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    Watch Dogs 2 (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Nov 30th, 2022 at 19:51:41)

    This is GTA with hacking. Overall, I enjoyed it, found it a breath of fresh air in open world games. Although the GTA formula is nothing new, the hacking kept me engaged; actually, I became more engaged over time as I unlocked new abilities and wrapped my head around the hacking puzzles. This was a freebie on Epic. I never would have bought it, but am glad that I played it (though it subjectively felt like forever, took me all semester, yet told me in the end I clocked only 29 hours).

    By far my favorite aspect of the game was the setting. San Francisco is beautifully depicted. The game starts you—a Black character named Marcus—by the ocean, a pride flag waving in the breeze. Immediately, representation matters. There is a city councilwoman who is trans. The Watch Dogs version of The Church of Scientology attempts to blackmail her by releasing her gender reassignment surgery photos. There is also a hacker in a rival organization named Lenni, who is a masculine-presenting woman. I don’t recall references to her sexuality, but apparently it used to list that she “appears to be a lesbian” on a fan wiki I’m looking at (https://watchdogs.fandom.com/wiki/Lenora_Kastner). There are strings of comments with people asking that “appears to be a lesbian” be removed since the author is assuming sexuality from gender presentation, and of course counter comments that are as ignorant as one could imagine. The city is full of what makes San Francisco cool, and the developers take a firm stance on the side of diversity and inclusion. Case in point: the corrupt politician in the game is obviously a reference to Donald Trump. His name instead is Truss. He wants to “Make the Bay Area Stronger!” And, humorously, he tries to rig the election, the very hill Trump chose to die on four years after the game’s release.

    One of the game’s (optional) activities is to find local landmarks through an app (like TripAdvisor) and take selfies in front of them. Posting selfies on Watch Dog’s social media app nets followers, which gets you research points to spend on ability upgrades and cosmetic items. I didn’t care about the cosmetic items, had more research points than I knew what to do with by the end of the game, but boy did I love exploring San Francisco’s unique locations. I spent a good chunk of my playtime finding them, and I just remember that I missed one! Argh! It was some people playing as zombies in a graveyard at night; I never returned after dark. You can photograph obvious ones like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and that really steep road, various murals, sculptures, and other artwork, well-known street performers and restaurants, and so on. I think that if the game’s location was not so cool, I would not have kept playing, because the gameplay took time to grow on me and I wasn’t enamored with the main characters (Marcus was pretty cool, but they descended in coolness from there [note: my opinion would be different if I was a 15-year-old boy]).

    I said that the gameplay took time to grow on me. That’s partly because it doesn’t differentiate itself much from GTA in the beginning. You can 3d print a gun, hijack a car, and cause general mayhem within minutes. Your first hacking tools are basic: open doors, hack cameras, hack people’s phones. The latter activity is humorous for a while, until you realize how little sense it makes. By hacking people’s phones—and you can do this to any NPC—you see their mood, job, income, and a random fact. Like, “David Kirschner 😊. Sociology Professor. Salary: $60,000. Eats old food instead of throwing it away.” You can also transfer money from their bank account, listen in on their calls, and read their texts. Interesting for a while, then repetitive. The professions and salaries make me laugh sometimes. I think I did see a sociology professor, but the salary was like $150,000. Wishful thinking. Delivery drivers will make $200,000, while a tech CEO will make $30,000. It seems random. The random facts are all “dirty little secrets” like “likes to wear women’s underwear” or “picks her nose when no one is looking.”

    Hacking presents more opportunities for annoying people instead of just killing them GTA style, and over time the puzzles open up. Some of the “annoy people” type missions are pretty funny though. For example, there is a side mission where you hack an ATM and mess with customers: eat their card, donate their money to charity, etc. The people get so mad. Main missions are more serious, and as I came to enjoy the gadgets I had access to (a remote-controlled car and a drone) and learned how to solve the hacking and platforming puzzles, they became easier. Puzzles generally involve (a) using gadgets to (b) get to a high or otherwise unreachable place to (c) bypass security locks. As evidence of the moment of my mastery here, I completed a series of “tagging” missions, which culminated in figuring out how to scale the highest place in the game, the Golden Gate Bridge. Getting to high places often involves finding the machinery to get you there: forklifts, cranes, and the like, which you can hack to transport you from rooftop to rooftop, for example.

    The hacking puzzles themselves are neat. They are a bit difficult to explain. Imagine looking at a wall, and on the wall you see a network of cables with various switches. There is a “power source,” and you route the power through the cables, rotating the switches in the correct way to unlock more switches, and eventually channel the power to open a door or whatever is the object of the puzzle. That’s one of the basic puzzles, like some cables in a wall. Now, imagine later puzzles: cables crisscrossing up the side of an entire building; cables going up walls and across ceilings through several rooms in a server farm; multiple of these rooms, connected by satellites, spanning the globe!

