Category Archives: 7.0

Outlast II Review

715930

I was a fan of the first Outlast game because it was an indie developed gem that gave players some genuinely frightening thrills and showcased gruesome brutality and a defenseless protagonist thrown into a thoroughly haunting narrative. The sequel lives up to the original’s premise in many of the same ways and boasts incredible graphics as far as technical advancements go, but alas it doesn’t do much else differently. I’m not saying I’m tired of the agenda that the first game pushed however going through virtually the same gruesome experience with the only differences being a slightly less obviously linear setting and better visuals obscured by the prevalent darkness that envelops the Arizona countryside isn’t going to garner much more kudos from me.

The previous Outlast title pushed the boundaries of what is allowed by the mature rating beyond a doubt, featuring genuine anguish and suffering on screen as well as more gruesome fatalities than Mortal Kombat has in its entire roster. The experience was haunting and memorable and for that reason alone many people have undoubtedly tried Outlast II in the last few weeks. If you’ve already played the first game or if you’re starting with this sequel it makes virtually no difference as the stories bear little connection (save for some obscure references) and you’re essentially playing the same game anyway as all the mechanics are there.

What Outlast II does get right is horror- visceral gripping horror like the bogeyman stalking you through the night and psychological intravenous horror like the blood rushing through a dreamy corridor. You’ll ultimately meet your maker more than a few dozen times by the end of Outlast II because you were either jumped by the seemingly endless horde of bogeymen waiting in the shadows or gutted like a fish by a witch-like woman or you simply tried to take in the beautiful scenery through the film grain of your night vision camera and didn’t see the horribly scarred monstrosity before it was too late. The story is very much rooted in horror both physical and mental or spiritual and yet for all intents and purpose the environment and the encounters themselves tell a more intriguing story than the convoluted cultist conspiracy that Outlast II is at times.

That’s not to say I wasn’t thoroughly interested enough or invested enough to forego searching for notes and clues along the way or to read plenty of theories online with regard to the calamitous ending that wasn’t nearly as clear as Outlast’s Wahlrider ripping things apart. And while things are truly interesting because you’ll be questioning your sanity and surroundings as much as you did in Eternal Darkness or The Evil Within, they’re still inevitably confusing and ambiguous as can be which will prove frustrating for many gamers (or anybody who played Alan Wake). What is easy to grasp however is the vicious cycle of murder, rape, incest, greed, gluttony, suicide, and general sinfulness that the story follows and touches upon- whether through cultists in the present or the backstory of your camera-wielding protagonist.

While the first Outlast game offered many of the same opportunities for hiding and discovery as the sequel does, one of the most annoying aspects of the game is the fact that despite being in a much larger environment you’re somehow always running into enemies. And when you encounter an enemy this virtually means death unless you can run around in circles or luck out and manage to hide underwater without being found. Outlast II is both at its most annoying and most harrowing when you’re evading death by the skin of your teeth and that’s a real shame because it felt so much better in the original when you were confined to a lunatic asylum. Ironic that players had more freedom there than they seem to in this sequel.

One of the most intriguing advances in Red Barrels’ gameplay formula this time around is the ability to actually record footage with your camera which is not just a gimmick but doubles as your checkpoint feature and a way to commemorate portions of your deadly adventure. Of course you’re not likely to take part in some Blair Witch activities such as readily videoing a man being vivisected by cultists but then you never know what may be required when the time comes. The microphone on your camera will also tell you when enemies are nearby but considering the fact they almost always are and it’s pretty much never guaranteed whether or not they’ll sense your presence, don’t leave your hidey hole as soon as it says the coast is clear.

Some people accused The Walking Dead’s most recent television season of being veritable torture porn whenever Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan came on screen but if there’s anything that’s legitimately torture to watch it’s the sequences when you’re caught by cultists or other foes. I’ve witnessed many gruesome deaths in games such as Mortal Kombat and Dead Space before but the death animations and sometimes even the gruesome encounters that you actually survive are virtually scarring. Impaled, pick-axe to the scrotum, fingers chewed off, face mauled, head caved in- the list goes on. While the chases get your heart pumping and the consequences make it all the more important for you to escape your heartless and frenzied enemies it’s quite literally hard to stomach watching the same gruesome scene over and over again because some dumb AI can sniff you out no matter how long you run for.

