The Fall (Review)

As The Fall begins, we see an astronaut free falling through space, crash-landing on a seemingly abandoned planet. The astronaut is rendered unconscious, so the combat suit’s artificial intelligence, ARID, takes over. ARID’s prime operating parameter is that she must protect her active pilot, so she sets out on a strange and dangerous journey to find medical attention.

The Fall - mission parameters not found

The Fall is the first effort by Over The Moon Games, and what a game it is. It deftly combines great dialogue, eerie atmosphere, and intelligent story-telling to create one of the best games I’ve played lately. Gameplay combines point-and-click adventure puzzles with side-scrolling shooting action. The combination felt a little odd at first but once I got the hang of it, it worked really well. The amount of combat isn’t excessive, but it helps keep the pace of the game on track, breaking up exploration and inventory puzzles with cover and timing-based action.

The controls are a bit unintuitive at first, but didn’t take too long to get used to. Items are examined by pointing the flashlight on your gun at them using the mouse, while actions are taken using the keyboard. The puzzles can be challenging, though the solutions make sense. If you find yourself stuck, you’ve likely missed an object – exploration is important.

The Fall shooting at a robot

Story is where The Fall really shines. Damage has rendered a number of ARID’s functions inoperable and a big part of the game involves regaining access to those abilities. However, getting past obstacles often requires going against her other operating parameters. This raises a number of questions about artificial intelligence. Is this AI just a computational series of rules and protocols or can a machine display general intelligence? Can it have free will? What happens when a machine acts contrary to its programming?

One of the most clever parts of the game had ARID undergoing tests in order to prove her worth as a domestic robot so she could continue on her journey. These tests involved seemingly simple things – setting the table, calming a crying baby – but all involved some very creative problem solving as ARID is not programmed to be a domestic robot. The way the “humans” in the test treat her also raises concerns about roboethics.

The Fall operating parameters

The dialogue in The Fall is well-written and fully voice-acted. There aren’t too many characters in the game but each is voiced perfectly, especially The administrator, and AI who alternates between robotic precision and human inflection. The sound is also well done, and adds to the general atmosphere.

The Fall is similar to The Swapper in a number of ways – it has a similar aesthetic and setting. Since The Swapper is a game I rated 10/10, this is not a bad thing. The story and gameplay are different enough that The Fall does not seem derivative.

It took me about 3 hours to finish the game, which is the first of three planned episodes. It’s available on PC and Wii U, and is well worth the $10 the price tag. I’m really looking forward to episode 2, which will hopefully be out later in 2015.

Verdict – Highly recommended. The Fall combines great dialogue, eerie atmosphere, and intelligent story-telling to create a unique and thought-provoking game experience. Though the controls are not the most intuitive, once you’ve gotten used to them the gameplay provides very satisfying puzzle solving and combat.

Kinzie Kensington and the Insufferable Genius

This post is actually the basis of my latest video, but if you’re someone who would rather read than watch, here you go!


Sherlock Holmes, Cloud Strife, Tony Stark, Dr. Manhattan, Rust Cohle, Gregory House, Franics York Morgan, The Doctor, Will Graham, Geralt of Rivia.

Robert Downey Jr.  as Tony Stark (Ironman)

All very popular fictional characters. All prodigies in their own right. And all, to put it bluntly, assholes.

The trope of the insufferable genius is a fairly common one in fiction. These characters don’t conform to social conventions, they’re misanthropic, and are often outright insulting to the people around them. They’re also all gifted in some manner. Whether it’s brilliant powers of deduction, supernatural ability, or amazing physical prowess, something makes these characters special and better than others. This lets them get away with being arrogant jerks. They don’t get kicked to the curb by their fictional counterparts, and the audience tends to outright adore them.

Also, in case it wasn’t obvious, they’re all men. (Also, white and straight but that’s a whole other discussion).

Insufferable genius is not a role that women get to play very often. While being antisocial and unconforming is often seen as charmingly roguish for men, it’s not something women can get away with so easily. Female characters can be brilliant or powerful but can’t be too arrogant about it or be too unfriendly lest they get labelled an unlikable bitch.

