Games I Played in 2013

Xbox 360

Mass Effect 3

Through the early part of the year, I was still playing quite a lot of Mass Effect 3 multiplayer. Mass Effect 3′s last DLC was early this year and when the newness of it wore off, the multiplayer community started to drift away. I continued to play Mass Effect 3 up through May or so. Mass Effect 3 was the first game ever that I got really into the multiplayer and I’m glad it lasted as long as it did.

PS3

Batman: Arkham Origins

I loved Arkahm Asylum and liked Arkham City a lot. Arkham Origins was the Batman game of this generation that I just “enjoyed”. The story is okay, but it’s not great. The combat is just like that of the previous two games, but it makes no sense why a younger Batman has gadgets that an older Batman didn’t have. Also, the boss battles are either too easy or frustrating due to poor implementation of the controls. Arkham Origins lacks balance.

Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag

AC4 was a nice surprise. It felt more like an Assassin’s Creed game than AC3, but it largely ignored the Assassin/Templar story. The sailing stuff from AC3 became a major part of AC4 and it’s interesting, but when you’re spending more time sailing instead of assassinating, the game starts losing its “Assassins Creed”-ness.

3DS

Super Mario 3D Land

I barely touched my 3DS this year, and even for a Mario game, I could barely bring myself to play it. I didn’t bother to finish SM3DL.

PC

The Wolf Among Us

TWAU is the DC comic series Fables turned into a Walking Dead-style adventure game. It’s full of cursing and over-the-top violence, and I enjoyed it more than The Walking Dead even.

The Walking Dead: Season 2

Speaking of The Walking Dead, Season 2 started. It’s The Walking Dead. It’s great. That’s all.

Teslagrad

Teslagrad is a puzzle-platformer that uses magnetism as its main method of puzzle-solving. It’s got a handdrawn-steampunk look that’s gorgeous and the boss battles are reminiscent of classic NES-era twitchy boss fights.

Dear Esther

Dear Esther is not a game. It’s a mildly interactive story, and it’s great at telling that story. Buy the end of the game, you will feel the narrator’s pain.

The Witcher

The Witcher is an RPG with lots of sex, magic and dudes who look like they could be in a rock band. Also, you get trading cards for having sex with different women.

The Stanley Parable

The Stanley Parable is also not a game. It’s a collection of funny endings. It’s great as well.

[Review] TRAUMA for iOS

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TRAUMA is a unique photographic experience by game designer Krystian Majewski. Dive into the mind of a traumatized young woman to learn and understand.

TRAUMA for iOS started off as a PC game. It’s got a lot in common with point and click adventure games. You’re trying to solve puzzles by clicking on photos and changing camera angles to find more photos and you move around in the environment in a first-person (sort of) view. (I say first-person, but it’s not like you can see your BFG 9000 at the bottom of the screen.) Developer of TRAUMA and friend, Krystian Majewski, gave me a promo code for the Steam version last year when TRAUMA initially launched. I was back in the US at the time, and TRAUMA got lost in the shuffle. I was excited to hear that an iOS version of the game was coming out. Back when my (now defunct) Apple podcast Kernel Panic was still being produced, Krystian was on the show to talk about developing games in Flash. It was during that period where Steve Jobs was on his high horse about how terrible Flash was/is. (I still don’t have Flash installed on any of my Macs.) Even then, there were plans/ideas for an iOS version of TRAUMA. Having now played TRAUMA on an iPad mini, an iPhone 5 and going back to play it on my 27” iMac, I can safely say that the best way to play TRAUMA is on an iPad. Two reasons:

  1. The images in TRAUMA are images and they don’t scale well on large monitors. The photos that make up the entirety of the game looked kind of bad on my 27” iMac’s display. They are super sharp on my iPad mini and iPhone 5 though.
  2. While a mouse works well for clicking on photos (which is largely what TRAUMA’s about), the gestures you perform when solving puzzles and the added ability to use gestures to manipulate the camera in the iOS versions add a sense of intimacy to the TRAUMA experience. You feel like you’re just a bit more part of the environment, instead of just poking your way through it with a mouse.

