Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Curse of Deadpool 2

A few weeks ago, there was a small contest of sorts that allowed people to get a free digital version of Deadpool 1 and 2 on Vudu.  I didn't have an account at that time, but managed to get one of the codes.  So, I just had to wait until it was available, and then my wife and I could watch it.  Simple, right?

Of course not.  Story time!

Before it was available to stream, I looked at the listing in my Vudu movies.  It's in a format called HDX, which I had never heard of before.  According to the site, it's a very high quality, and not really meant for streaming.  That meant it was unlikely to work on my downstairs TV.  The most logical course was to download it when available, use the Chromecast I received with my phone purchase, and watch it on the upstairs TV.

Just for kicks, I tried streaming it on the smart TV.  It would play about 1/2 a second of the 20th Century Fox logo, cut to a black screen, and repeat.  After a few rounds, it politely informed me that my connection wasn't good enough.  Not quite how I thought it would play out, but somewhat entertaining.

So, on to the main event!

Early Saturday morning, I started to set everything up.  Step 1 was download the movie.  Well, first I started to stream it on my computer, to see if it was actual possible, and if the HDX description lied to me.  It ran for about 30 seconds just fine.  Even so, I didn't think it would be a good idea to stream it from the internet while streaming that to my TV, so I figured I would just download it.  I knew it wouldn't just let me download it, I also had to download the Vudu app on the computer to do so.  Fine, let's just get it over with.  I downloaded what it wanted, signed in, and hit the download button.

An error message.  "Download is incompatible with Adobe Air 30, you need Adobe Air 29 to download in the app."

The hell?  Then why not just put version 29 with the download instead of 30?  I sighed, dug through the programs to find it and uninstall it.  Then I followed the link to get version 29.  Well, eventually.  There were 3 different options, and I didn't know which to get at first.

Anyway, back to the program, which of course wanted to update to version which I said hell no.  Program up, Deadpool 2 downloading.

While that was finishing up, I hooked up the Chromecast to stream to the TV.  Plugged it into the HDMI, and...nothing.  Oh, it needs a power cord of course.  I don't remember seeing one in the box, so I check again.  Nope, not there.  I had opened it previously, but it hasn't been used.  Was the power cord ever there?  I couldn't remember.

I looked for the power cord and plug for a solid 30 minutes, and came up with nothing.  My wife was content to sit on the couch and read her phone.  Don't worry, she helped by showing me what the cord looks like.  Thanks, honey.

No cord.  It might never have been in the box.  I don't know, and it's too late to do anything about that now.  I found a similar one to try.  It powered on.  Success!  Well, for the moment.

I have to set the dang thing up now.  Go to the site it gives me and...the site tells me I need an app.  Why?  Let me just set the stupid thing up.  I search to see if I need the app, as I don't want or need more apps on my phone, and I don't want to use the phone just to set it up, which I know I don't need to.  There's supposedly a link to do in on the PC, but it doesn't show up on the site.

Guess why?  Because that link only shows up if you view it in Chrome!  F#($#ing stupid.  So, I go to the link in Chrome to finally set up this monstrosity.

Well, until it tries to connect to it.  I don't know what went wrong at that point, as it just didn't connect.  Then, it couldn't try to reconnect, even though the setup could find the Chromecast on the network.  I could have spent more time on that problem, but during this whole debacle, my TV display was showing lines.  It just started when I tried to connect the WiFi to the Chromecast the first time, and didn't want to stop.

Power cycling didn't work.  Unplugging it for a few minutes didn't work.  Slapping it a bit didn't work.  Hey, don't laugh at that, I've known several TVs that don't work right until you teach 'em who's boss.  Point is, the TV seems to finally be giving out.  Either I pay $300 to get the board repaired, or pay a similar amount and get a new TV.  Pretty easy option, but not a happy situation.  It does make sense, since the TV is over 10 years old, and had a few brief issues in the past.  Not bad for a display model!

