A Look At the Mirror’s Edge Catalyst Beta

A Look At the Mirror’s Edge Catalyst Beta

At some point in time, I registered for the closed beta for EA’s upcoming Mirror’s Edge Catalyst and then promptly forgot about it. Therefore I was surprised to find my access code in my email last Friday morning. After entering that code Saturday morning (okay, afternoon) with my cup of coffee, my weekend disappeared.

After playing the first Mirror’s Edge last summer, I was salivating for a sequel. It was hard to imagine having to wait nearly a decade for any new parkour endeavors. The first game only dipped its shock-conducing tennis shoe soles into its dystopian world and felt more like an experiment than a full-fledged idea. With nine years to ruminate and rethink Catalyst is everything I wanted from the inaugural title—at least from what I could tell from the beta.

The beta had the first four main missions and any available side missions, upgrades, and collectibles. It’s clear from the start that Catalyst suffers from the early stages of today’s open-world epidemic. While Mirror’s Edge had linear chapters with a few collectibles in each, Catalyst has a map filled with markers for delivery missions, player-created time trials, and runner bags filled with graffiti decals. Fortunately I’m not sick of open-world games, but if you are, you’ve been warned.

The game opens with Faith’s release from a juvenile detention center run by KrugerSec, a fairly in media res start for a long-awaited sequel. So far there’s no mention of Kate or the dramatic rooftop ending to the first game. After getting her GPS monitor for her parole, Faith gets pulled away by her old runner gang, reinstating her fugitives status only three minutes into her lawful freedom. Now she’s back to running missions to earn scrip and pay back her debts to Dogen.

The three biggest changes in Catalyst are the structure, and the addition of an upgrade tree, and the combat system. Instead of completing each chapter in order, you can complete the main missions at your own pace, choosing to freelance and run deliveries or hack security systems instead. You won’t want to get too far off track because while you earn experience with everything you do, your available upgrades only grow as you progress through the main campaign.

The upgrade tree consists of three categories: movement, combat, and gear. While the latter two are straightforward, the movement tree is frustrating. Most of the options were moves that were available at the start of the first game—rolling, quick turning, and lifting your legs to gain speed. From what I could tell, you unlock these early on, but nothing is earlier than usable in the tutorial.

As for the performance, it ran moderately well on my mid-range PC when I put the settings on low. The main issue I had was a slowdown whenever I started running. In general it was tolerable, but it made some of the more difficult timed delivery missions impossible. Why does the timer start while the environment is still loading in?

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst releases next month, and I can’t wait. To enjoy it fully, definitely make sure our computer can handle it. Platforming takes precision, and that’s hard to do when you fall off the building before the game registers you hit jump.

…or maybe that’s just me.

Stay tuned.

My (Very Short) Games of the Year!

My (Very Short) Games of the Year!

Last time my year-end round-up focused on what HD remakes I had played that year. For me 2014 was more about replaying new versions of old games I played either as a kid or as a teenager. Fortunately I managed to play a grand total of FIVE games from 2015, four of them for PC.

Lucky for me, that means no picking and choosing but instead ranking very single game I played that released this year.

So let’s get it started already.

5. Gravity Ghost

First things first—if you read my review, you know I don’t hate Gravity Ghost. Between the heartwarming/soul crushing story, art style, and relaxing gameplay, I loved the afternoon I spent with it. And by I loved the afternoon, I mean I laid on the floor crying with my dog after finishing.

I also want to make it clear it ranks over many games I played this year. It is only outranked by these.

Damn, I still feel guilty.

This game is perfect for if you are stressed. The physics-based levels are not precise, but watching the swirls of the girl’s white hair and the colorful planets against the twinkling dark sky are entrancing.

The number of levels is perfect too. While so many games this year looked to pack in content of varying degrees of quality, Gravity Ghost curates its short levels down to roughly a hundred short experiences, never overstaying its welcome.

4. Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

When looking back, I will remember 2015 as the year of the Witcher. Since the summer, I have played—and nearly completed—all three games in the series. This year I got invested in the characters, lore, and politics of Temeria and the Nilfgaardian empire.

So why number four?

Once again I enjoyed others more. Though I had fun the entire way through, the Witcher 3‘s main plot was not paced as well as its predecessors. Without spoiling anything, Witcher 3‘s second and third act could have easily been combined. Even more confusing, the first act somehow consisted of three separate story arcs. My English major sensibilities of the traditional dramatic structure and five acts plays are seriously shaken by this.

With a game that takes a minimum of eighty hours to finish—and that’s with barely exploring the map—it must have a logical pacing to propel the player forward. So while I enjoyed nearly everything about it, the way it drug on in the second half killed it for me.

Also I am an insensitive prick with no understanding of human emotion who ended up alone despite romancing Triss for three games straight.

3. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

The one title not on PC, but it released this year in North America and took up a lot of time.

Fun story first: Over the summer, I was visiting my parents with my then seven month old and newly adopted puppy Remy, I was running errands and didn’t have his kennel with me, so I left him in my childhood room alone for a couple hours without thinking about the 3DS I left on the charger.

I came back to find carnage. Remy ate the charger first, pulling the 3DS free in the process. Then he pulled my Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate cartridge free and chewed it to bits. Then he spent the rest of his time nibbling at the plastic around the game slot.

And that’s how my dog killed more monsters in two hours than I did in a hundred.

Anyway this was my first Monster Hunter game, and it was the perfect place to start. Whenever in combat, I rarely think strategically, but Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate forced me to. Every weapon and monster means you must fight a different way, and if you aren’t efficient and don’t focus on offense and defense, you will just die. It was a great game and a learning experience.

Now my boyfriend always complains that I refuse to play multiplayer, I might have to soon. Since getting my new copy, I have yet to hunt a single monster.

Maybe I’ll need his help now.

2. Dying Light

One of my top choices for superpowers is to parkour like runners in Mirror’s Edge or, in this case, Dying Light

As my first zombie game, it did not disappoint, but the movement system is what won me over. The closest I will ever come to flying is scaling city buildings in record time using my brute strength.

What I appreciated most was how well the game rationalized its apocalypse:

  • The zombie virus broke out at the Olympics, explaining the speed with which it spread, and the number and diversity of both zombies and survivors.
  • Because of the athletic nature of the event, it also explains how so many people are capable of the feats displayed in the game.
  • The area is in quarantine, meaning the rest of the world is not infected, but there is a temporary cure that holds off the virus if you take regular doses.

Basically it wins the logic versus mechanics award of the year, and in a medium where you must suspend your disbelief and more than I wish, I appreciate the sense Dying Light makes.

And the winner is…

Remy the Monster Hunter!

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Just kidding, it’s Her Story

And I know, I know. I chose an indie darling. Sue me.

But don’t because I’m super broke.

Her Story has stuck with me. I still vividly remember when and where I was when I played it on release after counting down the days until its release. My nana had died the week before, and I was at my boyfriend’s parent’s house in their living room alone. I sat at their table, pretending I was a detective.

It wins the award for being the only game I played by myself this year without Netflix playing in the background.

If you argue it’s not a game, you’re silly because it has a clear win state and a database to complete. But honestly, I also appreciate pleasant discourse, so feel free to comment what you think.

I love its disjointed narrative and how what it’s about is still debated to this day.

I love the slow reveal of who you’re playing as in the game.

I love the silly nineties desktop user interface, complete with the glare that comes from the old rounded monitors.

I love how something so simple conceptually could feel so big to me.

I love it all.

Next up: The games I wish I had played in 2015.

Stay tuned.

Baby Boggy in the Shallow, Green Swamp: Detective Grimoire Review

Baby Boggy in the Shallow, Green Swamp: Detective Grimoire Review

Detective Grimoire is a PC port of a mobile adventure game developed by SFB Games. Its art style, voice acting, and pacing are spot-on, making the exceedingly easy gameplay a lot easier to swallow.

