Great Things

//Great Things

My Top 12 Games of 2015: #02 Cities: Skylines

While this is was #5 on my list it is probably my favorite city builder ever created. I might as well say it is. I can’t think of any other game that allows me to be the mayor of a city this vast, with persistent people, and just a general feeling of wonder in the machinations of man. Even before you start modding this game it is the strongest city builder I’ve ever played. As EA slowly dissolved any quality remaining in Maxis I began to scratch at every possible alternative that came about. Each time hoping for some depth but finding my nails finding the base just beneath a thin coat of paint. It wasn’t until EA released the last SimCity that my heart was truly broken. It felt like the last nail in the coffin, there would never be another game that captured my imagination like Sim City 2000. And then, like a bolt from the blue, Cities: Skylines arrived. It was so sneaky that I barely knew anything about it.

They didn’t have monumental marketing budgets or crafty YouTube videos giving me the false idea that their game would give me the world. And prior to this game I hadn’t really been a huge fan of Paradox. I didn’t hate them but most of their games just kinda were. I’d play them, like them, and move on. But this, holy shit people. I don’t even know where to begin. The first wild news is that this was made in Unity. This is a level of quality that I can’t even expect from proprietary engines. It isn’t until you get to a 25 square sized city that you start finding the upper limits that the engine can handle.

And frankly, even a single square appears to dwarf what SimCity could accomplish. It was remarkable to see this game so soon after EA/Maxis had said “What we’ve done is literally the peak of city building. Games must be this small because PCs can’t handle it.” Well here I am, many mods later, with a city that doesn’t unload anyone from the streets until they reach their destination. No matter how large I build it my computer seems just fine. I can follow Jim Starling from his small home in the suburbs to his job as a chicken sexer at the local farm. That is, Jim determines the sex of chickens, he doesn’t sex with them. At least not since the jail time.

I don’t have their latest expansion but I hear good things about it. The day/night cycle was added to the base game and when night time hits the city looks like some kind of christmas miracle. Glowing lights filling out the pitch darkness of a cloudless night. You can take the camera at some pretty dynamic angles and see a city you’ve build from all sorts of new angles. Each one giving you an appreciation for what you’ve done and the magnitude of your influence. I feel grander in this game than I ever did scouring the hollow galaxy of SPORE.

You can even attach your camera to a person and follow them through their life. A slow commute, perhaps a hearse collecting folks who underestimated the veracity of the “tummy buster” burger at the local Binges Burgers. This game is similar to Fallout in that it allows for incredible levels of control for modders. But I would argue that on a quality level it is far beyond that of an open heart demo. This is a complete experience crafted by a team that I genuinely believe cares. They didn’t produce a product, they made a game. A top notch, high quality experience that will stand the test of time.

Honestly I originally had this at #5 but the more I wrote about it the more I realized that this is easily #2 on my list. There is only one title this year that hit me harder than Cities. And there is only a day left to find out what it is! This was most certainly a treat and I do hope that soon a few copies of this will be ending up under the tree for folks all over.

By | 2015-12-23T18:43:00+00:00 December 23rd, 2015|Great Things, Reviews|Comments Off on My Top 12 Games of 2015: #02 Cities: Skylines

My Top 12 Games of 2015: #03 Metal Gear Solid 5

This was almost my Game of the Year. You might be wondering how it ended up then at #3. It’s time for a short story I suppose. I’ve got a Platinum on this game, played it absolutely to death. But the last half of my experience was desperately lacking compared to the first half. I’m about to go real deep into spoiler land, so run away now. I’m serious. This is me giving you time to run. Your eyes are going to want to keep reading but you really shouldn’t. Unless you want to, then I’m fine with you being here. Consent is important. Still reading? Alright, here we go. This ain’t no Apple TOS, I’m giving you a chance to backout before I start opening up with Windows every damn time you update me. Alrighty. So in Metal Gear Solid 5 you are introduced to a character named Quiet. You might not be aware of this but I’m one of those folks that liked her character. I’m not going to defend it because I don’t think it is something that needs defending. I expressed previously why I thought the criticisms were weird (since folks were chill with a guy breaking the laws of physics and a kid flying around) but ultimately people who hate are going to hate. It’s part of their DNA and I can’t (and won’t) deprive them of the easy endorphin rush.

