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    Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Oct 15th, 2019 at 08:08:18)

    I just re-read my entries from Deus Ex and Deux Ex: Human Revolution, and wow! They had so much more impact on me than Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. The original showed me how innovative the game was in 2000 and I understood why the series was revered. The second one mesmerized me with its story and exploration of medical ethics regarding technologically modified humans. Mankind Divided though? It's a flop.

    It's worth noting that I didn't play (any games at all!) for two months from early August to early October, so when I picked Mankind Divided back up last week, I spent my first play session relearning the controls and remembering what was going on. That hiatus may have colored my view of the game because I don't remember my particular thoughts that I didn't write down in the ~30 hours I had already played. I've jumped back in for the remaining ~10 hours. I do know that 40 hours is way too long to invest in Mankind Divided. It doesn't earn that time, and I'm disappointed that the payoff isn't worth it.

    Let me explain. This game's pacing is bananas. It took me about 25 hours to play Chapters 1-3. In these chapters, I explored every nook and cranny of Prague, which is beautifully detailed and appropriately dystopian. I put my Praxis points into stealth and hacking. I illegally entered every building, read everyone's emails, and liberated the city's people from their material possessions. I broke into the Palisade bank and spent hours hacking CEOs' vaults and getting past impossible situations with guards, auto-turrets, mechs, laser grids, and more. I fondly remember those times.

    The next 12 hours (I'm at 37) have seen me from Chapter 3 to the final Chapter 13. The story moves at quite the clip when you actually follow it. There are some cool moments, but the general thread is not half as exciting as the previous game. The game opens with some mysterious masked men destroying an operation Jensen is on and then there is a train station bombing. The rest of the game involves tracking down clues to figure out who the men are and who was behind the bombing. It appears that the Augmented Rights Coalition (ARC) is behind it all, but as Deus Ex goes, there's a larger conspiracy afoot, which means there are a lot of threads worth pulling that Jensen can't pull. This means that you're occasionally given a small piece of revelation that other characters respond to with great emotional investment, but that you and Jensen don't share. It's hard to understand why you are doing what you are doing, and the contrast of these uninspiring story threads and most of their accompanying missions pales in comparison to the excitement of the stealth exploration.

    SO, it turns out that if you spend most of the game exploring Prague, you're setting yourself up for backtracking hell. The game doesn't value exploration by having the world or story respond to it in a meaningful way. You get your XP or whatever, but the instrumentality of exploration isn't only in leveling up Jensen. In my two-hour play session last night alone, I was asked to go back into at least four places that I had already been (and robbed blind). What contributed most to this last night was an awful side mission where Jensen can help solve the murder of an Aug woman. At the scene of the crime, you can talk to a witness and a detective. The witness won't talk to the detective, so you can glean clues from her. You can also use your x-ray vision to look for clues at the scene. The woman's ex-husband, another Aug, is a suspect, and the police detective is going to arrest him if you don't either prove that he didn't do it or prove that someone else did because institutional racism.

    Off to find the guy, who is sitting on the couch in his apartment with the door open. Why is the door open? Because I broke in earlier and scoured his apartment. He doesn't seem to care. When asked, he says he's been in his apartment for a long time, never leaves, and when I search now, I find a clue. Well, first, he hasn't been in his apartment for long because I was just in there stealing everything. Second, the quest item magically appeared. His ACTUAL whereabouts, of course, are irrelevant. I KNOW he wasn't in his apartment, but the story says he was, which overrides my evidence-based interpretation of events (he's lying!). This is what I mean when I say that the story/world doesn't value your exploration. I discovered a lot of cool things on my own, but it's like my subjective reality becomes invalidated later on.

    Later, the detective suggests you search for some files in a bombed out police station. Ah yes, the one that I already searched through. Now, there are some special files to find and new emails on the computer sent from the dead woman at the same time as the old emails on the computer that were there when I broke in last time. Mankind Divided does this constantly. "Go search this apartment! Extract the contents of the safe!" Oh, the safe I already opened up and cleaned out and now there's another item sitting in there? So someone came in, saw the opened safe, put this new item in it, and left the safe wide open again? At least reset the safes or close the doors again!

    In a game celebrating player choice, these moments make the experience feel hollow. Another example may be found in a moment of narrative decision-making. At one point, you can decide to save a man's daughter to secure evidence about the train station bombing OR you can break into Palisade Bank and find corporate secrets, loot all the corporate vaults, and expose how these military-news-medical mega-corps are influencing the ongoing story. Hmm. Hmm. Hmm. Which one of these seems more important? Save one person (who killed a lot of people, btw) or expose the conspiracy and save who-knows-how-many people? And boy, if you choose to expose the corporations, that woman's father sure tries to make you feel bad. You already have the evidence against the woman, and the only point is to save her. This choice just didn't feel meaningful to me, and aside from the ongoing dichotomy of deciding to be honest with your boss or your hacker colleague (hacker colleague all the way!), this has been the only "this or that" decision to make in the whole game. If you're going to have only one of these, make it more difficult to choose. I would love to know statistics of what players did here.

