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Review – American Truck Simulator (PC)

The Good

  • Strong Developer Support
  • Sprawling environment to explore
  • Straightforward Gameplay

The Bad

  • Free drive could be more flexible
  • No official online multiplayer
  • Repetitive gameplay

There are a lot of Simulation games out there covering a crazy array of subjects from Farming to Forklift driving.  To some extent, some laws regarding video game content in some European countries can be blamed for this trend.  It’s also nice to be able to do even simple things that you can’t normally do.  A lot of these simulation titles are flat out garbage, with mediocre graphics and very little realism in terms of game play, the few that are decent though really tend to be shinning stars to some extend in the gaming world.

Two of the best example of good Simulation titles are the Farming Simulator and the Euro Truck Simulator titles.  What really sets these games apart is the depth they go to simulating not just the basic aspect of doing some job, but also the nuance of running the entire business.  Euro Truck Simulator is particularly popular due to just how much of Europe has been recreated in a virtual environment for players to cruise around in delivering their cargo.  The creators of Euro Truck Simulator have set their sites on recreating a second continent for Truck Driving, with American Truck Simulator.  They have stated that their plan is to do all of the United States in various DLC packs (I’m not sure if they are including Hawaii and Alaska).  The base game includes California, Nevada and New Mexico.  It’s not a 1:1 experience or anything but the basic idea is there, which is great.

This plan has been put on hold a bit however since the developers are currently working to rescale the world they have created to allow for more accurate interchanges and a better feeling of long range driving.  Essentially, they are remaking what they have already put out to make the entire experience better, which just goes to show how dedicated they are to their cause.

There are a ton of little details to help complicate the experience that contribute to the Simulation experience.  A low powered truck won’t be able to effectively pull a super heavy load.  Over time, you will run out of gas unless you stop to refuel your fuel.  You also will grow tired, which causes you to briefly “black out”, unless you stop at a designated rest area to sleep.  You lose points (money) for running into other vehicles and walls, if you speed and get caught by the cops you get a ticket, though it’s often possible to speed and not get caught, especially on “the back roads”.  When you arrive at the destination you get a chance to earn bonus experience by just dropping off the trailer, or executing a perfect back in maneuver.

The real enjoyment of this game comes from it’s laid back gameplay.  There isn’t any real pressure, you aren’t racing against a bunch of other vehicles or having to worry about who will shoot you as you cruise around the world delivering various cargo trailers.  Once you’ve earned enough money to buy your own truck you can even free drive at your own leisure.

The free drive mode is nice, though it kind of feels like it could be better.  While free driving, you don’t carry a trailer, which kind of makes the Truck part of the game a little less fun.  You also still have to worry about the game’s mechanics, such as speeding tickets, refueling, and paying for repairs.  This can all add up pretty quick if you are a poor driver.  It would be nice to be able to turn all of the game off and just goof around in this expansive world.

It also takes a while to “unlock” free drive mode as well, since you’ll have to save up a hefty chunk of change in order to buy even a cheap truck.  Over time though as you earn money you can buy bigger and nicer trucks, as well as trick them out with custom paint and gear.  You can eventually start hiring other drivers to run jobs for your company as well, to earn some passive income.

All of this is a little moot though since there isn’t a built in way to play online.  There are 3rd party methods but it would be nice to have an official way to cruise around the US with your friends, or even see strangers cruising around in their fancy trucks.  I imagine there would be issues with griefing where other players just run around trying to wreck people.

It’s also possible that I’m expecting too much out of this title, it is a Simulation game, it’s not “GTA with Semis”.  Also don’t take too much stake in these complaints, they are issues that could be better, but the basic idea and game is pretty fun and it’s a good low pressure experience.  If the developers stick to their plan to do the entire US, it could definitely turn into something really interesting, as you could virtually cruise from Los Angeles to New York.

 

S.H. Figuarts – Luigi

Today’s review is on SH Figuarts Luigi.  I’ve previously done a review of SH Figuarts Mario as well that you may be interested in if you’re looking into Luigi.  A lot of what was said about Mario definitely applies here.  The build quality is solid, the paint apps are great, the sculpt is great, the articulation works for what he is, but it’s a little limited.

