Tag Archives: Gaming

How Detroit: Become Human Put an End to my Gaming Slump

I was hesitant about the idea that Detroit: Become Human would be the title that broke my gaming slump. I’m also hesitant to spend full price on any AAA game these days- especially something I’m not familiar with. The rhetoric from my most trusted reviewers (“wildcard” Youtubers Yahtzee Croshaw, Jim Sterling, & Angry Joe) was that David Cage games were pretentious orgies of QTE’s, resembling laughably-bad interactive movies rather than actual games. And the opinions of reviewers I tend to regard with suspicion (IGN & Gamespot) were that Cage’s body of work represented not only his staggering genius, but an entirely unique and innovative approach to storytelling. Perhaps the truth lay somewhere in the middle, I thought. Or perhaps it all depends on the kind of gamer you are. I knew right off the bat that I’d be sympathetic to Cage’s mission statement, since I always give a greater importance to story than to gameplay.

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I kept an eye on the promotional footage of Detroit up until its release and I was very impressed by its visuals. The game came out and I waited for the reviews. I just needed to hear that the story was decent. Androids were in vogue with me at the time, and it may just have been my joyful experiences of Blade Runner 2049 and Westworld season 2 that sealed the deal. I needed a rich world to get lost in. At the time I had no real outlet for escapism in my life. And I hadn’t played a game I really enjoyed since Horizon: Zero Dawn was released over a year ago.

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It seems strange that one could have a gaming “slump”, but I honestly can’t think of any other word for it. In 2016 I was staying up all hours of the night pursuing the platinum trophy for Fallout 4. My PS4 was the material embodiment of my laziness. I spent so much time running around the Commonwealth chopping off the heads of Gunners and Super Mutants with my electrified Chinese Officer’s Sword “Brunhilde” that the irradiated wasteland felt more real to me than my actual life. But fast-forward a year to mid-2017 and I’m unable to play anything for more than 20 minutes. I was bored of gaming, if you can believe it. I tried Mass Effect: Andromeda, and it was probably the worst gaming experience of my life. I’ve never felt so let down by a game. I then tried Wolfenstein: The New Colossus, and that left me somewhat lukewarm. I wondered if I was truly falling out of love with video games or if I simply couldn’t find the right one to play.

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I took a chance on Detroit: Become Human and my overall verdict is a pretty positive one. Is it a game so close to my heart that I end up taking it more seriously than my career prospects and personal hygiene? No. Unlike The Witcher 3 and Bioshock: Infinite, I won’t take it personally if you don’t like it. But did Detroit: Become Human restore my interest in gaming? Yes.

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There are a number of things this game executes very well. The musical score is excellent; each of the three playable characters has their own soundtrack, and each piece of music has a distinctive tone reflective of that character’s narrative. As I’m writing this review I’m listening to the moody cyberpunk-noir music composed by Nima Fakhrara for Connor’s storyline.

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The visuals for this game are also excellent- and on a number of levels. The artistic design depicts a Detroit that is both grittily-familiar and slickly-futuristic, and the raw imaginative power of the concept art is rendered beautifully in the game’s state of the art graphics. Every location feels unique and interesting- and more than that- like a place that is lived in. This is achieved by little details about the way everyday things function being given special attention. For instance, the blank-faced androids crowded in at the back of the buses, the way the signal on their foreheads changes color based on their stress level, the maintenance drones vacuuming the office carpets, the monorails, the articles on android basketball, and the CyberLife emporiums that look like a cross between an Apple Store and a 19th century slave auction. Perhaps my favorite locale was the urban farm you have to chase a deviant android through during “The Nest” chapter.

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In addition to the stunning environments, the facial animations in the game are as good as any you will see today. I haven’t been this impressed by a game’s use of motion-capture acting since L.A Noire back in 2011.

