A Painting December Interlude: Warlord Games Spartans.

I haven’t posted anything new from the project in awhile. It’s because I’m honestly not enjoying painting Be’lakor or the giant at this point. Bel’s flesh-and-black look is tedious to paint, and the Giant’s clothing issues are once again completely off-putting. (They’re why he didn’t get painted 20-odd years ago). So I’ve mostly been playing videogames instead, and after watching a documentary with Marouda about Spartans, decided to harness her brief moment of enthusiasm and see if she wanted to work with me to assemble and paint up some Spartans together.

We cracked open the Warlord box, and found that their rebadged Immortal Miniatures sprues are completely the same across all three of their Greek ranges – the only difference being a unique command sprue for each. Bell (bronze muscle) curiasses are rare in each box (one per sprue of 8), with the majority wearing Linothorax (linen armour) and two out of every 8 wearing only robes. The command sprues add one more Bell curiass and another robe-wearer. So – no units uniformly all wearing bell curiasses unless we wanted to loot all of them from the other Greek boxes with the result that they would then have none in their units.The Spartan box’s main distinguishing feature is a bunch of heads wearing the Pilos helm on the command sprue. So we had some decisions to make.

36 WIP Spartans. Not much to look at so far.

In the end we went for a “idealised fantastic” selection for the Spartans. We both felt that while the pilos helm might be accurate for (late) Sparta, it’s ugly. So we went for a majority of corinthian-style helmets (worn earlier) which we’ll be pairing with shields bearing the lambda (worn later). We’re going with the Lambda to easily distinguish the Spartans from other Greeks and also the Macedonians that will be painted and assembled later. I know (from the research that I did while working out our options for these models) there are people over on TMP who’d happily tell me that I’m doing it wrong, a heathen and more besides, we’re going for models that look aesthetically pleasing (to us) that can also be distinguished easily as Spartans by ourselves and out friends. Rivet-counters be damned!

The models took 3 days to assemble, and were sprayed last night with a Tamiya dark red. This morning I gave them a zenithal highlight of a brighter Army Painter red. Now I’m troweling acrylic putty onto the round Renedra bases to make their integral bases stand out a little less. In my researching, I found that the colour of the Linothorax worn by Spartans is debated, and may have possibly been red rather than buff/white so I think we’ll go with the red, along with their robes and skirts in red.

These being historical figures of troopers rather than anything special, they’ll be getting “fast, tabletop” paintjobs – with the same mentality of “get them done” as my Moria Goblins or the plastic Gondor Rangers. Base coat, simple highlight and wash, then a matte spray basically. The aim is to look good as a unit on the table from a foot or two away rather than look good as individual models.

Hopefully Marouda will keep her interest so we can get them finished inside a week – and then I can get back to this giant and daemon that have sapped my enthusiasm with a refreshed attitude.

Merry Christmas!

A message from Leonard and the rest of us here.

Yeah it’s a bit trite, but I don’t care. Have a great Christmas all. Enjoy the time with your families, friends and a bit of quiet time for painting, gaming, sleeping in, gorging and binging (on Netflix, natch!) 😉

This year’s Christmas Loot!

They say that you shouldn’t post your presents to social media because criminals. I totally get that, so it’s lucky that my real name ain’t on here, I don’t use geotagged photos, and probably that my loot this year is a 14-year old boy’s dream, but notsomuch for “proper” grownups and criminals. Marouda and I use Christmas as a fun excuse to buy each other stuff and have some time together. Family visits happen in the days before or after since when I transitioned from younger to more mature I rejected the concept of Christmas Day as a day of Obligation visiting here and there, and took the “selfish” choice of no longer doing visits to others on the actual day in favour of spending the day together with Marouda. Not that you guys care about that, but hey. TMI sometimes!

More models and games in the days to come, and I’ll have to come up with my gaming resolution(s) for 2016…

Have a great Christmas and stay safe!

