Friday, February 24, 2017

Hotline Miami and Dishonored Mini Reviews

My gaming time and writing time have been very limited the past few weeks. Here's two mini reviews of games I've finished recently:

Hotline Miami
As ultra-difficult as it is ultra-violent
  • High difficulty level can lead to some frustration, but it made for a satisfying hit of adrenaline once I got the hang of the game.
  • There's some catchy tunes on the soundtrack (especially "Miami Disco").
  • It feels kind of cheap that enemies can see and shoot you from way off screen. Also, due to the perspective, it can be hard to tell which objects can be used as cover. These factors mean that a significant amount of trial and error is required.
Score: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Completion Time: 6 hours, 42 minutes (Campaign + bonus stages)

Orwell meets Lovecraft meets Hitman
  • Interesting setting, but can look a little drab at times.
  • The intricate level design with lots of verticality sets it apart from other stealth games.
  • Combination of magic and stealth techniques were really fun to pull off once I got use to it.
  • This game's notion of morality didn't sit right with me. The game is very quick to condemn you for killing anyone, and congratulates you for choosing non-lethal means of eliminating targets even though these can include horrific disfigurement, selling targets into slavery, or turning them over to a creepy mentally unstable stalker.
Score: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Completion Time: 20 hours, 48 minutes (Non-lethal campaign path + most collectables)

Monday, February 13, 2017

Battlefield 1 Review

 A riveting few hours of WWI action

This is the first entry I've played in this series since 2002's Battlefield 1942. What brought me back to Battlefield was the inclusion of a quality single-player campaign and the World War I setting, which is a time period that's always interested me. The campaign was short, but a thrill the entire way through. The way that the game is split into chapters with each focusing on a different theater of war and different mode of combat (infantry, tanks, airplanes, etc) kept things feeling fresh and served as a great way to sample each of Battlefield 1's mechanics. The highlights for me were the bi-plane dogfights, a tank battle with clunky early tank designs, and a first-person stealth mission. Outside of these types of levels, the others were fairly standard modern FPS run-and-gun stages that were solid, but not especially ground-breaking. Regardless of their respective gameplay styles, what ties each of these levels is an incredibly rich sense of atmosphere that really emphasizes the chaos of the war. Some of the missions also featured some fairly engaging stories and cut scenes, which was a pleasant surprise.

For many players, the multi-player mode of Battlefield 1 will be the main draw. I'm not really much of an online multi-player FPS person anymore, but I played a couple of rounds to see what it was like after finishing the campaign. I found that it was pretty consistent with how I remember  the classic Battlefield 1942 capture-the-flag battles playing back in the day, and thus longtime fans of this series will probably be pretty happy with it. I could see myself having a lot of fun with it if I got a group of friends together to play a big match together (especially in a LAN party-style setting), but just jumping in with random strangers online didn't really grab me.

Battlefield 1 offers an engaging but compact single-player campaign, and a solid multi-player mode for those who want it. Playing this game also made me realize how much I miss accessible arcade-style aerial combat games like Rogue Squadron and Crimson Skies, so I'll probably be keeping an eye out for a game like that in the future (maybe Ace Combat 7?). Back to Battlefield 1, anyone interested in both the single-player and multi-player mode will probably be very happy with this game, even paying full price. For those only interested in the single-player campaign, it's really enjoyable, but its brevity may make the value-conscious want to wait for a sale.

Score: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Completion Time: 11 hours (single-player campaign, critical path)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Fire Emblem Heroes Impressions

After playing all three versions of Fire Emblem Fates last year, I thought I would be burnt out on the series for a while... turns out I was wrong. I was initially only going to give the new mobile game, Fire Emblem Heroes, a quick spin just to see what all the hype was about but soon found that I was hooked by anime-themed turn-based strategy once again. I've played through about a third of the main campaign at this point; here are my thoughts so far:
  • The mobile game does a really good job of condensing the core gameplay of Fire Emblem. Battles may only be between 4-character teams on an 8x6 grid, but that makes for quick pick-up-and-play sessions that still feel like a satisfying little hit of Fire Emblem goodness.
  • Fire Emblem Heroes makes me realize how poorly the Fire Emblem Awakening engine and the 3DS have aged. It's pretty sad that this pared-down freebie mobile version of Fire Emblem on my crummy $50 Android phone looks far more crisp than the "real" Fire Emblem games on Nintendo's dedicated hardware. 
  • Touch screen controls are a natural fit for Fire Emblem, but spending so much time playing the previous games with a cross-pad and buttons has made the adjustment a little tricky for me. Particularly, in Heroes, the player makes a character attack by dragging and dropping them on top of an enemy, while in the 3DS games, the player selects a space in front of the enemy and then selects"Attack" from the action menu. As a result of this change, I've wasted countless turns absent-mindedly dropping my characters next to enemies instead of on top of them, thus leaving my units as sitting ducks.
  •  It's kind of cool that each character profile screen shows the name of the English and Japanese voice actor for that character. It's nice to see voice actors be given credit for their work in such a prominent fashion.
  • Most impressively of all, this game solves one of the oldest dilemmas in the Fire Emblem series: character death. In the 3DS games, the player must choose between two highly polar settings: Classic or Casual. In Classic mode, if a character gets killed, they're dead for the entire rest of the game. This forces the player to be very cautious and strategic, but also can lead to a lot of tedium and frustration. In Casual mode, characters that fall in battle are revived automatically and the end of each stage without any consequences. While playing Casual is usually more enjoyable, it leads to sloppy playing as there's no penalty for sending units out on suicide missions. Fire Emblem Heroes strikes a great compromise by eschewing "permadeath" but still punishing character deaths by making that character lose any experience they have earned during that battle. This requires the player to strategize in order to develop their characters without making a single mistake so costly as to be discouraging. I really hope future mainline Fire Emblem games include this as an option going forward.
Fire Emblem Heroes has been a really pleasant surprise. It's a quality free-to-play mobile Fire Emblem game with fairly unobtrusive micro-transactions (I've spent nothing so far). Hopefully, the monetization scheme will continue to stay out of the way and the whole campaign will be as enjoyable as this first third has been. Stay tuned for a full review when I finish the campaign in the next few weeks.

The Android version of this game has some bugs. Make sure you link the app to your Nintendo account to avoid losing progress!
If you get the error message shown above, contrary to the error text, it is not actually the result of a server issue; an easily-corrupted file is the culprit. If your phone is rooted you can delete the file directly ( data>data>com.nintendo.zaba>shared_prefs and delete 'deviceaccount:.xml'). Otherwise, the game must be reinstalled to get rid of this error message.