Video Games

Bullet Points: Far Cry 3 (Dislikes Edition)

UPDATE! I was wrong about a few things here. This is because I am dumb. Corrections have been added.

Observation: If I play a game for a few hours, and then quit, there’s often a residual bit of the game knocking around in my brain for a while. It’s usually a bit of audio that gets repeated in the game a lot. For instance, if I’ve been playing Plants vs. Zombies, it’s the crunching noise the zombies make when they eat my plants. If it’s Bioshock, maybe it’s the pleasing sound that plays when you loot a container. It can be the sound of an oft-used gun reloading, some sort of common ambient noise, or music from the game’s soundtrack.

When I finish up a session of Far Cry 3, what sound is left rattling around in my brain for a couple hours? The music from the game’s menu screen. The sort of low-key five-tone ominous music sting that you hear when you hit the Escape key to open the menu any one of a hundred times in the space of a few hours. Doooooo-deee-DOOOOOOO-deeee-DOOOOO. That. That is what I’m left with.

I propose that if your massive open-world game filled with driving, running, shooting, looting, and swimming leaves me with the music from the MENU SCREEN echoing in my head, you’ve probably done something wrong.

The reasons I’m in the menu so much?

  • There is no quicksave. There is, actually! F9. I looked through the game’s handbook under the heading “Saving Your Game” and it’s not mentioned there, but Roberto on Twitter sorted me out. Apparently, it’s not documented in the game (I certainly didn’t see it anywhere, and I tried F5, which is where it was in Far Cry 2.)

More on that in a sec, but since we’re talking about saving your game, there are also these:

  • There is a single save slot for your current game.
  • Loading an old save starts you off not where you saved the game last, but the nearest safe location.
  • There are no manual saves during an official mission.

Let’s go over all this.

It’s an open-world game in a simply massive game world that you are constantly doing unofficial (not main-quest related) things in: fighting, hunting, looting, crafting, running around doing dangerous shit all the time all over the place. And you can’t quicksave. That’s baffling. Does Ubisoft not know that PC games crash sometimes? Do they not know that some people (me) suck at games and die suddenly and unexpectedly for being sucky? Did they forget that they packed the world full of dangerous animals and things that explode and guys that kill you and cliffs you drive off and a bunch of other things that end your life before you’re ready? Do they know that might not be such a big problem if the player could tap a key every now again and save his or her progress?

Nope. Instead of tapping a key, you have to go to the damn main menu, where that damn music is playing, and click save. And I do that a lot, for the reasons above: PC games crash, I suck, and it’s a dangerous world full of death. That’s why that damn music is stuck in my head after a few hours.

I was wrong. Sorry, Ubisoft, you were nice enough to provide a quicksave option, and I retract that portion of my whining. Though you might have pointed that out somewhere, like in your in-game instruction manual on how to save a game. (Click for larger image.)

AND, you have but a single slot to save your game, meaning you are constantly saving over your progress. So, say you finish the game, and want to go back to almost the beginning but not quite the beginning? No, you can’t. You can’t revisit any prior points of your game-life, because you’ve saved over all of them. Not to mention, when you save your game through the menu, you get a prompt: “There is a game saved in this slot. Are you sure you want to save over it?” every time. Uh? I don’t have a fucking choice, why are you even asking me?

PLUS, if you load a saved game (rather, the saved game, as you only have one), you don’t even start off where you saved it, you start off in a nearby safe location. So, if you’re out in the wild and you spot, say, a graveyard, but don’t have time to explore it, you might save your game there and expect to pick it up right there, later. But no, you get teleported to wherever and have to try to find that spot again later.

ANDPLUS, if you’re on a mission (as opposed to just exploring or goofing around) you can’t save manually at all, you have to use the checkpoint save system. And the checkpoint system, as all checkpoint systems are, is pretty iffy. There was an official mission early in the game that was essentially teaching you how to stealth-kill dudes, and you had to stealth-kill three dudes, one by one, to collect items on their bodies, and then go to another location with what you collected. I killed them, I took their stuff, and I reached the distant location. Then the game crashed. When I reloaded, it took me back to the start, before I’d stealthed the dudes to death. Why not checkpoint after the third dead guy? I’d learned stealth, obviously, there was no need for me to learn it again.

