Video Games

Killzone Shadow Fall: Fallen City

I enjoy this game. While the controls are questionable at times, the game play mediocre and the voice acting atrocious it is a gorgeous game with beautiful set pieces. The story falls flat sometimes but there are hints of potential all the way through. There are also snippets of interesting game play such as encounters inside a derelict spaceship approaching a nearby star which yields some unique interaction with a melting spaceship. Some good, some bad but overall I enjoy it.

Except one part.

Chapter 8 brings you back to Helghan, free falling through a collapsing city. Why a city is collapsing around your ears is hand waved away. I try not to critique designers too much, since it’s their job to create games that people enjoy. Plus I don’t know, maybe someone does enjoy this part.

But I do believe whoever designed the first section of Chapter 8 should be reprimanded or fired. There is nothing fun about flying through a city with minimal control trying to dodge buildings. If you live more than ten seconds without a frustrating splat against a wall, restarting the sequence droning music and all, consider it a minor miracle. Never mind the fact that you have to fly through this maze of idiocy for nearly a minute before Killzone goes back to being a proper shooter.

I almost gave up on completing this game due to this section.

The Last Of Us: Pittsburgh

Escaping Bill’s Town our survivors are headed south towards Pittsburgh. I felt like the cut scenes here worked well, serving as a compliment to the opening scenes of the game. The budding relationship between Joel and Ellie is reflective of  the bond shown in the prologue. Even from just her humor you start to understand why Joel begins to feel obligated to protect Ellie.

BondingArriving in Pittsburgh evidence from Joel’s dark years between the prologue and the present begins to surface. Despite his better judgement he decides to brave the roads into the city. Soon Joel sniffs out an ambush (the gang preying on human empathy) and runs down the bait with the truck as his gang lies in wait. A brutal fight in the remains of a convenience store occurs after the truck is run off the road from the well organized band. The chaos of the moment is captured well as Joel and Ellie are outnumbered and disoriented from the crash, giving the player the appropriate sense of panic.

Pittsburgh AmbushEscaping from the scene Joel and Ellie discover the ambush was orchestrated by hunters, survivors who kill anyone who comes into their territory. Joel also reveals how he knew it was ambush, telling Ellie that he’s been on the other end of that scenario as well. It’s comments like this that hint to Joel’s moral ambiguity. They also render Ellie’s cries of “Holy shit, Joel!” as rather appropriate.

Needing to escape Pittsburgh, which is crawling with hunters, Joel and Ellie head towards the Fort Duquesne Bridge, dodging patrols of hunters. I like the contrast of the encounters with humans against encounters with the infected. It requires a different style of play as humans are more observant than the infected. They also react based on how they’re attacked: if you’re pull out a gun they’ll let their friends know and you’ll soon be under fire yourself. They’re not afraid to hurl molotovs your way as well, often while you are hiding behind some sort of cover.

This is also the first time you encounter humans with  most of your kit. The earlier human enemies you had maybe a gun or two but it was for the most part sneaking by them and melee fights. These run ins with hunters are more fraught with gunfire and ambushes, since you have the resources available to pull this off. Plus by now Joel has collected enough supplements for an upgrade or two.

Fort Duquesne BridgeWhat impresses me the most about this chapter is that it’s the fifth chapter in this game, which only has twelve chapters total, and I still haven’t felt like they’ve recycled something. In the seven hours I have played (again, I’m playing on hard) I don’t feel like I’ve encountered anything that is a rehash of a mechanic or situation from earlier in the game. That is impressive on the designer’s part.

The last type of infected make their debut in Pittsburgh, called Stalkers. They rely on ambush tactics and seem to fall between Runners and Clickers on the life cycle of the of the cordyceps. I didn’t have much problem with them but I think the reason for this is because I apply liberal usage of Joel’s listening mode when things seem “too quiet” for my taste. The flooded basement of a hotel they show up in also featured the first major glitch I encountered, discounting the auto-save glitch.

When I first entered the basement none of story line features and enemies spawned. I was unable to move on, and I didn’t realize the game was glitched until I grew frustrated and looked at my guide. I was correct  in assuming there was a key card for a door in the basement but the card was  no where to be found. Restarting the encounter fixed that problem though and I was able to move on without a problem. During the second half of this encounter my exact reaction was that of “Screw this, I’m done with this place.” as I sprinted for the exit. No shame in running when you can.

Stalking Prey

A large part of the chapter, after the infected in the hotel, is avoiding the hunters as they search for you. When you have the resources it’s best to fight but sometimes stealth is best. This is the level that made me realize the most powerful weapon in this game is the bow. I spent the entire chapter searching for arrows, often a fruitless effort. The reason is this: the ability to kill someone from a range without alerting anyone makes every other weapon pale in comparison. That and molotov cocktails. There are encounters in Pittsburgh that can be over in seconds with a well timed molotov.

