I haven’t been going a lot of gaming lately period due to work and other responsibilities taking up most of my time, and most of my tiny bits of game time have been spent with some retro titles I hope to review soon. That said, I have found a little time to play some new things.
After enjoying random bouts of trading off the controller for games she’s been playing, like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Grand Theft Auto V, my girlfriend and I decided to try finding something we could play together. I suggested she play through Telltale’s The Walking Dead, and that I’d be happy to hang out and watch since I loved the game and had only played it one time, and was curious to see how it might play out differently for her. Long story short, she had a great time and was interested in playing other Telltale games in the future.
"Clem is still in panic inducing constant danger."
The Walking Dead: Season Two was an obvious choice for the next game. We decided to take turns playing the chapters while the other watched which worked out quite well. All in all, the game is more of the same as the first season. Not much in the way of pixel hunting and inventory puzzles, with dialog choices being the player’s main input into the game, with the addition of occasional action (often quick time event based) sequences. As with the first game, where it really shined was with the story and character development. In fact, I have quite a hard time decided which game I liked best – a problem I honestly didn’t expect to have.
Lee was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the first game, and likewise Clementine’s struggles are almost equally, if not equally compelling. Season Two seems to be a little bit more willing to shock the player with unexpected plot twists and the occasional tragic death or random gory moment. While the first game had me invested in Lee and he and Clementine’s fates, the second one had me deeply invested in the story itself – I constantly found myself pining to find out how a foreshadowed event was going to play out, what the next twist would be, and eventually, how the game could possibly wrap up to a nice conclusion with the desperate situation the party eventually finds themselves in.
"Well, a wordy reply isn't always required..."
I also felt like the fact that, unlike the first game, Season Two ACTUALLY effectively branches out into various different endings was much more interesting and satisfying. The first was satisfying in its own way, don’t get me wrong, but overall the second season left me feeling unusually satisfied with my experience – the characters and story are well developed and the switch of lead protagonists to Clementine does not just feel like gimmicky cash grab after the somewhat unexpected success of the first game. Not at all. Awesome! While there doesn’t need to be a season 3, if there is they’ll have to make it look pretty disappointing to not have my interest.
For our next game I decided to pick up the console version of Diablo III – Diablo, you may remember, is a game series that I like a lot, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about the console ports of Diablo III, especially when it comes to same screen cooperative play. Unfortunately we haven’t had much time to try to play through it since we first picked it up so more on that one later, but at the same time we also randomly picked up a copy of Tropico 4 for the Xbox 360.
"Political prisoners in training."
Tropico is a series I’ve had my eye one since the very first game was release. The concept is excellent – a SimCity like city builder game focused a little more on the social and political side of building and running a city, with the tongue in cheek twist that you’re the dictator of a tiny island nation very obviously inspired by Cuba. All the stereotypes are there – does El Presidente try to appease the USSR or the USA? Does he (or she) set up democratic elections, SET UP democratic elections, or simply assassinate any politic opponents that come his way? Oh yeah, and let’s not forget rum and coffee exports.
This introduces all kinds of new challenges – since you’re an actual island NATION, not just a city, resource gathering and production are highly important, as are keeping the local politics and dissidents in check, and keeping the geopolitical powers happy with you too. Managing imports and exports, as well as immigrants and tourists, all while growing you country and your city. This lets the developers add all sort of systems into the game that can allow for some fun and challenging scenarios as you might easily imagine.
"Viva la stable economy!"
The port is surprisingly well down for a PC centric strategy game ported to a console, and despite mostly just playing with the sandbox mode so far, both of us have sunk plenty of time into the game and enjoyed it immensely so far. The campaign offers the same gameplay but with a combination of specific goals and artificial adjustments of factions, events, etc. to mix things up a bit. I’ll probably end up picking this (and some of the other titles in the series) up on Steam at some point and playing it the way it’s meant to be played, but this has been a great purchase for something we just happened to pick up on a whim.
Screenshots stolen from random filthy capitalist pigs!
It's been ages since I last did any serious gaming - I've been moving, changing jobs, and generally just very busy with other "real life" things. I'm all settled now though, so here's a little about the last game I completed before I dive into something new...
