Gran Turismo 7 - title

Back in June, I had posted a video and blog blasting Gran Turismo 7's campaign mode and progression systems. I said that Gran Turismo 7 represents an extreme example of all the things that made me stop playing Gran Turismo years ago.

None of that has changed. Polyphony finally added the ability to sell unwanted or duplicate cars, and there's a handful of extra bonus menu collections for the players to pursue after completing the main campaign. The actual campaign, however, and its underlying reward and progression systems remain unchanged from when I complained about them in the summer.

But I had also mentioned in my review and critique, that the actual racing in Gran Turismo 7 is amazing. I thought that I would quickly lose interest in Gran Turismo 7 after I published my review and that critique video back in June, and that I would never pick up the game after that unless there was some massive update or campaign DLC.

This entire essay was released early to my Patrons in the form of a YouTube video.

Much to my surprise, that ended up not being the case. I actually kept coming back to Gran Turismo 7 for months, and am still playing it off and on. I finished the main campaign, started doing some of the special events and track experience trials, and have even done some of the bonus menus and new events that have been added to the game since its launch. Even now, I still occasionally start jonesing to get behind the wheel for another race, even though I'm way out of practice, and often need a few practice races to refresh my motor memory. And there's still a piece of me that wants to try the online multiplayer...

So if you are one of the many who is disappointed by Gran Turismo 7, and the lackluster effort that Polyphony has made to update and maintain the game, I would say that you have every right to be disappointed. 7 is a far cry from the glory days of Gran Turismo 3. But before you give up on the game entirely, I urge you to try the this one little thing before you drop the game entirely: try steering with the motion controls!

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Madison - title

I feel like Halloween just wouldn't be Halloween anymore without playing some new P.T.-inspired indie horror game. This year's "hot" title seemed to be MADiSON by Bloodious Games, which I started playing with a group of 2 friends on Halloween night (after returning from taking the kids Trick or Treating), but we didn't get around to finishing until after the New Year. It wasn't that we didn't want to keep playing. Quite the opposite, in fact. The reason it took so long to finish is because all 3 of us really wanted to keep playing, so I had to wait till all 3 of us were available for a next session before continuing.

In addition to being another indie horror game in a long line of P.T. wannabes, MADiSON also follows in closely off the coattails of Visage. Both games heavily utilize a polaroid flash camera as a critical multi-tool, but MADiSON does one-up Visage by making the camera much more integral to core gameplay. While I only remember the camera in Visage being used as a source of temporary illumination, the camera of MADiSON is both integral to the story, and also absolutely necessary for solving multiple puzzles and for progressing the game's story.

Yet another indie horror game about wandering the halls of a haunted house -- this time with a camera!

Ocular Obscura

The core gimmick of MADiSON is that the player uses a polaroid camera to take pictures of the environment, and the resulting photograph will show things that aren't really there. These photographs will be used as clues to solve a puzzle or to progress the scenario, or taking the picture will just outright trigger the next objective. The house is littered with such puzzles. Unfortunately, the layout of the house, the pacing of the scenario, and the solutions to many puzzles can be a bit on the obtuse side. So much so, in fact, that Bloodious Games resorted to scattering blank polaroids near important objects, which act as obvious signposts that you should take a picture of the thing. This isn't exactly obvious at first, because many such marked objects will get no reaction from the camera until later parts of the scenario, when they become relevant to the current task at hand.

The dense nature of the game's map creates a lot of problems for pacing and signposting. Multiple puzzles, from different chapters of the game, might be present in the same space and could serve to interfere with one another or confuse the player.

This isn't to say that the puzzles are necessarily "bad". Once we realized that the house is littered with red herrings that don't become relevant until later, I actually started to like that these puzzles are a bit more complicated and multi-layered than the typical adventure game fare the we've been getting over the past decade or so. This was, in fact, a big reason why all 3 of us wanted to continue playing the game: we wanted to solve the next puzzle! So many adventure and horror puzzles these days don't get much more complicated than "open a drawer, find a key, and use said key on the one and only lock in that same room." They can feel so patronizing. MADiSON's puzzles definitely do not feel patronizing!

