Popular Video Game Series I’ve Never Played

Though I am someone who has played hundreds of video games in my lifetime, I have rarely checked out a title that was trending.  I have been very selective on what I purchase and I typically only go for games that intrigue me in some way.

Lately, I have had many conversations with other avid gamers who are shocked to learn I’ve never played a certain game – or a certain franchise for that matter.  Below is my list of ten popular video game series I’ve never personally delved into.

1)  Legend of Zelda – Easily the longest-running series on this list, Legend of Zelda got its start alll the way back in the 1980s.  It is a franchise that should be right up my alley with its fantasy setting, intriguing storylines, and loads of monsters to fight.  But for whatever reason, I never delved into any one of the installments in the series.  Out of all the games that made the list, Legend of Zelda would definitely be my first choice for a franchise to check out.

2)  Halo – A sci-fi adventure series that focuses on an interstellar war between humans and aliens, Halo is a franchise that I could easily have gotten into.  Sadly, the closest I’ve gotten to playing the actual games is an animated fan-made series called Red vs. Blue made popular on YouTube.  Though Red vs. Blue has little connection to Halo’s storyline, the former series has made me curious to discover what the games are all about.

3) Assassin’s Creed – As far as video games go, Assassin’s Creed has one of the most unique premises.  The franchise generally centers around a modern-day protagonist who uses an advanced form of virtual reality to assume the identity of one of his ancestors in different periods of history.  Each of the games in the series allows you to step into the shoes of an assassin who accepts contracts to take out certain people, interacts with real-life historical figures, and must solve a mystery lost to the ravages of time.  I’ve played games that are somewhat similar to Assassin’s Creed, and it is a series that I can definitely see myself giving a try.

4)  Doom – A first-person shooter franchise that debuted in the 1990s, Doom is a series I give props to for an innovative concept.  The original game in the franchise essentially saw colonists on Mars inadvertently open a portal to hell.  It was left to an unnamed space marine – subsequently coined as Doomguy by fans – to combat the demonic creatures that overtook the colony.  The closest I’ve gotten to playing Doom was when I delved into a separate game called Spear of Destiny that utilized the same interface.  But maybe someday…

5)  Silent Hill – An eerie video game series with a heavy emphasis on psychological horror, Silent Hill is one of those games where the player must rely more on stealth or running away instead of combat.  I don’t know how eager I am to explore a nightmarish world populated by truly-original freakish monsters, but it is a franchise I may eventually give a shot.

6)  Street Fighter – A fighting game series that dates back to 1987, Street Fighter is perhaps the most surprising franchise that I never got into.  I’m no stranger to fighting games, and I’ve played my share of a similar series, Mortal Kombat.  I’ve also delved into many games or movies featuring characters from Street Fighter, such as Super Puzzle Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom, and Wreck-It Ralph.  It may be time I stop skating along the edges and actually give the parent series a try.

7)  World of Warcraft – One of the most popular online multiplayer game series out there, World of Warcraft is a franchise that consistently keeps coming out with new content.  I’ve never been a big fan of online gameplay, though I have delved into it.  I’ve dabbled in Everquest, but could never get into it enough to keep at it long-term.  And I’ve had some bad experiences with a large group of gamers on a lesser known online multiplayer game called Batheo.  But that doesn’t mean I won’t change my mind and check out the fantasy setting of World of Warcraft.

8)  PokemonPokemon is a video game series that I might not have gotten into because it was all the rage back when it first started.  It didn’t help that I used to work in a video rental store where I had kids asking for a Pokemon game or film on a daily basis.  I feel that hearing about something too much is a good way to make you detest that particular thing.  I’ve since had an ample amount of time to distance myself from the phenomenon, and I’ve started to look at the Pokemon games as something I might be interested in.

9)  Tomb Raider – An adventure series with a self-explanatory title, Tomb Raider chronicles the story of archaeologist Lara Croft as she explores ancient ruins in search of treasure.  I can’t say why I never gave any of the Tomb Raider games a chance, but I do feel it is a premise I could sink my teeth into.

