Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Shadowrun Returns: Review

The Good:

I love the engine.  The way the game plays like an old school CRPG, while still relying mostly on left clicks (you can enable the need to double click).  The fact that it’s sort of a pseudo 3d isometric view like the old CRPGs is pretty endearing.

The art direction is great.  The world looks like something out of a painting or a comic book, which adds to the surreal flavor of fantasy + cyberpunk that is Shadowrun.

Replayability is built in, in that the game is essentially an editor with the ability to load “stories” created in said editor.  Even the main story campaign is loaded like user-generated content (because it is, with the users being the developers), and there’s a growing amount of THAT on Steam Workshop right now.

Combat is best described as X-Com lite, but ironically with actual movement points instead of just move and shoot phase.  I also have to say the enemy AI is pretty solid, opting for the best weapon at whatever range, and also heading for cover if available.

The Matrix design is interesting, and harkens back to the 1990’s where wireframe blue was what data looked like.  It feels separate and unique from the overworld without needing a separate tutorial to figure out how to play.

In fact, every mechanic in the game seemed very easy to pick up for me, aside from how to access a Rigger’s robots, which, to be fair, was pretty obvious once I checked equipment (they’re essentially slotted weapons).

Character creation is pretty awesome.  It’s mostly like Dark Souls where you can put points into any stats and skills, but that assignment is permanent, so it’s worth mulling over.  Also, starting class only affects your starting skills and some equipment, as well as some on-map avatar options (like a jacket change, etc).

My friend said it best: “more emotion delivered in a few paragraphs, than any game has managed with highly paid voice actors and facial mapping software.... “  If you can get invested in the world of Shadowrun then it’s easy to get invested in this story, as it starts pretty personal.

The story is actually pretty interesting, and once it gets into full swing I kept being reminded why I loved IPs like Shadowrun and Warhammer 40K so much: the seamless mix of sci fi with not just fantasy tropes like elves and dwarves, but entire ideas of how magic and spirits work.

Women kick ass in this game. Not just potentially because of the protagonist, but two major storyline allies and two primary antagonists are women. Also, the mercenaries you can hire feature a good mix of men and women, and the women aren't all lithe assassins or anything, my favorite being "Hidden Fancy" a Troll Samurai who specialized in shotguns and assault rifles. She was my tank.

Both in the story and in the selection of mercs, there's a good range of races, as well. It really makes you feel like you're in an American city and not just some video game.

The Bad:

It’s still a bit buggy.  I had to reload a mission a few times because an ambush didn’t trigger that opened the way to the next part of the map.

In the modern age of 5 hour campaigns seemingly tacked on to AAA titles to sell MP shooting, a 10-12 hour campaign by a crowdfunded company is nothing to sneeze at.  That said, it does feel a tiny bit rushed at times, relying on combat to flesh out most of the encounter resolution.  This isn’t a bad thing for an RPG, but it could have been handled better for a Shadowrun game.  I think with a bit more time, they could have added more things to interact with to avoid having to fight as many encounters.  AS many words as I put into this, this is a VERY MINOR complaint, and one that is easily remedied with user and upcoming content, i just felt I needed to clarify how incidental and easily remedied this “bad” point is.

I also felt like there weren’t enough matrix points to use, but, again, that is easily remedied with user content.

The Weird:

As a friend of mine pointed out, the conversations show options you can’t use due to lacking the stat points.  I don’t consider this BAD per se, but I do feel that it’s something that used to not happen until Mass Effect.

The same mechanic is used when interacting with objects that can have a skill applied, which leads to another odd thing, your character can’t use your party’s skills for these objects.  I don’t know if it’s due to the way the engine is set up, or a conscious decision to not let the player overcome a limitation by having a diverse party.

This is more a weird thing about Shadowrun in general, but making a split class character is VERY challenging, unless you want a decker/rigger.  Most other complimentary classes are reliant on different stats, so you’ll end up nerfing one or the other or both classes.  This is actually pretty good for game balance, if a bit annoying if you want a strong Adept.

