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Friday, October 31, 2014

Civilization, Beyond Earth Review: Science Victory.

It took me years to get into Civilization. Years and years and years. I saw the perfect reviews for IV and just had to get a hit of it. But I couldn't make heads or tails of the thing. I stumbled through settler mode time and time again, always selecting recommended buildings. It didn't matter if I was doing well or not, I'd always fast forward in the last 150 turns anyway. I was too young to understand the thing and it wasn't until almost 2 years ago that I finally figured it out.

Civ V took me, and it took me hard. I was having a rough time getting a job out of college and Civ helped me suck it up and fill out just... one... more... application. I understood how to make it to the endgame. The crushing defeats and the soaring victories where unlike anything I'd experienced in a game before. Loosing at most games can make you feel frustrated, but only in Civ have I ever honestly felt "defeated." It's not a bad thing, I learned I could get back up on that horse and try again. Tweak a certain strategy and not get taken in so easily. But I'm not here just to gush about Civ V. In fact, we're leaving earth entirely.

You will believe a stone can float.

I, like many, was worried this was just a re-skinned sci-fi Civ V. All the in depth "let's play" videos seemed to look like that was the case. Plus, it's easy to understand what certain buildings do on earth. Granarys mean food, banks mean money. But a civil creche? And what the hell's a Xenoswarm? I spent the vast majority of my first game lost in translation, stumbling through the tech web for anything that could get me more health. My colony was starving. I still won by a hair, and that's only because I chose the harmony victory. That ended up being the most simple of all. But I'll get to that later. The takeaway here is that the first time through the game seems too similar and too different in all the wrong ways. But after going through it again and again, I got a sense for it's nuance, and began to appreciate the ways it jettisoned the things I hated the most about Civ V. For one?

Why did it take 2600 years of human civilization to be able to start a game with a worker instead of a soldier? I've ALWAYS wanted to do that. And that bought a lot of good will for me, but what's more, for the first time your chosen leader matters far less than your chosen loadout. You choose your city buff (all cites start with extra health, or money, or science, or whatever) starting unit, and special tec. Do you want to see the hidden natural resources ahead of time? Or would you rather start with a coastal map of the world? For once, you can radically change the first 100 turns of any game with these choices, and that's awesome.

But that comes at a price, and that price is the game's thoroughly shocking lack of leadership. 9 leaders?! Vanilla Civilization V had almost 3 times that. It quickly becomes boring seeing the same leaders game after game. It also caps the size of the biggest maps, because this game doesn't have enough leaders to fill them. They also say the same things over and over and OVER. Though Polystralia's sliver fox trade baron is so roguishly charming with his one line, I give him a pass.

What is surprisingly refreshing though, is that maps can be completely different colors. There are tan marshy planets, cool blue-purple oceanic planets, traditional greenish- orange forest planets. It honestly helps a lot to keep things fresh.

But the single thing I love the most about Beyond Earth is the tec web. For there is no longer a permanent arms race. If you get behind on technology, you don't have to scramble to keep up, you can simply change direction. That. F**king. Rocks. In Civ V you would have to rely on the painfully brittle espionage system to get more technology. Which was never much help, and almost never what I had wanted to do with spying. Which brings me to the second best thing about Beyond Earth: Espionage is now everything I ever wanted it to be.

Don't look at it too long... it'll look back into you.

Why hasn't anyone been talking about this? It's fantastic. You can set up colony wide buffs if you want to turtle up with counter- intelligence (which was what I always did in V) or branch out and set up contacts in other cities. From there you can truly sow bloody chaos. You can siphon off vast amounts of cash, science points, technology (again), and so much more. How bout' some defected military units? A straight up revolution? All this is possible and it adds a nail biting ticking clock onto the always laborious end game. Sure, I'm at turn 350 and I'm drowning in cash and goodwill. But what if my neighbor figures out I've been stealing money and soldiers from him for 200 years?

That could make things awkward.

The icing on the cake are the vastly different victory scenarios. Each of the 3 affinities (Jesus, I haven't even brought up affinities yet) have a unique win condition. each involve building a wonder and waiting for that wonder to switch on. Or at least, that's what the harmony victory needs. I have a feeling most critics went for that first. Because the purity, supremacy, and contact victories require a hell of a lot more.

I'm only going to spoil the contact victory. In order to make contact with another species of intelligent life, you need to construct "The Beacon." Not so difficult. But it needs to warm up for 30 turns. And it siphons all your extra money while it does so... AND every leader knows what you're doing when it switches on, AND now they're going kill you. You're gonna need one hell of a war chest, buddy.

