Xcom Review: a finished game!

I did it.  I finished a game.  So rare, so unique to actually push through and complete any game I start– it must be good, right?   Yes.  The new Xcom delivers the turn based goodness big time.  While it is not up to the Jagged Alliance 2 level of turn based goodness– Xcom is by far the best modern TBT (turn based tactical) game I’ve played and hopefully will usher in a new age of copy cats that take the genre to new heights.  This was an A class title and while I’m not sure about sales, it must have some publishers thinking that turn based strategy is a sell for gamers.  What’s amazing about Xcom is that it not only plays like a great TBT title, it LOOKS like an A class game.  A lot of people may have played Laser Squad Nemesis, but likely not a lot of people were drawn in by the graphics who otherwise wouldn’t look at a TBT game.  The last serious TBT I played was Soul Nomad and the World Eaters after a long string of NiS titles since the legendary Disgaea hit the states.  Xcom is a far cry from the NiS games but the essentials are the same: you have a group of guys, they level up, they get better gear, they fight stuff in turn based mode.

Getting in on a good shooting

First, lets me get on about the stuff that’s not really all that important: the visuals.  This is window dressing for the core gameplay and while it can’t make the game it is a HUGE bonus in Xcom.  Firaxis uses the Unreal engine and it is just gorgeous.  All the effects look great, the physics are superlative and the destructable terrain is to DIE for in this genre.  We’re seeing things in Xcom (again, a TBT) that are normally in a top drawer FPS.  The camera work is fairly good during shots and criticals– I saw a few glitches here and there, but nothing gamebreaking.  This is, by far, the best looking TBT around.  What I was most worried about after Xcom Apocalypse is that the aliens in the new version would look like SHIT or just too comical to take seriously (like the blue ice cream guys or the walking asses).  I can say the aliens look excellent.  While not a fan of the ‘greys’ as a design, they did a great job with everything else.  They even go into explaining why there are so many different races invading the earth all unified– not something that was ever done in the old Xcoms.

Gameplay.  Firaxis made some decisions that at first concerned me a great deal.  First there is no inventory at all.  You don’t have a backpack filled with crap for each soldier and you cannot pick up anything on the ground during a fight.  Soldiers have a main weapon, a pistol and up to two extra items (either a medikit, stun gun, grenades or extra armor for the most part) depending on your class.

Secondly, your guys get two moves only.  That means you can’t move one square forward, move another square forward, etc.  You have to pick a square to move to and GO. You can move a second time, but again, you pick a square within your move range and go there.   For your shooting action, you either shoot first (and not take your movement at all) or move first, then shoot.

Both of these things seem shocking to Jagged Alliance veterans—but they do something that I highly respect: save time.   If you remember, missions in the old Xcom and map clearing in JA could take a long, long time.  Xcom’s new version drastically reduces the possible time spent on a mission, mostly due to the two major changes above.  You are not wasting time moving single squares with your guys, nor are you fuddling about with trying to determine if you can grab a grenade out of you backpack and still have enough action points to throw it.    This does remove some of the age old tactics of picking up alien tech and slapping it in your backpack (or alien corpses) or getting aliens to drop their weapons on a successful psionic control attack (yes Psionics are in the game).  However, the benefit far outweighs the loss of these age-old and rather beardy tactics in that you are done and on to the next mission.

Campaign.  The campaign game is engaging and tight.  There are cinematics for a lot of events and a set of cheracters that you interact with throughout who provide some added entertainment and give you a feel for what  is at stake.  I only played through the campaign twice, once losing pretty quickly before I understood the importance of countries panicking and leaving the Xcom project.  Once you get down to too few countries funding Xcom, the aliens basically take over and it’s game over.

Another interesting bit is that the aliens always abduct humans in multiple sites–so you have to choose where to take your guys to shoot them.  You can take easy missions (and should early on) with small rewards, or take difficult missions with more rewards.  Eventually you are forced to take the most difficult missions as the panic level in some countries becomes so great, you don’t have a choice but to take on that mission to lower the panic level.  Since, as noted above, missions go quickly, campaign game can go fairly quickly, unlocking new weapons (and facing new enemies) at a good clip.  While it’s key to allow the player to determine some of the pace in a TBS game, I found it a good mix of being forced to take action and having time to mull over decisions.

