Portal Review

portal

In one hole and out the other.

It has happened! Steve-O and I have finally experienced Portal! The critically acclaimed, fan-favorite puzzle game that seems to have had nothing but positive buzz since its inception. I’m happy to say that we thoroughly enjoyed everything that it has to offer.

Let me first start by saying that I suck at puzzle games. I don’t normally play them. As soon as I get even a semblance of a puzzle in, say, God of War, if I can’t find a solution quickly I look it up. I never play a Legend of Zelda game without consulting a walkthrough. Okay, hugging a walkthrough for the entire game. This made me very wary of starting Portal. Thankfully, with our powers combined (and a friend sitting in on about half of it who had completed the game already) we were able to see Portal through to the end and can now consider ourselves “in” on all of the Portal references spread throughout the gaming community.

Your avatar, Chell, awakens from what appears to be stasis, in what appears to be an abandoned research/testing facility. Abandoned, except by GLaDOS and the technology that keeps the place running. I say “appears”  because this game is very light on the storytelling aspect. Much of what you learn about the setting will be through observation and what GLaDOS tells you. Which is all subjective, of course… There’s no guarantee the super computer running this joint is even telling you the truth. And Chell doesn’t ever speak. In fact, the only reason I know the playable character is female is by seeing her through the portals.

The bulk of Portal consists of completing 19 trials with your fancy portal gun supplied by Aperture Science. You can shoot orange and blue portals against most walls and ceilings. Going into one portal will cause you to come out of the other. And no, they aren’t color-coded. I think my main problem with puzzle games is that even if my preconceived notion about how the mechanics work is wrong, I have a hard time getting it through my thick skull. So for the first few trials I kept thinking maybe orange was the enter portal and blue was the exit… Which isn’t the case at all. Whatever color you enter, you will exit the other. Simple concept, right?

Needless to say, more variances are thrown in to make progression a bit more complicated. Enter Physics: Mainly, learning to build continual momentum while falling through portals so you can launch yourself across rooms. Trust me, it’s dizzying and confusing. Then add timed doors, hazards like poison, shooting robots, energy balls that will kill you on contact but must be used to activate certain apparatuses, and the infamous companion cube… And you have fascinating depth to a puzzle-platform game that is definitely more than it seems. You can’t die from falling, but there are enough hazards to make you think careful about how you want to continue on. Many of the traps are one hit kills. It’s nothing to be too concerned with, as the game frequently auto-saves. Plus, you can quicksave whenever you want. A very helpful feature.

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I didn’t want to incinerate you…

I can’t talk about Portal without mentioning the humor. The hilarious deadpan, dark humor. All provided by the super computer that guides you through your journey. GLaDOS is, quite simply put, my favorite video game “character” in a long time. The funniest, hands down. More often than not I was chuckling at everything it said. By the time the “great reveal” hit and GlaDOS was desperately trying to backtrack what happened, I was laughing consistently.

Then the end credits hit. Seriously, the entire game was worth the ending credits. Definitely the funniest, most clever ending credits I’ve ever seen.

Even if you don’t play puzzle games, download this for cheap on Steam and play it. Use video FAQS and walkthroughs if you must. Because, seriously, it’s worth it just to experience this gem. I can’t imagine anyone out there who enjoys puzzle games and *gasp* using their brain when playing video games having not played Portal or Portal 2 yet… but if you haven’t, do yourself a favor and go play this now. You’ll finish it in a few hours, but the experience will stay with you for far longer.

Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris

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Enter Lara Croft and the throwaway characters!

I know what some of my fellow non-Xbox One owners are thinking: This game is a cheap throwaway to try and satiate us until the very delayed release of Rise of the Tomb Raider on the PS4. How insulting and demeaning!

Well, perhaps. But I honestly really enjoyed my time with this game. It’s not a game to approach with an ounce of seriousness. Because, really, it’s a shallow experience. Casual and fun, but shallow nevertheless.

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Dungeon crawling Tomb Raider style: Yes, the archaeologist busts vases for loot.

As you can see from the above image, Temple of Osiris draws very heavily from games like Champions of Norrath and Diablo. The general premise is similar: Explore dungeons solo or with friends (This game even has couch co-op! Yay!) to slay mobs of enemies and collect loot. Again, let me be clear: this is not a game you will become too invested in. There’s little to no character creation or building. There isn’t even a skill tree! Lara Croft and company use guns and a staff that shoots a fancy Egyptian laser beam. That’s it.

