Category Archives: Games

Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Frozen Wilds DLC Is Beautiful

Horizon: Zero Dawn is my game of the year. There’s no other game of 2017 I’ve enjoyed anywhere near as much. I got it on March 1st and within a week I had the platinum trophy. It’s not a perfect game- and there are flaws to be found such as the lack of interesting side-quests and the somewhat empty feeling to its gorgeous cities. It falls short of the standard of The Witcher 3, but comparing any game to such a complete masterpiece feels a little unfair. Horizon: Zero Dawn stands as the best title I’ve played this year because of its excellent storytelling, voice acting and world building. Guerrilla Games’ vision of a post-apocalyptic Earth is resoundingly imaginative and the spectacular artistic design is realized with slick, cutting-edge graphics. And that’s where we reach the subject of today’s post. I recently played through the Frozen Wilds DLC and like the game proper it’s beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that I had to keep pausing the game during missions to indulge the Photo Mode. It’s quite fun actually. My idea for today’s post is not so much to review the game as to celebrate it. It’s my favorite game of the year, and I figured what better way to salute it than to share with you all a gallery of my favorite screenshots? All of these are taken by yours truly. Want a review of Frozen Wilds? Well here it is: if you liked HZD, this is basically just more of it.

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My trusty synthetic ram Hemingway, before he got his horns blown off by a rampaging Fire Bellowback (see below).

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I found that the DLC definitely ramped-up the challenge. One of my favorite aspects of the base game was the unique tactics required for each encounter. New enemies such as Scorchers and Frostclaws will throw you around like a rag doll.

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The game is set in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park, north of where the base game takes place (Colorado & Utah). And I’m pretty sure what you see below is Devil’s Tower.

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This is an example of DLC done right. It’s reasonably priced and worth every penny. No Season Pass horseshit. Guerrilla Games took their time and crafted something designed wholly for the fans to enjoy.

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In preparation for this post I headed to Yellowstone’s famous geysers to take some photos only to get distracted and start harassing a peaceful herd of Tramplers…

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Thanks for reading! Let me know in the comments what games you had the most fun with this year!

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Is Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus Worth Your Money?

In my Wolfenstein: The New Order review I wrote about how I was initially drawn to the game because of an Amazon Prime TV series called The Man in the High Castle. The show was hot with me and I wanted more of that postwar alternate history in my life. I went on to enjoy the game as much as I enjoyed the show that inspired me to pick it up. When the sequel was announced and I saw that the story took place in a Nazi-occupied USA, I was thoroughly, thoroughly excited. The game was released on October 27th, and two days later on the morning of my birthday, my brother drove me to the nearest games retailer and treated me to a copy of The New Colossus.

For today’s post, I’m going to structure it as an alternating sequence of pros and cons, followed by a short conclusion. There are no spoilers here, so all readers are welcome.

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PRO: The biggest strength of the first title is back- that is to say, the story and its characters. What made The New Order great was the fact that despite the absurdity of its world, the characters were complex and their journeys were compelling. It would have been easy to make the characters as crazy and cartoonish as the setting, but instead they are all very nuanced and sympathetic. The game is marketed as dumb fun and on the surface it might look like nothing more than a gallery of creative ways to maim Nazis, but once you get past the grenade smoke and pull the shrapnel out of your eyes you find yourself immersed in a masterful narrative. I love that the events of the first game are revisited in the psychological toll they take on the characters. We are given insights into BJ’s childhood trauma, his sense of grief and anxiety, and the fragility that exists beneath his tough exterior. The cutscenes are fantastic and full in equal measures of charm, wit and emotional depth.

CON: For me, the game does not make effective use of the setting. In the previous title each location seemed to showcase life in a dystopian, Nazi-ruled Europe- be it the Gibraltar Bridge Megastructure, the Croatian Concentration Camp, or the massive high-security prison in Berlin. It had a picaresque feel to it; each level a colorful vignette that explored different parts of the Reich. In Wolfenstein 2, however, we basically get 3 American cities/towns, 1 of which is revisited later on. Everything else takes place in dull, samey military bases of one kind or another. I can’t help but feel like there’s so much missed potential. It would have been interesting to see more of the American people- perhaps at some kind of “Reeducation Camp”, or a jamboree for the American Hitler youth. Perhaps the Nazis redesigned Mount Rushmore to honor Adolf Hitler, or decided to drain the Great Lakes? Imagine seeing the desertification of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula! I was especially disappointed when I found out that the optional assassination missions all take place in different districts of the 3 places we have already seen. Why can’t we see what’s happening in Evansville or Colorado Springs?

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PRO: The gameplay is still super fun, and by extension the game as a whole can be thus considered a successful game. The New Colossus has earned praise for its weapons, and it very much deserves it. I had a ton of fun using the heavy weapons and blasting apart the armor plating of encroaching Übersoldaten and Laserhunds. There are plenty of moments of high-octane, intense combat which will see you spray the rooms with lead and fire before throwing a hatchet at the commanding officer’s face and diving out the way as a nearby fuel tank explodes.

