Hell Let Loose - title

Hell Let Loose is one of the most un-welcoming games for new players that I have ever played -- at least in the modern era of video games since in-game tutorials became common place in the early 2000's. There is no tutorial or practice mode of any kind. For a standard, run-of-the-mill online shooter, that might not be a huge problem. But Hell Let Loose is not your standard, run-of-the-mill online shooter. It's a slower-paced online shooter based heavily around squad tactics, in which death comes quickly from out of nowhere -- especially for players who get isolated from the support of their squad. It requires much greater communication and coordination from players, and it has a complicated role system in which each character class has very specific duties on the field, all of which are required for an army to be successful.

There are various roles, all of which are necessary for victory.

As such, the complete inability to ever be able to learn those roles and how they work is a huge problem! There is a "Field Manual", which explains, in text, the basics of the game and each role. But it's an information overload, and a new player can't really be expected to absorb it all.

There is no tutorial or boot camp,
like in other similar games.

Straight to the front

The developers, Black Matter Party, is a small team, and I know that creating a guided, playable tutorial to explain such a complicated game would not be easy and would require a lot of budget and person-hours to create. Being an exclusively online, multiplayer shooter with no single-player campaign, means that creating A.I. bots for practice is well beyond the scope of the game. But if I could just practice by myself, and be able to freely switch to any role at any time, it would go a long way towards helping to learn the game.

At the very least, the ability to drop myself into an empty offline arena n order to run around, practice each weapon, practice the equipment of each role, and learn the map itself, would be very helpful. That shouldn't be too hard, since a basic offline sandbox mode doesn't require any additional assets, scripting, or A.I. programming. It also probably wouldn't be too hard to drop in some target practice dummies scattered around the arena for me to shoot at, and maybe also some friendly dummies for a medic to practice reviving. I don't see any reason why that wouldn't be doable, even for a small team.

The unfriendliness towards new players likely scares a lot of people away from this game, and its reputation as being un-welcoming to n00bs probably limits the number of players who are willing to even give it a chance, despite the fact that it seems to have garnered mostly favorable critical reviews. This creates a cyclical problem. The low player count means there aren't enough active players to support and maintain beginner servers. Heck, this game is lucky to have more than 2 matches open at any given time. Matches are, thus, dominated by skilled, experienced players, who are able to spot and snipe the less-experienced players from a mile away, before the poor victim has any clue what is going on, or that he or she is even in danger. This makes the game even harder, further pushing away new players, keeping the player-counts small, and further widening the gap between the few dedicated players and the scrubs like me.

Much of my play experience consists of running across fields or forests, and then promptly dying.

Most of my play experience in the first few weeks of play consisted of me running across a field, or through a forest, or into a village, only to be instantly killed by an off-screen opponent. Or if that opponent is on-screen, it's probably just 2 gray pixels off in the gray distance. There's no kill-cam or anything either, so I have no idea who killed me, or where they were. I have no idea what weapon they were using, or whether I was even killed by gunfire or by a grenade Or maybe I stepped on a landmine, or was hit by artillery bombardment or a mortar, or was strafed by a fighter plane. Are those things even in the game? I don't know -- or at least, I didn't know during those early play sessions. If I do get shot, I have no idea what gun my killer was using, whether he was standing, squatting, or prone. Was he was behind cover? Was he was looking down the sights or shooting from the hip? I don't know anything about what killed me.

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Gran Turismo 7 - title

I recently published a video to YouTube explaining how playing Gran Turismo 7's weird campaign reminded me of why I stopped playing Gran Turismo games to begin with. This video is not a full review of Gran Turismo 7, since I don't do video reviews. It's more a retrospective of my history with the franchise, why I chose to buy GT7, and my reaction to the game's campaign and reward structure. Not to mention some obligatory jabs at the game's awful, scammy, and borderline fraudulent bait-and-switch monetization scheme. Even though this isn't a proper review, it does echo much of the content of my original blog review, so I invite you to check that out. And since the review already contains most of the points made in the video, I'm not going to transcribe the entire video in text.

Gran Turismo 7 reminded me why I stopped playing Gran Turismo.

In summary, I have felt that since around Gran Turismo 4, the games have shifted to being more about collecting cars than about actually driving or racing them. Reward cars are given out like candy, leading to a garage full of cars that I never drive and which I don't feel I really earned. There's no attachment or sense of ownership over the cars, and they just don't feel like my cars in the way they did in the first Gran Turismo. That first game required greater investment to win prize cars, making them feel more earned, and it put a greater emphasis on tuning the cars in the garage to get the best performance out of them. Buying my own cars and meticulously tuning them really created that sense of ownership that is just lacking in GT7.

