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    Onrush (PS4)    by   jp       (Feb 1st, 2023 at 18:52:06)

    Picked this up cheap and now I know why. It was a blind purchase and it's been a while since I've played a driving game and this one looked like fun. As far as I can tell it's sort of a multi-player team-based Burnout where you drive, smash into others (there are even spawning vehicles for you to take down) and generally drive around like crazy. It has a progression system and lots of (seemingly) neat features BUT. The big BUT is that it is online-only and the servers shut down after I played it. So, I could play the game vs AI drivers and get something of a feel of the game but it won't track any of the progression so you can't really get that far.

    I played a few modes, they seemed ok, the action is fast and fun. I'm not sure how much variety there is nor what I'm missing out on exactly, but I can't tell.

    I really wish that when companies decided to shut games down they released the server code for free and let the fan community take over. I'd even be fine with them licensing the code for zero to fans that would set up servers and whatnot (if the concern is about not wanting to share code). In other words, once you've decided not to support online play anymore (in this case the entire game), let others take over if they want to.

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    Into the Breach (PC)    by   jp       (Jan 31st, 2023 at 00:40:32)

    First game of the semester for my critical game design class (Spring 2023). I hop to remember/be able to find the time to write about all of them. We'll see.

    So, this semester's theme is "turn-based tactical" games - and I picked Into the Breach because I'd been meaning to play it for a while and it seems like a high-water mark in the genre. I've also ruled out games that are too expensive (>$20), too old, too popular, and so on. Into the Breach is perhaps one of the more famous ones we'll play this semester...and, it's really good!

    Last semester we did rogue-likes, so for students who were in the class last semester this was a perfect segue into this semester. It's a rogue-like in (sort of?) interesting ways, but way more interesting as a turn-based tactical game. It was fun to struggle against the game before realizing that I was approaching the game "wrong" and that I could do better.

    The experience of the game changed for me when I had the (maybe false?) epiphany/assumption that it should be possible to clear each stage achieving all of the stage's goals. In other words, despite the randomization of certain elements, I assumed that the game's generator created a puzzle for which there was always at least one solution. This mindset helped - and it's possible that I'm wrong - but it made me approach each level with a much more cautious perspective. If you don't assume there's a perfect solution you're more likely to just wander in and try to "win" while failing to prevent the loss of side-objectives and so on. And the side-objectives, at least from my experience, are critical if you really want to make progress.

    Weird catch - and here's where I could be wrong - if each level has a solution (regardless of your mechs and their abilities, etc) THEN, what's the point of the game's progression system? (other than to make you feel good/better because you're stronger/better equipped? Hmm...maybe my assumption is wrong (even if it helps me play better).

    Also, I think that once you get to the final island it might be possible to get setup in a can't win situation. BUT, at least before that you can?

    I need to think about this, or at least do some research. Each game is long enough that losing due to RNG feels too punishing. It's definitely in the spirit of rogue-likes BUT not in the spirit of tactical games, so I think there's some tension there... I'll have to read up on design diaries and talks about the game. I'm pretty sure this was discussed somewhere (podcast maybe?).

    At least I was able to clear the game once (and then realizing I had unlocked a bunch of stuff, to I tried a new game with new mechs and it was also fun as much as the new mechs really bent all the learning I did for the starter ones by operating differently).

    I look forward to getting back to this one later - I never bothered to unlock the 4th island!

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    Assassin's Creed Odyssey (PS4)    by   dkirschner       (Jan 28th, 2023 at 20:53:14)

    Figure I'll do a little reflection on how this one's going. My last entry was at 40 hours. This one's at 80. Hopefully I finish it before 120. My earlier observation is correct. The game is ridiculously large, absurdly large. I'll say that there is no good reason it should be so large! Can we have like a 40-hour Assassin's Creed game?

    I played most of the game so far exploring every single "?" on the map. Recently, I stopped doing that because I realized that the game's level scaling doesn't hit a ceiling. I thought that at some point I would start to out-level enemies. After level 50, not only does it keep scaling, but you level out of your skill trees and can start spending ability points on other bonuses, like + damage with daggers or whatever. I realized that there was no use for experience anymore. Although I was mostly exploring the "?s" out of curiosity, they definitely get same-y. Another huge fort, another bandit camp, another temple, another animal lair. After a long time, I decided these things were slowing me down too much to be worth the enjoyment of doing them.

