Weekly: Sunday Beast

Sometimes, Sunday playing means embracing childhood nostalgia. This time the wonderful WinUAE emulator took me back to one of my favourite platformers.

Shadow of the Beast III was the first part of the series I played in my childhood and the only one I keep returning to. This is one of the rare cases when going back to my early Amiga years doesn’t end as a disappointment. I think everyone who has ever had the pleasure to play a Psygnosis game will admit that they were experts in turning visuals and sfx into magic. Personally, I think that they reached the peak of Amiga’s possibilities, but maybe I’m just blinded with nostalgia. After all, the Weird Owl Team was far from mastery in terms of pure gameplay — there are two different puzzles in the game which have always stopped me from finishing it, simply because they’re ridiculously unfair. It doesn’t matter, because I’m still hopelessly in love with the third Beast and I’ll give it another chance. Maybe a miracle will happen and I’ll be able to add it to my Just Finished collection.

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Leaving the Sierra Madre casino after a prolonged stay made me realise that the strongest point of this game is it’s open world. There is nothing better than just travelling on foot between locations and admiring the cruel beauty of the Mojave desert. Especially when you can play hide-and-seek with a mutated lizard and dispose of it with one precise shot. Yeah, New Vegas would be a lot worse without old rugged bolt-action guns.

Weekly Quest: nothing big this time, just remember to write down something interesting for the next episode every day.

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Weekly: Playing In The Name Of

Who would think that you can spend a lazy Sunday afternoon playing in a pious way? Monks and Mystics, a Crusader Kings II add-on, makes it possible. So here I am, listening to Gregorian chant and accompanying my ruler in his spiritual journey.

The 13th century Iceland isn’t the most exciting place in the world of Christendom. All right, some time ago a friendly host of Norwegian crusaders paid us a visit after one of our rulers gave up to his self-destructive urges and declared this (petty) kingdom to be a stronghold of the heretic Fratelli sect. Fortunately, after a few crushing defeats suffered by his army he came to his mind and decided to renounce his exotic beliefs. The Norse tourists left us without saying a word.

Another time, the half of the Iceland decided that a vulgar and watered-down version of Gnosticism is just what they needed. Tells something about crazy things people do when they’re bored. The French Templar knights summoned by the king put an end to this folly in no time.

So, what can you do when you’re a ruler of a literally insular kingdom consisting of two provinces, what can you do to kill the time? Foreign invasions don’t happen unless provoked, the people usually love their ruler more than he deserves, and ‘court intrigue’ sounds outlandish because the Royal House and its retainers are all a happy family.

Fortunately, we have the Downloadable Content. Monks and Mystics lets the player join four societies which, in case of Christian rulers, are the Dominican and Benedictine, the Hermetics, and finally a literal cult od devil worshippers. Dabbling into alchemy and astrology would be interesting, but it requires high Learning skill and Iceland has never been known for having scholars as rulers (at least not in this timeline). Since I’ve always preferred to play the good guys, Satanic worship has no appeal to me at all — besides, all those cannibalistic feasts are a terrible mess — so donning the sackcloth habit remains the only option.

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Playing with my ruler as a pious lay brother is a surprisingly uplifting experience. It involves missions given to you by the head of the order, usually meaning that you have to go into seclusion to fast, pray and meditate on the Word of God, but you also participate in events like a pilgrimage to a holy site containing a precious relic. The reward systems is interesting, because gaining a higher rank gives you the power to cure a courtier or family member from a certain vice or even teach them virtue, which, as I suppose, reflects some of the quiet power such religious societies had in the medieval period. Of course, someone could point out that this vision is too idealistic and ignores the historical fact that monastic orders had direct political power too, and that some convents were literal nests of debauchery, but I’m not going to complain about that. Monks&Mystics may not be complex enough, but at least it avoids presentism, anti-medieval bias and the tired Dung Ages cliché, which is enough for me.

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After all, nobody in the game pretends that monks are infallible

Since I tried to play the DLC with a Catholic ruler, I’m really curious how it works out for other religions. Can I become a Sufi mystic as a Shia leader? What option do Buddhists or Hindus have? Maybe I’ll try those options out and write about it next week.

 

Weekly: Grande Finale

The Courier’s little vacation in the luxurious Sierra Madre spa seems to be nearly over.

