BACKLOG: Dying Light on PS4, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. fails, The Stick of Truth (again), other JRPGs, and getting mad at Assassin’s Creed IV.

BACKLOG is a bi-weekly update column on how I’m progressing through “old” games that have been stuck in my ‘backlog of unfinished games’. Here I’ll generally update my progress in any and all games I’ve touched in the past two weeks, updates on reviews I’m writing, games I’m looking forward to, thoughts I’ve had, and things I’ve purchased. 

Elex

First and most pressing news is that my ~70 hour adventure in the world of Magalan has ended with completion of Piranha Byte‘s latest open-world RPG Elex. I’ll keep this brief as I’m writing a pretty lengthy review on the game but the nagging takeaway from the game’s world design and cast is an observation that the world of Elex is entirely white-washed. Piranha Bytes games are fantastic and immersive open world games that are, much like Spiders (Technomancer, Bound By Flame) full of awkward combat, cheap voice acting, and a lot of in-game glitches/bugs but they aren’t known for representing all human beings in their games the same way BioWare are. To be clear, I don’t -need- games to represent all races and sexuality in games, but I think RPG games are specifically better when they represent as many perspectives as possible.

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Commander Jax versus the Forces of Evil.

I know this will come across as “social justice warrior” rhetoric, and that is why it won’t be in my review but why should a game be completely white and completely heterosexual? The premise of the game does not call for it. The story involves almost all human civilization being wiped out by a comet and four factions surviving across the sole remaining habitable continent. Who survived? Apparently just white folks that made babies. This began to nag at me as I was making my Games of the Year list and taking stock of the world of Horizon: Zero Dawn a game where they took the time to represent all races possible. Perhaps it just comes down to comparing the resources of a huge studio out of Amsterdam to a small one based in Essen, but it shouldn’t be such a contrast. I doubt it was intentional or political but it did stand out some. Great game otherwise, despite how broken and difficult it was.

Status: Finished!

SteamWorld Dig 2

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A clipped 4K screenshot of SteamWorld Dig 2. The looks and animation have improved. I kinda hate the character design though.

Immediately after finishing up Elex I spent a few hours starting up SteamWorld Dig 2, the direct sequel to SteamWorld Dig, a metroidvania (action platformer with exploration) game that I finished mid-2017. As soon as I went through the game’s opening section and reached the town I felt frustrated with the slightly more floaty controls and physics. The ability to dash-run is great but it adds an odd momentum to the controls that I don’t like compared to the first game. It is very much the different between Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. The game looks amazing and it looks to be a great follow up to the first game but I could not get into it after the intro. I like that they’ve added a Navi-like light spirit to help narrate your way through the game and the sound design is well improved as well but I’m going to need to shelve SteamWorld Dig 2 for a few months while I play something else. Will not be playing it for review anytime soon and I feel no rush for it.

Status: On hold.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl

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The game speaks Ukranian/Russian a lot. I want to know what you’re saying when you kill me!

After owning all three S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games as well as now owning both Metro games from the PS4 ‘Redux’ collection, I figured it was time to give one of these games a chance and hooo-boy! Shadow of Chernobyl is relentlessly difficult at it’s start especially if you have no idea what to do or what the general mechanics of the game are. All I knew was that it was a first person open world game often called ‘open world Half-Life‘ and folks told me I’d love it after I’d expressed how much I enjoyed E.Y.E.: Divine Cybermancy a game that is equally brutal and does very little to introduce you to what is going on around you. So I’ve played a total of 90 minutes of this game thus far and I’m already heavily discouraged by its 1998 graphics (I installed the 2009 improvements) and Deus Ex style shooting. My first hour with the game was spent right outside of the game after receiving my first mission and gear. Instead of doing the first quest I ran around looting and searching for things that might benefit me to no avail. I ran into radiation that killed me, a monster that killed me, and a group of ‘outlaws’ near radiation that also killed me.

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It took me 10 minutes to figure out which key took screenshots and then a few google pages later to find out where my screenshots were stored. It feels like everything in this game needs a wiki.

After not accomplishing anything beyond understanding the controls and shooting I started the first mission. You get the choice to clear the place of enemies by yourself! Of course I did this and was swarmed by 6-7 enemies who shot my bleeding asshole off in a few minutes. I tried this about three more times and resigned to going with the whole squad. The first member ran in, shot one guy then took a shotgun blast to the back of the head and the other two stood outside of town shooting from far away. These AI patterns are semi-random it seems as I tried this same thing 4-5 times over the course of a half hour and found I could sort of pull enemies towards them but they would occasionally charge into town and die as well. The shooting doesn’t feel good enough for me to commit to the game yet and I think I’d be better served trying out the Metro games for their horror/survival elements and improved shooting mechanics. Also the sound design for the game is so fucking terrible and spatial awareness is impossible when everything either sounds right next to you or a mile away. I’m not shelving the series altogether but I will wait until I’m in more of a mood for this style of game that demands my full attention to detail while I strategize.