Gillian Anderson in The Fall

Gillian Anderson’s character in The Fall is a female character who comes close to fulfilling this trope. She’s a brilliant detective who’s not afraid to break a few rules or call out others on their bullshit. While she’s still generally respected, she does get more flack for it than a male would, as she’s always quick to point out. Kara Thrace is another character who could fall into the Insufferable Genius category. She’s a brilliant pilot who doesn’t like to play by the rules and doesn’t care what people think of her. However, to be fair Starbuck was originally written as a man. These aren’t the characters I want to talk about right now.

Kinzie Kensington from Saints Row 4

The character I do want to talk about is from a video game series. Saint’s Row. It might be hard to imagine a great, stereotype-breaking female character coming from a game series that started as a Grand Theft Auto knockoff, but hear me out. It’s true that Saint’s Row scores a solid “needs improvement” when it comes to background female characters, but with major female characters, they do a surprisingly good job. First, the game features enough female characters that giving them some negative traits doesn’t have the side effect of painting all females with the same brush. One of these characters is the brilliant hacker, Kinzie Kensington.

Kinzie’s a hacking genius who knows more than most people and isn’t afraid to say so. She’s a self-confessed misanthrope who doesn’t go out of her way to endear herself to people. She doesn’t care that people don’t understand her technical jargon, just that the job gets done.

Now, Kinzie isn’t the main protagonist, you could argue that she was in Gat out of Hell, but honestly that was a bit phoned in. However, she does play a major part in both Saints Row 3 and 4. In Saints Row 4 she’s the voice you’re always hearing, leading you through the story, telling you what to do every step of the way because the protagonist doesn’t really know what she’s doing.

I really like Kinzie because she’s smart and she doesn’t care what other people think. She just wants to do what she needs to do, she’s not particularly concerned with being nice. She does fit the Insufferable Genius role, which really, women don’t get to play too often. So I just wanted to give a little bit of love to Kinzie Kensington, along with Volition for developing her.

If you’ve got any feedback, or suggestions for future videos, I’d love to hear them.

Fun or Addicting?

I’ve never been big on mobile gaming. When it comes to games, I always prefer to play on a big screen over a small one. This is also why I don’t enjoy handhelds. Even in situations where big screens are not available – say, while commuting to work – I prefer to read a book, listen to a podcast, or just look out the window and give my eyes a break from screens altogether. This isn’t to say that I never play mobile games. There are a few that got me quite hooked for a while. The problem is, they hooked me for the wrong reasons.

The first was Spirit Stones, a dungeon-crawly puzzler with colour-matching gameplay similar to Candy Crush and an added card evolution mechanic. The gameplay wasn’t particularly interesting, and any challenge seemed to be there to make you buy gems, but I really wanted to evolve all the cards to collect them all. I even spent a few bucks to buy gold so I could evolve more cards. It took me a while, a couple of months maybe, before I realized – Spirit Stones is not a fun game. It is an addicting game. All the dungeon levels are basically the same. 99% of the card evolutions give you trash that isn’t an upgrade over what you’re already using. It has the time (or money) based component that limits your play which is common among Free To Play games. Looking back, I’m a bit embarrassed of all the time I spent playing this game on my phone while watching Nip/Tuck on Netflix. A terrible game and a repugnant tv show, there must have been some self-loathing going on there. Eventually I stopped, deleted it from my phone, and never played again. Nothing about the game was fun, it just had constantly moving goalposts that kept me playing.

Spirit Stones

Yeah, don’t even get me started on the artwork.