The game has a lot to offer and expands the potential of the previous title and yet it never fully cashes in on any of what it has to offer- ultimately it falls down in the third act in terms of story and repetitive gameplay. What was once fresh and exciting becomes overdone and less tense or terrifying and more annoying and anticlimactic. It is one of the most visceral and intriguing glances into the mind and mental issues in gaming as well as the effects of torture and trauma on human beings yet the overall experience ends up being shallower despite the oozing ambition and potential. Outlast 1 was great because it was developed on a small budget and we weren’t exactly sure what to expect. Outlast II could’ve been great but it delivered too much of the same experience and doesn’t push the envelope enough to make the deep dive into uncharted horror territory. Instead you’re just a timid man with questionable mental issues and a puny camcorder, facing off against the dark.

Concept: You’re a journalist (again) making his way through a cultist infested Arizona landscape and trying to escape the nightmarish hallucinations and equally horrible reality.

Graphics: A step up from the original but it’s a real shame that you won’t be able to appreciate the majority of it due to the fact that the game is cloaked in shadow.

Sound: The sound quality and design make the experience a horrifying one as everything from the light tread of lurking footsteps to the shouting of cultists approaching rapidly adds to the tension.

Playability: The controls are minimal and handle smoothly enough but all you’ll have to worry about is handling your camera, reading notes, flipping switches, and running for your life.

Entertainment: Whereas horror was the reality in the first game, horror is more the mentality in this sequel. The game offers what seems to be a promising story only to yank it away at the end and leave you dumbfounded but not in a remotely good way. The gameplay is as tense and horrifying as before but it grows stale after awhile.

Replay Value: Moderate.

Overall Score: 7.0

Tagged , , , ,

Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 Review

sniper-ghost-warrior-3

Sniper: Ghost Warrior has been an interesting if flawed series thus far with three entries to its name. While the first game was beyond mediocre and the second improved upon the formula in many ways but still didn’t offer much in the way of quality, the third time may actually be the charm for City Interactive. It’s by no means a perfect game but it is well on its way to being a decently good one and presumably once the upcoming patches hit and hopefully fix some of the glaring issues, we may finally see a competent modern day stealth-sniper title to rival the WWII and Cold War settings of Sniper Elite.

Game Informer gave the original game a 4.75 and the sequel a 5.0 however the review for the third game, which released on April 25th has yet to hit the web so all I can base general criticism on is that of the other sources I’ve read- averaging about a 5.5 or so typically. I personally gave Sniper Elite 2 a 6.5 out of 10 way back when if you care to read the somewhat broken review here (pictures and whatnot have disappeared). The one thing that can be said about the CI team is that they do put a lot of thought into fixing the series with each entry and in many ways although they didn’t nail things with the first or second games, they’ve made some vast improvements since then.

It has been a few years since we last saw the series (approximately 2013) and yet despite the graphical update some of its ideas are still rooted in the past, which isn’t so much the previous console generation but rather the stealth genre tropes as a whole. It trades in a lot of the linear mission structure for a faux open world which still essentially keeps the main missions linear but offers something along the lines of Horizon: Zero Dawn’s experience- being linear as far as story but offering a plethora of side content. So in that aspect, Ghost Warrior 3 is an interesting look at a stealth genre still dominated by Metal Gear Solid even today.

There is nothing wrong with the typical fundamentals of Ghost Warrior 3’s mechanics- they’re actually pretty standard or at least entertaining and interesting for what they seek to accomplish. Yes, there’s something to be said about originality or the lack thereof, considering the majority of its ideas can pretty much be found in other series such as Far Cry or Ghost Recon, however that’s not to say they don’t still work in this particular environment. What is fundamentally wrong with Ghost Warrior 3 and has always been a sticking point for the series is purely technical in origin. The graphics look okay for the modern brand of consoles yet they periodically crap out and muddy textures and slow animations and cause any number of experience-breaking hiccups. There is also a whole host of glitches waiting to derail your otherwise competent experience.

If it weren’t for the slew of technical problems within the game’s current build it could actually be a potential competitor with Sniper Elite in terms of recently released sniper and stealth titles. However, as it stands right now the only games that Ghost Warrior 3 trounces in that category are the first two in the enjoyable yet extremely flawed (and sometimes broken) series. All the self-same mechanics pretty much from Sniper Elite are here as well- slow motion kill cams, holding your breath and adjusting your aim, and so on.

sniper-ghost-warrior-3-4

If it didn’t feature the prominent technical glitches that it does at times, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 would go up in stock by at least another whole point in my mind because what it does offer is some tightly controlled action and stealth despite the lack of creativity at times. It is an exciting adventure even though the story can and should be virtually ignored as it is irrelevant in the long run. The game’s best asset is the variety of main story missions that it offers- side content aside, the main missions are varied and different to the point that you never feel like you’re spending too much time doing one of something rather than a slew of tactically challenging and engaging quests.

