Backlog Blitz: The games of April 2014


I slipped in April. What can I say, there were some good sales! April was also the month I created GHG, so that ate significantly into my game playing time. I would make up for it in May, but June’s not looking great so far. Anyway, the format, like previous entries, is Game Title (Platform, Purchase Price, Play Time).

Games purchased (-6, $29.75 spent):

  1. 20140619_hb9The Humble Bundle: PC & Android 9 (PC/Android, $4.00)
    Another month, another Humble Bundle (or in April’s case, two!). This goes against the entire point of the Backlog Blitz, since this only adds a lot of new games to my ever-growing pile of shame — many of which I’ll probably never play — but they’re hard to resist. This one included the following 9 games: Bridge Constructor, Broken Sword 2: The Smoking Mirror, Kingdom Rush, Knights of Pen & Paper +1 Edition, Ravensword: Shadowlands, Savant – Ascent, Syder Arcade, The Shivah, and Type:Rider.
  2. Batman: Arkham Origins & Season Pass (PC, $15.00)
    I told myself that I’d wait until this dropped in price (I bought Arkham Asylum and Arkham City both at $7.50 each), but I was on a Batman binge at the time, so I decided to be impulsive and bought the bundle on eBay. I knew the Mr. Freeze-focused Cold, Cold Heart DLC would be coming soon, and I didn’t want to miss out on that.
  3. Syberia Collection (PC, $3.75)
    This is another pair of games that I didn’t play when they were originally released back in 2002 and 2004. However, I’ve heard they’re good — particularly the first one. Usually $20 on Steam, at over 80% off, it was a no-brainer.
  4. The Humble Mobile Bundle 5 (Android, $5.00)
    Even though this bundle had a number of games that I already owned, it still offered up some excellent ones. I was pleasantly surprised to see the relatively new and high-profile The Room Two included as part of this bundle. I had purchased it already on Google Play back in February, but hey, I might as well have it again. Makes perfect sense, right? This bundle included the following 9 games: Aralon: Sword and Shadow, Bag It!, Carcassonne, Enviro-Bear 2010, Paper Monsters, R-Type, R-Type II, The Cave, and The Room Two.
  5. 20140619_tokyo_jungleTokyo Jungle (PS3, $1.00)
    Sony ran a terrific flash sale in April, and this game, which normally sells for $15, was available for just a buck! I admittedly don’t know much about it, but it seems like everyone who plays it falls in love with its bizarre originality, so I couldn’t pass this up. Not at such a low price.
  6. Super Stardust HD (PS3, $1.00)
    This is an early PSN game that I never bought. I remember briefly trying the demo, liking it, but for whatever reason, I didn’t purchase it. As part of the same flash sale that Tokyo Jungle was part of, I immediately picked it up, and like most everything else on this list, I hope to get to it soon.

Games finished (+2, $15.00 value):

  1. 20140619_batman_originsBatman: Arkham Origins (PC, $10.00, 35 hrs.)
    After finishing this, I’m not really sure why it gets so much hate. Other PC players talk about bugs that completely broke the game, but I didn’t run into any. Maybe I was just lucky. I thought this was a very good game, with a sinister Joker and one of the better portrayals I’ve seen of Bane. I was also very happy to see Barbara Gordon in this, and can’t wait to see more of her in Arkham Knight. Yes, it feels very similar to Arkham City, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Overall: A- (Review Link)
  2. Batman: Arkham Origins: Cold, Cold Heart DLC (PC, $5.00, 5 hrs.)
    The Arkham Origins Season Pass had been much maligned leading up to this DLC release. I’m not a fan of the Season Pass idea to begin with, and I can see how anyone would get frustrated with the meager, uninspired offerings many of them bring to the table. However, when good single-player content is part of it, that can make a huge difference. I really enjoyed this, as it adds enough to justify it being DLC vs. something they just held back. Overall: B+ (Review Link)

A -4 finish for the month wasn’t so hot, but I was happy about the games I bought and played. It’s been an interesting challenge writing this blog and keeping up with all the games that are out there. I’m still trying to find the right balance.


Review: Batman: Arkham Origins: Cold, Cold Heart DLC (PC)

20140424_cch1DLC season passes are a touchy subject. I’m not really a fan of DLC in general, particularly the locked-on-disc variety, or finished content that has been held back to be sold later. While I fully understand that development costs are high, the trend that started last generation of nickel and diming consumers to squeeze out upfront profits is one that just doesn’t sit well with me. Despite all this, I recently purchased the Arkham Origins season pass for $5, and while its other offerings have been forgettable, Cold, Cold Heart redeems it as an example of good, story-driven DLC that makes the purchase worth it.

