Saturday, May 31, 2014

Awesome ladies.

The Amazon still hasn't shown up on Amazon.  I decided to go through some third parties, and found two collectible stores in town.  One of them, in the north end of the city (who had this awesome face-changing Finn for $30 which I totally stopped myself from buying - very proud) , said they'd never heard of the figure and probably wouldn't be able to get it - but they wrote down my request and said they'd call, either way.

Then, Kayla and I drove all the way across the city to another shop that opened up later in the day.  I walked through the door, pointed at the gentleman behind the counter and said "didn't you used to have a different location?"  It was the guy who ran the store in my Nerdgasm post.  That store disappeared not long after Kayla and I discovered it, and I'd lamented its absence ever since.

Finally, I had found my Mecca again.

He and I chatted for a bit, and I went over the catalogue he has of stuff to order.  The catalog contained the Sorceress, but I explained the line of products and the precise one I was looking for - my beloved Amazon - and he explained that often certain items will never make it to the North American distributors because of a lack of initial orders, and that may have been the fate of my warrior princess.

Le sigh.  So I poked around his store - he has this gorgeous MGS1 Snake figure out of the case, on a shelf behind the front desk - "how much is that Snake?"

"He's mine, he's not for sale - but I've got another in the box right over here for $200."

I balked at the price but... he's sooo gorgeous... 



...and $200 is actually $200 cheaper than  Amazon.com's price and now I want to go back in a week and buy it. I also found this lovely Lara Croft Arts Kai Figure from last year's spectacular Tomb Raider...



The detail work on her's amazing - excellent textures, great face, perfect color...but she was like $70.00, and I didn't like how unsightly her joint work is.  I kept on poking around and found this one for $35...


...which is a good reproduction of some of New Lara's key art.  The details aren't as sharp as the Kai figure, but the pose is accurate, the price was right and I adore the new Tomb Raider.  So now she's on my games safe, towering over Kratos.

But still, I was disappointed.  Was I destined to never have my Amazon?

Kayla and I came home, felt a rush of appreciation for air conditioning (a month ago we still had ice on the ground, now it's almost 90°F and incredibly humid), and she stretched out with her Vita to play some Dragon's Crown (it's all she's played on it, so far) while I renewed the search for my Amazon online.

Listings for it had disappeared.  Play Asia was sold out - everywhere was sold out of the preorder!  But an eBay seller had one... for a good price... and had over 2000 100% positive customer reviews... and Kayla has an eBay and PayPal account...

"Bebeh?" I cooed.

"Yes, Bebeh?"

"I know what I want for my birthday."

Key art.

And now, finally, after months of searching and waiting, my Amazon has been ordered.

The MegaHouse Dragon's Crown Amazon Excellent Model PVC figure.

So I'm sure you'll agree that the awesomest lady of all is the one currently lounging across my bed with a Vita in her hands - and that she is more than due a summer shower of thank-you kisses.  Excuse me. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ratchet & Clank PS2 trilogy coming to Vita - yay! And aw.


We knew it was coming, but it's nice for it to finally be official (at least in Europe - no North American announcement yet).  Now, as a knee-jerk reaction, this is fantastic news.  I love these games, and having them on my Vita will be a sweet plum, but...

The port is being handled by Mass Media.  Who ported the Jak & Daxter collection.  Which was a God-awful port.

Which makes me sad.  Mass Media, if you fuck this up, I will never forgive... Sony for trusting you with it.

You monsters.

Oh, and speaking of Sony, they announced what they're replacing all the games that are dropping off PS+ on Tuesday with - six games across their three platforms.



Trine 2 and Pixeljunk Shooter Ultimate for PS4, NBA 2K14 and Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time for PS3,  Terraria and Mutant Midds Deluxe (?) for Vita.  I'm pleased with Pixeljunk Shooter and Terraria - two games I've always wanted to try - and the fact that Pixeljunk and Sly will be effectively cross-buy with the Vita version (getting the PS4/PS3 game free unlocks the Vita game, free), but taking away Uncharted 3 and replacing it with the worst Sly game isn't exactly a fair trade, in my opinion.

That's a short-sighted reaction, of course.  Any PS+ subscriber worth their salt has already got a free copy of every game that will disappear from the Instant Game Collection, and what we're getting here is merely additive.  I suppose the negativity is informed by the idea that PS+, one can argue, has a certain value at any given point - and come June, that value will be reduced compared to what it was a month prior.  Seriously - losing Resogun for Trine and Pixeljunk?  No thank you. Even together, that's not an even trade.

This month also brings news that the Instant Game Collection will no longer update periodically throughout the month - word is, every single month, each platform will always get two new games on the first Tuesday.  Two PS4 games, two PS3 games, two Vita game every month.  This is particularly interesting on the PS4, which has a pretty sparse library at the moment - and across all platforms, that'll result innn... 72 different games per year.

Nice.

Ubisoft's white noise is here to stay.


For a few years now, I've been vocally opposed to the sheer volume of media Ubisoft level at us in the lead-up to their tentpole releases (ACIII, IV, Watch Dogs) - often two years or more of huge gameplay trailers, making-of videos, multiplayer trailers - a cacophony of media that fades into white noise, no video any more intriguing than the last (twenty).