I forgot her name, so I just call her "Science Grandma" now. I hope you'll do the same.

I loved Beyond Earth. I loved it to pieces. I'm seriously asking you guys not to read into the negativity. Though it's not without merit, the AI is still really passive and dumb most of the time, I think the game stands strongly on it's own. I'll happily switch back and forth between V and BE, because I believe they are vastly different games with much to offer. If I had to give it a score, I hate doing that, but if I had to it'd be an 8.5. Not an "unassailable masterpiece worthy" 9.5. Nor is it a "disappointing stumble from perfection" 8.5. But a "scrappy and lovable" 8.5. It's perfectly happy with what it's accomplished and not looking to make too many new friends.

That turns some people off, sure, but not every game needs to strive for perfection. It does it's job well in most regards even though it's clearly lacking in others. I'm fine with that. The good far outweighs the slight disappointment and the great is conspicuously absent from most reviews.  I honestly don't understand why there weren't promotional videos about spying. Because again... it's never been more fun to silently screw over your opponents.

So there you have it, I dug deep to find what was so "lacking" from the fan's perspective. I didn't find their evidence compelling. If a sci-fi Civ V sounds awesome to you, grab it right-the-hell now. If you were looking for a bigger and better Alpha Centauri... that's probably the problem right there.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

So this is what it feels like to have money...

Thanks, Zephyr!
I've found myself with a smidge of a surplus this month, which means I get to have a little more liquor than I planned on having. And that I get to take a chance on a game that's had less than stellar reviews, but one I still wanna get my hands on.

That's gonna be The Evil Within, because I'll still pay good money for a pale imitation of Resident Evil 4. Even when Jackie Earle Haley's cashing a pay check, it'll still be fun to watch him work.

I'm also 4/5's of the way done with the Beyond Earth review, that'll be out tomorow.

Pinky swear.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Civ: Beyond Earth has beamed me up.

I can't remember what this guy's name is... but he's seriously just the best.
People have a lot of nasty things to say about BE. I... do not. I thinks it's great and for the first time in a long time, I think the negativity is more pessimistic group think, than legitimate issues. Is it just a re-skinned Civ V?

No! F**k off, the tech web alone should throw every veteran for a loop. And don't get me started on how almost no critic brought up how badass espionage is now. Because I will get started tomorrow... on a review.

Spoilers: it's gonna be positive.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

I'm in my blue period.

I'm not one for depression, I'm usually too ADD to manage to get depressed. But today? Man, something (metaphysical) just cut me down at work and wouldn't leave me alone. Writing usually makes me feel better, or rather, like I'm accomplishing something. So that helps.

Civ: Beyond Earth is a lot of fun. It's not even close to the re-skinned carbon copy of Civ V the haters are saying. I'm guessing the guys that hate it the most either finished the harmony victory (which is pretty boring) and didn't try the robot-facist supremacy ending instead. You have to march a ton of soldiers through a warp gate while you fend off the other factions trying to pick them all off  and break your fancy gate. It was a fantastic spin I'd never played in Civ and I loved every second of my death march.

That cheered my little black heart up a smidge.

 I'm good, seriously. It's nothing an unreasonable amount of chips, salsa, gin, and sleep can't fix. G'night.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Borderlands, The Pre-Sequel! Review: Life on other planets.

I have been on board the Borderlands train since the light turned green in October 2009. The first was rough, but each DLC pack improved on itself. Each slowly refining it's sense of character and humor into something special. Something I could really appreciate. By no means a masterpiece, it was still a game I played into a bloody pulp.

Borderlands 2 was a massive step forward. Not just in graphics, but it also made the scant story elements of the previous game retroactively relevant. Borderlands 2 is a masterpiece. It didn't need a villain that compelling, but it had one. It didn't need to have so many great act breaking story moments, but it did. It didn't need to add four spectacular (well all right, Hammerlock's hunt was just ok) DLC packs making a 60 hour game exponentially longer. But they're there. It remains one of the best games I ever played, and as of now, steam says I played it for 499 hours over 2 years. Damn.

The Pre-Sequel had some big shoes to fill, even with tapered expectations. The guns all looked the same as 2, Gearbox wasn't even working on it, and all the trailers didn't make Elpis (Pandora's moon) look like a terribly interesting place to be, even after spending 499 hours staring at it. And honestly? It's not as good. Not even close.

But it's still very good, and in some subtle but important ways, better than either game before it. For one, the appallingly stingy vending machines of 2 have been reverted to BL1's standards of rarity. In 2; the loot in machines were almost always green, sometimes blue, hardly ever purple, and only once (once!) in 499 hours did I ever find something orange.