    ANYWAY. TL;DR, the game now feels tedious to play, I don't care about the conspiracy-laden story, I already stole everything in Prague, it doesn't tackle social issues in an interesting or thoughtful way like the previous game, instead making a really thin analogy to racism (Aug Lives Matter? Really?), and I can't wait for it to be overrr so I can play something else. I know that it ends on a cliffhanger and I am so cloooose!

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    The Red Strings Club (PC)    by   Chuanqi Liu       (Oct 11th, 2019 at 23:16:32)

    It may be one of the few videogames that actually includes the -punk in cyberpunk, and just for that, it deserves praise. Its pixel art and melancholic, jazzy soundtrack fit the atmosphere like a glove, and the overall experience is enhanced by a fulfilling main story and a considerable amount of branching dialogue that covers existential issues about what makes humans human - and how far we can go without renouncing to our essence - while synchronously exploring contemporary socio-economic topics. However, choices have an inconspicuous impact on the ending, and seem to exist only to steer conversations from one subject to another. All in all, The Red Strings Club is the most atmospheric and thought-provoking cyberpunk game that I've played so far.

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    The Red Strings Club (PC)    by   Chuanqi Liu       (Oct 10th, 2019 at 17:42:37)

    I played The Red Strings Club for 1 hour today. The gameplay is fairly simple, usually consisting of a short bartending mini game where you choose which emotion you want to evoke in the patrons to club. Despite how little actual interaction you get, I found the puzzles engaging, as you have to pay attention to what kind of person you're talking to, and what emotions would be best for extracting the information you need. The mechanics of The Red Strings Club reminded me of Neo Cab, a game that also set in a cyberpunk world where you play as a cab driver chatting with your passengers during the ride. The quality of your talk doesnít only determine whether you get a tip or not, itís also crucial for your driver rating. Your goal is to maintain a rating of four stars or higher or you risk a deactivation warning. Certainly there are some similarity of game design between The Red Strings Club and Neo Cab. Their game mechanics are simple yet fun.

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    Minit (PS4)    by   jp       (Oct 7th, 2019 at 15:30:01)

    I played (and completed) this over the weekend. I recall it getting a lot of pre-release love and attention followed by (perhaps?) a mild sense of disappointment for not having lived up to the hype.

    That being said, I really enjoyed it. The premise - you only have a minute to do things before you die and have to start over with some progression - is not entirely new to me (see Half-Minute Hero on the PSP) but while Half-Minute Hero was designed as an RPG while Minit is designed as an adventure game. I realized that there's a huge benefit to the 60 second limit.

    The time limit really help me scope my play of the game - it chunked all of the game's goals into things you could accomplish in 60 seconds or less. It really cuts back on the wandering around not knowing what to do/where to go. I felt like I had to explore "smart" - always with a sense of what goal/thing I needed to accomplish such that I could make progress over the game. It also meant that whenever I went of on a "random" exploration and found something I felt that I had made some progress or contributed towards making progress in the game.

    The game is short, I felt that the combat/swordplay was wonky and not responsive in a way I appreciated, but all of that was ok because the game was short and had a sense of humor. I doubt that I would have played it for longer than I did and, in some sense, the mystery of all the unanswered questions I have about different characters and situations makes the game all the more interesting.

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    Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition (VITA)    by   jp       (Oct 4th, 2019 at 18:12:25)

    I started out thinking I'd play a bit and then move on. Then I decided that I'd finish the world tour. Then I thought I'd play a bit more...then, I'd try out some of the mini-games. And on it went.

    At this point the game is old - but I really enjoyed how it mixed in real-life (former?) tennis stars with "invited players" (other online players) and mixed things up a bit. Yes, it's weird to trounce superstars but it's a fun game I found myself enjoying more the more I played. I guess it had been a while since I'd played a tennis game or even a Virtua Tennis title.

    As a matter of national pride I was especially excited to see that one of the international tennis stars was Fernando Gonzalez! He retired in 2012 (just after the game launched) and I think he's Chile's 2nd best ever tennis player. I was super chuffed to see him in the game which is hard to explain to people from countries used to having a lot of sports super stars. :-)

    The world tour mode was interesting - it was structured like a boardgame. Each turn you get a ticket (for a hand of 3, thought you can buy extras) and then you travel around trying to land in different things that will raise your ranking so that you qualify for different tournaments along the way. Due to a UI issue I would often miss a bunch of tournaments - and didn't end up doing all that well in the grand overall scheme of things. This is weird because everything I did play, I won...so there was a bit of dissonance there. However, I thought it was interesting that the tour included things beyond just matches. You could participate in mini-games, but also spend money/earn money by donating to charity, doing press ops, and things of that nature. It's pretty clear that becoming a tennis superstar (according to the game) has a lot to do with all the stuff you do outside of playing the actual game.

