

soma___official_cover_art_by_sethnemo-d93l45jIn which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

Frictional’s SOMA depressed me and I found it hard to play for long stretches because of that. The tension of the horror elements, the grime of  the world and the hopelessness of the story left me having little initiative to keep going. Add in the fact that I’m worried I’m developing some sort of motion-sickness, first noticed while playing Dishonored, and it wasn’t a pleasant time.

Limbo was a depressing game but it had platforming elements to keep my brain occupied on something besides it’s oppressiveness. SOMA, like other so-called “walking simulators” has little in the way of actual “game. It’s immersive but that comes at a price. Like the main character, trapped at the bottom of the ocean, I felt like there was no escape. A tough sell for someone looking for escapism.

previewscreen_08-0Luckily, the story is well told and the voice acting is strong. But, the tension is raised by the monsters roaming around with you in this ruined science faculty. It’s not that I found the designs of these creatures to be incredibly upsetting, but the jump-scares that were set upon me made me feel anxious, which isn’t a state of being I love to be in. Sweaty hands from intense wall climbing and combat is one thing, but a queasy stomach because something is going to scream and chase me is another, less desirable thing.

I suppose that’s what makes for a fun stream. I don’t know how many other games have elicited a reaction so broad from me before. I’ve yelled and screamed before, but not in pure terror like I did in SOMA. I don’t know how much fun the monsters make a stream in the long run, since, after the initial scares, I had to spend most of my time just hiding and not looking at them.

maintenance-0The other problem, and this might be a technical issue on my end, is that the game is very dark, graphically speaking. Most of the tension, I would assume, would come from dark hallways and intense lighting. But, to get the game to be even visible on my Twitch, I had to raise the brightness all the way up, eliminating much of the atmosphere. Again, maybe I could have done something else to fix the problem, mess around with OBS a little more, but my days of being a technical problem-solver are coming to a close.

Either way, I’m glad I played SOMA and experienced it’s rich, sci-fi story first-hand. This is definitely the kind of tale I would have enjoyed in a movie or book. In game form, I still appreciated it, but it left me with a pit in my stomach. I doubt I’m going to go back and play-through Frictional’s Amnesia games, because I don’t think I could handle the tension. But, I’ll definitely be paying attention to what they do next.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Stream Recap – Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

5_brothers_a_tale_of_two_sonsIn which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons during the opening. I looked dated and the opening cinematic didn’t do anything for me emotionally.

Once I was in control of the brothers, moving each along with their individual joysticks, things started to look up. It took me forever to wrap my head around the younger brother being the right sticks. I guess my brain thought the older brother is the main brother and the main brother should be on the right. It was an interesting process to remind myself that the younger brother is the main character and that I associate important characters with my right side. Co-op single player is a strange concept. It’s almost as if the concept of switching between characters in Donkey Kong Country was the precursor to something like Brothers.

brothers-a-tale-of-two-sons-freeThe game finally clicked with me just as I was getting to the end of the starting village. It had an autumn vibe about its atmosphere and the town was alive and unconcerned with me. The game started to feel crisp, moody and dangerous. If this town, that these two boys have grown up in, seem indifferent to me, then how is the rest of the world going to treat me?

The graphics really are fantastic. I know the game is old and that the style is much older, but it set a beautiful tone. It had character and mood and, yes, it looked like a game from the first X-Box but it was polished. Honestly, it reminded me, visually, of the first Fable game. I never played much of that series but I’ve always found the borderline cartoon aesthetic to be attractive. Brothers has that going for it and works for every part of the game.

screenshot-brothers-a-tale-of-two-sons-bridgeIt makes the game feel like an actual fable, like an older story that’s been told before. The things the brothers fight against and stumble upon are dark and seem like they’re trying to teach us something. Like, don’t save people because they might try to eat you and leave the corpses of giants alone.

The game reminded me of Limbo in all the right ways, though, of course, with color. The puzzles weren’t as crunchy as that game, but they were more satisfying than something like Braid. Braid‘s puzzles were the difficult that made me feel dumb but Limbo and Brothers have puzzles that make me feel smart. And a giant spider indifferent to my youth.

