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    Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair (PS4)    by   jp       (Sep 23rd, 2023 at 17:20:55)

    On the one hand this is a by-the-numbers platforming game with collectibles out the wazoo and cute characters and a silly story. On the other hand...

    (a) The game's difficulty is a lot higher than I expected - and it's not easy to pick up (sometimes even find) the five bonus coins hidden in each level (that you need to use to pay to open access to more of the overworld map). On the other hand, if you fail a section too often - the game lets you skip it (I haven't done this myself yet, but it's what a character promises AND they even make fun of the developers while they're at it by muttering things like "I told them it was too hard" and stuff like that). Also, one of the game's collectibles is "tonics" (like potions?) you can select. Up to three per level. Many of them make the game a bit easier - slow it down, add more checkpoints, give you more time to grab Laylee if you've taken a hit (Laylee is sort of like a shield, take a hit and she flies around - catch her and your shield is back, don't and one more hit and game over). The tonics come with a price - they lower your feather rewards (the currency used to unlock tonics when you find them) at the end of the level. It's interesting to see how many different options and ways the game incorporates to help smooth out any difficulties.

    (b) The game's main conceit is that you have to defeat the big baddie - and he's in an "impossible lair". So, to make things easier for you, you need to rescue bees and each bee acts as a "one hit shield". Presumably you can attempt the lair whenever you want. I thought you just had to defeat the baddie, but it turns out that he runs away (after taking a few hits) and it's a whole level you need to clear - and it's really hard. I wasn't able to make it past the first area (after hitting the baddie a few times). Officially I completed 3% of the impossible lair! I'm guessing there are people that can just clear it - without any other stuff - and I wonder if playing more will result in more stuff to make it easier other than more bees. You can only rescue one bee per level! (I've got 11? 12?)

    (c) The game has an overworld from where you enter all the levels - they're like pages from a picture book. The overworld itself has secrets and things you need to puzzle out to open more areas and reach more book pages. So, that's really neat to - and it's a lower stakes activity. BUT, you can also just straight up teleport to the pages - so even here the game is accessible, but allows you to explore and so on. I've really enjoyed this part of the game as well...

    So, there's lots of smart and considered design here - my guess is that the designers were trying to make a game accessible to a new (kids) audience, while also keeping things interesting for (older) fans of the franchise.

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    Metal: Hellsinger (PC)    by   jp       (Sep 17th, 2023 at 15:35:47)

    Wow, this game is really metal! It really is...which makes sense, given the name. But, the more I play the more I realize that the game really does a good job of making you feel the music (you can't just "tune it out"). It's badass in the way that DOOM is badass - and it makes me think of this game as a sort of "alternate universe" version of doom. It's a FPS, with demons and stuff, and you feel like a badass as you jump around, dodge and strafe, all to the beat of heavy metal music.

    It would be unfair to compare the game to Guitar Hero or other music games where "doing poorly" is equated - aurally - with muted music, loss of certain parts (e.g. vocals) - leaving only the beat (I wonder if the beat is on top of the music's drum parts?). But, that's how the game operates. BUT, where things get different is that here you really want to get your streak up - back to back kills/hits and an overall multiplier result in doing more damage, which feels more badass, and so on. The game does seem built around the positive feedback loop...when you miss though, it's a bummer and hard to recover from.

    I've completed two levels (after the tutorial) and failed a few times with the 3rd. Which surprised me, tbh - because I felt like I was "pretty good" at the game (despite losing at least once in each of the levels played, but resurrecting in them - at a score cost). Anyways, the difficulty jump seems more about my failing to keep a streak up (and not dodging all that well?) But, it might also be that I chose my weapons poorly? (unlike other FPS games where you either have all the weapons or you find them along the way, here you choose a weapon to use - presumably leaving the others behind - which feels annoying as I kept trying to switch over to the shotgun only to realize I didn't have it - because I'd picked twin pistols instead).