I happened to like Arkham Origins, awarding it an A- in my review, but one of the standout characters from the earlier games was Mr. Freeze. I didn’t know much about him prior to Arkham City, but he was such an interesting, tragic, and charismatic player. After experiencing his story, I definitely wanted to learn more about him. Hearing that Cold, Cold Heart would focus on Mr. Freeze was exciting news, and I wasted no time hopping back into the Batsuit.

20140424_cch3From the very beginning, I was enjoying this. While it provides the familiar world of Origins to explore (albeit smaller), you get a genuine sense that WB Games Montreal took their time to create some nice, new interiors. They also ensured that the outside world itself stayed consistent with the storyline. It looks great, with subtle changes that fans of Origins will appreciate.

There’s a new addition to the existing enemy types, as well as tweaks to and new functionality for Batman’s array of gadgets. My favorite new device by far is the Thermal Gloves. They address one of my pet peeves of this series, allowing the removal of wall grates by just holding down the A button instead of hitting it repeatedly. It’s a small change that I hope carries over to Arkham Knight because it’s quick, painless, and eliminates an unnecessary game mechanic that got very annoying for me over the course of three games.

20140424_cch2There are several sets of collectibles, similar to the ones found in Origins, and these unlock additional abilities for Batman. I liked that certain ones were relatively easy to locate and marked on your map automatically for later retrieval, but some still require thorough exploration. This helps extend the life of the DLC for completionists who want to get everything, but they mostly feel like busywork, like they did in Origins.

In terms of length, it felt pretty good to me. Not too short and not too long. The story itself has some great moments, with cameos from series regulars thrown in to help mix things up. Most importantly, it provides insight into Mr. Freeze’s backstory, underscoring why he is such a popular and compelling character.

20140424_cch4Finally, the Extreme Environment (XE) Suit is pretty cool. It’s nicely designed, suitably intimidating, and fits well into the context of the story. It looks bulky, but thankfully doesn’t affect Batman’s movement.

I enjoyed my time with Cold, Cold Heart. It’s a nice package that extends the life of Arkham Origins by several hours, focusing on one of my favorite characters of the Batman universe.

Graphics: B+
Audio: A-
Gameplay & Controls: B+
Presentation: B+
Value: B
Overall: B+

PC Notes: Reviewed using an Intel i7-920 CPU (4GHz overclock) and Gigabyte GTX-670 Windforce OC video card (GPU: +126MHz, RAM: +775MHz overclock). Resolution: 2560×1440 @ 60Hz. Graphic settings: Anti-aliasing and DX11 features turned off to maintain 60fps.


Review: Batman: Arkham Origins (PC)

By all accounts, this game had some big shoes to fill. Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City are widely regarded as bona fide classics, and are considered to be some of the best — if not the best — comic book games ever created. I played both in March, and I have to agree that they are two spectacularly fun games.

Prior to playing Origins, I didn’t know much about its history, and only recently found out that it was developed by WB Games Montreal and not Rocksteady. The reviews I perused painted it as a so-so game that didn’t live up to its predecessors.

I finished Origins last night, and completed all the side quests this morning. I have to say that I really enjoyed playing this and think it’s worthy of the Arkham series pedigree.

What the game does right is provide a solid story and vibrant writing, bringing to life the colorful inhabitants of Gotham City. Bane in particular is one of the game’s standouts, brimming with an intellectual terror that far exceeds what Christopher Nolan was able to achieve in The Dark Knight Rises. The Joker comes across as even more sadistic and evil in this installment, with Troy Baker holding his own in the massive wake of Mark Hamill’s iconic villain. Roger Craig Smith also delivers a spot-on reading of Kevin Conroy’s Batman. Origins certainly provides no lack of quality in making its characters memorable.

If you played Arkham City, a large portion of Origin’s world will feel familiar, along with new districts to explore. Traversal is fun, and there is no shortage of secrets and collectibles to find. One disappointment I had was the absence of riddles. In the previous games, I found those to be addicting to find and solve, they broke up the flow of the game (in a good way), and provided natural segues into Gotham’s history. As a result, the collectibles and unlockables here don’t feel as integrated, whereas they were done in virtuoso fashion in Arkham Asylum. It’s still fun here, but you do feel more than ever that you’re going through the same familiar motions.

