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Last spring TitanFall launched after a TON of hype. I snagged a copy for PC (at a steep discount, thankfully) and played it twice before deciding the game wasn’t for me. More recently both Evolve and Battlefield Hardline have run beta events. I dutifully downloaded both of them, and played them both once before deleting them. Not for me.

Now before I offend anyone, I’m not saying these aren’t good games. I’m saying they’re a bad fit for me because they’re competitive multiplayer games (the full Battlefield Hardline will have a single player campaign, and Evolve will let you play with bots, but the betas of both games are just the MP modes). When it comes to gaming I’m just not very competitive. Competitive games get me really tense and get my adrenaline pumping like mad, and I am just not an adrenaline junkie. I mostly play games to relax, I guess.

And yet I really enjoy Planetside 2, which is a purely competitive multiplayer game. So last night after I’d ragequit the Battlefield Hardline beta 5 minutes after I’d booted it up, I went into self-analyze mode to try to figure out what made it different.

And the only thing I could come up with was the scale and the pacing. When I first start playing a game I like to take my time. Figure out the controls, figure out the game’s system, get a feel for how my character moves and what I’m supposed to be doing. Most MP PvP games don’t give you a chance to do that. You spawn in and everyone tears off in some direction that you have to assume is significant and you run along behind them trying to figure out what button is for melee and what button throws a grenade and what do all those icons on the field mean and BAM! you just got shot. Time to respawn.

Hell even respawning is stressful because you have a bunch of classes, loadouts, and spawnpoints to choose from, but every minute you’re looking at the UI to decide what to pick, your team is down a man. So you just pick whatever and spawn back in and get stabbed by the enemy dude that’s camping the spawn location, or, because you haven’t learned the map yet, you run out into a spot where 6 different sniping points have clear line of sight to. And dead again, and you’re team is losing because you suck.

In Planetside 2 you spawn into a world where potentially hundreds of other players are on your side and many battles might be happening. If you take 5, or even 50, minutes to get your bearings no one is going to care since it’s not a tightly scripted 5v5 battlefield. Same thing with the spawn-in UI. You can take your time. You can play on your own terms. Follow the crowd to a big battle and fight like mad but if you need a bit of a breather, fall back. Maybe go and spawn in a vehicle and run a taxi service for a bit. Maybe just fly around seeing the sights, or spend time as a healer or engineer fixing people and machines up. There are a lot of choices beyond “RUN SHOOT SHOOT RUN RUN SHOOT DIE SPAWN BUNNYHOP RUN SHOOT” constantly for the entire time you’re playing.

I just realized this translates to my competitive MMO playing, too. Games that have 5v5 (or whatever) battlefields are a real turn off to me, but games with open world PvP are much more appealing.

I guess it all comes down to pacing. But I wish there were more games like Planetside 2 out there…

2015-01-31 10.05.02If you’re playing Dying Light, you should check out the free companion app. You can get it for Android or iOS. Sorry, Windows Phone and Fire OS users. Screenshots in this post are from the Android version, running on a Nexus 7 tablet.

They call it an app, I call it a simple game. You’re in charge of a group of scouts in the fictional city of Harran (where Dying Light takes place) and your job is to assign these scouts to various missions. And that’s pretty much it. It reminds me a lot of Star Trek Online’s Duty Officer System.

Scouts have levels and two stats: agility and power. Missions come in two varieties: scavenge and hunt. Agility is useful on scavenging missions, power is useful on hunt missions. You can assign 1-3 scouts to a mission, and there’s a mission difficulty rating that compares the cumulative strength of your scouts to the mission, giving you an idea of your chance of success.

Once you send scouts on a mission its all in the hands of the software. Missions run in real time, so you set up the missions, close down the app and go about your day.

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When missions are completed you get money and items as a reward. Your scouts take damage, earn experience and can level up (I haven’t had one killed yet but I’ve been pretty careful…it may be possible to get them killed). You may also get new recruits. You’ll use the money healing your scouts (as far as I can tell they won’t heal naturally). The items are either used to unlock more difficult missions or they can be packed into a crate and sent to the quartermaster in the Dying Light console game. Next time you play, you go see the quartermaster and your other self has sent you a care package of items!

