Injustice: gods among us demo review

Before properly beginning I must admit a bias, I don’t care about this game. I’m not a big fan of fighting games, I think the tone is horrible for mainline superhero gaming, and there are logical inconsistencies abound. However, I have friends who have interest in it; one of which continues to text me on updates for it, including the demo drop, despite my insistence that I don’t care.

I got the demo anyway; I figure since it’s free I have little to lose. Plus this way at least I’ll have some minor ammo to fire back with next time the game games up in conversation.

Injustice is a dark superhero fighting game promising over the top antics with well established and mostly liked characters. The demo gives us one arena to play in and three controllable characters. The arena is Gotham City and seems very fitting; most people know it, one of the playables lives there, and it’s a ‘major city’ which is where most super action goes down.

The three characters are Wonder Woman, Batman, and Lex Luthor. I played the demo first as Wonder Woman (because, Wonder Woman) and then as Batman. I ignored Luthor because I simply didn’t care about him.

The demo gives you little information on how to play. There is a moves list but no generic ‘this button does what’ list. Or at least I couldn’t get the cursor to go to the ‘options’ selection. From what I understand you have three attack buttons, a special power button, a grapple, and a button that lets you shift stance maybe? It didn’t even seem to do that, it really just seemed to make my guy turn back to front and front to back. I did it for a while but it did not seem to help me in my fight.

As I said I began with Wonder Woman. The demo puts you in four fights, one against each of the three playable characters and finally against Doomsday, the neigh unstoppable juggernaut whom once killed Superman. My first fight was with Wonder Woman and already I was disappointed, not only was it a same-on-same fight but there didn’t seem to be any difference between the two. And in fact during my stint as Batman I got really confused as to which Batman I was. And then Wonder Woman did a prayer to her goddess and received her lasso, and then the other one did the same. And this seems to be a trend, everyone appears to have the same cinematic every time.

Wonder Woman has the super power of swapping weapons. In her normal “hard-hitting lasso” form she does a bit more damage and can use her lasso to grab opponents and throw her tiara. In her defensive sword and shield mode she takes less damage when blocking and can pull a captain America. I do enjoy that using a sword is less effective than her punching you, because that feels like fact.

So I beat myself up, then Batman, and Luthor, and finally Doomsday. The moves list gives you info on each move, including how many frames it takes and delay times so you can better pull off unstoppable combos or whatever it is that people do with that information. I was more interested in testing out the interactive terrain and multi-tiered levels. It does not appear to be intuitive at all and not once did I use any thing in the environment to my aid. No matter how often I turned back-to-front at it. I did get a hydrant thrown at me though, and I was knocked off a building, onto a train track, and finally down into an ally; that was kind of fun. Of course then I just kept flailing at my attacker until I won.

So then I gave Batman a whirl. He has a grapple gun and batarangs so he can use those to grab an enemy or dodge a minor ranged attack…just like Wonder Woman. Exciting. His special power is that he can double jump and also summon three electric bats that can be used as a minor shield or be fired at the enemy like a…batarang.

It’s somewhat amusing how fast this demo ran out of steam.

So anyways, I fought Wonder Woman and won. I fought myself, got very confused and won. Then I fought Lex Luthor, and despite taking a orbital strike to the face I won. And then came Doomsday, so I slapped him a lot with my non-powered and weak human hands before sticking a bomb to his back (Batman’s standard grapple move) and winning. Superman is a chump, it’s all about the slapping.

Finally the demo shows you some footage of the game and a few features. There are some mini-games, a couple of which looked halfway decent (especially Bane beating up the batmobile, heh). Also it showed off a couple of the alternate costumes. Wonder Woman gets her ingame costume, what may be pantless Amazon armor, and a black version of her Amazon armor. Flash has his ingame suit, an extra armored version, and one the covers his whole face. I’m curious why neither has a ‘classic’ costume.

And then the demo ends.