"State of Decay"
Perhaps my favorite aspect of The Walking Dead (both the comics and the TV series) is how human-centric the story is – more than any other zombie movies, shows, books, or games I’ve experienced, The Walking Dead is about the people trying to survive this radically altered world. The struggle really isn’t about the zombies, and as the show’s many, many detractors have pointed out, it’s really *barely* about zombies at all, but it’s instead against a world whose infrastructure has been gutted, where the rules of society have crumbled, and where only those who can successfully adapt, for better and for worse, can make it. Be it a nuclear war or a zombie plague, this is the key to a good post apocalypse story in my opinion. Imaging survival in such a setting is what I find most captivating about the genre. At this point there have been more zombie related games than I care to try to count but few of them even attempted to capture this essence. Instead, most zombie related games resemble the zombie movies of the 80s (even the good ones!) where zombies are simply a specific variety of antagonist that needs to be defeated. State of Decay, by Undead Labs, changes all of that.
"Scouting from up high."
State of Decay’s basic gameplay loop is what is so damn good: it’s all about that survival. In this case, “survival” simply means establishing a base where you can hole up and scavenging for enough supplies to maintain it as well as meet your character’s own individual demands. The most compelling part of this, for me at least, is the exploration involved in that scavenging or, really, anything else in this setting. While the process can become rather laborious and repetitive (more inventory room, please!) exploring and “clearing” all of these old abandoned and dangerous buildings never really gets old. There’s always a sense of creepiness as you sneak around in the dark trying to locate lootable containers, never knowing when a zombie might show up. Sure, a zombie probably won’t put you in much dangerous unless it’s one of the special “freak” class zombies, but sometimes getting mobbed by too many, in just the right way, can still put you in a very bad spot very quickly.
"A good pair of wheels is essential for exploration. Planes? Not so much."
Back to the subject of establishing a base of operations though. One thing State of Decay does to make this interesting is that you don’t just play a single character. You can, sure, but you can also switch to almost any of the other survivors that are part of your enclave and play them too. The injury and fatigue systems in the game actually actively encourage it, even, as do the RPG like skill leveling and item systems. This also makes the addition of permadeath without entering into a total fail state a thing – your character can die, permanently, and the game keeps going. Speaking of keeping going, like other open world games, the world also exists as somewhat of a “simulation” with all kinds of systems in play that do not necessary tie directly into what is occurring to or around your character. More dramatically, some of these systems continue on when you’re not in game. It’s not uncommon to log in a day or two later to find that one of your survivors has died or that there are new missions waiting for you. All of these systems together alter the focus of the game from being about you killing zombies to being, like The Walking Dead, about you and your group of survivors getting by in this strange and twisted version of life.
"Did I mentioned the skill system? Oh yes!"
At this point my main criticism of the game is that it really doesn't push far enough in either direction – as a more directed, story based experience, or as a sandbox open world game where you make your own goals. I feel like most people are probably drawn more towards the open world nature of the game but the systems in place don’t really allow for a huge amount of freedom or variety playing in a pure sandbox way. More potential base locations, more possible customization of them, more variety of item and resource types, and possibly more dangers (unlike The Walking Dead, fighting other groups of human survivors is almost entirely absent from State of Decay) might go just far enough to fix this though. As it is though, it comes quite close.
I know an enhanced Xbox One port of the game came out just a couple of months ago, and who knows, I may tackle the DLC for the original Xbox 360 and PC versions someday too, but what most people seem to want from the series right now is some type of co-operative gameplay experience. At first Undead Labs were pretty loudly toting that the next State of Decay game would feature co-op or maybe even be an MMO of some sort but lately they seem a little bit more coy on exactly what their next project is. Intriguing for sure!
Xbox 360 screenshots swiped from Google image search, and probably actually PC screenshots. *shrug*
Almost immediately after beating and loving the first of the Mass Effect games I heard about a couple of others games that were purported to be attempting very similar things. The first was Obsidian's Alpha Protocol. Apparently it was going to be Mass Effect meets a modern day spy thriller. How is that not amazing? Then there was Rise of the Argonauts which was Mass Effect set in ancient mythical Greece. Why not? I determined way back then that I'd be playing both of them. Period. While neither of these games turned out to wear that Mass Effect comparison quite so favorably, here I am...
"On our way to slay Medusa despite the lack of Perseus."
