Self Similar self similar’s personal gaming nonsense blog

28May/170

80 Years of First Person

I was as surprised as anyone to hear that Battlefield 1 was, in fact, really fucking good. Battlefield Bad Company 2 was the last of the franchise I got into, avoiding Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4 due to hearing about how shitty they were at launch. Yeah, I’ve heard Battlefield 4 has improved massively since then, but sometimes a bad launch is enough for me to pass over a game entirely. Still, Battlefield 1942 is easily one of my all time favorite online games, and one I have some amazingly fond memories of, and Battlefield 1 has, to some degree, rekindled a bit of what made me love the series in the first place.

Doing a little scouting for Lawrence of Arabia in BF1's single player campaign.
"Doing a little scouting for Lawrence of Arabia in BF1's single player campaign."

So what does it do so right? Well, first it has a fun mini-single player campaign that serves as a nice introduction to some of the basic systems of the game, such as flying a plane, driving a tank, riding a horse, and of course running around on foot. While not incredible, it’s presence is definitely appreciated. Next, the graphics and sound are just great: very epic, with detailed, varied environments, awesome particle effects, it’s exceedingly immersive, and I’ve been literally wowed by how intense being caught in the middle of the (frequently extremely chaotic) firefights can feel on more than one occasion as a result. Adding to that, the maps feel nicely dynamic thanks in large part to a return of the type of large scale destructible terrain/buildings we had in BC2, and then some, the introduction of behemoths, and a dynamic weather system. Absolutely great!

I admit I don’t play THAT much and outside of a couple of epic Rambo rounds and individual moments I’m not exactly a pro at the game. I’m usually either on foot (Support being my current preferred role due to a fondness of these old LMGs) or riding along in a tank most of the time. I really like the balance between infantry and vehicles, with tanks feeling intimidatingly tough but far from invulnerable as infantry, and capable for lasting a long time if played intelligently as a tank crew. Despite being sniped by a skilled bi-plane pilot or vaporized by a bomber on many occasions, planes also don’t feel like total ownage to be up against either. I still get owned by snipers way more often than I’d like, but the scope glint is quite helpful when you have the opportunity to exploit it.

The infamous B.A.R. in action.
"The infamous B.A.R. in action."

Outside of the occasional annoying sniper and/or artillery barrage ruining my day, one of the only things left to complain about how is how virtually everyone is running around with an automatic weapon - it definitely feels more like a World War II game to me most of the time, which has me daydreaming of a proper modern day sequel to Battlefield 1942. For the moment BF1 has totally unseated Planetside 2 as my go to online FPS, despite it not having nearly the pick up and play potential, given that a normal round of Conquest is going to take at least 20 minutes. Still, if I have 20-30 minutes free, I’m often compelled to jump into a game of BF1 instead of playing anything else.

Speaking of playing something else, I finally got around to checking out indie darling Gone Home. Despite all of the flak it got for being a “walking simulator” the premise of a short, narrative, exploration based first person game was appealing to me. That, and I was familiar with Steve Gaynor, the designer, from his time with the Idle Thumbs crew and his work with Irrational.

WW1's massive tanks are quite a lot of fun too.
"WW1's massive tanks are quite a lot of fun too."

In case you’re somehow unfamiliar with Gone Home, the premise is that your character arrives at her family home after being away for quite some time to find it empty. As you begin poking around you start to find various clues as to what has been going on in the lives of your family members, particularly your younger sister, since you’ve been away. That’s essentially it, in a nutshell.

At first I was fairly underwhelmed by the game’s minimalist, oddly scaled graphics. For a game that takes place entirely within a single family home it seemed like the developers could have done a bit better with making this actually feel like a real house. Despite that, I soon found myself captivated by the mundanity and the mystery of it all.

Sifting through every unremarkable artifact of everyday life for some tiny clue as to what has been going on probably won’t sound captivating to anyone but the most perverse voyuers reading this, but enough of the old bills, letters, and notes you find are peppered with intriguing details that it somehow works. Soon you find yourself digging through every interactable object you can looking for a new clue, another answer. A storm rages outside, adding a creepy layer to the already slightly off-putting feeling of sneaking around in someone else’s house. If it weren’t for frequent references to your family and the game’s mid 90s setting, I might have felt like I was in some sort of film noir style detective game.

Gone Home looks even worse next to BF1, but don't judge a book by its cover.
"Gone Home looks even worse next to BF1, but don't judge a book by its cover."