I remain unimpressed. You could say “well it’s not your type of game” and you would be right…about the fighting portion. And honestly I’d be a little more excited if it was a big scale super hero game about epic combat. But it is not. This is a fighting game that features broad versions of super heroes. Harley Quinn and Joker are here because they are popular and must be, but even the most casual fan of either has to admit that this is a poor venue for them to appear in. Superman? Sure, toss him and Doomsday at each other and I’ll gleefully watch the city crumble.

I try to judge without favor, and if I can do so here I see a fighting game that felt repetitive and boring in the demo. There didn’t seem to be much innovation, nor did I feel like a superhero or larger than life figure. I’m not good at combos or pulling of special moves; I once beat Street Fighter II using Ryu and nothing but kicks. I get the feeling that I could do the same here using Catwoman, and if that’s the case I don’t care how many tiers are in a level, or what the environment does, or which big bad super villain the game has…I’m just some chick kicking them all.

Ten Minutes with Need For Speed Most Wanted

Recently Trod asked me if was into racing games. While I am occasionally argumentative, I am not a very competitive person; Competition usually just means one person will have progressively less and less fun. The racing genre is, at its core, entirely competitive and with a new racing game about to drop this seems like a safe way to ask “hey, here is a game that looks cool but I’m afraid you will hate it.”

So, funny story. The ‘Raven’ in many of my online tags comes from the very first “Need for Speed” game where I spent every free moment honing my skills and becoming a racing god. The culmination of this was in “Need for Speed Hot Pursuit” for the PS2. It was fast, and fun, and the cops loved to try and stop me. Best of all it featured a varied and lengthy campaign, with each race rewarding new options and demanding new challenges. By the time of the last race I was playing on the hardest difficulty and without any of the silly rubberband game aid (rubberband physics being a method of either improving the players car or hampering the computer cars to give the player a better chance should he fall behind. Also, bullshit; you fall behind you lose.). I made it to the last race, with the fastest car on the hardest track.

The race was eight laps and it took about an hour to run because it was super intense. I practiced several times before running it. I got to know the car. I learned every nuance of the track. I ran practice races. Finally the day came and I loaded up a special playlist with inspiring race music. I was ready. In the final second of the race one lone car pulled ahead of me by inches. I came in second. I took the game out of the system and put it away. I have not played it since.

So I told Trod, “yeah, kinda.” and downloaded the demo for the new NfS game “Most Wanted.” Unlike any racing game I’ve heard of before this game features an entire city to run around in with each race implementing at a specific spot and utilizing the structure of a fully realized city. It’s pretty ambitious and a fun concept. It really helps pull you in and also lets you just cruise around if all you want to do is drive cool cars in a very fast manner. The game feels very artsy, with panoramic views of their city and the opening feels like some epic tale of life in the big city. It’s pretty cool actually, though I had already bored of the overly dramatic race intros before I had exhausted the demo. On the plus side, the city is pretty cool, or at least what you get to see in the demo. It looks nice, and feels very real, no doubt the inability to leave your car helps maintain the illusion.

The real problem seems to be how varied will the races feel? Take Hot Pursuit for example; I had races in the mountains, the desert, a woodland drive, and city environments. The map has a couple spots that seem to promise at least a more wilderness climate (also the intro to the game) but will that be the lone example? You have to have the dramatically different courses, it’s what “Need for Speed” was built for. People love getting behind the wheel of a Lamborghini and pushing it to the red line, but when the thrill of going fast begins to fade you realize it’s fun to go out and put the city car to its paces on gravel and mud.

Another double edged sword here is the freedom on display. With tracks existing merely as loosely defined areas of the city it gives the player more freedom to explore and search for shortcuts or simply alternate areas of access. But with this also comes the fact that sometimes you take an off ramp that in no way connects to the course and have now screwed up any chance to complete the race. Rare is the event more depressing than limping to the finish line minutes after even the worst cpu driver.

One huge factor with this game is the constant updates via your friends list. There are numerous stunts, speed cameras, and random races in this game and it tracks the progress of anyone on your friends list. It’s a subtle but effective motivator for real world competition. At one point the game told me how fast someone had ran a race and suggested I try and beat him. With the click of a button I was on my way. It’s fun, you hit a speed camera and it flashes your speed and a friend’s speed, a quick 180 and some nitro gives you a quick feeling of glory.

