Self Similar self similar’s personal gaming nonsense blog

9Oct/170

Lost in Erangel (…And in Space!)

This entry is so massively overdue that I’m honestly not sure where to even start at this point, so I’ll just dive in. Apologies if this is a little more “stream of consciousness” than my normal posts.

I started playing PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (AKA "PUBG") in early April, after an old friend from the TPG days and I linked back up and he mentioned being eager to start playing it with friends. Coincidentally, one of my favorite, randomly discovered YouTube channels, FUBARBUNDY, which is usually dedicated to antics within DayZ, posted a video of some PUBG action. I actually first became intrigued by the idea of this style of game after watching another FUBARBUNDY video in which he played the similar (and related) H1Z1: King of the Kill. I hadn’t seen anything quite like either game. They took some of the core ideas of DayZ and other, similar survival games, and gave them a mega dose of adrenaline.

Lying in wait.
"Lying in wait."

I didn’t mentioned it here, but I did very briefly dabble in DayZ. Only very briefly. I’ve been interested in the game since the early days when it was still a mod, but resisted trying it out, afraid that I’d either hate the harsh playstyle of the game, or become absolutely addicted to it. Again, I largely have FUBARBUNDY’s insane videos to blame for my more recent bout of interest. In DayZ’s case, it was for making the game look far more interesting and dynamic than it actually tends to be. That said, I loved the immersive feel of the world. Exploring the desolate, empty landscape, and the possibility of running into other players was endlessly intriguing, but I didn’t like dealing with zombies or wildlife, or how all of my minor injures started to add up until my focus had to shift from the seemingly impossible task of finding guns and ammo to finding first aid and medical supplies, or how most of the time when you do run into another player it doesn’t lead to teaming up, or an interesting conversation, a stickup, or anything besides a well placed bullet from afar. I took several stabs at it, but in the end the pace was just far too slow. PUBG though? It’s like DayZ for impatient people.

Scoping out a compound before I approach.
"Scoping out a compound before I approach"

Now, most people reading this will already be familiar with PUBG as it has become a bit of a phenomenon since it was released into Steam Early Access. Just in case though, here’s a quick summary:

You and 99 other players are air dropped onto a deserted island devoid of much outside of a disturbing amount of guns, ammunition, body armor, medical supplies, and the occasional vehicle. Your goal is to be the last person left alive. So, at it’s core you have a death match across a huge battlefield with an element of looting and survival tacked on. It’s not some bizarre social experiment though, games could last hours without something to give them a little more focus. Instead, inspired by the likes of Battle Royale and The Hunger Games, players are constantly being funneled closer and closer together, as the playable area of the map constricts, eventually forcing anyone left to end up in extremely close quarters. Because of this, matches tend to be over within 40 minute or so, and (more likely) much, much quicker if you die earlier on in the game.

Pro tip: Don't skimp on fashion.
"Pro tip: Don't skimp on fashion."

That is one of the strengths of the gameplay model: total, brutal elimination. The number of players left alive is always displayed in the HUD, and is constantly dwindling down. Thanks to a damage model erring on the side of “realism”, you can die very quickly in this game, and you, without a doubt, will. You will have bad games that end in someone beating you to death within the first few minutes of the match, you will have bad games in which you fully gear up, only to find yourself ambushed as you make your way across the map, all your progress vanishing in seconds, and you will have bad games when you make it to the very end of the match only to be outgunned with only a few other players left alive. The game is so brutal that I’m honestly surprised it gets as much love as it does. There’s something really special about the gameplay loop that just keeps you coming back though, and on those rare occasions when you do actually win? Amazing.

Running through the hay fields.
"Running through the hay fields."

Besides the frustration associated with taking a lot of inspiration from its earliest incarnation as an ArmA mod, tending to lean a bit more towards “realism” in various areas in addition to the aforementioned damage model, the effect of “RNG” on each match is also often a topic of out of game discussion. Where you can land, who lands with you, what items and vehicles you find around you early on, and where the playzone constricts to are all vital to your success. In fact, many of my best matches have been, not coincidentally, when the playzone ended up focusing the fight in the location I was already in, allowing me to spend more time on gearing up and fighting than traveling. Likewise, many of my worse matches found me traveling far across the map, often slogging it without a vehicle, and desperately lacking good gear.