I also want to emphasize that I do not hate Gran Turismo 7. Even though I dislike the campaign and its reward structure, and even though the monetization model is despicable, the actual driving is absolutely fantastic! Especially with the Dual Sense controller on the PS5. I am particularly impressed with how well the Dual Sense's motion controls work for steering the car. There's some nifty haptic feedback features as well, but steering the car with the motion sensor is an absolute game-changer. So the campaign may suck, but I'm still playing GT7 on a regular basis because of how much I enjoy the driving. I've been alternating between GT7 and Elden Ring.

Patreon

So anyway, I hope you enjoy the linked video. Feel free to share your own experiences with the game in the comments, either here on the blog, or on the YouTube video. And remember, all my content is funded by the support of readers and viewers like you through Patreon. So if you enjoy this content, I hope you'll consider contributing to help support the creation of further content. And if you do decide to join as a Patron, then, first of all: thank you! And secondly, don't forget to fill out the Patreon Entry Survey and tell me what content you enjoy the most.

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Gran Turismo 7 - title

I used to love the Gran Turismo games. I played the shit out of Gran Turismo 1-3. I think I was even close to hitting the 100% completion threshold of GT2 (well, the max 98.2% because the game was bugged and it was actually impossible to get to 100%). 1 and 3 in particular are great games in their own right, and still hold up well today. Gran Turismo 4, however, is when the series started to lose me, due to several changes to the design philosophy of the game that all converged to make it less appealing to me as a matter of personal enjoyment.

I was able to get my hands on a fancy new PS5 over the holidays, and I'm looking for games to play on it, and also technical showcases to see what the fancy new hardware can do. I was especially curious how a simulation racing game would feel on the Dual Sense controllers, with its variety of haptic feedback features. I could see a lot of potential in that genre of game. So I bought Gran Turismo 7 for pretty much this reason alone. It was a little bit for nostalgia too. This game celebrates the 25th anniversary of the series itself. So I went ahead and purchased it for old time's sake.

I was even tempted to buy the Special Edition to get the bonus Toyota Yaris. I figured the Yaris is probably the closest I'll come to being able to drive my real-life Toyota Echo within the game. However, I suspected that if Gran Turismo 7 would be anything like GT 4 or GT 5, it would be giving away cash and cars like candy. So I didn't see any value in the other special edition bonuses, like the extra credits. I sure as hell wasn't going to spend $20 for just one virtual car that I would probably race a handful of times for its novelty before switching to more powerful cars.

A Toyota Yaris GR is already available in standard edition, so I don't see any value in the special edition.

But there's already a GR Yaris in the game anyway, so I'm not sure what is so special about the Special Edition car. Besides, the Aqua and Prius look more like my car anyway. In any case, I hate special edition bonuses, and pre-order bonuses, and retailer-specific content. It's such a cynical fucking slap in the face to us consumers to have content withheld from the game unless we buy a specific edition, or buy from a specific vendor.

Feeling the road in my hands

Anyway, I bought the game to hopefully be a showcase for the technical innovations of the PS5. Of all the games I so far own on the system, none of their use of the PS5 controller's tactile features have really lived up to the promise of the Astro's Playroom game that comes included with the PS5. I was hoping that being a Sony-exclusive, flagship title, Gran Turismo would really wow me. It does do some neat things, but I don't know that I would say that it "wow" me.

This game requires finesse with the gas and brake.

I didn't really start noticing the rumble feature effects until I got further into the game and was playing with much more powerful cars. Up until then, the rumble was mostly reserved for if I hit the rumble strips on the side of the road or actually went off the road, or if I lost traction or spun out. But it felt similar to typical video game rumble. When the cars started to get more powerful, however, I started noticing some additional rumble effects. The engine would vibrate the controller a bit more, and I would also feel a soft thud from the middle of the controller whenever the car would shift gears.

The adaptive triggers do a little bit more heavy lifting. The throttle will stiffen up if the car starts to lose traction or if trying to accelerate up a steep incline, especially in inclement weather. Even in ideal conditions, smashing the gas and hitting top speed in a straightaway will also make the controller feel unstable in my hands, sometimes to the point that I'm genuinely afraid that if I turn the steering wheel at all, I'll instantly lose control and spin out.

By the time I feel the car slipping in the rain, it's already too late.

