Sep 10th, 2020 at 23:54:31 - Clustertruck (PC)
This semester hit like a ton of bricks and I have had zero time to even think about playing a game for the past few weeks. But man, tonight I had a great time for 45 minutes just playing this stupid stream-friendly, meme-worthy, speedrunning game about leaping across the tops of semi trucks. I exhausted myself from working ungodly hours this week and not sleeping enough, passed out at 7pm, woke up at 10:00pm, and felt oddly rejuvenated. I decided not to grade essays, which my brain was trying to default toward. I watched some YouTube, talked to my girlfriend, and then, surprised at not being tired yet, thought it would be nice to play a chill game. Enter Clustertruck, an old one that I got from Twitch Prime years ago. |
The game isn't actually that chill. It's pretty frantic. But you can pick it up and put it down, which is what I realized I wanted, not necessarily chill. The premise, like I've said, is simple. There are semi trucks. They drive forward. You run along the tops of them and jump between them. They will crash and there are obstacles. Avoid all that mess. Jump higher, run faster, do some tricks and rack up points. Use your points to buy upgrades (double jump, mid-air dash, slow time, etc.) so you can go faster and correct mistakes before they kill you. That's it. That's the game.
I found two ways to play. The first is how I think the devs intended. You play it like a crazy twitch game and try to chase high scores. The second is actually relaxing. You stand on top of the trucks and ride. Yes, they will crash and you'll need to jump occasionally. But, see if you can get on a truck that takes you all the way to the goal at the end of the level. You have a good vantage point to observe the mayhem happening around you. I wonder if the devs considered a photo mode, or if anyone has found out which trucks in each level will go all the way to the end without crashing. I'm not sure how scripted the trucks' paths are. Like, does truck #52 always collide with truck #36 going around the sharp turn on level 1.4? Does the boulder trigger after truck #11 crosses a line and always roll into trucks #23, 24, and 25? Not sure!
Controls are sufficiently balanced between tight and floaty for this kind of game. It's not built for precision really, but more to make the player panicked all the time because you don't know exactly if your character (which you never see because of the first-person perspective) is going to land where you intend. I do wish you had more control over your lateral movement in midair. Speaking of your character, when you run and jump, there is a sort of metallic clanking sound effect sometimes. I think this is probably meant to be the sound of running on a truck trailer, but I like to imagine it is my feet and I am a robot.
It was so nice to relax for an evening and not be prepping online classes or doing the schedule or teaching someone how to use technology or preparing assessment reports or writing another abstract or blah blah blah. Just. Dodging exploding trucks. And the world hasn't ended.
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Aug 23rd, 2020 at 15:46:47 - Xenoblade Chronicles X (WiiU)
I can't believe I never wrote anything for this. Woops! Long story short: I'm shelving it because of the grind.|
Xenoblade Chronicles X is a sequel in name and gameplay mechanics to Xenoblade Chronicles, which I beat earlier this year. I suppose it was my first big quarantine game and this is likely my last. Fitting! It takes everything from the first game and makes it bigger. The game is humongous. The world is beautiful. It's like a single-player MMORPG. I'll start with some things I enjoyed and finish with my gripes, including the big one about the grind.
There's a lot to love here. Setting and narrative context are excellent, really. The last remnant of humanity crash lands on an alien planet. Pieces of the "life hold," which everyone needs to survive long-term, are scattered. Hostile alien races have taken a foothold on the planet and are hunting humanity down (not sure why exactly, didn't get that far), and you'll encounter friendly races too. The crashed ship is a city with six districts. It's a living city. NPCs don't have daily schedules, but will appear certain places at certain times of day for quests and things. Their society is complex. There's an organization called BLADES which fulfill many of the useful functions having to do with exploring the planet, gathering resources, expanding intel, killing native monsters (indigens), and even mediating squabbles between the populous. There are divisions for each of these (eight in total) specialties, and you can join them. The web of complexity governing characters' relationships and interactions is difficult to wrap my head around. There are hundreds upon hundreds of quests/missions of various types. Some are really basic categories like gathering items or killing indigens, but many are narrative and add depth to the city. The hundreds of NPCs are engaged in other vital tasks too like building water plants, growing food, and governing.