When they announced on Wednesday that Watch Dogs was their most successful new IP launch ever...
“Today we broke the record for the biggest first day sales in Ubisoft history. I can never say it enough: thank you everyone! We love you all for your passion and your creativity.”
-blog.ubi.com-
...I'm sure there were many a folk who nodded and conceded that Watch Dogs just might be the second coming of videogamedom - but not me, man.  All I could think was "now they'll never stop with their media inundation."  Look how well it pays off.

There's another side to the coin, of course.  There are so many games I'd love to see more footage of - The Order: 1886 is a prime example, Hyper Light Drifter another.  When Assassin's Creed Whatever shows its first big reveal, I'll be fanboying it up with the best of them - and then I'll sit back, and sigh, because I know Ubisoft will hammer us with so much information and so many trailers in the next two years that I'll almost be bored of the game before it releases.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

REVIEW - Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Wolfenstein: The New Order is a purely traditional FPS.  It represents a linear campaign with nicely high production values, smooth and capable shooting mechanics, comfortable design and a surprisingly adept narrative.  There are no bells and whistles, here, but what's on offer is rock-solid, making The New Order an easy recommend.

Let us break it down.


Wolfenstein has been around since 1992 (actually, '81 if you want to get technical, which I don't), and while the series has had its share of good and above-par games, it was destined to never again attain the cultural resonance it achieved, then. Like Super Mario Bros., like Pac-Man and DOOM, everyone played Wolfenstein 3D twenty-two years ago.  It is one of the shared experiences of our generation - one of our Woodstocks - a ubiquity that is unlikely to be repeated by it or any other property, as video games and media in general become ever-broader.

No Wolfenstein game will ever matter as much as Wolfenstein 3D did, and does - but that doesn't mean a game can't recapture the wholesome, childlike delight that can only comes from shooting Nazis in the face, and watching their faces go, like, bla! 


Bla!

And The New Order certainly does.  The developer is a young studio called MachineGames, which was founded in '09 by ex-Starbreeze folks and acquired by (publisher) Bethesda's parent company a year later.  Starbreeze, you'll recall, were responsible for the Riddick games and that early-7th-gen standout, The Darkness, which levels some impressively nuanced storytelling at its audience in a game characterized by heart-devouring shoulder-mounted demonic snakes (anyone who played that game will never forget the To Kill A Mockingbird scene).

The Darkness is a solid FPS, but what makes it special are those unforgettable story beats - and I'm pleased to advise you that Wolfenstein: The New Order boasts similar strength.


Set fourteen years after the Nazi regime won World War II and took over the world, the game permits one to fight against literally-impossible odds, and win - but the ridiculousness of playing David to the Nazis' Goliath is lost on no one, save the player-character.   This is a world in which everyone has abandoned hope, and only you, William "B.J." Blazkowicz, can give it back to them.

The game's roaring, teeth-gritting, blood-painting rampages are juxtaposed, here, against touching moments of quiet in the resistance safehouse.  Max Hass has lost his toys - can you find them for him?  Anne, whom you rescued from the work camp in northern Ukraine, has lost her wedding ring - and handing it back to her feels... beautiful.  The look in her eye - the appreciation - feels real.

You protect them, and they look to you as a symbol of strength, of resistance - and you come to love them for it.  None of these moments attain the game-stopping power of the To Kill A Mockingbird scene in The Darkness, but they resonate with the same human honesty and insight.  Beautiful additions that serves to absorb the player in The New Order's oppressive world.


It casts Blazkowicz as a tortured but endearing wrecking machine in the vein of Marv from Sin City, who will crush a skull with the same hand that offers a flower to a loved one.  Via an almost-whispered internal monologue, he reflects on his life, his boyhood fears and the terrible moments of hope he permits himself to suffer as a reminder of what he's fighting for - before diving back in to the bloodbath and carrying out missions no one could expect to survive.

Brian Bloom's performance as B.J. is selfless.  There's no guile of pride to it, and he takes no great pains to impress, but instead offers a quietly confident and capable performance as solid and unassuming as the game he inhabits - letting his actions speak louder than his words - and B.J.'s actions can be... eloquent.


He's simultaneously a canny exploration of the emotional state such a creature would suffer and an effective one-liner-crackin' action-hero he-man - his honesty as the former informing his believability as the latter - and he is thus a terribly effective avatar for the player to inhabit.  We can see our own humanity in him, and so his and our victories against the game's ridiculously-impossible odds taste all the sweeter.

Nearly every mission drops you in to an environment, Solid Snake-style, with nothing but a knife or a shitty pistol, and to obtain an assault rifle, you must pry it from the cold, dead hands of a Nazi who was better-equipped than you were, when you killed him.

The New Order supports two comfortable varieties of play - stealth and mayhem - and it's often possible to clear entire areas with nothing but a knife and some patience.

Stealth-killing enemy commanders ensures they can't call for reinforcements.

Environments are generally pleasantly open, offering a whiff (but not a full dose) of the wider level design of id and 3D Realms' heyday - always encouraging exploration with collectibles and lots of little secret stashes to find - and it's nice to enjoy an FPS that isn't a strictly linear hallway.

