Titanfall: The Cable Brothers Official Video Review

Two game-reviewing brothers, united against a common cause, review the latest from Electronic Arts. A Caltrops exclusive from Inherent Troll Field. This is a wild ride filled to bursting with language!



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Planetarian: The Reverie of a Little Planet


Our Heroine Yumemi

I feel like in deciding to review Planetarian I may have bit off more than I can chew. Planetarian came out back in 2004 and received a fan translation in 2005. It only recently received a licensed translation because some increased interest in Japanese Visual Novel games has made them somewhat profitable in America. Most people who are interested in this kind of thing probably have played the fansub and they might buy the product, either from a sense of responsibility for a desire to encourage future localizations.

People who are interested in this kind of thing and haven’t played the fansub probably will buy it. I personally would like to convince those who are not at all interested in this kind of thing to buy it and give it a try. This is probably a fool’s errand since most people not interested are often violently opposed to this sort of thing. Though writing a review with anyone else in mind is a waste of time.

If you have an interest in Visual Novel then I’d say definitely give this a try as it’s very enjoyable and represents a pretty high level of craft and story telling without being a 300+ hour affair with Manzai, hidden routes, and various dead ends. It’s short, it’s sweet and it’s very good. For the rest of you, well let’s start by explaining exactly what this thing is.

First of all, Planetarian is not a game. Now I don’t mean this in the sense that it has simplified gameplay or is lacking an end state. I mean it literally. Planetarian is Visual Novel without any choices, termed ‘Kinetic Novel’ by its publisher. It’s a straight linear story. Now I guess you could probably apply the nonsense arguments like those used for Gone Home or Mountain, yeah it sure subverts game conventions, heck some might even say you’re playing with your emotions.


The Planetarium

If someone wants to get into some huff about how this is totally a valid game then they can until they’re blue in the face. Go argue with me about it in the forums if you want. I don’t think there’s any real issue with it not being a game. Many Visual Novels only feature interactivity as a means of choosing heroines, so the absence of that interactivity isn’t such a huge deal in my eyes.

That may be a little too much introduction, but it’s a necessary disclaimer. You’re getting a story which utilizes limited computer graphics, voice work, and music to mainly elicit an emotional reaction from the reader/player. These stories deserve a little of your attention as they come on to Steam. They represent earnest efforts of a lot of people and typically the ones you’re going to see localized are some of the best ones released. Though certainly you’re gonna see plenty that exist only as softcore fetish crap before soon, so keep your eyes peeled. So I guess I’ll finish up this little introduction with that.

Planetarian has an immediate and obvious advantage over most Visual Novels. Rather than being based in a potentially gay setting like a Japanese Highschool, it’s set somewhere you’re more comfortable with; a grey-brown post-apocalyptic wasteland. The story is detailed and easily immerses you in the world. Certain small touches like an explanation of why a character has to wear something really aids in the world building. It’s actually kind of amazing that there’s more world building in this simple virtual picture book than you have in the majority of AAA releases. It’s not necessarily an amazingly crafted world, but I easily would rather replay this the dozen times times needed to make up Bioshock Infinite’s playtime than finish Bioshock Infinite.


Hey kids look it’s S.T.A.L.K.E.R

Humanity is on the verge of extinction and must scrape by just to survive, all the while hunted by old automated war machines. After destroying itself with a variety of weaponry mankind is now assaulted by torrential poisonous downpours. Our nameless protagonist is a junker(the game’s term for picker) who is currently looking for things of value in a long-dead metropolitan area. While doing that he meets a robot, named Hoshino Yumemi, who works in a Planetarium. She has operated in this dead city for 30 years unaware that the world has ended. After speaking with the robot about the Planetarium he finds himself attempting to repair the projector of the Planetarium.

The protagonist’s world weariness is contrasted with Yumemi’s upbeat and aloof demeanor and we’re treated to a sort of sad before and after of the apocalypse for a chunk of the story, as the character works to repair a projector for the chance to see a starry sky that has been blotted out by torrential rain for his entire life.

It’s a touching story that really does aim for an emotional response, you might call it sentimental but I don’t think that’s so bad. It does a good job not only getting you sympathetic for both characters, but also Yumemi comes across as irritating to the player as the protagonist but still grows on you over time. It achieves a good sense of a person becoming nostalgic for a world he never has and never will know.


