So sure, we’ve had Halloween sales and Thanksgiving sales, but the Christmas sales tend to be the biggest and best. To prepare you for them, I’ve compiled a list of games worth buying (or worth buying if on sale).
Worth buying on sale
Some games are great, but publishers have yet to accustom themselves with reasonable prices – especially in Australia. Keep an eye out for sales on these games:
Okay, it’s zombies. It’s tropical islands. It’s scavenging, exploring and committing hideous atrocities in the name of survival. While it’s quite rough around the edges (sound support is a bit dodgy, and weapon degradation is ridiculous), it’s pretty fun and the graphics are great. The Australian accents are terrible. The gore is horrifyingly visceral (you can pop skulls, break limbs, expose broken rib cages…) It doesn’t all hang together perfectly, but it’s pretty good in general. If you think of it as a first-person action RPG, you’ll do fine. This will likely go on sale to promote the major expansion pack: Riptide.
It’s been a while between triple A stealth games. This game gives you the option of run `n’ gun or stealth, with various shades in between. You’re an elite bodyguard (which somehow makes you an elite assassin) with mysterious powers. The powers wouldn’t be too out-of-place if replaced with their equivalents in a distant future Deus Ex. Nevertheless they work well. Teleporting lets you get around quickly and helps avoids guards. You can turn on an x-ray vision and see guards and their lines of sight. There’s all sorts of possession and nasty body-exploding abilities. Really, the powers give you the option to be an unstoppable killing machine, or a shadow in the night, and everywhere in between. My personal approach is like an honorable ninja: creep around rooftops and drop down to knock out guards and hide them in dark corners, occasionally using sleep darts to get multiple targets in the one move. I haven’t cared much for the characters or story yet, but stealth is a welcome change from the shoot-first-what’s-a-question approach of other games.
Max Payne 3
Third installment of the series and the first one to be handled by Rockstar, makers of the GTA series. You’re the aging, drug-addled, self-loathing cop Max Payne, caught up in an old-school noir-style scheme. The gunplay is fantastic, if a little hectic at times. There’s a lot of cool action sequences and different challenges to mix it up. The story lacks a bit of immediacy because this isn’t so much about Max himself. Nevertheless, it’s a very slick and interesting game, with stylish cuts between scenes and stories, and a great variety of detailed environments. The pavelas in Brazil are quite excellently realized. The multiplayer is interesting, although I didn’t play it for super-long (yes, there’s bullet-time in multiplayer). Definitely worth it now on sale.
If you’re jonesing for another hit of Portal 2 with maybe some new mechanics, then Quantum Conundrum might scratch that itch. One of the lead designers, Kim Swift, was one of the lead designers on the Portal series. It shows, but you can also see the differences of not being in Valve. There’s a bit less polish, a bit more weirdness, but some courage to try new things publicly. Basically the premise is you’re wandering a house of a crazy inventor Uncle, and have the ability to mess with different dimensions for each puzzle room. You press a button and the world shifts to another alternate reality. For example, you can go to the fluffy dimension, which makes everything light and bouncy (and pink!) Alternatively, you can slow time, make things heavy, or reverse gravity. The way these work together is sometimes inspired. Throwing a box, then slowing time to run around and jump on the box, then speeding up time to ride it over an abyss, reversing gravity at times to lift you up in the air… it’s mad but it works. Some of the puzzles are infuriatingly fiddly and I ragequit a few times, but they are all doable without ninja-like reflexes.
Scribblenauts has always been about that beautiful focal point between creativity and discovery. For the unfamiliar, there’s a world of puzzles and you are given a magic notebook to write any word you can think of, to summon that object and try to solve the puzzle. In Scribblenauts Unlimited they give you the freedom of using adjectives as well, so you can summon a stately t-rex, a magical ping-pong paddle, or an invisible panda bear. While the puzzles themselves aren’t usually super-taxing (there’s always an obvious item to use), the fun comes when you try to be creative or obscure. A little girl needed someone mid-career to show off at their show and tell, so I summoned a president, who promptly appeared, looking very Obama-like. It’s these little delights that make the game fun.
[Frowny-face aside: Warner Bros distributes the game and screwed it up in a major way. North America release was weeks before the Australian release, and both were potentially months ahead of a vague Europe release. For a digital game. Not only that, but in the time between the US release and elsewhere, they’d actively block you from seeing certain trailers and webpages if you weren’t American. Super thumbs down. Plus the release price in Australia is $50, 1.6 times the US price, even though 1 AUD buys you 1.06 USD. Don’t buy this at full price or you’ll just encourage them.]
