Self Similar self similar’s personal gaming nonsense blog

20Jul/110

More Like L.A.me Noire!

Am I rite???

All jokes aside, I'll apologize in advance for the extra-ranty tone of this log as I'm pretty disappointed in Team Bondi/Rockstar's L.A. Noire. Not for the usual reasons though - I wasn't expecting the next Grand Theft Auto here. No, I was so hyped for this game because some previews heralded it as the next evolution of the traditional adventure game, and even those that didn't certainly made it seem that way. The detective angle also fit perfectly into my hopes for the game, conjuring up thoughts of Deja Vu, Police Quest, and Tex Murphy. Even all of those expectations aside, adventure game elements + Grand Theft Auto 4 sounded right up my alley. I even broke my new game embargo and bought this sucker close to release, bumping my back log to play it. So, where do I start?

In L.A. Noire you play a police detective in 1947 Los Angeles. I kind of wish the game had exploited the setting and the whole period noir vibe just a little more: more rainy nights, more sassy dames, more cartoon gangsters, hell I would have even settled for a crap-ton of cheesy, film noir style first person narration, but the game keeps it all fairly straightlaced. Anyway, you have to investigate and solve various cases which eventually start mingling together to form a cohesive plot relating to a larger conspiracy. You do this investigation by visiting crime scenes, looking for clues and interviewing witnesses, chasing those clues and accounts to more witnesses and suspects, looking for clues at their locations and interviewing them, sometimes with some action scenes thrown in, and eventually either interviewing the suspects one last time or having the case culminate in some sort of action that ends up wrapping things up. Cutscenes provide some extra story during and especially in between cases. That's the most basic description I can give it - yes, it really is that formulaic and yes, thanks to the lack of variety in the cases it can indeed start feeling repetitious.

Adding to that explanation the whole thing feels almost exactly like Grand Theft Auto 4 - I realize it is the same engine, but no, down to a more granular level, the whole game feels very close to GTA4. Driving feels exactly like a slightly tighter controlling GTA4. Walking around locations in third person feels exactly like GTA4. Combat feels pretty much the same as well. You do all of these things quite a bit too. The focus of the game isn't really on any of these things, however, it's on the investigation and interrogation stuff and fittingly those two areas are where the game feels like the biggest departure from GTA and its ilk.

Actor hunting in Hollywood.
"Actor hunting in Hollywood."

First we have crime scene investigations. You walk around in third person looking for items on the ground and other clues. Some of these items can be tricky to spot, bringing back the old point and click adventure game "pixel hunt" to some extent, though to its credit L.A. Noire does employ a couple of tricks to make this phase a little less frustrating: a vibration effect to alert you when you're nearby new points of interest and a sound that plays when you come across clues you've already investigated. Another thing that helps is that music will play the entire time you're in the investigation area (the game is still very much an open world so you can wander away from where you're supposed to be quite easily) and will cease once you've found all of the relevant clues in the area. I say relevant because there are plenty of annoying red herrings lying around - maybe "red herrings" is too generous of a term to use, rather it is trash and other miscellaneous junk that you can, for some reason, interact with. I suppose the designers put this extraneous stuff in to make crime scenes a little less cut and dry. The real problem with these items is that occasionally they are actually relevant. I can think of at least two cases where a matchbook is an important clue instead of just the meaningless trash it represents another dozen times throughout the game, meaning you'll probably want to examine every one you come across just in case. Doh. It wouldn't be so annoying if there weren't so many extra button presses involved. You don't just pick up an item and instantly add it to your inventory, as it were, rather you often have to rotate it around and/or press the interact button a second time to further investigate the item. I'm guessing this was done to simply avoid the game feeling like a Heavy Rain style QTE fest. I suppose it succeeds... but it feels worse for it.