    So, I then played a few torment levels that are basically short challenges that reward you with what I think are permanent boons to make things easier. There are 3 for each level, so perhaps the ideal progression is to complete a level, then do the 3 boons and then move on to the next level? We'll see how it goes the next time I play level 3.

    Am I having fun? Yes - but it's tricky for me - you have to do everything on the beat, and missing the beat on the keyboard as you're also trying to hit the reload (R)_, or switch weapons, or all might be a bit too much for my middle-aged hands at this point. I could always lower the difficulty level, but I'm playing on the middle one now...which I've assumed is the "regular person" one.

    Oh, there's a leaderboard for scores from the campaign as well - it surprised me that this wasn't separate. As in, I though it might have been a competitive mode as a separate thing. My guess is that they really want to encourage replayability (there aren't THAT many levels in the game for - I assume - content/song licensing challenges) - so, go back and see if you can beat your earlier score or your friends' might be part of the intended experience.

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    Strange Brigade (PS4)    by   jp       (Sep 17th, 2023 at 15:22:48)

    I've been playing this for a lot more than I expected - but I'm starting to tire a little. I might not finish it but... I've been super impressed by the game's art direction, they really leaned into the "Indiana Jones-style" temples and stuff, more fairly on the adventure pulps the game mimics. And, it's just fun.

    I'm a bit confused by the game's meta-progression and collectibles. The game has lots of things to find/collect as you play and, when I wasn't paying too much attention I missed a few and assumed that it would all work out because the meta-progression elements would just unlock as you hit certain thresholds. So, get 10 relics and unlock this boon, 15 for the next and so on.

    Here, the relics are grouped thematically - and you get the boon when you complete a full set. And, 3/4 of the way in - I have LOTS of sets that are all missing just one relic. I then assumed that perhaps each set of relics corresponds to a level - so I played a level with a guide (so as not to miss anything) and...that didn't yield a full set either. If I had been paying attention I would have noticed that the sets aren't constrained to a level. BUT, this means that what I had assumed was one of the draws for playing more (to be fair the story is forgettable in a way that is consistent with the genre) is actually kind of out of reach. I'm a bit let down by this, because it seems that these boons are more like Campaign+ type rewards, but - why bother then? I don't have any particular desire to go back and play earlier levels (other than to find/unlock stuff I missed)..

    Similarly, the game has a rune-system where you find runes you can put into slots on weapons that change how that weapon behaves - more damage, heal you on kill, freeze enemies, etc. It's fun - BUT, once you use a rune you can remove it from a weapon by destroying it. So, I filled up a weapon with runes, and I've been using that while hoarding all the other ones because I feel like I don't want to waste them. I think this was another design mistake - I want to experiment with the runes, mix and match, try different combinations, but their relative scarcity means that I feel locked in to my choices. Of course having a system with re-usable runes would require MORE rune-types - but that still might have been better from the player experience side of things?

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    Black Mesa (PC)    by   jp       (Sep 16th, 2023 at 20:10:10)

    I played this believing it to be a (originally) fan recreation of Half-Life using Half Life 2's engine. I played it as such - marveling at the things I remembered from Half-Life and for others, wondering if I simply did not recall certain moments from the game or if this was something new/added/modified in the process of recreation.

    So, I'll mostly be writing about Black Mesa as if it was Half-Life...and having played Half-Life, this will be a bit weird. After all, I played HL shortly after it came out...and that's easily 20 years at this point. Huh.

    (1) There were moments in the original that I remember as genuinely surprising and shocking. Realizing that the tram ride was NOT a cut-scene was one of them. This was in the days of 3D acceleration as novelty... so, my recollection is that the tram ride looked amazing, and thus it had to be a cut-scene. And, after bumping the mouse, and seeing the screen move - OMG! There were other similar moments in the game: I remember the shock when you get to the surface and the soldiers attack you, there was a helicopter fight that was notable, and I remember being creeped out by the Man in Black - whom you started to notice. I think I noticed him MORE this time - cued in as I was to his importance and appearance. That being said, these moments were no longer surprising.