You know what. The thought of writing in more depth about the 50 hours I sunk into this game is daunting. It's huge, okay? There are many intertwining systems to learn and I still do not understand some of them. For example, I glossed over equipment completely. I never bought or upgraded a single piece. I just got my Skell (flying mech) and have no idea how to outfit it or use it, and the thought of having to get three more Skells for other characters makes me nauseous. There are easily over 1000 items. The game is so huge you use two screens to play. The handheld Wii controller with the screen is where you engage with the map layers (fast travel, checking completion criteria for the game's hex grid spaces [again, literally hundreds of tasks to check off to complete these grids], following objective markers, setting up your mining and research probe networks...). I will say I LOVED having a dedicated screen for the map in this game. It was fun to use and integral to the experience. It made me feel like I was really out in the world surveying this alien planet with this mobile technology in my hands.
The writing is infinitely better than Xenoblade Chronicles. I regularly chuckled when given dialogue options. They are often sarcastic and hyperbolic and it's like your character isn't taking it seriously. The quest responses are some of my favorite things in the game, and a lot of the quests are wacky too. There's one where you meet an alien who says he can travel through time and you have to go buy a car for him. Then he gets stuck, not in time, but on an island in the middle of the ocean, and you have to go save him. In another, you can help a character run away from her possessive husband with her new lover by gathering materials for her to stitch together a fake baby to convince her lover to keep her around (yikes!). When he immediately falls for it, you can call her out ("Mutter loudly about how it's clearly a stuffed animal") or support her ("Tremble at the awe-inspiring sight of life's new dawn."). In another quest, you're helping an alien understand human emotions. After you do enough, the alien says something about how much emotional range humans have. You can "Accept" this conclusion or "Deny" it: "Explain that you are dead inside." Really, I might have quit the game sooner had I not enjoyed these dialogue options so much!
And for the sake of time, the game requires hours upon hours upon hours of grinding. I played about 50 hours and feel like I did nothing of substance for at least 25% of it, just running around the map trying to find collectibles for quests or taking random "kill x monsters" missions to get experience to unlock the next story quest. See, story quests and "affinity missions" have level caps and other pre-requisites. I occasionally had to direct my attention to grinding to reach a requirement. Often you don't have to grind because there are so many other fun ways to get experience, largely involving exploring, but once that sort of runs out (i.e., you've explored most everywhere), then what's left? I finished Chapter 7 or 8 at level 26. The next chapter had a level requirement of 30, and the next affinity mission was 28. I hadn't had to deal with nearly that much of a gap yet. I figured I'd be able to find plenty of side missions and things to do. But like 8 hours later, I had finally hit 28 and did the affinity mission. Still two more levels to go for 30 and advancing the story. For all the game has going for it, I'll use this fun phrase: "It doesn't respect the player's time." There is so much noise. And it takes some of its simulation so seriously, which adds drag and downtime. For example, you are the main character, and you have two other pretty much main characters. But those two, plus like 15 others, can be switched in and out of your party. Every single time you switch a character out, they go back to a specific place in the city. If you want to add them to your party again, you have to literally go to where they are to recruit them back. And many quests will limit who you can have in your party, require specific characters, so that you frequently are changing characters in and out and sometimes kicking everyone out if the quest requires just you. Then you have to run around the city finding them all again to add them back. I hated that feature so much. Yeah, it's realistic, but my god, who cares?! I know that Doug is a Harrier and is going to spend time in the Hangar. I don't need it reinforced by having to go all the way there every time I want to add him to my party!
Ugh. Okay. That's it! Done with this and almost done with the Wii U! Then I can move on to the PS4.
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Jul 26th, 2020 at 13:00:14 - The Norwood Suite (PC)
This is a more coherent, yet slightly less eccentric, follow-up to Off-Peak (free on Steam, totally worth poking around in). Overall, I think I liked Off-Peak better, partly because this one added, you know, actual game mechanics, but they're bare bare bones. This would have been better if the game retained the eccentricity of its predecessor. However, I was generally bored by the long conversations and most characters, while interesting in relation to Peter Norwood and the Norwood Hotel, were less interesting on their own. |
You get dropped off at the Norwood Hotel, where a well-known local DJ is performing a hot basement party. As you explore the hotel and talk to its guests, they will make requests of you. Nearly all requests are "bring me this item." You do that and, usually, along the way or upon completion, are given some other piece of a puzzle you need to meet someone else's request or that pushes the final puzzles (play a melody on a piano and make a costume for the dance party) farther along. The goal of the game is to get into the dance party, but really it's about exploring this strange old hotel and learning about deceased (?) pianist Peter Norwood, his life, his music, and his colleagues.