Anyway. That’s the save problem. The game does autosave nicely for you in certain situations. If you reach a radio tower (they take some effort to climb, and falling is a real possibility), they save when you reach the tower so you respawn right at the base. That’s nice. Also, if you’re approaching an enemy outpost, it saves for you and respawns you where you were approaching from. These are handy. The rest is just irritating.

  • The game menu itself is not well designed

Crafting is a pretty common activity: you can craft various syringes for giving you temporary abilities, and you have to craft a ton of pouches to carry your gear around in. Most often, you’ll be crafting your own health syringes, so you’d think maybe there’d be a hotkey to enter the crafting menu, but no. Just go the the main menu (DOOOO DEE DOOOO etc) and click on Crafting. There is a hotkey! I am a dumb. It is F1, which I somehow never managed to press during the entire game. Even by accident. I didn’t see this anywhere in the documentation either, but I probably still should have tried it.

Here’s the crafting menu screen. You can click to enlarge.

Okay, there’s the word SYRINGES, which is helpful, and a little description of whatever you’re planning to make, also helpful, and the list of basic types of syringes that you can double-click to expand and see what they are and then make them, one by one. So, if you need some meds, and some hunting tonics, and maybe a couple other things, you have to do a bunch of clicking and double-clicking. Which is probably unnecessary because there are roughly forty-five acres of completely empty space they could have used to avoid a bunch of pointless sub-menus. Here, I boxed the useful info in red and pointed out the extra real estate:

Look, I know these giant empty useless menus are there for console gamers, because they’re sitting way back from their screens, and a ton of small text would be hard to read. And I’m not saying cram every single crafting option onto the same page, but at least use SOME of the pointlessly empty space to help us spend less time fucking around in Menuland (DOOOO DEEE). There’s no reason for the syringes to have submenus. Also, again, hotkey the crafting menu. How hard would that be?

  • Notifications are all up in your face all of the time.

This is a really irritating issue early in the game, that sort of fizzles to a minor one later. When you start playing, you quickly acquire a lot of information. The people you meet, the weapons you unlock, new skills, new locations, new animals, new everything, and each and every time this happens, you’ll get a little box on your screen inviting to to learn more about them via (sigh) the menu (DEE DOOO DEEEEEE). And hey, great, I like learning about things, but some of these boxes won’t go away until you tap Escape and then tap it again, at which point another one will pop up. Obviously, the further you progress, the less of an issue it is, because you’re encountering fewer unfamiliar things, but the first couple hours of the game is a party and notifications were invited and they brought all of their goddamn relatives.

Even worse: your main objective? The one you’re planning to ignore for eighteen hours because you want to go fuck around in the jungle and hunt for relics or shoot at sharks or chase deer with a flamethrower or do some hang gliding or whatever else? About once a minute, your main objective will pop up on your screen. Then it’ll fade. Then it’ll pop up again. This never stops.

You know how Far Cry 2 showed your main objective? Red circle on your map. You know how it informed you what the objective was? It didn’t. If you wanted to know, you’d  — GASP — hit escape and visit the menu! You know, the thing the menu is actually FOR.

Other notifications, helpful ones, still find ways to be annoying. There are times when you’re approaching a location, and for reasons I won’t say, you may be unsure whether or not you’ll be fired upon. A box pops up saying, “Hey, this is a restricted area, they will shoot you,” which is helpful. Only it keeps popping up, even if you’re having a giant gunfight with the people it’s trying to warn you about. I may not know if someone is planning to shoot me, but if they start shooting me, I can probably figure it out from there.

Apparently, a patch is due shortly for the notification problem — we’ll see what it addresses.

  • BREAKING NEWS! Uplay is a garbage thing

Oh, Uplay! You almost didn’t make this list! I was not thrilled to buy FC3 through Steam and then realize I had to sign up for Uplay as well, but I begrudgingly did. And for a while, Uplay seemed perfectly benign. It auto-logged me in, it didn’t really pester me with a bunch of crap, and while it took some extra time to connect and synchronize or whatever the hell it does, it didn’t really bother me the way Origin does (by being a garbage thing).

