Friday, July 29, 2016

MadCap's Game Reviews - "The Technomancer"

The last time I was on Mars in a video game, it was five years ago and had a giant hammer that destroyed things.



...Oh. Right. Forgot about Doom. Uh...anyway, now I have Sith lightning. On Mars.

Isn't life absolutely grand?

Also, because this is set on Mars, we can do the "Mars in Fiction" Drinking Game.  As I give an overview of the plot, take a shot every time you can point out a cliche.

You step into the shoes of Zachariah, a young man of questionable skin tone and hair cut, who is destined to become a Technomancer.  Technomancers, which are totally not Jedi, are apparently a psuedo-peacekeeping brotherhood (again, totally not Jedi) on Mars. Mars itself was settled by various corporations that all battle one another for control using tactics that would give Vampire: The Masquerade players the squeest of squeefits, and they battle over a single substance - water.

...okay, you guys seem good and schnockered, so let's get into the gameplay. You have three distinct styles of combat: melee and shield for your bruiser, melee and gun for the sneaky type, and staff for those who want to take the whole space wizard thing far, far too literally. Combat is actually pretty involving and even to a degree enjoyable. The problem I have with it is that it's honestly trying to do too much. It's good to branch out and try different things, but it feels a little bizarre to have so many options when you're only really going to choose one style and then have that carry you through the rest of the game.

And then you have your Technomancer powers. You have the electrical powers. Enjoy them. They are least until you run into enemies who have electrical resistance. Nice job, morons.

Also, while the combat can be fun, and does take more than a few pages from the Batman: Arkham Asylum school of combat, it unfortunately forgot to read up on the nice part about how to dodge with any fluidity. Zachariah, with the press of a button, will go spinning through the air like a prima ballerina, dodging whichever way you point him.  Which, again, goes to show that even being a magical space wizard means you still are worse at combat than Batman.

The difficulty is really weird and seems to spike at bizarre moments. For example, early on I had to get through a door to speak to a local crime boss in the slums. Choosing the badass approach of killing the men and then kicking the door in, I did...and got my ass handed to me. During my second attempt I tried the far more cowardly approach of hitting them and then running back...only to find my enemies weren't pursuing me beyond a certain point and when I returned, they ignored me and I could go in to see the Boss as though I had defeated them.  Yet another time, I went up against a group of at least twice that many and had no problem at all.

And I did not adjust the difficulty in any way during this whole time.

I've seen some reviews that praise the environments, but I really can't agree. They look nice enough, and I'm not going to get onto the fact that things on Mars look rather red and brown and dull-looking, but it is notable when it takes a page from the books of several other sci-fi series, going for a very Total Recall meets Blade Runner meets Firefly sort of look to things. Again, not bad, just...not anything particularly unique.

Which brings me to the crafting. Don't really see a need for it, nor for a resource system. Maybe I'm just still a bit peeved at Fallout 4 for trying to drive me completely insane from a lack of adhesives.

The game also touts a karma system. After defeating enemies in combat, you don't actually kill them due to some Technomancer vow of protecting the sanctity of human life or something like that. However, Zachariah can net Serum - the form of currency on Mars - with every person that he does kill, which can be done with a button press after you've beaten them with a stick, beaten them with a mace, or stabbed them and riddled them with bullet holes.  And that's not even getting into those that suffer from extreme electrocution.

I sympathize with them as I look at the minimap interface, which does very little to differentiate markers for where you're supposed to go. I'd almost rather have no markers than all than a bunch of identical ones that point off in different directions. And yes, some of them point to different entrances to a same section, but that does all of jack and squat to help me out. Skyrim did this far better, giving you one and letting you follow it for quest objectives.

This game also has dialogue trees and the like that we're supposed to be invested in, but there's really no real reason to do so apart from answering the lingering questions of "What the hell is going on?" and "Why do I care?". Granted, this is common, but it could flow a little bit better in the narrative rather than me having to hunt down answers. It wants to be like Bioware, which branching dialogue options and but didn't bother to set up the investment I would have had in one of those games.

Again, I stress that this isn't bad. It's okay, but it feels rather somewhat unfinished. If the interface were cleared up a bit and the combat made to steal a few more pages from Batman, it would be rather solid. It doesn't have much going for it in the uniqueness department, alas, which does hurt it, but I won't really call it bad.

