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    Forza Horizon 5 (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jan 15th, 2022 at 12:15:31)

    Never played a Forza game before, but this popped up on Game Pass and I do enjoy a good racing game. This is the best one I've played since whatever the last Burnout game was (because really I like crashing more than racing). I tried Wreckfest over the summer, but it wore thin quickly. Forza 5 is absolutely packed with stuff to do. I was never bored and there are still probably 100 new races and other events that I didn't do. I considered the game "beat" after completing all of the Horizon events and stories, which took me roughly a day of play time. My time also included doing a good amount of additional races early on (because I thought I needed the points to unlock new Horizon events, but really, you'll earn enough points to unlock everything just by doing the Horizon events themselves), as well as other exploration-based activities like searching for barn finds (which reward you with classic cars) and smashable boards (which reward you with XP and eventually fast travel, although I ended up unlocking fast travel by purchasing a specific villa later in the game instead of by smashing all the fast travel boards).

    Forza is also the most realistic racing game I've played (recalling Gran Turismo games on Playstation). Not only did they license hundreds and hundreds of real cars, but you can tune them to minute detail (it's not a sim, but for an arcade racer, it's realistic). Of course, I know nothing about tuning cars and never touched that part of the customization, but I appreciate it nonetheless.

    The game takes place in a slice of Mexico (real? fake? composite of real places?). Apparently in each game there is a Horizon Festival somewhere in the world. The Mexican setting was really cool because they included a lot of culture. A lot of the characters are Mexican and will use Spanish mixed in throughout their accented English. I had subtitles on so I could read the Spanish and love that the game is bold enough to make it so that English-speaking players get a dose of not having a game revolve around US locations and the English language. I always enjoyed driving around through the ruins (again, not sure if these are real places or not, but it seemed like the developers did their homework) and the rolling farmland. Two other progressive things the game did was let you choose pronouns and let you customize your character with prosthetic limbs. I chose they/them and had a fake leg.

    Forza 5 features different race types. There is road racing, city street racing, stunt driving, off-road racing...and one more I can't remember. Head-to-head? Each of the festival events features a race type and has several stories associated. For example, in the big stunt driving story, you are a stunt driver for a movie and have to do all these different scenes. The director doesn't know that you aren't the actual actor (who is supposed to be doing his own stunts), and the story is you and the actor working together to "fake" him doing all the work, which becomes increasingly difficult as your stunts become so impressive and draw the director's increasing admiration and attention. In the head-to-head racing, which I did last, there is a rich kids' racing club that has some beef with a Horizon street racer. You race members of the rich kids' club one by one, unraveling the history of the beef between a couple characters, and it wound up being a very feel-good story. In another memorable one, a character is restoring her uncle's VW Beetle, following all his old plans for modifications, and you have to test out everything she's doing to it. This is all in the memory of her uncle, and there are nice themes of family and tradition in it. The stories are all kind of simple and sweet and fun, a nice change of pace from so many games that always have to tell some dark story with a lot of conflict (of course, I don't know why I would expect a racing game to have a dark story; Twisted Metal though...).

    Another thing I enjoyed is the difficulty. There are a lot of difficulty levels, and the game will suggest if you should change. I started on "Average" and quickly began winning everything, so it suggested I move to "Above Average." I did that and eventually was winning everything again. I moved to "Hard." That was a bit much, as I was constantly finishing behind a string of cars that were racing just so perfectly. I think if I'd stuck with it, like by the end of the game, I could have been winning some on Hard, but you usually get bonus rewards for finishing first, so I stuck with Above Average to keep my rewards. I was winning probably 80% of races.

    I think, though, that the AI is set up well to give you the illusion of more of a challenge than you are actually facing. This is often how a race will go: You begin and a small pack of cars takes off and controls a big lead. As the race goes on, you slowly catch them. Everyone behind you stays pretty close to you, too. You're never obliterating anyone; they catch up to the lead pack just like you do. Then toward the end of the race, you'll notice (especially if you're messing up, you notice) that they slow enough for you to catch them. Often, especially on more set piece races with straightaways on the end (a couple action-packed ones where you race monster trucks and jet skis and a train come to mind), you'll zip past them JUST at the finish line. This has to be staged! I mean, if you're racing on Hard and aren't very good, it's not going to let you win like that, but if your skill approximates the difficulty level, then that difficulty level often seems perfect. I kind of want to play more just to figure out exactly how it works.

