Tag Archives: PC

DinoZ: Surviving in The Stomping Lands

You lay prone, the tall grass concealing your body as you wait for your prey to approach. Fast, agile, the Gallimimus will certainly flee out of your reach if it senses the slightest hint of danger. You equip your spear. With one well placed thrust you can bring the dinosaur down. The moment of truth, the Gallimimus is right there, a few feet away. You stand in a crouch, approaching slowly, but the Gallimimus becomes spooked — it knows you are there. It begins to run, but not before your spear finds its mark. As you reap the spoils of your catch, you hear footsteps. Heavy footsteps. Something big is coming your way.

And then another player comes riding by on a massive Carnotaurus, attaches you to a rope, drags you to his camp, locks you in a cage, and watches as you slowly starve to death while he feasts on your hard earned dinosaur meat. This is The Stomping Land, a Kickstarted survival game that is part DayZ and part Jurassic Park. The game recently launched on Steam Early Access, and being the dinosaur fan that I am I couldn’t wait for the full release to get my hands on the title.

Many of the game features are yet to be implemented including character customization, additional dinosaurs, more craftable items, and all around improvements. What is in place is the core experience of the game, hunting dinosaurs, forming tribes, and fighting or teaming up with other players.

Each player starts near the beach of a large island equipped with a tomahawk. This starting item has a number of uses. It can be used for extremely close ranged combat, but more importantly it is used for obtaining the games two primary resources, wood and stone. By gathering large amounts of these two components you can craft an assortment of weapons and items, ranging from a bow and arrows to totem poles.

Starting off, you almost always want to build a better weapon ( a spear or a bow) and a campfire. The Stomping Land is a survival game — you must eat to survive — and the only food around is dinosaur. Thankfully there are a number of smaller dinos to pick off, allowing you to take their meat and cook it over the campfire to sate your hunger.

As you survive longer in the world, you gain expertise, one for every 30 seconds alive. Killing other players nets you 20 percent of their expertise as well. What is expertise used for? Probably the coolest feature of the game — dinosaur taming. The higher your expertise, the larger and more fearsome of a dinosaur you can tame. Of course, you must also have in your possession a healing herb, found in a handful of caves that are found on the island. After killing a dinosaur and having the necessary expertise, you can heal the creature using the herb and then mount it. Now you can navigate Capa Island in style.

This of course leads to dinosaur drive-bys. The world in The Stomping Land is a dangerous place. While the dinosaurs can be deadly if provoked, players more often than not are much deadlier. Just like in the zombie survival game DayZ, some players in The Stomping Land are much nicer than others. Some will want to form a tribe with you and go on hunting parties to bring down the larger dinosaurs, while others simply want to run you over with a Carnotaurus and take all your stuff. It’s just part of the game, and part of what makes the game so fun.

Running on the Unreal Engine, the game looks solid, and boasts a slick UI that keeps your screen clear of health meters and items bars. That being said, the game is definitely in Early Access. Currently there are no graphic settings, meaning even my fairly decent computer struggles to run the game at times as heavy rain pours down in a forest densely populated with all manner of grass, bushes, ferns, and trees. It makes the game difficult to recommend in this current state for anybody who isn’t using a higher end machine. Some game systems, like in-game chatting, are unnecessarily clumsy, requirng way too many clicks and button presses to type a simple message such as “Please do not murder me.” I expect most of this will be cleaned up at some point as more content is added, but unlike some Early Access games The Stomping Land truly means it when it says “you may want to wait until the game progresses further in development.”

That being said, what is included in this Early Access package is a blast to play around with, especially if you enjoy games like DayZ, Rust, and Minecraft. If so, or you really love dinosaurs, you might want to give The Stomping Land a try even in this early state. Otherwise players may want to wait for the game to receive some more polish, but don’t worry though — there will be plenty of dinosaur drive-bys to go around when you do decide to jump in.

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Battlefield Hardline Is A Nice Chance Of Pace

I have never enjoyed Battlefield as much as other shooters like Call of Duty or Halo. Whereas the action in those titles is near constant, Battlefield as a franchise to me features way too much down time running from point to point, only to be sniped by a sniper’s bullet from afar before I start my trek across the map all over again.

Why the heck did I sign up for the Battlefield: Hardline closed beta then, you ask? The game’s E3 showing impressed me, so when they announced a beta going live right that minute, I signed up, got in, and started playing this new take on classic cops and robbers.