10) Five Nights at Freddy’sFive Nights at Freddy’s is a survival horror franchise that debuted in 2014, but already has six games to its name.  Of all the series that made the list, the popularity of Five Nights at Freddy’s puzzles me the most.  I don’t see much variation between any of the installments of the series – no matter which one you start with, you’re basically playing all the games in one sitting.  Five Nights at Freddy’s may be an overrated series where you’re trying to elude living killer human-sized animatronics, but it is also one that I may check out just to say I tried it.

For someone who loves video games, it is surprising that I’ve never played some of the most popular or acclaimed franchises out there.  Each of the series on this list has such a big fanbase that it may be time for me to see what the hype is all about.   And who knows – I might just find a new favorite or two.

 

First Impressions of Not a Hero & End of Zoe

I’ve been waiting a long time to play Not A Hero, an expansion pack, or DLC, to Resident Evil 7Not a Hero was originally scheduled to be released in spring 2017, but the add-on got pushed back to December because the production crew felt the game wouldn’t meet the expectations of the fans.  While I was anxious for answers to mysteries presented at the end of Resident Evil 7, I was also patient enough to wait for them.

My most burning questions centered around the soldier who claimed to be Chris Redfield, a veteran hero of the Resident Evil series.  Was it really him?  If so, why would he be working for a company calling itself Umbrella — the corrupt pharmaceutical company responsible for creating genetic-altering viruses and horrific monstrosities?  What was the meaning behind the DLC title, Not a Hero?

Early on December 12, I loaded up Resident Evil 7, eager to play the DLC that I expected had been automatically downloaded the day before.  I was surprised when I didn’t find Not a Hero listed among the menu options.  The only new title present was End of Zoe, a secondary DLC title scheduled to be released the same day.  I immediately shut down the game and searched for Not a Hero on my main gaming hub, the Steam Network.  It wasn’t listed there either.

I searched for answers online, and found one forum that seemed to indicate the add-on would only become available upon completion of the main game.  Not seeing any other option, I proceeded to play through Resident Evil 7 in its entirety.  This took almost the whole day because I kept taking breaks at various points.  The last thing I wanted to see after the closing credits was an ad for Not a Hero explaining how to download and install the DLC.

I was a bit aggravated to see that the desired title was now listed on the Steam Network.  I don’t know if it was made available at some point during the day or if my playthrough of Resident Evil 7 unlocked it.  In either case, I proceeded to install it with the intention of playing it the next day.

I woke up around 2AM on December 13.  Rather than try to get back to bed, I chose to begin playing Not a Hero.  I learned in the first few minutes of gameplay the main character is indeed Chris; he is voluntarily working with a new company called Blue Umbrella dedicated to fighting the horrors created by its namesake.

Not a Hero largely has Chris pursuing Lucas Baker, a sadistic madman and budding bioterrorist who had escaped capture during Resident Evil 7.  The DLC, as with the base game, is told from a first-person perspective, with the player experiencing the world through Chris’ eyes.  Despite checking out trailers and tidbits on what to expect, I went into the game largely blind.  I was very eager to uncover whatever mysteries and dangers awaited me.

Unfortunately, the lack of knowledge worked against me in several instances.  I acted like such a noob during the first few hours of my playthrough, it’s a wonder I didn’t get killed more than four times.

I believed I had a pretty good arsenal at my disposal to begin with.  A pistol, combat knife, shotgun, and several grenades seemed like they would be a good defense against the creatures lurking in the mines.  I changed my mind when I first encountered a variant of the monster that could regenerate and wouldn’t go down so easily.  I initially ran from it, then realized I had to go back in to retrieve a key needed to get to a soldier that Lucas had captured.

Trying to rescue said soldier didn’t go so well.  I unlocked the cell door and approached him.  The cave soon filled with poisoned air and started a death trap that Lucas had put together specifically for his prisoner.  Rather than take an air filter that the doomed soldier offered to Chris, I stupidly tried to make a run for it even though my oxygen reserves had fallen to 5%.  I was pretty much dead in an instant.

Once I retrieved the air filter and installed it, I was left with the problem of how to take out the regenerating monster in the cave where the key had been.  After futilely trying to find special ammo that would stop the creature from healing, I cheated and looked online for tips.  The answer was simple: go back to the main cavern and go through the green door to find a night vision filter and the needed ammo.

