Tag Archives: XBox360

Portal 2 Appreciation


Yesterday, we threw Liam a party for his graduation. True to his heritage from me, he never really wanted a party. However, he went along with it. In spite of the awkwardness of having so many worlds collide, I think it went well. While sitting with his friends, one of them asked, “What’s your favorite game?” Another thought about it. My answer required no though. “Portal 2.” Then, I realized for all my talk about the game, I never wrote an article. So, join me for some Portal 2 appreciation.

For his part, Liam agreed. I think his friend, taken aback by my sudden interest in the conversation said something along the lines of, “Portal is a good game.” For me, it represents so much more. Those who read (and spider – Hey Sergei!) the page on a regular basis know that one of my main reasons for playing a game is the story. So, about that story.

Portal 2 Story

On the surface, it focuses around a faceless (unless you find a mirror or can portal yourself to see it) protagonist that needs to escape the crumbling infrastructure of a long dormant mega-corporation. Sure, a bit on the nose, but you write what society knows. Initially armed only with a pair of leg prosthetics that allow you to absorb the impact of high falls and a wittier than he thinks personal assistant, you strike off into the wilds of Aperture Science. Soon, you find your only weapon, a portal gun. Eventually, an old foe returns. Your former assisstant betrays you. Through it all, you wield only a gun that creates portals. Seriously. That’s it. I mean, it makes sense with the title. But, how can that possibly be interesting over an entire game? Well, more on that part later.

Well, one way they kept me hooked was the secondary story of Cave Johnson (the head and voice of Aperture science) and his assistant Caroline. The always fantastic J. K. Simmons voices Cave to perfection. But, honestly, Caroline (voiced by Ellen McLain) steals the show. We learn there exist “similariities” between her and the aforementioned former nemesis, GladOS. Unlike many things, if you haven’t played, I won’t spoil it any further. I want you to experience the story fresh like I got to. I’m sure you will enjoy it.

Portal 2 Gameplay

You start the game by waking up from a decades (centuries?) long sleep. Something went terribly wrong in the facility and all fail safes failed to keep people safe. Wait, why are we telling the story here? Doesn’t this belong up there? I’m setting the scene. Just give me this Portal 2 appreciation moment, please. You have no weapons. Similar to any other FPS, right? Well, sure, but the difference is, ultimately, you don’t fight anything. No demons, orcs, aliens, bug people, nothing. You run through the facility, just ahead of the chaos until you find a gun.

And, still, you fight nothing. Well, why the hell am I playing this game then? For me, that’s the beauty of Portal 2. WIthout any actual combat and very little peril, through the story and experience, they build a tension that forces you to keep playing to get to the end, survive, and excape this prison, frankly. They add science fiction elements of being able to create portals with the gun and ground up moon rocks and other mumbo jumbo that allow you to do superhuman things, too.

Portal 2 Puzzles

Like the primary story, Portal 2’s gameplay exists simply to allow them to build devious puzzles for you to solve. You must use your surroundings, your brain, and clues from previous puzzles to work your way through increasingly difficult levels. Many of the puzzles are straight forward to solve. But, the solutions take time and effort to put together sometimes. Some took me a good couple of hours to work out the actual solution. Even when I go back to replay the game (twice so far), a few of them give me trouble.

The Verdict

Obviously, there’s more to my Portal 2 appreciation. The game is visually appealing. Even with the tough puzzles, it takes less than a week to beat if you play a couple of hours each night. Since the game came out over a decade ago, you can get it for 10 bucks on Steam. Heck, every time I bought it (at least three times now for different systems), I got it in a bundle. The first time, it came with Half-Life 2, Portal, and Portal 2. Usually, it’s just the two Portal games. So, honestly, for a gamer like me, the Portal universe gives me everything I want from a game. Good story, simple controls, fun puzzles, and an overall great experience.

Button Mashers Beget Button Mashers

(Editor’s Note: Apologies again for our silence this week. I’ve been dealing with end of semester stuff. Hopefully I can maintain the schedule of posting twice over the next two weeks. If not, I’ll definitely be back when finals are over.)

My family took me to a local arcade (yes, they still exist!) for my birthday this year. It might be more accurate if I saythe local arcade since I believe it is the only one close enough to be called local. We do have a Chuck E. Cheese, but the arcade there is secondary. You mostly go there for the mediocre (really, terrible) pizza. Wait, why does anyone go there? A question for another time, perhaps.