In an effort to salvage the day, my wife drove us to Best Buy to price out some new TVs.  We started to look online, but for some reason trying to connect to the Chromecast set our region as Canada.  All sites kept sending us to the Canadian version until the PC was rebooted.  How does that even happen?  After a drive to check out the TVs, we found a pretty good contender for $500.  That's less than the previous one cost me, hopefully it lasts near as long.

Let's recap.  My free digital copy of Deadpool 2 cost me a day, a Chromecast power supply, some of my sanity, my old TV, and (probably) a few hundred dollars for a new one.

All of that, and I still don't know if the movie is any good.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Vampyr (Xbox One) Review

Vampyr is a unique RPG set in London just after World War I.  You take the role of Dr. Jonathan Reid.  Besides having a great name, he has also recently become a vampire.  He seeks to use his newfound powers to track down the one responsible, and end them.  While the fights are very action-oriented, I wouldn't call Vampyr an action RPG.

Coming across enemies, which you will do, requires combat.  Jonathan can equip two main weapons and two sub weapons.  The d-pad allows you to swap between the two when you need to.  The main weapons are things like swords and clubs.  Sub-weapons might not always deal damage, like the stake or the Liston knife that draws blood, but they are still useful.  Guns are very powerful sub-weapons that have limited ammo capacity.  Used strategically, they can turn the tide of a fight very quickly.  Enemies will of course try to hit you too, so there is a dodge maneuver.  It seems okay, but isn't the best.  For example, it can't get you out of a corner if an enemy traps you there.  It's also not a reactionary dodge, so you have to do it before an attack, but not too much before, otherwise you will still get hit.  Both attacking and dodging take stamina, so you need to do better than just mashing buttons to get through.

What I'd really like in the game is a proper stealth attack.  Something that does a lot of damage, and rewards you for being sneaky.  The vampire bite would be ideal for this, but unfortunately, it is only used to give you a small amount of blood.  If you do sneak up on an enemy, you can "stun" them, which equates to you shoving them to the ground.  You can then bite them for a measly amount of blood and damage, or hit them, which instantly breaks the stun.  Some kind of powerful attack would have been the best, I think.

There are several different weapons to find, including two handed weapons (if you equip one, you won't get an off-hand weapon for that set).  Hopefully you like crafting, since they can be made stronger.  True to many Focus-published RPGs, you can increase the stats of a weapon by using parts and leveling it up, or adding mods.  While some part amounts seem a bit high, the whole system is much more streamlined than other, similarly styled game.  I also found enough parts that I could take advantage of the system, instead of hoping for a stronger weapon to be found.  While there don't seem to be many different weapon mods, the ones present are solid.  More damage, less stamina consumed for attacking, and drawing blood.  This last one is easily my favorite.  I had difficulty getting blood reliably, because "stun then bite" was not useful after the first 30 minutes.  Moding a weapon to give some blood per hit ensured I could build up enough to use abilities and heal myself.  I definitely recommend getting one rank of this on your main weapon as soon as you can.

In addition to more normal weapons (well, as normal as swinging a broadsword around in post-WWI London can be), there are some special vampire abilities to learn.  Most take blood, which you can get from certain items, or by drinking some from enemies.  There is a blood spear, which gives you a ranged attack, or the claw, allowing you a quick and powerful melee attack.  I really liked the blood shield, which allowed me to take an extra hit.  It was very useful when dealing with multiple enemies, or ranged foes.  However, the heal is probably the most useful ability.  It does cost blood, but really helps in a tight spot.  Once you are level 10, you can also purchase an ultimate skill.  These are powerful,but have a long cooldown.  All abilities are set to the shoulder/bumper buttons, and can be re-assigned if you get more than four.  They felt a bit expensive to me, since blood can be tricky to get in fights, especially early in the game.

