Author Topic: Finished playing...  (Read 162734 times)

Winston

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #690 on: June 13, 2021, 01:03:51 PM »
Mass Effect Legendary – some notes

I have a few games to review in my personal queue of “essays I plan to write long after a game has been released so that any review is meaningless”: Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Control, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla.

I decided to bump Mass Effect Legendary Edition to the top of the queue because this isn’t a review. The original Mass Effect trilogy was released between 2007 and 2012; even by my relaxed standards, the game has been reviewed to death by now. This essay is a bunch of notes I made as I played Mass Effect Legendary Edition, a recently-released remaster of the entire trilogy, including any expansions.

    The current cost of Mass Effect Legendary Edition is about $60 on various consoles and the PC; that price will almost certainly go down with time. Compared to the original cost of purchasing the individual games and the expansions separately, this is an excellent deal.

    I never played the original Mass Effect before, as it never became available on the hardware I owned when it was released. Now that I’ve played it as part of the entire trilogy, much of story in the later games makes more sense; I now understand who Saren and the Sovereign were.

    As always, I played all three games in Casual mode, the lowest level of difficulty. For the most part, the game wasn’t hard and I only had to consult hint guides on-line at a couple of spots for the entire trilogy.

    (At the risk of mild spoilers, where I needed help was when fighting the Thresher Maws in Mass Effect, and soloing the Reaper in Mass Effect 3.)

    I did consult the hint guides extensively when considering narrative choices. One of the strengths of the Mass Effect games is a strong storyline that adjusts based on the decisions you make during the course of the game. As with many other Mass Effect players, I started to obsess over the survival of my favorite NPCs (and my romance options) and I was compelled to look up the choices that led to the outcomes I wanted.

    The choices and consequences you make as you play through the trilogy can be carried over from one game to another. (You can start each game independently if you wish.) This adds to the sense of compelling narrative, since you can make a choice in game 1 that will affect events in game 3.

    This also affects the type of character you play. I chose to play Shepard as a Paragon of Paragon-ness, making Paragon-omatic choices wherever I could. If I ever play through the trilogy again, I’ll be a “RenShep”, making Renegade choices throughout.

    When I played Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 nine years ago, I played a class of character with long-range combat abilities; I don’t remember the specific name. This time around I played a Vanguard, a class that gets up close and personal. It was rough going at first, but by the time I got to Mass Effect 3 I was continually mowing down the enemies with Biotic Charges.

    There was a widespread negative reaction to the ending of Mass Effect 3 when it was originally released. All the narrative choices you had made so far in the game were reduced a decision between, at most, three outcomes. This was later remedied with an expansion that addressed the fan’s criticisms; at the end you still chose between three general outcomes, but there were various tweaks to the ending that depended on your earlier gameplay.

    Mass Effect Legendary Edition includes the full expansion that modifies the end of the game. I didn’t try to compare to see if there were any additional potential tweaks to the ending made for this latest edition.

    In Mass Effect 3, one of your goals was to accumulate an “Effective Military Strength.” The amount of EMS you gathered, multiplied by a “Readiness Rating,” determined how many options you’d be offered when it came to the final end-game decision. In the original game, the only way to be certain that you had a large enough Readiness was to also play a mobile version of the game and/or to play on-line battles with other players versus AI opponents.

    In Mass Effect Legendary Edition, no such additional game play is necessary. There is no Readiness Rating. With only minor effort, I was able to accumulate almost double the EMS needed to achieve all possible outcomes from which to choose.

    When the games were originally released, I played additional expansion content at or near the end of Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3. I didn’t have much of a choice back then, since the expansions were released after I finished each game respectively.

    Somehow, I got it stuck in my head that that was the only way to play these expansions, so when I played the additional scenarios during Mass Effect Legendary Edition I entered these scenarios after the main game. With hindsight, I wished that I’d played the expansion scenarios as soon as they became available within the games’ narratives, as they offered some benefits that would be handy later within their respective games.