The Secret World
MMOs are in a weird state. The juggernaut of World of Warcraft looms over everything, crushing many games in its path. There’s not a lot of innovation in the genre, and many of them try to emulate WoW to try to get the same insane cash flow. The Secret World was a bit different. It’s an MMO with actually good writing, great graphics, excellent world and creature design, actual puzzles and does not have a bunch of the game mechanical baggage that others assume is vital. It’s modern-day but has grabbed everything from conspiracy theories, Lovecraftian horror and classic horror tropes. There are no real classes, so you can specialize skills however you like. You can do pretty well solo (although the full experience does require some team raids). Unfortunately, I think this game would have made a spectacular single-player game. The MMO mechanics they did retain (mostly the fighting) is fairly lame. In any case, in the last few days it’s gone buy-to-play (so you buy the game and there’s no subscriptions, but you can buy things in the store). If you can get this cheap, do so. The crazy characters, excellent universe and awesome ARG-style puzzles are well worth it.
X-Com: Enemy Unknown
For better or worse, this is exactly what you’d hope for in this combination: Firaxis (makers of the recent Civ games) and X-Com. It’s the classic turn-based tactical squad battles of X-Com, with the style of Firaxis games. Which means the combat can be punishingly random, and Firaxis still don’t know how to make a game where weird edge cases in the game mechanic don’t poke you in the eye all the time. For example, in this game line-of-sight is essential. But you have no idea if your sniper perched behind a tree on a hill can see what you can see, which might mean total destruction of your team, or a very casual time shooting aliens. They’ll sometimes unfairly spawn aliens out of nowhere. Sometimes you can stick a gun in an alien’s mouth and pull the trigger… and miss. Aliens can one-shot kill your elite troops, or perfectly thread a grenade toss through windows and debris to explode half your team.
Nevertheless it’s a fun game. The squad management in and out of combat is great. Detailed enough without being overwhelming. There’s a lot of battlegrounds, some of them quite interesting or beautiful. Make sure you name your squad with memorable names so you have great stories to tell after amazing or catastrophic battles.
Worth buying regardless
This is platforming mixed with the dreaded genre of MOBA. There’s a lot of charm to the characters in this game and good sense of “just one more game”. The characters are varied and unique, and they’ve gone all out with custom music and voice tracks for each. I love the slug with a derpy-looking face who controls a walking turret and assisted by a congenial AI voice who makes purchases on his behalf. While Awesomenauts probably needs a bit more balancing over time, it’s easy to find a few characters you like and specialize with them. They seem to have recently patched the AI so they weren’t too punishing to newbies (or maybe me and my friends just got better). The AI seem to only be able to choose from the very first lineup, but can do a lot of damage with them. Worth getting the 4-pack and introducing a few friends over to a gateway drug for MOBAs in general.
Batman: Arkham City
Okay, I finished this game twice this year. Twice. And it’s not a short game. It’s a beautiful harmony of great mechanics, great design and great writing. The fighting is absolutely superb, and make you feel like Batman being awesome. The Riddler challenges actually encourage you to think about your gadgets in ways you might not have thought about. The Predator missions where you terrorise and take out a room of armed thugs are sublime. There’s so much detail in this game that you might miss a lot of colour by just not hearing the thugs talk about something between missions. Totally worth it. The extra DLC is okay – Robin and Nightwing battle challenges are cool, but Harley Quinn’s revenge has a sense of “okay, last bit of content before we shut down”. In any case, this is a Triple A game done right, and basically the best comic book-based game ever.
At one point, I realized that FTL (officially subtitled “Faster Than Light”) actually is the consonants of the word “FATAL”, which sums up FTL perfectly. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. You’re commanding a ship that is on the run from some bad empire, and have to get some cargo to the good guys a few galaxies away. You improve your ship over time, explore planets and have real-time space battles. The trick though, is in the subsystems. Your ship has a bunch of subsystems that you can upgrade, or have damaged in an attack. So mid-battle you might panic because your weapons have been shut down. But then your oxygen machine catches fire. And then aliens teleport aboard. Dealing with the crazy emergencies is what makes FTL fun (and supremely frustrating). All the content is procedurally generated, so you might have a bad roll of the dice and just get no weapon upgrades for a few solar systems. Or you might keep finding crates of money. I slightly dislike how much randomness plays into it, but at least the designers encourage you to try a few different play systems to explore the mechanics.
This game is pretty cheap and well worth supporting the devs.
