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Now Playing: Halo 4

calenda man 11-5 halo 4 shot 1

In the interests of picking up the pace a little, I thought that when I didn’t have a proper feature to give you, I might start posting brief thoughts on games I’d been playing that week instead. Not a proper review, you understand, just a quick sketch. First up to the plate is the fourth iteration in the Halo series, appropriately known as Halo 4.

There’s an old adage that runs “if it ‘aint broke, don’t fix it”, which I presume is emblazoned in thirty-foot high fiery letters on the wall of the Halo development office. Because my initial impression of Halo 4 is how very much like the original Halo it is.

You’re still limited to two weapons and some grenades, from a roster that’s barely changed, dropped by enemies that have barely changed, and occasionally you’ll come across some vehicle sections that have barely changed. As the saying goes, it ‘aint broke, so it’s still fun to charge around on Warthogs gunning down the Covenant and new Promethean enemies, but after three previous entries it’s a lot less fun that it used to be.

Of course as a late-cycle Xbox 360 game it looks amazing compared to its predecessors, and many of the scenes were clearly designed to wow the player. And there are a few new additions – a welcome raft of abilities for your armour and a less welcome portrayal of Cortana as some sort of super-curvy cyber-babe. I’ll be playing it a while yet. But if Microsoft are still seeing Halo exclusives  as a prime selling point for the Xbone, they really ought to do something about shaking up the rapidly ossifying gameplay.

Cracked LCD- Euphoria in Review

euphoria

A common complaint about worker placement games is that they don’t really have much to say in terms of expressing a theme or storyline. Euphoria, a new title from Stonemeier Games, is aiming to bring a little more narrative and a sense of world-building to the genre and by jingo, it mostly succeeds at contextualizing fairly standard production and conversion mechanics into a unique setting. The game is sub-titled “build a better dystopia”, and that is just a teaser as to the surprisingly effective science fiction story this game attempts to tell. This may be the first worker placement game where the worker pieces actually carry subtextual meaning. Continue Reading…

Brakketology Goes Ball’n, Gets Soaked

NBA 2k14 - VC

If you’re a JtS listener (and you should be, because we’re still awesome), you know I finally unpacked my, uh, kids’ Xbox One over the holidays. For scientific purposes, I also picked up NBA 2k14. The things I do for science.

Can I just say, right out, that for all the flack we give to EA (wholly deserved) for how ostentatiously they over-monetize their middling products, and treat their customers like drones who should just shut up an pay already, there’s not nearly enough disgust thrown 2k’s way? They’re awful. And consistently so. It’s not just an NBA 2k thing, although 2k14 is by far the most blatant, irritating, and just plain icky swindle so far. But even quality games like Civilization 5 ($5 civilizations and map packs anyone?) and XCOM ($5 to choose armor color?) are not immune.

As a gamer, I’ve lived with it because who really caress about an extra civ here and there? And $30 may suck for an expansion, but the expansions for both Civ and XCOM were extremely good. NBA 2k14, though? Yeah, Brave New World, not so much.

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Robinson Crusoe Review

crusoe-1

Mostly, I’m not a big fan of co-operative games. Games suffer terribly without the unpredictability and skill of human opposition, and the whole genre sometimes looks like a collection of semi-functional attempts to solve this big, blaring problem.

But there are a very few that make my grade. And I’ve noticed they tend to have certain things in common: they allow plenty of scope of individual player decision making in the face of the group, offer some sort of simple AI-like mechanics that make it look like the game is reacting to your decisions and have a deep well of variety to add to the narrative and keep things unpredictable.

But the most important quality of all is balancing the need for transparent mechanics that allow for strategic decisions with a strong wind of chance to make sure the game doesn’t become a mere logic puzzle. Lean too far in the former direction and you might as well be solving co-operative Su-doku with your friends. Too far in the latter and you might as well co-operatively shoot craps. It’s a hard, hard proportion to get right and none of the co-ops I’ve played so far, even my favourites, have quite got it right. Until I played Robinson Crusoe.

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Cracked LCD- Tash-Kalar in Review

tash kalar

If I’m going to be charitable about Tash-Kalar: Arena of Ancients, I’ll state that it’s a highly experimental and sometimes oddly compelling design that feels like superstar designer Vlaada Chvatil test-driving some  new concepts somewhat outside of his comfort zone. If I’m going to be a little more direct about it, I’m going to declare that Tash-Kalar is an awkward and frequently fumbling attempt at applying both conceptual and executive level theme to an abstract game that mechanically is no more specific than Checkers. If I’m going to be dead level honest about the new Czech Games Edition/Z-Man title, I’ll tell you straight up that it is agonizing to play. And not in a good way.