    In particular, the Citadel expansion within Mass Effect 3 contains an entire region that I never knew existed when I originally played the game: the Silversun Strip. This location adds some additional fun character interactions; I got a chance to dance a tango with Garrus!

    Among many other “mini-games” within the Strip is a virtual combat simulator. Playing on casual difficulty, I found it easy to “break the scoreboard” by scoring more than 9999 points in a match. Playing a virtual game within a virtual game at the easiest difficulty may not sound like much to experienced gamers, but it still did my heart good to fulfill the wish of the sick girl who wanted to see Shepard defeat Elite Reapers in virtual combat.

   I didn't notice this when I played the games nine years ago, probably because I was not familiar with the discussion of female representation in video games back then: Most of the female characters in <em>Mass Effect</em> have figures that were clearly designed with hyper-female characteristics. It's as if they were created by lonely male game designers. The outfits they wear emphasize their cleavage, even when fully dressed. Even EDI, a synthetic robot in <em>Mass Effect 3</em>, appears to be wearing high heels in some scenes.

   Pretty much the only major female characters with normal-sized breasts and hips, and wearing costumes that didn't emphasize their sexuality, were the female version of Shepard (commonly called a "FemShep") and Tali the quarian.

   It's possible the male figures are equally idealized. If so, I can't see it; I lack the proper perspective.


If you’ve played the Mass Effect games before, only you can decide whether it’s worth replaying the game on modern game hardware and with improved graphics. If you’ve never played the games before, $60 for roughly 200 hours of content (if you explore every nook and cranny) seems like a good deal to me.
« Last Edit: June 13, 2021, 01:53:45 PM by Winston »
Bill Seligman
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Winston

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #691 on: July 05, 2021, 06:52:45 AM »
Spider-Man: Miles Morales

For my review of Spider-Man: Miles Morales, it may help to go back to my review from three years ago on its prequel/main game, Spider-Man.

The ambiguity of “prequel/main game” depends on your perspective. SM:MM is either a short sequel or a very large expansion of the original game. At a current street price of about $50, it might seem too expensive either way. As for me, I enjoyed it. Although the game is not as long as the original Spider-Man, I liked the story more. I also found the game easier to play (at least at the lowest difficulty setting, as always).

As with Spider-Man, Spider-Man: Miles Morales begins in media res. You play Miles Morales, and as “Spider-Men” you help Peter Parker escort the Rhino to prison. As you might predict, things go wrong. Unlike the punishing Spider-Man beginning, I found that I could handle the beginning of SM:MM fairly well. This may be intentional on the part of the designers, or it may be that my two-year-old experience with the earlier game carried over somewhat.

During that first encounter, Miles discovers that he has a special “venom” power that Peter Parker does not have. Otherwise, gameplay is pretty similar between the two games: You build up skills and other collectible points to improve your powers, your gear, and your costume. As in the previous game, in addition to the main story, there are optional encounters that offer more opportunity for collectible items to improve your character.

As I said, I played on the easiest difficulty setting. I found that many of the tasks I found nearly impossible in Spider-Man (e.g., chasing pigeons) were now within my range in Spider-Man: Miles Morales. I strongly doubt that this was due to any superior gaming skill on my part. More likely, the designers made the “old folks mode” even more suitable for old folks. I appreciated that I was allowed to feel a sense of accomplishment in SM:MM that the earlier game denied me.

That leads to my first minor criticism of SM:MM: One of the collectibles is only available during the main storyline of the game. Too late, I discovered that there were a couple of things I forgot to pick up when I was in an enemy base. When I realized I’d missed them, the entrance to the base was closed and could not be reopened. By the end of the game, I had a 98% completion rating instead of the 100% I felt I could have earned.

The story: Peter Parker leaves New York to visit Mary Jane in some random fictional country, leaving the city in Miles’ capable hands. Miles finds himself in the middle of a battle between the Roxxon Corporation (a perennial enemy in the Marvel Comics world) and the Underground, who are fighting to preserve land in Harlem that Roxxon wants to take over. Meanwhile, Miles must balance his personal relationships against the growing awareness that he’s become the “Spider-Man of Harlem” and wanting to fulfill the needs of his neighbors.