    Now, I am only doing quests, exploring wherever those happen to take me. This makes for a more focused experience, and I am still clearing many "?s". Some quests are quite long and require going all over the world map to complete. For example, a blind man wants you to synchronize 5 tall view points and describe what they are like. A huntress wants you to slay some legendary beasts. These, handily, are marked by golden "?s" on the map instead of regular white "?s". I've been able to clean up these quests by exploring enough to find the golden icons and focus on those. I've also completed the arena, competed in the Olympics, and killed several mythological creatures (Cyclops, the Minotaur, the Sphinx!).

    I'm getting close to eliminating all the cultists, too. I might have 10 or so more, and have already killed a couple of the main ones. My last play session, I killed one through a story quest. He was a reigning champion fighter in the Olympics (of course you get to participate in the Olympics), but was a cheat! I found him on a bench later and one-shot him with a charged assassination. Then I killed another on accident. I was clearing a fort to complete a quest and got spotted, which caused most of the fort to rush me. I was slaughtering them all and suddenly I got a "confirm cultist kill" popup. There was a cultist in the fort?! Another one bites the dust, I guess.

    In that pile of bodies were also like 5 mercenaries. I've figured out how these annoying enemies work more since my last entry. When someone sees you kill someone else or steal, your bounty goes up. Once your bounty reaches a certain point, a mercenary comes after you. Your bounty can keep increasing until up to 5 mercenaries are looking for you. And find you they will. I used to fight them, because there is some system whereby you kill increasingly difficult mercenaries to get rewards at blacksmiths and shops or something. After purposefully hunting mercenaries for a while though, it became clear that a better course of action is to avoid them and kill the person who placed the bounty on your head. After avoiding mercenaries for a while and killing people who placed bounties on my head, it became clear that an even better course of action is to just pay the bounty so the mercenaries will go away. This strategy is far simpler. As long as you aren't going around slaughtering townsfolk and stealing from the town square, you can easily afford to pay your bounty whenever it gets high enough to be annoying (which is to say, when mercenaries start interrupting whatever it is you are trying to do in the game). I really would miss nothing if the mercenary system didn't exist, though I understand how it ties to the story (your character is a mercenary and this is a thing; there are mercenaries everywhere).

    Another thing I finally figured out, or rather finally took advantage of, is upgrading gear and equipping legendary sets. It's not too expensive to keep a set of legendary gear upgraded. By the time you are my level (57...?), you have a lot of legendary gear and don't need to spend time slogging through your inventory all the time assessing your 20 new shoulder pads. It's far more efficient to pick your best legendaries to keep upgraded, based on your play style. I like assassination abilities and using daggers and swords. So, I have been going with gear that provides bonuses to that stuff, as well as a gear bonus of +40% to poison efficacy, which is sick. My poison ability costs nothing, so I have perpetual poison daggers that do a ton of damage. I could re-spec and make poison an even stronger backbone of my offense.

    I've still got several totally unexplored regions of the world map, and I can see a few cultists in those regions. Otherwise, most everywhere else is explored. I still can't say enough cool things about how beautiful ancient Greece is. I love just running, riding, or sailing around. It's easy to be aimless in this game. I know that, in addition to the remaining cultists (main quest) and side quests to clear up, there are DLCs. I've read that the Atlantis one is the best, so I'm looking forward to it. I'm not sure if I'll take a break from the game after beating the main story before tackling DLC, or if I'll burn straight through it. I'm not playing much, so I probably won't get tired if I go straight through. But yeah, this game is so, so long...

    Here's to continuing to chip away! At the rate I'm able to play, it'll take me the rest of the semester.

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    Shadow of the Tomb Raider (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jan 28th, 2023 at 20:16:54)

    This was better than the last one, but I'm glad to be done. These games are bloated with items to pick up and needless optional tombs, crypts, side quests, and challenges. If you skip all that stuff, you'll cut your playtime in half. Unfortunately, my brain has a hard time ignoring map icons, so I squirrelled away items and explored most of the map for about 75% of the game before finally focusing on the story and finishing up. As such, the pacing was off for me. The skill tree is done a little bit differently and is a little more useful than the previous two games, but more or less the same. And the funniest thing, I complained hard during the previous game about "survival instincts " or whatever it's called when you click the right stick and it highlights interactable objects and enemies. It only lasted a couple seconds and I seriously spent the game clicking the right stick for most of the time. One of the very first skills you can unlock in this game increases the duration of survival instincts. They knew it was a horribly implemented feature! They knew everyone hated it! So they graced us with survival instincts that are not maddeningly short (for a skill point).