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Jumping the Shark Podcasts #197 and #198

No High Scores Podcast Logo

Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Believe it or not, we’ve been recording podcasts. Not that you’d of read about them here, of course. That’s on me. I checked-out over the holidays. It was rather nice, true, but it’d also be cool if you folks who don’t use services like iTunes knew it when we’ve actually, you know, done stuff. So here’s the official JTS catch-up post, covering our two year-ending shows.

Episode #197 (not embedded; just follow the link instead)

It’s our last episode of the year, so Brandon and Todd do it right with Ye Olde Traditional Game of the Year Shenanigans. Hear all about our picks for best and most disappointing titles for the year in gaming that was 2013. On the list in one capacity or another, Gone Home, Fuse, NFS: Most Wanted, God of War: Ascension, Papers Please, Mark of the Ninja, Tomb Raider, Bioshock, Beyond Two Souls, FTL, Fire Emblem: Awakening, GTA V, and XCOM: Enemy Within. You’ll have to tune in, though, to find out what we slotted where.

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Episode #198 (embedded below)

Brandon and Todd are here (even if Brandon’s voice isn’t) to talk about their most anticipated games of 2014 as well as Todd’s problems with the Xbox One and NBA2K14 and Brandon’s problems with The Walking Dead Season 2. Yay! Hope and complaints!

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Cracked LCD- Barnes’ Best 2013: The Triple Crown

 

barnesbest

I’m doing my Barnes’ Best Game of the Year commendation a little differently this year. I’ve been rolling over my short list time and time again over the past couple of weeks and trying to come up with a GOTY nominee that I can feel completely comfortable with selecting over other candidates. This year, there was a higher-than-usual number of not just really good but great games release, despite the influx of mediocre Kickstarter titles.  Games that I think are going to be around for years to come. Games that I thought “there’s nothing coming out this year that is going to beat this” when I played them.  In all, I think it’s been a great year for high quality, impactful, and innovative designs.

So this year, it’s a Triple Crown. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Too Much Ogre

ogre plus sj

Last week I took delivery on a copy of the Ogre Designer’s Edition, the 28 pound monstrosity that Steve Jackson crowdfunded through Kickstarter to the tune of almost a million bucks. No, don’t be silly. Of course I didn’t back it. I bought a copy through a retailer for a cool $65. I’ll take a savings of $35 over a couple of extra counter sheets, not to mention retaining my anti-Kickstarter party line regardless of the fact that this was one of the better justified and better run campaigns that I’ve seen. Ogre is one of the all-time great games, one of the seminal titles in the hobby spectrum, and after being out of print for years I should be thrilled to pieces to have this massive, supposedly “ultimate” edition of the game.

But I’m not. Continue Reading…

Brakketology Sees Betas and Alphas; Exclaims, “Oh My!”

Pillars of Eternity

It’s holiday time here in at NHS, which makes the site pretty much indistinguishable from any other time of year, except that behind the scenes I’m spending money on other people. I do not enjoy this. I like my money. I’d like to have more of it. And then spend it on myself. Alas, that Xbox One my dad is getting the kiddos won’t play itself and that means some games for the kids and a second controller and maybe something for myself along the way. It all works out in the end.

Anyway.

This week’s round-up is decidedly half-assed. Below the fold you’ll find links and videos for Pillars of Eternity, Wasteland 2, and Elite: Dangerous; three games that all look incredibly good. I don’t remember the last time I was well and truly excited for the next year of games. It’s been a long time, but I am wildly excited for 2014. Steam boxes. Dragon Age: Inquisition. Banner Saga. FTL for iPad. About a half-dozen other projects I’m forgetting about. Oooh. Witcher 3, too! I’m definitely into getting my Witcher on. I like this feeling.

In the meantime, I would imagine the site is going to go very quiet for a couple of weeks. I don’t know what, if anything, Matt and Michael have planned, but I’m taking at least the next week off and possibly the next two. Brandon was out for the year a couple weeks ago, claiming nothing new was coming. I call him a shirker. We will have a podcast up next Monday. In the meantime, I wish you all a very happy holiday season and hope you all get a little new gaming goodness under the Christmas tree!

Hugs!

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Cracked LCD- Level 7 [Omega Protocol] in Review

omega 

Level  7 [Omega Protocol], a new dungeon crawler from Privateer Press, is proof positive that a game doesn’t have to necessarily innovate or reinvent its genre to be a best-in-class example of it. But that’s not to say that this title do any innovating or reinventing of its own.  There are a couple of really quite brilliant ideas that help to modernize a title that at its root really isn’t all that much different from some of the top names in the dungeon crawl/”Dudes in a Hall” genre.

Continue Reading…