Resident Evil 2 - title

Capcom's remake of Resident Evil 2 is a pretty difficult game. Much of its design is based on classic survival horror paradigms, which many players may not be familiar with. Classic survival horror has been essentially dead since the release of Resident Evil 4 all the way back in 2005. (And if you want to know what I think of Resident Evil 4, you can listen to my commentary in a playthrough for On the Branch's Let's Play channel). Since then, every mainstream horror game has either followed a formula similar to RE4 (such as Dead Space and The Evil Within), or it has gone the Amnesia route and been about running and hiding from foes rather than confronting them (such as Outlast and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories).

If you didn't play Resident Evil 7 or the REmake of the first Resident Evil, then you probably haven't played a true survival horror game in over 10 years (if ever).

Even though it has an over-the-back, third-person camera, Resident Evil 2's remake firmly follows most of the design conventions of the classic (pre-Resident Evil 4) survival horror genre -- minus the tank controls. Here's some observations of mine that I hope will help you survive Raccoon City, whether you're an experienced survival horror gamer (like me) or a newbie.

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Red Dead Redemption 2 - title

Once again, Rockstar is absolutely abysmal when it comes to its tutorials. It gets the very first one right, by displaying the prompts on the bottom center of the screen, below the subtitles. That's for the basic movement controls that should be common sense. Once it gets into the more complicated and esoteric stuff that isn't intuitively obvious, it falls back on the tried-and-failed method utilized in Grand Theft Auto V of printing a tutorial prompt in a tiny black box in the top corner of the screen, during the action of the game!

Even if you are lucky enough to notice that there's a tutorial tip while you're in the middle of a horse chase or shootout, it's still hard to read and decipher the tiny text and button icons. There's no option to use a larger font or to rescale the UI if you're playing on a less-than-huge TV. Rockstar, listen, I'm playing the game on a console, from my couch, with a wireless controller, ten or so feet away from a 46-inch TV. I'm not 14 inches from the screen. Use a readable font!

Tutorial prompts appear in tiny, hard-to-read black boxes in the corner of the screen,
often in the middle of an action sequence, in which your attention is on something else.

We did buy a much larger TV over Black Friday, so the UI is now much easier to read, and my girlfriend might even go back and play games like Monster Hunter: World and Assassin's Creed: Origins now that the TV is big enough to read the damned text on the screen.

It doesn't help that there is no way in-game to review any of the tutorial prompts that you may have missed, nor is there any way to view the controller mapping. There's a "Help" section in the pause menu that does contain a large amount of information, but that only helps if you know what you're looking for. If you couldn't read the tutorial prompt because you were busy in a gunfight or horse chase or whatever, then you're not going to know what you're even supposed to be looking for if you try to look it up. It's like opening up a dictionary, but not knowing what word you're trying to define. The controls for this game are very complicated, with lots of buttons being overloaded to multiple, context-sensitive commands, and with certain commands requiring that you hold multiple buttons. I'm constantly forgetting the controls for fist-fights, and I can never remember the dive/roll button for the life of me. It would be very nice to be able to pause the game and double-check the controls if you're coming back to the game after having not played for a few weeks or months, or if you come across a mechanic that hasn't been tutorialized or practiced yet.

It's hard to make out what many of these icons are supposed to represent.

This is further exacerbated by the use of tiny icons that are still hard to decipher on the 75-inch TV -- and were impossible to read on the 46-incher. Seriously, if you're playing on anything less than a 60-inch TV, you need hawk eyes to be able to read this stuff! Often, I would see one of the horse icons above my mini-map flash red with some un-discernible icon, and I had no idea what this icon meant. It was over the horse's health icon, and kind of looked like it might be a steak, so I tried feeding the horse, which did nothing. Besides, why would Rockstar use a steak icon to indicate that you need to feed a horse? Horses don't eat steak. After some digging online, I discovered that this icon maybe means that my horse is dirty, and I need to brush her or run her through water to clean her.

