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By Jeremy Parish 10 3
With the release of Transistor and Wolfenstein: The New Order, the team has alternate history on their mind. But of course, not everyone is playing the weekly release du jour. Here's the USgamer team is playing this week.
I’m turning back the alternate-reality clock to 1960 so I can re-enjoy the whimsical delights of one Mr Wolfenstein. I blitzed through it in a frenzy so I could write a timely review, but I just didn’t really have enough time to stop and smell the roses. Or rather, the cordite, the entrails and the burning pieces of machinery.
It really is a terrific game, but one of the things I really like about it is simply the attention to detail lavished on the scenery and sets. There are all sorts of interesting things to find and marvel at, and that’s what I’ll be doing this weekend. At least, once I’ve cleared each level of villainous Nazi scum. There are also more than a few Easter Eggs to locate, and those are something else I’m going to have fun looking for.
Ultimately, the game is flawed, but it's a flawed masterpiece. Some have had difficulty looking past some of its ropier aspects, but to me it's like one of those crazy summer blockbusters that’s big, bold and doesn’t always make a lot of sense—but damn, it’s one hell of a white-knuckle ride. Even if sometimes you feel like you’re hanging on for dear life yelling W… T… Fuhhhhhhh.
The other thing I want to do is crank up the difficulty and see how far I can get. I gave it a go when I reviewed it, but decided to dial it down as I didn't want to push back my review by a few days. So now I’m going back in and testing my mettle against the smartest Nazis have to offer. Though I’m not exactly looking forward to the final battle. That was tough enough even on normal difficulty...
Like Jaz, I'm trying to save the Earth from the Nazi domination in Wolfenstein: The New Order, having spent last weekend glued to (the excellent) Transistor.
I'm nowhere near the WWII history nut that he is, probably because I’m American and our collective, accepted narrative of WWII was "everyone else was losing, then we came along and saved the day, sorry about the nukes." Nevertheless, I really do find the alternate history of the game world pretty engrossing. If you pay attention, you’ll see the inflection point for the game’s alternate, Nazi-ruled timeline wasn’t the point at which the hero failed to stop the Nazi war machine; the game begins in the midst of a WWII battle in 1946, so clearly things went pear-shaped well before the “proper” end of WWII. Picking out the details and learning how and why is almost as entertaining as the game itself.
And the game is plenty entertaining in its own right. I’ve spotted some weird flaws, like the way stealth is so broken — even when you’re creeping around, enemies will train their attention on you and remark like they see you… and then keep right on going about their business. But I’m willing to overlook those problems, because they’re fairly infrequent and the rest of the game is so good. They really don’t make shooters like Wolfenstein anymore, literally; many of its design choices deliberately hearken back to a 20-year-old sensibility. You dual-wield! You have to collect med packs to restore your health! Sometimes the missions drop you into the middle of sequences where you have to wander around and find stuff!
I know Jaz had some complaints about these things in his review, but I really enjoyed Wolfenstein’s approach. Shooters tend not to feature much in the way of downtime, so the extended non-combat sequences—like the entire chapter you spend strolling through the resistance base, reading info and picking up contextual clues about your fellow freedom fighters—give the game some welcome changes in tone, and serve to make the blistering shootouts all the more meaningful. I feel like this genre suffers from something akin to the music industry’s loudness wars, pushing gamers into a constant frenzy of high-energy action and failing to offer sufficient respite. In that sense, Wolfenstein plays like an early '90s shooter, and it’s satisfying in the same sense as listening to a great early ‘90s master of a good rock album: You get both the highs and the lows, and both have greater impact for the contrast.
But man, I'm super annoyed that you don’t get an Achievement/trophy for shooting every panel out of the moon model in the Nazi museum. Way to drop the ball, Bethesda.
In what has become kind of an annual tradition for me, I've been steadily chipping away at the latest entry in the Super Robot Taisen series—Super Robot Wars Z3 on the PlayStation Vita. That's after having spent the past couple years working on Super Robot Wars Z2-2 (yes, Harry Potter-style sequel creep has also hit SRW). What can I say? They're long games.
I'll write about this in a bit more depth next week, but SRW is kind of my import comfort food; a holdover from my time spent living in Japan. They're all pretty much the same—with a few mechanical differences here and there—but they're all ultimately turn-based strategy games that place a premium on really gorgeous 2D animation. I've played a lot of them over the years, which has almost resulted in the gaming equivalent of a sugar overdose. But I keep coming back because they're beautiful, and they also don't insult my intelligence, unlike last year's Project X Zone.