You’re offered just enough main content to appeal to any of the three main approaches you can choose to take in the game- dubbed so creatively as ‘Sniper,’ ‘Ghost,’ and ‘Warrior’ skill trees respectively and covering long range combat and gadgets, stealth mechanics, and all-out assault tactics. Although you could take the main missions and map them out as linear chapters like any other first-person shooter typically would, they’re still spread across the open hub world which also features the occasional other activities we’ve come to expect such as outpost clearing and bounties. There are over twenty-five main missions and these are all well-executed and thought out in comparison to the slew of side content that seems an added thing just for the sake of giving reason to the creation of an open world for an otherwise linear experience.

One good concept that the game employs is the ability to carry out pretty much any mission at any time without having to unlock a certain segment or progress through other side content first- something Far Cry and other games have been guilty of in the past in attempts to get players more invested in side activities. If you really want to just tackle the fifteen hour campaign essentially then you’re free to do so without having to collect the collectibles and take out ‘Most Wanted’ bounties. However, if you are going to be doing a lot of traveling around the decently sized map please be aware that fast travel points will always be infinitely more pleasure than utilizing the horrid driving mechanics that feel stilted and look graphically incompetent compared to the rest of the content.

For largely the same reason that Sniper Elite is an engrossing experience and one that I’ve enjoyed from V2 through Italia, Ghost Warrior 3’s base combat and gameplay are the highlights of the experience easily. This iteration in the series does a much better job of actually making all-out assault a viable combat option and not limiting you to previously sub-par stealth and typical sniping elements present throughout the game. Although the skill trees are relatively limited and not as fleshed out as you would come to expect in an open world title, each of the three different trees does offer some basic improvements upon the experience and makes this the most sound entry in the series as far as gameplay goes for certain.

3104347-4

Stealth seems to have definitely improved this time around which is a good thing considering it can be the most useful weapon or ability in your arsenal in most instances. The AI has been overhauled in comparison to the eagle-eyed soldiers and crappy AI of the past, however there are still some technical glitches here and there where their attempts to flush you out of cover result in them laughably positioning themselves perfectly in your line of sight for easy takedowns. Despite the mild AI bug encounters, for the most part gameplay has improved in nearly every sense over even the previous iteration.

I feel like ironically Ghost Warrior 3 could’ve used a little more development time despite being delayed here and there, if only to actually live up to its full potential rather than fail to capitalize on some of the aspects it dares to offer. You’re fairly limited in what vehicles you can drive or operate and also in what particular objects and outposts you can interact with which kind of diminishes the point of making the game a living open world and definitely mainlines the experience a lot in a more linear fashion. You are afforded a surprisingly large arsenal of weapons and technical gadgets however I feel like a lot of what is on offer is underutilized and nonessential in the long run as you can easily get by with just your guns and wits.

In terms of upgrades I’ve already established that the upgrade paths themselves are fairly basic and could’ve used some additional work, however the actual upgrades to weapons and equipment are also fairly limited in scope. This isn’t so much a terrible thing since what is offered is fairly decent, however it seems like a missed note and something that could’ve only improved the experience overall as well- a recurring theme throughout this game. Although it was initially supposed to feature a multiplayer system of some sort as well, the game has thus far failed to implement that and as such is largely not as replayable as it could’ve been with more time put into ideal content and additional upgrades and elements.

The graphics are one of the lower selling points as they come in and out of focus as I’ve mentioned and can attribute to some frustrating environmental glitches along the way as well. The two most annoying and egregious technical hiccups are the lengthy load times and prominent crashes in-game. I could deal with Skyrim taking three minutes to load because that was last generation and Bethsoft’s world was truly gigantic and still is even by today’s standards, but I cannot understand why anything in Ghost Warrior 3 should take five to seven minutes to load at any given time. As far as crashing goes, you’d better hope you’re not in the middle of anything important because as far as I can tell the game will crash at any given time and lead to some very frustrating sessions (at least until they presumably patch that glaring flaw).

all-collectibles-location-mining-town-sniper-ghost-warrior-3

When all things have been said and done, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 surpasses it predecessors with ease but still doesn’t feel like it’s quite lived up to its potential or what it means to be a current generation game. It’s a competent and interesting experience and hardly a bad one, however it is remarkably hindered by a lot of technical issues and by the inability to capitalize one what could’ve been excellent additions in both depth and replayability. The main experience is well-done but the side content offers little in the way of recompense for a lack of reason to return once you’ve finished the linear mission structure.

