Category Archives: The Android’s Deranged Killing Spree (Action)

SteamWorld Dig

Today I’d like to bring a little game to your attention called SteamWorld Dig. Basically it’s almost what would happen if you mixed an ARPG (Diablo, Torchlight) with a 2D crafting game (Terraria, Starbound).

Keyword being: Almost.

SteamWorld Dig is a little more lightweight than any of those games. The “crafting” is about 99% digging, and the ARPG aspect is mostly present in how you have a hub that you visit between dungeon dives. It’s not exactly the most complex game ever.

And yet it is fun. Really, really fun.

Also you get to play a steampunk robot.

…okay, it’s not quite as cool as that one. But. Still. It’s tough to go wrong with a steampunk robot protagonist.

I would really love to see the devs take this game, well… deeper (sorry) and really delve into the crafting side of things as well as the ARPG side of things. If this game has shown me anything, it’s that a true mashup of those two genres would be amazing. But until then, SteamWorld Dig is available on a variety of platforms (including, but not limited to, Windows, Linux, PS4, and Nintendo 3DS) and it’s well worth a look. Warning: once you start playing you probably won’t stop for a few hours.

Snag it on Steam!

I Will Figure Out Dark Souls If It’s The Last Thing I Do

Quite some time back I tried to figure out the infamous game Dark Souls. I really did. I dumped hours into it, trying to like it. But I didn’t. I found it to be very puzzle-game-esque, which isn’t exactly bad in and of itself, but trying to figure out the puzzle every time you want to beat a sequence just grew tiring to me– especially when you’ve been stuck in the same sequence forever.

However, several months later people are still telling me how wonderful and amazing this game is and so I’ve decided it deserves another shot. I’ve reinstalled it and having put a half hour into it so far I… uh… well my opinion hasn’t changed much from last time. But I refuse to give up for at least another few hours! Eventually I am going to figure out this game!

This is actually occurring in game right now because I'm alt-tabbed out to write this.
This is actually occurring in game right now because I’m alt-tabbed out to write this.

So that is what I am going to do. I am going to play this game, dagnabit, until I like it. Or at least until I remember that I’ve got a great Victoria 2 save going on right now. Probably the latter.

…yeah, let’s face it, the latter is going to happen. Hey, it really is a great Vicky 2 save though. I’ll tell you guys about it later.

Atari Breakout!

Hello friends! Of course, when Pike and I resolve to get the blog going again, we both fall deathly ill and can barely rouse ourselves from bed that exact week! Still, I have largely recovered so here we go with a little blog post!

Here’s what you do: Go to Google Images and type in “atari breakout”. As you will soon see the screen will morph into that precise game, using the images for the blocks! Breakout is one of my very favorite classic games, one I’ve always adored, and it provides a really useful launching off point to show how very very simple systems can still make a very engaging and deep game. If you’re not familiar with Breakout, well, here’s your chance to get acquainted with it – though you might want to hold off if you’re in the middle of an important project ;)

Awwwwwwwwww yisssss dat 2600 goodness
Awwwwwwwwww yisssss dat 2600 goodness

That’s what Breakout looked like in the beginning and very little has changed. Those colored bars across the top consisted of a number of ‘bricks’, and you use the paddle to hit the ball up towards them, with the objective of breaking every brick. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well it is. But marrying such a simple concept with such a sense of satisfaction is the genius that makes Breakout such a great game – all you’re doing is breaking bricks to clear the screen. You’re not fighting wars like in Hearts of Iron, you’re not shooting mans like in Call of Duty, you’re not going fast like Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed – you’re just breaking some bricks. You’d wonder how it can be so fun and addictive. But that simplicity might be the very reason for it. Anyone can figure out the conceit of Breakout within a few seconds of watching or playing. There’s nothing extraneous to it, not even graphically in the beginning, it’s what you might call a very ‘pure’ game. And when you managed to breakthrough the bricks and get your ball to bounce along the ceiling and the top row? Well, that’s one of the more satisfying experiences in gaming, simple as it might be.

Breakout is a stellar example not just of how videogames began but of what makes them special. With a very simple premise, controls that are simply “left” and “right”, and almost nothing in the way of aesthetics, it’s not something that modern gamers, used to all kinds of razzmatazz and particles and trillions of polygons on Lara Croft’s breasts, might immediately see the value in, but it’s about as pure as a game gets. You’ve got your objective and the means to achieve it, and the only enemy is your own mistakes. It’s pure gameplay, nothing else. That’s something maybe some developers could do with a gentle reminder of in this day and age.