UNTIL, when I went to boot up the game today to take some screenshots of the menu for the bit above, and suddenly Uplay couldn’t connect, and couldn’t synchronize whatever, and it told me to contact tech support, and gave me some error messages, and told me my account had been accessed from another location, and took several minutes to even let me start the game, and when it finally did, I found that my saved game (my only saved game dooo dee doooo) was trapped in the “cloud” or whatever the fuck and I couldn’t access it because Uplay was farting up it’s own butt and couldn’t connect and apparently didn’t save my only saved game on my actual computer.

So, Uplay is a garbage thing. Super. Doo dee doo.

Video Games

Bullet Points: Far Cry 3 (Outposts Edition)

Apart from the animals, the enemy outposts are the best part of Far Cry 3. Handily, the animals sometimes play a part at the outposts as well.

Unlike the security checkpoints in Far Cry 2, the outposts in FC3 are generally big, well staffed, and once captured, don’t repopulate with jerks. (On the other hand, I just cleared the final outpost the other night, and I’m a little sad — I sorta wish there was an option to auto-repopulate them). FC3’s outposts are also way more fun to assault than FC2’s — there are a lot of options for causing havoc.

What follows is my bullet points list of what makes the outposts so much fun. I don’t think it contains spoilers, per se, but I did enjoy discovering the various aspects of the outposts myself as I played, so if you haven’t played FC3 yet, and want to go in completely cold, you might want to skip this.

  • Outposts can be seen from miles away.

They’re marked on the map with red flags, but you can also spot them from a great distance: just look for a telltale column of black smoke. The smoke is a pretty awesome touch: the map in FC3 is massive and cumbersome and can’t be used without pausing the game (unlike Far Cry 2’s fantastic in-game handheld map) so being able to spot an outpost from a mile away without having to consult the map every few seconds is a time-saver. Thanks, video game!

That’s a long walk, but worth the fun that results.

  • You can scout them with your camera.

Looking at enemies through your camera tags them with an icon, depending on what kind of enemy they are (see the screenshot at the top of this post). General goons get a little skull and crossbones, snipers/rocketeers get crosshairs, dudes who will run right at you get a lightning bolt.

(I think it might be more fun if the game let you tag them yourself: “That guy is on a perch and he might he holding a rifle; I’ll tag him as a sniper.”)

Once an enemy is tagged, you can see their icon no matter where they are. Maybe this is a bit too easy, but I like it.

This bear is probably the first and final step to capturing this outpost.

  • Some outposts have penned animals. Penned animals can be freed. Freed animals are awesome.

Sometimes the goons will have a captured animal inside a wooden cage, and you can shoot the cage open from cover. The escaping animal will cause a distraction, or maybe a death or two, if it’s a dog or a giant bird. If it’s something like a bear, your work is pretty much done: the bear will kill the shit out of everybody and capture the camp while you sit somewhere safe and watch. Thanks, bear! You’re the best. Also, I have to kill you now, because I want to loot the place.

Tigers are also grrrrreat for completely wiping out enemies.

  • The guards can call for reinforcements by triggering alarms. If you let them. Don’t let them.

Alarms look like a telephone pole with an electronic horn on top. They’re important: alarms will be used by goons to call in reinforcements unless you disable them, and the goons will try to sound the alarm the instant they know they’re under attack. Reinforcements aren’t a joke, either. It’s not like a couple guys show up in a jeep. There’s a big swarm of goons who show up: in vehicles, in boats, on foot. I’m not saying it’s not fun, but the fight can quickly get out of hand when multiple squads arrive.

Alarms have a control panel near the base of the pole, which can be disabled in a few ways. If you sneak into the outpost, you can disable them– all of them– just by manually turning off a single panel. If you’re not confident you can stealth in, it can get tricky: there’s usually more than one alarm pole, and there’s often not a clear shot on all of the panels from the same location, so circling around the camp for a bit is essential to find a good sniping spot where you can hit both panels. If there’s anyone standing nearby, though, they’ll notice the shot, even if you have a silenced rifle.

  • You can completely stealth-kill the whole outpost, but I tend not to.

You can stealth-stab dudes pretty effectively, especially since you can throw rocks to distract them and get them to turn their backs. Working your way through an entire outpost, offing dudes quietly, isn’t without its charms. Thing is, I’m coming to FC3 straight off of Dishonored, and, I dunno, I kinda had my fill of lurking around stabbing dudes in the neck, I guess. I did one or two outposts by skulking around and stabbing, and it was satisfying, but with all the guns and toys in the game, I’d rather have some big loud messy fights.

