Sanctum is a hybrid of a tower defense game and an FPS, a pretty clever idea. Between waves, you go in tower placement mode to build your maze, put up turrets, and buy upgrades. During waves, you’re on the ground running around shooting along with your turrets.
It’s an indie sorta thing, so it’s low-fi graphics (it’s from 2011 but looks like PS2 graphics, basically), no story, and a slightly clunky interface, but that also means it’s cheap. Which is good, because it’s not quite engaging enough to make me want to get every level perfect, or try out the higher difficulties, but it was fun enough to justify $10 for a run through all the maps.
I didn’t have anything else to play, and saw someone liveblogging The Witcher 3, which has for some reason compelled me to give The Witcher 2 another try. So far… still frustrating, still bad dialogue, still bad voice acting. But I’ll see if I get more used to it.
Tales from the Borderlands is a Telltale game set in, somewhat obviously, the Borderlands universe. I’d picked this up in a Humble Bundle a long time ago, and originally intended to give it away, but after seeing the first BL game for cheap, gave it a shot, liked the story, and three games later, I’m ready to play this one. And I was anticipating this more than the other games, because I liked the setting and characters of the main games more than I liked the gameplay.
Like the Pre-Sequel, it suffers from interactive flashbacks. Like Telltale’s Game of Thrones, you play as multiple characters, which is still weird. Even weirder, your characters are often actively working against each other. But once you get past that stuff, and start to get to know the characters, it’s really good. Quality sense of humor, good cinematography…or whatever you call that, animation direction? Camera angles, use of slow-motion, etc. And though the graphics on these games are never exactly slick, the style of Borderlands fits in it pretty well.
It’s set around the time of the framing device of the Pre-Sequel, so shortly after BL2. You play as both Rhys, an ambitious Hyperion middle-management type, and as Fiona, a Pandoran con artist. Familiar faces, or at least voices, include Marcus, Zer0, Athena, Jack, Moxxi, Scooter, Shade, Janey Springs, Brick, and Mordecai. Interesting that all three of the characters I played (Mordecai, Zer0, Athena) show up in significant roles, but Lilith and several of the default player characters from BL2 and Pre-Sequel don’t appear at all. Sadly, Torgue and Tiny Tina, always good for laughs, don’t appear either.
Chris Hardwick, Patrick Warburton, and Chrissie Seaver from Growing Pains join usual BL voice actors, Black Widow from Avengers Assemble, and a bunch of video game regulars in providing voices. They add unique-to-Telltale elements where Rhys can find extra info looking around by scanning with a bionic eye implant thing, and where Fiona can find money stashed around and use her supply of it to bribe people (not sure if this works or not, I never tried it) or purchase upgrades that, as far as I can tell, are entirely cosmetic.
Midnight Special is a 2016 scifi movie with cryptic advertising that didn’t really tell anything about it. Michael Shannon stars as a father who kidnaps his son away from his adoptive parents in a creepy cult, then it turns out there’s some science fiction stuff going on. The description of which would probably count as a spoiler. It’s alright. Kind of a throwback to Close Encounters and E.T., but less Super 8 crowd-pleasing and more 21st century indie-style slow pace.
I have literally no idea why it’s called Midnight Special, though. Maybe I missed something. It does have a cover of the song played over the end credits. And there’s a thing about only going out at night.
Adam Driver, the cop guy from The Night Of, the writer from House of Cards who was also in The Night Of, Sam Shepard, Kirsten Dunst, Uncle Owen from Episode III also star. Oddly, it’s written/directed by the guy that did Loving, which is a dramatically different movie (real life historical/political drama/love story). About the only similarity is that Michael Shannon and Uncle Owen are in both.
One thing that occurred to me during the cult scenes: why do women in fundamentalist cults have similar hairstyles? You’d think I would have noticed that in Kimmy Schmidt, or one of the other many shows and movies that make use of it, or on the news when a real life cult thing happens.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel has a framing device taking place after the second game, but the actual action takes place in a flashback that takes place between the first and second games. This is not a narrative device that makes any sense in video games. I had the same problem with Dragon Age 2. If someone’s telling a story about the past, but I can change the past, is the story full of lies, and I’m controlling what lies happen? Or am I seeing visions of a possible future, dynamically altered by my actions in the present? Neither possibility holds together very well.
