Self Similar self similar’s personal gaming nonsense blog

28Jan/160

The Unreleased Force

It's been quite a while since I've sat down and played a single player game from start to finish. You know, insert "life" blah blah blah, and my other usual excuses. I've continued to play around with the console versions of Tropico 4 and Diablo III and even dipped back into World of Warcraft briefly enough to finally give Warlords of Draenor a fair shake.

Anyway, with all of the recent hype surrounding Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the last couple of months I found myself in the mood to revisit some of my favorite old Star Wars related games. At some point this turned into wanting to play some of the Star Wars games I missed, most notably the GameCube's Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader and Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike. This urge coincided nicely with having an entire day off of work with no other plans. Unfortunately I couldn't find copies of either game locally so I ended up going into my own collection and dusting off a copy of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II.

Stop! Pleeeassee stop!
"Stop! Pleeeassee stop!"

I was skeptical about the first Force Unleashed but ended up enjoying it overall. Still, I never played the DLC and had totally resigned myself to skipping the second game after seeing it get totally panned by both critics and fans alike. Still, a few positive reviews including one from a co-worker of mine convinced my to toss a cheap, used copy of the Xbox 360 version into my backlog.

So, there I was, a day off of work and an apparently incredibly short (with many people claiming to beat it in about 4.5 hours) Star Wars game queued up to play. So...?

What can I say? Suprisingly, I actually really enjoyed TFU2 and I've got to say that right off the bat that it definitely doesn't deserve its place among those "worst Star Wars games ever created" lists I sometimes see it on.

First, TFU2 dials up the already nice graphics and sound from the first game just a bit, particularly when it comes to the pre-rendered cutscenes. This game will have Star Wars nerds salivating with its aesthetics, for sure. I absolutely cannot complain here - I was impressed.

The rebel fleet running away, as usual.
"The rebel fleet running away, as usual."

Now, TFU2 plays almost exactly like the first game. The systems have been polished a bit to the point that I don't really recall running into the issue with accidentally targeting the wrong enemies or objects with force powers that apparently aggravated me a lot during my playthrough of the first game, which is great. Also, this time you start with most of your force powers unlocked and spend the first several levels more or less owning the faces off of all of your enemies without much of a challenge. This I like! Of course, there was a point at which I seemed to hit a bit of a sudden shift in difficulty, with some boss fights and even some normal set pieces being quite challenging. Unlike the first game's reliance on enemies that were immune to certain attacks (which are here as well but seemingly less prominent) TFU2 seems to delight in challenging the player by simply filling a single area with a large amount of different, averagely difficult enemies at one time. I think this became most noticeable after the introduction of those damn terror droids and the later terror walker boss. Ugh!

Bringing down an AT-ST.
"Bringing down an AT-ST."

At around the same point in the game the polish gets noticeably turned down just a notch, with environments and puzzles getting more repetitive and checkpoints seemingly placed with less of a generous hand, meaning repeating larger chunks of gameplay and even character dialog upon dying. Oh, and platforming sections - did I mentioned platforming sections? Still, overall the game was a fairly smooth ride and despite TFU2's reputation for being unfinished and buggy, I actually ran into zero bugs during the main campaign.

The story was one of the things critics panned the most. Yes, there isn't much substance to it. It's entirely throwaway, in fact, and it doesn't fit cleanly into the canon (err, I guess "legends" now!) Still, I remember watching at least one review video that panned the plot for being all about Starkiller's emo clone desperately and hopelessly chasing after a woman for no real reason like the plot of some lame 80s teen movie. It definitely looked silly the way it was presented but it turns out that this was largely creative editing. In reality, Starkiller's clone is understandably emotional and unstable and attempts to flee the empire's control. His obsession with Juno came across as a desperate grasp towards one of his only remaining, shared memories and not some kind of unrequited crush. I had no real problems with it.

Enjoying the view on Cato Neimoidia.
"Enjoying the view on Cato Neimoidia."

Despite choosing the lightside ending of the first game, which resulted in Starkiller fucking up both Vader and the emperor, but ultimately dying as a martyr to the fledgling rebellion, knowing how inconsequential Starkiller's clone was in TFU2 inspired me to strike down Lord Vader which led to a pretty surprisingly result that lead perfectly into my playthrough of the Battle for Endor DLC mission. I gave myself an appropriately dark side looking costume, my trusty old red lightsabers, and headed to Endor with bad, bad intentions.

The Endor DLC was a lot of fun. First, it added some much needed variety to the scenery of the main game - the lush jungles of the forest moon of Endor, of course. It also added two new enemies in the form of rebel troops of various types and, of course, motherfucking Ewoks! Both of these could be surprisingly annoying foes, but brutalizing Ewoks en masse kind of made any difficulty in these sections totally worth it. I especially enjoyed the special grapple attack move which performs some kind of hilarious force punt to the poor little bastards. Also, and this has been spoiled long, long ago so I don't feel bad by saying so, and it's totally non-canon in ANY version of the Star Wars universe, but Starkiller's clone manages to brutally execute both the dynamic duo of Chewbacca and Han Solo AND the inexplicably badass-Jedi version of Princess Leia. Awesome. The end was a little confusing and, ultimately a cliff hanger for I assume further DLC that unfortunately never came out.

Getting all Darth Sidious on Vader's ass!
"Getting all Darth Sidious on Vader's ass!"

Overall, despite the occasional frustrating fight, repetitive sections, and the throwaway story, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II was a quick, fun playthrough that I'd recommend for any Star Wars fan who can distance themselves enough from the canon to have a little dark side fun or who enjoyed the first game enough to want more of the same. Just don't go in looking for anything long or with an engrossing story...

PC screenshots plundered from sources throughout the galaxy by the Knights of Ren.

4Oct/150

Dead Presidentes

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.
"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...
"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 IIIDiablo, 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.
"Political prisoners in training."

Tropico is a series I’ve had my eye one since the very first game was released. 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 political 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 political hopefuls 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!
"Viva la stable economy!"

The port is surprisingly well down for a PC centric strategy game ported to a console with a great adaption of the interface and controls to the Xbox 360 controller, 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.

More soon!

Screenshots stolen from random filthy capitalist pigs!

2Jun/150

Exploring the Decay

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
"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.
"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.
"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!
"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*