Many puzzles require careful observation and inferences from the environment.

Even if there is a simple clue like a color or a number that is given to the player, there is always some confounding additional factor. It's never just as simple as matching a number or a color or a shape. Most of these puzzles require some careful observation of the player's surroundings, some contextual inferences that won't be obvious to every player, and occasionally a lit bit of arithmetic, spatial, or logic skills. Playing this game in a group actually did help in this regard. Any one of us would have been stuck for a while on multiple puzzles, but there was always one of us who would pick up on a given clue and point it out to the others.

But some of the early puzzles, in particular, are a bit heavy on the red herrings and could definitely have used some better sign-posting and direction.

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Cities Skylines: Plazas & Promenades - title

Looks like we're back to seeing 2 Cities: Skylines expansions being released in the same calendar year. Airports released in January, and now in September, Plazas & Promenades hit digital storefronts. I wonder if this will continue now that most businesses (and presumably Colossal Order) are back to business as usual following the COVID pandemic? Or maybe Colossal Order is migrating towards releasing even smaller, more module micro-expansions such as the recently-released Financial Districts DLC (which I'll review later)? Or will we finally see an announcement on the rumored sequel to Cities: Skylines soon?

Based on previews, I was expecting this expansion to completely change the way that I build my cities by giving me more freedom to pack structures into compact spaces and to more seamlessly integrate parks with business districts, leisure and tourism districts, or neighborhoods. I immediately started thinking of multiple ways that I could potentially use these 2 ideas to create new city layouts and concepts. Unfortunately, I set my expectations too high, and pedestrian areas ended up not being quite as game-changing as I thought and hoped they might. The big problem is that Plazas & Promenades is just another iteration of the paintable area concept that has been the focus of almost every expansion since Parklife. Paintable areas is a good mechanic for things like parks and university campuses, but it can be extremely limiting for an application as broad as neighborhoods or entire districts.

Plazas & Promenades allows the construction of more walkable neighborhoods and districts.

Roads minus the cars

First and foremost is the simple fact that the new pedestrian roads look and act more like regular roads than like pedestrian paths. They are the same size as roads, being either 2 or 4 tiles wide, and are laid out almost exactly the same. None of these pedestrian roads are 1 tile wide. And, of course, the legacy pedestrian paths have not been updated to allow buildings to be zoned along them. The end result is that these "Pedestrian Zones" don't take up any less space, and aren't any more compact than any other district. Though, the high-density, "wall-to-wall" residential buildings do have the same capacity as the normal, high-density residential skyscrapers (20-26 households), despite being a fraction of the size. So I guess it's "more compact" vertically? More people being crammed into smaller spaces? If so, it doesn't seem to have any impact on the citizen's happiness or satisfaction ratings.

Using Pedestrian roads outside of Pedestrian Areas is a liability, since zoned buildings may build on them.

Even though pedestrian roads can be placed anywhere, buildings can only be placed or zoned along them if they are in a dedicated Pedestrian Area. So if I want to create a single walkway or alleyway and zone some homes or shops along it, I have to paint the entire area as a Pedestrian Area. Well, at least, that is the case if you want the buildings to be functional. The game actually will let the player zone and place buildings along pedestrian roads outside of pedestrian areas, but doing so will result in the building flashing a "Not in Pedestrian Zone" warning, and the building won't operate.

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Madden NFL 23 - title

I have a confession to make ... a confession that I don't make lightly...

I'm actually kind of enjoying Madden 23.

No, I'm not ready to say that Madden 23 is better than NFL 2k5 or All Pro Football 2k8, or Madden 2006. Nor am I going to say that it currently represents a "good" football simulation. I wrote a scathing review back in September, and I stand by that review. Especially as a time capsule of the messy state of the game at release. Don't worry, I'm not about to become a Madden apologist or fanboy, and my criticisms of the series (such as my video series "How Madden Fails At Simulating Football") will continue into the foreseeable future.

