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Posts Tagged ‘Batman’

Operation: Backlog is still proceeding, I just don’t have tons of time to do any of it, from the playing to the documenting.  Still, it’s good for the very fractured gaming schedule I have.  As usual:

I’m going through my Steam list alphabetically, picking up games I own but haven’t played to see what’s there.  15 minutes each is all I’m budgeting, but I reserve the right to get sucked into a cool game.  Some I’ve played already, though, so I’ll mention them in passing here and there, giving them a rating like the other games.

I’ll be giving each of these Backlog games a rating of sorts, as follows:  Regret (uninstall and forget), Remember (uninstall but wish for more time), Revisit (leave installed for later) and Recommend (wish for more time to play this right now).  This is a squishy continuum of sorts, and deliberately imprecise.  This isn’t an in depth survey-and-review, it’s Spring Cleaning of my video game backlog.

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First up is one of the drive-by games:  Batman: Arkham Asylum

This is an excellent game.  I played it to completion and then some on the XBox 360, not on PC, but it’s one I highly Recommend.  It’s not perfect, but it’s great fun, and really nails the feeling of Batman, at least, as I have come to expect it as a fan of the character since the mid-90s.  It has fantastic combat, excellent worldbuilding, really, really good graphics, fun mobility, Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and, well, it’s tons of fun to play.

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Second, we have the sequel, Batman: Arkham City.  I’ve only played this one for about 45 minutes, so I don’t know how well the open world nature of the game actually works in the long run.  Catwoman is a bit too skanky and the political setup seems contrived, but it still seems like the core of what made Arkham Asylum works is still present.  It’s a game that I’m leaving installed, and Recommend, though with the usual caveat that I haven’t played all that much of it.

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Third, I did try to play Birth of America, but it flat out refused to work.  So, dump that in the Regret pile.  I don’t have time to wrangle dysfunctional games.

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Fourth, the Blackwell Deception almost ran into the same fate, with some weird tech issues popping up thanks to my dual monitor setup, but the second time I fired it up it behaved.  This one’s a bit tricky, as it’s an adventure game in the vein of the LucasArts classics.

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I did love that era of gaming, for all its quirks, and this game would have fit well in those days.  I consider that to be praise, though it does mean that I just don’t have time to give it a proper playthrough.  I’d like to someday, along with the rest of the Blackwell Bundle that I picked up at GoG.com, but for now, I’m lumping them all together with a Remember rating, noting that I do like adventure games, I just don’t have a lot of time.

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I love that Wadjet Eye Games is making games that feel like classic adventure games.  The voiceover work is adequate, if not stellar, the art and animation is solid, and the writing that I saw was pretty good.  The game plops you into an investigation with little fanfare, effectively dropping you into the deep end, but it’s designed well enough that there’s not much trouble getting up and running.  It’s a well designed first 15 minutes, I think, and it does leave me wanting to play more someday.

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Fifth, Blood Bowl: Legendary Edition.  I picked this one up on deep discount due to my passing interest in the WarHammer tabletop wargame.  I have some of the sourcebooks, but no models and nobody to play with.  I just study the books and dissect the game design.  Blood Bowl isn’t really the same thing, but I’ve heard enough good about the board game incarnation of the title that I figured I’d check out the digital version.  (I still wish there was a digital version of the WarHammer tabletop game so I could play with someone online.  Not a RTS, not a card game, not a shooter, just a literal translation of the tabletop game.  This is one reason why I backed WarMachine Tactics for its Kickstarter campaign, but we’ll dig into that later.)

Without a history with the board game, I hit the learning curve hard in Blood Bowl.  It seems to be well designed and the visual design is solid, if a bit too skanky and “grimdark” for me.  (I have very little interest in any WarHammer 40K titles for the same reason.)  I puttered around a bit with setting up a team, fired up a match and promptly lost horribly.  There are a LOT of options and rules to the game that I’m just not up to speed on.

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That’s not a bad thing, really, so long as the game can be mastered with some honest effort, but I just don’t have the time to make that effort.  This is a failing in my schedule, not the game, though it would be nice to have a bit more guidance for those early learning moments.  Being tossed in the deep end is OK so long as there’s a good learning feedback cycle.  That seems to be a bit obscured in this title, though it is clear that it builds on the board game.  I should see if I can find the rulebook somewhere in a used bookstore, perhaps.

As such, I’m giving it a Remember rating, and maybe I’ll pick it up later.  I don’t dislike the game, I just have to move on and it didn’t really grab me.  There does seem to be a lot of meat to chew on and a fun, snarky sense of humor, though, and that’s promising.

