dkirschner's GameLogBlogging the experience of gameplay Forgotten City (PC) - Tue, 18 Jan 2022 10:02:19 an interesting concept. You awake on a riverbank, are led into old Roman ruins, and discover an ancient city with inhabitants through a portal. They live under "The Golden Rule," which I first discovered when doing what I ALWAYS do first in a first-person RPG like Skyrim. (You'll probably do the same thing and if you haven't read about the game, you'll be as intrigued as me!). Thus you are plunged into the mystery of what exactly The Golden Rule is, who created it, and how to get out of the loop caused by someone breaking it. The game itself is pretty straightforward. You explore the city and talk to its inhabitants. You pick up and follow "leads" (quests) that unravel the mystery, until you get to one of four endings (you can and should see them all through; the last one is especially rewarding, if a bit tedious to get). The game guides you through the mystery and does a good job making sure you know what to do and where to go. The game was originally a Skyrim mod, so it looks and plays familiarly. The facial animations are pretty bad (often funny-bad) and the voice acting can be slow, but I was nevertheless immersed in the city's environment. Some little holes or oversights are apparent. For example, right at the beginning, you meet a character who doesn't want to tell you her name. Fair enough, I said. But when I opened my journal, my character had recorded her name. And it turns out her name is a REALLY big clue as to her identity and a clue to other parts of the story, which I guessed part of really, really early on all because the journal told me her name when I shouldn't have known. That was a bad oversight! You'll be listening to a lot of dialogue, all well written and often philosophical and thought-provoking. It's rare that a game makes me really think deeply about some moral or philosophical question, but this one did, namely, how do we know the difference between right and wrong. It doesn't necessarily present arguments between characters in the most believable way, but I can look past that for what it is aiming at. Later in the game, you get a bow, which opens up some light action and platforming parts. I wouldn't say that the game is in any way difficult. It felt like a well-paced exploration. I have to compare this to Outer Worlds, which I recently played and didn't like all that much. The main reason I didn't like Outer Worlds is that the loop is forced on you. In The Forgotten City, you control when the loop happens and you usually trigger it on purpose. You start back at the same place, as in Outer Wilds, but it's quicker and easier to get back to what you were doing. In Outer Wilds, the loop doesn't change anything. It just resets you. It doesn't open new avenues for you, except that you have knowledge that you didn't have in the previous loop (but which you had gained anyway even if there were no loop). In The Forgotten City, the loop resets the city's inhabitants, so you can lead them down different conversation paths, intervene in their actions, and so on in order to change things. The interweaving and accumulation of these changes in their knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors is what drives the story forward. I just found this all so interesting to see unfold! It's not a perfect game, but I'd recommend it for a cool story told in a different way (especially if you like Roman/Greek/Egyptian mythology). Tue, 18 Jan 2022 10:02:19 CST Wilds (PC) - Sun, 16 Jan 2022 11:53:48 appreciate what Outer Wilds is doing, but overall did not enjoy the experience. This is a time loop game. I have played/am playing two of these recently (12 Minutes and now The Forgotten City) and therefore have few data points to compare. However, I disliked 12 Minutes considerably, whereas The Forgotten City I find extremely engaging. Outer Wilds is somewhere in between. Outer Wilds is, perhaps more than a time loop game, an exploration game. Yes, the sun goes supernova every 22 minutes and forces you back to your home planet, but the fun lies in exploring the unique planets and other bodies in the solar system and unraveling the mystery behind an a group of space travelers long gone. Where did they come from? What were they doing? Where did they go? The game is open-ended. You can travel nearly anywhere from the very beginning. It doesn't matter where you go first. You complete the introduction, then hop in your space rocket and fly somewhere, land, and explore. I went first to my planet's moon, and then to the next-closest planet, and outward from there. You will slowly discover strange writing, ruins, and the ever mysterious quantum objects, and begin seeing threads to follow. I said that the planets are very creative and unique. For example, the two closest to the sun are the Hourglass Twins. The Ash Twin and the Ember Twin are