As I mentioned before there are also action sequences. Frequently at that. These range from typical GTA4 style car chases, fist fights, and fire fights, to item manipulation puzzles, foot chases, and even the odd platforming puzzle. These types of occasional action scenes help break up the monotony of the investigation stuff but GTA4 stuff (which I like - who doesn't like spraying gangsters with a tommy gun?) aside, they often felt a little unsatisfying, and sometimes even frustrating. The stealth-like missions where you have to shadow someone at a distance were 100% pure, distilled anti-fun. Surprisingly many of the action sequences can even result in instant case failure and/or death which is pretty damn jarring when you compare it to the no-fail way interrogations work. In another nod to old adventure games though, the game seems to almost acknowledge that the action isn't necessarily what you're there for and if you fail a scene enough times you can simply skip it with no consequences. You can also easily skip the vast majority of driving around from location to location if you'd like. Alrighty then.

What a mess - at least we can cross vampires off the suspect list!
"What a mess - at least we can cross vampires off the suspect list!"

Finally, onto interrogations. These can take place either at an investigation scene or in an interrogation room at the station, and can range from simple information gathering to full on desperate attempts to get a confession from a suspect... but they all work the same way. There's some (spoken) dialog between your character and the NPC which eventually leads into a clip that you'll need to react to based on the person's statement, tone, and notably facial expression. You react by choosing "Truth" which denotes that you believe the NPC was telling the truth, "Doubt" which denotes that you believe the NPC was lying or otherwise hiding something in their answer, or "Lie" which denotes that you believe the NPC is lying AND you have the proof to back it up. Your answers here can cause the interrogation to branch off (a little) sometimes granting you additional people or places to investigate, or straight up clues.

The whole interrogation system, which along with the new facial scanning technology was touted as the most unique thing in the game, actually holds my biggest complaints about it as well. First of all, there apparently is no way to fail an interrogation. If you choose poorly, the game goes on, which can sometimes cause you to miss vital clues and/or ultimately charge the wrong suspect. I personally thought this was a pretty nice touch and decided that no matter how bad I did on my first playthrough I'd accept all of the consequences and just go with the flow as in Heavy Rain. This became immensely unsatisfying, however, as even though you can't necessarily fail an interrogation or a case as a whole the game is still extremely keen on letting you know when you've screwed up: when you react incorrectly in an interrogation a tone immediately lets you know, at the end of an interrogation it tells you how many you got right, and at the end of the case you're given a 1-5 star rating based on how well you handled the investigation overall. If I'm supposed to just play through the case should it really be constantly slapping me down when I screw up? Worse yet, if I do choose to correct my actions I can't - the only way to back out of a decision is to either restart the game before it saves again, doing the whole scene over again, or replay through the entire case. Wow. Make up your minds, Team Bondi! Do you want me to just keep going or do you want me to play to perfection?

Perhaps this wouldn't burn me quite as badly if interrogations actually worked a little better. There's nothing like doing badly and feeling like it isn't your fault. While the new facial expression tech is indeed awesome I was surprised to find myself having an extremely difficult time spotting tells at times. Sometimes it is obvious, over the top even, but other times I was sure I was right and still got the reaction wrong. After I started doing so poorly I became more and more careful about choosing my reaction and still frequently got my guess wrong. Arrrrgh. Apparently it's not just the mannerisms when answering you need to look out for as I had at least two NPCs answer very straight faced only to act shifty in their idle animations after the fact and turn out to be lying. Fair enough, but adding that into my bag of tricks still didn't help matters much. I sometimes wondered if you weren't just supposed to be trying to do what Phelps would do in the situation rather than base your decisions on what you, as the player, believed. It perhaps wouldn't be as difficult if the difference between "Doubt" and "Lie" wasn't so nebulous, never mind that those three choices don't even clearly fit as appropriate reactions to every statement you'll run across while interviewing, and that you're not even presented with the option to ask a lot the questions that you, as a player, have probably already formed by the evidence you've gathered.

Truth, I mean... lie! Wait, no, doubt!
"Truth, I mean... lie! Wait, no, doubt!"

