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    The Evil Within 2 (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jul 29th, 2021 at 09:35:15)

    Well, this game is VERY EXCELLENT. It improves upon the first, which I enjoyed, in every way. The gameplay is even better and the story is way less convoluted. In fact, you can follow it from the beginning! There are, however, a ton of callbacks to the first game. While you donít need to have played the first game, it would certainly inform your understanding of the characters and the world, so at least read about it.

    In The Evil Within 2, you again play as Sebastian Castellanos and enter another fucked up, disintegrating world in a simulation. This time itís to save your daughter, who was taken by the big evil corporation and is the ďcoreĒ of the program they built, necessary for its functioning. The game takes place in a town called Union, and things are not pretty. The population has started turning into monsters, the corporate special forces have been deployed to try to find out whatís going on and stabilize the place, and it turns out that there are some very bad people who have taken control of the core/your daughter and are growing in power. There is a big psychological horror element, as Sebastian is also battling trauma from what happened to him in the last game, guilt over losing his daughter, and other stuff.

    The characters are really well written. I like that Sebastian is focused on his daughter (and to a lesser extent his wife) and doesnít give a shit about the corporation. He is empathetic to the people he meets and genuinely disturbed by what is happening. Youíll meet several other helpful characters with their own backgrounds and motivations (spoiler, most of whom will die). The villains all have clear motivations and are unique. Thereís a psychopathic artist that sets up death scenes to photograph, usually of unfortunate corporate special forces members. Thereís a ďpreacherĒ sort of guy who is a master manipulator. Then thereís your wife, who isnít quite your wife. Plus, some other ďmini-bosses.Ē All these villains have back stories. Union is composed of people who volunteered to come live this idyllic simulated life. The corporation does strict background checks to filter out people with mental illness and other problems. So, this artist was actually an artist in the real world pushing boundaries with his work. He eventually went too far and upset a lot of people, but defended his art. He saw Union as a place where he could pursue his vision. They let him in and, well, I guess they didnít do a good enough psych eval, or his sociopathy allowed him to pass evals. The preacher was a community leader and charismatic figure in the real world who saw an opportunity in Union to take advantage of optimistic, idealistic people. So, these people become like manifestations of their core desires and attributes when they are corrupted by power in Union.

    Gameplay is tight. It follows in the vein of third-person psychological horror games like the previous in this series, Silent Hill, Resident Evil, and so on. Although you have access to an expanded arsenal, and in this game I had more ammo than in the previous one, the emphasis is on stealth. I leaned into this and used stealth whenever possible. You get ďgreen gelĒ (experience points) when you kill enemies, so you are incentivized to fight. For me, that meant putting points first in the ďstealthĒ skill tree and using my knife and hatchets. I could move faster while crouched, initiate stealth kills from farther away, do stealth kills from around corners, and move much quieter. This is a slower, more methodical approach to exploring Union and navigating combat areas. Other skill trees focus on health, stamina, and combat.

    Despite focusing on stealth, I did use guns a lot. Youíll have to for bosses, of course, but more difficult enemies are hard or impossible to stealth attack and, well, you donít want to get close to them anyway. For example, later in the game there are some enemies with flamethrowers. They run from place to place, yell prophetic gibberish (because theyíve been swayed by the preacher), and shoot flames in a 180-degree arc for a few seconds. Then they turn around and run somewhere else. The way to do stealth attacks on them is to stake out where they run to, hide behind an object, then come out behind them as soon as they start spraying fire. If you do it quickly enough, you can get a stab in. If they turn around though, you get fried. Harder enemies have more life and these flamethrower dudes require at least three or four stabs. So, once you stab them, you sprint away and hide. The enemy will look for you briefly, then go back to what it was doing and you can stake it out again. Once I got the sniper rifle, I felt more confident against tougher enemies because I didnít have to get close to them (to stab or shoot with shotguns/pistols).

    There are tons of crafting components for ammo lying around (youíll never actually find sniper rifle ammo), so I always had a full clip by just spending nearly all crafting material on sniper rifle ammo. You can craft ammo for other guns too, including the crossbow that returns from the first game (with a bunch of kinds of bolts, which, admittedly, I did not experiment with, but there are some environmental kills available by shooting an electric bolt into water, you can set traps with explosive bolts, and so onÖ). You can also upgrade all your weapons with machine parts that you find lying around everywhere. There are enough components (and enough green gel) to upgrade pretty much whatever you want. You wonít be able to get everything, but if you choose an upgrade path or two, youíll get there. I upgraded the pistol all the way and the other guns (minus crossbow) at least through level 2 (out of 3).

    Iíve offered a ton of description! Maybe thatís because The Evil Within 2 sucks you in. Its dark, intense, surreal atmosphere, urgent story, and great exploration and combat are easy to lose yourself in. Like, I felt I was as much a part of the simulation as Sebastian. I could go on and on about the exceptional art and sound design and so many other things. The fracturing city of Union is a sight to behold, just like the crumbling environment in the first game was. I love that they did that again.

