X-COM 2 – The PR war

I’ve been playing a lot of X-COM 2 because it’s brilliant and you should probably be playing it instead of reading this blog (It’s what I’ve been doing instead of writing it) The game is the most part terrific and I’m already planning my second playthrough but one part I’ve found slightly lacking is the games weak sauce approach to how the everyday men and women of the world are treated in game.

Let me explain:

When fighting across various urban environments, it’s not uncommon for civilians to be caught in the crossfire of battle. At the start of most levels, your team will be in concealment, allowing them to move across the map unmolested by any aliens as long as they keep a reasonable distance from them. Aliens aren’t the only thing that can detect you and blow your cover, civilians can to and if you get too close they can absolutely ruin your plans by revealing your position on the map and attracting nearby patrols to come and blow holes in you.

In this way, civilians act as minefields which you must skirt around in order to proceed. You have no way to ‘disarm’ the threat they pose and so must treat them with extreme caution. This is because in the world of X-Com 2 you are the aggressor, the terrorist, the bad guy in the eyes of the people on the ground who the aliens have control of. At the beginning of a campaign this status as the enemy makes sense, but as the game progresses and the war becomes a little more even this doesn’t change in any way aside from a small cutscene close to the end of the game showing the people rising up.

To me, this is a missed opportunity (or an idea that will be expanded on in an expansion in a year or so) that could have added another interesting set of mechanics to the way each game plays out. Let’s call this part of the game the PR War. Everything you do either has a cost or boon to your perception by the public. Play the game in a very PR friendly way and you’d get bonuses to resources and have more recruits joining up. But play in an unfriendly way and you’d find that the public would be rising up against you, pressuring ADVENT to bring you to justice or even setting up vigilante groups to hunt you themselves.

Say for instance I’m given a mission to either kill or kidnap a VIP of the alien forces. This VIP is human and will typically be in a highly urbanised environment with plenty of witnesses. If I kill the VIP in a hail of bullets this footage could be played back to the civilians by ADVENT to show just how nasty I am and causing a penalty to my public perception. But, If I kidnapped the target, there would still be a penalty (Kidnapping is still pretty bad in most people’s eyes) but it would be reduced.

Now in a game where you are already juggling so many competing resources and strategies at anyone time I can understand why no one would want to add this further layer of complexity to a game that already devours time like I devour crisps, still I thought it was a fun thought experiment that I wanted to share and get your opinions on.

 

 

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Just Cause …. It’s Shit ….. 3

The name Just Cause is the sweetest treat to any reviewer out there. It’s the perfect set up for countless jokes about the games quality and the off the wall hijinks you can get up within it. “I Just used a statue’s head as a wrecking ball attached to helicopter then used it to smash a load of fuel tanks, why? Just Cause!” So far so trite.

Cracking jokes about this series name is the video game reviewer equivalent of “What’s the deal with airline food” a punchline to itself that no one ever laughed at the first time round.

The Just Cause series is one of gaming’s oddest creations. Starting on the PS2, this series has seen three games in the series that are basically flashier more explosive versions of the first one. You play as Rico Rodriguez, a CIA agent with a reckless disregard for the laws of physics, self-preservation and the precise uses of what a parachute can and can’t do. Across each of the three games of the series, Rico is used as a tool to spark revolutions in various fictitious dictatorships (All inspired by real world ones) across the world (Hence the rather one the nose Che Guava imagery on the box of the first game)

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Having played each game in the series I’ve got to say I’m rather fond of both Just Cause 1 and 2. They are dumb games that gave the player a hit ton of explosives and said “See that red thing, blow it up”. They were the Michael bay of video games, with a dash Robert Rodriguez to help lighten the mood (These could basically be Machete games).

It is then with great sadness that I can report that I’ve had absolutely no fun playing Just Cause 3 at all and will, in fact, be trading it in at my local Game shop the day this piece goes out.*

When I first sat down with JC3 I immediately had a problem. My hard drive was full and I needed to unload some data. First I uninstalled Assassin’s Creed Black Flag. A decent game but one I haven’t played in about a year so no biggie. But JC3 demanded a greater sacrifice which I gave it; Witcher 3. I know I’ll never finish Witcher 3 but me uninstalling it was me admitting to that fact, something I’m not sure any game critic is allowed to do.

