Batman: Arkham Origins

Spoilers abound! Precede only if you’ve finished Batman: Arkham Origins.

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I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ XP

I often felt like I needed to do the side missions in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City because I needed the XP. I need to unlock more gadgets or abilities to get the job done effectively. In Arkham Origins, I never felt that way. In fact, the only side missions I completed while doing the main story the first time through were the Riddler’s radio towers. They were fun to complete, as I imagine a lot of the other side missions will be when I get around to them, but at least the Riddler’s radio towers were necessary, for the most part. Sure, you could glide around the city freely, but the chance to open up the whole of Gotham to fast travel is appealing. Aside from this though, I didn’t feel the need to accrue extra XP to do anymore upgrading than the XP I gained along the way while completing the main story afforded me.

Assassin Appearances Unbalanced

You know, for having eight assassin’s after Batman, you’d never really know it. It seems like only four of them ever really got the message. Electrocutioner kinda shows up, Copperhead makes a valiant effort, Firefly pops up as filler towards the end, and Bane is in the game way more than he needs to be. The boss encounters in Origins are really unbalanced.

Electrocutioner

Electrocutioner may be the worst “boss” fight I’ve ever played. Oh! Hit square! Fight over. No, seriously. But he gets away because Batman didn’t tie him up, like I was telling the TV that he should do! Then, Joker kills him and you raid his corpse for the win button (I mean, Shock Gloves). He only exists in this game to let you get your Shock Gloves.

Deathstroke

I enjoyed the Deathstroke fight. It felt like a classic Arkham boss fight and was mildly challenging. It was a little prompt heavy at times though, and the reason I had to replay it a bunch of times was because I was being a bit too proactive with my countering and while the game wanted me to have a really cinematic counter with Deathstroke, I was trying to play it like a regular fight, which led me to countering earlier than the game wanted me to and then dying five times.

Copperhead

Copperhead’s fight was also fun. She poison’s you and while you’re walking out of the building to pick up an antidote drop, you’re caught in a hallucinogenic scrap with ten Copperheads all at once. It’s a shame more boss fights weren’t like this.

Firefly

Hey mom! I’m a QTE sequence.

Bane

What’s the deal with Bane getting three fights? Had the developers watched Dark Knight Rises so many times that they had Bane on the brain? You first encounter Bane with at the hotel should’ve been the last. It’s the hardest of all the encounters and I felt like “what was the point?” after artificially losing after getting him down to a sliver of health. You put a tracker on him, but he uses it to lure you away so he can kinda, but not really, destroy the Batcave. Then, he kinda, but not really, kills Alfred. Good thing Plot Device’s (I mean Electrocutioner’s) Shock Gloves are around to save the day (again). Then, you see him again back at Blackgate Prison, and after you kick his ass, Batman’s dumb rule about not killing anyone brings him back and you get to fight him a third time, and this time it’s one of those “use the environment” fights. I never really like those.

Anarchy, Shiva, And Deadshot Only Show Up As Side Missions

Remember how there were eight assassins? Remember only fighting four of them? (Electrocutioner doesn’t count!) Well, the other three are still out there, but as side missions! I didn’t do any side missions yet, so I’ll not pass judgement on their quality, only that what’s the point of saying you have eight assassins after you when only five ever come after you?

Story

I know they want everyone to know think that this Batman game is the just the same and as good as the last two, but they’ve gone overboard with the “Arkham” naming scheme. This game never goes anywhere near Arkham Asylum, and Arkham City hasn’t been thought up yet. In fact, the only mention of Arkham Asylum is at the end, during a radio sequence during the credits where they talk about Arkham being reopened.

I was a little disappointed at the length of Arkham Origimns as well. Playing just the main story clocked in around eight hours, and while there was a lot of filler like Firefly’s oddly timed appearance and Bane’s way too much camera time, the ending of Arkham Origins wound up feeling rushed somehow. The first encounter with Joker was really great and you get to see how Joker feels about Batman. The final encounter goes by way too fast and you’re barely in control of the game during the final sequence. It’s little more than a QTE at the end.

Overall Verdict

I enjoyed Arkham Origins. The more I think about the game though, the more I find that I dislike about it. I still have a lot to do: Anarky, Deadshot and Shiva’s side missions for starters. Also, Mad Hatter and Riddler’s bits. I didn’t do more than two of the challenges in the Batcave and none of the Predator challenges. There is also supposed to be new story DLC in the upcoming season pass, which while I haven’t purchased yet, I would gladly pay another $20 for more Batman story content.