    There are just a few drawbacks. One is minor, but persistently annoying. Sebastian often pauses before or after performing an action. For example, when you open the map, you press the button and wait for him to pull out his little communicator device. That 2 second gap between pressing the button and seeing the map, especially when he doesnít move immediately after you push the button, is irritating. I often pushed the map button again thinking that it didnít register, which resulted in him pulling out and then putting away the map. Similarly, Sebastian waits too long after smashing a crate to pick up items that drop from it. Smash. Wait two seconds. Then pick up things. Sure, in less realistic games you can open menus and loot at will, but quality of life! Like, they could have halved the pause time and still gotten across the effect of him looking at a communicator or switching actions. Another thing I remember being bad was one design decision in Chapter 3. In that chapter you get to explore the largest area in the game, and there is this place in a warehouse that you canít get to, but it is obvious that youíre supposed to get there. There is a conspicuous piece of wood blocking your path, but you canít chop it, shoot it, kick it, and Sebastian wonít comment on it. I spent a long time trying to figure out how to get by, then finally looked it up. Itís part of a damn side quest that triggers the path. They should have blocked the entrance to that part of the warehouse with a refrigerator or something that didnít look like you should be able to break. Finally, I mentioned the importance of stealth. Enemies in this game are pretty stupid. Most of them patrol a set path between two points. They walk to point A, look around, walk to point B, look around, walk back to point A. So, stealth killing can become formulaic, repetitive. I wish there was more randomness or more complex paths that they took to make me think harder. Itís still stressful, but itís not hard. Sometimes I felt I didnít have to be much smarter than the monsters to do well. Bosses and harder enemies excepting, of course. But still, as long as you run away and hide, most enemies will forget about you after a short time, and this includes harder enemies that you have actively stabbed! ďThat guy stabbed me! I will chase him. Roar! Hmm, he seems to have disappeared behind that car. I will stand here and look at the car for 10 seconds. Hmm, he must not be there. I will return to facing the other direction. Roar!Ē

    Minor shortcomings aside, I highly recommend this if you like the genre. I loved it, fantastic, want to play a third installment.

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    Jewel Master: Egypt (DS)    by   jp       (Jul 26th, 2021 at 11:53:34)

    Huh. So, this game's structure is essentially the same as Jewel Master: Cradle of Rome (which I played not too long ago). It's a match-3 game with progression in that you're "building a civilization" (in this case Egypt, but it was Rome before). You complete levels - moving up - and also gather resources (from matching during levels as well as bonuses for clearing levels quickly). All of this from the story/campaign mode - I haven't explored anything else yet...

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    Zombieland: Double Tap - Road Trip (PS4)    by   jp       (Jul 25th, 2021 at 18:55:15)

    Played this co-op with the kids about a week ago and we had fun, but...so much swearing. I felt a little embarrassed but, to be fair, that's my own fault.

    I don't think I've seen the movie the game is based on and I know feel a little obliged to watch it with the kids just to contextualize the game a bit better? To be honest, I'm also a bit curious about the movie as well because of some of the game's levels we played - specifically one where you meet an old lady, protect her from attacking zombies (how is she still alive?). She then decides she wants to go visit "joe" (a friend, I forget the name) who's having a cookout. It turns out "joe" is actually a zombie boss and it's all a massive fight. I don't remember what happened to the old lady...

    As for the game - we had fun, but weren't terribly impressed. It's a twin-stick shooter, you find weapons from crates/backs of cars, equip them and then go... Weapons have ammo/use limits (even the melee weapons you can find) and there are also grenades, firebombs, and more. Fortunately there's no friendly fire (I think? perhaps we're just really careful...?) I got really excited when I picked up a mini-gun but it was a huge disappointment - it takes too long to "spin up" by which time my co-op partners have killed almost everyone! We had a similar experience with environmental hazards you can switch on to help kill zombies - they're interesting in principle but hard to use effectively and, in fact, some can also injure friendlies.

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    Marker Man Adventures (DS)    by   jp       (Jul 25th, 2021 at 18:47:03)

    I've played this a few times. The first was a disaster of a mess - I'm exaggerating - but the second was slightly better but a lot more interesting.

    The game is basically a platformer where you need to draw things in the level to help "Marker Man" along. So, draw a line and it becomes a "ramp" he can walk on. You can also draw circles around enemies to trap them into balls you can roll and draw different shapes around the main character to trigger/activate special abilities.

    I didn't know much of this the first time I played, but I then read the manual which explained and clarified a whole bunch of things. So, that's really why the second session went better.

    A few of the interesting things is that the game has a micro-economy in your pen's ink, which also doubles as health and there are restrictions on when you can actually draw special ability shapes - the restriction being (afaik) having collected enough pens in a level. So, for the economy - every time you draw you lose some life points (ink) - this prevents you from spamming the level obviously. But, the game also lets you delete the things you draw (great for correcting mistakes) and get some ink back - but not all of it.