2015-01-31 10.05.22This is a pretty fun and ‘low impact’ way to stay connected to Dying Light while you’re at work or something. You can send up to 20 items in a crate (and items don’t stack) and can only send one crate at a time. There doesn’t seem to be a time limit to this so I think you can send a crate, log into the console/pc game and collect it, then jump back into the companion app and send another crate. I haven’t actually tested this yet, though.

Obviously your PC or console will have to be connected to the Internet for this to work, and you’ll have to link the companion app to your console account (I’m honestly not sure what you link to for the PC version). But you don’t have to play online to take advantage of it. My game was in Solo Mode when I collected my first crate of goods from the quartermaster.

One tip I found out the hard way. Initially I was sending 3 scouts on every mission so they’d be wildly over-powered. I hoped this would prevent injuries, but it didn’t seem to. So I had 3 scouts taking damage and 1 monetary reward for doing the mission…and often the reward wasn’t enough to cover medical expenses. I was always broke.

What I do now is send just enough scouts to be safe. I’ll mix up higher level missions with a bunch of 1 scout/mission low level missions. The low level missions generate the $$ to heal the scouts getting busted up in the higher level missions. Since I started doing this money hasn’t been a problem.

[Update: Oh, and because my very first comment on this post was a joke about it making the game pay-to-win (a reference to the hullabaloo around the Evolve companion app), I should point out that there are no in-app purchases for this game!!]

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It’s been a busy week and I haven’t had as much time for zombie bashing as I would have liked, but last night I got in a quick session. I wanted to share this gameplay snippet and then talk about it:

So at this point in the game I’ve been tasked with taking out a gang of thugs who are holed up in a safe zone. In my first (not shown) attempt, I jumped in and tried to fight them all at once and quickly died.

When I got back to their compound after re-spawning, one of them was outside. I fought him and beat him, though at the cost of a good chunk of my health. Since I’m still miserly with supplies I actually headed back to the safe zone with the intention of sleeping, hoping that would cure my wounds. That’s when I learned the game won’t let you sleep during the day. Or at least not during this particular day. So I guess you can’t cheese your way through the game.

Headed back, got on the roof of their compound and tried to find a way to ‘pull’ a single enemy. The only ranged weapon I had handy were some throwing stars, and that’s about where this video begins. You can see the bad dude was having none of it. When I get knocked off the stairs and run back up them you can see a few other bad guys around the corner. I run up and get myself backed into a corner expecting them to all come at me.

I was a little disappointed that they didn’t follow me up the stairs. I’m conflicted on this. It seems ‘bad’ that the AI didn’t follow me, but if they did I probably would’ve died or had to run away.

Anyway at that point I could see throwing stars weren’t going to do the job since I only had a few, and I remembered seeing molotov cocktails in my blueprint list. Turns out they were really effective, as the video shows. In fact the ‘boss’ of this gang is inside (you can hear him constantly yelling at me to fight like a man or something) and past the end of this video I had to go 1 on 1 with him, and in the end I used a molotov cocktail on him, too.

Another discovery from last night (also not on the video) is that zombies pretty much insta-die if they touch spikes. At one point I killed 4 in a row by standing just past a spikey defensive barrier and kicking them into it. Yeah it’s a little cheap but these are the dumb day zombies. I’ll take cheap when I can get it.

Hopefully this weekend I’ll get a lot more time to play. Last night’s session really left me wanting more zombie smoohsing action!

Dying Light_20150127222408Dying Light, the zombie-ridden first person parkour survival (well, sort-of) horror game from Techland, launched today. By the time I got it downloaded (onto my PS4, the video and pics in this post are from the PS4’s share features) I didn’t have a huge amount of time to play, but I did squeeze in about two hours, which was just long enough to get through the fairly linear prologue and get to the meat of the game, unlocking side quests and co-op mode, neither of which I had time to sample.

But that still gave me enough time to bash some zombies and get a feel for the parkour aspect of the gameplay. The zombie bits are pretty familiar; this game came from the same folks who did Dead Island after all. And like that game, this one is really violent, at least towards the zombies. You’re going to be bashing them to bits with pipes and clubs for the first couple hours of the game and it is very much not a game for the kids! It’s a real splatter-fest.