  • Proximity mines are great, unless no one steps on them.

If I do decide to sneak into camp to disable the alarm, rather than shoot the panels from a distance, I also make sure to drop a proximity mine next to the alarm panel. Even if the alarm is disabled, someone will probably try to ring it once your attack begins. Now they have a little present waiting for them. While you’re scurrying around during the firefight, there’s nothing more satisfying than hearing the boom of someone stepping on the mine you planted, and knowing there’s one less guy to face.

If I can get away with it, I sometimes plant additional mines in likely spots for foot traffic. Next to a vehicle is a good spot: if you’re sniping from a distance (I often am), someone may decide to jump into a Jeep and come after you: the mine will blow when they get close to the vehicle. A gap in the fencing is also a good spot to lay a trap for anyone who decides to rush out after you.

The only problem is, sometimes no one steps on your mines. This isn’t a problem for you specifically: they won’t go off if you step on them. But once you’ve captured the outpost, your allies will immediately show up, often in a speeding vehicle, and start walking around talking to themselves. If you have a mine or two on the road, it will blow up their car. If you have some scattered around the camp, they might walk over them. If one of your allies gets blown up, any others will blame you, and you’ll have to retake the camp all over again, this time from your friends. Which, admittedly, can be kind of fun. Still, I generally try to avoid harming my comrades, so after I win the outpost I have to rush around collecting all my mines before they get stepped on by my homies.

  • Outposts are often filled with explodey things already.

Some outposts are essentially explosions waiting to happen, littered with gas canisters, propane tanks, or standard-issue exploding barrels. At the very least, they’re a great distraction, and will draw out enemies who are inside of buildings. At best, they’ll take some bad guys with them when they explode. It can also be fun to drop some C4 near them while you’re skulking around, and detonate them remotely from a safe distance.

He is neither stopping, nor dropping, nor rolling.

  • Molotov dudes are fun/scary

There are these dudes who walk around with a bunch of Molotov cocktails strapped to their bodies. Shooting them will, as you might expect, cause them to burst into flame, which causes things around them to burst into flame, which can be quite useful. What you might not expect is that, while they are on fire, they are not quite done with you yet. They will run right at you, setting everything on fire in their path, which can be a rude awakening if you have a nice little sniping spot you’re fond of.

  • Unpredictable things happen.

It’s completely satisfying when things go according to plan. I handle the alarms, my mines get stepped on, I drop the snipers before they spot me, an animal thins the enemy herd, a fire I’ve started forces goons out of cover, or I take down everyone silently. But it’s also fun everything goes wrong.

Once I was moving into position when a boar attacked me and I freaked out, firing a million noisy bullets that alerted the outpost to my presence. A few times, an enemy patrol drove up just when I was getting started, giving me extra enemies from I hadn’t prepared for on a flank I hadn’t mined. Once, I was driving toward an outpost and didn’t realize it was located at the bottom of a cliff: I couldn’t brake in time so I had to jump from my vehicle, which plunged down into the outpost, more or less announcing my arrival (killed a couple dudes, but they were replaced with reinforcements). And, once I was sneaking around planting C4, got spotted, and ran out, frantically detonating the C4 to cover my escape, only I’d laid the C4 along the route I was escaping with and blew up my own stupid self.

  • This dog killed a dude and then teabagged him.

Good boy.

Not a standard feature during an outpost fight, but it happened.


First Person Observer

Heroic Mage Not Sure What Quest She Just Bravely Completed

Zeryphesh, Mana Wastes — Emerging from the shadowy underground lair known as Tarroch’s Rift in the Ossean Wastes, an Embermage named Sharpe reported that she had just bravely completed an extremely dangerous quest, though she also reluctantly admitted she was not entirely sure which extremely dangerous quest it was, or what the details of the quest were, exactly.

“I did it,” she said, speaking to reporters and onlookers in Zeryphesh. “I completed a quest, a quest where I was supposed to… do a thing… underground, in a place, with a… a thing. And kill a really big monster thing. Along with a ton of littler monsters. I did that.”

When pressed for details about the quest, Sharpe reluctantly admitted she was unsure of the specifics.

“I met a guy in a desert. He asked me to do something, and I agreed immediately, but I’m not sure I was really listening to what he was saying. You know, it’s what I do, someone needs something and I say yes, and I go do it,” she said.

