TriG Review: Portal 2

That was fun. I just beat Portal 2 and although some people liked the original title Portal better, I have got to say I am not one of them. Don’t get me wrong, Portal is a damn classic, but, Portal 2 was longer, harder, and actually had some story to it.

TLDR Version: Awesome variety and length to this game makes it totally worth playing.

It took me about 10 hours to beat the single player campaign of Portal 2. I haven’t played the co-op since I currently have no one to play with (anyone?), but ultimately, this means that the sequel game has a lot more gameplay to it than the original. Although at times the single player felt like it was dragging just a tad, the variety in the puzzles kept me coming back. It incorporated a ton of new features like blue bouncy goo, portal surface goo, and speedy goo (I’m making up those names myself, mind you). It also had beams and walkways you could manipulate, along with all the old features like buttons, launch pads, and so on.

TLDR Version: This game was HARD sometimes, but I’m also bad at science. Still, I loved it.

The challenge level of Portal 2 forced me to look at a walkthrough a total of three times. I’d usually read a sentence or two and what I needed to do would quickly click. I don’t mind having to look at a walkthrough for this sort of game once in a while because despite my level of education, I am NOT a physics minded person, nor am I a spatial genius. Because of this fact, my ability to solve 90% of the puzzles left me feeling quite satisfied. I loved the puzzles in this game.

Just when I’d had enough puzzles, I had to run for a while and navigate through the AWESOMELY huge structure of Aperture Science. It’s massive. I’m thinking like, bigger than – well – some cities probably. The scope of the sheer size of the facility was a breathtaking touch I loved about this game.

The storyline – well, Portal didn’t really have one other than GLaDOS wants to kill you, but 2 takes a whole new spin. It adds a core robot named Wheatley who is your companion. Although you get separated for a time, he links back up with you in order to help you escape the clutches of GLaDOS, who, SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t played the original, survived the first game. Wheatley is a cool dude who brings in tons of personality and a chipper attitude to contrast with the other’s constantly dark sarcasm. It’s a great dynamic.

There are many twists and turns include “surprises,” an awesome end game battle, and a post credit song and scene that had me covering my mouth in a fit of laughter. This is one worth playing, even if you need to use the occasional walkthrough like me.

Play this game if: You were a fan of Portal; love puzzle games; enjoy physics; enjoy witty banter, sarcasm, and dark humor.

Don’t play this game if: Physics makes your head explode; the idea of Portal with a slight story makes you ill; you don’t have time.

TriG’s Overall Rating: 9/10, only because I felt it dragged the slightest bit sometimes.

Guest Review: Count Spatula Plays Diablo III on Xbox 360

TriG here. It is with great pleasure that I introduce my guest reviewer, Count Spatula. This review had me laughing, for sure, so I hope you enjoy it! I know I’m looking forward to more from him in the future!

 


I started playing Blizzard Entertainment’s imaginatively named Diablo III with unfair expectations of it bringing back the magic of the previous incarnation, Diablo II. If I had to guess how many hours I lost playing Diablo II, I would have to say it numbered in the thousands. I skipped class, I lost sleep, I got into fights with my girlfriend, and I loved every minute. There was something enchanting about that game, that no matter how long you played, there was just one more run, one more chance at some amazing loot that kept you coming back, and ignoring all responsibility. Diablo II still has a rather large online population after over 10 years. Hell, I probably would still boot the game up every once in a while if my computer hadn’t been struck by lightning. My ‘new’ computer can’t even run most websites.


Does that sexy thing have a Pentium 4? You bet! Now with 3 colors!

So, Diablo III has some big shoes to fill, at least in my eyes. The lack of a good, or even remotely working, PC prevented me from getting the game for when it first came out. Even if I did, I’m not sure I would have picked the game up anyway as the initial reports and reviews of the game were negative. It was boring, the colors were too bright, the auction house was just another way for Blizzard to make a shit ton of money off of players. The big consensus, though, was that the magic was just gone: It wasn’t Diablo II.

