Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Playlist – 9/1/2012

The last time I sat down and talked about what I was playing was about a month ago. Instead of listing the reasons why I haven’t been able to write a Playlist since, I’d rather just dive into what I played over the last month. There is a lot to talk about.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus Ex: Human Revolution reminded me why I enjoy cyberpunk and near-future games, and why I’m excited about the trend in games diverting in that direction. I never played the original Deus Ex released back in 2000, so starting at its prequel seemed to be a perfect entry. When Human Revolution originally released, there was lots of discussion about how switching between first and third-person sometimes felt awkward, or how the boss fights, which received a lot of criticism, felt disjointed, overly difficult, an out of place.

Now having played through the game fully I can understand these complaints at first glance, but by the time the tutorial level was done I felt comfortable with the cover system. The criticism of the boss fights I still can’t quite understand. With the exception of the first one or two tries, none of the bosses gave me much trouble. They didn’t follow much of a pattern like you would expect boss fights in other games, so the battles felt more like a war of attrition rather than finding the right moment of opportunity. The criticism of being unable to defeat the bosses in a non-lethal manner I can get behind, though, because the achievement to play through the game without killing anyone except for bosses, didn’t bother me much.

I played most of the game non-lethal, with the minor exception of saving Malik. I felt like I developed my own code of honor in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. For security guards, gangsters, and other non-provoking enemies, I took them down quietly and without blood. For armed guards, henchman, and people actively looking to kill Jensen, they died. However, when they shot down my aircraft and guards opened fire on Malik, my code of honor dropped. It’s one thing to take on me, a fully trained and augmented security specialist. It’s another to attack an unprotected pilot.

The first time I went through that sequence, it actually felt so quick and natural to me that I didn’t know it was possible to save Malik. I barely got out of the aircraft and into cover when she started saying her good-byes. After exiting the game and thinking about what happened, which I tend to do sometimes at heavy moments in games, I found that if you acted quickly enough you could save Malik. There was some advantage to it, but that didn’t matter to me. I was defending my pilot, I didn’t need a reward for that.

After I finished the game I read up on the underlying subplot of the whole game, which left a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth narrative wise. Turns out one of the characters I liked was actually betraying me from the very start. This, in combination with the post-credits scene made me want to jump instantly into the original Deus Ex. It’s now sitting on my hard drive, installed with the latest texture packs and aspect ratio fixes. It doesn’t look quite as good as games from even five years ago, but I’m willing to try for what is still called the best PC game ever released.

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 is one of those underrated and cult games from 2010, along with the first Darksiders. At first glance it may look like a normal shooter, but Metro 2033 adds elements like stealth, radiation, and even light as gameplay mechanics that break up the action seuqnecs well. The game is also atmospheric as hell. You start in an underground subway tunnel, eventually making your way to the surface of a nuclear war-torn Russia, and by the end of the game, you’re on top of one of the highest towers for a clear view of what’s happened to your motherland. The game still looks great by 2012 standards, thanks to Direct X 11 support, and the character and enemy animations make everything in the game look and feel fluid.

However, Metro 2033 is a game that by the end I felt less enthusiastic about than when I started. That’s because of its morality system. I’ll bet you didn’t know Metro 2033 had a morality system. I didn’t until the very end of the game when your actions determine which of two endings you get. There are numerous debates on the use of morality systems in games, and I usually fall on the side of being ok with them as long as I know what and when they occur. Metro 2033 doesn’t do that. At no point during the game is there any kind of indication that you made a positive or negative choice.

For example, at one point in the tunnel system a child offers to show you around in exchange for a few bullets as payment. Since ammo isn’t that plentiful in Metro 2033, to the point that I found myself running low near the end, I declined and opted to explore and find my own way. This choice counted against me, nudging me closer to the bad side of the karma spectrum, despite later in the game helping save a different child. Because helping that later child was part of the narrative and not an active choice, it didn’t off-set my earlier decisions and give me better karma.

It’s one of those things where if I was reviewing the game, it would have changed my score based on late game revelations. It’s still a great time and I’d recommend playing it before Metro: Last Light releases next year, but do some research ahead of time and see where the opportunities are to set your karma one way or the other, because the game certainly won’t tell you.

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions

I don’t have much to say about Shattered Dimensions. It’s a great game for a ‘90s fan of Spider-Man. The variety in both gameplay mechanics and environments between Amazing, Ultimate, 2099, and Noire is nice touch, making the gameplay not seem to drag on. It’s fun taking on the role of Spider-Man 2099 and jumping into Black Suit, something a Spider-Man game hasn’t done since Ultimate Spider-Man in 2005.