When I had finally allotted the massive amount of Hard Drive space to allow JC3 to lounge around the PS4 I was met with a massive install time that let me catch up on watching some old episodes of Family Guy that were on TV at the time. One of them was the episode where Lois becomes Mayor and is then persuaded to pour toxic chemicals into the town’s lake. It’s an alright episode, a funny gag with Jason Vorhees but nothing too special. Also, who is Donnie Most?

While the game was installing I did have the chance to play around in a small portion of the game, allowing me to practice with the wing suit for a bit, but I found that after a few minutes doing this I had kinda had my fill already. So I went back to Family Guy, Stewie is kinda funny at times ain’t he? Not a good sign.

When I finally got the game running I started it to find the game ran like shit. Several minute long loading screens between deaths and a frame rate that dropped to single figures whenever I picked up speed on the roads. I tried to get into it but then I crashed after an hour and I decided I wanted to sleep more.

The next week followed a similar pattern. I tried to get into the spirit of the game, liberating bases, blowing shit up etc but the game was just terrifically dull in almost every way. The shooting (Which has never been great in these games) was weak and felt like I was pelting  my enemies with piss from Rico’s flaccid johnson.

Explosions felt milquetoast and underwhelming.

Driving was like handling a Rhinosours with a pair of electrodes to the nut sack. Dangerous to everyone around me and lethal to me.

After a week of trying and trying again to like this game, I failed to find a redeeming quality to this game other than the occasionally amusing voice acting. While we’re on VA in this game, What the fuck is David Tennant doing in this game? He’s pretty funny in it for sure but couldn’t he be doing better? Telltale, hire David Tennant for your next series, use his talents.

I finished Mad Max, I found it tolerable if dull at times. I finished Watch Dogs, I found it hateful but passable to the end. I didn’t finish Just Cause 3 before I traded it in. It didn’t offend my storytelling sensibilities, it just bored the living shit out of me and I never want to play it again.

 

*This isn’t a review

Welcome to 2016!

Is it too late already for a welcome to 2016 blog post? It feels like it is but since this is the first chance I’ve had of writing one I’m just going to run with it.

The reason I’ve been a little poor in keeping up the blog work in the last few weeks since Christmas was the fact I became horribly ill with the dreaded man-flu. Since about the 27th I have been feeling truly awful, with no energy to write at all. Now I’m on the mend (At last, seriously, this took a while to get better) I should be starting to pump out more regular content.

So what can you expect from the Played Out blog/Media empire? Well the blog will still be running as normal, bringing you all manner of odd pieces about games that take my fancy to write, this will include but is not limited to: Reviews, previews, opinion pieces and other bits of gamey/nerdy guff.

The Played Out Podcast is also seeing an evolution in the next year, with me taking on regular co-hosts Philp Aldous and Matt Mckeown. Having already done one show with these two I can say I’m really looking forward to seeing what we can do next, both of these two are hilarious, insightful and just jolly fine chaps to listen to.

I also have plans to reboot my work on the Youtube channel in the next few weeks. With video editing stuff I have the know how to make something basic, presentable and enjoyable to watch (In my view) I’m no big name youtube star and don’t think I ever will be (I’m not that self-delusional) so really it’s just going to be me doing what I like, when I’m inspired to do so.

Today’s header image is Cpt Phasma because I loved the new Star Wars film and she is my favourite part…. Don’t ask why, I’m not even sure I know myself.

ATTENTION – XMAS SPECIAL PODCAST NOW UP

The Played Out Podcast as you surely know has been bubbling along quietly for the last few months with a very scattered schedule. This has been down to me being Lazy/Busy/Trapped in various dungeons.

One problem I felt I had was that I had to motivate myself and since I have a hard enough time doing that getting out of bed I decided to enlist some fine folks to come join me host the podcast this week. @LegitStreotype and @PAldousMusic are two lovely and hilarious folks who I’ve invited to join me on the podcast on a more permanent basis from next year and I’m really looking forward to whatever we get up to next.

If you want a taste of what we’re bound to cook up why not try the XMAS special we did on Christmas Eve while getting slowly pissed on various alcoholic substances

 

Also Still looking for a better Logo than the one I made in 20 minutes.