    The game does not have the ATP license and, you can't even tell. For me at least, the game is just as interesting without all the branding. It shows, I guess, how dependent we've become on the idea that different brands really matter? Because they add/contribute...uh..some sense of authenticity? I'm not sure really. I guess there are different brands that can "do" different things, but I'm not sure this game would have been any better had the ranking system been labelled ATP or not.

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    1 : Chuanqi Liu's The Red Strings Club (PC)
    2 : jp's Minit (PS4)
    3 : jp's Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition (VITA)
    4 : jp's Spy Hunter (VITA)
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    Crysis (PC)    by   c0mpguru

    Graphics are incredible.
    most recent entry:   Sunday 13 January, 2008
    SUMMARY:
    In Crysis, you play in the future as a US soldier, Nomad, equipped with a "Nano Muscle Suit" that allows you to have superhuman strength, a cloaking ability, increased speed and enhanced armor. Your primary mission involves rescuing a scientist who is trapped somewhere on an island. She sent out a distress signal so that someone could find her and stop the Koreans from opening an artifact that was discovered underneath Earth.

    GAMEPLAY (Session 1):
    Right off the bat, the graphics are incredible. I played it on the "High" setting and I'm amazed at how well they look. It does lag in certain areas, but other than that, some of the best graphics I've seen to date. So they start you off by jumping out of an airplane to a island. All you know is that someone is alive and they want to be rescued. Then something attacks you and you fall into the water below. This is (of course) the training level as you can do whatever you want before finding some enemy to kill. The suit has different modes and I enjoyed using those modes, especially the cloaking ability although it doesn't last long.

    Nomad isn't the only one who was separated so you have to go find everyone else. The voice-over acting is really well done in this game. It feels real. The chattering, the jokes, it all sounds as if it was really happening in the real world. As the game continued, it was fun sneaking up on someone while cloaked, grabbing them, then beating on them until they died.

    I really enjoyed playing Crysis for the hour that I played it. The story is interesting, but it feels familiar like other games that have something hidden underneath Earth's crust. It's really fun just turning on Strength mode and punching everyone to death, but that will get you killed if there are many soldiers around. Modifying the weapon you are using is pretty cool too but you tend to forget about it after a while because all you are really doing is shooting the same looking enemies over and over. The game does give you good training over the first level because it tells you what you could use each mode of the suit for, but throughout the game that's everything your suit can do...nothing else. They're fun to use (like cloaking) but if you don't want to use them, all you have is a FPS and it's just like other titles only with prettier graphics. It's just funny how they always send you to do missions and not any of the other teammates (although they might have some as well. We just might not see it.) Even with some little gripes (it's really just the training level so there isn't much there), it's a fun game.

    GAMEPLAY (Session 2):
    Continuing where I left off, I'm still in a forest on an island. It all looks pretty much the same except for some houses that you need to enter. This time I have to go rescue another one of my teammates...and complete mission objectives, of course. Mostly I was using the cloak to get past any enemies that I saw. But the AI isn't dumb. Even though you're cloaked, they can still hear you so if you're not careful, they'll start shooting randomly in your direction. It wasn't any different than the last time I played. The only difference was that I killed more enemies this time around...and I died once for being a bit careless...anyway, it was repetitive, but fun.

    Now, I think that the main characters are really well done. The voice acting is great and the graphics make them look lifelike. Right from the beginning you can see that every character has a history together. They are friends and they've been through a lot together, probably training or other missions. There are only four other people who go along with you to the mission, so you feel important. It does move the story along, but only because YOU have to do most of the missions. Pretty much every game does that because you are the main character so I don't think anyone is bothered by it...I'm not really.

    DESIGN:
    Crysis is not the best game out there, but it is really good. The modes on the suit add some changes to the gameplay, which makes it fun because with Strength, you can punch down buildings and kill anyone who is inside (always fun!), or become faster (kind of fun, but never really use it...). If you're like me you might cloak yourself a lot to sneak up on enemies. It's fun to through them at a wall.

    The levels of Crysis are not very different. You're in a forest for most of the game up until the alien species gets release (toward the end of the game). Don't get me wrong, the forest looks really, really good. Some nice foliage, trees, vehicles, houses, and the water looks incredible. All of this is really well done (even inside the alien territory, although it does look the same and I got confused a couple of times). This is one of the downsides of Crysis. I know that it IS set on an island and there is so much you can do with forests so I can see why they couldn't do so much.

    One of the things I enjoyed about Crysis were the cutscenes. The characters looked really well. DirectX 10 was suppose to be an improvement in gaming and although still new, Crysis looks really good while running in DX10. They have a DX9 version as well, but I haven't tried it. The textures on the faces and the suit look incredible. The details give the characters a realistic feel to them. Crysis is pretty much a system killer because you need a really good PC to play it on the high setting. My computer lagged somewhat during the cutscenes, but only when there was snow. Other than that they were smooth and the emotions on the characters' faces were in sync with the voice acting. Really well done cutscenes in my opinion.

    The game is really good. I would recommend it to a friend and I'm pretty sure that playing online gives more replayability to the game. I haven't tried it online though. Overall, really good game.

    [read this GameLog]

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