Same can be said for loot and equipment. What you see is what you get. Of course, that didn’t stop me from getting excited when I won the RNG treasure chest lottery with a Legendary goody:

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Uploaded from my Twitter account, so the text is hard to read. Just trust me when I say it’s the best piece of loot I came across.

Gear doesn’t pop out of vases or enemies here. All you’ll get is gems, which become currency for opening treasure chests at the end of each dungeon and in the main map. Treasure chests have different tiers of loot ranging from 100 gems to 1,000 gems to open for your RNG jewelry. Rings and amulets are all you’ll find. Guns, of which there are a pleasantly surprising number, have to be earned through progression, challenge dungeons, or stage goals.

I enjoyed replaying stages to try meeting many of the optional challenges per dungeon. Almost every stage has a speed-run challenge, a “Collect 5 Red Skulls” challenge, and a few others with more variety based on level design. Meeting these requirements earns you gear, ammo upgrades, health upgrades, and even guns.

You really have to try some of the optional challenges, if for no other reason that they’re the only feature adding any sort of longevity to the experience. Well that, and replaying with friends for something to do for a couple of evenings.

I don’t know how much this title sells for on Playstation Network, and I don’t like to suggest good price points because we all look for different things in games. But I will say that as a free Playstation Plus game this month, it is one of my favorite free offerings to date. While not a typical Tomb Raider game, or as involved as many dungeon crawling games out there, it’s got great puzzles scattered throughout a relatively laid back, fun game.

Plus you get Egyptian gods shooting guns. That doesn’t happen very often now, does it?

Silent Hill: Revelation

Posted two years ago today!

Hardly Hobbies

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Why is Pyramid Head even here?!

Oh, where to start? Silent Hill: Revelation has been on Netflix so I’ve been meaning to watch it in the comfort of my own living room for a while now. It is only an hour and a half of time spent wishing this wasn’t a sub par video game-to-film adaptation, even of its own niche. While I won’t put it on par with the last couple of Resident Evil movies they’ve churned out, it is still pretty abysmal.

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assume the following people are the only ones who went out of their way to see this film: fans of the video game, fans of horror movies, and unfortunate tag alongs. I’m a fan of the video game, of course. Actually, Silent Hill 3 (the video game entry this is loosely based on) was the first Silent…

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Saints Row IV

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That’s an enormous energy drink can, in case you were wondering.

Over-the-top violent and sexual humor, super powers, and a whole lotta purple. My three favorite things.

Also, Saints Row IV in a nutshell.

If you played Saints Row The Third, you only need to imagine more of the same type of gang violence and humor, except now your character is the President of the United States and imbued with superpowers in a sort of Infamous knock off kinda way.

This is all possible because… *Cue spoiler alert* EARTH IS DESTROYED!! By this jerk:

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Meet Zinyak, destroyer of worlds.

The game opens with a bang. Quite literally, actually, and removes trite things like reality to offer a radical evolution of the series. Much of the gameplay takes place in a simulation created by Zinyak. Think of him as a collector of humans, placing his toy-things in an artificial reality to play in. The simulation is basically a replica of Steelport. I know it was supposed to be Steelport, but I was so busy sprinting at the speed of light and flying without a cape that I hardly noticed it was the same place. After the obligatory tutorial quests that introduce you to vehicles and aside from the side missions, I never touched a vehicle. I know it’s hard to believe… I couldn’t believe it myself. But with all the crazy upgrades with sprinting, jumping and gliding, there is no reason to drive a car.

You will obtain superpowers that will aide in creating Saints Row-style mass mayhem and slaughter, but they didn’t stop me from using guns. In this regard, the abilities act more as a supplement than a complete replacement. Besides, the team came up with some crazy new weapons that you’ll love to play with. Our favorite? The dubstep gun.

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This is only the first of many models you can choose from.

The dubstep gun fires waves of sick dub beats to dance your foes (and their vehicles) to death. No exaggeration here. In fact, there’s a few different types of music you can choose from too. Other weapons include guns that disintegrate your foes and create black holes. Even the tentacle pr0n melee weapon can knock cars across the map when it is fully upgraded.

All of these fun guns don’t help the battle system for me. I don’t find it intuitive or very responsive. Thankfully, me sucking at the controls didn’t ruin the game for me. Saints Row IV is kind enough to allow the player to become ridiculously OP from the start. Especially with all these crazy new super powers. Becoming OP also happens to be Steve-O’s favorite thing to do, so he pounded out all of the side missions ASAP. Fun side missions such as tank mayhem and insurance fraud from the predecessor are still here. Insurance fraud is great for some flying ragdoll action. The amount of cache you can rack up for upgrades doing these side missions is immense. On top of all the side missions spread across the map, there are also clusters to collect for upgrading abilities. And trust me, you will want to get upgrades and be the most OP MFer out there.

