Friday, August 30, 2013

Payday 2 (PS3) Review

The first Payday was a pleasant surprise, combining waves of enemies, micromanaging and helping your team.  Just like the first one, Payday 2 will have you and your team pulling off various heists and fighting waves of police to ultimately escape with your haul.

There are various types of hiests with varying lengths, which is a big improvement over the first game.  Many of them are more "bite-sized" and will only last a few minutes, and there are some that take several in-game days.  Those are usually a few smaller levels linked together, but I like that they exist so you can mix it up when you want to.  The longer ones can be fun, but frustrating when you can't get the bulk of your experience and money until the completion of the last part.  I favor picking the shorter missions, as they are the most fun to me.  I would like the multi-part ones more if the individual parts were also available as separate missions.  That way I could practice or just do the parts I enjoyed the most.  A few heists can be completed completely in stealth.  It's a little too hard to fully stealth them, but rewarding for as long as you can pull it off.

So what happens in these heists?  Usually you have to grab an item (or a few) and then enter the escape area with them.  Doors or safes that impede your progress can be drilled, lockpicked or blown open.  If you are drilling them, the drills will continue their work while you fight off the police (and SWAT units) or grab other valuables.  They will overheat or otherwise stop and must be restarted.  You have to manage that while everything else is going on.  It might get annoying to some, but I actually like them.  It makes the missions much more hurried and frantic, and fun too.  If you have to bag a loot item, you will carry it on your back.  It makes your screen tilt a little, to mimic your shifted center of balance.  You also run slower, but you can throw the bag, and it's usually most effective to make a "loot line" where the team spreads out and throws the bags to each other.

After alarms have been tripped or you were noticed by civilians, the police will show up quickly.  Every few minutes, the game enters a "police assault" phase, where lots of enemies will spawn to bother you.  The music will also start and let you know that the stuff is hitting the fan.  The more officers you kill, the stronger the opposition becomes, eventually involving the special enemies that are more resistant to damage or may even tazer you.  Even the "easier" missions can get really hard, especially early on.  It's all too easy to get swarmed by the police, especially when you are making a break for the escape van.  You'd be surprised how many cops are just lying in wait for you to show yourself, or pour in from a door behind you while you deal with their friends.

Killing civilians will cost you money (unfortunately from your actual funds, not the mission reward) and killing a few will spawn more snipers to stop you.  If you can, using zip-ties to keep the civilians from running around is very helpful, since they can easily blend into the enemies at a distance, and the cops have no regard for them, sometimes inadvertently hiding behind them.  It's funny when the criminals are not taking shots because of the civilians in the way while the police are blasting away at you with no regard to who's around.

Despite being several types of heists, you will see missions several times throughout your criminal career.  This will be a turnoff to some.  I'm fine with it, since there are many little spots that are different each time you do a certain mission, like enemy/ camera placement, where the stash is, etc.  Another byproduct of doing them many times is that you can learn them and they become easier to do.  This is a good thing, since the enemies themselves are pretty unforgiving.  The environments aren't too varied either, but if you have time to stare and compare every wall, you are probably about to be overrun by the cops.  There are a good amount of details though, to make the places seem more realistic (like graffiti and trash strewn about, etc).

How unforgiving are the enemies?  Well, if you have played the first game, you know about what to expect.  Enemies are crack shots, hitting you from far away with deadly accuracy (no, not just the snipers).  Sometimes there is an improbable number of them running together to swarm you.  Some of the tougher guys take what seems like a ridiculous load of bullets to take down.  I've had more than one Bulldozer (super armored guy) take a full 6 shotgun shells to the face and not bat an eyelash.  Still, having friends or even just random people with you makes it much easier to handle.  The AI does a decent job with enemies, except the shield ones.  The AI won't flank them, and the shield enemies only seem to target the player, making it nigh impossible to kill them in single player.  I'm guessing the counter to that is they tend to retreat after a bit.