My problem with Quiet was her absolutely awful conclusion. First you are given the worst mission in the entire game. It’s a horde mode with you against a bunch of tanks. It is fucking awful. There are 0 redeeming qualities for this mission. This mission is the worst thing to ever happen to MGSV. I actually really liked the regular ending, so I’m not in the camp of people who were angry with it. When I finished that “real” ending I felt like I had played my GOTY. If only barely, but then I got to this POS. It ruined me. The problem with bad final experiences is that they taint your memories of the whole adventure, at least that’s the case with me. And then, after finishing this awful mission (which took me an hour or so of retries), Quiet is given a really contrived POS sequence of events that lead to her “leaving”. It makes no goddamn sense. I could go on and on about why it was awful, but generally speaking, much like people who hate Quiet, those that like the mission won’t care what I say. So we’ll just leave it at me hating it. I then spent the next couple of days 100%ng the rest of the game. But I did it without Quiet.

I legit like her. I think her character was fun story wise (minus the ending), I liked her functionally, and all the in between therein. I don’t have sexual hangups so for me there was never an issue. We were a team and together we were death incarnate. The game got absolutely no harder without her, it just got less fun. And worse I knew that on PC I could have modded her back in. Recently they patched a way to get her back into the console version. But for me it always felt like an oversight. As if they forgot to put in that feature to begin with. So I spent the rest of my time playing with her lullaby playing in the helicopter. That way whenever it came to back me up, or save me with an extraction, I’d hear her on the way in. Kinda sappy I know, but all the missions we had gone on had really gotten me attached to having her on my team.

And no, the “Phantom Pain” of her leaving is not really a funny joke and it’s not a clever observation. Had her exit from my game not been full of plot issues and actually felt meaningful I might have felt like it was worth it. As it stood it felt like they removed a game mechanic by accident and nobody in QA noticed.

Anyways, now that that is out of the way. Let’s talk about all the things I liked about this game. Firstly the introduction to this game is stellar. I literally got ill when I first played the game. It might have been coincidental food poisoning but holy shit did the introduction hit me hard. I actually played Ground Zeroes straight into this (same day), having not played GZ at all before that. So exploding uterus bomb really hit me hard. I was like “Jeebus, what happened to me being a badass who never fails! I’m failing! Help me baby jesus!”

The next thing I noticed, after the initial stomach punch of an introduction was just how gorgeous this game is. Aesthetically and graphically it’s just one long pant tightening experience. The Fox Engine is truly a thing to behold. I was never not amazed by the game. It felt fluid, cinematic in the real sense (not that shit that people try to pass as cinematic in marketing releases), and kept me thoroughly engaged. I wasn’t just playing this game I was >living it<. I can vividly remember the smell of military fatigues and they kept coming back to me each time I’d play this game.

I liked all but one of the missions. Even those that had me repeating certain levels but with limitations were cool. Redoing missions for sub goals was cool for me too. I loved trying to figure out how to accomplish things and I almost never needed to look at a guide (the collector’s guide for this was excellent btw, highly recommended even if only to read and plop on a shelf).

It saddens me that this game didn’t get the time and funding necessary to be “Complete”. What I experienced was on the precipice of being almost life changing for me. The way this engine handled so much at once reminded me a lot of my first time playing GTA 3. Just being in awe that a console could handle so much. To think that a world could be “this big”. It was all too much for me and I adored it.

I loved those moments when the story started to come together and even little things you thought were meaningless from earlier ended up being meaningful. For me the actual phantom pains came from the story itself. The ways that conclusions didn’t really have the punch you hoped for. How the war itself ultimately lead to lives being lost without any real victory. Even at your most powerful you still felt weak.

Knowing this was the last proper Metal Gear was something of a bittersweet experience for me. I know that Kojima wanted to do other things but I’ll always have fond memories of this series. For him it might have been another job he didn’t want to spend his whole life doing but for me it was a journey that I wanted to travel along forever. MGS was a bit like a family companion. You get them knowing that someday they’ll be gone and it’ll break your heart. But you tell yourself the journey will be enough to compensate for the inevitable heartache. But like I said earlier, that bitter ending always taints the former memories for me. Only with time do things mellow.