CON: The level design is awful in this game. Not only are the levels uninteresting as places, but they lack the clever pacing and structure of The New Order. There’s something messy about them that makes them feel like nothing more than a sequence of chaotic action set pieces. There’s also something repetitive about them as well. You’ll navigate an area that gives you the option to stealthily take out the commanding officers or go in guns blazing, only to enter the next area and be slapped with the exact same scenario. In The New Order, however, the missions would have this well-crafted sense of narrative pacing; a given level would start out with stealth, story and puzzles, before building up to a dramatic, action-oriented finish that it earns. Not so much in The New Colossus I’m afraid.

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PRO: You get to ride a Panzerhund. This was something I’ve been looking forward to since the game’s announcement at Bethesda’s e3 press conference. The razor-toothed, Fahrenheit 451-style mechanical hounds are iconic to the series in much the same way that the Big Daddys are to Bioshock. Getting to ride one and douse the Nazis in belches of flame was a helluva time, and probably my favorite moment of the game from a purely gameplay perspective.

CON: The prologue is nowhere near as good as The New Order. I know this is more of a criticism of The New Colossus as a sequel rather than a game, but I was hoping for an opening a little more memorable. I liked the cutscenes and flashbacks, and the haunting confrontation with Engel served as good motivation going forward, but the fight aboard the U-Boat just seemed to fall short of the standard set by the assault on Deathshead’s castle. The wheelchair was a nice touch but quickly became an annoyance when the lack of agility saw me get helplessly riddled with bullets.

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PRO: I liked the little details in this game. You can certainly play the game as just mindless fun, and as I said, the combat is a blast. But if you do want something more subtle from the experience, there are a bunch of collectible epistles that flesh out the world of Nazi America. Whenever any story exerts self-awareness- especially a video game, in which you have to kill so many people- I’m intrigued. I’m interested in redshirts and games that give them character. The game’s cover shows you standing on a mountain of discarded Nazi helmets; it’s very much marketed as a Nazi-hunter simulator. But if you take the time to read the personal logs you find on your way, you often find yourself in a moral dilemma. I found postcards in which German soldiers wrote to their loved ones back in Europe, and some of them were quite tender and touching. Underneath the futuristic Nazi armor there are human beings with families and lives entirely ordinary. The game even addresses how many people BJ has murdered; we see a grieving mother in one scene, and in another we see BJ let a German soldier run free instead of killing him. The letters and postcards are particularly interesting, because BJ does not comment on them, and we the player have to fill in for his conscience. It makes us uncomfortable, and my takeaway is that the BJ in the world of the game is reading these letters and blocking them out to make his job easier.

CON: Personally I felt the game was in need of more unique encounters in the way of boss battles and vehicles. We had the Panzerhund and that was great, but the fun was over before we knew it. Imagine that the game is a sandwich, and the repetitive shoot-or-stealth scenarios are the upper and lower halves of the hamburger bun. Well the Panzerhund is a single slice of salami in the middle. We need more filling in this sandwich. We could have explored more dynamic swimming gameplay and underwater combat, we could have navigated environmental puzzles, and the game was in dire need of some good secondary villains to terminate on the way to settling the score with Engel. Where was this game’s equivalent of the London Monitor or Deathshead’s mech? The game’s final challenge was little more than a horde of troops. I was expecting something on a bigger scale- this is Wolfenstein after all, where the writers are only as limited as their imagination. Also, the futuristic unicycle was crying out to be used in some kind of swashbuckling escape sequence!

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In conclusion I would say that Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a good game if not a great one. It is definitely worth your money, which is more than I can say for a lot of games these days. The game deserves credit for its artistic integrity and the lack of microtransactions or tacked-on multiplayer modes. The writing is excellent and there’s a good amount of content to keep you busy for a while.  What did you guys think of the game? Let me know in the comments!

The Best Upcoming Games You Haven’t Heard Of!

For this post I’d like to bring to your attention the most ambitious upcoming games you haven’t heard about. These are just a few games I’m real excited for, that I think deserve a bigger slice of the proverbial cheesecake that is the conversation of the gaming community. There are just two rules I’m applying to this list. I’m not including games that I’m looking forward to such as Red Dead Redemption 2, Star Citizen, Metro Exodus, Days Gone et cetera, because there’s no chance any of us are going to forget about these titles or fail to notice when they’re released to a shower of confetti and champagne corks. They’re already well-established hype trains that don’t need any extra marketing. I’m also not including smaller, more classically “indie” games such as Cuphead, The Last Night, and FAR: Lone Sails, all of which I am also curious about and perhaps belong in a different list. Today I simply want to highlight several games I’m looking forward to that, while not having enormous budgets and marketing campaigns, nonetheless have the ambition and sense of scope you might expect from big AAA titles.

 


#5 Agony – Madmind Studio

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The developer’s name says it all really, as we’re left wondering what kind of childhood trauma must have been responsible for the game’s iconic vagina-faced monster. Agony is a game I have been tracking for quite a while as the game’s vague 2017 release date has its small Steam community worrying that it’s been cancelled. It’s since been confirmed that this isn’t the case, but the publishers remain non-committed at this point to a specific release date.

This game looks beautiful- albeit in a horrific, putrid kind of way. The developers, artists and animators deserve special praise for creating a version of hell that feels fresh, fantastical, and nightmarishly surreal. Agony is a survival horror game where you play as a tormented soul trapped in the underworld with no memory. What makes this game interesting from a gameplay point of view is that your ability to survive the harsh conditions of hell is tied to your unique power to possess and control not only other souls, but small demons as well. Keep an eye on this game because it’s going to drop soon for PC, PS4 and Xbox One!