Similarly, in base camp, there are three icons in the top right corner that are tiny and un-discernible. They are supposed to represent the camps supplies: food, medicine, and ammunition (I think), but damn if I could tell which one is which. The glut of articles and forum topics explaining just what these icons mean tells me that I'm not the only one who had this problem.

Living in the game world

Once you get through the tutorials and start playing the game proper, you'll be rewarded with a massive, immaculately-detailed, and well-realized world that feels like a living, breathing place. Unlike many other open world games and RPGs, Red Dead Redemption 2's simulationist design truly provides a feeling of living within this world. There's a bevy of context-sensitive animations that make everything feel so organic and life-like, and which really help to immerse the player in this gritty, realistic setting.

The game world is immaculately constructed and detailed.

I've seen plenty of complaints about these time-consuming, laborious animations on the internet, and at first, I thought that I was going to loathe having my time wasted. I was all ready to draft up a review complaining about Rockstar being arrogant and over-indulgent. But as I played the game more, I have to say that I came to love them...

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UPDATE 28 JANUARY, 2019, 6:44 PM (PST)
Twitter user @HillardHouseDan referred me to a gamefaqs post at gamefaqs.gamespot.com/boards/179835-resident-evil-2/77419853 that has a work-around for this issue. That post claims that disabling HDR (High Dynamic Range) in the PS4's video settings will allow you to stream and capture Resident Evil 2 footage. Commentor Jon had also posted the same work-around just as I was loading up RE2 to test it. So thanks readers!

I had actually come across this post last night, but had dismissed it because it was specifically about "Share Play" and not about streaming. I have been streaming Red Dead Redemption II for two months with HDR enabled without any problem, so it didn't even occur to me to test that setting.

Besides, the message was telling me that the scene was "blocked", so I had assumed that Capcom had blocked it as a "spoiler" section. Games in the past have done this for screens in which players enter email accounts, passwords, credit card numbers, or other sensitive information (which is the only acceptable use of blocking share functionality!). But Atlus had also recently blocked streaming of Persona 5 in order to prevent spoilers from leaking onto the internet. I was assuming that Capcom was doing the same thing. Atlus had patched Persona 5 to remove the streaming block for after about a week.

So, long story short: If you disable HDR on the PS4's video settings, you should be able to stream Resident Evil 2. You'll be playing at lower resolution, and with less color range, but it'll be playable and streamable. I guess I'll have to chalk this one up to a bug for now? Maybe Capcom will fix it with a patch. I can't imagine that they had deliberately blocked HDR or 4k streaming, but left non-HDR and regular HD enabled.

So pending any other setbacks, I do expect to play Resident Evil 2 this week, and will hopefully have a review out in a couple weeks. I'm leaving the rest of this post intact for posterity. Some of the points about fair use and blocking functionality of the console are still valid for situations like Persona 5, so maybe this blog will serve as a cautionary tale for any publishers or developers who do try to pull something like this deliberately.

UPDATE 26 February, 2019:
I have a full review up for the game now. I have also adapted that review into a video critique on YouTube:

I have adapted my review into a video critique on YouTube.
I was really looking forward to this remake of RE2.

After having to wait all of Saturday night for Resident Evil 2 remake to download and install on my PS4 (and playing Red Dead Redemption 2 to pass the time), I tried booting up the game on Sunday and played 15 minutes, only to find that the entire game is blocked from streaming. Even the built-in "capture" functionality (of the last 15 minutes of gameplay) of the PS4 console is disabled! I didn't even know games on the console could disable the built-in capture.

This realization sent me into a rabbit-hole of digging through the internet to find out if there was a work-around. I couldn't find one. Apparently, only the PS4 version of the game suffers from this problem. Players on Steam and XBox One do not seem to have any issues streaming.

I was very exciting to play this game. I really loved the REmake that was released on PSN a couple years ago, and I've been looking forward to an "RE2make" ever since. Resident Evil VII was also pretty damned good, and a return to form that made me optimistic about the series moving forward. But the game being blocked from streaming and capture put a damper on the experience that makes me not want to play the game. Basically, my night -- and my weekend -- were ruined by this petty decision from Capcom (and the fact that Sony even allows this bullshit on their platform).

