Saturday, July 28, 2012

Alexander Pulls Out His... Portal Gun?

"Alexander pulls out his magic map..."

Wasn’t This About Portal 2?:   
Okay, so that picture has nothing to do with Portal 2 and neither does Alexander.  Alexander and his magic map are actually from a game called King’s Quest VI, which was released in 1992 for MS-DOS on twelve floppy discs.  So what’s the connection between two games that were released ten years apart from each other?  Well, while I was playing Portal 2, I kept being reminded of this game because the humor was so similar.  King’s Quest VI is in the genre I like to call “So-Funny-It-Lures-You-Into-Complacency-And-Then-Kills-You”.  The name is still a work in progress, okay?  It’s hard to think of a particular instance when this happens, because it’s more of an overall feel.  The whole King’s Quest series is full of humor, but on the other hand, you can also accidentally die for really stupid reasons, like walking too far into the ocean, walking off a bridge, etc.  

At first, Portal 2 seemed like a pretty goofy, safe game where you solved these chambers with the help of your portal gun and various other props, such as weighted cubes, buttons, and my personal favorite, Repulsion Gel, which is like Flubber.  I kept feeling safe in this game (and pretty awesome with my cool gun), until that first time I died.  From that point on, I fell to my death, got shot by turrets, got smashed and also drowned in weird goo more times than I’d like to count, yet after each chamber, the AI that runs the station (GLaDOS), always had something snarky to say.  It’s an interesting contrast that I haven’t seen in some time.  Anyway, now that my randomness is over with, we can get on with the review.


 The original Portal game left big shoes to fill, winning awards for Best Puzzle Game, Best New Character, Funniest Game, Game of the Year, and even Best End Credit Song.  (And let’s be honest, the song Still Alive is really good.)  I played the original Portal after I played the second one, but in my opinion, it more than measures up to it’s predecessor.  Let’s take a look at what I think makes it so good.  

Reasons The Cake Is Not A Lie: 

Frustrating, Yet Somehow Enjoyable

One of the greatest things about Portal 2 was, of course, the puzzles themselves.  For the first half of the game, I found most puzzles only slightly mind-bending, but as it went on it kept getting harder and at times very frustrating.  Yet for some reason, I couldn’t stay away for very long and kept coming back and looking at the room with a different perspective, trying everything I could think of to get to that door.  It was the really difficult ones that were the most satisfying, because even if the solution ended up being simple, it made you feel amazing to have figured it out yourself.  Or, you know, maybe with a hint from a Youtube video.  

Anyway, the way that this game makes you feel so smart and so dumb at the same time is great, and it really speaks of the quality of the work that went into the design of the levels. 


The ever-faithful companion.
The amount of characters in Portal 2 is exactly three, including the one that you play (Though she isn’t voiced).  Four, if you want to count the companion cube (Sorry, but it’s not voiced, either).  However, what Portal 2 lacks in quantity of characters, it makes up for in quality.  The dialogue is hilarious, and the acting is superb and very natural, which is funny, considering that the characters are computers.  Even as computers, they’re very unique characters.  GLaDOS is insulting, yet clever, and Wheatley is the definition of the word "adorkable"  

The music is also very fitting with its electronic sound, and it greatly adds to the pressure that you feel to solve the puzzles as quickly as possible.    

Simple Plot, Yet Intelligent

This one speaks for itself.  The plot was pretty simple and obviously very linear, but there was also a well done twist that I wasn’t really expecting, and it was still pleasant to play.

Reasons The Cake IS, In Fact, A Lie:

Lack of Replay-ability 

This is sort of a half-hearted criticism, but still valid.  With such a linear plot and carefully designed chambers, once you’ve got them figured out, it’s too easy to finish them again to make it worth playing the whole game through more than once.  The commentary is worthwhile, and the multiplayer levels are totally different, but the only thing that would really draw me into playing the whole campaign again would be the dialogue, which is pretty memorable anyway.  

But… I Wanna Know More!

I realize that Portal 2 is not an RPG title, and thus not too many story elements are introduced, but the ones that were taunted me just enough that I wanted more to be revealed.  I don’t know if a third installment in the Portal series is in the works (I hope so), but if it is, I hope it expands more on the Aperture Science facility, the other test subjects, and especially the player character.  I didn’t even know the name of the lady I was playing until after I had finished both games and saw a comment on Youtube that mentioned the name Chell.  Turns out the player character is, in fact, named Chell, but I didn’t hear it once in either game.  The mysteries are part of the appeal, but I’d really like for a few to be solved if a third game comes out.

