October: What is even happening

Darkness was growing for the entire month, not only because of autumn. For me, this ment going back to working from home, more isolation and dark mood. On the other hand, this may be a good moment to go back to my humble blog.

A few months ago, I became regular at a certain subreddit and it seems that I’ve become a Patient Gamer too. Now, I mostly stay away from new games, especially since my gaming rig needs several upgrades. Instead, I prefer to play honourable classics I’ve never touched before.

Usually, I pick a title to match the autumn gloom outside. For example, I finally heeded the Call of Pripyat which has been waiting in my GOG library for almost three years. Very quickly, I realised that I needed exactly this kind of experience, the Chernobyl darkness in all shades of grey, Russian voice acting with the dreaded Polish lektor (search it for your own responsibility) and the unique atmosphere of post-Soviet active pessimism I loved so much in the Metro series. The fight for survival in the marshes and bogs of Pripyat can be really satisfying when you finally drop the unhealthy ambition and overuse the quicksave button.

When it’s raining outside and our reality increasingly looks like a crossover between the noir and cyberpunk genres, it’s time to wear that trenchcoat and fedora again. Good Old Games surprises me again with Blade Runner on sale. I played it more than ten years ago, I recall enjoying it much… and that’s it, other memories are really blurry. It means that I didn’t think it was a masterpiece, but after playing for just a few years I don’t have much to complain about. Sure, it was obviously supposed to be cinema experience so the outdated visuals are a problem, just like the simplified mechanics and interface, but I’d still recommend the game to everyone who liked the original movie and similar aesthetics. The soundtrack is worth your time even without playing, thanks to the good old Frank Klepacki.

Let’s have more of the same. Just a week ago I bought LA Noire.

Here’s another cinematic game made by Rockstar which I kept ignoring for unknown reasons, just like the third installment of Max Payne series. I’ve always liked stories about bitter private eyes and already as a teenager I loved Chandler’s books, but I’ve never watched any film adaptations of his works. Funnily enough, my very first approach to the genre was an urban fantasy parody written by Mike Resnick, Stalking the Unicorn.

Now I’ve come to regret my lack of knowledge, because after finishing a few investigations I have the feeling that I can’t enjoy the game properly. Well, at least I find the visual aesthetics and atmosphere familiar. Everything, from Hollywood-style titles and the soundtrack to conversations and relationships between characters tells that the game is an almost perfect pastiche. Unlike forgettable interactive movies released in the 90s, like The Dame Was Loaded, it’s a creative application of Grand Theft Auto engine and mechanics in an adventure game. There are car chases and shootouts, sure, but more often you search the apartments of suspects and victims, examine crime scenes or pay friendly visits to the local morgue. And then there’s the key feature: interrogations. Now I understand why so many people were amazed by the way the game handles face expressions and even so many years later the end effect isn’t grotesque, as I feared before.

I didn’t expect that I would like the main protagonist this much. Meet Cole Phelps, a rookie detective, war hero, and the incarnation of the ideal 50s male, treated as a celebrity cop. Sadly, his personality somehow reminds me of that one nerdy kid nobody liked at school, but I feel like he’s going to change. At the current stage, I’ve just switched from catching petty criminals to a crime affair in the Hollywood circles and it’s already clear that Phelps is entering the concrete jungle and won’t leave unharmed.

My longstanding total New Vegas playthrough isn’t finished yet, to nobody’s surprise. My Second Courier was supposed to join either House or the NCR, but I surprised myself and suddenly felt the urge to conquer the Dam for Caesar again. This time, I managed to immerse myself into a fanatic legionary and sly frumentarius sneaking deep behind enemy lies and there was much dark joy in it. More importantly, I finally managed to finish two parts of the excellent New Vegas Bounties mod. There’s an additional pleasure here, finishing one bounty after another and watching the creator becoming better at writing and bold, surprising the player with his original ideas and creativity, but also his constantly improving writing style. Who don’t game mods get their own remakes, anyway? Just imagine if we had the Bounties as a separate game with a new engine, more voice actors and better graphics or location design. It could be better that the original New Vegas DLCs.

All right, I’ve already mentioned that I stay away from new releases, but it’s not entirely true. I still keep coming back to The New Order, a total modification for Hearts of Iron IV.

I’ve been struggling with it since the full release, playing week-long sessions, quitting, and then coming back. I’m a bit frustrated with managing huge armies or game-crippling bugs, it’s discouraging to run out of new events after playing a major faction for ten years (but the devs are already making the sequel), but I can’t stop playing The Last Days of Europe anyway. There’s too much fun with its solid writing which takes the events from the large-scale map to the human, sometimes even too human level. And then, there’s the simple fun of an average gamer: painting the map, winning political intrigue, and creating world superpowers against all odds. If anyone decided that Paradox big strategy games are not for him, I’d advise to have a closer look at the TNO mod. In some sense, it’s a wholly new experience.

So much about the past month. November was to bring us a real earthquake, Cyberpunk 2077 finally released. No surprises here, it got delayed again, but it doesn’t bother me anyway. I wouldn’t buy it right now, because I’m obviously reluctant to spend cash on trivial things like upgrading my PC. So I’ll just stay in my little corner and play older titles, but also follow the development of the New Order. The leaks from the devs tell us that the next update will involve Orwell’s 1984 happening in Black Africa and the Butcher of Prague introducing Germany to National Socialism 2.0. All grim and dark, really matching the times we live in.