The Technomancer is not available from Home Focus Interactive and Spiders for Microsoft Windows, Playstation 4, and Xbox One.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, July 22, 2016

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Pokemon Black and Blue"

Damn it, PETA, who let you near a computer again?!

Seriously, this is yet another instance of absolute and complete research failure on the part of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. I am plenty for the ethical treatment of animals, but I also really, really like steak so I'm basically Hitler to PETA (though hey, it's the internet, so it's hardly the first time I've been called Hitler.

So yes, once again (thanks to the sharp uprising in series popularity thanks to Pokemon Go), we are thrown into the jowls of maniacal insanity that is PETA and their anvilicious quest to take Upton Sinclair's The Jungle to an ideological extreme that Lewis Carroll himself could not write something absurd enough to match. There is no joy, there is no humor - not unlike the last time we did a foray into the mind of madness. This is PETA using the thing guise of Pokemon to epouse their mission statement without any sort of subtlety or skill. It is shameless and nonsensical ramblings that strawman anyone who is a fan of the Pokemon series so intensely to almost make them seem more like Saturday Morning Cartoon villains than actual people.

The game begins with Pikachu, who you may remember from the last game, deciding that he has had it with all these fothermucking trainers ruining his fothermucking life and fights back against a Bizarro-universe version of Cheren - one of your rivals from Pokemon Black and White. Upon leaving, he takes Tepig with him and goes on a quest to free the good Pokemon of Unova from the cruel hands of trainers with the aid of Nurse Jenny - seemingly the only "good" human that exists in this universe.

The game mechanics haven't changed since the last game either, but then it follows on from how the Pokemon games themselves haven't changed in ever, so I won't rag on that point too much.

But again, what drags this down is the complete lack of attention that was paid to the morals that Pokemon tries to teach children, as well as a complete lack of humor and a sheer buffet table-worth of bad design choices and preachy moralities that leave anyone who plays this feeling disheartened or just plain pissed off that they wasted their time playing this crap.

And it is clear that someone at least played one of the games...or read the Wikipedia entries on it. Then again, maybe they just thought that Nintendo trying to brainwash into children the belief that Pokemon are just tools to be used for their whims and not living creatures that deserve their love and respect. I'm gonna go ahead and tell you, PETA...there's no subtext here. You're just a bunch of idiots. And idiots you have proven again to be.

Pokemon, ultimately, is all about how Pokemon are just as important as people, and that it's the bond between a trainer and his/her Pokemon that allows them to truly be great. Sure, there are people who will mistreat or misuse Pokemon, but through the games and the anime they are treated as the bad people.  Indeed, the one criminal group who claimed to be about the liberation of Pokemon...was headed by a man who really wanted all Pokemon for himself. As you actually pointed out in this game, when Ghetsis shows up and rants about how he'll use the skins and meats from Pokemon to feed the people of Unova.

Like I said in the review of the first one, the designs are awful and are so mean-spirited that they would almost be funny if it wasn't so sad. Professor Juniper looks like she just escaped from an asylum, frizzled hair and wielding a scalpel and a syringe in a menacing manner. Ghetsis wears a coat that is presumably stitched from Pokemon skins, and once more all the Pokemon look like they've just got off the set of an Eli Roth picture and haven't yet cleaned off the makeup.

The best part comes when you run into Ash. Yes, Ash. Ketchum. As in, the character from the anime who is not actually in the games (Red is completely different, being competent). The sheer madness and plain and simple disrespect for the franchise comes in Ash being portrayed as an uncaring, sociopathic jackass to Pikachu. Again, Pokemon's all about the bond that trainers and their Pokemon share, and Ash and Pikachu are the living example of that. Sure, they've butted heads over the years, but the two of them have stuck together through thick and thin ever since the Spearow attack in the anime's first episode, and there's nothing the two of them wouldn't do for one another.

Showing him like this...dressed up in a bizarre circus ringmaster get up of all things and wielding a whip and a bloodied bullhook is pretty much the death knell of any credibility you could have had in this, PETA. Not, after the first attempt, that you had any to begin with. You didn't actually care about making something enjoyable, you just made something preachy and ultimately rather boring. Really, like the first one, that's all this is - preachy and boring.