Like Steve Jobs said, we’re all born with 10 styluses. Adventure games and their ilk can work very well with iOS’ touch screen interface. In the PC version of TRAUMA, you use a mouse to click around the environment and this translate perfectly to your finger. I sometimes felt the target areas were a little small, but since I played TRAUMA, there has been an update to address this. Like any other adventure game, when you get stuck in TRAUMA, looking for a photo or puzzle clue, it turns into a pixel hunt. You can quickly see all tappable objects on in your current screen by holding down anywhere on the screen. All touchable items will be highlighted, in succession, making it easy to see what you can do something with. There are also a handful of gestures you can use to navigate the environment. You can swipe left and right to turn the camera, you can draw an upside-down “U” to turn around and you can swipe up to back up. Gestures are also required when solving puzzles. You will find yourself drawing curly Q’s, outlining ghosts and making swirl patterns with the tip of your finger. The game is extremely forgiving about the shapes you draw and if you get even remotely close, it’ll probably count it.

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TRAUMA doesn’t have “graphics”. Not really. TRAUMA is composed of a large collection of photographs of real places in Germany (and you can unlock the GPS coordinates and view the real places in Maps.app if you find every secret in the level). There are some non-photographic visuals that are used when solving puzzles but for the most part, you’re looking at real photos.

The music in TRAUMA is minimalist. The main menu music is great and the intro video that plays at startup is great as well. The music in the levels is subtle and calming. It would be great to have on in the background while napping. It lulls you into a relaxed state and is great for a game where you might spend 20 minutes mulling over a tough puzzle. Check out the TRAUMA soundtrack here.

While I was initially lukewarm on TRAUMA, by the time I completed the second level, I got into the game and wanted to do everything. The thing about TRAUMA is, the complexity of the game is not apparent at first. The first level, and I say this because it’s the level on the left side of the main menu, isn’t hard to finish (completing the main ending). But there are alternate endings for each level as well. And the ways you complete the puzzles that unlock these other alternate endings don’t become clear until after you’ve played all of the levels in TRAUMA. TRAUMA slowly unfolds over the course of the entire game. You slowly learn about the mechanics of the game, and you can play the levels in any order you like. I played them left to right, but you can dip into any level you like at any time. The more you complete and unlock in TRAUMA, the more secrets open up to you. You can find the places you’re playing through in the real world and you can unlock a “true” ending if you find every photo and solve every puzzle in the game. Finding everything probably won’t take more than two or three hours in all, and it’s a worthwhile experience. I recommend that you go all the way and find everything for the payoff of the “true” ending. The app is universal for both iPad and iPhone, but if you have an iPad, play it on iPad. Buy TRAUMA for $2.99 in the App Store.

Assassin’s Creed 4 and Mass Effect 3: Citadel DLC Trailers

Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag Trailer

I’m always excited to see more AC, but these trailers don’t actually show anything. The Xbox blog had some info, like AC4′s been in the works for two years (wasn’t AC 3 in the works for three years?) and I wonder how many AC games they develop at the same time. It’s disconcerting how many different teams build these games, and it’s no wonder they go from great to awful year to year. Will AC4 be another Brotherhood or a Revelations?

Mass Effect 3: Citadel DLC Trailer

I’m sad to see the final Mass Effect 3 DLC coming out. I’m glad we’re getting more DLC but it’s sad that it’s gonna be the last and we don’t know when Mass Effect 4 will be out.

Links for Friday, February 22, 2013

Mass Effect 3 Citadel & Reckoning DLC Announced

Mass Effect 3: Citadel – Single Player DLC

When a sinister conspiracy targets Commander Shepard, you and your team must uncover the truth, through battles and intrigue that range from the glamour of the Citadel’s Wards to the top-secret Council Archives. Uncover the truth and fight alongside your squad – as well as the cast from the original Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, including Urdnot Wrex!