We totally live here, officer.  We're just playing cops and robbers.
The skill system is Payday 2 is much less confusing than the previous game.  Now there are clear class skill trees, and they spell out what each ability does and how many points and how much money you need to unlock them.  There's a lot of customization from the skills alone.  Masterminds can eventually make enemies surrender (or turn them to your cause), get civilians to get them up when downed, and make the group better as a whole.  Enforcers can wear heavy armor, dish out more damage, and my favorite, unlock a special saw that can be used to cut open doors, ATMs and safe deposit boxes.  The Technician can get a sentry gun, a better drill and can even use his C4 to blow open safes.  That last ability is awesome for getting in and getting the goods as fast as you can.  The Ghost excels at stealth and silenced weapons, and can eventually crack a safe silently by hand.  I really like the skills you can get in the game, as it leads to many different ways to pull off a heist and lots of variations for people to play with.

However, getting them isn't as easy as I would like.  Early on it is harder to move up the skill tree because the money cost gets high fast.  Once you get to the higher levels, you have more than enough cash for the skills, but have to do several missions to get the skill points necessary, which can feel like grinding at some points.  It just feels like that leveling and getting money is a bit unbalanced.  This might be because I primarily played single player early on, where you get less money and multiplayer later, where you can get tons of money on the right job.

You will need all that money for pretty much everything in the game.  Buying weapons will take money, which makes sense.  Using money to put mods on the weapons makes sense.  My problems with both is the costs are widely varied, with questionably better guns and mods costing a lot more than others.  The biggest grip is with the mods themselves.  At the end of a heist you pick a random card which will give you a random prize, from bonus money to a mask or mask part or one of the many, many weapon mods.  You have to actually get the weapon mod, then pay to put it on.  Do you like that silencer?  Too bad you can't just pay the chunk of money to equip it, since you better hope you get the drop for it first.  I'd really prefer if it was either or, or if getting the mod from the mission drop would just unlock it for purchase as many times as you want.  Also, if you remove a mod, you have to pay to put it back on.  So while there are lots of options, modding weapons is definitely a money sink.

Mask customization, is, unfortunately, also a money sink.  You can't buy the masks, materials, patterns or colors unless you get them from the mission drops.  Also, you cannot preview them all like you can with the weapons and mods.  At least crafting the mask itself is free, even if it can get super expensive to customize it.  It's a shame because there are a lot of different types of masks and lots of ways to customize it.  The only ones I've seen that matched are when people wear them without customizing them (like me).  It would be fun to play around with, but only much later when I have the weapons and mods that I want and can put all of my money into the masks.

While I'm not keen on how much money you need for various things and the reliance on random drops for things, Payday 2 is really fun.  The single player is pretty fun, but goes pretty slow since the AI won't help you carry anything.  Online is tons of fun, even with random people.  Even if you don't know how to do a certain heist, chances are someone does and you can just follow their lead.  With so much customization of skills, weapons and masks, chances are you won't find another player that has and uses what you do.  If you have a group to play with, I'd easily recommend getting this.  If you are going to play online at all, I'd get it sooner rather than later.  The game isn't without frustration, but it is lots of fun!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Rental Review: Saints Row IV (PS3)

Rental Review is a smaller review where I collect my impressions of a game in the day or so that I rented it and throw them on here for everyone else.  This time I rented Saints Row IV, thanks to a free rental promo from Redbox.

The game looks pretty good.  There's lots of pretty lights for the alien technology and the "glitches" of the virtual world look appropriate, even if they happen a bit too much.  The soundtrack is also pretty good, my favorite being when it plays Aerosmith's Don't Want to Miss a Thing during the intro mission.  I'm also a fan of the banter between the characters.  The story and interactions are well written and delivered, especially Keith David.  Yes, he has probably the best voice of anyone ever, so of course I'm going to like him.  They even throw in a reference to him "sounding like Julius" (from the first Saints Row), since it's the same voice actor.

If you have played Saints Row 2 or The Third, you know the game is over the top.  I really like that aspect of the series.  The story and setting is very silly.  You start as the president of the United States and will gain superpowers while inside a virtual world reminiscent of The Matrix, all while battling aliens.  The travelling super powers remind me of a mix of Crackdown and Prototype.  You get super speed, high jumps, and ice blast and more.  Although similar, the jumps aren't exactly like Crackdown and the speed, wall running and gliding aren't exactly like Prototype.  It took some getting used to, and it is annoying to move just a tiny bit, since you jump so high and run so fast.  The ice (and later fire) blast is really useful and fun to use, as are the other powers.