And apparently believing that Nintendo has some kind of cultist mentality to brainwash children into hating animals, which is absolutely insane for reasons that I've mentioned already.

So, for anyone who doesn't care to read all that: "0/10, too much water". For PETA, on the off chance that you ever read this (and I know you won't): go back to putting Pamela Anderson's boobs into faux leaf bras, because you suck - and I mean suuuuuuuuck - at making video games.

No, I'm not linking you to the game. If you want to play it, Google it. I have another steak to eat.

Can Nintendo go ahead and sue these people so they'll stop making these really, really bad games, please?

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, July 15, 2016

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Pokemon Go"

...I still have to wear a freaking hat?!

One of the few complains I have about Pokemon GO, a brand spanking new (as of a week ago) augmented reality game developed by Niantic for iOS and Android.  And what a revolutionary concept it is, too! I never thought that I would not only be able to take Pokemon on the go despite this being a handheld series for many, many years, but also that I would have the privilege of traveling around the land to be the best like no one ever was by running around and stuffing animals into tiny balls.

My cynicism aside, I figured that - as a fan of the series since its inception in the 1990s - that I should do the decent thing and check it out. Thus, when the American release happened last week, I downloaded it. Within about twenty minutes, I worked out that there was little to no new innovation to the formula, which was not so much a problem for me as one might believe. I was introduced to the kindly Professor Willow (this time an man and not a female professor played by Alyson Hannigan) who let me pick a snazzy new outfit and a nickname (after going through several) before introducing me to the world of Pokemon. Cue the introductory monologue that any fan of the series knows and can probably recite in their sleep by now.

Except now, it's mobile! ...which it was already. Because that's how handhelds work.

Really, besides for the fact that your mobile phone uses GPS to coordinate your position and brings up random Pokemon according to your location, I'm not really sure what the appeal is.  Okay, you go around and see Pokemon in augmented reality. While it is cool to catch a Bulbasaur as it wanders ponderously through my hallway, I could just as easily put my Pokemon Red cartridge into my Game Boy color and start up a new game.

...yes, Bulbasaur is the best of the Gen One starters, considering he's useful at the first three Gyms and fills the Grass type slot wonderfully. I mean, I love Charizard as much as the next person, but Bulbasaur is awesome and deserves a little bit more appreciation.  But nah, you guys just go play with your fire lizard. Plebs.

And really, that's about all I can say for it besides the terrible server overloads and the GPS that can't actually track anything.  I've attempted to walk around both my home and the neighborhood around and occasionally got my avatar to face an entirely different direction.  I actually had to go around town itself in order to get any change of scenery, which was admittedly still not a lot.  My particular region is little more than forests, swamplands, and the coastline, and my generated map did indeed project the first of those three things...which sadly means a lovely variety of birds and bugs and little else besides the occasional Eevee.

Which brings me to the other problems with mobile gaming, and this one in particular.  Pokemon Go insists that you indeed go all over to find all assortments of lovely little 'Mons to stuff into tiny balls and train...which can be a hassle if you don't have a particularly robust or forgiving data plan. See, I'm one of the paranoid types that avoids using data like I've got the plague, so the thought of trying to do any of this without an internet connection is something that frightens the ever-living daylights out of me.

Another thing that frightens the ever living daylights out of me? The Teams system. At fifth level, you choose between one of three different teams - Valor, Instinct, and Mystic. Now, call me a cynic, but every time you get involved with a group with "Team" in the name in the Pokemon games, they tend to be a criminal organization that's trying to do naughty, evil things (and not even the fun kind unless they're Team Rocket).  However, for the sake of game mechanics I ended up choosing Mystic because I like the color blue. Do I feel any particular team loyalty? No. And the game doesn't really give me any real reason to, either.

And then, of course, there's microtransactions. usual, there's no point in limiting the amount of fun or enjoyment a player can have by how much money they spend. Granted, the nature of mobile games is different than that of Triple A games, but it just amazes me that so many people (myself sometimes included) that can be so easily suckered in by a business model that should have been laughed at by anyone who brought it up to people with common sense. For an industry that makes so much money off of lies and subterfuge (insert easy Aliens: Colonial Marines joke here), it seems odd that they would go with the minute "bleed 'em dry" model. It's not even like you're getting an extra area to run around in or more Pokemon to unlock.