“After I met the guy I saw some stairs in the desert, leading down, so I went down, and there were a million monsters,” she continued, “and I killed them all, and then there was like this altar-lookin’ thing, that looked like a gem might fit into it. And I looked in my pockets and I had a gem thing that I don’t remember getting, but I think maybe the guy in the desert gave it to me. So, I put the gem in the thing, and a giant skeleton monster appeared, and I killed it. And I was done. And I went back to the guy later and he said something and gave me, I dunno, some magic pants, which I gave to my magic bird.”

“My magic bird sold the pants,” she added, when asked about the pants.

While unsure of the exact details of this quest, Sharpe was at least certain that it wasn’t her main quest, which so far has taken her from being a low-level Embermage in the The Estherian Steppes to a powerful sorcerer in the Mana Wastes, though she also she admitted she isn’t entirely sure of the finer details of her primary adventure, either.

“Yeah, you know, this is a little embarrassing, but I’m not even really sure what my main quest is, either,” Sharpe said. “There’s some kinda Alchemist or something, and I’m trying to get him, I think. Some nice giant bird monster was telling me in town, that… look, I don’t know, and I don’t really have time to pretend to explain it,” she concluded, before comparing three sets of magic shoulder plates, then giving the lesser two sets to her magic bird, who sold them.

In related regional news, a Dessicated Warrior is confident that seventy-six years of hiding in an urn in the desert is going to pay off any day now.

“I think I hear someone coming,” he said, clutching his saber tightly. “If they smash this urn, I’m gonna pop right out. It’s gonna be great.”

Video Games

Bullet Points: Dishonored

So, I’ve been playing Dishonored, the first-person stealth/action supernatural assassin game. And it’s really great. Here are some great things about it (the game is nearly entirely great) and some not-so-great things (there aren’t many). And then there are also some other things. A bunch of things, essentially.

PS: Things.

The Great Stuff

  • I feel like games that promise stealth and action wind up doing a good job with one and not so good a job with the other. But I’ve played through Dishonored twice, once focusing on stealth and once focusing on action, and both approaches are absolutely valid and enjoyable ways to play the game. Stealth, I think, is honestly more fun, but the combat, if you choose to go toe-to-toe with your enemies, is plenty satisfying.
  • The stealth… okay, it’s weird and there’s two parts to it. First, there’s not really a stealth system. Like in Deus Ex or Batman: Arkham Asylum/City, there’s a system. You stick to cover, so you know you’re properly in cover. You can move between cover by rolling or sliding or whatever, just by hitting a key. There’s an actual system to it. In Dishonored, there’s nothing like that. You just try to kind of hide and hope no one sees you. And sometimes they see you.
  • The stealth itself, the act of being stealthy, is great. There’s all sorts of places to hide: rafters, sewers, alcoves, walls, ledges, tunnels, closets, the tops of streetlamps… you can even hide in trash bins. The first thing I do when entering an area is look up and see what I can perch on, and get as high up in the level as I can.
  • Once you get good at stealth and teleporting around with the Blink spell, you sort of turn into a Victorian version of Batman. You can get a spell called Dark Vision that lets you spy through walls, like Batman’s Detective Vision. And you can drop down on dudes (lethally) or land/teleport just behind them and choke them unconscious, then Blink back up to your hiding place.

  • The environments are really lovely, the art direction is fantastic. I wish I had some screenshots, but I’m usually too engrossed in the game to be taking pictures.

