I can’t wait to get home to play PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS

I first found out about the game PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS last week after seeing it played on Giant Bomb, and their continued coverage of the game has made me unusually excited for some random, non AAA game on Steam. The game unleashes up to 100 players into a huge playground (or ‘battleground’ if you will) and it’s up to the player to scavenge for weapons, armor and supplies while trying to survive until the end.

This was the idea that sold me on Day Z initially, but I could never get past the complexity of the game. Battlegrounds seems to be much simpler to dive into, and it also looks to run reasonably well. I tried it out on my laptop (Acer Aspire V15 Nitro), but it doesn’t run as well as I’d like it to so I’ve mostly avoided playing it so that I can dive in using my desktop once I return home.

Until then, I’m going to continue to enjoy watching the guys at Giant Bomb screw around in the game as they try to be the last man standing.

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’13 Reasons Why’ reminds me of Life is Strange

This week I started watching the popular (and possibly controversial, if Facebook posts such as “Don’t let your kids watch… are to be believed) Netflix drama ’13 Reasons Why’, and I can’t help but think back to my time spent playing Life is Strange with every moment. I think a lot of it has to be the way that the characters interact with each other. The playful dialog, specifically between Hannah and Clay, reminds me a lot of the way that Max and Chloe talked to each other in Life is Strange.

The style and the way that music is used in ’13 Reasons Why’ has also been reminding me of the wonderful soundtrack from Life is Strange. I’m only on the third episode of the show, but after I’ve finished each episode I’ve found myself logging onto Twitch to see if anyone is streaming Life is Strange (luckily, so far there have been plenty of streams). I think by the time I finish the show I’ll end up playing through the game once more to relive the wonderful journey.

I’ve enjoyed the show a ton so far, and I’m excited to continue watching (though I tend not to binge watch so it’ll probably take me a few weeks). I don’t really have much else to say, but was kind of curious if the show has reminded anyone else of Life is Strange, or if I’m just crazy.

 

Thimbleweed Park got me to play Day of the Tentacle

Before I left for my trip to Virginia which I’m currently on (for work), I started playing Thimbleweed Park on the Xbox One, and had a blast with it. I didn’t get very far, but the voice acting, art and overall design were all excellent, and I enjoyed every moment I played. I brought my PS4 with me for this trip (mostly to work on Persona 5), and while browsing the store last week I saw that Day of the Tentacle Remastered and Grim Fandango Remastered were both on sale. I ended up downloading both, and finally started Day of the Tentacle this weekend.

I never really got into adventure games during my early PC gaming days. I remember fooling around with a few King’s Quest games, but never really being able to figure out what to do and in the end I’d go back to playing games like Wheel of Fortune, Ghostbusters and various FMV games (I remember this Battleship game that came on something like 14 disks!). Therefore Thimbleweed Park served as a way to ease into the older style of adventure game that became popular in the early 90’s. It introduced me to a simplified version of adventure game mechanics that carried over quite well to Day of the Tentacle.

One thing that immediately struck me upon starting Day of the Tentacle was the stellar music and voice acting. I didn’t expect the game to sound so good! I loved all of the voice acting, and the high quality remastered art helped bring the world to life. I was in love! It also helped that the early puzzles were pretty easy to solve, and things got moving quicker than I expected. Unfortunately, after an hour or two things slowed down and I found myself getting stuck pretty often, unable to advance the story. I ended up peeking at a guide a few times to keep things moving smoothly, and there were certainly some solutions I would have never figured out.

The game’s controls were simplified enough to make it playable on a console, but I did find moving the cursor around to be a little slow at times. Also the sluggish character movement got annoying when I knew exactly where I needed to go next, but had to click through several screens to get there. That’s one thing Thimbleweed Park improved on with its sprint button (I know I’m comparing a 2017 game to a nearly thirty year old game, but it’s hard not to do).

Overall I enjoyed the experience, and look forward to checking out Grim Fandango next. Ultimately, I’m pretty excited to get back home and dig back into Thimbleweed Park after getting my feet wet with some games it takes inspiration form.

