Star-Fired Beef

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Steam Challenge – BioShock 2

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

I have to say, I enjoyed BioShock 2 more than I did the first BioShock. I’m not sure why, though. Perhaps it’s that I was more familiar with the setting, maybe because the gameplay felt a little more streamlined, or it could be just that it was a shorter experience. Or a mix of those.

We return to the undersea city of Rapture, ten years after the events of the first game. You take the role of Subject Delta, a prototype Big Daddy that reawakens after…well, a fairly traumatic experience, which you see in the intro to the game. All through this game I couldn’t help but feel pity for Delta, a connection with the player character which I never felt in BioShock.

I both love and hate the setting of Rapture. I love the 50’s aesthetic and charm, but the whole under-the-sea thing really makes me uneasy in a way that other horror settings don’t. Speaking of uneasy, I remain quite disturbed by the language used to describe the relationships between the various protagonists – namely, Big Daddy, Little Sister, and Big Sister. It feels like a demented, twisted intimacy that makes my skin crawl, given the way it is immersed in violence and death.

In BioShock, we saw the fate of libertarianism gone mad, a Randian experiment turned nightmare. This time, we go to the opposite extreme – the attempt to create a Utopia, where everyone is taken care of and greed and selfishness is banished. Needless to say, the sacrifices made to achieve this ideal are rather horrific, and you (as Subject Delta) are an integral part of that story.

As I said at the start, BioShock 2 felt much more playable than the first one. Smoother level design, combat felt less clunky, and a tighter narrative all combined to make it quite enjoyable. I guess it is because the player is supposed to be more familiar with the broad strokes of the setting, thus the developers needed to provide less structural information. They could concentrate on moving the story along, rather than having to explain what splicers are, who the big players were and what they did, how plasmids and little sisters and ADAM fit into the world. 

Definitely recommend this game if you’ve played the first one. If not, well I don’t know how much you’ll get out of it, there is a lot of backstory you’d be missing so it would probably be rather confusing.

The Tea Party – Halcyon Days



Steam Challenge – L. A. Noire

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

Grand Theft Auto is the series that RockStar is best known for, and despite changes to the bells and whistles, they all share the same basic gameplay foundations. A sprawling world, huge amounts of off-the-rails activities to discover, a main story that you can complete at your own pace while tooling around as much as you want. L.A. Noire is, at first glance, another chapter in that great tradition, but it soon becomes clear that RockStar have done something a bit different with this one.

L.A. Noire is very much a RockStar game – the attention to detail, the freedom of being able to roam at will, the immersion of being in a living city. What makes this game different, however, is the focus on the storytelling. You play as Cole Phelps, a young detective just back from Japan after the end of WWII. As he makes his way up through the ranks of the LAPD, and is assigned to various departments, he finds himself involved in a tale of corruption and murder.

The main focus of the gameplay is the case investigations. You visit crime scenes, search for and inspect clues, gather evidence, question witnesses and suspects, and eventually make an arrest. Every NPC is motion-captured, with particular attention paid to facial expressions and subtle body language to help you decide just how truthful your interviewee is being. As a police procedural, L.A. Noire is really, really good.

My main gripe – although it didn’t seem to affect my pace through the game – was with the questioning system. Every conversation has break points where the NPC says something and you have a choice on how to respond, depending on what you think they are telling you: Truth (believe them), doubt, or lie. The problem is, you don’t know exactly what Cole is going to say in those situations, and a lot of the time doubting them ends up accusing them of lying, or withholding information. It feels janky. Often it ends the conversation, since they clam up and won’t respond any more, which means you fail the questioning and can lead to you failing the case.

I think RockStar padded the game somewhat in the middle, too. There was a stretch of three or four cases where nothing seemed to be happening story-wise, and you were just doing the same things over and over. Once I got over that hump, my interest picked up again and the last third of the game was really good.