Expect to meet strange men in their underwear, and shoot them.
"Expect to meet strange men in their underwear, and shoot them."

So I’ve been playing this game for something like 5 months now which begs the question "what do I like about it?" Well, I actually really enjoy the semi-tactical gameplay, with more realistic handling weapons, including quick time-to-kill, and the ability to move stealthily, or lay prone in wait. Like the ArmA series, I enjoy the wide-open battlefields and the tactical scenarios that kind of freedom can provide, including a nice mix of long range and CQB engagements. I also really enjoy sneaking around and loot old buildings, which is something I'm apparently just into. *cough* State of Decay *cough* I enjoy the intensity of having to spot enemies on the distant horizon and pay attention to the sound of their movements close around you. I also really enjoy the camaraderie of playing these matches with other players when in duo or team matches - being able to work as a team under these conditions is a lot of fun, especially with the added component of being able to revive your fallen teammates, massively altering your priorities versus playing solo.

Proof that I've won at least one match in my life.
"Proof that I've won at least one match in my life."

This game has, no doubt at all, sometimes frustrated the hell out of me. My friends and I have gotten into arguments and left sessions annoyed and irritable on far too many occasions. Yet, at the same time, I’ve also made some new friends and relished practically every “chicken dinner” (PUBG slang for a win) I’ve been able to score, whether I was instrumental in the win or carried by my teammates. With the game continuing to improve with every update, I’m glad I decided to take the plunge. I really don’t know how long its legs will continue to be for me, but I’ve already gotten my money out of it at this point.

Journey to beautiful solar systems...
"Journey to beautiful solar systems..."

Another game I’ve been playing lately is Everspace. Everspace is a cross between an old school, semi-arcadey space sim (think the Wing Commander series, Freespace, etc.) and a rogue-like. You journey from sector to sector exploring randomly generated systems filled with loot, enemies, and other resources but when you die, you die, starting over from scratch. Well, as these things go in rogue-likes, mostly from scratch; you retain any cash you gained in your run which you can spend on skill tree upgrades, and some other special items, such as crafting blueprints, that will also help you in future runs.

...and shoot everyone in them!
"...and shoot everyone in them!"

Not only is it fucking beautiful, but this game has also proven to massively addictive. Your ship controls excellently, even on a controller (I’m playing the Xbox One version) and the space combat is just deep enough to be fun and, at times, a little challenging. My only real complaint is that I wish there was a bit more variety to the random areas and enemies, or even some crazy random scenario ala another space themed rogue-like, FTL: Faster Than Light, as I’ve already hit a bit of a wall with it. Honestly, that's fairly typical with how I play rogue-like style games, so I can't cast any blame there. Even still, it served me well in allowing me brief but highly appreciated vacation into the space combat genre and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the genre.

Oh, and for you VR types, the PC version has Vive support!

17May/130

Flashpoint Defense

I’ve been absolutely pining to play ArmA again lately - perhaps finally dedicating myself to an organized team with regular play schedules, even. For now I've been sticking to watching a ton of ArmA 2 related videos on YouTube. I've found them to be a great source of background noise and entertainment while at work, especially some of the better channels like Dslyecxi’s fantastic ShackTac stuff.

Additionally, I’ve decided to scratch the itch by replaying the original Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis and Resistance campaigns (using the PC re-release version, ArmA: Cold War Assault.) This is actually the first time I’ve played through the whole game on PC – most of my quality time with the original OFP was actually done with the Xbox “Elite” version, which was pretty much identical apart from some (barely) improved sound work, models, and textures and some enhanced graphical effects here and there. It even had a more or else intact editor and the same rad online co-op action as the PC version.

Ahh, we were so innocent in those early missions...
"Ahh, we were so innocent in those early missions..."