While you easily feel like a super hero with your powers, I also didn't feel so super when getting shot up by 5-10 guys all trying to kill me.  Health drops fast, so I never felt as powerful as the powers would have me believe.  Health does refill, although it seemed really inconsistent when it actually wanted to fill back up.  As far as I could figure, if my notoriety level was too high, it wouldn't refill (when I needed it most), forcing me to hit and run the remaining enemies just to survive.  When in the "real" world, you don't have access to the super powers.  You do, however, get a mech suit to deal out tons of carnage.  It almost feels like they put that in there just for me, and I'm glad I just got to the point where I could use it before the game had to be returned.

During the day and a half I played, I got about 1/3 of the way through the story mode and did several side missions and challenges.  I'm not sure how long the story would last, but it seemed to be moving at a good pace throughout what I did (it didn't seem to drag on).  The only thing I didn't like about the missions is that they were sometimes too long.  You would have several parts to each mission, and many of them were just the side quests and diversions (taking over a control point, running a race, etc.)  It wasn't that they took an hour or anything, but doing one part and then having to run across the map for the next part and do something different just didn't fit as well as it should for a single mission.

Besides all of the missions, there are also challenges to do, like kill x amount of aliens with the various weapons and powers and getting medals in all of the races and other diversions.  There's also lots of clusters around that can upgrade your super powers.  They are reminiscent of the Crackdown orbs, and there are over 1200 of them scattered everywhere.  They aren't really hidden, and you can unlock a finder for them later in the game.  There is lots of stuff to do, even if the story seems like it might be a little short.  I had lots of fun playing Saints Row IV, even if it was occasionally frustrating getting shot up.  If you like open world games, super powers and over the top stories, you will likely enjoy the newest Saints Row game.

UPDATE:  Also, there's lots of swearing and...uh... "questionable" things, so I made sure not to play it around me kids, and I'd recommend doing the same!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Mars: War Logs (XBLA) Review

The world of Mars in Mars: War Logs is a dystopian, steam punk-like future.  Buildings are run down, poor people lay down in the street and the military is in control.  Of course the atmosphere has a red tint to it, this is Mars after all.  I think it does a good job of looking realistic while still being fantastical.  The character animations are fine.  There is the occasional clipping, strange camera angles during conversations, and even a few environmental glitches.  That last part is probably my nitpicking from my game tester days.  Either way, the game looks like what you would expect from a sci-fi RPG set on Mars.

Some of the dialog and voices have been redone for the console release.  I'm not sure what exact lines were redone, but there is a part near the beginning that I suspect is.  Early on, Roy is talking to a fat prisoner and several of the fat prisoner's lines are odd, as if they are out of order.  Most of the voices in the game are fine, but there are a few voices that are flat on the delivery.  There is a fair amount of swearing, especially in the beginning, so I definitely didn't play it around my kids.

Most of the time, you will be running around solving quests and fighting.  There are many fights throughout the game, and they can get tricky.  The face buttons will attack, guard break, block and dodge roll.  The Left Bumper will pull up your skill wheel so you can use an ability or give orders to your teammate.  The remaining shoulder buttons can be mapped to three of the skills you would like quick access to.  It works well, and the only complaint I have is that sometimes the button presses are remembered or queued up in some way.  For example, if I'm mashing dodge to try and avoid a group of enemies all swinging at me, sometimes I'll roll twice.  Also, I've had Roy do an extra attack when I don't intend him to do so.

It wouldn't be an issue, but the fights can get really hard.  Enemies frequently outnumber you, even with another character helping you, and they can hit really hard.  The enemy AI is also smart enough to block and sidestep frequently if you go all out an attack them relentlessly.  There's even a few that you cannot hurt by attacking their front, and you have to roll behind them to damage them.  I like that you can't just smash your way through guys, but it's annoying when they keep dodging or blocking and they have so little health and you just want them dead so you can focus on the other three people trying to kill you.  The best ways to make the fights easier to deal with is sticking and moving (attacking once or twice and then dodging away) and taking advantage of status attacks.  Blinding, stunning and wounding an enemy makes them easy pickings, and can definitely make the difference between survival and reloading.

