Mass Effect 2 (2010)

Never have I been more impressed, and disappointed with a game sequel.

ME2 manages to fix many of the issues I had an issue with the first game. Elevators have been removed, resulting is much faster loading screens. It was actually playable on the Xbox because the combat system was streamlined, and you could map more actions to hot keys, etc… The “playing a movie” feel was removed, and replaced by a much more open ended style of game play. I frequently describe the story as “Oceans 11 in Space.” The Mako is no more. And, they even added a few different hacking games, so you aren’t stuck doing the same stupid thing every time. Unfortunately, it seems like for everything they fixed they nerfed something that was good before.

For some reason, beyond all comprehension they replaced the galaxy map with some bullshit micromanagement thing. Now instead of just making a course, you are forced to deal with getting fuel and manually navigating your ship from planet to planet, system to system. Here is a tip game developers, micromanaging shit is not fun. For example, in the first game it was kind of pain in the ass managing all your equipment, converting things to omnigel, etc… So, in the second game they basically eliminated armor, and limited the weapons do to about twenty (more on this later). The new streamline system actually works pretty well, and helps you spend more time focusing on the fun parts of the game. On the flip side, in the first game you could survey some planets but click on “survey” when you navigated to them. It was quick, painless and earned you some experience. This has been replaced with one of the single most infuriating game requirements I have seen in recent years: the resource mining mini-game. This is a task that makes absolutely no sense for your elite captain to be doing. You have a full crew, you could have the slowest guy shit down and scan a planet. Or, better yet use the ships frickin’ AI system. It does not require the captain’s attention to hold down a button and sping a sphere. It is boring, time consuming, and really ruins the core of the game for me.

Back to the equipment situation. One of the things I liked about ME1 was that there were so many custom armors for all the characters. Well, I guess the developers figured fuck that, and went with the really annoying “one outfit, with an alternate unlockable.” And, to make matters worse, the things the people wear make absolutely no sense. The Miranda character you have for basically the whole game goes around in a skin tight spandex suit that shows off every single curve of her body. I’m sure that provided a lot of protection against explosives, or mosquitoes. The outfits are definitely more details and individualized, but they are not practical. At least Shepherd actually wears armor, and his armor is customizable.

When I found out that they stripped out all the weapons, and upgraded I thought that it would be really frustrating, but it worked out alright. I did not really spend much time thinking about the particular gun that I was using. Although, it was kind of lame that I was still using the same pistol I got towards the beginning of the game near the end. In the first game you spent a lot of time going through your inventory finding better versions of the weapon you had, and better versions of the upgrades you have on it. Although the upgrades in the first game did allow for some interesting options, such as making your gun basically never overheat so you could just shoot forever.

In ME2 you cannot shot forever, not even fucking close. In the first game I was cool with the overheat system. I figure directed energy guns would overheat. It was a good balance, you never had to worry about running out of ammo, you just needed to shoot at a pace that prevented you from overheating. ME2 replaced the overheating system with an ammo system. The explanation for the change is pretty stupid, and given the explanation some things in the game make no sense (i.e. Jacob’s loyalty mission). I suppose it would not be too bad, but the ammo in the game is pretty sparse. It is very frustrating to be forced to primarily use the pistol because your assault rifle/whatever burns through ammo so fast. And, once you run out of ammo you cannot fire, period. I should mention that it is technically not ammo, they call it  thermo clips. Rather than having a cooling system link in the first game, the heat from firing is absorbed by chips which have to be ejected, etc… I do not necessarily mind the idea of ammo, but I would have liked to have been able to fire after I am out of thermo clips. Ideally, the clips would allow you to fire quicker, but when you run out it should fallback to a cool down system similar to the first game.

Another backhanded improvement is the hacking game. Sure there are different mini-games, but you are forced to play them, you can not longer bypass hacks. So, but the end of the game I ended up skipping a lot of things because I was sick of the mini-games.