next to one another, connected by a constant stream of sand Ash Twin sheds onto Ember Twin. Over the 22-minute loop, Ember Twin's caverns fill up, closing or opening some areas, and Ash Twin's surface becomes visible as sand flows away. It was a cool moment when I realized that the planets actually change over the course of the loop, and that I could actually investigate Ash Twin, which I had previously assumed was always covered in sand. If you pay attention, you will see that a lot in the solar system changes over the course of the loop. Another planet has a giant black hole in the center, and as you explore the ruins beneath, you're constantly in danger of getting sucked into it. That is theoretically neat and all, but boy is it annoying when you accidentally fall and get sent through the black hole to the edge of the solar system, where you must wait for a space station to come near (the "white hole"), which will let you warp back to the planet once its orbit aligns with the station. It wastes at least 5 minutes every time. And that is the main issue I have with Outer Wilds. I understand that the 22-minute supernova is explained through the story. I appreciate that. But everything is intriguing enough without you being forced back to your home planet every 22 minutes! The time loop feels punishing and like it arbitrarily extends the game's length. The worst part was when I learned how the Hourglass Twins work, then solved a ton of puzzles on Ash Twin, and was ALMOST DONE, like literally running toward the end that would give me a final piece of knowledge, and the sun went supernova and back to the start I went. I had to go back to Ash Twin, wait for the sand to flow out again, and re-do all the puzzles. That kind of thing happens constantly. You're in the middle of doing something, the sun goes supernova, and you have to go back to the beginning, fly yourself back to where you were, get out of your rocket, walk back to wherever it was on the planet, if you even remember how to get there, then pick back up where you left off. I played about 6 hours and I bet at least a quarter of that time was re-treading my steps. How to solve this problem? Well, as stated, I understand the supernova is part of the story. So perhaps some fast travel? Better controls to make flying and jetpacking around more precise? Something to make movement more fun? Artificially extended supernova time so you can always finish if you're in the middle of something. I mean, is anyone sitting there with a 22-minute timer? (Probably...). I wouldn't know if the supernova happened at 20 or 25 or 30 minutes. I'm busy exploring, reading, thinking. I know also that the two time loop games I've recently played reset the loop when you die or when you choose some action. Having that control over when to reset taken away was frustrating. As I said, I am playing The Forgotten City now (probably getting close to done), and I enjoy it so much more for a lot of reasons that I'll reflect on when I'm done. But I know that time loop games are hot right now, I expect I'll play more of them, and I'm excited to see how else this mechanic is implemented.Sun, 16 Jan 2022 11:53:48 CST Horizon 5 (PC) - Sat, 15 Jan 2022 12:15:31 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!Sat, 15 Jan 2022 12:15:31 CST III (PC) - Tue, 11 Jan 2022 15:05:56 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.Tue, 11 Jan 2022 15:05:56 CST (PC) - Sun, 02 Jan 2022 15:16:36 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! Sun, 02 Jan 2022 15:16:36 CST Artful Escape (PC) - Sun, 02 Jan 2022 15:04:54 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. Sun, 02 Jan 2022 15:04:54 CST III (PC) - Mon, 27 Dec 2021 17:10:42 is indeed Shadow Tactics: Wild West. It runs on the same engine and looks and plays nearly identical. And, as expected, everything is more polished and refined. I particularly enjoy the greater attention to telling a good story and weaving together the threads of the five characters. We've got a backstory for the main character that we play through that serves as motivation for the current activities, a better geographical journey with a more defined map, and the other characters have a bit more going on than in Shadow Tactics. I am surprised how similar the characters are in playstyles to those in Shadow Tactics! They all still have a close-up attack (except Kate can only knock out people with hers, not kill them); they all have some sort of distraction; they all have a gun (or guns; except Isabelle, who I just got and who is actually different than the others, very neat). Cooper is Hayato. He throws a knife instead of a shuriken and distracts with a coin instead of a rock. Literally the same playstyle. Hector is a hybrid of Mugen (can kill the Long Coats [aka Wild West Samurais]) and Yuki (he uses a trap and whistle, just like her). The doctor is a hybrid of Mugen (tosses a bag on the ground to