Sunday, May 31, 2015

Halo 2 Review

Halo 2
Developed by Bungie
Published by Microsoft
In-house engine

This is going to be a brief review.  I thought the first Halo was a fantastic shooter that aged pretty well, and once I'd upgraded to Windows 8, I looked forward to playing the record-sales-smashing Halo 2.

I was incredibly disappointed.

Graphically, Halo 2 could have come out any time after 1998.  This might not mean anything to console players, but for the PC, 2004 was a golden year.  Halo 2 is way behind both the Source engine and id Tech 4, and arguably, worse even than the Unreal 2k4 engine.

Plot was poor.  Initially, the Covenant attacks Earth!  And that's pretty exciting, but a few hours later the game is more or less the first one again.  After ANOTHER hyperspace mystery jump, humanity and the Covenant fight across ANOTHER Halo, the Flood is released AGAIN, and there's a faction that wants to fire the Halo array AGAIN.

Halo introduced some great characters, but there is almost no dialogue in Halo 2.

A few new weapons and enemies are introduced, but on the downside, mouse sensitivity went all to hell and the vehicles are a real chore to maneuver.

I suppose that Halo 2 might have some merit as extending the story of an on-going franchise.  I would appreciate that more if all games after Halo 2 were not Xbox exclusive.  Even if Halo 2 is an adequate stepping-stone for a series, it is by itself a completely inferior, half-ass repeat of the first game, and compared to the other fare in that year, nothing I would highly recommend.

I have no idea how this set records.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Resident Evil 5 Review

Game: Resident Evil 5
Year (s): 2009
Company: dev. Capcom
pub. Capcom
Engine: MT Framework
Type: Co-Op Shooter
Viewpoint: Third-Person
Metacritic Score: 86
My Score: Basically unplayable.

Price (as of April 5, 2014)

Regular list price on Steam: $19.99
Lowest Buy-It-Now on eBay (new, with shipping): $9.90

Zombie Virus mayhem is now a biological weapon, and is used by everyone. You're part of a task force that deals with outbreaks in crappy parts of the world.

MT Frameworks is the in-house Capcom engine, which they've been using for almost a decade across all platforms. Graphically it's not impressive, but in the brief time I played this game, it didn't crash or bug out.

Save System

Checkpoint Save? Yes!

Combat and Gameplay
...and that's where things fell apart right off the bat. I had been warned that the PC version, single-player, was horrendous. While I hadn't played any Resident Evil games before, I had played a few other survival-horror titles, and thought I'd be safe trying Resident Evil 5 on easy.

Resident Evil 5 is a 2-player co-op game. For me, the second player was a bot. If either player dies, it's game over. Ammo and items can be passed between players.

Problem 1: the bot is dead weight. Once out of ammo, they will not use melee attacks. They will follow you pretty well, but they're not going to be dodging zombies actively.

Problem 2: there's not enough bullets. I'd heard this was an aspect of Resident Evil as a franchise, but I thought it would be more fun. The first time I ran out of bullets was a hold-out segment at the end of a level. I spent five minutes running in a circle with zombies chasing me while waiting for air support. I didn't find it entertaining whatsoever.

Problem 3: the controls. I accidentally found out that melee is a combination of holding down the space bar and clicking the mouse. I've played many cross-platform games, and nearly all of them use the same established keyboard/mouse arrangement I'm used to. It kind of always surprises me when I play a game with bad control setup.

I have heard similar complaints about other Capcom titles. It's the reason I haven't tried Lost Planet.

Expansions / DLC / Sequels
The DLC content just came out on Steam in the last week or so. It's another fifteen bucks, and I don't know why anyone would buy it.

Final Thoughts

This game is meant to be played on a console, with a controller, and with a friend. Resident Evil 5 might have some merit if played like that.

I played it by myself on a PC using keyboard and mouse, and gave up on it after less than an hour. Pass on this one.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Kobold Deck

Kobolds are those lovable 0/1 red guys for zero mana, from that great set of 1994, Legends.  And aside from Legends, they've barely been seen since.  In any case, I've had some kobolds lying around since pretty much forever, and thought I'd finally give this somewhat limited tribe a go of it.  After doing a handful of card searches, here's what I came up with:

60-Card Format

Crimson Kobolds
Crookshank Kobolds
Kobalds of Kher Keep

Kobold Drill Sergeant
Kobold Taskmaster

Taurean Mauler
Obelisk of Urd
Shared Animosity
Mob Rule

Kher Keep

I was going to put Bloodmark Mentor in instead of Kobold Overlord (both give first strike) but opted for Shared Animosity to make them bigger (which will help quite a bit once they have trample).  I only found Shared Animosity because I saw a guy that used Marton Stromgald with kobolds and then looked for similar things.  I also think shared Animosity might be used in other decks down the line, particularly because it only has one red mana in the casting cost.

