Weekly: Springtime for Uncle Ho

My wonderful adventure in the post-nuclear Boston was suddenly interrupted by the sound of UH-1 helicopters blasting Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. That’s right, I entered April and the spring surrounded by burning napalm. Fire, walk with me.

 

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Source: fluxy.net

 

When doing some spring cleaning at my parents’ house during the Easter holidays, I found an unexpected treasure at the bottom of my old wardrobe. Lo and behold! A forgotten copy of Battlefield Vietnam. Since both I and my little brother used to be dedicated fans of the game, without much thinking I asked him if he’d like to revive the good old times and throw a mini-LAN party. His answer was more than enthusiastic.

After two evening sessions, each two or three hours long, I can tell that it’s an absolute classic. Obviously, the visual side looks very outdated 14 years after the game’s release, but the rest is still as great as I remember it. One of my favourite things about BF:V is that it finally fives some screen time to the South Vietnamese army and treats them fairly – something that I wish would happen more often in Western media tackling the subject of Vietnam War.

Now, the most important thing. Since it’s spring now, the temperatures are constantly rising and the concrete jungle I live in will feel like being in Saigon. Therefore, I officially announce that I’m opening the Vietnam War video games season. We’ll see whether I go back to classics like Vietcong or Men of Valor, or maybe try out something new like the strategy game Vietnam’65. In any case, I’ll surely write more about that.

 

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Source: TV Series Finale

 

I barely watch any TV shows these times, but I’ll definitely make an exception for The Terror recently released by AMC. I didn’t read the novel by Dan Simmons it’s based on, supposedly a bestseller, but it seems the closest thing we have to a film adaptation of Sunless Sea, a game I spent more than 700 delightful hours with. Sure, the show is not set in an alternative Victorian era where London was kidnapped by pointy-eared eldritch abominations, but it has Royal Navy exploring the northern wastes in search of another passage to the Pacific Ocean. Their adventures involve cold, darkness, cannibalism and a bit of supernatural, so it feels close enough. I deliberately won’t read anything about the historical events which served Mr Simmons as the background for the book’s plot. All I’ll do is to watch a few episodes, compare them with my (very rich) memories from the Neath, and maybe write a few words about it.

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Weekly: Arstotzka Film Presents

For the past few weeks, I’ve mostly kept babbling about Fallout 4 and how much I’ve enjoyed playing it so far. Now it’s time to change it because a real miracle happened: a film adaptation of a video game which is more than decent.

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Disclaimer: since this is my first attempt to write a film review, you have to know that I’m not even trying to be objective. Not only because I love this game, but also because I’m biased against American film industry and culture in general while having a soft spot for Russian films.

Maybe it’s dangerous to use such big words in the age of post-sincerity, but Papers Please is a masterpiece for me and nothing will ever change my mind. When I learned that a short film based on Lucas Pope‘s game is about to be released, I felt mostly two emotions: awe and trembling. As a dedicated fan of his work, I was more than happy, but as a fan of video games in general, someone who watched Super Mario Bros. and Assassin’s Creed, I was also afraid of a disaster – after all, most films based on video games are forgettable crap. My anxiety dropped a little after further reading when I learned that the incoming short film was being made not by a big Hollywood studio but by a small Russian team lead by the director Nikita Ordynskiy.

Thus, when it was finally released on Steam, I pushed the ‘play’ button with a trembling finger…

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Due to its length, the film’s plot is simple. It starts with The Inspector arriving at work and having a short conversation with the guard Sergiu who asks him for a favor. Then the day starts and he has to process the people trying to cross the border, facing heartbreaking dilemmas, taking difficult decisions and paying the final price for them.

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Acting is convincing enough, and Igor Savochkin seems to have been born to play the main character with his sharp features and deep-set eyes. When he struggles to hide his conflicted emotions, it feels like looking at someone who desperately tries to get out of a very deep trap pit, but also reminds the viewer that The Inspector is as much an oppressor as a victim of Arstotzka‘s system – I’ve crossed a few Eastern European borders in my life and I remember the same stone-cold faces and piercing eyes of border officials checking my passport. Another remarkable role is played by Antonina Kravcova. If you’ve ever rejected Eliza in the original game, you’ll remember her sad eyes and resigned voice for long.