When not in combat, Jonathan will make his way around town, talking to others, doing side quests, finding items, crafting, and maybe even curing some sick people.  He is a doctor after all.  If you want to get powerful quickly, you can also drain people of their blood for some fast experience.  Of course, you won't be left with quest givers or shops at that rate.  To make it easier to stay your fangs, people have a blood quality.  You could eat them right away, but if you learn more about them, you will get more experience from draining their blood.  It's a nice system to balance a mad quest for power with actually talking to people.  When you talk to people about these hints and secrets you learn, Jonathan uses his mesmeric vampire powers to get them to talk.  It's a neat little detail that I like.  In fact, I really like talking to the various people and finding out all of the hints I can.

Gaining experience doesn't directly give you levels.  Instead, when you sleep, you spend your experience to buy new passive and active skills, or upgrade the ones you have.  In turn, this raises your level.  I'm not sure what amount of spent experience equates to a level increase, but it doesn't seem that important.  Your skills and weapons seem a better determination of how an encounter will go, rather than a level vs level comparison.  Your experience can also be reassigned, so don't worry too much about picking something that isn't that good.  Also note that experience costs climb quickly, so it would be very hard to max out a useful skill instead of spreading it around to several useful ones.

Vampyr's difficulty is a bit of a rocky area for the game.  You can easily take a lot of damage, and it's not hard to get hit (detection feels a bit off).  However, I could still make it through most fights without much trouble, which I like.  What I don't really like is how enemy levels seem to jump up, instead of a more natural progression.  In the first area, I received several side quests.  However, there was no way to complete a few of them, because the enemy levels were double mine or more.  Even one I could complete had level 6 enemies on one floor, and the next had level 9.  This lopsided balance even extends to the end, as a friend of mine had to fight a level 50 boss, while he was topped at 35 or so.  It's not the best design, I'd say.  And no, embracing people for experience wouldn't have helped, since doing that what got him into that mess in the first place.

My last, and biggest problem with the game is the saving.  I am fully aware that one of the game's core ideas is you living (or un-living) with the consequences of your actions.  That's fair.  However, they should remember that it's a video game, so fun should be a priority.  Instead, the developers went down the Fable road, of each game having only one save slot, and it's an auto save.  Let me save in slots, so I can have a little fun.  That's one of the reasons Bethesda games do so well.  This problem is exacerbated by the Mass Effect-like dialogue options.  Remember the joke that you pick an innocent-sounding option, only to have it go awry?  While not as overblown as the jokes, that sort of thing is sadly present.

There are several minor ones, but the first major one is what stuck with me the most.  I don't want to spoil parts of the story, so I'll be vague.  I caught someone doing something bad, and had the following options: killing them, making them quit their job, or making them forget.  I thought that having them forget the bad thing they were doing was a great idea.  It was also in the blue text, which previously meant it was derived from a hint.  So, I picked that option.  Instead of doing what it sounded like, it made them forget everything.  Not enough that they could continue being useful and not do the thing I wanted them to stop, but all of what they knew.  So, they just wandered off, ruining two communities.  What?!  That's a really severe consequence to a choice that doesn't have near enough information.  Why are there two bad options instead of the one obvious one?  Too bad I can't just load and get the result I wanted and was trying for, all because of some David Cage-like god complex.  Forcing consequences may be alright at times, but not when it feels like you are being tricked into it.  It really made me want to stop, but I persevered and kept playing.

Vampyr has its faults, but I'd still say it's a fun RPG.  I was expecting something more along the lines of Focus' other RPG offerings, but this is much more substantial than a downloadable game.  It offers 40 or so hours of quests, dialogue choices, and adrenaline-filled combat.  It's a solid title, and one I would heartily recommend to RPG fans, or people looking for an interesting vampire game to play.

The Good:
Lots of choices for who to feed on and who to save in this fairly solid RPG offering.  Good replay value.

The Bad:
Hitting and dodging can be spotty at times, enemy levels seem to jump up instead of rising normally.  One auto-save file and questionable dialogue choices don't make for a good combination.

The SaHD:
It's pronounced "vampire", although I keep wanting to say "vam-peer".  I'll deal, since the "Y" motif is meant to evoke the autopsy incision.