 

#4 System Shock 3 – OtherSide Entertainment

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This is the only game on this list that’s an already established IP. The reason it’s here is because I feel like the sequel to the groundbreaking System Shock 2 deserves more attention and discussion. I want to know what everyone wants from it, what they hope it to be, all of that stuff. There’s nothing like the palpable excitement of a fanbase to compound one’s own giddiness. System Shock 3 has been quietly in development for a couple years now and at present there’s no real release date in sight. What we do know however is that Terri Brosius will be reprising her role as deranged AI villain SHODAN, and that this time around we’ll be getting a deeper look into her motivations for wanting to extinguish the human race.

 

#3 This Land Is My Land – GameLabs

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It’s easy to glance at these screenshots and think you’re looking at Red Dead Redemption 2. But what you’re looking at is its own beast entirely. Little is known about Ukrainian-based GameLabs’ open world western, but what we do know is that it looks gorgeous. What I find particularly intriguing about this title is that it’s got a focus on stealth gameplay, putting you in the shoes of a Native American warrior. This makes for a nice contrast to Red Dead, which I seem to remember being about conflicts between various shades of cowboy.

This game looks to stand out with a few quirks that deviate from the norm in AAA titles, insofar as the environment changes independent of the player’s actions. It should also be noted that no two playthroughs will be the same, as cities grow differently, camps change locations, and patrols change routes, every time you start a new game! This looks to be a very interesting game, so I eagerly await any new details regarding content and release.

 

#2 Project Wight – The Outsiders

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I saw the gameplay demo for this one on Youtube a while back and fell in love at first sight. Not much has been revealed to us since then, but here’s what we do know: it’s a dark, atmospheric open world fantasy RPG with a Nordic setting. The twist is that you are a monster, and you will be feasting on the flesh of the Viking-inspired humans. In a sense the game is also post-apocalyptic, as your race has been pushed to extinction by the hunters of mankind.

Make sure to check this game out on Youtube because it looks like nothing else out there right now. Project Wight sees you play first as a cub in which the gameplay is more stealth-based, using the small spaces of caves to flee your human oppressors, and later as a fully grown beast with sharp claws and fangs at your disposal, allowing you to approach your hunters in a more aggressive manner. It’s also revealed that you have these batlike wings, allowing you to glide off of mountains and terrorize the forests below. This looks to be an interesting and dynamic way with which to expand upon the concept of an open world. Many games have given us the ground and the sea, but how many have given us the sky as well? It’s my opinion that verticality only improves games, so I’ll be very curious to see how this turns out.

 

#1 Freeman Star Edge – KK Game Studio

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I hope this one works out, because it’s easily the most ambitious game on this list. This game promises so much that it will understandably make some people suspicious. Can it really deliver a game of such scale? Well we’ll have to wait and find out, but from what I’ve seen so far, I’ve been very impressed. In an age where so many mainstream games feel like hollow cash-grabs with just enough content to be considered a game at all, you can forgive me for getting hyped about a title that actually seems like it is being made to give players the richest experience possible. This is a project that reminds me of the times when games were driven by passion and not unabated greed.

Freeman Star Edge is an open world, action RPG set in the far future that promises a slew of features such as large scale space combat, looting, crafting, mining, exploration, base-building and stealth. This honestly is the gaming equivalent of a massive taco stuffed to the brim to various ingredients. There are giant futuristic cities that actually feel like real metropolises you can lose yourself in, as well as frozen wastelands whose vast emptiness extends in every direction as far as you can see. It’s a stitching together of the Sims, Mass Effect 1, Star Wars: Galaxies, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Dark Cloud, and Skyrim. The way the character in the gameplay demo crept around a house stealing from desks reminded me a lot of the Elder Scrolls games. The footage I’ve seen looks very good, although not quite as slick as the others on this list. You can join in with faction-based PvP combat or stick to furnishing your apartment if you’re more interested in single player exploits like myself. The choice is yours!

The Observer: A 10-Step Review

Recently I finished playing a real nugget. I unearthed The Observer on the Playstation 4 last week and completed it a few days later, playing for a few short hours in the evenings. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s probably because the game has only been out for a couple weeks. Polish game developer Bloober Team released this disturbing cyberpunk horror on August 15th and it currently holds a 9/10 rating on Steam. This little game has been collecting high scores like a carcass does flies. I figured I would partake in the feast, and I’ve decided to try something a little different with my review structure. Instead of an essay, I’m going to give you a 10-step review process, in which each point addresses a different aspect of my experience with this game. I’ll order the steps as a chronology of my playthrough, so that you can get a feel for my developing opinions on the game and how I arrived at my overall conclusion. Here we go!

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  1. How did I come to play this game? I discovered The Observer by mistaking it for something else. I saw a screenshot on social media of a game that the poster described as being a “science-fiction detective game” that was “just beautiful” to look at. Naturally I stopped everything I was doing and immediately fired up the Station. What I thought I was getting was a game I had vaguely made a note to remember called Without Memory. That title is a multiple-choice, interactive drama- an Until Dawn style thriller set in a Dystopian future- and is still in development. When I discovered that The Observer was in fact its own thing entirely, I was still sufficiently intrigued to make the 30-dollar purchase.