Pittsburgh was, so far, the longest chapter. Overall I believe it took me somewhere in the ballpark of five or six hours and at least a half a dozen deaths to make it through to the bridge. The time may be because I play extra cautious and restart encounters if I run into problems instead of needlessly dying over and over again. Watching me play would bore some people to tears.

UPDATE: Since a lot of people look this up I’ll provide an answer here as well. The song that plays during the truck ambush is Alone And Forsaken by Hank Williams.

BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea – Episode 1

Burial at Sea - Episode OneIrrational Games have announced the DLC for BioShock: Infinite. The first, Clash in the Clouds, was announced and released today. The other, titled Burial at Sea – Episode 1, brings Booker and Elizabeth back to the watery depths of Rapture. Rapture before everything collapsed and became the lost paradise explored in BioShock.

Friends, old and new, will be made and many familiar places will be explored during their glory days. Combining the best elements of BioShock and BioShock: Infinite, there will be new weapons, and vigors as well as classic elements from BioShock, including the iconic Big Daddies.

It’s not yet certain why Booker and Elizabeth will be visiting the doomed underwater city. Nor do I care much, I’ve been waiting six years to see the city in its prime. I am thrilled by this announcement and can’t wait to make a glorious return to Rapture.

Rapture

BioShock Infinite: Clash in the Clouds

Irrational Games have at last announced DLC for BioShock: Infinite. The first, available today, is Clash in the Clouds. Throw the amazing story out the window, load up one of four maps (each with fifteen waves) and unleash carnage among the chaos. All the guns, vigors, tears and gear are at your disposal to rip your way through the enemies and challenges.

The  Ops Zeal

I’ve only played the first ten waves of The Ops Zeal until a Siren destroyed me like I knew she would. I can’t even begin to fathom completing the Blue Ribbon Challenge for that wave. The challenges are a large part of the fun. Not that obliterating everything on the screen with whatever is available isn’t enjoyable. It’s an absolute riot.

The challenges bring something extra. They’re a puzzle hidden in the destruction, waiting for you to figure out how to best accomplish your goal. Some of them are just proper preparation, such as bringing the right weapons or vigors, while others are skillful play. Some challenges are just doing things the hard way: kill a wave of soldiers and a Handyman without head shots or heart shots.

Columbian Archaelogical Society

Completing waves and challenges earns you money to spend on upgrading your vigors and weapons while clearing unbeaten, waves unlocks infusions and gear for Booker to bring to the fight.

As you progress you earn trophies in the Columbian Archaeological Society, unlocking concept art, voxophones and more. There are leader boards to compare your progress to your friends and to see how well you stack up in the global rankings.

Overall it’s an utter blast. If you don’t have the season pass, it’s only $5 and available now. Even having only played it for an hour or two I can tell you it’s worth it. I’m off to play some more.

Don’t forget your weapons.

Weaponry

The Last Of Us: Bill’s Town

After leaving The Outskirts of Boston Ellie and Joel are headed to pay a friend of Joel’s a visit, Bill. He lives in what was once Lincoln, now better known as Bill’s Town. This is also Ellie’s first time ever seeing natural wilderness, having lived her entire life inside the Boston Quarantine Zone.

Bill's Town

It becomes apparent that Bill is a paranoid maniac who has booby trapped his town at every corner. You can’t blame the guy that much, he does live on his own outside the Quarantine Zone. Appropriate precautions have to be taken. That also means that Joel and Ellie have to work their way through his maze of defenses without alerting infected to their presence. Easier said than done when Joel ends up on the wrong end of one of Bill’s snare traps.

This is the first area I noticed my panicking over the slightest of sounds, whether it was ambient noise or Joel climbing something. In retrospect I did that before in earlier sections but it wasn’t at the forefront as much. With the not so claustrophobic feel of Bill’s Town (compared to The Outskirts) it was eerie how empty it was. I was waiting for infected, stalkers to be precise, to be lurking in every corner. Yet there wasn’t, which made navigating the alleys and rooftops of Bill’s Town just that much more unnerving. The tension goes off with a bang with the snare trap, where both Joel and Ellie are panicking right along with me as the player as infected swarm toward the site.

Snare Trap

Bill makes his appearance and the three escape without serious injury. Turns out Joel wants a favor from Bill: a working vehicle. It means crawling their through the infected half of Bill’s Town, where Bill doesn’t roam anymore. The lesson I learned from this one is not to be a resource hog. I was having trouble dealing with numerous clickers and sneaking by them wasn’t working out as well I would have hoped. Frustrated I just went all out on them with everything I had: molotovs, shotgun, nail bombs, and of a course of a trusty brick and pipe combination. It worked like a charm. From then on I was a little less conservative with my supplies because for the frustration wasn’t worth the potential benefit of hoarding my resources. Plus there are always bricks and bottles around.

I will say this though: if you can make it past infected without raising an alarm then do it as it will save you a world of hurt. But don’t slam your head into a wall trying to sneak by every infected in the game. Sometimes you just have to kill some zombies the old fashioned way.