Upon going through what I thought was the right door, I found myself in a pitch-black tunnel.  But I didn’t let that deter me, nor did I think I was in the wrong place.  I blindly stumbled through the tunnel and proceeded to set off a variety of pressure-plate traps and tripwires.  Surprisingly, I didn’t get killed during this determined search for items.  I had just enough healing items to make it through in one piece.

I don’t know how long it took me to determine that the door I’d gone through was blue, not green.  Once I figured that out, finding the items I needed was a cinch.  The next challenge was to find my way back to the main cavern.  I found that turrets had been set up in the tunnels I’d used to get to this point.  Initially, I tried shooting the turrets to take them out — which didn’t work — and inadvertently used up the special ammo I’d collected.  My answer on how to conquer the turret obstacle was to run past them to minimize the damage.  Death #2.

When I loaded the last save point, I was given a tip on the loading screen to find an alternate route back to the main cavern.  Once I got through that segment, I returned to the blue door.  Finding my way through these tunnels went much smoother.  At least until I reached a room where another soldier had been taken prisoner by Lucas.  This area was loaded with laser tripwires and explosives.  My first not-so-brilliant idea was to lob a grenade into the room to neutralize the bombs.  Death #3.

Upon closer inspection, I found that it was possible to get through the room without setting off the tripwires.  I carefully navigated my way to the imprisoned soldier and initiated a conversation with him.  The next thing I knew, I heard Lucas taunting Chris over the intercom before the tripwires started rotating in my direction.  Death #4.

On my third try at this, I discovered that I needed to cut the power for the room before talking to the soldier.  This still didn’t save the guy, as he’d been outfitted with a collar bomb that was shortly detonated remotely.  Soon after the soldier was killed, Lucas activated an explosive he’d strapped to Chris’ arm at an earlier point in the game.  I was given a time limit to find some liquid nitrogen canisters to temporarily neutralize the bomb and remove it.  Death #5 occurred because I didn’t make it before the clock ran out.

Similar follies plagued me through the remainder of the game, and I believe I died a total of nine times.  While I was happy to make it through Not a Hero, I was left to reflect on my disappointment with the story.

It hit me, once I finished the game, that Chris is starting to develop a reputation for failing to save the team members he’s working alongside.  The same premise was used in Resident Evil 6 and the recent anime film, Vendetta.  At the very least, I would have liked to see this point addressed in Not a Hero — either through some inner monologue from Chris or through a philosophical debate between him and Lucas.

I feel that Chris’ failings is the meaning behind the DLC title.  It is possible that on some level he no longer views himself as heroic.  I have to wonder if this storyline is building toward something big.  I see two possible outcomes to this scenario: either Chris decides to throw in the towel and retire out of shame, or he encounters a situation that redeems him and possibly has him sacrificing himself for the greater good.

My dissatisfaction with Not a Hero was surpassed by the other DLC, End of Zoe.  The secondary game focused on Lucas’ sister, Zoe, who is infected with the virus present in Resident Evil 7.  The basic plot is that her Uncle Joe – an ex-marine – finds her and strives to locate a cure for her.

Joe is essentially a character who relies largely on his fists to take down the creatures standing between him and the means to save his niece.  My main nitpick with this scenario is the excessive number of locations where you can save the game.  In one area, I could barely take twenty steps before coming to another room where I could save my progress.

As with Not a Hero, I played End of Zoe on the easiest difficulty but didn’t find it nearly as much of a challenge.  Despite playing as a character whose specialty is unarmed combat, I didn’t die once during my first playthrough.  I feel that perhaps the easy mode was made too easy.  I hope that the medium and hard difficulty settings will put End of Zoe on par with the other DLC.  I would hold the secondary game in higher regard if that’s the case.

Overall, I feel that Resident Evil 7 and its add-ons opens up some interesting doors for the future of the franchise.  I look forward to whatever story comes next.

