For most of the week I found only pockets of time to play little bursts of games but starting with the weekend (marked by the end of a particularly onerous project) I had a fairly open schedule to plug away at a few of my current titles. I also picked at a few oldies to see if they were still goodies, tried to get my painting mojo back, decided I made the wrong choice of platform—surprising myself in the process—and played not one but two tabletop games.
The only way to know is to carry on.
- Left 4 Dead
I played an awful lot of this game through the weekend. It’s curious because while I very much enjoy it, it hasn’t captured me in that sense that every spare opportunity is spent firing it up and playing just a little bit. Excepting a stretch on Saturday morning where I pushed through several campaigns in a row, I typically play only if I have the requisite hour to make it through a whole campaign and then once I’m through I usually move on to something else for a bit.
I fiddled around some with the difficulty settings and let me tell you that even on Easy mode the game isn’t exactly a cakewalk but when they say “Expert” they aren’t kidding around. I suppose it’s possible to do better in a mode like that when you have human-controlled teammates instead of the AI, but on lower levels the AI is perfectly competent yet in Expert the nonstop flood of brutally challenging enemies, even the standard Infected, are too much for them. It’s one of those games that as you progress through the difficulty settings finds new and ruthless ways to hamper you: It’s not enough that the zombies are tougher, it’s not even enough that their numbers are significantly increased. It’s still not sufficient that they swarm more frequently and that the special zombies (Boomers, Tanks, Smokers and Hunters) appear much more regularly but on top of all this, each individual hit from an Infected causes 10 points of damage to your 100 point health allotment. Contrast this with the one-HP ding per swipe on Easy and you can see where it isn’t call Expert flippantly.
I’m working now to see if there is any way I can find some other people I know to play with because as much as I enjoy the game, the multiplayer structure reminiscent of Counter-Strike is limiting from a single-player standpoint: The four campaigns shipped on the disc are all good, but reaching the point where Achievements are not coming readily any longer has removed some of the luster from the lather-rinse-repeat cycle of playing them over again. With no discernible difference between each character and little to no desire to play with the unwashed masses, my interest is fading and I’m not ready for that to happen just yet.
One other minor note, I appreciate the sound design and voice-over work in the game but I have to say that the gunfire in the game is ridiculously loud. Since sound is a key component to the game to alert you of impending danger, I haven’t been able to find a suitable volume on my TV that allows me to play as intended without making my whole neighborhood feel like they’ve stumbled into a warzone and the audio controls don’t have the granularity to adjust specific elments of the audio aside from music and everything else. It has forced my hand and made me sit up close to the television so I can use headphones, a configuration that is both an improvement and a disappointment: Immersion and gameplay wise it’s much better, but comfort wise it lacks and I find myself face first in my TV screen with headphones wondering, “Why am I not playing this on a PC? It sure feels like a PC experience…”
- World of Warcraft
Friday night was one of my worst experiences yet with WoW and it started simply with a guildmate inviting me to tank for Maraudon, an instance in Desolace. My past instances have been some of the highlights of WoW so I initially jumped at the chance. Unfortunately Maraudon is also a fairly high-level instance in the original game world (so it’s late-40s, early 50s level) and, being level 51, it was going to be in that “doable but challenging” area. Unfortunately that also meant that we needed the full compliment of roles and group members: 5-man with a tank, a healer and several dps. Naturally there were only three of us in the guild online and we spent what felt like an eternity trying to get it together. Once we did get a group going, we were plagued with drop-outs and miscues and half-wipes until we finally tried to get a higher-level player to simply run us through and s/he turned out to be a righteous pain, demanding we pay gold so s/he could respec and getting “bored” and bailing after maybe 15 minutes.
All told it was several hours of frustration and annoyance from which I emerged with only a little bit of XP and practically no useful loot. Approaching the original content level cap has me thinking that after this coming month in which I fully expect to hit 60, I’ll probably take a break and put a hold on the account. With my next step being further investment and my general enjoyment of the game waning, I think it’s the right thing to do. I’ve had a lot of fun with it but I’m starting to get fatigued and the creeping sense of guilt over paying for something I don’t want to sink every waking hour into is beginning to be the writing on the wall that it’s time to back off. If nothing else I can say that WoW has opened me to the idea of MMOs and it inadvertently recharged me for gaming in general (I hadn’t realized how much of a doldrums I was in until I got excited about WoW and noticed it was the first game in months I had been truly into) but I’m not so invested in it that I’m reluctant to drag myself away. I think in general I’m not a very sentimental gamer: I play most games as long as I find them fascinating and then have little problem stepping away or renewing the resource to get something new (see all the trade-ins and Goozex stuff). Note that I do not particularly collect video games. That being the case, there’s no way I’m going to collect game subscriptions.