Not so, anymore. Blues and purples abound, making money actually useful again. Moonstones, the new eridium, is more bountiful allowing you to max out your backpack and a couple of ammo stock piles halfway through the campaign. But they can be thrown into the grinder too, which is the single best thing about this game, and something that needs to be front and center in BL3. You have a bunch of green grenades? Pop them in the grinder and it just might spit out a blue one. Same goes for blue to purple loot, but that's the limit. There is a way, and an achievement, for grinding up an orange piece of gear, but it's nowhere near as straight forward. I love the grinder and soon you will too.

But what about the actual game? I happened to enjoy a lot of that too. I found the "SCAVs" a wonderful upgrade from the bandits in 2 (and who were mostly cut and pasted from 1 except for the nomads). They have wider battle rolls, employ flanking tactics, and have delightful Australian accents. The moon gravity and new stomp attacks are a welcome switch up that I'll miss in subsequent, non moon related, Borderlands games.

The only area that leaves me cold is the story and about a third of the environments. They both just kinda tread water. I like the younger, more reasonable, and less villainous Handsome Jack. But the story plays out as if half the time it wants to keep the twists from 2 a secret and half the time it doesn't. I was hoping for a deeper look at Jack and Angel's relationship. I'd watch a whole movie about that. But she only shows up in a picture (an admittedly spectacular picture, but still, boo.) on Jack's desk, a couple audio logs... and that's it. That really, really, bummed me out. I bet money that's what the DLC will be about, and by gum, I'll let them take my money. But for god's sake 2k Australia, why didn't you even tease that aspect of Jack? His relationship with his daughter (two year old spoilerz!!!!) is the single most interesting thing about him.

But I digress. Yes, Jack's arc is mostly stagnant. Yes, the first third of the environments are repetitive and kinda dull. But once you get back on the giant H, you won't care. The game opens up after that. Sure, you can't use your butt stomp as much anymore, you'e on  normal gravity turff. But this is when you start to notice how much work went into all the character's skill trees. Everybody is going to love their level 18 character. Because every skill tree has some cool keystone halfway through that dramatically changes the way you play.

You get warned if you choose to play as Clappy. Because you should be.

Claptrap has automatic freezing with his butt stomps (and save clappy for your second character... trust me, he doesn't leave you with a good first impression) Nisha starts racking up faster reload speeds for every enemy she kills within a clip, and so on. The "Borderlands only has passive skills" complaints have been answered. While they aren't new action skills, each tree for each character is markedly different now. As a grizzled old vet, I say that's a first, aside from Krieg and Gaige.

So yeah, this is a "fans only" kind of a game. Newbies should start from 2 at bare minimum. Just wait til' Steam sells the GOTY for $10 again, it's a hell of a deal. But if you are a fan, you're gonna at least get your money's worth.The series' heart and humor is intact, and the new ideas are successful and delightful in equal measure. The only thing holding 2K Australia back I feel, was budget, not passion. The game is about 4/6ths the length of 2, but it ends on a mother of a high note that makes it worth it. If you missed the Eridians from 1, like I did, you'll appreciate what goes on in the end. Especially the very end. It's the best final fight in the series.

In summation, a cash-in budget holds the pre-sequl back from standing out on it's own. But just barely. It's charmed voice performances and canny callbacks to the first game, give it a reason to exist. If all cash-in games were 2/3rds as good as this, the industry would be much better off. Just look at what they put into a poster you can barely read without a sniper rifle scope:

I love you guys.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Beyond Earth's launch trailer is among the best I've ever seen.

There is no in game footage, there is no glitzy approximation of gameplay. There is only the human cost of being chosen to escape a rotten earth and save our species. I was on the fence before; but if they're willing to spend this kind of dough on a CGI trailer that has almost nothing to do with science fiction... for a game that's all about high sci-fi, I now know their heart is in the exact place I wanted it to be.

I dare you to watch it and feel nothing.

I pre-ordered on the spot.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

So I finished the Pre-sequel...

And I liked it. I liked it a hell of a lot. It's not AS good as 2 but I thought it in the realm of Arkham Origins. Just a hair above "good enough" with a big heapin' helping of fan service. And as a fan I say the service was excellent.

But I'll elaborate in a review very soon.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Borderlands The Pre-Sequel: Charmed to death by "Joy-Puke".

"Hellooooooooooooo, transient blog readers!"
At first I was going through the motions. No, I don't think I have the money for the PS. No I'm not terribly jazzed about a past generation place holding cash in on one of my favorite series. But after spending twenty minutes on Pandora's moon as everyone's favorite emotionally needy robot, I'm back in the pink.

