Review: Prototype

[Blaugust Day 23]

Game: Prototype
Recommended price: bundle
Metacritic Score: 79
Completion Time: ~13 hours
Buy If You Like: GTA Supervillain, Collateral damage simulators

Definitely scores points for having cool abilities at the start.

Definitely scores points for having cool abilities at the start.

Prototype is a 3rd-person open(ish) world game that is GTA meets… the opposite of Batman. You play as Alex Mercer, a recently infected man who, once killed, finds himself resurrected as some kind of viral superweapon. The game revolves around Alex trying to figure out what’s happening to him, and the conspiracy that surrounds both his infection and the events leading up to it.

In one of the articles I read about the controversial game Hatred, someone pointed out that the coverage surrounding Hatred was especially hypocritical given we already had games like Prototype. Having completed Prototype, I am inclined to agree. Prototype doesn’t intentionally reward you for killing random civilians, but between the bystander density in New York City and the collateral damage you cause simply by walking around, there may as well be a body count score in the corner of the screen. And when you aren’t just walking around? Holy slaughter, Batman!

See, Alex Mercer’s powers come from consuming organic matter, or perhaps just specifically human beings. If you are running low on health, you can snatch the nearest person and kill them in a context-sensitive but always-gruesome manner, then consume them whole to heal. This ability is actually an important plot mechanic, as you hunt down members in the “Web of Intrigue.” See, as you kill and consume these individuals, you can not only copy their form, but you gain their memories. This leads you to infiltrate military camps by consuming scouts, then the base commander, then entering the base itself to consume the juicy (and skilled) members inside, upgrading your abilities to use machine guns, fly helicopters, order artillery strikes, and so on.

I was actually trying really hard to not kill a million people there.

I was actually trying really hard to not kill a million people there.

After a while, everyone just looks like walking power-ups.

The gameplay of Prototype is both visceral and involves viscera. Attacks are controlled with just the left and right mouse buttons, with E occasionally thrown in there. While the moves are limited, the various powers and upgrades that become available are not. As you complete story missions and the various side events, you unlock additional upgrades by spending Evolution Points. These upgrades give you new attacks – claws for hands, tentacle arms, etc – and all sorts of other goodies, like more mobility. Even from the very beginning, Alex Mercer automatically parkours his way across vehicles and smaller obstacles while being able to run up the sides of skyscrapers. Later unlocks will have you leaping 60 ft into the air with a single press of the Spacebar, changing direction in mid-air twice, and Gliding into the alleyway.

While I enjoyed my time in Prototype overall, there were a number of areas and missions that were absurdly frustrating. Some of those involved waves of enemies, in which death or mission failure (due to escort dying or similar) cause you to restart the entire wave sequence over again. Other times, you will be facing bosses in which the limited control scheme starts making you suicidal. For example, one of the supermoves you can do is “In the air, hold Left-Click, Press E.” If you press Left-Click + E simultaneously, that completes a different move. But if you hold down Left-Click too long before pressing E, you suddenly perform a jump-kick straight into the gaping maw of the hideous beast. Other times, the weird targeting system causes you to grab or fail to the grab the wrong thing at the wrong time. Would this have played better on a controller? Maybe. Still, I wish there was a “Bind Devastator move to Q” option or something like that.

Okay, this kind of thing was really cool.

Okay, this kind of thing was really cool.

Prototype is not exactly a game that I would recommend people to spend money on specifically; there are a lot of other, better games out there. But if you look at your Steam library tonight and notice that Prototype happens to already be on there for some reason, go ahead and boot it up. If you aren’t having some amount of fun within the first 10 minutes, you can go ahead and uninstall because the game is basically going to be that for the next ten hours.

I (We) Did It

[Blaugust Day 22]

A (realistically unnecessary) GTX 970 graphics card is on its way.

The overall purchase decision was not as uncertain as I was perhaps making it seem. I actually have a birthday coming up in the next few weeks, and the only other viable present to myself would have been something like a PS4. Which was tempting, mainly because I technically “own” 34 PS4 games by virtue of PS+. But as I was going over the spreadsheet last night – hey, the PS+ interface is pretty awful and doesn’t let you easily sort games – I realized that majority of those titles were indie games that I already owned on other devices. The Vita might have given more value in that regard, but let’s be real: 99.9% of the time, I’m going to be in front my PC.