After sneaking about for a bit, cutting throats and nailin' silenced headshots, B.J. is soon loaded for bear with pistols (plural), assault rifles (plural), shotguns (plural), sniper rifles (plural!) and blades (you get it) - and he can dual-wield everything.  The game's stealth is somewhat perfunctory - it's no Far Cry 3 - but it works well.  When you're stalking halls with an assault rifle in each hand, zipping in to and dashing out of cover, however, is when the game becomes what it feels it was meant to be.

The New Order provides very comfortable first-person shooting - almost mundane in its assortment of standard weapons, grenades, alt-fires and inviting explosive canisters placed just so - but that is also what permits it a lovely, classic feel to its action.  If you love the feel of a good first-person shooter, you'll love this.


It progressively pits you against ever-more insane odds, its difficulty only spiking at a single room towards the end of the game (puts you up against like fifteen goons with a single pistol, a sniper rifle and almost no cover) - that aside, it's a comfortable gradient that steadily escalates its demands and ensures you're consistently pushing at your comfort zone, getting better, gleaning more satisfaction.

There's little to its mechanics - tesla grenades, explosives and energy weapons are effective against the regime's mechanical horrors, and that's about as strategic as it gets - but within its simplicity, The New Order achieves the arcadey first-person sweet spot one desires of an id game.

Shotguns feel proper, for example.

Emerging from cover with an assault rifle in each hand, putting a bead to an enemy's feet and holding down R2 so the kick of the gun zips up his torso, swooping your view around to another and holding down L2 - zzzzip!  Feels good - feels vital and powerful and sharp - and when a door opens to a flood of enemies and you jam down both triggers, sweeping them with an obliterating hail of pain...

Swooping around a corner to greet a Heavy enemy with the taptaptaptap roars of automatic shotguns in each hand...

Well, there's always been something wholesome about killin' Nazis.

"I'm gonna' ask you one question.  You are gonna' answer that question in a way I find satisfactory, and if you do not, I will saw your head off with this here appliance."

There is an argument to be made that The New Order fails to meaningfully reflect on the most abhorrent chapter in human history.  MachineGames certainly seem capable of investing its villains with the same humanity and depth as its heroes, if it chose, and mining emotional gold - but that's not what the game sets out to do, and is in opposition to its ambition.

The New Order enjoys its dichotomy - the larger-than-life characters, the quiet moments of relateable humanity juxtaposed with its ludicrous gibs and nostril-flaring action - it's got a slightly-exploitive high-budget B-movie vibe, and it plays it well, thanks in part to the immediate accessibility of its central conceit.

Here, Nazis serve much the same purpose as zombies - they're fun to kill, and you never feel bad about it. The fact that Nazis were (are?) real people with real feelings, real families, real hopes and dreams - who found themselves following orders to the point of abject horror - doesn't enter in to The New Order's fantasy.  Everyone in a Nazi uniform is evil.  Period.

This is pulp entertainment - it would be Tarantino-esque if its lead villains were more characters than (entertaining!) charicatures - and it leverages the universal appreciation for symbols of Nazi fascism as icons of evil to great effect.


The Nazis, then, fill the same emotional space as The Empire in Star Wars and the hordes of Mordor in Lord of the Rings.  Taking the place of space wizards or regular wizards, here, are... learned Jews.  Not kidding.  Wise Hebrew men, of an ultra-secret society which guards almost-supernaturally powerful artefacts that offer humanity hope in its battle against the global darkness of the regime.

Exploitive?  Yes.  It also ends up feeling strangely emotionally honest - classic, traditional, good-versus-evil stuff - which makes it feel right and righteous when you pull the trigger on the Laserkraftwerk ultra-weapon and watch an assault trooper explode into saucy bits like he just got hit with that awesome gun from District 9.  You know the gun.  That gun.

I appreciate that quality of entertainment - the classic and the pure entertainment - but more than that, I appreciate shooting Nazis with dual-wield laser rifles while storming their awesome base on ze dark side of ze Moon!



MachineGames have announced their existence with one of the most entertaining shooters in years.  It's aesthetically sharp, with bold art direction, striking set pieces, great presentation on PS4 and a rock-solid, silky-smooth framerate, thanks to the beautiful scaleability of id's Tech 5 engine (Rage).  It's a sharp, smooth, comfortable FPS that deftly rides the sweet spot of its genre with impactful weapons, capable enemy AI (when they're armed with guns - not so much with batons), satisfying challenge, canny pacing and genuine, viscerally thrilling action.

It's a cheeky, pulpy, zany fun-park ride of a game with a cast of crazed and crazy villains, a lovable, rag-tag band of heroes, remarkable moments of quiet, honest character exploration and the guilty pleasure of enjoying it when a bad guy's head explodes.  It's an entertaining story, smartly told, well-paced, well-written, well-acted (for the first time in years, I actually stopped playing a game to listen to an audio diary every single time one became available), with a great dynamic soundtrack that turns into straight metal when the action starts to roar.

Wolfenstein: The New Order is a game that entirely achieves what it sets out to do.  It breaks no new ground, but it's a title that manages to do a heritage that reaches back to the birth of its genre proud.  It's excellent.