20180323232630_1.jpgAdmittedly, the film treats the source material seriously and only manages to capture its original tone but even incorporates the interface and mechanics, and does it seamlessly. The camera repeatedly zooms on the passports when The Inspector looks for discrepancies, at one point he receives a printed order from the Ministry (I swear, the dreaded printer sound made me jump) and, of course, there’s the ominous red stamp. Of course, there are minor alterations, for example the protagonist has a Makarov pistol instead of a rifle in his safe, but they don’t change the overall impression at all.

The only single criticism I can bring is the film’s duration, obviously. It should be at least one hour longer, with long shots and lots of silence, to match the game’s atmosphere and make the plot look less simplistic. Beside that, this is how an adaptation of a video game should look like and I can certainly recommend it to anyone, even they never played Papers, Please or even if they aren’t interested in video games at all. If you hear that your favorite game is being put on the silver screen, be sure to bomb the screenwriters and the director with links to Ordynskiy‘s film so they can learn how to get the job done.

Glory to the New Arstotzka!

(sorry, I had to finish the post like this)

Weekly: The Hero’s Return

An obvious fact: the Survival mode in Fallout 4 is there for immersion. One of the things I like about it is that it really makes you realise the importance of places like Diamond City or Goodneighbor. After all, they are the safe havens and beacons of civilisation amidst the ocean of chaos and violence which is the Commonwealth. But I wouldn’t have realised it without finishing a really funny but somewhat exhausting quest.

Supermutated spoilers below!

Meet the Silver Shroud, a comic book superhero from the age before the whole US-Chinese misunderstanding happened. When in Goodneighbor, you can meet Kent Connolly, a ghoul who has been Shroud‘s fan for the past 200 years and has is own radio station broadcasting episodes of the hero’s adventures. After a short conversation it becomes obvious that he wants to revive the legend – and the Lone Survivor is to play the main character. The first step is to obtain the Silver Shroud costume and his iconic weapon from the ruins of a comic book company. Then Kent, a trained radio technician, begins to transmit the names and locations of local villains who are in need of superhero treatment (which involves lots and lots of shooting). What is really interesting, when you confront the baddies, you can choose between having a conversation in your standard voice or impersonating the Shroud in a really hammy way. Eventually, after delivering justice to some lesser minions you have the chance to meet Sinjin, the supervillain. At this point, things got really interesting and led to a wonderful conclusion.

I returned to Goodneighbor after disposing of the last Sinji’s henchmen only to find out that Kent had been kidnapped. Since I really enjoyed the quest so far, I decided to do the hero part and immediately go out to rescue him. This required a rather long journey south and clearing several floors of an old hospital. The hard part began when I reached my target, Sinji and his gang of goons, holding Kent at gunpoint. Without boring you with the details, I can just say that killing the former and saving the latter required a lot of reloads and experimenting with Charisma-enhancing drugs. Seriously, it was the most frustrating experience in my Fallout 4 experience so far. Needless to say, in the end, the hero saved the day.

 

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The hero. The villain. The author.

 

Then the wonderful thing happened. It was late in the night on both sides of my PC screen. The Silver Shroud finally got back to Diamond City, wounded, tired, hungry, sick, suffering from radiation – and wasn’t feeling much better than him, minus a few gunshot wounds. After crossing the city gate, we both saw this…

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…at the first moment, I didn’t really realise what was happening, but I quickly checked the in-game date on my Pipboy. 25 Dec 2287. After surviving a difficult and demanding adventure, I (we?) can finally sit down, rest and have a deathclaw steak for Christmas supper.

Hey, the game even dropped a Christmas gift on me. Here’s what I found on a Legendary Raider‘s corpse shortly before getting back home.

 

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The Ultimate Weapon.

 

True catharsis. The perfect union between the player and his alter ego. You play games for moments like this.

Maybe Fallout 4 isn’t a bad RPG after all.

Weekly: It’s Good To Be a Survivor

Damn, it feels like being alive again. For the past few months, I found little joy in playing video games, constantly skipping from one title to another and finding no satisfaction whatsoever.