    I would definitely pick this back up and play for fun, but the semester is starting, my free time is quickly evaporating, and I've still got too many Game Pass games to play before my trial expires. It'll be here forever, so maybe next time I'll check out what's new!

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    Desperados III (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jan 11th, 2022 at 15:05:56)

    Either Desperados III is a little easier than Shadow Tactics or I’m just becoming cleverer after playing these two back-to-back. I couldn’t complete Shadow Tactics’ last level, but I’m almost done with Desperados—on the last set piece of the last level. It’s certainly one of the most daunting, but I’ve just about cleared peripheral enemies and am zeroing in on the boss and his goons. (I had to pause for a meeting.). Desperados’ levels are wonderfully large and complex, but they are taking less time than Shadow Tactics’ later levels, which I take as evidence that I’m getting better. (Go me!).

    In this last level (which I have now beaten because my meeting is over; it was epic [the level, not the meeting], especially the final showdown), you control all five characters. Three begin on one side of a canyon and two begin on the other. You can bring them together at a couple points, and I chose to do it at the first opportunity and take the left side of the level to the church at the end. There were some seriously difficult pieces of the level. At the very end, before the church, were like five Long Coats and some other enemies at one end of a narrow bridge. I managed to slip a couple characters behind them and pick off a few enemies before I was able to (or figured out how to) take out the Long Coats. At another spot in the level were like five snipers on rooftops, all watching each other. I have learned that in those kinds of situations, sometimes the best thing to do is just cause chaos (use Isabelle’s mind control, for example) and sort of scatter the enemies for a minute. Ideally, you can pick off a couple while they are away from their regular positions on alert. Then, when they reset, they are easier.

    I can’t describe the final showdown too much because that will give away story bits, but suffice it to say that it’s a unique set piece. Cooper is surrounded and has one bullet in Showdown Mode. You have to use the other four characters to kill enemies, without being detected, and end the level by using their actions in conjunction with Cooper’s in Showdown Mode to kill every last enemy at the same time. I feel like a genius after beating Desperados III.

    I said most everything else that I had to say in my previous entry. One thing I didn’t mention though is the post-level recap, which is fun to watch. After each level, you get to watch an abstracted version of your playthrough. All your characters are represented by different colored shapes on a 2D level map. Enemies are represented by red squares (and Long Coats by sheriff’s stars). When you click “play,” all the little shapes start moving around, with lines tracing where your characters move and little skulls popping up when you killed someone. It’s a neat reminder of the previous 90 minutes’ successes and failures and always triggered memories of this or that time I got lucky or came up with a good solution to get past a tricky part.

    Oh yeah, one other thing I learned with like two levels to go is that there is a "speed up time" button. I wish I would have known that sooner! Was there no tutorial for it? Or did I miss it or forget it? It's obvious enough on the UI. That's what I get for not paying close attention, I guess!

    I would start a third Mimimi tactics game right now if there was one. These have been fantastic, especially Desperados.

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    DARQ (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jan 2nd, 2022 at 15:16:36)

    This was free on Epic around Halloween. It had good reviews and was short, so why not? DARQ hails from the Limbo school of game design. It begins with zero explanation. You're a kid in a nightmare. You must solve puzzles to complete a series of dream levels, crawl into bed, and get whisked away to the next nightmare.

    The cool thing about DARQ is definitely the way that puzzles incorporate shifts in perspective. If you walk to a ledge or to a wall, you can just...keep going! The room rotates 90 degrees and now you're on the wall. If there's a ceiling, you can walk on that, the room rotates 90 degrees, and etc. This allows for some puzzling where you have to be on a specific plane to view a room differently to pick up objects, hit buttons, and so on. Later in the game, these "boxes" (that's what I'm calling rooms) stack, in a way. That is, there will be multiple boxes next to one another, not in a left-right direction, but in a front-back direction, like a 2.5d perspective. One of the DLC levels involves you using two "tracks" in parallel. This is kind of hard to describe, but you've played something like it. In this DLC level, for example, you are in the background and your head (yeah, it's weird!) is rolling along in the foreground.