Madden 23's biggest issue at launch was the broken "Interception" A.I. sliders that caused both CPU and user DBs to make frequent impossible interceptions. This one bug completely defeated the entire purpose of the new passing mechanics. It doesn't matter where I place the ball, or how hard I charge the accuracy meter, if a DB can, in a single frame of animation, overcome 5 yards of separation to make a blind swat or interception. It took until October before that was fixed, and the game was made reasonably playable -- which is, frankly, inexcusable.

And beyond the broken Interception sliders, there's still a litany of complaints which have not been fixed, and which I do not expect to see get fixed anytime soon.

But I'm not here to complain about all of these problems -- many of which have been in the game for years now. And I don't blame you if any one of these, or the combination of them, makes Madden 23 dead on arrival for you. I'm not going to try to convince you to give Madden 23 another shot, and I still recommend that if you do buy the game, that you please buy it pre-owned so as to continue to put financial pressure on EA to show consistent improvement. Believe me, there are plenty of people eager to get rid of the game on eBay.

Instead, I want to express my surprise that I'm still playing the game. I want to share some of my observations about the gameplay. And I want to highlight some of the subtle indications that EA and Tiburon might actually be learning from past failures and criticisms of the game -- including criticisms that I, myself have levied against them.

I've posted this as a video on YouTube already, and I'm not going to transcribe the entire video here. I will instead just summarize my thoughts on the game (as of the time of this writing), and will encourage you to watch the full video for a more detailed explanation of how I feel about the present state of Madden NFL 23.

The full video is available on YouTube.
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The Callisto Protocol - title

I saw a lot of social media posts in the days after Callisto Protocol's release complaining about the game being awful. Some said it was buggy and riddled with performance issues. Others said it was just a bad game, and would be bad even if it were stable.

I didn't experience a lot of the technical issues (on PS5) that others were reporting. But I also didn't start playing till later that weekend, so had the benefit of the day-1 patch. Maybe that fixed a lot of the technical complaints? Yeah, there were still some lingering technical issues, but they were mostly nagging problems that I could look past.

So I went through most of the first half of the game thinking "This ain't so bad." It wasn't very good either. But it seemed like it was being unfairly maligned. It's Dead Space, but just ... not good.

Callisto Protocol is borderline plagiarism of Dead Space, but not a very good copy.

But as I got into the middle of the game's campaign, my opinion began to change. The issues and frustrations mounted until they boiled over in the game's first boss fight (which doesn't happen until more than halfway through the campaign). Callisto Protocol is just not very well designed or though-out. It suffers at fundamental levels of gameplay design.

Space Zombie Punchout

Callisto Protocol's problems start with the awful melee and dodge system -- which is kind of the whole gimmick of the game. Instead of pressing a button to trigger a dodge, the character automatically dodges left or right if the player is pressing the left analog stick left or right (respectively when the enemy makes an attack. The character will also block if the player is pressing backwards when the enemy attacks.

It's a system that feels more like Mike Tyson's Punchout than any action shooter I've ever played. But where Punchout is a boxing game that features a stationary opponent ducking left or right to dodge the punches of a single opponent lined up directly in front of you, Callisto Protocol is ... not that. The character in Callisto Protocol is ambulatory, and attempting to navigate an environment while also fighting multiple enemies at both melee and at range.

I could not get the hang of which direction I should be dodging -- except against bosses.

I found it very difficult to get the hang of the melee combat -- at least outside of boss fights. Strangely, the boss fights seemed to have the most clearly telegraphed attacks and reliable dodging. Outside of boss fights, however, enemies are frequently zombie-like monsters that rush at the player and shamble around, making it difficult to read their movements. As such, I never know which direction to dodge. And even when I do seem to correctly dodge, I sometimes take damage anyway, which leads to the next big problem. Pretty much every time I had to engage in melee combat, I would die and have to retry.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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