There’s also a crafting system which is also fairly familiar. You find alcohol and gauze and combine them to make a med patch. You can craft lockpicks out of scraps of metal. And so on. You can craft anywhere, at least in these early parts of the game where your blueprints are pretty simple. You can also use bits of metal to repair weapons (which take damage with use). Loot, in the form of basic weapons and components for crafting, comes from searching the environment (a ‘survival sense’ ability takes the tedium out of this), or searching the corpses of the zombies you kill. There’s plenty of it, too.

You’ll also find locked chests that you can pick via a mini-game where you rotate the lockpick with one analog stick and turn the key with the other. If you don’t have things lined up right the controller will vibrate and if you don’t back off when it does, the lockpick breaks. This mini-game also felt really familiar.

The part of the game I was most concerned with was the parkour stuff, as I at times suffer from motion sickness in games. So far that hasn’t been a problem and the parkour stuff works pretty well and adds a new dimension (in some ways literally…you’ll do a lot of climbing) to the gameplay.

Here’s some parkour gameplay in action. In this clip I’ve completed a mission but darkness is falling and you don’t want to be outside in the dark!

So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Dying Light. The first person aspect makes for plenty of good scares, or at least startles, as you run around the corner and into a pack of zombies. The early-game zombies aren’t very fast but they’re everywhere and the sound of battle attracts them. They WILL creep up behind you and take you by surprise! As mentioned, the parkour system works well and combat is pretty fun. L1 will kick a zombie away from you while R2 swings your weapon. L2 throws items, like packs of firecrackers to distract the horde. R1 is your jump button.

Dying Light_20150127222226Your character (and you can’t create one, you have to play as Kyle Crane) has 3 proficiencies (Survivor, Agility and Power) that you level up as you play, and as you get skill points in these proficiencies you spend them in skills trees to unlock skills. You seem to have to ‘bank’ points every so often. I died once and was told I’d lost 200 survivor points. I’m not sure if that was experience or something else…I’m still learning the game. But I did level each of my proficiencies a few times in my two hours of play.

Now a word of warning: the game starts with a big old wad of exposition and during it, while you don’t have control of your camera, your view point will be swinging back and forth like mad. The exposition felt endless and that view point swaying was the one time I felt a little ill. The good news is this only happens at the very start of the game and then things start moving along nicely.

I think my attitude went from snark (I was snarky at first from all the exposition) to joy when I was sent to a fenced-in courtyard to see an NPC. I ran past it at first and came back at it from the wrong direction. I couldn’t find a door but eventually I found a way up onto something and leapt to the top of the fence and dropped inside. I thought it was cool that I could ‘solve’ this puzzle in a way other than coming in through the door (which turned out to be spot in the fence the was bend inward a bit). That feeling persisted as I kept switching between fighting through zombies to opting to out-maneuver or distract them, and back again. Whatever worked best for the immediate task at hand. It feels like the kind of game that is going to reward a certain amount of flexibility in how you play.

Dying Light_20150127222422 Dying Light_20150127181137 Dying Light_20150127222508

As mentioned, the prologue is pretty linear and maybe a little longer than it needs to be, but honestly it was fun and there were some challenging moments where I really had to plan how to get from point A to point B without getting eaten. Still, when I got back to “The Tower” (the central base at the start of the game) and I saw a bunch of side-quest indicators light up I was delighted. Even when you’re on a quest it seems like you can take the time to explore and search for loot.

It’s really early…as I said, I only played for two hours. But so far I’m really enjoying Dying Light even if a lot of the systems are ones we’ve played with before. It gave me a few scares, there was a good feeling of satisfaction when I made some epic jumps, zombie combat is gross but satisfying…so far so good. I hope I enjoy the rest of the game as much as I enjoyed the prologue!

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Disclosure: This First Look was based on a copy of the retail version of Dying Light provided by the company handling Techland’s marketing.

After getting hyped about the Guild Wars 2 expansion (see previous post) I jumped into the game anew. Well almost anew. I had a level 8 ranger that I decided to play.