Hearts of Iron IV: The New Order Mod

So it finally happened. Deep in the night, the first full version of Hearts of Iron IV: The New Order mod was released on Steam. As a sceptical and jaded person, I’m usually immune to the so-called hype, but I’ve been counting months, weeks and days to see this moment. Sadly, as it was to be suspected, the mod is still ridden with game-crippling bugs at this stage and I couldn’t manage to make any progress with my chosen factions. I’ll definitely have more to write when this issue gets solved, so this time I’ll just sum up my experience with playing the two demo versions released earlier this year and following the subreddit community.

Quite a few things are laughable in grim-dark visions of future presented in such works as the Wolfenstein series or The Man in the High Castle. For example, how is it possible that the evil Nazis have enough manpower to occupy half the world and suddenly don’t need all those Italians and Romanians as cannon fodder and police force? (at least in Panzer General II you were able to invade Bronx with your Romanian marines) What’s even less plausible, the final victory is indeed… final. The economy flourishes (or at least there are no signs of a crash incoming), the technological progress sends the first Aryan to the Moon, the machine of terror is omnipresent and works flawlessly, but ordinary German citizens live in peace and prosperity.

Fortunately, the development team behind The New Order: Last Days of Europe, a total conversion mod for Hearts of Iron IV, decided to take a different approach.

At first glance, it looks like another alt-history scenario with Nazis winning the war and ruling forever while a handful of brave resistance fighters tries to bring them down. However, you’ll quickly discover it’s not exactly the case. Sure enough, the Axis powers (not just Germany and Japan) managed to defeat their enemies and enjoyed the spoils of war for a while. Eventually, the walls of their shining fortresses began to crack. Germany quickly learned that you can’t base the economy on pillage, slavery, and spending all the money for humongous public projects. The economic disaster was followed by a massive Russian insurgency which managed to recover large parts of the former Soviet territory. Finally, the dreaded SS rebelled against Hitler’s government and Germany plunged into civil war. Other Axis countries aren’t faring much better, with the Iberian Union being crippled by its dysfunctional political system and Italy struggling to keep hold of it’s huge colonial empire.

When you start the game, it’s year 1962 and the wind of change brings the smell of imminent trouble. Sure, everything plays slowly at first, no matter which country you choose, you’ll probably focus on choosing internal policies, managing your budget and developing new technologies.

The Great Gibraltar Dam, or how to literally drown billions of Reichsmarks and ruin Iberian economy (a loading screen from the demo version)

Then the Man in Berlin dies. The Greater Germany turns into a few lesser Germanies, jumping at each other’s throats. The rest of the world quickly experiences the domino effect, facing internal crisis and new dangers from outside.

This is the main difference between the mod and vanilla HoiIV. Basically speaking, you’re playing an alternative Cold War simulator. Major players have tonnes of nuclear weapons and minor countries can get their own warheads if they’re ambitious and lucky enough. Nuclear annihilation of the entire planet is always dangerously close, so instead of the proverbial ‘map painting’, it’s all about proxy wars, revolutions and civil conflicts. Dealing with internal policies and reforms is very important, too, just as diplomacy and espionage, so it’s hardly surprising that TNO introduces several new mechanics.

The Great Game. Instead of an open conflict, Italy and Germany are trying to make Bulgaria a puppet country through subterfuge and black ops. Each turn, you’ll need to spend different types to resources to win enough points and not overshoot the bar.

In case of some factions, the devs decided to sacrifice all plausibility and make them, uhm, colourful. The first demo version set in Southern Caucasus includes a mad scientist using his NKVD goons to kidnap people for experimentation (apparently, he’s trying to grow test-tube über-soldiers and liberate Russia), but also a mad warlord, Oskar Dirlewanger, leading a rogue SS unit which turned into a wild bunch, raping and plundering in the countryside. Meanwhile, the full release adds such factions as the National Redemption Front, best summed-up as ‘Spanish Catholic ISIS’, or a group of Jewish partisans which plans to genocide all Germans and their collaborators in Eastern Europe (one of their focuses is literally named ‘Six Million Germans’). And then there’s Burgundy…

One shouldn’t forget about Reichskommissar Siegried Müller, the friendliest sociopath in video game history.

Another thing making this mod stand out is the quality and quantity of writing. Since it focuses on telling stories, there’s really lots and lots to read. What is really important, the perspective often switches from men and women on the top — politicians and generals — to those standing at the bottom of the ladder, be they German soldiers, Congolese slaves, Belgian mercenaries, or Russian bandits. Quite often you will see the consequences of your decisions through their eyes and I’m sure it will make you look at those numbers and unit icons on the screen a bit differently.

Now, I know I sound enthusiastic, but there are some serious issues with the current state of the mod. First, the UI is another example of a great idea gone… not so great. In theory, it was supposed to invoke Cold War aesthetics with its neon colours and vector images reminding of early computers. Sadly, the end effect is a strain to the eyes, even if it got somewhat improved in the full release. Let’s hope a new patch will add an option of returning to the vanilla design.

