What started out as a way to stall for time as I desperately tried to assemble a “games of 2019” list has turned into a year long project made up of a dozen blogs about the games launched over the past decade and what I thought about them. I completely failed to catch up with modern games, and I also failed to restrict a lot of games to the blogs that correspond with the year they launched in. This blog is a clean up before I release the final piece of my decade project puzzle. This is the Decade Project Run-Off Blog, and these are the games I missed in previous blogs
I don’t like MMOs in general, but I wanted to give Star Wars: The Old Republic a chance because it sells itself on having more focus on the story than other MMOs. From the beginning it seems like this is the case too. It looks like there are separate stories for Republic and Sith Empire classes, and within those classes specific stories for the different classes of character. I chose to play as one of the flavors of Sith Jedi, but my goal was to play them as a light side type of person. It’s the most interesting subversion I’ve seen in any Star Wars media, but given this is an MMO it would be weird if everybody got the same story so I guess it isn’t all that subversive at all: besides I don’t usually like MMOs to begin with so I didn’t see myself playing more than one character type or campaign.
Once I chose my side, my class, and built my character (there are so few options for race playing for free...At least WoW didn’t block a vast majority of the races off to cheap-o’s like me), I began my not-so-dark journey on the planet of Korriban, at a Sith academy with a bunch of NPCs and one obvious rival NPC who I know I would have had to kill eventually. The opening quests are fairly straightforward and very familiar: Go find NPC-A, learn the basics controls and mechanics of the game. You will level up and thus be taught even more basic mechanics of the game. It didn’t seem like levelling up mattered since there aren’t any stats to mess around with or skill points to allocate. There are a couple of branches to the skill tree, but for the most part levelling just unlocks equipment and weapons with larger numbers, and allows you to unlock new skills to fill up the hotbar.
I lost interest in the combat very quickly. It works like any other MMO I’ve played before; click on an enemy and watch attacks happen or click one of the number keys to either make yourself stronger, make the enemy weaker, or use a special skill that’ll likely end combat more quickly. What kept me from ending my time with Old Republic were the dialog exchanges and the reactions old Sith would give when I would show mercy or act in a Jedi-like way. Unfortunately, on the way to one of my missions, I got stuck in a cliff and had no way to get myself out. I tried following the map, but navigating in 3D space based off of a waypoint on a 2D map ended up leading me to a fate worse than death. Well, it would have been if I decided to roll a new character. I watched the campaign videos on Youtube and that was satisfying enough for me. If I want to play a Star Wars game that plays like an MMO I’ll go back to KotOR or KotOR2 again. This MMO didn’t shift my attitude towards the genre though: I still hate these things.
(On the plus side, this isn't Disney's fault)
Watch_Dogs 2 might be a better game than the original. It might have a better story than the original. It might introduce bold new gameplay mechanics and a plot that proves video games are truly a transcendent form of art that isn’t to be ignored. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t know that because the characters I had to deal with and the unskippable cutscenes I had to watch them interact in made me despise everything about this game. The opening mission seemed very interesting; breaking into a ctOS facility with the goal of erasing yourself from the thing which I’m told is impossible to do. What fractures my enjoyment right from the beginning is listening to the running commentary of a pair of dorks who make the cast of Hackers look legitimate. After successfully deleting himself from the ctOS, I thought the game would let me make my own character since that seems to have been the implied direction we were going, but no, a cutscene carries on showing our protagonist getting kidnapped by 2chan so they can all get drunk at a beach.
As I hammered on my keyboard trying to get back into the game I realized that I had no idea who my player character was or why he was trying to free himself from ctOS. I don’t like using social media either, so I can emphasize with his goal, but I don’t like people in general and getting drunk on a beach with strangers is the kind of thing I would actively try getting away from if I had a magical, wizard’s smart-phone. When the game finally let me play it again the next mission I got into was just a gamified version of those pranks where somebody prank-calls someone else using a soundboard. In Watch_Dogs 2 though you’re told that you’re prank calling a pharmaceutical CEO and billionaire. What made me dislike this mission was the continued commentary from the cast, and the very tiny home this supposed billionaire was living in. It was larger than any house I’d ever lived in, but I casually walked up to this place and hacked into his gas meter in broad daylight. Billionaires don’t live like that, the fences to their homes are a mile away from the first actual security checkpoint.
In hindsight, Aiden Pierce was a bad guy: He was a career criminal whose moral compass was slightly jostled when his niece died. The cast of Watch_Dogs 2 are anarchists, but not the fun kind who do good for the community by burning down churches and breaking ATMs; they’re the kind who steal your life savings, call you a slur, and laugh while pissing on your mailbox. A bad cast can utterly destroy a potentially good thing, and Watch_Dogs 2 is a very clear example of that.
(Maybe I just hate people from San Francisco...? They're not all like this, are they?)