The PC version has aged pretty badly in some respects – barren looking landscapes thanks to a lack of ground-cover, the annoying, choppy radio chatter (A staple of the engine, which seems god awful when you first hear it but after getting used to it and even starting to rely on its information, is rather useful) and the ridiculous soldier models and animations. Regardless, the landscapes are still massive, the vehicle models are still quite serviceable, and the immersion of the soldier simulator-inspired action is still hard to beat in “Tactical FPS” circles once it clicks with you. I’m actually enjoying myself though I really don't remember some of these missions be so brutally fucking difficult. Ugh!

Oh, and coincidentally, I also came across this excellent OFP retrospective after I started replaying it. Fun read.

M60 versus T80. Seems fair...
"M60 versus T80. Seems fair..."

Will I get around to dedicating myself to ArmA 2? That’s hard to say. I plan on playing through ArmA and ArmA 2’s various official campaigns first and then… well, by then ArmA 3 should be officially released. That’ll be perfect timing to hop on that bandwagon, although I might need to build an entirely new gaming rig to play it smoothly. 🙁

On the console front I just wrapped up playing through Defense Grid: The Awakening’s main single player campaign on XBLA. If you’ve never heard of it, Defense Grid is a fantastic sci-fi tower defense game. You probably have though – the PC version was quite popular years ago on Steam. Regardless of which version you go with I’d say it’s a “must play” if you’re a fan of the genre – it’s excellently executed on all fronts. Good graphics and sound, challenging and varied maps, and absolutely refined, classic tower defense gameplay. I’ve said it before, but I love a well-done tower defense game and I had a hard time putting this one down for long. I’ve still got plenty more of them on my backlog but I’m pretty sure I’ll be returning to Defense Grid to play the Portal themed “You Monster” DLC campaign at some point in the future.

The more towers the merrier!
"The more towers the merrier!"

Next on the 360 will be yet more exploration of my backlog. I’ve been feeling like a World War II shooter lately so I think it’s finally time to give Call of Duty: World at War’s campaign a spin, despite how much I’ve grown to hate Call of Duty’s single player gameplay in recent years. Wish me luck with making it through that one without pulling out my fucking hair...

13Jan/110

Covered Up

I’m down two more Xbox 360 games from my oh so intimidating backlog of games.

First, I finally got around to playing through Gears of War 2. I did so cooperatively and I have to say it was a pretty polished and fun experience. The game still has excellent graphics despite its age and whether or not it does anything for you personally, a unique visual style. As a sequel it felt like “more of the same” of the first game in pretty much every way. Of course, I haven’t played the first game for quite a long time so that impression might be slightly skewed. My only real complaint other than the typical observations about the meathead characters and hole filled plot was that as a cooperative game I’m not sure I appreciate the designers’ decision to constantly try to separate the players by making them take separate paths. I’m pretty sure they were attempting to force you to work together by completing different but related goals to help foster some kind of greater feeling of cooperation but more often than not it just garnered a disappointed “aww, they’re making us split up AGAIN?” response from us. It felt like the game was attempting to keep us apart half the time and exactly what kind of co-op experience is that?!

Football sure has changed in the future...
"Football sure has changed in the future..."

I also dusted off my copy of Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6: Vegas 2. Damn, that’s a long title.

Immediately Vegas 2 came off as very dated compared to most newer FPSes. It took me a while to get familiar with the controls which work fine for the most part but are definitely different enough from the Halos and Call of Duties of late to screw you up for a bit – I chucked plenty of grenades at my own feet early on. Once I got over that curve I started to appreciate the brutal, tactical nature of the combat over any lack of modern polish. I haven’t talked about it a lot here since I haven’t played much of it lately but I am a big fan of the more realistic, Tactical FPS genre of games so I suppose it started scratching an itch that I haven’t had scratched in a while. Having overcome that I struggled to remember how the hell the story of the first game ended. I knew it ended with a “To be continued…” sort of thing but Vegas 2 definitely doesn’t pick up feeling like a direct continuation. Then again this is a Tom Clancy brand game and I’ve played enough of those by now to not have to worry too much about the story.