I praised the quality of writing just a paragraph above, and sure, it’s creative and enjoying enough, but after a while it becomes clear that the devs really need a qualified editor. Sure, it’s a matter of your preferences, but typos, flawed grammar errors, and poor choices of wording really spoiled the fun for me. But again, very just one week after the release and things may eventually get better. Hell, maybe I’ll do something crazy for once and sign up as an editor too, but I promise to post more about this wonderful mod. Meanwhile, I’m clicking the play button and getting back to live in the last days of Europe.

The Cruelest Month

…breeding lilacs out of dead land. That’s right, today marks exactly one month since my personal quarantine has started. Since we all know what happened and what is happening right now, there’s no point in writing another whiny introduction. Instead, here’s a few words about my personal month in the bibeo game world.

Even in the darkest hour, you can find pleasant surprises. Rejoice, for Niko Belić walks among us again! GTA 4 is my favourite part of the series, but despite repeated and desperate attempts, I’ve never been able to run my box CD on Windows 7. I’m always reluctant to pay for the same game twice and everything I had to go to was The Liberty City Stories. I really enjoyed the add-ons after purchasing them during the Steam sale last Christmas, then I finished both parts and was content with myself… then came the last Sunday of March and, to my confusion and elation, I discovered that my S-Library turned them into GTA IV: The Complete Edition. No extra charge required. Sure, I was a bit afraid to come back after so many years, but this is a game which matures like wine and even the dreaded City Rat hunting feels rewarding. Finally, after so many failures the time has come to reach the magic 100% rating.

The nostalgia doesn’t relent, and the sudden news about the remake of the early Command and Conquer games reminded me that the first part of Red Alert series still lingers on my personal Hall of Shame. I received the box edition from my parents as a teenager and failed to finish it, despite my attempts. Now the news reminded me that Red Alert One can be downloaded for free… Here comes the common cycle: search in duck2go, wait for a minute to downloaded, launch the installation file… shortly after, Tanya the ‘Professional Volunteer’ and her mates are rescuing Einstein, then our little band of brothers is digging trenches on the Polish-Czechoslovak border.

A few missions later and I come to the conclusion that this particular classic game is eternal. I can’t overlook its flaws, commanding large unit groups makes me furious and there’s some cringe to find in the FMV scenes, but the game still rewards us with much of joy. Its weaknesses aside, Red Alert still maintains its charm, especially the aesthetics starting from unit and building design and ending with the main menu. More than that, I got reminded that Frank Klepacki is a genius and the soundtrack still sounds flawless.

Another title I abandoned for months is Disco Elysium and finally I managed to get to the ending. Just as expected, my decision to use save-scumming for my first playthrough turned out to be a mistake. Sure enough, I finished almost every single side-quest, the crime mystery is solved, another bloody revolution postponed, and the protagonist didn’t get fired for being a miserable parody of a cop, hey, he’ll even work with Kim in the same unit, but… it came too easy, it doesn’t feel right, and in my next playthrough I won’t experience the wonder of discovering a superbly written world and plot. I knew I should’ve listened to reviewers and developers when they warned that it’s not your ordinary cRPG game.

DOOM DOOM WE ARE ALL DOOMED! Late to the party as always, I got the game on the Christmas Steam sale, played one or two levels, and sent it back into my library. See, the stars weren’t right and something didn’t click. Now, when D-Eternal finally got released, I decided for another approach and got sucked in straight into Hell for a couple of days. One thing is sure, the id soft crew could teach everyone else how to make proper remakes. They treat the classic stuff like real treasure, but still manage to take a more creative approach and the end product doesn’t feel stale. Let’s take the game arsenal as an example: all the iconic weapons from the first games have new, refreshed designs, but they still feel familiar–and glorious when used to spill demonic guts on the floor. What really surprised me, however, was the… platforming part of the game being as pleasant as the usual brütal slaughter. It’s like Super Mario in Hell, at times I felt jumping around and searching for collectibles more enjoyable than culling infernal legions, especially with the extremely helpful automap at hand. RIP AND TEAR!

‘Wait, that’s it?’, somebody could ask. Well, here comes the paradox: even though I spent the last month sitting in my four-cornered room, I didn’t commit more time to playing video games after doing my daily share of remote work. Somehow, lying on the couch and reading a book, or calling my friends and family seemed more appealing… Still, I really appreciate the instant access to games in times of isolation. Who knows, maybe I’ll even buy Plague Inc.

That’s it. Let’s go back to hunting flying plague rats hehe.

November: From Nevada to Shanghai

Most of the month felt like an everlasting Groundhog day. I keep going back to my unfinished playthroughs or those games I haven’t played for a long time. Finally, I said the final goodbye to Mad Max and achieved 100% completion. Hunting the last remaining achievements was like playing Russian roulette with the almighty RNG but thanks to helpful people providing online walkthroughs I managed to do them all without getting too frustrated. Actually, it was fun enough to start New Game+. All I wanted to do was to unlock the iconic leather jacket from the movie, but I spent a few hours spreading mayhem in the desert. Even though I dropped the game, it was enough to remind me why I’ve always had it for one of the best cinematic gaming experiences in history.