Leveling is a mixed bag. No longer are you awarded experience for dispatching foes. All experience is strictly regulating, and only dispensed for completing missions. Gone are the days of leveling in a difficult battle enabling you to gain and edge and win. Since you no longer receive any benefit from killing enemies I spent a far amount of time trying to figure out ways to progress without grinding through the enemies. Unfortunately, the game designers anticipated this, and made many sequences require you to kill wave after wave of enemy before you are allowed to advance, lame. On the other hand, it only takes 1,000 xp to advance a level. So, getting to the maximum level, 30 (that’s right the level cap is half the first game) can maybe be done on the first play through, and if not almost immediately on the second.

I believe that takes care of all my gripes for the game. This game was much better than the first. While the story is not remotely as epic, it was a hell of a lot more fun to play. I particularly liked that you had much more control over what you did in the game. Sure, you cannot do all the missions out of sync, you do get a lot of control over what you do, and do not do in the game. You do not need to get a full crew, earn their loyalty, or upgrade your ship. You could make the final mission a true suicide run, it really just comes down to what you want to do. This is how games should be.

Ultimately, this game does deserve a good rating, even though they did some incredibly lame things, I am going to focus on the good and hope they cut the BS from the final game in the series. After due consideration I will give this title a 4 on my undecim scale.

Mass Effect (2008)

Thanks to the Steam holiday sale I finally got around to playing this game. Originally, I bought this game when it first came out and was receiving a pretty good critical review. At the time I was busy with graduate school, and work so I did not have the time to play the game. Only recently have I really thought about trying to get back into it again. A few months ago I popped it in the Xbox 360 and gave it a go.

Mass Effect on the Xbox is absolutely dreadful. I played up until the Citadel, and hated every single second of it. The film grain and motion blur made me dizzy, the frequently lag and slow down were jarring. And, Shepherd felt sluggish and unresponsive. To make matters more annoying, the tackle system in the game was poorly developed. Gone are the days of careful strategy of KOTOR. They simplified the combat system, but only in a detrimental way. Sure you can give your party members directions, but the AI is pretty shotty, and you are limited in the things you can do, for example you have to issue both team mates the same command.

I put the game back in the box, and moved on with my life. I did a little digging around, and decided that I would probably enjoy the game a lot more on the computer, and I found out that Steam had a $5 sale on it a little while ago, so I hung around to follow the holiday sale around Christmas. Lucky for me they had the sale again so I purchased a license.

Mass Effect on the computer is not exactly what I would call fun, but it was much more playable than on the Xbox. I also did a bit of digging around to find out that I could disable film grain and motion blur, and my computer was fast enough to render without dropping frames. So, once I finally got past the technical issues facing me I was able to dig into the meat of the game.

I would say both the best and worst things about ME is the story. While the story does steal many elements from other science fiction stories, it does come across as quite an epic battle. Unfortunately, this epic battle requires you to be dragged around by your balls through out the game.

Yes, I understand that you spent a lot of money on animating cut scenes, and you want me to see the whole story, but please NEVER employ unskippable cut scenes. This is an unforgivable sin of modern game development. At lesat in ME the story was good, but there are so many games out there with a shitty story that I don’t care about, I just want to skip the cut scenes, whether it is my first or fourth play through.

The other issue is the whole “playing a movie” concept. I know that some people like this, but I personally hate it. I don’t want to have a few moments of shitty game play capped by yet another cut scene. I get that you want to maintain the integrity of the story and atmosphere, but it is really annoying and is just another form of enforced linearity.

The game gives you a couple of choices, because you can execute some missions out of order, but you have to do the missions, so it is really just an illusion. Sure there are dialog options, and side quests and things, but once you screw around with them you realize how pointless they are in the grand scheme of things, and you are still just following a strick path the developers laid out for you.

Hacking mini-games suck. I am not exactly sure why game makers have been using them so much lately. I did end up playing ME and Bioshock back to back, so I was already sick of hacking games when I started ME. And, to make matters worse it was the same annoying mini-game every single time. At least you always have the option to just skip the game by paying with omnigel.