Status: On hold.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Folks have talked this bag of shit game for years saying it is well worth the time you’d invest into it. I played the first three Assassin’s Creed games to completion and even got the heralded Platinum trophies for two of them. Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood were my Prince of Persia games when that series was seemingly asleep for good. The issue with these games were that they kept releasing one or more per year and each did very little to improve controls, feeling, or save the tired old gameplay loop. Assassinations that made the first two games exciting were tossed aside for collec-a-thons and terrible long winded story sections and hunting fucking woodland creatures for wallets and crap like that. Everyone told me this game remedied all of those things with a compelling story, a great protagonist and adrenaline pounding ship battles at sea. They were kinda full of shit, though.

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Treasure hunting for stupid garbage like a pirate idiot would.

This is more or less a re-skinning of Assassin’s Creed III in colonial Caribbean with identical controls, graphical issues, and the ship battles are boring as hell. Not since The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker have I been so hesitant to spend time sailing a stupid fucking boat at sea. So why play it? I could just delete it and forget it, right? No, it’s fun to do all of the tasks on the map and the story is kinda cool. All of the complains are still there with Assassin’s Creed but the things that compelled me to play II and Brotherhood are alive in Black Flag as well. The more time I spent with this game over the last couple months the less I want to finish it. The combat is frustrating and it seemed like weapon choice didn’t matter and the whole system relies on parry timing. I’d rather just mash buttons, kill everyone, and run away. Why not? I’ve recently bought Assassin’s Creed: Origins so, this will be shelved no matter what for at least another year but I wanted to talk it up a bit and mention that I don’t think it is a worthless game. In fact it might just be the peak of the series up to Origins.

Status: On hold.

South Park: The Stick of Truth

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Ah, that was me in my first big fight. I’m bleeding to death while Butters literally throws a piece of shit at their healing elf. I’m a Fighter with a wizard beard any chance I get.

This will be my second time starting South Park: The Stick of Truth after I rented it on PS3 and finished about 8 hours of it before sending it back. This time it was a free code for PS4 when I bought South Park: The Fractured But Whole a few weeks ago. I figured I would rather play through this game before jumping into the new one because the stories sort of lead into one another from what I’ve read/seen. I am pretty sure I’ll like this Super Mario RPG style gameplay more than The Fractured But Whole’s take on Enchanted Arms style grid system. I’m not sure that I find this stuff so hilarious now that I’m 35 but I do like the familiar content and show quality graphics. The combat and collectibles systems are enough to get me to put 30-40 hours into the game.

Status: Now playing!

Tales of Zestiria

So, anyway. I started playing this game because Persona 5 was too much of commitment back in October. I finished the introductory area and then all of the sudden holy fuckin’ lol anime! This video was just something I wasn’t expecting. I mean the game looks like anime itself and way better than the last Star Ocean game but the few anime cut-scenes in the game are just so incredibly over the top. If you don’t want to bother with the dialogue set-up, skip to the 2 minute mark.

 

Why has there not been a JRPG fully orchestrated by a Japanese symphonic power metal band? I mean holy hell I’m not much of an anime person but for all of the low scores this game got from reviewers when it came out, specifically for it’s graphics, it isn’t a bad looking game at all. Environments are a bit blocky but the combat is entertaining and there are deep equipment upgrade and battle skill systems to dig through. I’m setting this aside for a little while so I can bust through the South Park game, but ‘Tales of…’ games typically end up as rewarding experiences and I’m not interested in Tales of Berseria despite its improved graphics. No, these games haven’t changed since the Playstation 2 era and I’m not sure they need to anymore. Persona 5 is surely the ‘better’ game but I’m more motivated to stick with this one based on having spent a lot of time with the Star Ocean and Tales games.

Status: On hold.

Dying Light: Enhanced Edition

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Just to give you an idea of how long this game has been in my backlog it was bought for me as a Christmas present in 2016 and I just opened it at the end of November 2017. I’ve spent about 5 hours with Dying Light and so far I love the game. The day/night cycle offers a unique mechanic for an open world game and it has made for some scary as fuck moments running away from red-eyed zombies. I’m just barely out of having the game explain it’s mechanics and story to me and so far the controls feel great and the first person perspective doesn’t make me dizzy like first person melee games often do. Crafting on the fly and figuring out the AI of different zombie types reminds me a lot of The Last of Us. Searching out loot and exploring is my jam so these types of games are just a breeze for me and Dying Light is generally really easy to pick up and learn how to play.

I have run into some difficult combat encounters with groups of other humans to seem able to take many, many hits to the head without flinching and that annoyed the shit out of me at first. A lot of the speed running/parkour challenges in the game are immediately frustrating in the way that Assassin’s Creed did races or The Witcher III did those terrible horse racing sections. I’ve no interest in online gameplay modes but so far the main storyline has been compelling as a sort of double-agent infiltrating a doomed and infected city. I will stick with it but probably only 1-2 days a week until I find myself really hooked.

Status: Now playing!