 

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Maybe I’m just too old for this kind of hobby?

 

To my surprise, this changed after I finally got Fallout 4 downloaded to my disk.  To say that I enjoy it would be saying nothing, as I’m simply hypnotised by everything happening on the screen. So, maybe it’s the right time for little introspection. Let’s sit down and think about the reasons why I like Fallout 4 so much.

Survival of the Stealthiest

While the so-called Hardcore mode in Fallout New Vegas was a disappointment, adding only minor challenges to the gameplay, the Survival difficulty mode in F4 is something completely different. First of all, hunger, thirst and radiation are serious issues now and if you forget about them, the game punishes you by severe stats penalties. Even more importantly, even rank-and-file characters are deadly now — fitting for the highest difficulty setting — but so is the player character. If he’s careless enough, a bunch of angry Raiders can shoot him down in a few seconds, but since your basic damage is considerably higher than on lower difficulties, you can turn the tables by quietly climbing up a building or a hill and taking them out with well-placed sniper shots. Generally, sneaking is one of the most valuable skills now and I’m all happy about it.

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The most important element of the Survival mode is the strategic value of beds. Since manual saving and most autosaves are disabled, you can keep your progress only by sleeping for at least one hour. That’s why it’s very important to search your surroundings for a resting place when entering a hostile territory. After all, you don’t want to lose hours of progress due to an unlucky incident with a frag mine or a genocidal ghoul. Obviously, it’s very frustrating when it happens, but it makes exploration of the wastes even more exciting.

Meet the Vault Tinkerer

Remember picking through tonnes of useless trash in Fallout 3 and New Vegas in search of Stimpaks and ammunition? Now it’s over. With the new crafting system, even tin cans and broken clocks can be real treasures. After finding a proper workshop, you can customise your weapons, armour and even the Pipboy to make them lighter, sturdier, deadlier, or simply more fancy. Add enough modifications and your weapon’s or armour’s name becomes ridiculously long, but they thought about it too and you can give it another name.

 

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Maybe I’ll just call her Vera.

 

While most ingredients are common enough, some are quite rare and you’ll learn to value each piece of circuitry or nuclear material you find in the dirt. Things get even more complicated when you find out that you need the same resources to expand your settlements, but I left my settlers to their own devices so far, so let’s just leave it at that.

The Power of the Armour

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There’s been a huge change in the way the game treats Power Armour in comparison with the previous instalments. Now it’s not just a piece of (very heavy and expensive) clothing you wear but rather it behaves like an in-game vehicle. The Sole Survivor enters it using that funny hatch on its back and, just like a real car, it needs fuel, the Fusion Cores, which aren’t exactly cheap but still surprisingly easy to find. Beside standard modifications increasing damage resistance, it has some new options unavailable for other types of armour, like an enhanced HUD targetting enemies or special filters in the helmet which clean your food and drink from radiation. Another minor but nice thing is that your PC sounds really badass in conversations when speaking through his power helmet. In short, for the first time in the history of the Fallout series, they really made the Power Armour something special.

Well, that’s it. I’m sure I’ll have more to write about when I spend another dozen or two of hours of playing under my belt. Meanwhile, let’s get a cup of noodles from that crazy Japanese robot and then set sail for the ruins of Boston.

 

 

 

Weekly: Nothing Changes On New Year’s Day

Do you have a song which makes your skin crawl? Do you feel a confusing mixture of emotions when listening to it? Here, let me share one of such songs with you.

All is quiet on New Year’s Day
A world in white gets underway
I want to be with you
Be with you, night and day
Nothing changes on New Year’s Day
On New Year’s Day

Under a blood-red sky
A crowd has gathered in black and white
Arms entwined, the chosen few
The newspaper says, says
Say it’s true, it’s true
And we can break through
Though torn in two
We can be one

“New Year’s Day” was written and recorded by the former rock rebels and current rock celebrities in U2 in 1983 as a commentary on the political and social situation in Poland after the introduction of martial law. Luckily, I was born too late to remember that period, but collective memory is a harsh mistress and the song still fills me with dread and sadness every time I hear it. Now, I have it stuck in my head because I decided to celebrate the first week of the new year by returning to Papers, Please.

