So, Borderlands 2 came out a couple weeks ago. Well, not quite for us UK folk. Quite why publishers and retailers still adhere to these stupid regional release dates is quite beyond me. Regardless, I picked it up on Steam and have been playing it pretty solidly lately. My enjoyment of it initially came as quite a surprise to me, considering I didn't take to the first game quite so well. However, after finishing my first playthrough of the sequel (as Zer0 the assassin, clocking in at around 30 hours), I feel I'm able to articulate why it is I like BL2 so much more than the first. Though, BL2 does have it's flaws, which I'll also get into.

Borderlands 2's intro is much more narrative driven than that of the first game.

The main reason, I feel, is because Borderlands 2 does such a much better job than it's predecessor at weaving it's narrative alongside it's gameplay. Something you often hear remarked about the first Borderlands game is "story? there's a story?". And obviously there is, but the game doesn't do a particularly good job at presenting it, and this is very evident when you compare the opening of the two games. Borderlands 2 has a more... typical story/introductory sequence, where you start off almost dead, with no equipment, or even a HUD, before Claptrap finds and essentially rescues you. You then go through a sequence where you fight off some enemies and a boss before arriving at the first town (Liar's Berg) before the game starts to open up a bit more. Compare that to the first game: You're dumped off a bus at the side of a road, already with a gun. The game quickly explains how everything works before pointing out some bandits and going "shoot these dudes". And there's nothing particularly wrong with that in and of itself, but I often find it difficult to enjoy a game that doesn't make a good effort to intertwine it's gameplay and story elements.

This is a problem I have with Torchlight 2. From a purely mechanical standpoint, Torchlight 2 is a great game, but it feels like there has been absolutely zero effort to present it's story elements in any meaningful way. You start the game, and you see an animated video depicting the PCs from the first game...? I guess...? fighting some dude. Then you're just dumped into the world and told to go to this place. The game does a pretty terrible job of contextualising why exactly it is you're going to this place, or why you're killing this particular mob. Diablo 3, on the other hand, presents it's narrative alongside it's gameplay absolutely flawlessly. Say what you want about the actual quality of that game's plot, but that's irrelevant here, the point is that Diablo 3 always makes sure that its story elements are as close to the forefront as possible. You have lush, amazing quality CGI cinematics, you have in-engine cutscenes, you have fully voiced dialogue for pretty much everything in the entire game. You're never wondering who the boss you're fighting is, and why. Everything is presented in a pleasant, easy to digest way, whereas with Torchlight 2, when you get a quest, you get a wall of unspoken text before being told to go to this place, and kill these dudes. In Diablo 3, all the different areas and zones in each act are contextualised well, so you know where you're going, and why. Not so much in TL2. Everything just feels disconnected and disjointed. And that's how I felt about the first Borderlands game. It just didn't do a good job of presenting it's narrative alongside the game, and that severely hampered my enjoyment of the game. Of course, this is something that might not matter to some people. Those people might not give a single fuck about why they're where they are and why they're shooting the dudes they are. I'm not one of those people, however. I need story and context, even if the actual story isn't that great (looking at you, Diablo 3). It's paramount to my enjoyment of a game.

As for the game's plot? It's alright. It's nothing amazing, but it's perfectly functional. The humour of the game tends to be a little bit polarizing. I, for one, LOVE Tiny Tina, whereas a lot of other folk seem to feel the exact opposite about her. And that's fine, that's to be expected, the game's humour isn't going to appeal to everyone. I enjoy more.. sophisticated humour as much as the next person, but there's something to be said about a game like Borderlands that comes along not often enough in the way it doesn't take itself too seriously most of the time. I don't quite like the over-abundance of references to Internet memes in the game's writing, but it's not to the point where it hampers my enjoyment of the game at all. That said, even with all the lack of self-seriousness the game has, I feel the game still does a great job during the parts where it does take itself that much more seriously (namely, the last few story missions) and feel the game could've maybe been improved somewhat if it did that a little more often. The story missions throughout the game are for the most part more self-serious than the rest of the game, but the sheer amount of side quests the game has, which is where most of the absurdity lies, can make it a little hard to swallow down sometimes.

FFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUU

All that said, time to dig into Borderlands 2's mechanical parts, because gameplay-wise, the game is not without fault. My biggest complaint with the game is Fight For Your Life. It was present in the first game, but what I've played of Borderlands 1 was a long time ago, so quite what they've changed since then I'm not quite sure. FFYL however, is undoubtedly the thing that infuriates me the most about the game. It's the game's "down, but not out mode". When your shields and health are completely completed, you go into this mode, something akin to Call of Duty's last stand. You're on your back, you can only crawl around very slowly, and you have only a limited amount of time until you are able to be revived, either by killing an enemy, upon which you'll get "second wind" and be instantly revived, or manually by a teammate if you're playing co-op. It's not so much of a problem in co-op; you seem to have much more time before dying when playing with other people, and obviously you have them to fall back on if you can't score a kill. It's during solo play where it starts to frustrate. For one, your entire view turns to greyscale and there's a blur filter over everything, meaning you can't see shit. The game also decides now is a great idea to fuck with your aim, constantly making it sway everywhere making it much more difficult, especially with semi-auto guns, to shoot the dudes you so desperately need to shoot. Oh yeah, and you can't ADS either. Only hipfire. UNLESS, you were already aiming down sights the moment you went into FFYL mode, in which case you can ONLY aim down sight. I still can't decide if this is some sort of glitch or if it's fully intentional, but the one thing I'm sure of is that it's the single most fucking annoying thing about the entire game. For some, that honour goes to Tiny Tina. For me, it's Fight For Your Life mode. When you couple that with enemies that, starting towards the end of your first playthrough, have a tendency to deplete your entire shield and health capacity in one or two hits, makes this all the more annoying, especially since you'll be haemorrhaging money for the privilege of respawning. And don't even get me starting on the amount of times I've falling into FFYL after all the enemies have already been defeated. Sweet Jesus, that's annoying. Nothing quite like getting killed by the last enemy's projectile, mere milliseconds after killing it.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. When playing alone, all enemies revert back to 100% health and shields when you respawn. So you can't even brute force your way through the more challenging (read: frustrating) combat scenarios.

From a gameplay perspective, that's my only real gripe. The lack of decent weapon spawns is another, making the latter parts of the game a little challenging if you haven't found good weapons to combat each type of enemy (woe betide you if you haven't found any decent corrosive weapons during your playthrough). My other gripe is that the interface doesn't work too well with a mouse and keyboard. It was clearly designed for use on a gamepad, and obviously works as intended with that. With a mouse and keyboard however, it can be a little annoying to navigate and organise your gear, even going so far as to just bug out sometimes where the item I'm trying to select isn't what actually get's selected. It's also a case where they haven't made any effort to take advantage of the higher resolutions that people are going to be using when playing on PC, so the interface just doesn't really make good use of the screen real estate, with too many unnecessary sliders that lead into sub-menus, when you could easily just display it all at once. It's not a huge issue, but it's an issue you wouldn't expect to be present after Gearbox's whole "love letter to PC gamer" prior to release.

But as a whole, the game is very, very enjoyable. If you like loot-driven games or first person shooters, you owe it to yourself to play some Borderlands. The game is LONG, but doesn't really feel like there's much in the way of unnecessary padding, so you definitely get enough bang for your buck.

Yes, yes, I've been slacking, I know. Almost three whole months since a post here, I done goofed. I was planning on adding an addendum to the Humble Indie Bundle V post talking about the extra games they ended up adding to it, but I only got about halfway through writing it before I kinda fizzled up and stopped. I was also planning on writing a post discussing Battlefield 3, since I was playing that heavily for a while there, both on 360 and PC. That may or may not show up here at some point, I've not completely ruled it out yet, though I haven't played much of the game in the past few weeks.

There are other games I have been playing though, ones that are certainly worth talking about. One of those is Dust: An Elysian Tail, the final game in this year's XBLA Summer of Arcade and, arguably, the only decent game to come out of that promotion. The Summer of Arcade has definitely fallen from grace these past couple years.

Dust is an interesting game, because it does so many different things, and it does most of them really, really well. It's even more impressive when you factor in that the vast majority of the game (with I believe the exception of music and sound) all being the work of a single dude. Basically, this guy, Dean Dodrill, wanted to learn to program and to make a game. So he did. And he did it incredibly well. Dust is a labour of love that has been in development for four or five years, and he got lucky and the game was picked up by Microsoft.

