Backlog: Polar Vortex Edition

Residents of the Pacific Northwest typically don't need a lot of prompting to wax poetic (or at least boastful) about their region of residence. However, the recent cold snap experienced by most of the lower 48 United States is a prime opportunity for us forest-dwellers. So, dear readers, if you'll indulge me: *clears throat*

Cascadia, a place that day to day faces "constant rain," as stereotypes say has defaulted to the weather for which it is famous (and if you've heard the news, can you really blame us?). We've decided to opt out of the "Polar Vortex," instead choosing grey skies, and clothes of Gore-Tex, so, sorry if you were colder than Alaska for a spell; from the land of mid-40s and drizzle, we wish you well.

Anyway, I guess we've been playing some videogames -- and "we," for the purposes of this article, means "Aaron and Spencer." Join me for a closer look! -- Spencer Tordoff

Header image: "View from Home" by edward stojakovic.

Aaron

Backlog-Batman-Origins.png

Sit down. I want to share my thoughts on Batman: Arkham Origins.

Some not-so-great things were written about this game, which is putting it lightly.

My opinion skews into the “forgivable” end of the Venn diagram of mediocrity that is Origins. Yes, I agree that it’s a copy-and-paste job of the previous two Batman titles. And no, WB Montreal didn’t progress the franchise much, if at all. That’s kind of hard to do with a prequel.

Even so, the game is worth playing if you have a passing interest in the Batman mythos. One scene in particular sticks out, and it’s during the last third of the game. Alfred and Bruce (I say Bruce because by this point in the plot the Batman veneer has started to rub off under stress) have one of the most believable and sincere arguments I’ve ever heard in a videogame. The palpable concern from Alfred over the young, angry Bruce almost made me tear up. Their relationship has been explored ad-nauseum in every notable Batman era, but the development team went out on a limb to make us remember that Alfred really, truly cares. Not out of obligation or servitude or some sense of vicariousness, but because he loves Bruce Wayne like a son in a way that gives Sir Michael Caine a run for his money.

Here’s a YouTube clip of the scene I’m talking about:

Cutscenes are generally cliched, but this one sold the entire game for me. Up until that point it was mostly grunts and revenge fantasies that came out of Batman’s cowled head. But in that short interlude I came to respect WB Montreal’s vision for more story and emotion from the lead characters. The previous framework (mechanics and gameplay) needed no alterations -- Asylum and City were perfect.

Rocksteady built the best Batman game possible. WB Montreal wrote the best Batman game, period.

Despite the departure of key voice talent, specifically Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy, the new cast more than held their own. Martin Jarvis, returning as Alfred, killed it in the aforementioned scene. And Roger Craig Smith (better known as Ezio from Assassin’s Creed) pulled off a gravely Batman better than Christian Bale ever could.

Maybe I’m delusional because I got the game during the winter Steam sale for $25. If that’s the case, then disregard this backlog entry.

But maybe, just maybe, critics don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about most of the time. The lesson here is listen to me, and me alone, because I’m more right about this game than they were.

Spencer

It’s a vivid, surreal universe out there in Ballpoint Universe – Infinite. I imagine it came from a bored kid in a math class somewhere.

It’s a vivid, surreal universe out there in Ballpoint Universe – Infinite. I imagine it came from a bored kid in a math class somewhere.

Battlefield, yadda yadda yadda. Let's move on to the stuff that matters.

As probably very few of our readership know, I run a highly informal side project -- a games stream called "Buslords of Chechnya." Spawned after one late night spent playing DayZ (the mod) with a couple friends, the premise is simple:

1. Choose a game. Any old game will do, as long as enough of the team has it. At least once, though, we were called upon to help with a review, with disastrous results. 2. Pour a drink. Much like part 1, any old drink will do, as long as it contains an inebriant. 3. Start the stream. 4. Yell obscenities.

For our first session of 2014, we grabbed copies of Steam Early Access title Damned, which advertises survival-horror gameplay, randomly generated levels, and five-player multiplayer. When we started playing, there was a lot of laughter and chatter about the alpha-ness of the game's current build. The game gives no explanation of how to play, the graphics are un-optimized and lag badly, and we experienced a few crashes and disconnects.

Then the screaming started.

There's a lot of work to be done on Damned, certainly, but the core concept is solid. Without spoiling too much, think Amnesia, but with three asshole friends who will leave you to die at the drop of a hat, and a horrifying monster that litters the level with jump scares...then appears out of nowhere to murder you. The positional VoIP is a nice touch, too.

Simply put, Damned is one to watch.

My brother gifted me a copy of Ballpoint Universe - Infinite, a title I hadn't heard a word about before its arrival. However, its lack of publicity is no reflection on the quality of the title. BPU is charming and unique -- all hand-drawn art that would look at home in a middle school notebook, and an ambient soundtrack of mellow bleeps and bloops. The game itself is both a platformer and a side-scrolling shooter, transitioning between roaming and exploration, and live-fire missions against the evil Logicians. I’ll have more to say on this later, I’m sure, but in the interim; Thanks, Graham.

I’ve also been playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. My feelings on this are probably tainted by our GOTY feature. More to come.

Finally, one of my Kickstarters has born fruit: Consortium is finally out, and I've sunk a couple hours into it so far. Rest assured, readers, I'll let you know how it goes.