Video Games – Vintage vs. Modern

On October 29, 2017, I went to a special theatrical showing of a movie — 1986’s Little Shop of Horrors — I hadn’t seen on the big screen since I was a child.  I thought seeing the film in this format would be a nice trip down memory lane.  I wasn’t disappointed, even though it was a version of Little Shop of Horrors with an alternate ending in which the plant lives.  There was something magical about seeing the actors’ performances and stellar musical numbers, such as “Skid Row” and “Suddenly Seymour,” in the theater again after thirty years.

What I wasn’t expecting was to find inspiration for a video game blog.  But seeing a preview documentary prior to the movie about the film-making process of Little Shop of Horrors got my creative juices flowing.  The film-maker’s talk about all the practical effects, as opposed to the digital effects of today, that went into the film raised an interesting question for me.

Have films — or video games for that matter — lost some of their magic because it takes less work to generate the effects for them?

I know it takes time to put together computer-generated imagery for today’s films or video games.  But I feel there is less room for imagination on the movie\game designer’s part.  Technology — specifically digital technology — has gotten so advanced that there seems to be no limit to what can be created for movie-going audiences or gaming enthusiasts.  There have been times as of late where I’ve felt like some video games — not to mention films — have gotten too overblown and flashy because of the “sky’s the limit” mentality adopted by the production crews or studio execs.

In my opinion, what made the video games of the 1990s and early 2000s so much better was that there was a greater emphasis on story-telling and practical effects.  I know of many game production companies from that time period that hired and filmed live actors for inclusion in a particular title, such as Command and Conquer: Tiberian Sun.  I feel there was more creativity when it came to designing environments, creatures, and vehicles until digital technology became more prevalent.  I’ve seen too many game designers nowadays re-use or modernize concepts of what came before rather than take time to come up with something new and innovative.  The Dead Space trilogy would be a good example — all three of the main games in the series might as well be the same since there’s not much variation in the story, gameplay, or creature design.

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy playing modern games.  But it would be nice to see a resurgence of the production practices of yesteryear.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this particular topic.  Please leave your feedback in the comments below.

First Experience with Mass Effect: Andromeda

Note:  There are spoilers in this article.

 

Being an avid fan of the Mass Effect series, I had been looking forward to Mass Effect: Andromeda for what seems like forever.  Enough so that I couldn’t resist purchasing the Super Deluxe Edition to get twenty weeks of bonus content for the multiplayer side game.  As with Resident Evil 7 and Dead Rising 4, I was certain that Mass Effect:  Andromeda would not run on the computer I have.  Even more so in this case, since my PC is an i3 with only 6 GB of RAM and Andromeda required an i7 with 16 GB.

I still had to try, if only to cash in on the multiplayer content, but my PC became the Little Engine That Could.  I watched in awe as the game not only booted up, but actually ran without crashing.  I launched the multiplayer to collect whatever booster packs were available – I got an ultra-rare combatant and some nice weaponry in the process – before delving into the main game.  The picture is very grainy and there are a few minor bugs here and there, but nothing that really ruins the overall experience for me.

The story for Mass Effect: Andromeda is fairly simple.  You are playing as Sara or Scott Ryder, the default names given to a set of twins at the core of the story.  No matter which twin you choose as your character, the other still has a role to play.  You are part of an expedition to build a new home for humanity in a galaxy far removed from the Milky Way.  Such a task proves to be a challenge when it’s discovered that an unforeseen calamity has rendered all potential “golden worlds” uninhabitable.  It has also left the space station hub meant to be a waystation for colonists in dire straits.

To make matters worse for Scott or Sara, their twin is rendered comatose and their father, the expedition’s leader\Pathfinder, is killed at the end of the game’s first mission.  The task of finding planets to colonize and thus save thousands of people aboard the space station falls on the shoulders of Scott or Sara.


One of the things I love about Mass Effect: Andromeda is the character customization.  For my first outing, I picked the female Ryder twin, who I renamed as Claire.  The look I chose for her also determined the appearance of her brother and father.  The notion of having a non-playable character’s look be established by what is chosen for the main character is a feature I’d previously seen used in Fallout 4; I really dig the concept and hope to see it utilized in many more video games to come.

My character, Claire, and her father.