Once that last synapse fired, it was time.

Now was the matter of where to purchase it. In yesterday’s post, Whoom commented that Newegg had that same GTX 970 card I had been talking about for $309.99. Same as Amazon, but this time including the Metal Gear Solid V gift. Hmm… let me just compare that with the Best Buy deal again, this time with the 10% off coupon…

Uh... lol?

Uh… lol?

NewEgg it is!

Of course, the savings here is really just deferred taxes. Which I will totally pay next April. Absolutely. Not even a question. I will just pencil that in under… whatever the category is for voluntarily paying taxes for things the government will never realistically be able to figure out. Probably near a subsection B or another.

So there it is. Now, I just have to spend even more money buying games that will use the power.

Good Guy Best Buy

[Blaugust Day 21]

Just like with Amazon, Best Buy decided to look out for me by dissuading my GTX 970 purchase.

The amusing thing is I finally felt ready to pull the trigger, after all my prior dithering. The final push? Best Buy had the Zotac GTX 970 version up for $329.99 with a price match guarantee… and Amazon had the same exact model for $309.99. Sweet. So I’m going to price match the $309.99 and then whip out my trap card 10% off coupon. I balked previously at graphics cards that barely moved on price, but getting one at $279 is another matter entirely. Plus, the free game code included this time around is Metal Gear Solid V, which is actually something I want to play. So, technically, I’d be getting the video card for less than $250.

When I tried calling Best Buy yesterday, there was simply a recording that stated “due to circumstances beyond our control, we are unable to take calls at this time.” Uhh… okay. So I tried once again tonight. And, as I should have expected, the answer was “No.” Or more specifically, they weren’t going to do both.

Technically, I could still realize some measure of savings by using the 10% coupon: about $13 or so off the Amazon price. But here’s the thing:

Apparently made to order.

Apparently made to order.

There is no in-store pickup options available and the order takes 6-10 days to process. And it apparently takes tiny children an additional two weeks to hand craft the video card before it arrives at my door. Seriously, 25 days from order to arrival? The scenario is especially ridiculous if all I was doing was looking for the price match, considering this is the competition:

Amazon just makes the tiny child pull 16 hour shifts.

Amazon just makes the tiny children pull 16 hour shifts.

That little Prime symbol means it will be in my hands in two days. Two days. I could order a video card drunk and have it arrive while I’m still hung-over, depending on the bender I went on.¹ The days in which you could just price match Amazon are ancient history, myths spun in the abandoned break rooms of Circuit City and Blockbuster. Shipping and handling? GTFO. It’s 2015, people – if the UPS guy isn’t ringing my doorbell before I even click the purchase confirmation button, you’re doing it wrong.

Jokes aside, the sad thing is that Best Buy might end up having the last laugh on this one. The Amazon listing doesn’t mention the Metal Gear Solid V promotion, and the Nvidia fine print mentions that it’s only applicable through authorized sellers. Waiting an extra three weeks to save $13 is one thing, but waiting extra for ~$63 is another. Plus, it’s not exactly as though I need the card right now anyway. Hmm.

So… yeah. There’s another glimpse into the madness that is my method.

¹ Always express your crippling alcoholism² responsibly.

² This is a joke.

Not Sure About Fallout Shelter

[Blaugust Day 20]

Months after it lost almost all topical relevance, Fallout Shelter was finally released on Android systems. After quickly downloading it and playing it for the last two days or so, I’m not entirely sure whether it’s actually good or not.

That room is so busy that I'm not surprised it burst into flame.

That room was so busy that I’m not surprised it burst into flame.

In the broad genre that is time management games – in which I place all apps that feature activity timers – Fallout Shelter attempts to ride the line between time management and “normal” games. It features the construction of resource rooms and trying to maintain certain levels of supplies, but the timers themselves are generally incredibly short. A Gold Mine in Clash of Clans might take 12+ hours to fill to capacity, for example, but a fully-staffed room in Fallout Shelter might be ready to be clicked in four minutes or less. String enough of these events along – including tapping Dwellers to level them up, rearranging room makeups, planning ahead, etc – and you can legitimately play for 30 minutes or more at a time.