lure enemies) and Takuma (he's your sniper), etc., etc. The fifth character I got, Isabelle, pulls some tricks I remember recently from Dishonored 2. She can "link" enemies together and whatever happens to one happens to the other one. She can also mind control an enemy. I am looking forward to playing with her more, as I believe she is the only character who has anything that is really new to the game compared to Shadow Tactics. There are some other cool changes to the Wild West setting. Mud and sand function just like show regarding footprints. When you knock out enemies, you can hog tie them and render them useless, instead of just having to let them wake up and start patrolling again. The environmental kills are more intuitive now. The UI for triggering them makes them more visible, so I've been hitting horses with coins, for example, to make them kick the enemies walking behind them, or shoving under-construction walls over on top of chatting enemies, or kicking enemies into empty graves, or whatever. There are dedicated "safe zones" in some levels, again with UI information letting you know when you're safe and when you're in enemy territory. One big improvement is that Shadow Mode now pauses the game, which lets you plan collaborative moves better. I didn't like that it was in real-time in Shadow Tactics; this is a really useful change. One big change to Desperados, which fits the Wild West theme, is that there is more focus on guns. There are way more ammo crates laying around levels, and you have more freedom to use your guns to shoot your way through some situations. I like this, because the game is still totally stealthy; now I have this loud option, which I've started using more at the end of levels when I'm nearly done and still have a lot of ammo. Just bam bam bam! instead of continuing to sneak about. As I played two levels today, I realized that Desperados reminds me quite a lot of a tactics version of Hitman. There are big, intricate levels with environmental things to interact with; you have all these characters with a little variety of weapons and distractions; one character can even wear disguises; maps are starting to have numerous objectives where you "get in and get out"; etc. In the level I just started, for example, you have to help Isabelle find a man she's looking for. There are three enemies in the level who might have information about him. You can track them down and kill them, and you can eavesdrop on conversations in the level to get information faster and (I think) go straight to the one that actually has the info. Then I think you'll have to go find this guy (he's been captured by the bad guys) and rescue him (which could be the following level, not sure). It feels very much like being dropped into one of Hitman's super complex levels and being tasked with assassinating three people before escaping. If there are three chapters, then I'm about halfway through, and that would seem to add up to the estimate on Definitely enjoying this game and I find it more interesting than Shadow Tactics. Looking forward to some more this week. Mon, 27 Dec 2021 17:10:42 CST Tactics: Blades of the Shogun (PC) - Tue, 21 Dec 2021 20:01:49 gets really difficult! As I had hoped, you get to play with all the characters and put to use all their abilities to get through missions. I actually gave up on the final mission and watched on YouTube. I tried for an hour, restarted because I'd raised too many alarms (which brings additional enemies to patrol and makes things even harder), tried for another hour, and had gotten nowhere. Although I am sure I could have beaten it on my own with more patience, I'd rather just start Desperados III since it's more of the same. As I expected, you can set up some seriously elaborate traps for enemies and take out groups (even groups with samurais) in really clever ways. You feel like a genius when you figure out a solution to a particularly hard part. In the end, this is what the game felt like: a series of hard puzzles strung together in elaborate maps. Enemies are positioned so purposefully by the designers. You might think you have a clear kill or route, but chances are someone's vision cone will swing your way. Enemies are often standing juuuust at the edge of another's vision cone, and you curse the designers for putting that enemy right there instead of one foot to the left! I was consistently impressed by how meticulous each mission was set up. Some of my big wins were accidental, or caused by bugs (maybe). Occasionally, an enemy will magically not respond to seeing your character, or will let them sneak up when they shouldn't, or will not properly investigate a dead body, or your spamming the run button will get you from A to B within a hair's breadth of being caught and you think, "There is no way I was supposed to be able to do that." The relief and lucky feelings from these moments were great, almost