In Conclusion: 

Portal 2 is an awesome game that’s definitely worth the price ($20 on Steam, the last I looked).  It’s a reasonably long game, especially if you’re one of those people who would rather spend days figuring out a puzzle yourself than looking up a hint.  It’s entertaining, creative, and most importantly, a lot of fun.  So what are you waiting for?  Go check it out!    

Monday, July 23, 2012

Choices of a Star Wars Fan

"Yep, I'm still awesome.  Thanks for asking."
Coming to you from the dangerous reaches of a Star Wars fan's mind, shamelessly copied and pasted from my page on Goodreads here is the promised review of Choices of One.  

Rating: 4/5 stars.  

"A solid addition to the Star Wars universe that also has a killer cliff-hanger ending that makes me want to somehow get a hold of a copy of the next book in the series, Scoundrels, right now. But that's the fan-girl in me talking. For a minute here, let me talk about the things that could have been better. Yes, even the great Timothy Zahn has faults.

First of all, the time period that this book is very, very fleshed out, not leaving Zahn much room to maneuver his plot around in really creative ways. Not that the plot was bad, I thought it was pretty good, it just didn't wow me the way some of Zahn's other books did.

There was also the issue with which characters could and couldn't bump into each other because they don't meet until future books. Yes, I'm mostly talking about Luke and Mara here. They can't meet each other until much later in the series, yet in this book they're very close to doing just that. The only thing that kept them from meeting was Zahn's plot manipulation, which was a little obvious at times. Also, Luke was a little uninteresting to me through most of this book. Maybe it's because he's still a bit of the inexperienced farm boy from the movies, but I found him to be rather bland when compared to the rest of the cast.

There's also good things about this book, of course. Thrawn and his wonderfully devious mind make an appearance, and Jorj Car'das is also there in a minor role. Han and Leia have some great moments, of course, and the members of the Hand Of Judgment are back. All in all, this was a great read, but still a step down from Allegiance and the other Star Wars books that Zahn has written. However, I have hope that Scoundrels will step it back up.

P.S. Please tell me that Talon Karrde is going to show up in the next book. Pretty please." 

Coming soon(ish) will be a review of Portal 2, so check back next week.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Taking A Review In The Knee

Yes, I know I’m a bit late to the Skyrim train.  It came out over six months ago, but I’ve only recently decided to buy it.  After all, I did try out both Oblivion on the PS3 and Daggerfall on my computer, and couldn’t manage to get very far in either.  In Daggerfall, I couldn’t even make it out of the tutorial dungeon.  It’s embarrassing how many times I got killed by rats.  I didn’t know much about the Elder Scrolls series until I played Skyrim, and I still feel like I’m only scratching the surface of all the history in this series, but I also felt that Skyrim is a great game that I wanted to review.   

So here it is.  A warning: Skyrim is a massive game, and this review will likely match.

The Great: 

Graphics (most of the time)
 From the mountains at the Throat of the World, to the city of Whiterun, to the countless pathways through hills and forests, Skyrim’s graphics blew me away.  The colors are rich and beautiful, the day/night cycle is top notch, and the water looks like it’ll get your monitor wet.  If you equip a ring and zoom in on your character’s hand, you can even see it there on their finger. 

 However, such great graphics over such a large game map are bound to have glitches.  Nothing game breaking, but funny and a little annoying all the same.  For instance, one time I killed a dragon, ran up the road a ways, and entered a cave.  When I came out of the cave, the dragon’s skeleton was right outside the doorway, slowly sliding down the hill and twitching slightly.  Creepy, right?  I also saw the common glitches of people looking like they were part way through the wall or the floor and items floating in midair.  

Fun and Inventive Quests
I’ve played a lot of RPG’s.  I certainly haven’t played every one out there, but still a lot.  After a while, you start to notice certain trends when it comes to quests.  This is especially noticeable in MMO’s.  Go here, kill this, get this, return to quest giver.  Over and over and over again.  Skyrim had a few of these sort of quests, but the majority of it was a bit more creative.  Sometimes you have to sneak into a fort without being seen, and find evidence of some sort.  Other times you have to blend in with the crowd and find your answers through carefully guarded conversation.  And then, every once in a while you just have to play tag with a group of kids.  No, seriously, that’s a real quest in the game, and there’s no other reason for it than to have fun.  How cool is that? 