Just...more Pokeballs.

That's not to say that Pokemon Go is bad. Far from it, in fact, it's a very interesting experiment and it shows that the Pokemon Company knows the lengths that fans will go to to get just a little bit more of their drug of choice.  And yes yes, I know new things are being added every day such as trading and battling between players and the like. Also, last I heard, Gen II Pokemon were on the way as well.  The problem is that I have to trick my brain into thinking this isn't a Beta...which it technically still is anyway, but I digress. Personally, while I'm a fan of the series as stated before, I think I'll just wait for Sun and Moon to come out closer to the end of the year. Until then, if you're up to the task, go out and be the best like no one ever was, and more power to you!

Next week is another Pokemon game...and it's something far, far worse than this...

Pokemon Go is now available for download on Android and iOS phones from The Pokemon Company and Niantic.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, July 8, 2016

MadCap's Game Reviews - "The Movies"

Hurrah for Hollywood!

I had actually meant to do this review a few months ago when Lionhead Studios was sadly closed down by Microsoft.  I know it was fun to poke at Peter Molyneux and his astounding ability to lie through his teeth but, unlike certain other individuals who are forever off my Christmas card list (as if I have one of those), it never seemed like he was going out of his way to save his own ass.  Say what you will about Lionhead - mostly that they were a company where reach exceeded grasp - but you can never say that their hearts weren't into everything they were doing.  And, as such, here is my tribute to them and all the joy and creativity they've brought us over the years.

Some paragraph smatterings on an internet blog that nobody reads!

The Movies came around in 2006 and was the first Lionhead game I ever played.  That's right! Before Fable or its sequels, I actually came across The Movies first, and its a good thing, too.  After all, how else would I have had the experience of building a film empire from the ground up without several hundred thousand dollars in start up money? Exactly, I wouldn't have.  And neither will you have, unless you put yourself in the chair of a Hollywood movie mogul.

Work from the 1920s and cast your stars, your extras, and get yourself a director.  Going through the main game will get you a lengthy tutorial that will explain your options in building up your studio. Starting from a single building where casting of your actors, directors, and extras is done, you get directed to build various sets - and you do have to have a variety thanks to a little thing called novelty value that will bring down the quality of your films if you overuse sets - and other fixtures within your studio lot.  Other fixtures including an area where scriptwriters can be tasked to make scripts based on genre (with random titles, often resulting in very humorous combinations), a laboratory where scientists can be hired to develop new technologies for film making, and even a post-production house where you can edit the completed films before releasing them to the general public.

And there is much more than that,. A lot more, in fact, but it would literally take me the length of several reviews to go over everything that you can add to your studio.  The basic tips I would give are this - 1) Make sure you keep your director to actor ratio at 1:3, that is one director for every three actors you have. This'll keep you from having too many of either and means that, if you do it right, you won't have anyone not working who doesn't need to be. 2) Make sure you keep an eye on your actors'/directors' stress and boredom levels. Don't over or under work them, or you're going to have a bad time dealing with their quirks of personality.

Yes, like many such games, you have to micromanage your actors and directors based on certain personality issues they have. One might be given to drinking, another might be given to overeating. You'll need to manage these in various ways, as well as deal with them when they occasionally get off the wagon either way.  And that's to say nothing of those the game will just throw you who have a bad temperament in general.

Also, tip number three - it never hurts to give your actors a bigger trailer. Never.

When I say I could go on for several reviews about the many facets of this game, it's very true. Lionhead clearly put a lot of work into creating and developing so much to be sure the players had a lot to do, but I could almost argue there's too much to do.  By that same token, it's not like you don't have the time in which to try out everything - the same starts in 1920 and goes on into infinity (though the technology stops in the early 2000s) - it's more of a question of space and is one of the few criticisms I can level against this game.

Granted, I'm sure part of the point is that you're only supposed to have so much space and you're supposed to tear down old and put up new buildings as time goes on, but your studio lots only have so much space and placing buildings on a grid can get rather persnickety when you're off by a single square and the entire building is denied.  Rather irritating, but it does force you to think about placement and more often than not forces you to make some hard choices about which buildings are more important to you in your desperate struggle to get to the top of the film mogul world and cement your position as a legend.  Give it a try if you get the chance.  At the time of this writing, you can pick it up on Amazon for about forty bucks, definitely worth the investment.