Delving further, the "Doubt" option freaked me out occasionally - doubt, to me at least, imparts a causal feeling, but a few times when I used it during interrogations my character went from mild mannered, friendly even, to TOTALLY FLIPPING OUT and screaming at the suspect. It totally took me out of the game the first time it happened and seemed a little out of character for Phelps. The "Lie" option is an even more interesting case study. Like I said, the line between "Doubt" and "Lie" wasn't always so clear - fair enough, I take a look at my clues and maybe I don't have the evidence to prove that the suspect is telling me a lie, or maybe I just don't make that connection. In reality though, some of the logic between the NPC's previous statement and the clues you have is a little on the fuzzy side and it can be hard to pick the right clue. Some of the "correct" clues you're suppose to present as evidence are things that the NPC wouldn't know so bringing it before them, saying what little your character says, wouldn't actually convince them to start talking, for example. More problematic is that I often found the subject of the interview changing IN BETWEEN me picking the "Lie" option and having to present the evidence. WHAT THE FUCK? How was I supposed to KNOW I had the evidence if I didn't know what I needed to provide evidence for until AFTER picking "Lie"? REALLY GUYS?

Here's an example from The Naked City DLC case. I'll try to be vague and not spoil it too badly:

I'm interrogating a guy, the husband of a friend of the victim. I had been told before by the victim's house keeper that the victim was dating a man from San Francisco. I ask this guy if he knows of this fellow. He claims ignorance. Following me? At this point to branch to a new topic I have to call him a liar yet none of my evidence clearly says or even mildly suggests that they would know each other. The first time I played the case I think I chose "Doubt" instead of "Lie". Regardless I got it wrong. The second time, after I do choose "Lie" he then admits that maybe he does in fact know him, but doesn't know where he is from, stating that it might be New York. Evidence time! The correct answer is to present the victim's house keeper's statement that she knew of the guy and that she thought he might be from San Francisco. Wait a minute? I'm presenting evidence about where this boyfriend fellow is from? The original statement I called a lie was the NPC's claim that he didn't know of him, nothing to do with where he was from! Regardless, what did I just prove? That, in fact, he doesn't know where the guy is from just like he stated he didn't, because the house keeper says he's from San Francisco? WTF? How does any of this make any sense? Let's recap: I called him a liar, which means I have to present evidence to prove he is lying, yet I have none. Then it ends up being that the evidence I have to present isn't even directly in response to the original statement I called a lie. Then I present a piece of evidence that essentially proves nothing - the guy claimed to be fuzzy on where this boyfriend fellow was from, and all we did was tell him that WE know where he was from. Take that! How is this helpful? Gah.

Look familiar? Well it also feels familiar...
"Look familiar? Well it also feels familiar..."

It's almost as if half of the time the "Lie" response isn't so much to call out that person's statement as a lie, as it is presented, as much as it is to scream "HEY YOU'RE A LIAR!" and to watch them squirm to see what they rattle on about. The evidence will have to be related to whatever they say AFTER you call them out. This is reinforced by the fact that, unlike with the other responses, you can back out of your "Lie" response. How bizarre! Are you supposed to just test this out on every question you ask? Really? Here's another, more brief example from the same case: I'm told by an NPC I'm interviewing that a man I'm trying to track down doesn't exist. If I choose "Lie" the topic suddenly turns to this NPC's alleged role in a burglary which causes him to get defensive and challenge me on providing a list of stolen items. For evidence I can provided a list of stolen items recovered which all tie back to him. Fair enough on the challenge and evidence but the evidence is in no clear way related to the original accusation that I responded to! Ugh!

As a quick aside, I've played all of the DLC cases and they feel more or less identical in quality to the main cases and, if you've got them installed while playing through the campaign, fit fairly closely into the main case flow of the story. The one exception being Nicholson Electroplating which, despite acknowledging the events occurring up till then, fell into an awkward place at the end of the game that made switching back over to a relatively ho-hum arson case feel a little jarring.

Back to bitching. So let's go over the ways that interviewing can be a major exercise in fail: facial expressions and other tells don't always indicate the reaction as you'd expect them to > the line is blurry between doubt and lie, if any of the three options even seem suitable in the first place > when you do choose "lie" sometimes the clues don't make a ton of sense, sometimes even relating to topics brought up AFTER choosing the option. Awesome... a point of failure along every step of the process. Good luck 5 starring every case without a walkthrough!