MGS V is excellent to me. I feel like a better person for having played it. I know some people hate it with a passion, but for me it was an experience I’ll probably never forget.

By | 2015-12-22T22:00:53+00:00 December 22nd, 2015|Great Things, Reviews|Comments Off on My Top 12 Games of 2015: #03 Metal Gear Solid 5

My Top 12 Games of 2015: #04 Xenoblade Chronicles X

This one will be the roughest of my reviews because it is one of the more recent titles I’ve been playing (I think the newest on this list) but I’m pretty confident in where I’ve put it. It becomes increasingly complicated because I don’t have my video capture device hooked up to the Wii U yet. This means we won’t have any lovely pictures today! How droll. Ah well, such is life. I’m not sure where this review will go, so we’ll just wing it and see what happens.

First off, this game is not perfect. There are some things about it that I find borderline infuriating. Let’s talk about these things. The first is that the music is loud as fuck. It’s always running at 1000%. I’ve never played a game that had its music this loud for this long. And not only is the music loud, you can’t turn it down, and furthermore the music is louder than the people talking. Luckily this game has subtitles, but wait! The subtitles are choppy white text on multicolored backgrounds. Apparently nobody told them that adding a black border would make it actually legible. Impossible to hear often, impossible to read often, it makes me wonder why I even bother paying attention to the story.

As a soundtrack the music isn’t awful. But they break a lot of rules in this game. Music with lyrics repeats over, and over, and over, as you move from scene to scene in the city. It quickly eats away at your mind and threatens to erase all you hold dear. The next flaw is that the items you collect in game don’t get added to a repository that will later tell you exactly where you can collect them if you need them for a mission. This seems like a small oversight but this game is massive, not knowing where “Spherical Pant Cleanser M1” is and needing to find it always necessitates a google.

Next we’ve got the problem of affinity missions. So if you start one and it’s finding a Spherical Pant Cleanser M1, you are proper fucked. Because until you find that you can’t do any other affinity or story missions. Sometimes it’ll ask you to do something WAY beyond your abilities which then leaves you locked out of the rest of the game. This is awful design and whoever did it should probably get a spanking. But the angry kind, not the naughty kind.

Normally these things would be the death knells of a game for me. I don’t think anyone playing this game has trouble finding things that make them absolutely furious. But somehow I still really really like this game. While it sucks in so many ways it excels in so many more. Firstly the actual world is positively stunning. This is the most aesthetically pleasing game I’ve played in a very very long time. The creatures are imaginative, the environments are vast and colorful, and the vistas seem to go on forever. Each time you see something amazing you realize “I could go there.” This game has little in the way of set pieces, everything feels functional and amazing. I often run around with my camera zoomed in real close because I love the feeling of smallness.

Creatures in the zones are varied. Just about every place seems to have low level and extremely high level creatures. This makes adventuring feel a bit dangerous and exhilarating. You never know if that bulge in the ground or that plant in the distance is really safe, or a burrowed creature ready to strike. I’ve walked up on quite a few “safe” things only to find my characters head getting punched out their ass.

The game respawns you back at the last fast travel point you walked to (or the last named location you walked by). It also heals you after each fight that you survive. This keeps the game moving and makes the act of exploring something that is encouraged. Maybe you SHOULD try fighting that super strong monster, maybe you’ll win? The game wants you to try and that’s a great feeling.

Eventually in the game you’ll find yourself getting a large mech called a “Skell”. I only got this recently and I absolutely love it. It is at this point that the hundreds of thousands of credits I had amassed went to work. I decked out my Skell with all the coolest stuff on the market. The giant “buster” sword on my back makes short work of most foes at the moment. Additionally the “cockpit” mode is a moment of awesome that sadly I can’t just leave on. It’s like they want to tease me with a superior viewing angle. “This could be yours, but it was designed by the guy who implemented the music, so you can’t have it.”