I’m not sure the writing was all that great, though. Dialogue was pretty spot on, but story-wise, it wasn’t all that satisfying. Most of it was predictable and there were a lot of loose ends that I don’t think were sufficiently explored. It felt like there was a much larger scope initially but the game got scaled back partway through.

I loved the premise of L.A. Noire, and the traditional RockStar strengths were what made the game enjoyable. The attempt at a more linear, story-based game was not as successful as it could have been, though.

Bran Van 3000 – Drinking in L.A.


Steam Challenge – The Stanley Parable

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

The trailer promises so much. The Stanley Parable was to be a mindfuck of epic proportions.

It was, and it wasn’t. I am still conflicted about whether I actually enjoyed this game. The narration was fantastic, and my heart skipped a nostalgic beat when I loaded up the very Half-Life-2-esque graphics. It brought me back to the late ’90s, reminding me of both Half-Life, and Goldeneye in the atmosphere and setting. Portal gets mentioned a fair bit in comparisons, and while that is probably true, for me that is not as strong an association.

So what is the problem? Why am I not more committed to a judgement? Honestly, I am not sure. I tend to love games that play the mindfuck card, that leave you guessing as to what really happened, that leave a lot of stuff unanswered. And while it is usually the narrative that provides that experience, in The Stanley Parable it is the game world that does it. That makes the experience more intense, more fulfilling, and so more enjoyable in a lot of ways.

On the other hand, I think it overshot the mark in some respects. It felt like the payoff graph was a bell curve. At the start you are totally clueless, and everything is bizarre. As you play there is greater understanding, which allows you to explore more purposefully and feel like you are getting some sort of progress, i.e. learning more. Then, I found that after a number of playthroughs, I wasn’t getting enough new stuff to keep up the motivation to repeat content ad infinitum. It became a chore, and so I stopped.

I consider The Stanley Parable to be an amazing example of blurring the lines between games and art/philosophy, or of games as art. As a game it is still basic, although more involved than something like Gone Home or a visual novel. I definitely enjoyed it more as an artistic endeavour than as a game experience.

The Tea Party – Great Big Lie


Steam Challenge – The Walking Dead Season 1

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

I went in blind to Telltale’s The Walking Dead. All I knew was that it was one of the best games from that company, and one of the best adventure games ever. I have not seen the TV series, or read the comics that all these other products are based on. It was all new to me.

It was even better than the hype – and it is standing at 97% positive reviews on Steam, from over 25 thousand. I just need some time to process my experience. This game made me feel things. I cannot believe how exhausting it is to go through such an intense emotional ride. Even now, days later, I am going back over my choices, wondering if I could have made it better somehow, if I could have been a better role model, a better friend, a better survivalist.

My first thought on finishing was, no it can’t end like that I need to go back and explore other choices. But the prospect of doing that weighed so heavily on me, was so intimidating, I knew that I couldn’t put myself through it again so soon. And then I realised that that was a good thing, that one of the best things about games like this is the fact that your choices – often in the heat of the moment, with little time to think – can give you access to the story in a personal way, that you have been able to insert yourself into the story in such a way that you are part of it, personally. It becomes your story, in a way, and that makes it a very special thing. Going back and exploring other options, although I do want to see what happens, is purely academic now, it is gaming rather than storytelling.

This was the first time I’ve played with quicktime events, so they caught me off guard the first few times. I liked the way they were implemented here.

Regarding the path I took: as I said, it feels like a very personal journey, so I won’t go into any details here. I am happy to discuss and compare notes with others who have played, however. All I will say is that throughout the game I did my best to be honest but sometimes guarded, and always kept in mind the effect it would have on Clementine, should she find out. I tried to stay neutral as much as I could, which might have backfired on me in some ways and definitely got someone killed that I reeeeeeally wanted to keep around.

I found it really odd that nobody ever used the word “zombie”, it was the one misstep in the narrative, I thought. I know it’s a thing from the comics, it just doesn’t make any sense to me.