Boom boom boom boom.

Also,

can I just say I really appreciate the texture of the coffee in these cups?  It swirls and tips this way and that as you walk with the tray, but man... that coffee looks so much like coffee.  The little bubbles!

Cropped:


Full image:


Nice touch!  Whoever worked on the coffee?  You deserve a raise.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Game Diary - Wolfenstein: The New Order.


Today I got home with a brand spankin' new copy of Watch Dogs. I unsealed it, inhaled that sweet, sweet new game smell, put it aside and kept on truckin' through Wolfenstein: The New Order.

It's... exactly what I wanted it to be.  It's giddily violent and sardonic and - surprisingly - pleasantly human in its quieter moments.  I enjoyed its story and story presentation far more than I anticipated - and when I get home tomorrow, I'm not going to not play Watch Dogs again.

Before I do, I'm gonna' make sure I have the screenshots I need.  Then, I'm gonna' explain to you why you should check out Wolfenstein.  Short version: because it's wonderful.

The Order 1886 dev diary - Fusing History & Mythology.



Show us pure gameplay you monsters!

Terrified by The Evil Within.

Another reaction video - but I'm lookin' forward to The Evil Within.

Monday, May 26, 2014

State of Decay DLC drops this Friday.



...and that is the most interesting news of the day, unless you count word that Sony is removing Stick it to the Man (PS4), Resogun (PS4), Pro Evolution Soccer (PS3), Little Big Planet Karting (PS3) and Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PS3) from the PlayStation Plus Instant Game Collection lineup on Tuesday, June 3rd (Limbo will be joining the Vita lineup).

Why is that cool and interesting news?  Because if they're taking out five games, I'm very curious about what they intend to put in.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

REVIEW - Transistor.

Transistor is an isometric action-RPG set in an ethereal, consistent-yet-inexplicable city of retro-noire style and total connectivity called Cloudbank.  Cloudbank runs on technology no one fully understands, yet which has become mundane to its citizens.

The population of the city participates in colossal votes on changes to the weather or the color of the sky.  Imagine if reality itself were dictated by an internet poll.

Dictated by the people, and made real by... what?  Transistor stubbornly refuses to answer any of its really interesting questions, but that's part of what makes it such a compelling parable.



The game's beautifully-drawn but evasive world and narrative (gorgeous music!), its clever and sturdy wealth of interlocking mechanics and its merciless brevity make it a pure spiritual sequel to Supergiant's excellent 2011 title Bastion.  Together, the two games feel decidedly distinct from any other RPG or action-RPG on the market, and make one want to proclaim them as some sort of sub-genre.

inFamous isn't a sandbox game, it's an open-world platformer.

Darksiders isn't merely an action-RPG, it's a Metroidvania.

Transistor is... supergiant.  Let's do that - I enjoy the irony of the term.

supergiant    adjective   \sü-pər-jī-ənt\ 
1  : of high quality and small size
2  a : a short and well-crafted video game
    b : a small and delicious meal 
Examples of SUPERGIANT
  • "Is that what a forty dollar steak looks like?  This thing better be supergiant."
  • Guacamelee  
  •  Portal
Okay, so that's not really a genre - but it's apt.


Beginning with absolutely no explanations, Transistor drops you on to a city street as the mute Red, with nothing to do but pull a glowing green, sword-like object from the corpse of a man.  The object lights up as a voice speaks from it - a man's voice - a man that seems to know her, and wants to keep her alive as strange computer-organisms erupt from the ground and begin white-washing the entire city.

Fans of Supergiant will squee at the return of Logan Cunningham's seductive gravel, as the Transistor serves an identical function here as The Narrator did in Bastion - feeling oddly alive and observant of your actions as you attend to or ignore its direction or meet a foe for the first time.

Things stay as mysterious as Transistor can possibly allow.  The city and everything in it feel warm and distant and dreamlike - and part of the titular weapon's nature becomes quickly apparent as you come across other bodies in the street and it absorbs their energy as "Functions," which expand the device's arsenal of abilities.  Gaining levels, as well, grants Functions, and soon you have a compact but dizzying array of options at your disposal - because every Function has many, many functions.

Let's use Crash and Breach as examples - the first two you get.

The Functions.

Crash has a medium-low range and medium-low damage - an energy blast in front of you - which stuns enemies briefly, and increases the damage they take while crashed.

Breach has a long startup, but fires a high-damage long-range beam which penetrates multiple enemies.

Instead of having two functions, you could add Crash as a support to Breach.  Now Breach will stun enemies.  Or you could add Breach to Crash - Crash now has longer range and hits harder - but each and every function can interact with every other function, often in differing ways.  There is an insane degree of customization here, if one's willing to experiment, and you're never locked in to one build as you can always mix-and-match your Functions at will.

Or you could use either in your passive slots - Crash increases your defense when use passively, and Breach gives you more planning time in Turn mode.  What is Turn mode?

It's beautiful, is what it is.


Tap R2, and time will freeze as a flood of glowing blue dots erupt from the Transistor, arranging into a grid pattern on the floor.  It switches Transistor from Bastion's purely action-RPG standard to a more-traditional turn-based tactical-RPG, in which you plan out your turn in the stillness.  Every step you take and action you execute eats up a portion of your Turn bar - you can only do so much - but combos built and executed in Turn are the key to blitzing your enemies and surviving the day.

