Another week, another Playlist. It’s been fairly quiet in terms of game news this week, which to me felt like a blessing. E3 was a crazy, wild ride, and EVO is coming up really fast, so it was nice to just have some time to relax. Here’s what we’ve been playing.
Layton Brothers: Mystery Room
Don’t let the name fool you: Hershel, Luke and the infamous matchstick puzzle are nowhere to be found. Instead, we’ll be taking a trip to Scotland Yard, solving murders with Layton’s son and his Welsh assistant in a Phoenix Wright-esque romp on iOS. The crimes themselves are devilishly clever, and it’s a joy to watch Young Layton and Lucy unravel “perfect” crimes.
Unfortunately, it never felt like the dynamic duo trusted me to solve the nine cases by myself. They held my hand step-by-step through the investigations, highlighting any interactive objects and dragging me through their deductive process. They never even had enough faith to let me fail; wrong answers merely result in a verbal head shake, encouraging me to just keep guessing without consequences in particularly puzzling moments.
Level 5’s wonderful character portraits and goofy (albeit poorly translated) story were enough to help me reach the finish line without any buyer’s remorse, but I couldn’t help but feel that they were on the cusp of true success. After years of saving the day as Hershel Layton’s erstwhile companion, I wish they had given my noggin a chance to shine on its own.
League of Legends
The neverending battle between League of Legends and Dota 2 (with Heroes of Newerth standing on the sidelines wondering if people forgot about it) was, for a long time, fascinating to me. How strange that people should so strongly take sides when the two games are so similar! What unites them is so much greater than what divides them, and it seemed a bit ridiculous.
Then I played both. Holy crap League is so much better! Obviously, at this point we’re going full-on opinion, but it staggered me after playing a bunch of Dota 2 how much more I was enjoying LoL. Riot Games clearly designed League to be a counterpoint to the overwhelming complexity of classic Dota- asking hard but necessary questions about the game’s design. “What does this feature add to the game? Does it make things more fun, or is it just one more headache to keep track of?” The end result is a MOBA that keeps the depth while being much more streamlined and logical to play.
What’s more, I had very little trouble putting together a team of five to queue with, which made the whole thing far more enjoyable. I think I’ll be playing a lot more of LoL.
I’m still not sure how I feel about League of Legends, but it’s been fascinating to watch my friends quarrel over their preferred MOBAs. My DOTA 2 buddies feel like League of Legends lacks much of the depth and champion differentiation that makes Valve’s game sing, while the LoL devotees mock DOTA 2 for its needless extraneous systems and weaker tournament presence. Regardless of the poison picked, MOBAs require 50+ hours before you truly learn the ropes, so it’s easy to see why fans are so entrenched with either game
The Last of Us
I hardly expected the house that built Uncharted had “subtlety” or “restraint” in their dictionaries, but for the most part, Naughty Dog proved me wrong. The enemies faced are often few in number, but Joel’s lack of strength and resources makes fights with five more meaningful than battling an endless swarm of goons. My clumsiness usually forced me to hunker down and fight, losing most of my health in the process, but the moments when I snuck past bandit search parties prompted quick victory laps across the room.
As something of a horror aficionado, a few of the plot beats fell flat for me. I know the visual language of a zombie movie like the back of a severed hand, and playing directly into those cliché moments felt out of place when Naughty Dog was clearly trying to emulate the heartless, grounded world of The Road. Thankfully, The Last of Us often transcends these tropes through “show, don’t tell” storytelling and characters that spit in the not-so-grand tradition of two-dimensional zombie fodder writing. Maybe I’m still recovering from the horror show that was the last 30 seconds of Killzone 3, but it was also nice to have an ending that felt like… well, an ending.
You can look forward to a full review from the both of us next week- blame me, I haven’t quite finished yet. Almost there!
Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation
During E3, Sony did a big celebratory digital sale, knocking the prices waaaay down on some pretty big titles. I picked up two things during that- Tomb Raider, and Assassin’s Creed: Liberation. Tomb Raider, I’ve already talked about, but I didn’t start ACL for a while. That game, man. I dunno….
For starters, the intro is incredibly rushed. A synthesized voice explains that you are Aveline, an assassin… and then you’re controlling Aveline as a little girl. The game tells you to chase a chicken, you do so… and then suddenly you’re all grown up, and an assassin out on a mission. There’s in medias res, and then there’s just shitty storytelling.
Whether the Vita is not capable of keeping up with the traditional AC city, or it’s just Ubisoft’s code, ACL doesn’t look like AC2, or even AC1. It looks a little better than a PS2 title- very rough, very few characters on screen, bad draw distance. After the first mission featured my least favorite part of the series- running around talking to people and looking away when guards spot you- I put my Vita into sleep mode. I’ll come back to you, game… I hope you step it up when I do.
Organ Trail: Director’s Cut
Oregon Trail was a staple in middle school classrooms long before Minecraft came along, but regardless of its infamy, I was never a fan. Keeping a wagon of settlers alive as they crossed the frontier wasn’t my idea of a good time, and at the age of 11, I had little to no interest in learning about dysentery or the proper way to cross a river. My preteen self would have preferred Organ Trail, which substitutes the wagon with a station wagon, the Wild West with an infected America, and historical significance with dozens of pop culture references.
In the decade since I last set foot on the trail, my resource management skills haven’t improved. By the third city, I had no food, no job opportunities, and no supplies for bartering. Maybe my woefully remedial math skills did me in, but clunky controls and an interface devoted to nostalgia rather than practicality contributed to the nails in my coffin. Future travelers might pay their respects to Senor Cardgage, the traveler who foolishly sent his party to their deaths by buying car batteries instead of food cans.