The ease of this seems to have seeped a bit out of the rewards. For finishing races you get extra bits to help customize your car. It’s a cool idea and there seem to be enough areas to have fun with but not overly complex like a few of the more hard core racing games. On the negative side, the game seems to actually have a ‘pay n’ spray’ which randomly changes the color of your car. I’d much prefer to keep my custom rides in my preferred color instead of being distracted during a race by the fact that I’m now in a yellow car.

By the way, cars now simply have to be found. Maybe I’m complaining over nothing but I preferred to race in a specific class, getting better and pull off a win to get a sweet new ride. There are cars I like in the real world simply because of the effort I put into unlocking them in the older games. You respect and treasure the toy you saved up for.

So, final impression of the demo. It’s a slick presentation and there feels like some obvious love went into it. I’m worried that it will feel to limited or my options will dwindle with actual play. But it’s a blast to race again and the cars feel right. I love the constant competition and honestly the open city does give me the ability to simply drive around when I’m bored. Perhaps it’s cliché or silly to say so…but for the first time in a long time…I feel it, the Need for Speed.

A Discussion of Skyfall

I watched “Skyfall” last night and really enjoyed it. I do want to mention a few things, partially to play with a new and improved different review/discussion style i’m working on.

Also, SPOILERS. I don’t know if that’s an assumption to be made when reading a review, but if for some reason you are reading my post and haven’t seen the movie…SPOILERS.

Ok, so…

The Good: The entire Shanghi sequence. I loved the lighting here and the setting. It was a nice slow chase scene that managed to capture a very haunted feel. I especially loved how a room full of glass managed to create a shifting web of cover. And then the silloute fight scene was simply beautiful to watch.

Then we switch over to…er…new location and everything is warm and inviting. A real tone shift and a lot of it due to color and set decoration. Culminating from this was the cold and dark Skyfall set that slowly warms more and more through the third act.

All in all the settings seemed to border on the simple, but were executed elegantly. It helped evoke mood but keep me invested in the movie.

I really enjoyed the acting on display. I thought Craig brought a restrained persona with cracks of personality shining through, some of it meant only to disarm. I loved the “waste of good scotch” line, so very cold. Ralph Fiennes was very enjoyable, and I liked the effort to make him feel like ‘one of the guys’.

Judi Dench was good as always, and made great use of the spotlight put on her.

All in all, it had solid action, was beautifully shot, and the acting drew me in and kept me enraptured the whole time. No joke, I actually had a couple of muscle spasms going on in the middle of the movie but I was having such a good time I basically sat through the pain and tried to mentally force it away.

 

The Bad: I do have some minor problems with the movie, mostly lapses in what i’m branding as common sense.

The shooting of Bond; not the shoulder but via Eve. I see why it happened, and that’s good drama but it led to three of my problems. One, they were connected via headset so I think a simple “Get down Bond!” would have worked. You could say that the communicator was down but Eve was in contact with M and Bond heard everything as confirmed later. Then Bond falls off the train so Eve now has a clean shot and doesn’t even try and take it. Lame. And then throughout the move we see Bond’s nasty shoulder wound but the rest of his torso looked to be intact. He makes a joke later about “only four ribs and some minor organs” which is likely exaggeration but it indicates he was clearly shot.

The movie really focuses on his shoulder wound: the title sequence, his arm giving him troubles, remains from it form a clue to tracking down the thief. Very little, besides a few quips, is paid to the fact that he was gut shot by an assault rifle. I’m thinking his accidental shooting via Eve to be a last minute change to amp up the danger, or even take the blame away from Bond’s failure. After all with a serious shoulder wound I don’t think we would blame him for loosing a fist fight and being tossed from a train.

And finally, Silva’s escape. For the most part this was a nice sequence, and is also where I had my spasm problem, but what I don’t understand is how two MI6 security officers managed to get killed during his escape. He was presumably unarmed and locked in a secure cell. Sure the cell door was electronically locked and thus opened when the virus hit…and then he managed to leap across the room and disable the guard? No chance, this is a serious terrorist who has hacked the most secure network in Britain, took on Bond, and is a former double-oh himself. They would have drawn down on him the moment the door opened and should have at least took out his legs.