Found waiting in my Steam library: Wings! One day I felt the sudden need for simple shooting, and since I bought the remastered version without even installing it just because of childhood nostalgia… Sadly, it soon turned out that I’m dealing with a low-budget grab for cash. The developers stopped at refreshing the graphics (which still look like a cheap mobile game) and the soundtrack. Everything else looks almost the same as in the original game and, what’s worse, there’s no content from the enhanced GameBoy Advanced edition. Which doesn’t change the fact that Wings! remains a true classic.

Let nobody think I don’t go beyond vintage games, though. This time I finally installed the alpha version of Chinatown Detective Agency. Simply speaking, this point-and-click adventure featuring some cyberpunk trappings is still scheduled for release in 2021, but the early version looks quite promising. We’re impersonating a private eye living in futuristic Shanghai who, after dropping her cop career, starts her own enterprise. There’s nothing too surprising so far, the first job comes from a shady megacorp looking for defecting personnel, then she’s flying around the world trying to give antique postmarks back to museums in their countries of origins (yeah, I know how this sounds), finally there’s an investigation on corruption in the big business and government. One unique mechanics wants us to look for real-world trivia knowledge (where do you find exotic trees in Shanghai), but the gameplay is very simplified, the visuals inconsistent and voice actors more often than not can’t handle their roles, sometimes sounding outright grotesque. Despite its early flaws, I spent a pleasant our visiting Shanghai and so far I’m decided to give the devs another chance. After all, it’s just a very early demo release, so let’s hope the full version will be well-developed.

To nobody’s surprise, I’m still stuck in New Vegas. This time I finally finished the third and final part of the excellent New Vegas Bounties mod. The Courier travels to a distant snowy valley and a town of outlaws. His main goal is to catch the main villain of the entire trilogy. It’s quite amazing what a single but talented modder can do with a tiny team of supporters. They managed to deliver solid Western movie experience with juicy dialogue, original characters and story, even though the lack of resources caused the game to suffer from many bugs. Despite this, when the final shootout was finished, I felt genuinely sad that there would be no fourth part of the story. The man behind the project has abandoned his unfinished NV mods several years ago, but luckily for me, there are still some of his works to try. This means that I’ll be probably walking in Courier’s shoes for some more time.

Now it’s December and I’ve heard rumors that the best game of the decade gets it release third time this year. Since I’ve stopped caring about all the hype, I’ll just go back to the usual. The plan is mainly to put more time into the New Order mod after it got an important update a few weeks ago. No more games I’m looking forward to, maybe I’ll return to the province of Skyrim since we’ve already had the first snowy day this year. And if a true winter comes, it would be a good time to play The Long Dark for the first time.

Life and death in June

The month began with cold days reminding me of early spring and ended with tropical heat—monsoon-like storms changing into burning sun in an instant. As usual, this kind of weather behind the window (or upon my poor skull) made me think about infinite deserts and primal forests…

Achievement hunting intensifies.

…so I finally installed Vietnam’65 after leaving it untouched for almost a year. To tell the truth, I feel old enough to get tired quickly with most strategy games, especially when they’re demanding like Crusader Kings 2 or the Civilisation sub-genre. Luckily enough, this game makes thinks quite simple and relaxing. To put it in short, it’s a counter-insurgency simulator. There will be no decisive battles, you don’t get to napalm any villages, but you’re rather playing an armchair army bureaucrat. Most of the playtime is spent on planning patrol routing, deciding where to put the forward observation base, and making sure the brave GI’s down there get their pork’n’beans and newest Playboy issues right on time. Graphics are simple but functional, the soundtrack barely exists, but I still experience the infamous ‘one more turn’ syndrome when playing this game, mainly thanks to the simplicity of rules and unpredictability of each playthrough. Besides, there’s a pretty uniform to hang with shiny trinkets, it’s a cheap move but has worked on me since the times of Gunship 2000.

Ain’t no senator’s son.

As always, being a nostalgic Amiga veteran, I go back to a classic game from that age each month. This time, I decided to stick with my run-through-the-jungle mood and launched the 1993 game Apocalypse (don’t confuse it with the aborted Playstation title starring the Die Hard Man). Now, I realise that the game is rightfully forgotten, but I feel the urge to return to it each summer. Maybe it’s the gloomy intro with great 16-bit chiptune score, maybe the green-and-tan pixel jungle mosaic in the background… I swear, if I met the devs, I’d tell them they helped to shape my taste for video game visuals when I was a kid. Too bad they also designed the game as Nintendo hard and I’ve long abandoned any hope to beat Apocalypse without cheating, but I keep returning to it for short, casual sessions.

No gods. One master.

‘Patrolling the Mojave almost makes you wish for nuclear winter’. Just like the other Bethesda game starring one Dragonborn, my first Fallout New Vegas has been a neverending story for years. Now, I’m finally about to enter the endgame and, before my Courier becomes the Liberator and Autocrat of New Vegas as intended, I decided to try out an alternative path – right towards the command tent of Caesar himself. Let’s call it the discreet charm of active nihilism. It turns out that acting deep behind enemy lines as Vulpes I.’s junior frumentarius is really engaging and reveals some really good design decisions taken by the devs. Open fight with NCR’s good-two-shoes is satisfying too (the chainsaw!), just as the succesful assasination of a certain president. At last, the bull’s standard is flying over the Mojave. If this sounds too dare, I promise to reload the game and recreate the Ides of March.

