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Action Gameplay

I’m still making my way through Nier, and it’s an interesting experience to analyze in situ.

Aside from the moments when it turns into a bullet-hell shoot-them-up, Nier is an action game in the vein of Devil May Cry. You have a Light attack, a Heavy attack, a Ranged attack, and a special skill. There are technically combos, I think, but I’m not sure it’s especially more productive than just mashing buttons. The only real “decision” is when to press the Dodge button. Which, by the way, can be spammed with no penalty to essentially gain infinite invincibility frames.

The end result is a relatively simplistic combat system. And it’s… still fun? I guess.

One of the common complaints regarding older MMOs like WoW is that tab-targeting combat is boring. Or mindless. 111211131141. While Nier is certainly more active from a combat perspective, I’m not sure that it is less mindless. XXXYYYXXY with some RT in there (on a controller) to dodge. If I just stood there and didn’t dodge in Nier, sure, the enemies I’m fighting might be able to kill me; conversely, most enemies in WoW can be face-tanked. But does that really matter?

The whole situation kind of reminds me of the difference between driving to the movie theater and watching the movie. The action of driving somewhere is much more involved than watching the screen – there are thousands of more individual choices and reactions necessary to drive somewhere safely. But is it more engaging? At the end of the night, which do you remember more?

And really, this is a problem with Action games even in the absence of thousands of incidental enemies you have to mow down. Furi features action combat that focuses just on bosses. I played it for a few hours, got to the second boss, and ended up setting the game down. It’s just not particularly compelling. Sure, it feels good to be able to perform the button presses necessary to avoid death. That’s a sense of personal progression.

But… I don’t know. Just like with driving, I kind of zone out the experience when I’m killing enemies in Action games. Or rather, become so hyper-focused on the moment-to-moment reactions to stimuli that I lose the overall plot. Once I get to my destination safely, the process by which I got there exits my short-term memory and becomes no more than a fuzzy recollection of time spent.

Perhaps this is less an indictment of Action combat generally, and more a specific Nier issue. Perhaps I should crank up the Difficulty slider up a notch. But I’m not sure that that would accomplish anything more than slippery road conditions would “improve” the driving experience. Common enemies would require greater focus, and yet the “reward” would be the same.

Maybe that’s just it: action combat is typically less overtly rewarding. Nier enemies drop currency and occasionally crafting mats, but it’s not on the same scale as a WoW mob. There are simply more and multi-faceted reward types in RPG-esque games than Action ones. Action games focus on the action, and generally try to reduce downtime. Go too far, and you end up the Borderlands Zone where you have to take a 5-second break after each gun drop to compare it to your equipped arsenal. That sort of thing completely breaks the flow in a way that, say, Skyrim does not.

I dunno. I’m not even through my first playthrough of Nier – New Game+ is apparently mandatory to see the rest of the plot – and I think that I had better buckle down and ignore sidequests from here on out. If I don’t, I think there is a serious chance that the combat becomes too boring to finish.

[Fake Edit]: Completed both A & B endings this weekend. Combat got more boring in B, which I didn’t think was possible. Let’s just hope C+ is a bit better…

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Impressions: Nier: Automata

For months and months, I have been reading praise of Nier: Automata across Reddit and Steam forums with extreme skepticism. How good could this game be, really? So when the game finally hit 50% off on Steam recently, I bought it with an implicit goal of “getting the facts straight.”

Based on 5 hours thus far, I can safely conclude this: it’s pretty damn good.

NieRAutomata_Trees

Looks pretty damn good too.

It’s still extremely early, but part of that goodness is wrapped up in how incredibly bold the game is in its own style. The starting section of the game is you piloting a ship like in an old-school, top-down shooter, including dodging slow-moving energy spheres. Then your ship “goes mobile” and things turn into a twin-stick shooter. Then you finally dismount and start attacking enemies in a 3rd-person action game ala Devil May Cry. But then there is a section where you’re running along a metal walkway, and the camera pulls out so you can face enemies in a side-scrolling style. Minutes later, there’s another section where you do the same thing with the camera directly overhead.

Any particular one of these camera tricks would be a gimmick. But, somehow, doing all of them… works. The expectation is now set that the game style will change to fit the scenario, and I’m either on board with it or I can leave. The game feels… confident, in an unapologetic JRPG kind of way.

NieRAutomata_Save1

Oh, of course.

The unapologetic-ness is really a reoccurring theme, actually. I checked out the forums before I started playing, because I had heard that the game is non-functional without the fan-created FAR mod, which fixes framerate issues. For the record, the game runs perfectly fine for me out of the box. One of the threads mentioned the fact that if you die in the hour-long opening sequence of the game… you have to redo the entire thing all over again. There are no checkpoints, there are no quick saves. As someone who has been playing Dark Souls-esque games lately, this is familiar territory.