 

The Fiddly: These bits are things I could have seen go either way. They were fine in the movie, but I could also see complaining about them.

Essentially…the whole movie. I read, after the movie, a few bit stating that this film was not a direct continuation of the Bond franchise. That it goes “Casino Royale”, “Quantum of Solace” and…other stuff then this film. So now i’m left wondering if the next film will be pre-Skyfall and feature a ‘younger’ Bond or will be post-skyfall and feature a ‘classic’ Bond.

Part of this is what makes the movie really work and what makes it possibly the best of series. It could work as a capping point for the classic era leading things in a full circle, or it works as the end of a trilogy giving us the birth of a new Bond. I do wish i’d known about its ‘vaguely timeless’ nature before hand as all the “you’re getting to old for this Bond” stuff struck me as a bit soon or at least heavy handed.

Also, I liked Ralph Fiennes in this and think the new Moneypenny is cool. However I was also left thinking, sarcastically, ‘at least everyone now knows their place.’ We took out a woman as head of MI6 and replaced her with the old standby: a rich white guy. And let’s not have a likable and capable female worthy of working alongside Bond, get her ass behind a desk.

 

But anyways, the problems I had were minor and some of them I could see why they did what they did. For the vast majority of the movie I was very happily entertained. It was fun and exciting with a lot of visual style. I’m not a huge Bond fan, only owning a very few handful of the movies, but this one I will likely buy when it comes out.

 

Also, if ‘fiddly’ the best word to use there?

The Trouble with Zombies, part one

Zombies, they’re everywhere.

This hasn’t always been the case, not long ago zombies were relegated to poor cinema and looked down upon by most respectable citizens. Somewhat like comic books. But now zombies have bloomed, taking up residence in movies, games, books, comics, and even music. Ask a person how they feel about zombies and instead of the former “Zom-what?” you will now get a bevy of answers ranging from “OMG I love zombies!” to the phrase that has inspired this article, “Pft, zombies are so overplayed.”

Before we begin it is best we fully establish what we are talking about, and a bit of what we will not be talking about. First, for the purposes of this article I will be using Zombie to reference the eternally decaying undead that feast upon the flesh of the living. The same zombie as depicted by George Romero back in 1968. Being a fan of both voodoo and zombies I am aware that they go back much further than the sixties but also that they were not always walking corpses. But as the traditional voodoo zombie is not the focus of popular culture we will not be focusing on them.

Secondly, concerning the purpose of zombies. I will be discussing why they are relevant and what purpose they serve. But my scope will be limited to their aspects in modern media, with a possible primary focus on games, and not their fear effect in whole. Zombies are a reminder of death, the one enemy we can never escape, and the corpse variety take that even further by not only showing the afterlife in a horrible light but by literally consuming life. These are high concepts that relate to all manner of zombie but I will be focusing on lower concepts for reasons of brevity and because we all know zombies represent said fear of death.

So what do zombies represent and why are they in every game and movie released as of late? Primarily because they transcend evil. It is a long standing fact that tossing Nazis into a game makes for a simplistic and morality-free villain. Even the Germans came to hate Nazis whose cruelty is handily recorded. ‘Shoot a Nazi and move on’ my grandpa always used to say. Well, not really. The point is in the hierarchy of bad guys, the Nazi is king. We give more love to Imperial stormtroopers then we do to Nazis, despite some pretty heavy similarities. But in an age where we have begun focusing on human rights, motivation, and the possibility that our previous ‘lots of violence’ approach to problem solving is wrong it can be seen that while upper management is pretty dirty there was a very human element to german soldiers which could lead to grief. Not so with zombies!

Zombies don’t care, they don’t reason, and the most I’ve ever heard one say was one line to lay a trap for more food. They are a force of nature, a destructive element with no redeeming value that all of our advanced ways can never hope to communicate with. They don’t even have an ideal to strive for; they simply eat man and move on. But zombies have a face, and a form, and that makes them awesome. With that face comes our ability to punch back. Hurricane takes your house? Sorry buddy but you’re screwed. Zombie eats your wife? Take this axe and give ‘em hell! In this fashion zombies represent a force of evil that transcends itself, and uncaring force of destruction that has just enough of a physical form to allow us hope.