BioShock Infinite: 1999 Mode Update

Welcome To ColumbiaI have begun recording myself playing through 1999 Mode + Scavenger Hunt. I’m not going out of my way to find voxophones but if I remember where they are I grab them. I am about an hour or so in and have just reached Monument Island. Then I got sidetracked by The Last Of Us coming out. However, I will keep going once I’ve finished with that. I’m also working out some sort of commentary for the videos since gameplay alone can get boring and I don’t talk much while playing.

The Last Of Us: The Outskirts

At the conclusion of the previous chapter, The Quarantine Zone, we are introduced at last to Ellie. In a gamble to get some stolen merchandise back Joel and Tess agree to smuggle Ellie out of the Boston QZ for Marlene, the leader of a quasi-vigilante group known as the Fireflies. Their symbol and slogans are spray-painted on the walls of the quarantine zone as they fight a losing war against the military in control the quarantine zones. The Fireflies aspire to restore the world to former glory, erasing the ravages of the ophiocordyceps unilateralis outbreak.

The Capitol

From a gameplay perspective this chapter is a natural expansion on the first chapter. Where as the basics of maneuvers and concepts were introduced before, this chapter focuses on sharpening them, bringing the player a more nuanced view. This chapter also teaches harsh lessons designed to break preconceived notions of how survival horror, or third person action, games are played.

During the first stages of this chapter Joel and company are avoiding military patrols just outside the quarantine zone. Armed with assault rifles and body armor these soldiers are not to be tangled with as it’s almost guaranteed suicide on harder difficulties. In the first chapter stealth was, for the most part, optional. It may have made the encounters easier on tougher settings, but in the end just running and gunning (or in this two-by-four swinging) could get you most of the way through. That won’t work this time around. The design here places emphasis on misdirection and the importance of staying out of sight. Keeping the soldiers distracted while you slip through is a vital lesson to learn. The more difficult the setting the more crucial this aspect of the game is, as resources are even more scarce, so using them on an avoidable encounter will make things just that much harder.

The most brutal lesson comes once the soldiers have given up, called back to the quarantine zone. Heading towards the abandoned state house Joel, Tess and Ellie find numerous infected in the ruins of Boston. Here we are introduced to the clickers, the most terrifying type of infected. The encounter’s setup is borderlines on sadistic and the player should thank the designers for this.

Clicker

Four runners, one of which is stationary, spread out in a couple adjoined rooms and one clicker, also static. The reason this is such a brilliant design is that it forces the player to learn what works and what doesn’t. If this were another Naughty Dog title such as Uncharted, or another survival horror game, Dead Space perhaps, the usual approach would be to target the most dangerous foe, the clicker, and take them down as soon as possible then shift attention to the lesser threats, in this case, runners. Try it, like I did, and Joel’s throat will be ripped out quicker than you can say delicious jugular veins. So that didn’t work, let’s just outrun the clicker and kill the little guys first then. That should work. Nope, not in The Last Of Us, this game doesn’t play that way. The runners are all over you before you get halfway down the hall, pummeling Joel’s poor body into mush. Four on one aren’t great odds for Joel, and if the runners haven’t managed to smear you all over the floor by the time the clicker gets there it’s game over once he’s caught up anyways.

After several frustrating attempts at shooting my way through with a whopping seven bullets and a two-by-four I gave up for the night. I came back after work the next day and decided to take my time with it, learning from the over-aggression and terrible run-and-gun style of shooting that did me in on my last attempts. Here’s the basics of doing it right which by the way, can still be difficult. Strangle the stationary runner first, as this doesn’t alert any of the other infected. Then notice the patterns the others move in and find the right place for another stealth kill. Bricks and bottles are your friends, there’s a reason they’re all over the place: makeshift melee weapons, ranged stuns, distractions to set up stealth ambushes. Avoid the clicker for as long as possible, you can kill three of the four infected without fear of alerting him, and this is ideal. Once you’re ready for him, then bring the fight to him, using careful aim (the head! the head! they’re still zombies… sort of) or a bottle to the face followed by good old fashioned two-by-four beating.

Why I love this encounter is because it does a marvelous job of showing you just how fast things can get out of hand in this game. Following this the designers then proceed to make the clicker less terrifying, but not by much, by showing you how you can avoid them. Since they’re blind and use hearing to find prey, bricks and bottles do a gear job of steering the clickers where you want them to go. Even this knowledge it doesn’t make walking into a pitch dark room filled with half a dozen clickers any less nerve wracking. I had to pause the game for while and make myself something to eat because I had to build up my confidence to venture further into the room.

Pitch Dark

The last encounter of the chapter also taught another lesson: when you’re in rough shape and the exit is clear, create a distraction and run like hell and hope you’re not shot in the back.

By the time I was in the latter parts of this chapter I just had to know who was the lead writer for this game, because the story is just that well plotted, and moving. It’s Neil Druckmann by the way.