Skells are a bit more dangerous than other content. You can (from what I understand) actually lose them if you fuck up in combat. This does put me a bit on edge but thus far I’ve had insurance that covered it when they broke. I’m not sure how many “insurance” I have or where to get more, I should probably check later.

That’s another part of this game that I love. I don’t know basically anything about it. The game doesn’t hold your hand at all basically. It makes you work for every piece of information and you learn as you play. I love games like that and wish more games had a “Xenoblade” mode where they don’t caudle me like some kind of invalid. Sure this means that sometimes I ruin myself but there is almost nothing you can’t recover from in this game. This speaks to me on quite a few levels.

The story isn’t awful. It reminds me a bit of Hitchhiker’s Guide with the introduction. For some reason this time around the loss of basically everything didn’t feel quite so heartbreaking to me. When I read HHGTTG I remember thinking “Why care?” Earth means a lot to me I guess. I currently live in “Old” LA and I’ve got to tell you, if New LA is anything like Old LA there is little reason to save it.

Oh shit, so I just went to Pieology. I really don’t remember what I was saying. Let’s see…Skells, City, LA Sucks…Ah! Right. So the quests are actually pretty fun. I know they are mostly “find this” or “kill that” but the dialogue for a lot of them is actually pretty neat. You meet a lot of characters that each feel like someone you’d meet. Some are nice, some are assholes, some are cultists. You know, just the usual suspects.

This game has a lot wrong with it. But it also has a lot good with it. And I genuinely think that the good is so delightful that it outweighs the bad. This, for me, feels like a real game. This isn’t a product, which was a praise I gave to a previous title. As you play it you feel that it was designed by people who wanted to have fun and wanted their players to have fun. Even some of the awful design flaws seem to come right out of late 90’s early 2000’s game design. Sure, I’d have preferred they actual QA the blasted thing and have sound controls, but I’m willing to accept a little bit of poop if it means I’ll get an amazing overall experience.

Xenoblade at its worst is better than most of the games I play at their best. That might be a slight exaggeration but it’s not often that I drop everything else I’m playing to play something. So yeah, this is a game I keep coming back to. I could totally see myself coming back to it again in the future. By that definition it falls into the spectrum of great games :).

By | 2015-12-21T23:53:09+00:00 December 21st, 2015|Great Things, Reviews|Comments Off on My Top 12 Games of 2015: #04 Xenoblade Chronicles X

My Top 12 Games of 2015: #05 Disgaea 5

This got knocked down my list the more I thought about it. Not because it’s a bad game, it’s one of my favorite games of the year by no small margin. If I was being entirely biased I’d slap this bad boy up to #1. I mean hell, I got platinum in the goddamn thing. I wrote a lot of guides that have been fairly popular on my personal website. And I believe I enjoyed basically every second of the time I played it. The characters were fun, the story was fun, the graphics were top notch, the music excellent, and the entire experience streamlined to a fine deadly edge.

Everything that was weak in any of the previous titles is enhanced here. Aw yeah, switching tenses, I hear that drives folks nuts. Anyways, this game is excellent. They’ve managed to remove a lot of the fluff from Disgaea that didn’t enhance the experience. Long gone are the hundreds of hours to get yourself to a state of conquering the game. The story itself can be played almost non-stop without any sort of grinding necessary. It makes it tougher but it is still entirely doable. The new modes that have you sending out people to other Netherworlds help earn them experience and keep your entire team leveling. Sometimes people you’ve never used in combat will actually outlevel your main team.

The game is chock full of side content and systems that are all absolutely lovely. I love the mechanic of curry and using it as a long term (100 battle long) buff to my characters. It can really turn the tides of some of the harder optional content. There were many days where I woke up specifically with this game in mind. Long hours of raiding in wow were made harder and sometimes painful by my desire to go and play this instead. Many hours of lost sleep followed by a few early mornings. Each moment lacking in regret and each moment furthering my progress along a path of hedonistic joy.

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Disgaea is a series that has never really disappointed me. But this is the first one to give me an excellent experience AND terrify me. Because they are literally as finely tuned as you can get. One more flick of the sharpener and this blade will shatter. I’m worried that Disgaea 6 is going to be weaker, to have less content, less options. Because they’ve run out of “bad things” to remove from their formula and this is generally where game companies start removing the good. I want to say that Nippon Ichi is above this but I don’t believe they are. I will be coming to Disgaea 6 with optimistic skepticism. I fear what their eyes will focus in on as “unnecessary”.