Totally not an ominous title in July 2020.

I always appreciate the paradoxes happening in my life. Recently, I have become fan of the interactive novel genre thanks to Hearts of Iron IV. Sure, I stopped playing the vanilla version after a short while, popular mods like Kaiserreich didn’t interest me at all, but then, all out of sudden, the New Order arrived. To put it briefly, it is an alternative history mod set in a world where the Axis powers won the Second World War. Luckily, unlike morbid fantasies like The Wolfenstein series, this time the dreaded victory of Ultimate Level led to a (probably) more realistic outcome with the victorious powers slowly rotting and eventually collapsing. The Thousand Years is hit by a dramatic economic collapse, the peoples of the defeated Soviet Union don’t waste their time and rise up to liberate (or reconquere, to be more accurate) a part of former USSR territory, finally, the man with funny moustache dies and his potential successors jump at each other’s throats.

A killing smile.

After the somewhat prolonged development, we finally know the date of the first full release, 21 July. Before it happens, you can still play the two demo versions. The first one, confusingly named Old World Blues, takes us to a long trip right into the wreckage of the Soviet Union where a psychopathic Nazi raider, a mad scientist, and a bunch of hapless anarchists fight for dominance. The other beta version, Don’t Surf, changes the theatre of war from the Ural Mountains to the jungles and deserts of Africa. The sub-Saharan Africa is mostly occupied by three German quasi-governments which are busy with themselves – that is, with enslaving and exploiting the native population. When the Vaterland finally falls apart, they are left alone and almost immediately get into a conflict with the last bastion of (relative) democracy in Africa, the South Africa Republic supported by the USA. Why did I mention interactive novels? The development decided to focus on the narrative rather than the proverbial map-painting typical for grand strategy games. Unusually, you don’t just read about politicians and generals, but also rank-and-file soldiers, settlers and slave, which makes the experience far more entertaining – and chilling. I’ve enjoyed all the paragraphs of text so far, even when it was obvious that the devs lacked a skilled general editor who’d take care of all the typos, grammar errors, and stylistic mistakes. While I’ve been staying away from ‘big’ strategy games for a long time, here I can finally find the motivation to git gud in order to read another in-game event. Better than another Netflix show, I’m telling you.

Now, it’s July, so what I’m up to? In the recent days, I switched between the Nazi-ruled Africe and Liberty. Yes, I’m still trying to run a complete playthrough of GTA IV, leaving Niko Belić behind me, riding with Johnny Kibbutz’s boys and getting acquainted with Gay Tony. The only gaming event I’m looking forward is the release of New Order mentioned above. Hey, maybe I’ll even do something fully childish and take a few days off to play as much as I can.

Entering October

It’s been exactly five months since my last post and no, I’m still not done with my Ultimate Skyrim Run. First, I had to finish a side job which consumed most of my free time and every molecule of my personal energy, and then… I simply got distracted by other games. So, here’s a short summary of what I was busy with before October 1.

Looking back

When working at said project, I decided that Skyrim was too taxing to actually let me relax. Instead, I decided to buy something with a relatively simple gameplay, literal prolefeed, and my choice was Sleeping Dogs. As it happens, I watched a YT playthrough almost immediately after it got released, decided that it was a nice GTA clone, and forgot about it.

When I finally got it on Steam, I expected a quick and cheap amusement for a couple of evenings. What I got instead… all achievements and 135 hours of playing on my Steam counter. In fact, I liked this game even more than any part of the GTA series I’ve played before. There’s no wonder that Sleeping Dogs is a cult game for some fans and I’m anxiously waiting for a possible sequel – and the film adaptation.

And then the cops arrived. I liked the free alpha and beta versions of Police Stories so much that I finished the three levels multiple times and even wrote about the experience, but now the full game is finally available. The plot and writing are disappointing, to say at least, but it’s still a great fun with 18 missions to finish and a whole new arsenal of equipment. The devs expanded the range of possible behaviour of enemies and hostages which makes each approach to a level unpredicatable and exciting. I’ll definitely write a full review when I’m finished with the campaign.

That’s right, I’m still busy with sailing the Sunless Skies. Without permadeath and a more gracious difficulty system, it’s not as slow as the prequel, but so far I managed to get only one of the Ambitions. And yet again, the quality of writing makes me feel simply dumb.

Busy or not, I still didn’t abandon my Dragonborn. When I’m writing these words, he’s spending a wonderful vacation on the isle of Solstheim after defeating a terrible evil and taming a dragon. I’m really enjoying the experience of visiting a place I explored more than a decade ago in Morrowind and tasting the different shades of nostalgia. Still, I’ll have to leave it soon, go back to the mainland and finish the main story, because at this point playing Skyrim feels more and more like a chore. Besides, I still have the other parts of my personal Unholy Bethesda Trinity to beat.

Looking forward and smiling

Nothing has changed and my backlog is still so bloated that I hardly feel any need to try new games, but I’m still hopelessly waiting for Metro: Exodus to be released from the exclusive title jail. If it doesn’t happen, my resolve may finally break and I’ll buy it on Epic Store.

Obviously, my plan is to keep this blog running after another long hiatus, so stay tuned in and cheers!