I’m not a hundred percent sure what I expected when I picked up E.Y.E. Divine Cybermancy. I’m a fan of Mandalore Gaming’s youtube channel and from his review, I was expecting something similar to Deus Ex but on the Half-Life 2 engine. The game I played though seemed to have the depth and complexity of an RPG, but the gameplay I was exposed to was closer to an arena shooter. The enemies I met seemed to respawn infinitely, and it didn’t seem to matter too much when I was killed. The lack of clarity when it came to what my goals were and the lack of clarity when it came to character progression didn’t really incentivize me to want to continue playing. Being able to hack anything, including enemies and seemingly benign electronic systems, kept me engaged a bit longer. Failing a hack and being hacked myself by an ATM was hilarious, until I realized that I had no idea how, exactly, I was being affected by the ATM. E.Y.E. is probably one of those games that I won’t ‘get’ until I’ve spent closer to a dozen hours with it, but I’m just not feeling much of a desire to do that.
(Can you tell this started out as a 40K project?)
I don’t see myself completing the Halo: Master Chief Collection on Steam. What I mean by that is, I don’t see myself buying Halo 3, 4, or ODST, and it’s because at some point between 2001 and now I’ve just completely stopped having fun with Halo. I played Reach and put a few dozen hours into the multiplayer, but I can only play the same game so many times before I lose interest. I’ve been playing the Halo Trilogy since they were new, and even at the time I would stick to levels that didn’t have The Flood (unless they were vehicle heavy). I hated Halo 4 for its bullet-sponge enemies, and I didn’t like ODST even though the Flood are absent.
I can’t say I dislike Halo in general, I put too much time into the franchise to say that, unless I admit to myself that they were always bad...which could be the case...but my main issues are that I don’t feel engaged by the multiplayer, I hate more than half of the campaign, and Halo is the reason so many other FPS games adopted a stupid 2-weapon loadout system and regenerating health. Stealing a Banshee in Assault on the Control Room is always going to be fun for me, skipping a majority of The Silent Cartographer and Assault on the Control Room and New Mombasa Outskirts are always going to be fun to me. There’s just so much that I hate in these games that I almost feel like buying them again on PC was a mistake.
(Meandering, cacophony of codswallop)
Max Payne 3 is kind of a weird one: It’s different in a lot of ways to the previous games, but also very similar in other ways. The combat for instance is very much what I was expecting based on what I remember from the previous games. Max is being shot at and must use his inexplicable powers of time manipulation to minimize the amount of damage he takes, usually by flying through the air like he’s imitating his favorite Hong Kong police drama. Unlike the previous games, Max is given a chance to recover from an otherwise fatal shot by shooting whoever it was that capped him. Unlike the previous games, Max isn’t in New York or New Jersey this time around: He’s in Sao Paolo. Since all of his loved ones died in previous games, he’s gone south of the border to protect a wealthy family...who inevitably get kidnapped and killed while Max is in between benders and pity-parties.
If I haven’t made it clear before, I’m of the opinion that bad, or unlikable, characters can ruin an otherwise good game, show, film, etc, but also in vice-versa. Max Payne and 2 weren’t stellar games, but the plot, and characters, were enough to make me want to play and replay those games multiple times over. Since so many of those characters died in Max Payne and 2, the third game would need to introduce some great new characters to fill the voids left by people like Mona Sax, Vinnie Gognitti, Alfred Woden, Nicole Horne, Jack Lupino...Other than Max I can’t recall the names of any Max Payne 3 characters. This is pretty dire considering how terrible Max has become since Max Payne 2: he REALLY needs someone to play off of him, because I don’t understand how this Max didn’t just shoot himself before the events of this game could have taken place. Okay, he does have a support character guy who's also there in the stadium and in escape from New Jersey, but again, I can't even remember the guy's name.
The gunplay in Max Payne 3 isn’t bad, but like the previous games it isn’t enough to keep me engaged. The shooting galleries are very similar to one another, with the main differences being the set dressing, number of enemies, number of chest-high-walls, etc. What got me through Max Payne and 2 was the story and seeing what would become of the various characters. Max Payne 3 doesn’t really introduce enough intrigue to make me care. Max’s family has been avenged. The secret organization controlling NYC’s underworld is shattered. Max and Mona didn’t get their happy ending, and Vinnie Gognitti died in a mascot costume. Max Payne 3 could have been the start of something great, but it just felt like an unnecessary side-story and I just don’t care to see it through.
(Maybe it gets better towards the end)
Sonic Generations is a game that I really tried to enjoy more than once. Years ago I played this on the PS3, and gave up soon after the first boss encounter. Recently I tried again with the Steam version of Sonic Generations, but soon after the first boss I lost interest and stopped playing. I’m not the biggest Sonic the Hedgehog fan in general, but I still liked the premise of Generations: all of Sonic’s previous games are represented in some way, along with most (if not all?) of the side characters who were introduced over the years. What I don’t like is the reliance on special challenges instead of having a ton of stages, and the 3D stages in general.