However, Miles is not limited to Harlem. As with the earlier game, Spider-Man is allowed to web-swing anywhere in Manhattan. This version of the city is not a carbon copy of the previous game; for one thing, the story is set around Christmas-time and there’s snow on the ground. It also seemed to me that the neighborhoods had more detail; most of the time when I looked through ground-floor restaurant windows I could see people moving inside.

A couple more minor irritants:

– I originally played SM:MM on a PS4. When I transferred the game to the PS5, I discovered that the saved games didn’t transfer as well (though they did for other PS4->PS5 games I’d purchased). It turned out that you need a Playstation Plus account to transfer Spider-Man: Miles Morales games from one platform to another.

– When I started up the PS5 version, I was offered the usual choice of graphics quality. I thought “Let’s go for it!” and picked the best possible mode. It turned out that the PS5 could not keep up, and I had to reduce the graphics quality. Why offer a mode on a console that can’t handle it? Spider-Man: Miles Morales is only available on the PS4 or PS5, so it’s not as if it could be run on a PC with super-duper graphics card.

Overall, if you liked Spider-Man, I recommend Spider-Man: Miles Morales for what I feel is a better game. If you’ve never played the original game, then you can presently get both together in an “Ultimate Edition” for $70 at current prices; if $50 for one game seems too much, $70 for two games (or perhaps a game-and-a-half) is certainly worth it.
Bill Seligman
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Horde: Grotar, Swiftslice

Winston

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #692 on: July 14, 2021, 10:53:23 AM »
Control

I heard about the video game Control around the time it was released in 2019. I thought about getting it (I was still spending a lot of time at home recovering from medical stuff). But a little bit of research told me that the game was quite difficult (on the level of Dark Souls) and there was no “old folks mode” at all.

More recently, as I searched for games to play on my new PS5, I saw Control at a large discount. I still remembered how intriguing the game game sounded a couple of years ago: the strong visuals and the good story. When I looked up the game again, I saw that the game now included options that made it substantially easier to play. I gave it a try.

The game-difficulty options page warned that turning these options on would make the game different from what the designers originally intended. Since I had no intention of glasschewing through various encounters in frustration, I turned on all the “make the game easier” options. As I played, I could almost hear the designers groaning at how trivial game had become. It was still possible for your character to die during the game, but only if you jumped off a cliff or something like that.

Here’s an example of defying the designers: In the later stages of the game, it becomes possible to take over the enemies when their health gets too low. However, I turned on the option to one-shot all the opponents. So this “enemy-takeover” skill becomes useless, because the enemy health goes to zero immediately. Oh, well.

Even in “super-duper old folk’s mode,” I found the game interesting to play. Despite what the designers may have wished, Control is more than just mowing down enemies. There are mysteries to explore and puzzles to solve. The bizarre story of Control is worth the time to play even without the visceral thrill of defeating an enemy that’s defeated you twenty times previously.

You play Jesse Faden, who’s been searching for years for her missing brother. She enters the building that houses the Federal Bureau of Control, who took away her brother seventeen years earlier. Almost immediately, she becomes aware that some malignant force has invaded the FBC. At the same time, she finds that she’s be assigned the role of the Director of the FBC, without understanding how, why, or what the job entails. Jesse dubs the enemy power “The Hiss,” and immediately everyone else starts referring to it by that name.

The building that houses the FBC turns out to be a manifestation of a mystical structure called the Oldest House. It’s tied into ordinary objects that have acquired extraordinary powers; e.g., an old Bakelite telephone that can contact the dead or other dimensions. Though it resembles an office complex for the most part, portions of the Oldest House twist into strange geometries or lead into rooms derived from the memories of current and past Directors.

