This week I have been mostly playing...

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mwchase
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Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by mwchase » Sat Aug 15, 2015 3:51 am

Just picked up Beat Hazard again. My reflexes are more-or-less up to jumping right into hardcore, but it seems like my thumb isn't. #trackpadgaming

Also, I played a bit of Her Story, finally. This is... huh. That got twisty fast.
AVelhavenn

Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by AVelhavenn » Sat Aug 15, 2015 5:33 am

Trails in the Sky, up until the part where mayor asked you to fetch an item. For some reason the female MC really bothered me, even more than the brooding male MC. She feels like a waifu-sue where the writer just puts in whatever waifu attributes they want into the character. I dunno, maybe my opinion will change once they revealed what was up with the clock tower. But for now I am trudging through the quests just to see her dad again.

Prototype, this game has the most bizzare bug fix I ever see. How the hell does deactivating HID makes your FPS goes higher? I also feels like the game gets progressively slower if I didn't skip cutscenes. I am seriously contemplating on downloading pirated version because I hear those didn't have these stupid bugs. As for the gameplay, it's pretty good so far. I like how they give you a taste of late game power early in the storyline because these kinds of things will let me look past several of the game's flaws.

Town of Salem, I think I'm done with this game. There's just no mode where I can have fun games. Classic is full of dense bricks like a sheriff who went to check a confirmed townie and then raving like a madman when they came up as mafia (the framer should technically counts for framing the one person who is useless to frame, but you can't argue with results). Ranked requires you to grind your face against a tall mountain of dense bricks and trolls to reach a level where you can have a pleasant game, but then it resets each season so you have to do the grind all over again. Custom is full of host who picks nonsensical role list and then calls you a douche for making a tactical decision. And any mode of chaos is, well, chaos. There's no semblance of balance at all in those modes, one game you will be in a town of 10+ people with just 2 mafias as bad guy and the next one you're in a 3 townie game with 6 mafias, 3 serial killers, 2 witches and an arsonist. Really, I kinda wished they just implemented a mode that is gated by a pay wall and heavily policed for gamethrowers, leavers and trolls. There won't be much people on that mode, but at least it would be pleasant to play in there.
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The Rocketeer

Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by The Rocketeer » Sat Aug 15, 2015 10:17 am

So after getting all three games a while back, I've wanted to play Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne. The game, like BioShock 2, represents a dark horse for its franchise, which came out to mostly disappointed reactions, but in the years following never seems to be mentioned except by people proclaiming it to be a lot better than its landing suggests.

Because the first game was short, fun, and something I haven't experienced in many years, I decided to play the first two games back-to-back. I wanted to get a really fine-grain compare-and-contrast, see exactly where the games were coming from and try to put myself in a headspace of several years ago, into which Max Payne 2 was released. For those of you holding a candle in your window for Max Payne 2- since I think there's one or two of you here- I'm sorry that I have to flatly disagree. Max Payne 2 is a bomb.

It's not as though the second game doesn't improve on a few things, but it's worth pointing out that its improvements are all mechanical. Firstly, the game seems to have gotten a lot easier. That's debatable as an improvement (I say nodding at the Fire Emblem git-gudding above), but for me, it was a welcome change; the first game was tough. Max Payne plays almost like a 3D Hotline Miami: quicksave before a door, and then barrel through it at a million feet per second spewing lead in every direction while diving through the air in slow-motion. This either works, killing everyone but you, or doesn't work, killing you or leaving you at death's door and out of healing items. Outcomes to encounters in Max Payne are nearly binary; given that even a bullet or two from the weakest weapons can take off significant portions of your own health and painkillers work over time rather than all at once, you'll get through most fights either taking no damage or by screwing up and getting chewed into a pile of hamburger on the floor. Like Hotline Miami, the challenge isn't so much in shooting straight but in picking the right weapon, knowing the room's layout and where all the enemies are/will spawn, and a bit of luck, as well. Death is likely, but the penalty of quickloading is nil, keeping frustration at minimum and encouraging experimentation and high-risk, high-reward balls-out tactics.

Max Payne 2 lightens the difficulty in two primary ways: by reducing enemy health and by changing how bullet time is consumed.

In the first game, enemies really did seem strangely durable compared to Max. I can't count how many times I died because counting on an enemy to die after a point-blank shotgun blast to the face turned out to be a foolish plan. On the other hand, if an enemy I didn't expect blow through a door with a pistol, he's almost guaranteed to kill me before I can react. In the second game, enemies seem to be no more or less durable than your own character, which I appreciate.

In the first game, there are two ways to use Bullet Time: regular Bullet Time, and shootdodge. To use regular Bullet Time, you just hit the button, and time slows while you run around gunning down gangsters, with your Bullet Time being consumed until you turn it off again. In shootdodge, you dive through the air in a given direction, hopefully dodging bullets while lining up shots of your own on the way to the floor; the slowdown ends when you land, and using shootdodge costs the same amount of Bullet Time as you gain from killing a single enemy.

In Max Payne 2, shootdodge doesn't cost Bullet Time. That's the only change, but it makes a huge difference to combat. The thing about shootdodging is that it already carries costs and risks inherent to the action. Regular Bullet Time is all benefit, making you superhumanly agile while otherwise operating as normal, but shootdodge puts you on a fixed, arcing trajectory towards the floor, where you end up lying in a heap. You have to be careful about where and when you shootdodge; if you can't dodge behind excellent cover or kill every visible threat before you land, you end up lying on the floor. Staying in motion is the only thing that keeps you alive in Max Payne; lying on the floor is an invitation to be slaughtered, and even the split-second it takes to stand up is time enough for an enemy to outflank you and fill you with lead. In the first game, shootdodging usually felt like too big a risk. In order to make back the Bullet Time spent on it, you have to kill at least one enemy in the act of shootdodging. That sounds trivial, but in Max Payne 1, you could easily shootdodge into a room, line up nothing but headshots on an exposed enemy, and fail to kill them while losing half your own health before you land. In Max Payne 2, the changes complement each other excellently: you can be more sure that enemies will actually die during shootdodge, rewarding its use, while your own unchanged fragility and the risk inherent in using it poorly prevents you from trying to cheese a group of enemies with consecutive shootdodges, which will just get you killed in an embarrassing way. It encourages using your regular Bullet Time more often, since you won't be expending it just trying to stay alive in every encounter, and it lets you conserve a bit of it with wise play by killing all but the last enemy or two, then shootdodging to take them out, still in slow-motion while not using any more Bullet Time and regaining what you had lost through killing those last enemies.

The game also changes up its weapons selection, much for the better, I think. The thing about the first game was that, due to the relative weakness of individual bullets and the way hitstun worked, Dual Ingrams- with their high rate of fire and huge magazines- become the best weapon by far from the moment you get them to the moment you get the Colt Commando, which is actually powerful and accurate enough to feel effective at range and to let you actually kill reliably in shootdodge. Most of Max Payne 1 is spent either using Dual Ingrams or the Colt Commando, or waiting to get more ammo for them. (Or using grenades, which is the other big change from the first game.) In the second game, an expansion of only three or four new weapons and more clever use of them is all it takes to make the game a lot more fresh and interesting. The reduced enemy durability makes shotguns worth relying on in close quarters again. The smaller capacity of the Ingrams lower them from their win-button status, and the MP5 makes an interesting tradeoff for SMG's. The addition of a second assault rifle isn't that important on its surface, but allows for variety among enemy weapon selection, which the game generally uses a lot more effectively; the game will often place a single powerful weapon in the hands of an enemy within the level, giving you access to half a clip of ammo or so for a weapon type you won't get again for a long time. This teases the player for future escalations, and gives them a powerful option to test in combat with the risk of running out of ammo prematurely. The second assault rifle lets the game have long-range battles with enemies throughout the game's runtime while still leaving that weapon category something to ascend to later on.