It is that form which gives us the second reason why zombies have achieved such a high status. Zombies are human, mostly, in form and origin. We can understand them; we can discuss their weaknesses and strengths. This simply fact alone is strong evidence to their popularity; how many of you have sat around with friends having a debate on what zombies can do and how you would escape? It’s a pointless debate, but it’s fun and because they are so closely tied to humans it makes it easy to base decisions and set limitations. You know zombies won’t have laser vision or the ability to fly, but can they run? That’s a question open for debate with strong evidence on both sides because they were human.

Their previous humanity leaks into our mentality and how we perceive them as threats. Imagine for a moment the game Perfect Dark. It never achieved the success of Goldeneye but on it’s own it was pretty fun. Mostly in the beginning though, as you infiltrated office buildings and got into shootouts with guards. Later in the game they introduce the main plot, which was giant aliens and mother ships and all kinds of things above our heads. Then the game became muddles, because we don’t know how a gun would affect aliens, or what their attacks would encompass. We don’t even understand how they think or operate because they are alien. The game removed itself too far from a human perspective and the focus suddenly blurred.

You need that focus in fiction, it draws the viewer/player in and helps immerse them in the world. This is why the primary protagonist in most fiction is human or at least human like in the case of Lord of the Rings and The Dark Crystal. Zombies being human simply reinforces their capabilities and limits, it lets you know what might or might not work. And on a darker level, it’s simply more satisfying to shoot a human target. It fits in your mind, gives you hope, and when you finish pulling the trigger you get a small rush that the target is dead. Take any game where the damage is offset to the high end, such as Black, where you have to nearly unload a clip into a human bad guy just to kill them. It diminishes your power; it doesn’t make the game harder it just makes you worthless. Sure zombies can take a lot of damage, but most people know it’s either a shot to the head or a significant amount of body damage to put them down. Or a shotgun, also called the win button.

And the final reason, ease of creation. Having taken a class on stage makeup, and achieving decent to good marks, I can say that blood and gore effects are pretty easy. Getting the face to look mangles is not a hard task and there are quick ways to cheat. Sure the makeup can be done poorly, but compared to old age, gender swapping, or even animalism it ranks pretty low on the difficulty scale. Moving on to video games it can be a simple matter of applying a new skin to an existing character. In Minecraft they simply modified the ‘steve’ skin and used that for the zombies. This makes it very easy to not only stick zombies in a game, but to quickly add them into an existing game such as Call of Duty.

This concludes my examination of zombies and their relevance in the media. Next time we will discuss the route zombies traveled to get here. We will also discuss rather they are played out and why. And then sum up with where I think the future of the zombie belongs.

The Trouble with Skyrim

*Videos are taking longer than expected. I’m going to start posting filler. Here’s a a thing on Skyrim!

 

On the fifth day of July I added another year to my age track. Because of this I received a copy of “Skyrim” for free. I have been playing it pretty constantly ever since. It is a fun game, filled with interesting locations and things to do. But a problem seems to be developing and I am beginning to feel that the game has a couple major faults within.

The first is a problem I could aim at “Oblivion” and possibly the past two “Fallout” games. The problem is that the writers, while capable of creating an intriguing story, do not actually know what that story is. In “Oblivion” I was apparently the chosen one, able to find the evil portals, close them, and stop some evil entity. But I never really cared to do so and over the course of the game I entered as few portals as possible, beating the game with the bare minimum of plot encountered and essentially only winning the final battle because some bad guys attacked me.

Part of my apathy towards “Oblivion’s” plot is that it sent me all over the world numerous times. And each time I came to a place there were several plotlines and intrigues for me to follow. As I chased each of these the main plot fell behind and I found that I rarely cared to get back to it. However, if you had the DLC, there was a superior plot located in ‘The Knights of the Nine’ which dealt with me becoming the chosen one, tracking down special people to fill the ranks, locating the ancient artifacts, and then leading the final charge on an evil god. It was a smaller story told in a more straight forward manner, and as such helped me stay aligned with it no matter where I went.