as if I'd legitimately earned them! Of course, legitimately pulling off something clever is better, and it happens all the time. My favorite characters by far wound up being Yuki and Aiko. Yuki's trap-and-whistle combo is super fun to use. I eventually figured out how to use the tanuki to pull similar ambushes, and that critter can be quite a powerful ally. Aiko is similarly satisfying to use with a disguise. I loved donning the disguise and just waltzing through enemy lines, talking to an enemy, and assassinating him when no one was looking. Drag the body away, put the disguise back on, and repeat to clear the area. This, of course, is far too simple a strategy to work later in the game, but it's fun in the couple levels that you can basically decimate like this! One of the most memorable missions I played was when I had to gather intel on the whereabouts of an enemy in a crowded city. I think this was the level that introduced (or shortly thereafter) light sources, which you can extinguish. You can also lure enemies to light sources if they notice one has been put out. This was memorable for killing a lot of civilians and the hundred attempts I made to eavesdrop on a conversation at the end. Eventually, it like bugged out. I killed someone and all the enemies in the courtyard where I needed to eavesdrop cleared out as everyone went on alert looking for me. I was hiding in the courtyard's bushes and just killed enemies one by one as they returned, hid them, and then was able to eavesdrop on the conversation without anyone else around. Another memorable level also involved killing a lot of civilians (initially I thought I wasn't supposed to do this, but nothing deters you from doing it). This was the level where you have to abduct the shogun's nephew and carry his body to a boat. This is one of those levels where I felt like a genius for making it through, but I also felt like a butcher for killing so many civilians. I learned in both of these levels how to strategically raise an alarm. I really enjoyed this. Going to immediately start Desperados III for similar tactics action but in the Wild West! Maybe I'll get better at the game and be able to finish this time. Tue, 21 Dec 2021 20:01:49 CST Tactics: Blades of the Shogun (PC) - Fri, 17 Dec 2021 08:36:00 enjoying this so far. I was pretty sure I would since this is always held up as a phenomenal modern tactics game. It's set sometime in Edo period Japan after the shogunate unified the country and created a period of isolationist peace. Well, it's peaceful because your happy band of "blades" (one character doesn't use a blade at all, but I'll let it slide...) is putting down threats. The game's style feels very authentic, from color palettes to music to environments. I feel transported to these locations. It's easy to feel immersed because both story and gameplay are highly engaging too. Characters are well written, and their abilities reflect their personalities. The game plays from an isometric top-down perspective like a classic CRPG. In each mission, you control pre-set (so far) combinations of your five characters and are (usually so far) given a couple different ways to meet objectives. The five characters all have some similar and some different abilities. One type of passive abilities define movement. Hayato, Yuki, and Aiko are the three agile, really sneaky ones. They can all climb ivy vines, grapple up and down rooftops, and enter water. They can all carry bodies, though the two girls (Yuki and Aiko) drag them, while Hayato carries them. This is interesting because it means that Yuki and Aiko are crouched while moving bodies, which means they are invisible in the "shaded" part of an enemy's vision cone while doing so. Hayato, on the other hand, stands and carries bodies over his shoulder. He can move a little faster while carrying a body, but is visible in the shaded part of an enemy's vision cone. These three can also swim, while the other two characters can't. Mugen is a big, beefy samurai. He can't grapple, climb ivy, or enter water, but he can carry two bodies, which is useful because one of his main attacks is an AoE that can kill three enemies at once. The last character, Takuma, is an old man with a cane and a wooden leg. His movement abilities are obviously the most limited. In fact, he makes noise while walking unless he's crouching. Each character has a unique combat strength. They all have some version of a main attack (which is killing one enemy with their respective blade, except Takuma, who is a marksman and has a long-range rifle), a more powerful/situational secondary attack (Hayato can throw a shuriken, Mugen has his powerful AoE attack, Yuki can set a deadly trap, Aiko can...I forget what hers is..., and Takuma has a couple grenades), a distraction (Hayato throws a stone to divert enemies' attention, Mugen can lure guards with a flask of sake, Yuki similarly lures