Concept: City Interactive crafts their third entry in the Sniper: Ghost Warrior series and brings the series into both the current generation as well as the thoroughly over-saturated open world shooter market.

Graphics: Although it utilizes a version of Crytek’s CryEngine, Ghost Warrior 3 features some prominent graphical hiccups despite having really realistic and well-done visuals whereas weather and some environmental aspects are concerned at times.

Sound: For a game about stealth, sound plays an integral role in the experience at least in terms of gameplay. Outside of that however, there isn’t much to be said for the soundtrack itself although it does ratchet up the tension at some appropriate times. The sound design isn’t the best as far as voice acting goes but the sounds of bullets dropping and weapons and gadgets clicking isn’t too shabby.

Playability: It’s fairly simple to grasp the fundamentals for a basic runthrough of the game. As far as the controls themselves go, the game handles surprisingly smoothly and fluidly despite technical hiccups breaking up the pacing here and there at any given time.

Entertainment: Despite its flaws, Ghost Warrior 3 is as entertaining as games like Far Cry and Sniper Elite have proven to be for many of the same reasons. It’s not altogether original in what it seeks to accomplish and yet it seems to have aped the correct gimmicks and elements of those respective games enough to present a varied and entertaining main campaign.

Replay Value: Moderate.

Overall Score: 7.0

Tagged , , , , ,

Small Crimes Review

smallcrimestitle

Small Crimes recently released on Netflix at the end of April and is the next in the seemingly endless stream of independent or miniature films to be featured on the streaming service. Unlike some of the drivel that often comes with these second chance or low budget films being made and provided on the closed circuit, Small Crimes is actually a pretty competent story as well as darkly comedic satire on turning your life around after a series of unfortunate events.

Based upon the first book in a trilogy of novels written by Dave Zeltserman, Small Crimes sees its main protagonist- Joe Denton (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) released from prison following a short term stay for attempted murder and drug abuse. Each novel in the trilogy focuses on a more or less “bad” person who has recently been released from prison and the effects this has on their prospects as well as how well (or poorly) they manage to escape their past mistakes. In Joe’s case, things get pretty grim from the outset.

Something that sort of surprised me throughout the hour and a half film was how well it manages to handle some complicated ideas and simplify things down to human nature and emotional attachment. There are a lot of ideas juggled by the film but more or less it focuses on a handful and comes out better for it- no complicated plot twists here so much as there are ironic turns of events. Coster-Waldau is easily the highlight of the film as he brings the dirty cop and hitman vibe with equal measures narcissism and grit. Robert Forster, Gary Cole, and Molly Parker also play their respective roles quite well- Forster as Joe’s father, Cole as his former partner and another cop on the take, and Parker as a love interest and nurse.

The thing that Small Crimes does the best is get the job done, quite unlike Joe Denton in many ways. It isn’t immediately apparent that it carries almost a darkly comedic and satirical vibe although there are some instances where things take a dramatic turn for the worse in the most ironic way imaginable. It’s almost like there’s some sense of ex machina except every situation takes a turn for the worse rather than ever getting any better. It is very much a film about a man trying to redeem himself and despite everything being dragged back to his old ways and old world.

Although it has a relatively short run-time, one of the best things about Small Crimes is how well it wraps up and how cleanly it does so after a messy final act that quite literally butchers the majority of the main cast. What at first began as a film that hints at the violent nature of Joe’s world soon becomes a showcase of the reality of cause and effect as well as choice and consequence. What begins as a simple hit on a former mob boss who plans to spill the beans to the local district attorney quickly devolves into an all-out war that rages throughout the small town setting. Nobody is safe, not even Jaime Lannister.