Let’s make vehicles drive like the warthog? I know I had a few trouble adjusting to the controls back when the original Halo came out, but once you get the hang of it, you’re golden. Go with one stick, aim with the other, it controls just like running around with your character. Instead in ME you get the abortion that is the Mako. This thing controls like fat man in an earthquake. I thought the controls were bad on the PC, but they are borderline unusable on the Xbox.

And, the last major thing that I did not like was the elevators. There are a couple of major problems with them, the first, there are simply too many of them. Second, they are scripted loading events so installing the disk to the hard drive (on the Xbox) does not improve loading times here. I did kind of like that there were short dialogs, or news updates though. One of the things I missed from KOTOR was the ability to have dialogs with party members during missions. If you could have advanced dialog with your party members doing elevator scenes you could have killed two birds with one stone.

Having said all that the game actually is not that bad. Once you get the hang of combat, and deal with all your equipment, and getting enough omnigel to bypass the hacking game, the game starts to get pretty funy. I think my judgements are a bit jaded because I am still steaming over the rancid Final Fantasy X, and that I picked one of the more difficult classes to play on the first play through, adept.

There are some things about the game I think they got right. For example, navigating across the galaxy is managed from an intuitive map inteface that allows you to jump from system to system with ease. And, I liked how you were able to equip diffent weapons and armor that changed the appearance of your characters. In some many games you are pretty much stuck with one appearance, and maybe and alternate you can unlock somehow.

This may be the first time that I have spent almost and entire rant bitching about something, and then still turning around and recommending it. Ultimately, I did end up having some fun playing the game towards the end, and the story is quite impressive. So, in spite of all its flaws I will give Mass Effect a 2 on my undecim scale.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007) [VETERAN]

This is a follow up to my earlier Call of Duty 4 post, and a response to valandw’s first, and second rant about the game.

Overview

As I mentioned in my MW2 post, I started playing these games on veteran because vanlandw has started the trend. Somehow, he powered through COD4 on veteran on his first play through. And, he considers it the paramount of his gaming career. Obviously, I thought that he was being a little melodramatic so I played through MW2 on veteran on my first play through. MW2 certainly sucked on veteran, but it was not a life altering event. So, I was prepared to give vanlandw a rough time about it. But, I figured first I had better play Call of Duty 4 on veteran.

This did give me the opportunity to discover that COD4 is a much better game than MW2 in numerous ways. The story makes much more sense, the kinds of activities you participate are plausible (no snowmobile races with enemies, etc…), and it just feels more realistic…to a point. There are a few major flaws in COD4 that utterly destroy the experience, I’ll try to outline those now.

Elite Dogs of Utter Death and Destruction

Frequently throughout the game you will encounter dogs in the game. They are as annoying as all hell. When a dog attacks you, nothing else matters. You can get shot while grenades explode around you like fireworks. The only thing that matters is that this dog is going to rip your throat out, and it is nearly impossible to stop it. Once the dog “quick time” event starts, you have to hit melee when the button pops up on the screen. You give about 1/10 of a second to react. So, effectively you need to anticipate when the prompt will come up so you can already be pushing the button. If you hit it to soon, you die. If you hit it too late you die. If you do not hit it at all, you die. Luckily, the fixed this in MW2, so it is actually possible to hist the button in time.

Hey Captain, Look, its Raining…Grenades

The United States spends more on defense than the rest of the G8, and they do not equip their soldiers with infinite grenades. So, where the fuck are these people that live in the ghetto getting all their grenades? It is wretched when you find yourself in a situation where you are trying to pick off enemies to advance, or are just waiting out a timer and you cannot sit in cover long enough to crouch without being surrounded by grenades. On numerous occasions I stopped to scratch my head in an area without enemies only to see the grenade warning pop up because I was standing still for too long. I know this is suppose to be a game play mechanism to encourage you to advance, and feel the pressure of battle, but they take it to the point of absurdity. To a certain extent this has been fixed in MW2, but the enemies still have enough grenades to make you feel uncomfortable.