Once executed (the dots zip back into the Transistor as Red dashes about the screen, laying waste to her foes), you must wait for Turn to recharge before you can use it again - and none of your functions are available while it recharges - unless you've mapped the Jaunt function as a support to one of them...


As in Bastion, Transistor allows the player to manually make the game far, far harder as they progress through it via "Limiters," which make your foes stronger or you weaker.  The game is a playground, then, for folks who find the idea of fighting through Cloudbank again and again, testing out countless set-ups, a winning proposition.

And you may.  Upon defeating it and enjoying the (very moving) finale, Transistor immediately transitions into a New Game+ mode with all of your Functions and unlocks, and harder enemies to fight.

True to its heritage, this is a vastly playable, endlessly-customizable game with nary a missed step.


Its production values - lush, warmly hand-drawn environments and characters, an absolutely stellar soundtrack (again) from Derren Korb and another absorbing performance from Cunningham - serve as a sumptuous gold standard all other indies should rightfully envy.  Its six or seven-hour play time ensures the game never gets stale, its mysterious, untouchable plot asks curious questions about the age we live in while refusing to blandly explain the nature of the seductive city of Cloudbank, which may or may not be a charicature of the entire internet - or a flash drive - or a literal sci-fi city full of literal people who are literally being wiped out by the calamity that floods through its towers and alleys.

It's involving, tactical, challenging fun all the way through - and cheerfully prepared to get harder at the precise the moment you ask it to.  Intellectually stimulating, emotionally gripping, aesthetically exciting, utterly mysterious and open to interpretation, Transistor leaves the true nature of its story and Cloudbank up to you - and that, I delcare, is good art.

That's supergiant.

I love Mandatory Update.

When Penny Arcade TV was a thing, I almost-exclusively used it to watch CheckPoint, which is sort of like The Daily Show for video games - it's a news-comedy show, focusing on our favored pastime.  Penny Arcade TV shut down at the end of 2013, and now CheckPoint lives on via LoadingReadyRun's YouTube channel with deeply reduced production values.  I feel kinda' bad for the CheckPoint folks - they can't afford to edit the show any more, so every stutter and mis-pronounced word stays in - which ensures a lot of the jokes (which they were never the best at delivering anyway) don't quite hit their comedic timing.

It's... kinda' awkward.  But lo!  GameTrailers have stepped up to the Video Game Comedy News plate, and it's headlined by Elyse Willems, who - in my eyes - became a star when she appeared with Kyle Bosman (whose beautifully, wholesomely honest show The Final Bosman is a great time as well) in this Not Funny, GT sketch.

Y'know what?  No, I just re-watched it.  I can't merely link to this, I have to embed it.  This shit is hilarious:



"It's gon' be guud!"

So Elyse hooked up with a fellow named Ian Hinck, who I'm convinced is just trolling us with his increasingly stupid hair - and between the two of them they provide a show with enough 90s references and pleasant honesty to give me at least two hard belly-laughs a week - which is more than I've been able to say for Colbert in a long time (but I still love you, Stephen).

Yes, Elyse, it is gon' be guud, and yesterday's news that I'd be getting an episode of Mandatory Update from E3 is some of the best gaming-related news in the past week.  So, if you're unfamiliar with the show,



"Ubisoft has released a promotional video for Watch Dogs that shows them pranking people into believing Watch Dogs won't suck."

Ahhh.  Thank you, Ian.  Mandatory Update goes up every Saturday.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Dear PlayStation,

The Order: 1886 looks so, so good, based on what media who've seen pure gameplay have to say.  But me, the rest of the world - gamers at large?  Have never seen it.

We want to see footage of a game that looks this good:


We want to get as hyped as the journalists are telling us we should be, but you won't let us see it.

When are you going to give us pure, undiluted, direct-feed footage?  Ever since the game's reveal it's been nothing but heavily-artefacted, framerate-molested YouTube videos and now, today's Twitch stream.  The best version I can find of said video is this one, which cuts the 3-minute vid down to 2, but is in near-HD (still heavy on the artefacting, thanks to YouTube's compression):



If you want to see the full, stuttering 3 minutes in sub-HD, it's here (thank you, Endless).

C'mon, PlayStation.  Put out a direct-capture zero-compression .MOV of this thing.  Let us bask in its glory.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Best Girlfriend Ever?

It's Kayla's Birthday (in two weeks)!  Woo!

As I am wont to do, I was bugging Kayla about what she wanted for her birthday, starting about two weeks ago.  For her birthday, for our anniversary, for Christmas, she always insists she doesn't want anything.  

Now, we all know what that is, don't we, Admiral? 


You're darned tootin' it is.  A work associate, today, told me that I'm expected to intuit what she wants and just get it for her without asking.  I'll do that, I admit, about half the time (Christmas 2012, Anniversary 2013) - but the only thing I could really think of, this year, was a huge gift certificate to her favorite store, as I kept on remembering this comic, and wanted to see her cry tears of joy at the thought of a lovingly-supported chest. 

