We all had a whip round this week and manage to book some more time in our local game booths, bringing this week’s playlist to a whopping four entries. That’s not all, we cover a broad spectrum of life issues this week with Tim’s conflicts of parenthood and gaming, Jeremy has travelled back in time for some reason, Paul slows down time in World War 2 to beat Jerry, and Nick’s invested his life with newfound purpose.
Jeremy Peel: Far Cry
Is this thing on? Lovely. Apologies in advance if I turn fuzzy – I’m tuning in via 2004, which always plays havoc with the equipment.
I totally understand what all the cool kids are saying. About the checkpoint system. It’s bollocks, I know. I vacated the game with a guttural sigh one night this week, having made no discernable progress, having left no noticeable dent in Far Cry’s cruel exterior. So believe me, I get it.
But it’s also totally crucial. It’s a matter of broad structure: in later Far Crys, you’d sometimes become responsible for building your own objectives and lines of attack. No place for a checkpoint-only system there. But here, the objectives are always curated – each level is a set scenario, to be chewed over all night long.
The other day, the level that brought me so much pain was ‘Research’. The objective was an elevator in a nearby, heavily-guarded cave, accessed via a keycard found only in a hut on a ridge overlooking the bay I was tasked with circumventing. There was the choice to breach the beach head-on and tackle a gaggle of mercenaries who could see me coming – a personal D-Day that was never really an option. Alternatively, I could hang a salty right and come up beneath them via the sea. Quiet, and attractive for it – but it would still leave an open, steep and highly-visible expanse between me and the keycard-hut. Or I could bob through the forest brush, scaling the hill on my left and silencing any merc unlucky enough to wander too close.
On the umpteenth attempt I plumped for the latter, sliding down a sandy slope for an impromptu and triumphant firefight at the cave’s entrance.
I do wonder if this is a game with its brain pressed against the skull of its genre. Its openness leads me to expect the kind of tools I’d find in a Dishonored or a Skyrim, yet the only verb I’m given is ‘kill’. But Far Cry has that thing I like in a shooter: the confidence to show you the city limits of its worlds, and allow you to plan around them. I’m fascinated by its ability to be just wide enough – to show you a breathtaking array of meaningful options, and then to subtly funnel you through where necessary.
It’s still ace, and there’s still nothing quite like it. Or is there? Let us know in the comments.
Tim Edwards: Starcraft 2 and Dishonored
I hate to admit this, but I’m at least six months behind the rest of the PC gaming planet. A baby, a business, and everything else is conspiring to keep me well away from the cutting edge of what’s available to play.
In the past year, that’s led to a weird sense of guilt. I feel like I should be playing way more than I can. But I’ve realised in the last few weeks that it’s absolutely okay.
Our gaming culture encourages a kind of rapacious feeding frenzy around new launches. Within a few days of a game being released, the internet has let’s played it, FAQ’d it, reviewed it, rejected it, controversied it, demanded a patch of it, and everything in between. There’s a relentless churn to this cycle.
I’m starting to feel like I want to step a little bit out of it. I don’t want how and when I play games to be decided by any sense of duty. Instead, I want to really savour the games that I’ve been looking forward to.
Hence, this week’s games: I’m still gradually working my way through Dishonored. It’s still beautiful. I can’t get over the art design. I think the mission structure is astonishing. I can’t get over how complete a place it feels. And I’m amazed by how many easter egg like details are hidden in the missions. Not just funny writing on the walls, but achievements for scaling towers, or sneaking into places you clearly weren’t meant to go. I think that I’m probably going to go back at some point and ensure I steal all the paintings – but only once I’ve completed the main game.
The other game: Heart of the Swarm. Rob wrote a nice thing about the campaign, and he’s absolutely right – Blizzard are phenomenal at mission design.
But I think playing the campaign will be enough for me. I used to play a little bit of Wings of Liberty online, and enjoyed every second of it. This time round, if I want to enjoy Starcraft II multiplayer, I’m going to watch some of the GSL. Because of my limited time, I feel like the time spent learning and getting better at Starcraft would be better spent playing and discovering something else entirely new.