(Review code for Vampyr was received from the publisher)

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Aces of the Luftwaffe - Squadron (Xbox One) Review

Aces of the Luftwaffe - Squadron is a vertical plane shooting game, popularly referred to as a shmup (shoot-em-up).  I'm always happy to try out a new one.  It is set during around World War II, where you are eventually tasked with taking down some of the 3rd Reich's air forces.  It also has up to 4 player co-op, in case you wondered why it has the "Squadron" subtitle.

The game is broken down into 5 chapters, each with 5 stages in them.  The fifth stage is a boss fight.  As you complete each stage and chapter, the next opens up.  There's a story as well, as every stage has some dialogue to set up the mission, and banter between the squadron mates.  While the voice work isn't great by any stretch of the imagination, the story is okay.  It does make a strange turn toward the end, though.

In addition, each stage has a specific extra mission that, if completed, awards extra medals that can be used to level up your squadron.  Several of theses extra missions are staying in one place for a few seconds to drop or pick something up, or destroying a certain number of a specific enemy.  Boss fights have the all important "survive" extra missions, where you have to...well, not die.  Yeah, that one isn't that inspired, I agree.  The most unique one is when you have to remain undetected.  Enemy aircraft will have searchlights, and you have to maneuver your squad around them with out triggering the alarm.  Thankfully you can't shoot until you are detected.  It's a neat idea, and one that I felt was pulled off pretty well.

Adding even more unique mechanics to the game, there are several points in the story when one of your pilots will be afflicted with the disorder that they suffer from.  When Mark is feeling the affects of the poison in his body, you have to move very slowly until it subsides.  When John is angry, you either steer clear, or get wrecked.  Steve will fall asleep in the middle of the battle...somehow.  Strangely, defending him wakes him up faster, where I would think him getting shot would wake him up right quick.  Melissa just has a fear of heights.  Great thing for a pilot.  In another strange twist, hers is the easiest disorder to deal with.  She just leaves.  No special condition, no real inconvenience.  Her firepower is missing, but that's no different from when she gets shot down.  These happen at set points in the story, so at least you can plan around them.  I like the idea the developers had for these, as it makes the pilots more unique, but it can be a pain to deal with.

I definitely would not have expected this in this type of game, but there are full-blown skill trees.  Each character has several skills they can learn, both passive and active.  When you level up, or find a hidden skill coin, these are saved to your profile and later used to buy skills.  There are skills to make the pilots do more damage, increase dodge chance (very useful for the AI), and even ones that have a chance to active.  These are my favorite, solely because of Steve's skill that can slow down time.  This helped me out of more than one jam.  All learned active skills are available, and you cycle to the one you want.  They share the same cooldown though, so you don't get several at the same time.  While I haven't done it yet, the skill coins can be refunded and spent anew.  It costs some medals to do so.

While the game has some new and interesting things, there are also some problems.  You can get new ships to fly, but they are random drops from bosses, complete with rarities.  This isn't too bad, since the skills on the ships I have are not very good.  I'm not a fan of random drops like that, though.  Speaking of which, gun upgrades are also random.  You have to collect a crate to upgrade, and those are usually random upon enemy defeat.  Considering you are pathetically weak without the upgrades later in the game, this is not good.  The power ups also have ammo, so they can run out.  Conserving ammo is not really a thing to force in a shoot-em-up's kind of the point to shoot everything.

But of course everything will shoot you.  It's not bad on the easier levels, but toward the end and on higher difficulties, bullet spreads and enemy attack intervals ensures there are times you just can't do anything except get hit.  That chance increases when the screen shakes from your supposed helpful skills, or when the UI/dialogue/explosions cover up valuable screen space.  Plane movement is sometimes wonky, moving you faster than normal.  Maybe it's the "wind resistance" that one plane partially protects against?  I don't know, they don't really tell you that.  Speaking of movement, you can't go all the way to the bottom of the screen.  It actually hurts your dodging ability, since so may big things (like bosses) take up too much of the screen.  That last inch would make a world of difference.  Add in spotty hit detection, and it's a recipe for going down.  Plus, there is no way to dodge everything and not have the wing-men get hit.  They will die plenty of times, and there isn't much you can do about it.