In summary, The Walking Dead is amazing and I might just get the DLC, 400 Days, next week in order to eke out every last drop from this game. I have a feeling that Season 2 is in my near future too, despite my attempts to limit new acquisitions.

Reeeeeeally NSFW

DMX, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Ozzy Osbourne & Crystal Method – Nowhere To Run

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Steam Challenge – Obulis

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

I knew I had to have this physics puzzler when I saw the trailer. It did not disappoint.

Over 150 levels of serene, mild-to-moderately challenging puzzles, Obulis is just fun to play. Only a small proportion of the levels require you to complete aerial timing tricks to knock marbles out of the sky in a specific direction, which is great because while they are fairly satisfying to complete, they become very annoying and frustrating if encountered often.

There are a nice range of mechanics to work with, all tied to certain “areas” – which are basically just the artistic themes of the levels. I found the variety very refreshing, and there was a good mix of puzzles which were easily solved (in theory, in practice you might still have to have a couple of goes to get the timing right), and ones which needed a lot of experimentation. And everything in between, of course.

My one and only criticism is that there is no volume control for the sound – it’s either on or off. I was about to go on a rant about it being one of my pet peeves, but it just occurred to me that perhaps these games that do this are all ports of mobile games, where the device provides the volume control. Still, it can’t be that difficult to implement a volume control when you are doing the PC port, right?

Anyway, totally recommend Obulis for some gentle puzzle-solving action.

Gomez – Fill My Cup


Steam Challenge – Anodyne

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

I am torn about this game. I wanted to like it, and I did enjoy it for the first hour or two…then it became tedious.

Quite a few Steam reviews call Anodyne a Zelda-lite, which I have to assume is accurate since I’ve never played any Zelda before the N64. I actually quite liked the art style (I know!), must be the influence of To The Moon. This RPGMaker thing is quite impressive with the range of mechanics and effects it can bring to the table. 

The writing, on the other hand…I think it’s a bit too clever for its own good. There is an element of mystery, the sense that all of this is illusory or somehow meaningful in an unexpected way. It…it’s like dubstep, with the buildup to the drop. The problem being, the drop is taking far, far too long to appear. You’re kept in the dark about too much for too long, and eventually the grind of navigation back and forth between areas to try and find the way forward became too frustrating for me. I got nearly halfway through the game, as near as I can tell, and I still have no idea where I am, what I am doing, or why I am here. There is only so long you can play without context. I realised I was just wandering aimlessly trying to figure out where to go, what to do next.

Anodyne does communicate an air of uneasiness quite well, I will give it that. You might not know what is happening, but you do know that it is Not Good. I usually love that air of suspense in a game, but ultimately I ran out of patience with the pace of the storytelling. It is entirely possible that I just got stuck and missed something obvious, but the lack of story payoff up ’til then meant that I was not inclined to give Anodyne more investment than I already had.

All those words to say, I liked it but I hit a progress wall and was not sufficiently motivated to push through, even with a walkthrough.

Death In Vegas – Dirt

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Steam Challenge – Race The Sun

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

I found earlier in the year that there are certain games that I find quite relaxing, surprisingly so. Games like BIT.TRIP Runner, and PixelJunk Eden. Now we can add another to that list: Race The Sun.

This game is a shining example of putting gameplay over graphics. It would undoubtedly be better if it were prettier, but when you are playing, it doesn’t matter at all. The simple polygons of the pickups and terrain are more than sufficient to let you slip into the meditative bliss of pure speed. The music is perfect for the genre, and the sound effects are very well chosen – from the chimes of the pickups to the way the music fades out when you launch into the air.

There is no point to Race The Sun, except leaderboard status and personal bests. The world changes every day, so it never feels old, yet there are familiar terrain elements in each world so you can slide back into it easily. It has more replay value than the runner type games. It’s something you can keep on standby for when the mood strikes you, like Solitaire or Minesweeper. 