The trip took me back to the years of my youth misspent in arcades from Erie, Pennsylvania to Silver Springs, Maryland. I got 2 hours to play Tetris, Dig, Dug, Rampage, NBA Jam, The Simpsons, Centipede, any many others. Sadly, no Q*Bert or Pac-Man and the Mrs. Pac-Man machine was out of order. Also no Mario Brothers and the only Neo Geo games were Bubble Bobble and Bust a Move. Aside from the more modern games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter, those were the old school games that I played in the arcade and at home. Still, I had so much fun and it is one of the best birthday presents ever.

Button mashers in training

During one of my breaks to watch TMNT (They showed it on the big screen, but with no sound. That’s my only complaint, even if understandable.) and eat free fries (part of a Groupon deal), I noticed Liam and Aiden playing together on a machine and having a ton of fun. I went over to see what brought them such joy. It was one of those Street Fighter clones, but one that I’d never played nor even seen. This is noteworthy because I thought that I’d played them all. At the least, I was sure that I’d played the ones that featured Ryu as a character. I noticed he was on the roster during one of their character selections.

Now, it is bugging me again that I never knew the game existed and I forgot to write down the name of the game. I need to figure this out. Bear with me. Enjoy the musical stylings of Nick Winters while you wait.

Okay, I’m back! Google is a wonderful thing. Whether you need to find the name of a never before seen 2D fighter or directions to the Rhode Island Convention Center for an underwhelming trip to wach the SCG Open event, Google has you covered. Sure, they’ll catalog your search results, sell your personal information and data, and then use that money to lobby Washington DC for less strict anti-trust laws. That’s all a small price to pay for all that convenience.

Once they finished playing and it was time to go, I asked the natural question, hoping for a particular response. They looked like they had fun, but I wanted to be sure. “Did you like it?” I asked. They both said, “Yes, it was fun!”

Woo hoo!

It started with board games, branched out into Heroclix, Pokemon, and Magic, and now extended into 2D fighting games. My kids share many of my gaming interests and I’m thrilled by the prospects. In fact, they enjoyed the game so much that they didn’t want to leave. While I’m not entirely sure how they kept track, we only had technically two hours to play and our time was over. No tears were shed, but they definitely expressed their disappointment.

Oh, in case you were wondering, the game they were playing:

Tatsunoko vs. Capcom

I remembered that Chris gave me a copy of Marvel vs. Capcom 3. This led me to download the second game on XBox Live. I mentioned to the boys that I owned a similar game to soften the blow. Naturally, my intent was to play the game with them. However, as happens (and happened too often this winter), the gamegot lost in the shuffle and forgotten for several months.

I don’t remember exactly how or why the game came up in conversation again. I think that it was just luck. We were sitting in the living room, Aiden had finished playing some ‘Splosion Man, and was getting ready to turn off the XBox. I grabbed the other controller to load up Marvel vs. Capcom 2. He got so excited when he heard the music and saw all the characters that were available. Neither he nor I understood the intricacies of the game, so we were on mostly level ground in that regard. I did have the advantage of knowing some of the special moves. That advantage disappeared quickly, though.

I’m not sure that he knew the exact moves. Then again, I’m not sure that he didn’t, either. He pulled them off with such frequency and skill that he might have stumbled onto something by mistake. Either way, he beat me legitimately more than once. I’m not proud of it, but it did happen. As someone who pretends to be a reporter on the internets, it is my duty to report news when it happens.

Breaking! 8-year old beats his father! Click herefor the rest of the story.

Hey, maybe I’m not just pretending to be a reporter. I seem to have learned the basics of web journalism already. I can generate click bait. What do you mean journalistic integrity? See, I’m a natural!

We moved on to Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Excited by the fact that, even though it takes them a while, Capcom can count to three, I assumed that meant that they also improved their games with each successive sequel. Sure, I knew that they often didn’t necessarily improve when they released the in between expansions for each game, but they had to make the sequels better, right? I excitedly told Aiden that they made the graphics better and added new characters. Sadly, only one of those was true. There were actually less characters and they didn’t even necessarily pick the good ones to include in the game.

Marvel vs. Capcom 2

Marvel vs. Capcom 3

Of course, the game featured all of the familiar faces from both Capcom and Marvel. Ryu, Sagat, Ken, Spidey, and Hulk all made the cut. So did some secondary characters like Dormammu, Moon Knight, the Darkstalkers girls, and the guy from Ghosts and Goblins. Deadpool and X-23 were added with a few others, but Zangief is gone. Probably the most egregious omission is the mummy guy from Darkstalkers. I accidentally discovered this move that turns the oppponent into this tiny zombie looking robot thing. Aiden and I laughed hysterically any time that I managed to land the attack. That’s what games are all about. Finding a move in a fighting game that makes both you and your 8-year old son giggle in the same way and spam it to no end.