I like playing games like Brothers because it reminds me of the core of gaming. The sense of exploration but danger as well as the idea that you could make a full game based on a single concept. It could be that your whole game is boss fights like in Shadow of the Colossus or that you’re a car that plays soccer in Rocket League. I like playing games that don’t have to have the most complicated system in the world or tell their stories with endless cut-scenes. Brothers was immersive and its challenges were fun and interesting and, in the end, it was satisfying. I didn’t need more after the three hours of game provided. It told the story and showed the game-play it had prepared. It’s a game I plan to buy for all my friends this Christmas and maybe replay someday. It was great, to say the least.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Stream Recap – Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

middle-earth-shadow-of-mordorIn which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was just what the elven doctor ordered. I’ve been playing games like Far Cry  and Return to Castle Wolfenstein looking for some satisfying action and leaving unhappy. But Shadow of Mordor knew what I needed and delivered in spades.

What I needed was a game that made me feel like I was good at what I did. I needed a game that rubbed my shoulders and said, “You’re doing great, buddy.” I would play Shadow of Mordor and feel bad for the orcs I would happen upon, because I was death and they were not ready to die.

The action in the game is so beautifully fluid that I rarely ever saw pixels splash against each other. Every attack or block I commanded seemed like it was planned by the programmers and myself from the start. I actually found the combat to be better implemented than Batman: Arkham Asylum. Which explains why I never got tired of it.

shadow-of-mordor-3The highly praised Nemesis system held up to it’s reputation. However, I couldn’t get myself to exploit it like some people. The idea that I could let myself die and then get stronger orcs to fight, thus granting me better rewards, seemed to go against everything I believed in as a gamer. So, I didn’t have many returning foes. I fought to the death, but not to die. When I did die, I was happy to see the orc get promoted, but I couldn’t willing lose to them. Luckily, more often, the orcs I was fighting would retreat and that’s how my relationship with them grew. I liked seeing an old face who had escaped my wrath more than that of one who had killed me.

The story, however, did not impress me. Talion isn’t much of a charismatic lead. Ratbag, the orc you team up with, was such a fun character that when he was replaced with a boring hunter halfway through the game, I was almost angry. There was melodrama, but never compelling drama. The music sounded like the Lord of the Rings films, but never as memorable. But, that’s fine, because it was the combat and stealth that made the game such a joy to play and I’d rather it that way than reversed.

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I think I lost steam during the second half, when the new map was introduced. By that point, I had already cleared all the artifacts and glyphs and outcast missions from the first map and seeing them all over again, albeit in a new area, left me feeling exhausted. Plus, I was too strong to die often enough for the orcs to leave an impression and that second half felt lonelier. Even with branding, I wasn’t experiencing the personality the game had during the first half. And the less said about the end is still more than was put into the game.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was a great time that ran out of steam near the end. If I were to ever replay it, I can’t imagine I would chase the collectibles again, nor tackle the second map. But, my first playthrough was a great time and fully recharged me in a way other games haven’t in a while. I was excited to start each session and shoot beehives on unsuspecting orcs. I was excited to free slaves and unlocked new abilities. It’s a great game and I’m glad to have tackled it.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Stream Recap – Return to Castle Wolfenstein

12597-return-to-castle-wolfenstein-collector-s-edition-windows-front-coverIn which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a game that I never played as a teen. I didn’t buy my PS2 until the summer of 2002 and I didn’t go looking for many of the earlier games for the system. That means a first-person shooter from 2001 that was part of a series I never had any attachment to was ignored.

I think I first heard of the game when it was ported to the XBox but, again, I never went back to find it. Many years later, more than a decade even, I saw the game on a Steam sale and picked it up for about a dollar. I can never know when I need an old school shooter to pick me out of a funk.

As I mentioned in another post, I just played the Mass Effect for the first time. It was fun, for the most part, but near the end I was getting impatient. I decided during the last few hours that my next game had to be faster and have more action. Since Return to Castle Wolfenstein was one of the oldest games in my collection and some gameplay footage I watched looked just right, I gave it a go.

2863876-return_to_castle_wolfensteinThe game taught me that I’m not as good at older shooters as I used to be. Where once it was my genre of choice, now it feels like I’m an old man wondering where the bullets are coming from. I’ll admit, since there’s video evidence proving it, that I quick saved like a maniac who gets an electric stimulant whenever he presses F5. It’s the only way I was able to beat the game in a reasonable amount of time because it was tougher than I expected. I was a bullet sponge with no aim.