Assassin’s Creed IV, or Pirates!: Murderbowl Edition

I, too, am now making a triumphant return to blogging. As Caesar once crushed Vercingetorix and rode through the great boulevards of Rome, the Votive Games beginning, his conquest of Gaul complete, so I crushed sheer bone idleness and ride through the great cables of the Internet, the Video Games beginning. And I would like to get started by talking to you about the recently released Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

Assassin’s Creed, or AssCreed as it’s affectionately called, is a series with a rather interesting history. Back before the first game came out it was quite a curious beast – a game where you play as a member of the Hashshashin order at the time of the Third Crusade, where the Christians have invaded the Holy Land and the Kingdom of Jerusalem exists. This setting comes up now and then in strategy games (Crusader Kings 2 being the obvious example) but an action-adventure game? Much rarer. Also of interest was the fact that the game apparently had a lot of weird futuristic stuff going on. That conceit was well handled by their marketing department because in actuality the framing device of the Animus is revealed in the first few minutes of play.

The game itself was interesting and generally enjoyable but not quite as good as it could have been. Enter AssCreed 2, with the now famous Ezio as the lead. The Ezio Trilogy, including the Revolutions and Brotherhood games, took everything good about I and polished it while taking everything bad and removing or overhauling it. Renaissance Italy is similarly far from a commonplace setting for a videogame of any stripe, let alone an action-adventure game. The step from AC I to II is perhaps one of the seminal examples of how to make a worthwhile sequel that meaningfully improves upon the original. And the same is now true of the step from AC III to IV.


Well… baby steps.

See, the thing with III was this: It was a shiny new engine that allowed all kinds of neat new acrobatics. It included hunting and crafting and the exploration of the American frontier around the time of the Revolutionary War. A fascinating setting and, although perhaps a touch less unusual than the previous ones, still very far from a boring well-worn setting. On the other hand it felt like something of a regression in many ways. The exploration wasn’t tremendously interesting and the story failed to engage. The protagonist Ratonhnhak√©:ton, or Connor seemed a promising character but soon felt too cliched and too typically “videogame lead”, a brooding sort without a sense of humor. In comparison to Haytham Kenway, Connor’s father and the protagonist of the opening chapters of the game, Connor felt uninteresting and uninspired. Kenway, by contrast, wasn’t exactly a beacon of joviality but he was an extremely refined and strong man who projected the utmost confidence and direction. This is not to say that III was a bad game – it was a decent one and I didn’t regret the money or time I spent on it. Nonetheless it lost something that Ezio’s adventures possessed and felt consistently like something was missing.

That something is back with a vengeance. AC IV sees you in the role of Edward Kenway, father of Haytham and grandfather of Connor, and a man of low character who plunders the High Seas of the West Indies. His only real motivation is money and it is deeply enjoyable to see him brush off all this nonsense of Assassins and Templars because he gives no shits, he just wants dosh. I admire that sort of single-mindedness and after Connor’s extreme seriousness it’s quite refreshing to play as someone who barely comprehends morality, let alone cares about it.

But as important as I’ve come to feel a good protagonist is for this series – the lighthearted Ezio, the amoral Edward Kenway, the serious but extremely driven Haytham all outstrip the pride of Altair and the anger of Connor by miles – the game itself has seen meaningful changes. As befits the protagonist the game takes place in the West Indies during the Golden Age of Piracy, in the aftermath of the War of the Spanish Succession. A whole lot of sailors were left with not much to do when the war ended and a good number of them turned to piracy to get by. So although a large part of the game revolves around the typical AC play of clambering up walls, hopping from rooftop to rooftop, and stabbing dudes in the back/front/face/neck/spine/kidney/liver/stomach/guts/eyes, a huge part of the game also revolves around sailing the seas aboard your ship, the Jackdaw, and getting into a variety of japes with her crew. Most fun of all is fighting naval battles, as you can use a good number of weapons to cripple an enemy ship and then draw alongside her to board her and fight the crew. Upon their defeat you seize her cargo and, well, off you go for more piracy. Now, to be clear, the general sailing and naval battle stuff existed in III and was widely praised as perhaps the game’s strongest element, but it’s still a pleasant surprise to see a late addition to a series be integrated so expertly and given the care it needs. There are gameplay reasons to commit piracy, sure, but I’ve fought a whole lot of Spanish ships just because it’s fun to do rather that for booty and I think that is the mark of a damn sound piece of game design and implementation.