 

 

Review: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance – Kojima Productions/Platinum Games – XBox 360 (2013)

Let me preface this micro-review with the information that the only Metal Gear game I’ve finished to date was the first MGS on PS2 (or was it PS1?). While I think Konami’s recent treatment of Kojima is terrible, I don’t hold him in reverence or even care for him as a writer, as everything I’ve read within and about MGS games is a badly-written clusterfuck that compares to terrible fanwank fiction combined with the overblown contrived and over-complex ridiculousness of the Star Wars EU or Marvel Comics of today. Disagree? Just go through the terribad background to Ground Zeroes and that should be more than enough. Also, I already know that Revengeance isn’t a word.

Still, I’m not too fussed about terrible videogame storylines if the gameplay is good enough, and this thing got decent reviews – so I decided to jump in, buoyed by the fact that it’s supposed to be quite short. I enjoy short games as a nice counterpoint to the huge open-world games and MMO-ish games that I like to spend much of my time in.

Raiden. How could you *not* like someone who looks like this?

So anyway. You play as Raiden – a character that some people apparently dislike quite a bit but I started – and ended – with complete indifference to – through a title which may as well be called “Cutscenes: the interrupting exposition game.” I say this because after every couple of minutes (or less) of frantic, spastic, gameplay, the game takes control off you for seemingly just as long or longer so it can play nicely animated but overlong, terribly written cutscenes at you, or even worse, play terribly written exposition and instructions at you via the ingame codec (essentially the radio where you get told what to do). I know that the codec and such has been a longtime part of MGS games, but ouch, this is pretty fucking painful. Seriosuly, I can’t emphasise just how bad the writing is. I’m sure lots of other games are just as bad, but this game takes great delight in shoving it’s terrible story down your throat at every opportunity – which means constantly. There’s also some heavy-handed political allegory, and there’s even a bit where the game attempts to point out the humanity of the guys you’ve been merrily slaughtering to this point, which in turn makes Raiden sad.

One particularly ridiculous example: I ended one boss battle by covering the boss in liquid nitrogen, freezing them, and then bisecting them from the top of their head to their crotch. (Because the game is so cut-scene-y, it’s less cool than it sounds – the whole thing felt pre-planned rather than something cool that I did). Anyway, while their dismembered, frozen-solid corpse laid on the ground in a number of pieces, they still somehow managed to have a longish, tedious “deathbed conversation” with their boss while I sat there thinking What the Absolute Fuck?

Gameplay is essentially Japanese-styled score attack gameplay – which is fine for those who enjoy it, and are prepared to learn the nuances of the system, but it’s just button-spammy bullshit to me. I guess I should be grateful that it allows scrubs like myself to essentially spam the attack buttons and get through the encounters, but it sadly doesn’t really feel like there’s much more to it. Not for me, at any rate. The whole thing is made more spastic as – in a word – the camera is awful. No camera-target lock, enemies running around like headless chickens while you do the same, it’s really not well done at all. While writing this review I noted that Platinum Games also made Vanquish, which played somewhat similarly, received similarly positive reviews, and similarly, I also disliked due to mindlessly spammy gameplay.

Combat *looks* like *much* more fun than it is to actually play.

As I played through I unlocked various things like VR mode levels and such, but sadly I was simply not having enough fun with the base game to have any kind of willingness to go through it again on either a higher difficulty or wade through VR missions either. I guess it’s at least partly something that comes with age – when I was young I did play through some of the VR missions in MGS. Now I’m older and have way too many games – I don’t have time to waste doing extras in games I don’t enjoy. In fact, I wonder why I make myself play things like this that I’m clearly not enjoying. Am I really going to be willing to put 8 or 10 hours into this thing for the sake of nothing but sheer bloody-mindedness?