[Review] The Walking Dead – 400 Days

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I loved Telltale’s The Walking Dead a lot. I was surprised to see that Telltale had released new DLC for the game titled 400 Days. The thing that made The Walking Dead great was that the decisions you made in each episode carried over and affected things later on in the series. That’s also the thing missing from 400 Days. In 400 Days, you control five different people in one episode. That means, you’re not carrying over any of the choices you made, (at least not yet). I don’t know if Telltale is intending on putting out more DLC that relates to 400 Days (before Season 2 ships), but as it stands, the choices you make in each vignette don’t make a big difference in the ending of the episode. The characters’ stories do grab you and are good stories, but they’re very short (maybe 20 minutes or less) and by the time you start to care about what happens to them, the story’s finished.

On the bright side, this special episode of The Walking Dead is just $5.00 (400 Microsoft Points on Xbox 360) and it’s well worth the money. I just think I’d have rather had one long story instead of five shorter stories.

Xbox One Reactions

The Monolithic Box

I’ve head people complaining about the Xbox One being a monolithic box. They says it’s boring, it’s too square and it lacks personality. I’m fine with the hardware design. I thought the first 360 was silly looking with its curves and I never liked the gloss finish of the 360 S. The Xbox One may resemble a VCR, but it’s going to be sitting under a big rectangle that’s my TV, so it will fit in just fine. I’m not a fan of curves in hardware. I like straight lines better. (Don’t tell my crazily curved iMac which I do love though.)

Used Game Locking

More than anything, I think it’s Microsoft’s decision to require a certain level of Internet connectivity and locking games to a single Xbox Live account. If, like me, you don’t buy used games, this will not affect you at all. If it means that games never need to be run off a disc again after the intitial install, I’m all for it. I played 500 hours of Mass Effect 3 since its launch, and I’ve had it sitting in the drive the entire time, even though the game’s installed to my 360’s hard drive. It’s silly. I’m glad that Microsoft has devised a way to allow me to install a game once and be done with the disk and then not worry about pulling it out ever again. And if the ultimate end of all this is that every game gets released digitally and I can be done with discs, even better.

Controller, Mostly Unchanged

The 360 controller, which wound up being my favorite controller this generation, is mostly unchanged with the Xbox One. It’s going to have have slightly upgraded triggers and I’m happy that it’s not being changed much. I don’t think I need a touchpad or motion control in my Xbox controller.

Fancy Integrated Services

Microsoft is all about TV with the Xbox One, and that’s great, for people living in the US, but as I live in Japan, these services and TV integrations will do jack for me. If I lived in the US still, it would sound great, but as it stands, it’s a non-issue for me. If the TV stuff doesn’t overshadow the games, I’ll be happy.

Kinect Voice Control

Motion controlled games using the Kinect were fun for a couple hours, but never did much for me. What intrigues me about user interfaces is voice control. I love Siri (when it works) and I loved using voice commands to do things and participate in conversations in Mass Effect 3 with Kinect. If the Xbox One can expand Kinect’s voice capabilities and make voice control a bigger and better part of the experience, I’ll be thrilled.

[Review] TRAUMA for iOS

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TRAUMA is a unique photographic experience by game designer Krystian Majewski. Dive into the mind of a traumatized young woman to learn and understand.

TRAUMA for iOS started off as a PC game. It’s got a lot in common with point and click adventure games. You’re trying to solve puzzles by clicking on photos and changing camera angles to find more photos and you move around in the environment in a first-person (sort of) view. (I say first-person, but it’s not like you can see your BFG 9000 at the bottom of the screen.) Developer of TRAUMA and friend, Krystian Majewski, gave me a promo code for the Steam version last year when TRAUMA initially launched. I was back in the US at the time, and TRAUMA got lost in the shuffle. I was excited to hear that an iOS version of the game was coming out. Back when my (now defunct) Apple podcast Kernel Panic was still being produced, Krystian was on the show to talk about developing games in Flash. It was during that period where Steve Jobs was on his high horse about how terrible Flash was/is. (I still don’t have Flash installed on any of my Macs.) Even then, there were plans/ideas for an iOS version of TRAUMA. Having now played TRAUMA on an iPad mini, an iPhone 5 and going back to play it on my 27” iMac, I can safely say that the best way to play TRAUMA is on an iPad. Two reasons:

  1. The images in TRAUMA are images and they don’t scale well on large monitors. The photos that make up the entirety of the game looked kind of bad on my 27” iMac’s display. They are super sharp on my iPad mini and iPhone 5 though.
  2. While a mouse works well for clicking on photos (which is largely what TRAUMA’s about), the gestures you perform when solving puzzles and the added ability to use gestures to manipulate the camera in the iOS versions add a sense of intimacy to the TRAUMA experience. You feel like you’re just a bit more part of the environment, instead of just poking your way through it with a mouse.

Like Steve Jobs said, we’re all born with 10 styluses. Adventure games and their ilk can work very well with iOS’ touch screen interface. In the PC version of TRAUMA, you use a mouse to click around the environment and this translate perfectly to your finger. I sometimes felt the target areas were a little small, but since I played TRAUMA, there has been an update to address this. Like any other adventure game, when you get stuck in TRAUMA, looking for a photo or puzzle clue, it turns into a pixel hunt. You can quickly see all tappable objects on in your current screen by holding down anywhere on the screen. All touchable items will be highlighted, in succession, making it easy to see what you can do something with. There are also a handful of gestures you can use to navigate the environment. You can swipe left and right to turn the camera, you can draw an upside-down “U” to turn around and you can swipe up to back up. Gestures are also required when solving puzzles. You will find yourself drawing curly Q’s, outlining ghosts and making swirl patterns with the tip of your finger. The game is extremely forgiving about the shapes you draw and if you get even remotely close, it’ll probably count it.

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TRAUMA doesn’t have “graphics”. Not really. TRAUMA is composed of a large collection of photographs of real places in Germany (and you can unlock the GPS coordinates and view the real places in Maps.app if you find every secret in the level). There are some non-photographic visuals that are used when solving puzzles but for the most part, you’re looking at real photos.

The music in TRAUMA is minimalist. The main menu music is great and the intro video that plays at startup is great as well. The music in the levels is subtle and calming. It would be great to have on in the background while napping. It lulls you into a relaxed state and is great for a game where you might spend 20 minutes mulling over a tough puzzle. Check out the TRAUMA soundtrack here.

While I was initially lukewarm on TRAUMA, by the time I completed the second level, I got into the game and wanted to do everything. The thing about TRAUMA is, the complexity of the game is not apparent at first. The first level, and I say this because it’s the level on the left side of the main menu, isn’t hard to finish (completing the main ending). But there are alternate endings for each level as well. And the ways you complete the puzzles that unlock these other alternate endings don’t become clear until after you’ve played all of the levels in TRAUMA. TRAUMA slowly unfolds over the course of the entire game. You slowly learn about the mechanics of the game, and you can play the levels in any order you like. I played them left to right, but you can dip into any level you like at any time. The more you complete and unlock in TRAUMA, the more secrets open up to you. You can find the places you’re playing through in the real world and you can unlock a “true” ending if you find every photo and solve every puzzle in the game. Finding everything probably won’t take more than two or three hours in all, and it’s a worthwhile experience. I recommend that you go all the way and find everything for the payoff of the “true” ending. The app is universal for both iPad and iPhone, but if you have an iPad, play it on iPad. Buy TRAUMA for $2.99 in the App Store.

Halo 1, 2, 3…

So…

I’ve been playing Halo games.

Halo: Combat Evolved

Let’s back it up to the beginning. I got an Xbox really late. I played my ex-girlfriend’s little brother’s Xbox and Halo a lot when it first came out, but we always just played multiplayer, and my enjoyment of playing Halo with her brother pissed her the Hell off. I finally got around to getting my own after scamming the Microsoft retail perks program (and I mean, you were only allowed to buy one copy of any specific game with the points you earned taking Microsoft sales quizzes) back when I was a Best Buy employee. I got a whole bunch of copies of Halo: Combat Evolved, sold em’ on Half.com and then took that much to buy an Xbox. But I got this Xbox just a couple months before I decided to go to Japan for study abroad. I think I only got to the beach and warthog part of Halo before I packed up and headed off to Japan.

Halo 2

While I was in Japan, Halo 2 was released. One of the other Americans in my dorm shelled out for a Japanese Xbox, and Halo 2 was totally playable in English if you changed the system’s language setting. But, since it wasn’t my Xbox, again, I wound up playing only multiplayer, but I still played a lot of it.

Halo: CE Anniversary

Fast forward a few years, I now love my Xbox 360, I’ve played the shit out of Mass Effect and Gears of War, and I need a new sci-fi series to play. Halo seemed like a good choice. There were a bunch of games and a bunch novels to flesh out the universe. I played through Halo: CE Anniversary with a friend over Xbox Live and it was a pretty good experience. We burned through the game pretty fast, and while the graphics were state of the art, they were a Hell of a lot better than the original graphics you could flip back and forth between. Unfortunately, there were a lot of connection issues so our co-op performance was less than stellar.

Back to Halo 2

After finishing Anniversary, I thought I’m really go for it with Halo. I bought Fall of Reach, the first Halo novel, which I still haven’t finished. (It got really slow when it started describing gun battles. I don’t know if there’s really a good way to describe shooting at people.) I also bought all of the remaining Halo games while I was back in the US this past summer. Luckily, because Halo 2 was one of the few (if not the only) Xbox game that was region-free, the American Halo 2 for Xbox plays just fine on my Japanese 360. The graphics weren’t as bad as I expected them to be. The game was a little monotonous, playing just by myself. There was definitely more story in Halo 2 than Halo: CE, but I was largely bored.

Halo 3

As soon as I finished Halo 2, I wanted to jump right into Halo 3. The first thing I was struck by was the visual fidelity of the graphics. The 360 upgrade from Halo 2 was shockingly good. I played about an hour of the game, got stuck, and fell back into Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer.

I came back to Halo 3 again this week and the graphics didn’t seem as great now that I was used to more recent games again. Mass Effect holds up better than Halo 3. But, it still doesn’t look bad, and after getting unstuck, I sailed through most of the game. I will say, Halo 3 is much more fun when played by yourself than its predecessors. You often have comrades with you, and that helps with thinning out enemy ranks.

Halo isn’t Star Trek or Mass Effect, but it’s a fun universe. I often feel like I have no idea what I’m doing from moment to moment, but I do always feel like I’m doing something important (for the game world, not the real world).

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

Enslaved

Enslaved had a lot going for it. It’s a great looking game, two of the three characters feel like real people, and the platforming is fun. But unfortunately, I have more bad things written down in my notes about it than good things. That’s not to say it’s a bad game, but it’s not as good as it could’ve been.

Monkey and Trip have a great back and forth. They feel like real people. You can clearly see Monkey slowly warm up to (and start to care about) Trip without it feeling forced. You get a lot of abilities from hand-to-hand combat and with your staff/plasma rifle. You can unlock new abilities and other upgrades with the help of Trip and the game does a good job of slowly introducing you to the core mechanics of fighting mechs. You work in tandem with Trip (by using her abilities too) and you slowly make your way through the mech-infested landscape of post-apocalyptic America. It’s pretty fun, for the first four or five hours.

During the honeymoon phase of Enslaved, you will likely get annoyed with all of the out of the way “tech orbs” you need to collect to fully upgrade your gear and abilities. The camera develops the shakes when you try to use your plasma rifle, Monkey’s upgradeable counter attack has impossible timing and I can’t figure out why you can only use Monkey’s “cloud” hover board sometimes. Also, the “visions” you have never pay off. (More on that in the spoilers). And then you meet Pigsy. Pigsy looks and acts like a pig. He will occasionally make a funny joke, but they mostly fall flat. After he realizes that Trip likes you, he becomes a douche bag and the game never gives you a chance to get even with him for that.

SPOILERS

The end of the game felt tacked on. The final boss fight with the scorpion mech was repetitive and rewarded you for shooting your plasma rifle, while most of the game is about CQC. Then you get an epilogue. You never get control of Monkey again after that scorpion mech fight. You find the pyramid where somebody, I’m not sure if he’s the guy whose memories you’ve been having visions of or if he found that guy’s memories. I’m also not sure how he controlled the mechs to kidnap people to live in Golum’s memories or how he built this pyramid in the middle of the desert or how the Hell he provides sustenance for all the people hooked up to the Memory Grinder 5000. Monkey tries on the guy’s mask and seems to be enjoying living in the memories, but then Trip rips the hoses out and then everyone wakes up and the pyramid goes dark and then…oh, game’s fucking over. What?!

You never find out where anyone actually came from or where the Hell they went afterwards. Were the people pissed they are back in the real world? Are they happy? Who knows?! And I guess, who the fuck cares?!

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