Grand Theft Auto V is a game that does not get off on the right foot at all. The intro tutorial is a complete mess.
Remember how in Grand Theft Auto IV, the protagonist was introduced in a cutscene during the opening credits? We learn about his personality and motivations, and why he is coming to America. Then you get off the boat, gameplay begins, and you are immediately given a simple driving tutorial in which you taxi your drunk cousin two blocks to his shithole apartment, all the while learning more about the characters and the game world itself. Then you do some simple taxi missions that let you practice driving while simultaneously letting you learn the layout of the city and soak in the environment. Then you start getting asked to beat people up and throw bricks through store windows and get tutorialized on how to fight, shoot, and do other advanced mechanics. And during all this time, the game slowly builds up a hatred and distrust for the criminals that you are working for while simultaneously laying the foundations of the game's depressing-but-exceptionally-introspective plot.
Remember all that? Remember how well that game was paced? Remember how the tutorials always showed up at appropriate times, explained a mechanic during non-interactive cutscenes so that you can pay attention to the instructions, then lets you practice the mechanic while it's fresh in your memory? Remember how well it slowly built up the important mechanics one at a time - as they became relevant - while also immersing you in the game world and building up its story to a climactic closing of the first act? Yeah, that was great game design, wasn't it?
Well, GTA V has none of that.
An almost unbearable tutorial.
The intro tutorial literally throws the player into the middle of a bank robbery in progress. You have no idea who your character is, why he's robbing a bank, who your companions are, or what the "plan" that everybody keeps telling you to "stick to" is. Then it puts an assault rifle in your hands, and a tiny little box pops up in the corner of the screen with 6-point font telling you what to do while you're trying to do the thing that it's telling you to do - and hopefully not doing the wrong thing. And then they stick you in the middle of a gunfight with an entire small army of police, and these barely-visible text popups try to tell you how to use the cover mechanics, switch weapons, and trigger super powers - all while you're being shot at. Then you go for hours before using many of these mechanics again, so you forget them all because you had zero time to practice and remember them, and they were all thrown at you at once.
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In my review of the Brave New World expansion for Civilization V, I expressed some disappointment that some of the legacy civilizations didn't receive significant updates. I also complained about a few mechanical issues such as how the "warmonger" mechanic works and the value of trade routes. Well, Firaxis has released a major update to the game earlier this fall that addresses some of these complaints.
Several of the vanilla civilizations received a major overhaul. As I mentioned in my review, Germany and America seem to have been completely one-upped by the Zulu and Shoshone. Well, Germany has been given a major update, and America has received a small tweak in order to better differentiate them from the BNW successors. In addition, Japan has received a small (but significant) buff.
Germany was probably the civ that was in the most dire need of a facelift, since the Zulu leave them completely in the dust. Both civs had a huge military flavor, discounts for unit maintenance, and a unique Pikeman replacement, and the Zulu had Germany beat on all accounts. In order to differentiate the two, The Landsknechts unique unit was replaced with a new unique building, the "Hanse". [More]
One of my biggest criticisms with the Gods & Kings expansion pack for Civilization V was that none of the features added really felt all that fresh. They were just redesigns of old features that were present in previous games. Granted, they were also the most highly-requested features by the player community, but as concepts, nothing really felt new or original.
The new expansion, Brave New World changes all of that by adding never-before-seen concepts to the game, and they add a great deal of flavor and dramatically change the way that the game unfolds.
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A few more of the missing concepts from Civilization IV are re-introduced with a new coat of paint in Civilization V: Brave New World: trade routes and a world resolution system. Both systems are implemented differently than in the previous game, and both are kind of hit-or-miss this time around
I have long been asking for the introduction of some kind of international trade route mechanic to be added to Civ V. Without such a feature, the vanilla game (and Gods & Kings) were missing one of the key incentives to maintain peaceful relations with your neighbors. Well now we have such a feature. In some ways, it's a step forward from Civ IV's completely non-interactive trade routes, but it's also a bit clumsy.
Coastal cities might seem weaker due to the lack of gold on sea resources, but sea trade routes are more profitable and have longer range than ground routes, so coastal cities are still valuable.
Is Frictional Games working on a new IP? I'm a bit curious as to why they outsourced development of the aptly-named A Machine for Pigs to the third-party developer The Chinese Room. Frictional's staff did stay on as "producers" for this game, so I'm sure that the final product is still consistent with what Frictional would have wanted if they had developed it themselves, and I think the overall story was still written by people at Frictional (but I could be wrong on that account). In any case, the change in development team has certainly had a dramatic effect on the way that the new game plays. The very core gameplay of exploring a linear dungeon with a flashlight is retained, but all the mechanics and the underlying feel of the game are completely different than its predecessor. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as Amnesia: the Dark Descent wasn't perfect.
Once again, the underlying premise that sets up Amnesia: a Machine for Pigs is that your character wakes up in a mansion with no memory of who he is or why he is there. Your early exploration of the mansion reveals some vague threat, and you are forced to descend into a deep dungeon in order to discover who you are and resolve the threat. Along the way, you'll encounter deformed creatures and collect notes and documents from your former self explaining the situation, as well as have the occasional hallucinatory flashback as your memory slowly returns. But if you're worried that this sounds too much like the previous game, then fear not: A Machine for Pigs takes an entirely different approach to the gameplay and has a totally different feel to the entire experience. [More]
Are you as sick of zombies as I am? They're everywhere. Perhaps the real zombie apocalypse won't be caused by radiation or a genetically-engineered plague; it will be caused by media corporations drowning our brains in zombie entertainment until we all go crazy and start eating each other.
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OK, sure, the creatures in Naughty Dog's latest adventure game, The Last of Us, aren't actually "zombies", they are humans infected with a fictionalized variation of Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis. But they're functionally the same thing. The "infected", as they are known as in the game, are mindless, mutated monsters that shamble around and eat any human they become aware of. And if they bite you, you become infected and the fungus takes over your brain, turns your flesh into spore-producing tendrils, and makes you a cannibal.
[LEFT] An ant infected with cordyceps.
[CENTER] A moth infected with cordyceps.
[RIGHT] A human infected with cordyceps, as depicted in The Last of Us.
The game takes place 20 years after the sudden outbreak of the human cordyceps infection that leads to the death of the protagonist's daughter. Society has collapsed into ruin, with the surviving 40% of people (including the protagonist, Joel) concentrated in quarantined ghettos in the remains of major cities. Joel is working as a smuggler, bringing food, weapons, and supplies into the Boston quarantine zone to be sold on the black market, and he is tasked with escorting a young girl, named Ellie, to a research lab out west. Ellie is unique in that she seems to be immune to the cordyceps infection. She was bitten weeks ago, and has suffered nothing more than some ugly skin lesions near the bite; whereas, everyone else begins to turn into a zombie within hours of being infected. This, of course, makes her survival paramount, and Joel must do whatever it takes to ensure her safe arrival at the lab so that the researchers can hopefully study her to find a cure or vaccine. [More]
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