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Where Luigi differs the most is in his accessory count.  Luigi includes alternate open hands and a stand, both things that Mario lacked in his basic form.    Additionally Luigi includes a basic Block Brick and a Red Koopa shell.  It’s kind of a shame that he doesn’t have a coin, that feels like it would have been the cheapest accessory to throw in and coins are definitely something you can never have too many of when it comes to Mario.   Also included is a swappable back plate to allow the stand to peg into Luigi’s back and a small clear plastic bit that allows the Koopa shell to attach to either of the open palm hands to be held.

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Speaking of the hands, I touched a bit on the build style on Mario being different that your standard Figuarts release.  The hands are another place where this varies.  The pegs are nice and bulky and built into the forearms of both Luigi and Mario.  The hands stay on well but are easily swapped and it doesn’t feel like there is any chance of breaking the pegs.  This is definitely a change from many Figuarts where the removable hands often come off as pretty fragile.  It certainly helps that both Luigi and Mario are chunkier than most Figuarts, but it, once again, kind of feels like that Nintendo Quality push sneaking in a bit.  It’s also notable that it’s very subtle, but the hands are not identical to the ones that are available in the Playset Pack for Mario, they are slightly skinnier as well, to match Luigi’s slimmer build.

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Having the stand and hands definitely help flesh out Luigi’s pose options.  Every since Super Mario Brothers 2, Luigi has been known for his crazy high jumping, so having the stand for jumping poses is definitely a plus.  The hands are also great for both carrying and throwing the included Koopa shell.

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Luigi isn’t a straight recolor of Mario either, he stands a half inch or so taller than Mario and has an overall slimmer build.  I’m sure there is some parts reuse, I think the arms and shoes are the same, but the legs, center mass, and head are all slimmer and seem to be different sculpting than Mario.

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All in all Luigi is a nice package.  He’s definitely a nice addition to go with his brother Mario but the extra accessories make him a nice solid figure in his own right.

Figma – A Link Between Worlds Link (DX version)

The Legend of Zelda has kind of a crazy continuity, or more, a crazy lack of continuity.  Despite there being many many Zelda title in the series, more or less all about Link fetching the Triforce to save Hyrule, there are few that are direct sequels or even that take place in the same world.  Link has had many different designs over the years.  Generically, he’s kind of an elf looking person in a green tunic.  Sometimes he’s an adult, sometimes he’s a child, sometimes he’s somewhere in between.  This version of Link is based on his appearance in the game A Link Between Worlds, a 3DS title that is a sequel to the SNES classic, A Link to the Past.  This is the second Figma Link, the first being one of the older designs from Skyward Sword.

Figma Link - Left Handed

This design really hits all of the right points for my preferred link.  Most of my experience with the Zelda series is in the older games, before Link was a grittier older warrior type like in Skyward Sword or Twilight Princess, and before he became a kooky cartoon caricature like in Wind Waker.  It’s not exactly the same as the classic Zelda 1 style art but he’s a lot closer to that design than other options available at this time.  It also helps that A link to the Past is probably my favorite Zelda title.

Figma Link - Size Comparison

If I had any real complaint it’s that he is a really small figure.  Like 4″ tall short.  Admittedly this is kind of personal preference, I like to mix up my figures across lines, and I was hoping for a Link that didn’t come off as being a 5 year old kid next to my other ~6″ figures.

Figma Link - Accessories

Personal gripe aside, it’s a fantastic figure to be sure.  The accessories on the basic Link feel a bit lacking, though there is a DX version that includes a whole slew of extra bits.  The basic Link includes a stand, two faces (total), the Master Sword and Link’s Shield.  He also includes a flat cut out Link that is part of the gimmick of A link Between World’s gameplay.  There are also alternate hands and a bracelet that can be removed if desired.