Though I had some idea of what to expect from having watched Youtube videos of the opening, I still felt like a out of my element at times.  The first thing that took some getting used to was jumping, particularly over long distances.  The game didn’t offer very clear instructions on how to leap over the more dangerous chasms on the first planet you explore.  I had to resort to trial and error and a lot of failed attempts before I made it across.

The next hurdle was in navigating the terrain.  I got turned around a number of times and was going in circles since there isn’t much deviation in the landscape.  The occasional fights I got into added to my confusion on which way I should be heading.  It’s a wonder that I even made it to a spot on the map where the story would advance.

It took me some time to get through the first mission, but all my roaming still yielded some discoveries about the planet I hadn’t seen in the Youtube videos.  Some landmarks I stumbled across got me inclined to think that this world will be revisited at a later point in the story.

Despite my eagerness to start exploring the next world to potentially colonize, I spent a good deal of time wandering around the space station hub – the Nexus – to talk to people and complete side quests.  After roughly two and a half hours spent “goofing off”, I finally ventured to the area of the Nexus where my character’s personal starship, the Tempest, could be found.  I might not have the best quality picture for the game, but I thought the ship looked beautiful when I first saw it.  In some ways, it looks nicer than the Normandy from the original Mass Effect trilogy.

The game crashed when I initiated a conversation with the Tempest’s pilot, but so far that’s been the only instance where it did.  There was no recurrence of this when I tried it again, so I gleefully surged ahead into the next part of the story.

Exploring the desert planet, Eos, came with its own set of challenges.  Soon after making my way to the planet’s surface, I uncovered a ground vehicle that could make it easier to get from one location to another – unless you’re like me.  As I’ve learned from many other video games that came before, I suck terribly at driving.  This largely led to me spending a half hour doing donuts around the derelict outpost where I found the vehicle or attempting to get up a very small hill with little success.  Part of the trouble associated with the latter was I couldn’t figure out how to shift from four-wheel to six-wheel drive.

After gaining access to and exploring an entire underground vault, I decided to shut down the game for the time being.  Mass Effect: Andromeda was set up so the game could be downloaded at the same time it was running.  I was disappointed when I saw the download, though near finished, had inexplicably halted.  I couldn’t figure out how to get it going again, so chose to cancel and restart it.  This turned out to be a mistake when the download started over from the very beginning.  I was unable to continue my saved game or access the multiplayer side game until it reached a certain point.  My internet connection isn’t the best, so it took two days to pick up where I left off.

As soon as I was able, I accessed the multiplayer game to participate in a few skirmishes.  I had no trouble joining a four-person team, but the load time to start the actual fight was unbelievably long.  After waiting several minutes to join in on the skirmish, I got a message saying my internet connection had been lost.  I subsequently tried a solo run.  While that one did launch after an excessive load time, I quickly got swarmed by the enemy units I was up against.  If that experience taught me anything, it’s to not stay in one spot for the entirety of the fight.

When I was able to resume the main game, I went about establishing a military outpost on Eos to serve as the first successful human colony in the Andromeda galaxy.  I then journeyed to another planet called Aya, where I met with the peaceful alien race, the Angara.  Sadly, this is where my fun came to a screeching halt.  After I recruited an Angaran team member, the game went into an infinite loading screen.  I thought if I gave it enough time, I would be able to carry on with whatever adventure came next.  After waiting nearly four and a half hours, I decided I would have to call it quits.  It appears I will need a new computer if I want to play out the rest of Mass Effect: Andromeda.

Until such time, I am determined to stay spoiler-free on what comes next in the story.  But the game has done such a good job setting up several mysteries with the antagonistic Kett alien race and the underground vaults built by an ancient species known as the Remnants that I will anxiously await the day where I get to see how the narrative plays out.   I can promise a continuation of my impressions of the game when that day comes.

©3/28/17

First Experience with Dead Rising 4

Note:  There are spoilers in this article.

 

Though Dead Rising 4 was released in December 2016, I was unable to play it until mid-March.  I had to wait until it was made available for my favorite gaming hub, the Steam Network, before I could download it.  Unlike Resident Evil 7, my resolve to stay spoiler-free until I could experience the game for myself was successful.