    The special power shapes also cost ink (so long as you meet the pre-req) and, at least for the jumping ability, can REALLY change things up. Rather than drawing ramps everywhere I triggered it once and basically jumped by way to the end.

    The overall experience doesn't quite work for me though because the platforming aspects are a bit wonky/imprecise - sure, jumping with the jump ability felt really good, but it took a while to get there. The basic moving around AND drawing AND deleting your bad doodles was a bit too much for me on a DS-XL and playing lefty...

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    The Red Strings Club (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jul 25th, 2021 at 13:22:10)

    I started trying to play this on a train last week with no mouse. I was instantly intrigued by the setting and story (I knew I would be), but using a trackpad to mix drinks and to mold implants was really difficult, so I stopped playing while on the train. Fast forward to the last couple days and I've been able to get into it and it's a really enjoyable experience! I've never played a point-and-click quite like this. I guess I would call it a point-and-click, but it's not really that while being other less easily describable things too.

    You play (mostly) as a bartender who mixes drinks to manipulate clients' emotions and procure information. The story is about a corporation that is about to update everyone's neural implants and basically smooth out the emotions of everyone in society (e.g., sadness remains, but not depression; anger remains, but not rage). The bartender, his boyfriend, and some other hacktivist folks are trying to stop this update from happening.

    The drink mixing and bar conversations are the most interesting part of the game. You are given goals for information that you need to find out (e.g., who is the CEO of the corporation?) and you mix drinks for the various corporate suits who come to the bar and try to get it out of them. There's a little mixing minigame where you have to align a circle with emotions located on the body. Liquors move the circle in different directions; ice shrinks it; mixing in a shaker makes effects more potent; etc.

    Anyway, as I reflect on the game, really what I take away is how smart the writing is. It touches a lot of philosophical topics from transhumanism to ethics to sexuality and gender identity. You'll grapple with questions about whether marketing is inherently unethical and whether depression should be allowed and whether corporations can actually serve the public good, and you'll see a game that really does a good job having diverse characters and not making a thing about it. It's cool to see a world where people are comfortable with whatever sexuality, where race doesn't seem to be correlated with any kind of position in a corporation (or in a hacktivist group), and so on. The one thing that I did notice is that the game deadnames a trans character. Maybe in this dystopian future no one cares about deadnaming because transitioning may become more normal and accepted, but given how rooted in the present day so much of its commentary on social issues is, it was an odd choice.

    So play this for the thought-provoking story and the novel way of telling it. The engagement of the gameplay declines toward the end. The whole last segment is actually pretty boring. I had flashbacks to working in a call center. *shudder*

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    Age of Empires II (PC)    by   KTGOMASON117

    No comment, yet.
    most recent entry:   Monday 17 September, 2012
    Age of Empires 2: Age of Kings is an old PC real time strategy game made by Ensemble Studios back in 1999. I played this game a lot as a child. So this week I decided it was time to brush off the dust and play it once more. After a very long hour of configuring my computer to allow it to run, I was able to get it working somewhat decently. The graphics were messed up in the process, but every other component of the game made it through fine. This RTS is a combination of military strategy and resource management. In this game, the player becomes one of 13 historic civilizations set during the Middle Ages. The object of the game is to conquer the enemy civilization. There is a verity of ways to destroy the enemy. In the classic game mode, the player has to completely destroy the enemy, such as killing all of the villagers, military units, and buildings until the enemy resigns. The player can also win by collecting all of the relics, which are holy objects that only monks can collect and give the player gold. The third way to win in a classic game is to build a wonder, which is usually a large, hard to make church that then must survive a set number of years. There are several of game types, one of which is called Regicide, where the player has to kill the enemy kill while protecting their own. After a while, playing the same game type over and over gets old. The different game types adds variety to the normal game type.
    AoE also has a campaign that allows players to play through historic battles and events. In one of the campaign chapters, the player is Saladin who has to defend the Holy Land from the attacking Christian Crusaders. The different chapters of the campaign donít have an overarching storyline, the chapters are just different settings with different goals and enemies.
    The best part of AoE is the multiplayer. Human players can play against each other online or through a computer to computer connection. I have spent many hours playing against other players online. It adds such a different approach to how you play the game. Computer opponents usually have set approaches of attacking the player, but by adding human players, there is such an element of surprise. The multiplayer gives every player an even footing, unlike other games where players earn different abilities and perks based on past performances.
    AoE has a sandbox element where players can create their own maps with their own rules. Players can even edit existing scenarios to add, or subtract certain parts of that game. The map editor allows player to create all aspects of the gameís map, from the amount of units and buildings for each side, to even the landscape of the game. Any combination is possible.

    [read this GameLog]

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