Eventually she conceded that we would go to her favorite store and shop together, and I would foot the bill - an agreement lasted no more than four-and-twenty hours.  She decided that with all the working out she's been doing lately, any clothes we bought her wouldn't fit properly in a quarter-year, and would be wasted money. 

"But you'll still be comfortable for the next three months," I prodded.  That, alone, was worth it to me - but not to her.  She'd hear none of it, and would volunteer no suggestions. 

"You have to give me something, here," I insisted.  "Otherwise, I swear to God, I'm just gonna' go out and buy you a Vita."

"Ooh, a Vita!" she perked up.  

"...really?"  


Now, it's no secret I love my Vita.  I love my Vita - but Kayla had only ever indicated a passing interest in the device.  My threat of purchasing her one was just that - a threat, which I expected her to immediately shoot down because she hates it when I spend a lot of money on her - but she began talking over the benefits of having one, and gushing at the thought of playing Dragon's Crown on her breaks at work, or when I'm playing a PS4 game at home. 

My work associate, who expected me to telepathically understand Kayla's birthday wishes, is terribly supportive of our relationship.  When I told him, a month or so ago, that she's into video games, he didn't even let me finish the sentence. 

"Keep her," he said, stone-faced and deadly serious.  When I went in to work on Tuesday and (proudly) told him that Kayla wanted a Vita for her birthday, with the same seriousness, he said "lock that one down, Ferber."

And, yesterday, Kayla and I went in to my local EB. 

Kayla, I know you hate it when I spend a lot of money on you, and I'm sorry, my dear - you know I don't want you to feel guilty - but... 

$200.00+Tax - The Borderlands 2 Vita slim bundle

$20.00+Tax - a hard Vita clamshell case

$20.00+Tax - two screen protectors.

$50.00 - a fifty-dollar PSN card (for Dragon's Crown - she bought another for The God of War Collection)

$100+Tax - a 32GB memory card (which, I'll be honest, is the memory card I stopped using when I upgraded to the 64GB - but it's still a hundred-dollar value).

= $434.20

A girlfriend who actually wants me to buy her a video game platform?


So last night I hopped in to her PSN account and began setting the thing up.  A pleasant side-effect of this is I've now gone hands-on with the new, slim Vita, and am properly armed to advise you on how it compares to the original model.

I wasn't able to get everything set up by the time she swung by last night, but by this morning, my work was done.  This is Kayla's Vita:


This is her start screen - an old image from Johnny Wander she's used as her Google avatar ever since.


I cleaned up her options applications and used a background picture I drew in the long-long-ago, when I had a very menial job that permitted me to draw while on the phone.


Now, keep in mind, the only games we actually had to buy yesterday were Dragon's Crown and the God of War collection.

(Kayla's always loved this Danbo pic.)

(Kayla's always loved cute pictures of animals.)

Guacamelee she got via cross-buy with the PS3 version, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is free with her PS+ subscription.


(It took her a while, but she fell in love with Adventure Time - as anyone should.)

A download code for Borderlands 2 came free with the Vita - she insisted she didn't want it, but I keep encouraging her to try it out.  Perhaps, one day, we can fight our way across Pandora together.  Again, everything else is free with PS+.

(Anyone who doesn't love Archer in general and Pam specifically is bad and should feel bad about that)

Retro City Rampage is another cross-buy title, but everything else?  Yep - PS+.   So basically, my love got about three hundred dollars worth of games, but only actually bought two of them.   And that's why you subscribe to PS+.

Ah, Vita.

Ah, Kayla.

Now... I know I have peculiar predilections, and I know that rare is the woman who'd want to lay in bed next to me while my Amazon berserker assists her armored Warrior through a dungeon in Dragon's Crown to kill some owlbears...  but the point is, that's exactly what I've got.


Happy birthday, Kayla. 

Minecraft comes to Vita this August.

Also PS3, PS4 and Xbox One.


Each version will cost you $20, but the PS3/Vita version is cross-buy, so you get two copies for the price of one.  If you then upgrade from the PS3 to the PS4 version, it'll be a mere five dollars.

More details over at mojang.com.  I, for one, have been waiting patiently for Minecraft to appear on Vita.  Never touched it on PC or 360 - even as it swept the gamer consciousness and I began to see kids on the street in creeper hoodies - but if I'm gonna' try it, it's going to be on my favorite platform.

Metro Redux coming to PS4, One.



It's official - 60fps on both consoles, if they're to be believed.  The pricing they zip through at the end kind of confuses me.  Are they selling each game for $25 as a download, $50 for the pair?  How much is the physical copy?

Given how abruptly my time with Metro came to an end (thank you, Big Momma fight), do I care?

Watch Dogs launch trailer.



Definitely the most cars I've ever seen in a Watch Dogs trailer.  Trying to court the GTA crowd, are we?

Middle-Earth : Shadow of Mordor - Make Them Your Own trailer.



Now this really differentiates Shadow of Mordor from all that Assassin's Creed stuff that was dogging it after the announcement.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Stateless - Miles to Go.

Just chill.

Batman: Arkham Knight trailer!

With what we're told is gameplay!