    The puzzles aren't that difficult and are pretty linear. Still, they're challenging enough to make you feel smart for having completed them. It's a good difficulty. Levels are also short and tend to introduce some new mechanic or way you have to think. The whole game (7 levels with two longer DLC levels) took about 4 hours. And it that time, there are a few creepy enemies that look like some Silent Hill/Little Nightmares hybrids. Definitely glad I picked this up!

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    The Artful Escape (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jan 2nd, 2022 at 15:04:54)

    I was excited to play this because it looked visually stunning and had an interesting premise. You play as a teenager whose uncle was a famous folk musician (like a Bob Dylan figure). You are a budding folk musician yourself, don't care for folk. What you really want to be is a guitar phenom playing sci-fi inspired epic rock music. So on the night before your first show at the annual festival in honor of your uncle, some far-out aliens come in need of a supporting act for their intergalactic, jammin' concert tour. Queue a series of incredible looking levels where you ostensibly get to play the guitar with the universe's greats for an intergalactic audience.

    Did I mention how great this game looks? Holy crap. The art is phenomenal. I recommend it on that alone. You can make the visuals look even better by holding down X to solo on your guitar as you move left/right through the levels, which makes environments and creatures respond in mesmerizing, gorgeous ways. This interplay between your input, the music, and the environment is pretty cool.

    The visuals never get old, but unfortunately the music does! Each level has chill, ambient music by default, and when you hold X, you wail on your guitar. I think that most people can only handle so much spacey guitar soloing, even with the slight variations in each level. But the ambient noise is quite nice, and I wound up just listening to it and admiring the scenery in many areas, especially those in which pressing X didn't trigger any environmental changes.

    I've mentioned that you press X to wail on guitar while you move left and right. Okay, so that is >90% of the gameplay. The other <10% is dialogue choices and the concerts. The concerts (or battles, or tests, or whatever you want to call them) are really simple Simon Says mini-games. In a game about a kid finding his musical identity and expressing his creativity, it is odd that the player is prevented from doing either. At one point, you are told that you can press X to be creative and create rhythm or something; this is extremely shallow. You can technically create rhythm by pressing X and by holding buttons during Simon Says (and technically can choose notes during Simon Says), but your range of freedom is minimal. It also doesn't matter whether you get it right or not. The pattern will just repeat if you mess up, and you try again, and the alien is always impressed and you win in the end. There's no perfecting sequences, no encouragement for flair or improvisation. So once you've heard enough guitar solos, learn there is no failure, learn you can't really DO anything, and realize this game is mostly a lot of eye candy, it's kind of like, let's hurry up and get to the end. Luckily it's not that long and I finished it before I fell asleep, though I did nod off toward the end.

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    Grindstone (iPd)    by   jp       (Dec 29th, 2021 at 01:12:19)

    I picked this up again and I've been playing it a little over the past few days. I'm enjoying it more than before - though I really don't like having to grind for resources that are then used up with you use your items, needing more resources and so on. Just having to "refill" my items feels onerous to me - as in, not necessary and detracting from the overall gameplay experience. I'm also excited when I find a new blueprint for something, but then I quickly lose interest when I see that the item doesn't seem that fun/useful OR that I don't have enough materials to use it well. It all seems a bit of a drag - but I'm mostly annoyed because other than that - I do have fun with the game, some of the enemies are neat to plan around and I think I'm also getting better at the game.

    I'm also wearing a Santa Suit that's super helpful - every now and then it'll drop an item. It's less about the item and more about how having items on the board reduces the difficulty because it gives you more/better chances of continuing a chain. Oh, I did my first 40 chain - it was on a weird bonus level I played - but still, 40 is almost the entire board!

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    GameLog hopes to be a site where gamers such as yourself keep track of the games that they are currently playing. A GameLog is basically a record of a game you started playing. If it's open, you still consider yourself to be playing the game. If it's closed, you finished playing the game. (it doesn't matter if you got bored, frustrated,etc.) You can also attach short comments to each of your games or even maintain a diary (with more detailed entries) for that game. Call it a weblog of game playing activity if you will.