I really liked Austere Command (blow up creatures with casting cost 4 or greater) but nixed it for Mob Rule.  Keeps the deck one color and $30-40 cheaper.  It doesn't kill my oppenents' biggies, but grabbing them for a turn is nearly as good.

I never got around to finding a use for Mana Echoes.  Fireball is ok, but Mana Echoes is an eight dollar card, and I've seen decks abuse the hell out of it with things like Mry Matrix or Sliver Queen.  Maybe someday, Mana Echoes, but not this deck.

I was pretty happy to find a use for Obelisk of Urd.  It's perfect with kobolds.  I'd been rather dubious about that card until now.  And I'm glad I finally found a place for Taurean Mauler, who got edged out of Sliver decks and goblin decks I've made.  

the way 90% of kobold decks go is out of my price range.  kobolds and other zero-drop creatures are used with Glimpse of Nature ($30 each) to draw half the library, then Cloudstone Curio comes out, and a card with a storm ability wins the game on the third turn.  I'm not against this type of deck, but again, it would cost substantially more, and besides, it could be done without kobolds at all.  There are lots of zero-cost creatures now.  I want kobolds to be the main event.

I think it'll be a fun little casual deck.  Half the cards are from Legends, while the other half give it some updated muscle.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Graveyard-Based MTG Decks

Magic has always had ways to use a graveyard to your advantage.  These are the decks that my brother and I have made over the years specifically for that purpose.  Some of these decks may have been mentioned in previous posts.

60 Card Format
Black, Blue

Animate Dead
Dance of the Dead
Crystal Chimes

Nevynraals Disk

Rhystic Study
Dark Ritual
Hidden Horrow
Feldon's Cane

Bringer of the Blue Dawn
Dralnu's Pet
Avatar of Woe

Assorted big creatures

Reanimation is a solid deck concept, but the nuts and bolts are all old cards.  Animate Dead (3rd/4th Edition), Dance of the Dead (Ice Age), and Necromancy (Visions) made the deck work.  Draw and discard spells changed over the years, as well as the choice of big creatures, but the base concept kept one of our longest-running decks going for over a decade.

60 Card Format
Green, White

4 Anvil of Bogarden
4 Mesmeric Orb

2 Harrow
2 Eternal Dragon
4 Werebear

4 Mystic Enforcer
3 Qasali Pridemage
4 Gurzigost

4 Bonehoard
4 Unburial Rites
4 Pulsemage Advocate


4 Riftstone Portal
2 Nantuko Monastery

WIN METHOD: Damage- Creatures, Mill
INHERENT WEAKNESSES: The deck may become a target by virtue of annoyance before taking off.


Originally this deck was built around one idea: what if I cast Traumatize on myself? Threshold, flashback, madness, hellbent, and other seldom-used mechanics become useful. While blue originally contributed the bulk of the deck, spells were replaced with better spells until the deck was cut to straight green and white.  This deck went through many iterations and card search terms, and is one of my favorite deck collaborations.

Nether Shadow
60 Card Format

Nether Shadow
Ashen Ghoul
Nether Traitor

Buried Alive
Iname, Death Aspect

Braids, Cabal Minion
Magus of the Abyss
Killing Wave
Barter in Blood

Blood Artist
Angel's Tomb
Demonic Tomb
Blood Funnel


Crypt of Agadeem

WIN METHOD: Damage- Creatures
INHERENT WEAKNESSES: Non-creature decks


This is another tried-and-true format, where you generally win by attrition.  We didn't come up with it, we just wanted to try it out.  A rather comprehensive go-to for this deck type can be found at:  .

Other Stuff

As I mentioned, using some combination of synergistic mechanics like madness, delve, hellbent, and threshold has been something I've looked into many times over the years.  While the new delve cards haven't impressed me, I was moved to look into yet another graveyard-centered deck, using a lot of cards I've liked for a while.  Graveyard Deck Number Four!

Red Black Delve Discard Threshold
60-Card Format
Red, Black

4 Avatar of Discord
2 Craggenwick Cremator

4 Demigod of Revenge
4 Vengeful Pharaoh

4 Tombstalker

4 Typhoid Rats

4 Anvil of Bogarden
4 Howling Mine

4 Dark Ritual
4 Rite of Flame
4 Cabal Ritual


Multicolor lands
2 Lotus Vale
2 Gemstone Mine

I haven't played it yet, so it may need to be tweaked to get the right balance of discard and speed.  While Tombstalker is the only delve in the deck, and Cabal Ritual is the only threshold card, Rite of Flame, Vengeful Pharaoh, and Demigod of Revenge are all beneficial in the graveyard.  It looks ok to me, we'll see how it goes.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Morrowind Review

I'll keep this short.  I first played Morrowind years after its release, and didn't particularly care for it.

Reason 1: It has all the game-ending glitches of titles that came after.  I played this for about 8 hours, then hit a bug that reduced my strength to zero.  I couldn't deal damage, or carry anything.  I took some potions to counter this, and then tried to sleep it off.