It features a ton of Batmobile car porn, but this game has already crossed a lot off my Next Batman Game Wants list:


  • Developed by Rocksteady
  • New-gen native
  • Batmobile!
  • Kevin Conroy is back as Bats

I went in to EB Games today to purchase part of Kayla's birthday present (more on that later), and laid down preorders for the coming months.  Yesterday, when I picked up Wolfenstein, I was shocked -shocked! - to realise I had only two pending preorders (Watch Dogs and Destiny), a paltry amount.  So today, I laid down five bucks apiece on The Last of Us Remastered, Diablo III's PS4 version, The Evil Within, Dragon Age Inquisition, Alien: Isolation, Far Cry 4 and - of course - Batman: Arkham Knight

'Course, now I realize I really shoulda' put some money down on The Order: 1886 and Dying Light, but there's always Tuesday!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Child of Light is coming to Vita.


I would have been super-excited about this if I'd heard about it before I actually played Child of Light.

Meh.  Do not want.

In other, more-awesome news, Transistor and Wolfenstein: The New Order dropped today.  I've taste-tested them both.  Wolfenstein is okay, so far.  I'll give it an okay.  Shooting mans is fun, but I want to see some of the more-open levels I've heard about - the beginning is as linear as you'd expect.

Transistor is as wonderful as you'd expect, from the people who made Bastion, and I wish I were playing it right now instead of writing this.  So, g'night!

Monday, May 19, 2014

New Guardians of the Galaxy trailer!

Woo!  More Rocket Raccoon, woo!

[update]  Okay, Disney keeps takin' 'em down, 'cause God forbid someone might see a commercial for their movie, so here's two mirrors...





And if those fail, try this.  Glenn Close?  How'd they swing that? [/update]

Rumor : Phantom Breaker : Battle Grounds coming to Vita in the west.

This story has popped up here and there, today, seemingly stemming from this Siliconera article which cites the game getting a rating in Germany (which, let's be honest, are usually pretty good indicators of what's coming).  Phantom Breaker is a retro-style beat 'em up that saw a worldwide release on Xbox 360 back in 2013.  Its Vita version was released in Japan this past March.

Judging from this trailer...



...it's Scott Pilgrim or River City Ransom with weapon-wielding girls.  I can dig it - particularly given that I don't have an equivalent game on my Vita.  Bring it on.

Shadow of Mordor weapons & runes trailer.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Gojira!


Last Wednesday, an older fellow - let's call him Carl - at my work used some advance tickets he got through a contest, or something ("I never pay for movie tickets," he boasted), saw Godzilla.  "It's really boring for the first hour," he said.

"So you don't see Godzilla for the first hour?" I clarified.

"Correct.  And it's non-stop action for the last hour."

"Is it awesome action?" I clarified again.  He just shrugged.

"It's not... bad," he managed.

"But it's not awesome."

"No."

"I don't care!" I told him, defensively.  "I still wanna' see it!"

Later, I told another work friend what Carl had to say about Godzilla, and they pointed out something terribly true about his character, via the immortal communication tool of sarcasm.

"Oh, wow, something Carl doesn't like."

"Good point."

That gave me hope - and today, Kayla and I saw Godzilla. Let me say this: it has some super-awesome parts.


Some articles since the movie's release decry the presence of its human characters, as Godzilla himself really is the most interesting, cool thing in the movie - and that's true.  Aaron Taylor-Johnson (he was Kickass in Kick-Ass) is the thread that carries a human perspective on the events of Godzilla across the globe - he has a tortured father, a beautiful wife and handsome son replete with the classic Doomed Horror Movie Child haircut.  I disagree with anyone who calls his performance wooden - he does a fine job with what he's given, but he's given next-to-nothing.

What kind of exacerbates the fact that Godzilla himself is so much more interesting than his human co-stars is the way the movie will set up that something totally frickin' amazing is about to happen with the beast, and then it cuts away to what's going on with the humans and not show us the amazing thing.

Seriously - it builds up a confrontation between Godzilla and a certain foe, and then right as the fight starts it cuts away to Beautiful Wife and Doomed Hair Boy, and Doomed Hair Boy is watching snippets of the awesome action the movie is denying us on some news coverage, and it's like "well I would have loved to have seen that."

To a degree, I feel like Godzilla pulled that so as not to blow its Load of Wonder prior to the big finale (which lasts about a half-hour), but even then, towards the end of the movie there was a point at which it was trying to give us some closure on the humans' storyline and I was literally thinking I don't give a fuck let me know what's going on with Godzilla.


Which may, perhaps, be the success the movie is looking for.  By the time the credits rolled I was more than a bit dissatisfied with how much the humans took over the story (rather like how the worst parts of Pacific Rim involve people talking), but the movie effectively sets up a world in which the titular King of Monsters exists, and fills the same sort of hero-monster role he came to wear in the classic Japanese films.   He does do some super, super-awesome stuff - there's just not enough of it - and I seriously want to see some more.

Perhaps the spectacular sequences of Pacific Rim are a good yardstick to measure Godzilla against.  Well... Pacific Rim is better, I'll say it - but I'll also say that I'll probably Bluray this just for the last fight, so I can watch it, whenever I want, for the rest of my life.

I'll just skip the first hour.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

REVIEW - Child of Light.