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Sixth, Braid.  I’ve written about this before, I think, having played it years ago, but in a nutshell, it’s a decent little platformer with great art design and solid game design.  The story is pretentious, dreary, and takes itself way too seriously, but the game is fun.  I give it a Recommend rating, if only to see the visuals and design in action, just with the caveat that it’s not really the revolutionary masterpiece that it often gets credit for.  It’s fun, it’s solid, it’s full of itself.  I’m done with it, but I do think it’s worth playing if you haven’t.

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Seventh, Cargo Commander.  I got this one in a bundle, one of those games that just sort of tags along with other games I actually cared about.  (I don’t remember what it was bundled with at the moment, though.  Oops.)  It’s not that Cargo Commander looked bad, just that it seemed a bit too twitchy for me.

It’s a platformer with variable gravity and a ticking clock.  The design is actually pretty solid, I’m just not all that interested in this sort of game any more.  Maybe as a teenager I’d have loved it, but I prefer more thoughtful, careful, tactical games these days.  That’s not a failing of the game, since it does what it sets out to do well.

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You play as a corporate lackey, stuck on a space station in some far off garbage zone, tasked with dragging cargo containers in to crash into your habitat, and then go invade them and grab any valuable salvage before the timer runs out and everything falls apart but your base.  You have to scramble into these other containers, platform through them fighting baddies and the structure, and grab what you can.  It’s fast, frantic and not very forgiving.

The controls are tight, platforming with the keyboard and aiming with the mouse, a bit like A.R.E.S., but much more fluid and fun.  There’s an upgrade system and a “completion” rating, with the ability to replay levels to try to do better.  The visuals are adequate, nothing amazing, but not bad.

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All in all, I give this a Remember rating for myself, but it’s really something that might be worth picking up if you’re into variable gravity direction, crazy quick-on-your-feet action.  It’s a slightly silly premise, but it winds up being pretty fun to play, so long as you’re up for fast paced gaming.

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Eighth, Chains.  This is a light puzzler, very clicky like AVSEQ was, but not quite as fast and much more interesting given its physics and variable levels.  It’s a decent little game, one I give a Remember rating since I remember it in a positive light.  It’s not even close to my favorite puzzle game, but for all its apparent simplicity (the visual style really isn’t all that great), there’s a bit more going on under the hood than screenshots might suggest.

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Ninth, Chime.  This is one I’ve mentioned in passing before.  I really like Chime.  I do wish that I could flip pieces like I can in Puzzle Pirates’ Carpentry puzzle, as that would make it a more complete puzzle game, but for what it is, Chime works well.  It could use more music options, too, but what it has is good in my book.  I give it a Revisit rating, since it’s not as great as others I’d put in the same mental “music/puzzle” game niche, but it really is a good game.

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Tenth, Cogs.  I’m a fan of steampunk design.  Hence the Tinker products I’ve been working with for almost two years now.  (Go visit the shop, please, and spread the word!)  I love old, beat up, lived in machinery, and I love puzzle games.  Cogs scratches all the right places for me.  It has smart puzzle design, great visuals, simple play rules (at heart, it’s just a bunch of sliding tile puzzles with some nice 3D aspects), and it really embraces its own steampunk design ethos.  It’s not arrogant, it’s not silly or trying to be ironic, it’s just a well-themed tinkerer’s box full of puzzles.

Some are easy, some are really tough, and most are somewhere in the middle.  They always feel fair, though, and there are some great uses of the 3D aspects that introduce nice quirks with sliding tile puzzles.  Sadly, when my computer crashed last year, I lost my screenshot collection, but there are some puzzles that I played again and again, just for how fun it was to see the mechanism come together as I solved the puzzle.  I wish I had some of them as real, physical devices.  (These puzzles are later in the list, and I didn’t have time to get to them for this project.)

Cogs earns a hearty Recommend rating from me, as it’s one of my favorite light puzzle games.  It’s available for Android devices, too, which is nice.

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That’s all for this post.  There are plenty more where these came from, the most notable for next time being Dear Esther, Defense Grid and The Dig, one of LucasArts’ finest adventure games.  Until next time, then!

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I’ve been playing Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance lately.  Silly name aside (get it, KH:DDD or KH:3D ’cause it’s on the Nintendo 3DS?  Hur hur), it’s a pretty sweet game, building on Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2, weaving in the other tangential Kingdom Hearts games that have been released.  They are finally moving the Sora narrative forward instead of navel-gazing and weaving backstories.  It’s technically excellent, with fantastic visuals that rival the original (on the Playstation 2) and some decent use of the 3DS 3D feature.  It’s not necessary to play it in 3D (games that require the 3D would bug me), but the effect is great for some of the storytelling bits, setting the scene nicely.