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  1. So what kind of game is it? The game it reminds me of most is the fantastic Soma by Frictional Games. You can click here to get my thoughts on that. It also reminds me of Kholat, if you’ve ever tried that. The Observer at times feels like both a walking simulator and a survival horror game. There are a few sequences where you have to get your stealth on and avoid unmitigated molestation by mutant horrors, whose deformity and lumbering gait will conjure up memories of Soma. But this is no Outlast or Amnesia. The vast majority of your play time will be spent navigating puzzles, investigating crime scenes, and interviewing NPC’s. What little sneak-past-the-bogeyman moments there are in the game are pretty easy, even if you’re not a veteran of the genre. The mutants are definitely not as hard to outwit as those in Soma, which locked on to your exact location if you even so much as glanced at them. Instead the stealth elements reminded me of that one mission in Spyro 2 where you have to follow Agent Zero to his secret hideout in the Cloud Temples level. The mutant is similarly a big doofus that you can basically outwit by following just a few feet behind, and take cover from when he inexplicably stops at every corner to do the slow, none-too-subtle “I’m in a video game!” thing of checking over his shoulder. I can probably count the game’s stealth moments on one hand. Because of the blurry lines the game establishes about what is real and what is a simulation, you do get lulled into a false sense of security. The sense of immediate peril lurking behind the next corner (that you get with Soma) is not there. And that is why I agree with the developer calling it a “hidden horror” rather than a “survival horror”. Yes, there are a few scenes where you have to avoid getting violated by a cybernetic mutant- but the game’s not really about that. It’s a horror in the atmospheric sense. And this game has atmosphere down to a T. You’re walking around a dilapidated tenement block in the slums of a dystopian Krakow. It’s raining, there are ravens, and the buildings have that chilling, bleak quality that reminds me of that one horror film I watched once- Hostel 2.

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  1. So what’s the premise? The story to me is the strongest aspect of the whole experience, along with the masterful atmosphere. Cyberpunk is defined entirely by its setting. They are stories that feature advanced technology juxtaposed with the smaller scale of a near-future Earth, focusing on urban low-life and societal decay. And The Observer is without a doubt the most quintessentially cyberpunk narrative I have ever experienced. It’s a world dominated by all-powerful, faceless, Kafkaesque corporations. Chiron is one such bureaucratic monolith- a technology corporation that uses its power to establish the Fifth Polish Republic. It’s a dystopia that’s both a corporate republic and a police state. Chiron controls its populace with a policing unit known as Observers who have unrestricted access to hack people’s minds with cybernetic augmentations called Dream Eaters. You are Daniel Lazarski, an elite Observer styled after the old, grizzled detectives of Film Noir. The game begins with you receiving a call from your estranged son who lives in the drug-infested squalor reserved for Class-C citizens. He’s in trouble, and you rush over to his apartment building to find out what’s going on. Shortly after you arrive, the building mysteriously goes into lockdown. It’s up to you to investigate a series of dead bodies and interview witnesses with the hope of finding your son. Of course, because of the lockdown, the deranged killer is trapped in the tenement building with you…

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  1. What is the gameplay like? As I mentioned earlier, this is primarily a game of puzzle-solving and story-driven exploration. It’s a tightly-contained narrative that takes place entirely within the same claustrophobic apartment complex. Your cybernetic abilities give you two options with which to scan your surroundings with clues. These are Bio-Vision and Electromagnetic-Vision. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, the former allows you to scan biological matter such as corpses, blood stains and the like, whilst the latter allows you to hack into electronic devices. It’s a neat idea and a great way to blend the gameplay with the setting. The world of the game is one where humanity has become more and more augmented with cybernetic modifications. That’s essentially what Chiron does, is manufacture these upgrades that cater to a world that’s becoming less and less human. And as neat as these two modes are as an idea, in practice I found them to be frustrating. To put it simply, the two modes look awful. I know the game’s meant to be bleak and inhuman, but I hated switching to Bio-Vision especially because it hurt my eyes to look at it. It’s hard to make things out when the screen is covered in blinding light and I just feel this could have been done better. The doors in this game are a bit funny too. In order to open them you have to hold down the right trigger and then push the analog stick either forwards or back depending on the direction you want to go. I wasn’t a fan, especially on those doors that made you stand for ages going in circles with your thumb.

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  1. This game is far from a smooth experience. I encountered my first glitch after about 45 minutes of gameplay. The game froze on me and I was booted back to the PS4 home screen. I found the stairwells to be most problematic- every time I entered one the game felt a little laggy and in danger of freezing again.

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  1. The puzzles are a mixed bag. I’m not the best at puzzle games because I’m about as patient as 6-year old kid in dire need of a piss on a long car journey. I’m here for the story. The puzzles here are definitely more challenging than Soma. Most are encountered in the game’s Dream Eater sequences- the surreal episodes where you hack into a person’s memories. The developers seem fond of illogical architecture and giving the player the helpless feel of being in a nightmare, and they certainly do that. I think if puzzles are your jam then you’ll be satisfied, but personally I found that I left the Dream Eater scenes with the feeling of “Thank fuck that’s over”. My favorite puzzles were the one where you keep reentering the same room and have to pay close attention to the TV, and the one where you have to sneak through a cornfield, occasionally jumping into cover to avoid hovering sentinels with flashlights. Some of the puzzles were decidedly not my rum & coke, and those were the ones where you spend ages looking for a solution that is in no way hinted at and have to give up on and find a walkthrough online. Other puzzles are more familiar, intuitive challenges involved at getting industrial machinery to work. These usually take place outside the Dream Eater scenes and are more reminiscent of Soma.