When the adventure is over, reconnect with your favorite characters from the Mass Effect Trilogy, try your luck at the Citadel’s Silver Coast Casino, blow off steam in the Armax Combat Arena, or explore and furnish Shepard’s own living quarters on the Citadel. With unique content and cinematics featuring your friends and romance interests in the Mass Effect trilogy, Mass Effect 3: Citadel offers one final chance to see the characters you have known for years and rekindle romances.

Mass Effect 3: Citadel will release worldwide on March 5th on Xbox 360, PC and PS3 (on March 6th on PS3 in Europe). Price: $14.99, 1200MS points and 1200 BW points.

Mass Effect 3: Reckoning – Multiplayer DLC

Prepare for the Reckoning! Newfound allies join the multiplayer war for survival in Mass Effect 3: Reckoning. The Geth Juggernaut, Cabal Vanguard, Talon Mercenary, Alliance Infiltration Unit, and more take up arms to stop the Reaper threat. Smash your enemies with the Biotic Hammer as you lay waste to the battlefield as the Krogan Warlord.

Wield 7 new weapons for multiplayer, including the Geth Spitfire Assault Rifle, Venom Shotgun, Lancer Assault Rifle, and amplify your arsenal with new equipment and weapon mods featuring the Geth Scanner and Assault Rifle Omni-blade.

Mass Effect 3: Reckoning launches at no additional cost worldwide on February 26th on Xbox 360, PC and PlayStation 3 (February 27th on PlayStation 3 in Europe).

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

Enslaved

Enslaved had a lot going for it. It’s a great looking game, two of the three characters feel like real people, and the platforming is fun. But unfortunately, I have more bad things written down in my notes about it than good things. That’s not to say it’s a bad game, but it’s not as good as it could’ve been.

Monkey and Trip have a great back and forth. They feel like real people. You can clearly see Monkey slowly warm up to (and start to care about) Trip without it feeling forced. You get a lot of abilities from hand-to-hand combat and with your staff/plasma rifle. You can unlock new abilities and other upgrades with the help of Trip and the game does a good job of slowly introducing you to the core mechanics of fighting mechs. You work in tandem with Trip (by using her abilities too) and you slowly make your way through the mech-infested landscape of post-apocalyptic America. It’s pretty fun, for the first four or five hours.

During the honeymoon phase of Enslaved, you will likely get annoyed with all of the out of the way “tech orbs” you need to collect to fully upgrade your gear and abilities. The camera develops the shakes when you try to use your plasma rifle, Monkey’s upgradeable counter attack has impossible timing and I can’t figure out why you can only use Monkey’s “cloud” hover board sometimes. Also, the “visions” you have never pay off. (More on that in the spoilers). And then you meet Pigsy. Pigsy looks and acts like a pig. He will occasionally make a funny joke, but they mostly fall flat. After he realizes that Trip likes you, he becomes a douche bag and the game never gives you a chance to get even with him for that.

SPOILERS

The end of the game felt tacked on. The final boss fight with the scorpion mech was repetitive and rewarded you for shooting your plasma rifle, while most of the game is about CQC. Then you get an epilogue. You never get control of Monkey again after that scorpion mech fight. You find the pyramid where somebody, I’m not sure if he’s the guy whose memories you’ve been having visions of or if he found that guy’s memories. I’m also not sure how he controlled the mechs to kidnap people to live in Golum’s memories or how he built this pyramid in the middle of the desert or how the Hell he provides sustenance for all the people hooked up to the Memory Grinder 5000. Monkey tries on the guy’s mask and seems to be enjoying living in the memories, but then Trip rips the hoses out and then everyone wakes up and the pyramid goes dark and then…oh, game’s fucking over. What?!

You never find out where anyone actually came from or where the Hell they went afterwards. Were the people pissed they are back in the real world? Are they happy? Who knows?! And I guess, who the fuck cares?!

Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer: Drells

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Drell Adept

  • Reave is a lasting attack. It drains health, adds damage protection, can be buffed against armor and barriers and can set up or trigger biotic explosions.

  • Pull is useful against health-only enemies. It can get them out of the fight and give you a chance to focus on bigger enemies. It will also strip Guardians of their shields and you can detonate it with Reave.

