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Outlast II Review

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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

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Prey (2017) Review

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Arkane recently released their 1.02 Patch for Prey and with that decisive patch I’ve deemed it appropriate to finally present my review of the game in earnest. Prior to the patch the PC build of the game was virtually unplayable which was integral to my review considering I typically play through games on at least two of the three or four platforms they’re typically offered on so as to make sure there aren’t incredible differences in performance between one or another.

You’ve undoubtedly enthusiastically witnessed Prey’s opening several times by now and regardless of if you played the 2006 title of the same name and with a semi-similar setting, you’ll immediately notice that not everything is as it seems. Despite some of the similarities between both 2006 and 2017’s Prey iterations they are indeed two completely separate and intriguing games with intricate plots and fine-tuned combat mechanics. Prey (from here on out 2017) starts off slowly but gradually picks up speed and administers the steady drip drop of difficulty and balancing as you progress. In its infant stages the game is likely harder than it will ever seem due to a lack of available powerups (neuromods), so if you can make it through the first four hours or so then chances are you’ll enjoy the game.

Many of the initial revelations have been spoiled for most fans or enthusiasts I am sure however let it be known that there are at least two major revelations within Prey’s plot and I enjoyed both of them immensely. One comes only a few hours into the game and the other not until the very end of the experience. Although the ending could best be described as lukewarm at best regardless of the choices you’ve made- which, yes, are integral to the ending you receive in minuscule ways, it does do a good job of setting up the potential for a sequel assuming Bethesda signs off on that. Given the sales figures thus far however that may not be in the picture no matter how well-done Arkane has done of late with each title they’ve labored over.

Perhaps the most intriguing choice in design and gameplay is the ability to fully define who Morgan Yu (You, the player) is and just how that effectively ties into the plot as well. Throughout the game you not only determine Morgan’s gender and acquirable skills but also the moral code that he or she adheres to through choice and consequence, not through measly dialogue options or barebones plot development. This aspect of showing and not telling is ever-present throughout the game and I enjoyed the approach a lot more than inserting a bunch of useless and wasted dialogue into an otherwise perfectly ambiguous experience that is open in every sense of the word.

The set-up, if you don’t already know it, is quite straightforward from the onset: an alien lifeform known as Typhon has taken over the Talos-1 space station and you are its only hope. Whether or not you choose to destroy the Typhon, Talos-1, or even the few remaining humans on board is entirely up to you. I won’t ruin the numerous choices that you must make or abstain from making along the way but let it be known that for each and every action there is an opposite and not always expected reaction. In its opening moments Prey is less concerned with the eradication of the Typhon and more so with the survival of Morgan Yu and discovery of Talos-1 itself. Although it establishes itself as a survival horror shooter of sorts, these elements will largely fall by the wayside as Prey delves deeper into upgrades and it becomes less focused on survival and more on combat- albeit ammo and weapons still being quite scant.

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If you’ve played the PC version then you’ve undoubtedly grasped the scope and breadth of Talos-1 a little bit more than anyone else thanks to the handy function of ‘noclips’ commands. The space station seems and is rightfully represented as gigantic and titanic. Outside of cheating your way around borders and through walls the only way you can ever properly comprehend the scale of this open ended setting is by venturing outside the airlocks and floating through the cold vacuum of space in order to fast travel from certain points around the station. Talos-1 is both expansive and deep- it’s quite easy to become as invested in the architecture as it is in the characters you encounter along your journey. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the story is that it really feels like a human versus alien struggle.

Some of the horror aspects are also maintained by the enemies themselves with specific regard to their grotesque appearance and the nightmarish ability to undergo some sort of metamorphosis as well. Mimics will lead you to never trust a weapon or medical pack out in the open ever again for each time they leap out at your poor unsuspecting character, leading to a shout and a quick bash over the head with a wrench. The musical score itself will lead you into a frenzied sea of paranoid bashing of everyday objects as you hunt for that final remaining Mimic in the area so as to assuage the tension. More fearsome foes such as the Phantoms and horrendous Nightmares will easily soak up your bullets and spit them back out before devouring you.