A LOT has changed since the last time I played Guild Wars 2; many systems seem to be either level-gated or maybe just level-teased. As I gained levels I was told about things like gathering and crafting and vistas…I’m not sure if low level characters now can’t do these things or if this is just kind of a tutorial system. Since my character pre-dated the changes (I’d rolled him years ago) he could do all of them. Daily quests have changed a lot too. They used to be very generic, like harvest 30 items or kill 50 monsters. Now there are a lot more of them to choose from but they’re pretty specific: do event X or gather wood from area Y. This probably helps to ‘funnel’ players into the same place to aid in keeping things populated.

I don’t know if it was the expansion announcement and everyone had the same idea that I did, or if the game is just still doing well, but the world felt very populated to me:

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There was also a double exp buff for everyone this weekend and I went from level 8 to level 23 pretty quickly. Yesterday I thought to do an /age check and he was 8 hours old and level 17. This morning at level 23 he’s 11 hours. Six levels in 3 hours seems plenty fast, particularly since his map is still largely unexplored so he’s doing a lot of hoofing it back and forth.

I’m still struggling a little bit with scratching that progression itch since you learn all your skills for a given weapon very early and from then on out it’s about earning and spending skill points for utility spells which still don’t feel super impactful to me, but as I unlocked more of those and got into higher levels and needed to rely on them more, it was all feeling better. So I’m not done with Guild Wars 2 yet. We’ll see how long it sticks this time.

When I wasn’t playing that, I was playing Drive Club on the PS4. If you’re a PS4 owner you know that Drive Club had a horrendous launch, and if you’re waiting on the free PS+ version as far as you’re concerned it’s still having a horrendous launch. I bought the game and found it very pretty but also both frustrating and a little boring at first.

But Evolution Studios has been updating it regularly. They’ve added weather (which looks amazing) and some new tracks, circuits and cars for free. The servers are finally stable so your club and driver’s progress can be saved (and you can play online but honestly I haven’t bothered yet).

The core game, of course, hasn’t changed. It’s still very much a racing game, which to me is a little weird for a game called Drive Club. Prior to launch I assumed there’d be an open world where you and your crew could just kind of go cruising around. But nope, this is track-based gameplay. They still haven’t added any kind of replay mode, which seems odd given how pretty the game is, though they did add a photo mode for stills if you want to stop a race to take some shots.

They say this isn’t a simulation and though I’m not going to argue, it doesn’t feel like an arcade racer either. For one thing, there’s no racing line; you have to learn the tracks (there are green/yellow/red flags on corners to give you hints as to how tough they are). There’s no rewind either (something the Forza series has spoiled me with) so if your concentration lapses 90% of the way through a race and you hit something, you’re probably coming in last.

I had a devil of a time playing this game at first, if I’m to be honest. Eventually in an attempt to ‘find the fun’ I started driving from in-cockpit and using a manual transmission. Somehow the manual transmission flipped a switch in my brain and I stopped mashing down on the accelerator all the time and started driving like a sane person actually drives. I eventually went back to a behind the car camera just to get back some peripheral vision, but I stuck with the standard transmission for now.

And suddenly the game felt fun again. I still suck at it but now I’m getting better. Evolution has tweaked the AI so it no longer gleefully smashes into you quite so often, and between that change and me learning a touch of finesse Drive Club is now a game I’m really enjoying. I need to be in the right mood for it; I have to really concentrate to do well. But if fills a niche on the PS4, at least for now. I got so enthused about it that last night I sprang for the season pass (it’s dangerous having a balance in your PSN wallet…its so easy to spend it).

Of course, me being the knucklehead I am, I have no recent photos or videos from the game. Here’s a clip I recorded back in December (right after weather was put in) when I was still playing with automatic transmission and treating both brake and accelerator as if they were binary switches. You can see how poorly I did, and this is in VW Golf, not some super-car:

For some reasoning I’m feeling optimistic and upbeat today, so I wanted to talk about hype and how I think we (ok mostly I, but there’s some of you like me out there too) need to learn to embrace it.