In Max Payne 1, grenades and molotovs were their own weapon category, and you couldn't use them with a gun equipped. This really limited when you could use them, in huge contrast to the shooters you're probably used to, and to Max Payne 2, in which you pick a sub-weapon (grenade, molotov, or melee) that you can use at any time regardless of what gun you have equipped. Unlike Max Payne 1, in which you were usually full on grenades and only had reason to use them when you had quicksaved right before entering a room that you knew through trial and error was ripe for grenading, Max Payne 2 lets you use them the way modern games do, as a last resort to scatter groups of enemies and as an attack of opportunity that will be either useless or too valuable to waste most of the time, but will become vital in an instant of combat when you really can't just switch weapons. In trade, grenades have become a lot less powerful since the first game... which also works in your favor, since the MASSIVE blast radius. This favored enemies, due to how much more often they used grenades compared to Max.

None of these changes are very large, but they make a huge difference. Mechanically, the second game brings the series into its own. Everything else was a disappointment.

Max Payne 2 is the kind of failure I recognize. Either the success of the first game was a fluke and Remedy didn't really understand what worked in the first title, or deliberately departed from it and failed trying something very divergent. Enumerating my disappointments with Max Payne 2 has taught me a lot about what really succeeded in the first game. It's also taught me why I've never actually heard any concrete reasoning on why the second game was supposedly a disappointment, or not. It doesn't take any thought or care to enjoy the first Max Payne, but articulating why the second doesn't work requires digging deep into both games. That's what I intend to do now.

On one hand, I find it difficult to believe that there are many people that don't know what Max Payne was about, but thanks to the nature of the game, it also doesn't take much time to reiterate for posterity: Three years ago, Max Payne's wife and baby daughter were murdered by two junkies who broke into their house strung out on a mysterious new drug called Valkyr. The game is the story of Max killing absolutely fucking everybody that had anything to do with it, starting with the mafia lieutenant handling the drug's distribution, then moving on to the head of the crime family, and ending with a black-ops Army research bunker and corrupt corporation that developed Valkyr from its roots as a combat enhancer.

In the course of talking about Max Payne 2, I'm going to work backwards and contrast it with Max Payne the first.

Do you remember those po-faced, introspective sequels to Marlow Briggs that the SW crew suggested as a joke? Imagine one of those games was made, but for Max Payne. That is what Max Payne 2 is. Max Payne 2 is filled with ideas that could never have worked as follow-ups to the first Max Payne. More commonly, it's just filled with ideas that weren't executed well. The game constantly stumbles and embarrasses itself over a few key concepts: the serious examination of its characters, the more somber, grounded tone, and the attempt at intrigue and mystery.

The game's biggest shortcoming is that it promotes the noir setting and tone to the forefront and undercuts or jettisons everything that could have competed with it. Let me say something that may sound crazy: Max Payne wasn't a noir game. Looking back on the hissy fit about whether Max Payne 3 was right for the series' noir roots is ridiculous now, having been refreshed by playing back through the first two games. Max Payne had a strong, obvious noir influence that sat among two or three other strong, obvious influences, and it wasn't even the biggest or most important one. Much closer to the heart of Max Payne are the movies and style of John Woo. This is NOT a deep, close reading of the mythos. This is stated out loud and in plain speech multiple times throughout the game. What we see of Max Payne is that they often lean on noir for flavor and setting, while the actual events of the game and the feel espoused by Max's actions and by playing the game not only don't have anything to do with noir, but often run directly counter to it.

What does Max Payne take from noir? Mainly the setting. New York City, in the bad parts of town, always at night, always snowing. The conspiracy. The corruption. The femme fatale. But everything that Max Payne does with this setting is rooted in other things. Yeah, over the course of the game, Max eventually uncovers the conspiracy behind Valkyr, but that was almost a side effect of his real objective: killing fucking everyone. By the end of the very first level, Max has already killed too many people and let his name get too sullied to ever go straight again, and he doesn't even begin to give a shit. Max's rampage is about revenge, and only about revenge. He points out constantly that he doesn't care about justice, doesn't care about setting anything right or about fixing anything. He just wants to find all the people that made him miserable, and everyone that works for them, and everyone that knows them, and kill them. Because it will make him feel good.

The tone of the game is rarely noir. There's something gleeful and reckless about Max and about the game's handling of the tone and the gameplay that runs totally against that. A lot of the time you see Max in the graphic novel sections, he usually has this huge rictus grin on his face. The game is filled with his thick, complex noir descriptions of the seediness of the city, but the game makes fun of this tone and of Max's over-the-top misery and hyperaggression as often as it builds them up.

Noir places at least third among the game's various tonal influences. Far more concrete to the game are the John Woo action stylings- one man on a righteous mission to deliver well-deserved suffering to dozens of doomed crooks and villains as he slow-motion dives through shattering glass dodging bullets and spraying blood all over the walls with a machine pistol in one hand cramming a fistful of painkillers into his face with the other. Most importantly of all its influences, though, was postmodernism. This game was thoroughly and constantly self-aware and self-referential, in a candid and totally non-serious way. This was a game enthusiastic about its frequent homages and impatient to demonstrate and discuss the things that excited it, about its inspirations and about itself, eager to play the fool in service to giving this motley pastiche pride of place above anything resembling consistency or drama.

Max Payne 2 sends this three-headed freakshow to the slaughterhouse and makes the mistake that a lot of its own audience would make years later: rebranding Max Payne, his world, his character, and his game as noir, and only as noir. Everything else is sacrificed to make room for it or co-opted to support it. The one thing they forgot to change was everything about who Max is, what he does, and what he's done. Max Payne is a cartoon character. Max Payne is a game about cartoonishly unreal levels of violence and bloodshed and how awesome it looks and how fun it is. Max Payne 2 tries to give a somber, mournful, introspective set of clothes to something that can't fit into them. We're still diving through the air, murdering dozens of criminals and guzzling Percocet by the half-pound, but now we're expected to take this seriously in a framework of a man dealing with grief, substance abuse, and urban decay?

There's a moment early in Max Payne 2 where Max wakes up in his shitty apartment still carrying the half-ton of guns and ammo he picked up in a mafia shootout earlier. Max is a cop again. The police totally showed up there, and he had been debriefed. How is he still carrying several murder weapons? Come to think of it, he had shown up to that shootout still carrying the weapons he picked up from an earlier shootout at a warehouse. After that one, he'd already been back to the police station and everything. After killing about two dozen people, of course.

Even in the first chapter of the game, the tone's already run completely aground trying to navigate its tense, self-serious narrative of intrigue and soul-searching through its turbulent mechanics of mass-murder, cartoon physics, and zero due process. The first game explicitly points out, as often as it can, that Max does the things that he does the way that he does them because he isn't a cop, because he doesn't give a shit about anything but reprisal. Multiple times someone tells him "you can't do that, you're a cop!" before he laughs and grinds his heel into their bullet wounds. No one ever called out Max Payne as a silly or unrealistic game because the game was too busy laughing about how silly and unrealistic it was being, and encouraging you to join in.

But Max Payne 2? Max Payne 2 is a clown, in clown makeup, with big floppy clown shoes and a jaunty patchwork clownsuit that wants to be taken seriously because it's wearing a paisley tie.

Far worse than stumbling immediately and perpetually over its short-sighted tonal narrowing, though, is how the pace of the game has totally nosedived. The first game was some sort of coarsely stirred trail mix of bullets, grimdark prose, pop culture, self-reference, opiates, hammy acting, and the occasional nightmare. You played the game by cramming fistful after fistful of this stuff into your mouth, occasionally chewing before swallowing. Everything about the game's presentation reflected the feel of playing it, delivering one thing after another with no time spent on reaction, consideration or collateral damage before barelling recklessly on to the next. Max's narration moves at a breakneck pace and the graphic novel sections advance events with no panels wasted, like the cartoonist was bleeding out and had to get all the events onto the page before his eyes fluttered closed.