It is also entirely possible that you enter a depressing death spiral from which there hardly seems to be any escape.

My first Vault was a disaster. I did not think I was expanding too quickly, but my glee at having a one-man repopulation strategy (mainly because it amused me) backfired when six, resource-consuming kids suddenly materialized. As it turns out, bitches be thirsty. The lack of water led to widespread radiation poisoning, reducing all Dweller HP down to 50% and zeroing out their happiness.

It seemed like a good idea at the time...

It seemed like a good idea at the time…

At that point, I did not have enough Caps to build more Water Treatment rooms, and Caps themselves are a resource that is only gained from A) Wasteland exploring, B) selling items, C) Rushing rooms, or D) spontaneously when collecting other resources. Between the radiation and everything else, I did not have anyone to spare to send into the Wasteland, which subsequently meant I did not have any items to sell. Collecting resources provided no bonus Caps for the last dozen times I collected them. That left Rushing room, which carries a ~30% (and increasing) chance of failure.

Well, let me tell you something: 30% apparently means 99% in the Fallout world because I Rushed six different rooms and failed five times in a row. Each failure is an automatic Incident, which could be a fire or Radroach or even Mole Rat infestation. All of which lowers the HP of anyone in those rooms, by the way. At the end of things, so many of my Dwellers were inches from death that I considered it almost a mercy to wipe that saved game from existence.

Instead of deletion, I went ahead and took advantage of Shelter’s 3 save slots and just started a new Vault. Two of them, in fact. The second is probably the most advanced, but the third ended up netting me multiple Legendary (or at least super powerful) items and some extremely high-stat Dwellers from the half-dozen free cash shop “lunchboxes” every new Vault gets. A friend of mine told me he somehow got a level 30 Dweller complete with Power Armor and an AK-47 right from the start too. All of which makes me think the optimal strategy is creating multiple Vaults from the beginning and deleting the ones that don’t give you good loot.

Less smiles, more crunches.

Less smiles, more crunches.

Incidentally, when I finally got back around to poking my head into the original disaster-Vault, everyone was still irradiated but back at 50% HP. I collected my resources and either hit the lottery or perhaps there is a timer-based failsafe on Caps collection. Plus, the six useless kids grew up to be rather useful Water Treatment slaves. The Vault turned around in a hurry, which leads me to believe that Shelter is leaning more towards the more traditional “play for 5 minutes every 5 hours” style.

Which would be nice… if not for the fact that Dwellers sent to explore the Wasteland continue exploring until they drop dead. You can revive them in the field for a (costly) fee, but the setup means they’ll die unless you log in every X hours. Or at least schedule yourself a log-in and send them a Recall signal. Which brings us closer to the “play in real-time spectrum.” Which is not useful for exploring, since the items you encounter are based on how many real-world minutes/hours your Dwellers are out in the wild.

The end result here is a bizarro game that is both fun and feels bad. Was my water death-spiral the result of poor decision-making on my part (probably), or an engineered trap to entice me to purchase lunchboxes (which always contains X Caps)? It’s nice that I can sometimes play for a longer period of time, but I also feel like I’m better off avoiding negative events by not playing for as long as possible. Except now I need to log in every X hours to retrieve my explorers.

Sigh. The things I do for love (of Fallout).

Legion PvP Equality

[Blaugust Day 19]

Remember all those PvP questions we had last time? Well, Blizzard answered most of them:

  • There won’t be gear with Resilience, PvP Power, dual item levels, or gear specifically made for PvP.
  • When you enter a battleground or arena, the game will set your stats from your spec, not your gear. This means all of your stats will come from a template specific to your spec. If one spec isn’t doing well in PvP, their spec’s template can be tuned individually.
  • Trinkets, set bonuses, and enchants will not be active in PvP.
  • The CC break trinket has become very important in PvP, so adding it as a PvP talent will offset the loss of active trinkets. There will be some other options in that row that might be useful, such as reducing CC times by 20%.

This is an incredibly bold move, even if other games have done it before. I mean, we have had PvP gear purchasable with currency since at least Season 2 in TBC, more than half of the game’s entire lifespan. I am not super convinced that the PvP “progression” system of unlocking talents will actually motivate people to queue on the same scale as normal PvP gear (especially in Arena), but I applaud the gumption just the same.