Indeed, I sucked at this game the first time through. I'd say half of my cases were 4 stars, while the rest were 2 or 3, with even one or two 1 star cases. Admittedly some of these scores might have been marked down a bit for driving like a maniac, but still. I decided to play through the game a second time with a walkthrough 5 starring every case so I could see how differently the game played out when I did everything "right" and I was, quite unexpectedly, sorely disappointed. The cases don't really branch out as much as you might expect. In fact when you fail at an interview or you feel like you missed a vital clue somewhere you get the impression that if you had done better it would have turned out entirely different. In reality it seldom makes much of a difference. At best, some new events might take place if you do things differently, specifically if you branch conversations better in the interrogation parts or visit locations in a different order... but this seemed relatively rare.

This game has you doing more corpse fondling than your weird uncle Leroy
"This game has you doing more corpse fondling than your weird uncle Leroy."

I admit that I started to get more into the game as the story started developing. Bondi and Rockstar did a good job at fleshing at the characters a little bit, at least enough for me to develop a fondness for your character, Phelps, and his various partners... even Roy, somehow. When the main plot started really coming together I was pretty much riveted. Even so I do take exception to the sometimes ham-fisted nature of the storytelling. First of all, there's a twist later in the game that I really didn't see coming. Normally twists like that are pretty cool but this time I felt like the game had been lying to me about who Phelps was and only offered the tiniest, most miniscule hints about what he might do and why up until that point. The finale of the game, on the other hand, you can see from miles away thanks to the entire story being heavy-handedly foreshadowed, almost spoiled even, through the numerous WWII flashbacks and newspaper scenes that you encounter FREQUENTLY over the entire course of the game. Some mystery...

Overall, despite all of my nitpicking, I actually enjoyed the game. I loved the graphics, the acting work, the music, the journal system, the 1940s setting, and the whole police procedural feel in general. For every triumph though it seems that there was also a misstep. It felt surprisingly GTA4-like for a game that so many people were quick to point out wasn't that style of game yet, as feedback shows, it doesn't really hold up as that kind of game either. When those new adventure game elements that I was so anxious to experience showed up I was surprised to see how many of the well-known negative adventure game tropes they brought with them: pixel hunting, out of place actions sequences, instant deaths/failures... and yet the positives weren't nearly as strongly represented. I tried giving it a fair shake regardless of all of these things but they quickly started to dramatically affect my enjoyment level. I really hoped replaying it would help me appreciate the game's intricacies more but it actually only served to reinforce my suspicions about many of its issues. With so long in development and two developers working (apparently quite poorly) together on the game it really makes me wonder how much of a potentially amazing game was somehow lost along the way. 🙁

As usual Xbox 360 screen shots stolen. PC version isn't out yet!

11Jul/11137

Counterfeit Xbox 360 Wireless Receiver Drivers

After playing around with Nintendo 64 emulators with the intention of taking screenshots for some N64 games that I plan to review one of these days, I determined that it was finally time to break down and get a new gamepad for my PC. None of my other pads had anything akin to analog sticks - I mostly bought them with playing much older games in mind. I'm a big fan of the Xbox 360 controller and since I already have a couple I figured it would be easiest (and probably most economical) to go the route of buying the Microsoft Xbox 360 Wireless Gaming Receiver which simply let you use your Xbox 360 controllers with your PC. Looking around I quickly discovered that these receivers were in shorter supply than they used to be, some places even charging quite a bit for them. Still, I ended up finding some eStores on Amazon that had them for fairly cheap and nabbed one.