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So what do we know so far? We’ve established that the game is a success on a technical and artistic level. But what of the gameplay? Most of the game consists of making dialogue choices TellTale-style and executing a sequence of Quick-Time Events. The story is entertaining, but not without its flaws. It brushes up on some complex themes- such as the nature of consciousness, whether or not a loving relationship can be established between a human and a robot, and the rising economic inequality brought about by mass unemployment- without really going deeper into those issues. The game misses the chance to say something original and profound as it seems more interested in pursuing a clumsy civil rights allegory. The story is definitely exciting, but it also has a tendency towards contrived melodrama. I enjoyed the creepy vignette where the player character has to escape a house of synthetic horrors, but found myself laughing at scenes where the humans started acting inexplicably cruel towards random androids for the sake of melodrama.

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For me, the biggest drawback of the game is its implementation of motion controls. I didn’t mind them so much in Until Dawn, where you had to keep the controller as still as possible or face getting discovered by Native American demons intent on repurposing your jawbone as a coat-hook. That to me replicated quite well the tension of having to hold your breath, and therefore enhanced immersion. However the motion controls in Detroit are wholly unnecessary. They don’t add anything to the experience and their inclusion actually detracts from the sense of immersion. They suddenly pop up in the game’s action sequences and are finicky as all hell. So if the controller doesn’t register you moving it down in exactly the way it wants you to, your favorite character gets shot in the forehead. That’s what happened to me at least. A character’s death carries no emotional weight when it occurs not because of the player’s choice, but because the player wasn’t quick and accurate enough. And I became even less enthusiastic when the game rolled out another model of the android for me to play instead, because all of the character development I had taken a part in was wiped clean.

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In conclusion, I think I can only recommend this game based on what you’re looking for. The pace is slow to begin with, and the chapter in which you spend most of your time washing dishes and cleaning up vomit will definitely put off some gamers. They’re probably necessary components of the narrative’s atmosphere and pacing, but I can’t blame you if you switch off the Playstation and start watching Blade Runner 2049 instead. You’ll find a far superior story there too. But for what it’s worth, Detroit: Become Human does have some exciting moments- enough that I enjoyed the game and wanted to play it when I wasn’t doing so. If what you’re looking for is fun gameplay, then perhaps this game isn’t for you. I would recommend this game to those that simply enjoy science fiction stories, and have at least some tolerance for QTE’s. As for me, this game ultimately broke the dry spell I had endured for over a year, and ended up being interesting and immersive enough that it occupied my thoughts when I wasn’t playing it.

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Cross-Atlantic Co-Op with my American Roommate – A Way Out

When I first saw footage of A Way Out at 2017’s e3 showcase, I was instantly sold on the idea. I felt like I had been waiting a long time for a unique, innovative and layered co-op experience tailor-made for my specific tastes. And having completed A Way Out, I’m still waiting for that experience. I guess that tells you my overall takeaway from the game already. In a way, nothing has really changed for me since I watched the gameplay demo at last year’s e3, except I’m thirty bucks poorer. I distinctly remember that I was drawn to the game on a conceptual level. I loved the idea of A Way Out, and I still do.

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I checked a few reviews before buying it, and if anything they reinforced my enthusiasm for the title. I knew this wasn’t going to be the game of a generation or anything like that. It’s a niche idea, with a thirty dollar price tag that’s justified. It’s not a AAA title. I just wanted assurances that it was a solid game that ran smoothly and wasn’t complete ass. The reviews I watched gave scores in the region of 7-8, which in the gaming industry is considered about average (for some reason). So I bought the game and pitched it to my on-and-off American roommate Aaron during a phone call.

This, I said, would be a cooperative game in the truest sense of the word. We’d be playing as two prison inmates trying to escape and then evading capture once on the run. It’s not a shooter, it’s a game with a narrative focus, so we’d be completely reliant on each other throughout the game. We would be making decisions that affected the story together, we’d be working together to beat tasks specifically designed to be two-man jobs, and we’d be strategizing together.

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I love prison dramas like the Shawshank Redemption, Cool Hand Luke, and Escape from Alcatraz, so the setting was a massive draw for me. I loved the idea of a prison escape game, and it was a setting I thought perfect for co-op. One guy hiding in the laundry cart while the other pushes it, that kinda thing. It just looked different to anything else I’d seen.