Blue locked boxes apparently need to be attacked in blade mode to open them. Which isn’t explained or even implied anywhere. How did I find out? Googled it after awhile and found a bunch of dickheads on GameFAQs talking down to others about it like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

Anyhow, while the combat can occasionally be mindless, spammy fun, the way the game keeps interrupting the gameplay for long, boring, overwrought and terribly-written cutscenes sapped my interest. Finally, I got to the boss fight at the end of section 3 – so just short of halfway through the game (it starts with Section 0 and ends with Section 7). The boss in this case is called Monsoon, and unlike the previous ones, comes entirely from the “cheap bosses” store, being entirely out of whack with the difficulty of all of the mobs that you fight beforehand and – even more fun – featuring long sections where he cannot be hit or damaged at all, while naturally continuing to whale on the player. After a couple of goes, getting bored and eventually killed each time (on easy) I decided that to be blunt – I don’t have time for this shit, and so I ejected the disc and uninstalled. From what I read, this fight ends with a QTE, and I think that tops it all off perfectly.

Not the boss that I gave up on.

So.

Basically, if you’re into this genre of score-attack game, you like Platinum games’ “style” and are willing and able to put the time in to learn the intricacies of it’s combat – then the gameplay might be quite good. If you like Kojima’s writing, then the story might appeal.

As someone not invested in Kojima’s writing or stories, I found the plot and characters awful and painful pretty much from the beginning. Made even worse with constant interruptions and non-skippable non-interactive cutscenes. The backlash against Sony’s The Order 1886 based on similar issues makes me wonder how well this game would have been received if it were released now – and 2013 wasn’t that long ago. Kojima seems to have an inordinate amount of goodwill for his awfully written stories, though – even moreso with Konami’s recent shenanigans. To me, this game is an excellent example of style over substance. If I want mindless spammy fun with a collection of choppy blades and without an awfully written, intrusive story, I can play Dynasty/Samurai Warriors instead.

If you particularly like and enjoy this game, genre, Kojima or Platinum, that’s fine. I guess the problem comes when someone with little experience with those things only manages to read reviews written by fans and fan-reviewers (and I’m counting IGN and Eurogamer here as well – seriously, listen to this guy gush about it) and gets the feeling that the game would be worthwhile for them as well when it’s a lot less cut and dried than that.

For me, this game was ultimately awful. As I really enjoy action games and melee-centric games, I was hoping for something I’d really enjoy based on the reviews. As it is, I’m not even interested enough to YouTube the ending cutscenes. Unless you’re already invested in this genre, Platinum Games’ style and/or Metal Gear, my recommendation is:

Avoid.

Year’s End WIPs Part 4: Sugar Skull WIP

 

Remember the Sugar Skull I posted about a couple of weeks ago? Well, I didn’t get it finished on time. Luckily I’ve got a second chance to get it done by early January.

Here’s the progress so far:

Rollins’ Sun is a little wonky, but that section of skull is pretty rough and features the joins between the sections, amongst other things. Still, it fits the Mesoamerican feel pretty well. While the Sugar Skull stuff might (mostly) not be my usual type of content, It’s certainly always good fun freehanding designs.

 

 

Review: Singularity – Raven Software – XBox 360 (2010)

Last week when I played through Fracture, it was with an eye to playing through a game quickly, and specifically a FPS that would be short enough for me to plough through in a day. As it happened, it was a 3PS instead, and, well, not very good. Right down to one of those disproportionately difficult end-boss fights that really reduce the fun factor of whatever game they’re tacked onto.

Singularity was a second attempt at same. Though this one got more positive reviews, and the devs in this case are Raven Software – developers of quite a number of games I’ve enjoyed through the years on a number of platforms: Soldier of Fortune II, Star Trek Voyager Elite Force, Jedi Knight II and Jedi Academy, X-Men Legends 1 and 2, Marvel: UA, Wolverine, 2009’s take on Wolfenstein… and these days they’re part of Activision’s Call of Duty sweatshop. Still, it’s a solid pedigree of games I’ve personally enjoyed, and a dev house that I respect. getting through it was supposed to (hopefully) take 1-2 days but took a week to play through, a bit each day.