I mentioned the disconnect for me was, oddly, the narrative coherence, but in relation to the new fetch quests to push the story forward. There is never any follow-up for the "find me this" tasks. So for example, if a guests gives you a key to his room and asks you to bring you his dancing shoes, you will go to his room and find some other item you need, but no dancing shoes. The task is simply a means for you to find something else and not to get to know this character who needs dancing shoes. Often they will say something like, "...and you can keep whatever else you find," which drives the point home. It's weird how much attention is paid to the larger setting and narrative, but how little is paid to most individual characters' requests fitting into it. This is how characters in Off-Peak were, but then it was fine because there was a really loose narrative, so you didn't expect most characters to fit into it very much, and they didn't ask you to do things; you just talked to them. Since they ask you for things here, I would expect them to be more significant.
Anyway, minor gripe really. There's more great music, plenty of cool and weird artwork to look at, and it's quite pretty in places. Worth a look around if you like Off-Peak and can get it for really cheap. I saw that the developer, Cosmo D, recently released another game set in the same universe (I think you can see the setting of Off-Peak in the distance from Norwood Hotel), so I'm certainly intrigued.
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Jul 25th, 2020 at 12:22:37 - SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE (PC)
Enjoyed this standalone expansion, even though I didn't get to officially finish it. Why? My laptop got fried by lighting! Bought a new one, and the game doesn't use cloud saves. I was on the last level anyway and certainly got the gist. According to walkthroughs, all I missed were some "boss" fights. |
Mind Control Delete is more of the same Superhot gameplay, but the point seems to be to take you on a power fantasy. Seriously, once you play around with the new upgrades and learn the new tricks the game throws at you, you will be overpowered beyond belief (with a little luck). The core gameplay loop here is the original's endless mode. You travel through five "levels" with a bunch of different "nodes" in each. As you make your way, you unlock a few types of upgrades. At the beginning of each node, you select a "core" upgrade which, for most of the game, will be a choice between an extra heart (three instead of two) or a special move that dashes you toward an enemy. There are a series of "arenas" to complete within each node, and after every few arenas, you are presented with the option to choose from two randomly selected upgrades you've unlocked. Once you complete the node, you move to the next, resetting your upgrades, and once you complete all nodes in a level, you move to the next level.
The core upgrade fundamentally changed my gameplay style, depending on which one I chose. The game was very easy for a while, then ramped up the difficulty. I had been choosing the dash core every time, which is offensive. I would take more risks and was quicker to engage enemies. When I started dying (which is annoying because it resets the entire node), I switched core upgrades to an extra heart. With more health and no dash ability, I played more cautiously. I had to be more aware of positioning relative to enemies and couldn't count on just dashing my way out of a jam. Once I learned this cautious disposition and stopped dying, I took it back to the dash core and was unstoppable from then on.
The node upgrades also help the overpowered feeling, especially when luck is on your side. Some upgrades are useless while others make you unstoppable. For instance, the regular dash move just punches an enemy, which makes them drop their gun. You have to punch them more, pick up the gun, shoot them. That takes time (and remember that enemies only move when you do--this includes while you are picking up items and turning--any movement) and can get you in a precarious situation as other enemies move. BUT, if you dash with a katana, you just lop their head right off. So if you're lucky enough to get the "start every arena with a katana" upgrade and you chose the dash core, you're nigh unstoppable as you dash around one-shotting everyone. Another combination I loved was getting "guns have more bullets" and "start every arena with a random gun." Guns only have like 2-4 shots, so an extra shot is a huge increase. This means you change weapons way less often, which decreases time spent doing wasteful actions, which means enemies move less, which is great for you.
In the end (well, almost the end, till my computer was fried), the game is fun, but just distilled Superhot with an upgrade system. Some new enemy types might throw you off briefly. When you realize that the "concrete" guys can't be hit except in their red spots, or the red dudes with red guns can't drop their guns, or the "mushroom" dudes who explode on impact need to be killed from far away, it's not too difficult to adapt successful strategies. The story goes nowhere and I was getting a little bored of doing the same thing over and over. Arenas are all randomly generated, and so the "puzzle" feeling of the first game was missing. I wish care had been taken to create compelling FPS time puzzles, a missed opportunity. Maybe in the next game?
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