Backlog: "November, Incoming" Edition

Ahh, November. In my family, it's a time for donut holes and apple cider (honestly, not sure where that came from, but it is still fall down here). If you're me or my brother, then it's a time to stop madly on a Dance Dance Revolution playmat, frantically trying to keep winter weight from setting in. For some people, it's a time to not shave their facial hair. For aspiring writers, it's a time to try your hand at writing a novel, before realizing you hate the exercise.

And for publishers? November is time to release as many games as possible in a short span of time, so they can be on store shelves for the Christmas rush. On one hand, it's an illustration of the flagrant consumerism so endemic to our culture. But on the other, it does mean that a lot of great games tend to come out in the fair month of November -- not to speak of the two next-gen consoles. 

Are we participating in the electronic onslaught? Myself, Nick, Tyler and Aaron have all chimed in this week. Let's see what we've been playing! - Spencer

(Thanks to Roberto Verzo for this week's header image.)

Spencer

It really does hold up

It really does hold up

I started playing through Half-Life 2 earlier this week, aiming to reach Ravenholm by Halloween. Similarly, I decided to start up Halo 3 for an evening. Weird, unexpected cravings, in both cases.

It’s interesting to see how these shining pillars of AAA game design have aged. HL2’s level design has held up pretty well - it’s a bit meandering, but otherwise nicely paced, with plenty of set-pieces and subtle secrets to track down. However, its mechanics have grown old -- a lot of what made HL2 so groundbreaking on release (physics gameplay, notably) are now standard fare for most current FPSes, and the remainder feels a bit loose and sloppy. The graphics, too, are a bit worn out (prompting me to search for a graphical update mod).

Halo 3, meanwhile, has held up fairly well in terms of visuals. And, indeed, its gameplay is remarkably sturdy -- the Halo series has iterated on itself very well, and its mechanics have a distinctive, solid feeling. Level design, though, has never been Bungie’s forte, and while Reach was solidly paced, Halo 3 is reminiscent of the first entry in the series. I was seriously shocked at how much you backtrack through entire levels and single identical rooms.

I was also pretty shocked that I had never noticed before.

Plants vs. Zombies 2 is so overrun with microtransactions that playing it just bums me out. There might be a good game in there, but I can’t tell through all the dollar signs. Thanks a lot, EA.

If you need a Rotom, an Abra, or a Gen 1 / Gen 6 starter in Pokemon X/Y, drop me a line -- my Ditto-fueled breeding setup is in full swing. That is, if you can deal with the ridiculous nicknames I give each and every Pokemon I own.

Anyway, my current plan for this weekend is to get legendarily, intervention-inspiringly drunk, and then knock over buildings in Battlefield 4. Wish me luck.

Nick

Think Assassin’s Creed 3 meets Pirates of the Caribbean

Think Assassin’s Creed 3 meets Pirates of the Caribbean

It’s been a pretty quiet week for me in terms of gaming. Most of my free time has been spent learning the intricacies of Bethesda’s Creation Kit, the tool for making anything in Skyrim. I’m rediscovering my love for designing things, which has been wonderful, but it’s also meant there’s precious little free time for gaming.

Still, I wanted to make at least one exception. I picked up Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag on Tuesday and sank a couple hours into it. While it’s still too early to make any sweeping statements about the game, it certainly seems the development team was trying to avoid some of the more-criticized elements of its predecessors. The introductory phase is blissfully short and lets you get right to the stabbing, swashbuckling and climbing that made this series so fun to begin with. As a protagonist, Edward Kenway is charming and appropriately pirate-y. But as someone who got way too involved in the series’ fiction, I have to wonder how everything that’s happening fits into the greater story arc — both in the Kenway lineage and in, you know, the present-day world that frames these historical stories.

Tyler

A hellish horse, of course

A hellish horse, of course

tyler-backlog-v2.png

I may be three years late but I finally finished Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare. At the time of its original release I was far too burnt out on John Marston’s adventures in the wild west to stomach the addition of zombies. However, with Halloween upon us and Grand Theft Auto V squarely in my rearview mirror, I thought now would be a great time to revisit what may be remembered as Rockstar’s greatest effort this generation. Undead Nightmare’s horror-themed trappings are simultaneously it’s greatest asset and hindrance. The excellently crafted open world is still there but is frequently plagued with a greenish-gray filter; the music is evocative of cheesy B horror movies from the sixties and seventies (in a good way) and Marston takes every strange moment in stride: dryly tying up his wife and son when they change into zombies and his lamentation over searching undead corpses for spare ammunition.

I know Undead Nightmare is something of a fan favorite, but the addition of zombies frankly doesn’t work for this type of game. The undead are only killed by headshots, and the hordes are not very fun to deal with in this fashion. The final mission is literally a slog down a narrow hallway full of zombies and is the opposite of enjoyable.

Though there are parts that work, like the side missions: hunting sasquatch and taming the four horses of the apocalypse. Such things that were fun in the original campaign remain enjoyable, possibly more so, because of these clever twists.

It was nice to revisit the southwest of Red Dead Redemption, but I can’t help wishing Undead Nightmare was in the setting and story of the original, rather than some tongue-in-cheek horror motif. There's a way to make such a theme work -- I'd suggest that Rockstar looks to the original Borderlands expansion, The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, as a better example.

Aaron

*Not possible on your PC

*Not possible on your PC

Battlefield 4 is a holy event in my life the way Christmas mass is to Catholics. Both are rituals meant to celebrate the birth of a higher power and to provide solace to us on this great journey we call life and, most importantly, how along that path you’re going to afford a new graphics card.

Maybe that wasn’t a good analogy. Pardon me: I’m not religious.

No matter its incarnation (console to PC, Bad Company to2142), DICE can do me no wrong. They are masters of the open-ended shooter, the polygonal maestros of unpredictable vehicular devastation. And while hardcore fans decry things like “Levelution” and “Battlefield Moments” as if they matter outside of promotional materials, a true enthusiast shuts the fuck up and shoots people with his (now five-person) squad of buddies/comrades/mates/complete strangers.

I know there are dozens, if not hundreds, of first-person shooting galleries out there. It’s a genre that threw a middle finger up at critics years ago and kept on ad nauseum. However, Battlefield’s core formula never tires. It is the exception. We can’t be besties if you disagree.

Battlefield 5 can add four tanks and a new dog tag set and I will still fork over $60 to EA because every match of every day shows me something new and exciting. Every match and every new team affects the end experience because DICE figured out back in Battlefield 1942 that a robust sandbox is more than enough to keep us sociopaths entertained.

So give me Battlelog, give me Premium and make me spend $320 on a new GeForce GTX 760 FTW 4GB graphics card (you’re welcome, EVGA) -- I’ll scarf down whatever slop dear ol’ farmer DICE decides to dump in the trough. That’ll do for this pig. (Anyone remember Babe?)

Hmm. Perhaps I have more in common with Call of Duty players than I thought.

Nope. They’re still subhuman.

Find me on Origin or Battlelog at Athay07. I’d like to add your dogtags to my collection!