What I found really intriguing, I told him, was that this game didn’t have a fixed genre. Most games are built around a specific way of playing. God of War is based around the solid core of its hack-n-slash combat, The Walking Dead its branching narratives, and Battlefield its first person shooting. By contrast, the developers of A Way Out decided to write the plot, and then utilize whatever style of gameplay best fitted a particular scene. I thought this was really interesting as a concept, and even if the game proceeded to shit all over itself, it could still- in my eyes- retain a sense of dignity at trying something new. Some missions had us racing cars, others had us stealthing around, and some scenes were 2D platformers.

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Best of all, I told Aaron, he wouldn’t have to pay a dime. I had bought the game and he would be able to experience the whole thing with me for free. The game gives you a token you can give to a mate.

We started with pretty high hopes. We laughed at the shower scene at the beginning where one of the playable characters gets hosed down like a disobedient chimp teetering on ironic self-awareness. We had fun talking to NPC’s in the prison yard and debating whether or not to be jerks. But as the game progressed, particularly once we left the prison, we realized that we were laughing at the game and not with it. The characters are shallow and utterly dull, the plot increases in ridiculousness all the way until a climactic twist that makes a mockery of the entire narrative, and you’d find more believable dialogue in an Evil Angel spoof of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The whole thing is infused with this 1980s-era B-movie camp, which didn’t sit too well with me considering the 80s is probably my least favorite decade of all time.

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I realized that for this game to really be a hit, it had to be well-written. The gameplay isn’t the draw here, because there is no central gameplay mechanic. Every chapter is a watered-down version of a different genre, the shooter sections about as polished and nuanced as a mid-90s CD-ROM title. I wondered if the game was trying to be intentionally silly, but if that’s the case it doesn’t really work. GTA: V had godawful writing, but no one cared because no one played it for the story- folks were there to rob banks, build their dream house, and reenact the Dukes of Hazzard on their way to the next meth lab. A Way Out doesn’t have that. And without any kind of immersion, we had little reason to play the game at all except to laugh at it.

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However, I’m still glad I played it. And like I said, my stance remains unchanged since I saw the e3 demo. A Way Out is a good idea- it’s just not executed all that well. There’s a lot of potential in the concept, and I hope someone tries something similar again. My favorite moment in the game was a sequence in which Aaron and I had to steer a canoe on a perilous, white-water cascade. It was the scene which best fulfilled what I wanted from a co-op experience- we had to communicate quickly and make split-second decisions about which side to paddle in order to avoid crashing into jagged rocks. It reminded me of the second video game I ever played- Wild Rapids for Playstation 1.

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In conclusion, I’m not sure I would recommend A Way Out like I did Vermintide, but I do want to stress that I don’t think the concept is inherently flawed. I just didn’t fall in love with this game the way I thought I would.

Cross-Atlantic Co-Op with my American Roommate – Vermintide

Even though I haven’t been playing my trademark single player RPG’s as much this year, I’ve still found time for a little gaming. I don’t play quite like I used to, but the games I have indulged in recently have been co-op titles. My tastes haven’t changed, it’s just that I’ve been too busy to pour my time into something as vast and complex as Elder Scrolls or The Witcher. It also has a lot to do with the fact that there have been few single player games coming out of late that I’ve been really interested in.

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What’s been so great about co-op gaming is that it gives me something fun to do with Aaron, my best friend who lives in the USA. And since Wolfenstein: The New Colossus came out, I’ve only really been using my Playstation 4 as a Roommate Communication Device. I’ve had some great fun down the years playing co-op experiences like Black Ops’ Zombie mode and Overwatch with my American roommate, and I was super-excited for us to play these two games while we are separated by the Atlantic.