At the end of the first chapter, you will gain access to Technomancy abilities.  Basically, it is the game's version of magic and allows you to use abilities that harness electricity.  You get some damaging attacks, a shield and a weapon power up.  They can be pretty helpful to use, especially the weapon power-up.  The only real downside is that they take a fair amount of Fluid, the game's version of MP, and the start-up time.  In the middle of a fight, the enemy might not let you have the few seconds you need to use the fancy abilities, which can make them less than desirable to use.
Soldier tries to dodge nail gun; gets hammered.
While fights in Mars: War Logs can be pretty hard, crafting good equipment can make it easier.  I like the crafting system, as you basically add a component into a weapon or armor's available slots.  It adds a good amount of customization, since the part you put in will change the bonuses the weapon has.  You can increase the weapon power, defense power, crit rate and more, or combinations of them.  Crafting supplies are plentiful, so there's no reason not to put in what you want or need and make the fights easier.  Old or unnecessary weapons and armor can be broken down into more components, or a chance at getting back some of the ones put into it.  Even better, you rarely have to buy them, as I've received most of them from quests.  It's not a hard system to learn, so do it really helps you survive.

There are three skill trees - Combat, Renegade and Techomancy - and many skills in each where you can place skill points.  The only real restriction (besides having to beat the first chapter for one of them) is having to put a certain amount of points into a tree to unlock higher tier skills.  It makes sense, and you have a lot of freedom when building your character, which I am always a fan of.  Many of the skills are useful too, like increasing your critical rate after a roll or increasing the size of your blinding "dirt throw" ability.  Early in the game, you can quickly get a few levels which allows you to jump right in and actually play around with making Roy play how you want him to.

There's also feat points that are obtained when gaining levels.  These allow you to choose other skills, such as increased experience from kills and unlocking better crafting options.  To set these apart, most skills have to be unlocked before they can be purchased.  For example, looting bodies will unlock the option to buy feats that increase the chances you will find things on your kills.

Mars: War Logs has 3 chapters and several main and side quests to complete in each chapter.  I'm pretty meticulous about getting and completing the side quests before advancing the plot, and it took me about 5-6 hours per chapter.  Admittedly, there are a few quests I missed.  Besides some morality choices, there are two different factions you can join at the end of chapter 2, which will affect the third chapter and the ending.  Add in the different ways you can approach fights because of the skill trees, and that equals some decent replayability.

There are a few achievements that you can get really early, like using a skill point and making a piece of equipment.  There are several obtained for completion on the harder difficulties and one for each faction.  The hardest is probably beating it on the hardest difficulty setting, considering the fights can be hard on just the "normal" setting.  Completing all of the side quests can be the most time consuming, because some side quests can be easily missed and will require another playthrough.

Besides the tough fights, Mars: War Logs was a fun game.  Heck, even the fights were sometimes fun when they went my way.  Taking advantage of status ailments is definitely key to making them easier.  There's lots of different ways to build your character and different options to make your equipment better.  The different factions and even romance options make for some nice extra things to do, but they come pretty late.  One run through the game is about 15 or so hours, which is pretty decent for $15.  There were several points where I found myself playing a little bit more instead of going to bed, and it was fairly easy for me to get sucked into the world, punishing combat and all.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Off to PAX Again

My "Mighty Monday" pass for PAX came in the mail today.  I'm happy that I get to go, but Monday was the day I wanted to go the least.  Unfortunately, by the time I was able to buy a pass, Monday was the only day left.  It sucks that in all but the last 2 years I've been able to actually get the passes I wanted (and could afford).  After they switched to a "new system", it's been a horrible experience trying to get one.  It's crap, but the people in charge don't actually care, and in fact, make light of the very people they should be helping.  I don't really know why I would expect them to, considering all the stupid stuff the guy says, but hey, I can always that people act like decent human beings...