I’m a bit saddened about certain characters from The Third not being included. I read a blurb about all the DLC and it looks like they can be downloaded, but even then it sounds like they won’t have much to contribute to the story. The characters who do return do not disappoint. Their personal quests and loyalty missions (A la Mass Effect 2) are hilarious for the most part. None of them felt like a chore. There’s even some character growth in this game with some background information; helpful for players like myself who weren’t around for the first two games. Hell, all I knew of Johnny Gat was his death scene in The Third.

I can see how longtime fans of the series could have been turned off from this entry. It’s even more over-the-top than The Third (Hell, it has a STREAKING mini-game). The flying, gliding, and overall alien invasion takes away from the gang violence the series began with. Personally, I liked all the new additions… they allowed for much more creativity during exploration and combat. I think the next entry will be a bit more level-headed. Which is fine… I GUESS. It does make me glad they went ahead with this idea, even if it amounts to nothing more than a fringe entry that only weirdos like Steve-O and I enjoyed.

And on that note… we’re already knee-deep into the Gat Out of Hell DLC. Keep your eyes peeled for that review!

Axiom Verge Review!

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Believe it or not, that lab coat is the best part of his arsenal.

Next in our lineup here at Hardly Hobbies was yet another high profile indie game. You may have heard of it (or maybe not since it was Wii U exclusive up until last week), as it received some Best at E3 awards and a lot of interest due to being developed entirely by one man, Thomas Happ. Axiom Verge was hyped as the “Metroidvania” game that retro gamers like us have been waiting for. Like Shovel Knight, it is a throwback to games people in their late 20’s and 30’s grew up playing. Except Axiom Verge, while still a 2D side-scroller, pays homage to a totally different style of gaming.

First things first: Do we believe Axiom Verge lives up to its hype? Did it deserve all of the rewards it received, even before it was released?

Definitely.

Here’s the thing. While Axiom Verge may appear, especially to gamers who’ve never touched anything more graphically degraded than a Wii game, juvenile and simple. It is not. Like Shovel Knight, it manages to capture the essence of the games it nods to (Metroid and Castlevania, with some Contra vibes thrown in) excellently, while still being its own game. I’d rate Axiom Verge as having slightly less independence than Shovel Knight, it’s still worth playing if you haven’t played the old Metroids or Castlevanias. Provided you have patience for backtracking and exploration, that is.

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You can’t tell me this doesn’t scream METROID!!

Axiom Verge tells the story of Trace, a scientist whose lab explodes during an experiment during the opening cinematic. When he awakens, he is in this strange, alien(?) world, with only a few beings to interact with. The loneliness of Trace’s experience is compiled with moody atmospheres and ambient music, bellied by the shortsightedness of the bosses you’ll uncover who aren’t interested in talking things out. The soundtrack to this game really is superb and sets the mood as it should.

Oh, and those bosses that I mentioned? Aside from the Hornet boss, they certainly make up for how drab some of the typical enemy designs are.

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Where’s Trace?

Axiom Verge’s sense of progression is what will keep you coming back. Every play session of ours went something like this: Explore until finding a power up that changes the way you interact with the map, backtrack and find health/power upgrades, kill boss, rinse and repeat. And you know what? It works. Every power up we found got us excited to backtrack and uncover the areas of the map we couldn’t get to before. This does mean every play session involves “Hey, remember that room…?” Or, “Where was that spot again?”

And that’s okay. After all, it’s pretty much the point of these games. My one small gripe is that there’s no fast travel in this game. It’d be great if the save points acted as fast travel locations, but unfortunately they don’t. One feature that I think helps balance this development decision is how AV handles death. When you die, you pop back up at the last save point you hit. No progression lost!

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These save pods are more than what they seem…

Which is a damn good thing. Because if it weren’t for full healing and progression auto saves at death, I would have lost my patience. Mostly because I died a lot in the beginning. But, thanks to the plethora of upgrades and weapons found throughout the game, by the end of it we were near-gods. There are literally dozens of collectibles in this game. We had so many guns, I was overwhelmed when it was time to experiment. Same goes for backtracking. Just got an upgrade that allows you to teleport through thin walls? Expect to spend half an hour to an hour going back through the unexplored parts of the map.