Hurray, another Choke Point

Frequently in the game you find yourself funnelled into a hellish littler area where you are forced to fight endless waves of enemies unless you advance. Advancement is usually forced down a linear path with spare cover (which does not matter because if you stop behind cover you’ll get naded). Most of the time these choke points are only really difficult because of the poor game testing this game received on the veteran difficulty. And, there is perhaps the mother of all choke points on the stage, “No Fighting in the War Room.” Vanlandw mentioned it in his post, and I experienced it myself. I cannot think of another section of a game that takes two minutes to get through, but it took me countless tries over three hours and two days to get past it. If you want the video below, the section in question is at 4:36. However, I think most of the videos up for this were actually played on hardcore, rather than veteran because I encountered quite a few more enemies in this section. And, to help illustrate this I whipped up a quick graphic to show how bat shit crazy it is.

Another section that was really annoying is the ferris wheel section of One Shot, One Kill. After attempting repeatedly to play this legitly, and just getting naded to pieces I broke down and hid in one of the ticket booths. If you want to know how to do that, here is a video that demonstrates someone pulling it off. Keep in mind that it requires luck, if someone throws a nade in there you are pretty much toast, and when you leave it is a crap shot whether or not you die instantly. Persistence in the key.

The other really annoying area is a shining example of poor testing. The final section of the stage, “Heat,” gives you air strikes, and very little hope of getting to the LZ. On veteran it feels impossible, but it is amazing what a little information will do for you. Check out the video starting at 0:44. Basically all you need to do is follow the timing, and path of this guy and you should be in good shape. You can actually get through the stage without using a single air strike (I did).

For the most part these kind of things are gone from MW2. Sure there are choke points, but there is nothing remotely close to these three travesties.

These situations are extremely frustrated because you can stand their and just watch your team mates shoot at nothing in particular, while waiting for you to pave the way to salvation, which brings me to my next point.

Who Do You Think You Are, Soldier!?

You have team mates in the game, but they are just for show. Basically the only useful thing that your team mates do is let you know when you have advanced past a choke point because they magically teleport up as if they helped you the whole way. Frequently they will just stand out in the open and get totally obliterated, but it doesn’t matter because they are invincible, just like real soldiers. Sometimes they will go out of their way to step in front of you and draw friendly fire. The game rewards you by giving you the game over screen.

The stupid soldier issue is kind of fixed in MW2. You can shoot them forever without repercussion, and they move around a little bit better. But, it is still very much the same.

Conclusion

I could go on for hours, but those are my biggest gripes about the game. And, I whole heartily agree with vanlandw in warning everyone not to play this game on veteran. If you do, you’d be doing it for bragging rights, but not because you could receive in the slightest amount of enjoyment from it.

In conclusion, COD4 is in theory better than MW2, but some show stopping bugs, and balancing issues make it nearly impossible on its highest difficulty. While I ranked this game a 0 based on my first play through (I believe on hardcore), I have to give this game a -5 on veteran.

Parting Thoughts

Despite all this, I think vanlandw did overrate, if only slightly to the difficulty of the game. I receive an equal, if not greater level of frustration on my play through of Ninja Gaidan on the original Xbox.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009) [VETERAN]

This post comprises both my thoughts on the game, and the veteran difficulty. I am going to embed at least one video clip in this post, so I am going to hide everything but the excerpt from my homepage in order to make sure the page stays responsive. To read the full post, please click the title link.

This post comprises both my thoughts on the game, and the veteran difficulty. I am going to embed at least one video clip in this post, so I am going to hide everything but the excerpt from my homepage in order to make sure the page stays responsive. To read the full post, please click the title link.