- Marvel Ultimate Alliance
I’ve gotten back into reading comic books lately, thanks to and with the help of a friend from work who is kind enough to bring his weekly purchases to me once he’s finished reading them. Because of this my interest in super hero games has also ramped up and I decided to try MUA again after not touching it for probably over a year to see how it held up.
Truthfully, I couldn’t get back into it. I tried on a couple of occasions but neither time was I able to get past the initial sequence with Wolverine, Spider-Man, Captain America and Thor. I don’t think it was that the game had suddenly gotten dull or uninteresting but somehow I couldn’t remember the details of the controls and couldn’t be bothered to look them up. MUA is, I guess, one of those games that works once but after you’ve worked through it there isn’t enough there to keep you coming back. Or at least not enough to get me to come back.
I’ve had this game for some time now and it was picked up from Goozex as part of my efforts to touch on some of the high points of earlier generations. Unfortunately while I enjoyed Shadow of the Colossus early on, I’m having a hard time penetrating the thought process behind Ico. Obviously these are games designed to evoke mood even while feeling more or less familiar (especially to long time gamers) but both games are plagued by ponderous cutscenes and stretches of gameplay that are so mood-focused that, I hate to say it, are frankly boring.
I don’t need my hand held through most video games but the difference between me tolerating the slow bits of Shadow and not Ico is that even when there is something useful to do in Ico, I feel like I’m trying to play charades over the phone. At least in Shadow the lack of obvious tutorial content was compensated by making the process of discovery and trial and error rewarding. In Ico the few small triumphs I’ve had give me the impression that I’ve just figured out the door I was knocking on has been unlocked the whole time.
- Lock’s Quest
I only played a short amount of this game, which I enjoy but findit wants to keep me at arm’s reach. The pacing in the combat sections feels off somehow; I like the real-time strategic elements but some of the battles I’m fighting now require my manual intervention (that is, I have to get out and fight myself) and the hectic “I-need-to-be-in-several-places-at-once” vibe reminiscent of PC RTS games captures my least favorite element of those titles. Still, whenever I start to get into a battle or a series of strategic configurations, I’m thrown back into a long sequence of slow-talking cutscenes and ultra-light RPG fussing. I can see the balance the developers were trying to strike with this game and I admire them for it, but so far I can’t help feeling like they narrowly missed the mark.
- Puzzle Quest
Once again I returned to PQ on the DS only… I think I made a mistake. I went with the DS version because overall I prefer the DS to the PSP. The reason is simply that the DS is a legitimately portable device while the PSP is a nifty little system that just happens to be portable. The distinction lies in the difference between having my DS on me frequently in case I have a few minutes of downtime and playing my PSP as if it were just another home console that I could feasibly take with me if I were interrupted for some reason. This being the case I thought that what I wanted was Puzzle Quest in the most portable format possible. It turns out though that the design decisions that went into PQ on the DS are not what I’m looking for at all.
For reasons that are exclusively related to comfort, I find that playing stylus-based games make the DS feel more like the PSP: That is, a home console capable of convenient mobility but not precisely a handheld system. Thus it comes down to the games to make the DS feel portable: Contra 4, New Super Mario Bros., Mario Kart DS all feel very portable. Phantom Hourglass, Planet Puzzle League and Animal Crossing all feel like regular console games you can pull out and play pretty much anywhere. And I like both, it’s just that it takes a particular devotion to a game to engage it with the stylus and while I’m okay with that for certain titles, I’m not looking for that from Puzzle Quest. I have a much more attractive version that I can play if I want to settle in and play some PQ. What I want is something I can play a bit in the restroom or in line at the bank or on an airplane and that means I don’t want to have to fiddle with a stylus and the touchscreen.
What baffles me is why they decided to avoid giving DS players the option to play any other way. It’s not like they couldn’t have done it, but in fact on the DS the game feels sort of rushed and sloppy. All the interface elements are disappointing and the lack of options to customize your game to suit you is at best laziness. I think what I was really looking for is a PSP version so my inclination is to re-list the DS copy on Goozex and try a swap-out for the other version.
- Marvel Heroes
We tried another round of this game with three players and all told I thought it was a better game. We did play with a particular scenario that made the villians much more difficult to handle, especially since we seemed to draw Mastermind headlines nine times out of ten and the scenario allowed villains to use two scheming abilities instead of just one, plus their Master Plan cards were part of the victory condition so they came out every opportunity. Where this really impacted the game was that it felt to an extent like you were almost better off not troubleshooting so you couldn’t give your opponent a chance to advance his Master Plan.