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After leading my three companions to the crucial locations and triggering the gala opening event, I’m finally inside. What a wonderful place! They have a bar, a stage for singers and soft cozy beds! Too bad that the casino complex is simply infested with homicidal holograms and traps, not to mention that the locals decided to pay a visit too, which means more zombie-like Ghosts for me to kill. And then there’s that old bitter man who tells me to do ugly things, or else the collar on my neck explodes.

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The aforementioned trio is inside too and Elijah, the crazy renegade from Brotherhood of Steel, wants me to get rid of them. I don’t like villains telling me what to do (unless it’s Kay-saar), so I try to help my companions instead. First I find God/Dog in the kitchen: he is a supermutant suffering from a split personality, with his ego and id imprisoned within one body. Apparently, his animal side has had enough and wants to finish their lives by opening gas valves and sending us all to hell, but thanks to my Courier’s intellectual superiority he (it?) changes the plans. Eventually, the conversation gives me a chance to help God and Dog become one person again. Believe me, hearing the tone of their voice as they thanked me was one of the few moments in Fallout series when I felt genuinely touched.

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And then there’s Christine, another BoS member, who was sent to hunt Elijah down. She was captured by him in the Sierra Madre town and horribly mutilated, losing her voice and gaining many scars. She’s one of my favourite New Vegas characters so far, even if I spent most of our ‘conversation’ trying to guess her answers. Then I was genuinely happy when she finally recovered here ability to speech. Another moment of warmth in an otherwise cold game.

Eventually, thanks to Christine I’m able to reach the vault below the casino where our common nemesis is hiding. Unfortunately, to reach him I’ll have to beat a literal obstacle course with even more aggressive holograms and speakers making my head a-splode. As usual, I’m playing without manual saving and have to return to the checkpoint after each death, so this will take some time. Expect to see the steaming corpse of Elijah in the next Weekly post.

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Goals for this week: Publish the final post about The Final Station. With screens.

Weekly: Absolutely Barbaric!

Tasting three different flavours of post-apocalypse.

Maybe it’s 2017, but from time to time fond memories still bring me back to the Newgrounds. This time I’m revisiting Barbarium, a humorous take on heroic fantasy themes and post-apocalyptic setting. This 2D platformer begins with our hero, a half-naked muscular savage wielding a sword and a laser blaster, pushing through a scorched wasteland to reach remnants of a modern city. Then he wanders among ruins slaying mutants, releasing bikini-clad babes from shackles and gulping beer, guided by cryptic advice from archetypal crazy old Chinese savants. The visuals won’t earn it any prize, but the game sure is fun.

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Recently, I have begun my final approach to The Final Train. I’m doing it to refresh my memory because the game certainly deserves a longer Just Finished post on this blog. If you haven’t played it, the story may seem trivial and full of clichés (zombies, alien invasion, giant robot, etc.), but playing just for a few hours reveals a certain depth. This is my favourite approach to horror games: subtlety and quiet dread instead of gore and shock value.

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Even if I’m still stuck in Sierra Madre, it’s not so bad because I learned how to enjoy the game again. All thanks to the wonderful piece of technology called the Holorifle. Typically for me, I barely used and used the Police Pistol to decapitate the Ghosts, saving the energetic weapon for That One Special Moment (which usually never comes and you’re left with a shiny new weapon and lots of ammo), but I changed my approach. Dodging spears and gas bombs thrown by the revenants while blasting their heads with two shots each feels great. Another reminder to play in a more relaxed and, well, crazy way.

Goals: Nothing specific. Just drag through the mud.

Weekly: Men Among the Ruins

Stealing from the evil Old World and giving it to the poor. Then going for a slow walk through a burning forest.

After a prolonged break, I got back to New Vegas and found my Courier in the same place where I had left him: slowly, painfully crawling through the killing cloud in the abandoned Sierra Madre casino. The reason it’s going so slow is, as always, my obsession with collecting all achievements, which includes snooping through each pile of trash in search of a special deck of cards. Note to myself: next time I should play NV in a more relaxed way.

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The main antagonist, Father Elijah, hardly counts as a villain in my book. Maybe I don’t know his full story yet, but he got my attention with one speech in which, essentially, he pictured breaking into the casino as a revenge against the corrupt Old World which destroyed itself and condemned its descendants to this existence full of misery. Speaking more generally, his determination to reach the goal, the ruthlesness, the weariness behind each word he speaks make him a very relatable character.