You play as Detective Grimoire (obviously) as he investigates the murder of the owner of Boggy’s Bog, a tourist attraction smack dab in the middle of the creature by same name’s habitat. Somehow the founder ignored all things logical and ecological and transported the swamp and all of its spookiness to the middle of nowhere, and now the employees are capitalizing on it despite many others disagreeing with the practice. Therefore it is no surprise when the owner turns up dead, and everyone is a suspect.

I know I have complained about mobile ports to PC before (and if you didn’t know, look here), but this is an instance where it works. The basic touch controls translate perfectly to a point-and-click system. The only oddity is the puzzles as they are clearly meant to let the players mess with the touch screen than actually have anything to solve. They are not just easy by adventure game standards–they are easy period. For once I even turned off hints and highlighted areas to amp up the difficulty, and I don’t usually shy away from any help with this genre.

All you have to do is make sure the handles don't cross the middle. That's it. Nothing else.
All you have to do is make sure the handles don’t cross the middle. That’s it. Nothing else.

From simple mazes to mixing primary colors, the puzzles work more like tasks, never making me pause for a moment to think about the solution. There really weren’t very many, keeping it from hindering the gameplay; instead the focus was on conversation.

Usually conversing with NPCs is one of the most tedious parts of the genre, but here it was the highlight of the entire experience. Outside of a few set dialogue options, you are free to present clues and the profiles of other suspects as you please. You can either take the efficient path where you try to only ask about relevant evidence (how I started) or ask them about anything and everything you have in your trenchcoat’s pockets (how I ended up playing).

 

The requisite joke about video games.
The requisite joke about video games.
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The inexplicable logic of inventory systems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The interrogations are the best part. By asking questions and uncovering clues, you get a dialogue option called, “Challenge,” for each suspect. Here you can ask them a series of questions that will catch them in a lie, get them to tell the entire truth, or make them remember something important, OF course these are in line with the game’s overall easy difficulty, working like a multiple choice test where you get an infinite number of retakes. Sometimes you get to choose your own witty banter between important conversations, letting you decide what kind of smartass detective you want to be.

If you are a completionist, this game’s default interface will get you excited. It’s littered with percentages for you to max out, and your notes have blank spaces for every piece of evidence you have yet to find.

100 percent has never come so easily.
100 percent has never come so easily.

 

And every time you do find a new clue, you get a chime. Actually, the entire game’s sound design is spot on. All the noises for right and wrong answers and the variations in the score are as beneficial to the mood and setting as the writing and art style. The few chosen moments of silence are expertly done, the screen going dark, the font turning read, and the character’s voice deepening ever so slightly.

Overall Detective Grimoire was a quirky piece of noir I was hoping for, and not even the lack of challenge could bring it down. If you are looking for a few hours of oddities worthy of modern-day Cartoon Network, check it out. Now for you to wait and find out when I will ever get off of this adventure game kick. Stay tuned.

Losing My Balance: The Bridge Review

Losing My Balance: The Bridge Review

The Bridge is a black-and-white 2-D logic and physics puzzler. M.C. Escher inspired its levels with his mind-bending artwork. There are only two mechanics: walking left and right, and rotating the world in the same directions. Your only goal as the player is to walk through the door at the end, but that is anything but simple.

The music is melancholy and discordant, the perfect accompaniment to the somber mood–second only to these death screens:

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The controls are exact, a great match for a game that takes precision down to the millisecond. These smooth controls allow for a steep difficulty curve halfway through this interactive demonstration of Escher’s theories. In the third chapter, you invert colors at will, affecting what you can and cannot touch; this isn’t the most complicated though. The real trouble is “the veil”. Entering this area flips the entire world on its axis–literally. This is where my brain shut down.

If you missed my earlier ramblings about physics-based mechanics, read here. I won’t rehash it, but, in summary, I can usually figure out what to do in theory; my difficulty is in the execution. My spatial reasoning is far from my strength, but this one takes it further. Once you get into the later chapters, not only do you have to keep track of where you and your enemies will fall depending on the way you rotate, but you have to know individual objects’ center of gravity; that’s something I could not begin to comprehend.

I wanted to love this game. Between my lifelong passion for brainteasers and optical illusions, the subject alone gravitated me towards The Bridge. But once the game went from letting me play through trial and error while admiring the artwork to demanding complex and precise solutions, the fun leaked out of the experience. I can admire a game for its message, educational value, and style with no effort whatsoever. Traditional fun does not always have to play a part in my reasons for trying. Is reading fun because of the scientific process of recognizing letters and transmitting messages to the brain or because of the subject you take away in the end? As long as the game does not overstay its welcome or let frustration outweigh other benefits, I will stay along for the ride.

Here my irritation tipped the balance.

For full disclosure, I have yet to finish the inverses of the four chapters, but this game is not worth two posts railing on it; it also introduces nothing new.

Stay tuned.

Bonus footage: These moons look like they fell straight out of Majora’s Mask: 

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Always Midnight: Dying Light Review

Always Midnight: Dying Light Review

Note: In case you are confused by why you were brought here, I converted my wordpress.com blog to a wordpress.org that I host on my own. Considering the endless options are new and exciting to me, feel free to let me know any suggestions you have for possible content!

Despite reviews from other people that this came dragged on longer than necessary, Dying Light stayed fun for me up until the end. Emphasis on the end.

After the saga that was my account of Dragon Age: Origins, I decided not to do another play-by-play of a long Triple-AAA title, choosing instead to do a snapshot at the beginning and a review at the end. All feedback on this newer, concise format is greatly appreciated!

Now as I said before, I am somehow new to the zombie survival genre, something I know sounds impossible with the over-saturation of them in the market lately. This means I’m not sure how your typical story plays out, but this game based everything in a gigantic power struggle between the survivors trapped in Harran. You watch Crane’s despair as he tries to do good by the people who saved him from death at the beginning of the game while the antagonist slowly brings down his allies one by one. My heart wanted to care, but I felt more for the anonymous survivors I didn’t save in time during random encounters than I did for the main characters in the game. My favorite narrative moments were when a blue arrow would pop up on the mini-map, alerting you to a nearby stranger who wanted to chat. Here you would listen to haunting stories of people trapped in the city. One man explained that the biters in the Hazmat suits were originally there to help but soon were turned, now unable to even eat since they couldn’t figure out to take off their helmets. Another tells a story where he and his friends got drunk, thinking the alcohol would purify their bodies, making them resistant to the zombie virus. But while he laid passed out from the whiskey, his friends caught a helicopter out of the quarantine zone, leaving him hungover and hopeless on a roof in the slums.

Like any open-world game, Dying Light is full of side quests though not in the vain as other Triple AAA titles. There are a total of forty-two, evenly divided between simple fetch quests and fully-developed side stories. In these you were forced to feel the wrath of angry mothers and engineers alike. Whether Crane was yelled at for giving a father a gun or called a meathead by a couple of brains who were afraid to leave the safe zone, these seemed to have the protagonist constantly doing something wrong. Luckily he isn’t all that likable anyway.

See while the character sketches and anecdotes told by NPCs were my favorite part, Crane’s reactions were a lot more disappointing. I would be enamored by a person’s story only for him to respond as if he hadn’t heard a word they said. He responds to heartbreaking tales with zingers like, “I bet you’re a lot of fun at parties,” or, “Right. Avoid zombie one-percenters. Got it.” I understand Crane is good at keeping his distance sometimes, but other times, his reaction felt disconnected from even his misanthropic persona. One man sits there and rationalizes the antagonist’s terrorist tendencies for five minutes, and Crane takes him seriously while giving lip to downtrodden strangers. Either act like you don’t have time for anyone or have consistent reactions based on the conversation.

Now past reviews criticized the game mechanics for their repetitiveness, and understandable complaint. You essentially fight, fetch, sneak, craft, and parkour. That’s it. And yet for me, the gameplay never dragged; I enjoyed all of it. I have done all but two of the side quests and still wish I had more. Maybe it is because I haven’t exhausted the genre for myself. Maybe I’m still such a sucker for any kind of climbing mechanic that vaguely reminds me of the Sly Cooper franchise. Maybe my checklist fetish means I am perfectly willing to grab lavender from a mountainside for you if I get the pleasure of crossing the task off of my list of quests. Really I can’t give you a rational reason. It’s all personal preference; you’ll like it or you won’t.

Once again, I also suffered from a misuse of the inventory system. Instead of utilizing items in moderation, I would do what I could to empty my bags for the chance at better loot. I would pick up a hammer, duct tape fire and lightning to it, and then dismantle it the moment it became the weakest in my lineup by only a few points.

Speaking of which, despite how nonsensical the weapons are, they are buckets of fun. Of course I don’t know why Crane can’t crack a smile after making something called an Angel Sword or God Hand, but you know, I don’t know his life. Seriously, I don’t actually know anything about him outside of the game’s events.

Now for the end, I prepared. I ran all over town picking up gauze and cleavers since I can’t get into a melee fight without getting slapped upside my entire body a couple of times. But after all of this, I was instead slapped with a colossal waste of time I couldn’t see coming. I won’t get content-specific to avoid spoilers, but it was a scripted series of quicktime events that could have happened first thing in the game and gotten the same outcome. For the life of me, I will never understand why any game with skill trees, experience, and any other RPG-style progression will have an ending that doesn’t let any of this come into play. My JRPG roots might be showing, but if I have maxed out any skill, level, or weapon, I better be able to rain down hellfire with it in the final fight.

This game’s performance is middling. I could barely get it to run at 30 fps consistently until the March 10 patch. After that it kept itself at 50 or so fps without too much trouble but still lacked stability. Occasionally my keyboard would stop responding, and Crane would keep running in the same direction until something exploded in his face. Nothing was honestly too game-breaking though and Techland is doing their best to actively improve it, something I can’t fault them for since at least it wasn’t broken on launch, merely imperfect.

Overall, I wouldn’t trade the forty hours I spent on Dying Light for another game this month, but the few missing pieces keep it from reaching what I wanted for it. It looks like the developer’s goal was a serious game, and it did. Just a serious game with giant poisonous katanas wielded by an antisocial man with athletic abilities of the superhero caliber.

Stay tuned.

Killing Him Loudly: Part 1

Killing Him Loudly: Part 1

So my original plan was to start playing and covering Dragon Age: Origins, but then I spent two hours trying to decide on my character. So instead, let’s talk about the best murder simulator since The Sims.

Kill the Bad Guy is a puzzle game where you are tasked with–as you might have guessed from the title–assassinating different bad guys in the world using your environment. I’m not entirely sure who I play, whether it is an invisible ninja who can teleport all over the environment or a god-like creature who gets a kick out of smiting people in Final Destination-style ways; it’s only important that you are all-powerful, the way I like it.

The graphics are simple and entirely white with the exception of the usable objects in the level and the target himself. You click on the various items and figure out which can interact and which can be broken. It starts off simple with you activating a car to go out of control when he walk in front of it, splattering his blood all over the side of a building. As the levels progress though, you are given more ways to kill him with pieces of the city. The most satisfying was when I could bust a gas line and then set it on fire. For the longest time, I only noticed the lighters and could not figure out what I was supposed to do. I’d try to block his path with them, but then he would run away in fear. Then I finally realized I could interact with these pipes crawling up the side of two different buildings. You have to set it alight right as he is walking through so he catches on fire and runs around until he dies.

What makes this the most fun is how the game is all violence with minimal gratuity. I’m not squeamish, but I do tend to feel uneasy with blood in games. Maybe it’s from growing up on cartoon games, but whenever I can turn off blood in the settings, I do. Here the only realistic violence is right when he dies and his blood splatters. It’s so cartoony though, and all of the villains are identical, so it let’s me have fun with the assassinations without feeling sick. I mean, you even get extra points for spilt blood, and I’m still cool with it; that’s a feat in itself.