Plus, just imagine how many less botters there will be. Some might stick around simply because someone else will pay real dollars to skip “grinding” talents too, but the time difference is likely to be staggeringly less.

That said, Blizzard decided to continue answering questions and thereby ruin everything they just built up:

  • The team hasn’t decided exactly what they are going to do with the Human racial. They could leave it alone and offer a different talent in that row to Humans. The racial plus the new options could be too good.

At this point, I am convinced that Blizzard is tip-toeing around the Human racial issue simply because they see how many race change sales it generated and they’re afraid of poking the bear. The fact that the Human racial is the only one we’re having this discussion about should be somewhat of an indication for how stupidly powerful it is, and thus should be changed. You have already disabled trinkets generally (!), just disable racials; these half-measures are only going to make Humans even more dominate.

  • As you get better gear, your stats are increased a smaller amount. For example, every 5 item levels may give you a 1% stat increase. This way gear still will increase your power, but it won’t give you a huge advantage.
  • There are plans for players to be able to get great gear from PvP, but it may not be as easy as it is today. It may be easier for high rated players to get better gear than more casual players.
  • You won’t have to raid to get the best gear for PvP.


Why? Why? No, really, Blizzard why? Of what possible value do the designers see in completely removing PvP gear from the equation, going so far as to disable trinkets and enchants and set bonuses… but then keeping this token level of item scaling? You already have “templates” to make gear irrelevant, just use those. In the land of equal stats, the +1%er is king. Unless you are handing out raid-level gear to PvPers, it will be considered “raid or die” to all players who are remotely competitive. And I don’t see how giving PvE raid-level gear to those to score high in Arena is going to be particularly palatable in the other direction.

Do you know what happens when you try and split a baby? A bloody mess, that’s what.

Good Guy Amazon

[Blaugust Day 18]

Amazon’s Appstore is atrocious garbage. And it thereby saved me from giving them (and Blizzard) another $50 for Hearthstone.

See, there is a deal going on right now for Hearthstone’s upcoming expansion: 50 packs for $50. The current store offering is 40 packs for $50 or 60 packs for $70. Basically, with this deal you can get packs at $1 apiece instead of $1.17. Alternatively, if you download Hearthstone from the Amazon Appstore, then you can pay for packs and such using Amazon Coins. Which at one point were on sale for 5000 for $40 (20% off). And then if you waited until Amazon ran their other Coin promotion, you could get 10% Coins back, which then could be used to immediately purchase additional packs. The “example” Amazon uses is how $90 buys 87 packs versus 70 packs from Google Play.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on the state of our lives when we start considering how good a deal it is to spend $90 on a technically “F2P” game.

The bottom line is that Hearthstone will not install from the Amazon Appstore for me, and I need that version because you can’t spend Amazon Coins for packs otherwise. It will download the 660 MB file, start the install, and then hang (progress bar just cycles) until the install fails. I’ve followed all the incredibly helpful troubleshooting like “clear the cache” and “restart the phone,” up to and including both emailing Amazon for assistance and chatting with their representatives in Chhindwara or wherever, to no avail. I deleted my Google Play version of Hearthstone already – which, incidentally, works – so I know there is no conflict there. Hearthstone is not labeled as an option on the Amazon Appstore on my tablet. I even tried one of those Android emulators a few weeks ago when they were offering free packs to Samsung owners, but apparently my PC is one of those which needs a BIOS edit to mimic some setting or whatever.

So… fuck it. Nobody gets my money.

…in this particular instance. I’ll still buy Hearthstone Adventures as they release, and if Amazon delivered groceries to my area I might not ever step outside. But when it comes to this specific scenario, I… bite my thumb at you, Amazon Appstore.

Violence in Videogames

[Blaugust Day 17]

A new metastudy concerning violence and videogames was released last week, and the conclusion is that there is a correlation between such games and aggression.

Which, of course, makes me want to punch all those researchers in the face.

My own thoughts on the subject are complicated. I think it’s silly to suggest there is no effect at all on a person who plays violent videogames, while at the same time asserting that someone can feel moved, or challenged philosophically, or experience any positive emotion at all in some other game. Clearly games can make you feel things, yeah? And in this sense, we can extend the argument to say that if we agree that movies, books, or songs can have any long-term affect on us as human beings, then certainly games have the same power. Hell, games should arguably be more powerful given the unique sense of interaction, which those other mediums lack.

