Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Walking Dead: 400 Days Review

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It seems a little odd for an episodic game to get an extra chapter after its final episode is released. The Walking Dead: 400 Days is a DLC that serves to bridge the gap between the original game and Season 2. It introduces several new characters who will appear in Season 2; they are playable in this DLC, but I do not think that they will be playable in Season 2.
There are five characters, and you can play their stories in any order. They all take place within a couple hundred days of the zombie outbreak. They also occur relatively close together, so some common characters and locations appear in multiple chapters.
Notably this pit stop diner
The decisions you make in each person's story determines the decision they make at the end of the episode. This in turn will affect where they are and who they trust during Season 2. Interestingly, almost none of the decisions from Season 1 have an impact in 400 Days, though they will undoubtedly have a greater impact in Season 2.

Obviously it only makes sense to buy this DLC if you are planning on playing Season 2. If you are as invested in The Walking Dead as I am though, it's pretty much a no-brainer and well worth the $5. I leave you now with some assorted screenshots.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Broken Age Act 1 Review

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If you've ever heard of a game being Kickstarted, you can thank Broken Age for it. It was almost two years ago when Tim Schafer decided that he wanted to make another point-and-click adventure game, and he wanted the internet to fund it. Needless to say, it was a resounding success, and for a while all we wanted to talk about was games on Kickstarter. The first half of Broken Age is out now, with the second half coming later this year.

The game is split into two different stories, with two different protagonists: Vella on the left, and Shay on the right. Once you choose one of them, you start their story, but you can switch between them at any time. I used this once when I got frustrated with a puzzle I was having trouble with.

Vella's story starts off in her village, which is made up entirely of bakers. Every generation they have the Maidens' Feast, where several young women are offered up to a big monster called Mog Chothra so it won't destroy the village. Needless to say, Vella is not thrilled about this and decides to fight back. Her adventure takes her to a couple of other villages, one that just had their Maidens' Feast, and another getting ready for its Maidens' Feast.
Shay on the other hand lives a pretty boring life: he's been living on a spaceship his whole life, and the simulation missions the ship throws at him have gotten pretty boring because they were designed for a toddler. Eventually he breaks out of this rut and discovers a whole new part of the ship that he has never seen before, and some real missions to embark on.
Visually the game is gorgeous. Everything looks hand painted, and in typical point-and-click fashion the camera is usually fixed, at most moving left or right as you move around the environment. There were a few places where I thought the textures looked low-resolution, but honestly it wouldn't have made much of a difference because of the art style.

Mechanically it plays almost exactly like a point-and-click from the 90's. Or at least that's what I assume because I wasn't doing much video gaming in the 90's. All of the "puzzles" involved finding a specific item or combination of items to use in a particular way in a particular place to solve a problem. Most times it was pretty clear what needed to be done, and failing that just a little snooping around would uncover the solution. There was that one time though where the solution involved going back and forth through several areas to get different items, and I completely did not understand what I was supposed to do. Yeah, I looked up the solution to that one.
One of my favorite things about Broken Age is the voice cast. Having people like Elijah Wood, Jennifer Hale, and Jack Black in the same game is delightful to my nerd brain. And Wil Wheaton playing a hipster lumberjack hiding from the talking trees was the best moment of my week.

It took me just over four hours to complete Act 1, and they left us on quite the cliffhanger. It's definitely worth getting now, because Act 1 is a good length to finish in one or two sittings. This is one of the few games I have played that is appropriate for both adults and kids, so if you are a parent check it out. It's a little hard to name a good price because I have no idea how good Act 2 will be; if it keeps up the quality that Act 1 had, I would say that $20 is a good price.

Dream: Thief Meets Outlast

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This dream pulls pretty prominently from several games, but not games that I have played a lot of.

It started off as a pretty close approximation of the upcoming Thief. I was sneaking around a large building, stealing coins that I found. I wasn't finding much in the way of valuable jewelry, and I soon found out why: this was a building where a group of slavers held people before taking them to market. Unfortunately I knew that I had no chance of freeing them, so I decided to make sure that their business wouldn't be profitable.
While I was snooping around I heard someone coming. I tried to hide behind a rack of supplies, but it just so happened that she needed to grab something from that very same rack. Luckily she didn't sound the alarm because she hates the place as much as I do (don't ask me why she works there) and we discussed what we should do next. Just then a bunch of workers started filing in, getting in line for food. I suggested that we join the line to remain inconspicuous.

When the line reached another room, everything seemed different. Instead of wood floors and walls, everything was covered in tiles and there were computers. While everyone went over to see what the computers had on them, I continued down the corridor until I found a door. This lead to a room with an empty swimming pool, pretty creepy.