When it finally arrived I immediately recognized it as a fake - not just some other brand, but a genuine, stereotypical Chinese counterfeit. The packaging didn't quite look up to par - while at first glance it was reasonably similar to official looking packaging, the plastic blister pack wasn't nearly as stylized as most Xbox 360 related packs, and perhaps even more telling, it wasn't an immense fucking chore to get into. Also despite some okay use of Xbox 360 and Xbox Live logos and branding style there wasn't a single sign of a Microsoft logo anywhere on the packaging - not a good sign as Microsoft LOVES to crap their corporate logo all over everything they make. The unit itself looked identical to the real thing save for the Microsoft logo on the front being replaced by an Xbox 360 logo and the little holographic seal sticker on the back saying "XBHD" instead of Microsoft. Other stickers on the unit and packaging looked a little off as well. Upon closer inspection it is even more suspicious - the connect button isn't flush and is even a little offset, the rubber "foot" ring on the bottom isn't seated perfectly and looks a little odd, and the piece of the housing where the cord goes in wasn't seated properly. None of these were major issues, but an obvious departure from the high quality standards that you usually see in Microsoft hardware.

Quite a departure from the real packaging but good at a glance.
"Quite a departure from the real packaging but good at a glance."

At first I was pissed about being duped by Amazon (who listed it as being a Microsoft product and having pictures of the genuine article) but the more I researched the more I discovered how common place these knockoff receivers actually are - they've been floating around for years now, presumably ever since Microsoft stopped supplying the real thing as readily. Most people have reported success with them. In fact, some people even preferred them to the genuine ones as apparently they don't have the fuse issues the real ones have. If I complained and returned it by the time I paid return shipping and whatever "restocking" fee the eStore might have I'd probably be paying double what I paid and, I figured, if it works, I certainly didn't pay much for it even if it is a fake. Still, I was highly skeptical - I figured though, if it were a true counterfeit and would work okay with the official Microsoft drivers I wouldn't be putting myself in any danger by using it and, from what I read, despite some occasional difficulty in getting Windows 7 to recognize the device the official drivers worked fine with it. Still running Windows XP 32bit, I guessed I'd probably be fine.

I wasn't about to try the software on the disk that came with it figuring that it would be some poorly written knockoff driver that would destabilize my machine, or worse yet be infected with malware (although upon further inspection the disk appeared to include the genuine Microsoft driver, albeit an older version.) I immediately grabbed the Microsoft package and went from there. Hours later, I finally got the fucking thing working. At first I couldn't get Windows to recognize the device as being compatible with the driver, even after trying to force it to use it. Later I abandoned that version and went for the same one that was on the included disk, and although that one was recognized the driver installation would fail every time. I'll save the gory details and get to the point - since my solution ended up being an amalgamation of various other tips rather than based on any one thing I read online, here is how I got my knockoff receiver working with Windows XP SP3:

Don't plug it in yet - if you've already done so, go to your Device Manager, uninstall it, and unplug it. It depends on how far you got it, but it'll likely show up as an "Unknown Device" with a black and yellow exclamation mark on it. It could also show up as a "USB Device" or possibly even as an "Xbox 360 Wireless Receiver for Windows". Just look for the exclamation mark.

  1. Download and install the latest official Microsoft Xbox 360 Wireless package: http://www.microsoft.com/hardware/en-us/d/xbox-360-wireless-controller-for-windows
  2. Download and extract this updated version of the device driver to someplace temporary: here
  3. Plug the receiver in. Windows will detect it and attempt to install a driver for it. If yours behaves as mine did it will NOT automatically match up with the official package you installed in step 1. Otherwise, you got lucky and you're done!
  4. Choose the second option: "Install from a list or specific location (Advanced)". Click Next.
  5. Choose the second option: "Don't search. I will choose the driver to install." Click Next.
  6. If it shows you a list of hardware categories click Next first. Click "Have Disk..." and find the "xusb21.inf" file that you extracted from the archive in step 2.
  7. If for some reason it comes up asking for additional files, choose them from the same location where you found "xusb21.inf" in the last step, in the "x86" (or "x64" if you're running 64bit Windows XP) folder below it.
  8. If for some reason it asks for "WdfCoInstaller01005.dll" when "WdfCoInstaller01007.dll" is what you've got in "\x86" you can insert the included driver CD and find it there. It was in "\PC Driver\x86" on my disk. It did this to me though it was a result of my earlier attempts to get the original driver working.
  9. It should copy the files and then be done. If you receive a "Fatal error during installation" error my solution didn't work for you. Otherwise, click Finish and try syncing up your controller!