guards with a bird whistle [luring them into her trap is fun], Aiko can actually pick up disguises and distract enemies with conversation, and Takuma has a pet tanuki that he can order around to make noise), a flintlock pistol (Takuma has something more powerful), and a healing ability (each can heal three HP one time). In each level I have played so far (5 or 6) I've had two or three characters. You can immediately see how their movement abilities and skills work together to tackle different potential challenges in a level. For example, in one memorable level, I had Mugen and Yuki. We had to steal documents from an official without killing them. Yuki is more stealthy, being able to clamber around on rooftops, so she took the high route and cleared the way for Mugen to follow on the ground. This is a common thing that you can do with Hayato and Yuki especially, take the high route to thin out enemies for the characters on the ground. Mugen, for his part, being a big beefy guy, had to destroy a wooden tower to lure a bunch of guards away from the official. So, you have to get Mugen to the tower, and then get Yuki to the official. Since there are like 5 guards around the tower after Mugen destroys it, he's stuck there hiding in the bushes. You have to figure out how to get the official alone with Yuki with no help. Enemies all have vision cones, which you can see by clicking on the enemy. Vision cones have two parts, a dark part (they can see you unless you are hidden, like in a bush) and a shaded part (they can see you if you are standing but not if you are crouching, and unless you are hidden, like in a bush). Enemies are usually scanning side to side as they stand or patrol, so you can't just come at them from the side; they'll look that way. Also, enemies don't just magically spot you. If you are in their vision cone, it fills yellow, and when the yellow reaches you, that's when they actually spot you, yell, attack, and sometimes call for reinforcements. This creates fun risk/reward situations where you can like sprint through their vision cone and try to make it to a bush before the yellow reaches you. There is a useful marker you can place that lets you know when and which enemies can see it. You can use this marker (it's a non-diagetic UI feature) for planning purposes. One thing about Shadow Tactics that I didn't know is that it's real-time. I definitely assumed it was turn-based. But, there is one turn-based-ish mechanic called Shadow Mode (I think that's what it's called), where you can queue up one action per character. So, imagine that there are two guards facing each other. You have gotten a character positioned hidden in a bush behind each guard. If you kill one guard with one character, well, the other guard will see you (the yellow is irrelevant if you're murdering a guard; they just see you). So the trick is to queue up both characters to kill their respective guard simultaneously. When you push Enter after setting this up, it activates whatever you have queued in Shadow Mode. This has already gotten really tricky to play with! For example, imagine there are three guards who are blocking your path forward. They are all looking in your general direction, so you can't just run past and you can't just kill them. You might queue Yuki to do her bird whistle to make one guard walk away to the right, queue Hayato to throw a rock to the left to distract the second guard, and then time Mugen to sneak past while the first two guards are turned away and while the third guard's view cone is swinging to one side. Then with Mugen behind all three, when they reconvene to their positions, he can use his special attack to kill all three, thus clearing the way for Hayato and Yuki to proceed. I am sure this is going to get exceedingly more complex and I'm loving it. One thing I'm looking forward to are some even bigger levels with even more objectives where I get to use four or even all five characters. It would be great if there were different objectives for each character. I've played one level where there were two ways of completing it, one that involved Yuki poisoning some tea, and another that involved Takuma shooting someone with a rifle. Each way of completing the mission necessitates different approaches. I completed it with Yuki and used her and Hayato to infiltrate this island where the tea ceremony was happening, and used Takuma to shoot some annoying guards on towers so they wouldn't be spotted. If I'd done it the other way, actually, I think it would have been similar. I would have used Hayato and Yuki to get to the target's dog, do something to it (free it? take its food?). I would have gotten Takuma in a marksman's position somewhere to get a clear shot at the dog area. Then when the target came to check on his dog, Takuma would have shot him dead. Anyway, I wasn't going to play this morning, buuuuuuut writing this has got me thinking