In all, this game was a must buy for me, and I would recommend it for any fans of CRPGs.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review: Tekken: Blood Vengeance

A motorcycle speeds along a raised highway, most likely a bridge. The leather clad and helmeted rider, showing more cleavage than the average street hooker, sees a truck in the distance, and comments, unsurprised, about an ambush. The motorcycle and truck collide in a huge explosion, which rocks the bridge and sends pieces flying. Seconds later, the rider lands on her feet, unharmed. The truck is on it’s side, but somehow the truck door blasts off, and out jumps a brunette in a formal Chinese dress. The rider removes her helmet to reveal a long blonde ponytail. The rider is Nina, and the woman in the dress is her sister Anna. If you’re familiar with the title of the film, you are not surprised by what happened at all, are probably laughing or giggling, and you KNOW what happens next... If you’re not, I’ll give you a hint, it involves jump kicks.

The King of Iron Fist tournament got a CGI film in Japan, and the good old U.S. got a special showing today. As a bonus, the film was followed by a showing of a filmed interview between Dai Sato, the movie’s script writer, and Katsuhiro Harada, the lead designer of the Tekken series.

As a fan, the movie was a real treat. The CGI was incredible, and the 3D was really well done, with a lot of detail done to natural layers, rather than gimmicky “something is flying in your face” 3D.

The movie was NOT an adaptation of one of the games, instead choosing to focus on longtime character Ling Xiaoyu, an eternally young Chinese born school girl who fights mostly in a Japanese schoolgirl’s uniform with big ravery bead bracelets, Alisa Bosconovitch, a character new to the Tekken series, and of course, Xiaoyu’s superpowered panda, Panda.

The story takes place mostly in a school that Xiaoyu has been forced to transfer to by Nina in order to spy on another student, Shin Kamiya. He’s made up for this movie, so I can’t tell you much about him without spoiling plot points. Suffice to say, her assignment isn’t to get a hot date. While on said mission, she runs into Alisa, who claims to have a crush on Shin. Rounding out the cast are the aforementioned Nina and Anna, who are working for Jin Kazama and his father, Kazuya Mishima, respectively. Also in small roles is a very odd school teacher who reminded me of someone from the Soul Calibur franchise, and Ganryu, who appears briefly as Xiaoyu’s gym teacher in the school she gets expelled from.

The story is decently written, and the dialogue is, of course, translated, and as such, laughable a good chunk of the time. This does not necessarily make it bad, because the “supposed to be funny” parts are still funny, and it just means some of the extreme melodrama ends up being hilarious as well. The immediate complaint of fans will most likely be the exclusion of nearly 40 characters from the script, but I felt this is what gave the film it’s strength, a strength increased by the interview between the writer and game designer after the film ended. For example, Dai Sato explicitly wanted to focus on two young girls for a growth arc, and that he wanted one long time character (Xiaoyu) and one character brand new from Tekken 6 (Alisa). He said he saw Alisa as the only character to have an obvious spiritual growth arc (**MINOR SPOILER for non Tekken players** she’s a robot), to which Katsuhiro Harada said “Really? To me she was chainsaws.”

The film’s greatest weakness is simple: it assumes you’re a fan of Tekken. Even as a fan I was a bit surprised how little ramp up info they gave. Why is Jin running Mishima Zibatsu? Who is G Corporation, and why are we supposed to understand they are the bad guys if Jin took over the evil entity from the earlier games? How is the “M Gene” in any way related to the Devil Gene? Even the new guy is not explained that well, and I assumed I forgot about some less popular character (there’s 44, after all), until the writer talked about why he made him up.