“Skyrim” has fallen prey to this same problem. As I type this my character is level 42. I am only now in the second act of the main plot line and until level 30 I had proceeded only far enough to learn a few shouts for free. Level 30 represents the moment when I finally became bored running around Skyrim doing whatever I wanted. Now I am plodding along with the primary quest, though I am alternating between it and the much more interesting civil war plotline. This is a difficult task for in the main plot I am working to stop an ancient evil that may destroy the world and has lingering and growing effects on the world (dragons) while the other quest involves the lives of the common man torn asunder by treason and loyalty, it is a story of belief and conviction with neither side being shown in a fully good light.

And again the side quest of civil war makes for a better story, and is also told in a better fashion. Once siding with the Empire I was asked to be a courier and consult with a local ruler, I was then used as such again before returning to Whiterun and taking part in a large battle. Afterwards I returned to my primary post and received new orders. I then traveled to my new post and began taking orders. Simple and linier, but engaging and probable actions.

In my main quest I was sent across the whole of Skyrim to find an old man, whom I then had to bring back, and cross to the other side of Skyrim before heading back up to the top of the tallest mountain at which time I learned little and then had to travel to the farthest point north in Skyrim. At this point I encountered the Magical university and a whole new plot line has opened to me, one I don’t want since I’m a simple, steel-driven, barbarian.

Oblivion had this as well. Through he course of the game I became the leader of the mage guild, despite being an untalented barbarian who could barely cast a light spell. I will concede that at least Skyrim lets you enter without joining provided you showoff your status as the dragonborn.

So for the record I have encountered and been offered a position in, the following ‘guilds’: thieves, warriors, mage, assassin’s, rebel, empire…and all I wanted to do was fight some evil and do some blacksmithing. Adding to the problem here is that I can’t even simply speak to the leaders of the rebel or empire factions without attempting to join. I was only able to talk to the rebel leader about his reasons once I had joined the opposition. And apparently I’m part of the thieves’ guild now because the recruited was also the man who had information I needed about the old guy. Also I became a mage student because I talked to the mage headmistress because the lady at the gate told me to do so.

So here seems to be the main problem with “Skyrim”: it’s too free. You are given the illusion of absolute freedom, but not the tools to achieve it, meanwhile the game assumes you care about its plot. You begin as a prisoner, same as Oblivion, but at least there you were simply in jail and if you wished to be a good person it could be assumed you were simply sleeping off a mad drunk. Here you are trapped with the rebel leader and on your way to the chopping block. How am I to be a hero? Clearly I’ve done something horrible, I just wanted to be a blacksmith. Luckily I’m saved by a dragon attack and free to make up my mind (a friend of mine did just this, once out of the sewers he left the imperial behind and just did his own thing) but really it seems like the only likely scenario is either help my rebel master take out the evil empire or run a couple messenger quests out of gratitude to the imperial that got me safely out. But really both of those lead to me killing a dragon and discovering my true destiny, to follow an annoying and unwanted meta plot about running across the world like Forrest Gump.

To be honest I think I’d like a more limited narration, one that limited my options but put me deeper into the world. The game could still start with you coming into Skyrim in a bad way, perhaps you are on the way to a local lockup, maybe you are ready for execution, or maybe you have sold all your possessions just to travel here, or maybe you are the last survivor or a battle gone wrong. To decide the game could simply ask which direction you prefer, perhaps not outright: I want to be a thief, but where your ambitions lie. If you choose duty then it’s a soldiers life for you. Knowledge; you are on a quest to enroll at Hogwarts.  