Top 10 Games of 2o15 – Number 3

As I went about drafting the various versions of this list I kept looking over to my ever growing collection of games and thinking what game deserved to be placed where. The Witcher 3 and MGSV’s inclusion on the list was basically mandatory while my dislike of the well loved Bloodborne would prove controversial. Having surveyed a few lesser sites GOTY lists for inspiration, I continued to notice the lack of appreciation for what I still believe to be one of 2015’s best games

Dying Light

My last few award posts featuring Dying Light have made reference to how this game has been overshadowed by many other games this year and how it will probably be forgotten. In a year of the Witcher 3, Fallout 3 and MSGV it’s hardly surprising that new IP from the makers of the awful Dead Island games would be lost in the morass, especially since it came out at the very beginning of the year.

But if you dare to pick it up on the cheap (Seriously on Steam it’s 66% off) you’ll find a damn fine game worthy of at least a few hours of your time.

 

The “Game Most Likely to Disappoint in 2016” Award

Now I don’t want to be a Debbie-downer on this blog. Trying to be positive is a thing I’m working on in my own special way but sometimes the urge to say “This isn’t going to go well” is irresistible and I just have to shout it from the rooftops and today’s proclamation/Award goes to No Man’s Sky for never being able to live up to the hype it’s built up around it!

The hype surrounding No Man’s Sky is one of the most confusing things about 2015 for me. Here we have a massive Space Sim in development by a small Indie team from Guildford (I think) that has somehow managed to get much of the coming world salivating for it. This extends outside of the ‘hardcore’ gaming circles, on prime time television, Sean Murry (Who seems lovely by the way) appeared on Stephan Colbert’s show to show the world his game and the crowd was going nuts for it.

Where is this coming from? What is so special about the idea of No Man’s Sky? I couldn’t tell you. What I can say for sure if that this game will end up letting down a lot of people who’ve drank the cool aid (So to speak). Is it the whole 18 Quintillion planets that’s getting people excited for it? Becuase let’s be honest, when you start getting past 50 planets you may have too many planets for most of us.

Does this mean it will be a bad game? Certainly not, but I do think it’s going to be a disappointing game.

Today’s award category was suggested to me by @PAldousMusic, check his work out, he’s pretty awesome.

 

Top 10 Games of 2015 – 4

What can be said about this game that hasn’t been already said before. What maybe the last chapter in one of gaming’s most venerated series, helmed by rare creative talent with a team of near peerless developers, hamstrung by the industry’s most demented publishers. The final product that is MGSV is perhaps one of the greatest games ever made and one I’m thankful I decided to pick up after pigheadedly choosing Mad Max over it (that’s the closest Mad Max is getting to a GOTY List)

After finally taking the plunge and trying this game I was treated to one of the finest action games ever made. Learning the many nuances and quirks of the game took time, time that I thought I’d be bored or annoyed at what I saw as needlessly awkward Japanese development practices. But instead, I found a rich and layered game that kept me playing for weeks on end. Missions were perfectly designed, encouraging multiple approaches and play styles. The story while bonkers was understandable and has a surprisingly human and affecting one at that.

With some of the best stealth gameplay in the business playing TPP is like trying to solve an ever more elaborate puzzle that you yourself are making more complex with your own actions. Favour headshots and guards will wear helmets, likewise with body shots. Each new challenge, each new obstacle becomes something for you to study and monitor until you know it’s weaknesses.

Metal Gear Solid 5 – The Phantom Pain is perhaps one of the best games ever made. In a year of such instant classics such as Bloodborne and Witcher 3, TPP stands above them by being breathtakingly amazing in almost ever regard. This top ten list is a record of my favourite games of the year, not of what I judge to be the best if it was such a list then there is no doubt in my mind that The Phantom Pain would stand at the number one spot.

 

Top 10 games of 2015 – 6 & 5

Number 6 – Fallout 4 – So we have it, another one of this year truly massive games and we’re not even passed the halfway point. I loved Fallout 3, I loved Fallout New Vegas and I love Fallout 4, but, for the most part, these games are all incredibly similar so I felt compelled to knock it down a place or two in favour of some truly unique and special games. When I stop typing up this blog the first thing I do is probably go play some more Fallout 4 on my PS4, exploring the Boston Wasteland some more to see what treasures it hides. I wish I was able to say that this game had some unique parts to it, but it just doesn’t other than a conversation systems that feels bad to use and enemies that sort of move in VATS mode. Still a hell of a game and one I’m definitely getting my money worth from.