The intro-premise of this game actually seems pretty reasonable and well thought out for a videogame, and would probably work for a work of literary work of fiction. There’s some cold war, Soviet research gone wrong, a bit of time manipulation and of course divergent timelines that go with that sort of thing. I won’t go into detail here, but I found the plot here actually quite decent for a videogame.

One of the horror-themed mobs in the game

Details is where Raven do well throughout the game – though I’m a little dubious on the USAF markings on a crashed US Black Ops chopper, and you’d think that the Soviet Union seems to not have collapsed – but the banners located throughout the island you play through are just leftover from the 1950’s when it was abandoned. I guess they must be made of some fucking durable cloth as the game is set “now” and they’re in locations as diverse and weather-friendly as  docks at the edge of the sea, burnt out buildings, abandoned refineries… They’re not even sun bleached! Speaking of that, there are even mummified corpses on the sea’s edge? I just can’t see that happening.

The early game is concerned with setting the atmosphere, setting the scene. It does a really good job for the most part – The game does well in leveraging the atmosphere for a nice little horror vibe. Because linear FPS videogame reasons, your highly trained spec-ops black-ops character isn’t very good at climbing walls or debris that even I can traverse without a hassle. It also uses the trope/memory-saving method of arbitrarily locking doors off behind you and one-way jumps in order to load the next bit of game and drop the last section out of memory. At one point when you’re inside an abandoned schoolhouse, discarded milk cartons are scattered around the cafeteria. I thought молоко was the Russian for “Milk”, but nope, these cartons have MILK all written on them. Still, the game gives off a pretty cool hybrid of a Fallout/FEAR vibe in these early film reels.

Judging by the number of projectors stuck in a loop, the still-working microphones with pre-recorded messages and the reel-to-reel tape recordings – all of which work, those Soviets really had some durable technology to go with their mysterious source of unlimited power. The movies from the projectors early on are also amusing, with Cyrillic-style Roman characters so we can read them, and many references to “Mother Russia” despite the Soviet iconography all over the place. Whole we know that the Soviet Union was very Russo-centric, it still seems odd to hear the Union referred to as “Mother Russia” in an “official” propaganda film. But yeah. It’s more than a little odd that the lights and power are still on in a partially burnt-out, abandoned for 60+ years building. Those are some damned reliable incandescent light bulbs!

There are lots of E99 devices like this throughout

Niggling silliness aside, Ravensoft have done a nice job with the Soviet propagandist atmosphere, though – and interactive elements like notes stand out well enough against the background without seeming out of place. The many posters scattered around make me wish I could read Russian. I’m assuming that the accented Russian dialogue from the recordings is simply representative of our protagonist being fluent in Russian – but not too hot at reading it, apparently! – at least until later on(?) On the other hand, quite a bit of signage as you move through the game is written in Russian with a useful English subtitle underneath. Just like signs in American and British Military/Research bases helpfully have subtitles in Russian on their signs – gotta stay helpful to any enemy infiltrators, after all! I was impressed to see an older-style “hole in the ground” European toilet at one point. The game does details very well

In the hall early on dominated by the cool-looking bust of Uncle Joe, there’s also a nice diorama of the island, featuring button-press explanations of the various facilities on the island. I wondered if these would correspond to the game’s levels? No prizes there!

I have to give credit, though – the first part of the game you’re unarmed, and it’s all about exploration and still managed to do a good enough job that I enjoyed myself. Even at the point where I’d only shot 4 mobs, the game was fun. The game really has much more of a horror-shooter feel to it than I was expecting. It’s much closer in tone to FEAR than to Call of Duty. Even the first kind of mobs that you might have a weird, loping gait that makes lining up headshots quite tricky (with a controller, anyway) which just raises the tension when one is coming at you while armed with the starter pistol.

A videogame Russian. You know what this means. Why do we never shoot faceless American soldiers outside of Spec Ops: The Line?