Hardline is definitely still a Battlefield title. There are big teams sizes, vehicles galore, weapons, gadgets, and accessories to unlock, and large maps with destructible environments. Any player who played Battlefield 3 or 4 will instantly be at home here. The game map featured in the beta, High Tension, is set in the middle of a downtown city center, complete with skyscrapers, cranes, and overpasses. While the map is big, it isn’t near the size of many Battlefield maps, lending the game a generally quicker pace than some earlier titles.

Rather than the tanks and machines of war seen in Battlefield 4, Hardline features more civilian grade vehicles, though occasionally supped up to meet the needs of the would be bandits. Armored sedans and muscle cars can be used by the gangsters, while police have access to armored SWAT vans, squad cars, and helicopters.

What really sets Hardline apart from the rest of the Battlefield franchise are the two game modes featured in the beta, Heist and Blood Money. In Heist, robbers attempt to break into a vault and make out with the cash, with the police of course doing everything in their power to stop them. Blood Money puts a stash of cash in the center of the map and tasks each team with collecting as much as possible and bringing it back to their teams respective vaults. Classic Battlefield capture point wasn’t anywhere to be seen, but I would be surprised if it didn’t make it’s way into the final Hardline product.

Of the two modes, I found I preferred Blood Money, despite Heist being the game type that is clearly trying to be Hardline’s main attraction. The pace of Blood Money is frantic. You can be killed while carrying your wad of cash, allowing the enemy to pick up your hard earned money off your corpse. Your team’s vault can also be raided by the enemy if not defended diligently, requiring some members of your team to play defense while others make cash runs.

New equipable gadgets like the zipline and grappling hook shine in these modes. Because of the verticality of the maps, the grappling hook makes reaching sniping positions much easier, while the zipline is invaluable as a tool to quickly escape to your teams vault with a money stuffed dufflebag. Other gadgets like trip mines and the taser are fun additions as well, but the utility of the zipline and grappling hook work well with the fast paced nature of the game types.

Cops and robbers seems like a strange idea to fit into the Battlefield mold, and it is. If you actually think about it, why are the police causing billions of dollars in collateral damage by blowing up buildings, cars, and overpasses just to catch some thieves who are making away with a few million bucks? While the concept isn’t perfect, the game manages to breathe creative life into a franchise that has more or less been the same since Battlefield 1942. Will the full game be worth playing? Who knows, but after spending some time with the beta I can safely say this is the first time I’ve been interested in a Battlefield game since Battlefield 1943.

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Lara Croft’s Therapy Session Isn’t A Sign Of Weakness, It’s A Sign Of Strength

When I saw the teaser trailer during Microsoft’s E3 press conference for Rise of the Tomb Raider, I was excited. I thought it was one of the better game trailers I’ve seen in a long time. It had a great sense of momentum, a wonderful aura of suspense, and a fantastic musical score that had me excited for the future of the franchise. It helped that it was also a complete surprise.

If you haven’t seen the trailer, it shows a hooded woman, later revealed to be Lara Croft, in a therapy session with an older white man. As her therapist speaks to Lara about the trauma she sustained after the events of the previous game and her mental condition, Lara can be seen visibly shaking. Her therapist worries she’s fallen into a “mental trap” that she may never escape from. But there is another possibility — Lara could become who she was meant to be.

I was impressed and excited to see Lara’s return. So when I went online later that day, I was a little confused by some of the reactions I saw. Some shouted “How dare the developers make Lara Croft seek help from a man!” or highlighted the idea that Lara receiving therapy somehow made her weak. They claimed developers were once again stripping a powerful female protagonist of her strength, similar to how Metroid: Other M transformed Samus into a character completely dependent on her male supporting cast.

For me, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Lara Croft is a gaming icon, though probably for all the wrong reasons. She’s starred in her fair share of great action titles and a few poor ones as well, but she isn’t recognized the world over because of her brains, skills, or the quality of her games. She is remembered because she is a female protagonist sporting tight shorts, a small waist, and huge breasts at a time when most gamers were still teenage boys. If you don’t believe me, look no further than the above promotional image. The fact that she is a strong, independent woman is secondary to her sex appeal, at least where the old games are concerned.

I can’t say I was ever a fan of the old franchise for basically that reason. So with no history with the franchise I went into the recent Tomb Raider reboot with an open mind, and what I found impressed me.Tomb Raider is by no means a perfect game, but it does plenty right. Unique puzzles, solid shooting, good platforming, beautiful scenery, great voice acting and good writing. The story left a little to be desired, but after finishing the game and putting down the controller I can safely say that my favorite part of Tomb Raider is, well, the Tomb Raider herself.