I haven’t beaten this game, but from what I’ve seen the game is broken up into 3-stage blocks, where each of the stages have challenge modes that unlock a boss, and beating the boss unlocks the next block of 3 stages. I think there’s a greater emphasis on challenge stages because the main stages that you run through are taken from previous games, that is from each game you get 2 versions of 1 stage. There’s a 2D and 3D version of each stage, so there’s something new and something more familiar with each level. Then the feeling of familiarity started to feel overplayed since it isn’t enough to just beat each level once then be allowed to take on the boss. Unlocking the boss level is as simple as beating a single challenge stage to earn a key, but I usually needed three keys to unlock those levels. So for full marks, I would need to play one level twice (once in 2D, once in 3D), then play one of those two levels again for a key.
Playing all of the challenge stages unlocks concept art, bonuses that you can purchase from the shop, achievements...To get everything out of these levels one could potentially play through them several times, which I guess is par for the course when it comes to Sonic games in general. I burned out soon after the first boss fight, soon after playing through the 2D and 3D versions of City Escape. I can always go back to Sonic Generations later on, and I probably will since this isn’t a bad game. I just looked up the wiki, and surprised myself by just how close I am to the end of the game, or rather, by how few levels I have ahead of me. Maybe I will re-install this game and finish it off sooner rather than later. It’s really not a bad game, but I can only really take it in short bursts.
(And they say that a hero will save us, I'm not going to go fast, I'll wait)
Gosh, Ace Combat 7 sure is tough, and engaging, and a ton of fun! What I was expecting before I went into this game was something to do with the United States being victimized by China or Russia or possibly even both, but what I got instead was a plot about a surprise attack by a fictional nation against another fictional nation. From what I’ve gathered of the plot the main instigating factor of these attacks is a dispute over who owns and operates a space elevator. I knew I would be missing out on some context, given this is the 7th game in a long-running series, but I wasn’t expecting to be in this deep. It's like watching Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn before Mobile Suit Gundam.
What I've seen of the plot has been really interesting though, and it makes me want to look into the previous games in the series, or at least watch some plot analyses. Even without the context of what’s going on in the world I’ve had a pretty good time role-playing as a mute pilot who doesn’t care beyond the fact that I have a job to do. The first couple of combat missions set up a straight-forward scenario: A massive Eursean air force has begun bombing key Osean installations and it’s up to me (and other pilots I guess) to repel them. Since the space elevator was set up as being a central element to this conflict I was kind of surprised when I realized that infiltrating its airspace and saving Former President Harling from captivity was only the third or fourth mission. The plot takes a really interesting shift from the space elevator mission on, and introduces some interesting gameplay limitations every so often.
At first I thought it was weird that I was earning points during missions, but those points are used to purchase new aircrafts, weapons, and parts. Other than cosmetically, I’m having trouble feeling too much of a difference between each of the aircrafts I’ve unlocked so far. It’s the subweapons that really make a difference: I don’t feel like I have a great grasp on air-to-surface weaponry, but air-to-air missiles are reliably easy to use. I’ve even had a lot of luck with machine gun fire while on the missions I’ve flown through. As interesting as the plot is, it’s the gameplay that’s keeping me invested in Ace Combat 7: Each mission has its own parameters of course but the core of the game is simply to shoot down enemy planes and not get shot down yourself. The mission spaces are huge, combat is fast-paced (even while I’m holding on the break), and it’s just as fun to engage in dogfights in large 3D spaces in Ace Combat 7 as it was years ago when I played similar games like Top Gun on the Playstation or those 3 levels of Star Fox 64. The gameplay was enough to win me over to Ace Combat 7, but the story is really intriguing too. It reminds me a lot of the grittier Gundam series in a lot of ways, and frankly I’m surprised mobile suits aren't in this series.
(Gotta go Fast)
Assassin’s Creed Unity certainly had a rough launch; there was a controversy before launch because of character models, there was a controversy after launch because Unity technically didn’t work on any platform, and once the dust settled it was difficult to find much of anything about how the game actually played after it was stitched back together. I haven’t completed this game yet, but in nearly 20 hours of gameplay I’ve enjoyed a very fun 3D-action platformer that puts me in mind of The Count of Monte Cristo. You play as Arno; blamed for a murder he didn’t commit, he must escape from The Bastille and since he seems to have the gift of sci-fi sight he’s given an opportunity to join the Assassin’s order. Unfortunately for him, the French Revolution is unfolding as he tries to find the people who framed him and exact his terrible revenge.