And besides. I’ve got at least another six months of games to play.
Paul Dean: Company of Heroes
Company of Heroes decided it wanted to download a 7.5Gb patch the other day, for reasons that completely elude me. It served as a reminder that the game I bought a few years back remains uncompleted thanks to the absurd and notorious difficulty cliff it suddenly introduces in its Normandy campaign: the Mortain counterattack.
This is the first mission to introduce the game’s victory points and when it begins there’s an awful lot going on in an awful lot of different places, all of it at the same time. A few new troops trundle onto one side of the map and arrive in a rear headquarters. You have a hill in the centre that’s well defended and packed with troops that you deployed there in the previous mission. The thing is, although this is a “counterattack” the hill is of very little strategic value. Most of the action goes on around it and happens in multiple sectors at once.
Two victory points are threatened at the same time, while a constant stream of enemy armoured vehicles drive either into your rear headquarters or up onto the hill. You only have a few tanks to fight these back with and the problem isn’t so much that these tanks can’t be everywhere at once, it’s that you can’t be everywhere at once. To play the mission effectively, you really need to be managing skirmishes in two or three areas at once, while also having your engineers throw up some defensive structures and clear the minefields you keep finding. It’s too much for one person to handle at once.
I’d forgotten how difficult RTS games can be, not when it comes to strategy or tactics, but simply when it comes to multitasking, and it certainly doesn’t help that my units don’t seem to want to stop when I hammer the stop button and, as always seems to be the case in these games, don’t cope terribly well when left on their own for even two minutes. They’re quite content to let themselves be pounded by enemy fire from superior enemy forces that they wouldn’t stand a chance against. I’d also forgotten just how many bullets it took to kill a unit and a common sight has been exposed enemy soldiers running down a road while two tanks and a team of infantry shoot at them. Over and over. And over. Until eventually they’re dead. It’s ridiculous.
When I spoke to Relic last year, our conversation briefly touched on this mission and on how difficult many players have found it, more than a few of them abandoning the single-player campaign at this point. They said this sort of battlefield-wide, simultaneous micromanagement would matter less in Company of Heroes 2, which I hope is the case.
In the meantime, I think I’ve found a solution to my problem. It’s something that you might call cheating, depending upon your interpretation. I now start the game with the -dev command line parameter and slow down the action by bringing down the console (by pressing ctrl, shift and either @ or ~ depending upon your keyboard) to enter the command setsimrate(x), where x is 1 or 2, instead of the usual 8. I’m still playing the same game, but it’s much, much slower and, surprisingly, still alarmingly hard at times, when I’m trying to supervise six firefights at once. Nevertheless, I can actually manage it this time. You have to excuse me, but I just don’t have the simultaneous command capacity of, say, an omnipresent AI.
Nick Wilson: Guild Wars 2
So the Flame and Frost content update has sucked me back into the world of Tyria, proving once again that ArenaNet come up with some really neat stuff.
Then, something amazing happened:
The Mystic Forge, a contraption that takes four random items and spits out another item with the chance of it being super rare, rewarded me with the “Leaf of Kudzu”. These weapons are referred to as “precursors”, an item used to make legendary weapons. Naturally this bow turns into the legendary longbow, “Kudzu”, a bow made out of cherry blossom.
And I LOVE cherry blossom; but these legendary weapons are legendary for a reason.
I’ve calculated it will take me roughly two months of regular play to attain the mighty weapon, if RNG and luck is on my side. The materials needed are rare, expensive and downright difficult to get, but the completionist in me has already committed.
First on my list is to attain 100% map completion, a lengthy feat, but required for one of the rare materials. I’m comforted however by the knowledge that ArenaNet have some wonderful designers, rewarding those who love to explore. It’s also a ton of fun if you bring along some friends who enjoy a bit of banter, but also so they can enjoy plundering any hidden areas that you discover.
I’ll be updating my progress in each Weekly Playlist, so keep an eye out next week. If you’re going for a legendary yourself, be sure to give me any tips in the comments, as they will be greatly appreciated.