Combat is where Prey both lives and dies by its sword so to speak. In the early moments of the game it is equally tense and devastating, yet due to the fact that stealth is oddly never quite flushed out you’re virtually forced into combat rather than trying to sneakily make your way across the station. There are certain benefits and drawbacks to the neuromod upgrades you receive over time however the absence of them until later on forces you to attempt to tackle the experience in a much more difficult and meaningful manner. As terrifying as enemies are perhaps even more scary is the ever-present health bar hovering over their heads that barely ticks down with each wasted bullet or wrench smack. Nightmares can especially soak up an extreme amount of damage from even the game’s strongest weapons and as such as foes to be avoided at all costs.

Only when the game balances a little more in your favor does combat become both meaningful and enjoyable in earnest. After the opening few hours and after acquiring a few mods or upgrades you can feel more at ease in openly wandering the halls of Talos-1 and engaging larger foes than Mimics in close quarters. Using mods to unlock Typhon-related powers is perhaps the most enjoyable Dishonored-like aspect of the game however it also carries an unexpected narrative risk as well. If you spend too much time unlocking these intuitive and useful powers then the automated turrets which once distinguished you from foes will fail to support you and eventually open fire on your Typhon-imbued DNA as well. Of course by that point you’re more than likely unstoppable as is.

Prey is every bit the sandbox experience that it has been marketed as and you’re free to choose how your character develops and progresses just as much as you are to choose how you play through the game as a whole. Using these alien powers such as transmutation of your physical form and telekinesis (now a staple in any game its seems) is both empowering and entertaining. I’d be lying if I said combat wasn’t saved by the abilities you’re able to spend your mods on and would otherwise bog the game down way too much with its repetitive nature instead.

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Prey offers an abundance of detail and choice and I am very appreciative of that despite the fact that it sometimes falls flat and the narrative dips into uncertain waters. The experience can take you anywhere from fifteen to thirty hours dependent largely upon how invested you choose to get in the missions and side missions, as well as whether or not you search out the available mods and upgrades along the way or backtrack through previously explored sections as you gain new methods of traversal and unlock new paths. The narrative itself was intriguing to me and couldn’t be ruined by the heavyhanded ending despite leaving me a little disappointed in the final moments of the game.

The majority of the kinks that initially needed to be worked out have been patched however there are still some baseline issues to be found with the game such as design choices made along the way that we’ll just have to live with. Enemies have been and will continue to be incredible bullet sponges and only grow easier to combat once you’re virtually overpowered and unencumbered by the shackles of survival horror tropes. For all of its tense moments- zero gravity sequences and every encounter with a Mimic, there will also be hiccups such as AI reaction and patrolling and the ability to literally walk around a corner and confuse the Nightmare that has been stalking you to the point where you can take potshots at it and disappear again to avoid its rage.

The highlight of the combat experience is ironically the two most useful gadgets outside of combat- the Gloo Gun and crossbow. Whoever came up with the near-troll of an idea to have what is essentially a nerf bolt shooting crossbow in the game deserves a medal because it is just loud enough to alert enemies and knock objects off of counters and just stealthy enough to be used in a variety of ways. As for the Gloo Gun, you’ve undoubtedly seen footage of people using it to hold larger enemies down or traverse to previously unreachable paths and areas as well. All I can say is use your ammo sparingly- especially in terms of the Gloo Gun and powerful shotgun. The silenced pistol isn’t too shabby for needing a quick weapon with an abundance of ammo, albeit not packing much of a punch.

Prey isn’t without its own series of flaws at times and yet for the most part it is a thoroughly enjoyable and unique experience. One can only hope that we get to experience more of its lore and setting in the future as well as a continuation of the choice driven narrative that was mostly well played. I’m happy that Arkane continues to be one of Bethesda’s brightest studios and has encountered success with two phenomenal Dishonored titles as well as the newly released Prey’s brand of science fiction.

