Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Too Human - First Impressions

I just completed my first run-through of the Too Human demo, which was available on Xbox Live. Getting my Live account to work in the first place was a bit of a challenge, as I'm trying to connect my Singaporean set to the network from Australia. I'm not able to change my contact details to accurately reflect where I'm living now, plus I think I'm still connecting to the SE Asian service.

I've been looking forward to Too Human for a long time now. The premise was very intriguing: A sci-fi-esque reimagining of Norse mythology. Coupled with a high-quality action-RPG, I was sure that this game would be right up my alley.

But as of my first playing, I've become a little ambivalent about the whole thing, and I'm a little undecided now. At the very least, my enthusiasm has waned just by a little bit.

  1. The graphics, and the art direction, from what I've seen, is quite inspired. Wind swept, frost covered, cavernous ruins. Mystical forests where magic is seemingly alive. Menacing metallic robotic golems and goblins.
  2. Even at the very onset of the game, there are hints of a very deep character system, which allows of different skills sets and equipment. In addition, there's crafting, as well as customizable weapons and runic upgrades.
  3. Controls were not as hard to get a grip of at all. When playing, you do not attack with a button press, but rather push the right thumbstick in the direction of the enemy; your on-screen avatar would then slide a short distance and proceed with attacking the intended target. It works a lot better than I would have suspected, and contributes to very dynamic battle sequences, especially when there are multiple enemies on-screen.
  1. The interface, especially in the sub-menus, is a little confusing, and not very intuitive. It took me more than a few minutes to figure out how to upgrade my skill tree. and there weren't any hints or help on how to do so. I also didn't know I had equipment other than weapons, as it was not made clear how I'd access these. I spent the better part of the demo without any armour because I didn't even know I could equip it.
  2. Combat movement can be a little sluggish at times when I'm trying to switch directions in mid-attack. It almost seems as if my avatar requires time to re-orient himself and not go dizzy from the abrupt change.
  3. Targeting in combat seems a little weird, and I haven't figured it out yet. It seems that with guns, I'm able to target specific part of large enemies, but I'm unable to do so with a melee attack. It's especially frustrating when I'm standing at the feet of a large golem, and I'm just slashing air and not doing any damage at all. I have to repeatedly jump and attack, which is an antithesis of the quick dynamic combat that the game promotes.
  4. Character designs of the avatar seems a little boring. at the onset Even with the new armour that I finally managed to get on, my character still looks the same no matter what. I'm guessing that later in the game, there's more stuff that I can individualise my character with, which would make him look far cooler.
  5. The demo doesn't allow me to try the other classes, but it seems that some are more suited to a team-play environment. There will be options to play as the Defender (as a tank) or as a Bio-Engineer (as a healer) in the final game, but I worry about their limited effectiveness in the single-player game. That's particularly worrying for me, because I've got a shoddy internet connection, and I'm not sure if I can play on Xbox Live at all. And if I'm not able to play multi-player, then my experience with some of the other classes may be diminished.
All in all, I'm still hopeful about the game. I'm slightly worried that the emphasis on multi-player may impact my enjoyment of the single-player campaign. The parts that I played were very fun, in spite of the bits that annoyed me. As such, I'm going to temper my enthusiasm a little, and keep a cautious watchful eye on the game.

Monday, July 07, 2008

No patience, not even for games

I've been playing Texas Hold'em Poker quite often in the past month, almost exclusively on the Facebook application I recently installed. But we played a few hands at home last night, and it was a blast. Hold'em really is quite an intriguing game, with opportunities to bluff and read opponents. There's still a lot of intricacies that I have to learn about the game, and I'm sure I'll pick it up the more I play.

About an hour into the game, we were on the last few hands of the game. Audrea was already knocked out, and there were only 3 of us left. And despite having a weak hand, even with the community cards on the table, I upped the ante, and in essence, threw the game. I had a very (very!) slim chance of winning, but I just threw the game. My patience ran out, and I just wanted it to end. I didn't have a problem with the players, I just didn't want to play. And more often than not, that's what I'd do on Facebook to get out of a game as well.

And it's the same thing when it comes to videogames. I really get into the game at the start, and I play it religiously for about a week or two, then I completely abandon it. I get bored and I lose patience and I can't be bothered anymore. The last videogame I completed was God of War: Chains of Olympus about 2 days ago, and before that was Portal and Mass Effect. And before that... well, I can't remember... It's might be Metroid Fusion, and that was about 5 years ago.