Slowly trudging through Persona 5

I’ve put about ten hours into Persona 5 since its release, and I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it. At first I was having a blast, as the combat felt solid, the flashy graphics were pleasing and it all just felt good. But as I’m nearing the end of the first dungeon I’m starting to feel like it’s becoming more of a chore to slog through. The dungeon is huge, and requires multiple “days” (in game) to conquer. So far I’ve left and re-entered the dungeon four times. Maybe I’m getting a little burnt out, but the enemy encounters started to feel the same, and I’ve followed the same series of moves to take them out over and over again with little payoff. In fact, last night I finally lowered the difficulty to ‘safe’ mode (which is irreversible) to get through the combat quicker.

I’m hoping that once I get through the first dungeon the game will begin to grow on me, but right now I’m a little down on it. On the plus side, I’ve enjoyed the main cast of characters so far, yet at the same time I’ve become incredibly annoyed with their repetitive banter inside the dungeon (I heard Morgana utter the same line six times in a row last night during an encounter).

I should be able to finish the first dungeon tonight, so we’ll see how things go after that.

The Oculus Rift is incredible!

When Oculus announced their price cut recently ($100 off both the headset and the Touch controllers) I knew it wouldn’t be long until I finally dove into VR. Previously, the $800 price point was definitely too steep, but the $200 cut made it much more approachable (though still quite expensive). For awhile I thought about going with a Playstation VR as a first step into the world of VR, but with the Oculus price cut it seemed like a no brainer to spend an extra $100 on a more capable system.

Set up

I was excited to bring everything home, however I quickly found out how much of a headache the setup could be. Not only did I have to move my desktop into the living room, but at first the sensors were not playing nice with some of my USB ports. After some tinkering around I got everything running, but I didn’t want to leave my desktop in the living room long term. I ordered a bunch of USB extension cables, an HDMI extension cable and an HDMI repeater, hoping to leave my desktop in the office area while extending the Rift out into the living room. Unfortunately, this setup proved to be difficult as well. Eventually I got it working, however if I backed out to the Oculus menu the display would black out and I’d have to disconnect and reconnect the headset to get it working again. Not an ideal solution.

Next, I decided I would move the desktop to the living room to allow for a direct connection to the Oculus, and run extension cables into the office to connect my monitor, speakers, mouse and keyboard. It’s not an ideal solution, but I tried to cover the wires as best I could and after a few complaints from my wife (sorry!) everything has gone smoothly.

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The VR experience

The introduction / tutorial experience after you get through the initial set up blew me away. It felt so natural to reach out and pick stuff up with the Touch controllers, and I had a huge smile on my face as I just threw things around and watched them fly through the space and interact with other objects. After that I jumped into Job Simulator and had a blast, but I think the experience suffered since I watched videos of other people playing and very little came as a surprise (for example,  I already knew that when you scanned objects on the copier it spit out 3D replicas).

Next I fired up Rec Room, and that’s where I had some of the coolest experiences in VR to date. Just interacting with everyone in the locker room is a fun experience, but once I jumped into some games with people it was a blast. For example, the first time I jumped into disc golf everything felt like a normal game of disc golf, until on a whim one of the guys I was competing against decided to lean down and nudge my disk along the ground with both hands. It was funny to watch happen, and we both started laughing as he pushed the disc all the way to the hole where I picked it up and dropped it into the net. Best of all, the nudges didn’t count as strokes!

Everything in VR just feels so natural. In paddle ball I found myself doing a little dance when I would score, without even thinking that my opponent could see my dance. He then mimicked my dance when he scored and that’s when it really clicked that VR allows for an entirely different type of interaction with people. It’s not just voices through a headset, it’s hand and body motions as well. You can throw your racket in the air, or gently lie it on the ground. You can look at your racket in disbelief after a missed shot, and all the body language translates perfectly into VR for others to see.

Robo Recall has been another great VR experience so far. The game has some real polish, and looks beautiful in VR. The game has caused me to jump in surprise as robots have snuck up on me, and freak out as spider-like robots crawled toward me. The shooting feels great, and it’s awesome to pull guns out of holsters on your hips every time you need more ammo. Speaking of shooting, I also played some SUPERHOT VR, and dang does it feel good to shoot in that game!

Overall, I’ve been having a blast in VR and can’t wait to see how the platform continues to develop as more time passes and more people gain access to the technology.

My PC’s specs are below for those who might have a similar setup. Everything has run smoothly on my system.

Nvidia GTX 1060FE
AMD FX8320 (overclocked to 4GHz)
16GB RAM

Can an AMD FX8320 run Oculus Rift?

