October Humble Monthly

Battletech

The big ticket item for this month’s Humble Monthly, and one I’d been idly meaning to pick up for months, so this worked out great for me. Most of the time, the big ticket for a Humble Monthly is something I either already owned or had absolutely no interest in, which I think is a problem for the big tickets generally. Pretty much by definition, they’re not an undiscovered gem, which means if you want it, you probably already have it. It’s usually something whose price has already come down to something like $30-$40, tops, which is more than a single monthly bundle costs even if you pay month-to-month, but is still cheap enough that if you can afford the Humble Monthly, you can probably afford to buy it.

I was in the perfect sweet spot where I wanted Battletech, but not enough to get around to actually buying it. And then it turns out my machine isn’t quite up to actually running the game. I have no idea why, but it takes something like 2-3 minutes to load each mission, which slows the pace down to the point of being unbearable. I only wound up playing through the opening mission, and the gameplay seems solid, although I’m not sold on the story. The opening of the story has you and your mentor figure escorting a space princess to her space coronation in your space robots, then her evil uncle attempts to usurp the throne, the three of you all try to flee, and you’re the only one who survives. You’re picked up by some mercenaries and with nothing else to do, you join them. You’re now a merc with a grudge against the reigning authority.

Great so far, but then there’s a three year time skip. Now, if that opening sequence hadn’t represented some 10-ish minutes of loading screens between loading chargen, loading the opening cut scene, loading the first mission, loading the second cut scene, and loading the second mission, I probably wouldn’t care so much that this early mission turned out to be pretty much completely unrelated to the start of the actual plot, and what later relevance it will inevitably have could’ve been filled in when it was important. It’s not like I spent any significant amount of time getting to know my giant robot mentor and the space princess he liked so much. It’s kind of like Dishonored, they’re getting betrayed within five minutes of my first conversation with them and I don’t know them well enough to care that much. Like, I’m trying to meet the game halfway and do some roleplaying in this roleplaying game, I was ready to get invested in the situation of the immediate aftermath of that battle, scampering with the friendly mercs to the far end of the galaxy to get my mech fixed, pay off the debts incurred for that, and then see about making enough money to somehow get revenge on the evil usurper uncle with, I dunno, a mercenary army or something. Opportunities for revenge tend to present themselves to successful mercenaries with a dark past.

But with the three year time skip, I am apparently actually supposed to be several years removed from those events, which yanks me right out of the headspace of caring about them at all. The momentum built up by the first scene is suddenly gone. And again, if it hadn’t been a 2-3 minute long loading screen to load the second cut scene, followed by a very brief dialogue with the mercs, followed quickly by another 2-3 minute long loading screen for the second mission, the strength of the turn-based mech fighting gameplay probably would’ve been enough to carry me through another mission or two, and then maybe the new situation would’ve built up some momentum the way the old one had. I don’t think the problem here is that Battletech is incredibly poorly optimized, because my computer has trouble loading things all the time. I didn’t have the money to spring for an SSD, and this is a machine that desperately wants to be running on an SSD. I should’ve gotten a slightly lower end model that’s actually designed to work with the hardware it’s got. Lessons learned, and in the meantime I can’t throw a thousand dollars at a new laptop just to keep up with all the latest releases. So that’s what ruined Battletech for me. Poor hardware choices.

Sonic Mania

Fun fact, the Sonic games were originally designed by someone who wanted to bring the feeling of speedrunning a platformer game to the average player. The default way of playing Sonic is to zip through at mach 10 the way Mario speedrunners do. Neat trivia aside, though, you don’t need me to tell you whether or not you like 2D Sonic games. I think the real prize here is for people who’ve never tried this little sub-genre before, but that naturally makes it very difficult to determine how much value this is adding to the Bundle. If you know you like this game, you probably already own some version of it.

Override

A fighting game about giant robots fighting kaiju seems like it should be easier to get right, but despite the efforts of a million Godzilla games and now Override, I’ve never really liked it. The fundamental problem, I think, is that the arenas are too small, and I’m not sure why we still have this problem in 2019 with all the hardware we have access to now. Shouldn’t it be easy to make an arena big enough that it feels like you’re fighting in a whole city and not just a couple of blocks? An arena where the whole thing doesn’t get leveled over the course of a single two minute match? For these fights to work, what you want is to have an arena big enough that you could not destroy most of the buildings in it without deliberately trying to, and then have a mechanic where knocking your opponent through standing buildings deals more damage than knocking them onto existing debris. Plus, if wreckage could then be picked up and used as a breakable weapon, that’d give more reason to move the fight to undestroyed parts of the city. Better destructibility would also improve things a lot. No matter how you knock them over, all buildings crumble in the exact same way, and Override in particular has a number of different weapons which could destroy the city in interesting ways, but don’t. It has laser swords that could slice buildings clean in half and flamethrowers that could set them alight, but they don’t. If a building takes some trivial amount of damage, it collapses immediately with what looks like a canned animation.

Now, being fair to Override, this is a game with abysmal keyboard controls and I lost the cable that connects my PS3 controller to my laptop (which also charges it, so I’m gonna have to get that replaced – hopefully someone still sells the damn things). It might be that my opinion is being colored in large part by my inability to play the game with the gamepad it was clearly intended for. I don’t see why the limited size of the arenas and underwhelming destructibility would be improved by that, but maybe the actual 3D fighter gameplay gets really good when you can play it properly.

Spiral Scouts

This is a puzzle game. I hate puzzle games. This makes my opinion on their quality both useless to others and monotonous to recount.

Avernum 3: Ruined World

The third installment in a trilogy of RPGs. This is the kind of thing that would be right up my alley, so it’s too bad that I haven’t played the first two. I don’t want to touch the third installment before looking at the others, especially since I’d have to play it for probably 5-10 hours to get a good handle on what it’s like. RPGs are big and a major component of how good they are is whether their story drags in the middle or falls apart in the end, and I don’t want to make that time investment when I’m not even sure if I’m stepping into the third installment of a serial adventure or act 3 of a self-contained story that can’t really be evaluated divorced from its beginning and middle.

According to Wikipedia, this is actually a re-re-make, with the original trilogy being called Exile and the first remake being called Avernum without subtitles. The third remake uses the title Avernum but the subtitles from the Exile games. So originally there was Exile III: Ruined World, then there was Avernum III, and now there’s Avernum III: Ruined World.

Puss!

Is This Gameplay

Planet Alpha

Planet Alpha runs at a ratio that cuts about a third of the screen off and I don’t know how to fix it. This renders the game pretty well unplayable. Obviously that doesn’t really provide much critique of the game as a work of art, but from the “is this month’s Humble Monthly worth it” perspective, the fact that your machine may or may not even be able to run this game out of the box definitely affects its value.

Also, if you’re wondering about the September monthly, the answer to that one is that I played so much Slay the Spire that I didn’t even get around to installing most of the other games. Maybe they’re great, but Slay the Spire alone is definitely worth the money.

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