Originally I had no intention of playing through this game. My brother’s had told me a little about the story, which I determined was incredibly stupid. And, I have always preferred an arcade style FPS like Halo, rather than pseudo-realistic like the CoD games. But, vanlandw threw down the gauntlet so I was once again sucked into the wretched world of “Modern Warfare.” In a journey that defies all logic and reason, vanlandw quested through the first Modern Warfare game on veteran on his first play through. I defeated the first game when it came out years ago, so I thought it would jade my experience a little, even through I did not remember much about it. This is why I decided to play through Modern Warfare 2 on veteran, so I could simulate, if not duplicate the experience.

Much of the game play was as I expected it, it was challenging, but not really over the top. And, the story is so mind shattering stupid that they had to put in unskippable cut scenes (I hate this recent trend in games). If you attempt this game on veteran, you are going to die, frequently, but it does not matter too much because the check points are pretty generous. I managed to get through the first few levels without any big problems. My first tough checkpoint was experienced in the “Takedown” stage.

If you watch the video below, the point I got stuck in is the checkpoint at 4:00 in. If you get stuck here, you pretty much have to do exactly what the guy does to get past it, I tried every path, and the one he does on was the only one that worked for me. Ultimately, this point was not so much of a problem of stage design as that I had run out of ammo with my rifle, and it is really difficult to do it with the shotgun. And, if you want to see a version where the guy just badasses his way through it check this out.

The area that I thought was the most difficult in the entire game was in a stage called “The Only Easy Day was…Yesterday.” The problem on this stage is towards the very end. At this checkpoint you have to take out wave after wave of enemies that are concealed in smoke that make it rain grenades (reminded me of COD4) while flanking you. In the video below you can check out the checkpoint at 2:08. I did not do what this guy did. Whenever I stopped for a second to aim I got naded so I just ended up sprinting while zigzagging through cover into the next room. It worked, but it took a few tries and a little luck to do it.

The last really annoying part of the game was in the last stage. The whole trying to navigate on a “high speed” dingy chase is as absurd as it was annoying. You can check out the stage in the video below, basically you just end up swearing around while praying you don’t get shot. Beware as the video does contain the end sequence of the game, so if you don’t want to spoil the story make sure not to watch it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_oJI2usOZws

Speaking of story, the story in Modern Warfare 2 is really stupid. It is utterly implausible, and they added in controversial aspects (playing as a terrorist in an airport) just to get PR as far as I can tell, but they did not make the game better, and just added annoying game play elements (forced to walk slowly on the terrorist stage). In the original MW game, that story elements seemed at least somewhat grounded in reality. The second game just goes bat shit crazy, with things like Russia invading the United States, and rogue Army Rangers. It just makes your brain hurt. Infinityward even removed Co-op for the game, because they did not want to tarnish their horrible narrative. A pathetic call if I have ever scene one. This game could have been much more enjoyable co-oping with a friend while protecting Burger Town. Sadly, I think that COD 5 is the best game in the series, and IW didn’t even make it, Treyarch did.

Having said all that I should point out that IW did fix many of the bugs from the first MW game. I discuss those more in my COD4 post, but there are some glaring problems with the first game that were not nearly as bad. The two big ones for me are dogs and grenades. In MW it literally rains grenades throughout most of the game. Seriously, WTF, where do these people get all the grenades? With dogs, you actually have a chance in MW2, where as in MW you had to anticipate when it would pop up the prompt because they did not give you enough time to react. The other major issue is pure level design, there are no poorly designed areas that are virtually impossible to get past like the War Room in MW. You’ll probably notice other things, such as enemies not spawning as quickly, in MW there were parts where guys would come as fast as you could shoot them, but that isn’t as noticeable in MW2. Inf MW2 if you are fast you can usually killed all the guys in an area.

Taking into consideration that I played this on veteran my perspective on the difficulty may jade my rating, so I am going to issue a few ratings for the game. One for playing on veteran, and one for the game in general, and one for multiplayer (which I did not even discuss in this post because it sucks so much).