    The best thing about Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the setting. They nailed it in the jungles of Peru with all the ancient civilizations that were there. Since this is the final game of the trilogy, the stakes are raised too. The bad guy is THE leader of Trinity. His story, while still leaning into a savior complex, was far more interesting than the guy with the face scar whose name I don't remember from Rise of the Tomb Raider. He's got a history with the people in the Peruvian jungles, is connected to the people and the setting in a way that the previous villain wasn't. The stakes are also raised for Lara. In the first 10 minutes, she accidentally sets in motion the end of the world (oops!).

    Lara has to wrap up the drama surrounding her family and her own life too. You get more clarity on her childhood, what happened to her parents, and what she wants from life. At one point, angry and frustrated, she laments that she could have had a family and led a totally different life. I like Lara's development over the three games. There is this amazing moment in Shadow of the Tomb Raider that contrasts with one of the most memorable moments of the first game. In the first game--her first adventure--she kills her first enemy in self-defense. She's horrified at the killing. She comes to terms with it during that game (and kills hundreds of people over the trilogy). At one point in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the bad guy asks her how many people she's killed, how many lives she's ruined, and she's fairly dumbfounded and can't respond. But there's this scene--the most badass scene I've played in a game or watched in a show or movie in memory--in an oil refinery. An earthquake has hit, Trinity is flying helicopters around blowing up the refinery, the bad guy has just told Lara that he's killed her friend. She's furious. It's chaos. One of the series' trademark escape set pieces happens (these are breathtaking) and Lara jumps into the water at the end of the set piece. She emerges from the water, camera facing her, like a fucking sea banshee. Fire from the burning refinery lighting up the background, burning buildings and oil on water, Lara dark and wet in the foreground. An enemy grunt sees her and tentatively yells at her to stop as she stalks toward him. She says something like, "You don't want to mess with me," he attacks her, and she beats the shit out of him before taking his knife and stabbing him to death. It was really violent and emotional.

    How far she came from the scared, vulnerable, novice adventurer she was at the beginning of the first game.

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    Monkey King: Hero is Back (PS4)    by   jp       (Jan 18th, 2023 at 18:04:15)

    To my surprise I kept on playing to the end. Probably something like 10 hours in total?

    This is such a strange game - though I did learn that apparently it's a movie tie-in. This explains a lot actually, because the game's production values and art design are really good. It's the gameplay that's surprisingly lacking in polish (jumping continues to be my bane in this game). That being said, as I played more I decided to dip in and try some of the magic spell stuff, and yes, it was fun. Luckily for me the game wasn't too challenging, but it was hard enough to keep my attention and the more I played the better I felt I got - counters, etc. So, I got better at all the timing-related combat stuff, which felt good.

    I thought the final boss was particularly fun. It's not really a challenge - at this point in the game you've the Monkey King is back, having lost the last chain, and a giant weird worm-rock-monster thing with legs appears and you fight it. But, you're basically immune and so you're sort of floating in air doing attacks all to charge up some super attack. Every now and then the monster swallows you and you button-mash and wiggle the stick, and an animation plays that's really funny (you're seeing the monster from the outside and you're like bouncing around inside it, like a cartoon). Then you hit the super attack and the game ends - with cut-scenes, credits and more cut-scenes.

    In addition to flaky jumping and general repetitiveness of the gameplay, one of the more annoying things is that once you meet him you're accompanied by this pig-man general. He's always there but conveniently disappears when you start fighting, has no trouble with the platforming (often just disappears in a cloud and re-appears once you've made it to the next ledge, for e.g.). It felt a bit lame to have a sidekick that was supposedly useful but useless in practice. It's a minor quibble - and I'm guessing that implementing additional behaviors and whatnot was out of the dev time scope, but still.

    Either way, I'm glad I played it!

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    Odin Sphere (PS2)    by   richard.perez

    No comment, yet.
    most recent entry:   Sunday 18 April, 2010
    Odin Sphere is an amazing graphical game and with original game play elements that merge a farm simulation with a dining aspect. The writing of the game is woven among five main characters that interact together to piece the story together in a very grim and dramatic fashion.

    The premise revolves around a ring that is destined to be the catalyst to the end of the world. The main themes follow and are inspired by Wagner's epic "Ring of the Nibelung" a opera written in such massive scope it needs to be performed over a few days and features the "Ride of the Valkyrie's" musical score.

    This game however is an rpg that defies all modern gaming concepts with more focus on dramatic presentation than any other game i have played. Coming in a close second might be "Heavy Rain" but the difference is that Heavy Rain is reality based and Odin Sphere is heavy in Mythology.

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