Concept: Stopping an alien infestation from reaching Earth is nothing new and yet Prey offers such an interesting twist on the cliche that it can’t help but be enjoyed.

Graphics: The art style mimics something of Arkane’s previous works but the architecture of Talos-1 is varied and intriguing as are the enemy models and designs. The few humans that do appear all look mostly similar however.

Sound: Both the musical score and voice work are incredibly detailed and well-done. The soundtrack perfectly captures every scare and situation and the voice work is handily delivered throughout the experience when needed.

Playability: Although it can be complicated to grasp at times the game only proceeds to open up as the space station itself opens to you and you gradually progress deeper and deeper into the experience.

Entertainment: It’s at its finest in terms of horror in the opening hours however it is still immense fun when exploring later on and combating the vicious Typhon in close proximity with an array of intriguing powers and an arsenal of diverse weaponry.

Replay Value: Moderately High.

Overall Score: 8.0

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Pokemon: Indigo League Retro Review S1 E6-10

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It’s been a little while since my last Indigo League retrospective and I’ve written quite a few things in between, but here we are yet again. In between watching and reviewing several other shows lately (of which you should be seeing more meat in terms of reviews releasing) I’ve also taken the time to rewatch old Pokemon episodes and catch myself up accordingly. As such, I’ll be presenting another five episodes today and once I’ve completely finished rewatching The Clone Wars you can expect a continuation of the blog series from season two onward (including Rebels).

My previous Pokemon: Indigo League retrospective can be found here if you do not wish to search overly much for the original post itself. As always, I’m going to be breaking down Ash and his crew’s ongoing adventure into bite-sized portions that are much more manageable both for review and consumption. So without further ado, let’s get down to business.

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Ep. 6: Clefairy and the Moon Stone | 22m

Even as I remember it fondly today having just recently revisited the episode, the Mt. Moon-centric episode has always been one of if not my very favorite Pokemon episodes of all time. I’m not sure what the initial draw of it was for me all those years ago but now I just enjoy the enigmatic presence of Clefairy and later Clefable, as well as the first showcase of evolutionary power beyond the normal evolutionary track itself. Ash, Misty, and Brock meet a scientist (Seymour) who is being attacked by confused Zubat- all of this ties into yet another unoriginal Team Rocket scheme of course as well. Needless to say, it always boils down to Team Rocket wanting to either steal Pokemon or something that will inherently increase their power. In this case it’s the latter and the Moon Stone itself, which is fabled to be in the caves somewhere around Mt. Moon. Although there is a lot of shenanigans and mysticism involved, ultimately the Moon Stone is shattered and transforms many nearby Clefairy into Clefable, an even more rare Pokemon who sends Team Rocket packing. Grade: A

Ep. 7: The Water Flowers of Cerulean City | 22m

Having ended the previous episode with some timely signpost graffiti courtesy of Gary Oak, Ash Ketchum’s greatest and original rival, Cerulean City’s journey starts with Brock mocking the young hero for his willingness to let Gary stay one step ahead and forces him to go to battle other opponents in anticipation of a rival challenge. Misty, to her credit, attempts to divert them from heading to this particular city (for reasons that are more apparent later on) but nothing will deter Ash. When Ash does arrive at the local gym it’s not exactly what he was expecting and he finds three apathetic sisters more concerned with their looks and synchronized dance routines. Somewhat discouraged but still wanting to earn his badges the correct way, he moves on. Enter Misty. The friend (and as it turns out, fan of hard work and making Ash work hard particularly) returns and forces Ash to battle her for the Cascade badge he covets dearly. Just when it looks like Team Rocket will miss their entrance for once, the trio crashes the show and Misty/Ash team up to take them on. After they’re done with, it’s another solid win in the books as the crew continues on their journey. Grade: A