But… that’s the point right? Making a new game means to make, well, a new game. Not regurgitate the same material with new graphics every year…


*Ahem*

Eventually the game came out for Xbox 360, and my friend picked it up day 1. I ended up, somewhat begrudgingly, getting the game after weeks of goading from said friend. I knew they removed the auction house mechanic, so that was a plus. However, deep down I knew it wasn’t going to be the same, so I was a little hesitant. You know what though? Spoiler alert: The game IS fun. The new graphics and style make the world come alive, even if they are ‘too bright’ for some hard core Horror-philes. The worlds have always been dynamic, changing every time you load the game, but Diablo 3 adds unique areas and monsters that don’t always spawn. So even between playthroughs the same area may have 5 different dungeons and sub-areas. A new kind of sidequest, called events, are a nice addition to the game. They almost act as a mini game asking you to defend an area or kill a boss for a reward. Now, since the areas are random, you’ll probably find new events in each playthrough. The story is more prevalent, with many books to read and conversations to have with the main NPCs. I still wouldn’t call the story driving or ‘good’ but there definitely is more to this one than in the previous game. That said, the plot is rather predictable at points, like the middle/end of Act II.

Hmm, why does Zultan keep laughing like that…. It’s a trap is what!

Thanks Zoidberg, we figured that out hours ago…

The gameplay, even if it was streamlined and mainstreamed, was still, at its crux, Diablo. Combat is the same; mash buttons until enemies die and then collect their items. The dodge stick is a nice touch, allowing you to quickly roll out of the way of an on coming attack. The eight different difficulty settings mean that you can customize your gameplay to your experience level. The higher the difficulty, the greater the reward. I found that to be a welcome feature at the end of the first playthrough when I could slaughter most everything in one hit. Enemies are numerous, varied, and have special attacks/moves that require some planning on how to beat them. Along the same vein there are unique enemies that only spawn a small percent of the time. Some, like “Nine Toads: Terror of the Borderlands” are nice references to other games/pop culture that made me smile.

Your mom even makes a guest appearance.

The Smith and Jeweler are nice touches in my opinion. Each of them can be leveled and they pay nice dividends to the player by granting the ability to create items and craft better gems. Characters don’t have a skill tree anymore, and skills can be changed at any time. Instead, as you level you unlock new runes for the skills that change how they work. This is a big departure from Diablo II where skills were permanent and if you were drunk and picked the wrong skill, you were shit out of luck. The runes also mean that there are new skills/runes every level until the maximum of 60. That means you have something new to look forward to until the very end, which is nice. However, that means there is no real need to make more than one of each class since you can change skills on the fly for any situation.

As a whole, I still find the ‘end of game’ kind of lacking. There is a whole playthrough, dubiously dubbed ‘Inferno’, which you play at max level. Yes, you have a chance at the best items, and yes you have a new mechanic called “Nephalem Valor” that further increases your chance at the best items, but it seems kind of hollow. Uniques drop like crazy anyway (at least in the console version), so at best you’re just getting the level 60 version of an item. Not to mention at that point you’d better hope you like the story because you will have played the same game with the same character four times. There will be an expansion which will add some end game content, but I doubt it will ever come to the 360.

So far I’ve spent this whole review comparing Diablo III to its predecessor. You may think this is unfair, and objectively I agree with you. Objectively this is a good, maybe even great game. The drive to level your character and get the next best item is almost overwhelming at times. It’s easy to pick up even without prior game experience (as my fiancé and her friends can tell you). There is just something missing though, something I can’t quite put my finger on, that keeps me from loving this game. I find myself bored after a while (especially in Act II) and I can’t play by myself for more than an hour. The game is still at its best when played with friends and now I can’t find myself playing it without them. At this point I have great items and enough organs to host a Haggis Festival, and no reason to continue playing alone. I still play when my friends are over, but if I’m alone I’d rather play Minecraft or Skyrim. My friend and I have already moved on to the next game after just a few months, only playing together maybe once a week. The game lacks the all engrossing replay value that kept me coming back to Diablo II at every chance. It was an addiction, and really, that was one of the things that made Diablo, well,Diablo.

Maybe it’s because we’re growing up, but I can’t tell if nostalgia is keeping me from loving this game, or that this game really just lacks some of that addictive magic that lowered my grades and made me have raccoon eyes. The mark of a great game is that it surpasses your expectations, even if they are lofty to begin with. I guess that’s why the magic just wasn’t there. I expected this game to absorb my life like Diablo II did, and was thusly disappointed. This game, no matter how good, will live in the shadow of its former self.