Soldier upgrades are simplified in that you choose a skill per advance.  These skills are very clear in gameplay, and you can tailor your guys to be pretty much exactly what you need at the time.   My only complaint here is that you will get some guys that can no longer advance as they have all the advances in their class tree.  This is minor as by that time, you are headed to the end of the game.

The Assault class was my favorite.

That said, Xcom is not an extremely long game where you are slugging through hours and hours of missions and side quests, there are distractions from the main quest, but you are always against the clock and have to start making your way to the end with some speed if you want to win.  As a responsible adult, I found this to be great as I could actually FINISH it.  Now back to the pile of unfinished games from 2011….

Xcom: Enemy Unknown demo ruminations

Confronting the walking buttocks circa 1994.

Woah. The new version of Xcom is coming REAL fast.  When it was announced, I thought we had a year or so before it was spewed out across all us gamers.  I was shocked to see the demo out last week and (nearly) immediately gave it a go.    I can’t make any type of post about a resurgence game like this without waxing on and on about how I feel about the old versions. Needless to say, emotions run strong with this series.  People loved it when it came out for a lot of reasons: the art, the sound, the affiliation with your kill team (that’s really all your guys were) as they got stronger and sometimes get the dirt nap and you cried softly in your dorm room.  While I liked Xcom, I think it was brilliant but I never wanted to go back to it once I played through a couple times, and never played the Terror from the Deep version.  The version I did get into and will still bust out form time to time is Xcom Apocalypse.  This was largely panned when it came out and definitely has it’s quirks, but the core gameplay– i.e.: the combat, has the ability to go real time and THIS is where Xcom Apocalypse shines.  You remember those hour long bug hunts trying to find that one last critter in turn based mode in the original Xcome?  In Apocalypse, you can send off a couple guys and find that bug without clicking through your whole team.  Whats more, Apocalypse’s environments, still all sprites mind you, were the most 3D I’ve ever seen in a game AND almost fully destructible.  While Jagged Alliance 2 is a superior game, Apocalypse’s environments  vastly surpassed JA’s always on the first floor style of play.

With all that history with the game, I was looking at the demo through the Apocalypse glasses and it didn’t disappoint.  While the first mission is 100% scripted, the second allows you to try out all the options for your kill team during turns.   One of the differences in the new Xcom from the old games (and Jagged Alliance) is that you don’t have action points that get spent by small pieces of actions: your squaddies are allowed to take two actions during their turn, either Move or Fire essentially (there is Overwatch and ‘Hull down’ mode” that you can choose).  This means if you are creeping up on an area of the map as players are wont to do, you have to take an entire move action to just move up a tiny bit.  At first I wasn’t too sure about this as precision movement is key in these games due to the need to be in cover all the time.  However, going back to Apocalypse, as much as I love the combat portion of the game, the original Xcom had some really long bug hunt missions.  These are missions where a single worm or alien is hiding in a closet somewhere on a 4-5 story space ship and you have to walk your team through the entire map to find it and kill it.  Since it’s much more important not to get your guys killed, this type of hunt is always slow as fuck so you don’t get bushwhacked.   The two turn action limit will make things go quicker.

As for aesthetics, the game looks eggcellente good, and should because it’s using the Unreal Engine.  The way Firaxis has handled the visuals of the Xcom base is amazing and the squaddies look superb (again, this is a turn based strategy game so aesthetics are secondary to everything else).  You get a choice in the game whether to help out the USA or China and I chose China in order to see if they had some localized environments and YES, there were a bunch of signs and stuff in Chinese, so you could definitely tell on the ground where you were at.  If you think about it, that’s a LOT of content for the developers to make.  A little touch that the original Xcom didn’t have at all.

The aliens that I saw looked good and definitely had some soul.  This is a FAR cry from the very stupid looking aliens from Xcom Apocalypse (a flying skellington and a blue ice beast or a running butt).

The interface– well this is going to be a console game as well as PC and we can see some problems arising for the PC player due to that choice.  While the base is amazing graphically, I was wondering how the fuck you were supposed to move from room to room and how to get to where there is an alert?  Hello? Can’t I just click the room I want with my mouse?    I don’t even know what I pressed to get to the ‘alert’ room: either enter or space or something.  This was annoying.