Ep. 8: The Path to the Pokemon League | 22m

With two badges down and untold adventures to come, Ash and his friends head off into the relative unknown- purportedly making their way to Vermilion City which holds luxury and intrigue. Of course now is the perfect time to encounter some local trainers who wish to test Ash’s prowess- so enter A.J, who also has a tent full of wild pocket monsters for the crew to ooh and ahh over. And did I mention A.J’s gym has been undefeated? Needless to say, A.J isn’t exactly the best with how he treats his Pokemon but figures the ends justify the means. And right on cue, Team Rocket starts to weasel their way into this setup as well. Ironically, A.J and his Sandshrew take it upon themselves to defend their gym and their honor, even if it means pretty much destroying the place in their bid to send Team Rocket heading for the hills. As we learn by the end, all trainers do things their own way and Ash and A.J must inevitably head their separate ways as they each make their own legacy and work towards entering the Pokemon league proper. Grade: B+

Ep. 9: The School of Hard Knocks | 22m

As the narrator says the friends will continue on their adventure in “perfect harmony,” we see that this is in fact nowhere near reality and Misty is still rightfully angry about her bike being totaled. Soon they stumble upon what looks to be the very definition of ‘school of hard knocks’ when they encounter kids quizzing each other on all things Pokemon- with the added bonus of doing so while amping up the speed on a treadmill. If that’s not interesting plot development, I’m not sure what is. In fact, the entirety of this so-called Pokemon Technical School is something of a satirical take on real universities and their issues and that alone makes me love Pokemon so much more. Before long, Ash and Misty (and sort of wallflower Brock) are doing their best to battle the local cliques and stick it to the student body, er man. Despite his lack of general knowledge in most regard, Ash proves that you don’t necessarily need to be a know-it-all to win matches. Hands down the best moment comes when Team Rocket stumbles in and is subsequently attacked by not one but all of the students who’ve gathered around- citing that “bad guys don’t play by the rules” and as such they don’t merit one on one confrontation. Grade: B

Ep. 10: Bulbasaur and the Hidden Village | 22m

Ash and his friends start off once more in the wilderness and find themselves reliant upon his often off-the-mark “instincts.” Things quickly go awry as the trainers experience everything from falling into a watery canyon to being caught in a hunting snare. Later on things take an unexpected turn when they encounter an atypical village that has been erected for injured Pokemon to recover and recuperate in. Team Rocket is shown to be essentially following the kids and also ironically falls into every single pitfall that the others had already encountered, often hilariously escaping just barely. Later on when they finally make it to the so-called “Pokemon health spa” as well, their advances are of course denied by the gathered pocket monsters who’ve grown particularly unruly when it comes to dealing with insensitive trainers and the likes of Team Rocket. In the final moments, both Ash and Misty would like to battle for the right to capture Bulbasaur but it is of course Ash who wins this right and wins the following battle before they turn their gaze back to making the trip to Vermilion City. Grade: A-

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Well, there’s the next series snippet of my Indigo League reviews and retrospective. I hope you’ve been enjoying everything so far and will continue to read and review my words and thoughts as well as supply your own. Enjoy!

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What Remains of Edith Finch Review

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What Remains of Edith Finch is a game that I have long awaited because it blends the talent at Giant Sparrow with the conceptual value of titles such as Gone Home and adds in a much more macabre element. After all, this is essentially a game where you relive the semi-black humor semi-horrible deaths of each and every one of your family members as you waltz around the nooks and crannies of a lively house. So that right there makes Edith Finch one of the indie darlings of the Play Station 4 this year and adds it to the growing collection of games featuring Inside and all things Playdead as well in terms of dark and engrossing narratives.

Edith Finch very much finds itself fixated with the prospect of death and yet it also proves that there is always something to live for. It is a very interesting and unique take on the human condition in more ways than one and even livens up the otherwise tried and tired concept of walking around a house or other mostly linear area and reveling in your exploration a la Gone Home and Firewatch. Rather than merely be a carbon copy of all things done in the past, E.F. makes its own strides work and pushes far beyond what we’ve seen thus far.