It may sound as if I didn’t like this game, but really I quite enjoyed it. I think this game has Portal 2 Syndrome: Its very good, but it will never live up to the expectations of the previous game to those who have played both. Diablo II coincided with the end of high school, and by extension my childhood. DiabloIII was my attempt at going back to a time when the most I had to worry about was how many Baal runs I could do before I would have to sleep in class to catch up. I was expecting Diablo III to sweep me off my feet, treat me to a fantastic dinner and finally popping the question with a Stone of Jordan. When it showed up with flowers, coupons for a steak house, and the same Goldwrap it gave it me last year, I wasn’t mad… just a little disappointed. The same, I guess, is true of all nostalgic pursuits: We always remember the time fondly, and even if we can never quite recapture the magic of those days it doesn’t mean we still can’t have a good time doing it.

Beer helps, too.

The Good: Online play, item drops are still satisfying, the game is streamlined so its easier to pick up, loot is generated individually online, graphics, the music is nice, difficulty settings, and its still a good if not great game.

The Bad: The story is still dull, Act II is way too long, characters have ridiculous item dependencies; you need the best items to do well, replay value (after a point)

The Ugly: Can lag sometimes on the newer Xboxes (re: mine), fighting over items on the same xbox.

Buy this game if: You have some friends to play it with, you like grinding games, you like Blizzard games, you like games in general, or if you’re new to gaming in general.

Don’t buy this game if: You want another Diablo II, have unreasonably high expectations, you don’t like fast paced gameplay, or you don’t have anyone to play this game with.

Overall Rating: Four writhing spines out of five.

Sid Meier’s Pirates! GGG Review

A screenshot from Gamespot.

I may have never been so damn frustrated with a video game. That is saying something. I’ve experienced abysmal combat controls, fought countless bad camera angles, awful voice acting and syncing, and slow storylines –  but very rarely all in one game. “Sid Meier’s Pirates!” port to PC takes the gold medal on infuriating games that I keep on playing in hope.

The premise of “Pirates!” is so amazingly awesome. You are a pirate that is attempting to rise to fame by taking place in nautical battles and then boarding the ship and taking down the captain. You collect treasure, improve your fleet, and gather crew. You woo governor’s daughters, wage wars against different nations on behalf of politicians, and sail the seas. It sounds like it has the potential for everything you could want in a pirate sim.

Where does this game fall short? Oh, let me count the ways. This was originally an old school console game. The port was sloppily done, leaving the controls practically unplayable, awkward, and angering. There is no real dialogue – just sim-ish speaking, but the animation is not impressive in any way as it is entirely repetitive – just like all of the gameplay. Every ship battle is the same. Every spar is the same. Every dance with a governor’s daughter is the same. If there is one thing I know about being a pirate, it’s that every day brings something new. This game is nothing like that. It’s old, monotonous, and quite frankly boring.

What little storyline there is takes forever to access, as sailing across the world takes way too long. I’ve set my ship sailing forward (as I can’t seem to manually make it go any faster), walked away and made a sandwich, come back, and I’m STILL NOT THERE. I could see the town on my screen and was going in a straight line. How does that take five minutes?!?

I wanted this game to be so much more. I wanted it to make me feel like a real swashbuckler. I keep going back to test it again, but it’s not getting any better no matter how many hours I put into it. No matter how many battles I partake in, it’s just the same.

If they re-did this game, it could be awesome. An open ended, pirate like “Skyrim” sort of game would keep me interested for sure. Maybe such a thing already exists that I don’t know about. Anyone? Please save me! I had such high hopes for wooing ladies as a sexy seafaring captain, rich on treasure and life, and that has sadly fallen way short.

You should play this game if: you want to punch something.

Don’t play this game if: you have self-respect.

Overall GGG Score: 4/10 – only that high because the concept was good and sometimes the sea battles are fun.

Gone Home: A Triple G Review

I recently played “Gone Home,” an indie game made by a group called “The Fullbright Company.” By the end of it, I felt a great sense fulfillment for uncovering all the little pieces of the missing family’s story, and although it was short and has little replay value since I tore the house apart looking at everything I could, I know for sure it was worth the price I paid buying it on sale at GOG.com.