Super Robot Wars Z3-1 represents the culmination—or at least the beginning of the end—of a run of entries that began on the PlayStation 2 in 2008 and has continued across the PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 3, and Vita. I can't even begin to summarize the story, except to say that Amuro Rey, Kira Yamato, and a handful of other familiar faces are now ageless and stuck wandering through various universes. And Shinji and Asuka are there. And the guys from Gurren Lagann. And who am I kidding? Practically every classic and modern mecha character from the past 25 years.
What's held me up on SRW Z3 though is that it's actually kind of bloody hard, even in the comparatively early stages. I'm currently trying to fulfill all of the bonus objectives so I can unlock various hidden units, and the game has gotten progressively harder. Now both Haman Karn and Marida Cruz are currently kicking my poor Destiny Gundam's ass, and there's seemingly little that I can do about it with my handful of under-powered units. Comfort food indeed.
I expect it will keep me busy through the next year or so, at which point Super Robot Wars Z2-2 will hit my doorstep and the cycle will begin anew. Along with Pokemon and Madden NFL, it's my biggest remaining gaming vice; and you know, I'm kind of okay with that.
This is a rather hard choice for me. I have Mario Kart 8 and Transistor in front of me, WildStar is on Ops Week so the servers come up occasionally, and I have a huge backlog to get rid of. The smart thing to do would be to clear that out. Instead, I'll probably spend it playing the first two games I mentioned, Transistor and Mario Kart 8.
I’ve already polished off Transistor’s wonderful little action RPG/tactics hybrid, but it contains a New Game+ option, so I’m going to have to dive back in and see what happens. On a controller—even on PC Transistor plays better with a controller—you have so many tactical options at your fingertips in the game. The Trace ability combinations aren’t endless, but its quite possible that you won’t use every one in your first playthrough. I experimented for story purposes, but for the most part I didn’t wander too far outside of the boundaries I had personally set. I intend to do that in my second run.
But that’s only another run. What about the rest of my weekend?
That’s where Mario Kart 8 comes in. I'm still missing certain things, like three stars on every cup in 150cc. While Nintendo added a counter to the Blue Shell, that's not the only item that can destroy a great lap and leave you in second or third place. Mario Kart remains a skill-based game, but like most things in life, people forget how much luck factors into a successful finish. I cross my fingers and hope that a blue shell hits me in laps 1 or 2 so I can recover, or a lightning bolt doesn’t hit me while I’m near an edge. Rubberbanding has been toned down, but it's still a thing, so I'm actively hurting rivals to push them down in the ranking.
It's a hard road to the Mushroom Kingdom. I didn’t choose Mario Kart life, Mario Kart life chose me.
And once I've polished off the computer, there’s still an endless amount of online ghosts and online multiplayer lobbies will fill up so I’m not racing against the same people. While Transistor is a story-based game that you only play a few times, Mario Kart 8 is something that will stick with you for awhile. Luckily, I have room in my life for both.
I just spent two solid months playing, thinking, and breathing Dark Souls 2, so I'm kind of at a loss when it comes to what I'll tackle next. I know I missed plenty of great releases in that window, but I could probably sink another 60 days into that game without feeling like a minute of my time has been wasted. Though I guess that would be somewhat irresponsible of me, seeing as this site isn't called Dark Souls Gamer (...yet).
That said, in my brief breaks from Dark Souls 2—which actually happened, I swear—I've been chipping away at a number of RPGs in various states of completion, which might make all of you think I'm a bad person. On the docket so far: Bravely Default, Persona 4 Golden, Etrian Odyssey IV, the original Shadow Hearts, and Final Fantasy XIV, which usually takes up more of my time, seeing as I receive monthly reminders that it's taking money from my bank account.
But since Dark Souls 2 was such a beast, I've been thinking of chasing it with something lighter—let's say something that takes less than 100 hours. I've already dug a little into Stick it to the Man (review pending), a delightful and off-kilter adventure game that reminds me of Telltale's work before they started chasing popular IP from other media. In fact, I was scrolling through my ever-growing Steam list this morning and eyeing some bite-sized, unplayed games I've purchased in the past that I can dip in and out of this weekend: Machinarium, DuckTales Remastered, Been There, Dan That!, and/or the various Kentucky Route Zero chapters I still haven't played.
Basically, life after Dark Souls 2 is a fruitless search for joy in other video games, and I'm hoping I don't fall back into my old routine again. Then again, I just got its massive, beautiful hardcover strategy guide in the mail, and there are so many builds I have yet to try... Tell you what, if you check my Steam account on Monday and I have more than 10 hours of Dark Souls 2 accounted for, I owe all of you a Coke.
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