Back to Skyrim

What is winter for? Many things, and one of them is playing Skyrim. Last year in January, I installed Skyrim Special Edition for the first time but quickly gave it up after repeatedly failing to configuring my favourite mods – besides I was busy playing Metro 2033 anyway. Come year 2019. At last, I managed to get the game running with the mods without crashing every second minute. Now, everything I needed was a proper winter weather outside to play with full immersion. Too bad it didn’t happen. Did I mention that I hate the climate change? Oh well.

Not that I’ll let it stop me. If I can’t play with a winter strom blasting outside my windows, I’ll do it with sunshine and birds singing. Spring or not, on this Labour Day of 2019 I’m starting a new playthrough. The main goal is to finally finish the main questline after the two failed attempts in the past. The secondary goal is to explore as much as possible, check out interesting mods, and just enjoy myself.

Meet Giovanni Renzi, my Imperial Dragonborn. To be honest, I didn’t think much about his background and the reason why he decided to cross the border and enter Skyrim. Maybe he was a farmer whose farm got destroyed by the war with the Aldmeri Dominion? A rank-and-file veteran of that war? A commoner without land or trade looking for a better life? Whatever his past was, I imagine him to be a generally decent if pragmatical person, as well as a loyal citizen of the Empire. This means that he will hate the Thalmor, won’t join Ulric, and will absolutely refuse to serve the Daedra or work for the Dark Brotherhood. Of course, there’s always the possibility that at one moment he will snap, say “I’ve seen enough” and join the dark side, just like my Courier Six did in New Vegas. We will see.

Mods, Blood Mods

Every Skyrim fan knows that playing the vanilla version is a very dull experience, so it’s obvious that I’ll have my favourite mods installed.

  • Frostfall – who cares about dragons and daedra when you can die in a sudden snowstorm, just because you forgot to chop some wood and your fingers are too numb to do it now. For me, I think this is an essential mod when playing Skyrim, and I was glad to find out that it’s grown bigger and more complex since my previous playthroughs.
  • Interesting NPCs – Wait, you’re saying I can meet NPCs who actually have something to say and don’t look like extras in a cheap theatre play? Again, I can’t imagine playing without this mod. It’s an impressive project with dozens of well-written, convincing characters, several companions and potential spouses, new locations and professional voice acting. Moreover, the people behind it didn’t have to bother abot ESPB ratings, so it finally introduces some risky themes, like various aspects of human (and inhuman) sexuality, making Skyrim a bit more of a Low Fantasy game and less a Sunday morning cartoon.
  • Cooking in Skyrim – finding new recipes for food and collecting rare ingredients has been my favourite in-game past time since Fallout 3. There are a few different mods for wannabe master chefs out there, but I’m picking up this one for starters, just because it adds some challenge: you can unlock recipes only when reaching a certain character level.
  • Darker Nights – playing Fallout 3 with pitch-black nights was surprisingly fun, so I want to do it again. And those chiaroscuro screenshots look great, too.
  • Friendlier Taverns – a small mod which improves the general look of inns, adds baking ovens and baths, and generally makes them feel really cozy.
  • Immersive Armors – another favourite modification I found during my previous attempts to beat Skyrim. Just as the name says, it adds an impressive selection of new armours to the game and manages to do it in a lore-friendly way.
  • SkyUI and Unofficial Patch – of course. I’m not a masochist.

Rules, Damn Rules

It’s a role-playing game, remember? Setting self-imposed challenges and keeping to them has always worked well for me as a way of suspending the disbelief and making the in-game world more believable. So, here’s a couple of them:

Religious – maybe he’s a Dragonborn, but he still follows the Path of the Gods. As a devout worshipper of the Imperial pantheon, Renzi will make regular offerings at the shrines (the type of offering depending on the deity), venerate the dead (which means absolute disdain for necromancers, and also taking care of human remains), hate the Daedra and their worshippers, and secretly worship Talos, which involves hating the Thalmor not-so-secretly.

Limited Saves – this means saving only when entering a new location or resting for a night. Now fights get more exciting, just because you don’t want to waste that hour of crawling through a Draugr necropolis for nothing, and you can train your self-restraint and patience (rage-quitting).

Hospitality Laws – when entering someone’s property, try to be respectable. If you’re picking their crops or just using their home as a shelter from the storm, be sure to leave a gift on the table. Another measure to make the Skyrim experience more immersive.

Real Time Activities – whether crafting, cooking, or putting up a tent, make sure to hit that Wait button.

And last but not least, I’ll focus on working on the two most important stats:

Deadline? No such thing this time, it’s never worked to me. There’s truth in the old saying that God laughs when you make plans. Still, I want to finish the game in a reasonable time so I can get back to New Vegas. Wish me luck.

Dedicated to my backlog: Log 1932

Please, don’t tell me I’m always late to the party, I already know that. This blog has been on hiatus for months and now the time has come to make it alive again, all thanks to the wonderful Late Levels and Living Lightning crew and their #LoveYourBacklog week. The rules are few: a blogger has to look at their collection of unfinished games, have a moment of retrospection and answer a few questions on their blog. The event is supposed to finish on Sunday, so I better start writing right now.

