Friday, August 29, 2014

A month of gaming - Those I have finished and those I have not.

In the last month I have played about twenty different games. Rather I should say I started to play about twenty different games. In some cases I stuck with the game to the end of the campaign. In others I gave up with no intention of going back but there is a third category of game which just  got sidelined when my attention wandered to something else. These games remain in my "to be played list".

Analysing the list it breaks down like this:
A. Games I am currently actively playing: 1
B. Games that I played to the end of the campaign I started: 6
C. Unfinished games on hold that I will probably get back to: 4
D. Unfinished games I am unlikely to go back to: 9

Categories A and B are not really problematic except to comment that I really like finishing games. Those games in category B where I have finished a campaign give me warm fuzzy feelings. Given that the large number of unfinished games in categories C and D might seem worrisome. Ten years ago I would have been horrified to think that I started nine games in a month just to give up on them. Today however with online sales and bundles there is a surfeit of games and a shortage of time. I have long since come to terms with the fact that I cannot play every game so it makes sense to try out a game and quickly move on once I have had enough of it.

The only really problematic category is C. These are games I really would like to get back to. Unfortunately there is a similar number of games from last month and again from the month before. This is my real backlog. If I am honest most of these games will never be finished, forever being pushed aside by something newer and shinier. They will remain on my "to do" list for a few months until they fade from memory. Some of them may come back to the fore in later years, perhaps with my starting a new campaign. I can remember specific instances of this but I haven't analysed it well enough to put a percentage on it.

For Reference here is a list of the games, each of which I have actually played within the last month, (The preceding letters are the categories from above put in to help me count):

C Splinter Cell, Blacklist: Enjoying it but got distracted. Want to get back to this.
D Dungeon Siege 2: Quick Look: Seems OK but I am not sure if I have time for this.
D Space Hack: Quick Look: Seems OK but I am not sure if I have time for this.
C The Witcher 2: Enjoying it but keep getting distracted. Want to finish it eventually.
D Magrunner Dark Pulse: I played a lot of this before eventually getting bored. Not sure if I will ever go back.
A  XCOM,  Enemy Within: Actively Playing. Will Probably finish the campaign
B  XCOM, The Bureau: Finished the main campaign.
B  Serious Sam 2: Finished the main campaign.
D Gears of War: Replay got about 75% of way through before getting stuck. Have finished before so don't feel any need to continue.
D Fez: Quick Look. Didn't really grab me.
C The Bridge: Quick Look. Seems OK. Want to explore further.
C Shadow Warrior: Quick Look. Want to explore further.
D GTR Evolution: Got it free and had a quick look. Probably won't play again.
D Saira: Got it free. Probably will not play again.
D Really Big Sky: Quick look. May keep on hand for instant gaming gratification but probably won't play again.
B Bioshock: Replay. Finished the main campaign again.
B Bioshock Infinite, Burial at Sea episode 1: Finished.
B Bioshock Infinite. Burial at Sea episode 2: Finished.
D Divine Divinity: Quick Look. Seems OK but I doubt I will ever get around to playing this.
B Bioshock 2, Minerva's Den: Finished



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Splinter Cell Blasklist: Would the real Sam Fisher use non lethal takedowns?

Splinter Cell Blacklist offers three distinct playstyles: Ghost mode where you focus on stealth and non lethal take-downs, Panther mode which combines stealth with lethal take-downs and Assault mode which is guns blazing shoot outs. Different weapons and perks cater to each style and you are more or less encouraged to focus on one style. 

Happily though you are not forced to stick to one style and I don't think that you miss out on any story elements by swapping between styles. This is important to me partly because I like variety but also because I tend to engage in a bit of subtle role playing in a game like this. I won't choose a course of action just to get the next achievement but instead I like to act in manner fitting with the protagonists mind set. When highly trained special agent Sam Fisher encounters a humble security guard just going about his job it makes sense that he would try to sneak past unobserved or at worst put the guard to sleep for a while. On the other hand when he encounters room full of ruthless killers who have just shot up his buddies there is no way he would let them wake up the next morning with nothing more than minor headaches. He is going to shoot as many real bullets into them as he can. 

I find that this almost subconscious role playing greatly enhances immersion and my enjoyment of the game. I remember doing it in Deus Ex HR where my character gradually morphed from non violence into furious vengeance as he became more and more aware of how nasty his opponents were. 

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The Bureau, XCOM Declassified: Turkey or Hidden Gem?

Is "The Bureau" a bad game or has it just been judged to an impossibly high standard? Firaxis's 2012 reboot of the iconic series XCOM, Enemy Unknown met with universal praise so why did "2k Marin's 2013 tactical shooter set in the same universe receive such lukewarm reviews?

After reading some of those unflattering reviews I approached the game with hesitation. Now having played for a little over an hour I am confused.  I have only completed the long introductory chapter and one real mission but what I have seen so far is wonderful. This doesn't feel like a bad game. This feels like a superbly crafted great game. When does it start to fall apart? 

The atmosphere so far is terrific. There is a beautifully constructed 1950's vibe going on with hard smoking square jawed men and women in severe suits who working for a mysterious government agency which is the last chance to save the earth from alien invaders. Lots of sound effects and incidental details carry over from Firaxis's triumph so it all feels wonderfully XCOMmy. As an added bonus your character is a dead ringer for Boardwalk Empire's troubled prohibition agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon). This is a world that feels both familiar and exciting. 

So if it isn't the setting that annoys people it must be the game play. How bad can it be? From the little I have seen so far the gameplay feels very similar to the Brothers in Arms games: tactical shooters with a combination of first person and squad based elements. As it happens I loved the Brothers in Arms games and so far I am equally loving The Bureau. 

Of course it may all fall apart later. Tactical shooters like this struggle to balance the first person elements with the squad tactics. Lacklustre AI can mean that it is often easier to ignore your squad and just fight it out yourself. I am very familiar with these difficulties from the Brothers in Arms games however and I have made my peace with them and when you do pull off a clever manoeuvre with your squad it feels very satisfying. 

I wonder though how much of the disappointment with this game stemmed from the fact that it is a departure from the turn based tactics formula that XCOM fans expect.