This being a French story, there’s a love interest who Arno’s known since childhood, and her family intertwines with his unexpectedly. I feel like a twist is on the way, but I haven’t quite made it that far in the story. I’ve been enjoying the fast parkour-like gameplay in a gorgeous rendering of Paris. Assassin’s Creed has always been an open world series, and Unity is no different. Exploring the city for its own sake is absolutely something you can do, but littered throughout there are also treasure chests, and several flavors of collectibles. There are also emergent events that can earn you money and EXP which can pop up out of nowhere, like tackling thieves or stabbing revolutionaries. Aside from story quests, there are also puzzle quests that will eventually unlock a special armor set, hit missions, co-op missions which I’m never going to touch, and businesses which you can purchase and invest money into to make you more money. I’m finding the money to be useful in Unity too, since I’m using a lot of consumable items while wandering around the city and also during missions.
There’s also a level system, but it seems to be tied more to the equipment that you purchase rather than a more RPG, EXP system. The higher your Assassin’s Rank (which increases as you complete missions), the better equipment you’ll be able to purchase once you’ve got enough money. Equipment you own can be upgraded too so I never felt a massive rush to get new things as I leveled up, and the stuff that I preferred the look of didn’t seem to become useless too quickly after I got it. I still have a long way to go with Unity, but the novelty of exploring Paris hasn’t lost its appeal yet. There are a lot of open-world type things to deal with, but I don’t feel overwhelmed by content like I have with other open worlds. Maybe it’s because I haven’t played an Assassin’s Creed since 2, but I really like Unity and I’m glad I gave it a chance.
(The fires of Paris burn like Heaven's Light)
I didn’t buy an Xbox One, but that’s okay because basically all of its exclusives, like Dead Rising 3, are on PC. The original game and its sequel were absolute must play titles during the previous console generation so when this one went multi-platform I was excited to get my hands on it, mixed reviews be gosh-darned. The protagonist, Nick Ramos, reminds me a lot of the Dead Rising 2 protagonist Chuck Green, but without a kid and with a whole lot of fear about him. Chuck and Frank from the first game being somewhat blase about potential zombie apocalypses isn’t all that realistic, but Nick being so afraid of the hoard in game 3 almost feels out of place. What really makes it feel out of place is when I’m watching a cutscene of Nick practically wetting his pants only to take control of him in gameplay and murder scores of the undead with a motorcycle that I somehow welded to a steamroller.
Nick isn’t a photo journalist looking for a scoop or a parent looking for life-saving medicine for his daughter, the motivation behind Nick’s journey in Dead Rising 3 is simply finding a way to escape the city of Los Perdidos. This shouldn’t really be an issue at all since Nick Ramos, both in cutscenes and out of them, is a mechanical engineering wizard capable of fabricating enchanted, murder-cars out of far less lethal vehicles. Since that would automatically end the plot though, the goal as it stands centers around finding a military plane, getting it into a state where it can be flown, and escaping the city with as many survivors as possible before the outbreak zone is atomized. There we have it: 7 days to get everything lined up, complete the main missions, manage side-quests, find and rescue survivors, and hopefully get the best possible ending.
Dead Rising and 2 featured the rouge-like element of carrying over level progress and skills when you die and had to restart the campaign. I assume Dead Rising 3 does this too, but I couldn’t confirm it because this game is so easy that I haven’t actually died yet. The city of Los Perdidos is a fully stocked city after all, so it was very easy to stock up on weapons and food within the first couple minutes of gameplay and just as easy to stock up on super-weapons and blueprints to make even more of them. Even fights against psychopaths, humans with a gimmick that serve as boss encounters, couldn’t take me down whereas in the first Dead Rising it took me about three tries before the first boss in the food court couldn’t just one-shot me. The minute-to-minute gameplay of Dead Rising 3 is fun, and exploring the city is gratifying to me since there are a lot of instances of environmental storytelling that I appreciated in addition to the wacky weapon blueprints. It’s an easygoing game, especially compared to the previous two, and I didn’t feel all that driven to stick with it for very long. I’m not done with it, and this game is too good to be 'meh', but I see myself visiting other large open worlds before I choose to get back into this one.
(Rest assured, his face is glazed with tears and snot)
Door Kickers: Action Squad reminds me of Rainbow Six Siege, if that game was 2D and had minor puzzle elements. Each level has a simple goal, and that goal usually is or includes killing all of the enemies in that level. Other objectives include bomb disposal and hostage rescue as quickly as possible. Maybe it’s because I only played this single player, but I found it incredibly easy to end each level with the best possible score (3 stars). The only times I dipped below were those times when a hostage was killed either by me or by one of the enemies using an area of effect attack. The stars earned through successfully completed missions are the currency used to unlock new weapons and better equipment.