I like it. I’m glad I have it. I won’t feel like I’ve “finished” it until I reach max level to get all the upgrades and unlocks (I’m currently 17 of 25), but I’ll likely always have it around for those times I need a quick relief from thinking.

The Tea Party – Sun Going Down

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Steam Challenge – NightSky

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

This is how the ideal of indie development is exemplified: small developer; range of highly polished, engaging games in a variety of genres; steady output. Nifflas (who also brought us Knytt Underground and Saira) does this perfectly with NightSky, a side-scrolling physics puzzler.

I immediately fell in love with the aesthetic of the game. I am a creature of the night by nature, and my favourite shade of sky is that deep blue darkening through purple to black. The sound is absolutely perfect, too. The music is soft, soothing and unintrusive, and the sound effects are satisfyingly true to life (glass on stone, glass on wood, wood on wood, etc). So NightSky was already speaking to me on several levels even before the gameplay became a factor.

Extremely simple controls, but a tonne of mastery involved to solve some puzzles. There has been a nice range of puzzle types, too, although I have become stuck on a specific one which I dislike immensely. I know what I need to do, but it requires a precision that dwarfs everything I’ve encountered until now, and the controls are really not that precise.

Ultimately, NightSky is a physics puzzler that is more about walking tightropes than designing solutions or mind-bending perspective shifts. I love the game as a whole, though some specific puzzles annoy me greatly. I do highly recommend it for anyone who likes balancing on stuff.

All India Rado – Night

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Steam Challenge – Coin Crypt

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

Coin Crypt is a game I was ready to write off before I’d tried it – naturally it came in a bundle so I knew nothing about it. The graphics didn’t do much to attract me: slightly more appealing than retropixel, but not much. The trailer didn’t spark anything either. What DID get me to eventually try it? Three words. Deck. Building. Game.

I love deck building games, so a videogame adaptation seemed worth looking into. I was not disappointed. Coin Crypt is a pretty good rogue-lite that keeps you on your toes. I was expecting a turn-based combat system, but no it is cast-time-based action combat, which takes a fair bit of getting used to. The deck building part of it is the true challenge – all your coins are in your loot bag and you draw several at a time…but once you use one, it is spent. So not only are you trying to both stay alive and defeat your opponent, but you are trying to manage the different varieties and number of coins at your disposal. It’s an interesting system.

There is an objective, a final boss, but you keep metaprogressing after that. New explorers, new strategies, and two different paths (to different end bosses) makes Coin Crypt have a huge replay value.

My main problem with the game is the lack of documentation and explanation. None of the systems are explained to you, there is no tutorial, and there are points where you are told (usually after getting an achievement) that you have unlocked a coin – but you’ve already been using that coin, your starting coins don’t change, and there is no indication of how that unlock will affect your play. It took me a good dozen runs or so before I found out that you can interact with the ghosts that tell you to learn from their mistakes.

Coin Crypt seems like a solid mashup of rogue-like and deck building, so if those genres appeal to you, it’s worth checking out. Be prepared for a lot of confusion and trial-and-error, though, or a lot of research on how to play. 

Drapht – The Money

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Steam Challenge – Back To The Future

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

What better time to spin up a Back To The Future game than the Day itself? So on the 21st of October, 2015, I embarked on Telltale Games’ 5-episode adventure.

This is the most fun I’ve had with a Telltale adventure game for a long time. There was a generous hint system, the puzzles were all fairly logical, and the story was engaging and well written. The actor voicing Marty McFly did a really good job of imitating Michael J. Fox, and Doc Brown was everything you’d hope for – not surprising, since Christopher Lloyd himself did the voicework.

The main problem I had with it was the movement. Such terrible, terrible controls and camera angles in open spaces. It didn’t have too great an impact on gameplay, fortunately, but it was a recurring irritation.

Each episode was about 2 hours long, and it felt perfectly paced. If you liked the movies, and nostalgia is a weakness of yours, then I highly recommend this game. I now consider the events of the game to be canon.

The Avalanches – Since I Left You