It’s brilliant really. Crystal Dynamics managed to transform a character that existed first and foremost as a sex icon into a strong, smart, and believable heroine. She doesn’t begin as a hardened killer or expert explorer. She starts as a very intelligent woman in a deadly situation, who is forced to rely on herself to see that she and her friends make it to safety.The Lara of the the rebooted Tomb Raider has a powerful will to endure, and a desire to protect those she cares about that allows her to do the impossible.

The trailer for Rise of the Tomb Raider looks to build upon this idea by looking at Lara and the events she survived with a level of attention rarely seen in games. On that island Lara killed for the first time, lost loved ones, suffered unimaginable pain and survived near unbearable conditions. But she survived, though surviving in the world of the new Tomb Raider, just as in the real world, doesn’t mean emerging unscathed.

I’ve written about this before. Though by no means the only entertainment medium guilty of this, video games seem to have a knack for completely disregarding the repercussions of a life of violence. Game action heroes kill thousands of people on screen, and then act like completely regular Joes at the end of the game. As a lover of narrative, it’s always been a disconnect that has bothered me.

Which is why I enjoyed the latest Tomb Raider and the new trailer for it’s sequel so much. The developers look to be actually acknowledging that what Lara went through isn’t normal, isn’t something that you can just shrug off. It has to be overcome.

We sadly live in a society where to accept help is viewed as weak. Lara, to some, is showing weakness by seeking help in the new trailer. It is because she is a woman, some say, that the developers are choosing to show her seeking help, reinforcing an absurd idea that women aren’t as strong as men and somehow butchering her character in the process. If Lara was instead a man, they say, he wouldn’t seek counseling. That last bit is correct, and is exactly the problem.

I hear stories every day of veterans coming home from war who are too afraid or too ashamed to seek help for their Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Instead they bottle it up and keep it inside, often with dangerous consequences for both themselves and those around them. The truth is this — men and women are equally weak. Nobody goes through traumatic events like seeing friends killed or killing others and is completely, 100 percent okay afterwards.

I would argue the problem is not with how Lara is being portrayed, but rather the problem rests with how our medium instead chooses to portray its stoic, white, male action heroes, men who often kill without hesitation, thought, or remorse. We don’t see the men of countless military shooters struggle with survivors guilt or the loss of loved ones. We don’t see action heroes like Nathan Drake think twice about killing hundreds in a quest for treasure. It’s all swept under the rug, reinforcing the fantasy that men are magically stronger and better equipped to deal with the horrors of war and combat than woman and thus don’t ever have a problem with it.

The fact that we do see Lara, both in the reboot and in this trailer, struggling with what she’s lived through doesn’t make Lara weak. It’s in fact quite the opposite. It makes her stronger, much stronger than the countless, interchangeable male heroes whose developers choose to make them mentally invincible. It gives her obstacles to overcome that aren’t as primitively simple as “shoot the bad man,” or “blow up the base.”

Seeking help isn’t an act of weakness, it’s an act of strength. And this new Lara Croft has it in spades.

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My Favorite Shooter Isn’t What You Might Expect

I’ve played more shooters over the years than probably any other genre. I distinctly remember Medal of Honor being my first. I remember Halo enthralling me, Half-Life scaring me, and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare addicting me with its progression system. Along the way I’ve played just about every shooter in between.

None of the games listed above rank as my favorite shooter though. No, my favorite shooter is a game I’ve continued to come back to for more than five years, playing an hour here, an hour there. Every match is still just as fun as the first. It doesn’t have a progression system or perks. It doesn’t have crazy power-ups. It doesn’t have regenerative health. It’s simple, easy to understand, a throwback to a different time.

That game is Day of Defeat: Source. If you aren’t familiar with it I’m not terribly surprised. Day of Defeat is the red-headed step child of Valve shooters. It has never been as popular as Counter-Strike, no matter what version you are referring too. It hasn’t undergone a dramatic transformation like Team Fortress 2, which went free-to-play and added a huge number of new weapons and cosmetic items. It’s not the intense cooperative survival experience of the Left 4 Dead series. It’s not an immersive single-player experience like Half-Life.

Compared to all the titles listed above, Day of Defeat: Source is incredibly basic. It’s a simple class-based multiplayer shooter, where players play as either the Allies or Axis in the European theater of WWII. There is no deathmatch to be found. The entire game is essentially capture point, in most cases resulting in a never-ending tug-o-war between two teams. That’s all there is to it really.