The Details

This is a game rendered most potent if you’re either a girl born in the 80s or a fan of storylines that require you to put pieces together as you go. This mode of play is environmental exploration, pick up and observe where your objective is to explore the house and figure out where your family has gone to.

The story takes place in 1995 and features so many overarching 90s cultural concepts that I feel like someone too young would just not get it. Punk rock music, outdated technology, and nostalgic decor are present throughout the household, which provides the proper audience with a trip down memory lane.

As you walk around and find various mementos – letters from Mom to her friend, Dad’s typewritten notes, and your sister’s homework, just to name a few – you open up your younger sister’s diary entries/letters to you in a narrative form. The voice over is incredibly realistic, with emotional vocal inflections that perfectly communicate the core of your sibling’s feelings. This is where the game really shines. I felt as though this was a real person’s thoughts I was hearing.

For the first thirty minutes I played, I was fascinated with picking up every object, spinning it around and reading the labels. This did grow old after some time, so I started only looking at genuinely new objects, or moving things to uncover clues. But, the simple fact that I could interact with almost any small object in my space was really nice. The storm raging outside the house also helped me feel there was a good reason for being confined within the house. The random flashes of lightning and booms of thunder added to the realism for me.

Now, to be honest, I predicted a lot of the story following the sister – maybe because I was like her at some point my life, or maybe because the clues were just obvious when I looked at absolutely everything. That was okay though because I loved the atmospheric feeling of the game, and sometimes my guesses were completely off base.

This is a lovely addition to the interactive novel genre that gives you a little more autonomy than something like “To the Moon,” which was very linear. It is entirely possible to beat “Gone Home” and still miss several story points, so I think it should be played slowly, savored for its inner truth, and dissected piece by piece as you would a work of literature.

If you love to be immersed, please, by all means, consider giving “Gone Home” a go.

I highly recommend you play this game if you love: 90s pop culture; environmental exploration with modern graphics and a real feel; stories that you try to guess at, but don’t get quite right.

Don’t play this game if: you don’t like a game being short (approx. 3 hours if you really look around); you play games only to kill things; you dislike games that are “all story.”

Overall GGG Rating: 8/10

Check it out: The Fullbright Company, Creators of Gone Home

-TriG/GGG

To the Moon: First GGG Review

A friend recently messaged me to ask how “To the Moon” was, as they had seen me playing it on Steam (if you’re not familiar, the program lets you see what games your friends are currently playing). I didn’t X out until I’d completely finished playing, not allowing anything to distract me from the experience. Only after completing the credits sequence did I sit back and promptly respond, “If you like story driven games and crying, it’s the game for you.” Fortunately, I enjoy both of these things, so it was an undeniably fantastic experience.

 
What’s “To the Moon” about? Well, I don’t want to give too much away. Any video trailer on the game will do, but the premise is that there is an organization with the technology to go into people’s memories and help alter them by implanting a wish as far back as they can go. The “client” can then experience these memories as if they were real (in their mind, of course). The “client” in this case is a dying man named Johnny whose dream is to go to the moon. However, he can’t remember why he wants to go in the first place.
 
 
The game plays, and reads, like a well plotted novel. Again, to tell you exactly WHY the story is so good would be to ruin the game for you, but I can say these things. The music is superb and emphasizes the emotions experienced throughout. There are bits of humor worked into the game that make nods to old nerd fandoms that many will appreciate. With interesting characters, a backwards plot (literally), and enough little twists and turns to keep it interesting, I was hooked.
 
The two memory-jumping characters create a funny and dynamic duo, but it’s River, Johnny’s late wife, who really turns the characterization in this game up to 11. River is a compelling character that I did not entirely dissect until post-game. She is the character that makes this game an opportunity for intellectual growth. To dive into the concept of this individual – who despite the graphics and lack of voice acting felt alive – and fit the puzzle pieces together is an awesome experience. Every time she made an appearance in the game, my heart warmed and sank at the same time, though you’ll have to play to find out exactly while. 
 