During missions, the firing interface, while pretty cool looking, is completely geared towards a console experience.  Your Squaddie goes into firing mode by pressing the space bar, then you scroll vertically through some options (using the mouse for this sucks) and then how do you select the option and execute?  You press the ENTER key?  What the hell is that shit?!  I’d like to just use my mouse please and SELECT the option I want.   Hotkey will make this moot however, so this is just a minor annoyance all round and will probably be just something to get used to.

Overall: Yes.  While the consolitis infecting the interface is annoying, and the tactical combat is different from what I expected in terms of squaddie control, this game has VAST potential for goodness.  We haven’t seen an A-class turn based strategy game for a very, very long time so I will be buying this as soon as it hits the streets. It’s alien depths must be plunged deeply.  Plus I was able to make the most bad-ass blaxploitation-style character I have ever been able to do in a video game.   The white and asian toons look good, but the black ones look simply amazing.

Avadon guy talks about games and stuff

This is a short and very sweet talk about stories in games by the developer of Avadon the Black Fortres– essentially how this guy and his team make sort of crappy looking  games with good stories and it’s the stories that build fan affinity and bring in more cash. I love how he readily admits his engines and graphics are not even in the realm of modern all the while being very comfortable in his niche.  His slight digs on Mass Effect and Diablo 3 are essential listening and would probably bring out the “fuck that loser” from the D3 development team if they weren’t so busy lighting cigars with your money.   The questions at the end are also awesome “You sell a game for money and that’s it?”

Here is the link

Dark Souls on Steam… August

It’s sad when you go out and buy a game the first day it’s out, then just run out of time on the Xbox to get anywhere at all on it before it’s My Little Pony and fucking Calliou all over the place.  Owning a M-17 game with kids around is the drizzlin’ shits, and Dark Souls has been added to the list of games like Crackdown 2 and Red Dead Redemption that I haven’t finished SPECIFICALLY because I cannot play with the kids even conscious in the house (they can hear the big death and cursing and I’ll turn around and both of them will be standing there while I’m shooting up a saloon or slapping some zombies around).

So the fact that this is coming out on Steam means I will actually get a chance to get my ass kicked by it over and over… and that’s a good thing.  Now if I could only think of an excuse to why I haven’t finished GODHAND…


4 player D3 Beta Hardcore run

I have to spoil it for everyone– no one died!  For sure after this night there’s no possible way to deny the power D3 will wield over peoples across the lands; there are some confusing design choices (noted in the video again and again) but overall: fantastic.  24:26 pretty much sums up my emotions around the beta.


The new xcom is looking all sorts of awesome, but don’t take my word for it!  The developers have been doing a mess of interviews these days on why and how they are developing the game.  It’s homage as well as pushing the genre itself forward.  Like Fighting games, we have had a huge resurgence of the genre due to Street Fighter IV and here’s hoping a similar thing happens with turn based tactical games.  The days of Jagged Alliance and Temple of Elemental Evil being AA titles is long gone, but the craving is still there for something that isn’t indy, but isn’t AAA either.

I picked up both the first XCOM and XCOM: Apocalypse (my favorite in the series) off steam to give them a run through again in the next couple weeks.  Though these stand the test of time pretty well, with the new game they may no longer NEED to.

Diablo 3: what in gods name is the witchdoctor doing in the game?

I’m in the D3 beta.  It’s great.  My fears about how the game plays have been completely allayed.  The monster hit lag is unfortunate, but not a ruiner.  The real money auction house is delaying the game’s release, but that’s OK too.  It should have no effect on players that choose not to use it and you can probably play through the game without even noticing the crafting parts and just pick up any items dropped on the ground FTW, let alone actually using the auction house.  The character models aren’t that great, but the monsters look awesome (monsters don’t have a billion combinations of armor and weapons so it follows that there’s a lot more leeway with their design).  However, the Witch doctor’s inclusion has me befuddled.