Some of the equipment can be passed on between character classes, but each character has their own unique weapon loadout. I mostly stuck with Assaulter, the first class, because it took me several missions to realize that there WERE other classes. The Assaulter is a basic unit who uses rapid-fire rifles and SMGs, but their special attack is a single aimed shot. Breachers use shotguns, and those shotguns use 2 flavors of ammunition. Recon...is a class I never used, same with the Pistol-slinging Agent Fergie. The Shield unit is also a pistol-user but they carry a large shield which offers more protection than what anybody else gets. Finally there’s the off-duty guy who also uses assault rifles, but who came to work in their underpants.
I think the idea behind the different classes is that in multiplayer, each player can only use one class (ie: you can’t have 6 Breachers) but I could be wrong about that since as I said previously I haven’t touched the multiplayer. I like that there’s some variety even though I didn’t fully utilize it. If I have one major issue with Door Kickers, it’s that every memory I have about it is being overwhelmed by more positive memories I have with the very similar Deadbolt, a game that features very similar gameplay but with fantastic elements and bosses. I still really liked Door Kickers, and I would recommend it, but I’ve played a better version of this game previously.
(This was the best Siege)
Final Fantasy Type-0 originally launched on the PSP, but the console and PC version...well, I’m not sure what the differences are other than higher resolution and maybe some touched-up cinematics. Since it was a Japan-exclusive though, I’ve never played the PSP version, but I’ve spent a few hours playing the Steam release of Type-0 and overall I’m enjoying it! At first I was apprehensive because it takes place in the Fabula Nova Crystallis continuity; this is the continuity where Final Fantasy XIII dwells, but unlike that hot mess I have a much better idea of what l’cie are, I have a much better understanding of how the world functions, I have a much better idea of how Eidelons work, and I actually like the characters here! Type-0 centers around Class 0 of Akademia, and even though it’s Ace on the cover of the box I don’t think he’s as much of a main character as Queen or Sice or any of the other students you can play as. If anything I’m more interested in Dr. Arecia Al-Rashia, someone who’s definitely studying magic and crystals in an unethical way but it isn’t quite clear how yet in the early story (I’ve only completed the first 3 missions).
The story centers around the breaking of a peace treaty and a massive war breaking out over crystals. Akademia sends out student-soldiers to aid in the war efforts and if this is sounding too much like Final Fantasy VIII to you then rest assured that Type-0 actually plays a lot more like Crisis Core than any other Final Fantasy. The combat is in real-time, but it’s possible to pause at any time to use items. Each of the students of Class-0 have their own gimmicks: Ace can use cards to fight, Queen has a sword, Eight punches things, Sice uses a war scythe, etc. All of the students can equip and use magic too, but before beginning a mission it would be nice to know if ranged combat would be useful or outright essential. It’s possible to change out active party members at save points, but those are spaced out enough in missions that it’s possible to either miss the chance or be given the chance to change after you really needed it.
Type-0 is set up in such a way that the foresight issue only ever really comes up once since, after a mission is completed once, it can be replayed from the main menu. From this feature comes perhaps the biggest issue with Type-0 and it’s the grind. I had a lot of trouble with the third mission, partly because I wasn’t sure how the summon mechanic worked, but also because one of the enemies in this stage is level ??? and is capable of knocking out party members in a single hit. It’s possible to kill this enemy by summoning, but it’s much more possible to kill this enemy by summoning the second, third, fourth time around because your levels carry over and increase as you replay those completed missions. On the surface I like this: the concept of buffing myself by playing the same stage a bunch of times and then blitzing through the game is what got me through Resident Evil 5.
Where it suffers with Type-0 however is that the only characters who gain experience points and level up are the characters who are in the active party. Class-0 features 14 playable characters, and I wouldn’t call any of them superfluous so it’s definitely worth it to keep everybody leveled up. The issue at hand is that to achieve that I essentially have to replay the same mission several times over before moving on to the next one. The active party can only have 3 party members, and even if I swap out characters in the middle of a mission, there’s not a guarantee that I can evenly level everybody at a steady rate. What’s even worse is, leveling up characters grants them ability points instead of buffing stats (aside from HP and MP). If you want to increase strength and defense and whatnot, you need to either rely on buying new weapons, or hoping you get a rare item that will increase those stats in a more noticeable way.
Finally, the camera is terribly behaved and can flail about depending on who you’re playing as and what attacks they’re doing. 3D games having bad cameras is such a big issue though that it’s barely worth mentioning...except for those times I’m playing as Sice and I and my enemy are leaping past each other and the camera gets confused. Despite those issues though, I’ve enjoyed playing Type-0 more than I’ve enjoyed playing another Final Fantasy spin-off that’s also somewhere in this diatribe. I acknowledge that there are features that can be annoying, but it’s not enough to be a deal breaker for me.