But that bleakness aside. There is little bad about this game, if anything. About my only criticism would be that the chara world is way too slow. There are limits to how many % you can earn per run of the board game and that’s just a bad game design decision. That’s replacing quality content with hollow padding and I loathe that in video games. Had it allowed you to live on the board for as long as you can earn turns and survive random events it would have been just one long boner of a relaxing time. But they broke it, luckily max affinity is entirely optional and unnecessary to Platinum the game.

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Anyone that likes tactical RPGs will like this in my opinion. For those that don’t I couldn’t even fathom what they’d want instead. I’ll admit that X-COM is a different experience but I can’t think of anything else that isn’t very similar to Disgaea in this genre. These have become, for me, the defacto experience in this corner of gaming and I would like them to stay that way. Few things would be more delightful for me as a game enthusiast than loading up Disgaea 15 someday and having it be just as good as Disgaea 5. At a certain point you find yourself holding the wheel in your hand. An object perfectly suited for what it is attempting to accomplish. Any tweaking of it beyond that point becomes dangerous. Adding just a single edge and suddenly you’ve got something lesser.

Not every addition is positive, not every removal is negative. But some developers manage to be so good at what they do that they run out of positive additions or negative removals. I think, for the most part, Nippon Ichi has run out of the latter. However, they have plenty of good they can do on the former. All sorts of additions or silly ideas they can pursue. If anything I’d love a whatif scenario where we finally find out just which hero is the strongest. Naturally I’ve got my money on Valvatorez.

PS. The DLC prices for these games are off the hook. I wish they weren’t so awful about that but at least it rarely ever adds “power” to your game. Just a bit of diversity.

I’ve reviewed this game already, but I’ll reiterate that it is absolutely great. I’d happily go back and play it again sometime, and I just might!

By | 2015-12-20T18:09:41+00:00 December 20th, 2015|Great Things, Reviews|Comments Off on My Top 12 Games of 2015: #05 Disgaea 5

My Top 12 Games of 2015: #07 Starcraft II: LOTV

Much like the cold void of space, today I find myself once again writing with freezing joints. It is what it is, provides me with a lot of narrative juice [which unfortunately freezes in my sulci]. Unfortunately this is another game I’ve already reviewed. But unlike last time I’ve got three entire games I can talk about with this post! So why don’t we?! “Because you are cold and would rather just veg while playing Xenoblade Chronicles?” You are totally right, but sometimes I’ve got to force myself to finish something. If I went to #7 in a top 12 list I’d feel like a total dog sack. No offense to dogs, or their sacks, just how I’d feel.

Legacy of the Void was the final entry in the Starcraft II arc. I don’t know how many of you reading this are aware but I actually really like Chris Metzen. A few years back Blizzard had an ill fated magazine project that rose and fell like a Phoenix. And like the Phoenix it was a thing of beauty. I’m still saddened that they stopped publishing it. It got to four or five issues, each really well made with excellent interviews and content. They seemed to believe that they couldn’t compete with the internet but in my mind that magazine showed that print could still whip the socks off of digital. Every page was just dripping with quality. If I walked in on you rubbing a copy on your junk I’d probably not even think twice. “Yeah, it is pretty damn good.” I’d say. You’d awkwardly stare at me, frozen in place. Finally I’d break the tension. “Well when you are finished I’ll be ready for some LAN Starcraft.” You nod slowly, the full weight of the moment wearing you down more than it should. I understand what you’ve done and I won’t tell Dave. Well, maybe, ok I might tell him. This is pretty amusing.

But I’m digressing. The magazine was wonderful and in it was one of the most inspirational interviews I’ve ever read. It was an interview with Chris Metzen that talked to him about his time with Blizzard and how he felt about a great many things. I’m going to paraphrase but when asked about how he feels about his writing he said something like: “I write because I love creating. And for me, if someone loves my work, or hates my work, the outcome is roughly the same. Just knowing that they experienced it is enough to keep me going. That relationship is very fulfilling for me.” I’m tempted to pull out my copy and get the exact quote but you get the jist. That notion of not fearing how people will react to your work was incredibly enticing to me. I’m always an anxious mess, every moment of my day eats away at me a little more than the previous moment.