Hey it’s got iron sights, so it’s gotta be pretty good, right?

The game is fully voiced in Japanese and features pretty good audio work altogether. The art is very good as well. Certainly many of the visuals do consist of an anime girl with a dialog box below her but when it does move away from that, things are animated and displayed very well. It’s a little hard to go over the technical merits of a Visual Novel but this one certainly is top notch in that regard.

My only complaint is that it might be priced a little high for what it is. The price certainly makes sense in the context of there being an existing fanbase which will likely buy this out of solidarity. Though I feel like 5 bucks would have been a much better price point, but maybe everyone is pricing with the eventually 50% discounts in mind. I honestly have trouble understanding the perpetual state of discount we’re in with gaming now.

It’s worth buying and playing, I’d say it’s at least as good as The Walking Dead games, which I’m sure isn’t something many may agree with. Though I’d like to encourage anyone who is curious about Visual Novels at least take a plunge on this one. As always I’m available to have bile launched at me in the forums at on Twitter. If you’re thinking of dropping cash on Hatoful Boyfriend for some chuckles you could probably do a lot better picking this up. Even if I haven’t convinced you very well, I’d say maybe wait for this to go on sale and give it a try. It really does represent a significant effort and if nothing else features nice visual and audio work with an enjoyable story.

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Worm

Bang.

School started a couple weeks ago for my kids, both of whom have to get up earlier than ever before to catch their respective buses. My 12-year-old son’s bus runs at 6:30am; he gets up at 6. My nine-year-old daughter gets to “sleep in” until 6:45am.

This morning when I went into my daughter’s room to wake her up, she rolled over, pointed her finger at me, and said “bang.” A cute, innocent gesture from a child who probably learned it from watching SpongeBob or Bugs Bunny do it. (We watch a lot of retro cartoons in my house.) Had I made this gesture as a child to my parents they would have either laughed or simply “shot” me back. Instead, I had to sit my daughter down and explain to her why she can never make this violent gesture outside our home.

Last year, my seven-year-old nephew got suspended from school for three days for bringing a knife to school. He had just joined the Boy Scouts and received his first pocket knife: a tiny “Swiss Army” knock-off complete with a bottle opener, corkscrew, nail file, and a couple of rusty blades no longer than your big toe. He knew he wasn’t supposed to bring it to school but, being seven-years-old and the proud owner of a “new” knife, he did. He showed it to a friend during recess, who told another friend, who told somebody else, who told a teacher. A few minutes later my sister was on her way to the school to pick up this obvious menace to society. I doubt that knife could have penetrated someone’s eyeball without a ten yard running start, but rules are rules, and common sense be damned.

Earlier this week, a high school student in South Carolina was both arrested and suspended for writing a story about shooting a dinosaur in creative writing class. In 2013, a five-year-old child in Oklahoma was asked to turn his Michigan sweatshirt inside out because it “promoted gang activity.” Earlier this year, a third grader in Colorado was suspended for shaving her head, which she did to support her friend who has cancer. Earlier this month, a Florida mother had the audacity to let her seven-year-old walk by himself to a neighborhood park. She was arrested and charged with child neglect — a felony. Last month a woman was arrested for leaving her nine-year-old at a park by herself.

Last month, a fourth grader from Georgia who was given a school assignment to “bring in some of your favorite toys to talk about” was suspended for bringing a Nerf gun to school. This spring, a high school student was suspended for refusing to turn his NRA t-shirt inside out. The school said that the boy’s shirt “violated the school’s policy prohibiting clothing that might incite or encourage violent activities” by displaying the Second Amendment. In 2000, police were called after a fourth grader threatened to shoot a paper wad at another student using a rubber band. In 2008, a third grade student was suspended and set home after bringing a 1 1/2 inch charm/medallion shaped like a gun to school. “Rumors of the incident also scared two families into keeping their children home the next day,” according to the story.

The story that came to mind though was this one. In 2013, a third grader was suspended for “using his thumb and index finger to pretend his hand was a gun,” exactly what my daughter did to me. I had to sit down with my nine-year-old daughter and explain to her that pointing her finger at someone and pretending it was a gun — even if her finger wasn’t loaded — could get her suspended from school.