(It's basically My Hero Acadamia, before My Hero Acadamia)
Guacamelee: Super Turbo Championship Edition is an absolutely gorgeous 2D platformer that takes a lot of ques from the Metroid and the Vania. You play as Juan Aguacate, who’s killed trying to rescue the love of his life El Presidente’s Daughter from the clutches of Calaca. Juan is able to return to life when he finds a mysterious, otherworldly, Luchador mask, and later on in the adventure he gains the power to shift from the worlds of the living and the dead at will. Not only is Juan motivated to save El Presidente’s Daughter because she’s the love of his life, but there’s a second clock ticking in this plot: Calaca is planning to sacrifice her during an eclipse. This will merge the worlds of the living and the dead and give Calaca the power to rule over the merged world as a God.
In order to get to Calaca, Juan needs to become a powerful Luchador in his own right and to test himself Juan needs to take out Calaca’s colorful cast of lieutenants. Progression in Guacamelee seemed to be really quick paced: it seemed like I was always finding a new ability or being taught new ways to utilize the abilities I had already unlocked. As I progressed through the game though I noticed that the difficulty didn’t come so much from greater numbers of enemies so much as the game expecting me to use the combat techniques I had to maximize damage, stun enemies, and keep pressure on them before they could turn things around on me. The enemies you go up against are a variety of skeletons: standard, fast, giant, and armadillo, not counting boss fights. After a certain point they’ll start being covered in shields which are color-coded so you know which of your special moves can break them.
In addition to standard punches and special moves it’s possible to knock enemies into the air to juggle them, and perform a handful of grabs, grapples, throws, and slams. The variability of the fighting system is such that if I were to enter 5 rooms with the same grouping of enemies I could defeat them in five different ways instead of relying on a single super move or combo. I also love how special attacks are integrated into the platforming of Guacamelee. There is a standard double-jump and the ability to cling to walls, but it’s possible to use a thrust-attack or uppercut to really maximize Juan’s in-air mobility and reach seemingly unreachable platforms and ledges. I’ve played a lot of Metroidvania games and a lot of them engage me, but Guacamelee was one of the few that I had trouble getting away from once I started playing it. I didn’t need to grind like in other Metroidvanias, the platforming and combat got more challenging as I developed my character, and my level of engagement never really wavered. I’m kicking myself for not playing this earlier since this was easily a game of the year contender, especially for 2014.
(Did I mention how pretty this game is?)
Metro: Last Light continues the adventures of Artyom while choosing the ending of 2033 that involves destroying the Dark Ones regardless of whether or not I chose to when I played it. LIke Metro 2033, Last Light is a deeply atmospheric first-person shooter taking place mostly in the frozen, nuclear remains of Moscow and the dark metro tunnels underneath. Metro 2033 was a great introduction to the setting, but Last Light builds on those foundations very effectively. Trying to maintain a viable human population in a series of metro tunnels that are also populated by mutated animals and dwindling resources is more of a highlight to the plot this time around. It’s clear that the different settlements are being forcibly converted to one of two very different factions and a civil war seems to be inevitable and close at hand.
While this is happening, Artyom stumbles upon a surviving Dark One, and is almost killed because of his affiliation with it more than once as the plot unfolds. I haven’t finished this game yet; like Metro 2033 the atmosphere is fantastic, but it’s a lot for me to deal with in large doses. It isn’t so much that Last Light is a horror game that’s bothering me, but it’s an incredibly bleak world. Transitioning from the metro tunnels to the streets of Moscow was downright haunting to me: the signs of civilization are all over the place such as rusted out cars, burned out buildings, crumbling bridges and architecture, but it’s all crawling with new and terrifying forms of life. Some of the towns Artyom visits are highly populated with families and merchants and people just making their way in life, but then there’s the prison camp stage that leads directly to a rally that ends in a call for war and a chase. Artyom is a capable person, stealth in Last Light works well in that it’s possible to darken an area and take out opposition with enough patients. Even if stealth fails, the gunplay in Last Light is just as tight as it had been in the previous game so it doesn’t seem like an instant failure-state whenever I got spotted while sneaking.
I’m having a little bit of trouble figuring out how to use secondary weapons, like throwing knives and noise-makers, but that’s the only wrinkle in the gameplay for me. Metro 2033 left a great impression on me, and despite being intimidated by Last Light feel more or less the same about this one as I did the previous one. This is a world that I enjoy engaging with and I can’t wait to see how the plot plays out. I haven’t read them yet, but I’m aware that the Metro series are based around a series of books which I’m eager to get my hands on. Just as a bad plot of characters can make me hate a game (see Metal Gear, Life is Strange, Watch_Dogs 2, etc), the Metro series is proof of the second side of that coin.