NieRAutomata_Save2

OK, yeah, I got it.

That said, by default 2B is equipped with a “plug-in chip” that will automatically consume a potion when damaged below 30% HP, and enemies certainly don’t one-shot you as they can in other games, so it’s not too punishing. Plus, if you change the Difficulty to Easy, you can equip additional chips that will even automatically Dodge attacks for you. I’m actually not quite sure how that works, as I’m playing on Normal, but at least there’s an option.

One thing I did want to mention in this initial post too was the music. Wow. I just got to the second area and there is already music with actual lyrics just playing casually. Running around the ruined city nearby produced a track that heavily reminded me of Xenogears. Which, by the way, was probably the moment I felt myself just relax and settle into my chair, in a sort of metaphysical way.

Plus, you can fish. Androids fishing up mechanical fish in a post-apocalyptic Earth, to sell for cash to buy healing potions. Because Japan. It’s great.

So count me converted on Nier: Automata already. I’m in it for the long run.

Review: Warhammer 40k: Space Marine

Game: Warhammer 40k: Space Marine
Recommended price: bundle/$0
Metacritic Score: 74
Completion Time: ~5 hours
Buy If You Like: Warhammer 40k, mindless 3rd-person action

Something about the juxtaposition of religious iconography and high technology gets the juices flowing.

Something about the juxtaposition of religious iconography and high technology gets the juices flowing.

Let me start out by saying that I am a huge fan of the Warhammer 40k universe. The setting gets a lot of flak for being grimdark and violent and possibly even juvenile, but whenever I start hearing phrases like “Adeptus Mechanicus” and the “God-Emperor of Man” I put on my game-face and settle down for some fun. Up to this point, I have almost religiously played the Dawn of War games and all the expansions up to Space Marine and generally loved them all (Dark Crusade being my 200+ hour ultimate favorite).

After the ending credits to Space Marine, I came away… well, curiously disappointed.

You take on the role of Captain Titus, one of three Ultramarines sent as vanguard to the fleet coming to the rescue of a besieged Forge World. The basic game structure is 3rd-person mayhem in the styling of Devil May Cry/God of War without the fighting depth, or Darksiders without the exploration/puzzles. Part of the promotional campaign involved making fun of other 3rd-person cover-based shooters (“Cover is for the weak”), but around the 30% mark it becomes quite clear that the health regeneration from executing stunned enemies won’t, ahem, cover the increasing volume and severity of ranged fire. In fact, in the late stages of the game, you will be reduced to peaking your head around crates to take pot-shots at uber-laser troops while actively running away from anyone trying to melee you.

There are a few cool moments for 40k fans, and the levels where you get access to Jetpacks really cements the feeling that I’d love an MMO or more free-ranging game in this universe. In between these moments of fun, however, are about 60+ thinly-veiled elevator loading screens, repetitive battles, large empty spaces devoid of any reason to explore, and a vague sense of hollowness. Darksiders gets away with long stretches of nothing happening because you’re solving a puzzle, but here you’re frequently just stomping around for 5+ minutes inbetween the small pockets of button-mashing. Watching my hero units in Dawn of War felt more exciting than playing as one in Space Marine.

Bottom line, if you were primarily interested in Space Marine because you like the Warhammer 40k setting, you can safely skip this entry into the franchise and have missed nothing of note. If you don’t care about the 40k setting, well, you aren’t missing anything either.

Reviews: Darksiders, Greed Corp, Nimbus

Game: Darksiders
Recommended price: $5
Metacritic Score: 83
Completion Time: ~19 hours
Buy If You Like: Devil May Cry/God of War meets Zelda meets comic book

There are zero complaints in the visual department.

Darksiders is a 3rd-person action game with puzzle elements that tries to straddle the line between Devil May Cry/God of War demon-killing and the sort of casual world exploration and puzzles of Zelda games. You control War, one of the four horsemen, who gets framed for starting the apocalypse party early, which results in the death of the entire human race. As you struggle to clear your name and/or figure out who was responsible, you kill a lot of demons and four-story bosses while uncovering new items and re-unlocking your prior abilities.

While it seems the most popular comparison is with Zelda games instead of Devil May Cry, I just felt the puzzle elements in Darksiders were curiously out of place. The visually stunning post-apocalyptic landscape is rife with ready-made puzzle elements, but I never got over the fact that War couldn’t just scale that wall with his big-ass metal hand. Are you telling me I can wield a car like a baseball bat, but I can’t just stack some debris in the corner and use that to reach the 2nd floor? Why aren’t I just punching down every door I encounter, especially when I unlock the Power Glove Gauntlet that lets me punch icebergs? While the puzzles do keep combat from growing too stale, after a while you realize that more than half of your game time is spent in empty rooms moving boxes around (etc). That might be fine thematically for a 14-year old elf-boy, but it never felt right for a horseman of the goddamn apocalypse.