Rise of the Argonauts is an RPG that is very much influenced by the "post-KoTOR" era of BioWare games. I definitely get a Jade Empire vibe from it but again the comparisons to Mass Effect are hard to avoid as well, especially considering the game's Unreal Engine roots. You play as King Jason of Iolcus on his legendary quest for the Golden Fleece. Now, don't get ahead of me too much here. I'm sure a lot of you have read about the myth of Jason or at least seen the rad Ray Harryhausen effects laden movie from the 1960s. This game takes innumerable liberties with the legend and indeed others so don't think you already know the plot. That said, if you get a kick out of Greek mythology like I do then you'll definitely enjoy some of references here.
After your journey aboard the suspiciously steampunk Argo kicks off you'll be going relatively freely from place to place completing main quest objectives, doing side questions, and recruiting new members for your crew. Sound familiar? Despite the little bit of freedom you'll have, you're directed fairly narrow through the main plot and the games wraps up relatively quickly, which for me isn't really a complaint - the length and the pace felt quite acceptable. You spend a surprising amount of time interacting with NPCs with a very Mass Effect like dialog system. Combat feels almost entirely separate from the conversations and even the exploration as it usually involves sections of the maps being cordoned off into little arenas with multiple waves of enemies that need to be defeated before moving on. There's relatively little of it too, which isn't such a bad thing since I never really got into the combat system.
"Heavy attack, heavy attack, block, whatever..."
The combat isn't terrible, mediocre perhaps, but it just never "clicked" with me - whether an enemy blocked or dodged my blows, what weapons and attacks worked best for what situations, etc. just always felt fairly random and arbitrary to me. It wasn't until one of my weapon/skill trees got nearly fully upgraded that combat became so easy I could simply stop feigning concern and do what felt the most cheaply effective. Even then, I didn't care much for using many of the "active" special skills or powers as they took way too long to recharge and while boss fights could be challenging, the fodder wasn't ever really worth wasting time using powers on.
"You'll be seeing our protagonist from this angle *a lot* throughout the game."
That said, there are some high notes as well. Although the dialog system didn't seem to produce any decisions of consequence I felt like it was mostly well written and acted and Jason, while a little dry, is a fairly likable character, at least the way I played him as a devotee to Athena. Oh, and about that! I also liked the upgrade system, which had you earn "deeds" for meeting various goals, whether they be completing quests or more "achievement" like goals such as slaying 15 enemy mercenaries. You then chose which of four Greek gods you wanted to dedicate the deed too, essentially giving you XP to spend in that god's particular skill tree. The dialog system incorporates this as well, with choices often differentiating between associating with each of the four gods rather than the more black and white, good savoir of humanity vs. evil dickhead choices RPGs usually give you.
Oh, I should also mention that a lot of the the videos and user reviews and whatnot I found online mentioned bugs and performance issues. Perhaps it helped that I had it installed on my 360's hard drive and maybe its been patched since then too but I encountered relatively view bugs with the game and nothing I'd consider major.
"A meeting with Prometheus."
Sticking with the technical stuff, graphically the game is quite a mixed bag. It left me a sour first impression with some extremely ugly pre-rendered (from the engine... why?) cut-scenes and some beyond awful animations. Once things got going for real though I started to admire some of the character models and designs as a whole. They're not all good - the generic human NPCs found on Iolcus, for instance, are utterly fucking hideous, but some of the main characters such as Jason himself, are rather nice. Animations never get too much better but thankfully most of the other cut-scenes are kept in-engine so aren't quite as jarring. Finally, the environments are, all in all, rather beautiful. There's a lot of variety in color palettes and themes without feeling too contrived. I was especially impressed with my encounter with the Titan Prometheus down in... well, I don't want to spoil it. Finally, the soundtrack is rather good for a game seemingly no one knows about and indeed a quick search resulted in a lot of people raving over it.
In summary, if you love BioWare style RPGs and Greek mythology and don't mind going into it without huge expectations I'd certainly recommend Rise of the Argonauts. It's a relatively short romp (for this type of game, at least) so I certainly don't regret my time with it but I do have to admit that more than loving the game, it has me really wanting to play an actual BioWare game again ASAP.
As usual with Xbox 360 games these screenshots were stolen mercilessly, as is the way of Aries! I stole these ones, which are probably from the slightly better looking PC version, from http://www.computerbild.de. Danke!