I'm often disappointed, but that's life.

Anyway, I'm going to check out what I can on that last (and probably barren) day of the convention.  I'll of course have some posts about that and probably a podcast or two on Youtube, since those seemed to get a fair amount of hits last time.  Speaking of those, it's still funny to me that my impressions of DMC and God of War Ascension mimicked what a lot of people thought of the full versions, but people that hadn't actually seen or experienced either of them would smash on the thumbs-down button.

I'm not going as press, obviously, but I'm still hoping to make a few contacts for review purposes.  I'll probably make some business cards and just look pathetic handing them to people, haha.  Let's see what this year brings!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Dynasty Warriors 8 (PS3) Review

A few months after we received Dynasty Warriors 7 Empires, the latest in the series, Dynasty Warriors 8 has arrived.  Being a "core" Dynasty Warriors game, this one will focus more on the story of the three kingdoms and the dynasty that unified China, while adding a few more characters to each kingdom for players to use.

First off, I was very pleased that the pop-in problems from the last few games is very much improved.  Troops would still just appear sometimes, but they were farther away from me so it wasn't an issue.  Gone was the annoyance of slaughtering a group of soldiers only to have another group just appear around me, unaffected by my previous attacks.  Other than that, the character models are slightly changed, they look great and the scenery is better than last game.  My only complaint is the levels are pretty dark.  It might be just my TV, but a gamma/brightness setting in the options would have been nice.

Unlike the recent DW7 Empires, Dynasty Warriors 8 is dubbed.  All of the characters have English voices, and as far as I can tell, they are the same people who have been doing them for the last few years.  I'm glad to have them back.  Although it seems the trade-off this time was losing the vocal narration for Story Mode.  I do miss that, but I'd rather have the main cast dubbed than just the narrator.  I think there's also new music.  At least, it didn't sound familiar.  It's still the kind of music you would expect from the series though.

If you are not familiar with the Dynasty Warriors games, you have two different kinds of attacks, normal and charge.  Charge attacks will differ depending on what point in the combo you use them, and they all end the current combo (example: attack-attack-charge is a different combo ender versus attack-attack-attack-attack-charge).  With enough levels, you can do up to 6 normal attacks in a row.  Enemies can be juggled and many enemies hit with the same attack, both of which lead to some high hitting combos.  You also get up to three Musou meters that when each is full can be used for a super powered Musou attack to completely decimate large groups.  And yes, I know technically decimate means reduce by a tenth, but I'm using the connotation of it, not the denotation.

New to DW8 is the Rage Meter.  This is a separate meter that when filled, can be used to enter a powered up state and will instantly fill your Musou meters.  You will do a new, even more powerful Musou if you use it during the Rage state.  Also, you can just hold down the button and do an elongated Musou attack.  Each enemy killed will drop an item to get a little extra experience.  These are really fun to do since they hit huge groups and rack up tons of hits (I've had over 2200).  Just don't use them on the final enemy of the stage, since you won't get the bonus experience from all the kills.

You can equip two different types of weapons, and each character has a particular favorite type that they can get a special EX attack with.  You aren't limited to equipping a character's preferred type, but it's generally a good idea.  You can switch these weapons at any time with the press of a button, even in the middle of a combo.  Doing so is an attack called a Switch Attack, and is different for each type of weapon.  There are now 3 different types of each weapon (Earth, Man and Heaven), with one being strong against another and weak to the third.  If an enemy with an opposing type is doing certain attacks, pressing the swap button will do a new Swap Counter, where you dodge their attack and counter with a swap attack.  They are nice but I don't usually get an opportunity to use them.

Weapons will also have several different types of skills on them, like different types of elemental damage, increasing stats or allowing you to recover health with each attack.  There's no real way to transfer them, so you might have several of each element just for the bonuses.  Selling your weapons can be annoying, since you can't organize them in the equip or sell menus.  I'd really like that so I can quickly figure out which ones to sell.  As it stands, I usually just keep tons of them since it's a hassle to sell them and I don't need the money.  Characters can equip up to 4 skills, and you can level up each skill.  I like this system, since all characters pull from the same pool, and it tells you how to acquire and level up each skill.