That said, I did end up enjoying my time in Darksiders. The game is incredibly stylistic, the visuals are fantastic, and the action is pretty serviceable in a button-mashing way. Although I just pooh-poohed the puzzles, that is mainly because of the tone of the game, rather than the puzzles themselves being annoying. Indeed, while demon locks do appear on some doors arbitrarily, the majority of the puzzles are based on more “realistic” scenarios. You know, assuming that it’s realistic to punch subway cars into place but not use that same power to knock some tree limbs out of the way.

On a final note, if you play on the PC as I did, the port job is not especially keyboard-friendly; in terms of lazy port, it ranks up there with the original Borderlands for PC. I still WASD’d my way through the game anyway, but it was seriously annoying how anyone thought “Tab + number” was a good button combo to select abilities while running around.

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Game: Greed Corp
Recommended price: Bundle
Metacritic Score: 76
Completion Time: ~8 hours
Buy If You Like: Symmetrical puzzle/strategy games

Definitely more Checkers than Chess.

Greed Corp is a strategy game that is a lesson in efficient and frugal design. Whereas in an RTS-style game you can have three factions with totally unique units and hundreds of different forms of interaction, Greed Corp is pretty simple; there is one walker unit, one factory that builds walkers, one cannon, one consumable unit that flies walkers to a different hex, one harvesting building, and the resources being harvested is the terrain itself. The goal is to use all of those things to remove your opposition from the map, sometimes quite literally.

Regardless, there is can be a surprising bit of depth to the shenanigans. For example, the harvesters knock its own hex and all surrounding hexes down one level at the beginning of your turn (hexes brought below level 1 crumble apart). There is no way to remove a harvesters other than self-destructing it, which knocks another level off each surrounding hex, along with sinking the main hex down into the abyss. What this can lead to is sending a single unit flying into your enemy’s island territory, plopping down a harvester, and laughing maniacally (or sobbing in frustration, depending) as that whole island eventually breaks apart.

Eventually though, my enjoyment evaporated once the late-game Expert-level AI opponents started demonstrating the weaknesses of perfectly symmetrical maps. Namely that it didn’t matter how clever your own strategy was when all it takes is one of the three random opponents to opportunistically ruin your day. When the outcome of your best-laid plans devolve into “whoever moves last wins,” it is time to move on.

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Game: Nimbus
Recommended price: Bundle
Metacritic Score: 80
Completion Time: ~6 hours
Buy If You Like: Twitch-based puzzle “platformers”

Kinda like a flying Super Meat Boy.

In essence, Nimbus is a pretty simple twitch-based puzzle-platformer… sorta. You control a ship that has no means of self-propulsion, and thus must rely entirely on environmental objects and inertia to ensure you do not become stranded on the ground (which kills you). Some of those objects are bumpers that always gives you a set amount of boost when collided with, some are speed squares that can accelerate you to dizzying velocity if you loop into them multiple times, and still others are little cannons which give you some respite along with directional control over your exit. The end goal is to touch the exit checkerboard squares as fast as possible, while also grabbing the secret coins hidden (sometimes diabolically) around the level if you are so inclined – doing so can sometimes unlock bonus levels.

It did not take me long to confirm that the old adage of “quick to learn, difficult to master” is fully applicable to Nimbus. While successful execution is the most important aspect of the game, Nimbus does a phenomenal job at keeping each level feeling fresh and unique like a brand new puzzle. Just when you start feeling comfortable with all the deadly spikes on the walls, you encounter a map that requires you to ram into spheres to trigger gate openings like a physics-based platformer. And just as you are getting used to some of the spheres having spikes on them, you are faced with a level where all the walls are made of deadly lasers. And then there are the ridiculous reverse-gravity levels. In short, Nimbus deftly avoids new puzzle elements feeling like gimmicks and more like natural progression.

I did not end up completing Nimbus though, as the later levels quickly outstripped my twitch abilities, even after ditching the keyboard for an Xbox controller. If you are not a fan of twitch platformers like Super Meat Boy, unfortunately you aren’t likely to enjoy Nimbus at all; there are few things more frustrating than knowing what you have to do, but running into that same goddamn spike wall for the 13th time in a row and redoing the entire level from scratch (there are checkpoint cannons, but sometimes only past certain points).

If you do happen to enjoy those sort of games though, Nimbus will certainly give you a run for your money. Not only are there secret coins to collect, but each level has a Steam leaderboard to compare best times as well.