Oh, and that third boss.  You have to go into her shield to damage her?  How on earth would we figure that out?  The shield blocks shots, and you take a ton of collision damage, so why would you fly into the shield, unless you died several times and gave up trying to figure out what to do?

I feel like these would be less of a problem if a few things were different.  For one, the bomb ability should get rid of bullets.  That's baseline for a shmup.  Second, you need a reliable spread shot.  Pretty much every shot is focused toward the front exclusively, with very little capable of hitting outside of that.  When the only plausible or safe way to hit an enemy is from an angle, this is killer.  Very high level power-ups will give some kind of area attacks, but they tend to be very weak.  So even if you could get them, they aren't much help.

Overall, Aces of Luftwaffe - Squadron had some fun.  There are a some problems I had with the game, but it was enjoyable outside of the problem missions.  I would encourage shmup fans to give it a try.

The Good:
Unique pilots, ships, and skills.  Skill trees!

The Bad:
Hard to maneuver around shots while not getting something hit.  Shots are front focused, which is not the best thing to force in a shmup.

The SaHD:
It took me awhile to realize it, but they only refer to the enemy as "Germans" and "Krauts", not "Nazis".  And wait, that isn't the right symbol on that UFO...

(Review code for Aces of the Luftwaffe - Squadron was received from the publisher)

Monday, July 23, 2018

Rainbow Skies (PS4) Review

Over 4 years ago, Rainbow Moon hit the PS3 and Vita.  Since then, the team was hard at work bringing out the spiritual successor, Rainbow Skies.  At first glance, it looks a lot like Rainbow Moon.  Upon further examination, it also sounds and plays a lot like Rainbow Moon.  Since that game was a fun mix of RPG with SRPG-style combat, more of the same is not a bad thing

The story is more involved this time around.  It starts with two friends, Damion and Layne, accidentally setting monsters loose in their town.  While trying to fix it, they inadvertently crash down to the world below (they live in a floating city).  Just before they hit the ground, Ashly, an aspiring mage, casts a spell of binding on a nearby monster.  Of course, things go awry, and the three must travel together, seeking a way to undo said spell.  I really like the setup for the plot, and there is some good dialogue in the game.  On the other hand, Damion is really obnoxious.  While he is your stereotypical loudmouth braggart, he wears out his welcome rather quickly.  You don't have to be a jerk to everyone!

As you move around the map, there are enemies to fight, chests to plunder, hidden items to seek, and people to interact with.  The main quest line is fairly easy to follow, and there are plenty of side quests, of course.  Looking at one of the companies involved in the game's creation, this makes perfect sense.  All quests are tracked in the journal.  It can also alert you to ones that are available, even if you haven't found it.  This is really nice, since I don't like missing out on quests.  Even with plentiful side quests, Rainbow Skies feels shorter than its predecessor.  This is largely in part to the reduction of grinding.  There were a few points where I still needed to, but it was far less common than the previous game, which is a big step in the right direction.

Combat is largely the same as Rainbow Moon.  When you either touch an enemy on the field, or accept a random encounter, your party will be transported to a medium-sized area laid out on a grid.  Characters will take their turn based off their speed value.  When it is your turn, you have a certain amount of actions that you can take.  Moving, attacking, using an item, or activating some battle skills will take one action.  So, if you are far from an enemy, you can spend your actions to move closer, but if you are next to them, you can instead attack multiple times.  It a really cool system that rewards you for being smart (or cowardly) with your turns.

Fights just feel better than they previously did.  At the start of the game, they were a lot easier too.  It was a good way to ease players into the game and its systems.  However, it does start to rear its unbalanced head as you go through the story.  When you know what you are doing, fighting against small groups of enemies isn't any trouble.  It's when the game throws you against 12 enemies that it gets more annoying.  The damage they deal isn't always the issue, either.  It's waiting around for your turn, and having to sit through the skill animations.  Hopefully, it isn't a technique that poisons, since that damage is completely bonkers.  I accept some damage per turn, but taking almost 20% each time is absurd.  Couple that with limited potion space for anti-venom, and it's a recipe for frustration.