Every so often when I’m looking at the hundred plus games in my Steam Library or the stack of Xbox 360 titles next to my desk, wanting to play something but not knowing what, I boot up Day of Defeat. I find one of my favorite maps (Avalanche, Argentan, or Donner). I pick random to be a good sport, even though I prefer the German weaponry to the arsenal of the Allies. I play for an hour or two, most of the time one match on one map the entire time. The two teams more often than not become quickly entrenched. One team will grab the capture point in the middle of the map and set up defensive machine guns, the other team will throw their bodies at it in an attempt to capture it. Sometimes they eventually will, and they will hold the middle for a span before the cycle repeats itself. Very rarely does anybody actually win or go on to capture the two points deep behind enemy lines. It’s quite an accomplishment when it does manage to happen.

Part of what I find appealing about Day of Defeat is the WWII theme. The second World War has always fascinated me, in part because of it’s simplicity. I know the reality is far different, but WWII always seems so cut and dry, so simple. Good guys versus bad guys who want to take over the world. America good, Nazis bad. The world isn’t really like that now. It probably wasn’t like that back in 1942 either, but that’s always what we’ve been taught in school and how it’s portrayed in the media, back then things weren’t so complicated, and now after wars like Vietnam and Iraq they are.

Day of Defeat is a lot like WWII actually. In a time where insane levels of customization and RPG like elements are becoming commonplace in shooters, Day of Defeat: Source is a rapidly aging relic, a throwback to the old days when things were more simple. You won’t find microtransactions here, like in Team Fortress. No weapon skins. No hats. No unlockables. Just shoot the enemy. Do your duty for your team.

Playing Day of Defeat: Source is sort of what I imagine the Norse afterlife of Valhalla being like. Log on. Fight. Die. Fight. Die. Log off. It’s a never ending war, where everybody regardless of team respects one another and collectively reminisces about past battles from the good ol’ days. It’s a small community of game veterans who, for whatever reason, log on every night to play a nine-year-old game most people have never even heard of. More often than not I play with a friend or two, and instead of focusing on reaching level 50 or getting that new skin for a virtual AK-47, we just talk about life instead. It’s nice.

What’s most surprising is that I’m not even particularly good at the game. I do decent enough, but I’ve never been great at PC shooters. I mostly just throw my body at the capture points, try to kill anybody who gets in my way, die, and then try again. My KD ratio is not even approaching positive. I don’t mind. I still have fun.

Team Fortress 2 is a completely different game from when it first released. Counter Strike has been reimagined with Global Offensive. Left 4 Dead has gotten a sequel to further expand upon it’s core idea, with a third game likely on the way. But in Valve’s pantheon of shooters, Day of Defeat stands alone and most likely always will. I will be surprised if the game ever receives a sequel or any kind of substantial update. It’s not the kind of shooter people care about anymore, and that’s okay. As long as the servers are still up and running, I will keep logging on long after Half-Life 3 and Halo 5 are released. Sometimes there is just something refreshing about simplicity, something refreshing about not having any bells and whistles. There isn’t an end goal of prestige mode or end game content to reach. It’s just a game, meant to be played, enjoyed, and then turned off. Sometimes that’s all I want.

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Heroes of the Storm Alpha Impressions: A Truly Different Breed of MOBA

It’s no secret I’m an avid League of Legends player, so when several years ago it was announced Blizzard would be entering the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena genre with what was then simply called “Blizzard DOTA” and then “Blizzard All-Stars”, I was excited. Flash forward a few years and that game is finally playable, albeit under a different name, new gameplay mechanics, and locked behind a Blizzard invitation due to the game’s technical alpha status.

After what seemed like an eternity of watching friends and acquaintances receive invites, I finally joined the increasingly less exclusive Heroes of the Storm club earlier this week. Now that I’ve spent more time playing this alpha in the last two days than I have playing many full release games, I can safely say Blizzard has once again done what it does best, crafting a MOBA with plenty of depth and complexity but at the same time eliminating many of the elements that can serve as a barrier for newcomers to the genre.

Heroes of the Storm will be instantly familiar to players of League of Legends of DOTA 2 — you choose a hero ( in this case a variety of heroes and villains from Blizzard’s core Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo franchises), waves of minions push towards opposing bases, and there are towers that must be destroyed to move forward. The similarities for the most part end there. Unlike many other MOBAs following in the footsteps of LoL and DOTA, looking to carve a place in what is becoming a quickly crowded genre, Heroes of the Storm is legitimately much different.