As for that mystery, early on I found myself trying to figure out what question I was even trying to answer, and without spoiling too much, let me just say that I felt like I knew a lot about where Gone Home’s plot went from hearing about it on various podcasts and the like, yet I still found myself questioning what was REALLY going on up until the very end of the game. Unfortunately this wasn’t helped by the fact that I somehow managed to miss a giant portion of the narrative which made the end seriously confusing. Admittedly, I doubt many people had that issue, as if you follow all of the clues properly you’re going to be finding almost everything, and in the correct order, but it still frustrated my particular experience. Regardless, as it unravels the story feels incredibly intimate and personal, which is likely the game’s biggest single strength.

I’ll have to stop myself before I spoil anything and just say that if you think you’d enjoy a quick, exploration heavy game then it’s hard not to recommend Gone Home. There’s something special about the game that comes together to feel like more than the sum of its parts. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for other, similar games in the future, including Fullbright’s next game, Tacoma.

Now it's Gwendolyn turn to put her adventuring hat on.
"Now it's Gwendolyn turn to put her adventuring hat on."

Finally, a quick update. While putting together my last post I discovered that King's Quest had a short Epilogue episode in which you play as Gwendolyn, Graham's granddaughter. The concept of passing Graham's spirit of adventure from onto Gwendolyn was a major point of the overarching plot of King's Quest, so a quick teaser episode that has you adventuring as her before a full on, follow up series is totally logical. What's less logical is that it is only available to those who bought the "Complete Collection" package, not to people who bought the episodes piecemeal or bought the season pass like I did. Lame, very lame. I had to settle for watching a walkthrough of it on YouTube. Thanks guys... 🙁

22Jan/170

Wars Among the Stars

Other than my semi-regular Oblivion updates and my Wing Commander review it seems like it’s been awhile since I’ve discussed any real PC gaming, and outside of a few dips back into World of Warcraft, I think the last time I really discussed spending a lot of time on a semi-modern PC game was when I reported my adventures in Rust two years ago. The biggest reason for that, besides my mighty backlog of console games, was that my PC was approaching relic status and not really up to some of the more demanding new games coming out, to put it mildly.

Back in Black!
"Back in Black!"

In late July I finally had enough reasons to justify building a whole new machine. Beyond gaming, I was planning on going back to college and needed a machine capable of running multiple VMs for labs. I also had plans to virtualize one of my servers which was running on even more ancient hardware than my old desktop was. Outside of the additional challenge of building something stout enough to run at least one VM fulltime and handle a modern game simultaneously, the build was quite easy and a lot of fun. It also happened to coincide with the release of Nvidia’s Geforce GTX 10 series, and I managed to score a nice overclocked 1070 early into the chipset’s life.

So what did I played with my hot new gaming rig? The latest AAA games? Did I hook up an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive? Nah, I actually decided to play some older games that I had wanted to revisit, for one reason or another.

First was Planetside 2. Failing to resist my own monumental hype for this game, I managed to download and install the massive client on my old machine. Performance was beyond terrible and I couldn’t even play it long enough to get a feel for the flow of the game. They did some major performance patches shortly after that but by the time I went back to try it again they had removed support for Windows XP so that was the end of my tour of duty.

On the losing end of a firefight.
"On the losing end of a firefight."

Since giving it another shot on my new machine my time with Planetside 2 has been largely fantastic. For a free-to-play MMO that feels, for the most part, quite polished, I can’t believe more people aren’t playing it. It has some issues, sure, and I was definitely skeptical about some of the design changes from the first game, but all in all I was pleasantly surprised with how close the spirit of the gameplay experience is to the original. The same type of absolutely epic combined arms battles still happen constantly, though, as with the first game, I often find myself enjoying some of the smaller battles than following the zerg, using the open nature of the battlefield and numerous options for classes, weapons, and vehicles to give me far more tactical choices than typically available in most normal FPS games.

Anti-aircraft duty is a dirty job, but someone has to do it.
"Anti-aircraft duty is a dirty job, but someone has to do it."

Unlike playing a 25-40 minute Conquest game in Battlefield, the always-on nature of the PS2 battlefield and the various ways of quickly dropping into existing battles and skirmishes makes PS2 a great “gap filler” game too - just have 15 minutes to play? Not a problem. 2 hours to play? Where’d all of my time go? I spent quite a while ping-ponging between roles - at first I fell in love with the Lightning tank, then spent a lot of my time as a Combat Medic or Heavy Assault, then I dabbled with the Stalker cloak Infiltrator, then I discovered the majesty of the Engineer’s wire guided anti-vehicle, then spent a bit of time running various type of MAX units, and as of my last few sessions, I’d finally really clicked with the Light Assault class. Between all of that I had some amazing moments. The first few times I watched a gunship get blown out of the sky, spinning out of control before violently crashing, I had to pick my jaw off the ground. As with the vaguely similar Battlefield series, SOE managed to really nail something about the sound design and, despite the style being somewhat divisive, the graphics of the game, that helps keep me deeply immersed in the action.