As in the previous Dynasty Warriors games, there is a Story Mode that follows the rise and fall of the kingdoms of ancient China.  You can choose Wei, Wu, Shu or Jin.  One nice addition is that you can pick your character from 2-4 each stage.  Previous games either picked a relevant character for you, or you just used the one you originally picked.  I prefer this method, so you are playing characters that are important to the current battle, but aren't stuck with a single one in case you don't like playing as that person.  Another nice thing is that while it does not have a proper Story Mode, the "Other" category of characters do get stages in Story Mode.  They are ones that prominently feature the character you have to use.  It's nice that they have something in the game that makes them seem more important.

The biggest change to Story Mode is the addition of bonus conditions that will unlock a new "theoretical" ending.  I'm a fan of "what if" scenarios, so this is something I am happy to see added.  You get the historical ending but can see what could have happened if things went differently.  The stages that have the bonus conditions are identified in the stage select menu, as they will have stars under their description.  Once you fulfill a condition, it will tell you what it was.  Even better, once you get the historical ending, it will tell you what all of them are for that kingdom, making it much easier to get the bonus stages and theoretical endings.

The only two complaints I have about Story Mode this time around is the lack of dates and what feels like missing battles.  Sometimes during the intermissions between stages, they will mention a battle or other important happening, and then it just moves on.  There are plenty of battles in the Story, but it was strange that it felt like some battles were just skipped over.  The missing dates is a minor complaint, but it makes it a lot harder to piece everything together.  After playing all of stories, it is harder to form the timeline in your head, which wasn't an issue in the previous games.  Also, many times during the intermissions, they will say things like "eight years after that...", but you can't always place when it took place, so eight years later doesn't mean much.  So as much as I love the theoretical endings and bonus conditions, the historical story suffers a bit for it.

In place of DW7's Conquest Mode (which I really liked), we get Ambition Mode in Dynasty Warriors 8.  You choose a character and will fight for resources, officers and fame to build a new home for the emperor.  I really like this mode.  You can choose from 4 different fights each time you go out, and they have a different focus.  One might be better at getting materials to upgrade your facilities, and another will be skewed toward gaining officers.  Fights can be chained together for bigger bonuses, and that's the easiest method to rank up the fastest.  After each third fight or so, you will have to do a Duel stage, where you will fight several playable characters.  Beating them will add them to your ranks, allowing you to switch who you play as at the camp.

It seems best to do a 1:1 ratio of gaining officers and fame, since you can only get more fame after getting enough officers and need more fame to get more officers.  I had a hard time getting the numbers to match up without basically wasting fame or recruits because I was at the cap until I got enough of the other.  Spending materials was easy, but you don't earn a whole lot from each stage.  Even though the fame and officer caps were the biggest obstacles, materials took the longest to complete the Tongquetai (the building that will house the emperor).  The mode is lots of fun though, and I like that there are lots of small, quick stages and longer ones to mix it up.  It feels like a light version of the Dynasty Warriors Empires series.  I enjoy those and Ambition mode as well.

The trophy list is pretty straightforward.  You get some for doing all of the story stages, getting all of the weapons and killing lots of guys.  Several are obtained in the Ambition mode, and the longest of those is 50 straight battles, which will take some time, but you can save in between each fight.  There's also a trophy for doing all 4 tutorial stages, which are the same per kingdom just with different characters involved.  That's probably the least fun trophy since I don't think anyone wants to do the same tutorial four times.

So while the historical Story mode isn't as good as the previous "core" entry in the series, Dynasty Warriors 8 is still fun.  The theoretical story lines are interesting and the Ambition mode is really fun.  They added a few new characters (of course) and some new features, like the Swap Counter and Rage meter, while still keeping all of the entertaining hack and slash gameplay.  If you play through all of the stories and the Ambition mode, you can easily sink 60+ hours into the game.  That's worth it if you ask me.  Plus, the couch co-op is still great, even if the minimap is pretty big and should probably just be shared between the characters.