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Vermintide was a Christmas present from Aaron and his fiancée Anne-Marie. It’s a Left 4 Dead style game where you battle your way through a horde of rat-men in the Warhammer universe. Even though it is high fantasy, it’s got this apocalyptic tone to it. The Skaven represent the end of civilization for the surface world. They are like a literal plague crawling out of the sewers. I found them quite interesting as antagonists go; there’s a sense of futility in trying to hold out against an enemy that just keeps coming. It made me feel like this rag-tag team of bandits Aaron and I were playing as really were the last people on Earth. It’s the same reason I loved Mass Effect 3 so much- the fight against the Skaven, like the Reapers, feels hopeless.

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As far as gameplay goes, it’s solid and smooth. I wouldn’t say I love the combat- I wanted a little more for it to feel like a hack-n-slash- but it’s adequate enough to still be enjoyable. I just don’t get the same bloodthirsty sense of satisfaction I get when mowing down Zombies on Tranzit. I wanted the Skaven to feel more squishy, as gross as that sounds. I just didn’t feel all that heroic when I was fighting them. The visuals are good, and the atmosphere in particular is excellent. If you can find a moment to catch your breath in between getting molested by those cunting Gutter Runners, then do check out the lovely vistas the city has on offer.

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I had plenty of moments of fun playing with Aaron, but I felt like most of them came from our own banter- such as the panic that would ensue when one of us is getting dragged away by a Packmaster and we’d cry “Help! I’m being dragged to the rape dungeon!”. There’s something creepy about the image of an 8-foot rat pulling along a hopelessly flailing wood-elf that makes me think of the unmarked white vans that park outside elementary schools. I do wish the game featured more situations that really encouraged true cooperation. For the most part, we were just fighting enemies alongside each other, which was still fun, but not in a tactical, interdependent kind of way. We guarded each other when one of us was carrying explosive kegs and we revived each other when we’d be truncheoned one too many times by a shaggy muroid cock.

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Overall I enjoyed the game, and I’d recommend it as a chill piece of co-op fun for a couple of buddies. I liked what was there- I just wanted more of it.

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8 Games I Miss On The Original Xbox

Y’all should know at this point that Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel are my favorite games of all time. However I won’t be including them on this list. I’ve already written about my love for KOTOR and plan to do so again. I love it so much that it just transcends the category of Xbox Originals I miss the most. I think it would just overshadow the intent of this post, which is to bring to light some classic games I played on the original Xbox that have since fallen into the amorphous shadows of nostalgia. I was ten years old when I got my Xbox, and fourteen when I left it behind for a 360. The games I played in that four year period are too often forgotten, and today I’d like to celebrate them with you.

 


  1. Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc

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The Great Escape was the defining game of my childhood, and became an unhealthy obsession for me when I was nine years old. The sequel, Hoodlum Havoc, never left me quite as breathless, but it was still an enjoyable experience. It was the first game I got for the console, and to celebrate its arrival I had two of my best friends come over after school to watch me play it for the first time. I remember thinking that the game felt slightly more whacky this time around. The Hoodlums felt less interesting than the Robo-Pirates. The game did, however, freak me out a little bit. There was something about the recurring patchwork aesthetic just didn’t sit right with me, and the level where Count Razoff chases you around the mansion with an elephant gun gave me actual nightmares.

Favorite Level: Clearleaf Forest. This one felt straight out of a fairy tale- I loved the bright skies, the leafy atmosphere, and the gargantuan mushrooms. I specifically remember being blown away by the graphics as you approach Clearleaf Stadium.

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  1. Simpsons: Hit & Run

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While everyone else my age was beating hookers to death with double-ended dildos, I was at home playing video games. More specifically, I was exploring Springfield in Simpsons: Hit & Run. I’ve always been a Simpsons fan and I adored this beautiful game straight away. I loved seeing all the locations rendered in a colorful, interactive open world. The idea of an open world game was completely novel to me at the time. I especially remember liking the sound the game made when you collected coins.

Favorite Level: Level 1. In this level you play as Homer as he investigates black vans and wasp cameras in the suburbs. This was my favorite area because it felt so bright and wholesome, as well as featuring several memorable locations such as the nuclear power plant.