Books, History, Lore
 Yes, I love books.  In games, it’s pretty rare to find books sitting on a shelf that you can actually read.  But guess what?  In Skyrim, you can.  You get to learn about the history of Skyrim, its culture, and the people and organizations that you run into in the game.  Some books increase a certain skill, and there are even a few books that are just for fun.  You may think that just reading something on your screen instead of actually playing the game seems dull, but trust me, if you decide to play Skyrim, pick up a book in the game and give it a chance.

The Not-So-Great: 

Sorry, Do I Know You?
As I’ve said, Skyrim is a massive game that takes up a lot of hours, even if you were only to do the main quests.  Along your travels through the country, you meet a lot of people.  You also see a lot of people with names that you may never even get to talk to.  This makes it a bit confusing when you try to remember the name of someone who gave you a quest near the beginning of the game that you just now finished.  

Coming from games like the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series, I’m used to feeling more connection when it comes to characters.  For instance, in Mass Effect, Shepard travels with his or her squad mates, and over time and conversation, gets to learn about their past and personality.  In Skyrim, you could have Hirelings or Followers that helped you in a fight (if they didn’t get lost in the rough terrain), but you never really have any reason to talk to them unless you want them to do something.  No casual conversation whatsoever.  There were a couple of characters that were truly unique that I actually started to like, but even those ones shared voice actors with half a dozen other citizens, diminishing the feeling of individuality.  

I Saw You Looking At That Cheese Wheel
This is a big complaint for me every time a play an open world game.  No, not the existence of cheese.  I’m talking about the existence of super-sensitive guards.  In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, for instance, you could walk into someone’s apartment, grab their stuff and walk right out.  It was handy.  

Okay, that makes me sound like a kleptomaniac.  Let me put it this way: It was easy.  

In Skyrim, if you do every quest, you’ll likely have to break the law every now and then.  Thievery and pick-pocketing are the most common, but sometimes even trespassing is required if you want to finish certain quests.  More annoying than that, though, is this: you walk into an inn in Skyrim, and you’d better watch what button you’re pressing, because if it’s not nailed down, you can accidentally steal it.  

The existence of guards is interesting in a way, because it adds an extra difficulty.  Will I be able to sneak past this guy, or am I going to get caught?  And there are also other, more serious crimes that are possible in Skyrim where it makes sense to have consequences for players.  You couldn’t have a player running around and massacring the city, it would be ridiculous.  Their next step would probably be shooting an arrow in a guard’s knee.  The horror!

Language, And Some Other Junk

As a Christian, I try to be careful about what games I play, and what choices I make in that game.  Sure, it’s just a game, but there’s no reason to constantly fill my head with garbage for the sake of entertainment.  In this area, Skyrim actually did better than a lot of other games made in the last decade.  The language that was there was usually mild, but unfortunately, was still there.  The sexual themes as far as innuendos go were pretty mild, also, but the immodesty was still a problem.  Female characters sometimes wear revealing clothing, and a statue I ran across was practically nude.  Use of alcohol and “moon sugar” (drugs, in other words), were also there, but not too prevalent.  Violence is the main reason for the M rating on Skyrim, but compared to some games I’ve played --*cough* Fallout 3 *cough*-- it was actually pretty tame.  Skyrim also has a lot of gods in their lore, but it wasn’t a big enough part of the game to be worrisome to me.   

In Conclusion:  
There are some games that are good, some games that are great, and some games that are either so terrible or so fantastic that they’re remembered for years afterwards.  Skyrim is one of the fantastic ones.  Though it may take a good chunk of your life to even make it through the bulk of the game, it’s one that will keep people talking.  

So, if you’re a hardcore gamer who wants something you can really get sucked into, play Skyrim.  Or, if you’re a casual gamer who wants a game that will keep you busy for the next few months, years, play Skyrim.  

Sorry for the giant review, and thank you for taking the time to read it.  Next week I plan on reviewing Timothy Zahn’s latest Star Wars book: Choices of One.  Hope you enjoy it.