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  1. The Forest Puzzle can go fuck itself. Not the most nuanced or elegant criticism, I know. But this one I really struggled with, even with the help of an online walkthrough. The idea behind it was great, but it punishes you not through its logic but through its blinding visuals. Trying to find those light-green boxes in such awful conditions strained my eyes. Not a fan of the execution, but I do think the idea was good because it was a puzzle that tied in so well to the idea of becoming disconnected from reality.

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  1. The game succeeds as a piece of visual art. Even though I think the visuals of the Bio and Electromagnetic Visions are awful (mostly because you can’t see a damn thing) the overall aesthetic style of the game is a resounding success. The game’s clever use of color brought me back to my days studying Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear in film class. There are some really interesting images that the game gives you. It is at once beautiful, vomit-inducing, surreal, dreamlike and sinister. The developers ought to be congratulated because it is so artistically imaginative. It’s a visceral experience with a suffocating atmosphere. As the game goes on you start to question your character’s sanity and the struggle he has to maintain a hold of it is very well executed. There are hallucinations, virtual reality simulations and dreams-within-dreams. Enjoy all the screenshots I have taken!

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  1. What themes does The Observer explore? The game is very much channeling the spirit of Philip K. Dick. It’s a depressing future where people lose touch with reality by spending so much time consumed with drugs and VR. At one point I wondered if the residents of the tenement building had no idea how run-down it actually was, and were perhaps perceiving it differently through VR mods. But every now and then NPC’s would comment on what a supreme shithole it is. The dream sequences do a good job of bringing the themes to light; the one with the children with TV sets as heads being my favorite example. These disturbing kids represent not only that the people have their heads trapped in fake realities, but that they are losing their humanity through the incorporation of more and more augmentations to their bodies. These ideas are relevant to our own times and the age of technology that we live in. Chiron, too, represents a grim look at the growing power of corporations and their ability to control people.

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  1. In conclusion, this game was worth my time and I think it’s worth yours too. The setting and atmosphere in this game are very well crafted, and that’s what really made this game for me. The character development was solid, but I wasn’t as invested in Daniel Lazarski as I was in Soma’s Simon Jarett. Some of the puzzles weren’t for me, but others were a welcome change from my usual indulgence in action-oriented of AAA games. The Observer is available on Steam, Playstation 4, and Xbox One! Give it a go!

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5 Places in Video Games I’d Like to Get a Drink!

You know me- I’m all about that single player experience. My favorite games tend to be story-driven RPG’s with immersive open worlds. Ever since I was a child I have been drawn to fantastical settings and I think the best speculative worlds are those that feel real, imbued with the atmosphere of being lived-in. Personally I have always been particularly fixated on the small details of world building- the mundane minutiae that lends a place its atmosphere. So I thought it would be fun to list my favorite taverns, cantinas and watering holes that are featured in some of my favorite games. Let me know in the comments where you would like to get a cold one after a long day murdering NPC’s!

 



#5 The Satyr Lounge

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Game: Bioshock Infinite – Burial at Sea Part 1

Location: Rapture

What’s on offer: Cocktails! I imagine no expense is spared in this classy establishment that caters to Rapture’s upper class.

Best time to visit: Literally any time before New Year’s Eve 1958.

Trivia: This is the only place on this list that is inaccessible to the player. But I included it because it just looked so damn nice. Located in Rapture’s Market Street strip, this lounge and bar oozes class, opulence, and intimacy with its Art Deco vibes and stylish noir atmosphere.

 

 

#4 Nightgate Inn

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Game: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Location: The Pale

What’s on offer: Ale, Argonian Bloodwine, Black-Briar Mead, Honningbrew Mead, Milk, and Nord Mead make for a solid list of drinks. If you are feeling peckish then Hadring can prepare you some Seared Slaughterfish, as well as traditional Skyrim pub favorites such as Cooked Beef, Baked Potatoes, Bread & Butter, Leg of Goat Roast, wedges of Eider Cheese and Honey Nut Treats!

Best time to visit: The inn is situated on the road that goes from Dawnstar to Windhelm, and makes most of its income from travelers and merchants making the journey between the two cities. The Nightgate makes the ideal halfway point where you can stop for the night and sleep in a warm bed. Best time to visit would be before sundown, so you don’t freeze to death or get beaten senseless by a Frost Troll’s erect cock.

Trivia: For some reason, out of all of Skyrim’s many taverns, this one has always been the most memorable for me. I find the atmosphere here to be super-cozy in that haunted, spooky kind of way. It makes me think of folk tales and scary stories, and is located in the valley between two mountain ranges.