The problem with Hotline Miami is what it reduces you to. And it does so intentionally. This is basically Drive, the video game. You’re a nameless, faceless (indeed masked) protagonist. You’re given cryptic instructions to go to places and kill everyone there. You rock up unarmed and use your speed, cunning and ruthlessness to get through. You run around an obscene, warped, technicolour top-down world and kill folks with whatever comes to hand. This game is very, very, very brutal. But in a curious way, the game induces you to psychopathy in that you need to plan a speedy set of flawless executions. For example, you find yourself thinking, “okay, kick in this door, knocking this guy prone, grab his knife, throw it at the other guy, kick in the prone guy’s face, then run over and embed a machete in the skull of the knifed guy if he’s still alive”. You mindlessly kill folks with little-to-no prompting until your conscious (or the game) asks you to re-evaluate your actions and what you’re doing. It’s a great twist on an otherwise straightforward (and terribly buggy) game.
Mark of the Ninja
This is kinda a masterclass in stealth. There’s a good core of interacting mechanics, and excellent, subtle signalling of imperfect information. You’re a ninja and you have to make daring ninja raids. You can stab dudes (noisily or steathily), you can throw shurikens at lights or gongs, you can wall-climb, leap out of grates, throw mini firecrackers… It captures the ninja mood excellently and is challenging enough without being frustrating.
Again, this is cheaper than your usual game, but the gameplay and visuals are superbly polished.
The Walking Dead
“Nowadays, adventure games are dead!” No, nowadays adventure games are The Walking Dead. Telltale Games have been trying to reinvigorate adventure games lately with the Sam and Max series, amongst others. They never really got it right until The Walking Dead. Set parallel to the comic books and TV series, the games put you in the shoes of Lee, an escaped convict and ex-professor. You get to make choices throughout the game that are reflected in the future in a myriad of ways. Characters die, or fight, or get sick, and how you deal with that is up to you. Don’t listen to the forums and their complaints about “false choices”. Some convenient plotting helps keep the combinatorial explosions of content down, and gate you through interesting scenes. You get scope to play how you want to play, and it’s amazing the complexity they’ve built into the games, especially given it was monthly episodic content.
In any case, this is more a great game of writing and characters than your traditional puzzle-focussed adventure game. It’s brutal, emotional and daring. One of the best games of 2012.
Who needs sales?
Some games are already free! You can’t beat that price!
Team Fortress 2
Not only is the masterpiece Team Fortress 2 free, but you can even make money on the game. Aside from the great variety of FPS modes with polished mechanics, hilarious characters and generally decent playerbase, there’s a thriving economy alongside the game, and you can sell items you’ve found or crafted for Steam money. I’ve sunk more time into this game than any other, by a very large margin. Give it a go. If you don’t like the traditional capture the flag or point capture levels, try Mann vs Machine where you stop a horde of invading robots. It’s frantic and funny.
Kingdom of Loathing
KoL has always been free and probably always will. Every Christmas they come out with holiday-themed content (called Crimbo). Some years it’s secret Santa-style shenanigans. Sometimes you have to defeat a giant boss. Or solve a puzzle. Or craft cool things. The writing is consistently interesting, if a little crude and comedic.
The list of games I haven’t played yet but have heard enough good things to presuppose they are good: Far Cry 3, Guild Wars 2, Assassins Creed 3, Spec Ops: The Line.
Places to get your games from
- Steam, during the sales
- Greenmangaming, these guys have great deals, prices that respect non-US people and great ways to chain vouchers and purchases together.
- GOG.com, mostly older classic games, but has an increasing indie game section. No DRM and some other things that anti-Steam folk complain about.
Week three! Not long ago I was worried if I could actually grow a moustache, and now I’m grooming one and trying to get it to not poke me in the nostrils.
Fundraising is at a great level – $635. However, donation frequency has dropped pretty significantly. My minimum goal this year is to beat last year’s collection of $765. I will certainly pop a monocle or two if we get to the secret goal of $1000. Now is the appropriately dramatic time to donate. I’ll even sing your praises to the opposite sex regarding the timeliness and generosity of your donation.
Head on over to mobro.co/BrettW if you’d like to help out.
Last week was a little busy, so unfortunately I couldn’t produce posters on my usual schedule. This one, however, is a monster. Oh did I say one? I meant TWO! TWO SEQUENTIAL POSTERS!
We’re still trucking along with Movember. My moustache has been described as “getting dapper”, which is an upgrade from the previous “what moustache?”