Your sidekick, "Fidget", is a flying rat-cat-bunny-thing. Yeah...

It's worth noting, that the game's character design has been met with fierce contention online, being that all the characters in the game are "furries". Not just anthropomorphised animals like say, Sonic the Hedgehog, or Disney's Robin Hood, but that very particular style of animé-esque animals that is apparently so common on DeviantArt. Furry porn is also a thing, which seems to be feeding into people's distaste for the art style. While to me, the logic of "porn of it exists, therefore it's bad" is retarded, the other, more grounded criticisms of that particular art style being of low-quality or "amateurish" I feel is not completely without merit. Personally, the character design doesn't affect my enjoyment of the game, but I figured it was worth mentioning, since there's so much heated discussion over it. If furry art isn't your thing, maybe try the demo before deciding to buy.

Animé animal people or not, however, the game is simply stunning. Dodrill comes from a traditional art and animation background, and it definitely shows. The game is simply gorgeous to look at, especially in motion. The lush painted backgrounds, the great enemy designs, and the absolutely amazing and perfectly fluid movement and combat animation makes Dust simply a joy to look at.

Oh, and one of the characters is your sword. Your sword talks. A TALKING SWORD.

That aside, I think I'm going to hold off on talking more about the game until I'm finished with it. I'm a good six hours or so into the game, and it doesn't feel like I'm even that far into the story. There's a good amount of side stuff to do, and it's easy to just go off exploring and seeing what you can find.

Yup. This is Counter-Strike alright.

Another game I've been playing a lot of lately is Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, the latest iteration in Valve's ever-enduring FPS franchise. Not a whole lot has changed. This is still some pretty Counter-Strike-ass Counter-strike, only now it's all pretty and looks like a modern game. Mechanically though, the game is, for the most part, the same as ever, aside from some small changes to guns, maps, and the internal workings of the game such as hitboxes, etc. My previous CS experience is very limited; four hours or so of Counter-Strike: Source, and almost all of that was a gungame mod of some sort. CSGO, however, I'm very much enjoying, having put almost 35 hours into it thus far. I never really got into CS in the past for two reasons. One: Almost everyone who plays CS has played CS forever. And in a truly skill-based shooter like Counter-Strike, new players are going to get stomped on, repeatedly, by the veterans who have been playing for 12 years now. Two: Mods. Mods are a good thing, I'm definitely not saying otherwise. However, in CS:S, they are completely rampant. It's almost impossible to play vanilla CS:S, since almost every server has some sort of gameplay altering mod installed, whether it be weird gamemodes, changes to the money system, or some of the truly terrible user-made maps. Finding a decent, populated server, that just has the regular game with regular maps is nigh on impossible, and for a new player, that is generally not going to keep them playing. Maybe that's why I'm liking CS:GO so much. It's still new enough, that the silly mods and crappy maps aren't showing up quite yet.

That aside, the game plays fine. I'm not in a position to comment on how well Valve has implemented the shooting mechanics, recoil, hitboxes, and all the other things that the competitive players care about. The general consensus thus far seems to be that they've done a good job though, so take that at face value, I guess. Regardless, the game is hella fun, especially with a couple of mates. There's even native support for gungame (now called Arms Race, which in all honesty, is an infinitely better name than gungame ever was), if you're a little intimidated by the core, no-respawn modes.

Aside from that, I haven't been playing too much. I did acquire a 3DS since my last post, but that probably warrants a post all of it's own. So expect that in the future. Or not. Who knows. In case I don't, here's a tl;dr: System is good, 3D is annoying and usually gets turned off.

One last thing: Revolution, the company behind such games as Beneath a Steel Sky and those Broken Sword games I love so much, are developing a new, 2D Broken Sword game, and it's on Kickstarter. I don't think I've ever been so excited for a game in my entire life, and I sincerely mean that.

Joe out.

If you aren't aware of the Humble Indie Bundle, basically, every so often they get a bunch of cool indie games and offer them as a bundle for the low, low price of "whatever", with the proceeds going to the developers and/or charity, depending on how you choose. Yes, you can even buy all the games for 1 cent, if you're so inclined (read: a cunt). They've done a few of these in the past, and the one currently going on for the next fortnight is the fifth major bundle (they've done a few smaller ones before, the Frozenbyte bundle, Botanicula bundle, etc). This one is, without a doubt, the best bundle yet, by far: Bastion, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Psychonauts, LIMBO and Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP and all of their respective soundtracks. Since these are games I all own and have played at least a little bit, I figured I might as well write about how awesome (well, mostly) they all are.