The game took a foreboding turn towards dudebro, though. Firstly, when you get the Sci-Fi-Soviet Assault rifle, the mutant mobs instantly become much less scary, and then you run into your old bud, Devlan (last name Mud?) Shortly afterwards, you have a semi-auto shotgun, and the game become much more of a generic dudebro shooter. Devlan even tells you to “stay frosty”. Just like guys in the real military always do! The game’s flirtation with Call of Honor thankfully ended pretty quickly, though – and the game was allowed to find its own identity.

Gameplay wise, I’m not terribly fond of upgrades being tied to pickups that will often be hidden around levels. It means that in order to level up “properly” and not be horribly disadvantaged in the later game, a player is often tied to using walkthroughs and such to make sure they get them all. This is the main reason that my playthroughs of both Shadow Warrior Redux and Advanced Warfare both fizzled out. I just want to be able to play the fucking game without needing to be on the constant lookout for meeples. After the first “freebie” meeple, the game hides several hundred more units (points?) worth in the next 20 meters of the location, in luggage and dumpsters and so forth. It also means that in a modern “update” of that horrid adventure game trope/feature of moving the mouse over every damned pixel onscreen in the hope of picking the right one, the player here needs to run up to every bag or bit of abandoned luggage, box, dumpster and container in the game in the hope of more upgrade points. /sigh. I did a pretty good job of it overall, but realised that I’d forgotten to keep looking in anything that looked like a dumpster after awhile, and I know I definitely missed out on a whole lot of drops/upgrades as a result.

The game goes for a horror-shooter vibe, with some success.

Did I mention that following newer shooters example, you can only hold two weapons (including pistol) but like old-school shooters you don’t have auto-regenerating health, and instead need to use health packs? That’s right! The worst of both worlds! After awhile, you pretty much know your weapons – Assault Rifle, Shotgun, Sniper Rifle. There’s a cool homing-sniper rifle that turns up every so often and is one of the most fun (though overpowered) weapons in the game, though it doesn’t become part of your normal arsenal. You can upgrade weapons, though the opportunities to do so are rarer than I’d like. Later on you end up with a railgun and an autocannon. Hope you didn’t waste upgrade points on the pistol or assault rifle! Oh, you did? Well, you’re never going to use most of those again. I have to say that the weapons are fine, but the execution of allowing the player to actually access, upgrade and use them is a real miss.

Likewise, you get given a Techno-magical glove – the TMD (Time Manipulation Device) after the first chapter, which gets upgraded at various points – which I just referred to as my Nintendo Power Glove. The game’s various gimmicks/USPs all revolve around the Power Glove’s ability to manipulate objects in time – such as aging or un-aging stairs, barrels, containers, and even your enemies! The game came out a year before Red Faction: Armageddon, as well – though the repair-destroy gimmick had already been well established for years in Red Faction. The Power Glove also allows you to equip other augments that you can buy from the occasional vending machines – quite a few augments in fact. Sadly though, in my careful playthrough I’m now just shy of halfway through the game and still only have the one slot – so there’s little point in having any but the one that gives you more “money” (E99) from pickups. It wasn’t until much, much later when I realised that the game only limits you to one slot from the first category of the glove upgrades. Of course the game neglects to tell you any of that, so I ran through literally 90% of the game without using any of the second or third category of upgrades, which you can have multiples of. Nice work, Ravens.

The funny thing, as the game goes on is that I found the actual shooting is pretty mediocre – yet the game itself was somehow fun and entertaining enough to keep me interested. Not enough to play it for long stretches, but it’s a rare game that I can keep powering through (not sure how I did it last week for Fracture. I guess it was pretty short.) Despite the silliness, I found myself examining every note and listening to every audio log – things that usually bore me senseless in these games. It wasn’t until I got to the last couple of acts when they started to really wear thin and get tiresome.

Pew! Pew! Pew!