On one hand, the film may not seem altogether too deep and it has been criticized for some of its simplicity and lack of complex motives or meaning. However, if you really look closely you will see there are so many intricate dynamics between the characters and Coster-Waldau predominately embodies this in his performance which really makes you feel as if he knows his fellow actors as intimately as his character does. There is a particularly ironic and tragic bit in the very end where Coster-Waldau gives so much weight to everything that has happened and the scene is veritably dripping with emotion despite him only giving a meaningful glance to his father and wiping a knife clean of prints.

Small Crimes isn’t a simple film by any means but a lot of what it does best is create simple complexities rather than needlessly confusing plot points and obscure references. It is concise and to the point which the story definitely benefits from and it has some interesting and colorful characters that range from extreme to deranged depending on the given situation. There aren’t many unnecessary revelations but the level to which pretty much all of its events tie-in and come together almost reminds me of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and the masterful way that it tied together seemingly unique stories.

Small Crimes is by no means perfect but in my mind it is one of the better offerings we’ve seen come straight to Netflix lately and if you’re a fan of darkly humorous and ironic films, there’s a strong possibility that you’ll enjoy this one as well. Think of it as somewhere between a gritty crime film and a typical Coen Brothers production- not quite one extreme or the other, but more a commentary on redemption than anything else.

Tagged , , , ,

Hitman: Episode One Review

hitman-1

It has always been my belief, both in fundamentals and through what I’ve witnessed, that hitmen should be clean and not make a mess. I am of course referencing other Hitman titles, as I have not in fact been up close and personal with real-life hitmen. 2012’s Hitman: Absolution was a well-received game and sequel, even if it did change some of the established formula around. 2016’s Hitman is attempting to do so again, melding some sort of combination of Blood Money and the original title to Absolution’s gameplay, in addition to some other elements. Needless to say, this Hitman did not entirely stick his landing. I’m not so concerned with the quality of the game itself, rather the presentation here.

First you have the fundamental problem of cleanliness- we searched far and wide for details to be found on the title prior to its delayed release and were often in the dark. What a mess of a launch it initially had. Delays only add to already skeptical thoughts regarding episodic projects, particularly one promising a constant stream of content for players so that the experience does not grow stale. How do you take an open world and cram it into an episodic format? Hitman looks to answer that question, and we shall see how it fares each month with the dawn of a new episode, as well as week to week content availability. Scratch what you think you already know about Hitman’s Agent 47, this title is a prequel and not a continuation from Absolution’s hit storyline. In fact, 2016’s Hitman could almost be set in its own narrative entirely as it all but scraps the story in favor of returning to the roots of what Agent 47 does best: dealing death in creative ways.

The real question remaining is, how does this first episode fare? How much content is it able to provide players who have to make do for a month before new content becomes available in April? Honestly, Hitman was not created to be episodic whatsoever, so the narrative is already in the hole here. In fact, besides a few cutscenes you can bypass the story altogether- that is, if you haven’t already been doing that for the past decade in these sort of games. To say the content is enough is a stretch but I do think that the talented folks over at IO Interactive have crafted enough detail and content worthy of one episode, even if just barely so. As it is, in some ways this tutorial episode feels more like an evasion of the need to produce fully realized content, or perhaps a demo of a larger game. If they needed to have one more delay in order to release a larger product with a better story-oriented sandbox experience, I wouldn’t have been terribly disappointed. As it is, some things are too bland right now.

The feeling that this is in fact some elaborate demo or tutorial bundle is ever present in Hitman, most likely for the simple reason that the majority of the gameplay currently available to us is tutorial-based. Assuming we’re lucky and get a year’s worth of content from the developers, that means Hitman will have taken about four times longer than Absolution to develop roughly the same number of chapters (episodes in this case). Granted, the levels here are much larger in scale than many of Absolution’s more intricate and detailed ones, but still. That’s insane. You start off playing through (surprise!) tutorial segments in order to acclimate yourself to the control scheme, which is very tight as should be expected for fans. I’d go so far as to say this and the level of detail in the environment coupled with kill opportunities are the three greatest, stand-out selling points to be found in the game so far.

After a couple of tutorial missions that make sure you grasp the basics, Agent 47 is unleashed upon the rest of the unsuspecting world. It’s a bit disappointing that the tutorials take place in a pretty confined training ground rather than serving as an introductory mission perhaps in a varied locale. Thankfully however, besides the major Paris map available to players, there is also a map on par with the majority of past Hitman titles including Absolution in terms of size. The military base mission is just as interesting as the Paris fashion show one, allowing for a plethora of kill opportunities as well as candid exploration for potential player contracts to craft and dole out as you deem fit. So while in the grand scheme of things the game may be a bit barebones at the moment, I have hope for the future and that IO can come through with their promises to constantly add content and update and tweak things.