My only real regret is that, unlike my time with the original Planetside, I’ve been playing PS2 mostly solo. Despite being a very easy game to pick up and play solo, I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that games like this are a thousand times funner when playing cooperatively with friends. The best way to leverage the combined arms style of combat is to, well, combine arms, and the few times I’ve grouped up with some random organized outfit squads were highly memorable.

Guarding a bio lab landing pad.
"Guarding a bio lab landing pad."

I’ll almost certainly keep dabbling in PS2 from time to time in the future, but for now I think I’ve just about had my fill and will probably spend more of my meager amount of gaming time on other games. That said, if I ever had any friends interested in playing it I’d be back in a heartbeat. If you liked the original or like games like the Battlefield series and this looks interesting, definitely check it out. There are still plenty of people playing and the game has a surprisingly good out of game community, with tons of YouTubers uploading new content on the regular and an active Reddit community, for instance.

Exploding the local wildlife.
"Exploding the local wildlife."

The next game I went back to was Star Wars: The Old Republic, BioWare’s infamous Star Wars MMORPG. My trajectory with this game has been fucking weird. Loving Knights of the Old Republic and being both a Star Wars and an MMORPG fan in general, I was completely hyped for this game but once it got closer to release and I discovered just how much of a World of Warcraft clone it was I was definitely let down. Then I got into the open beta and opened my mind a bit. Sure, it’s a WoW clone, but damn if it isn’t the best one I’ve ever played. By the time release hit, however, my free time was non-existent and between that and the group of friends I had guilded up with losing interested (like most of the rest of the subscriber base) I ended up bailing after only a month or so of infrequent play. Coincidentally ALSO about two years ago I came back once and played just a bit, as detailed here, but I decided to put the game down until I had a nicer gaming rig to enjoy it on.

This time I immediately scrapped my poor level 20 something Sith Inquisitor to go all-in on one of the classes I had tried out last time: a Bounty Hunter. This wasn’t really my favorite class or anything, but I liked the idea of playing a cold as ice female Bounty Hunter and, as usual with SWTOR, I quickly felt attached to my character through my dialog choices and the headcanon I filled in the blanks with. After I committed to playing again my mission was simple: play through the entire 1-50 class storyline and as many side quests as I could handle, and then move on to the next class. I wanted to play them all!

Bounty Hunters are prone to frequent Dirty Harry moments...
"Bounty Hunters are prone to frequent Dirty Harry moments..."

Of course, it’s been a few months now and the end of just now coming into sight, and this doesn’t even include venturing into the various expansion storylines, which also interest me, so maybe my plan was a little ambitious. Maybe not too ambitious though, as one oddity about SWTOR these days is that they drastically increased XP rewards so my new main, as it were, was max level long before I got into the last chapter of my storyline. In theory they’ve tuned this so you only need to do your character’s story missions, and each planet’s story missions so if you do all of the side quests, like I’m doing, you’re going to be way over level. The flip side is that when I finally do get around to playing some alts I can skip all of the side content and breeze through the story, which is greatly appealing to me.

My pet Jawa and I taking on a Jedi.
"My pet Jawa and I taking on a Jedi."

I’ll admit I’ve also been distracted by playing with the cartel market, the auction house and, particularly, the new stronghold system since coming back. Ever since Ultima Online I’ve always love having a house I can customize and/or decorate which included chasing down expensive decorations, and SWTOR’s Galatic Stronghold system scratches that itch. I’ve also spent some of the “cartel coins” I had been building up while unsubscribed on various random loot packs and made a tidy sum auctioning them in game. It’s been kind of an addictive mini-game, one that I’m sure makes BioWare quite a lot of money. At first I was concerned that playing around with auctioning these items might not be viable given how dead the auction house was, but then I paid to transfer my characters to a much more active server and my experience has been great ever since.

