Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Thought Scouring And Dingy Santa Monica

So, this is another one of the "touch base" posts.  This time, I'm going to talk about two games I've been playing lately.  They're both games I've played before, and have just recently started replaying.

First and foremost...


This game came out in 2005, and was the first game of Tim Schafer's Double Fine Productions.  It was pretty much a commercial flop, but received fairly good reviews.

Alright, that's enough real world discussion about the game, let's get into why you play.  You play the role of Rasputin (also known as Raz) as he sneaks into a summer camp for psychic children.  The camp is run by the Psychonauts, a secret agency who's members are all powerful psychics.

On the surface, this game looks all cutsy and a bit artsy fartsy, and yeah, it kinda is.  Where this game really shines though, is the characterization.  Every character in the game has a backstory, and a personality.  Every camper, counselor, and secondary character all have their own quirks and behaviors.

Speaking of the counselors, the three you come across all seem like spy tropes you've seen before.  You got your calm, cool, collected guy, the party girl who've very capable, and then the strict militant type.  The interesting thing though is that each of these elite super-spies have locked up memories in their heads.  While poking about in their brains, you can find safes that hold repressed memories.  Crack them open, and you'll be allowed glimpses into their personal lives.  This could be anything from someone falling in love, to another developing a hatred of something due to it being present at the death of a relative.

That last line should kind of jump out of you.  This game is SURPRISINGLY dark at times.  There are nods to different disorders that affect people (split-personality, obsessive compulsive, etc), and while you're in their heads, you will have to face these compulsions head-on in order to help the person.

All of this crazy though is wrapped up in absolutely wonderful level design.  Building off the idea of investigating people's minds and psyches, each person views the world differently, so each level represents that.  You'll go from a dance party, to a level where you become the equivalent to Godzilla, and even an absolutely stunning level that looks like you're immersed in a velvet painting.

Painted Attire included.

The game is very heavily based around exploration and collectables.  In brains, you collect pieces of emotional baggage (reveals concept art and other images), mental figments (they raise your rank as a psychic), and mental cobwebs.  When not in someones' brain, you're picking up scavenger hunt items, arrowheads to spend at the store, and other items that boost your psychic rank.

A few negatives to list.  First off, as with most 3D platformers, there is some issues with the camera from time to time.  This makes landing tricky jumps a bit sketchy.  Some of the item hunting can really bother completionists, and the regular player as well.  There's a LOT of things to gather.  The end level is one of the hardest levels I've ever played in any game.  To the point of being unfair at times.  To break this level down: It starts you with a freaking escort mission.  Your escortee is dumber than a box of rocks (he is a child I suppose), and after each step of rescuing him, he flies off ahead of you... and takes damage... before you can get to him.  The next phase is a rail grinding portion that's not too difficult, but timing the jumps can be an issue.  The boss fights in this stage aren't even that bad.  But the section following the first boss fight is the part that gave me the most trouble.  There's precision platforming, while dodging bombs being thrown at you, and a raising water level that's an instant 'send you back to checkpoint' kill.

Luckily, I resisted doing this.

I will say that I did feel immense satisfaction in beating the tricky sections though.  It's a game I'd recommend to most people, if you can get past the dated appearance.  It is stylized, so it holds its own a bit, but you can definitely notice some issues. 


From one end of the spectrum, to the other.  This game is a FPRPG that's based off the tabletop "World of Darkness" gaming system, specifically off the Vampires the Masquerade expansion.  The game came out in 2004, with the Vampires the Masquerade gaming system dating back to 1991.  These are not your new wave of vampires.  

First and foremost, this game does one thing really really well.  The mood, setting, and ambiance of the game are fantastic.  The setting is grim, the characters are always thinking ahead, and the streets of California look dirty as hell.  The first thing you see when you start the game is an execution of your sire, that is the vampire who turned you.  This is done on a stage in front of dozens of other vampys, and done without remorse.  This sets the tone for how strict and underhanded the rules of this secret night society can be.  

A quick note.  This game is from 2004, and runs on an early version of the Source engine.  It does NOT hold up well with time, especially when it comes to combat.  In a game that's based on mixing urban legends with a fairly realistic setting, watching your opponent fly, spinning 10 feet after you punch them stretches things juuuuuust a little bit.  

So, back to the positives.  This game follows the actual tabletop game fairly closely, in terms of character creation and advancement.  You pick your clan (race of vampire), and then allocate your starting attribute points.  As you progress, you earn Experience points that you can spend on improving your skills, attributes, and powers.  It's very similar to the pen-and-paper game in that regard.  If someone has never played the tabletop game, this is a great way to get into it.  You get a basic introduction to how mechanics work, character creation and advancement, and the setting.  I'm all for more games like this, that make breaking into new ventures easier.  

The game has a Deus Ex like progression.  You can use your varying skills and abilities to complete your missions in various ways.  Some levels can be stealthed, while others you can go through punching everyone in the face, and others can be gotten through with diplomacy, threats, and other subterfuge.  Granted, you're not fully free to talk your way through everything, bu it's still pretty nice to have the options.  The unavoidable boss fights too mean that you need to at least focus slightly on offense in some capacity.  

He's made of Kool-Aid!

This game has a fair amount of replayability.  For me, the biggest reason to replay is the setting and the storyline.  I find it's just an enjoyable world to get involved in.  The game offers a few different endings (7 I think), different playable races and different playstyles.  Playing as the crazy Malkavian clan isn't recommended for your first playthrough though.  It can kind of spoil things.  This is another game that if you can get around the rough edges, you will probably enjoy yourself.

Almost every player of this game whom I've talked to knows what these words mean.

Ocean House Hotel.

For those who haven't gotten that far in the game, you're in for a treat.

1 comment:

  1. Both underrated gems.

    Also, VtmB has a lot of user created patches and mods to help keep the game current.