Here I was thinking Absolution looked gorgeous, but Hitman actually steps things up a tad thanks to the visual performance of the current generation of consoles. Paris is beautifully rendered and seems a lot more lifelike than some of Absolution’s locales which seemed desolate at worst and faked or forced at best at times. Take Absolution’s Chinatown and magnify that by about seven and you’ve maybe got a sense of how crowded and expansive this particular Parisian venue is. Surprisingly, even the size of the map adds to the challenge of formulating a plan to assassinate high value targets, as it makes simple memorization of patrol patterns and routes all the more difficult as well. Figuring out where special opportunities reside is exhilarating as usual, and utilizing disguises and weapons in order to make your assassination look accidental among a crowded venue is nerve wracking at times too.

With this expanded space comes understandable complications in the already trial and error methodology of assassination prevalent in the Hitman series. Thankfully this is also managed by the inclusion of “opportunities” which highlight specific details in the environment that may benefit players- such as costumes, weapons, and convoluted kills. Maneuvering plays a much bigger role than simply tracking your target’s repetitive movement pattern in this installment, however the gameplay is largely unaffected and basically the same as previous entries, which doesn’t have to be a bad thing at all. Don’t expect to achieve the best possible outcome in your assassinations without some prior planning and a little extra legwork in accomplishing some secondary tasks throughout the missions. Getting the signature kill is still a feat only the worthy can successfully pull off.

Hitman has always been about replayability, but now with only a select amount of content available to play, you have no choice but to keep playing the same things over and over. The first dozen times this will probably be perfectly acceptable, however even larger maps can only offer so much of a challenge before they become boring and players get burnt out. There is the potential promise of a so-called ‘Escalation’ mode however it basically features the same mission parameters with slight deviations and still expects you to carry out repetitive assassinations in order to progress. Meaning even more replay time, in case you somehow missed something the other forty times you played through. Thankfully user creation and contracts factor into the mix, adding somewhat of a less quality-driven but higher replay value mission generator. I must say however, even the contract options here were a step down from those offered in Absolution, which is a disappointment.

Needless to say, the few highlights of this title so far mostly revolve around playability- considering the fact that the controls are thankfully one of the few things that seem perfectly balanced and can be relied upon. The story is mundane and bound to be forgotten by the time the next episode releases, meaning you’ll just have to play the damn thing another time! The environments look great but the animation and voice work diminish an otherwise spectacular experience with their terribleness and at times unexpected glitched encounters. Basically, I’d say you’re much better off waiting for the actual finished product to ship in one piece than to pick up the game in its current form. If all of the content were in one place and available, maybe I could more readily judge it based on the full package rather than episode by episode in its forgettable and incomplete form. What’s here isn’t bad, it just isn’t much.

Concept: More Hitman, less of a hit.

Graphics: The graphics constantly blew me away. They looked even better than those present in last generation’s impressive Absolution and they didn’t seem particularly bothered much no matter how much action was on screen at any given time. Animation work could’ve been handled much better conversely.

Sound: The voice work was often so terrible as to not even be laughably bad. The music was equally nonexistent at times.

Playability: It’s the controls that save this package in my mind. If they had been anything less than stellar, it would’ve doomed the entire project.

Entertainment: What’s here is a lot of fun to experiment with and dabble in, however it feels more like a demo of the full game than a release of anything meaningful in its own right. I hope IO can come through with their promise of constant content production, but even still a month is a bit too long to wait to play the next step in the journey.

Replay Value: Moderate.

Overall Score: 7.0/10.0

Tagged , , , , ,

Firewatch Review

2609427-firewatch

Campo Santo has done something special with Firewatch. The first and obvious comparisons will be to games like Gone Home which are in the first person but feature little to no interactivity in terms of action. These games are more so aesthetically and narrative driven, a very coloring or storybook genre, akin to the more action-packed and decision based Telltale episodic games. The main difference between Firewatch and Gone Home however lies in the amount of leeway players are given, or given the illusion of having. Both experiences are very much linear ones, do not make the mistake of thinking Firewatch is set in a lush sandbox by any means just because it looks that way. Surrounded though you are by woods on all sides, it is not only a linear experience but one that has minimal action as well. The main draw lies in the narrative.