Bastion

The game is absolutely stunning.

Bastion is the first on the list, and is the prize if you beat the average price. That is, if you choose to pay less than the average of what everybody else is paying (which is $7.50 at time of writing) then you only get the other four games. Bastion, however, if worth that price alone, net least with the other four games thrown in as well.

Bastion is made by Supergiant Games, a seven-man development team. One notable member is Greg Kasavin, a dude who you may remember as being an editor for GameSpot, back in the pre-Gerstmanngate days when GameSpot was cool. The game is mostly an action RPG, although the combat is a little more action-yer and the RPGing a little less RPG-yer than games such as Diablo that share the same genre name. The story focuses "the Kid" who wakes up to his world ravaged by "the Calamity", with the entire thing narrated by "Rucks", a kindly old man with a Southern twang who you meet at the titular Bastion, "the place everybody agreed to go in case of trouble".

Bastion is a game I have a massive amount of love for. In fact, it was my favourite game of 2011. Everything the game does, it does flawlessly. The story, focusing mainly on the small, but fully fleshed cast of characters is fantastic, with just enough lore sprinkled throughout to not give away everything there is to known about the game's universe, but more than enough to leave me wanting to see more. Logan Cunningham's voice work is quite simply fantastic. The gorgeous hand-painted artwork, along with the staggering amount of variety in the game's locales is enough to make sure the game never becomes boring to look at. The soundtrack by Darren Korb, a complete genre mish-mash containing everything from Southern to hip-hop, is absolutely outstanding, and is one of the few video game soundtracks I often listen to on it's own. And the gameplay, which may seem somewhat shallow at the outset, has a vast amount of customisation, with a ton of new weapons introduced through the entire game (even up to the very last level) which each have their very own distinct playstyle. Bastion may not be completely innovative, but what it does, it does perfectly.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Alright. I'm gonna be up front with you: I don't do scary games. Like, at all. I've barely made it through the first chapter of Dead Space, a game that's considered by horror aficionados to not be very good horror (since it's mostly jump-scares). But it's not just games, I don't like horror movies either. I'm just a total pansy when it comes to horror in general. So the fact that, according to Steam, I've played Amnesia for 97 minutes is quite the accomplishment for me.

NOPE NOPE

It happened last Hallowe'en. A bunch of friends decided that it would be a good idea of a bunch of us played the game on Hallowe'en night and livestreamed it. We did it in "full experience mode", that is, no light apart from the shine from your computer monitor and headphones. To say this game is scary is an understatement. It's downright terrifying.

The thing with Amnesia is, that the game understands that having monsters show up all over the place (a-la Dead Space) isn't particularly scary. It's what you don't see that's the scary part. Hell, you probably won't even see a monster at all during the first half-our or so.

Oh, and there's no combat. You can't fight back.

Amnesia's main gameplay mechanics are light and sanity. When you spend time in the dark, you slowly go insane, which makes your vision all blurry and wobbly and stuff, and you eventually die. So, staying in the light is a good thing. Except when there are monsters a-prowling. And this is where Amnesia really brings it home with the tension: you have to actively put yourself into a harmful situation in order to avoid danger. There's nothing quite so tense and terrifying as crouching in a dark, disgusting corner, hoping, praying that monster shuffling past doesn't see you and bite your balls off, all the while slowly going insane, because you're in the dark. And even when you're not in complete darkness, even when there's no monsters about, you can always hear something. The ambient noises in this game are incredible. Incredibly terrifying. You heard a monster in the distance. Is he around the corner, or is he six rooms away? Well, you're going to find out anyway, because you need to turn that corner to get to your goal.

The incredible atmosphere and gameplay that forces you to put yourself into dangerous situations in which you simply can't defend yourself is what makes this game completely, utterly scary, in every sense of the word. To me, anyway. We've already established I don't do horror, so your mileage may vary. But it is considered to be one of the scariest games available today.

I can't wait to not play the sequel.

Psychonauts

Doors to people's minds. Yup.