I just don't have any patience for long, rambling games that try to substitute depth with length. I didn't complete Bioshock, Oblivion, Half-Life 2, Dead Rising, Diablo 2, System Shock 2, Wind Waker, Super Mario Galaxy, and Metroid Prime 1, 2 and 3. I could name many more. Even GTA IV.

Invaribly, I always reach a point in the game where I lost all interest and patience. You mean I've gotta sail this boat to that island to get the iron boots so that I can go back to the other island to walk into the cave (Wind Waker)? Or I have to exact revenge for your lost wife and child when some phantom guy blows up a submarine just because you told me to over a walkie-talkie (Bioshock)? Or I have to deal with one crazy person after another while wading through throngs of zombies (that part was fun), walking back and forth an ever enlarging game map to get the news story on some government plot while waiting for the helicopter to come and rescue me three days later (Dead Rising)? Can't be bothered, mate.

The one game that continually stays fresh in my mind as something that I absolutely felt driven to complete was Grim Fandango. An adventure game with an interesting premise, the thing that drew me were the characters and the simplicity in the gameplay. And more that anything else, a story that was so simple yet so beautifully told. A man, attempting to make amends for mistakes long past, encounters a woman with an unfortunate fate. While he makes all effort to save her, he in turn saves himself. Never mind the fact that the main protagonist is a walking skeleton and grim reaper, and his driver is a bumbling orange-coloured demon. I felt compelled to experience the whole game, and it suppressed my natural instinct to otherwise abandon it. The style and the pacing did enhance the experience, but it was the story that kept me coming back. A well-told story, with narrative depth, fleshed out interesting characters is what will keep me in the game.

It's sad to say that I haven't yet experienced game that matched those same levels of compulsion. Portal came close, but that was easy to finish because it was so short. Mass Effect was just a good sci-fi yarn, which has always been a weakness of mine. Besides I blew through that game as quickly as I could, and I can't say I remember much aside from the main plot. I can't even remember any of the characters' names. But I do remember the names of Manny Calavera, Mercedes Colomar, Domino Hurley and Glottis. And there's a very good reason for that: I was absolutely charmed by their story.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Boardgames on the table again

I can't believe how long it's been such a long time since I last played any boardgames, it's almost unfathomable. Ever having moved here to Melbourne, I haven't been able to find any opportunities to join in any of the local groups for various reasons.

Weeknights are generally not a good time for me, when Billabong Boardgamers and Gamers@Dockers meet (Tuesdays and Thursdays respectively). I'm usually occupied on weeknights; Dockers is also in the city, which is a fair distance to travel for me.

So it's with absolute joy that I attended EuroGamesFest yesterday afternoon, in Kew. I was feeling a little anxious about going to a strange place meeting strange people, as I often do in any new social situation. And I had never been to that part of Melbourne before. But the lure of games was too much, and I had been going through the longest dry spell I could remember.

First game I played was Race for the Galaxy, with Audrea and two other people we just sat down with: Ryan and Maya. It's an interesting card game, that required quite a bit of orientation, as Audrea and I kept getting lost in the different phases and different abilities of each card. Essentially, each player is trying to put down cards representing planets, or tech developments, which will in turn produce goods which one then turns either into currency (more cards) or victory points. It's quite a clever game of hand management, as the cost of each card placed down is paid for by discarding cards in hand, and one needs to pick the right combination of cards to be placed down to generate goods more efficiently. My main gripe with the game is there is very little player interaction, and as such, no cause for direct player conflict. I was doing quite well in the game, until Ryan starting collecting 2x victory points. We ended the game with him 10 points ahead of me, a gap that I could have easily closed had I started churning victory points far earlier.

The next game I played was Last Night on Earth, which I've talked about previously. I played the game with another group of new people: Daniel, Martin, KK and Chew Yien (I think that's how his named was spelled, I didn't catch it clearly). We played the Escape in the Truck scenario, and we had to scramble about the map, looking for keys and gasoline to a truck, so we could drive off to safety from the zombies. It was one heck of a game, with many close calls. Martin was almost taken down by zombies while hanging on to the keys and gasoline. Lights kept shorting out, leaving us in the dark and unable to find new items and weapons. The waves of zombies were relentless. And in the end, Martin and Daniel jumped into the truck, and drove off leaving the rest of us in the dust, and to our demise. Those bastards.

It was a fantastic day, and I hope to get back to there for the next gathering next month. Thanks for the games, guys.