Glancing back at the last roundup, remarkably little has changed over the last few months. Planetside 2 and War Thunder are still time-murderers-in-chief, waxing and waning according to whim and assorted updates. Perhaps the main issue with Planetside 2, as with so many open world PvP games, is finding “Goldilocks fights”: a decent balance of forces, not so small that you might as well be in a 1-vs-1 deathmatch, but not so big that you spend more time getting run over by your own team’s vehicles than shooting at the enemy. When it’s good, it’s very very good, but when it’s bad it’s a deeply tedious procession of inevitable deaths in the face of overwhelming force. Population imbalance doesn’t help, a three-way (Mr Dalliard) conflict is probably a slight improvement on two factions, but it’s no magic wand; rather than ganging up on the most populous empire, it’s easier for the second largest to ignore a massive zerg and pick away at the smallest empire instead for short-term gains. Still, hopping between continents it’s usually possible to find some reasonable action, but I’m mostly popping in for brisk half-hour firefights rather than settling in for a whole evening of conquest.
War Thunder mostly avoids those balance problems; its matchmaker can be subject to the vagaries of fluctuating populations, but the recent Steam release seems to have helped in that respect. It has some Goldilocks issues of its own around the economy, with patches tweaking rewards, upgrades, repair costs and aircraft prices to try and provide a strong incentive to invest real money without being punitive to those who don’t; I think the most recent patch, 1.33, has struck a better balance than its predecessors, but I’m currently luxuriating in a Premium account after snapping up a couple of discounted add-on packs from Steam. A while back I’d become frustrated with Arcade battles that had changed from fun furballs in the lower ranks into demolition derbies as heavier cannon armaments became prevalent and one-burst kills were the norm, so mostly moved to the more tactically cautiously Historical Battles. Recently, though, fancying some more instant gratification, I dropped into a few more Arcade battles, and with the benefit of a slightly more circumspect approach (looking for a lone enemy or two to pick off, rather than diving right into the middle of eight bogeys) am doing a lot better there too. With War Thunder being a launch title for the PlayStation 4 and offering cross-platform play it’ll be interesting to see how that pans out, whether it’s a herald of greater co-operation possibilities on the next generation of consoles, or as much of a damn squib as the Vista/360 version of Shadowrun.
I did try out the closed beta of Wargaming’s dogfighting offering, World of Warplanes, and though it’s serviceable enough for a bit of a drop-in arcade action, I wasn’t particularly impressed in comparison to War Thunder. I’ve kept it patched up as it moved into open beta, and taken the odd flight now and again, but it doesn’t seem to have fundamentally changed in that time. I’ll probably pop in when it officially launches later in the month, whizzing through the low tiers is a bit of a giggle, but I can’t see myself sinking too much time in.
Outside the online-PvP arena, I finished off Bioshock Infinite, perfectly enjoyable but didn’t leave a particularly lasting impression, and went back rather earlier in the spiritual series with System Shock 2 from a Steam sale. In general it holds up remarkably well, except when the graphics stray outside fairly regular polygons (I thought I was being attacked by a hideous mutant in basic training at one point, but it was just a technician with a head made out of about five triangles), but I fear I don’t have the patience for a full replay, so it’ll doubtless sit alongside UFO Enemy Unknown, Terror From The Deep etc. in the few-hours-progress-save-game stasis pods.
I also grabbed the Humble Origin Bundle, mostly for Burnout Paradise, though the rest of the bundle might also come in handy if the games industry implodes so spectacularly that no new game is released for the next 27 years. I can’t remember the last time I played a dedicated driving game, the original Driver possibly, and Burnout is rather fun, apart from the half-arsed interface; where other multiplatform games at least manage “bit clunky, but usable” (Borderlands 2), or “doesn’t really need text that size, fixed by a mod” (Skyrim), it’s almost painful trying to navigate the menus in Burnout.
Most recently I picked up Saints Row IV; I sank a fair amount of time into III, almost to the point of 100% completion, and IV is more of the same, really, as might’ve been expected from its origin as an “expanshalone”. The third game had some fantastically mad set pieces, but the story as a whole didn’t particularly gel, the Saints somehow being both global media brand and street gang; not a major problem, as story in a Saints Row game is about as important as it in a Gentleman’s Specialist Interest Videograph (can provide an interesting context for the action, but not the main reason you’re there). The fourth game ratchets up the implausibility still further in the first five minutes, but with the cunning twist of genre from Action Blockbuster to Sci-Fi suddenly even the most ludicrous events make sense (of a sort), thoroughly enjoyable so far.
Kickstarter has borne both metaphorical and literal fruit (and I’m not even joking), the literal in leather form, the metaphorical being the first playable game from the assortment I’ve backed: Sir, You Are Being Hunted. I’m not sure the game is quite my cup of tea, despite the fact that it features flasks of tea, but that doesn’t really matter; I thoroughly approve of games featuring top-hatted robots in balloons and am happy to support them just on principle. Similarly, I grabbed Gun Monkeys: Kevin Eldon and monkeys with guns? Awesome, even if an online deathmatch platformer isn’t precisely what I’m after at the moment. I view myself as a sort of 19th century philanthropist, benevolently doling out sums of five or even ten English pounds to projects that generally seem like a Good Thing. Course a fiver wouldn’t have gone very far even in 1879, but hey, I like wandering around the house in a top hat. In a similar vein I’ve just backed Sunless Sea (who wouldn’t, with an influence list including the Crimson Permanent Assurance; it’s fun to charter and accountant, and sail the wide accountant-sea…), and off the back of that started to have a bit of a look at Fallen London, the browser game formerly known as Echo Bazaar. I’d noticed it popping up in friends Twitter feeds a few years back, and the snippets did look intriguing but also just a smidge spammy so I hadn’t delved in myself. It doesn’t require a Twitter sign-up now, and gameplay-wise seems a fairly conventional browser game, but the lore and atmosphere are excellent; probably not something I’ll get too caught up in, but a fun diversion with ten spare minutes and a smartphone.