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Gabriel’s Weekly Report # 3

Ah, to be DRM-free.

While I have no interest in the franchise, the debacle surrounding the latest SimCity is interesting to follow. Like Diablo 3, SimCity uses an always online DRM. If you want to play, you have to be connected to the game’s servers. Like Diablo 3, this has caused numerous problems for gamers. As of this writing, connecting to SimCity’s servers just to play the game is a crapshoot. Just look at the Amazon listing. All of the user-reviews are slamming EA’s insipid decisions. Nobody likes DRM, but we’re forced into supporting it just so we can purchase the latest games.

One of the many problems with DRM is that it goes against one of my game-design ideals. I call it “Making the game yours”. This ties into the identity of the game, how you play it, and the changes you might make to its core. DRM is used to control gamers and their experiences. I guess once everything is homogenized and all individuality is erased, it will be easier for publishers to market new games to everyone.

A game like SimCity, has the potential to offer infinite possibilities, but instead you play by EA’s rules. You can’t create your own content, so anything new that comes around must be purchased. You can’t even cheat unless EA charges you for the privilege. Just the idea that they’re watching over everyone’s shoulders creeps me out. For a primarily single-player game like SimCity this sets an alarming precedent. This isn’t even touching on the fact that DRM is anti-consumer as hell. The main reason I buy PC games when they’re on sale isn’t just because I like to save money. It’s because I know in the back of mind that if the service I connect to just to play the game shuts down, I’m out of luck. If DRM continues to become more prevalent and invasive, I expect to purchase more from websites like GOG.com. All of the games available on that site are DRM-free, so you’re free to do almost whatever you like with them. Eventually I’d like my game collection to fit in either a shelf or a USB thumb-drive, not be trapped behind a digital lock.

What I’ve been playing.

Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior’s Rise – First off, I think the developer behind this game took some elements from Street Fighter 4. Yeah they’re different genres, with Kung Fu being a beatemup and not a fighter. However, aspects such as the menus and art-style remind me of SF4. There’s also the ink trails when performing certain moves. Anyway the game isn’t any fun. It has a learning curve to it, which is nice. Unfortunately most damage comes from all of the enemies on-screen, and taking any hits kills any chance at a good ranking. There’s not a lot of finesse to work with, since the counter move doesn’t stun enemies for long enough, the player can be knocked out of super moves, and 1 on 1 fights have a “rock-paper-scissors” design to them. This game comes off as half-baked and sloppy, so getting the good ranks is more frustrating than rewarding. Even ignoring the ranking system, I just got tired of the lousy enemy design and cheap hits. If you’re looking for a good & cheap 3D Brawler, Namco’s Urban Reign for the PS2 is still king.

Wings of Prey - Honestly, I haven’t played a WW2 flight-sim/shooter since Wing Arms on the Sega Saturn. Even then, that game was chiefly an arcade title. Wings of Prey offers innumerable options for customizing your ultimate WW2 fighter experience. For now I’ve just been messing with the free mission mode. Selecting different crafts, choosing the battlefield, and customizing the slightest details, makes for a very fascinating piece of software. After a dogfight, I can watch a replay and catch the action on zillions of camera angles. It doesn’t hurt that this is a pretty good-looking game, and it runs really nicely on my PC. Due to my unfamiliarity with the genre, I can’t make any statements on the overall quality of the game yet, but it’s definitely worth the two or three dollars I paid for it.

Nail’d – This arcade racer focuses on dirt-bikes, 4-wheelers, and extreme stunts. It’s not uncommon to drive off a cliff, fall through a couple flaming hoops in mid-air, and hopefully land with most of your limbs intact. It’s not too bad a game I suppose. I mean, I got an hour’s worth of enjoyment, which justifies the buck I paid for it. This game just wears itself thin very quickly. It’s best played in very short chunks.

The First Templar – This game is an old-fashioned hack & slash based on the Crusades. I say old-fashioned, because there aren’t any ninja-flips, flying swords, or other ridiculous maneuvers. At the same time, this game isn’t stuffy and hyper-realistic, so the main-characters don’t die after getting stabbed through the chest a few times. The First Templar employs a happy medium. It has the right balance of fighting, puzzles, stealth, and mini-games. It’s like the level designers knew when the player was going to be tired of doing a particular action, so they switch things up. This game is nothing ground-breaking, but it’s been a very pleasant adventure so far.

Beat Hazard – This is a twin-stick shooter that plays along with your own music. While this presents a nice experience for the ears, the eyes are screwed. The visuals feel like fireworks exploding inside of my eyeballs. Even after setting the graphic intensity as low as it will go, I could only stand about 30 minutes of this game. Thankfully, I got this as part of an indie game bundle, so I only paid the price of a can of soda…and my vision.

What you should be playing.

Fallout: New Vegas Ultimate Edition – I wasn’t a fan of New Vegas when it originally came out. Most of my complaints were directed at the various bugs, and the unbalanced encounters (#$@!ing Cazadors). I’m playing through the game again, but this time I’ve got all of the DLC, and I’m playing on the PC. New Vegas has a massive quantity of mods. They can change literally every aspect of the game. They’re also capable of adding new areas, equipment, and other neat features. Some of the modded areas I’ve visited are basically dungeons, but with absurd enemy counts. Cleaning these places out with grenades will never get old. While the experience I’ve created, doesn’t coincide with the developer’s intentions, I’m having a load of fun with it. Granted, there are also mods that make the game even closer to how the developer envisioned it, but that’s for the hardcore players. The DLC has been superb as well. Old World Blues is one of the best expansions I’ve ever played. It’s just so damn goofy and weird and I enjoy it immensely.

Max Payne 3 – I just finished one and I’m really impressed. While the story never really approaches decent, the gun-play remains excellent throughout. The mark of a really well-designed shooter, is that even when the enemy-variety is limited to “guys with guns”, each encounter is exciting and challenging. I plan on giving this game another play-through in the near future.