Whatever the case they could lengthen the mini plot for that section. This could give you a more in-depth magic plot or a longer companion’s plot that really lets me know why Kodlak liked me so much. And then if they wanted the meta plot to kick in, just tie it into the final arc of the plot. Using the magic university as an example it would go like this. Act one would be enrolling and learning to use magic, with quests centered around the university and eventually spreading out into the surrounding area. Act two would see you graduating to the higher ranks, allowed to travel further and dealing with plots and intrigues in the surrounding towns along with mentions of a civil war on the horizon. Act two would end with you on a mission and encountering a dragon, after the battle the shouters would summon you and act three would begin. Act three would begin with you being summoned and the whole of the world open to you; some paths would be shut off (if you showed a proclivity towards good there would be no admittance to the assassins) but a few others would still be open (perhaps now you feel your magic is strong enough to aid the empire) but the dragon threat would be ever looming.

This would give a fuller experience and help tie you into the world, actually make you care. Plot with a dedicated plot it would be easier to drop hints of the danger to come, instead of just having dragons attack each time you leave riftin. And for the people who still hate this idea and would cry about the game limiting them…just have one of the options be “I want to be a legend” and have the game function as normal.

Changes, about time…

Dear readers,

I have decided, once again, to make a change to this blog. Unlike the previous ‘changes’ this time I am finally free of college and now have free time to make good on my promises. I began this blog in an effort to play with my writing skills, but lacking direction I floundered a bit and had nothing to force me into adherence. I am now setting down what may be called a ‘mission statement.

I have always been a gamer and have announced my love of all types of games, even beyond role playing variety. Of late I have found myself drawn strongly towards board gaming. I know that when I say this most people envision “Clue” or “Monopoly” and those are board games to be sure. But there are other board games, ones that involve more than tossing a die and pushing a bit of plastic around a track. I have recently played a board game that brought up feelings of anxiety and panic, more so that most other forms of media. I have also spent much of my free time refurbishing an old board game that I used to love.

So I am going to begin focusing on these. I have finished my initial list and I count myself owning nineteen board games. This includes certain dice and card games as well. After factoring in games owned by friends, and a shopping spree I plan to embark on for my birthday, this list should rise to thirty-plus. To those who enjoy my RPG reviews and postings, I will not neglect them. I like to feel that the line between board game and role playing game is a blurry one so RPG reviews will still be at home here.

And here the final twist hits. If I am limiting my blog to RPGs and board games it is to give me focus. But focus does not shape a thing or set up limits. I am deciding now to limit myself via brevity, clarity, and conciseness. And to help me do so I will attempt to do these reviews in video.

Yes, video. My goal is to write a review that contains a simple intro, a clear covering of the rules, and then my opinion and final rating of the game. There are many video reviews out there, and many of them long and filled with ‘amusing anecdotes’ and ‘rambling’. These videos are good in their own right but I aim to create something more accessible. I plan to create videos so that not only will my writing be force to conform but also so that I can practice conveying information and maintaining a professional appearance.. So I plan to aim for videos no longer than ten minutes in length with only minimal ‘self stories’ that actually tie into a subject and convey rules or subject information.

I do not have an exact date for these reviews to begin. I still have some preparation to make but I should be ready to start rolling in about a month, maybe a bit longer. At first I may release one video every two weeks but I would like to do a video a week if possible.

Finally, I think I have enough material for a year’s worth of reviews, longer if I’m lazy. But if there is a certain product you wish reviewed I will accept gifts and review those…or just give me a name and I’ll see what I can do. I’m a poor man, so the gift option is the best. Heh.

My name is Jack, and I am a gamer.

 

RPG Review: Call of Cthulhu

So I have been running a Victorian era investigative game focused on the supernatural and featuring magic that corrupts and destroys its users. I had been doing so by taking an existing system not made for such tasks and crafting a homebrew out of it.  Things appeared to be going somewhat smoothly but I could see the fault lines in advance and decided to seek out a solution.

This led me to “Call of Cthulhu” an investigative game where magic and the supernatural will corrupt and destroy you. Presently I’m really digging it. Also, I’m not really sure why I’m reviewing this. Call of Cthulhu (henceforth CoC) has been around and popular for thirty years, longer than most of the people I know.

CoC is often cited as the go-to game for horror role-playing and features a sanity system that is something of a standard in similarly themed game systems. It is, of course, inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft and strives to emulate his tales closely. This includes main characters dying off or going completely insane. The game makes this work.