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    BioShock Infinite (360)    by   dkirschner

    What an environment...incredible ------------------ Excellent story, solid gameplay, very fun.
    most recent entry:   Saturday 12 July, 2014
    Well, I've had my great story fix for the week. I loved all the twists and turns near the end. Although I'm not exactly sure the significance of winding up in Rapture I did enjoy the surprise of seeing it. Is it just another world, or does it have some explicit relationship to Comstock, Elizabeth and Columbia? Did Elizabeth just purposefully open a tear to it to and underwater place to deal with Songbird, and it just happened to be Rapture? Maybe she's drawn to dystopian places. OMG, did she CREATE Rapture in her mind and call it into being?! Maybe she created all the lighthouses and doorways too. Is Elizabeth God? Maybe that explains why DeWitt isn't fearful of God but is fearful of Elizabeth.

    Geez, this would be great to play again to find clues about the story.

    Oh hey look, there's something after the credits...huh. Shouldn't he be dead..? Or was that pivotal choice after Anna came along? Must have been...that explains how she can exist but he can't.

    One of my favorite things about the game was the detail in every location. There were so many things in all the shops, so many conversations between NPCs to eavesdrop on, so many voxophones, just so much stuff that fleshed out Columbia. I feel like I've been there.

    The gameplay itself wasn't anything particularly interesting. It felt like Bioshock 1 and 2 with ziplines. Sure, there were some fun guns and fun vigors. The enemies were by and large easy to deal with. The only one that was much challenge was the...I forget the know, the big mechanical guy with the heart as a weak spot. But there are only a few to fight. There wasn't anything like the Big Daddies in Infinite.

    I think there were tons of opportunities to use a variety of guns and vigors and tears to deal with enemies, but no real urgency to try out different things. Yes, I saw the oil and water spills for fire and lightning, but unless you lure an enemy there, who cares? Yes, there are health kits and grapple hooks and hidden RPGs in all the battle areas, but if you can just dispatch everyone with the crows and a machine gun, then why would you need all that extra stuff? Like, it was all available, but just no need. I found and used lots of tears and hidden weapons and hooks and all when there was a challenge, especially when I was forced to move around. As that didn't happen a whole lot, I feel a lot of that stuff was...not wasted...but misplaced. Many of the battle areas could have been smaller, and useful tools located closer to where the battle starts. I would have used more of them.

    As it were, my #1 tactic was to blast enemies with the upgraded crows, kill them with a machine gun, which created new crow's nests where they died. Using this method, I wound up absolutely obliterating waves of enemies because there would just be like 10 crow's nest traps springing all the time, enemies dying and creating new sure was fun to watch and listen to them screaming all the time. That was by far my #1 vigor. I also used possession for mechanical turrets and enemies. I liked watching them suicide. Umm, I used the shield vigor for a while when I got it. I did use the levitate one a good deal. That's pretty much it. On enemies that were immune to the crows, I shocked them.

    The gear was also a nice idea, but I didn't find it terribly useful. I paid attention and equipped them for the first 1/2 of the game, then just ignored them.

    The looting got very very tedious after a while too. At first it was fine because looting was part of exploring and seeing all the detail in the world. But after a while, once you'd pretty much knew all the posters and desks and room details, looting sucked. At one point, I was using the piece of gear that makes you cause 2x damage if your health is super low. This was a great strategy for me, and I invested in shield upgrades to make it work even better. But it basically meant I couldn't loot anything because I'd inevitably eat food and gain health back, taking away my double damage. It was dumb. But you have to loot because you need money for upgrades. So...what choice do you have? Just deal with looting...

    That's about all. Gotta thank my girlfriend's boss for letting us housesit and letting me play some games this week! Need to borrow The Last of Us from him.

    Oh, I'm in the middle of reading the Bioshock prequel novel. I found it in a hostel I was in in Beijing last month and swapped a book I was carrying for it. Quite interesting, talking about the origin of Andrew Ryan and the building of Rapture. It's not a particularly exciting book so far, but interesting nonetheless. I wonder if it has anything to do with Bioshock Infinite later on.

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