With Friday afternoon off work I sat down for a bit of light gaming and ended up flitting between most of the games I’m currently actively playing. Here’s what occupied my time:
16:00 – Torchlight
I finally relented and bought Torchlight after the overwhelmingly positive reviews and feedback about the game. I was initially hesitant because, having not played action RPGs like Diablo before, Torchlight appeared to be a seriously grindy click-fest. It turns out that Torchlight is a seriously grindy click-fest. I’m a little worried for the future condition of my mouse to be honest. Still, having my fears justified showed me that my fears weren’t really justified; Torchlight has a lot going on to keep you invested. Primarily this is done with loot, of which you come across a ridiculous amount: my inventory was filled before the completion of the first level of the dungeon.
There are other touches that keep things interesting. Your character’s pet is especially useful. Not only can you load up his inventory with unwanted goods and send him back to the town to sell them but you can actually get him to learn spells which he’ll automatically cast in battle (mine currently summons skeletons). Also, if you feed him fish, he turns into different monsters for a limited time: both useful and batshit crazy.
I would have probably played this for a few hours but a Steam notification of a PC Gamer event (I don’t even own Killing Floor Steam, damn you) caused the thing to crash out, so it was probably time to move on.
17:00 – MAG
It’s always a pain to figure out exactly what you can talk about when it comes to beta testing. From what I understand we’re now free to talk about MAG, Sony’s upcoming 256 player online FPS, since the public beta opened but are still under NDA for anything from the private beta. I hadn’t actually played this since the first phase of the private beta but with the newest public phase arriving with a host of changes and, most importantly, 24 hour servers I thought I’d give it another try.
The concept is well executed. 256 people is clearly a ridiculous number for one online match but the game does a good job of assigning squads to different missions. This means that, while you often aren’t directly aware of the sheer scale of the battle as you focus on your specific task, your job can often be made easier or much harder based on the performance of the rest of the team. This is all good stuff but the game is let down, for me, by its pace. Dying is particularly painful because of the long wait to respawn and the trek from the spawn point to the objective. Thanks to the people who seem to have been testing it continuously for months this happened to me a lot. Part of the problem also seems to be the controls, which are slightly less responsive then I’d have liked. They fall just the wrong side of that almost imperceptible line in which you go from blaming yourself for dying to blaming the game.
Eventually I tired of being killed by someone named X_K1lla_X and moved onto a multiplayer game that gets it right.
18:10 – Modern Warfare 2
I was avoiding the single player campaign because I was approaching That Level and listening to Ivor Cutler, as I was at the time, wasn’t really conducive to fully appreciating it. Instead I switched between the multiplayer and the special-ops missions.
Multiplayer remains pretty much unchanged from the first Modern Warfare. This isn’t a criticism, as its one of the most playable online shooters around. Rounds are fast paced and frantic and the control system is not only tight and responsive but also well tuned. This is most notable with the console auto aim: its good enough to compensate for the weaknesses of using a controller in an FPS without being so accurate that all battles turn into a simple quick-draw event won by whoever started shooting first.
The special-ops missions would turn out to be the revelation of the night. Essentially they’re a series of mini-games and set pieces that reward you with stars for completing certain challenges. More importantly they’re playable in split-screen. As people filtered into the house throughout the night we’d spend much of it passing the controller round and playing through different missions. A particular favourite became the missions requiring one person to get to a particular point on the map while the other player provided air support from an AC-130 gunship. Co-operation is the key; as is shouting at your gunman for bombing you on the ground, or at your ground soldier for getting themselves killed in a house where you’re powerless to help.
19:50 – Borderlands
I’ve not posted about Borderlands before, which is surprising given just how much I’ve played it over the last few weeks. At this point I’ve completed the campaign once and am now on my second playthrough, essentially a New Game + option that starts all the enemies at a much higher level to mirror your character’s progression. Normally I wouldn’t replay a game for months after the first completion, but Borderlands follows the model of the action-RPG grind fest (see Torchlight) so closely (and the story is so ludicrously pointless) that as far as I’m concerned I’ve still not completed it as my character’s not hit the level cap and there’s still loot to be found. Borderlands’ gimmick to cover up the grind and repetition is to be a really good, tactile shooter. Not a bad gimmick all said and done.
This time I decided to re-spec my character’s special moves. A complete skill reset can be purchased which lets you try out different customisation paths. I put most of my points in elemental effects which cause damage-over-time to enemies. Between that and a couple of ridiculously overpowered weapons the game has pretty much ceased to be challenging but remains great fun.
I picked off a couple of missions throughout the hour or so I played it, mostly the ones involving boss versions of regular monsters, killing Skagzilla and Mothrakk with relative ease. I was particularly pleased to note that, with my new multiple types of elemental damage, enemies would bleed multi-coloured numbers before they eventually died. It’s like they were repeatedly being beaten over the head with a tricky tax-return.
Past Everyone’s Bedtime – Elefunk
Seeing as you’re probably wondering: Elefunk is a PS3 physics based puzzler that requires you to build a bridge to allow an elephant to cross from one side of the level to another. Despite its cutesy appearance the game is brutally difficult.
I’ve no idea why we returned to this Friday night (more accurately Saturday morning). When we first went through the game, always three to four of us heavily drunk, we got stuck on a particular level and didn’t return to the game for over a year. Tonight, inexplicably, was the night we came back and beat that damn level and, with renewed vigour, progressed further into the game.
I like playing puzzle games communally. It’s a true reflection of team-work, with nobody jostling for position or kudos, just building upon each others ideas until you collectively reach a solution. Elefunk is perfect for this atmosphere due to its trial and error nature. After your first attempt at building a structure you can send the elephant on his way, nervously looking for all the weaknesses that appear, so when he inevitably falls into the chasm below you know where start strengthening. Its also, fortunately, a good game to play when you’ve been drinking; there are no leaps of logic to take, the game works purely off architecture and engineering.
So these are just some of the games that have been occupying my time. Feel free to share your current gaming playlist in the comments, although God knows I’ve got enough to keep me occupied for a while to come.