Game most likely never to be played

Usually I’m very careful when buying games and I pick up the titles I’m pretty sure I will play sooner or later. However, a few positions in my Steam library are there just by accident. Some games were parts of bundles I bought during sales, others were available to add for free and I did just in case, even though I wouldn’t be interested in them. One example of this is Team Fortress 2. Sure, I’m being told it’s a real classic and fun to play, but I spend little tame in online games and prefer semi-realistic shooters like Verdun or Rising Storm 2 Vietnam anyway. In comparison with them, TF2 looks too cartoonish and wacky so it will probably remain locked in my own Steam dungeon forever, no regrets whatsoever.

Shortest game

12 is better than 6. According to the reviews, it’s a mediocre clone of Hotline Miami with little to none replayability. I still want to play it because of the setting and unique visuals, but I’ll do my best to finish it as simple as possible, because there are many better games waiting for me.

Longest game

A good friend of mine borrowed my his copy of Witcher 3 and it’s still waiting for its chance. Since I still have to finish my New Vegas, Fallout 4 and Skyrim playthroughs, poor Geralt will have to wait just a little more, but when I finally start it, I’m sure I’ll want to play it to the fullest, including all DLCs.

Game which has spent the longest time on the backlog

That must by Nethergate, an old and rather obscure cRPG made by Spiderweb Software studio, more known for their Avernum series. Long time ago, I played the demo version as a happy teenager and loved it for its story and setting mixing fantasy lore with historical events centered around a rebellion of native Britons against their Roman oppressors. To my shame, it was one of my first purchases on Steam but I’m still waiting for the proper moment to play it through. Maybe in March?

The person responsible for adding the most entries to my backlog

Many such people. I have the luck to have a few friends who still play video games, despite being Respectable Adult Citizens with Many Responsibilities, and are always ready to talk about them and give recommendations. The special award goes to That One Friend whose tastes are exactly the same as mine and who convinced me not just to buy some strategy or RPG games, but also provided some useful tips when I played them.

love-your-backlog-100-.jpg

All right, that’s it. If you’re reading this and are curious about the rest of my collection, feel free to click the picture above.

Thanks again to Kim and Ellen, this was fun and I can’t wait to do another challenge.

 

One Hour: Police Stories

“And remember – shooting first is not an option!”

When I played the demo version of Police Quest: SWAT 2 in my late teens, already a devoted fan of UFO: Enemy Unknown and Jagged Alliance 2, I was simply shocked. Wait, do you really want me to play a tactical game which doesn’t want me to kill every baddy if it’s possible to avoid it? Which actually punishes me for excessive use of force? And, the worst thing, it forces me to find the Golden Mean between effectiveness and frugality because police budget is strained to the limit? What an outrage.

 

swat2
Definitely not an excessive use of force.

 

The first and only scenario available in the demo involved a typical hostage situation with a besieged bank full of terrorists, innocent civilians, and a ticking time bomb as a bonus. Since I was used to solving tactical problems with heavy plasma guns and mortar strikes, my first attempts to win would make Waco and Ruby Ridge pale in comparison. Slowly, painfully, I learned to act as a police officer, not a xenocidal commando or mercenary leader, and then a miracle happened. I actually managed to save the hostages and disarm the bomb without firing a single shot. My brilliant solution was to provide an escape car, as demanded by the villains, and place two officers right next to the bank’s main entrance. The terrorists then left the building in a file, without noticing my men at the door, and were promptly handcuffed one after another. Clearly, this was a result of a flawed AI, and definitely not my tactical genius, but the non-violent victory made me feel so great.

These sweet memories were one of the reasons to get interested in Police Stories after I watched the trailer. Another reason was, obviously, that it looked and felt like a total conversion of Hotline Miami – without flashing neons and ultra-violence, that is. Immediately, I started to follow the game on Steam, still in a very early stage. As always, I soon forgot that I did and Police Stories disappeared from my radar.

Until yesterday. Out of sudden, I got reminded that the game actually exists by a news article. Following the link, I found out that an early Alpha version is available the download. The few screenshots I saw looked too familiar to resists the temptation.

1

After clicking through a few menu screens, I arrive at the scene of the crime with a bang, my huge armoured car crashing a few motorbikes. We’re at a biker bar taken over by some violent thugs and the first thing that captures my eye is a nice reference to the Sons of Anarchy. Now it’s time to knock at the door. “Hello, do you have time to talk about our Lord and Saviour, the Government”. The man behind the door isn’t interested. I’m too slow to pull the trigger and Officer Rimes lies down on the floor with a generous dose of lead in his belly. Yeah, this feels like Hotline Miami. Even the “R for Restart Level” button is there.

My further attempts to pass the level are more successful and soon it becomes clear that the similarity is superficial. Yes, death is very cheap but Rimes is not The Jacket. In Police Stories, both heroes move very slowly, and for good reasons, because they have to be really careful. Unlike the Devolver game, here the enemy is invisible until you enter a room and then you have very little time to assess the situation and take decision on how to act. The game punishes you for unauthorised use of force and you have to be sure that the evil guy really wants to shoot you to avoid a penalty, but even then you receive more points for arresting them – and the score required to play the second level is rather high.