If this comes to blu ray I would DEFINITELY rent it in THAT format (the detail is that good), and if you’re a Tekken fan, seeing this somehow would be my recommendation. In my opinion, this is how video game franchises (and fighting game franchises in specific) should be handled, outside of the scope of the games themselves, but well within canon for the franchise.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Fuck Wordpress

So I decided I hated Wordpress. I'm back here now, saying nothing important to nobody. They have a beta of mobile templates, so if anyone is using a mobile phone to view this, leave a comment on if setting that up even worked.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Political Activism and you

So Iran has this green party. They want elections now. I've seen pictures of the massive protests and rallies, and they are impressive. I've also seen those of you who "went green" on twitter by greenifying your icons, and they are not so impressive. Like everything else that used to require dedication: being in a subculture, being a gamer, being a fan of horror/film/etc, politics have reached an all time high of exposure and an all time low of dedication. Things like online petitions, right down to Facebook's "political causes" app have given rise to the ridiculous notion that somehow attaching your screen name to a cause is the same, somehow, as actually supporting it. The effects of this are already becoming evident, but I do not think they will really come to a head for another few decades or so, when the televinternet will replace all social gatherings, and we'll be able to vote for president with our remote control. In the meantime, let me give you a little hint:

If what you're doing requires no actual effort, or in no way threatens the stability of your life, it's not really activism.

Just to level the playing field, I am in NO WAY an activist. I purposely DO NOT claim to be politically active in any way. I don't consider the facebook causes I put my name on to be support, except for supporting the cause of "stop bugging me about your stupid cause". In retrospect I was just supporting your spiraling into extreme laziness in your dedication to your politics. I also never actually tried to recruit anyone, because I am lazy.

My mother is politically active. She's been interviewed on her local news, and has risked her name and reputation pressing a lawsuit against her own town for misappropriation of funds.

My friend is an activist, she has attended protests and rallies in which she could get arrested, and has actually physically distributed literature, and collected REAL signatures.

I do not always believe in what they do, but I cannot deny that they do something.

Back on point, I CAN deny that you do something. That online petition might work for a private company who wants to see a list, but in reality it's not a ACTUAL petition in any binding or legal way. Door to door signature collection is far more difficult, and people who would gladly click a link to add their name to a list, are more hesitant to add their actual signature to said list. It also involves getting off your ass and interacting with people.

I think what we need is a new term "political passivism". Not to be confused with "pacifism", this new term can usher in a new era of lazy online petitions and political causes on facebook. Perhaps even a blog, I should check to see if maybe I could start... oh wait, I'm too late...

Political passivism is the wave of the future, as more and more people will give a heartfelt "yeah, sure, whatever" to a cornucopia of causes they might think they want to support. Michael Vick got you angry? Join the many Facebook causes directly supporting more jail time for him, or even the many MORE that want stiffer penalties for animal abuse and are willing to do absolutely nothing to further this, aside from make a list online so people can see how many OTHER people are too lazy to let their ire motivate them. Don't forget to forward those political emails, as well, whether or not they're true. It doesn't matter, because nobody has the time, energy, or dedication to fact check!

Just remember in 20 years when you're voting in the 2039 local elections using your xbox 1800 controller during the break between "America's Next Top Topless Twitterer" and "The Deadliest Farts", that I coined the phrase on the T shirt you're wearing "Proud Political Passivist"

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How my friend learned to stop worrying and love Dr Strangelove

Film forum is showing Dr Strangelove through Thursday.  I'll wait here while you go see it. 

Anyway, I went with two female associates, one of whom had never seen it.  I think it was a great experience for all of us, because sometimes I love something and wonder if I still love it because it's nostalgic, or because it's truly good.  I, of course, laughed a great deal during the film.  My friend was in hysterics.  This reassured me that I wasn't just agreeing with the elite or succumbing to nostalgia in still loving this great film.

This, of course, lead me to thinking: what other things that I've loved have stood the test of time?  What has not?

Things that have not stood the test of time:
1> Jokes
Not comedy, but jokes.  Knock-Knock jokes don't make me laugh anymore.  Nor do most traditional set up jokes.  