Full stop: I’m not talking about PR hype that’s coming from some marketing department about a game that’s not even finished yet. I’m talking about hype from our friends. Seeing the people we hang out with on social media get really jazzed about something. Maybe “buzz” is a better word?

Anyway… I feel like we can react to hype 3 ways. We can embrace it, we can ignore it, or we can demean it.

I find it’s often REALLY tempting to demean it, and I’m not sure why. Maybe I’m just an asshole. But if so I’m not the only asshole around. I’m trying to be better. Like when Warlords of Draenor came out a lot of my friends were SUPER-pumped. I personally am not a fan of WoW but as far as I know I managed not to jeer about the expansion or try to demean anyone’s hype for the game.

A more passive-aggressive way of demeaning hype is with “flavor of the month” comments. Not everyone says “flavor of the month” in a derogatory way, but some do. Y’know the kind of thing: “Oh, so WoW is the FOTM now? I give it less than a month and you’ll all be playing something else.” (With the implication being this is a bad thing.) I’m really guilty of this, too. I get irrationally annoyed when a friend finds some new game and starts talking about how much fun he or she is having and that causes a bunch of other friends to try that game. I’m not sure why this bothers me…it has something to do with knowing that while these people are saying this is THE GAME TO PLAY today, I know they’ll be playing something else in a few weeks or months. But why THAT bothers me…I just can’t figure out. And if I can’t figure it out, it must not be very important and it’s just a bad habit I need to rid myself of.

I’m thinking about all this because of the Guild Wars 2 expansion announcement this morning. I don’t like Guild Wars 2…for whatever reason I just can’t get into it. But today instead of getting snarky I paddled hard to catch up and then dropped into the wave of hype and enthusiasm and rode it for all it was worth (yes apparently today is the day for surf analogies) and y’know what? It was FUN. I watched the twitch stream from the event with one eye and the buzz on Twitter with the other and it was really cool seeing all my friends so excited for this new expansion, and the next thing you know I was updating my Guild Wars 2 client.

So Guild Wars 2 is the flavor of the month, or week, or day, or year. And y’know what? That’s awesome. I’ll give it another go. Maybe it’ll stick this time, probably it won’t. But at least for the time I’m playing I can share in the discussion with my friends. And that’s a lot more fun than standing on the sidelines making snarky comments about the game.

fat_chocoboFinal Fantasy XIV is unusual in that it is an online game where PC, PS3 & PS4 players all play together on the same server. If you have a FF XIV (and have purchased clients for multiple platforms) you can be playing on your PC, log out, go to the living room, turn on the Playstation and log in with that same character and keep on going.

In a lot of ways this is pretty awesome. At long last you can play on your preferred PC platform but still go adventuring with your friend who’s a devoted console player. Or if you’re like me you can just bounce back and forth between playing on the couch and in the office, depending on your mood.

But there’s a negative side to this as well. I actually prefer playing on the console but I have to confess I feel a little bit uptight about it, at least when it comes to group content. I LOVE doing solo quests on the Playstation but I’m just not as efficient with a controller as I am with mouse and keyboard, particularly when it comes to quickly targeting things. Partially this is a matter of practice but it’s hard to argue that anything is easier than just pointing and clicking with a mouse when you need to target a specific mob.

Then there’s communicating. If everyone in my group is on teamspeak then I’d have to drag out a laptop or something to log in. I can use a keyboard, of course, but that means setting the controller down when I want to say something. Perfectly acceptable while soloing but in a boss fight in a dungeon those lost seconds could be crucial.

If I was on a server that only had PS4 players everyone else (well most everyone else, it certainly IS possible to connect mouse and keyboard to the PS4 and play that way) would have the same disadvantage when it came to controls. Ideally the game would have native voice chat for parties so everyone could communicate that way, but if not we could use the Playstation’s Party Chat to communicate.

But I’m playing with PC players, and I suspect primarily PC players, and I’m really sensitive about screwing up other people’s enjoyment of a game. So when it comes time to do group content (and FF XIV forces you to do group content if you want to advance the story and unlock things like using mounts) my enthusiasm for the game wanes. I don’t want to be fumbling around trying to target the right mob while the rest of my group is doing all the work, and I don’t want to be that guy who never speaks because I can’t fight with the controller and use the keyboard at the same time.