Next came Cook, Serve, Delicious, a restaurant sim. While I’d rate this game 100x higher than Spirit Stones and it lacked insidious micro-transactions, it was still more addicting than fun. In game I’d do day after day of food service, trying to get my restaurant up to 5 stars (by now I had moved on to Gilmore Girls for my fix of TV I didn’t really need to pay attention to). The time management component of the game was challenging, and at first I actually was having fun. But once I was familiar with everything, I had my staple foods I’d rotate on the menu every day that I could prepare the fastest, and it became rather mechanical. What was interesting on day 6 was really just a chore on day 62 but I wanted that 5-star ranking. Eventually I got it, only to find out the game wasn’t done with me. More challenges lay in wait! By this time I had figured that the game was more addicting than fun though, so I took my 5 stars as an indication that I had beaten the game, deleted from my phone, and never played again.

The last game that got me in its clutches was Trivia Crack, and I think that name speaks for itself. While I’m actually a big fan of trivia, playing against strangers on my phone isn’t really comparable to trivia nights at a bar, or Trivial Pursuit in my living room with friends. Again, it was fun at first, but 2 weeks later when I had 10 different games on the go (or how ever many the time/money limit would allow me to have) and was checking to see if it was my turn every 10 minutes, I realized the compulsion to constantly check the game status was much stronger than the reward of getting to answer one or two questions (and then waiting for my turn again). So it too got deleted.

Now, I’m not saying that all mobile games are like this, or that only mobile games fall can into the addicting not fun category. I do think mobile caters to this type of game more than other platforms, but they can be found anywhere. In my 8 years of playing World of Warcraft I know at least a quarter of my time (more than that in the lulls before expansions) was spent doing things I found the opposite of fun just to get some dumb achievement. My blood still boils when I think about the 6 hours I spent collecting Noblegarden eggs to get some stupid fucking mount or something I probably never looked at again once I got it. This wasn’t fun at all, I was just addicted to collecting.

There are too many good games out there to spend time on ones that hook you with collecting or variable-interval incremental reinforcement rather than fun gameplay or story. I’m trying to make an effort to spend time on games I actually find fun, or meaningful, or thought-provoking because with such a huge selection of games available, why waste time on the junk?

Branching Out

I’ve been pretty happy with my transition from WoW blogger to gaming blogger last year. It’s given me a lot more to talk about and time to play a lot more different games. However, over the past couple months, I’ve been wanting to branch out some more from just blogging. I’ve dabbled in streaming and Let’s Play-like videos, but discovered I’m really not exuberant enough to pull those off. Honestly, the videos I made were pretty boring. I don’t have the type of personality where I can just talk to fill space while I play a game. I have lots of opinions, but I need focus and topics to sink my teeth into, rather than just directionless musings to people who may or may not be watching me play.

So I have some news.

My first piece of exciting news is that I will be joining the Contains Moderate Peril podcast. The show had a brief hiatus in the last couple months, but hosts Roger, Brian, and Sean decided they wanted to start it back up as a monthly podcast as well as add some new perspectives to the mix. So, they invited Jaedia and myself to join as co-hosts. We record our first episode later this week. I hope you’ll give it a listen when it’s released.

Second, I’ve decided to give videos another go, but in a much different format. I put up my first one last week, on the Shadowrun games and how I think they do characters well from a feminist perspective. I plan to continue this “doing it right” series on other positive games I’d like to highlight, as well as some spotlights, best ofs, and maybe a rant or two. If you have any suggestions for videos, I’d love to hear them. Here’s my first video if you want to check it out.

 

It’s Not Personal

Why do people take things so personally? Why are comments made by others internalized and dwelled on? Why do they cause some people to lash out? So much of the hubbub that’s taken place in the gaming community over the past months can be blamed on people just taking things so damn personally.

Why do we do this?

From LookHuman.com

From LookHuman.com

From a psychological standpoint, it’s because humans are egocentric animals. Some more than others. We think the world revolves around us. We think that what we deem good, worthy, or correct, should be that way for everyone. We like to be right. When someone else’s viewpoint or experience doesn’t line up with ours, they are wrong. They have some bias they aren’t overcoming, some emotional issue, some intellectual dishonesty. What’s important to me should be important to everyone. What I don’t care about or know about should be ignored.