I hope that helps somebody out there. If the thought of dealing with shady Chinese hardware and old driver packages scares you I'd recommend trying to track down a wired Microsoft Xbox 360 controller (a Play and Charge kit for the wireless controller will NOT work) from a used game store and simply using that if you can find it for cheap, though they sell at Gamestop for about 3 times what I got my knockoff receiver for. *shrug*

Some sources:
The thread where I originally found the updated driver
A blog article troubleshooting similar problems under Windows 7 64bit

Update 9/2016:

Manace comments "It works on Windows 10 x64. You should first start a cmd.exe as administrator and type: “bcdedit.exe -set TESTSIGNING on” (without the quotes). Then reboot and you see in the down right corner “TESTMODE”. This means you can install unsigned drivers.

Now got to your device manager, select the unknown device, choose update driver, select the folder where you extracted the driver package and voila!"

You can also install unsigned drivers this way.

7Jul/110

Frozen Fables

I know I’m amazingly late to the party with this one but I finally got around to playing (and beating) Fable 2 for Xbox 360! Between playing the original Xbox Fable at release and watching/hearing other friends of mine play through Fable 2 I was really, really looking forward to playing this one. Despite having a lot of fun with the game I somehow don’t really have a whole lot to say about it… perhaps I’ve waited a bit too long to write about it, but I’ll try to put down a few thoughts regardless.

Fable 2 absolutely oozes a style of its own: the odd designs brought to life by the colorful graphics, the unique (in gaming, certainly) 17th/18th century meets middle ages aesthetics, the funny voice acting, hilarious item descriptions, and all around healthy dose of humor injected into the world, and all of that brought together in what feels like a relatively well produced, high budget package. I was immediately hooked!

Significantly less dangerous than he appears.
"Significantly less dangerous than he appears."

The gameplay is pretty simple and very easy to get into and start having fun with – combat, for instance, is quite streamlined, just a button for each weapon type, and it is only much later, when you start improving your various skills, that the combat system begins to become gradually deeper. My main character was a mage and while I typically don't play pure mages in these types of games the magic system felt a little odd and a bit limited. You can only have one of each spell rank equipped and you cast all 5 spells (there are 5 ranks) by holding the same button down for increasingly longer lengths of time. From poking around on the forums there seemed to be quite a lot of people confused about how to assign and cast your different spells. That said, once you figure it out it's a breeze to use and quite effective. There were definitely a lot of other odd design decisions made with Fable 2, not just with magic. Knowing Peter Molyneux’s reputation for interesting, ambitious design I’m assuming that there were many, much more extreme ideas penned that were eventually dumbed-down or cut for various reasons. At the very least the game still succeeds in feeling fairly unique and doing so without too many negatives.

The two new features that got the most attention in the press, your canine companion and the sparkly golden breadcrumb traill, were both successes in my book. The dog was pretty neat and when he wasn’t around I felt myself actually feeling more alone in the world – I missed the little flea bag. I did somehow expect him to be a bit more effective in combat than he ended up being, but oh well. The bread crumb trail, which always points you to the next step in your active quest, only ever annoyed me when it wasn’t working correctly (I found myself occasionally outrunning it, which made me think it was trying to point me in the opposite direction, for instance) otherwise I found it to be quite useful and easy enough to ignore when I wanted to explore a bit.

You'll probably spend way too much time hitting on peasant ladies (and/or dudes.)
"You'll probably spend way too much time hitting on peasant ladies (and/or dudes.)"