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  1. The Hobbit

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This is a game typical of this list and why I decided to write it. I loved it, but always forget about it. I wasn’t familiar with the storyline of The Hobbit, so the game’s fidelity to the book wasn’t an issue for me. It was a linear, 3D, action-adventure platform game, which- before my discovery of The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion at the age of fourteen- was my go-to genre. I loved the gameplay, the visuals, and the cinematics, so this title will always hold a special place in my heart.

Favorite Level: A Warm Welcome. This level is set in Laketown, and I’ll always remember it for its cozy- yet spooky- atmosphere as you use your stealth skills to uncover a conspiracy in the soft glow of the boardwalk torches and the light of tavern windows. It made me wish there could be a whole game based around sneaking around a floating city.

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  1. Azurik: Rise of Perathia

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I always felt bad for never completing this game, but I eventually gave up because I didn’t know what to do or where to go. I remember feeling the game wasn’t very intuitive, and I had no investment in the plot. However, that might have had something to do with me plugging the headphones of my new CD player into my ears and listening to The Rasmus album Dead Letters as I played. This game makes the list because its world was just so damn imaginative. I will always remember this game as a feast for the eyes.

Favorite Level: The Water Realm. I remember getting lost and swimming so far that I reached the edge of the ocean, which was a giant waterfall to nowhere, like you see in those antiquated drawings of a flat Earth.

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  1. Lord of the Rings: Third Age

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This game was just hands-down awesome, and completely unlike anything I have played before or since. I loved that it took place in Middle Earth, but was its own original story, and the environments felt new and interesting, instead of being an exact replica of the sets in the movies. It felt like you were in the world of Middle Earth and exploring it for yourself. Now that I look back on it, it was a really bold direction in which to take such a beloved franchise- and the kind, that, sadly would probably never get made in today’s focus-group-tested, unadventurous, profit-driven, mass-market-appeal, live service apocalypse.

Favorite Level: Eregion. This is the one I remember most, making my way towards Moria through a forest that gives way to mountains.

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  1. Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy

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This is one of my favorite games of all time. It’s definitely in my top 5. I loved everything about this game because it was letting me live out my own self-insert Star Wars fantasy. The combat was incredible, and I really like how the game was broken up into little missions, each one of them unique and beautifully rendered. I really felt like this game was all about being a Jedi- starting off as a naïve padawan, progressing through training, going on missions, and working to become a Knight. The Jedi Temple was kind of like Hogwarts. You had your wise teachers and jealous classmates. It was a blast.

Favorite Level: Dosuun. In this level you’re sent to a grassy planet to investigate reports of cult activity, only to get imprisoned by an Imperial commander who wants to use you as his play-thing. You escape from your cell and play the whole level without your lightsaber, using only blasters.

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  1. Jade Empire

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My brother got this game while I was playing KOTOR. It’s less renowned than its cousin, but swap the Star Wars aesthetic for Chinese mythology and it’s basically the same game. These two games exemplified the golden age of Bioware. The writing in Jade Empire is Bioware at their absolute, unparalleled best, the soundtrack is superb, and the world is rich with unbridled imagination.

Favorite Level: Heaven. I was enchanted by the bipedal elephants that lived in the clouds.

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  1. Otogi 2: Immortal Warriors

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Last, but certainly not least, is Otogi 2. This is the game that inspired this list in the first place. A title that absolutely sent my imagination into a frenzy back in the day, that critics generally agree is a good game, but which is mostly forgotten by history. Despite its critical success, Otogi 2 just didn’t sell very well. I played both 1 & 2 but I’m putting Immortal Warriors here because I remember it better. The combat in this game was immensely satisfying- a hack-and-slash with a fully destructible environment made by the same developer that later went on to make Dark Souls. I loved how dark this game was compared to everything else I had played at this point, and this was reflected in the chilling, melancholy, Japanese soundtrack. I also liked how before each mission there would be a little introduction paragraph to get you scared about the demons that awaited you.

Favorite Level: Lotus Pond. This one I remember most vividly. A grassy lair where you have to assassinate Chitou– leader of the demon spiders.

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Thanks for reading! What games make your nostalgia list? Let me know in the comments!

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 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

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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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