Probably by virtue of having gutted the game of its argumentative hodgepodge of influences, Max Payne 2's sense of pace and movement has flatlined. Max's narration is a shadow of what it used to be, keeping the cynicism but ditching the hair-trigger malice in favor of Max's new dulled weariness. The inventive and colorful descriptors that made Max's fractured mind so engaging in the first game are gone, replaced by flatly overexplaining on-panel events as they happen. Not only is it just less interesting, it doesn't even serve the game's renewed single-minded noir refocus! Max's narration in the first game was inspired by old dime-store novels, virtually evoking the clackclack of a typewriter banging out the overwrought scene-setting at the hands of a chain-smoking, red-lidded author desperate to get another book out in time to keep the rent paid, or the freight-train stream of narration of radio detective stories fitting the maximum amount of descriptive flavor into the exposition for the sake of an audience listening at home. They worked for the cheap graphic novel presentation of Max Payne, filling in our imaginations where the underfunded visuals couldn't. Max Payne 2, typically, removes it without replacing it with anything; neither with a meaningful expository alternative to pick up the slack or with updating or augmenting the chintzy graphic novel panels that largely necessitated it in the first place.

The flow of the levels also leaves the player without much of a sense of objective or reward. The first game had a clear and repetitive flow: Max would enter an area and explain who he was there to murder, and then you would murder your way to them, murder them, and be pointed to the next area to do it again. This was fine, since this sort of hyperviolence was also Max's reason for existence. The narrative's main parts also had a sense of progression, with Max going through seedy burroughs of inner New York City shooting up low-level mafia thugs, moving up to wiseguys in suits on the way to the big boss, and ending with MIB's and paramilitaries as the game comes to a close, with the occasional gibbering Valkyr junkie thrown in for flavor. But in Max Payne 2, aside from all of one level fighting mafia goons, you fight cleaners- as in, guys dressed as janitors- up to about the halfway mark of the game, at which point you start fighting the exact same guys, except in flak vests instead of their janitor disguises, for the rest of the game. And gunning down these nobodies doesn't really carry much of a sense of accomplishment, since we rarely have any specific target to settle up with, and Max's objective in this game isn't just gunning everyone down, but nominally to solve the case of why he's gunning them down, which has something to do with arms trading or something. That might sound dismissive, but the game treats its narrative with about the same attitude; one of the returning characters from the last game plainly bemoans the lowering of stakes, exclaiming how their shadowy conspiracy group has been reduced to this kind of mob territory pissing match. It's sort of a poor sign when the game seems to understand it's wasting your time.

An important and recurring criticism of Remedy during the Alan Wake season of Spoiler Warning was that the game had been based entirely on these intricate chicanes and high concepts that their writing staff didn't actually have the skill to pull off. Max Payne 2 demonstrates that their writing staff (which according to the credits is actually just Sam Lake himself) also doesn't have the talent to pull off much simpler things. Really, the above criticism are conditional; they're only problems because they exist to prop up larger changes. If those changes had worked, it wouldn't have mattered. But none of them work. By far the biggest, and what all of the other changes were enacted to facilitate, where focused on re-centering the game on Max Payne, himself, as a character. This was a stupid idea, and they never could have pulled it off even if they'd been masters of the trade, but far more disappointing is how they sabotaged the entire shebang in favor of this idea and ultimately did nothing with it. Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne is predicated on dealing with Max's development- or lack thereof- since the events of the first game, his continuing grief over the deaths of his family, his complicated love affair with returning character Mona Sax, and his growing disillusionment with the world he lives in. Not a single one of these things has any depth, or is handled with any skill.

By far the biggest fault of the writing is that it's clumsy and thudding. Of course, subtlety wasn't a word in the first game's vocabulary, so it didn't really matter that they didn't have a grasp of it. But Max Payne 2 is ostensibly something approaching sincere and heartfelt, and it really damages the storytelling that they can't trust the audience to intuit even the simplest things without reiterating them over and over, and they don't know how to express anything emotional or developmental without Max just saying it in the plainest, most expository fashion. If something upsets Max, they can't express it without having him monologue, "And then I felt sad. Sad as the color blue. Sad as a gravestone. I thought it was the saddest I'd ever be, but I was wrong. Time proved me wrong. Time proves all men wrong."

Here also is a part of what I mean when I say whatever wasn't thrown out of the game was subordinated to the new all-encompassing focus of Max' pain. The first game was heavily interspersed with radios and TV's that commented on the ongoing situation with the police and outside in the city, which you can't otherwise observe from your vantage fighting every gangster in the known universe. These things, in turn, gave Max something to react to and comment on in his trademark fashion; they're short and straightforward, but they were another thing that helped break up the constant room-to-room violence and inject flavor into the game. The sequel is bereft of these little vignettes, and the longer levels really suffer for them. There's one tremendously long level in the second act that was really dying for some sort of distraction, and a little radio spot letting you check in on the city would have been ideal for that, not that the Max of the second title would have had anything entertaining to say about it.

The original game also had lots of little background flavor in the form of now-Remedy-trademark in-universe shows and fictional properties. In the first game, they would occasionally comment very lightly on what was going on, but mostly just existed for their own sake, as in-jokes to provide comic relief and a splitsecond break from gunning down gangsters. As of Max Payne 2, there are four in-universe TV shows: period drama Lords and Ladies, blaxploitation show Dick Justice, cartoon Captain Baseball Bat Boy, and noir thriller Address Unknown. And every single one of them is used to comment really obviously on whatever narrative events coincide with a new episode. The last, Address Unknown, is particularly bold in this regard; the first time it shows up, I honestly couldn't tell if I was hearing the narration from the TV or from Max himself. There's a line of implication beyond which the sub-text just becomes the text, and Max Payne 2 vacations well across that line.

The TV shows in particular seem to have usurped the Norse myth motif from the first game. In the first game, there was this running theme of Ragnarok, the extended metaphor of the winter storm and Max's rampage as the end of the world, the judgment and reckoning of all things in violence to be made anew afterwards: Valkyr, Balder, Ragnarock, Woden, Aesir. It was constant and in-your-face, but it worked for the tone of the first game. Max Payne 2 leans heavily upon wacky TV shows because... well, there really isn't a good reason why. They were a thing in the first game. Mona lives in a sort of "haunted house" attraction based on *sigh* Noir York City, the setting of Address Unknown. A mobster character later is obsessed with Captain Baseball Bat Boy, but more on that later. The thing is, the extended Norse metaphor was interesting and tonally appropriate. The TV shows motif is goofy and silly in a game that has otherwise jettisoned any sense of self-awareness or fun in favor of focusing on misery and corruption, and it uses that motif to highlight these themes in a way that only ends up undercutting them.

Really, the first game had this bizarre sense of pitch-black humor that it indulged often, which complemented the self-aware, even self-parodying nature of the first game. The second game has no sense of humor whatsoever, and takes itself with deadly seriousness most of the time, which is why it feels so strange when it really loudly takes the piss out of the emotional gravitas it's struggling so much to build in the goofiest way possible. Now, you might remember there was a mafia character named Frankie Niagara who murdered people with a baseball bat and left Captain Baseball Bat Boy comic strips as a calling card. After (inevitably) killing him, they show a CBBB comic strip making light of his demise. These were the kind of jokes the first game liked (as well as serving as commentary on the nature of the game itself; quoth Frankie: "Me, I love to watch cartoons. Cartoon violence's a fascinating thing."). In Max Payne 2, there's a level very late in the game where you have to do an escort quest for a minor villain who is wearing a gigantic Captain Baseball Bat Boy mascot costume. It squeaks with every other step and he can't walk through doors without bonking his oversized head on the lintel. He's a complete coward, and screams constantly and pathetically for you to save him, and to hurry up (grrrrrr). Note that the game lampshades that this isn't the same gangster as the other CBBB-fixated gangster from Max Payne 1; this is just a character trait that they foisted on an existing character apropos of wanting to do a pain-in-the-ass escort quest while trashing the gravitas of the game moments before the climax. Also, we didn't have a reason to help him in the first place, and he dies anyway immediately afterwards (offscreen, where we can't enjoy it). That's what passes for levity in Max Payne 2.