Campo Santo’s first adventure gives the illusion that there is both an open world surrounding you and that some of the gameplay is action oriented. Now, these “action-packed” moments are little more than scripted occurrences, but they still get the blood pumping and progressive the narrative at the same time as they keep a hand to the pulse of the gameplay to keep things from growing stale or going cold. It’s the moments like this and the simple trappings of nature that surround you when you pause for a moment and just gaze around that bring this game to life, not to mention the mysterious circumstances that slowly build throughout the fateful summertime exploits of Henry the fire watcher.

Just like Gone Home, Henry’s backstory is an important detail in Firewatch and does not disappoint or lack attention to detail in its simplicity. He’s escaping a marriage quickly stagnating and taking up residence in the backwoods of Wyoming, serving as a fire watcher for the driest part of the year. Although the better part of the game’s narrative progression is sparked by walkie talkie conversations between Henry and his supervisor Delilah as well as through notes and papers scattered about, there is still a rich story to be found if you pay close attention to the environments and interactions both up close and from afar.

The whole game seems like it should be something of a mundane, potentially even boring experience, but I can assure you though it lacks action it is anything but. It is far from perfect and it may not even be superb or great, but for its eerie and mysterious moments I can only give fairly deserved praise. There are simple moments where you can just look around and observe, and then there are tense moments where you’re trying to figure out just what is going on, whether there’s some sort of conspiracy to uncover, a disappearance, or some other foul behavior or characters of ill repute on the prowl. Firewatch does a good job of keeping players guessing, and I must say it unravels rather like an onion- layer by layer, not eagerly showing its full hand and even leaving some questions at the end.

Ironically, Henry is looking for some measure of peace in his duties as a fire watcher and I’m sure he’s very disappointed to learn that this is not in fact what he stumbles upon. Instead, he experiences fear, paranoia, and constant scrutiny for the duration of the game and throughout specific events that will test his resolve and wits. It’s not as cerebral an experience as Gone Home is known to be, rather more of a deceptive at times and downright eerie one at others. Firewatch seems to be about relationships more than anything else- how they can be built up or torn down. Not just between Henry and Delilah or others the player will interact with through some form or another, but between other characters you learn about as well.

A curious little thing called interactive dialogue keeps the game exciting when it needs to be and even adds a little player choice to the concoction, meaning it isn’t just a point, click, and discover adventure like Gone Home largely was. I guess this will also in some ways add to the replayability of the title, but not in any large way. Most situations are going to play out entirely the same regardless of the way the conversation leads up to them. While that may sound disappointing, don’t be too down because what is there is already pretty enjoyable. Delilah is a welcome source of both narrative exposition over the radio and knowledge about local lore and the surroundings themselves. Feel free to radio her at pretty much any moment throughout the game for interesting conversations and observations.

Not only is Firewatch set in the wilds of Wyoming, but it is also set thirty years or so in the past in an age of Reaganomics and nationalism. The backdrops already seem somewhat surreal in the way they blend and blur the lines between realistic natural settings and graphically designed and moisturized postmarks. The setting itself adds to the narrative in subtler ways than most games that take place in the past, but it is well-handled and a welcome change of pace from other titles that overuse famous figures and landmarks. Exploring around the national forest will occasionally open up new and intriguing finds for collection or documentation, of which players should take note in terms of how it will subtly craft and mold the story over time.

The scripted sequences that progress the narrative and the interactions through relationship building and dialogue are the finer points of the game and make the experience one that I would say is entirely worth it even though the second and third acts gradually slack off and leave a sour taste in the mouth. What starts as a mystery I would love to uncover gradually morphs into something that even X-Files would shudder at in terms of just how much it seems to retcon earlier information and make liberal use of “video game logic.” What is at first an entirely believable and enjoyably realistic experience seems to hoodwink even the player themselves and end with a less than stellar thought.

Concept: Explore the wilderness and a potential cover up and other intriguing events in the backwoods of Wyoming over the course of a summer with your fellow fire watchers.

Graphics: It certainly has its own unique look and reminds me more of graphics or posters sometimes than a realistic or cartoon style of visuals in games.

Sound: Although characters never meet face to face per se, the voice work is well done and showcases an incredible level of detail and emotion in the way it conveys the words from script to realization.

Playability: It is quite literally a stroll through the woods and an enjoyable experience lacking difficulty but not lacking for substance.

