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RL666

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  1. RL666

    Dishonored 2

    I just finished this. I think it's such a shame that the game's technical woes are dampening people's enthusiasm, because mechanically at least it's an exemplary sequel to one of my favourite games ever. There's hardly an aspect of the original that hasn't been tweaked, refined or expanded. Leaning, formerly absurd, now carries a sensible amount of associated risk. The new upgrade trees allow for some pretty deep specialisation, involving hard choices about where to spend your limited budget of runes. The levels themselves are now amazingly big, complex and dense, and the scope for play within them is correspondingly richer - and that's before you even consider that everything in the game is constructed to support two characters with two substantially different ability sets. There's so much to do, so many different ways to do it, and so much room for player expression that it's frequently dizzying. Blinking/Far Reaching over guards' heads, finding paths across rooftops while evading detection, is just one of the greatest pleasures in modern gaming for me, and I don't think I'll ever get bored of it. That said, from my experience with the original I knew that quickload trial-and-error rapidly sucked the fun out of things (not to mention meaning I never got to use half of what was in the game's toybox). Accordingly, I set Emily up as a sort of stealthy escape-artist, good at avoiding detection but also able to mount a bloodless, swashbuckling getaway when things inevitably went to hell. I had loads of fun; I improvised, I experimented, I ended up with a personal best-bits reel of cool moments, and I'm sure I barely scratched the surface of the elaborate ways Emily's powers can be deployed. The game's two best levels play the best to Dishonored's strengths: they take place on islands, and give you the entire run, vertical and horizontal, of a building and grounds situated thereupon. You can swim a complete circuit, you can bomb around all over the roof (or, like me, ascend to it to get your bearings when you get lost indoors), you can explore everywhere it makes sense you would be able to explore, and there's not a fake door or invisible wall standing between you and blink-fuelled nirvana. But not everything's good. The main story arc is a perfunctory recycling of the original's usurpation-and-redemption plotline, because... I dunno, because that's what you do with sequels, I guess. And it's a less well told story than the first game, too. Things that were elegantly implied in the original are made clompingly explicit in the sequel, and significant damage is done to the fiction in the name of world-building and threat-escalation (Sigh. Yes, we get it Emily, Corvo is your dad. Sigh, yep, and the Heart is your dead mom. And oh good, just what the Outsider needed: an origin story.) In addition, as much as the sun-drenched levels are wonderfully detailed and atmospheric, Dishonored 2 doesn't have quite the same sense of place that the first game had, and its overall visual identity is less strong. I assume (not that I've researched it or anything) that we can chalk this up to the departure, or at least the less-close-involvement, of Viktor Antonov. Dishonored had, for me, two comparatively weak levels: the linear Flooded District, and the cramped The Loyalists. Dishonored 2, in what may or may not represent an improvement, instead has a single completely duff level. Stilton Manor disables your regular powers and replaces them with a novelty mechanic that, though it is powerful, conceptually neat, and visually arresting, ultimately just isn't very much fun. Moreover, the prescriptive puzzles and comparative lack of scope for play make it feel like a level from a different game, and its presence is flat-out baffling. I can already see it being a huge chore in repeat plays, and I bet that a big proportion of people who don't finish the game will give up on that mission. Overall? Game of the year without a doubt, even if it is less perfectly-formed than its little brother. I can't wait to dive back in with Corvo, I can't wait to get my hands on the forthcoming custom-difficulty mode, I can't wait to do runs in which I go high-chaos, play according to dumb self-imposed rules, get all the achievements, and generally extract every drop of systems-driven mayhem the game has to offer.
  2. RL666

    XCOM: Enemy Unknown - Firaxis

    Welp, that's my second Classic Ironman run sunk. Double Muton-ambush on a UFO landing site, I wasn't prepared 'cause I had my eyes on the Meld. Half my team dead and the other half in the hospital, Covert Op coming up in three days, no money, nothing but rookies in the barracks. I called it ggs and nuked the savegame. It's sooooo good though, no way could I go back to vanilla XCOM now.
  3. RL666