CORRECTION: I had previously said today’s poster was both scatological and accurate. Unfortunately I was only right on the first bit. D’oh! Today’s homework (for me, and you if you like) is to read the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia‘s page on the prostate and actually get your organs correctly placed and referenced.
Medical inaccuracies aside, if you like the posters, feel free to share them with your friends.
My folks are visiting this week, so posters may be a bit slower than usual. I have a few neat ones in the pipeline, so stay tuned!
Did I mention I was doing Movember? And making posters for it? Pretty sure I did.
If you want to help out with Movember, please consider donating at mobro.co/BrettW. Every little bit goes to this great cause. Thanks to all the generous – and may I say it – attractive people who have donated already.
If you want to look at a sweet poster, here’s one I prepared today!
We’re one week into Movember and already people have been extremely generous. It warms my heart, it does. We’ve broken $300 in donations thus far, which is great. Hopefully we can keep it up for the rest of the month.
If you’re currently slapping your forehead and going, “Now I know what I forgot to donate to!” then just head on over to mobro.co/BrettW and sort it out, quick-smart. You can also see horrifying pictures of a proto-mo being created.
People are enjoying the Movember posters, and rest assured, there’s more coming. In fact, here’s one right now!
Feel free to point your friends here, or share the link/image on Facebook.
I’m fundraising for Movember 2012. To encourage people to send their money to a cause I believe in, I’ve decided to do a set of posters that are hopefully entertaining and a little educational.
As soon as Valve give us access to some of their non-TF2 models, I’ll be ready to go with the female version of this.
Previous posters: Medic.
I’m fundraising for Movember 2012. To encourage people to send their money to a cause I believe in, I’ve decided to do a set of posters that are hopefully entertaining and a little educational.
Today we kick off with the first one: The Medic.
More to come over the month!
I’ll tell you straight up – I don’t really like metal. The music, that is. But maybe I hadn’t given it a fair go. Maybe I had approached it wrong, or had it prosthelytised by the wrong people. So I asked my metal-loving friend Bender for a mixtape of metal appreciation. I’ve listened to it, and I thought the report might make a neat blog post. And like a classic metal song, it’s long!
powered by Fotopedia
After a long series of delays, Runic Games’ Torchlight 2 has finally hit Steam. I played it a bit yesterday, and I thought folks who were Diablo 3 fans might like to know how Torchlight 2 compares.
Torchlight 2 by itself
If you’ve played Torchlight 1, or any of the Diablo series, you know what you’re in for – killing all the dudes and getting all the loot. There’s a pseudo-Steampunk angle to the world so you’re just as likely to fire a gatling gun as draw a bow. You’re also blessed with a pet from the very start of the game which has a remarkable impact on gameplay.
Versus El Diablo
It’s really hard to write much about Torchlight 2 (TL2) without reference or comparison to the Diablo series. I might as well bite the bullet and get into the comparisons.
The first thing you notice is money, in few contexts. Torchlight 2 is only $20, whereas Diablo 3 hit shelves at $60ish. You can buy a 4-pack of TL2 2 on Steam for the same price as Diablo 3. Then from the intro screen, you can tell that while TL2 got a lot of love, it didn’t get anywhere near the budget that Diablo 3 (D3) had. While the music in TL2 is fine, you can tell Blizzard shelled out for a full orchestra to really smash that opening screen. Same sort of thing for the sound – while it’s quite good in TL2, it lacks some of the variety and quality that D3 has.
Curiously, TL2 has a very similar art style to Blizzard’s biggest earner: World of Warcraft. Textures are fairly simple, colourful but evocative. D3 had that wonderful painterly feel to everything (if you didn’t zoom in too far) whereas TL2 retains a video game feel. By eschewing any dedication to realism, the TL2 guys were able to be a lot more creative with the different enemies and landscapes that you see. You cycle through both pretty quickly so while not individually engaging, it constantly feels fresh. D3 rooted itself in areas, soaking up a particular atmosphere that the artists tried very hard to capture.
The main difference as I see it is that Torchlight 2 wants to be fun, whilst Diablo 3 wants to be hardcore. I think TL2 wins in executing this and being my kind of game. One of my issues with D3 is I wasn’t sure what it wanted to be. A lot of the gameplay and theming was structured around being hardcore. Percentages are quoted to 1 or 2 decimal points. You have to prove your worthiness of later difficulties by finishing the lower ones first. Bad guys are routinely tougher. If you want to go to town you are punished by a long wait and potentially decaying loot drop chances. Every patch to D3 tries to finely balance all the different class and skill choices. Heck the whole online-always thing was to ensure a level playing field for everyone in what is ostensibly a single-player game.