This actually causes me to loosen my grip on the trigger and throttle down, which usually restores some stability to the car. Instead of completely losing control because I have no way to know just how lose my car's hold on the road is, the adaptive trigger helps me to maintain control by signaling that I am throttling too hard. Pulling my foot off the accelerator pedal a little is exactly what I do in real life if I start to feel my car losing its grip on the road (which happens quite often in the gusty winds of Las Vegas), and that instinct is exactly replicated in the game.

More generally, the adaptive triggers make it uncomfortable to jam on the accelerator or the brake, especially for an extended period. It really encourages slowly depressing each trigger in order to better control the acceleration or braking of the car. Again, this mirrors how a real-life car is controlled. This makes all inputs feel much more deliberate and controlled.

Steering can be done with the motion sensor.

9 and 3

The real surprise highlight of playing Gran Turismo with the Dual Sense controller is steering the cars with the motion sensor. I'm not sure if this option was available in Gran Turismo 5 or 6 on the PS3 and PS4, or if it's available on the PS4 version of Gran Turismo 7, but this is a totally new way of driving a video game car for me. And I'm actually genuinely surprised by how well it works. I chose the motion control option after I booted up the game for the first time, thinking it would be borderline unplayable, and I would switch back to the traditional analog stick steering. But holy hell, I actually stuck with it!

The motion sensor is surprisingly responsive and maps reasonably well to the motion of holding a steering wheel at 9 and 3 o'clock positions. Using this control method, and the first-person cockpit camera, I had little-to-no problem keeping my car in a straight line and steering it through corners. I even got a gold medal on all but 1 of the B-1 license tests (and all but 3 of the A-1 license tests) using the motion controls for steering.

Steering with the motion sensor is surprisingly responsive and accurate.

It is a little awkward to hold for longer races. Holding down the throttle and brake triggers can be a little bit uncomfortable, especially if I'm trying to use my middle finger for them. And trying to use other face buttons often results in my car veering a bit. Holding the controller out in front of me (where a real steering wheel would be) can also be tiring after lengthy races. Not being mounted to a dashboard means I can't rest my hands on the controller the way that I would on a steering wheel.

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I wanted to see The Last Duel in theaters. It is a story that my partner was interested to see, and we were making tentative plans to see it. I'm still hesitant to go to a movie theater due to the ongoing COVID pandemic. I actually passed on seeing Spider-Man: No Way Home in the theater because I don't want to sit in such a crowded space with total strangers. I was actually kind of relieved that The Last Duel was bombing in theaters. It would mean that we could go see it in theaters, and I could be comfortable in the knowledge that we should expect to have no problems social distancing in the theater.

But real life happened. We got busy with stuff, and kept putting it off. Then my partner actually caught COVID, so we were self-quarantined for 2 weeks. By the time we would have had an opportunity to go to the theater, I think The Last Duel had already been pulled.

So when we were sitting around in the holiday week between Christmas and New Year, with plenty of free time on our hands, we saw it while scrolling through HBO Max and decided to finally watch it.

The structure of The Last Duel is quite unorthodox for a feature film. It abandons the typical 3-act structure of most mainstream movies in favor of more of kind of a 4-act structure, in which the first 3 acts retell the same events from 3 different characters' perspectives. There isn't technically a 4th act, as the climactic duel is actually part of the 3rd act, but as it's a culmination of all 3 characters' plots, I kind of see it as its own 4th act.

The Last Duel - Carrouges
©: Scott Free Productions, 2020.
The Last Duel - Le Gris
©: Scott Free Productions, 2020.
The Last Duel - Margueritte
©: Scott Free Productions, 2020.
The Last Duel repeats almost the entire story 3 times, once from each characters' perspective.

I'm on the fence about this particular style of story-telling. On the one hand, there's a lot of subtly and nuance that re-frames or re-contextualizes most of the events depicted. We get to see multiple characters' conflicting perspectives of the same events, and how one person can believe himself a hero, while everyone else might see him as a self-righteous dick.

However, I have two significant complaints with the structure of this film, in particular.

The first complaint that I have with The Last Duel is that the desire to re-tell the same events 3 times leaves little time for anything else. We get one scene early in the movie of De Gris and Carrouges fighting together on the battlefield. There's nothing else to help build up and develop the deep friendship and respect that they supposedly have. The audience is constantly being told that they are good friends, but all we ever see is petty bickering between them. We just have to take the characters' word for it that they were ever friends to begin with.