Jesse roams through the Oldest House, rescuing FBC employees under attack by the Hiss and dealing with those who’ve been taken over by it. She must deal with the objects whose powers have suddenly grown or been mis-used. All the while she tries to find her brother somewhere within the building, understand why he was taken by the FBC in the first place, and why the job of Director was forced upon her.

Despite the weird environment and visuals, Control is a fairly standard example of the third-person shooter. Jesse goes up in level as she slays enemies and accomplishes missions; as she gains experience she gains new skills and statistics. She also picks up collectibles that can be used to purchase gear improvements. (In “old folks mode” many of these improvements are useless, such as more health points or increased weapon damage.)

I enjoyed the game. The story and visuals are interesting, though some of the special effects that accompany narrations become repetitive after a while.

My only bit gripe with the game was near the end of one of an expansion that’s only activated after you’ve reached the end of the main storyline. In that expansion, I had to face my ancient enemy: the timed platforming challenge. The difficulty options did not affect the speed required to solve the puzzle. I could not get past it, and so Control ended for me abruptly. (For anyone who’s played the game, it was the fourth Foundation key.)

Aside from that, this game is definitely worthwhile for anyone who likes third-person shooters, weird stories, or exploring non-linear environments.
Bill Seligman
Alliance: Winston, Yungi, Pellinore, Tebyalyublyu, Theadora, Vasili, Winella, Winstonia
Horde: Grotar, Swiftslice

Winston

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #693 on: July 31, 2021, 12:30:57 PM »
I think my review of Assassin's Creed: Valhalla is too long for the forum software. (Or perhaps someone has come to their senses with respect to my game reviews.)

If you'd like to see the review (TL;DR: I like it), it's on my blog: https://argothald.com/2021/07/31/assassins-creed-valhalla/
Bill Seligman
Alliance: Winston, Yungi, Pellinore, Tebyalyublyu, Theadora, Vasili, Winella, Winstonia
Horde: Grotar, Swiftslice

Snique

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #694 on: September 19, 2021, 04:39:20 AM »
Offworld Trading Company

A real-time strategy game of exoplanet colony building, and mostly money slushing. I'm not a big RTS fan, but I was intrigued by the idea of using an RTS format for something other than small group battles. Here you do have conflict between players, but it's indirect like paying the other colony's workers to go on strike so you can take their resources for a time. If you like Civ and you like RTS this game is 100% for you.

The game has a lot of variety in an attempt to avoid repetitive play and it's partly successful. Generally you establish a colony, claim resource nodes, and build buildings to grow your colony. There are production-line elements where you make more advanced buildings that take the output of earlier buildings and make them into other things. There are also a handful of one-off buildings like a Pleasure Dome to generate raw cash and the ultimate prize - the Spaceport that lets you launch excess goods or raw materials off world for, you guessed it, more cash.

There's a real-time goods market that lets you buy and sell as needed and of course a couple ways to manipulate it. You represent a company and can take over other companies by buying their shares. That's the most direct way to knock other players out of the game - buy control of their company out from under them.

All in all a nice change of pace from the "go here and shoot everything in sight" type of game, but not something I'm likely to replay often.

Winston

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #695 on: September 24, 2021, 02:30:37 PM »

Life is Strange: True Colors

I reviewed the original Life is Strange three years ago. Since then, there are been a few more games released in the series, but I gave them a pass. While I like the original game, I didn’t feel a need to explore any sequels or offshoots.

I became interested in Life is Strange: True Colors when (a) I finally squeezed out all the juice I could out of Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, and (b) in shopping for a new game, I learned that there was essentially no story connection between Life is Strange: True Colors and any of the other games in the series. Indeed, if there were any references to prior games, I did not see them or their presence did not affect my appreciation of the story at all.

Like the other games in the Life is Strange series, Life is Strange: True Colors is a narrative game; don’t play this one if you’re looking for a real-time action sim or an RPG. You play Alex Chen, a young adult, who arrives in the small town of Haven Springs, Colorado in 2019. She’s there to meet with her brother and establish a life for herself after being bounced around in orphanages and foster homes.