Really, the game still could have delivered on some of its intentions if it was capable of delivering any kind of emotional impact, but this is completely at odds with its blanket inability to build or maintain tension, to the point of unnecessarily sabotaging any tension it could have built; I count at least three significant plot reveals that are all spoiled by Max's narration the same instant their associated characters and plot elements are introduced. The game opens with a glimpse of the ending: the inevitable death of Mona Sax. This is supposed to mirror the opening of the first game, with Max standing atop the Aesir building after having successfully murdered every single person he's ever met. But the big difference here is that in the first game, we don't yet know who Max is, why he's there, how he ended up there, or what he was doing there. We only know that, whatever went on, it was finished, and Max won. And a spoiler as general as "Max Fucking Payne successfully depopulated New York City" isn't so much a spoiler as the premise of the game. In the second game, the opening vignette sabotages so much of the tension by specifically nulling out possibilities for development: no matter what happens throughout the game, we know Mona, Max's crush, dies, and he feels responsible. That's a world of difference. The game also blatantly spoils the fact that the other cop and the only original character introduced in Max Payne 2, Winterson, is dirty and will betray you. The game ALSO blatantly spoils the fact that Vladimir Lem, notorious gangster, eventually betrays you. They spoil these things the very first time you meet them, and then every time they're mentioned after that, just in case you didn't catch it the first time. This is the game's trademark: expecting you to react emotionally when you're betrayed by characters you were flat-out told were going to betray you, and expecting you to feel a sense of loss for characters you were told exactly when and how they will die. The game never implies anything to subvert those expectations to do something different; it's always played desolately straight.

There's also not much tension in who lives and who dies when literally everyone dies. All of the characters in the second game besides Winterson are from the first game, and literally all of them die (besides Max, of course). Vladimir? Dead. Jim Bravura? Dead. Mona? Didn't survive the opening narration. Vinnie Gognitti? Didn't even realize he survived the shootout in the first game. Dies humiliatingly. Alfred Woden? Dying of cancer, then also shot dead. I strongly suspect that they were intent on ending the Max Payne series after the second title, but I think they could have considered ending on a high note rather than just massacring any hanging threads a third game could have been built on.

Even this could have worked if the characters themselves were worth caring about, but Remedy can't write characters for shit in this game. Really, it again comes down to taking baggage from the first game and trying to repurpose it into a new context where it doesn't work. It might be saying a lot about this game's difficult relation with its predecessor that the most interesting character was Winterson, the only character actually introduced in the second game, without any zany, over-the-top baggage from the first title weighing her character down. Max Payne was a game full of caricatures, that the second game has tried to reshape into characters, and it never works. Take Vladimir Lem, for instance. The Russian mob boss who constantly mentions vodka, and has a license plate that says "VODKA." In this game, he opens a club named "VODKA" and mentions vodka the first time we meet him. This is a character that's supposed to- if not have our trust- at least elicit some sort of serious reaction when it turns out he was planning to kill us. He's the boss of the game, and he taunts Max about his misery and about his foolish crusade, and he comes off as a bigger cartoon than any of the characters from the first game because Sam Lake expected us to take this caricature seriously without changing anything about him but his maudlin new environment. But a far bigger problem than Vlad is Mona, who matters a lot more to the new focus on characters. Which leads me to a question:

Who gives a shit about Mona? Mona appeared in all of two scenes in the first game. She doesn't even have an in-game model, since she only appears in the graphic novel cutscenes. She betrays Max the first time they meet, but the second time, she spares his life in gratitude for slaying Don Punchinello, who was abusing his wife, who was Mona's sister. She takes a bullet to the head, but mysteriously vanishes. She's the cliche femme fatale, and she and Max don't seem to have any romantic spark beyond the fact that Max can only raise wood when he smells gunpowder. But by the time they meet again in the second game, they seem to have fallen deeply, madly, truly in love with one another in the interim. This is the most played-out sort of action flick romance- where they were near each other when violence was happening so now they're in love- but the testy relationship between Max and Mona is the centerpiece of Max Payne 2, and they can't be bothered to flesh it out to any degree. The game, as in so many things, refuses to do work to establish or flesh out a concept before trying to milk it for the maximum amount of self-serious brooding and soul-searching. Their relationship is taken to be rock-solid fact by virtue of having spoken four lines to each other- mainly consisting of death threats- in the previous game. And in Max Payne 2, they don't even bother to build on this. They never have a conversation about their relationship, or acknowledge whether or not they have one. We never get a sense of who Mona is, or why she would care about Max. Actually, a visit to her home implies she's a fan of Lords and Ladies, which I thought was very cute. It's probably the best bit of character writing in the whole game. But aside from that one tiny thing, she seems to have no history or character beyond her work as an assassin working for powerful, evil people. Now, I'm very rarely critical of the Why? behind relationships in media. I don't usually bother asking the question of what two people see in each other, why they are together, why they stay together. Romance is odd. In real life, you never know who will end up together, and the point of a relationship isn't that we understand it, but that they understand it. But my lenience disappears when the relationship takes center stage and the writers can't bother to do the lightest bit of groundwork to get us invested. Even if we could care about Mona, or see her as a character with any kind of feelings or history, we already know, from the moment we begin the game, that it's doomed. Mona dies. She and Max can't be together, ever. It was never in the cards. As earlier, the game ineptly tries to inveigle emotional investment from the audience after killing any potential suspense or tension at the root. You might argue that, even beyond having any sense of Mona's character or any understanding of how or why any sort of romantic feeling between these two perfect strangers who seem to hate each other ever developed, that we would still have some level of care for Mona, or for her relationship with Max, by virtue of caring about Max. Which leads me to a question:

Who gives a shit about Max? No, really, who cares about Max Payne? The second game is centered 100% around his emotional journey and sorting out the trauma his past has caused him. Can you see why this doesn't really fit with Max Payne? The first game was very much not about Max Payne's character. His abject suffering and the total degradation of his mental state was well-established by the game, but this wasn't the point of the game; it was the premise. The prologue of the game establishes why Max would be so far beyond the emotional point of no return that he would embark on a killing frenzy across New York City, but it was never about actually dealing with that suffering. It was about the killing frenzy! Sometimes that's good enough! And the finale of the game, in which Max declares himself a "winner," seems to be saying that he is already over it after killing Nicole Horne, the head of Aesir. I mean, his entire objective was to perpetrate his vendetta for the murder of his wife and baby, what else is Max grinning from ear to ear declaring himself a winner supposed to imply? Max Payne 2 begins by not only devaluing that sense of victory from the first game, but by starting as it means to go on in handwaving the impossibly ludicrous notion of Max totally getting away with the killing of hundreds of people across New York City and storming a downtown office high-rise and killing an extremely prominent, powerful businesswoman AND everyone else in the building. We proceed from the premise that everyone has literally forgotten about this and Max has gone back to his job as a police detective, and from that point tries to start weaving a narrative based on a sober, grounded look at survivor's guilt and putting your life back together after personal trauma. This game is subtitled "The Fall of Max Payne." If you didn't think Max Payne would literally, physically fall after reaching some sort of emotional rock-bottom, your expectations were way off-base. No, Max ends up between Mona and Winterson. Winterson wants to arrest Mona for her numerous grisly murders, and in a moment of panic, Max shoots her. Lay aside the fact that Max's narrative allusions and the events of the game we've already experienced have already assured us, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Winterson is a dirty cop responsible at least partly for the conspiracy of arms trading that runs throughout the game. Even if Winterson was a saint, clad all in white and glowing with an aura of pure righteousness, this game has just tried to wring a climactic moment of drama and pathos out of Max Payne shooting someone.