Like Resident Evil 7, I was certain that Dead Rising 4 would not run on my computer.  I chose to test it anyway and was pleasantly surprised when it booted up – although the load time for the starting screen took a while.  The only nitpicks I initially had were that shadows appear as distorted, blocky shapes, and there was a bit of a lag in the gameplay.  But that’s nothing that ruined the experience for me.  All I care about is that a game runs without crashing.

After the ending of Dead Rising 3 seemed to guarantee that there would be no more zombie outbreaks and that the story was over, the fourth game added another layer to the overall narrative.  In a lot of ways, Dead Rising 4 goes back to the roots of the series – it features photojournalist Frank West as the lead protagonist, takes place in the town of Willamette after a zombie outbreak has started, and has an intriguing mystery at its core.  It even lends some more depth to Dr. Barnaby, one of the antagonists in the original game who was responsible for starting the zombie epidemic in the first place.

One of the things I liked best about Dead Rising 4 is that, unlike its predecessors, there were no time constraints.  Instead of rushing through the game to solve the mystery before the clock ran out, I took my time exploring and killing zombies to my heart’s content.  I also love that the game brought back the option to dress the main character in a variety of wacky outfits, as well as create combo weapons and vehicles.  To take it one step further, Frank has access to a piece of military tech called an Exo-suit that can amplify his speed and strength.  In this outing, he throws cars at zombies to off them if he wants.  So far, I haven’t made much use of the Exo-suits apart when the game makes it a mission objective to put one on.  It is something to explore further.

While I encountered more than a few game glitches – my PC is old – nothing ruined the overall experience.  The one that really got annoying was when I undertook a mission to take out all the zombies present inside a pool hall.  Toward the end of the fight, the camera panned up to show a shot of some second story windows before a handful of the more aggressive zombies crashed through them; the camera angle remained fixed on the windows all through the ensuing fight and its aftermath.  While I worked out a way to kill the remaining creatures regardless, I was unable to exit the building since I couldn’t face the door.  Fortunately, this problem was corrected by loading the checkpoint given to me at the conclusion of the fight.

Apart from that glitch and the general lag in the gameplay, the other bugs I encountered regularly were seeing one or two zombies embedded inside a wall or walking into a room that is completely black.  I couldn’t see anything even with night vision enabled inside these black rooms.  While I enjoyed the game even with these glitches, I hope a newer, better computer will help eliminate them.

Overall, I liked the story developed for Dead Rising 4, but I also feel there are ways in which it could be better.  For starters, the character of Vick, one of Frank’s journalism students, didn’t live up to her potential.  In the opening chapter, I got the sense that she had a personal stake against the military group called Obscuris that was secretly creating and experimenting on zombies.  Had Obscuris taken someone Vick cared about for their experiments?  I was disappointed when this idea didn’t play out; Vick was simply a budding journalist out to write a prize-winning story.

I was also a bit disappointed with Calder, the “uber-zombie” hinted at during the first half of the game.  I remember feeling a sense of dread as I chased him through a train yard filled with mangled, heavily dented cars and then into the sewers.  I didn’t know what kind of monster to expect, but a highly intelligent former soldier decked out in an Exo-suit wasn’t quite it.  What made it weirder was when Frank caught up with Calder, the latter was, for some unknown reason, hell-bent on destroying the research that created him.

I felt that Calder and his motives could have been fleshed out better.  And if I had written the story, I would have had it so Vick and Calder were blood-related.  That would have made for quite the dramatic climax.

The ending to the main game still had its share of drama.  The final scene had Frank pulled from the rescue chopper by a horde of zombies and supposedly killed.  However, there has been news of an expansion pack called Frank Rising that will continue the story and have Frank striving to find a cure for zombie-ism before he fully joins the ranks of the undead.

I don’t know if there are any revelations that would allow for another game in the series.  Unless the company behind the Dead Rising franchise can come up with an intriguing, believable story for a fifth game, this may truly be the end of the road.  Whatever the future holds, I’ve definitely enjoyed the ride so far!

Despite my enthusiasm for Dead Rising 4, the game got pushed to the side for about a week in favor of Mass Effect: Andromeda – more on that in my next blog.