about it. I chose to play this now because Desperados III is free on Game Pass and I wanted to play Mimimi's earlier game before their later one, since I'm sure the gameplay has been tweaked for the better. The only issue I have with Shadow Tactics right now is that sometimes it's hard to click on exactly what you mean to click on when there is some clutter of interactable objects. I've grappled up buildings when I meant to jump down. I've picked up/put down bodies when I was trying to do something else. I've crouch-walked up to enemies and not attacked them because I was accidentally clicking on something right next to them. The game encourages quicksaving (there's even a timer showing when the last time you quicksaved was, and it flashes every minute!), so these missteps are never punishing. You're meant to fail a lot and retry and experiment. That's what I mean though, I expect Desperados III to be more polished and I didn't want to be in any way disappointed if I went back and played Shadow Tactics second. So I'm doing them in the proper order!Fri, 17 Dec 2021 08:36:00 CST Infinite (PC) - Tue, 14 Dec 2021 14:50:59 complete. It's fun to play through, if a bit bland. The shooting is the star. Weapons feel great and have a big variety. Enemies are varied and deadly. I didn't play around much with vehicles, but Halo driving physics are as zany as ever. I initially thought vehicles would be the way to get around fast, but the new grappling hook is faster (and more fun). The whole game takes place on one small, broken piece of a ring, so, unfortunately, you're in the same type of location the entire time. Well, two locations: topside (one hilly, mountainous environment) and in buildings (usually feel like you're in a corridor or a cavern). I assume multiplayer has more varied maps than "mountains" and "inside." I enjoyed the tone of the story and, from what I could follow, the threads of it. I'm not a big Halo person, so the constant references to people, places, and events in past games were lost on me. They could really use a compendium or encyclopedia or something in the menu. I followed the story for probably the first half of the game, and then again toward the end. There is a time though when there's all sorts of stuff with Cortana (AI from previous games) and the bad guys talking about Halo lore, which I had no clue about. During those times, I just listened politely and then got on with the shooting. Thinking about the relatively barren world and the way the story is presented, Halo Infinite strikes me as a bit minimalistic. The visuals and audio support this as well. There are no pounding drums or frenetic music. It's choral sci-fi sounding stuff. Earlier I said that the buildings all looked the same inside and that they often felt like corridors or caverns. I actually liked that minimalist feeling. Buildings look slick and have tall ceilings, everything is metallic. Random thought while playing: Why are there basic grunts in the end levels of the game? Or of any game? Like, the deepest, most badass of places guarded by...3-foot-tall yelping grunts that run away when you kill one of them. It should be nothing but hunters! Is there a social hierarchy of Halo enemies? Do the hunters make fun of the grunts when they are guarding the same area? One wonders. Other thoughts: (1) Halo Infinite has sweet boss battles! Like more than a few of them. They are all intense. They should keep doing this; (2) The voice actor for Cortana/the Weapon is great; (3) The waypoint feature doesn't always correspond to map markers, which is confusing, and the waypoints will move about (one time I spent 10 minutes looking for the Pilot because the map kept changing where it was telling me he was; finding collectibles could also be really annoying because of this); (4) I forgot that in some earlier Halo games you can just sprint through checkpoints and avoid fighting. It was magical when I remembered and tried toward the end. This is a fun challenge and I should have a plaque for sparing the lives of countless baddies; (5) Can't you dual wield other Halo games? I remember dual wielding Needlers. No dual wielding here :-( but the constant changing of weapons and being able to switch between two is a fine replacement; (6) In many ways, the campaign just feels like a "lite" version of some other, bigger open-world shooter games like the Just Causes and Far Cries of the world. The "things to do" besides the story in Halo Infinite are bare-bones (rescue allied squads, kill some named bad guys, shoot up some bigger facilities, destroy comms towers, find collectibles). I did that stuff for about half the game, at which point I basically had all the skill upgrades I wanted, and so I just shot through the story after that. Solid game, all in all, with some really high points and some bland points. Worth a play through, especially if you like Halo. Tue, 14 Dec 2021 14:50:59 CST