Really.

When did this become something we were supposed to care about? Was it sometime after the last twelve dozen Cleaners I'd murdered on my way through this building? And lets keep in mind, we've already been told in no uncertain terms that she's corrupt and only wants Mona gone to cover her own complicity with organized crime. I remember a moment in the first game when I met with another dirty cop named BB. Know what happened to him? I shot him, in slow motion, with an automatic shotgun, a dozen times, and then went along my merry way to the next dozen names on my to-do list, so inconsequential was his passing. But Winterson's special somehow. Sure. And after Max shoots her, she shoots him twice before expiring and Max falls off an embankment because visual metaphor. This was the emotional nadir of Max's journey, and there's literally nothing compelling or poignant about it. Hell, if you were slow or thought there really was some sort of gray morality (well, gray for the standards of this game anyway), then a message on an answering machine not too long afterwards confirms for the slow children that, yes, she was totally Vlad's girlfriend and was totally screwing everyone else over, just in case you had felt some sort of guilt by accident earlier. And it's weakened even further by the fact that Max absolutely, 100% knows he's already beyond any sort of justification. We knew that from the first game, in which he states this exact sentiment repeatedly. My personal favorite was, "I was so far beyond the point of no return that I couldn't even remember what it looked like when I passed it." This entire game is based on Max's development, and even at the climax of the game, Max doesn't have any character development. Absent the manic ultraviolence and gleeful gallows humor he embraced so energetically in the first game, he doesn't even have a character beyond reiterating again and again and again how sad he is and how tragic his situation is. Even in the hands of infinitely more talented writers, that's not a premise worth throwing away literally everything fun or interesting about the first game's tone and tendencies and influences.

At the very end of the game- literally in the last level- the game panics and starts throwing around lots of romantic symbolism. The mansion you and Mona are fighting through is covered in paintings and murals of couples, with OMNIA VINCIT AMOR emblazoned over a prominent doorway. This seems to be the theme the game is casting towards at the eleventh hour: Love conquers all. If they aren't trying to elicit this, I don't understand why they made it so prominent and ever-present at the last minute, but if they were trying to do something with this theme, it seems like they literally forgot to follow through. Not even that they tried and failed- there's nothing to pin on the theme of Love Conquers All, or on Max's relationship with Mona helping him to develop or improve in any way. She saved his life once, yeah, and she's helping him assault Woden's mansion to kill Vlad (who's invading the place trying to kill Woden), but even at that, all she's done is give him the means- the physical means, not the heart or willingness or whatever- to kill the only person alive that Max hasn't yet killed in revenge for his shitty life. Is that the uplifting message of love's redeeming power we're going for? After killing Vlad, the game lingers on a mural of Adam and Eve. This is the last of the times when the game tries its hand at faux-symbolism. Is Mona supposed to be tempting Max into sin, somehow? I mean, he's already murdered hundreds of people, even before ever meeting her, so that can't be it. Is Max supposed to be Adam in any way? Is he putting his own faults onto Mona? I mean, he feels responsible for her death, but let's face it, she was about as bad an assassin as Max was a cop. She couldn't possibly have lasted much longer with or without him. But Mona's a femme fatale, so at some random point, she knocks Max down, says he's no longer needed or whatever, and gets ready to shoot him... but can't of course, because love. Now, of the two times that we met Mona in the first game, this was the exact thing that happened the second time we met her, which makes this not only a threadbare cliche in general but old territory for the Max Payne games themselves. And, exactly like last time, she gets shot by a third party that snuck up on us in her moment of reticence, except this time it's Vlad, and this time, she dies for real. Maybe this is what the game means by OMNIA VINCIT AMOR: Love gives Max Payne the inextinguishable fury to kill all of the people, everywhere, for the sake of revenge for taking that love away. It seems to be the only thing these two games have in common, except we were still in the process of getting revenge for our last murdered love, and the person who killed Mona was someone we already hated and already intended to kill anyway. Yep, this is the game's finale: the most half-hearted, token un-betrayal conceivable ending with Mona's death, which we'd known was coming since hitting the NEW GAME button. This is Max Payne 2 in a nutshell: a plodding, interminable howl about Max's misery and grief constantly undermined by the gonzo inhumanity of every single character and completely unearned pathos hollowly delivered on bungled plot twists.

In this short video parodying Max Payne, Max brutally murders a woman before sitting down to eat a bowl of cereal and painkillers. "Like all the lunches in my life," he narrates internally, "it began with the death of a woman." I had no idea until I played this game that it was actually a twist on a line from the beginning of Max Payne 2. Max busts into a hostage situation, and fails to save a woman from being shot. "Like all the worst days in my life, it began with the death of a woman." I laughed hard when I heard that line, not only because it finally let me in on the joke in that video, but because I couldn't believe the game tried to deliver it with a straight face. This set the tone for everything to come. Max Payne 2 is a bonanza of unintentional self-parody. Everything that made the first game so raucously, irreverently memorable has been pared away, leaving only Max, and Max sucks. He's gone from an eager self-aware avatar of vengeance into a brooding goth. (And the game keeps heavily insisting he's schizophrenic, which is... I mean... He's not. It's just plainly, factually not a thing that he is. What was the game even going for with that?) The final disappointment, fittingly, is the very last line of the game, in which he reveals that, after Mona's death, he's come to terms with the death of his wife Michelle. I can't even begin to imagine what the game was going for here. Why does Mona's death help him cope with his wife's death? Maybe if there were any kind of substance to or exploration of their relationship, there would be something to explain it, but there never was. Max makes out with a woman he knew for a cumulative total of forty-five minutes, they kill some Russians together, and then she dies after trying and failing to betray him. And now he's over his wife's death. Wow. What a heartfelt, introspective work. Or maybe it was just killing everyone that did it. I mean, it didn't work the last time he tried it. He said that it did, but then this game undermined that to show that it didn't. Did he just need to murder even more people for the healing to finally begin? We've got no reason why he would get over his grief now, and no stronger reassurances than what were so easily thrown away by this game from the very start, so why should we believe it this time? Or care?

Remedy either had no idea what worked about the first game, and failed to replicate it on the second go, or deliberately diverged from it to try something much more difficult, and absolutely failed to transition. This was an impossible game to base on the world and people of Max Payne, but they never could have succeeded telling this kind of story in the first place. They have no idea what makes it work, no idea how to make the audience care, and no idea how to fit two ideas together withing breaking both of them. The first game, even if accidentally, required and rewarded a deafening, all-out assault on the player's senses and sensibilities, and they brought that approach to a story that needed a delicate, thoughtful touch, shattering it in a slow-motion explosion of bad prose and shell casings.

Also, I finished Recettear. It was fun, and charming.
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Thomas

Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by Thomas » Sat Aug 15, 2015 11:12 pm

@The Rocketter - as someone who wasn't very game sentient when Max Payne 2 was released, I'm surprised to hear there was any controversy about it. I guess I'd always assumed that it was acknowledged as the best of the trilogy.

I also feel like Noir is inherently goofy and the terrible dialogue and ridiculous over the top shooting with the huge piles of bodies that don't really matter any way fit with that perfectly. Max Payne 1 is so dour for John Woo, both in a lot of locations and the story but that's what the combat ends up being anyway.