I’m really looking forward to Planetside 2 on the PS4 and Neverwinter on the Xbox One, because both are games I’ve enjoyed and (as far as I know) both intend to silo players so that everyone you’re playing with will be on console. Hopefully both will also come with native voice chat support.

In the meanwhile, back in FF XIV, I’d love for Square Enix to add some kind of ‘solo mode’ for the required storyline dungeons so that players like me can at least get through them and unlock chocobos and such. This weekend I started leveling my 8th or 9th character. I always get to It’s Probably Pirates (the first required dungeon) and quit playing. And oddly even though this is my 8th or 9th time through low level content I still really enjoy my time in that world.

I guess I should bite the bullet and play through that content on the PC and just get it over with, because I want to ride my chubby chocobo!

On a scale of 1-5 I’d give Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light a 3, based on playing it as a single player game. I imagine it’d be a LOT more fun played co-op.

Having finished, I could go back to try for higher scores and to beat various challenges but I just didn’t like it enough to devote more time to it. My biggest issues is that gimmicks were repeated too much towards the end of the game. Lots of puzzles that involved planting mines to blow up in such a way that they caused giant balls to go careening off in a required direction. And lots of stuff like flaming bolts falling out of the sky.

I don’t think I died by combat at all in the second half of the game. All my deaths were of the insta-kill environmental variety (fall off a ledge, get hit by flames, that kind of thing).

On the plus side I found the combat pretty fun, some of the puzzles were clever and the designers resisted the urge to spike the difficulty at the very end of the game (one of my personal peeves…the last battle difficulty spike).

Glad I played it but probably won’t ever play it again.

poison_gasNuclear Throne is an early access game by Vlambeer. I’ve been trying to resist the temptation of Early Access games, but I won my copy of Nuclear Throne on Forge.gg and was happy to find that the game is finished enough to be playable and addictive.

Nuclear Throne taps into several current trends in the indie gaming scene. It has procedurally generated levels, a modern 2D retro aesthetic and it is a difficult game. When you start the game you can pick from one of several characters, each starting with a different weapon and having a different special ability. The game is played from an overhead viewpoint, WASD moves you, space toggles between weapons, and the mouse is used to aim and fire (left button) or trigger your special ability (right button).

So you run through the level, shooting all the baddies which drop experience vials (they look like vials to me) which you then have to collect before they vanish. Thus you can’t just find a corner to hide in, really. You gotta get out there and collect those drops! You’ll also find chests that contain various types of ammo and/or additional weapons. When all the bad guys are dead a vortex opens and sucks you down to the next level. If you’ve gained enough experience you get offered a random selection of ‘mutations’ that you can pick from. Mutations do anything from really basic stuff, like let you carry more ammo, to weird stuff like making you impervious to fire when you’re under 4 HP. The goal of the game is to get through 7 sections and reach the Nuclear Throne and then.. I dunno, I haven’t gotten anywhere near that point. Each section is broken up into 3 subsections (1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 2-1, 2-2, 2-3 etc, just like in the old days) and I’ve never made it past 2-1. /blush

Nuclear Throne is damned difficult, at least for me. I shouldn’t like it given my predispositions. Every time you die you start over at level 1-1 again. This should, and does, breed frustration in me and I’ve got issues with controlling my frustration. And yet I find the game to be super fun due to its most important feature. And what is that feature? A quick restart option.

OK I’m being slightly tongue in cheek, but not really. When you die you have two choices. You can go back to the main menu and think about what you want to do next, or you can hit R and in just a couple of seconds be back in the game shooting again. For me at least, this is important because it doesn’t give me time to sulk. There’s nothing liking dying in a game and then staring at a loading screen for 2 minutes before you can get back to the fun. That just feels like you’re being punished for failing. In Nuclear Throne the death screams of your in-game persona will still be rebounding off the walls of your office when you get back to the shooting. Well they would be if your in-game persona had a voice.