But three players did make the story track more of an interesting dynamic and having two pools of villain cards to pull from for each Troubleshooting action was beneficial to preventing the heroes from steamrolling every encounter. Unfortunately the scenario also had us shuffling the team nemesis cards so no one ended up fighting against the villain they normally face and I felt like the game had been specifically balanced to work against its designated foe; as a result my Marvel Knights team was facing Magneto, against whom they had little luck, while Aaron’s X-Men fought Dr. Doom and because of his odd combat “ability” which is actually a detriment (Doom cannot choose dice boosting as a Scheming action) had a lot less issues than Spidey and co. versus Magneto.
In any case Thom’s Fantastic Four/Magneto combo won handily, earning over the set 25 VPs and managing to complete the secondary victory condition of completing the Master Plan. I like the game still, but I feel like there are too many grey areas not covered explicitly by the rules and certain mechanical constructs like Supporting Characters, Archnemesis and Resource Cards are either awkwardly applied or improperly balanced especially with the flavor of the game. Occasionally it feels like you’re actually participating in a comic book story, but there are too many situations where I think we felt like the game was getting in the way of the theme.
The other things I discovered last week were Facebook games, especially Attack! (Risk) and Scrabble. I’ve been playing Scrabble with my dad and, separately, with my wife while I’ve had a few games of Attack! with a friend from work. Both are kind of buggy and prone to weird annoyances but it’s nice to have a play-by-email solution that is sort of extended into my online network as opposed to trying to convince people to visit a specific place to acquire a specific piece of software to use. I used to play chess on a site called It’s Your Turn but since it was a destination you had to want to go to in the first place, once someone let it fall out of their daily surf rotation it was easy to lose your game partners. Facebook is at least a destination for general contact; the games aspect is just the part I’m most interested in and it works because everyone else is just there anyway.
- Blood Bowl
I played another match against Aaron, this time my Elves versus his Lizardman team. The final score ended up being a little closer than the game really was, his 3-2 victory suggests I put up more of a fight than I was able to muster. He was rolling incredibly well when it came to armor and injury rolls so I would have actually lost a Blitzer had it not been for the Apothecary I induced and I ended up only able to field seven players for most of the game including I think the entirety of the second half.
The Elves are an interesting team because unlike the Wood Elves who are clearly built to take advantage of their agility right out of the gate with dodging Catchers and the superb Wardancers, vanilla Elves are a team that starts with potential and little else. The base blitzers are superior, skill-wise, to the High Elf variants but as useful as Side Step is, I’m not sure it matters when the lower starting AV means they are more likely to die or suffer injury before they have a chance to really improve.
AG 4 is, undoubtedly, a significant statistic considering what most of the non-blocking die rolls represent in terms of succeeding in the game. But when you consider that Elves STR 3 make them only effective at blocking Stunty or Titchy players alone and their 7 AV puts them at a serious disadvantage unless they can evade the opponent’s blocks you’re looking at a team that really, really needs to dodge a lot. And unlike, say, AG 4 in terms of picking up the ball which is certainly necessary at some point, dodging is potentially deadly regardless of AG. Turnovers are a bummer but they don’t have the opportunity to cost your league team upwards of 110,000 gold and possibly a lot of invested time and effort in advancement.
In any case I was able to execute enough to (finally) get a few more advances including a couple more guys with dodge and a lineman who now has AG 5 which I figure will mostly come into play as a means to dodge into one tackle zone without altering the target number. Still not quite as reliable as the re-roll, but useable more than once per turn so better for those seemingly regular occurences where I have to dodge from one covered square into another several times just to clear out of the scrum.
- Geometry Wars 2
As I mentioned above I like Left 4 Dead but occasionally I find myself powering on the Xbox and the realizing I don’t have enough time to get through an entire campaign so I move on to something else. On one occasion I picked up GeoWars 2 again and played through a bit of Pacifist because it’s still the mode in which I can’t achieve top score on my Friends List and I also fiddled a bit with Sequence mode because it seems like that has become the principal mode to me in GeoWars 2. It’s a little odd because the game that comprised the entirety of the original title is probably my least favorite (well, maybe excepting Waves) of all the modes in the sequel. It’s impressive that a game I played probably more than any other in terms of longevity and continued interest has since been eclipsed in terms of preference not just once but several times over. Kudos to Bizarre; they know how to make a semi-casual twin-stick shooter, I’ll tell you that much.
I did intend to work on some painting and modeling stuff over the weekend but I had a splitting headache all day Sunday and squinting at tiny figs seemed too intense for my disposition. However, a friend gave me a bag full of assorted minis and with the recent resurgence in Blood Bowl play, I suspect more model-based shennanigans are forthcoming.