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Winter in the glorious country of Arstotzka has the grey colour of armed concrete. I’m sitting in the inspector’s booth, scanning some innocent soul’s passport for the tiniest discrepancies and quietly wondering what is my worst fear: my superiors, the so-called resistance which keeps blowing my colleagues into tiny pieces, or simply not having enough money to feed my family. Suddenly, I discover that there’s a tiny typo in the passport. “Darżewski”, it says, while the ID tells me that he’s called “Durżewski”. With a silent sigh, I reach for the big red stamp. Entry denied. Sorry, my friend, you’re not coming in today. No, I don’t care about your wife waiting behind the barbed wire.

Perhaps this should be my greatest fear: that one day I will begin to think that this is okay and my life isn’t that bad.

When one of my Polish friends asked me to describe Papers, Please in one sentence, I answered: “It is a very wise game”. That’s right, Lucas Pope didn’t receive all the applause and rewards for simply making a satire on Eastern European communism. As simple as it may appear at the first sight, this game is incredibly profound and offers a unique experience, especially for someone living in the former Soviet Bloc. Actually, I finished it a few years ago, reaching most of the game endings, but when I saw it on the Steam sale in the last days of December, I simply couldn’t resist buying. Maybe I should write a longer post and explain why I consider it a masterpiece. Before that happen (and if it ever happens), I’m planning to revive my Soundtrack tag and make a list of songs which make playing games with dystopian theme more immersive. So, now I have a goal for this week.

Weekly: Back to the Trenchcoat Future

Connor

A coat, a fedora hat, a gun and… jumping trousers? I have you at Gunpoint!

Admittedly, my previous approach to this game was utterly wrong. While my initial reaction was enthusiastic, I simply got tired of trying to finish each level with the best result possible. Now, I’m back in the noir-cyberpunk business and a more relaxed way to play Gunpoint makes me discover how great it is. Just like mentioned in that post long time ago, all I want is to make my clients happy and get the A+ rating for every mission.

One of my favourite things is the dialogue system, even if it doesn’t reach the level of Fallout 2 writing.

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Maybe it’s not much, but I really enjoy to choose between snarky and cold, professional answers – especially when my choice isn’t just cosmetic and determines the plot. Besides, just passing levels and solving puzzles (which light to turn off first?) is a pleasurable experience. Yeah, I’ve come back and now I’m ready to finish the game.

Meanwhile, it’s The Current Year and I discovered that demo versions still exist.

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Too bad that the demo of Wolfenstein: The New Colossus was a huge disappointment. It’s not even about the ridiculous opening sequence, but even playing the first level feels bad. A shooter which doesn’t give you any pleasure of shooting. Still, everyone and their mum tells me that it’s a great game, so maybe I should give it another chance.

The only positive thing so far is that it made me realise how much I’ve always loved demo versions. Why don’t I write a post explaining why they are a unique experience…

 

Weekly: It’s Snowing In Mojave

This was supposed to be the post when I officially announce the beginning of the Winter Gaming Season. Then I would ramble how much I like spending long dark evenings with video games, make a promise to finally write a list of games which are most suitable for this part of the year. After all, it finally arrived last week and now its glorious snow everywhere and northern darkness is embracing us. So, it’s the right time to play Skyrim again and post a picture of my new character, right?

I’m sorry, it’s not going to happen yet. I’m still stuck in the desert.

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That’s right, New Vegas is just too good to abandon it now just because my favourite season has started. Last week, most of my gaming time was wandering from one settlement to another and looking for Wanted posters. The funny thing is that the third and final part of New Vegas Bounties takes the player to a new location which just happens to be a snowy mountain valley. What’s wrong with playing New Vegas in December when it looks like lo-fi Skyrim?

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Of course, the season will eventually begin and what would be better than celebrating it by the best winter game ever. I return to Transarctica almost every winter, but this time it has to be done right. No cheats, no walk-throughs, and I will play a properly installed HD0 version — which will require some tinkering with the WinUAE, something I’ve always hated.

Goals, goals, goals: Install Transarctica. Spend at least one hour writing that My Best Winter Games post.