Of course what’s also important is that the moment-to-moment gameplay is so satisfying. And between the random levels, random drops and (I think) random mutation offerings each attempt feels different. You can even pick a random character to play, after which that random choice will remain every time you do a quick restart.

Nuclear Throne is on PC now for $13 (again, Early Access) and it supposed to be coming to the Playstation ecosystem at some point (PS4, PS3 & Vita) according to a post on the Playstation Blog from last May. I give it my thumbs up, if you’re into this kind of game.

Here’s a random gaming session. See how good I am at failing!

Renegade Ops is a twin-stick shooter from Sega that came out in 2011. You can buy it on Steam; I’m playing it on the PS3. The game world of Renegade Ops is broken up into Missions or Stages. You play as one of several characters, each with a unique special ability. Your character earns experience as you play and when it levels up it gets points to spend towards various perks. Each character has 3 tracks of perks and within a track you have to unlock perks sequentially. You can equip 4 perks at a time. Aside from earning perk points, character level doesn’t matter as far as I can tell. You don’t get more health or firepower based on level, just based on the perks you equip.

Renegade Ops has no manual save system. You start the game with a finite number of lives (this number can be increased by certain perks) and when you’re out of lives it’s game over, start over from the beginning of the stage you last died on. Your character level is persistent and is saved as soon as you achieve a new level, so each time you begin again you’ll be higher level even if you didn’t complete a stage.

I hadn’t played Renegade Ops in a long time. When I went back to it last night I was on Stage 9 and my favored character was level 30-something. I’d unlocked all the perks in one track (a track centered on her special power, which is to call in an airstrike) and about half in a second track (a track centered on increasing health and starting lives), and it looks like I was ignoring the third track (a track centered on ammo).

The game felt pretty fresh to me when I first started playing again. It’s a fun but pretty simple game. You’re in a vehicle and have a primary weapon and can find a secondary weapon. Primary ammo is unlimited. Enemies drop powerups for the primary weapon, a variety of secondary weapons (you can swap out a dropped weapon for whatever is currently equipped, losing the equipped weapon), health packs, and ammo packs for the secondary weapons. I got a good way into the stage before I lost all my lives. I started over, played for long time and died again. Started a 3rd time, and by now my memory of the game had started to return, and I remembered frustration. I got to what I think is the end of the stage and there’s this long fight in a constrained space and I lost my last life there.

At that point I rage-quit and pulled up the menu to delete the game forever because I felt like I was never going to beat it. Yeah I unlocked a few more perks during these attempts but nothing that felt like they were going to significantly change things. The problem was my skill level and a certain amount of cheapness to the game (powerful enemies will start firing on you before you can see them, shooting at you from off-screen). And I thought “What a shame, I was having fun, too.”

And then the new gaming outlook kicked in. I WAS HAVING FUN. So what if I didn’t beat the stage and move on to another stage where the mechanics would be essentially the same. Renegade Ops doesn’t have a compelling story…it barely has a story at all. I thought back to the old arcade days. I didn’t play Asteroids or Defender to ‘beat’ them; I played them because they were fun to play. Sure I wanted to do better but I wasn’t trying to finish them so I could move on to something else.

I realized I was playing Renegade Ops to ‘finish’ it so I could set it aside. (Part of the reason I started this delve into older games is that my PS3 hard drive is getting full and I wanted to ‘knock out’ a few games so I could delete them and free up space.)

I didn’t delete Renegade Ops. And I’ll play it some more. But I won’t play it to ‘beat it.’ I’ll play it because it’s semi-mindless fun. Unlimited ammo and huge explosions and nothing the least bit heavy. There’s no story to speak of, no lesson being taught…it’s just a fun “blow shit up” kind of game. And I’m going to treat it that way. If I never get off of Stage 9, so what, as long as the moment-to-moment gameplay is scratching an itch.

But it’s still nice to have a goal. So my new goal will be to unlock all the perks for this character, just to say I’ve done it. Or maybe I’ll level up some of the other characters. We’ll see. And yeah, sure, I’ll still be TRYING to beat Stage 9, but I’ll try not to get frustrated if I don’t make it. And when driving around causing mayhem stops being fun I’ll just set the game aside again, until sometime months or years from now I get the itch again.