Egocentrism (and maybe narcissism) turns Carolyn Petit’s otherwise glowing review of GTAV that docked it a single point for sexism and character inconsistencies into an outright attack on the people who love the game. Well, I loved this game and had no issues with it at all and if you disagree with me, the problem is you and you should never review a game again.

Egocentrism is what makes a person read an article suggesting that the small segment of the most negative and immature gamers, the outdated stereotype of a gamer, doesn’t need to be the audience that gets catered to; and take away the message that ALL gamers are fucking terrible people. That they are under attack. They think Leigh Alexander, a gamer herself, is not advocating for more and better gaming with a broader audience, she’s calling them an asshole. Prime example of egocentrism and likely an unhealthy dose of insecurity and lack of reading comprehension.

Those same things are the reason why someone can watch a series of clips taken directly from games and listen to Anita Sarkeesian say something like “…game creators aren’t necessarily all sitting around twirling their nefarious looking mustaches while consciously trying to figure out how to best misrepresent women as part of some grand conspiracy. Most probably just haven’t given much thought to the underlying messages their games are sending… engaging with these games is not going to magically transform players into raging sexists. We typically don’t have a monkey-see monkey-do, direct cause and effect relationship with the media we consume. Cultural influence works in much more subtle and complicated ways” (source) but hear “ALL games are sexist! Game developers are sexist! If you play games YOU ARE A MISOGYNIST! Games and gamers should be DESTROYED! AAHAHAHA /wailing of banshees /cha chinging of cash registers.”

No one is immune to taking things personally. I’m not. The difference is how you act on it.

I just watched Leigh Alexander’s talk on culture and though I found the talk great, she did say a thing or two that made me bristle. Near the end of her speech she mentions the AAA games and how they may not be worthy of the praise they get. We can do better. It put my back up a little. I like AAA games, I love my XBox. Don’t talk down on the things I like or say that meaningless fun isn’t worthwhile in a game. But what did I do? I didn’t immediately send her an angry tweet or record a 10-minute YouTube rant about how she should stay the hell out of my games, she doesn’t speak for me. I kept listening. I thought critically, considered those couple of sentences that rubbed me the wrong way in the context of the rest of her speech. I realized that her having different opinions on some of the things I like is not a personal attack.

I’ve obviously spent too much time in the wrong corners of the internet lately, but it’s just depressing how many people are so quick to take opinions that have nothing to do with them so personally. And rather than taking a second to calm down, contextualize, consider “does this opinion affect my life in any way?” they get defensive, which can quickly turn into offensive vehemence.

I sort of doubt anyone who reads my blog needs this advice (at least in this context), but please, just slow down, think, and don’t take things so personally.

Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell (Review)

The Saints have taken over a city, become buds with Burt Reynolds, taken the White House (now the White Crib), and faced off against an alien invasion. Where can they possibly go from here?

To Hell.

In the early moments of Gat out of Hell the whole gang is assembled for the birthday of everyone’s favourite misanthropic hacker, Kinzie Kensington. Things with a Ouija board go awry and the President is sucked into Hell so she can be married to Satan’s daughter Jezebel. This doesn’t fly with The Saints so Johnny Gat and Kinzie descend into Hell to put one in Satan’s head and get their boss back.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but Hell looks a lot like Steelport. It’s more run down, there’s some fire and brimstone, but at its core it’s an open world city. It’s filled with skyscrapers and neon signs. Rather than civilians and rival gang members wandering around, there are damned souls and demons. It’s all very familiar.

Your objective in the game is to cause enough chaos to get Satan’s attention, and the ways in which you do this are also very familiar. You level up in the same way as in SR3 and 4, the activities are much the same. Gat Out of Hell brings back Insurance Fraud (now called Torment Fraud), where you throw yourself into an intersection, ragdolling off cars, trying to take as much damage as possible. Also Mayhem, my personal favourite, where you just blow up as much stuff as possible in the allotted time. Survival puts you up against waves of enemies.