As this article’s title suggests I can feel something of a parallel between this game’s naval aspect and Sid Meier’s Pirates!, which is one of the few games out there to have the same general setting and theme. Obviously they’re rather different games but AC IV definitely feels, to me, like something of a successor to that game – one with a different emphasis and different flavor, true, but still a game which captures what was fun about its spiritual predecessor. Roaming the Spanish Main, singing sea shanties (good luck not singing along IRL when your crew starts bellowing something out!), seeking plunder, and upgrading your ship; although there’s a lot of differences there’s a thread of the same feeling from Pirates! to AC IV and it’s an unexpected and very welcome thing. Combined with the refinements to the on-foot parts of the game and the fact that just running around collecting things is a huge amount of fun, we’re looking at a pretty solid title right here.

Plus, oh my god, forget what I said about Connor that one time – Edward Kenway is the sexiest man in videogames.

You guys need to play Guacamelee

So somewhere between the super catchy Mexican-flavored soundtrack, the gorgeous visuals and animation, the simple fun of beating up skeletons and a super clever mechanic which involves switching between the worlds of the living and the dead in order to get around obstacles (or ruse your opponents), I’ve decided that everyone needs to play Guacamelee.

Everyone.

Here’s the Steam link.

Here’s the non-Steam link.

And here’s a picture of a Nahua pony.

Would worship.
Would worship.

By the way, two-player co-op seems to be a thing. I think it’s only local, though, but I can only imagine how fun this must be with some couch co-op. SteamBox here I come!

Grim Dawn

Grim Dawn is an ARPG made by Crate Entertainment – largely refugees from Iron Lore, who made Titan Quest – which I have previously mentioned being excited for. Now that the game has reached Alpha stage it has been available to various backers and such, and having spent a decent amount of time with it now I’m ready to share some thoughts on the game. Do remember it’s still an alpha so nothing I say should be taken as absolute.

If you’ve played Titan Quest then Grim Dawn will immediately feel very familiar. The engine is the same and there haven’t been truly revolutionary changes in that regard. That said they’ve not been idle either and the engine is certainly a lot more impressive than it was in TQ. At first I was a little wary and wondered if I hadn’t just booted up a reskin of TQ, but Grim Dawn soon reveals that it has made a lot of changes from that game and the engine similarities aren’t indicative of the whole experience.

There are two major things I want to praise about this game. The first is that the pacing and character advancement seems to be spot-on, even though it’s still just an alpha. Leveling is far faster than the incredibly slow experience in TQ, where it rapidly became a chore. You similarly pick from a ‘Mastery’ – a skill tree – and can pick a second after a few levels to make a hybrid character. As you advance through these trees you obviously gain more powers and abilities, both passive and active, and there’s a pretty nice big mix of different things you can choose from. You can also spread skill points thinly or focus narrowly, and I’ve not played enough different characters to say for certain yet but it does seem both are viable in different ways. I never felt really overpowered unless I went back to older zones, and challenges were commonplace without being either overbearing or unreasonably hard. Basically GD has taken any criticisms and comments about TQ and worked to address them, and it has done so very successfully. Given that TQ is one of the better examples of the genre to begin with that says something about how GD is handling things.

This is the Demolitionist tree. It's not terribly glamorous but it does the job perfectly adequately. The Demolitionist herself is, however, both effective and explosively glamorous.
This is the Demolitionist tree. It’s not terribly glamorous but it does the job perfectly adequately. The Demolitionist herself is, however, both effective and explosively glamorous.

The second, and perhaps even more impressive achievement, given the genre’s pedigree, is that loot is damn well balanced. Not just in terms of giving you appropriate items, but inasmuch as you’re not inundated with tons of useless crap and vendor trash. You pretty quickly are able to graduate into only picking up yellow or better items for sale, and for my part I never felt like I was being punished because I wanted to get on and play instead of constantly warping back to town to sell stuff. On the other hand rare drops are indeed fairly rare, but they tend to come with stats that really do make them unquestionably better than anything else you’ll find at that level. Unless you get something for a totally different class it doesn’t seem likely that you’ll very often discard a new blue item because your current green is better. There does need to be a little more tweaking of the ‘gem’ equivalents in the game, I think, but nothing terribly drastic there.

Between those two major factors already existing at this stage the game really seems to be refining the ARPG genre to a fine polish so I’m eagerly awaiting new content updates with the arrival of the beta. That all said there are a couple of things that could do with some improvement. The sounds in the game aren’t terribly inspiring and contribute to a niggling sense that your weapons and attacks lack ‘Oomph’ (the music is superb though). Guns especially feel like they fall short of this, and whilst guns in reality rarely sound like they do on the movie screen, these more subdued and realistic sounds in GD make the things feel quite weak. Similarly, although there’s not much you can do about it given the nature of the genre, attacks in general can sometimes feel rather lightweight regardless of the damage they actually do. It’s especially strange because I never really shared this feeling in Titan Quest, where combat wasn’t the most immersive ever but never felt like it fell short either in that regard. So I would say the one big area the game needs to look at improving over the coming months is that the combat needs to become more visceral, to feel like there’s more impact and power to blows, and a bigger bang with guns and bombs.