One of the best weapons in the game is the “Glitch Gun”… this allows you to purposely glitch enemies or remove glitched walls to reveal new passages. It was a clever homage to glitches in those NES cartridges we grew up with. You can also glitch enemies, and every enemy type responds differently to being glitched. Some will spit out health for you. Others will slow down. There’s an annoying crawler enemy that spits lasers, and if you glitch it the lasers hurt other monsters instead of Trace! Loved that glitch, by the way.

Axiom Verge also hides a fascinating existential plot, but unfortunately it is buried beneath poor pacing. You’re really only treated with about 3 cut scenes, and they’re much longer than they should be. Without reading the extra notes, some of which require ALSO finding passwords to translate them, you won’t really get much of the bigger picture. I find this to be a shame, because when I went online after beating the game and read some of the notes we didn’t find or translate, I started putting the pieces together and found a deeper, more interesting plot than the cut scenes in the game led on.

AV has a unique feature that I wish more games included: Speed Run! Yes, there is a mode specifically designed for speed runners, which skips cutscenes and dialogue. While I don’t do speed runs myself, I enjoy watching them for some of my favorite games. And I can’t wait to see what players will have posted on YouTube soon!

There’s a lot to take away from Axiom Verge, whether you’re playing it to relive those glory days of gaming or not. People are putting Axiom Verge off as a Metroid clone, and it is a disservice. From start to finish, I could tell the developer poured 110% of his energy into his creation. There aren’t many games created entirely by one person, for obvious reasons, but based on the production value I never would’ve guessed. I had absolutely zero technical issues as well. Nope, I’d have never known only ONE person made this fantastic indie game. Yes, Axiom Verge deserved all of the hype it received, and I thought it was worth every dollar.

Final Fantasy Record Keeper

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Dr. Mog better crack the whip on this kid!

I used to be able to proudly say I’ve never been caught in the throes of a mobile free to play game. The only ones I had on my phone were mainly for my son that he plays solo or we play together.

Until Final Fantasy Record Keeper became a thing.

Now I can’t stop playing. It’s like Square-Enix wrote us longtime Final Fantasy fans an apology letter that says, “We realize every Final Fantasy game that we’ve put out in the last 10 years has sucked balls. Here, have a kick in the ass with this nostalgia boot.”

Here’s the concept: An annoying new child character who you will remove from the party at the earliest opportunity works in the Royal Archives as a keeper of the paintings that preserve the stories of what we know as Final Fantasies I-XIII. Then bad things happen for reasons unknown, and you get to delve into the paintings to restore the stories and recruit the characters to help you in your quest!

As of writing this blog post, we are now able to relive parts of Final Fantasy I, II, IV, V, VI, VII, and X in North America, with many more to follow. Diving into these paintings to do the missions as they unlock are  basically the main story quests. These are great trips down memory lane, as we get to fight enemies from their corresponding games in 8-bit, with the music we all remember and the characters we know and love. After clearing a dungeon you get a ranking (Mastery awards you with extra loot) and a screenshot accentuating a recap of what is going on in that realm. On top of earning more loot to go towards upgrading your gear and creating/honing abilities, mastering a stage unlocks its elite counterpart. As of right now I don’t think I’ve even cleared half of them yet. Yes, they’re that hard and require that much grinding.

And that’s not all! Record Keeper also incorporates daily dungeons where you can earn extra EXP, Gil, or materials depending on the day of the week. Daily dungeons are offered in easy, normal, or hard difficulties so anyone can partake in them.

But the most exciting features of all are the events. Periodically, events are released that typically allow players to recruit new characters and get useful items. There are two events active as of this writing: Countdown to Sector 7, where you recruit Aerith and grind for magicite shards to turn into Dr. Mog for goodies, and Monster in the Lethe, a trip down FFVI memory lane where we get to recruit Terra! These are timed events, usually around for 1-2 weeks, so you gotta get them while the gettin’s good. If not, you will most likely lose out on your chance to recruit these characters for quite a while.