This was a question I’ve been asking a lot since I got my desktop last year, and after this weekend I can finally provide a definitive answer: Yes. At least, that’s the case for me, with a liquid cooled 8320 overclocked to 4.0GHz. I’ve been messing around with Oculus this weekend and it’s been a flawless experience on my PC. I’ve played SUPERHOT VR, Rec Room, Robo Recall, Fruit Ninja VR and Project Cars VR, and all ran perfectly. I just wanted to throw an answer to this question out there, because leading up to my Rift purchase the most I could find on Google were answers that sounded like more of a “maybe” than a definitive yes.

I’ll be writing more about my first real VR experience soon.

My specs, if you’re curious:

MSI 970A SLI Krait Edition (2 USB 3.1, 6 USB 2.0)
AMD FX8320 (OC 4.0GHz)
Corsair Hydro Series H55 120mm liquid cooler
Nvidia GTX 1060 Founders Edition
16GB 1866 G.SKILL Ripjaws X

I’m really not into Mass Effect Andromeda

The Mass Effect series has provided some of my favorite moments of my entire ‘video game life’ (even Mass Effect 3!). Up until last night I was incredibly excited for Mass Effect Andromeda, and thought for sure I would be buying the game. The only decision I had yet to make was whether I’d get it for the Xbox One or PC. However, the two hours I spent with the 10 hour EA Access trial last night has almost entirely dissuaded me from buying the game.

Right off the bat I found myself annoyed with the writing. Not only was the set up a bore, but the dialogue between characters, both during cut scenes and during background conversations was cringe worthy. At one point one of my squad mates uttered something to the effect of “Did that hurt? YEAH BECAUSE I SHOT YOU IN THE FACE!”. I almost shut the Xbox off right then and there, but I decided to keep trudging through to see if anything exciting would happen. It never did.

My time on the first planet felt like nothing but busy work. Run here, then here, then here, Scan some things. Shoot some things. On and on. I know this isn’t wildly different from the other games, but at least on those games there’s a real sense of purpose. The whole Pathfinder concept just comes across as cheesy, right from the start. The opening dialogue trying to make the journey to Andromeda seem like some “grand adventure” just made me cringe, and as I spent more time as Ryder I wished there was a button Nier Automata style to just shoot myself in the head and get a game over screen.

To make matters worse, the combat just feels sloppy. I found it difficult to line up shots (kind of slow, but all over the place at the same time) which sucked because I had been playing Mass Effect 3 all week and loving how solid the combat feels in that game. The guns and abilities feel like they have very little bite, and there’s no satisfying “pop” as you drop enemies like there is in Mass Effect 2 and 3.

Even worse than the combat are the textures, animations and voice acting. The first planet isn’t very pretty to look at (a darn shame after spending time with Horizon Zero Dawn or even Breath of the Wild), but beyond the art style there are some incredibly flat, muddy and ugly textures (the dark matter particularly). The animations have probably been ragged on enough by everyone else on the internet, and I could probably ignore them if it weren’t for the god awful voice acting. Some of it has been so bad that I nearly burst out laughing. Specifically, the first lines out of the female Turian’s mouth on the Nexus are horrendous. Shortly after speaking to her I had to turn the game off and boot up Mass Effect 3 instead, I couldn’t take it anymore. She’s not alone, however, as most of the characters sound like they were voiced by the developers themselves, blandly reading lines into a microphone with no enthusiasm or emotion.

Lastly, there are some really bad pop in issues, most noticeable while on the Nexus. As I found myself running into rooms, entire groups of NPC’s would pop in two or three seconds after I entered a room. Maybe this is a bug that gets fixed with a patch, maybe it’s a limitation of the Xbox One, but regardless, it really screws with any sense of immersion you might have.

Ultimately, I’m not even sure it’s worth my time to play another couple hours of the free trial. I feel like I’ve seen all I need to see. I don’t think I could take another minute of easily the second worst game I’ve played in 2017 (second only to Ghost Recon Wildlands, another game that suffers from some of the worst voice acting I’ve ever heard in a video game).

I don’t mean to hate on Mass Effect, I really wanted to love the game as much as I’ve loved the rest of the series, but I don’t think it’s possible at this point. At least I can take some relief in knowing that Andromeda was developed by an entirely different team than the original trilogy, and I think in the long run many will come to look at Andromeda as a sort of B-level spin off, rather than a continuation of such a great series.