Sorry for the terrible inpoliteness of the mismatched answer sizes, but I think it would be unrealistically of me to hope I could ever go toe to toe with you on that =D

--------------------
In Walking Dead news, I'm feeling calmer and happy with the game now I've reached episode two and people are talking (although Kenny being there is such nonsense :p). Wolf Among Us has utterly spoiled me though, it turns out I liked Walking Dead 1 as a game, not as a setting and I feel like my dislike of the world and the themes and the setting is really battling with me over the fun of the actual game now I know that I can have a Telltale adventure game that isn't in the Walking Dead universe. I'm finding it hard to attach to people when I feel like they're making people likeable just so they can kill them off for emotional impact (*coughgameofthronescough*)
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AileTheAlien
Location: SK, SK

Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by AileTheAlien » Sun Aug 16, 2015 3:49 am

I've been playing I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream. Somebody mentioned it in the Diecast or Scpoiler Warning, and I basically bought it that minute, on GoG. This is probably the only point and click adventure game, where the crazy puzzles and frustration actually feel right. Totally fits in with the theme of the book/game, where you're being toyed with, by a nigh-omniscient world-controlling monster computer. Great game!
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McNutcase
Location: Nova Albion
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Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by McNutcase » Sun Aug 16, 2015 7:25 am

Got back into Dragon Age 2, and also decided to give Inquisition a go, with the free "6 hour" trial. Which, roughly 50% of which is eaten by cutscenes and loading screens; be nice if six hours meant six hours of actually playing the game, but to count those eternal loading screens against the trial time seems a mite harsh. Also, the only openworld stuff I can do is the Hinterlands. Whee. Oh, and unless I shut down everything that's not essential to running it, it runs like dogshit. If I party like it's 1999, it runs like cowshit (for those who didn't grow up on a farm, yes that is an improvement; cowshit is liquid enough that it could be called "runny", dogshit not so much, but either way it's still shit) so I figure a serious computer upgrade is in order before I actually buy it. But I probably will buy it, because it's been pretty good fun so far.
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Retsam

Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by Retsam » Mon Aug 17, 2015 6:18 pm

I played quite a bit of SpellweaverTCG this weekend; I had a couple good Trials (read: Arena from Hearthstone) runs last week, including a heartbreaking 9 out of 10 wins, where I ran into someone running essentially the same deck as me and lost in a very winnable position on a bad draw. But the result of those good trials runs is basically that I've gotten to the point of having a pretty decent collection, and can actually start putting together some interesting decks and do decently against other players. My current main deck spawns about a million elves (one elf allows other elves to be played from the top of my deck), then turns them into vampires. It's pretty fun, and works pretty well. (It will generally lose against the current Purple/Blue control archetype which is currently dominating the Spellweaver meta; but it does put up a pretty good fight)

I'm really hoping the game catches on, in general. It's definitely my favorite online TCG I've played; it's got more interesting than Hearthstone; but is much less painful than any of the MtG I've played online (which is admittedly not a ton). The fact that there's no stack and you can't play instants whenever you want really helps, because the game doesn't have to pause 20 times a turn to ask if you want to play any instants. A lot of the pain points with the game currently stem from a small player base: a fairly steep PvP curve (since you, by necessity, get thrown into matches against more experienced players quite often) and slow matchmaking times.
The Rocketeer wrote:Also, I finished Recettear. It was fun, and charming.
Did you manage to make it through without having to loop back? For me the looping back if you miss a deadline is an unfortunate mechanic; when you're making all the payments, the game is pretty well-paced to have difficult but doable deadlines... but, if I miss the fourth deadline, for example, then basically the extra four weeks of leveling my relationships and adventurers is just going to make the rest of the game really easy. I may just end up starting over if I miss a deadline.
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Trix2000
Location: California

Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by Trix2000 » Tue Aug 18, 2015 1:59 am

I didn't even know the looping back was a mechanic, because I kept thinking "fail = game over" and desperately made sure to meet the limit every time. It got pretty close sometimes too.


So I started and quickly finished Ori and the Blind Forest this weekend, and simply put I liked it a lot. The best word I have to describe my experience with it, though, was different. The platforming was interesting - you start with just a basic jump, but by the end of the game you get to the point of being able to traverse huge rooms with spikes on all sides like it was normal (bash is a really crazy ability, and combined with double/triple jump...). What I liked most was how often I could get to secrets and unreachable areas by being clever with the mechanics, giving that feel of "Oh, I bet not too many people could do THAT!"

The RPG mechanics were pretty light but felt rewarding. The art was AMAZING and the sound design was well done as well. The story was actually pretty interesting, but there's not ton of detail to it - it depends a lot on the visuals and abstract phrases to convey things... but I think it worked out pretty well (and your 'fairy companion' is just unobtrusive enough to work nicely).

With all that said... the game is surprisingly difficult. You have the ability to make your own save points, which in theory would make things easier, but... very quickly I learned how important it was to manage energy and place save points strategically, because you NEED them. The ability also requires safe/solid ground (and no enemies nearby), which caught me more by surprise in the volcano level, wherein 90% of the level floor would hurt you if you stood on it too long, meaning it was considered 'not safe'. For the most part, I actually liked the challenge - it felt achievable, and most of my deaths were my own mistakes. It also helps that the time from death->return of player control was all of a few seconds, which lessened the pain from dying.

Exceeeeept, in some small part the fleeing sections (aka running from the water/wind/fire at the end of the elemental levels). With no place to save, these ended up being particularly annoying to get through - not strictly because of DIAS gameplay (it telegraphed most things pretty well) but just with how difficult it was to get through the entire section alive. It made sense, and honestly I wasn't too bothered by it, but I still would have liked some form of checkpointing in there.

Anyhoo, I had fun, and it was a nice ~7 hour experience for an afternoon/evening. Unfortunately, it seems like a bit of a one-time kind of game, and while I went for quite a bit of optional stuff (I think I got ~95%+), I don't feel the need to 100% it (though I was tempted).



...Oh, also I started playing AC:Black Flag too (finally). Yo ho pirate stuff etc etc.
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Narratorway
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Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by Narratorway » Tue Aug 18, 2015 2:40 am

Sporadically playing through Crypt o da Necrodancer, but I also decided to finally actually download a game I've had in my steam library for years now...F.E.A.R.

It's meh.

I'm not too far into it, but it's not really grabbing me. By Steams reckoning, I've played over two hours of this game so far, and in that time, I could not tell one area from another, every fight was with the same group of enemies if not the same character models for all I know. Were it not for the fact that there's so much down time between the sporadic gun battles, it'd just be a cheap Tom Clancy knock off.

And the 'scary' parts just do not work. It's not even hilarious so much as bewildering to have this random walking japanese horror movie cliche pop up in my Tom Clancy knock-off FPS and try and scare me, especially since I know those momentary lapses into attempted horror are going to be followed up with a room in which I'll gunfight the same military mooks I've gunfighted since I started the game.

Still going through Mass Effect. I'm at the point where I have to head down to the quarter master after every mission just to keep from going over that infamous 150 limit. Good lord, the equipment interface is downright antagonistic. How is it nobody has hacked a better inventory mod into this game?
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The Rocketeer

Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by The Rocketeer » Tue Aug 18, 2015 9:08 am

I guess, at this point, the logical thing to do would be to play through Max Payne 3 for the sake of comparison, so I've gotten back into Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny, which I laid aside in favor of Recettear after spinning my wheels in AI2's early game.

I've found out that, like with most Gust titles, there's a LOT more interesting mechanical depth added in later on, and I backed out before any of it kicked in (the downside to this model of making games being that they're really threadbare at the beginning). The game is fun, but I've felt overpowered the entire time I've been playing it; I kept expecting for the game to steepen the difficulty curve after introducing its primary systems, but now I'm realizing that it's just not intended to be a very difficult game.

Also, like many Gust titles with their clusterfuck of systems, there's a very tiny wedge in which battles will be challenging without being unreasonable; a little experimentation in the battle arena proved that there's only a few levels' difference between battles failing to challenge you and enemies simply one- and two-shotting your characters. I've simply spent most of my time on the easier side of that wedge, despite avoiding random battles for what would otherwise have been the majority of the game.