(Oh yeah, I played the Redux version)
I didn’t touch the Titanfall 2 multiplayer, but that campaign though! I like how the tutorial is contextualized as being a fully immersive VR exercise, but I’m curious about the time it took to complete it considering, in-game, your character goes through it, seemingly moments, before an orbital drop. It also seemed a bit superfluous since the first stage felt very much like a tutorial: the first enemies you fight against are large lizards and small squads of troops who seem to be killing off survivors of your wrecked ship. Combat is mostly light though, which is fine, because things like verticality, parkour, wall-running, and sliding are all introduced in the introductory level too and it could have resulted in a really overwhelming experience. What keeps it from being too exciting is the goal of that first level: grab a pair of batteries from the shipwreck for B.T. so it can be piloted.
What annoyed me is that you’re not told you’re going to need to grab 2, so structurally the mission is to go virtually the same place twice. That first level ends with a very easy tutorial battle that showcases what the Titan is capable of with the most basic loadout. The second level doesn’t do too much that sets it apart other than introducing the concept of boss fights and enemy titans. That very first titan-v-titan fight was a lot of trouble for me due to being unfamiliar with the controls and capabilities of the titan and being unsure of my mobility within it. The second level also introduces an additional titan loadout and as the game unfolds more titan loadouts can be found and unlocked. By the third level, the game assumed I was comfortable enough with the controls to introduce instant-death platforming challenges, a greater focus on verticality in level design, and a new enemy type that essentially just gets close and explodes.
Titanfall 2 really got engaging for me from this point forward, but as I played on it seemed like each level would introduce something new only to take it away in subsequent levels. The third level for example, probably had the most verticality. There’s one level that introduces time travel and thus dual-world gameplay. One level introduces a tool that creates additional platforms for your character to wall-run along. Then there’s a later level that goes all-out and features a full scale battle between a great number of enemy forces and a great number of friendly forces, titans included. It almost felt like the whole campaign was a form of abili-tease or maybe a 6-hour tutorial for the multiplayer portion of the game. I felt like I was being prepared for something that ultimately never came about, but I wasn’t dissatisfied when I made it to the end of the narrative and saved the day by destroying the super-weapon.
(The only good game that features a B.T.)
World of Final Fantasy reminds me a lot of Kingdom Hearts in that it’s a cute, stylized mashup of a lot of different Final Fantasy titles. Unlike Kingdom Hearts, Disney is nowhere to be seen and the plot hasn’t completely flown off of the rails. I’ve only played about 9 hours of World of Final Fantasy so for all I know an insane plot rupture is just around the corner, but from what I’ve seen so far things are pretty straight forward. Lann and Reynn are siblings with amnesia and the ability to change from stylish tweens into SD-Chibis. They also have the ability to stack familiar monsters on their heads, thus powering themselves up. They’re informed early on that they used to be powerful mirage masters, and the circumstances behind their amnesia is a mystery but becoming mirage masters again might bring their memories back. To be clear; “mirages” are what the monsters are called in-game, and a “mirage master” is essentially a Pokemon Trainer, right down to using a ball (or cube) to catch mirages and training those you’ve previously caught to be more efficient fighters. Mirages can even evolve into stronger or variant forms once they’ve been leveled up enough!
It isn’t quite as basic as getting EXP points to level up though, developing mirages works a bit more like character development in Final Fantasy X. Each Mirage has a sort of sphere grid with a pseudo non-linear progression path made up of abilities, buffs, unlockable evolutions, and even unlockable items. To unlock these, you need to spend skill points which you get by leveling up, but it’s a slow drip kind of situation: Most abilities require 3 or 4 skill points to unlock, but you only get 1 skill point per level, 2 after level 10, 3 after level 20, etc. I found myself in a situation where I have a lot of mirages who I’d like to train up, but I already have a handful whose levels are relatively high so training new ones would basically grind my progress to a stand-still until the newer mirages are caught up. It’s a grindy system, but I’ve played JRPGs with worse grinds and I’m driven to see the new creatures and their evolutions. The story on the other hand, hasn’t really lost me but it isn’t doing very much to keep me engaged. Somehow the various Final Fantasy worlds are connected, and for whatever reason random, named NPCs have the souls of recognizable Final Fantasy characters in them.
There’s a mystery surrounding Lann and Reynn’s amnesia, and there’s an empire amassing an army of mirages...but I’m just not feeling connected to any of the characters or the overarching plot. I like what I’ve played of World of Final Fantasy, but most of what I’ve played has been a mix of Pokemon and Final Fantasy X. I assume the story will ramp up as I get farther into it, but at the moment I’m busy blitzing through the colosseum and power-leveling.