There is still the detailed way in which you must inevitably uncover clues and progress the plot, however the mere way the text is represented and narrated as you watch the words shift and fold onto the screen and on objects of interest makes things interesting enough. As you search the house and come across items belonging to lost relatives or objects of interest the creative ways in which the smoky text scrawl onto the screen and off of it when your perspective shifts are always engaging and imaginative. Although you are playing as the last Finch and the titular Edith, it’s also interesting to note that you’ll be literally living through the morbid ways in which your relatives bit the dust as well through reenactment and reading.

There is an attention to detail in both the narrative and housing situation that constantly wowed me in ways that the admittedly bland games that have come before have not. Edith Finch looks graphically amazing and it also adds a believable amount of clutter to its main setting in ways that Gone Home and Firewatch and other similar title have not managed to do. At its root it is essentially the same type of game and yet with its variety of established characters and rich story it feels radically different as well. Although you will find yourself listening to just as many narrations and dialogues as any other exploration game in the same vein, the way it dynamically draws players in is both admirable and thoroughly worth the investment of a few short hours.

What Remains of Edith Finch is both an experience grounded in reality and one that offers a sublime and surreal quality not before seen in the genre of late. Adventure games are very much making a comeback and in my mind Edith Finch is leading the charge as of right now. There is an ironic sense of childish fantasy overlapping with discussion of adult subjects and overall mortality and morality which is something that remains engaging throughout the morose and macabre environments you’ll explore. The game does a great job of balancing the lighter and darker elements and sometimes they’re quite difficult to distinguish from each other a well.

Although there is a degree of linearity particularly in how each segment where you “play” as another family member pans out, it’s interesting to note that there are still those little instances of openness and ambiguity offered to the player in how you approach situations that eventually lead to the same inevitable conclusion. In some ways it operates as the Telltale brand of interactive storytelling does, albeit without the same level of choice in terms of alteration to the overall narrative. The text-driven narration and the general environments themselves often mesh together in ways that draw your attention from one thing to the next and never leave you feeling out of the action or bored for a moment- something that even excellent AAA games could learn from lengthy audio tapes and collectibles.

There is a certain degree of ambiguity to the game’s eventual conclusion despite the premise being relatively straightforward and to simply ascertain what has lead to the demise of your relatives. That is your main goal and an easily accomplished one, however part way through the story it also becomes clear that something darker and more sinister is also afoot. Although there are hints as to how and why your relatives have been lead like lambs to the slaughter, it’s left ultimately up to players to mostly infer why and how. The saddest thing of all is that this information is purportedly available to you however circumstance dictates time and time again that you’re denied the full revelation and as such culminates in a slightly disappointing finish to an otherwise brilliant title.

At its basest level, Edith Finch is about ultimately exploring the theme of death and immortality and how they go hand in hand. Although each of her seemingly ill-fated and cursed family members has been struck down by death’s chilled hand, each has also been immortalized both in their writings and memories as well as Edith’s own characterizations and representations of them. You constantly learn more and more about the facets that make up each character and as such they are highly realized even if they never necessarily appear in the course of the game outside of their perspective and musings. It’s an interesting way to tell a story and certainly an intriguing method to convey one with such deeply disturbing and empathetic tones as this one.

Death truly is not always the end and life is such a beautiful thing and should not be taken for granted. What Remains of Edith Finch constantly hammers these points home in more ways than one and is better for it.

Concept: Explore your cluttered and memorable family home and discover the motivations behind several relatives and the choices that ultimately lead to their untimely demise.

Graphics: The game is artistic and beautiful and constantly shifts between realistic and surreal at the flick of a switch. It conveys the tone and the mood throughout the narrative and often reflects what is being said as well as what is being felt in a believable manner.

Sound: At times the voice-work can be quite mesmerizing and is certainly one of the higher points for the game. The sound work is also respectable and shifts to suit the tone of the moment being played out.

Playability: The games controls are easy to grasp and just as easy to handle. Understandably it works quite in part due to the large amount of talent involved with playtesting the game prior to its launch- featuring developers from famous studios and writers for upcoming games such as The Last of Us Part Two for example.