    (2) I remembered some of the game's weapons, but I did not recall how many weapons the game has - nor that there was a secondary mode of fire (new addition perhaps?). So, it was fun to play around here and experiment with more ways of shooting and such. Similarly, I didn't remember being able to pick up objects and mess around with them - e.g. picking up cans so that the ceiling critters would "eat" those allowing me to walk past them without concern.

    (3) I didn't remember having to spend so much time in vents wandering around. Nor did I remember the cold-areas? I vaguely remembered riding on the trams - but it seems there was more tram riding here? Wow - it's all such a blur!

    I did play about 1/2 of the game - maybe more? And I remember that the Xen part of the game was kind of boring - though the weapons (which I did not get to) were rather fun - especially the weird alien thing you put on your arm and fire "bugs" that homed in your enemies. I guess those are still in the game? For 5 and a half hours, getting to the midway point seems pretty good. Which makes me wonder if I played it much slower and more carefully back then? I'm assuming that I played the game for longer sessions - so I would have finished it much faster? But, I did noticed this time around that I knew how to make progress, wasn't too concerned with picking up stuff, finding secrets, or even killing every monster. There is a fair amount of back tracking, and I can see how people might get lost (there was one puzzle I bumbled around abit - it's the one where there's an electrified pit of water and you have to turn off the electricity, then plug something in the water into the wall socket... that last part took me too long to realize).

    I think the only real disappointment, and this might be a HL2 engine issue? was a dexterity moment where you have to jump on to a rotating blade to them jump on to a ledge. It simply did not work for me - I'd fall off, you could not stay on the blade... I was starting to get really frustrated with this section until I decided to try something new... I made a stack of barrels and was (barely) able to make it up on to the ledge. So, were the barrels the real solution? I doubt it - all the level design indicated that you had to jump on to the rotating blades...

    Why did I stop? Well, I got to a section with conveyor belts and ceiling presses - time your movement so as to avoid getting squished - I just kept getting squished, especially in the section where the conveyor belts turned 90 degrees and I got stuck on the geometry, jumped and died. Ugh.

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    Helldivers (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Sep 9th, 2023 at 14:37:20)

    I played this some with Patrick. It was fun learning it together. And some random person joined our game early on and helped us out too. Then I played solo for about as long as I could withstand the onslaught of enemies. It's really hard to play solo because you have no other players to help kill enemies while you do objectives. Then, I started playing with random people online, which varied from bad to great.

    Clearly, the best way to play this is with 1-3 other friends. It's a chaotic twin-stick shooter that is basically Starship Troopers. And there's nothing to do besides killing bugs (and cyborgs and whatever other aliens there are). You quickly realize that the game is a gear/level grind. You'll do the same thing 5 hours in as you were 5 minutes in. Complete the same kind of objectives, point and shoot in the same way at oncoming enemies, and use bigger and beefier weaponry to do so. If you're having fun blasting away, then this is great! But if you're being friendly fired by players who don't know what they're doing, or if players don't revive you, or if they've got hot mics, then it can get kind of annoying. You won't make it past too many difficulty levels of planets alone, so you'll need to start playing with others.

    By far the coolest thing about the game is the Magicka style button inputs to complete objectives and call down supplies. This worked great in Magicka, adding to the frantic gameplay, and it works great here. Again, too, friendly fire is always on, and to add to the chaos, whenever you call down a supply drop, it can land on friends or foes and kill them. Flamethrowers, laser rifles, giant mechs, carpet bombing, and more are all yours to use against the alien hordes. Why are you here killing all these aliens? Something about managed democracy. Who is your character? Nameless. Is there a story? No. So you really have to enjoy the cooperative gameplay to get anything out of this. I've "retired" it so it's not sitting in my Steam to-play list anymore. Maybe I can get Patrick on board again, but I'm not sure he was into it. Maybe I'll try other Patrick. We shall see!

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    1 : jp's Shootas, Blood & Teef (Switch)
    2 : jp's Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair (PS4)
    3 : dkirschner's The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (PC)
    4 : jp's Metal: Hellsinger (PC)
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