What I didn’t tell her about were all the times my friends and I played cops and robbers. We played “war” a lot as a kid. A few of us had camouflage pants and hand-me-down Army jackets that we would wear while running around the neighborhood chasing one another and yelling “bang!” Then there were the Roman Candle wars, in which we lit fireworks and shot them at one another. God forbid the stories of our BB gun wars ever get out; I don’t know that 30 years exceeds the statute of limitations for that.

One year for Halloween I dressed up as a ninja, and carried with me a real ninja sword. While the blade was made of aluminum alloy and therefor unable to be sharpened, I’m sure that would not dissuade a police officer or well-meaning citizen for shooting you for brandishing it. Had someone tried to take it from me I would have thrown one of the throwing stars in my pocket at them. Not one of those dumb foam ones; real metal ones, the ones that stuck in wood and sheet rock and people’s faces.

For the record, I never stuck a shuriken into anyone’s face. I played Dungeons and Dragons and never worshiped the devil. I listened to heavy metal and never tried drugs. I played with toys with little parts and never choked. I drank drinks with aspartame and never got cancer. I watched violent movies and played violent video games and never once tried to kill anyone.

And I pointed my finger at other kids, said “bang,” and never once shot another human being.

Just for the record — so far we have suspended and/or arrested children for wearing t-shirts with college logos, bringing Nerf guns and gun-shaped medallions (the size of a Monopoly piece) to school, shaving their heads to support friends with cancer, threatening to shoot another student with a rubber band, and for writing about threatening to shoot a neighbor’s pet dinosaur as part of a creative writing assignment.

Earlier this week, a gun range instructor was killed after handing a fully automatic Uzi submachine to a nine-year-old girl (the same age as my daughter) at a gun range as her parents recorded the incident with their cell phone. It is not currently known whether or not the girl had ever worn Michigan sweatshirts to school, shaved her head, or ever walked to a park alone before.

Neither the girl’s parents nor the gun range, all of whom thought it would be a good idea to place a fully automatic machine gun in the hands of a nine-year-old girl, have been charged with any crimes.

Our kids are not the problem here.

Bang.

Wolfenstein: The New Order (PC)

Thank you, Joystiq.com, for the screenshot!

Let’s call it “Actually Serious Sam”. Though the settings and enemies wind up getting goofy beyond belief, it is BJ Blazkc– BJ Blasco… It’s the main character who makes this such a stirring experience. There is no wisecracking or clever quipping. There is a quiet man in a struggle against pure evil, recalling all of the lessons in his life to achieve this final victory. The writing, particularly BJ’s narration, is EXQUISITE, and if Ice Cream Jonsey’s opinion is that the writing in Portal is the LEAST we should accept, I believe this game is worthy of acceptance.

More than that, it is the first first person shooter (or really any action game) I’ve seen that actually knows how to tell a story. Give some nods to technology, which is now able to make games look and sound pretty much exactly like movies, but give nods to the production crew as well. Though the story is naturally paper thin, it is told in a way that when the (beautiful, remarkable) end credits roll, you might actually feel an emotion in response to all that you’ve been through. Magnificent.

And even more than that, it is just a great shooter. You run around getting health and weapons and killing Nazis and Nazi robot-y things. Just like you did the first time. For all its high-technology glistening production sheen, the gameplay itself is remarkably and thankfully faithful to the game that started it all. No crafting. No multi-layered stories all going on at the same time. No open world. Just the next set piece to fucking blast your way through, and the guns and deaths and enemies here are among the more satisfying you’re likely to find in the genre.

Also the Meshuggah guitarist plays part of the soundtrack, and the scene that it’s used in is the most fun you’ll have on a computer this year, without question.

Basically, in my opinion, I have played the best two FPS games in the genre’s history, and they both bear the name “Wolfenstein”. One gave birth to an entire form of entertainment, and the other one comes pretty close to perfecting it.

I thank you for your time.

(Although it is kind of annoying finishing a game and then seeing “completion: 47%”. Remember when finishing a game meant you were at least halfway through with it?)

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pinback

Doom

(Editor’s note: from our delightful forum, Senior Writer Jerry Whorebach looks back on Friday to the class PC game, Doom..)

Something I loved about Doom was the thematic consistency of the episodes. The shareware episode, Knee-Deep in the Dead, was Romero’s baby. It took place in some kind of space base, where the levels had names like Hangar and Nuclear Plant. It was slick and polished and non-stop fun. It was exactly what you’d want out of a sci-fi shooter.