 

 

#3 Entertainment Module 081 Cantina

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Game: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords

Location: Telos Citadel Station

What’s on offer: The droid that tends the bar offers a range of food and drinks from a plethora of worlds. This cantina has more of a cabaret feel, and patrons can enjoy the Bith musicians, dancing Twi-Leks (probably the most sexualized species in the Star Wars canon. Believe me if this game were developed by CD Projekt Red they’d all be getting their tits out), swoop racing, and a designated Pazaak Room!

Best time to visit: I’m sure a place like this is open all night long. Just know however that the doors get magnetically sealed when genocidal Sith Lords in hockey masks show up…

Trivia: This may not seem like the obvious choice, given that both KOTOR 1 and 2 are filled with all sorts of interesting cantinas. There’s Javyar’s Den on Taris and that place with the funky music on Onderon, to name a couple. But I remember my 13-year old dork self being quite enthralled by the design and atmosphere of the Citadel Station in general, and its lively cantina always had lots going on.

 

 

#2 Flux

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Game: Mass Effect

Location: Citadel

What’s on offer: This place has a bar area, a casino, and a nightclub all in one! Whatever you want, it’s got.

Best time to visit: When you know an important public figure- an admiral or a diplomat- is present, so you can eavesdrop on all the latest political gossip.

Trivia: Flux presents a much more wholesome, classy place to drink than its seedy counterpart Chora’s Den. I’ll always remember Flux because it was featured in the gameplay demos Bioware uploaded to Youtube months before the game’s release. This was my first ever look at Mass Effect. One time before we left for football/soccer training, my friends and I gathered at my house and I showed everyone this little dev diary. I remember specifically this shot of a woman sitting on a man’s lap and my friend screaming “LOOK WHERE HIS HAND IS. LOOK!”

 

 

#1 Cunny of the Goose

Velen

Game: The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

Location: Grassy Knoll

What’s on offer: Mahakaman Spirit, Dijkstra Dry, Temerian Rye, Redanian Herbal and Nilfgaardian Lemon if you like the stronger stuff. If not, you can always get yourself a frothing tankard of Viziman Champion, Redanian Lager, Rivian Kriek or Kaedweni Stout.

Best time to visit: The evening- you can watch the sunset over the lake and hope inside for a bit of drinking, dancing and whoring before it gets cold!

Trivia: The name of this tavern is hilarious. It gets my top spot because I love its scenic location. Like everything else in the Witcher 3 it’s beautifully rendered. Ultimately I’d feel real comfortable having a drink here, contemplating life in the glow of the dock’s lamps, amid the silence of the lake at night.

 

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The Games of My Formative Years: Oblivion

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was the reason I got an Xbox 360. It was a game that I heard about completely through word of mouth; right up until the day I got it, I had not watched any footage or seen any screenshots. It was October 29th, 2006, and my 14th birthday. I had requested the game on the word of other kids at school. I have distinct memories of hearing reports of the game during IT classes and lunch breaks. I asked what it was exactly and I remember someone telling me that it was a game so big that once it started, you had no obligation to follow the story, and that you could wander around a fantastical land “joining factions”. It was this part that sold it to me. The promise of freedom. As much as I loved KOTOR, that game still had a narrative that kept going forward. This however was a concept completely alien to me. It was a promise of a game so big I could literally ignore the “main story”.

So I ended up getting the game for my birthday and it turned out to be every bit as big as I had imagined. I actually have quite a vivid memory of that morning. My little brother had a rugby game and so he and my father were both out of the house for the morning. I started playing the game and I remember feeling blown away by the opening sequence. It may not seem like much by today’s Hollywood-standard cutscenes, but back then it was something truly special to behold. The camera gave a slow, panoramic view of this strange, beautiful and distinctive city and the epic Jeremy Soule soundtrack came in at just the right moment after Patrick Stewart’s narration. It just seemed to hit the right spot and I remember feeling two things I had never felt for a game before. Firstly, I remember feeling in awe of the editing of this sequence, the way all the parts fitted perfectly together to give an exciting, cinematic appeal. Secondly, I believe that Oblivion was the first game that I remember feeling completely amazed by the graphics. This might sound silly, but years after I had stopped playing Oblivion, I was afraid to put the disc back in the ol’ 360 out of fear that the visuals wouldn’t be quite as stunning as I remembered. At the time I simply couldn’t get over it. I even called my parents in on occasion and had them admire the water effects of one of Cyrodiil’s dappled brooks. And back then it was rare to praise a game for its graphics. We knew at the time that the graphics for a lot of the games we played were bad. The technology was in its infancy; I remember playing the Harry Potter games as a kid with a friend of mine who lived a few doors down the road, and we couldn’t stop laughing at the facial animations. Hermione looked like she had been repeatedly smacked in the face with the flat side of a skillet.

At the time I started my first playthrough, I had too little a knowledge of RPG’s to pick stats that I would later be happy with. I remember picking the Archer class and never using a bow and arrow. The sense of freedom and choice was overwhelming at first. I was mostly used to being told where to go and what was expected of me. During the escape through the sewers at the beginning I got my first taste of action in the form of the Mythic Dawn assassins. I remember thinking how realistic the sound effects seemed to be- the clashing of metal on metal as swords, shields, breastplates and helmets smashed together, the blood-curdling cries of the emperor’s bodyguards in which you could hear the sound of their primal blood frenzy. It seemed to signal a shift towards more adult games from the whimsical adventure games I had grown up on. It was a shift I was actually conscious of as it was happening. I remember my mother coming in my room with her round, concerned Welsh face and asking me “Is this new game a bit violent?” in a way that seemed to be saying to me It’s okay if you don’t want to play it any more.