2> Superhero Cartoons

I dare you to watch the marvel cartoons from the 70's.  Now, I dare you to show them to a kid nowadays.  He or she wouldn't sit through it.  The animation is shit, the drawing was mostly shit.  There are exceptions, of course, like the old Superman cartoon.  There is also an inverse to this in that the cartoons now suck compared to the late 90's (Anime Batman looks nowhere near as good at Batman the Animated Series Batman)

3> Fashion
Hipsters can take offense to this all they like, but nothing in the late 70's or early 80's, fashion wise, stood up over time.  Shoulder pads for women?  Big hair?  Pegged pants?  high flattops?  Teased hair on men?  Cockbroom moustaches with the aforementioned hair?  

Things that held up over the years:
1> NES
Girls, and old gamers still love old school NES games.  Games today aren't nearly as hard as they were when I was a kid, to the point where GAME REVIEWERS will put a big minus if a game is too challenging.  Also, the game characters were cuter.  They had to be with that sort of graphical limitation.  I remember about 10 years ago I used to hang out with a girl whose apartment got robbed, and her biggest lament was they stole her NES.  I got her a new one for her birthday, ands she acted like I got her diamonds.  Sure, the graphics look like crap next to some ultra next gen game, but the newer games don't require nearly as much dedication or reflexive skill.

2> Music
80's music seems almost like it's more popular now than in the 80's. Even I listen to more of it now than I did then.  I think it's because the quality of pop music has fallen to shit in the past decade.  I'm by no means an advocate of pop music, but if I have to be forced to listen to a radio I'd prefer Tears for Fears to whatever crap they're pushing today.

3> Cartoons
I'm talking about Tom and Jerry, and Looney Tunes.  They never go out of style, and they never cease to amuse me, or my younger cousins.  And nobody, absolutely nobody, can catch El Magnifico!  Still.  To this day.   I'd also like to add in The Three Stooges here.  They were sort of like a living cartoon.  I don't even get why they want to "remake" them, since they were actual people, and not so much a story.

Got anything to add?  Don't agree with what I am saying?  Want to call me a cunt?  We have a comment section for that.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The End Is Near...ly Shit

I beat Far Cry 2 a few days ago.  That game is LONG.  Each half of the game is equal to a full length game in and of itself.  Without giving anything away, I'll say when you GET to the end there's a choice of two things you can do.  I saved and did both.  I was underwhelmed by the results.  

For those of you wondering why you should care about a months old FPS that nobody else seemed to care about:

1> Fuck you, you should, it's amazing

2> This isn't a game review, I'm getting to the point in a bit.

At this point I have to say SPOILERS AHEAD!  this is a post about game endings, so if you haven't played the game mentioned, don't read any more.

Far Cry 2:
So you're this badass merc sent to kill someone who repeatedly saves your ass.  I can't see I didn't see it coming that you end up helping him.  What COULD have been set up better is how he'd been secretly herding the civilian population somewhere secret for a mass exodus.  And I THINK the ending implies he ran the underground.  Who knows.  All I DO know is my options were "die in an explosion" or "die from a self inflicted gunshot wound after being a hero".  WTF? 
I'm not even kidding, both of those options were the ending, some sort of double suicide/save the orphans pact.  To make it worse: they both lead to the same ending.  You never see the gun suicide.   You never see YOU or the Jackal. 

Grand Theft Auto IV:
I beat this awhile back, but I love bringing this up as recent kind of shitty endings.  No game seems to have taken the steam out of a series like this one.  I mean, they tease you at the start with this amazing engine with an immersive city, then make you drive a cab for approximately 10 hours, so I'm not very surprised.  That said, since when was GTA about someone's life ending up being shit because he lost a loved one, rather than about building a bad-ass empire of drugs, prostitution, and real estate?  