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So back to the game. I actually really liked the story to Starcraft II. Metzen adores love stories. Most of his stories are adventures wrapped around the love of two or more characters. He’s not writing to amuse some pantywaist literary critics. You know the people, always telling you how they could “Fix” this genre or that. He writes because he loves writing and he writes what he loves to write. I admire that personally. I don’t need him to be the next Tolkien. I need him and the others writing for Blizzard to be confident and to have fun with what they do. Because when they have fun it bleeds through the end game. This is why their video sequences are such a joy to watch. Everyone at Blizzard is there to not just make a product, not just make a game, but to ultimately make something super nerdy and super fun. For all the skinny little shits like myself to fantasize about being something greater. To push back the Zerg, to stop the Cataclysm, or to defeat the Lords of Evil themselves.

The journey of Raynor as he tries to rescue Kerrigan is a delight for me. Especially considering of the two of them he’s easily the one that needs the rescuing. His love has become a potentially galaxy destroying superpowered creature. She has at her side basically the entirety of the Zerg. In many ways I’ve always seen Raynor as a strong man with a fragile heart. He’s not out to save Kerrigan because she needs saving but because he needs to save her. That journey is what keeps him moving. Much like for her the desire for revenge (and perhaps redemption). All along the way the Terrans feel more like secondary observers than actual participants and I love that. Humans just don’t seem to me like a faction that would really be anywhere near the front stage of an interstellar war. We do a lot of cool things but I feel like any kind of galactic interaction will find us on the lower end of the totem pole. And if we weren’t, if we truly were the top dogs, I don’t think we could handle that.

All three games are excellent in my opinion. The quality from start to finish is without question in my mind. Almost every mission is fun, a few of them are frustrating as fuck, but that doesn’t make them bad. They are challenging but still well designed. All of the cut scenes are great. The dialogue is either awesome, corny, or awesomely corny. In each case I can tell that people had a really good time making it and I’ve had a really good time experiencing it.

All together you can buy the entire series for something like 50 bucks. That’s crazy balls and one of the best non-sale deals available in 2015. Anyone with a passing interest in RTS games owes it to themselves to play Starcraft II. The unit selection in these games is just wonderful. The rock-paper-scissors mechanics throughout really mesh well and it’s fascinating just how balanced the game is. I can’t personally recommend the multiplayer because in my experience it doesn’t take long before you are up against people who could beat you using nothing but their kneecaps to press buttons. This is one of those games where people generally peak in their mid 20’s because the strain is just too much on any normal human being. But if you want to casually play with a buddy or two that’s probably fun.

The gimmicks for all three story arcs are cool. I love upgrading things, I love choices, and I love that there are all sorts of people to chat with between missions in all three stories. I’ve played a lot of RTS games that just phone it in. But Starcraft II really does go balls deep in a lot of ways.

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The biggest mistake in this closing game was the Archon Mode. Why, oh why, was it not for the entire Campaign? How amazing would it have been to play with another person along the Campaign in hard or brutal? What a waste. It’s only available in like 9 maps and they are fun but not THAT fun.

For me, the story as a whole is certainly complete. There is something about it that is very bittersweet. Some knowledge that I glossed over in the original trilogy that did ultimately make everything a little hollow. Hollow in the sense that you get when something you care about passes away. I know that sounds dramatic but that’s how I felt. It was the closing of a door. I sat there realizing that everything had culminated in the ultimate conclusion and that, at least for now, the tale was over. I know there will be story packs coming and whatnot but I don’t know if they can really top what they’ve done. But even if they don’t, in ten years time when Starcraft III comes out, I’ll be there and I’ll be playing it.

By | 2015-12-18T20:42:49+00:00 December 18th, 2015|Great Things, Reviews|Comments Off on My Top 12 Games of 2015: #07 Starcraft II: LOTV