In the original Life is Strange, the protagonist had the ability to rewind time. In Life is Strange: True Colors, Alex is able to read people’s emotions in the form of colored auras. Depending on how much she focuses, she can listen to people’s surface thoughts, drain them of negative emotions by transferring them into herself, or even enter small emotional worlds where she can read histories the memories of objects. The system is fairly intuitive; I had some difficulty with it at the start of the game, but only because I missed a tutorial hint.

As with most narrative games, the story is shaped by the choices you make. You can choose with whom to make friends, or whom to romance (if you want to romance anyone at all). Some the choices are meant to be tough: You may be able to alter someone else’s emotions, but is that always a good idea? Like most such games, the game’s replayability comes from making different choices as you play.

I feel that the story in Life is Strange: True Colors is stronger than one I remember from Life is Strange. The earlier game dragged a bit with some graphical issues and in story flow. LiS:TC also drags at time, but only because I felt compelled to listen to all the characters’ dialogs. Alex is given a mystery to solve; though there are large sections of the story that focus on her social relationships, they feel organic to the developing story; in LiS they felt grafted on.

At present, the latest Life is Strange: True Colors costs about $60 while the earlier Life is Strange is about $20. I recommend both games, but if you can afford it (or can afford to wait) I suggest going for the later game.
Bill Seligman
Alliance: Winston, Yungi, Pellinore, Tebyalyublyu, Theadora, Vasili, Winella, Winstonia
Horde: Grotar, Swiftslice

Winston

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #696 on: October 24, 2021, 02:10:16 PM »
Rather than copying-and-pasting my long review of Ghost of Tsushima here, I'll just post the link to my blog post.

TL;DR: Ghost of Tsushima is now my second-favorite video console game, after Horizon: Zero Dawn.

https://argothald.com/2021/10/24/ghost-of-tsushima/
Bill Seligman
Alliance: Winston, Yungi, Pellinore, Tebyalyublyu, Theadora, Vasili, Winella, Winstonia
Horde: Grotar, Swiftslice

Winston

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #697 on: November 02, 2021, 06:13:53 PM »
Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy

Again, just the link to my blog review: https://argothald.com/2021/11/02/marvels-guardians-of-the-galaxy/

TL;DR: After playing one of the best console video games I’ve ever played, unfortunately I followed it up with one of the worst. The combat was much too hard for me, even on easier-than-easy difficulty.
Bill Seligman
Alliance: Winston, Yungi, Pellinore, Tebyalyublyu, Theadora, Vasili, Winella, Winstonia
Horde: Grotar, Swiftslice

Snique

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #698 on: November 07, 2021, 06:59:33 AM »
Xenonauts

This should have been a "gimme". I loved X-Com in most of its forms and this is basically an X-Com game. Turn-based-tactical, aliens invade. Unfortunately, the implementation is clunky; for example, it's extremely hard just to open a door without moving your unit through it. No undo, sorry. And the designers made some truly terrible decisions that make play un-fun. For example, you can turn a unit to face in only one direction at a time. When you look away, that part of the map goes dark again. Like, you somehow have no short-term memory?  I took a few swings at it but nope. Strong disrecomment.

Snique

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #699 on: November 07, 2021, 07:03:58 AM »
Wingspan

A combat-free bird-colonization game. Adaptation of a moderately popular card tabletop game - I got it because some of the people I game with played it tabletop and there was some idea of moving our games online during pandemic.  The UI is a little clunky and the tutorial is downright awful but as an implementation of a tabletop it's quite faithful and I eventually mastered most of the interface's clunky bits.

Although the game isn't complex in its mechanics the strategies can be a little tricky. I still can't beat all the difficulties of bot regularly. If anyone wants to try multiplayer online lmk. This game is suitable for kids who are old enough to get the complexity but who don't want (or whose parents don't want) violence-based videogames. Also good for people who prefer thinking through their moves rather than twitching their fingers quickly.