First up on the traditional MOBA chopping block is last hitting and farming. Rather than personal gold or experience, your team collectively levels up, incentivising teamwork and removing the need to run around in circles while you wait to hit a minion when it reaches 10 HP. Because experience is shared, you will want a member of your team in every lane to soak up experience, but other than that who goes where or does what is more up in the air than in most MOBAs. In another departure, players also start the game with their three core abilities, unlocking the choice between two ultimate abilities for the fourth later in the match. There is no need to figure out what skills you want to level up first either — each ability scales with your level, and each player comes equipped with a mount that can be summoned for increased movement speed.

Without gold to purchase items or abilities to choose and level up, what ways are there for customizing your hero? After all, experimenting with crazy item builds is part of what makes MOBA games so addicting, as there is always a new build or strategy to try. Blizzard realizes this and provides an answer with the game’s talent system. Upon leveling up, you are often presented with a choice between two or more modifiers that will determine what your character excels at. Some talents increase stats like health and attack damage, others modify existing abilities and some even grant a completely new ability to add to your arsenal. While complete role variation is much more difficult in Heroes than in League of Legends (a support for example will have a very hard time going toe to toe with an assassin, regardless of build), you can build a support with a focus on damage, or an assassin with an emphasis on dealing extra damage to enemy structures.

Perhaps the biggest difference between Heroes and other titles are the battlegrounds you will be duking it out on. Rather than the often seen 3 lane format that is almost exclusively played in other MOBAs, Heroes of the Storm features several maps, each with different lane numbers and jungle layouts. More importantly, each maps features a unique and vitally important gameplay mechanic that if ignored will quickly turn the tide of the match against you. One map, called Cursed Hallow, has players gathering tributes to the Raven Lord, who then reduces the HP of all enemy minions to 1 and the health of enemy forts by half for a limited time. The Dragon Shire map tasks players with capturing shrines in order to have one of their team members transform into a massive and resilient dragon knight, capable of punting enemy players long distances and excellent for pushing. Each of the objectives are of vital importance, and serve to naturally bring together teams for fights as each attempts to claim the objectives.

Presentation is just icing on the cake for a game like this, but Heroes even in Alpha looks great and packs style, from the rocking menu music to the character banter between heroes and enemies. Much of the magic of Heroes of the Storm comes from the characters themselves. In the same way that there is just something great about seeing Link face off against Mario in Super Smash Bros., watching your favorite Blizzard characters team up and face off is definitely a selling point that other MOBAs can’t match.The games progression system takes what Blizzard has learned from years of World of Warcraft and their recent success with the digital card game Hearthstone, using daily quests and hero specific challenges to keep players coming back. Being a Free to Play title, a number of skins are available to customize the look of your favorite hero for a price, but completing hero quests unlocks some free character customization options in the form of recolors.

There will be many in the MOBA community who will call Heroes of the Storm “dumbed down” or “casual.” Players looking for the relentlessly unforgiving gameplay of a game like DOTA 2 will no doubt be dumbfounded by the lack of items and balk at the idea of shared experience. While Heroes of the Storm does indeed lower the barrier of entry for first time MOBA players, that isn’t a bad thing. Even at this extremely early stage, seasoned MOBA veterans will find plenty of strategy, customization, and just plain fun to keep them occupied for hours on end, and if that’s the case, what is there to really complain about?

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Luftrausers Review: Flying High

You blast off into the sky in your high-speed super weapon, ripping enemy planes apart with ease. You dive, roll, and boost circles around enemy fighters, but before long the battle intensifies. Battleships fire streams of anti-air rounds, and you do everything in your power to evade. Instinct takes over, and before long your aircraft is performing a deadly aerial waltz. A storm of bullets comes your way, and you see no other option than to dive straight into the depths of the ocean to escape. This would be suicide for any normal aircraft, but you aren’t piloting any old plane — this is a Luftrauser, a deadly piece of war engineering that can be customized with a variety of experimental weapons and engines. When you emerge from the sea you show no mercy, but for every enemy you defeat three more take its place. You die in a hail of bullets. Thankfully, you have an ace up your sleeve. Your craft goes nuclear, taking out any and all enemies in the surrounding area.

You check your score: 20,000. Not bad, but you can do better. You launch your Luftrauser once again, and the battle begins anew. That’s Luftrausers in a nutshell, a frantically fast paced game that looks and plays like it’s straight out of an old arcade cabinet. That’s part of it’s charm.