Another strike against the third game is that Christine found the case. She asked, “Is this appropriate for them to play?” I asked what she meant and that I played it with Aiden and saw no problems. She replied, “It’s rated T.” I rolled my eyes. “Probably for cartoon violence or something.” To be honest, I never checked the ratings and felt a bit embarrassed by that. When I checked, I was flabbergasted. Partial nudity and sexual themes? WTF? I’m not sure that I played that game. I did a little research and I guess that it is due to the Darkstalkers ladies and Deadpool says a few potentially offensive things. I think that they were a bit heavy handed with the rating, but I can see their point. Some parents and children might be more sensitive to these issues.

All things considered, the second game seems like the obvious choice. No Deadpool and there are the ridiculously sexist costumes for some characters mentioned above, but they are overshadowed by the sheer number of other characters and easily avoided. I would give the game a try yourself first to see if that is something that you don’t find too offensive. If you find that it is okay for you and your kids, then get your kids to fight with each other and not worry about the destruction of property as a result.

…in a fighting game. Continue reading

Into the Mouth of Hell All By Myself

(Editor’s Note: Ever been so sure of something only to be proven completely wrong? Enjoy watching me eat a nice helping of crow.)

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big fan of World of Warcraft. I have not enjoyed this latest expansion as much as I thought and I might even be in the twilight of my WoW playing days. I start with this statement to immediately clear up any misconception right away. I like Wow, which immediately brands me as a Blizzard fanboy. As with most generalizations, this one is simply not true. I enjoy Heroes of the storm and occasionally tolerate Hearthstone when I can, but I have never even played any Starcraft game and only played Diablo III completely by chance.

I knew of the Diablo games, but only came upon Diablo III as a result of a WoW promotion. Unlike many players in the game, I never even played Diablo II. I know that is considered a sin because DII is widely thought to be one of the best games made and possibly Blizzard’s greatest game. I just wasn’t much of a PC gamer at the time. By the time I started gaming on my computer, WoW became my loot filled addiction. As tends to happen, that addiction became a potential gateway into others.

Blizzard ran a promotion that got you access to Diablo III if you signed up for their WoW annual pass testing. I had nothing to lose and another game to gain, so I joined the test. True to their word, I received a code for Diablo II and downloaded it using their Battle.Net app. Having never played DII might have worked to my advantage. All I kept hearing from other players was how much DIII sucked mainly because it wasn’t DII. I came into the game without that baggage and could decide for myself. Unfortunately, whether or not you played the previous game, DIII was not that great of a game. I played it for a couple of weeks or maybe a month, off and on, and then stopped in favor of other games. It wasn’t terrible. It just was not very fun. Blizzard pats themselves on the back for making fun games. They really missed on this one.

More recently, Scott Johnson from The Instance podcast mentioned how much he liked the console version of the game as a couch coop game. He is an admitted Blizzard fan boy, so I considered the source. Nevertheless, always on the lookout for new games for the web page and podcast, I ordered the game from Gamefly. When Chris and I got too busy over the holidays to play or record, the game sat at the bottom of my gaming bag. We started recording again and I suggested DIII during our most recent game night as a topic for the digital playground.

Part of the problem with the game is that it starts off slow. Really slow. I know that games are supposed to start off with training wheels to give you time to find your footing (sorry for the mixed metaphor), but DIII’s beginning is annoyingly slow. There is entirely too much talking and not nearly enough action. I know that Blizzard prides itself on story (mostly ripped off from other sources) and those stories are sometimes actually very good, but there has to be a balance. Diablo III, in my opinion, goes too far in the direction of story at first. That certainly led to my less than favorable first impression of the game. It nearly made me just say forget it and go back to the drawing board for the podcast.

Luckily, it didn’t take too long for the action to increase. We were soon up to our eyeballs in zombies, demons, skeletons, and other supernatural foes. Once that happened, the game was really fun. We played through until our tired brains wouldn’t allow us to focus well enough to progress anymore. After we played, Chris wrote in an article that he enjoyed himself and I finally did, too. For me, Diablo III is much better as a multiplayer game. Heck, it might even only be fun on consoles as a couch coop like Scott Johnson mentioned. I do know that i wasn’t fun to play by myself. But, I’m going to try it again. Hey, you can’t say that I didn’t give it a chance.

Maybe I’m stubborn. Maybe I’m just trying to figure it out. Like most gamers, when there’s a game that I don’t like but probably should, I want to know why. For what it is, DIII is a good game. Other gamers who play it really like it. I play the game by myself and I don’t like it and I’m not sure why.