Episode 2, The Shores of Hell, was made up of all the levels Tom Hall started back when he still thought they were making System Shock. Tom stormed off in a huff when he found out the other guys were more interested in selling enough copies of Smash TV in 3D to buy everybody two Ferraris, so they hired Sandy Petersen ten weeks before release and told him to turn Tom’s drafts into something playable. The result was a collection of tight, overdetailed, realistic human facilities blown out into these huge Satanic abstractions vomiting demons out of every orifice. You’ll be stalking through a warehouse where the amount of geometry wasted stacking individual crates of various sizes and shapes borders on the autistic one minute, only to find yourself circle-strafing around unadorned stone obelisks on a floor textured like writhing intestines the next. The impression is of a facility teetering on the brink of madness, one foot in the oppressive order of MegaTraveller and the other in the sucking chaos of Call of Cthulhu. Even the level names remind you you’re losing control, with titles like Containment Area and Command Center in the first half giving way to Halls of the Damned and Spawning Vats in the second, all culminating in the Tower of Babel where you face the living embodiment of this bipolar techno-demonic schizophrenia: the Cyber Demon.

After that came Episode 3, Inferno, which was pure Petersen and pure cosmic horror. Levels became more open and non-linear, but also simpler and more traditionally dungeon-esque, with a medieval emphasis on keys and locks and traps and treasure. Game spaces got even more abstract, but the abstraction was easier to accept in the context of an alien dimension that’s also Hell. The early outdoor level where the map followed the contours of a human hand was just the sort of goofy high-concept breather the game needed at that point to remind us all just how much FUN we were having, playing this most awesome of video games. That was followed by a bunch of tricky, playful, experimental maps with plenty of the bread and butter blasting action you’d gotten so good at by that point, and then a bizarre end boss that didn’t make a whole lot of sense until you remembered, oh right, games designers.

I just hope whoever’s making the next Doom understands that what made the Cyber Demon so fucking memorable was all the intentionally and/or accidentally brilliant level design going on around him :(

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Jerry Whorebach

Watch_Dogs Initial Impressions (PC)

(Editor’s note: I was really into the idea of Watch_Dogs. Loved the trailers, loved the gameplay presented. I’ll still buy it someday, probably. Sure, I’m not going to pretend that everyone on Caltrops doesn’t hate Ubisoft’s Uplay system because we do. But with that in mind, Caltrops Senior Writer jeep offers up the following opinion on Watch_Dogs for the IBM PC and 100% compatibles. — ICJ)

Watch_Dogs is pretty bad on the PC at launch. Mark this as the first time I ever agreed with Kuchera (though that shitty site gave it an 8 somehow, hope they got paid). Cars are only semi-drivable. Missions are broken, they send you out to “knock over” a mob guy and then they’re like WTF don’t kill him.” Should I maybe hack into his heart and hurt his feelings a bit instead? Or just like trip him up a little I guess? Except I can’t use melee attacks 90% of the game and the hacking scanner only works every 7th time I push the “z” button. Character advancement is boring mostly, just shit you should be able to do out of the gate anyway.

Everything in there looks like they had teams work on it separately. Also every single character and pedestrian in the game is so boring and plastic and then lovingly crafted french accent punk goddess out of nowhere? All of the writing is pathetic. Every word of it. Even relative to other games. Stupid, meaningless, pointless statements that don’t match the characters’ motivations or actions. In another medium we’re passing through what might be the absolute nadir of cinema history, but here in games we’re gonna squander the perfect chance to grab even more of film’s audience by basically puking directly in our player’s ears and eyeballs. They threw in racist/patriarchal etc etc whatever while they were at it because why the fuck not? Wouldn’t be tone deaf and dimwitted enough otherwise.