    You can do other things with your hacking skills too, and you’ll need to, because despite the option to attempt playing this game like GTA, that path will lead to frustration and (character) death. While driving, you can disrupt the power grid, change red lights, make other cars swerve, and blow up manhole covers. All this is mildly effective at deterring the police, and I mainly used these tricks to cause chaos for fun. Although, you’ll rarely be driving long distances unless you want to. There is a generous fast-travel system that’ll get you within a few blocks of most anywhere on the map.

    As far as going on the offensive on foot, you’ll make use of disrupting people’s phones so they can’t call for back-up, you’ll turn their phones into remote bombs, zap them with electric shocks, and my favorite, put a hit on people and call in the local gangs to take them out. This latter tactic is hilarious, AND for some inexplicable reason, gang members can get through any locked door, so it’s instrumental for bypassing security! You just follow them in, then watch them murder your enemies. As long as you don’t shoot at anyone, they’ll leave you alone, and you can take a leisurely stroll through the high-security building, to the third floor, into the CEO’s office, hack his computer, or whatever you are doing, and no one is the wiser. Need to leave the area afterward? Just call in another hit and leave amid the chaos. No problem.

    This latter phenomenon is an example of Watch Dogs 2 being GTA-lite. It’s GTA with hacking, yes, but it’s also a GTA that doesn’t do anything else as well as GTA. The AI has quirks. Enemies quit searching the area for you, for example, even if you are obviously still nearby; they aren’t thorough. The gang members getting an open invitation to enter buildings is weird. Enemies will go into high alert after you shoot someone with your stun gun, hidden behind cover, while they won’t bat an eye when you turn an enemy’s phone into a remote explosive or otherwise cause environmental damage. In my last play session, I began in the middle of a highway (I guess I stopped in the road before turning off the game last time). A motorcycle approached. A car stopped behind it. I was causing a traffic jam in one lane. The woman on the motorcycle got off and hurled insults at me. Cars swerved around us. Another car got caught in the jam. The woman decided to run down the interstate herself. Another person got out of a jammed car, yelled at me, and ran down the interstate the other way, causing another pileup before eventually getting struck and dying. I could see her corpse in the distance in the slow lane. This was all really funny, and I let the havoc unfold for about 10 minutes. My girlfriend was sitting next to me, and we both became invested in the drama.

    I suppose that’s a draw of these kinds of games. They aren’t supposed to be hyper-realistic. The systems aren’t supposed to be perfect. The imperfections create a lot of the humor, the playfulness, and the stories that emerge from gameplay. I think that’s why I kept playing, because even though the characters were kind of annoying, the clear Anonymous vibes from hacker group DedSec were cheesy, and it was way too “cool” for a non-teen like me, it was always fun. What more can you ask for?

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    Crash Boom Bang! (DS)    by   jp       (Nov 30th, 2022 at 14:50:15)

    I'm going to guess that this game is better when played with live humans - that being said, there is a "campaign/story" mode, and - wow, what a mess. There's so much that's unclear, hard to control, or even understand.

    The game is basically Mario Party, on the DS, but with Crash Bandicoot (and friends). And, it mostly doesn't make much sense. Maybe I missed a tutorial? Or, to be fair, I was playing without having looked at or read the manual. There's lots of UI stuff (menus, not in-game) that felt sort of hit-miss as I fumbled around, and the games themselves. Well, lets say that the AI is either unfairly too good, or that I'm just terrible at it. The latter might be fair, but the difference in scores suggests that there might be something else going on.

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    Viva Piñata: Pocket Paradise (DS)    by   jp       (Nov 30th, 2022 at 14:44:02)

    Here's another game I didn't spend too much time on, but enough to get a general vibe. It's definitely a "sim" game - you need to manage a bunch of stuff and so on, but it is structured in a way that seems rather straightforward - as in, the piñatas that appear have certain needs and will appear in a certain order.

    I recall that there was a TV show, but I was surprised that the game has lots of footage from what might be that TV show? Or maybe that was all in the original 360 games? Anyways, I was surprised by how much footage (it doesn't look great, tbh) there is in the game - and this is only for the tutorial missions and a little bit more. As I write this I guess I'm even more surprised that the IP seems to have disappeared entirely?

    As for the gameplay? Well, it's not the sort of thing that gets me excited, and I was think it's interesting how the savagery that's a part of the game (kill piñatas to feed the ones you have) remains front and center in the game. There's also some of that in how you can knock critters around with the spade and stuff.