  • The character design is great, too.
  • The loading time between levels is so quick. There are these little tips they give you to read while levels are loading. I have no idea what the tips say, because the levels load so fast. I even wish it wasn’t so quick, because I could maybe use those tips.
  • I was so damn stealthy in my first play-through that I didn’t realize guards could throw grenades until my second, action-oriented play-through. I had also forgotten that enemy assassins could use, like, magic powers of their own. They just never had a chance in my first run: they were dead or unconscious before they ever got a chance to do anything. That says something for the stealth in Dishonored, and why you should try playing it both ways. It’s an entirely different experience. Enemies do all sorts of different things if you give them a chance.
  • The combat, if you choose to play that way, or if your stealthiness just happens to fail leaving you no choice, is a huge amount of fun. The swordplay, which involves parrying, means you have to do some careful timing to block attacks. Some enemies have guns (more on this in a minute). If they don’t have guns, and you’re out of reach, cockily sitting on a ledge you’ve Blinked up to, they may throw things at you. This was a fun surprise on my second play-through.
  • This is maybe my favorite thing about the entire game: when an guard decides he’s going to shoot you, he will announce his intention to fire, by saying something to his comrades like “Stand clear!” or “Preparing to fire!” I realize the in-game purpose of this: it’s to warn the player that a gun is about to go off, so he can Blink away or use the Bend Time spell, avoiding the shot (or plucking the bullet out of the air while time is done bent). But the warning you hear before an enemy fires a pistol also works, I think, as a little world-building detail. Pistols are crummy, inaccurate (you can upgrade yours quite a bit, however), untrustworthy, possibly a fairly recent development in this world. If you’re a soldier, you don’t just shoot a gun off, you issue a warning to your comrades first, so they know an inaccurate, unpredictable piece of lead is going to be flying their way. Surely, this is a rule for these guards, this is something they do, owing to a history of people shooting guns and hitting their allies by mistake (which does happen sometimes in the game). Enemies with a pistol in one hand always have a sword in the other: guns are simply not the dominant weapon in this world, and I love how that comes across in the game.

  • This one guy has his own steampunk video chat system. It’s cute, because you’re there to assassinate him, and you can call him up and let him know you’re there to assassinate him before you assassinate him. If you want to be a real badass, that is.
  • There’s no hacking minigame! Hurrah. Not that hacking/lockpicking minigames are even that bad. I played through both Bioshocks, Deus Ex, and Oblivion/Skyrim, which all have minigames for hacking and lockpicking. They’re not terrible. But, it does get tiresome, playing the same minigame over and over and over. It just turns into busywork after a while. In Dishonored, you can rewire enemy security devices to work for you by using a rewire tool that you can find or buy. The only game you have to play is: can I scope the place out and discover the control box that is connected to the device I want to hack, and can I stealthily get myself into a position to do so without anyone seeing me? That’s the only game necessary. I’m glad they didn’t try to drop a little Pipe Dreams type of minigame on top of it.
  • Speaking of which, one of the pleasures of the game is having rewired the devices, to spend time getting some kills with them. Walls of Light are crackling force fields that restrict access to certain areas. Guards can walk through them, but they’ll fry you unless you rewire them. Once you have, you can pass through harmlessly, but they’ll disintegrate the guards. So, naturally, everything gets put on hold until I determine how many guards have to walk through this force field to justify the time I spent sneaking over to rewire it? The answer is: all of them. I spent like 30 minutes one night trying to get every single guard to walk through the Wall of Light.
  • If you can lure them one at a time, they’ll all pretty much get fried. However, if one guard sees another guard get fried, he will back off, run away, or throw rocks or cobblestones at the field. Which is fun to watch.
  • One guy would not walk through, so I spent a good 10 minutes trying to back him into it during an extended swordfight. He wouldn’t go through. So I shot him.
  • Also note: the Walls of Light have a power source, and the more guards you fry, the more power it uses. So, if you’re on one side of the wall, laughing at all the guards frying themselves in the field, remember that the WoL may suddenly run out of power and the guards will suddenly be surrounding/stabbing you.
  • Also also note: if you’re standing directly in the field and someone else gets fried in it, you also get fried. Found that out the hard way.
  • If you’re looking around with Dark Vision, and you see a couple guards standing stock still, staring at each other, get closer to them. They’re probably waiting for you to get within earshot so they can engage in a conversation you might want to listen in on. There’s some weird, interesting stuff going on between NPCs in this game, worth checking out. A conversation can turn funny, or, as below, turn dark.

  • The UI is surprisingly customizable. Shockingly customizable, even. You can turn just about every element (quest markers, pickup logs, health/mana meters, item glow and descriptions, etc) of the UI on or off, and in some cases, set them to contextual (for instance, if you only want to see your health/mana meters when you lose/gain health/mana). It’s pretty neat. I’d leave most everything on for your first run, but play with the settings for your next pass, and turn off the stuff you don’t want to see.
  • The powers are all pretty much fun and incredibly useful. Blink, obvs, for getting around, and Dark Vision, for seeing through walls. But there’s also Possession, which lets you drive rats and fish around, and later, people. Cluster of guards blocking your way? Just possess one, walk him into a nice private corner, let him go, and choke him out. Repeat if necessary. Devouring Swarm is just good, grisly fun. Rats will make short work of a single enemy or provide the perfect distraction for a group, or just eat whatever bodies you’ve left lying around. Wind Blast, I didn’t even use on my stealthy run, but in combat, it’s great for knocking back a crowd, and also excellent for killing swarms of rats. Bend Time, incredibly useful for a number of reasons, especially when used in conjunction with other spells or weapons.
  • Rat swarms, either summoned by you or just encountered in the game, are fun to watch as they wreak havoc:

  • Probably one of the neatest things, not evident until you’ve played through a couple times, is how the world changes based on how you’re playing. If your body count is high, if you’re just killing everyone you encounter, the game will note this and change in later levels, sometimes subtly, sometimes pretty obviously.
  • I love how fast the guards run. I’m used to games like, I don’t know, Half-Life 2, where if an enemy soldier runs after you, he’s not really moving very fast. Essentially, he’s just sort of jogging. Guards in Dishonored, when they run, they run. Great big huge fast long loping strides. They haul ass when they need to. It’s surprising and fun.

The Not So Great Stuff

  • Plant monsters. Why are there plant monsters? About halfway through the game, there are suddenly plant monsters. They feel out of place with the world, which had previously been just people, rats, hounds, and technological traps. And, fine, you want plant monsters in your game, I’m not one to say otherwise. Thing is, the plant monsters are just no fun to fight. They just sit there and spit at you if you get to close. Grenades are good on them, and guns, if you’re close, and you can possess them, which kills them when you leave their stupid plant-bodies. But I’m sure no one has killed a bunch of plant monsters and thought, Wow, that was such a satisfying plant monster fight! I want to reload the game and do it again!
  • Okay, one time I chucked a whale-oil canister from the top of a tall building and it landed smack dab in the middle of a bunch of plant monsters and killed them all, and that was satisfying, but only because it meant I was done dealing with plant monsters for a while. And I did reload the game to do it again because I promptly fell off the roof and died. But that doesn’t count.
  • This is probably on me, but the Dark Vision spell is so freakin’ useful that I more or less keep it on the entire game. You can see through walls, spy on enemies, spot useful items and figure out where technology is wired. This is all great, but like Batman’s Detective Mode, it’s tempting to just always be using it, so I tend to always use it, meaning I’m looking at this gorgeous game through a sepia tone filter, which is a shame, because the game is beautiful and should be looked upon with mortal eyes. I recommend popping it on, taking a quick look around, and popping it off.
  • There’s a dude, without giving away much, who is important to you and the building of your supernatural arsenal, and he’s really lame and boring. He’s the plant monster of characters: he feels entirely out of place in the game and I just dread seeing him.

The Mixed Bag Stuff

  • The dialogue and voice-acting. Some of it is top notch, some of it is pretty bad. I spent a lot of time eavesdropping, and there are some great conversations to overhear, and some terrible ones. Example: occasionally, you will encounter a guard who is muttering to himself. And that is meant literally: he is literally muttering weird fake words and sounds. He might as well be saying “Mutter mutter mutter. Mutter! Mutter mutter.” Usually, however, listening in on conversations is fun and often useful: it can fill you in on some story details, or point you to hidden locations to check out.
  • As far as the overall story and characters, I don’t have a lot to say, because there’s not a lot to say, because there’s not much of a story, and what there is isn’t very compelling. I never felt much interest in any of the characters, even Corvo. That said, there are tons of extra story details, in the form of books, letters, journals, and conversations you can listen in on, that provide a fascinating picture of the world and the events you’re involved in.

The Non-Lethal Approach

  • Some notes on playing non-lethally, that is, trying to get through the entire game without killing anyone, even your main assassination targets (there are non-lethal options to take out all of your targets, and they’re all pretty horrific in their own way).
  • I haven’t tried a complete no-kill approach. My first pass was pretty non-lethal. I opted for drugging/choking out guards, simply because it’s quieter, less messy, and more predictable. You choke a guy, he passes out. Dart him, he passes out. Shoot him? Maybe he dies, maybe not. If he doesn’t, you’re in for a fight with him and anyone else who might be around. Still, when my stealth failed, I did wind up occasionally killing people.
  • One thing about a non-lethal approach: there really aren’t a lot of different tools to use. You can choke dudes unconscious, or sleep-dart them, but that’s the only way to take people out without killing them.
  • Well, that’s not exactly true: you can sneak past them altogether. Which is probably your best option for non-lethal: just don’t even try to take anyone down, because even if you safely knock someone out, you’ve got an unconscious body to deal with, which is problematic. Sometimes, there just aren’t enough tall bookshelves to hide bodies on:

  • See, subduing an enemy is only half of it. That’s the easy half. The other half is, to make sure they don’t die after they’re unconscious. It’s damn tricky. For instance:
  • I shot a sleep dart into a guy, and he toppled off a roof, landed on his head, and died.
  • I choked a dude out, tried to lay him on top of a tall bookcase, he slipped off, and died. Another guy, I tried placing him at the top of some stairs and he tumbled down, dead.
  • One guy spotted me on a balcony, and started swinging his sword. I just held up my sword to block him — just block him — and he staggered back, off balance, and went flying off the balcony and into the water below. Dead.
  • I had three guys stowed under a staircase, unconscious. A swarm of rats ran over and messily ate them: obviously, they died (and rats will eat unconscious dudes — I’ve heard people say they won’t, but they do, trust me).
  • I darted a dude on a beach, carried him away, and laid him down. I immediately noticed he was laying down in about three inches of water, I scooped him back up, but he was already dead, presumably of drowning.
  • I gave a maid a heart attack. I have no idea how. I’d cleared out a building of guards and was walking around. The maid saw me and was sort of defensively crouching. I simply walked over to her to see if she had a key that I could lift off her. I had NO INTENTION OF HARMING HER. I did NOTHING VIOLENT. But as I walked away, she let out a gasp and flopped over. Dead. I don’t know what could have happened. Did I bump into her as I walked, and this somehow killed her? Did she just have a Victorian stroke? No idea. But it was weird.
  • Unconscious dudes snore. Snoring can attract curious guards. Curious guards get alarmed. Alarmed guards are harder to quietly deal with. If you’re going non-lethal, for reals, just bypass as many people as you can.

I am a Farmer

In video games, there is a direct link between food and health: eating food in games is often a way to heal yourself. You’ve probably wondered at some point, “Why does eating a loaf of bread or a bunch of grapes instantly heal my horrible stab wounds?” And that’s a fine question, but what you should have instead been wondering was “Where does all that food come from?” Because, see, food comes from farms, and I played a farming game, and I need an intro paragraph to get started talking about it.

So! To answer the question you didn’t ask, I decided to buy a game called Farming Simulator. And no, I didn’t buy a heavily discounted copy Farming Simulator 2009. Screw Farming Simulator 2009. This is Farming Simulator 2011. Yeah, baby! It’s updated with all the recent farming advances! It’s state of the art farming! This ain’t your grandfather’s farming simulator! (Your grandfather’s farming simulator was a farm.)

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I am a Surgeon

The objectives of most of the video games I play fall into one of two categories: kill all of the people, or help some of the people by killing all of the other people. As a result, I’ve spent thousands of hours committing extreme and remorseless acts of violence upon virtual human beings. While I find causing horrible injuries to be a lot of fun, I figure it might be nice try to healing a few, so today I’m going to put down my knife and stop cutting people, and pick up a knife and start cutting people. But in a helpful way.

I bought a copy of Surgery Simulator, by Excalibur Publishing, a game that lets you perform a number of surgical operations on sick or injured patients, or as my gamer brain interprets the goal: kill all of the injuries with careful medical violence.

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I am a Bus Driver

Over the course of my long and storied gaming career, I’ve done a lot in service of saving the world. I’ve slain dragons, rescued princesses, and disarmed nuclear weapons (not to mention, detonated a few). I’ve protected the President, assassinated Hitler, and obliterated aliens from other galaxies. I’ve piloted fighter jets, submarines, battle mechs and interstellar space ships, all with the goal of saving humanity from utter destruction. Long story short, I’ve saved the world. A lot.

Frankly, I’m tired of it. Let other gamers save the world: I just want to live in it. Luckily, there are a number of down-to-earth simulation games that will allow me to do just that. Today, I’m looking at a sim called Bus Driver, by SCS Software, that lets me inhabit the presumably uncomplicated guise of a driver of buses.

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