Figma Link - Accessories (Disassembled)

The DX version also includes a Tornado Rod with a flat effect piece, a Hookshot with long and short hooks, a Bomb, a Rupee, a Pot and a Baby Maiamai.   All of the accessories are well designed and easily used.  There’s a lot of “quality of life” sort of features to these accessories alone.  For example, the sword isn’t one piece, forcing you to jam it into his hands, the hilt is removable so it can easily be slid into the hand and reattached.  The shield and hook shot handles both disassemble into several pieces to be easily put into Link’s hands as well.  The shield can even be adjusted so it can be held in both Link’s left or right hand (since Link is a southpaw except when facing west).  Little touches like this really help sell the figure.

Figma Link - With Bomb

Pose ability is nice overall as well.  The skirt part of Link’s tunic is a flexible rubber sort of material that allows for free movement in the hips, something that can often be a problem for figures with similar sort of outfits.

Figma Link -

My only actual complaint with this figure is that his hair and face come off a little too easily.  This seems to be somewhat of a Figma problem, since I have similar issues with Figma Motoko.   There isn’t quite enough friction to hold things in place solidly.  It’s really not a huge problem but it can be a problem.   Another “Figma Issue” is that often when swapping the hands, the peg comes out of the wrist instead of the hand coming off the peg, which can make the peg hard to remove from the hand, since it’s so small.  This is another issue I’ve had with other Figma as well.

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Figma A link Between Worlds link is a pretty good figure.  Some of what it comes down to is, which Link Design do you prefer.  Also, given his small size, he’s a bit pricey, even for an import figure.  Higher prices aren’t uncommon for import figures but the tiny 4″ size makes that harder to take, especially with the anemic accessory count on the non DX version.

Figma Link - Right Handed

Figma Link - Left Handed

Review – Beyond: Two Souls (PS3)

2013 – Quantic Dream – 1 Player (ish)

The Good

  • Interesting and ambition idea and gameplay.
  • Impressive graphics.
  • Lots of choices that shape the story a bit.

The Bad

  • Convoluted story that doesn’t leave a ton of questions but it’s super great.
  • Many Sequences are completely pointless and superfluous to the plot.
  • The game’s gimmick is neat but leaves a lot to be desired with it’s limitations.

tl;dr Sterilized Version

Beyond: Two Souls is an interesting narrative game from Quantic Dream and David Cage that is similar to their previous titles such as Heavy Rain and Farenheit. It’s much less a traditional game than it is an interactive movie, it reminds me a bit of the classic Dreamcast title Shenmue. The player controls Jodie and the entity attached to her, Aiden, across a variety of missions throughout Jodie’s life. Most of the game play involves traversing the scenes with the control sticks and interacting with the world either through a “Press X to proceed” and “old Square to complete an action” style of interface. The player can also switch to the spirit Aiden and push objects or control enemies (at times).

It’s honestly not worth a full game $60 purchase but it’s too bad at a $20-$25 level assuming you know what you’re getting into with it. It’s an interesting experience if you don’t mind the lack of “video gamey” elements.

Spoiler Filled Detailed Version

Willem Dafoe This game relies on two primary gimmicks. One, is the Aiden character, and the other is the fancy motion capture graphics, specifically, Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, the game’s two main characters and Protagonist and Antagonist respectively. Dafoe is a pretty sympathetic antagonist, and isn’t particularly “evil” for most of the game but he is still the extremely sinister looking and sounding Willem Defoe, so you pretty much spend the entire time wondering “When is he going to turn evil?” Both of these elements have a lot of impact on the gameplay and plot.