Child of Light advertised itself as a western love letter to JRPGs of old.   As the lost princess-child Aurora, players explore the side-scrolling magical land of Lemuria, in search of the moon and the stars - stolen by an evil queen - to return peace to the land, and perhaps find her way home.

It's a charming, noshable little game.

Well then, that settles it.  It's pronounced "YOU-be-soft."

Child of Light would have received far more critical acclaim, were it not the product of development and publishing juggernaut Ubisoft.  If this ten-hour diversion came from an indie studio, folks would be flipping out over it, and it would have a place in the Game of the Year conversations, come December.  As a game born of the 2000-head-strong Ubisoft Montreal (and a handful of other studios to boot), anything less than a perfection of design and mechanics must be noted - and Child of Light is not perfection.

Its combat system is original, but its uniqueness doesn't ensure it's actually fun.  Its conceit of making every line of spoken dialogue in the entire game rhyme is admirable, but it would be more meaningful if it did it well, and told a compelling story while it was at it.

Child of Light doesn't really manage that.  Now, I'll be honest, I choked up a bit at the end. I mean, it's beautiful. 



Aesthetically-speaking, Child of Light is one of the more stunning games in recent memory, with visual artistry that's currently in competition with Dark Souls II and Muramasa's DLC for best art direction of 2014.

It has a gorgeous instrumental soundtrack, and the game world and every character in it are hand-drawn, appearing to have leapt from the pages of the most lovingly-illustrated of children's storybooks onto your TV.


Well, Aurora's not hand-drawn - she and four other powerful ladies like her have the only polygonal character models in the game - but it never looks completely out-of-place, and separates the girl and her kind as otherworldly and powerful as they wander the blighted land.  Speaking of Aurora, she's as charming as her iconic design - and it's pretty hard to dislike the child-warrior-princess when the beastly last son of an imprisoned race of super-warriors asks her if she'll rid Lemuria of the darkness that befouls it, and she responds,


She's kind of awesome.

The game progresses with standard RPG tropes - you earn XP for each battle (the game is very generous with its XP, and you'll level up at least one of your characters after almost every fight), and levels earn you skill points to spend in each of a character's three talent trees.  "Tree" is a generous word for it, as it's more-accurately described as three completely-linear strings.  You'll want to concentrate on a single string at a time, as hugely powerful versions of your abilities tend to lay right at the end of a line of skills (I beat the final boss by casting Aurora's highest-level damage-buff and spamming her highest-level spell, over and over, while the tank soaked up damage).

As you wander the world you'll meet strange and wonderful folks, each of whom add something desirable to your party.  Child of Light limits your party makeup to two heroes at a time, and when you can only have say, a tank and a healer, or a damage-dealer and a debuffer, you can never quite field a balanced team.  Fortunately, this can be overcome by the game's relatively low challenge, and a few strategically-powerful combinations.


At the bottom of the above screen, you'll notice a bar.  This is the action bar, and all characters - enemies and heroes - move across it.  Once a character's icon reaches the far right, they perform the action they selected at the beginning of the Cast section.  If a character is struck by an enemy during the all-important Cast section, their action is stopped and they are thrown back on the action bar to wait for their turn.

This is a double-edged sword, as a vicious collection of enemies can effectively shut down your entire team if you're not careful - but it also permits you to shut down your enemies, with a bit of strategy and luck.  When a fight begins with a surprise attack (blind an enemy in the overworld with a concentrated dose of your firely Igniculus's light, and sneak up as they recover), you'll always begin with one hero at the cast stage, one hero halfway up the bar, and all your enemies at the start.

Select Finn as your first character (a Wizard dwarf/gnome thing) and have him cast his three-star Lightning (All) spell - it takes a very long time to cast.  Aurora follows up by beginning to cast her powerful damage buff on him - which takes so much less time to cast than Finn's spell that she races past him on the bar and lands the buff on him a smidge of a second before he lets three colossal balls of souped-up lightning off the chain, and fries three water-based enemies in a single, spectacular strike.

Sometimes it's pretty satisfyin' - but more often than not, it's just a little boring, and occasionally downright frustrating.


What draws the player across Child of Light is entirely the game's aesthetic beauty, which remains striking and enchanting throughout.  Its greatest pleasure is simply fluttering your way around the game world on Aurora's iridescent fairy wings, throwing switches and solving a (very) rare puzzle.

As such, your actions are never really memorable.  As you wander Lemuria's gorgeous forests and plateaus, you form no great connection to this place or the next, to the degree that it remains stunning the next time you backtrack to an earlier zone because you'd literally forgotten all about it.

That ain't good - and it's an indicator of how inconsequential nearly all of the gameplay in Child of Light feels.

But...


...but it's a beautiful game.  It's something original and new-feeling from a studio whose colossal proportions, colossal budgets and colossal bets often dictate it stays as close as possible to the safe, and the tried-and-true - and that alone is almost as heartwarming as Child of Light means to be.

As a beautiful storybook, Child of Light is a glorious success.  As a fun game, it's lacking - I couldn't even bring myself to do the side quests because it would mean having to "play" more of it - but as a one-off experience, it's pleasant, light and unique.

I don't need a sequel, though.