That said, I find it difficult to believe even violent videogames can have a necessarily net-negative, long-term effect.

Can people become desensitized to violent imagery? Sure. I’ll never forget one summer vacation when family from Nebraska stayed with us for about a week. During one of those nights, we gathered around the TV and watched The Patriot for the first time. There is a scene in the movie in which one army starts shooting cannon balls at the front lines, and it goes bouncing through the ranks like a bowling ball knocking over pins (and limbs). In fact, here it is:

My father, sister, and I practically cheered at the surprising/unexpected/morbidly humorous display. My family from Nebraska? They were – to a person – shocked, disgusted, and a few ended up leaving the room. Suffice it to say, I don’t think they were playing the Sega Genesis version of Mortal Kombat back in 1992.

While I may be desensitized to fantasy violence though, I am absolutely not desensitized to real-world violence. Shit, I still sometimes get physically anxious whenever I get a Reply notification from Reddit or WordPress. “Oh what did I say now?” I was somehow able to corral a dozen people through 5 years of WoW raiding just fine – in addition to talking shit about other bloggers in this space all the time – but there is a sub-surface level of personal angst just the same. That may just be because I’m an avowed introvert and generally find social interaction with strangers exhausting anyway.

Be that as it may, if fantasy violence was supposed to have a correlation/causation with actual violence, I should be the most aggressive hoodlum imaginable.

And speaking of aggression, the Kotaku article brings up the fact that in most of these studies, the focus has been on violent videogames without bothering to control for competitive games. It is the most intuitive claim imaginable that people get more aggressive in competitive games, even if (sometimes especially if) there is no violence at all. My high school group of friends about split up for good a few years ago over a particularly spiteful game of Monopoly, for example. And I don’t know about you guys, but Mario Party practically trains you to both hate people and destroy game controllers.

On competition, the APA paper (PDF) punts by saying:

The literature on competition as the underlying causal component of the apparent link between violent game use and aggression is still nascent and is not currently substantial enough to influence, on its own, an objective assessment of the broader violent video game research. (pg. 26)

The other detail that I’m not entirely sure anyone is focusing on is simple adrenaline. Being more aggressive while under the effects of higher levels of adrenaline is basically a redundant statement. Do violent videogames provoke higher adrenaline responses than other games? I kinda hope so, because that is almost the point of violence in these games.

In fact, that is pretty much my default belief on the subject: nearly all of the negative effects of violent videogames can likely be traced back to increased levels of adrenaline – which competition also triggers rather readily. The rest are either attributable to younger children unable to differentiate between fantasy and reality, or older people with the same deficiency.

In any case, science is a complicated subject and psychology/neuroscience is more complicated still. If violent videogames did cause violence or even make people more prone to violent acts though, I would expect youth crime to be increasing, rather than decreasing by 37% between 2003-2012.

Tide goes in, tide goes out – can’t explain that.

More than Half Done

[Blaugust Day 16]

The whole Blaugust challenge is more than half over now. Do you know where all your free-time went?

A full analysis will need to wait until the end of the month, but so far, the one good thing to come out of this is a reaffirmation that a more metered posting schedule is best for me. I looked at the subscriber numbers for this blog on various sites, and so there was a passing thought that if I went from 3 posts per week to 7, then my traffic should necessarily double, right? That does not appear to be the case. Like at all. Which means either the subscriptions aren’t being added to the views or perhaps less people are reading (due to more competition for their time).

On the actual writing front, nothing much else has changed either. While I am tempted to bang out a lot of buffer posts, it almost seems too cynical, even for me. Instead, I am sticking with my tried-and-true method of relying on my fickle muse for sudden inspiration. And Blizzard devs doing something outrageous – they’re always good for a post or two.

All that said, I do want to take a moment and thank the all the people posting comments. That particular metric is way up this month, and I’m not entirely sure why. Well, I guess it makes sense that more posts = more chances for people to chime in on a topic they want to talk about. To give some perspective, this past May had the most pageviews out of any month in the last year, and while August is less than half that right now, the comment totals are even thus far.