The next corridor was very narrow and had no branches. I suddenly got the feeling that I was being followed, but I didn't look over my shoulder to see what it was. I just started running, and I didn't stop until the corridor ended and I got to a room that looked more familiar: wood floors and walls, candles on the table, etc.

I'm glad that my body waited until I wasn't terrified out of my mind to wake up.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Wolf Among Us Episode 2 Review

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It's been quite a while since the first episode of The Wolf Among Us came out, but I didn't mind much because the holiday season was right in the middle of that wait, and Assassin's Creed IV happened. On the other hand that cliffhanger was killing me.

This episode played quite differently from the first one. In Episode 1 the player was confronted with several binary choices that were clearly presented as important moments. Episode 2's choices were much more dynamic, taking the form of "how far are you willing to go to get the information you need?" situations. I prefer this new approach to player choice because it is less gamey and doesn't take you out of the scene to make your decision. They were pretty tough decisions too, because I was trying really hard to redeem Bigby but at the same time I really needed to solve the case. And some of the other characters pissed me off.
Another difference is that there are fewer fights in Episode 2. I suspect that this depends on the choices you make, but the way I played I only had to fight one person.
The focus of Episode 2 is gathering information and following leads, but it hardly ever had me looking around a room for clues. The information was usually gathered in conversation with other people, oftentimes in some form of interrogation. In terms of actual story, not much new happened; it was mostly piecing together what had already happened.

That said. the very end left us on another cliffhanger, one that will almost assuredly have a large impact on the story moving forward. I can't wait for Episode 3, and I hope they don't make us wait four months this time.

EDIT: you can now read my review of Episode 3.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Lego Movie Review

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I wasn't expecting to see The Lego Movie because the trailers for it made it look like another generic kid's movie. In a word, they were terrible. However, some of my friends who had seen it came back gushing about it being the best movie they had seen in years. My impression of the movie was somewhere in between: it is definitely worth seeing, but in no way is it a must-see.

The beginning of the movie was pretty bland, and I found myself wondering how long until we were going to get to those emotional moments I had been told about (hint: those obviously come in the second half of the movie). I did appreciate the way that it made fun of the way people seem to mindlessly follow pop culture, listening to whatever songs are on the radio and watching the same TV shows as everyone else. It was like a hipster's worst nightmare.

The plot set itself up as a classic good-vs-evil story, but it ended up becoming an argument over how people should play with their Legos. The movie sets up the concept of following the instructions as the way the bad guys do it, while the "master builders" who take the pieces and come up with their own creations as the good guys. This left me pretty conflicted because I have taken great care to keep my Lego sets preserved over the years. Granted, I didn't just leave them on my shelf for my whole childhood, but after every battle I made sure to put everything back together the way they were supposed to be. Speaking of which, almost all of the Legos that I have are Star Wars sets, and I was pretty disappointed when they only received a small cameo in the movie.

Most of the movie was computer animated, but they went to great lengths to imitate the style and aesthetics of brickfilms. They even went so far as to make it seem like it was stop-motion and used miniature versions of sets to simulate distant shots, both of which were great touches. Because physics was a complete non-issue the action sequences were very over-the-top and a little hard to follow because everything moved so fast.

The thing that I got the most out of the movie was its great sense of humor. I laughed my way through most of the movie, and even the serious parts had just that little touch of silliness to keep my attention from wandering. The voice acting was also phenomenal, but with a cast like that I would expect nothing less.

Ultimately you will get the most out of The Lego Movie if you have a history with Legos. It was a good movie, but I'm not planning on seeing it again soon.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Octodad Review

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Octodad started out as a student project from DePaul University, and it got quite a bit of attention when it was released in 2010. A bunch of the students who worked on the original went on to form the studio Young Horses and held a Kickstarter to make a sequel. Several years we get to experience the fruits of their labor, in the form of Octodad: Dadliest Catch.

The premise is what makes the game stick out most: you play as an octopus who is disguised as your stereotypical suburban dad. Remaining unsuspected is the point of the whole game, but of course that goal is complicated by the control scheme. In some ways it is reminiscent of Surgeon Simulator 2013, but with more ragdoll physics. When you are controlling one of Octodad's limbs you really only have control over the tip of that limb; the rest of the limb and the rest of his body will flop around wherever they feel like. The only exception is that his feet remain planted most of the time.
Much of the game involves Octodad attempting to carry out everyday tasks, such as making breakfast, mowing the lawn, and shopping for groceries. There is a "suspicion meter" that goes up when people witness you do particularly clumsy things. It is extremely difficult to lose this way though, which makes the game even more absurd.