It’s kind of a Handsome Jack origin story. Plenty of familiar faces (or at least voices) make appearances (Jack, Moxxi, Lilith, Roland, Torgue, Hammerlock, and very briefly Tiny Tina), and one of the player characters is Athena from the BL1 General Knox DLC. More problems with the flashback: Athena is telling this story to Lilith, as if Lilith had never heard it before, but Lilith is a major player in the story being told, and should already know all of it except for the very beginning and the very end. People from the framing device interject dialogue periodically, but Lilith never interjects to say “I already knew this, skip past this part” or anything.
It’s the same “loot shooter” concept. The only major changes are the introduction of laser weapons, the new freezing elemental (and removal of slag), low gravity, and the oxygen mask equipment item . The mask determines how long you can survive without air, how much damage you do when slamming into the ground, and gives some bonuses. But basically the same deal. I was pleased that for the first time, I found one of the amusing guns that talks to you to be actually useful (this one was the “boganella,” the Australian version of a lady redneck, who shouts obscenities at your enemies when you kill them, and obscenities at you when you switch to another weapon).
I played as Athena, which was slightly different from my usual sniper/shotgun build, in that she had a defensive power and I put points into her melee ability. It worked out reasonably well. I also managed to get her to be pretty speedy, which helped out some on fetch quests, but also proved to be detrimental in getting XP, since I would run past enemies instead of fighting them. But I managed to not be completely overmatched at the end, so it worked out ok.
Steam Winter Sale:
- Transformers: Devastation has cell shaded graphics and original voice actors to give the feel of the old cartoon, but it’s a god awful console port to the PC. Sometimes you start the game and it thinks you have a controller, so you have to quit entirely and start again and hope it realizes you don’t. Also, pressing “2” is critical to navigating the menus, a fact that is not entirely obvious. Returned for a refund.
- Arcanum is a 2001 Sierra game that’s supposedly like a steampunkish version of Fallout (the isometric ones), but 15 years later it’s unplayable. Crashes pretty often, tried a fan-preferred patch to fix some stuff, and it still was unplayable. Returned for a refund.
- Life is Strange, I technically didn’t buy, because the first chapter was free. I didn’t get too far in and then it crashed and I couldn’t muster the interest in emo hipster teenage stuff to want to launch the game again. The teenagers sounded like they were written by Steve Buscemi’s “how do you do, fellow kids?” guy, with the forced use of internet lingo. Uninstalled.
Kind of a dud of a sale, nothing else on my wishlist hit the $10 mark. Meanwhile, I finally finished all the DLC (that I cared to do, the Tiny Tina and Torgue ones were awesome, the others meh) from Borderlands 2, so I’m moving on to Pre-Sequel (before eventually doing Tales From… which I suspect will be my favorite, because the gameplay is the least interesting part of the series).
Assassin’s Creed 3 was free because of an Ubisoft promotional thing. I’ve never played the first two, so that was maybe dumb to try, but what the hell, free is free.
The PC port has a bunch of problems, which are all pet peeves of mine:
- Can’t do windowed mode. Every time I alt-tab out I have to wait a few seconds for my display to reset.
- Several unskippable company logos at the beginning.
- Garbage mouse interface on the menus.
The latter requires some explanation: To select an option you have to click to select then click again to confirm, but the first click to select scrolls the option to the center. So if I want to pick a thing towards the bottom of the screen, you move the mouse pointer to the bottom, click. Then, since it’s now moved to the middle of the screen, move the mouse pointer up to the middle, and click again. It all works fine with arrows and enter, but it’s a really awful interface for a mouse. And since you play the game with your right hand on the mouse and your left hand on the left side of the keyboard, going to the arrow keys is not natural.