Maybe it just isn’t my style of game. That’s often where you start when trying to assess a game. I always thought that I didn’t like MOBAs until I started playing Heroes of the Storm. Turns out that I jus tdidn’t like playing with the jerks who normally play those games. Heroes of the Storm is less competitive (offers less competitive game modes, at least) so you can avoid much of the toxicity of the MOBA community. That’s not the case with DIII, either. I have played other ARPGs extensively and they are fun. Another game that had a dubious launch was Marvel Heroes. People hated that game. Initially, so did I. The roster of heroes (and especially free starter heroes) was horribly small. The story was strong, but the gameplay was repetitive with little payoff. However, the the developers took feedback seriously, tuned the game, released more heroes, and the game became the most improved MMO of last year. The gameplay is still repetitive, but now there are more ways to play the game to keep it fresh. I play Marvel Heroes daily and have leveled two characters to max level with a third almost there. Even though the game is free to play, I even bough a character to support the developers and encourage them to keep improving the game.

The other game that I really like from this genre is Torchlight II. Around the time that I abandoned DIII for the first time, I learned of the Torchlight series. Several people called it “the game that DIII should have been.” It wasn’t F2P, but it was only 20 dollars on Steam. Even though I wondered how such a cheap game could compete with one that cost 60 dollars, I bought it. That was when I learned that my life long pursuit of being a cheap gamer would finally pay off in a big way.

(Before I proceed, let me explain. Skip ahead if you want. It won’t hurt my feelings. Once upon a time, I paid full price for a Playstation. Not a Playstation 2 or 3, but an original Playstation. That tells you how long ago this happened. As these stories generally go, a couple of months (or weeks, I remember it as weeks) later the price dropped. I vowed after that to never pay full price for a game again. Other than a couple of games (ironically, mostly when I was unemployed), I have stuck to that vow. One of the side effects of this is that I rarely get to play a game when it is new. Usually that isn’t a problem because I’m not much of an online gamer. Lately, it has been even less of a problem because of the proliferation of F2P.)

Thankfully, I was wrong. Torchlight II is amazingly full featured for such an inexpensive game. Everyone who suggested it as a substitute was right. It played nearly identical to Diablo III at one-third the price. Furthermore, I played the game both by myself and with my friend Kevin. I had fun playing both modes, but I actually played the hell out of the game by myself. Like Marvel Heroes, I played all the way to the end. i haven’t gotten a character to max level yet. I have done some end game and started another to play through again. What about those games makes them more fun than DIII? Let’s explore.

Diablo is much darker than the other two games. I don’t mean the story. While that might be true, the colors of DIII are very dingy. It reminds me of Batman from The Lego Movie if he added brown to his palette. Kevin and I both talked about this in Episode 2 of the podcast that got lost in the murky nether realm of dead hard drives. Even with a less than happy tale, Torchlight II still manages to use many shades of all the colors of the spectrum. Marvel Heroes, of course, inhabits the colorful comic book world. Granted, color scheme can’t be the only reason, but it can make for a dull play experience.

There is also the slow story ramp of Diablo. I don’t think that I can overstate that. Not knowing much about the story of Diablo might have hurt me in this regard, too, because I didn’t care too much about the characters or what was happening to them. The thing that got me through the Marvel Heroes introduction was my connection to the characters and stories. Like Diablo, I knew nothing about the Torchlight story, but the Outlander class kept me interested in the game until I got interested in the story. Perhaps that is my problem with Diablo III.

Let’s try something else. I’ve got the new video capture card for the computer. Maybe I can test it out with Diablo and try again. Up until this point, I’ve picked a Witch Doctor. Maybe that is the problem. Maybe I just don’t like class of Witch Doctor. I thought that it might be cool with the description and the spells available, but let’s try something else. I really liked Outlander in Torchlight II. Is there anything like that in Diablo? Turns out that the Demon Hunter looks similar to the Outlander. I’ll pick that. Also, as I was setting up the video capture card, the introduction of the story played through. I had skipped through it every other time playing the game.

Both the introduction and the new selection of class seems to have worked. It changed my mind about the game. I love hearing the *bang, bang* of the Demon Hunter’s gun as I blow stuff up. Not literally, yet. I don’t know if enemies explode when you kill them like they sometimes do in Torchlight II. If not, add that to the list of things that make TII better. In either case, I was wrong about Diablo III. The game is a fun game as long as you find the right class to play. My final piece of advice. Witch Doctor might not be the right class. Get out there and kick some demon butt.