The larger threat is a sushi chef who appears to be the only person around who realises that Octodad is not what he pretends to be. He appears from time to time to try to expose or kill Octodad. When you consider that every other character is white and the chef is a pretty terrible caricature of a Japanese chef, the game seems incredibly racist.

Polygon had an interesting article about how Octodad can be considered a metaphor for those of us who live our lives concealing something from even those who are closest to us. Most people wouldn't think of this though, especially kids like my sister who would just be delighted by the slapstick comedy.

There were some extremely frustrating segments, such as going up some down escalators and running away from the chef while trying to perform other tasks. If you are easily frustrated, I wouldn't recommend Octodad.

The game was short, coming in at about two hours for my first playthrough. The only reason I can think of to replay it would be to try the coop mode, where up to four people control his various limbs. They also wisely included support for user-created maps. I've pretty much had my fill of the game though, so I probably won't try many of those.

My recommendation would be that you go and play the original student project and if you really want more Octodad then you can go and get Dadliest Catch. I still wouldn't pay more than $10 on it though.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Sherlock Review

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A lot of people complain about the unstoppable march of movie sequels that we have to put up with (how many Need for Speed movies are there now?) On the other hand most of us have at least one TV show that we keep up with, which is basically a bunch of short movies. I guess BBC decided to stop pretending because basically Sherlock is three 90-minute movies released a year. Except the years they missed, but give them a break.

I was a little apprehensive at first because as I've said before I haven't enjoyed a lot of what Steven Moffat has been doing with Doctor Who. In Sherlock's case however I think he knew what he was doing. It might have helped that they were adapting stories that already existed, but I haven't read them so I can't know for sure.

Being a crime drama it relies on big plot twists to keep us on the edge of our seats. I've gotten better at picking up on writing queues and predicting what will happen, so they aren't as shocking as they would have been to my childhood self. The thing that has kept me coming back has been the wonderful character interactions. It starts of course with Sherlock and John's bromance (just keep telling everyone you're not gay, John) but it extends to almost all of the other recurring characters. It's not surprising that Sherlock gets a significant amount of character progression by learning from John how to treat other human beings, but even relatively minor characters like Molly grew a lot over the course of the show.

The villains and antiheroes naturally had to almost be larger than life, because otherwise Sherlock's ability to discern the unknowable would never fail. Sometimes they went a little overboard though, and I had to make sure to remind myself that they were only human. Thankfully this didn't happen too often.

My biggest beef with the show is actually not a problem for the show at all. The people I have been watching it with have been mostly female, and a lot of them just melt when Benedict Cumberbatch does something adorable and/or sexy. He appears to be incapable of doing anything else, and I just can't compete. Seriously, one of them has a pillowcase with his face printed on it. I guess there's nothing to do but start running again to get my abs back.

Seriously though, you should watch Sherlock. It is well worth your time, and it doesn't take long to get caught up. The series seems to have been designed with binge-watching in mind.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

World of Warplanes Review

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I don't often play online multiplayer, but when I do it's World of Warplanes. I'm way more amused by that reference than I should be.

I had been enjoying World of Tanks for a few weeks when World of Warplanes came out. Naturally I had to give it a try. The overall format is very similar to World of Tanks: you have a hangar where you pick one of your planes to take into battle; the battles consist of two teams of fifteen planes each; the battles last until one of the teams is eliminated, or one team has achieved air superiority, or fifteen minutes has elapsed.
The control scheme for mouse and keyboard is quite simple: point the camera in the direction that you want to go, and your pilot will figure out how to go that way (it's very similar to Freelancer, if you can remember back that far.) Joysticks are supported, but I don't know anyone with one of those so I can't try it out.
I took some footage of my first day in the game, which was amusing. Since pretty much everybody was a noob, there were a lot of deaths due to head-on collisions. Note: I have improved a lot since then.
Because the game is still very new, the tech trees are pretty sparse. Most of them branch once at the beginning and are linear from there. They are continuously adding planes, and the German tech tree is halfway respectable now. My favorite plane is unfortunately still missing: the P-38 Lightning. Initially this limitation prevented me from getting into the game as much as I had gotten into World of Tanks. However, I have come to appreciate the fact that World of Warplanes is more fast-paced, and it turns out that I am better at Warplanes than Tanks; so I have started playing Warplanes more often.
I would definitely recommend World of Warplanes to anyone who wants a game that they can either pick up for a few minutes or dive into for a few hours on a regular basis. And the fact that it is free doesn't hurt at all.