With one battlefield, one mode, and a few plane customization options that you can mix and match to craft your perfect flying machine, Luftrausers doesn’t sound like much, and it isn’t. But it doesn’t need to be. Like the classic arcade games of old, Luftrausers is all about the score. Killing enemies in succession builds up your combo meter, with each kill granting you increasingly more points until it maxes out at 20. Keeping your combo up is the key to posting big numbers, but the way the game is structured means you can rarely keep it up for long. With every kill and second that passes on the clock, Luftrausers becomes more and more difficult as it spawns deadly new enemy types, ranging from dangerous battleships to enemy aces that maneuver in ways similar to a real player. The game reaches its climax once the massive and heavily armed blimps begin to appear, flying fortresses that only the most skilled pilots will be able to defeat and live to tell the tale.

As you can probably guess, Luftrausers is hard. Really hard, and even harder when you turn on the games unlockable bonus mode. It’s classic bullet-hell, but rather than confining you to a box in which to maneuver like other games in the genre, Luftrausers gives you a freedom of movement that essential if you want to survive. Players manually use the boost on their craft to propel their plane, allowing for some fancy aerial acrobatics as you let off the boost and tumble through the air, rotating to shoot an enemy plane behind you before hitting the throttle again and ascending to the heavens.

Even if Lufrausers only featured one plane to choose from it would still be replayable due to its score focused nature, but I couldn’t imagine myself logging in more than a few hours. The inclusion of multiple engines, weapons, and aircraft bodies that unlock as you play changes that entirely. Parts can be mixed and matched, adding a great deal of replayability. As a result I’ve logged in way more time than I ever imagined I would. After dying I would almost always head back to the hanger to make a new plane combination. Trying to find the perfect aircraft for your playstyle is a game in itself, with my personal favorites being a plane that could dive into the ocean without taking damage and fire massive cannonballs or one whose entire strategy is to kamikaze ram enemy units thanks to it making you immune to collision damage. Each plane variation comes with various challenges to be completed, adding goals to strive towards every time you take off in your Luftrauser.in to ascend skyward. Watching a good Luftrausers player is awe-inspiring, as they flip and roll with ease between streams of bullets and enemy planes.

What really sells Luftrausers though is its visuals and soundtrack. The 8-Bit sepia tone look creates a 1950s vibe that invokes a post-Word War II world where aerial supremacy meant everything and new and experimental weapons were becoming reality. Adding to the package is an amazing soundtrack unlike any other I’ve experienced in a game. It’s really only one core track, which can be listened to here, but becomes modified and transformed according to which parts you choose for your craft. What begins as a triumphant military march becomes a sci-fi space battle as electronic sounds begin to blend into the familiar theme, and there are literally dozens of unique versions, each one the perfect background music to accompany your aerial achievements.

There has been some controversy surrounding Luftrausers — its art is clearly inspired by that of Nazi Germany, leading many to criticize the games creators. I can see where they are coming from. Luftrausers definitely glorifies the idea of aerial dogfighting, and with the inclusion of all the eagles, crosses, and character portraits like the ones seen above, it’s hard not to draw the comparison. The developers were clearly looking for an alternate history that would fit in with the the game they wanted to make. What they landed on was a unnamed country reminiscent of Nazi Germany that emerges victorious from World War II and in turn is able to implement many of its fabled “super weapons” that never saw the light of day. It’s important to note that none of this is ever explicitly stated. Being an arcade game at heart, Luftrausers has no real story. Kill planes, get score, test your Luftrauser, rinse and repeat.

Minor controversy aside, Luftrausers is a great fun. For me it conjures up memories of hour long 1942 sessions at a local arcade trying to beat my previous score, entering a trance-like state as the pounding military march that is the games music blares into my ears. If you love bullet-hell shooters, a great challenge, or want to feel like an aerial ace for a few hours, Luftrausers is more than worth the $10 it will cost you.

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Dark Souls Isn’t For Me, And I’m Okay With That

Few games in recent years have garnered the amount of attention from the hardcore gaming crowd as the Dark Souls franchise. With it’s zero tolerance for hand-holding and bone crushing difficulty, the franchise has won many a fan.

The first game initially passed me by, but after continually hearing good things about Dark Souls II, I decided to give it a try. After spending about 11 hours with the game I’ve come to a conclusion – Dark Souls isn’t for me.

Dark Souls isn’t fun in the same way less difficult games are. The game is renowned for repeatedly handing players their collective butts over and over again, forcing you to improve. The fun of Dark Souls comes from learning how to play a game that gives you nearly zero help, as well as those triumphant moments when you finally defeat a challenging foe after numerous attempts. I did actually experience this. I experienced all the moments of self-paced discovery, brutal difficulty, and eventual victory that causes so many gamers to hold Dark Souls upon high. I can easily see why people enjoy the franchise. But I don’t.