Entertainment: Although Edith Finch’s own dynamic story is at the forefront of the narrative, it’s just as interesting to look to the past and to what tragic ironies and calamities have befallen her relatives. It’s an expanding and shifting tale of changing perspectives and changing outlooks on life and all the more intriguing for it.

Replay Value: Low.

Overall Score: 8.0

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Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 Review

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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

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Small Crimes Review

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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.

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In Five Minutes or Less: Little Nightmares

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Before I begin this semi-review, semi-not-a-review post in earnest, allow me to state the obvious: you’re undoubtedly going to hear Little Nightmares in the same conversations you hear about Limbo and Inside in some ways. Ignore that chatter. Little Nightmares may strike some similar chords to what Playdead has done with their past titles, however it is in no way striking the same tone or note in what experiences it attempts to convey.

Yes, there are the similar tropes that come with dark games and brooding environments featuring dire and grotesque consequences for any unwary and unwelcome traveler. There are ultimately gruesome ends your adorable character can meet and plenty of equally gruesome foes to send her there. Environmental hazards and puzzles come in equal numbers and the mere use of light and darkness is more than enough to set the tone for each stage of the short yet endearing exploration.

If you’re into platforming puzzle titles that also feature palpable amounts of ambiance and relevant horrors and low-key fears that will probably make you cringe once you realize the extent of their depth and attention to detail, then Little Nightmares will rock your socks off. Or knock them off and freeze you with fear. Perhaps the most exciting component in the game is that it leaves pretty much everything except what you see with your own eyes quite ambiguous in an almost ‘Souls’ sort of way (of handling lore)- minus the bloody scratch marks on the ground everywhere.

Ambiguity permeates the entire experience and makes it a more convincing and exceptionally interesting one for that matter. You aren’t even given so much as maybe the occasional hint to rotate the camera around if you get stuck, however the rest of the controls are never exactly specified and so it’s up to you to learn the ropes. The experience perfectly meshes both two-dimensional and three-dimensional perspective into a very well thought out 2.5D platforming puzzler.

Although you are very definitely little and dwarfed by the surroundings you will encounter, there is nothing little at all about the immense nightmarish rogues you will inevitably face or flee. Because you cannot fight back in most cases, there is always an air of tension and terror whenever these foes enter the picture and you must fly through some puzzle or another and make it to the next area. I’m still quite shocked at how well thought out each room is and how each area ratchets up the tension and the screen literally crawls with the sound effects and slight background happenings as well.

Little Nightmares is a game that will easily catch you if you pay too much attention to your surroundings, but will ironically let you escape its clutches time and time again should you not find yourself entirely caught up in the warped reality it presents. For the most part the puzzle and platform gameplay never gets too difficult and so the entire experience is perfectly accessible, enjoyable, and entirely worthwhile in my opinion. The presentation itself will pique your curiosity and then the events themselves, as they unfold, should firmly grasp it and drag you into the experience.

The vivid imagery and scenes steal the show almost when coupled with the eerie and daunting soundtrack accompaniment. Oftentimes you may stumble onto a new area and not even notice the body dangling from a rope overhead with its feet just barely visible or the faint outline of a shadow shuffling hurriedly in the background. It’s the moments like that that add to the feeling that someone is always watching and that every skittering motion on screen is some new devilish foe come to rend your flesh or curdle your blood.

Needless to say, Little Nightmares isn’t your typical horror game and it’s much better for that fact. Ambiguity is the name of the game and the game itself will wear you out each and every time you think you’ve understood its nature- right up until the very end. You can feel free to stop and stare at the beautiful surroundings any time, however it still has a relatively run time and as such is a compact and entirely artistic and expressive experience.

If I were to apply my typical review material and run down the brief checklist of everything I tend to go through in those lengthy posts, Little Nightmares would be getting no less than a 9.5 out of 10 from me. It’s entirely deserving of that and a highly replayable experience if only to see the little touches that you’ll pick up with each runthrough here and there.

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Milly Schmidt

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