While I had a lot of fun ordering my squad mates around, clearing rooms with well-timed flash-bangs and flawless shots through thermal goggles, sniping from afar in the pitch dark, and otherwise being on the enjoyable end of a lot of face pwning, it wasn’t all puppies and rainbows. I actually became quite frustrated with the game more than a few times during the run. Silly stuff, like unevenly placed checkpoints, including a major pet peeve of mine: checkpoints right before scripted events or cut scenes. Probably the most of annoying of these was right before the final major firefight of the game. I must have had to watch that damn thing play out 20 times before finally surviving the fight long enough to make it to the end scene of the game. Most of the checkpoints were placed decently early on but it definitely seemed to go downhill the later into the game I got.

Rainbow 6 prefers to conduct most of its firefights in crowded city streets.
"Rainbow 6 prefers to conduct most of its firefights in crowded city streets."

Of bugs, the generally fairly well received cover system of Vegas seemed a bit less reliable in Vegas 2 than I recall it being in the first game. I found myself flipping out of cover, leaning out of cover on my own, and generally not behaving as expected a bit more than I was comfortable with. This seldom resulted in any fatalities though so I guess I can’t bash on it too much. I also ran into one part of the game which I had to replay about 5 times due to the cut scene at the end the level not triggering after completing my object of clearing an area despite wasting tons of time trying every trick in the book to avoid having to reload. Arghhhh!

Your squad mates are still hilariously stupid at times. They often fail to do a good job checking corners when entering rooms or taking up good defensive positions when ordered to move to certain places which contrasts sharply to how well they do these things at other times. Probably my favorite example of their stupidity is that when one squad member is injured (which itself is frequently the result of something pretty shockingly dumb occurring) the other will usually make their way their location as if to secure them BUT won’t actually try to save their life without being manually ordered to. This can create some pretty tense situations if you decide to split yourself up from your two squad mates to employee some more creative flanking tactics, as the game encourages you to do from time to time. Dashing around to try to get a clear shot of my downed team mate to issue the “heal” command in time resulted in at least a few deaths of my own during the campaign… oh, and despite how easy it is to heal your squad mates they’re apparently completely incapable of healing you. Why?! Oh, I guess because you’re not alive to explicitly tell them to. Pfft…

My squadmate decides to investigate an explosion face-first while I intelligently take cover behind a barrel of highly flammable liquid.
"My squadmate decides to investigate an explosion face-first while I intelligently take cover behind a barrel of highly flammable liquid."

My other biggest complaint about Vegas 2 is probably the difficulty. Yeah, yeah, I know I just praised it for its brutal combat two paragraphs ago, but honestly, damage and ballistic models aside, most of the more difficult sections of the game felt only difficult because of the sheer number of enemies they pack into some of these areas, and most often, the absolutely painful choke-points and scripted scenarios they expose you to along the way. In other words, it oftentimes only felt difficult because the designers’ went out of their way to make it overly difficult in those particular spots. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a good Tactical FPS doesn’t need a ton of enemies to be fun! If the damage and weapons models are “realistic” enough, 2 enemies in a room is a challenge… and that challenge usually feels much fairer than, say, the scripted hordes of unlimited NPCs games like Call of Duty 4 throw at you. Combining that, however, with having to have your 3 man squad off 50 terrorists in one level encourages you to run through quickly rather than carefully entering and clearing rooms, only adding to potential frustration while minimizing the tactical gameplay the series is supposedly built around.

Despite all of those negatives playing through Vegas 2 did in fact feel fairly satisfying and refreshingly different alongside other FPSes I’ve played through recently. I highly doubt I’d volunteer to play through it again anytime soon but it might indeed inspire me to play through some of my favorite oldies such as SWAT 4.

Ahh, one last thing… when I played the original Vegas I didn’t have an Xbox Live Vision cam so I couldn't test out the awesome ability to map your own face to your in-game character. Thank god for that! After my several attempts to get it working at all I was greeted by some horrible looking, wax golem-like facsimile of myself. Yes, even more hideous than the real thing. Yikes!

As usual for console games, not my screenshots.