As for the actual game, I couldn’t accept the premise. I’m trying to give it suspension of disbelief, but it just doesn’t entirely make sense. I’m re-playing the past because some… sentient temple or something wants to tell me something. It’s important that I do things “right” or I drift off of the actual history. But I’m only actually in control when like… climbing walls and shit. The game goes on autopilot when I have a conversation and I make no choices. So why do I have to climb walls and shit? Can’t it just show me a movie of what happened/ I realize the game basically requires me to do the wall climbing stuff to qualify as a game, but then… why not have it actually take place in the past, and skip all this simulation bullshit? My inability to make sense of the premise guaranteed that I couldn’t ever get into the story.
I got pissed off because apparently I suck at this one mini-game that’s sorta vaguely like checkers. It took me 5 tries (two draws and two losses) before I could beat the first AI opponent at it. It didn’t matter at all (I don’t think there was even money on the line, since I hadn’t acquired any?), but I couldn’t accept that I’m like an hour into a game and I’m getting my ass kicked by an AI in an intro-to-the-game game. Anyway, once I beat that, I quit the game.
The Mick stars Kaitlin Olson as… basically Sweet Dee, but in another show. Her rich sister goes to prison so she has to watch their kids, and she’s a lower class trainwreck, so it’s a fish out of water thing. It’s very watchable. Nothing to get too excited about, but there are some jokes that work, plenty of room for more, and the teenage daughter (pictured), who I was relieved to see is played by an actress who is 25, is really hot.
Holiday stuff of various media, roughly worst to best:
- Legend stars Tom Hardy as real-life twin criminals from 1960s London. I had high hopes after seeing Brian Helgeland wrote and directed it, but lowered when I saw that it was based on a true story. Being based on reality usually doesn’t do much for me, and I think Tom Hardy playing fictional twin criminals could have had a more satisfying story.
- Fences features good performances from Denzel and especially Viola Davis, but it’s an adaptation of a play, and I wonder if they really gained anything by not just filming a production of the play. Denzel riding on a garbage truck for 2 minutes in the beginning is the only time there’s any on-screen movement, otherwise it’s people sitting/standing around talking the whole time. Also a shit ending.
- Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is an Australian series available on netflix, kinda Murder, She Wrote in the 20s in Australia. Except she’s not a writer, and kinda hot (pictured), and kinda promiscuous. But it’s the same kind of feel, where people get murdered all the time, yet it somehow remains generally lighthearted and fun. I get a little annoyed that they give the title character entirely 21st century values, to both look down on her nose at her 1920s contemporaries, and to make the 21st century audience like her. But they actually make up for it with her promiscuity. A male lead in this kind of show, bedding a different woman in most every episode, that would be mundane, but a female lead sleeping a different dude every episode? That feels borderline revolutionary. It’s not salacious or anything, which is good because I thought the murder mystery/period costume aspect made it something my mother might like, so watching something borderline pornographic with her would have been awkward. But it is oddly refreshing to see a little equity in the one-and-done romance department.
- The Undoing Project is Michael Lewis’ book on two Israeli psychologists from the 70s who revolutionized the study of how people make decisions, with impacts on economics and lots of other disciplines. It touches on a lot of things I already knew about, but also introduced new concepts to me. And Lewis (Moneyball, The Big Short, and husband of MTV News‘ Tabitha Soren) has a knack for making complex stuff accessible and entertaining.
Crazyhead is a UK series now on Netflix which is Buffy-ish and created by Misfits‘ Howard Overman. A girl who thinks she’s been hallucinating crazy shit her whole life learns she’s actually seeing demons. It’s not an entirely novel concept, but it has a good sense of humor and the main crazy girl is cute, as is her friend. After the disappointment of The OA, this is refreshingly entertaining.
LIMBO is the other indie game I picked up a free code for, it’s a grayscale physics puzzle side scroller. You’re… a boy. And you’re trying to… go somewhere and not die. There’s not really any story. But the puzzles are pretty fun. I was a little annoyed that it ended when things were starting to get complex, when I thought a lot of possibilities were opened up. But there is another game, Inside, that wikipedia claims is a spiritual successor by the same people, so I added that to my wishlist.