My original intent was to play this game as a lead in to the release of The Amazing Spider-Man on PC on August 10, since Edge of Time never came to the PC. However, Beenox decided to delay the Steam version of The Amazing Spider-Man the day before its release. Boxed retail copies still released that day, but there has been no word of the status of the Steam version since.

Diablo 3

Since The Amazing Spider-Man didn’t release when it was supposed to, I looked through my library of games for something to play as I waited for Darksiders II that following Tuesday. I had read about some of the changes that were coming to Diablo 3, and jumped back in for a bit to see what I can accomplish. I already had my level 50 Monk, who I’m not all that impressed with. He doesn’t feel that strong, meaning he doesn’t have the defenses of someone like a Barbarian, and he’s currently using a two-handed weapon, which doesn’t have the quickness that I enjoyed early on when I was using two fist weapons. It’s been months since I last played Diablo 3, so I didn’t have the gold needed to buy a new set of fist weapons off the auction house that could properly prepare me for Hell difficulty.

So instead of struggling with my Monk, I started up Barbarian. I already had one I played to about level 7. My strategy was to get him as high level as possible, as fast as possible. I searched the auction house for bonus experience gear, decked him out in that, and played him to about level 27 in solely co-op games. With other people, quests and dungeons went fast, and with three other people helping kill monsters, I could reap the rewards of the bonus experience gear without the slow-down of having weak damage output.

Now with patch 1.0.4 out, I’m hoping for a chance in the near future to jump back and get my Barbarian up to level 60, get some Paragon levels, and sell at least one item on the real-money auction house. That’s the ultimate goal.

Mass Effect 3

I popped back into Mass Effect 3 this week after BioWare released the new Leviathan DLC. Without getting too much into the narrative, it expounds on the history of the Reapers and of Harbinger in particular. You spend some time, almost too much time, in a lab on the citadel playing space detective, gathering clues as to where you might find the mythical Leviathan creature. The heavy-action middle set piece adds verticality to Mass Effect that hasn’t appeared in the series before. The touted ocean planet, however, isn’t very developed and amounts to you walking on the ocean floor in an Atlas before the long ending to the DLC. Leviathan isn’t as great as Lair of the Shadow Broker, but it gives a reason to play some more Mass Effect 3, with the added benefit of a bit of backstory if you’re into the narrative.

Darksiders II

My relationship with Darksiders II is complicated. After finishing the first game, like many I was exciting about the sequel’s new features: loot system, Death as the main character, a more open world, twice as much game. Unfortunately, I’ve had problems with almost everything about Darksiders II except the actual gameplay. I installed it on my computer, went to load it up, and it crashed. I tried reinstalling, I tried changing driver settings, I tried turning DEP on and off, I did everything you could think of that might have affected it. Nothing changed.

A few days later Vigil pushed out a patch that fixed the crash on launch issue and I was finally able to get playing. I promptly went into the graphics settings, like I do for every game, and there were none of the options that I had hoped for. In fact, some of the graphics options that were there didn’t work, like V-Sync. Already frustrated by the number of days it took Vigil to fix the crashing issue, and disappointed at the lack of PC graphics options, I begrudging started playing, watching Death run around in armor that looked almost pixelated due to the lack of anti-aliasing. When going into the inventory menu, there was Death, idling in low-resolution textures despite running the game in full 1920x1080 resolution.

Thankfully, because I have an Nvidia graphics card, I manually set my V-Sync, anti-aliasing, and anisotropic filtering. You know, things every PC game should have. Over the next few days I played the game for about 10 hours total, finally getting past the first area and into the second act. The next day I go to load up my save and it’s corrupt. This is something that happens on consoles, but I’ve never had happen to me on a PC game ever. I’m still not sure how it happened, but I will never be using Steam Cloud again for saved games.

A week later, here I am finally catching up to where I was previously, my previous 10 hours wasted. The sad part about all of this is that almost all of this is technical problems, nothing at all with the actual game. It’s not like the combat is tweaked too much in one way or the other, the game is boring, or the story falls flat. None of that. It’s all extraneous circumstances. I plan to write an actual review for the game once I finish, where I’ll talk more about the actual game, but I wanted to use this spotlight to talk specifically about how much trouble I surrounding Darksiders II.

Game Deals

This week NewEgg has Call of Duty: Black Ops II for all three platforms, Xbox 360, PlayStation3, and PC, for $47.99 with free shipping when using the promo code EMCYTZT2144.

Green Man Gaming has two deals this weekend. Use the promo code GMG25-LABOR-DAYGO to get 25% off anything, including pre-orders. If you’re looking to buy Darksiders II or Sleeping Dogs, use the promo code GMG30-916H7-0TG16 to get 30% off those titles specifically.

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