So, to recap the next two games I’ll likely play for review are South Park: The Stick of Truth and Dying Light: Enhanced Edition + The Following DLC. Since I will be skipping the remakes of both Shadow of the Colossus and Secret of Mana, there are no 2018 games on my list to purchase until February 13th when Kingdom Come: Deliverance is released, a medieval open world low-fantasy period RPG. From there Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, Far Cry 5, Dragon’s Crown Pro and God of War are the only exciting things on the horizon for the year. It will likely be a year where I’ll be catching up on my backlog of games sitting on my shelf. I’ve listed the current list of games with several new additions post-Christmas and birthday. I’m leaving out about 25 PS3 games that I never finished or played because I have to re-purchase them and a new PS3 before I can get around to even considering those games for my backlog.

BACKLOG: 50 unfinished titles I want to finish, in order of importance.

  1. Dying Light: Enhanced Edition (PS4) 5%
  2. South Park: The Stick of Truth (PS4) 5%
  3. Persona 5 (PS4) 10%
  4. Dishonored 2 (PS4) 0%
  5. Assassin’s Creed: Origins (PS4) 0%
  6. South Park: Fractured But Whole (PS4) 0%
  7. Tales of Zestiria (PS4)  ~1% (in first town across bridge)
  8. Arcania (PS4) 0%
  9. Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir (PS4) 0%
  10. Technomancer (PS4) 1% tutorial
  11. Thief  (PS4) 5%
  12. Pillars of Eternity (PS4) 0%
  13. Mass Effect: Andromeda (PS4) 0%
  14. Batman: Arkham Knight (PS4) 0%
  15. Batman: Arkham City (PS4) 3%
  16. Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition (PS4) 0% tutorial
  17. Divinity: Original Sin (PC) 0% (restarting)
  18. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PS4) 60%
  19. Infamous: Second Son + First Light (PS4)  30%
  20. Killzone: Shadow Fall (PS4) 5%
  21. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (PS4) 10%
  22. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series (PC) 0%
  23. Hitman: Absolution (PC) 0%
  24. FEZ (PC) 20%
  25. Metro 2033 (PS4) 0%
  26. Metro: Last Light (PS4) 0%
  27. Deus Ex: Invisible War (PC) 0% (restarting)
  28. The Witcher: Enhanced Edition  (PC) 0% (third restart)
  29. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (PC) 0% tutorial
  30. Dragon Age: Inquisition  (PS4) 0% tutorial
  31. Dust: An Elysian Tale (PS4) 0%
  32. Pyre (PS4) 0%
  33. Assassin’s Creed: Rogue (PS3) 0%
  34. Deathspank: Thongs of Virtue (PS3) 0%
  35. Deathspank: The Baconing (PS3) 0%
  36. Prince of Persia Sands of Time HD (PS3) 20%
  37. Prince of Persia The Two Thrones HD (PS3) 0%
  38. Prince of Persia Warrior Within HD (PS3) 0%
  39. L.A. Noire Complete Edition (PS3) 30%
  40. Rainbow Moon (PS3) 5%
  41. Bioshock 2 (PC) 0%
  42. Metal Gear Solid 2 HD (PS3) 15%
  43. Guacamelee! (PS3/PS4) 0% (restarting on PS4)
  44. Castlevania: Mirror of Fate HD (PS3) 20%
  45. Xenogears (PS3) 0%
  46. Persona 4 (PS3) 0% (restarting)
  47. Breath of Fire 4 (PS3) 0% (lost save)
  48. Tales of Xillia (PS3) 0%
  49. Grandia (PS3) 0%
  50. Prototype 2 (PS3) 0%

Finally just a quick bit of housekeeping. I’ve been teaching myself to use OBS and Light Works in hopes of learning how to stream video games and posting let’s plays, commentary videos, or expand on the old Quick Try series I was doing for the Sega Genesis. I was going from A to Z with every single Sega Genesis game and I’d gotten to (The) Death and Return of Superman which is technically in the D’s and was making good progress until I decided to get divorced and give that person my old computer. Now that I have my own better PC that can do that sort of thing I bought a microphone and a nice powerful streaming cam. The issue so far has been that I’m just not really a ‘streaming personality’ and I’m just not going to ham up a big personality because I don’t have one nor do I desire be build a fake persona for the sake of money or whatever.

So, what’ll likely happen is I’ll start putting together Quick Try videos again for Sega Genesis games and work that into a review series. I’ll experiment with voice overs and mixing audio, working with microphones and video but I won’t release anything until it is good. I’m not interested in become a Twitch streamer or some thoughtful-assed YouTube retro game guy. But I would like to be able to do fully spoken reviews for everything I do so I that I can piece together audio versions of my music and video game reviews. Mostly to build personal skills but also to provide something for blind folks to listen to that isn’t awkward text-to-speech conversions. I wrote a bit about this on my Patreon last month.

So, be on the lookout for that Elex review by Friday this week. If you’re a indie video game make or publisher, please feel free to send any games you’re working on for review. If you’re just some guy reading this website and you like it, please consider donating or joining my Patreon to keep me sitting at the computer writing about video games and music. Thanks!

 

 

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