I don't really count this as a design failure; by all indications, the game is just not intended to be very difficult beyond making sure you have a basic grasp of the mechanics. Really, mostly it seems geared in favor of never impinging unduly on the player's time, of which I find myself extremely appreciative. In contrast even to other Gust titles, the crafting in the game isn't so much limited by acquiring stocks of items to craft with so much as it is gated by the initial acquisition of those items. Consumable items, once crafted, can be remade in mass quantities not from components but from mana, a renewable resource that can easily be regained from the environment in no time at all. The upshot is that consumable items aren't really limited by the game at all, including healing items, items that clear out all of the random encounters from the map, and items that warp you out of dungeons. This makes backtracking a snap (rather than a huge headache of mopping up trivial encounters; this game is putting my time with Ar tonelico 2 to shame in hindsight), and lets me take a break from leveling, since I don't want to become too overpowered just by walking to the next area.

I don't think I have very long left in the game. We'll see how it turns out in the end.
Retsam wrote:Did you manage to make it through without having to loop back? For me the looping back if you miss a deadline is an unfortunate mechanic; when you're making all the payments, the game is pretty well-paced to have difficult but doable deadlines... but, if I miss the fourth deadline, for example, then basically the extra four weeks of leveling my relationships and adventurers is just going to make the rest of the game really easy. I may just end up starting over if I miss a deadline.
I did, eventually. I failed about mid-way through once, and very quickly realized in the second loop that, in a game about compounding returns, starting with two or three weeks of inventory and reputation makes success a guarantee, and that took all of the tension out of it. After that, I started a new game from scratch. I came very close to missing the $30,000 payment, bringing in enough money only in the last time unit for that same day. After that, it was smooth sailing; by the end, I had almost double the final payment; the only reason I wasn't a millionaire by that time is that I'd elected to spend about the entire last week in dungeons rather than trading anything.

I had fun, but that lack of tension in meeting payments is why I stopped, rather than carry on with New Game+ or one of the challenge modes. An endless mode in which you just try and beat your own high score doesn't hold any interest for me, and while I enjoyed the dungeons in the basic game, I enjoyed them because they held an interesting place in the game's larger time management/budgeting mechanics. Absent that context, plowing through 100+ floors of overpowered palette swaps with Recettear's very token mechanics seems like a task well suited to other people.
Narratorway wrote:F.E.A.R.

It's meh.
This mirrors my experience with FEAR. I know someone will defend the game by gushing about its "phenomenal AI," but I went back through the game specifically to try and observe this in action, and these cunning, unpredictable enemies proved to be total no-shows. Not that they would have had time to try anything clever; the best way to get through the game is to sneak as close as you can, then hit Bullet Time and berserker rush enemies before they know you're there. Enemies don't actually have a chance to try and outflank you unless they're just spawned in behind you already, which the game does periodically. Far more likely than that is to just put you on one end of a box corridor with no cover and a swarm of enemies or a mech at the other end. Not smart, not fun.

My first time through FEAR, long, long ago, I remember being super disappointed in the game's spooky aspect until the very end. I was so excited when things actually started to get intense literally in the last half-hour of play. Then the game crashed and corrupted my save file.

Yeah, screw that stupid game.
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Ringwraith

Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by Ringwraith » Tue Aug 18, 2015 10:09 am

The Rocketeer wrote:
Narratorway wrote:F.E.A.R.

It's meh.
This mirrors my experience with FEAR. I know someone will defend the game by gushing about its "phenomenal AI," but I went back through the game specifically to try and observe this in action, and these cunning, unpredictable enemies proved to be total no-shows. Not that they would have had time to try anything clever; the best way to get through the game is to sneak as close as you can, then hit Bullet Time and berserker rush enemies before they know you're there. Enemies don't actually have a chance to try and outflank you unless they're just spawned in behind you already, which the game does periodically. Far more likely than that is to just put you on one end of a box corridor with no cover and a swarm of enemies or a mech at the other end. Not smart, not fun.

My first time through FEAR, long, long ago, I remember being super disappointed in the game's spooky aspect until the very end. I was so excited when things actually started to get intense literally in the last half-hour of play. Then the game crashed and corrupted my save file.

Yeah, screw that stupid game.
Bullet time breaks it.
As stupid as that sounds. Just makes you overpowered really.
The AI's merely quite clever as opposed to incredible, although certainly for the time, as if not blindsided and murdered in four seconds they will try and hem you in. Although a lot of areas don't quite have it in mind.
I think the sequel might have been better about it, can't remember. Or maybe one of the expansions.
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Daemian Lucifer

Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by Daemian Lucifer » Tue Aug 18, 2015 1:31 pm

Ringwraith wrote: The AI's merely quite clever as opposed to incredible, although certainly for the time, as if not blindsided and murdered in four seconds they will try and hem you in. Although a lot of areas don't quite have it in mind.
If you play fear together with a bunch of its contemporary shooters(and shooters that came after),you can easily see how much smarter they actually are.This becomes especially evident if you manage to save inside a firefight and then reload a bunch of times.I had a situation like that in one of the call of duties(I think it was two),where the enemies were all around me,and I was cut off from the rest of my team.So I had to savescum my way through it(or reload to the beginning of the mission).I ended up learning exactly where each enemy will come from and what they would do.No such thing in fear however.And,what I find even more impressive,no such thing in half life 2.
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Ringwraith

Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by Ringwraith » Tue Aug 18, 2015 1:44 pm

Half Life 2 has some pretty good AI too, but that's even more constrained by environments. People have used the editor to let large firefights break out and they are capable of moving around with intent in those.
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JPH
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Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by JPH » Tue Aug 18, 2015 6:34 pm

Any of you fuckers play Rocket League? It's super duper fun. Jarenth and I been playing it and might be streaming it sometime soon.
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Thomas

Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by Thomas » Wed Aug 19, 2015 2:38 am

When I have a PS4 when MGSV is released I'm sure I will be (well after I've finished MGSV) :P I suspect it might not be quite so topical by then though
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Trix2000
Location: California

Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by Trix2000 » Wed Aug 19, 2015 4:14 am

I'll probably get a PS4 eventually, but only because Persona 5 is coming out on it soonish.

In fact... *goes off to check* Damn, still no exact release date. :(
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4th Dimension

Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by 4th Dimension » Wed Aug 19, 2015 8:28 am

JPH wrote:Any of you fuckers play Rocket League? It's super duper fun. Jarenth and I been playing it and might be streaming it sometime soon.
It sure does look amaizing going from couple of streams of it I saw. Problem is it's only free on PS which I don't own and I'm not really itching to buy it for PC. If the price drops to couple of bucks...
But yes anyone that can play it should, allthough it does look like it's even more fun with friends.
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Thomas

Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by Thomas » Wed Aug 19, 2015 10:18 am

It probably worth keeping an eye out on for PC though. Also it's not free on the PS4 forever, only for August and only if you have PS+
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Ringwraith

Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by Ringwraith » Wed Aug 19, 2015 10:38 am

It was a July game, actually, so the free claiming period has passed.
If you already claimed it though, can play it for as long as you have PS+ going.
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Thomas

Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by Thomas » Wed Aug 19, 2015 10:42 am

Ah okay, I picked it up whenever it was available because I have PS+ for the PS3 and so that my save games are stored in the cloud when I transition PS4's, but I obviously forgot the month it was in
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Ringwraith

Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by Ringwraith » Wed Aug 19, 2015 1:14 pm

I guess the cloud saves are useful for Vita games, as they're kept inextricably with the games' files, so deleting digital copies is blerrguh.
I mostly just claim everything via the website each month for everything.
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Thomas

Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by Thomas » Wed Aug 19, 2015 1:34 pm

I was just didn't want to have to dig out a memory stick and make sure things are backed up to the last time I played on them, so lazyness combined with the fact that Ground Zeroes was available on plus too
AVelhavenn

Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by AVelhavenn » Fri Aug 21, 2015 12:00 am

Prototype, I reached the part where the dragon stabs you with antivirus. Which kinda sucks, because I aced the fight against him with careful use of whip & devastators and then mc just randomly approached him to get stabbed in a cutscene. It's not too bad because I still have most of my powers, but I kinda miss my whip.

Recettear NG+, the talk on the forum made me remember that I still haven't got Nagi's true card yet so I ended up doing double NG+ for Nagi's and Tielle's cards. While Nagi is a certified badass who carried my first playthrough from the demon to end boss, Tielle comes up with an unexpected power spike at level 25. Her cuterage skill is just too powerful, even though I do have to bring about 5 meditation rings to reliably spam it in a full dungeon run. Another stuff which kinda comes as a surprise is the fact that Prime feels bad if I gave her too good a price. This is actually in line with how she behaves during end of storyline, which made me kinda sad that I missed it because like Allouette's just prices, it makes them seems to act out of character if you missed it.
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John

Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by John » Fri Aug 21, 2015 4:02 pm

I am still working off my GOG summer sale binge, so . . .

Master of Magic

Thanks to the encouragement I got here after my last post, I went back to Master of Magic. I find that the game is shorter and less tedious when I select easy difficulty and a small map. Though I should note that a small map in Master of Magic is still pretty darned big--and because of the plane-switching mechanic, there are really two maps. I usually pick Alchemist and Warlord to give my troops magic weapons and more experience and pursue an aggressive strategy in the early game. I can often eliminate enemies while they still have just a handful of cities and conquer the world before anyone manages to expand into the alternate plane of Myrror. Despite their lack of engineers, I think that my favorite races are Halflings and Nomads. Halfling slingers really are very good (thanks, guys!) and Nomad horsebowmen and rangers are also fun. It is tremendously satisfying to eliminate an enemy army before it can get into melee range.

Master of Magic behaves a little oddly in DOSBox. I've got it installed on two computers, my netbook and my desktop. It runs fine on the desktop, but crawls like an unplayable dog on the netbook. I suppose that the netbook's Atom processor is to blame. The thing that confuses me is that the netbook can run Command & Conquer at perfectly reasonable speeds and C&C has got to be the more demanding of the two, at least graphically. Right? Right?

Anyway, in my last game, an enemy wizard managed to found (at least!) four cities near my starting point. I took one of them, and held it against wave after wave of enemy troops, but didn't have enough food to field a second army in order to go after another city. I suppose that I could have hung in there and built improvements in my cities to increase food production, but the game crashed. I took that as a sign, and moved on to:

Descent

Oh man. I played Descent before, back in the early Pentium era. At the time, I didn't realize just how Doom-like it really was. I mean, keycards! Seriously! (That didn't seem weird to me at the time because all first-person shooters were like that. We called the genre Doom-likes for a reason.) Descent even has a beige/brown enemy that shoots slow-moving, fireball-like projectiles. The big innovations in Descent--other than, you know, the full 3D environment and the six-degrees of freedom--are the standardized end-of-level encounter with the mine core and the race for the exit. I am so, so bad at the race for the exit part. I fly too fast, bump into walls, get turned around, and generally panic. I'm going to blame the low-res textures and primitive lighting for part of that. The fact that I'm playing with a joystick rather than a mouse may also have something to do with it.

When I played Descent in the 90s, I used a Microsoft Sidewinder flight stick. The hat switch was really convenient for gliding sideways (or up, or down, or diagonally) to avoid enemy fire. I'm using a Logitech stick now, but the hat switch still works like a charm. The trick is to get Descent to recognize that it exists. To get my stick working properly, I had to edit the DOSBox config file and change the joystick control from

Code: Select all

joystick = auto
to

Code: Select all

joystick = ch
, so that DOSBox is emulating a CH Flightstick. Then I had to start a new game with a new pilot profile and select CH Flightstick as my controller. There's a menu that looks like it will let you change controllers for an existing pilot but it absolutely does not work. Upon further reflection, it may not be strictly necessary to edit the DOSBox config file, but I didn't feel like taking chances and it doesn't seem to hurt any.

I expect that most people play Descent with mouse and keyboard, and further expect that it works pretty well. It's a little hard to target enemies precisely with the flight-stick, especially at long range. I guess I should try it sometime.
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Thomas

Re: This week I have been mostly playing...

Post by Thomas » Fri Aug 21, 2015 4:45 pm

After my less than positive experience with The Walking Dead Season 2 (which, looking at reviews, I seem to be alone in) I was left craving a The Wolf Among Us sequel, but also good games to play.

Gunpoint is a good game, but for the second time I couldn't get past the first few levels. The problem is, I really am fairly uninterested in the 'game' part of 'videogames' and Gunpoint is a well designed puzzle game but nothing else. It's not story I'm after either, because I've played and loved plenty of games with crud stories. I think I just want to inhabit someone's world, whether in the abstract way of Rome Total War and Crusader Kings or walking through incredible 3D environments or playing characters in RPGs.

So that's why the next game I tried was an entirely mechanical turn-based cardgame of course. Magic Duels is out on PC now and it's free and so far it seems just as good as the version they made you pay for, so that's a win right? It feels like it's got a lot more actual magic cards from Magic Origins too. When I first loaded it up there was a glitch where the flavour text wasn't appearing, which would've been a dealbreaker, but I outlasted the bug and am enjoying the set very much now. Apparently these games are always going to be free now (and might be always based of Duels?) but tbh the free to play is definitely done right here. It somehow feels less oppressive than last years for money version.

And then finally we arrive at Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, the cult-cult classic. I remember it being the first game to take design cues from the original Uncharted and so, being a story about you escorting a vulnerable PC across America after the greenocalypse, it feels like The Last of Us imitator three years early.

In fact, I'd be interested if the makers of TLoU had ever played enslaved, because there are some moments which are practically identical between the games, including making a huge detour to get around a ravine that had opened up in the middle of a skyscraper covered city.

The Last of Us/Enslaved

Enslaved really is a stunningly beautiful game. Unfortunately, it's a typical Ninja Theory game, maybe even the greatest Ninja Theory game. A game with bits too good to forget, but lacking the design and execution to even become a real cult classic.

The scenery is stunning, and the voice acting is fanastic. Andy Serkis really does one of his best videogame roles ever here, with a sense of presence only he can bring. But. But! It's too much of a game.

Each level is essentially set out like a challenge map, with flashing globes to pick up and a birds eye sweep around the area before starting. As a result, the actual levels can feel more like Ratchett and Clank without guns than anything else. It's fun enough, but it does nothing to enhance the game or bring it together as a package. It destroys the setting, both by making it feel much more artificial and by just not really encouraging camera movements that make you want to look around. It's hard to feel like you're making progress when each area is the same type of challenge maps.

Compare it to The Last of Us, whose mechanics encouraged exploration and feeling part of the world and building up tension and emotion. It made levels feel unique because the feeling of walking around an overgrown cityscape felt fundamentally different than walking around in the open countryside. The light and shapes of a building affect how you search for resources and where you scan for zombies which makes the building apart of your game world. Whereas in Enslaved the buildings are just walls that define the game area.

And where Enslaved imitates latter-Naughty Dog mechanics, it's just not as good. There's a section where you're climbing up the support structures of a rickety suspension bridge. In a Naughty Dog game, they'd make sure the camera was constantly outlining where you are in the building, and forcing you to have moments of vertigo as it emphasised just how high up you were. In Enslaved it's very hard to look down even when you're trying.

So I'm going through the game, but slowly, a chapter at a time. And the moments which are good are really good, I'll never get tired of looking at the environments and there was a moment where you were free to ride around a river underneath the crumbling suspension bridge on a brilliant feeling hoverboard whilst pretty music played and it was pretty amazing.
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