The bosses weren’t tough, but the levels took forever for me to get through. There were many sections where I was repeating the same corridor fight like a digitally violent version of Groundhog’s Day.

In the end, Return to Castle Wolfenstein was the type of game I was looking for, but it was a frustrating time. I wish I had been better at it, but I’ll excuse myself for it being an older game. I guess I’m now moving through first person shooters that I missed in chronological order, continuing with the first Far Cry. And there’s a bunch more after that, so maybe I’ll get better as I go along. I doubt it will be the same as when I was a teen. Gone are the days of playing the same game through multiple times for hours at a time. Now is the time of praying for body armor and checkpoints, just so I can finish the game at all.

You can find this stream and other videos here!

Streaming Makes Games More Fun

250px-masseffectWhen I say I’m behind in the world of video games, I’m not kidding. I just beat Mass Effect. The first one. From 2007. For those keeping track at home, that’s a decade old.

I could review the game but who needs that? Most have heard of it, played it and moved on. You’ve had ten years to find reviews, you don’t need mine. Well, fine, if I must. Combat is fun until you’re too strong, the story is entertaining until it gets in the way of it’s own momentum. The driving sections are the most frustrating “adventureing” I’ve ever done. I’m sure my opinion has greatly affected your purchase of this game.

But what I wanted to focus on was how this is now the first game I’ve streamed on my Twitch page from beginning to end. See, I’ve streamed before but never a whole game. On my YouTube, I only have the last three episodes of the second season of Telltale’s Walking Dead. As long as I keep playing the first Pillars of Eternity and recording it, that one will join the “complete” club, but I’ve only got two videos of that game out.

In the past, I’ve only streamed pieces of games. Some Knights of the Old Republic II or Doom 3. A lot of Hearthstone and FTL: Faster Than Light (why the abbreviation then?). But, again, it wasn’t a start-to-finish event.

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During Mass Effect, I had some people visit, mainly my wife and a few friends. But, what happens is, I keep talking and joking while playing the game, even without an audience. Just turning the camera on switches something in my brain. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter if I’m alone or not, I’m “on”. It might not make sense to others, but it makes the whole experience a bit more fun.

It makes me interact with the game more, like I would with friends around. If I’m playing alone and not streaming, I’m silent, just staring at the screen and passively thinking about the game. If I am streaming, I talk back to the characters, even if I have the same option to converse with them in-game. I make fun of the game, make comments on something being cool or impressive. I’m more likely to laugh or get angry. It sounds silly, but even pretending there’s an audience makes me more engaged in the game.

Which is good, because I think that explains a quarter of the enjoyment I got out of Mass Effect. Again, it’s a fine game but I think I would have become bored with it as I went along. The pacing might have been too slow, or the planetary exploration might have been too frustrating. Turning it into a performance, even slightly, made the game easier to get through, especially during the rough patches.

mass_effect_1___07_by_gelvuunIt also creates a sense of responsibility, if that makes sense. It puts a reminder in my head that, yes, I need to keep playing so I can keep streaming. I don’t want to miss a part of the game off-Twitch and have a gap in the play through. It’s not an addiction, but it does activate the completionist in me.

And by exporting my Twitch videos to my YouTube page, I can save them indefinitely (until the internet collapses and we’re hunting with packs of wolves in the dying twilight of humanity). It gives my YouTube a new life, a new sense of purpose. It means my old videos that I made with my friends can be surrounded by new material, whatever the form. I means I can share the playlist of all ten videos of me playing Mass Effect. 

The whole process made the game a better time. And when people do show up and talk about the game, it makes it better. I’m glad I had the few viewers I did during those driving sections. I’m glad I had someone else to talk about how annoying the characters could be or call me Neo when I tore an enemy force to ribbons. So, I’ll keep going. I’d like to record more games from beginning to end. If you’d like to see that happen, head over and say “hi”. Or stick to the Youtube and watch from there. Or I’ll just post finished playlists in their entirety here, since that was the point of posting a blog that was planned to to be much shorter.