Before we go into my problems with Dark Souls, let me go ahead and lead with this statement: I love a challenge. Nearly every shooter I play I crank up the difficulty to the max. I balked at the idea that many gamers declared Witcher 2 too difficult. I’m about as stubborn as they come, especially when it comes to losing. I will try over and over again to come out on top. I play League of Legends in unhealthy amounts, and if you know anything about LoL then you know it’s a game with steep learning curve that is constantly infuriating.

It’s not the difficulty of Dark Souls that turns me off (I actually really enjoy the combat). Rather, it’s the core gameplay mechanic that for the purposes of this article I will call “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” that makes enjoying the game difficult for me. Improving the stats of your character and purchasing items is done with souls. Souls are acquired from defeating the game’s various enemies. Sounds simple enough, but once you die (which is almost constantly) you drop all the souls you were carrying on your person, requiring you to run back to your corpse and pray you are not killed again before you pick them back up. If you die in route to picking up your soul stash, the souls are gone forever. It’s all very stressful, which I guess is by design.

My main problem with this mechanic is that the entire point of the game is to trial and error your way through increasingly difficult battles. Many battles require way more than two attempts, and more often than not instead of focusing on strategy or tactics, you are instead primarily concerned with recollecting your souls and running far enough out of harms way so when you die again your souls will be easier to recover. The entire point of the game is to try, die, try again, but doing so puts your primary means of improving your characters ability at constant risk. This encourages you to spend your souls and upgrade your character whenever possible, but stats can only be improved while sitting at a bonfire, which are of course few and far between.

The result is I would regularly lose thousands of souls, especially during boss fights when I have no means of retreating and usually die over and over again. For every step forward I would make, I would take two steps back after messing up and losing thousands of souls, putting me back another lengthy gameplay session before I could get back to the amount I had before. Dark Souls isn’t a game where a less than stellar player can grind their way to eventual victory. It instead forces you to improve your skills, and if you can’t, it wants nothing to do with you.

From what I’ve read, Dark Souls II takes the idea of kicking the player while their down up another notch by knocking off a portion of your characters health bar after death in addition to losing souls, up to a maximum of 50 percent reduced max health. The more you die, the more difficult the game becomes, despite the entire point of the game being to die.

If dying simply meant I sucked and needed to rethink my strategy, I wouldn’t have a problem with Dark Souls. I do, however, have a problem with a game that artificially creates length by robbing players of progress, punishing them time and time again for failing by inhibiting character growth.

I can appreciate the game’s zero tolerance policy towards hand-holding and tutorials. In theory. In actuality, I find myself constantly suffering from a feeling of inadequacy. What stats should I be improving? What gear should I be using? How do I improve items? What the heck does this thing do? You kind of figure it out as you go, but when I talk to friends who love the game they just tell me “Look up a guide online, that’s what I did and it became much more fun.” I don’t want to have to look up a guide online just to be able to play the game. This, coupled with constantly losing progress, to me does not a fun game make. But to each their own.

A game does not necessarily have to be fun for me to enjoy it. The Last of Us, for example, isn’t a fun game. It’s a stressful, violent, and intense ride from start to finish. Its gameplay isn’t “fun.” I finished and enjoyed The Last of Us not because of its difficulty or its gameplay, but because of the game’s story. The scarcity of resources and violence found in the gameplay reinforced the themes of the narrative, making me care about its characters and crafting a compelling experience that I had to see finished. I played through The Last of Us to see how the tale of Joel and Ellie concluded, and fought through each encounter to see what developments would happen next.

Dark Souls has none of that. I can’t tell you anything about the world of Dark Souls, the characters, the story, any of it. You are a zombie, trying to not become a zombie, and you die a lot. Occasionally you encounter strange side characters who you have very little interaction with and whose purpose is entirely unknown to me. The story of Dark Souls is your personal story of overcoming adversity and reaching salvation.

That doesn’t captivate me in the same way a great story does. If I’m going to play a game that is distinctly not fun, one that punishes me at every turn, I need a good reason. As the classic saying goes, “What is my motivation?” Dark Souls doesn’t really provide one. It doesn’t care if you make it to the end or not. If you want to bite the bullet and fight your way through just for the sake of doing so, go for it. Dark Souls will be there for you, kicking you every step of the way. Me on other hand, I’m perfectly fine not participating, and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything essential.