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    COP: The Recruit (DS)    by   jp       (Nov 30th, 2022 at 13:17:23)

    I've always been a bit surprised at how few "GTA clones" there are given the success of the series. Sure, there's Saint's Row, and Ubisoft would probably count their open world hacker game I'm drawing a blank on as I write this. (Oh, it's Watchdogs!). I think there are a few older ones - sort of circa GTA III era.

    So, imagine my surprise when I boot this game up - went in blind - and, lo and behold it's a GTA-clone (I don't use the term pejoratively here). You've been newly recruited by the cops because something's going on, you drive around to different locations to do missions, you can stop/hihack card (but, you're a cop here - so, it's commandeering?). There's guns and shooting and a minimap that looks very familiar. There's also collectables including taking snapshots in special locations and more.

    Like, wow. This really is the GTA template in DS form. Technically quite impressive - it has all the 3rd person 3D stuff going on (rather than the handheld GTA games that went top-down view if I recall).

    Sure, there's technical limitations - and it's a bit amusing to watch vehicles up-rez in LOD as you get closer to them. And I really couldn't work my way through the UI - I have hard time holding the DS and aiming and firing all at the same time (with stylus). Maybe it's the extra large and heavy DS XL that's to blame here?

    The game is set in NYC - and there are recognizable landmarks and all the good stuff you'd expect. Oh, there's also interior locations to run around in, chase missions, and more.

    What doesn't seem to be there is the humor and style of GTA. Here the characters (in cut-scenes, not the 3D models) are western-anime style. It makes me wonder who made the game, and I've now noticed it's also published by Ubisoft!

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    Tales From Off-Peak City Vol. 1 (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Nov 24th, 2022 at 22:33:49)

    This was a little less interesting than Off-Peak and The Norwood Suite. The art was less surreal and imaginative than The Norwood Suite. And whereas that game was self-contained, about exploring the life and death of Peter Norwood and his music, this was half a game, "Volume 1," which basically involves making and delivering pizzas. The former I appreciated for the art and culture in the world; this one, the best thing was seeing what customers said when you put weird shit on their pizzas. Granted, it was really funny and I definitely laughed a handful of times. But also as with The Norwood Suite, the conversations can get a bit long. Since they're so dang weird, it's easy to get bored, like, "Okay...where is this headed? Half of this game is people talking about pizza toppings..." It's building to something (an evil corporation destroying a neighborhood) and I'm sure I'll play Volume 2 when it comes out. Actually, I just searched for its release date and saw that Cosmo D has another recent game, Betrayal at Club Low, which is...maybe a sequel to Off-Peak City Vol. 1? These games are all so weird. I have no idea. But I'll buy it!

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    1 : dkirschner's Slay the Spire (PC)
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    4 : jp's COP: The Recruit (DS)
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    Random

    Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck’s Revenge (iPd)    by   jp

    Probably better than the original due to slight interface upgrades (and a hint system!)
    most recent entry:   Friday 22 February, 2013
    So the end of the game is shorter than the beginning. That's a good thing. The more I played the more I realized that the world of Monkey Island is quite bizarre. That's a no-brainer, but I was actually reflecting on how there are things in the world of MI that are clearly ahead of its time. Electricity, for example. I'm not really sure why I hadn't picked up on that earlier and, to be clear, I don't think it's a problem. Monkey Island is definitely it's own world and is interesting, fun, and engaging probably because of its zaniness and general lack of historical accuracy. It's a comedy game!

    Now, here's the strange thing... I began to notice the non-historical (anachronistic?) elements more as I got closer to the end of the game. I've since finished it and the game's ending (which I didn't find all that interesting or satisfying to be honest) sort of explains them. Indirectly. Maybe?

    Also, while the ending makes some sense of the game's strangeness, it makes no sense with the rest of the series. I'm not sure how the other games (MI3 and so forth) "explain" the ending (they probably don't). I guess I'm mostly surprised by how strange (and surprising) the ending IS (in what it reveals) and also curious as to why I hadn't heard about it before. It seems like people love the game - but never refer to how it ends?

    In case I forget, here are the highlights (spoiler alert, you may want to stop reading):

    1. Le Chuck is Guybrush's brother.
    2. Their parents are dead (in the game), but not really because it turns out the whole thing was some sort of collective hallucination/imaginary game between young kid Guybrush and his older brother.
    3. The kids have been messing around in an amusement park (their paren't come to get them)
    3. Or maybe not... kid LeChuck's eyes glow ominously red as the parents tow their progeny away.
    4. The "Big Whoop" (the super treasure you were looking for) is a major disappointment. Actually, I'm not really sure I understood what it was (other than an empty treasure chest).

    So, I guess I need to start Googling to see what other people thought of the ending... in the meantime I'm sad that there aren't any other Lucas games for the iPad (that I haven't played already).

    [read this GameLog]

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