Entertainment: Games in this genre are slow going but if you can get into the story then you’ll be right at home for at least seventy percent of the game or so.

Replay Value: Low.

Overall Score: 7.0

Tagged , , , ,

Level Review: Pie’s Really Small Entry[Small16]

cebfbe3d-f8b3-4c57-b33a-fd602efec2e3

This is the first level that I’ve reviewed lately of the whole “new batch of levels” I guess you would say, and also the first for the design challenge in question for the month, which has one more day to run thanks to this Leap Day. There are eight entries in the design challenge and so far I’ve played each one and (besides my own) I’ve enjoyed each for different reasons and found them each to be worthwhile experiences regardless of size, length, or difficulty. Some have been puzzle-based levels, some have been exploration and loot collection-based, and others haven’t really fallen into any category other than their own. I think Doctor Pie’s level definitely falls into that final category for reasons I will son share with you here.

The level looks fairly good at times and fairly rough at others. It may get on your nerves that the 25x25x25 cube of blocks outline remains around the level, encasing it in a way and also proving that it is well within the parameters established in the guidelines of the design challenge at the beginning of the month. Or you may pay no mind to that. It may annoy you that the level can be completely finished in under two minutes despite the ten minute time limit allotted to players from the start. Or it may not matter whatsoever. It may even irk you that the level feigns having any difficulty whatsoever and yet once you get to the bottom of things, it’s no more difficult than jumping across a few platforms. Or you may just enjoy getting the opportunity to catch your breath between more difficult levels entered into the challenge such as Jungle Run and Orange Horizons.

All things taken for what they are, I personally enjoyed the level. For what it does, I think it presents itself fairly well enough. It is by no means difficult or even that much of a challenge whatsoever, but it is not a poorly designed level. Yes, there are some mistakes in the design process that can be observed, and yes I would’ve probably utilized more of teh space given to me by the guidelines of the design challenge, but I cannot fault Pie for what has been taken advantage of and what has been created. Let’s look at some facts here as I see them: their is a fairly decent amount and usage of basic props that add to the scenery on the little island-like areas you get to explore, the design of the level itself works well despite there being a few wasted hazards along the way (particularly in one entire spike section which is more of a red herring than anything else), and the time limit could be a bit shorter in order to add a degree of difficulty to the level and increase replay value.

Taken as it is, the only two major issues with the level that I noted in my few playthroughs of it were the lack of utility in the spike section after the brief castle-like area and shortly before the finish, and the excessive time allowed to players. Although the level can easily be completed in less than two minutes, instead of giving players ten, at the least make the time limit five for the sake of adding an air of urgency to the whole ordeal. Or opt to make it even a tad shorter and throw a few diamonds in along the way in out of reach places that encourage backtracking at the player’s own risk. That helps in design challenge levels and having added replay value never hurts as well. As for the spikes, the rotating spike boxes and the floor trap turned sideways in the last segments before the gravity defying finish showcase a slight lack of polish or forgetfulness and laziness on the part of the designer. This happens to everyone, but then that’s what playtesting was made for. I’d recommend making the moving platform travel in some way between the spikes so as to up the difficulty and force players to avoid them rather than ride the platform underneath and not have to worry about them whatsoever as it stands in the level’s current format.

Aside from these two slightly detrimental factors, the design itself is overall well-thought out despite lacking difficulty or much substance in length of gameplay. What’s there is most definitely there and while it revolves around simple platforming to the finish, I found it enjoyable enough. This will be a rather short review, but then it’s a rather short level as well.

Pros: Simplicity, Background, Enjoyability

Cons: Useless Hazards, Complete Lack of Challenge

Play Browser Score: 4 Stars, Beginner Difficulty

Official Rating: 7.0/10.0

Tagged , , , ,
Milly Schmidt

The Cat's Write

Mr. Miniike's Tea-Sipping Reviews

Album reviews and pop culture nothings by a Christian INFP New Yorker turboplebe with no musical talent. Mostly empty gushing. How can you resist?

ultimatemindsettoday

A great WordPress.com site

Selected Essays and Squibs by Joseph Suglia

The Web log of Dr. Joseph Suglia

The Ninth Life

It's time to be inspired, become encouraged, and get uplifted!

Elan Mudrow

The Ridges of Intertextuallity

Storyshucker

A blog full of humorous and poignant observations.

%d bloggers like this: