Sunday, March 31, 2013

Welcome to...The Cave!

After reading a ton of favorable reviews on Double Fine's The Cave, and seeing that it was developed by Ron Gilbert--the man behind many of my favorite old-school adventure games, like Monkey Island--I decided it was time for me to check it out.   And, it didn't hurt that it was a freebie for Playstation Plus members this past week, so what better time to take a trip into The Cave....

As described in the trailer, The Cave focuses on the stories of seven travelers, each seeking something different from the cave: the Knight, Adventurer, Scientist, Time Traveler, Monk, Twins, and Hillbilly.  The player must choose three of the seven characters to use in the adventure, each character having a unique skill which can be leveraged in various puzzles throughout the game.  The player leads their fearless three characters through a tour of The Cave to find that thing which they desire most, for which each character has a unique mission set or stage.  The game concludes once all three characters have completed their respective missions, so the game can be replayed with a new set of characters, revealing a whole new set of puzzles and areas within the cave.
I found The Cave to be a fun, challenging, and refreshing reprieve from the dominatingRPGs and FPSs on the market, which have monopolized my gaming shelf the last few years.  It combines puzzle-solving, teamwork, and a bit of platform elements with fun graphics, clever dialogue, and an entertaining narrator (the deep voice of "The Cave").  The puzzles are challenging but never to the point of complete frustration, and often require coordination of multiple character's actions to solve.  One play-through with three of the seven characters didn't take all that long, so the game makes a nice little interlude if you're looking for something different or a short break from RPGs and other games with extensive content requiring a longer commitment.

For my first play-through, I selected The Knight, The Adventurer, and The Time Traveler.  The gameplay is scrolling adventure style (i.e., no three-dimensional movement), and there's no conventional shooting or fighting (gasp!), so the controls are quite simple...easy enough to pick up and go without a control manual or in-game instruction.  I started with The Knight's mission, to reclaim the sword in the stone, which entails the completion of a number of smaller tasks.  Without spoiling anything, I'll just say,that there's a princess, a dragon, and some other medieval-type things involved...not all resulting in the fairy tale ending you'd expect!  The other characters' missions proceed in a similar fashion, but with differently themed cave areas to complement the puzzles and back-story of each character.

The game maintains a mysterious, foreshadowing tone thanks to the narrator, lurking soundtrack and the quirky but slightly dark quality of the graphics.  But not everything remains a mystery: the characters' back-stories are revealed as your adventure progresses, thanks to the discovery of "cave art" sites which unlock pieces of exclusive game art that collectively tell our characters' histories and mindset.  Without giving anything away, the revelation of these stories ties in nicely with the narration and overall mood of the game, and are indicative that the game developers frame the storyline as a cautionary tale about greed, desire, and the unforeseen consequences of the characters' actions in their quests to obtain that thing which they desire most.
The Hillbilly making his way through his
carnival-themed mission.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of The Cave are the wonderful throw-back references to adventure games from LucasArts days....careful placement of grog machines and useless cans of corn at several stages in The Cave brought a smile to my face and fond memories of the Monkey Island series.  Many components of the game, including the dark narration and the general illustration of the characters, bore the hallmarks of those early adventure games.  I thought it was a nice nod to some of the outstanding games that blazed the trail for the adventure gaming genre.
Overall, The Cave is a fun and memorable addition to adventure gaming and to Ron Gilbert's accomplishments, definitely worthy of a play-through or two.  I am now playing with The Monk, The Hillbilly, and The Twins and have not been disappointed--new content is plentiful and their stories are entertaining.  If I had to find something negative about the game, the only feature somewhat tedious was the time consuming ladder-climbling and pre-positioning of the three characters to solve various aspects of the puzzles throughout the game.  Some of the levels of the cave are fairly intricate and I felt that sometimes I spent way more time moving the characters around to the necessary rooms than I did actually solving the puzzles. However, I can understand how the seemingly extraneous movement would be unavoidable in many cases, and  it did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the game.  Playstation Plus freebie or not, The Cave is a great little adventure game that you should check out!

Friday, March 22, 2013

First Look: Defiance Beta 3 on PS3

Alright, folks.  I was super excited to get to participate in round 3 of the beta testing for Defiance.   The NDA was lifted today, allowing testers to share their thoughts online... and Trion did a live beta stream of the PC version earlier today.  As for the PS3 version, I'm feeling kind of meh about it, but still hopeful that things will improve with the release of the full game.  Read on for my first impressions.  If you need a run-down of what this game is all about, check out their website for a synopsis (the coinciding SyFy series premieres on April 15th).

So, the game introduction  and cut scenes were pretty good and included a decent tutorial as your character emerges from the wreckage of a shuttle crash.  The controls are standard fare for a shooter game, no surprises.  Graphics are decent (see screen shots below) but nothing to write home about.  Your character is fully customizable, i.e., if you want to spend hours getting your face shape and hair design just right, you can do that.  I think my gal's purple hair is quite appropriate for a post-alien invasion environment, don't you agree?

  Pretty sure that like five bad guys materialized
near that building a minute after this was taken.
Where the f$&# did all those bad guys come from?!  So one of my biggest issues with the gameplay so far has been the inconsistency of the reference map, which gives you a head's up when characters--good and bad--are nearby.  It also provides symbols for nearby mission objectives, challenges, etc.  But that functionality does not work all the time, especially when it comes to showing where your enemies are located!!  More often then not, there were no red blips on the head's up display when all of a sudden, a whole group of bad guys materialized in front of my character.  And THEN, if that wasn't bad enough, the bad guys are still not showing up on the map for several more minutes as I'm trying to fight my way out of a total mess!!  And THEN, there were even a couple times where the mutant mob completely disappeared as quickly as they materialized.  I am not sure if this is a network connectivity/congestion issue, but our connection is on par with the average gamer so I imagine many other players have experienced this.  Watching Trion's beta demo, I see that the PC version has the same problem with the head's up display (though they didn't mention it).  Extremely frustrating.

I beat a bunch of mutants, and all I got was this lousy scrip.  Not sure if this is a beta thing, but man....being a little cheap on the rewards for beating up all these mutants, aren't we?  In my opinion, beating some of these missions is hard as hell unless you're moving around with a group of other players--you can form "clans"--which can still be dicey getting through some of the later missions.  That's right--I am not afraid to admit that I have found this game hard!  When your character is stuck in a bad way and is about to die, the most common option is to "extract" (you can self-revive once, but after that you must withdraw from the mission if another player doesn't rescue you).  When you extract, you get charged a lot of scrip, aka, main currency utilized.  It is so difficult to get through some of these missions that I keep spending all my hard-earned scrip to extract from missions, and then I don't have hardly any currency left to buy upgrades or new gear.  I don't care too much since it's just a beta, and I imagine team development will ease the "extract" issues, but I hope that this stinginess with rewards doesn't continue in the full game.
Vroom Vroom. Crash.  One of resources your character can access at will is an all-terrain vehicle. Trion has been advertising that a special Dodge Challenger option provided with a pre-order of the game. I've tried using the vehicles a couple times in beta, but they've proven to be about as useful as a box of rocks.   The controls are not terribly intuitive and it's hard to navigate long distances with all the post-apocalyptic litter laying around.   Most players were using them to try to run each other over, but not for anything mission-oriented.  I'll walk, man. Of course, if I do that, I'll get ambushed by phantom-mutants not shown on my map, forcing me to "extract" and lose all my scrips. 
...and how is this all working with the TV series??  The big sell for Defiance was that it's the first video game to be fully integrated with a TV series.  I have been wondering how this will be implemented from a practical standpoint, and in today's Trion beta stream, lead actor Grant Bowler indicated that the whole first season of the show has been filmed.  Then how can the game possibly have any impact on the show until the second season?  I think the answer (which Mr. Bowler so cleverly side-stepped) is that it won't be impacted by the sounds like the game will have injects based on what is happening in the TV series, but again, not sure how that's going to work or how much value-added it will have for the overall gameplay. 
Ok, I'll stop being a Debbie Downer.  It's not all bad!!  The times that I have interacted with other players in a team environment has been truly fun.  Also, the AI for the bad guys deserves a shout-out....I have not seen the mutants stuck in corners or standing idly by while my character beats on them.  The above-average intelligence of the enemy makes the game all the more challenging.  However, that added challenge, combined with the shortcomings I've mentioned, could potentially make long-term gameplay frustrating. 
Bottom line..a hopeful "meh. " It was really the TV series - game play interaction that made Defiance unique, but absent that, the beta has given me the impression that it is a fairly run-of-the-mill sci-fi shooter.  I am looking forward to getting the full game in hand and seeing the series.  I'm not giving up hope yet! But I certainly hope the show makes it to a second season to actually see through the game's potential influences on the story line.  Only time will tell.

Monday, March 18, 2013

2012 Games Revisited....Leprechaun Style, Part 2

Here's the sequel to yesterday's post, with two more limerick reviews of games from 2012.  Hope your recovery from St. Paddy's day is going well!

Borderlands 2

Claptrap and Vault Hunters back again,
With new friends like Maya and Axton.
The co-op mode is great!
Go on, don't hesitate,
Get online, kill some skags, do some lootin'.

Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect redefined RPGs
With decisions and cool NPCs
That should shape the outcome,
But the endings are dumb...
Threw my controller at the TV.

I just have to say, in all fairness, despite my negative limerick ending for ME3, I loved the series overall.  Oh, and I didn't actually throw my controller at the TV--destroying my screen would have (arguably) been more dumb than the endings to the game--but I definitely wanted to!  I still thoroughly enjoyed ME3, the characters and the concepts behind what BioWare attempted to do, even if I didn't really agree with the directions they took with the story in the end. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

2012 Games Revisited...Leprechaun Style

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!
Inspired by a recent issue of Game Informer in which they discussed the top 50 games of 2012, I thought I would do a down-and-dirty rehash of my memorable games from this past year. 

I know I'm late to the blog-party reviewing these, so I figured that I would mix things up--and honor St. Patrick's Day--by doing the reviews in limerick format.  I'll be adding some over the next few days, so check back for new stuff. Erin Go Bragh!

Assassin's Creed III
AC3, showed U.S. history,
Plus great art and attacking from trees.
Hatham may lack honor,
But our hero Connor
Needs more of a personality.
Dishonored, a truly awesome game
Where you fight to uphold Corvo's name.
Sabotage, stealth or strike,
Choose the method you like...
It's your fault if the ending is lame!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Snowquester Special: Lollipop Chainsaw

Yesterday, the DC area had some winter weather which, although anti-climactic, resulted in widespead closings....Snowquester Day!  And a work-free day can only mean one thing: lots of quality time with the PS3.  It afforded me the time I needed to wrap up Lollipop Chainsaw, so now I can give you my take on it.

If you haven't seen the game before--or the cheerleader-chainsaw cosplay at any of the Cons this past year--the basic premise of Lollipop Chainsaw is that you play a zombie-hunting high school cheerleader whose weapon of choice is a girl-ified chainsaw.  In the prologue, we meet our hero Juliet Starling on her birthday, when she discovers her boyfriend Nick has been attacked by zombies.  To save him from becoming a zombie, she decapitates him and uses crazy magic skills to preserve his head....she then carries his talking head around as a belt accessory for the rest of the game.  Slightly morbid?  Maybe.  Hilarious? ABSOLUTELY!

The game consists of multiple themed stages, each one culminating with a boss battle.  The gameplay is varied enough between battling zombies, mini-games (some involving the use of Nick's head on zombie bodies to accomplish different tasks), and quick-time challenges, so it does a pretty good job of avoiding tedious and repetitive button-mashing.  I thought the variation in the zombies' behavior afforded enough of an opportunity to use the different advanced chainsaw-cheerleading moves, and the boss battles were each unique and memorable (think fat Elvises, disco dancers, and psychadelic hippie-zombies). I also enjoyed the clever dialogue--some of the exchanges between Nick and Juliet are hilarious, same with Juliet's dad.  Don't get me wrong, it was definitely cheesy at some points, but I got the sense that this was the intention of the creators at Grasshopper Manufacture.

As for the interface, it was a bit jerky at times with respect to the camera angles and enemy targeting. That being said, the fun graphics and the joy of hacking and slashing zombie hoardes made up for those shortcomings.  Before I bought this game, I noted there were a lot of reviews citing gratuitous violence and sexual inuendos in the game.  Really?  I don't think the zombie gore in Lollipop Chainsaw is any worse than that portrayed in shows like The Walking Dead.  As for the sexual content, even as a girl I didn't find it to be overbearing or uncomfortable compared to some other video games out there.  I mean, yes, she's a well-endowed cheerleader in a skimpy outfit who loves lollipops, but it's pretty clear from the beginning of the game that it's intended to be a campy take on some other games out there that have taken a more serious approach to scantily-clad female heroines.  As a comparison, I found the constant boob-jiggling of Ivy in Soul Calibur to be way more distracting and annoying than any of the content in Lollipop Chainsaw.  To me, it's about how it's presented in the context of the game.

Overall, the game is super silly and fun to play.  There's plenty of goodies to unlock which would require repeat play of some of the stages, but is that enough to keep me playing?  Probably not.  I admit that the girly side of me really wants to unlock the rest of Juliet's outfits and some more MP3s, but I doubt that will be enough for me to come back to the game.  Despite the shortcomings with some of the interface and fighting glitches, I would recommend Lollipop Chainsaw as an amusing diversion for a week or two.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Opinion: This Is My Story - Features -

Opinion: This Is My Story - Features -

Getting in Shape for Comic Con: Part 1

"Man, I gotta get in shape for Comic Con."
       -- No one.  Ever.
Until now!  Just kidding.  But in all seriousness, on February 16th, Comic Con International opened their online badge sales for Comic Con 2013.  With multiple mobile devices ready to go at high noon, we crossed our fingers and tried our luck at getting tickets back to San Diego this year...and, landing at number 15,731 in the waiting room, we still managed to score 4-day passes with Preview Night.  I heard there was a TON of trouble with the online registration and that a lot of people are pissed about the way it worked out--sorry folks, not trying to rub it in--so I am extremely grateful we have our tickets back to San Diego this year.  Oh, and a special shout-out to my old-school Kindle....of all our electronic devices, YOU were the only one that actually got us to the waiting room.  That three-bar signal and my crappy touch screen button-mashing saw us through the registration process.  Since that day, I've had a special bond with my Kindle.

Anyway, back on topic: getting in shape for Comic Con!  Yes, I mean it!  I have been to SDCC three times (before it was the monster it is now), and to NYCC for the first time last year.  Never have I ventured to participate in cosplay.  I've decided this is the big year, the year I dress up.  But SDCC is the big can't half-ass a Comic Con costume.  The details need to be accurate and I intend to get as many of them right as I possibly can.  So now is the time to start crafting a costume (or costumes) and, well, getting in shape. 

I whittled Rubi out of balsa wood. No joke. 
 I totally whittled a weapon for Comic Con, and I'd do it all over again.
Are you ready for this?  I don't think you're ready for this... ARE YOU READY?  Okay, so maybe I cheated a little and have already started with the costume least the accessories, because I can't sew to save my life.  I was just so darn excited to make my own gun that I made an art project out of crafting the incendiary pistol toted by my character...if you are at all familiar with the games from 2012, or can read, this photo of my handywork gives away who it is. 

I have a lead on a wonderful and talented local gal who will help me with the fabric design,  so I'll be focusing on getting all the other details right in the coming months....and on developing some solid bets for costumes for the rest of our Comic Con adventure.  Four days=four costumes..right? I'm especially interested in doing a cross-play, but have yet to come up with a satisfactory comic or gaming character.  So if anyone out there has a great idea for a male character that would make a cool female version, let me know!!  I'll keep you posted on costume progress in the coming months.

I need to wrap this up...The Last Starfighter is on TV and that little nugget of 80s nostalgia is just too good to pass up.  And before anyone even suggests it, no, I will not dress up as Grig for Comic Con.  Reptiles are kinda off limits...a girl has to have her standards.