But then the execution of D3 was uneven. The auction house blew away any sense of difficulty, progress or achievement if you had the cash. The very grimdark storyline was too serious yet not interesting nor carefully crafted enough to warrant it. In the midst of a very serious battle that might determine the fate of the world, you are encouraged to smash up Heaven in order to find a few extra dollars. When you save the world by beating up the Prime Evil himself you get a bit of thanks, but mostly they care about what Tyrael does next. You’re just some dude. A set of bad guys and their related achievement are named after the Three Stooges. Your character will have a serious contemplation about the afterlife whilst punching someone’s skeleton out. The NPCs have more social interactions than you do. The mix is all wrong.
Torchlight 2 doesn’t take itself anywhere near that seriously. The cinematics are cartoons, which is not to say they aren’t great, but D3’s realistically-rendered cutscenes demanded a certain amount of gravitas whereas the Big Bad Guy in TL2 explodes a few buildings with his staff on the way to punching up someone. While TL2 has the same sort of thin story that it tells fairly straight-faced, it doesn’t insist on it as strongly as D3. It revels in the secondary detail that D3 loves but is supposed to be too serious to lower itself to. For example, in one area you fight a ghost pirate called One-Eyed Willy (which is a joke in itself), but a drop you find nearby is “The Other Eye of One-Eyed Willy” which is basically a rare gem you can shove into your weapon. While D3 had similar rare champions and gag loot, they seemed out of place.
TL2 is really just there to have fun. The first 20 odd enemies I fought I could one-shot kill them (and they’d explode in a shower of gore). You’re encouraged to wield gigantic shotguns or grindstones strapped to logs. A nice way to get loot is to go fishing and the fish you find polymorphs your pet into various crazy creatures. Occasionally, just apropos of nothing, you’ll fight a phase beast enemy that will open up a portal to a mini-game. Socketed weapons come thick and fast. You are encouraged to use gems as soon as possible because they don’t allow gem combining (although they do allow you to recover either the gem or the item, but not both). Identify scrolls are basically instantaneous. Portals back to town are instantaneous and semi-persistent. The town itself isn’t a chore to navigate and basically once you’re outside the gates, it’s combat time.
TL2 allows local, LAN or Internet play and totally doesn’t care what you do. You are strongly encouraged to mod the game and use other people’s mods. While they offer much the same gameplay options as D3, you don’t have to grind for them. Hardcore and harder difficulty modes are available immediately.
You can craft your own character however you want. I have an engineer chick that has specialized in hitting things with weapons as big as her, and robots. With a different set of skill choices, I could have made her a pseudo-knight hitting things with a sword and doing all sorts of shield-bashing, or taken an entirely different route and made myself a damage sponge distracting the enemies while a horde of robots cleaned up. And this is just one class of four!
If you realize quickly enough that a skill choice was not for you, a guy in town will allow you to respecialize your last 3 choices. They don’t really care so much about a level playing field so all the pros are evenly matched. They want you to have a good time killing things. Speaking of levels, you gain them at a good pace, which is a great contrast to D3’s general grind.
Pets are great. You have a choice of ten different species (dogs, cats, wolves, hawks… even freaking ferrets with hats!) They’re all very adorable. While mechanically they have a lot of similarities to the paladin/brigand/enchantress you could have in D3, they feel quite different. Like in Torchlight 1, they can be loaded up with extra items and sent to the store while you keep bashing things. Interestingly, they can also buy consumables for you. The town felt like a chore in D3, whereas you can avoid it entirely in TL2.
Pets can be given very simple gear, but more importantly can be given spells to learn. While thematically weird, it means that my wolf can cast a Summon Skeleton spell while I’m summoning a small horde of spider mines. I’m rocking out with an entourage similar to my witch doctor from D3, but my character is more than able to handle herself. I could have chosen the Summon Skeleton spell for myself, but in the chaos and finite amount of mana I have, it’s great that my wolf can provide a skeleton at a moment’s notice.
While this review was supposed to be a quick TL2 vs D3 bullet-point comparison, I had too much fun pointing out the things I liked about Torchlight 2. I think this is very telling. I appreciate the effort that went into D3 and the game Blizzard were trying to make. However, I felt as a player Blizzard was keeping me at arm’s length from their game, lest I sully its very important sheen. They were building the game for the obsessive 1000-hour players and making me work for entertainment. While they both revel in the fairly mindless hack and slash emblematic of Action RPGs, Torchlight 2 wants everyone to come in, make yourself comfortable and have fun.