Despite those concerns the game is shaping up to be something pretty darned good, especially for still being in alpha. Due to the limited content so far I can’t really recommend the buy-in price for alpha access at this point ($50) unless you’re a huge fan of the genre and really jonesing for a fix, but if you want to hop on the beta bandwagon when that rolls around I’d be very surprised if you don’t get your money’s worth, and I’m confident that by the time release rolls around we’re gonna have a pretty damn good ARPG on our hands.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is Great

“You’re late to the party, Pike!” Yes, I am, and I’ve no real excuse. But if you’re like me and slow when it comes to playing new games and haven’t hit this one yet, then read on.

Very recently I played through the original Deus Ex in its entirety. I went even further than that, though: I played it in full pacifist/stealth mode, avoiding encounters when I could and using darts or my prod when I couldn’t. I’m relatively certain I managed to get through the entire game without killing a soul aside from maybe a couple of bosses. It was fun. And challenging. And long. If you have never played the original Deus Ex, rest assured that it’s an incredibly long game. Worth it, though.

From there the plan was to move on to Invisible War but it decided that it wasn’t going to work on my computer. Undeterred, I decided to jump ahead to Human Revolution.

And damn, I had a blast with it. As soon as I got into it I hardly stopped playing, often going on for six or eight hour stretches. It really did hit a lot of things right on the head correctly. The atmosphere, the story, the questions it raises– oh, and of course all the little love letters to fans of the first game. Seriously, every time a radio started playing the UNATCO theme I’d stop and listen.

I was also fond of the character development of Adam Jensen and how you, as the player, get to influence this. Like Adam, you as the player are learning about using your augmentations as you go along, and like Adam, you get to see both the positive and negative effects that these can have.

Mostly positive, of course.
Mostly positive, of course.

The game also came with some neat mini-games in the way of the hacking mechanic and being able to influence people with your pheromone aug (which isn’t really a mini-game but it reminded me of Oblivion’s speech minigame, so.)

Anyways, this was a highly enjoyable game all around and I think it’s easily one of the best AAA titles to hit gaming anytime in the last handful of years. I highly recommend it for anyone who hasn’t played it yet, regardless of whether or not you’ve played the original Deus Ex– although if you haven’t played that yet, well, get to it!

Dark Souls is a Puzzle Game, or Why I Can’t Get Into It

Hey everyone, Pike here!¬† Yes, yes, I know.¬† I’m scared too. Anyways, let’s get down to business, shall we? By which I mean VIDEO GAMES! Always video games.

I’ve played quite a few games over the past couple of months and at the moment I’m trying to get into Dark Souls. Trying, but I don’t know if I’ll succeed. See, I’ve put a few hours into it and after spending the bulk of those hours trying to figure out the controls (which seem rather unintuitive to me), I have come to the conclusion that this is, in fact, not an action game. Rather, it is a puzzle game that happens to be dressed as an action game. It’s a puzzle game that requires an intense amount of trial and error and repetition to learn patterns and muscle memory and that sort of thing.

It’s a neat idea and I wholeheartedly support anyone who’s into it! But I’m not sure if I am. There’s only so much trial and error that I can take before I get bored. This is the reason why I’ve yet to beat some really neat (and mostly indie, oddly enough) games like Super Meat Boy and Braid which I think are brilliant but which bore me when I get stuck at a certain level. I can only do repetition in small doses.

Average day in Dark Souls right when you think you've got a section figured out
Average day in Dark Souls right when you think you’ve got a section figured out

Does this make me a “casual” or too willing to give up? Maybe. That’s cool, though. My backlog is getting bigger by the day so rather than banging my head against a game that I can’t get into, I think it’s better to move along. I might continue to pick at it every now and again and see what happens.

Still, I can see the appeal if you really like testing yourself like that, so if it sounds like your sort of game and you like dying, then go check it out. Mister Adequate has a lovely and optimistic post about it so go check that out too!

Artificial Difficulty

Hello all! No, you’re not seeing things, you’ve actually just got a little message on twitter or whatever telling you your very favorite videogaming blog of all time has updated. Let’s get right to business and start talking about some videogames!