2

Above, I wrote that Police Stories caught my eye because it looks like Hotline Miami, but it’s not entirely true. Of course, the top-down view, detailed interiors and character design are clearly similar, but the colour palette is toned down and there are no image distortions to make it look like a VHS recording. Actually, it reminds me more of the adventure classic Dreamweb.

DreamWeb_5

Speaking of differences, it’s a police operation and not a war zone, so you can’t just pick up enemy weapons. Hitting someone with a gun butt is a viable option if you want them to surrender, but it’s quite risky too, so forget jumping at an armed enemy with bare fists like it sometimes happened in HL.

One of the most important things is that you’re not alone in this. There’s always your partner behind you and it’s possible to give him simple commands – basically, you can tell him to stay put, guard a corridor or handcuff someone.

3.png

When I’m writing these words, Police Stories is still in early development. There’s is no plot or dialogue, the inventory screen is inactive and, sadly, there are only two available scenarios. The worst thing is that the AI really needs improvement, both the enemies who are too passive and the player’s sidekick who notoriously suffers from poor reflexes. Despite that, at the current stage, the game looks more than promising and I’m ready to pay for the beta version as soon as it is released on Steam.

If you feel that this may be your kind of game, and especially if you’re a fan of Hotline Miami just like me, you can download the alpha version here.

Distraction: Real Neat Blogger Award

Mainly due to my own laziness, I’ve kept this blog low-profile for years, so you can imagine my surprise when I found out that it was chosen by the invaluable halsdoll for something called the Real Neat Blogger Award. I don’t deserve this kind of honour, but thank you! It’s a welcome chance for some introspection and I love it. And yes, I know my answer comes late but having two jobs keeps me busy… All right, enough excuses.

Hey ho, let’s go, here are my answers:

real-neat-blogger-award

1. What is your earliest gaming memory?

It’s funny because I have two such memories and, no matter how hard I think, I cannot decide which one was really the first. What I do remember is that River Raid was the first game I’ve ever played when my Dad brought home a (somewhat battered) clone of Atari 2600 borrowed from one of his friends.

The second memory involves my first visit in a computer store. While Dad was busy talking with an employee, I noticed a kid sitting in front of a 286 PC and playing a game. I sat next to him on a free chair without saying anything and began to watch. At that time, I was really interested in military history, especially World War 2, so you can guess how amazed I was because said game was Wings of Fury. You know, a real F4U Corsair taking off from a carrier, bombing Japanese outposts and then trying to land in one piece. Despite my shyness, I finally asked the guy if he would let me play just for a short while… and he answered with a smirk and a brutal “No!”.

 

wings-of-fury-29
*sigh*

 

Such was the end of my childhood innocence when I learned that some gamers can be real bastards.

2. When did you start blogging and why?

This blog was created in August 2015 and initially was meant to be an antidote to a personal flaw of mine. Since I rarely finish games and my backlog is constantly growing, I figured out it would be motivating to make a list of games I somehow completed. After a while, I found out that the blog is useful for roleplaying purposes and began to write about my fictional player characters, their personalities, goals, self-appointed challenges and restrictions, etc. Another step was to use it to capture fleeting gaming moments in screenshots and words, and generally ramble about the games I was playing. So here I am. It’s very far from perfection but my little WordPress corner has become an important part of my video games experience.

3. What feature do you wish any of your consoles had that they currently don’t?

I don’t own any consoles so I’ll just skip this question.

4. Name a movie that you wish had a video game made after it and what  developer would you want to make it and why?

Porco_Rosso.png

There are so many possible choices here. Sadly, halsdoll has already picked up one of my favourite films, Event Horizon, so I’ll have to improvise. How about the Ghibli classic Porco Rosso? It has everything I’d want from a video game. First, it’s the protagonist, a Great War ace pilot, who’s become shell-shocked by his experiences and turned into an anthropomorphic pig. Then it’s the setting, a magical realist version of post-WWI Italy with sky pirates and the Fascist government in the background. Not to mention all those finely drawn Italian planes and air combat. If I were a billionaire, I’d hire both Studio Ghibli and the team behind Beyond Good & Evil to create an open-world game being a spiritual sequel to the aforementioned masterpiece. In my vision, the gameplay would have a twist related to the main story with the government being the main antagonist, slowly limiting player’s freedom of movement and finally forcing them to either run away or die in a desperate last stand.

5. Do you have a games room/corner? If so, let us see it and show your favorite thing in there?

Nothing special here because I spend too much time playing games to care about secondary stuff like merchandise and collectibles. It’s just two shelves in one of my book cabinets with old game boxes and magazines.

6.  Do you have a child or a pet? Which character do you name it after?

Neither. If I ever have a child, he or she will have a traditional name, but I swear that one day I’ll visit a shelter and adopt a Dogmeat.

Dogmeat_scaring_Phil

7.  What keeps you going when gaming?

Curiosity. I’m always eager to see how the plot resolves, what kind of characters and enemies I meet on my way, what fancy weapons I will find. The other reason is the sense of accomplishment when I finish the game or at least beat a difficult boss or find all the gold stars.

Nominees:

Sorry, I’m posting it so late that it would be simply rude to nominate anyone but if you’re reading this and still want to participate, you have my personal approval.

Don’t forget to link to my blog if you do 😉

Again, thanks halsdoll!