For the game itself, I am going to give it a 1, since it has reasonable game mechanics, and the visuals are pretty decent. For playing on veteran I am going to give it a -2, because while IW did fix many of the bugs in MW, it is still clear they did not do enough play testing on the highest difficulty for it to be a smooth experience. For the multiplayer, I am going to give it a -5 on my undecim scale, because it sucks, and I cannot figure out what people see in it.

Would You Kindly Read this Post? Bioshock (2007)

After years of gathering dust on my shelf, and becoming infected with a mysterious used band aid, I finally took up Bioshock to complete it. The ordeal yielded mixed results.

This game has received generally positive reviews from pretty much every critic across the industry. And, I frequently found myself wondering why. Sure, the graphics are decent, but everything is so linear that the stages are basically just painted sewer pipes. Many people have talked about the story, which I found to be alright, but nothing to write home about.

The story is really just another attempt from a group to try to capitalize on someone else’s ideas while fundamentally misunderstanding them. In this case, they create a dystopian world that is very loosely based on the works of Ayn Rand. Anyone that is even faintly familiar with the principles will release that Bioshock missed the mark. For example, in a objectivist society you wouldn’t have a black market, because the regular market goods would already be at the lowest prices.

Even though you could talk about the visuals, story, and atmosphere all day those aspects really just cover up the crux of the game, the game play. When you get down to the core mechanics of the game, you quickly release the game is average to mediocre.

The game essentially plays as a first person shooter. But, the sensitivity is slow, and all the weapons feel clumsy. However, the weapons don’t matter a whole lot since the ammo is so limited / ineffective that you will probably spend most of your time clubbing things with your wrench, because that is what I ended up doing.

There is a cheap “magic” system in the game called plasmoids. Unfortunately, you can only have a few equipped at a time, and you are constrained by “eve” which basically makes them an ineffective as the weapon as you will find yourself quickly running out. To a certain extent it balances out, because while there are multiple different plasmoids you could possibly use, you really only need one, electricity, for a majority of the game. And, there are two, telekinesis and fire, that you are forced to used early in the game. But, other than that you can pretty much ignore everything else.

“Hacking” is a “mini-game” that has been shoe horned into the system, and is far too over used. Essentially the way it works is that you have pipe tiles you need to use to guide a fluid from one end to the other. It isn’t really difficult, but it does get tedious when you find yourself having to do it a hundreds of times throughout the game. And, it is hilarious that you can be right in the middle of a firefight and then “hack” a machine in peace. Seriously, if I were in a battle with someone for my life and they stopped to play some DS I wouldn’t just stand there and watch.

Vitachambers I believe was the excuse of the developers to justify how unbalanced the game is. While I did play the game on hard, I died countless times, but it did not really matter because you are instantly resurrected in a vitachamber and can come back and beat some more ass. It is annoying that you die so often, but it is better than being faced with the prospect of having to load a saved game every time. Really, between the ammo scarcity and strange balancing this game would be absolutely brutal to play without vitachambers.

However, this all dwarfs in comparison to the end sequence of the game. You are forced to collect the pieces of a big daddy suit, which you are then forced to wear. I suppose it would not be such a big deal, but the bubble overlay they put on your screen is unforgivable. I actually had to enable FOV lock (treats the game as 4:3 and crops to 16:9) just to bring down the motion sickness enough to get through it.

Also, I am not a fan of how hard the game punishes you if you are trying to get some of the achievements. For example, if you kill Cohen in your first encounter it is impossible to upgrade all the weapons. But, that isn’t that big of a deal. The bigger travesty is the audio logs. There are two towards the very beginning of the game, and if you missing one you cannot get it, period. You have to start the game over. It is seriously wretched.

On that thought, I shall bring this rant to a close lest I let this post grow to insurmountable length. When I take into consideration the good things in this game, and the unforgivable, I have decided to give this game a 0 on my undecim scale. Thus, I neither recommend nor dissuade anyone from trying it.