GTA IV: The Lost and Damned:
I've said to many people that this game fixed everything that GTA IV seems to have broken.  Gone is the emo-ness of a life lost by war and devestation... at first.  GTAIVTLAD (TLAD from here on in) starts strong making you second in command of a biker gang.  Some of the side missions of gang warfare really make me wonder why the entire game doesn't use a similar mechanic for missions.  I know the friendly AI isn't as good as you, and you can't give orders, but it was immersive and badass to have an entire gang be at your aid.  Much like the teaser "boss" in GTA IV (Darko Brevitch I think), the final boss in TLAD doesn't do much as you walk up and shoot him in the face.  Considering the fight involved in GETTING to him, it didn't bother me as much as it might seem.  But there you go.  You are the boss.  All dissent is quelled.  You are the boss of bosses, bikerwise.  Now would be a good time to go get your ex and put her into rehab, maybe take over the other biker gangs.  Set things right.  Own the night, et al.  Instead, it seems the protagonist seems to think this incredibly bonding experience you just had breaking into a jail and fighting the LCPD is the perfect preface for burning down the clubhouse and dispersing the biker crew who was more united than ever.  Once again, I miss Tommy Vercetti who at least had the good taste to get rich and retire in a mansion.

By the way, from this point on, don't expect any sort of synchronicity in my musings.  I don't know why I write this warning, it's not like anyone actually READS this blog...

Assassin's Creed:
It's almost not fair to put AC on this list, because it doesn't reallty have an ending.  It has a cliffhanger involving the bartender walking out a door.  Even the ending of Altair's story is just, like "oh there was a thing, and now we know what it is".  Had I been paying attention to the bartender's story I might have understood what was being explained, but in the end, I stopped caring after the third time I had the same woman thank me for saving her in yet another city.

The game criticized for being TOO sandboxy has an ending that's too tacked on.   Announcer guy gets all evil and mentions you're part of the New World Order.  Oh noes!

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
This game made me quit the series.  The last game ended with some speech about defeating genetics with willpower or some crazy shit.  this time, you make me play over half the game in a series about resident badass David, AKA SOLID SNAKE as a character named Rayden.  Who is essentially for gameplay purposes the same, except a giant pussy for storyline purposes.  The ending in this game seems to have made 2 points.
1> Solid Snake could be anyone.  Yeah, no shit.  You INVENTED him specificly to be the anyone.  Congratulations on the self-reference, Hideo. 
2> Whoever the Sons of Liberty were supposed to be in this game they were... oh wait, they were the original sons of liberty.  Who are dead.  LONG dead.  So it remains a mystery.  Except it may also be a computer program.  I stopped caring long before this became clear enough to truly be unclear to me...


Seriously, what is the deal with game endings?  I don't want Shakespeare, or master story writing, I just want to feel like I am being rewarded for beating your stupid game.   Gritty and bleak endings only work in film, because in film you are forced to examine your motivations in identifying with certain protagonists.  I'm FORCED to indentify with the protagonist in a game, because I am playing as him.  I don't want to then be asked if I REALLY want to identify with said protagonist, because the answer is probably "no", anyway, because most game protagonists are annoyingly generic.  Weak endings also suck, because I want to at least acknowledge that I accomplished something.  Even if it's just a shot of my character sitting on a pile of gold bars and money having copious amounts of sex with strippers.  Mario's princess was in another castle until he found her.  Having that be the ending isn't ironic, it's just plain annoying.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I am apparently secretly the son of Andre the Giant

It's been a weird thing that to Africans and African Americans I am often asked if anyone has ever told me I look like Andre the Giant.   A white friend of mine agreed with the assessment once, but it seems to mostly be the domain of black people.

The most recent time this happened, I was tired and getting out of work, and decided to take a cab home.  As I walked from the front door of my building to a cab that was already pulled over, the driver looked at me and SHOUTED "Andre the giant!!!"    Apparently a wrestling fanatic, my entire ride home was filled with talk about Hulk Hogan's family, and how I should bodyslam his son.  It was nice enough, I just included it because it's a perfect example of how this happens.

Before that, I was buying a game for my 360, and the female clerk said "Did anyone ever tell you you look like Andre the giant?"  I actually looked at her, and was surprised because she couldn't have been over 21, and said "You know, only black people seem to think that, but yeah, I get it all the time."

There was a point to this blog, but I totally forget what it is.  In the end though I don't think I look that much like Andre the giant, though it's awesome to be compared to that great man.