I was pretty surprised at how quickly I progressed through the plot, figuring Fable 2 would have a pretty epic storyline after the backlash about how oddly quick the original Fable went. I agreed with those original assessments, by the way. To me it seems like many of the mechanics of Fable, and even more so Fable 2, particularly the character development and customization over time aspects, cater more towards longer and/or more open world game but I concede that perhaps my views simply don’t line up with the designers' intent. That was another thing – I had gotten the distinct impression that Fable 2 was much more of an open world experience than Fable was, despite still maintaining a strong central story. Eh, not so much… definitely improved, but still lacking something in the way of a truly open feel. Regardless I dug playing through the story and customizing and progressing my character. Many of the side quests just didn’t feel that interesting and I had a hard time forcing myself to even be bothered with them though, I admit, this may be partially blamed on not playing many of them until after beating the main storyline.

Speaking of side quests, I did end up playing through the two DLC add-ons, Knothole Island and See The Future, which both provide you with some short side stories including a variety of additional quests. Both were easy enough to skip but recommended if you absolutely love the game and want a little more. Knothole Island was my favorite of the two, with its Zelda-esque series of quests into different temples/dungeons. It also got me my beloved dog back. 😉

All around, a fun game – I’m still a fan of the series and Fable 3 is definitely on my wish-list now. As an aside, I didn’t purposely go after many of them but some of the bizarre shit you have to do for achievements in that game was quite fun.

Going down?
"Going down?'"

I played through the original Portal on PC again with the intention of refreshing myself before playing Portal 2. What's to say? Still a fun game - especially given that you can breeze through the entire thing in just one or two sessions. Perhaps it is part of growing up and having less free time but I love shorter game experiences. It always amazes me that I managed to never get stuck for more than a minute or so my first time through. Knowing the way my dysfunctional mind operates I figured I'd bash my head against many of the puzzles - here's hoping I have the same sort of luck with the sequel.

Finally, I recently picked up Frozen Synapse on PC. I've been hearing whispers about this game for what must be a couple of years now. They were offering a beta access for early buyers program similar to what Minecraft is doing but I decided to keep waiting out the formal release on Steam and that day has finally arrived.

The game is sort of reminiscent of the turn based, tactical combat found in games such as the original X-com and Jagged Alliance series, yet the mechanics give the whole thing a very different feel. Instead of being given a certain amount of time units, action points, or the like, you simply have to 5 seconds per turn and you can do whatever you have time to do in that window. It may be quite similar in principal but it is a little harder to know exactly what I have time to do and not do in Frozen Synapse without simply previewing my turn, though that is easy enough to do. In X-com everything you can do, from firing, to turning around, to moving, has a hard value associated it with it - such a thing likely exists in FS's engine as well, but it's just not presented that way.

Actually winning for once...
"Actually winning for once..."

Speaking of presentation, the interface is also some what of a departure from that style of game, feeling more like the planning stages of the old PC Rainbow 6 games than a typical turned based tactical game. Turns are also simultaneous which is another big difference from most games like this. I don't know that it really ups the challenge but it certainly does make turns a lot more suspenseful. A major plus to this is that it is setup to allow for asynchronous gaming - you can be playing multiple games as once, swapping back and forth when your turn is ready. You can play by email, continue a half-finished game the next day, whatever. It's very cool.

One thing that kills me about FS (literally, it gets me killed) is difficulty judging my line of sight and, particularly, my enemy's line of sight to me. In one of my first online matches half of my squad got obliterated by a rocket blast that somehow slipped through 4 or 5 tiny openings that, because of the perspective, didn't even look passable to me. I'd love a tool to clearly show me LoS views. Whatever... live and learn! I've been doing a lot of learning lately - my online record is currently atrocious. Most of my loses were very, very close... but it's not like anyone can see that when looking at my win/loss record. 🙁

Anyway, it's a fun game. It's different enough that it doesn't really scratch my X-com itch in the way something like Silent Storm did, but for a relatively cheap indie game that has good online capabilities and an active player base, I feel like it has been worth my money and time so far.

As usual, Xbox 360 screens lifted from elsewhere. Fable 2 was a perfect example of a game where I couldn't find much in the way of ACTUAL screen shots, showing the game as it looks when it is being played with interface and all - mostly only canned shots released by PR. 😕