The game does have some new tricks though. For one, you can fly. Going to Hell grants you a big pair of wings so you can soar, dive, and swoop over the city. Once you get the hang of it, and level up your flight ability some (really, make Flight the first thing you level up), this is a ton of fun. Flying makes way for new(ish) activities, Hellblazing, basically a flying race, and Salvation, where you have to fly around catching falling souls. There are also 4 new superpowers to use in combat, from summoning minions to shooting Medusa-inspired blasts that turn enemies to stone. The plot is also presented a little differently as it is narrated to you, storybook style.

As expected from a Saints Row game, everything is fun. You’re powerful, you kick ass, and you crack wise while doing it. You have access to a ton of ridiculous weapons like the Armchair A Geddon or the Diamond Sting, a SMG that shoots coins. Figures from history like Shakespeare, who is now the hottest DJ in Hell, make appearances. But something is missing. There are no real missions. As you start out you try to gain the loyalty of certain figures who can help you, but all they ask is that you do a series of the normal game activities. Set-pieces, which are one of the biggest strengths of the series, are absent and they are sorely missed.

Also missing is a licensed soundtrack. Music is used so well in the Saints Row series, and its absence is notable. There’s no bonding with your homies over a song as you drive to your next location (actually with flying there’s really no reason to drive at all), never a “this is my jam!” sing-a-long moment. Without tunes, the game feels a bit empty, a bit quiet. Quiet is not what I want from Saints Row. There is a masterful musical number in the middle of the game, but this was released as a teaser a couple months ago. It would have been much more impactful had it come as a surprise.

Saint's Row: Gat Out of Hell - Gat and Kinzie

Saints Row has always been great about customization of your character – you can choose your sex, race, body type, voice, style – and though this game doesn’t let you play as your personal version of The Boss, you do get to choose between playing as Gat or Kinzie.  However, this isn’t implemented all that well and it’s very clear that this is Gat’s story. While you can switch between Gat and Kinzie at will, in the storybook narrative actions are attributed to Gat no matter who you are playing as. Activity intros show Gat, most other characters address Gat when they talk. The game is Gat Out of Hell and unfortunately, making Kinzie a playable character seemed more like ticking off a female protagonist checkbox rather than really integrating her into the story.

Even the way The Boss is used, being targeted by Satan as a perfect match for his daughter, seems to be written with a man in mind. Now, I could give the writers the benefit of the doubt and say that this is an attempt to be progressive and turn the trope of a woman being forced to marry a man she doesn’t love on its head… but that feels disingenuous. The more likely explanation is that they wrote this game with a male Boss in mind.

Gat Out of Hell took me just over 4 hours to complete, doing the main story and a few optional activities and collections here and there. Completionists could easily get 8+ hours out of the game. Overall, it was fun to play even if it’s not the best Saints Row has to offer.

Verdict – Recommended for those who like the genre. Gat Out of Hell is lots of fun. It has satisfying combat and flying mechanics and an amusing story, but many of the things that make Saints Row special are missing.

Tips for This War of Mine

This War of Mine can be a very challenging game, especially when you first start playing. Here are some things I learned that may help you. When I play, I focus on avoiding combat as much as possible, so keep that in mind.

To Start…

  • Collect all the items from around your house.
  • Build a metal workshop, and use it to craft a crowbar so you can get into all the locked doors in the house.
  • If you find lockpicks, don’t waste them here as they are single use and can be traded or used while scavenging if you need to be quiet.
  • Other items to prioritize crafting are: a stove (which can and should be upgraded when possible) and a bed. If it’s cold (check the temperature in the top left of the screen) a simple heater is also very important.
  • You don’t really need a shovel to clear rubble. It makes it faster, but it’s not like your social calendar is full.