    XCOM: Enemy Unknown - Firaxis

    Whale Mission is crazy tense the first time through...
  4. 1 Amnesia: The Dark Descent Real life scares me plenty – but films, books, videogames? Nah. The two exceptions to this are both videogames. One is Project Zero/Fatal Frame, and the other is Amnesia: TDD. Amnesia takes the bold step of denying the player any recourse to combat, so that evading enemies is the only way to survive. What its pseudo-sequel seems to have misunderstood (I haven't actually played it yet) is this: TDD has mechanics on its mechanics. Your lamp, and light-sources in the environment, let you see better, and keep your sanity topped-up, but also make it easier for monsters to detect you. Sanity levels have to be managed along with health; low sanity causes hallucinations, hampers mobility and makes you easier to detect. Doors in the game are modelled using the physics engine, so they have to be gripped and pushed (or pulled) to open them; this leads to delicious moments of fear where, fleeing from some unthinkable horror, you fumble the operation or try to open the door the wrong way. Risk an extra second to slam a door shut behind you and it will impede the enemy's progress. And in an absolute masterstroke, looking at the monsters makes your sanity plummet; the fact that you can't just goggle at them with impunity preserves their impact and increases the tension of encounters tenfold. Anybody who plays TDD will come away having experienced their own unique moments of emergent terror. It's by no means the game I've put the most hours into, but for me it's the one that felt the most new, exciting and special. 2 Mass Effect 2 The game that gave us the renegade interrupt. 3 Crysis When you shoot a tree, it shears in half at the exact point that you hit it, and the upper portion topples over. This symbolises the entire game. 4 XCOM: Enemy Unknown I have put more hours into this than Skyrim. What makes the game is Ironman mode; there is nothing like authentic consequence if you want to produce immersion, and player investment. More consequence in games please. 5 Fallout: New Vegas Different strokes etc, but I thought that this was so much better than FO3 that it was embarrassing. Everyone knows the story of how it's the “real” FO3, and it makes that game feel like a prototype with none of the real content put in. It has world-building, moments of genuine shock, drama, delight and hilarity; it has rich quest-design and rewards non-combat skills in ways that make its predecessor seem as clueless as it really was. The final boss can be a conversation. I didn't think they really made 'em like this anymore. Awesome. 6 The Walking Dead I really need to put this in here, seeing as it was my GOTY2012 and all. Focuses bravely and uncompromisingly on being a piece of interactive fiction – a game where your only significant interaction comes in the form of dialogue. It achieves the kind of success that D. Cage can only dream of, and I would love to see more games like it. 7 Max Payne 3 This is what I always fantasised videogame gun-porn could look like. A technically spectacular and surprisingly tactical combat system, married to the gen's second-best musical score and a surprisingly moving story, a portrait of a fucked-up hollowed-out man who just can't stop killing bad guys and scraping out alive. 8 Alpha Protocol Steven. Em. Effing. Heck. 9 F.E.A.R. Apparently I have something of a personal weakness for slow-mo bullet-spunking. Like Max Payne 3, FEAR delivers on tactical, dynamic gunfights that make you feel like a big man. Its sequels were rubbish and it isn't even a little bit scary, but what it is, is pure gun-fetishist action nirvana. They should probably have called themselves the Special Logistics, Ordinance and Monitoring Office instead, or something.
  5. RL666

    Sci Fi recommendations

    More love for Last and First Men and Star Maker here. Both absolutely astounding and there's nothing else like them.
  6. RL666

    Fred Pohl dies

    A bad year indeed... Gateway and Man Plus are delights.
  7. RL666

    Sci Fi recommendations

    The Viriconium stuff is well worth a look. The omnibus volume that they sell now is actually three novels and a bunch of shorts. The Pastel City is pretty much straight-up fantasy, though with a pseudo-sci-fi far-future/dying-earth setting, and beautifully written as well as very accessible. A Storm of Wings is a lot more experimental, with language that veers between annoying and astounding, and is very concerned with subverting the fantasy/adventure tropes of the first novel. In Viriconium and Viriconium Nights see a lot more Light-style weirdness coming to the fore. In Viriconium is almost like an anti-fantasy novel, reading like a piece of lit-fic and playing with weird resonances from the first two works. The stories of Viriconium NIghts share elements with each other and the earlier novels, but presented in deliberately impossible and contradictory ways - they're stories that fail to add up, but in a precisely-engineered way that creates a beautifully uncanny effect. The omnibus intersperses the novels with the shorts, in a somewhat point-missing fashion as the shorts are clearly meant to be read with an awareness of the earlier material; thus I'd recommend that you skip the story that opens the edition and dive straight into The Pastel City.
  8. RL666

    Jack Vance has died

    Aw man, I'm halfway through reading Suldrun's Garden literally right now! I've only read a fraction of the fiction he produced, but I love his instantly-recognizable style. Tomorrow I will address everybody in tones of haughty, elaborate formality in his honor.
  9. Yeah, this was ace: largely because it just wasn't afraid to be full of funny, goofy dialogue and throwaway jokes. Not to downplay the action sequences, which were dead thrilling as well, including the climax. It's just a really well-written action film, and it makes me need to watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, stat. Probably enjoyed it as much as Avengers, to be honest. Would happily watch again, better than the first two by miles.
  10. RL666

    Evil Dead Remake!

    I liked it. It wasn't as gruesome as I'd been expecting, a couple of "oooh, nasty!" moments but not walkouts/vomiting in the aisles fare either. Dialogue and characterisation fell flat of course, but I guess it's a bit churlish to expect anything in that department. It was at its best when traces of the old deranged slapstick approach showed through.
  11. RL666

    XCOM: Enemy Unknown - Firaxis

    I wouldn't worry about rebalance mods first time through. The ones I've read descriptions of are jokes anyway - best play with the mechanics as the devs intended, then mod if there's stuff you'd like to change.
  12. RL666

    Writers' Corner, March 2013 - Desert

    Yeah, this thread is a desert :-( I haven't written my contribution yet cause, hey, I'm a pressure-worker.
  13. RL666

    XCOM: Enemy Unknown - Firaxis

    Nah, I'd recommend Normal Ironman first time through. Ironman is the real game. There's just nothing like the constant tension of knowing your performance has consequences. Just remember to focus on satellites in the early game, and if things do go tits up, well, there's no shame in restarting.
  14. RL666

    Mass Effect 3

    Yeah, the combat component of ME1 is really just something that you wince through while waiting for the next conversation. Just stick it on the easiest difficulty and breeze it.
  15. RL666

    Wool/Shift/Dust by Hugh Howey

    I like how, because Juliette is from the down-deep, she accordingly interprets everything through goofy engineering metaphors, a point reiterated needlessly on every other page. Somebody, not necessarily Hugh Howey, needs to rewrite Wool for style and reduce it to as little as half its present word-count. The twist at the end of part three is cool. Even though it's sort of spoiled by the contents page. It's very much writing that you read to see what happens, rather than for the writing itself. That said... I can't wait to see what happens.
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