I’ll start on the graphics. Quantic Dream went to a lot of work to capture the likeness of it’s two starring actors and present them in an incredible lifelike manner for this game. They did a great job of coming extremely close to the “uncanny valley” without landing right in it. There was even one scene where I was sure I was watching a video of Ellen Page and not a 3D render. Everything still looks like a game, it just looks really good while doing it. There seems to be a few tricks at work here though. Firstly, Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe are both well known actors. This helps a lot in tricking the brain into filling in the normal “gaps” that create the Uncanny valley. I’d actually be kind of interested to see what someone who doesn’t know who these two are thought of things.

youngjodie Secondly, there seems to be some changes in the quality and density of the rendering (for lack of a better term). when there is a cut scene with just Jodie on screen, everything looks hyper detailed and realistic. When you’re just wandering around looking at Jodie’s back? It may as well be any other 3rd person title. You can break free of Jodie and fly around as Aiden but the view when controlling Aiden is hazed in blue further breaking the need for hyper detailed models. It’s not a bad way of handing things and I’m sure it helps cut down on processing power, but it’s there.

The lack of an uncanny valley also falls apart completely if you ignore the games’ action prompts. The story is fairly compelling when it comes to “make a choice right now” and each action has a bit of a leadout that fills in your reaction time with onscreen content and urgency. If you just ignore the action, this leadout action starts to repeat. Suddenly the super detailed characters and urgent action feels extremely gamey as everyone just sort of stares off into space looking creepy.

Beyond: Two Souls - Dinner Time Though ignoring some actions may not be advisable depending on how you want the story to proceed. Most actions have multiple outcomes for pass/fail. Others just demand you repeat them and try again. This is one aspect that almost hurts the game overall, specifically, there is literally no way to “die” or fail. The story always moves on.

Always.

During one sequence you are being chased down by the police. Manage to elude them, and you get a bonus PS3 Trophy, but getting caught just means you have to use Aiden to escape from the cop car they throw you in. Either way you end up chasing away from them on a motorcycle.

Beyond: Two Souls - Goat.se? During the more action filled sequences, failing to elude or subdue the guards generally results in a Quick Time Combat (QTC) sequence where you fight off the guard. Failing to succeed in the QTC forces you into Aiden Mode where you strangle the guard.

Basically, you can’t ever actually get caught or killed by these guards.

Which brings us to the most annoying hindrance of this title. Aiden’s abilities are great, except the only really work when the game wants you to use them. Just as an example, one of the few and most combat heavy levels involves Soldier Jodie sneaking through this Middle Eastern village to assassinate some nobody political stooge. There are a few different paths through the village, though not nearly as many as you might want. The logical path though would be to send Aiden out ahead and either possess guards to shoot the other guards, or to just start strangling all of the guards. Except you can only possess maybe two of the guards you encounter and you can only strangle a few of them.

Basically, ideally, you could handle the situation as you, the player, saw fit, except instead you end up limited to how the game wants you to handle it.

Beyond: Two Souls - Press Circle to Commit Suicide... As for taking out guards with Jodie, well, that effectively doesn’t happen unless it’s a QTC failure event or sneak attack. This is in no way a Metal Gear stealth mission where Jodie can shoot whomever she wants despite having an entire training episode where you learn to shoot and take down guards. Honestly I don’t remember ever shooting anyone herself in the entire game, in fact the only time I recall Jodie even holding a gun with any intention to shoot was when she tries to suicide herself in desperation (it’s in the trailer above, Press R1 to kill yourself, except you can’t because Aiden and no fail scenarios and reasons…).

Aiden has other limitations beyond what he can do to others. Occasionally you can use Aiden to push or break things, this seems to be his primary communication method. Except at one point he is somehow skilled enough to type a name into a computer, which goes beyond what we’ve been shown.

Beyond: Two SoulsAiden also has an arbitrary range limit. Sometimes Aiden can fly a long long way from Jodie, others he can’t go more then ten feet. This is somewhat explained in the plot as “Jodie gets really stressed the farther Aiden goes”. Except late in the game when Jodie is under extreme duress, Aiden flies farther than he ever has from Jodie. It’s inconsistencies like this that slowly start to grind on your enjoyment.

There are also a lot of inconsistencies in the missions and story. The game is told in chapters spaced throughout Jodie’s life. Some take place when she is a little girl in the lab learning how to control Aiden. Others take place when she is a teenager trying to find herself, later there are a few missions working for the CIA, you end up on the run from the law for a little while and eventually things wrap up and we get a little closure to Dafoe’s motivations and yes, there is eventually an answer to what Aiden is and what his connection to Jodie is.