I liked the other black characters in Diablo 1 and 2.  The magic user in the first game fit really well when he could have been just some generic pointy-hatted gandalf clone with a stupid beard, or some naked woman that said stupid stuff all the time.  The paladin in D2 was another non-northern european character that was believable and fit in well.  That said, I just don’t know where Blizzard is coming from with the Witch doctor.  Essentially, the Witch doctor replaces the Necromancer from D2– he has many of the same powers and is the core choice for a person that wants to use a summoning character–so system wise, he’s important, but as fluff and the character model itself  he is WAY out of place. Here are my issues in order of magnitude:

3) Aesthetically, the witchdoctor is a hunched over, quivering creature with some sort of strange shaking fit that happens to one of his arms. He himself looks like one of the creatures you will be fighting more than any of the other characters.

2) The setting for the Beta is in a very northern european looking region (Tristram); all the voices are some odd mix of  welsh, scottish, irish and english thrown together in some sort of midlands pond scum. Given that you are in a remote village that had been plagued by demons and undead before, it’s difficult to imagine some creature looking as odd as the witchdoctor (almost naked as he is starting out) would be killed outright– let alone being let INSIDE the village

1) Given that said village is under attack at the outset of the game by waves of zombies and the witchdoctor himself raises zombies as one of his first powers in the  game, it’s equally strange that a person like him, wearing a demon mask and raising zombies, would be allowed anywhere near the INSIDE of the village and almost certainly would simply be killed outright.  Of course, since the dialog options are all the same for each character, the NPC’s accept the witchdoctor the same as if he were the barbarian or demon hunter, which makes the doctor’s instant acceptance after killing just a handful of zombies feel like a giant shoehorn sticking out of Diablo’s bright red arse.

I originally thought the Monk would stick out like a sore thumb in the game, just like he did in the (non-Blizzard) expansion to Diablo 1 back in the day, but the witchdoctor is a big carbuncle right on the face in comparison.  I realize not all of D3 will happen in fantasy Northern Europe land and the witch doctor won’t look quite as ridiculous but as it stands, it’s a very strange choice for a character.

Diablo 3 beta ruminations, and big update to Torchlight 2’s site

Someday, Torchlight 2 will come out and there will be the big dust up between Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2, during which we will all likely find that the mod-friendly, played-on-your-actual-computer Torchlight 2 will be a better experience long term, despite some of Diablo 3’s absolute awesomeness sprinkled around, but for now all we got is a new TL2 website.   However, there is new art all over the place for the classes on the TL2 site, so check it out.

Now, I’ve spanned two nights in the Diablo 3 beta finishing the hour and a half of gameplay twice, once with the Monk and once with the Demon Hunter (both Co-op with baurice!mastard).  While there is the hit lag still noted by maurice!bastard a month or so ago on youtube, and the lag is absolutely awful at times–lagging when you NEED IT NOT TO LAG MOST, much of the game itself is just great and a few set pieces in the beta areas are flat out awesome.  The swarming undead at a couple points is the game I most want to play, that and have some decent item management fun with crafting.  Aesthetically: D3 is top notch.

Here is an hour and thirty minutes of play from my first night into the fray with the mastard:


The Dark elves look far better in Skyrim than oblivion, though that hat doesn't match too good.

It’s finally out!  Only a few hours in and it’s showing it’s quality in the combat, systems and graphics.  The metacritic score speaks for itself at ninety SIX.   While I liked Oblivion a lot, especially the Shivering Isles expansion (that just had excellent writing throughout) I felt Morrowind was the stronger game– though certainly not technically nor graphically– heck modders were able to make far better PC/NPC heads than Bethesda did back then, and by far better I really mean it,  so my hope with Skyrim is that it tops Morrowind by far.

Here is a tweak guide for PC users:  http://www.shacknews.com/chatty?id=27073178#item_27073178.  Big thing is to increase the Field of View if you are running in the FPS view (which is good for finding the small stuff).

My main love so far is that you can SWIM IN THE FUCKING CREEKS!  And I don’t mean just on the surface! Like Morrowind, you can go under the water and look around and, of course, find stuff.  Otherwise, like Fallout, for as big as the Skyrim world is, there is a shocking amount of detail to the environments– not RAGE level, which is wonderment incarnate, but close.

You still can’t make a pretty girlface via the custom creator.  In that this is no different than oblivion or fallout.  All the girls you can make for each race are fug ugs.