In any case, I think what I will do later is start combing through some of the other blogs I’ve seen on the Anook page. I’m not a huge fan of just adding everyone and sifting through hundreds of posts, but I do find it useful from time to time to add new blood to the routine.

And I suppose that’s how most of you found me in the first place. Fair’s fair.

Portable Steam Machine

[Blaugust Day 15]

Remember when I was complaining about the Vita yesterday, and how I was never play though old games again anyway? I was about to add on a throwaway line to the end of the post about how the first company to make a portal Steam machine would make a lot of cash.

Well, turns out there’s one scheduled for a late 2016 release:

Smach, the company touting the portable Steam OS device, says the handheld will ship out during the fourth quarter of 2016. That $299 price (€299 in Europe) is apparently the device’s pre-sale price only. We’ve reached out to the company for more details on pricing.

The Smach Zero — the Steamboy project’s new name — claims to be “the first handheld console to play Steam games on the go.” The device will play “more than 1,000 games” from Steam’s library on day one, with a hardware spec that will balance performance and cost.

Best part? MicroSD card slot. The rest of the specs are in the article.

To an extent, I almost wish for lower specs and not higher. I don’t want something capable of playing GTA IV on the go – I want something capable of playing the million and a half indie games cluttering up my Steam page. If I could boot this thing up during my lunch break at work, perhaps I would find the time to start playing games like To the Moon, The Walking Dead, and the Legend of Grimrock. The lower the specs, the less expensive the machine, the longer the battery life, and so on.

Incidentally, here is another article about the same handheld, this time with benchmarks:

  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011) on Low and 1280×720: 16 FPS
  • World of Warcraft (2005) on Medium and 1024×768: 43 FPS
  • Diablo III (2012) on Low and 1024×768: 38 FPS
  • Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (2013) on Low and 1024×768: 16.5 FPS

Technically those benchmarks are for the Radeon 8400E (or Nvidia GT 740M), which is the equivalent graphics card that this thing has. So, yeah, Skyrim is right out, and Diablo 3 isn’t looking too hot either.

That said, do you know what would play just fine? Civilization 5. And Total War: Shogun 2 (although you’d need at least a 64gb microSD card). And a whole host of other similar titles whose only question marks would be whether they’d be able to run in SteamOS in the first place. Details, details.

So what do you guys think? Would a portable Steam player excite you in any way?

The Collector

[Blaugust Day 14]

In a roundabout way, Sony almost pushed me back into a life of piracy with their latest PSN Square-Enix sale. Not sure how long it’s going to last, but some of the games include:

  • Tactics Ogre – $9.99
  • Final Fantasy IX – $4.99
  • Final Fantasy VIII – $4.99
  • Final Fantasy Tactics – $4.99
  • Legend of Mana – $2.99
  • Vagrant Story – $2.99

When I saw this list, my first thought was “gimmie gimmie gimmie.”

My second thought was “What? No, that’s silly. And $10 for Tactics Ogre? Yeah right.” What was pulling on my strings a bit at this point was that all of these games were cross-play with the PSP and Vita. I don’t actually own a Vita, and fully expect the handheld to go under in the next few years or less, but I do own a rather inordinate amount of Vita games by virtue of my PS+ subscription. So despite the fact that I own physical copies of at least three of those games, my inclination was purchase digital copies “for the future.” You know, one in which I move again and don’t need to lug the discs around.

Then I started to think about why I own a PSP and not a Vita in the first place. Then I remembered that post I wrote last year. And then I went to Amazon to reaffirm the insanity:

Abandon all logic, ye who games here.

Abandon all logic, ye who games here.

Yeah, fuck you, Sony.

So there I sat, fuming, fingers ready to raise the black flag out of spite. Seriously guys, Sony’s proprietary bullshit is over five times more expensive than a microSD card! No matter how cheap a deal I could get on a Vita, that memory card would just erase all of the gains by itself. What would the price of one of those be even in a Toys-R-Us fire sale? $40? $30?!


Then I remembered that the last time I touched my PSP was six months ago. And the likelihood of me actually playing those games again are even smaller. If I lived in a city first-world country that actually had a working commuter rail system, things might be different. Alas, I am in the United States, and can’t even settle for a busing system that could get me 10 miles to work in less than 2 hours.

Oh well.


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