So, KH nerdfanning aside (I do love the games), what strikes me most is the sheer fun of moving around in the game.  The KH games have always been “action RPGs”, but this newest iteration has the characters zooming around the landscape, performing impossible air dashes, jumps and attacks that are just… fun.  I’ve had similar fun just moving around in the Prince of Persia games.  KH:3D lacks some of the elegance of the ‘Prince and the fluid athleticism of almost-plausible Parkour, but it makes up for it in speed and flexibility.  I can use Sora and Riku’s “Flowmotion” abilities to ping-pong around a level or even scale a huge cliff in a few crazy jumps.

Here, I can admit that I’d probably love the Assassin’s Creed games, and their focus on Parkourish motion and exploring rooftops.  They are M-rated, though, and I just don’t play M-rated games.  It’s a personal choice that does cut me off from some games I suspect I’d really like, like the AC games, Mass Effect, The Secret World and BioShock, but that’s just one of my lines in the sand.  It’s not a commentary on the potentially great games they are, just that there are some things I don’t want in my entertainment.  Too much “coffee in the brownies”, as it were.  That’s also not to denigrate any players who like those games or those developers who make them.  I’m just a picky consumer.

Anyway, with the fun of Flowmotion rattling around in my head, I look at this Guild Wars 2 thing, with its respect for the Explorer mindset that I’m so deeply infused with, and, well… I kinda wish more MMOs would experiment with Parkour and new ways of getting around their game spaces.  Yes, I hear TERA has some sort of climbing system, but that’s rudimentary compared to what I’m thinking about.  I look at the ruins of Ascalon and think “I’d love to just climb around and go all monkeyish on it (Charrish, whatever)”.  And yes, I love flying in MMOs, but climbing around like a superagile simean Spider-man is just… different.  I hear City of Heroes has some pretty great movement options, too… maybe I should check those out before the game is shuttered forever.

So yes, I look at places in games and think “how can I get there?”  I love Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City for the same reason; I can just go explore and climb around the place.  I wish we had more of that sort of flexibility, especially in the MMO space.  Developers are making these beautiful worlds… I want to go explore them.

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My generous employer, Wahoo Studios/NinjaBee, gave each of us an OnLive miniconsole for Christmas and a coupon for a game.  They are one of those rare workplaces that actually wants its employees to play games… albeit not actually at work (QA crew excepted, of course) for sensible reasons.

I’m on record as being… unimpressed with the concept of OnLive.  I stand by my earlier reticence and my own preferences against online gaming in general.  (Yes, I play online games still.  They aren’t devoid of value, the pros just have to outweigh the cons.)  Still, one should never sniff a gift fish, so it was time to dive in and see how well this OnLive thing works out.

Turns out… well… partially fudge, partially onion, and the two don’t exactly mix.  (Apologies to the fudge-covered onion lovers out there.)

Pros:

  • I got Arkham City for $1 thanks to a promotion for new accounts they were running.  Can’t argue much with that.  Probably a fluke of timing, but hey, maybe they will do that again.
  • A decent selection of older games for the $9.99/month subscription plan.  For that, you can play any game on the list as long as you’re subbed.  If you’re a fan of subscription services and games, it’s probably a pretty good deal.
  • Speaking of the library, A Kingdom for Keflings is part of the library as of very recently, so go check it out!  (I built many of the buildings for that game.)
  • Small footprint.  The games all run on remote servers, so the client is little and fast.
  • Digital library.  All the advantages and downsides of that, as with Steam and its ilk.  In a nutshell, they track and host the data for you, but your data is in their hands.
  • Nice tech crutch.  You really only need a good internet connection and a screen to play on.  The hard parts of staying on the cutting edge of gaming, the expensive hardware rigs, are covered by the OnLive guys.  This is a pretty cool idea.

Cons:

  • You need a really good internet connection.  As in, 3mbps minimum and low ping of 25ms or so.  Those are somewhat pricey beasts, and if you’re in a remote area with third rate ISPs, you’re just out of luck.  If you’re getting one just for gaming, the cost/value ratio changes a bit.
  • You need a HDTV-capable display.  I use my computer monitor since I don’t have a HDTV, and since it’s a plain old 4:3 screen, the widescreen HDTV content is bordered by black on top and bottom.  (The bars don’t actually bother me, but they might bug some players.)  Maybe you already have a spiffy HDTV, but if not, those are pricey beasts, too.
  • Because it really needs another bullet point, you need a really good internet connection.  Lagspikes will kill your gaming.  Low speeds will kill your gaming.  ISPs that are interruptable by phone calls will kill your gaming if anyone uses the phone.
  • Demos only last 30 minutes, but they are time-limited, not content limited, if you’re into that sort of thing.  I’m not, as I’ve noted before, so I list this as a con, tempered by the realization that you can play the demo over and over, it just resets your play.
  • Somewhat underwhelming library.  I suppose this will get better over time, so I can’t count this too harshly, but at the moment, they don’t seem to have a huge selection of games.  It’s decent, but it’s not comprehensive.