The Movies is now available for PC and Mac OS from Lionhead Studios and Activision.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Oh, right...there's also a "Stunts & Effects" expansion pack. It's not really notable beyond a few new stunts and effects, as well as making the camera free moving in certain scenes. That's it.

Friday, July 1, 2016

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Halo 2"

Halo 2.

It really needs no introduction, does it?

It was a mega hit coming off the coat tails of another mega hit that we touched upon before on this very blog. Basically, there was no way that this game could possibly fail...and yet, it did.

I will be entirely honest with all of you - I have fond nostalgia for this game.  This and the first Halo were two of the first FPSes I ever played. But at the same time, I temper my nostalgia with the knowledge that this represents the pinnacle of everything that Halo was.

Oh, yes.  It is, quite literally, all downhill from here.  Before anyone makes the comment, no, it's not just because of the lackluster cliffhanger of an ending, that itself is a symptom of a bigger problem. A problem that both you and I know by, ironically, a single word.  It is a word that stifles the creativity and imagination put into games. A word that almost always obliterates any hope of a good single player campaign. A word that kills dead the hardwork of the developers who work for hours upon hours to make a good story...only to have it slashed and resources taken in order to put work into it for their publisher to make a quick buck.


Specifically, the online multiplayer through Xbox Live.  The original Halo only had split-screen multiplayer (unless you had the PC version, anyway), but online multiplayer became a force to be reckoned with when this game came out.  And while, save for the ending, this doesn't ruin this game...Halo 2 basically started the trend of subscribed online multiplayer coming into mainstream popularity.

But as for the game does it hold up? Not too bad, given that I'm going by the original version and not the re-release (which, I'm told, has something to do with Halo 5's story that I could care less about).  The Master Chief has returned triumphantly to Earth along with Sergeant Johnson and a handful of the Pillar of Autumn's crew (despite Cortana saying there was "dust and echoes" left at the end of the first one). But now, along with the Chief's crazy antics as he tries to save Earth from an invading Covenant fleet and then follows said fleet, we have a new protagonist in the middle of things.

Enter the Arbiter, voiced by Keith David (FREAKING GOLIATH, EVERYBODY!).  Despite my enthusiasm at the choice of voice actor...I really don't care for the guy, or for trying to make it seem like the Covenant are good guys. While I enjoy the plotlines started in this and that carry over (to an extent) to Halo 3, it really wasn't all that necessary to forcibly switch our perspective to another character when we'd been following around and acting as the Master Chief for an entire game by this point.

All said, he has about the same number of missions as the Master Chief, and while I understand why they did just wasn't necessary and ultimately only serves to pad out the game...which is embarrassingly short to begin with.  Even at the ripe young age of thirteen I managed to play out the entire single player campaign on Normal in a short marathon, compared to the longer time it took me to finish the first one.

Of course, I got it even worse with 3, but that's a tale for another time.

Also, because it is the elephant in the room, yes - the cliffhanger is awful and serves no purpose besides to create hype for Halo 3...which sucked, though it wasn't exactly because of the game itself, but I'll get to that when I actually do review Halo 3.  Needless to say, again, something that Bungie could have easily avoided if they chose to. And they chose to not.

As for the combat, its pretty enjoyable.  The gun variety isn't bad and dual wielding comes into play, which is never not fun.  Sadly, you can't fulfill my dream of dual-wielding shotguns, but I remain hopeful that I will one day see it realized considering we've seen ridiculous weapons in my reviews like Scrooge McDuck's pogo-stick cane or a Super Soaker filled with Holy Water.  That being said, dual wielding Needlers makes for being seriously OP and I think you should enjoy that, since it pretty much varies from here out on just how powerful Needlers are in the series.

Other than that, not too much to say. Like I said, I have a bit of nostalgia fondness for this game even if it began the bottomless quagmire that is Online Multiplayer, so I'm inclined to treat it with some kindness.  Kindness, alas, that I will not deliver unto the game that follows...

Halo 2 is now available from Bungie and Microsoft Gaming Studios for Xbox and Windows.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.