All right, Father, at this point I’m ready to forgive you everything, the exploding collar on my neck, poisonous gas and traps everywhere, finally the not exactly charming companions I’m stuck with. Let’s get into that fortress and claim what is rightfully ours.

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Firewatch seems to be the perfect game for the Autumn season. After all, if I understand it correctly, one of its main themes is the passing of things. The great fire will devour the forest just like the coming winter will take all the light and warmth. The people our protagonist loves so much will leave him too, just like the long Summer evenings have abandoned me. At least, in the so-called real-life I can always hope for a new dawn and coming of spring, but after watching the ending I doubt there will be renewal and rebirth for the game’s anti-hero. Actually, I began to despise him for his weakness and passivity, but maybe I’ll write more about it next time.

What is really great about playing it for the second time, I can finally stop following the conversations and focus on the visual side. This time, the goal is to take some screenshots which capture the essence of the game and make a gallery post. We’ll see how it works out.

New Vegas: Via Crucis

Imagine a scene Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western: a man dragging a corpse along a road in the middle of a post-apocalyptic desert. A woman clad in power armour walks at his side, chattering about weather, food and the last Deathclaw they shot together. A sudden cut and you can see a sweating face of the man — who’s clearly in the wrong place and at the wrong time.

Next scene: the couple and their mutilated baggage meet a military patrol under the wall of a civilian airport, which clearly had been turned into a military stronghold. The man gives the troopers a begging look while the carcass, wearing the same uniform as they are wearing, drags him down to the ground. The armed men pretend that he isn’t there. After a prolonged silence, he sighs and begins to walk away while his female companion stays back and enjoys a casual chat with the troopers.

The unfortunate couple (or trio, depending on how you look at it) is assaulted by a pack of ragged bandits. The man quickly drops his burden and reaches for his weapon. After a brief shoot out, everything is quiet. The tormented corpse has a few more bullet holes and after-laser burnings.

The funeral party finally reaches the gates of the encampment. He points at th corpse, but the chief guard simply shakes his head. The man freezes, then frowns and finally drops his hands.

A few quick shots showing the protagonists going back exactly the same way. Finally they arrive at the ruined outpost where they had picked up the corpse in the first place. Near to it, there’s a couple of soldiers waiting behind a barricade. They receive the corpse and put it behind the sandbags. Some words are exchanged. The stranger and his steel-wearing companion slowly walk towards the sunset. A final shot at his face, eyes closed, lip corners dropping. Then a big THE END and credits.

To sum it up, it was one of the strangest and most enjoyable quests I’ve ever finished in the Fallout series.

The real story is somewhat bland: a female NCR soldier asks you to find the remains of her husband who had been kidnapped by some raiders. The task is simple: find the cluster of ruined buildings they are hiding in, shoot or stab them, disarm some mines, get the trooper’s remnants. The interesting part begins now, because it’s an unmarked quest so you don’t get a marker on your map and must know your destination. It gets even better when you realise that you can’t just pick up the corpse and add it to your equipment. Instead, you are forced to drag it behind you using the Hold button. No fast travel allowed, of course.

Maybe this will sound ridiculous, but after a moment of frustration I began to have fun with this bugged quest. This was the moment I really realised that New Vegas is a masterpiece.

New Vegas: From Omaha Beach to Mojave Desert

One of the best things about F:NV is the variety of guns to buy and use on the skull of an unlucky Raider — especially with the Gun Runners’ Arsenal DLC. Now it seems that I’ve found a perfect weapon: the BATTLE RIFLE.

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Also known as the M1 Garand rifle.

There are so many reasons to love it that it’s too hard to name them all, but let’s try to sum it up one sentence: it has a soul. The fact that The Courier holds a weapon designed about 300 years before he was born, a weapon which saw the beaches of Normandy and mountains of Korea, makes me think about a young warrior who suddenly finds a sword which once belonged to a mythical hero of distant past – Roland, Siegfried and Achilles. The historical background somehow reflects in its appearance, because even on my extremely low-end laptop the M1 looks much more real than other weapons found in the game, especially those fancy plasma and laser toys.

Beside all that, the Garand is an old friend. I’ve encountered it in some other games and always enjoyed firing it, mainly because it’s a semi-automatic rifle. Maybe it’s just me, but a weapon which doesn’t have an automatic mode turns a firefight into hunting. Everytime I manage to put an enemy to the ground with a well-placed shot, there’s a moment of elation – something I don’t feel with energy weapons or assault rifles. ‘Happiness is a warm gun’, indeed.