The scoring system is similar to most puzzle games with self-contained levels where you have so many stars for how well you do except instead of the stars representing a score threshold, each one represents the completion of a different task. You get a star if you finish the level in one day–the equivalent of one try–if you find the passport and the target’s tooth after it goes flying from his body, and if you complete the secondary objective.

But let’s break a few of these down because they are what make the game a little bit more complex. Though it is simple, this is where the different layers come in.

Both finding the passport and the tooth act as a timed hidden object puzzle. You must find the document while simultaneously setting up the environment for the bad guy’s assassination. To get all five stars you also have to do this during the first day. You then have about five seconds after the guy dies to find the tooth. You can see the trajectory as it flies away from his body but are still crunched for time as you hunt all over the barren city sector.

Then the secondary objectives act as a riddle. Each one is vague–almost an oversimplified version of the Riddler’s environmental scan puzzles in the Arkham games–only pushing you in the direction of the way it’s wants the murder to go down. Some are fairly easy to guess after looking the level. I mean, you’d have to go out of your way not to kill them the way you’re asked. For example, one is, “They say water isn’t a good conductor. Let’s see, shall we?” Then there are fire hydrants you can rig and power lines you can cut, making the best way pretty clear from the start. The only time I killed him every other way was when I accidentally cut the wire too early, and it hit him instead of the stream I had made in the street.

You are also rewarded extra points for speed and how much blood there is, encouraging you to play quick and dirty. This is counter-intuitive to how I think of any game with assassination, but for this, it fits.

Now I can’t say if I’ll finish this up over the weekend or if I’ll get a real start to Dragon Age. Right now I’m curling up in bed with Phoenix Wright, and pretending my work week never happened. Stay tuned.

Leggo my Legos: The Sequel

Leggo my Legos: The Sequel

Previously on: Steamcomplete beat Lord Business in a flurry of Lego studs and laser beams. Sadly the world was still full of stupid people that needed help.

Remember how I said how I like to 100 percent complete Lego games? Well, I dipped back in to play in the HUB worlds and find those unlockables. Like I said in an earlier post, none of the HUB worlds–Brickopolis, the Wild, Wild West, Cloud Cuckoo Land, and the Octan Tower–have any characters or gold bricks to actively unlock, leaving me with only the red bricks.

The red bricks unlock abilities that are basically built-in cheat codes. You can get stud multipliers that stack up to x3840, extra health and invincibility, and ways of speeding up tedious tasks (drilling, repairing, etc.). These are geared towards people like me who want to go beyond the story levels. It’s tough to collect enough studs to everything without an excessive amount of grinding, so the game helps you out as long as you are willing to earn the privilege.

I wish one of the tasks was to teach the citizens of Brickopolis the concept of priorities. While giant mechs and superheroes are tearing the city apart a few blocks away, all people want to do is treat you like a lost-and-found. The crazy cat lady lost all of her pets. You go around the city finding them in the most…unlikely of places. One was trapped in a Portajohn. Another got itself locked in a bakery. I wanted to find one trapped in a bag–I’ll let you figure out why.

These cats have to be super-powered, not only because they managed to get away from this manic cat herder, but because of their complete disregard for physics. If I found them on top of a skyscraper and immediately jumped to the ground–because I am the only Lego who apparently is made from one, unbreakable piece–the cat would follow suit. I know that they always land on their feet, but the saying must not mention their shattered kneecaps.

Another guy asks you to find his drill even after you do all of his work for him. It’s a trap, no meme intended. After drilling for him and then coming back after saving the world, I had forgotten that I had already helped him. I spent forever hunting for his elusive power tool before realizing my mistake.

Now back to saving the world with the power of words. Basically one of the only appropriate job paths for a Creative Writing major like me. Stay tuned.