Beyond: Two Souls These chapters do not occur in chronological order, which feels cheezy on it’s own and there isn’t really a good way to replay them in order. You can replay any chapter but in order to keep any new choices you’ve made you have to completely restart from that point onward.

The core story isn’t too bad, it has a few gaps but nothing awful. The real issue is that half the missions feel completely useless. Many of the missions essentially just fancy tutorials disguised as story. You learn how to control Aiden while controlling Young Jodie in a lab. You learn how to QTC and shoot while training with the CIA, you learn how to read these little flashback scenes during a crisis event. That sort of thing.

Then there are missions which further the plot along. Jodie’s bad childhood, her betrayal by the CIA, she is running from the cops, she has to save the world. These work all right as well and there is some overlap with the tutorial missions.

Beyond: Two Souls - Ellen Page Simulator Then there are the missions that feel completely tacked on. They are some of the more enjoyable game play missions but they ultimately just end up being noise. Jodie spends a lengthy mission running around the desert with some Native Americans; Jodie hangs out with some homeless bums and lives on the street for a while; Jodie tries to murder her classmates Carrie style. These events are not referred to again other than a passing choice in the epilogue, we learn no new abilities or skills, we learn no crucial or important plot points.

They just exist.

Which wouldn’t be a bad thing except this game is trying to be a narrative more than a game, and extraneous subplots are bad for a good narrative.

So I feel like I’ve been a little rough on Beyond: Two Souls, but i also know its a polarizing game. Overall, I did enjoy it. I wish there was more freedom of control and I wish there was a better mechanism to replay missions, but I still enjoyed it. It’s just not something that everyone will enjoy or be interested in.

S.H. Figuarts – Mario

Nintendo has long been weirdly stingy with the license for their properties.  Sure, there has always been merchandise for Super Mario Brothers, but only recently have they really opened it up, at least for more toy style merchandise.  They seemed to have opened the flood gates too, between the Amiibo figurines, and the World of Nintendo toy line.  There is also a line put out by Bandai under their S.H. Figuarts lineup.

World of Nintendo is alright, but if you want the “Cadillac level” of figure, you’re going to want to spring for the Figuarts Mario.

SH Figuarts Mario

Figuarts Mario is a bit of a departure from the standard Human figures put out in this line.  Sure Mario is human, but he’s considerably shorter and ore stocky than your average anime school girl.   The joint system all around also feels a lot more study than the other Figuarts I’ve handled.  I’m not saying the others are garbage, just that Mario here definitely seems to have a different mindset in mind on his design choices.  It kind of feels like that whole “Nintendo Quality” hand was probably involved in the design of this figure a bit to make sure he looks nice and solid in most poses.

SH Figuarts Mario

This also is almost a determent however.  He can make a lot of “classic Mario poses” but he’s also limited in a lot of ways due to his sculpt.  He can’t stick his arms out from his sides, for example, due to how his shoulders work.  He doesn’t have any alternate faces either.  In fact eh doesn’t have any alternate parts at all, though there are some alternate hands included in one of the accessory packs.

SH Figuarts Mario

What he does include is a Power Mushroom, one coin with stand, and a ? Block.  There isn’t even a stand (That is also in an accessory pack).  He’s plenty solid enough to stand without the stand though having one to do jumping poses would have been nice.

SH Figuarts Mario

There is an upside to the lack of extra parts however, and it kind of makes the whole argument moot.  Mario costs considerably less than your average Figuarts toy.  In fact Mario plus the two initial “Playset” packs, probably puts him about your average Figuarts price, with an above average number of accessories.

SH Figuarts Mario

Accessory woes aside, the figure is really nice.  It’s build solid, as mentioned and the sculpt and paint are all spot on perfect for a modern Mario.  Despite his limited articulation, he can pill off a lot of very Mario-like poses.  Mario isn’t exactly a Ninja after all, he’s a fat, squat plumber.  SH Figuarts Mario pulls this off nicely.