This makes blogging about the game much harder

Why is this such a big deal? Why can't I just play the game and not stream it to Twitch? Well, the reason is that I use the streaming and capture functionality to get screenshots (and occasionally video) for use on this blog. After playing the game, I go through the archived footage to get relevant screenshots for blogs, strategy guides, analyses, or whatever I happen to be writing about the game -- all of which is legally protected under fair use!

It isn't just streaming that's disabled; even the capture function built into the PS4 is disabled!

I could maybe have lived without the Twitch broadcast, as I usually prefer to save important footage using the PS4's built-in capture function. The captured footage is much higher quality than what is saved by Twitch, and so it's essential for getting good screenshots of action segments. But the PS4 only saves the last 15 minutes of footage, so I have to make sure to remember to capture any video that I feel I'll need. I use the Twitch stream as a backup in case I forget.

The principle of the thing

More importantly, however, is the principle of the thing...

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Star Trek Ascendancy Borg expansion

One of the weaknesses of Star Trek: Ascendancy (in my opinion) is the simplicity and irrelevance of the game's "minor races". They just sit there waiting to be invaded or hegemonized. They don't even have ships in orbit to defend themselves from attack (or provide the Klingons with an opportunity for some easy culture). I had hoped that there'd be an expansion pack that would give at least the warp-capable civilizations a little bit of agency. Sadly, that hasn't happened yet, but Gale Force 9 has released an expansion that does add an NPC faction: the Borg.

How do Borg allocate damage between multiple fleets?

The Borg are not a player faction (like the excellent Cardassians or Ferengi expansions). The Borg are a non-player "A.I." entity that use a deck of cards to define their behavior. They act in opposition to every player in the game, and are intended to add some extra player-versus-board challenge. The Borg expansion also adds rules for solo and 2-player games, though I'm not terribly happy with how either of those variants plays.

The big problem is that the rules for the Borg cause a lot of confusion. The non-player element of the Borg creates a lot of strange edge cases that the rulesmakers just didn't seem to think through very thoroughly. Some rules leave the Borg's actions somewhat ambiguous, and there are no rules for determining how to resolve such situations. For example, if a Bog cube is battling multiple fleets belonging to the same player, how does it determine which fleet takes damage? We generally house-rule that the Borg attack the largest fleet first, and that the player who activated the cube decides any ties.

The enemy of all my enemies

The bigger problem, however, is that the Borg movement rules lead to considerable balance issues once the Borg are connected to one player, because that poor player now faces the brunt of the entire Borg Collective. Once the Borg have a path to any one player's systems or homeworld, the Borg will exclusively funnel all of their ships down that one path, since it's the only "connected" route available. The only way this will change is for the targeted player to go out of his or her way to try to create another, shorter path to one of the other players (essentially painting a huge target on that player's head). Or I guess one of the other players could accidentally create a shorter path while they're exploring, if they're dumb or not paying particularly close attention. In any case, the problem is that once the Borg become connected to any one player, the Borg stop exploring and looking for the other players, which randomly puts the single player in a disadvantaged defensive position while the other two players are free to build up without much threat of being targeted by the Borg.

Having the Borg in play gives further reason for players to cooperate.

The game tries to offset this by making it so that the Borg become more powerful if they assimilate any worlds (including warp-capable civilizations), or if they assimilate any one player. If your homeworld is assimilated by the Borg, you even get to take over as a Borg player, taking a whole extra Borg turn in which you get to influence how they behave. This is a fun and thematic way of allowing an eliminated player to continue to participate in the game and seek some degree of "revenge" against the other player.

The idea here is that the players shouldn't let the Borg concentrate on wiping out a single player, and we should all partially co-operate in order to keep the Borg in check. There is no actual co-operative victory, so you're only co-operating with each other to the ends of stalling the Borg long enough for you to achieve a victory, at the expense of the other players. There is no "defeating" the Borg.

...