Psychonauts is a weird, weird game. To be fair though, you'd expect no less from Tim Schafer's Double Fine, the company that has since brought you games where you traverse a world inspired by heavy metal album covers and play as a Russian matryoshka doll where you stack into other dolls to gain their powers. Psychonauts is a platforming game that follows the adventure of Razputin "Raz" Aquato, who ran away from the circus to join a summer camp where children train to become Psychonauts. A key aspect of gameplay is entering and traversing people's minds and dealing with their emotional baggage. Literally. Their emotion baggage manifests as suitcases. You can't make this shit up.

Apart from that, I can't speak very much about the game, as I haven't played terribly much of it, little over an hour. However, it is the general consensus that it is a good game and you should buy it and play it. Even Yahtzee loves it. YAHTZEE. GAMES ARE NOT GENERALLY NOT THINGS HE LIKES.

Seriously though, the hour or so I have played has been pretty fantastic, and I fully plan to go back and play through the rest of the game (it's on my backlog), and I generally love most of anything that Tim Schafer is involved in.

LIMBO

You don't many black and white games.

Limbo is a 2D side-scrolling puzzle platformer with a pretty distinctive art-style. There aren't very many games that look at all like Limbo, though the aesthetic isn't the only things that the game has going for it. The game is incredibly atmospheric, though it isn't particularly scary, so if Amnesia isn't your thing, Limbo is very much something you can play. Unless you don't like spiders. There are spiders. Big spiders.

So while the game is a platformer with a cutesy protagonist, this isn't necessarily a family-friendly game. You die. Violently. In fact, one of the first gruesome deaths you're likely to experience comes at the hands (or rather legs) of the aforementioned giant spider, as he stabs you with one leg and decapitates you with another.  Between death-by-spider, falling to your death and a gruesome end via a bear-trap, Limbo is a pretty gruesome game. And you will die, a lot. A lot of the puzzles require you to die in order to suss out the solutions, so essentially a form of trial-and-error gameplay, though not really in a form that's particularly frustrating. It definitely feels intentional as opposed to the result of bad game design.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP

The weirdly titled Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery (that's not a typo, by the way) is a point-and-click adventure game designed by Superbrothers and developed by Capabara Games (of Critter Crunch fame) with it's soundtrack composed by Jim Guthrie. From a gameplay standpoint, it's a little light, even for a point-and-click game. At least, it's more about interacting with the environment to solve puzzles as opposed to using collectable inventory items. This is probably due to the fact the game was originally an iOS-only game that was released last year, only having recently made the switch over to the PC, so with that in mind, the gameplay makes total sense.

The game also has a pretty great retro art-style.

The game is made up of a number of "sessions", each of which are about 30 minutes or so in length and the game actively encourages you to take a break between sessions. That alone is something I've never experienced in a game: the game itself actively encouraging you not to blitz through the game in a short amount of time. There's also some really weird/cool thing the game does involving the phases of the moon. Not entirely sure what that entails though, since I've only completed the first two sessions (of four).

Obviously, a large part about adventure games is the story and dialogue, and this is probably the part of the game that's the most polarizing. The game's dialogue is somewhat... eccentric. It doesn't take itself very seriously at all, and breaks the fourth wall liberally. Most notably, each line of dialogue is under 140 characters long, and the game has optional Twitter integration. I'll leave it at that.

One thing that most definitely needs to be mentioned about the game though, is the music. Guthrie's soundtrack is absolutely amazing. Along with Bastion's OST, Sworcery's OST (titled Sword & Sworcery LP - The Ballad of the Space Babies) it is one of the few game soundtracks that I listen to often outside of the context of the game. In the case of Sworcery though, the music is a very integral part of the game, it's an absolute core part of the experience. The combat (yeah, this is an adventure game with combat and it's actually not too bad) is very rhythmic, the music is completely intertwined with everything else in the game. It is very much something that is worth experiencing. The first major boss battle is breathtaking.

So there you have it. My thoughts on each of the games featured in the latest Humble Bundle. Each of them is a game that's worth playing, and at this price it isn't a good deal, it's downright theft. Plus, you get all the soundtracks included as well. Incredible. I may do more posts like these for any future bundles, or I might not. It'll depend mostly on my familiarity of the games included, it just so happened I had a least a little bit of experience with each game in this one.