Now back to the animations.  Oh boy, those obnoxious animations.  It's one of my biggest complaints about the game.  The basic fireball spell of Ashly's is palatable, but every other skill has an animation that is just too long, or too silly.  The wacky ones could be fine, but seeing them more than once or twice diminishes their appeal drastically.  You might notice a "Skip FX" function when selecting the skill, and that can help, but it's also way too limiting.  You have to hold the button before you confirm the target, and it is way too hard to skip enemy animations.  Plus, you have to see the animation once per battle before you can skip it.  To make that worse, if a character uses another skill in-between, you can't skip it again.  Only repeated uses of the same skill allow you to skip.  Ugh.

Beyond that, your characters learn several skills, and the skills can gain levels to make them stronger.  MP costs of these skills starts off more reasonable than the ones in Moon, so that isn't a problem until later.  The area of effect for the skills could use some work, though.  Many just aren't useful.  Either the target areas are awkward, having one panel that has to have a target, or some other problem.  The basic ones are fine, but just past that it becomes much harder to actual find uses for them.  I could live with not needing most of the area of effect, but not at the cost for some of the later skills.  They are not high, but they add up, and are not at all efficient when you only hit 1 out of 3 or 4 squares.

A big new addition to the formula is monster party members.  After a certain point in the story, you can find monster eggs from enemies you have defeated several times.  Take the eggs to a special NPC, pay some money, wait a few battles, and presto!  You can then retrieve your new monster from the NPC.  It's really helpful to have more party members in battle, and very nice that the first they give you can heal.  At the start, you can only have one monster in battle, but that number increases as you progress.  Monster tend to be very strong, but not that sturdy.  Rotating them in and out is a great idea, plus it lets them heal between fights.  They do need equipment and stat upgrades, so the downside to using them is scattering your resources even further.  However, it is still great overall.  I would like to be able to use the monsters earlier than you currently can.

Similar to Moon, you can increase character stats in Rainbow Skies.  Last time it took Moon Pearls, which were obtained by killing enemies.  The huge problem was that only the character that struck the final blow got the pearls.  This meant that characters that fell behind would stay behind.  Thankfully, that has been rectified.  Now, the different colored chips you need are enemy drops that go to a shared pool.  It's a lot easier to increase stats now, and the boosts (especially to HP) feel more significant.

Equipment has received an overhaul as well.  For one, armor, helmets, and weapons now show up on your characters!  They can also level up independent of the character's levels, which gives them more slots for upgrading.  Monster parts can be used to give stat boosts to equipment.  While it may be tempting to save them, you will get plenty throughout the game, so use them.  As an added bonus, selling upgraded equipment will net higher prices, so you aren't missing out on money by using the parts instead of selling them.  I like that you can keep equipment useful for longer, because money is still a problem in the series.  There is a lot to buy, and not a lot of money to do it with.  You don't start with many inventory slots for important things like potions, and having to pay more and more money to increase your capacity drains more money than it rightfully should.  If they again add money as DLC, I may get some when it's on sale, as it helped in the last game.  That is far from an ideal solution though.

While Rainbow Skies looks, sounds, and plays very similar to Rainbow Moon, this is a good thing.  Just about every aspect of the game has been improved.  There are still a few annoyances, but overall the game is very fun.  Fans of the first have likely already started playing Rainbow Skies, but I'd recommend it to any fan of RPGs.

The Good:
RPG with strategy RPG battles is still a fun mix.  Several additions and improvements over the previous game.

The Bad:
Poison is way too powerful against the player.  Combat skill animations are annoyingly long and silly.

The SaHD:
Why does the archer hit people with his bow instead of shooting an arrow?  Throwing a rock is not the same thing!

(Review code for Rainbow Skies was received from the publisher)