I ended up at the city of Chorrol where I had to find some guy. On the way there was a highwayman that popped out of the trees. I think he was a Khajiit. I probably gave him my gold and headed on up to the city stables. When I got there, for whatever reason I attacked one of the horses in the corral. It was at this point that I ended up getting chased by the mare (who turned out to be a complete thug) and two city guards who witnessed the crime. I fled south, into the forest and turned around to discover that, to my horror, my attackers were still hot on my tail. What the hell was I supposed to do? I thought. Am I going to have to kill or be killed? I kept running and the horse kept chasing, followed by the guards. As we went further and further into the forest we started to attract the attention of goblins and giant spiders and before I knew it I was at the head of a Conga Line of Tolkien stock characters. Fortunately for me, the spiders started attacking the horse and I was able to escape. By the time I stopped running I emerged out of the south side of the forest and it was night. I was at the gates of a Gothic-looking city and I can still recall the rain beating against the cobblestone. It was at this point that the game froze on me.

Despite this first experience of the game, Oblivion went on to become one of my favorite games of all time. I realize that I can’t separate nostalgia from my opinion of the game, but I do believe that Oblivion is superior to Skyrim in a lot of ways. Skyrim for sure takes the cake in the gameplay department; the combat is much more fluid and intuitive. The whole experience of Skyrim is more streamlined, and that starts with the changes to the character creation. Oblivion feels much more like a hardcore RPG and I love how you can create and name your own class. Although Skyrim looks better and offers finer cosmetics, Oblivion’s character creation has more depth in terms of its stats. For me, Oblivion felt much more immersive and imaginative, with stronger side quests and faction storylines. I also think the cities are more interesting in Oblivion, and nothing in Skyrim compares to the Imperial City and its fighting arena. In Skyrim there are five cities and a bunch of hamlets. Don’t get me wrong, I do like Skyrim, but there’s something about Oblivion I find more engrossing.

It’s by no means a perfect game, and this is by no means an objective article. I like to think of this blog as my online journal and in this series I’m writing about the games I played in those critical years of my life. For the most part I’m referring to my teenage years, so expect titles from the original Xbox and the early days of the Xbox 360. I wish I had played Morrowind, and I intend to do so one day. During those days at school when everyone was talking about Oblivion, I remember a friend of mine telling me that Morrowind “had a better story”. Let me know your experiences of The Elder Scrolls games, or any other games that had a particular significance to you in the comments. If you enjoyed this post and want to see me do more content like this, please consider giving me a Like or Subscribe! Thanks for reading.

The Games of My Formative Years: Knights of the Old Republic

I had to double-check the definition of “formative-years” in preparation for this post. It turned out that it means exactly what I hoped it would, and exactly what it sounds like. Typically your formative years are the years that have a strong influence on who you are throughout your life. The years in which you built an identity for yourself and found your own unique voice as a person. For many folks, these years take place during adolescence. When I started developing my idea for this post, I knew that I wanted to revisit the games that really shaped me as a gamer and determined my gaming tastes and identity for the years to come. So that’s why this post is called The Games of My Formative Years and not The Games of My Adolescence. And it absolutely can be considered a sequel to my earlier post Games Of My Childhood.

In that post I covered four games- three Playstation 3D platform-adventures and one JRPG- and I discussed how those games resonated with me as a little kid and why I was drawn to them. I will follow a similar structure in this post (but with more in-depth analyses across several articles), and hopefully give you an insight into the nucleus of my gaming identity. I am always interested in hearing about other people’s nostalgia, so please share the games that had such a profound effect on you in the comments. I always talk with my roommate about the stories behind how he got into the games he did and what factors played a role in determining his gaming identity, so I very much encourage you to share your journeys with me!

 


Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

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Growing up I was always a bigger Star Wars fan than I was a gamer. The selection of games I got was very narrow, and I ended up getting A LOT of Star Wars games (and books…and action figures…). So whenever I try to make a power ranking of my favorite all time games, there are always several Star Wars titles that make it into the top 10, because I have such fond memories of them, and they occurred during those years that formed such vivid and intense impressions on me. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic transcends mere nostalgia however. It still stands as my favorite all-time video game, edging out even The Witcher 3– which I’ve been known to defend (and worship) like a sailor in possession of the last bottle of rum.

I discovered KOTOR at the age of 12 by reading an article on it in the official Xbox magazine, which for some reason we had a random issue of. The piece went on for several pages and was complete with beautiful images depicting the Jedi academy on Dantooine and the sun-splashed beaches of Rakata Prime. I remember distinctly looking at a screenshot of the Taris Upper City, seeing the player character surrounded by gleaming spires and sassy pedestrians. The caption read something like “Immerse yourself in a living, breathing world” and at that point I was hooked. I had never quite seen or heard of a game like that before. The only RPG I had ever played at that point was Pokemon, which was 2D, black-and-white, and completely without the same sense of scale and wonder. KOTOR seemed like a game designed to meet my personal specifications; it promised nonlinear gameplay and hub areas where I could talk to ordinary citizens, visit shops, drink in cantinas, and essentially live in the Star Wars universe. And that’s something I’ve always wanted more than anything- to get inside the fantastic worlds I watched in the movies and read about in the novels of the Expanded Universe. AND the game promised that I could create my own character, right down to his likeness and his profile as a Jedi Knight. What more could I ask for?!