  • Cluster grenades causes multiple explosions, cover a wide range and can detonate biotic explosions. Reaving a group of enemies and hitting them with grenades does huge damage and if very effective against tough enemies like Atlases, Primes and Brutes.

  • The Drell are frail but they are quick and agile. You get movement speed bonuses and you get a very good encumbrance bonus that allows you to have fast cool downs with even heavy weapons. A Drell Adept might do well to take a sniper rifle or a scoped pistol.

Drell Vanguard

  • A Vanguard’s most important attack is its charge. The Drell Vanguard is no different. With a fast cool down, you can charge every 3.5 seconds or so.

  • Pull is useful against health-only enemies. It can get them out of the fight and give you a chance to focus on bigger enemies. It will also strip Guardians of their shields and you can detonate it with Biotic Charge.

  • Cluster grenades causes multiple explosions, cover a wide range and can detonate biotic explosions. They are very effective against tough enemies like Atlases, Primes and Brutes. Helps if you have a Warp-capable squad mate to set up biotic detonations.

  • The Drell are frail but they are quick and agile. You get movement speed bonuses and you get a very good encumbrance bonus that allows you to have fast cool downs with even heavy weapons. A Drell Vanguard can have over 150% cool down bonuses with decently upgraded shotguns. Charge → shotgun → Cluster Grenades can be very powerful against big enemies, especially if you’ve got a fast firing/high damage weapons and the 25% power bonus after a charge.

Vanguard Insanity in Mass Effect 3

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They don’t call it “Insanity” for no reason. I was called crazy for doing it. Playing Mass Effect 3 on Insanity for my first play through, that is. It really wasn’t that bad. The thing about Insanity in Mass Effect 3 is that you just get a lot more enemies and their take a lot more damage before they go down. Some might say that I compounded my difficulties by going with Vanguard for my Shepard’s class, because the Vanguard has no long game. Vanguard is fast and up close. The only ranged biotic power that the Vanguard class has is Shockwave and Shockwave’s range is limited and it doesn’t track to enemies the way Warp or Throw does. It does however have the advantage of being able to pass through cover. You can position yourself behind a wall and send Shockwave through the wall and still be able to inflict damage on an Atlas. While the Shockwave is recharging, you can pop out from behind cover, fire off a couple shotgun blasts and then hide again and fire another Shockwave.

The Vanguard’s ability to zip across the field and hit a far off enemy is the game’s most bad ass ability for sure. Combine the Biotic Charge with Nova and you can easily take down a small group of Cannibals or even Marauders with ease. Phantoms, the second most vicious enemy in Mass Effect 3′s multiplayer (only behind Banshees) are nothing against Vanguards. A Vanguard with a level 6 Nova that has a 100% boost to barrier, armor and shield damage can charge a Phantom, Nova away its barrier and then either charge the Phantom or shotgun blast it almost instantly.

The bane of the Vanguard’s existence, especially on Insanity, is the Cerberus turret. The Biotic Charge has the added benefit of staggering enemies, but you can’t stagger a turret. Because of this, Cerberus Engineers should be your first target, after shield pylons, of course. If you don’t take them out, you’re asking for trouble. Because of this, areas with lots of Cerberus enemies in areas where you can be swarmed from multiple directions are extremely dangerous. The atrium at Grissom Academy is the most frustrating area in the game by far. It’s an almost endless stream of enemies, there are lots of turrets and Cerberus keeps pressing in on you from all sides. The requirement for getting the doors to open up so that you can proceed past the atrium is unclear and I was just thankful that I made it past it.

Banshees are also a big pain in the ass. Their ability to instantly kill you is a huge problem. If you get too close to a Banshee, it can 86 you, and Vanguard have to get close to do most of their damage. My tactic was to charge into the Banshee, use Nova while jumping away from the Banshee, fire a couple rounds with the shotgun and then charge into the Banshee again (because you probably got your barrier damaged while shooting at the Banshee). Horizon’s got a Banshee-heavy area towards the end that can be a problem.

Happy charging!