Reason 2:  Less saves.  While Morrowind does have some auto saving, it is less than in games that followed.  In my case, I was stuck with zero strength because sleep resets the autosave.

Reason 3:  Morrowind does not have map/compass waypoints.  It does provide text clues for where to go, but as I don't read so well, this was really a huge downside.

so, there you have it.  Nostalgic fans love Morrowind; I think it's not worth it.  At this point, with all of the Skyrim DLC, Fallout 3, and so on, I would personally recommend something more current off the Bethesda menu.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Games I Liked 2014

Games I liked 2014

This year, I have fewer games to recommend in my annual installment of games I liked that I first played this year (they could have come out at any time).

Gone Home
Gone Home is a non-combat exploration game. You are a college student that comes home late one stormy night to an empty house. Obviously, you have to tear the house apart and snoop through your family's personal items to figure out where everyone is. Gone Home, while short, is a well crafted exploration game that really leaves the player feeling good at the end.

Shadow Warrior
This remake of the late '90's Shadow Warrior is the second game developed by Flying Wild Hog, and I loved it. It's a perfect meeting of new and old, pairing hordes of enemies and groan-worthy jokes with powerful abilities, an out-of-the-box plot, and some of the best controls for a PC game that I have ever played. Also, great job on an in-house engine. Until I looked it up, I assumed this was running on Unreal tech.

Sanctum 2
I liked Sanctum, even if all of my friends didn't really care for it. I like Sanctum 2 even more, even if some of my friends still don't get it. Sanctum 2 has a better learning curve, different character classes, and more tower types. Ideally played with friends.

Noteable Mentions

Payday: The Heist
Payday is a 4-player coop game where you play the part of masked criminals that must work together to take hostages, break into vaults, and kill police. While I'm not thrilled about killing policemen, the gameplay itself is a nice alternatvie to standards like Left 4 Dead. The biggest downside of Payday is that only the first two levels can be played on easy, after that you better know what you're doing.

How about a game set in the West for a change? I wrote a review for this one recently, so I'm not going to go into details in this article. Not a groundbreaking game but something a little different.

Far Cry 3

It's a big open-world game with lots of sidequests that'll give you many hours of gametime. Some action segments are pretty great, but I'm leaving this on as an Noteable Mention because the endings really soured the whole thing for me.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Wolfenstein (2009) Review

Game: Wolfenstein
Year (s): 2009
Company: dev. Raven Software, Endrant (multiplayer portion only)
pub. Activision
Engine: modified id Tech 4 with Havok physics
Type: Shooter
Viewpoint: First-Person
Metacritic Score: 74
My Score: 70! Do I hear 65? 65! Do I hear...

Price (as of November 8, 2014)

Regular list price on Steam: Not available
Lowest Buy-It-Now on eBay (new, with shipping): $21

My Game Time: 18 hours

Obligatory Trailer:

B.J. Blazkowicz returns in a follow-up to Return to Castle Wolfenstein. This time the nazis are using energy from the black sun dimension to create monsters and super weapons. Stop 'em, B.J.!

I got this on a $5 Steam sale, but it's no longer available. Speculation on the Steam forums is that Wolfenstein publishing rights may have been bought back from Activision by Bethesda for Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Save System

Manual Save? Yes
Quick Save? No
Area Load Save? Yes
Checkpoint Save? Yes

Combat and Gameplay
Basic shoot-and-crouch gameplay, because health regenerates if you take cover. It's not a mechanic I love, but it's bolstered with a variety of guns (you're not limited to just two or three at a time) and a few abilities. Abilities include a bullet shield, damage amplification, crappy slow motion, and good slow motion. Energy for ailities runs out fast, and can only be recharged at certain spots. So while you have the illusion of being a badass, you're mostly going to be crouching a lot and taking headshots of enemies with really easy A.I.

The exception for this is boss fights, which are generally a pain in the ass compared to the rest of the game. Also annoying are flying enemies that fire a volley of rockets at a time (= you're dead!).

Completing main and side missions earns gold. You can also find gold and intel hidden all over the place. Gold buys upgrades for weapons and abilities.

Expansions / DLC / Sequels
2014 saw the release of Wolfenstein: The New Order. Set in an alternate history, it is not a direct sequel to the 2009 game. Developers of the most recent installment liked Wolfenstein 3D but thought the 2009 game, “was crap.”

Final Thoughts
Return to Castle Wolfenstein was good at the time, and as a sequel, this one feels rather uninspired. The stealth element of Return is gone. Silenced weapons will alert every enemy in the neighborhood. Collecting intel is fine, but looking behind a garbage can to find a bag of gold is pretty comical in 2009. I liked the variety of weapons and the upgrade system, but felt hampered by crappy abilities, easy A.I., and a frequent need to find cover.

If you want a fun new Wolfenstein game, I've heard good things about The New Order. If you want a shooter with cool abilities, I'd opt for Crysis or F.E.A.R. Or even Raven's 2010 game, Singularity. All good games. Pass on Wolfenstein 2009.