Hacking the Internet of things is fun, like jumping into a camera to jump into another one looking for the right angle to hack that guard’s grenade to go off. I can see why they thought they had a big deal thing there because hacking through a well-designed set piece is genuinely cool, but the available opportunities to indulge in that are pretty scarce. It’s a minigame here, for all the frequency you get to engage the hacking for anything useful it ends up something you’d play between chocobo races at the amusement park in Final Fantasy 7

The rest of the game is trivial when it isn’t actively trying to make you stop playing it: glitches, crashes, can’t controls vehicles (except dirtbikes, rps got that right. those things handle like they fell out of another, better game), can’t aim without clipping pedestrians, can’t aim hacks without grabbing the “blow up everything within 2 feet” target, can’t use any kind of fast travel when you’re in a mission (I got dropped all railswise into a chain of missions to start and haven’t been able to use the train in the 3 hours I’ve played the game). Also no quicksaves (that’s right whorebach this fucking thing is wall to wall checkpoints, just have your gun auto-aim a curved path around the one wall in the building that’s decided to provide cover today, clip some random bank patron and then auto-reset you back to the spot you were standing at the other end of the city when you finished the last mission). It doesn’t even save on quit. Maybe I’d like to stop playing sometime between now and the hour from now it’ll take me to drive across the city, bouncing off cars and praying I don’t run over pedestrians on the way to have a 25/75 chance of engaging a decent set piece or solving a trivial puzzle.

If you didn’t already pay for this like I did just don’t. Don’t wait for the Steam sale, just go over to The Pirate Bay. That way you can bask in the schadenfreude of seeing 200 talentless people spray shit at you for a few hours without the indignity of having to even look at the Uplay client.

Retard-fucking game publishers just kind of repeating past mistakes over and over. This game is the absolute opposite of everything that was good about Saints Row 4, and the people who designed it, coded it, wrote it, modeled it, animated it, marketed it, produced it and decided to ship it a year early can skip right over “feeling bad” and go right to “stop making games.” this guy can go with them:


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jeep

Titanfall (PC)

Titanfall is good. There. Happy? It’s fine. Everything it sets out to do it does well and even if you’re not one of those insufferable losers who only buy 3 games a year, go to the Titanfall forums full of Titanfall jackoffs who have Titanfall race-car beds even though they’re 35 and argue about whether one fictional gun is OP and another isn’t, you’ll still have a good time playing it. This game is probably what the Mechwarrior reboot should have been, or Mechassault to begin with. Infantry with heavy bipedal armor support and mayhem. If you’re so broke that you can only afford one or can only beg and plead with your parents to get you one game this year, get this one.

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Review: Might & Magic (PC)

No, Seriously, You Should Play Might And Magic

I know, I know–it’s like how you’ve always meant to watch Citizen Kane. Didn’t they do some kind of social science study about that, how people have these should watches on their Netflix queue but screw that, I’m’a watch Buffy again? Yeah, you say you want to play the old-school games, that you’re this Person Who’s Interested In Games And Gaming History And All Of That, but when it comes down to it, I mean, do you really want to be staring at this for the next several dozen hours of your gaming life? Fuck that, pass the Skyrim.

 

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Web Comic Artist John Campbell Set Fire To His Kickstarter Stuff

About a year ago John Campbell started a Kickstarter going for a reprint of his stupid zany webcomic. Somewhere along the line he admitted that he had faked being depressed to excuse the fact he hadn’t mailed anyone shit. You can read about it here

Starting in January 2014, Campbell’s postings on his tumblr blog started getting really weird. I mean, at this point you don’t think he’s crazy but it’s hard to take him seriously when he’s ranting in that terrible faux-HEY LOOK EVERYONE I’M SO WAAAAACKY style. By mid-February he is full on pants-on-head Timecube crazy.

Then, he decides to respond to this genuine reply from the creatore of HijinxEnsue to a woman asking an innocent question about how to help her daughter make webcomics with a flippant, crazy rant about how she’s probably going to get sexually assaulted. This does not go over well with Joel Watson of Hijinks Ensue. and things get heated.

On February 21st, Campbell write an I quit post where he basically implies that Joel Watson should quit writing webcomics and go save a predominantly black orphanage or something.

On February 27th, Campbell writes the most fucking insane rambling screed since Nixon’s White House tapes and posts a video of him setting fire to the books people ordered for his Kickstarter.

(I think we all owe Joel Watson a world of thanks for sending this guy completely off the deep end, even though as he pointed out to me in reply we all should have seen the signs of this coming awhile ago.)

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WITTGENSTEIN

State of Decay (PC)

A very fun but glitchy open world/Grand Theft Auto clone that is perhaps a bit too short. It could definitely do with some polish and shows its console roots. Still it is ridiculously fun when everything pops off well and perma-death really does give you a sense of danger.

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