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Star Trek Ascendancy - expansions

It took forever for me to get a chance to play Star Trek: Ascendancy, thanks in large part to its hard three-player limit. I had a feeling that I would really enjoy the game when I first opened it up and skimmed through the rules. A good Star Trek-themed 4-x game is something that I've been craving since Birth of the Federation on Windows 98. Sure enough, after playing Ascendancy, it immediately became my favorite Star Trek board game on the market. The friends that I've played it with have also all loved it so far.

The base game included an insert advertising the first two expansions: the Cardassians and Ferengi. After the first play-session, I put the two expansions on my wishlist. Each expansion adds an additional faction and support for an additional player (for up to five, if you have the friends and the time). The Borg expansion came out around the same time, and I picked that one up too, as I was curious to see how the NPC Borg faction would play out. We decided to stick with the more basic expansions first though, as the Borg added extra complexity (and difficulty) that we weren't sure we were ready for. So I'll be reviewing the Borg seperately.

Star Trek: Ascendancy came packaged with an insert for the Cardassian and Ferengi expansions.

I had hoped to get a review of the Ferengi, Cardassians, and Borg out last year. And I don't mean like "in December" last year; I mean I had hoped to have this review out last February! Unfortunately, the difficulty inherent in getting four or five people together to play a six-hour board game, combined with packing up the house and moving last summer, meant that I got a couple early games in with the Cardassians, but never got a chance to play as the Ferengi until this winter. I didn't want to write a review of one faction without playing the other, since they are kind of inversions of each other in many ways.

The core game comes packaged with turn order cards for up to ten players, so I initially guessed that meant that Gale Force 9 was anticipating at least seven expansions. The Vulcans and Andorians will be released imminently, and the Borg rules actually allow the Borg to use up two turn order cards, which means there's only one space left to fill! Judging by the cards present in the base game, it looks like the Tholians are set to be the last expansion. If that's the case, this would leave some significant players on the Star Trek galactic stage out in the cold. The Dominion would be the single, most conspicuous absence from the game's roster. I also had hoped to see the Gorn as a faction, and at least one Delta Quadrant faction (such as the Kazon or Hirogen).

Well, I can take a guess what the next (hopefully not last) planned expansions is...

Though, I guess there's nothing stopping Gale Force 9 from releasing more expansion factions than there are turn order cards. I mean, I doubt anybody's going to be playing this game with nine or ten players anyway. Good luck finding a table big enough to even play such a game to begin with! GF9 could also just package an eleventh or twelfth turn order card in any future expansions if they feel it's necessary. So there's no reason why they would be unable to release the Dominion, Gorn, or other factions.

In any case, the first three expansions complete the Birth of the Federation roster of playable Federation, Klingons, Romulans, Ferengi, and Cardassians, as well as an NPC Borg faction.

There's not much in the way of new rules for either of the new factions. Both come with 10 new system discs (including the faction's respective homeworld), all the faction's ships and control nodes, advancement decks, some extra resource nodes and tokens, and ten new exploration cards. Everything slots pretty seamlessly into the core game. The only new mechanics are associated with some of the new exploration cards in the Ferengi expansion, but the card texts are pretty self-explanatory. There's a tiny rules insert anyway, in case you need more clarification.

I was expecting a Dominion expansion, and had hoped for the Gorn and at least one Delta Quadrant faction.

The seamless integration and lack of new rules does not, however, mean that the new factions feel dull or uninteresting. In fact, both the Cardassians and Ferengi have a very distinct (and very fresh) feel of play. Both have very potent unique boons and banes that separate them tremendously from the three factions included in the core set. In general, they both are dependent on using their ships and fleets to fuel their respective economies, which gives their ships uses beyond just exploration, research, and military action. You have to be very deliberate with your ships and fleets, since proper use is essential to keeping your economy running. As such, I don't recommend that a novice player jump into playing as either the Cardassians or Ferengi. You could probably muddle your way along, but it's better to have a firm grasp of the game mechanics (playing as the Klingons or Romulans) before you try your hand at the expansions.

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A gamer's thoughts

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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