All F2P games have a gimmick that encourages the player to spend real currency to get ahead in the game. FFRK is no exception, I’ll admit, but at least it doesn’t feel as problematic as, say, Panda Pop. Nor do you have to pay money to get rid of frustrating ads that spam your screen in other F2P games. One highly-sought after item in FFRK is Mythril, It has multiple purposes, but the main thing I use it for is to do rare relic pulls. If you acquire 5 Mythril, you can use them for a shot at acquiring super rare character specific weapons.  So far I only have Wakka’s 5-star weapon, but it immediately transformed him from a punk to a pro. And I haven’t even leveled it up yet! Needless to say, if you’re impatient to get more Mythril (or, like me, frustrated with all the crap you’ve been getting) you can spend real money to gamble some more. I spent $9.99 to get 3 relic pulls, and it got me Wakka’s weapon and a Genji Shield. Totally enough to satiate me… for now.

So, not only is Record Keeper the first F2P game I’ve become addicted to, it’s also the first I’ve spent real money on.

I honestly don’t know how anyone growing up playing these games could NOT like it. Record Keeper is definitely the most addicting FF game I’ve played in years. It has the endearing 8-bit music and sprites, the turn-based system that I miss, and a steady stream of content and grinding that keeps me coming back for more. I can guarantee that as long as DeNa and SquareEnix keep supporting this game, I’ll keep playing it.

Final Fantasy XV Demo First Impressions

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Feast your eyes on the latest computer-rendered J-pop boy band!

Hubby and I played through the FFXV demo offered with Final Fantasy Type-O a week ago. It supplies hours worth of content to familiarize yourself with and practice the battle system if you’re so inclined. Unsurprisingly, they’ve completely abandoned turn-based battle mechanics for an action-RPG free-for-all open map style. At least FFXIII pretended to be turn based. But, sigh, it seems that SquareEnix aren’t interested in keeping that tradition alive.

As you’ve probably seen in articles or heard in discussions, the cast of playable characters is a sausage party. No tacos allowed. The player controls Noctis, some sort of Prince, and guides around his infuriatingly character trope-filled bro squad. Their outfits are offensive and obnoxious, but not more than the only female character you have meaningful interactions with; she’s a female automobile mechanic who dresses like Megan Fox in her introduction scene in the first Transformers movie. Apparently it’s acceptable in this newest Final Fantasy world for women to show up at work in a GARAGE with their T&A hanging out.

So anyway, we’ve got a prince on the run or something with 4 obnoxious dudes and a broken down car. In order to raise the gil necessary to get it fixed, they decide to chase after a bounty. This particular bounty is on a mean ol’ disfigured, blind in one eye Behemoth. Don’t let his worthless eye and missing horn fool you; he still stomps the floor with these rank amateurs. Then he has the audacity to make you stealth follow him back to his lair.

Yes, you read that correctly: in a demo that, I assume, is supposed to make you WANT to purchase a game upon release, they incorporate a stupid “follow this AI and if it detects you, you have to start over” segment. Are you kidding me?! I kinda wanted to boycott the game more for that than having no good excuse for omitting playable female characters, but then my husband went and pre-ordered it anyway.

Why did he pre-order it?

Not because of the combat system. It’s limited in the demo (when characters level you’re reminded that techniques aren’t available) but you still get a pretty good idea of what it is about. While it isn’t terrible, it is needlessly complicated. It takes a little getting used to, plus the lock on doesn’t really work. The menu says it’s a lock on, but it sort of just moves the camera in the enemy’s general direction. It doesn’t follow them or anything useful like that.

And we’re certainly not in it for the character customization. From the looks of it, the player is only able to control Noctis in combat, and he’s the only character you can equip or do anything with. I don’t think it’s just the demo; I seem to recall reading something about this development decision earlier. If that’s the case, I’m not too crazy about it. We all know how reliable companion AI is in most video games. *Insert eye roll.*

I was at the point where I was getting the similar “Another game with boring, padded map exploration” vibes, about ready to write off FFXV as something not worth more of my time, when this happened:

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Take a close look at his clenched left fist…

Then this happened. Ramuh descended from the heavens to give the Behemoth, (and from the size of it, the entire friggin’ continent) a hefty dose of Apocalypse-style Judgment Bolt. It was enormous and absolutely beautiful. It was the way I envisioned summons should have always been. The most grandiose spectacle I’ve seen in a Final Fantasy game in a long time. After Ramuh had his way with the Behemoth, both of us were staring at the TV in shock, incapable of saying anything besides “Oh my God,” and “That was f***ing awesome.” Having played FF games in their 8-bit glory, this astounded us.

Ramuh’s impressive entrance aside, the demo was so-so. After Inquisition I’m really leery of games with a lot of map wandering. I suppose this means I’ll be playing FFXV for the summons and my franchise loyalty that refuses to die, no matter how many times I try to kill it.