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Humankind - title

It's going to be virtually impossible to review Humankind without frequently comparing it to iterations of Sid Meier's Civilization. Civ has absolutely dominated (and almost completely monopolized) the historical turn-based strategy genre. There have been plenty of space and sci-fi-themed 4x strategy games, ranging from Master of Orion, to Galactic Civilizations, to Stellaris, and even Amplitude's own Endless Space; but not a whole lot in the more Earth-bound sub-genre. I've also been a huge Civ fan (as the readers of my blog can no doubt tell), so it's hard for me to look at any game in this genre and not partially judge it through the lense of comparing it to Civ.

So I'm not even going to pretend to judge Humankind strictly on its own merits, in a vacuum. I simply can't. I'm not sure if anyone can. Amplitude, as a company, clearly looked to Civ for inspiration, took lessons from the successes and failures of its previous strategy games, and said "hey, we want a piece of that pie too." But despite the surface-level comparisons to Civ, Amplitude takes a very different approach to game design. While Civ has always been very firmly rooted as a "digital board game", Humankind takes a much more story-driven and "simulationist" approach, akin to the sort of thing that you might see in a game like Crusader Kings. I think this approach works, and it does a good job of separating Humankind from Civilization.

Culture wars

Perhaps the biggest deviation that Humankind makes from Sid Meier's Civilization is the way that it handles the game's civilizations themselves. In Humankind, you don't play as a single civilization throughout an entire campaign. Instead, each era you have the opportunity to select a new culture from a list of era-specific cultures. I like this concept a lot in principle, but also have some misgivings about the way it works out in practice.

Empires transition into a new culture at the start of each era.

On the one hand, it's great to see a game like this recognize the fact that civilizations aren't singular, monolithic cultures that exist forever, unless they are conquered or die off completely. That gaming paradigm (which Civ has always embraced) ignores the reality that cultures change and evolve over time. They change with the times, and blend elements from other neighboring cultures. And even if a nation or empire falls or collapses, it doesn't just disappear off the face of the planet overnight. It's people get absorbed into whatever nation or empire replaces it, and those people continue to influence the development of that new culture.

But this isn't exactly how Humankind works. The cultures of the game don't gradually transition or evolve due to social, economic, political, or geographic pressures and influences. Instead, at arbitrary points throughout the game, each empire completely changes its culture in a single game turn. And you aren't locked into choosing a related or similar culture either. You can pick any culture that is still available from the given era, no matter how separated that new culture might be from your old culture -- whether that be geographic separation, ideological separation, or even racial separation. I can be Greek one turn, and then suddenly be Aztec the next, and be Khmer the following era.

I was hoping for a system in which players would have to select from a list of related cultures when transitioning into a new era. For example, I was imagining that being Classical Romans means that, when the medieval era hits, I would have to chose between a related culture like Byzantine, Holy Roman, Ostrogothic, Franks, or Papal States. Then, depending on which I picked, my culture would continue to shift to another related culture in the following era. For example, if I picked Byzantine as my medieval successor to Rome, then my early modern culture choices would be things along the lines of the Ottomans or Orthodox Rus; whereas, if I had gone with the Papal States or Holy Roman Empire, then my choices would be things like Venetian, German, or French.

Changing cultures each era is no more silly than ancient
Abraham Lincoln leading ancient America in a bear-skin hat.

Instead, these transitions from one culture to another over the span of a single turn can be very jarring in Humankind. But I guess it's no less jarring than seeing an ancient era Abraham Lincoln leading America in 4000 B.C.E. while wearing his silly bearskin tophat.

I hope that if Humankind gets expansions, that those expansions will modify this culture-changing mechanic so that there are more cultures available each era, but your choices are limited to cultures that are related to the one you were playing in the previous era. Maybe it costs influence (or maybe even fame) to change cultures, and changing to an un-related culture costs more than changing to a closely related one. I know it can be difficult to find such examples of related offshoots for every possible culture, especially for cultures that were conquered or died off in real life, but I think it's a solvable problem.

It's easy to come up with possible successors to the Roman Empire, because every culture in Europe and Asia Minor seemed to claim succession from Rome. It's a lot harder to come up with related successors to culture like the Aztecs or Maya, and it would seem insensitive or outright offensive to limit the choice of succession to the colonial European cultures that had conquered or massacred them in real history. But there are options. In the case of the Maya or Aztecs, successor options could include cultures like the various Pueblo or Navajo cultures, but I admit that's kind of a stretch.

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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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