While it only took me about three hours to play (30 minutes of which was spent crying), that amount felt appropriate. It was just enough to tell a full, heart-wrenching story, and not quite long enough to make me get frustrated with the lack of “gameplay.” This is a very story driven game, like a interactive novel, but as an English teacher and literary analyst, it feels good. This really would make a beautiful novel (one I’d be only too happy to write, should the game makers ever decided to do a novel adaptation).
In summation, “To the Moon” was an unexpectedly enjoyable game. Despite its old-school graphics and point-and-click play style, this gem by Freebird Games allows a surprising story to unfold in a way that I’m now discovering only video games can. I’m sure I’ll have a more in-depth post at a later time about the experience of gaming literature, but this particular game bypassed its dated graphical styling and delivered a plot that well deserves the award it received from GameSpot for having 2011s Best Story.
 
I highly recommend you play this game if you love: emotional music; tearjerker stories; romance; or stories that you try to guess at, but don’t get quite right.
 
Don’t play this game if: you play games only to kill things; you can’t deal with old school graphics or outdated mechanics; you dislike games that are “all story.”
 
Overall GGG Rating: 10/10, I just loved this game.
 
-TriG/GGG

Suggestions?! : Creating my Pokemon X/Y Dream Team!

Wow. So, I haven’t played Pokemon since back in Middle School. Now, here I am, a Middle School teacher, and let me tell you, my kids can school me on these lovely little pocket monsters these days. I love many of the new features in the games and will likely do a more in-depth review on this game at a later date, but for now… 

I’m not too far in Pokemon X yet, but I’m trying to create my dream team of beautiful, elegant, and adorable Pokemon of all types, and I am completely open to suggestions! I have a few in my sights, but have yet to figure out how to get them. 

Right now, my only solid team members are a Ralts (who is about to level) and a Fletchinder. I intend on hunting down a Mareep to try and work my way up to the Mega Ampharos, but I’m completely open otherwise! 

 

Anyone have any suggestions? :) 

The 5 W’s of GGG

Greetings all you fine folks in/on the interwebs. Seeing as this journey is just starting out, I’ve decided to introduce myself so that you’ll know me as a little more than TriG or GGG.

Shall we begin? Who, what, where, when, and why is Gamer Guru Girl?

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WHO:

Technically speaking, I am the sum of the following three things:

Gamer: I play table top RPGs, board games, trading card games, & video games (hand-held and PC mostly).

Guru: I am an English educator & literary analyst extraordinaire.

Girl: I happened to be born with two X Chromosomes.

***

WHAT:

I’ll be pitching critical reviews and candid opinions about the things I’m playing.

Playing what, you ask? Well, this chronicle will mostly review and commentate on indie and mainstream PC games, 3DS games, and tabletop roleplaying systems, though I’m open to reviewing any sort of product or service that would interest gamers, nerds, and/or geeks.

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WHEN: 

As I finish games, or, experience the ones that are ongoing, you can plan seeing new content posted. I can’t guarantee a standard time stamp and date because as a teacher, I’m frequently grading hundreds of papers; but, that being said, gaming is one of my passions and hobbies, so, I WILL be playing.

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WHERE:

Doesn’t matter, right? But, if you’re curious, I’m from the East Coast of the U.S.A.

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WHY?:

It’s more than the sum of three things; those merely make the name. I wanted to explore the IMPACT of game culture: the story-lines, the artistic implications, and the mere overall, sometimes meditative, sometimes adrenaline surging, experience of playing.

As a teacher, my students often balk at me when I tell them I game. Why not game? Why are games often thought of as being for “lazy people” or “couch potatoes”? Why can they not be an intellectually stimulating place of growth, enjoyment, and art? This blog will strive to highlight the best games offer as far as artistic beauty and expanding minds

***

I hope you enjoy, and if you’re ever curious, I’m happy to write on a specific topic!

-TriG/GGG

Intellectual Growth

Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.

- From Albert Einstein

 

We explore our entire lives in a multitude of ways. I thought this quote appropriate to start this blog, as I will be explore the many ways that gaming and game culture can help us to grow as people and appreciate our intellects while we enjoy playing anything from card/board-games to indie PC games.

I hope you’ll enjoy this process of intellectual exploration and growth.

–GGG