Like Planetside 2, despite being free-to-play (now) SWTOR has impressive production values and a lot of meaty gameplay available, and the fans that are still into the game are rabidly into it. In fact BioWare continues to release new items into the cartel market, new patches, and even new major expansions. Maybe it’s more the Star Wars nerd in me than anything else, but I absolutely love this game. The fact that it has kept my interest this long, and that I still want to play some of the other classes, really says a lot about this game though, especially with World of Warcraft: Legion out there constantly tempting me to drop everything and head back to Azeroth.

12Oct/160

F.E.A.R. Too

Ahhh, F.E.A.R. 2. As I mentioned in my F.E.A.R. First Encounter Assault Recon overview back in May, F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin was what really drew me into to finally getting into the series. I thought it looked awesome, with its semi-forced first person perspective and much more detailed environments. When I started to research more about the F.E.A.R. series I was surprised to find that most of its fans didn’t view Project Origin all that positively, and even those that did often still regarded the first game as superior. After completing F.E.A.R. 2 I think I actually agree.

Just hanging around...
"Just hanging around..."

After playing the first game I was still quite skeptical about its supposed superiority over its sequel, after all it left a lot of room for improvement and F.E.A.R. 2 seemed to address a lot of those issues. Well it does indeed address them. First of all, it certainly looks good, with a more detailed, modern art style and improved animation. The story, for what it's worth being mostly a retelling of the first game’s already confusing plot, is told with much better presentation overall. Also the environments are way less repetitive and monotonous which is a well known criticism of the first game. Unfortunately, for the most part, these improvements only serve to raise the game to the level of “average.” That is, while the environments might not be repetitive anymore, they’re also not that much more interesting or engaging. In some way, that actually makes them LESS interesting than those in its predecessor.

Your squad, who your character is still inexplicably splitting up from constantly.
"Your squad, who your character is still inexplicably splitting up from constantly."

That’s kind of the story of the game, really. Many things seemed to get lost in translation to this new engine. The lauded gunplay of the first games doesn’t “feel” quite as good. For the first third or so of my playthrough I was actually actively underwhelmed by it. I eventually settled on my two favorite guns and got used to them, warming up to the game overall, but for a while I was considering not even finishing it. The unique AI from the first game feels stripped down and while the enemies still do cool things on occasion it’s not quite as noticeable or dynamic. I did like the addition of iron sights on guns and ability to “cook” grenades (despite killing myself an embarrassing number of times from cooking them for too long.) Oh, and the slow motion power is still awesome and those mech stages? Sweet.

One oddity about the combat is that I sometimes found myself pining for a cover system of some sort. Perhaps F.E.A.R. 2’s nod to newer style cover mechanics (by being able to flip and move objects to use as cover) also included some additional tuning to encourage cover use, for one the engagement distances were often quite a bit longer than the almost exclusively close quarters fights of the first game, but without a good, ACTUAL cover system I felt overly exposed almost all of the time. Even the ability to lean would be a welcome return. *sigh* I did like the way the health and armor system worked though, keeping me in a near constant state of walking the line between having a good supply of armor and health packs and being moments away from death.

Iron sights, yes!
"Iron sights, yes!"

Something else that gets lost along the way are the horror elements. Yes, they're still there, and no, they aren’t terrible, but just felt a little “by the numbers”. I was happy that I had a flashlight that stayed on and that the environments weren’t pitch fucking black, but the jump scares and Alma scenes were mostly total misses for me. Perhaps the fact that the levels were so much more linear and much more consistently paced than in the first game meant that those scenes were more expected when they showed up. Oh, and I also found F.E.A.R. 2’s soundtrack to be totally unremarkable, which is a huge letdown given how surprisingly great the creepy soundtrack of the first game was.

Time for a brief MechWarrior break.
"Time for a brief MechWarrior break."

F.E.A.R. 2 is still a fun, well made shooter, and by the time I completed the game I had warmed up to it a bit and was even tempted to try the well reviewed but (somehow still) overpriced expansion DLC. I guess my overall take is that the improvements are largely only skin deep and do very little to advance the series in any meaningful way. I’m glad I played it, but after just playing its somehow more captivating predecessor it just didn’t hook me quite as well as I hoped it might. I almost feel that if the best parts of both games could somehow combine together you might have an absolutely stellar game. F.E.A.R. 3, perhaps? Apparently not. The reviews of that one ensure that I’ll be giving it a miss entirely, unfortunately.

(As an aside, the tomes and tomes of PDA text that attempted to further flesh out the fiction really surprised me. I can’t believe anyone thought this was a good idea. They TOTALLY ruin the pacing, and I’m not sure what would compel me to have to stop and stand there reading these dry “intel” texts every few minutes instead of trying to complete my mission.)