I haven’t made it very far in Yakuza 0 yet, but that’s mainly because I keep engaging in side activities. Before he was the Dragon of Dojima, Kazuma Kiryu was the man who collected money from the people who borrowed from the Yakuza. His home turf is, and always has been apparently, the neon-lit streets of Kamurocho. Unfortunately the first event that takes place in Yakuza 0 is the mysterious death of a mark who was last seen alive by Kiryu...after Kiryu beat him to a pulp in a back alley. The first chapter centers around Kiryu’s investigation of the murder as he tries to clear his own name. In my case that entailed a whole lot of street brawling, shopping at Don Quijote, and eating at expensive restaurants. One of the small things that impress me about the Yakuza series, surprisingly, is the product placement. Don Quijote is just one of many in-game elements that actually exist in Japan. Lawson, Poppo, M Mart (Miho) are all actual places in Japan, a lot of the products you can buy are licensed, and of course there are Sega arcades that you can visit in-game if you’re up for a game of Space Harrier or Super Hang On. This is just a neat-pick though and ultimately a series of small elements in a much larger package.
Or so I thought anyway: I’m not sure what the exact balance should be but I’ve noticed that if I didn’t take the time to engage in side activities, earn bonus points, unlock skills on the skill tree, unlock bonus skills, and bought some take-out I probably would have had a lot more trouble in the plot-critical combat sections. What I like about character progression in Yakuza 0 is that it’s directly tied into how much money you have: you’re literally spending money to improve yourself and learn new techniques or buff up your stats. I also seemed to be earning a lot of money in random fights, but I think a part of that is being somewhat unfamiliar with Japanese currency (ie: I might have just earned 10,000yen, but that’s only worth $100USD). The amount it takes to buy better skills also increases by leaps and bounds after buying level one skills and buffs so while it’s doable to spend hours grinding, I don’t feel like I’m being encouraged to do so.
I mentioned bonus skills and progression earlier and that’s a little bit more interesting and engaging for me since you get these points in a myriad of ways. You’ll get points for walking a certain number of kilometers, running a certain number of kilometers, eating every menu item in a specific restaurant, eating at all of the restaurants, eating every menu item from every restaurant, beating up a specific number of people with a specific fighting style, breaking a specific number of bicycles on a specific number of people, etc. The points that you get from doing these tasks can only be spent through a unique vendor in a shrine, and what you buy are upgrades that I would say are better in terms of quality of life settings. Kiryu’s base movement speed isn’t slow, but unlocking infinite stamina so you can run without needing to catch your breath is fantastic. Unlocking the iron stomach perk allows Kiryu to clear out restaurant menus without waiting for him to get ‘hungry’ between meals, thus drastically cutting the time it takes to complete the restaurant side activity. You can even unlock new enemy types by spending these points at shrines which adds variety to the enemy pool and forces you to think a bit more strategically in combat.
I spent a few hours getting familiar with Kamurocho, fighting randoms, and buying my way to a better body when I finally got down to business and began investigating the murder Kiryu had been accoused of. It became apparent early on that he was innocent of this crime. Unfortunately, since Kiryu’s investigation is hindered given it’ll make the family look bad, he resolves to leave the Yakuza so he can continue investigating without making his sponsor look bad. Unfortunately you can’t just hand in a letter of resignation or a leave of absence to the H.R. department so Kiryu has to break into a regional headquarters, beat up a few dozen of his Yakuza peers, and win a one-on-one fight with one of the directors of the Yakuza: essentially Kiryu needs to speak to the manager but he’ll only be speaking with his fists, feet, and whatever furniture isn’t nailed down. It was the fight against Kuze Daisaku that made me wonder about the balancing of the game: Up until that fight I was essentially breezing through every combat instance without breaking a sweat with one exception (it was the challenge where I wasn’t supposed to get touched in the parking lot), but the fight against Kuze was challenging. He seemed to have a lot of invincibility time, and it seemed like I could only do noticeable damage to him when the game allowed it, whereas with every other fight both Kiryu and the other fighters were always vulnerable unless a cinematic attack was going on. It might just be a boss fight thing though: I haven’t made it far enough to have encountered a second boss quite yet.
I have a good idea of who the next boss might be though; after being dismissed from the Yakuza Kiryu is approached by a mysterious real estate agent who seems to live in a luxury apartment that isn’t so luxurious to have proper lighting so maybe that person will be the next boss wall. I’ll know when I get there. What I’m sure of though is that I’m really enjoying Yakuza 0, and I’m excited to see where the story goes from here.
(I love the 80's)
Looking at the above list and breakdowns, I’m surprised by just how positive I’ve been here! There are a lot of games here that I really wish I had played sooner, and not too much that I regret spending time with. A fantastic property of this blog post is just how many entries I could end to my final blog in this decade project. The last entry will be all about the games that I think the most highly of from the past decade. I think I can break it down into a top 15, but I’ll try and organize it in an interesting way. I’m a little bit concerned about hitting my deadlines though considering just how big some of these games are, and just how deep they can be. I guess that’s mostly my fault though, for being such a big fan of RPGs.