I asked to get the game for Christmas of 2004. At the time there were actually two games that I asked for. The other was Jedi Outcast, because I had loved Jedi Academy so much and wanted more of it. I was lucky to have received both, but it was KOTOR that won my heart. We have this tradition in my family that we save a few small gifts for Boxing Day that we call “Tree Presents”. On December 26th, our aunt, uncle and cousins will come over and we’ll have a Boxing Day meal before opening them. Despite being completely enamored with the advertisement of KOTOR in the Xbox magazine, put down Jedi Outcast as my main present request. So I got Outcast on Christmas Day, not knowing that KOTOR had been put back to Boxing Day. This next part is truly pathetic. Being the hormonal 12 year old that I was, I started crying on Boxing Day, thinking that I had missed my chance at getting this game. My sweet aunt found me on the stairs and asked what was wrong, and somehow I still had the self-awareness to realize that I was being a spoiled brat, so I said something like “I guess I’m just going through puberty, and I’m worried that Christmas won’t be as fun now that I’m growing up”. I know, I know. What a dork, right?

It took me a while to get the hang of KOTOR. Up until this point, I had only really played linear adventure titles. All of a sudden I was wandering the streets of Taris and not really knowing where to go or what to do. When I did finally get used to the whole RPG thing, the game revealed itself to be everything it promised AND MORE. There is a reason that Knights of the Old Republic is my favorite Star Wars property of all time, regardless of medium. The fact that it took place 4000 years before the events of the movies gave it an incredible amount of creative freedom and a real sense of freshness. The quality of the writing and dialogue was far superior to that of George Lucas’ movies. For the first time I felt like I was getting a Star Wars narrative that was nuanced, complex and mature. I remember Saturday mornings; my brother and I were sitting cross-legged in our pajamas, and we were shocked that a Star Wars character had used the world “bloody” (which, in the UK is a soft swear word).

I liked the scale of the narrative, gazing in amazement at seeing the Sith existing not as hidden shadows but openly as a rival institution to the Republic. We got to talk to Sith troopers and officers who had thoughts and opinions of their own, that led lives as normal and mundane as those of the Republic troopers opposite them. For the most part they were remnants of the Republic army that had fought in the Mandalorian wars, and they and the Republic seemed like rival superpowers, much like the USA and Russia during the Cold War. The planet Manaan was always particularly intriguing because of its neutrality in the galactic conflict. It gave us a nuanced setting in which both of these superpowers wanted the precious resource Kolto, which was harvested by the native Selkath in an underwater chasm known as the Hrakert Rift. We had this great setting that presented two rival powers as political institutions, each of them vying for diplomatic favor. There was tension and intrigue between the officers on Ahto City, and we could go around and talk to the Sith and see that they were just as human as the Republic, the only notable exception being that the latter talked in heroic American accents and the Sith were cast as smug Victorian imperialists. It’s okay though. I actually find it quite funny and amusing that the British accent seems to be the accent of choice for the villains in the Star Wars universe. Just look at Grand Moff Tarkin and practically every other Imperial officer in the film series.

All of the worlds had a unique and interesting story. On Kashyyyk we were presented with another interesting and nuanced narrative that seemed to draw on real world issues, this time with the introduction of Czerka Corporation as a greedy, profit-hungry company intent on securing a monopoly on the Wookie slave trade. I liked Czerka because they were a different kind of villainous entity than what we were used to with the Star Wars universe. Then you had Korriban, where you had to go undercover as a Sith acolyte and get inducted into the academy. It just seemed like every mission was unique and well thought out. I realize at this point that I’m beginning to sound like a complete sycophant, but let’s just drop all the pretentions and come clean: that’s exactly what I am. I think the system in which almost every planet had a hub area followed by a wild area really worked well. The game beats out Mass Effect, because the Mass Effect series never really settled on what it wanted to be. Everyone had a different idea about what they wanted from the games, and as such the series was tugged in many different directions as it went on, and each title felt incomplete and never fully satisfying. I was always on the side that wanted the series to massively increase the RPG elements for which Bioware became famous. The company was built on the legendary titles of Jade Empire, Baldur’s Gate, and best of all KOTOR. In the first Mass Effect game we had Noveria, which almost seemed to channel the model of the KOTOR planets by having a hub area followed by a more wild, action-orientated area. But the problem was that the hub area on Noveria was lifeless and without much interesting stuff to do or explore. And sadly the series never really fulfilled its RPG aspirations, culminating in the diarrhea-clogged mess that was Andromeda.

Ranting about Mass Effect’s flaws might seem irrelevant to this post, but it’s far from it. Ultimately what I took away from Mass Effect says a lot about my expectations as a gamer, and those were shaped by my playing of games like KOTOR during my formative years. The impression this game made on me was so strong that it determined by and large what I would want from a game in the future. If I had grown up playing games like Halo and Splinter Cell, would my takeaway from Mass Effect have been different? What do you think? What games drove you as crazy as KOTOR drove me?