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Dishonored Review – The Power of Player Freedom

Player choice and freedom is an idea many video games try desperately to capture. Ultimately, the vast majority fail, instead only offering brief glimpses of what a game could be like if it truly let you play it your way.

Dishonored is not one of those games. In the dark, steam punk, rat plague ridden port city of Dunwall, developer Arkane Studios gives you, the player, incredible power. Better yet, they give you freedom to do whatever you want with it.

Players done the mask of one time royal bodyguard turned assassin Corvo. After a bloody coup that leaves the empress you swore to protect dead and her daughter stolen, you are framed for the deed and imprisoned. After a daring prison escape you learn of a resistance aimed at removing the conspirators who captured the throne. From there the game is a series of daring assassination missions on key targets, paving the way for the return of the rightful heir to the throne of Dunwall.

Every mission sends players to a large, open ended environment. Aside from a few clues, it’s up to you to piece together the best way to eliminate the selected target. First you have to figure out how to get there, which is where the real beauty of Dishonored’s gameplay comes in.

Central to the Dishonored experience is the Blink ability. Corvo’s first magical gift from the Outsider, Blink allows players to navigate huge gaps of space in the blink of an eye. Warping across rooftops or quickly appearing behind an unsuspecting guard can be done instantly, eliminating the slow and methodical pace many games with an emphasis on stealth suffer from. Combine the Blink ability with the open environments and multiple ways to reach and accomplish each objective and you have a freedom that is almost unheard of in video games, aside from pioneers such as Deus Ex.

A variety of tools are at the player’s disposal. Corvo, being a bodyguard, is skilled with both swords and guns, and thanks to a little visit from the mysterious otherworldly presence known as the Outsider, he isn’t half bad with magic either.  Stopping time outright? No problem for Corvo, magician extroidinaire. Summon a swarm of man eating rats? Easy. Possessing one of said rats? Done with the press of a button. Players can find hidden Bone Charms that provide small passive bonuses such as more mana regeneration or faster knock-out attacks, allowing you to tune Corvo to your playstyle.

Now combine all of this together and you begin to experience the possibilities, and fun, of Dishonored. Should I possess a rat and sneak into the Overseer’s office through a grate? What about Blinking up to the balcony, stealing the key from a guard and opening the door? Or I could simply waltz up to the heavily fortified front door and hack, slash, and shoot my way inside. The choice is yours – there is no wrong way to play Dishonored.

Except when there is.  My only real gripe with the game, aside from a plot twist over half way through and a rather abrupt ending, is that though the choice of playing the game your way is there, if you want a certain ending (of which there are several) your play style must adapt accordingly. Killing enemies in the game has consequences in how NPC characters react around you and the state of the already dismal Dunwall. Players that kill with reckless abandon will receive a much darker and more depressing ending than those who snuck their way past every guard and performed the nonlethal options for removing assassination targets. While the choice in how to play is yours, so are the consequences. If you want the best ending, you really only have one way to play the game; with the upmost stealth, essentially eliminating a large, and satisfying portion of the game – the combat. Sword play involves well time parries to be successful, making it hard to simply hack and slash ones way through large groups of enemies. When combined with one of Corvo’s magical abilities however, such as Stop Time, you can quickly become an unstoppable force.

Perhaps the true star of Dishonored is the richly detailed world of Dunwall and all the interesting characters that inhabit it. Upon your first encounter with the Outsider you are granted a strange and grotesque, heart. This heart speaks to you, showing the locations of bone charms and hidden runes used for upgrading your abilities. When pointed at an NPC, the heart dives deep into the characters mind, revealing their inner thoughts, experiences and thoughts. I spent at least an hour just learning the hidden fears and ambitions of random NPC characters, even learning some very interesting background information about some of the games more important characters. Players can learn about the world of Dishonored and the city of Dunwall by reading books and notes littered throughout the game. It’s there for players who are into that sort of thing (I am) but is completely optional. From just looking and exploring the game environments you get a sense of Dunwal being city of real history, now suffering from a crippling plague that is bringing the once proud city low.

Dishonored is one of those rare games that truly is a joy to play. It’s variety of refined gameplay and it’s simple but precise controls combined with a detailed world setting evoke a near perfect mixture of gaming nirvana that is part Deus Ex and part Bioshock. Arkane Studio knows that if you give gamers the tools, they will figure it out how to play the game themselves. It’s this trust and faith, to simply let gamers play the game, which makes the game great. There is no hand holding in Dishonored, no right or wrong way to accomplish any given task. There is only freedom – and all the fun that comes with it.

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