Character creation is a simple affair and, with a little understanding, new characters can be rolled up very quickly. To begin you roll up your initial physical stats, then your mental stats, and finally an education stat. These are used to derive three values and your starting hit points, magic, and sanity.  The player then picks a profession which will list eight skills that he gets to allocate points to. After that the player gets a second point total to spend on ‘personal interest’ skills. There are a couple more minor options, such as pay grade and personal details, but for the bulk of creation that’s it.

There is even a program available to make the process even easier and quicker. Even better, it’s free and has been checked and rechecked over the years.

Once into the game it becomes primarily about investigation. CoC features such skills as accounting, library use, and astrology and each of these could come in handy at anytime. The player’s primary goal is to uncover ancient plots and put a stop to them, hopefully without dying or going crazy. The game, and in fact the rulebook, makes a very strong point about the limits of combat. It is fast and deadly, and not something you want to encounter very often. The maximum hit points a character can receive at start is 18, the highest I have rolled is 13; a modest pistol does 1D6 damage, twice that if a critical is rolled. Imagine now going up against a group of crazy cultists, armed with shotguns and hiding in a barn. Combat is purposefully made to be unappealing. Add to this a person wielding a gun usually gets the chance to shoot not only first but multiple times in a combat round.

All that aside, this game features a really nice listing of weapons. This is a system that could have gotten away with a listing such as ‘small revolver, big revolver, pistol, shotgun, rifle…’ but instead it lists enough diversity to pepper the world and flesh it out, even if most of the people will be carrying a .32 cal revolver. Even better each weapon is given a malfunction percentage, a range of percentiles near the top where the gun will fail to work if rolled. I really love the weapon listing and am wondering how well CoC would handle a modern day crime thriller.

This is why the sanity system is truly a beautiful thing. Rather than an option to make the horror work, I feel the sanity acts as a horror themed life bar. Your time in CoC should be spent researching, investigating, and going into dark places armed with naught but a torch and possibly an old notebook. The situations you encounter and you preparedness for them are what affect sanity. On a kinder level, of sorts, this means your hero never has to really ‘die’ they just go crazy and get to spend their life in a safe place. This is why I think other games fail on the sanity mechanism: they view it as a necessary gimmick, but it’s really a replacement for a feature not needed.

Characters will go insane during the game however. Part of advancing in CoC is the discovery of ancient tomes and the reading thereof. The horrors in their volumes always dictates a sanity check, so while the hero gets stronger he balances it by walking close to insanity. The other method of advancement is pretty cool as well. If, during a game, the player succeeds at a skill in a sufficient way  (breaking down a door while being chased is good, fast talking your way into a bakery to get a free donut is not) the Keeper (CoC for DM) will ask him to mark the skill. At the end of an adventure the player gets to roll on any skill he has checked, if he fails (i.e. rolls higher than his skill level) that skill goes up. So the players learn by doing, and learn easier at lower levels.

Simple, but effective. This is a line I feel captures the game as a whole. And it should, with three decades of writing and research behind this thing it is nearly as honed as it can be. I own version 5.5, beyond that is 5.6 and 6. From my understanding I am missing little and at this point they simply correct typos, recheck rules, and continue to cram more and more stuff into the book. This ‘stuff’ is pretty awesome in its own right.

The rule book contains the entire short story “Call of Cthulhu” and a nicely sized bestiary. There is also a  huge write up on insanity and a sizable spell selection. Even better as the line has progressed there have been certain supplements that have been included into the rulebook. Two such supplements are “Cthulhu by gaslight” and “Cthulhu NOW” both of which give information on how to play a game in either 1890 or 1990, as opposed to the traditional 1920. I really enjoy that they resisted the urge to update the supplements and instead put them in the core rule book.

“Call of Cthulhu” is one of the legendary games, a long standing king in this hobby of ours. I wish I had not taken so long to obtain a copy but now that I have I find it to be a robust system easily ran and picked up. The fact that the rules are streamlined and simple and that two-thirds of the book is dedicated towards helping you capture the mood is a great value for the cash. And with thirty years of publishing the amount of supplements, both fan and pro is plentiful. A fantastic game and well worth the price.