Thursday, June 30, 2016

My Month In Games: June 2016


I'm no great connoisseur of first-person shooters, but I do like to get down with one every so often, and since I played a lot of Doom back in the day (who didn't?), I thought I'd give this new one a shot. The reviews have been fairly stellar and let me tell ya, they're right on! This game is a bloody good time!

Again, I don't play a lot of FPS games, so I can't really speak with authority about which features and mechanics make an FPS great in 2016, but I can say that Doom does have an old-school vibe that reminded me a lot of the first two games, with enough modern touches to make it feel fairly fresh. Much like Dooms 1 and 2, the fast pace of combat and the overall challenge level require that you keep moving, as stalling on the battlefield or scouting for sniping points will generally leave you outnumbered and overwhelmed. After an enemy has taken a certain amount of damage they will begin to glow, which is your cue to move in close and perform one of the game's brutal finishing melee attacks, the glory kill. Performing a glory kill on an enemy will cause it to drop much needed health, ammo, and armor powerups, so the gameplay mechanics are definitely geared toward running and gunning and finishing with close-up encounters. Don't get me wrong, you can still unload on an enemy from a distance and blow them to smithereens without the glory kill finish, but the finishing moves are a good way to keep yourself healthy and armored. Combat is a lot of fun and fights get pretty thrilling, especially after you've acquired a few of the heavier hitting weapons.

Demon hunting in all its glory.
The story is not especially deep and it's loaded with sci-fi cliches, but I rather enjoyed it anyway! I mean, let's not forget that Doom is a series of games about a space marine on Mars single-handedly beating back a demonic horde. I believe that any attempt by the developers to have made that plot any more "serious minded" than it turned out to be in the finished product would likely have been a disaster. You're a super-powered soldier! Get out there, kill some hellspawn, and don't think about it too goddamn much! Joking aside, I don't want to sell the non-combat aspects of this game too short; the story, scenario, and characters feel just right in context, and there's lots of dark humor and fun references to the classic series of games.

Secrets abound. There's even hidden rooms that feature graphics from the original games.
If I was going to ding the game for anything it would be this: the pattern of the gameplay started to feel just a little samey toward the end of the main campaign. Explore the level, get locked in a room with a shitload of demons, clear 'em out, and repeat. It's a fun time and the combat is well tuned, but I can see how some might start to find it a bit dull near the end. That said, I really don't know if I would have handled it any differently. Doom is clearly designed to hearken back to an earlier era of first-person shooters, and it succeeds so well on that front that I can't really fault it too much for retaining some of the dated gameplay concepts from the old days. There's a simplicity to the proceedings that really suit the game well; just be advised that once you have all of the available weapons, you'll have pretty much seen all that Doom has to offer in terms of gameplay.

I'd also like to take a moment to go on a mini rant about the way that the game autosaves your progress. So dig this; there I was, making my way through the dozen or so missions of the main campaign, when something very lame happened. When you finish a level you get a status screen that tells you how many of that mission's secrets and extras you've found. After moving on to the next mission you can always elect to return to the main menu and play through an earlier mission in an effort to round up all of the secrets and extras you might have missed. At one point fairly late in the game I left the current mission and proceeded to clean up a lot of the stuff I missed from the earlier missions. When I was all done gathering items and completing a few of the game's extra challenges I returned to the later mission I'd had yet to clear. Since it had been some time since I had elected to leave that level and play around in some of the earlier ones, I decided to restart that mission from the beginning. I was given a warning that by starting the mission over I would lose all of the progress I had made to that point, but I figured it was referring only to that most recent mission. Well, it turns out I was wrong. Everything I had done after quitting the most recent mission and returning to the earlier stages was completely wiped out, and I had to go through and redo the challenges and gather up all of the side items again! That's friggin' asinine. The game should obviously save your progress each and every time you complete a level, gather an item, or complete a challenge, but it doesn't. It only saves your progress when you complete the current mission. So if you decide to do what I did and go back to gather some things you missed, make sure that you finish the current mission before turning the game off.

"Why the hell did we give these things cyber implants again?!"
There's also a multiplayer mode and a level creator, but I didn't play with those at all because I don't give a shit about any of that.

In the end, the new Doom is a very solid effort and well worth your time. Even if your last dance with the demons was clear back in the 90s, you'll likely get a kick out of this stellar update. I loved it!

Grade: A

Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational - PS Vita

Now that the system is in its death throes, I finally decided to pick up a Playstation Vita. A seller on Amazon was having a special and selling refurbished units for $100, so I finally bit the bullet and bought one. It's a slick little unit and I'm enjoying the fact that I can pick up games on the cheap! Plus, timing was never my thing.

Anyway, the first game I bought for the Vita was Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational. I'm a longtime fan of the series and I've been itching to play a new one for several years now. I just looked it up and saw that the last entry in the series came out clear back in 2007! In fairness, this one was released in early 2012, so I have only my own frugality to blame for keeping me from my beloved franchise for lo these many years, but's been awhile. Though this game ultimately doesn't do much to push the series forward in any meaningful way, for my money, Hot Shots is still my favorite golf series. The formula of solid mechanics, realistic physics, and the cast of wacky characters has always just worked better for me than the funky analog controls of Tiger Woods or the somewhat shoddy gameplay of Mario Golf ever has.

Again, for long time fans of the series, there's not much new going on with Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational. The developers have introduced a few new swing mechanics alongside the classic 3-click swing and the modified version seen in the Playstation 3 game Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds. I'm a traditionalist, so I've mostly stuck with the old-school 3-click power/accuracy bar, but a few of the challenges in this game force you to use the other available swing types and they all seem to work fairly well. The process of progressing through the game's many challenges seems to have improved slightly as well. Players can now earn experience points during matches which can be used to purchase additional equipment and character costumes, and each challenge can be beat normally or by following strict guidelines for even bigger rewards.

My only real gripe about the game is that, beginning with the Playstation 3 iteration, the series seems to have lost some of its charm. Perhaps this can be attributed to overfamiliarity or personal fatigue with the series, but I don't think so. I think that the issue really lies in the fact that the wackier and more bizarre characters and caddies have been excised or smoothed out to the point where they just lack personality. This really doesn't affect the overall gameplay of course, but it does lend the most recent entries a more generic feel. Then again, some of the characters and voice acting in the earlier games (particularly Hot Shots Golf 3 and Fore!) ended up coming off a little culturally insensitive, so I guess I can understand if the more recent entries are attempting to sanitize that image somewhat. Still, I have to say that personality goes a long way in games like this (see Mario Golf), and it would be good to see the series re-embrace its sillier roots in future versions.

Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational looks and plays extremely well on the Vita and it definitley scratched my itch for a meatier golf experience in ways that the latest Mario Golf title simply didn't. Recommended.

Grade: B

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