While there aren’t a huge variety of enemies in the game, the atmosphere is pretty well done, and to be fair, you never really know what kind of mob is around the next corner. The h̶e̶a̶d̶c̶r̶a̶b̶s̶ ticks are really fucking annoying. Just thought I’d throw that in there. The kind of mob that makes you sigh because you know the next bit of game isn’t going to be fun. Proper HL2 headcrabs were much more fun. In a nice touch, once you finish the game it allows you to “continue” and by doing so you have a chance to see all three endings, with only the unskippable dialogue from the final encounter making it a little tedious.

Overall, I’m glad that I played through Singularity. It’s a decent game and in it you can really see that with a bit more work, and better shooting mechanics it could have been something really special. Perhaps if they were allowed to skip the tacked-on, pointless multiplayer it would have been that much better as a single player game.

Verdict: Actually a decent game. If you see it cheap and have time, feel free to give it a runthrough.

Painting December: Gigantic Fashion Choices

Yeah, I know.

Lots of posts right now. I usually try to do one every two days when I’m posting a lot, and rarely even down to one a day – but since I’m on holidays from work right now, and also soliciting feedback on the three figures I’ve been working on, I’m pushing out a fair few more posts than usual. So apologies if it seems like spam – I’m simply wanting to get these guys finished before December is done – and maybe even start another figure or two?

So here’s the Marauder giant WIP. I’ll worry about this bloke’s base in a day or two. Right now, I’m trying to work out what to do with his tunic. His skin is still very wip, though his hair is close to done now. I’ve gone ginger with him – I thought from feel but I noticed that the box art has a ginger giant on it as well, so it’s probably seeped in at least partly through osmosis over the years. Still, he’s giving me a kind of west country farmer combined with celt – despite the cut sleeves that are much more Swiss-German. As far as his extra bits, the barrel will be finished tomorrow, and the sword is pretty much done, barring varnish.

Marauder Giant needing some fashion choices.

So the problem I’ve got is how to paint his clothing. As I’ve said, I’d prefer to avoid the patchwork style of the box art, even though I’ve seen some lovely examples online. I’m tossing up whether to go for a mono-colour, some kind of [i]simple[/i] heraldic device (chevron or par chevron, etc) in two colours – red with a black par chevron? – or perhaps tartan? – though painting tartan on something this size could be nightmarish. I think he’d look great with a plaid over his shoulder, but I’m simply not willing to do any conversion to this figure that I’ve had for such a long time. I could buy another one, but that would be a bit excessive, even for me.

Painting December: Base-ic Choices (Part 1?)

See what I did there?

With the Talos down, I’ve been doing a bit of work on the Marauder Giant today. My order of bases came in as well from Firestorm, so it’s time to work out how to base Be’lakor. A couple of things first – I don’t much care about having a square base for this guy. If/when I use him in KoW or any game that requires Square bases, I own spare bases and blu-tac, so that’s sorted. His “official” base is 50mm, and so while I do lean slightly that way, again, I’m going for aesthetics over slavishly following GW’s official basing scheme.

I’ve included the 40mm shots just for completeness, since he doesn’t actually look that bad on them, though quite cramped. I’m also considering using lipped/WarmaHordes style bases, since they look quite nice, and are especially display-friendly. I’m not going to beat myself up about not all of my bases being 100% consistent. I’ve got hundreds of painted models, after all.

Oh yeah, Be’lakor is still very WIP at this stage..

40mm Round

40mm Lipped

50mm Round

50mm Lipped

60mm Round

I’m not sure if I own any 60mm lipped rounds, but if I decide to go for the 60mm size, I’ll definitely tear this place apart looking for them. Really though, I think the 50mm bases are the top contenders for me, as it’s a nice balance between size and Be’lakor filling it out. Still, the 60mm shot was taken for a lark and he does look much better on it than I’d expected.

 

Depending on how the weather is and how the weekend goes, I might have a similar quest for the Marauder Giant, and I’m currently struggling to work out how to paint his clothing, so I’ll probably ask about that as well in the next day or so.