So chances are good that you’ve heard of the game Dark Souls which was made by From Software. It is the successor to Demon’s Souls, a game which wasn’t released outside Japan but thanks to having English-language options managed to become a cult hit thanks to importation. Sadly it’s only on the PS3 so nobody has actually played it because who owns one of those, but Dark Souls has been released on 360 and PC as well, and it’s on the latter of these that I’ve been playing the game.

Dark Souls is infamous for its difficulty and this is not a reputation it has gained without reason. This game is difficult in the old-school sense, in that it’s uncompromising and you’re going to have to learn things like enemy attack patterns, how to block and parry and dodge, and level layouts to progress.

Turns out they occasionally do make 'em like they used to
Turns out they occasionally do make ’em like they used to

So here’s the thing: Until you have done some of that and get a handle on what you’re doing, this game can be really unfun to new players. It takes time to get into it, to find what works for you, to get into the flow of it. For me I didn’t really ‘enjoy’ the game until a few hours in, in fact I put it aside for a few weeks before being convinced to go back to it. And I’m glad I did, because once I did pass that stumbling block I really got into it – it’s a game that really rewards your investment and is one of the quintessential examples of “What you get out depends on what you put in”.

Of course any game which takes that long to get into is a flawed game, and I won’t say Dark Souls is perfect by any stretch. I enjoy the exploration and learning immensely but I’m not a tremendous fan of just how obscure the game can be about some things. But if you’re looking for an amazing experience and something to really get your teeth into then what you’ve heard about Dark Souls is pretty much all true – it’s a seriously great piece of software which does a great many things right and very few things wrong, and of those things it does wrong much is a matter of taste.

Basically what I’m trying to say is Dark Souls is superb and if you’re not already on the bandwagon you need to join it.

Drox Operative

Hey gang, it’s been awhile hasn’t it? Very sorry about that, but with Pike and myself both writing books, her getting a new computer, and various Christmas stuff we’ve both been somewhat busy. Still, here is a post now, and it’s an important one because it’s about a damn good game!

Soldak probably isn’t the best-known name in gaming, which is a crying shame. They generally work in the ARPG field and two of their previous games – Depths of Peril and Din’s Curse – have been pretty well received by those who have played them. I do not number among those yet but I will soon because Drox Operative is pretty amazing. See, whilst Soldak’s games are very solid ARPGs in and of themselves, they’re also trying to do some new and interesting things with the genre. Let’s talk about Din’s Curse first of all.

In that game, you play a typical adventurer type off to conquer dungeons, kill bosses, and get great loot. So far so normal, but here’s the twist: The world is doing stuff while you are doing stuff. While you’re in a dungeon looking for something, the Big Bad at the bottom might open a portal to the town and kill everyone so you have to rush back to try and stop this. And you can fail, and your quest progress is for naught. Or you can partly succeed and only some people survive. Move on to another (randomly-generated) town and setting and deal.

Drox Operative is even more ambitious.

SPACE IS 4 FITE

You are an eponymous Drox Operative – a secretive and powerful mercenary agent who flies around the galaxy doing stuff. The thing is that the setting isn’t a premade one, nor is it just a regular randomly generated one. The setting is actually a 4X game which is going on all the time no matter what you’re up to, and you’re one part in that. You’re an important, sometimes pivotal part, but you’re not the only one and whilst you can certainly swing things around for a race on the back foot, you may not have the same ability if they’re on the ropes entirely. The various races – and there are an abundance – hire you to do exactly the sort of stuff that tends to not exist in a typical 4X; go clean that pirate nest out. Go deal with this one Space Asshole. Go shuttle some stuff between our worlds. That’s the “early game” stuff, where you’ll do less dangerous and difficult quests to build up relations with a race; then things will likely kick off and they’ll want your help with the big boy fights. Or you can just try to make nice with everyone, or you can go make loads of money instead if you want, as there’s more than one way to win (and lose).

If the game was just a regular randomly generated ARPG it’d be more than worth getting – it’s a damn solid game with a huge amount of things to try and a fuckton of different item types that give you a startling degree of customization options. Putting the player into a dynamic world which can be influenced and played around with and never controlled quite as completely as you’d like elevates it to downright genius territory.

It’s not a perfect game by any means. There are some interface and control issues, a few of the controls aren’t really intuitive, and the graphics, music, and sounds are serviceable rather than particularly good. None of this detracts significantly from the extraordinarily solid game at the core of this thing and if you want a good dose of ARPG after burning out on Torchlight II, this is one of the best options out there right now.

You can buy Drox Operative from the Soldak website for the absurd price of US$20. If you’re like me you’ll feel like you may have committed a crime getting it so cheap.