Scavenging

  • The descriptions of each area on the map are quite accurate – they’ll tell you if you can trade, will be in danger, or may need to steal.
  • When visiting a location for the first time, don’t bring anything with you, as it will reduce the number of inventory slots available to bring things back. Look around, figure out what tools you’ll need to collect everything, and bring them next time you go.
  • It’s best to clear out a whole location before moving on to the next, especially at the beginning of the game.
  • Avoid fighting when you can, and leave yourself a clear way to the exit in case you need to run away.
  • You can tell when someone is near you by red radar-like blips in their location. If the movements of the red circles are erratic, frequent, and small it’s likely just a rat.
  • Head home by 3 or 4am, otherwise you risk being shot by snipers.

Characters

  • Many characters have special skills that will help you out. Make sure you’re using the correct people for each task to make the most efficient use of your resources.
    • Boris is strong but slow. He has 17 inventory slots making him a great choice for scavenging. His strength will also help if you get into melee combat.
    • Bruno is a good cook. Use him to cook food, distill moonhine/alcohol, and make medicine.
    • Katia has bargaining skills. Use her for trading.
    • Marin is a handyman. Use him to craft things in the workshop and metal workshop.
    • Marko is a good scavenger. He has 15 inventory slots and scavenges faster.
    • Roman is trained in combat. He’s a good choice if you expect to have to fight on scavenging runs, or for guarding your house. Roman can get into fights with your other characters resulting in injuries, which is a big downside to a playthrough with him in it.
    • Zlata can bolster spirits. Give her a guitar or have her talk to other characters to cheer them up.

Keeping people Healthy and happy

  • If a character displays icons above their head, another character can talk to them to give them the items they need, or comfort them.
  • If the Hospital is a location option an injured or sick character can be healed for free.
  • Keep the temperature up in the house to avoid sickness.
  • The best way to heal an injury or sickness is to give a bandage/medicine then let the character sleep in bed for the night.
  • Having books and armchairs available will make characters happier.
  • Helping neighbours or friendlies you run into while scavenging will increase morale for most characters.
  • A quick and easy way to boost morale is to trade the doctor at the hospital and let him get the best of the deal (this will be considered a donation). He wants medicine or bandages.
  • Cigarettes and coffee will relax the characters who like these things (it will say it in their profile).
  • Stealing from or killing friendlies, or refusing people help will decrease morale.

This War of Mine crafting

 Weapons

  • Even if you don’t plan on fighting while scavenging, you will need weapons to defend your house from raids.
  • A knife is a good thing to make with your first weapon parts.
  • When you can, you’ll also want to build/get some kind of gun.
  • Crowbars, shovels, and hatchets can also be used for house defense, but aren’t as effective as a knife or gun.
  • Once you have a hatchet you will also see that you can chop up furniture in your house for wood/fuel. Be careful that you don’t use the hatchet to destroy furniture you’ve built.

Food

  • Canned food is very valuable for trading.
  • Set an animal trap to for a semi-regular source of meat.
  • Get vegetables whenever you can, as they will make cooking much more efficient.

items

  • Bandages and medicine are very valuable for trading if you have extra.
  • Don’t trade away your electrical parts, unless you’ve built everything, they are limited.
  • Build each type of crafting table when you can, and upgrade them so you can be more self-sufficient.
  • The exception is the two stills which I didn’t find to be worth building, unless you plan to do a lot of trading at the military base.
  • Wood and components are needed to build pretty much everything, but only stack to 2 and 4, making it hard to get enough from scavenging. To get a bulk supply of these, you can trade Franko when he comes to your house.

Other Tips

  • The Hospital will get attacked through the game and you can find medicine in the rubble. This will not be considered stealing.
  • During winter, make sure your heater is upgraded and full of fuel all the time.
  • Build a radio and check it all stations daily. It will tell you if raids are likely and you should put extra guards on, or what the weather will be like. It might give you an idea of when the war will end. It can also be left on a music station to relax the survivors.
  • Board up your house to keep it more secure from raids.
  • If you don’t have any smokers or coffee drinkers you can trade in these items.
  • You only lose if all of your starting character die or leave. You can still make it if some of them do, though morale will be affected.

That’s all for now! Let me know if you need more info, or if you have any tips for me.