I love Borderlands, and while this is simply "more borderlands" I feel like lately I've forgotten how much I love the story and lore the first time around. It's been 2 years since BL2, and the sting of that game's shockingly good story beats dulled in my memory.

This is still the best written, most intentionally funny, role playing game in the industry. And guess what? The Eridians are back! What? You didn't play Borderlands 1? Well you won't get the customer loyalty bonus either... tough noogies.

Oh, and apparently there's a machine on Elpis that can eat 3 green guns and spit out a blue one. That fixes the single biggest problem with 2. The stupidly stingy loot system! I am so on board now...

Sunday, October 12, 2014 breaks embargo, warms my heart.

There's a lot riding on video game releases. Tens of millions of dollars, people's jobs, and critical public first impressions. I can see why they'd want to embargo a review until the day of release with a new IP like Evil Within.

I can understand why obsessive PR spin can feel like a job well done from the publisher's prospective. But it's gotten out of control and the leash needs to be loosened for the good of the industry.

That's why I'm glad broke the review embargo and published their review two days early. They say it's because they weren't sent a copy and since they got theirs from a store, legally they aren't culpable. I'm sure Bethesda doesn't see it that way and this site is probably on an industry wide blacklist right now.

But they threw the first stone... and they won't be the last. I like where this ball is rolling.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Final Fantasy XIII on PC is a cruel joke.

Over-designed armor bikini feather exploooooosiiiiiiioooooon!!!!!!!!!!
Locked at 720p, wide spread reports of jerky framerate, and a 60 (goddamned) gigabyte download for a nearly 6 year old game.

No. Nuh-uh, Square.

We're happy you showed up to the party, but you gotta bring a cheap bottle of wine at least. And it would help if you looked like you wanted to be here, too.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Every USB device has been compromised. Seriously. Every single one.

According to The Escapist and the last Black Hat conference (a shindig where hackers try to be as hacky as possible) it was discovered  that you could rewrite a thumb drive's firmware and effectively take control of an infected computer. One example? Remote access to the keyboard. Did that prick your ears up?

The only silver lining is that new USB devices can be updated to fend off the exploit... but only new devices. All your old junk is vulnerable to an undetectable electronic equivalent to a zombie virus.

...Goodnight everybody! Sweet dreams.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Bojack Horseman: The Rewatch.

Thanks, showmesomthingugly!
It's a damn good show, and it's even better when you know where it's going. Bojack's neuroses are more obvious. His doomed schemes to keep what few friends he has in his life more cutting and tragic. You know what? That's what it is. This is a tragedy.

A show that clings to comic timing, but is ultimately about the horrifying futility in trying to change yourself. I liked the show when I watched it the first time, but now I genuinely respect it.

Ya'll seriously need to get past episode 2 already. It slowly morphs into something radically original. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Randy Pitchford's car was hit with a bomb threat.

Pitchford, of Gearbox Software and Borderlands fame, was just a target of a seemingly toothless bomb threat. Police were summoned and Pitchford was not allowed back to his vehicle.

He has since made light of the event in this tweet.

As a Borderlands fan, I don't get it. So Colonial Marines was a massive insult. They should not have released it. That was a mistake, but a bomb threat?! Even filtered through the grotesque histrionics of gamer culture this is hard to understand.

Don't let them get to you Mr. Pitchford. The world needs Borderlands 3!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Review Watch: Alien Isolation.

This is actually pretty interesting. The mainstream sites (IGN, Polygon, Gamespot), are uniformly "meh" on the survival horror title. Whereas PCGamer, Joystiq, and The Escapist (which is reviewed by Jim Sterling, who I'm comfortable calling the Colbert/Ebert of gaming) are pretty glowing.

What's a girl to do? Well I sure as hell can't afford it right now... I'm not sure I can afford a new game this month at all. My Borderlands buddies are not gonna be happy about that. But personally I want to see the best in Isolation. And I kind of love the fact it's a lengthy 20 hour affair, instead of an 8 hour skirmish.

Seriously, Polygon? The most disappointing Alien game? You know I love you guys, but the self satisfaction is really starting to reek.

But I also used to think a 20 hour God of War game would be amazing... let's just say I've fallen asleep a couple of times trying to review Lords of Shadow. I don't know how or why that game is so stupendously dull, but finishing it twice was honest to god work.

So I dunno, I will play Isolation eventually... but not this year. Oh, and Evil Within? I just don't trust it. Every single preview of that thing I've read seems to break the writer's heart. So that's it for AAA horror games for the next several years.

Silent Hills better be the second coming.