Gameplay is classic Arkham, with buttery smooth combat, lots of gadgets, tons of puzzles to solve, and big environments to explore. Interiors don’t feel as tightly or ingeniously designed as they were in the previous games, though. The new gadgets are also OK at best, and some are just retooled versions of what we got in Asylum and City.

One of the bigger additions to Origins are the crime scene investigations, which are fun. They are more or less linear exercises, but they add a nice forensic detective layer to the story and sidequests instead of just scanning things in. They do a good job showcasing Batman as a person with very high intelligence vs. someone just relying on fancy gadgets and Alfred to do most of his thinking.

Due to the inherent nature of the storyline, there’s a healthy dose of boss fights throughout. They can be quick, but some of them are excruciatingly long and frustrating. They are also not as memorable as the ones from City, so it’s unfortunate that this part of the game wasn’t as good as it could have been. It’s not to say that they aren’t fun; they just aren’t as well-designed and often rely on old patterns and tactics we’re used to.

That being said, I still had a very good time playing this game. I’m not a Batman aficionado, so my take on these games are from a person whose exposure to the Caped Crusader came mainly from the films of Tim Burton and growing up with the ’60s TV show. However, now that I’ve gone through all 3 games, I want to learn more and I absolutely can’t wait for Rocksteady’s Arkham Knight.

Graphics: B+
Audio: A-
Gameplay & Controls: B+
Presentation: A-
Value: A
Overall: A-

PC Notes: Reviewed using an Intel i7-920 CPU (4GHz overclock) and Gigabyte GTX-670 Windforce OC video card (GPU: +126MHz, RAM: +775MHz overclock). Resolution: 2560×1440 @ 60Hz. Graphic settings: Anti-aliasing and DX11 features turned off to maintain 60fps.


The Backlog Blitz

A few years ago, I realized that I was buying way too many games. Actually, this has been true for at least the past two decades, and well, I’ve known it all along. I mean, it’s very easy to amass a large collection of games than you have yet to play. With so many weekly deals, holiday specials, and peer pressure from your friends, it’s not hard to give in. Even if you make a cutoff for yourself — say, nothing older than the 16-bit generation or nothing more than $20 — you still end up with dozens (if not hundreds!) of titles in your queue.

Enter the Backlog Blitz. Originally conceived on my favorite gaming forum NeoGAF as a way for members to focus on playing games they own, this has become my preferred way to track what I’m buying, playing, and finishing.

How does it work? It’s simple: Each purchase counts as a -1, and each game played or completed counts as a +1. The goal is to stay in positive territory as much as possible. I don’t include gifts or freebies, and bundles count as single purchases. You also don’t have to finish a game to get a +1, especially if you’re not enjoying it.

+12 for the year so farThis is the third year tracking my progress. The first year (2012) wasn’t pretty. I ended up with an overall score of -36. Those Steam, GoG, and Humble Bundle holiday sales destroyed me! That was also the year I bought a Nexus 7, so I went a little overboard on Google Play.

In 2013, I did much better and finished the year with a +3. That’s cutting it close, but I was pretty happy with the results, and was thankful that the Steam holiday sale offerings were more or less a repeat of 2012’s.

2014 has been a good year so far, and I’m at +12 right now. I’m slipping a little bit in April, but that should be remedied soon as I wrap up Batman: Arkham Origins on PC and Persona 4 Golden on Vita.


I turn 40 in May

Four decades. That’s a long time. That’s a lot of gaming, too.

When I was younger, I believed I’d lose interest in videogames eventually. I remember being told that they were just a fad, and that other hobbies and technologies would render them obsolete. What’s happened, however, is that my interest and love for them has grown, not waned.

What is it about them that makes them so appealing? Part of it is that they aren’t a passive form of entertainment, and require close attention and skill. The other part of it is the craft itself. As someone who is not by any stretch of the imagination a good artist, musician, programmer, or designer, playing the end result of a year or years worth of work is admirable, and when the game is great, what you get are lasting memories and a lifetime’s worth of discussion topics. Best Final Fantasy anyone?

Right now, I’m playing Batman: Arkham Origins on the PC. 15 hours in, 58% through Story, 24% overall.

It’s quite good so far, and I certainly think it’s better than a lot of reviews would have me believe. However, I do agree with most that it’s to WB Games Montreal’s detriment that they put this out in the wake of the previous two Arkham games from Rocksteady, which were both spectacular games. In any case, I was very happy to run into Barbara Gordon earlier in the game. Oracle is a fascinating character to me, and hope she returns in Arkham Knight.