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Number 5 – Journey – I said it before and I’ll say it again that playing Journey was the closest I’ve ever come to having a religious experience and it’s a game I’ll never forget. Yes, it didn’t originally come out in 2015 but this is my awards season so to hell with the facts. I’m not going to drone on about this game much more (You can read my droning here)  I’m just going to give the game a go, you won’t regret it. With how I gushed over this game you may have expected me to rank it a bit higher on the list…. Well to hell with your expectations, they belong with those rotten little facts you were trotting out earlier.

 

 

Top 10 Games of 2015 – 8 & 7

Witcher 3 – 8 – Weren’t expecting to see this particular game joined by such a number as 8 were you? Honestly, neither was I until I started compiling this list and realised I have had a lot more fun and enjoyment out of a lot of other games than I did out of Witcher 3. Witcher 3 is mostly on this list for its services to storytelling in video games. Bar none the Witcher 3 has had the best writing and the best storytelling in any game I think I’ve ever played. Each new conversation was a treat, each new quest the chance to learn something new, meet someone new. The Bloody Baron quest line is the pinnacle of game storytelling and the perfect example of what can be achieved in this medium. Where the game sadly fell down for me was the combat and levelling systems. After 75+ hours I found the game provided little challenge even when I upped the difficulty. Many games find it hard to balance around the idea that the player will just wander off for 50 hours to level up and the Witcher 3 is one of them.

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Batman Arkham Knight 7 – The flawed swansong of Rocksteady’s time with the Caped Crusader is a game a return to again and again on a regular basis. The Arkham series of games established what developers needed to do in order to properly translate a beloved IP to games while keeping the soul of that IP. Warner Bros have had mixed success with this formula with Shadow of Mordor (Which is awesome) and Mad Max (Which isn’t) Arkham Knight as a game was Rocksteady trying and failing to leave their lasting mark on the canon with the Arkham Knight character, but failing to commit and falling back on the same old astoundingly good Joker. Nowhere near as good as either Asylum or City but still a damn fine game.

 

Top 10 Games of 2015 – 10 & 9

Apologies for no posts over the last few days. Work has been exhausting and I just couldn’t muster the energy to write.

Ok Folks, we’re getting serious now, It’s time to talk about some of my favourite games of the year and my word are there a lot of games to choose from. 2015 has had a bumper crop of excellent games to choose from and it falls to me (Or at least, the trained monkey I hired to write for me) to pick out the games that have stood out to me in a big way. So let’s start, as  is tradition with number 10

Cities Skylines- 10 – I ever tell you about all the time I spent as a youth playing Simcity 3000? How I loved to carefully design cities that barely functioned, always went bankrupt and that I had to cheat to make financially viable?  Well, It was a lot of time. To me, those days were a distant memory thanks to how meagre the pickings in this particular genre had become over the last decade or so. Praise the City planner in the sky then that we finally got a new game in the genre we can all agree is bloody fantastic in the form of Cities Skylines. In Skylines, building and managing brand new cities is both fun and in-depth allowing for you the player to quickly build the city you want. I’ve poured about 40 hours into the game so far and I’m expecting to pour a load more in when I decide to pick up the expansion…. Whoops, I’ve just gone and bought it.

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Diablo 3 – Reaper of Souls – 9 – Recommended to me by a friend and picked up on a whim, Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls  for the PS4 was precisely what I needed at that time. An uncomplicated action RPG is not weighed down by anything other than the need to shower the player in awesome loot. Each class feels powerful (Apart from Witch Doctor which kinda feels racist) wrecking havoc on the battlefield and spraying the landscape with all manner of goodies to pick up and quickly salvage for parts because you’re sure as shit not replacing that legendary item anytime soon. A satisfying and uncomplicated thrill ride that I just love to pour my time into.

So that’s places 10 & 9 on the list down. Come back tomorrow for 8 and 7.