Other:

I got Dirt3 with my gift coupon.  It’s a solid, fun rally racing game, but about the only other one on the service that I even partially cared about.  OK, Bastion is on there, and I will get that someday, but I prefer to get it on the XBox, ditto with the LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean.  The library of games they offer isn’t very big at the moment, but I imagine it will get bigger.  Since I don’t buy or play M-rated games, that naturally cut me off from a quarter or so of what they offer, too, but that’s a limitation on my end, not theirs.

…but what about the performance?  How does it play?

Well… it’s geared to make the play more important than the visuals.  As in, if the lagmonster strikes and you lose some speed on your internet connection, the visuals degrade instead of the play response, at least, as much as possible.  You’ll see artifacting that you’d see in a JPG still frame or MPEG videos; blocky, blurry, smudgy visuals.  This will be flatly intolerable for some players, but I actually didn’t mind it as much as I thought I would.  This is partially because of how I play and the two games I have.

Y’see, Batman’s Arkham City is a grungy, dystopic place, beautiful in its decay in a terrible sort of way, not unlike the photos of Detroit’s urban decay that I noted a while back.  It’s great to just look at… but a lot of the gameplay of Arkham City is about moving from place to place and beating up thugs.  A fair chunk of it is played in “Detective Vision” as well.  As such, when I want to take a look at the scenery, I just stop and look.  The system doesn’t need as much processing or communication power when you’re stationary in the world, so the visuals improve when you stop to look around… which is a nice confluence of circumstances.  When I’m fighting, the important part is seeing the motion and UI cues for counters, and those are perfectly serviceable, even if the overall visuals degrade a bit.  When I’m soaring around town looking for stuff, I’m sure I’m missing some details, but for the most part, the sense of motion is key, and that translates pretty well unless there’s a very strong and/or protracted lagspike.

Dirt3 has similar quirks.  As in, the bulk of the play is in the middle third of the screen, and there’s a speed blur effect around the perimeter anyway.  It’s all about control, and as long as that stays tight, the game plays really well.  On the longer Rally races, you have a couple of assists in driving anyway, like automatic gearshifting, a radio caller to tell you what turns are coming up, and a ghostly green “optimal race line” overlaid on the track to follow.  Of course, these are optional, and I’m playing in Easy mode, so I’m not sure how well a purist hardcore gearhead (I use that term affectionately, not derogatorily) would like it.  For me, though, it plays about as smooth as slightly sugary butter, which is a key component of fudge, so I’m happy with it.  When I’ve missed a turn or botched a move, it always feels like my fault, not the game lagging on me.  (I’m still not really good at dirt track racing, and the Gymkhana thing, heavy on the drifting and precision control, is very cool, but beyond me at the moment.  It’s like trying to steer a cinder block on ice with turbo-powered hamster wheels.)

So… color me at least partially impressed with what the OnLive people have been able to do with the tech.  I do still think that the high speed internet requirement will make it a niche product, but with luck, as the tech gets better, it will be more useful to more people.  It’s not a perfect system, but it really is playable, which is more than I expected initially.

And hey, I’m playing a sweet driving game, Dirt3, and the so-far-phenomenal Arkham City, and I’ve only spent $1, not counting the computer or internet costs (I’m not using the miniconsole, though, without a HDTV… maybe I’ll come back and review that someday).  I can’t complain much about that, either.  Yes, there’s still that blasted internet tether, but for the price, I’m pretty happy.

I actually wish MMOs would take a page from the OnLive pipeline, too.  I don’t mind if the visuals compress a little bit as long as the play stays at peak.  I know, the tech is different, but I can’t help but wish that there were a similar on-the-fly tradeoff in MMOs to allow play to stay sharp, even if the data transfer rate isn’t constantly snappy.

… in a late-breaking bit of news, apparently OnLive works on tablets and smartphones.  At least, some of them.  That’s an interesting extension of the technology, though I’m not sure I’d want to play Arkham City with touch controls.  Dirt3 might work fine, and our A Kingdom for Keflings PC port was designed for single click use (so it should translate to touch nicely) but not every game can be converted well to the touch interface.  (Random plug for a pair of great articles that enumerates many reasons I don’t like touch tech… A Brief Rant and Jobs’ Legacy)

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