Tag Archives: review

Sunset (Review)

Sunset is the latest, and probably last, game from Tale of Tales. They make rather unconventional, open ended games that attempt to provide meaningful narrative experiences. I like what they’re trying to do, though the execution is sometimes lacking. I really enjoyed The Path, while their (even) more abstract The Graveyard and Vanitas didn’t really connect with me.

With Sunset, Tale of Tales attempted to make a “game for gamers.” Whatever that means. They seem to think it means adding field of view sliders and multiple control modes? It’s kind of puzzling. I suppose Sunset has slightly more conventional gameplay than their other games, but to what end?

In Sunset you play Angela Burns, an American living in a fictional Latin American country under an oppressive regime. Angela is the housekeeper for Gabriel,  a powerful man in the government. Though the backdrop of civil unrest and revolution is potentially interesting, the game itself often isn’t.

Sunset game elevator

Each day you take an elevator up to a posh penthouse suite. While Angela narrates some thoughts you are presented with a list of tasks to do, though you can do more (or less) if you’d like. The main mechanic of the game is that you can perform tasks warmly or coldly. How you perform these actions affects your relationship with your absent employer. I didn’t even notice there were options on how to perform tasks until a few days in. Then all of a sudden, after choosing to paint a wall red instead of blue, leaving some lights on, and moving some slippers, Angela and Gabriel were on the cusp of a romantic relationship.

The idea of romancing your boss, especially given the nature of the working relationship, wasn’t one I was entirely comfortable with. The fact that Gabriel wasn’t even present in the game, and Angela never met him, made it even more strange. However, once I was started, I continued down the romantic path to see where it went. After a while, Angela and Gabriel start communicating via notes left around the apartment, though the content of these notes don’t seem to affect Angela’s narration events, at least in the beginning.

Sunset started out on rocky terrain by making the gameplay about housekeeping. That’s not really something I want to do in my own apartment, never mind choosing to pretend to do it in a video game. The story isn’t strong enough to make up for this. It takes a long time for anything interesting to happen. Days and days went by before the gameplay started integrating into the story of civil war. About an hour in, I was quite bored. Eventually some interesting tidbits of information started appearing, but they were spread too thinly throughout the game.

Sunset isn’t completely without charms. The voice acting is good, the music is great, and I enjoyed the increasing focus on art. But it’s just not enough. The good things in this game are few and far between. Had the game been 2 hours instead of 4 I think some of the issues could have been solved and the pacing would have been better but, as it is, Sunset just wasn’t an engaging experience.

Rating: Not recommended. Making a “game for gamers” seems to have backfired on Tale of Tales. As I read about how they tried to make this game appeal to the masses and see the options screen full of resolution options and horizontal smoothing sliders, I wonder – was Sunset made to mock “gamers” or was this really an attempt to go mainstream? Either way, I don’t recommend going out of your way to catch this Sunset.

This is my 9th post for Blaugust.

Retro Gaming Review – Kid Chameleon

This is my 5th post for Blaugust.

Time for another retro gaming review for day 5 of Blaugust. I reviewed the Sega Genesis platformer Kid Chameleon.

 

The Witcher, Diversity, and those darn SJWs

So, this topic has been around for a while, but doesn’t seem to be going away. Damion Schubert at Zen of Design talks about it quite a bit, which is what keeps it on my radar. I’ve written about The Witcher 3 and how it treats women, but stayed fairly silent on the issue of racial diversity since I don’t think my voice in this matter is that important. But I feel like I have to respond to all the “Omg, you terrible SJWs are the real racists for complaining about too many white characters. And also you’re ruining the entertainment industry. And the world!!!”

Jesus fucking christ, I’ve never come across so many people who are so unable to contextualize information and are so incapable of critical thought.

First things first…

Critique is not condemnation.

This seems rather obvious to me, but apparently isn’t to a lot of people. The people pointing out “hey, everyone in this game is white except for one demon lady” are not following it up with “therefore, CDPR are a bunch of racists and you shouldn’t buy their game.” They’re not even insinuating it and I have no idea how people are extracting that from the articles and reviews that have been written. They’re pointing out a lack of diversity, then generally moving on to talk about all the things they love about the game and how great it is.

It’s funny (and when I say funny I mean pathetic and sad) that those complaining about how the game-ruining SJWs are offended by everything are themselves offended by everything. Someone said The Witcher needs more diversity? Someone said Doom was too violent? They get offended on behalf of the developers, the fans, and the game itself, and take to YouTube or blogs to spew bile at those who dare to not thoughtlessly consume the game in question. Many people think Anita Sarkeesian has made a career for herself by being a professional victim, so they then make themselves into minor YouTube celebrities by creating video after video ranting about her. Professional victim vs. professional whiner? Professional asshole? What’s worse? What value are you adding to the world?

No game is perfect, and it’s really no different to criticize a game for its lack of diversity than it is to criticize its graphics. Acknowledging and talking about problematic elements can lead to better creations or at least interesting conversations. Having a problem with one aspect of a game doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it or don’t want others to but, to some, making a comment about diversity is ruining it for everyone.

Hmm, went on a bit of a tangent there.

So about The Witcher 3 and how white it is… I don’t have a problem with white characters (if I did what the hell would I play?), or a game that feels culturally Polish (I am Polish after all). What I have a problem with is the reactions people have to this particular piece of critique.

First, there’s the “historically accurate” response. It’s fantasy. Calling it historically accurate is an oxymoron (and moronic). Next.

Second, it’s based on pre-existing works of fiction. …So? The books do feature a place called Zerrikania, where the people are not white. It was a choice not to feature any Zerrikanian’s in Witcher 3. Also, as I talked about in my post on women in The Witcher, content doesn’t get directly translated from book to game. Developers make changes, choose what to include and what not to, add their own ideas. Source material is a guideline, not a rule.

The third argument is the only one that carries any weight at all with me. Poland, where the developers are, is overwhelmingly white. If all you see is white people around you, it’s not totally unreasonable to think that you would create something that reflects that (if a game was made or set in Toronto and was mostly white I’d definitely have some words to say about that). It’s not a wholly solid argument as you are creating for a global audience, but whether adding more diversity to the game was just something that wasn’t considered or something that was avoided due to a lack of frame of reference, it’s the only argument I’ve heard that I don’t dismiss outright. However, even assuming the best possible intentions in this scenario, the lack of people of colour is still worth pointing out. Maybe the developers will think of it next time. Maybe they won’t care. Either way, it’s worth having the discussion.

It’s rather scary how a whole subset of gamers are so vocally opposed to thinking critically about the media we consume. Sure, 90% of the time I play a game my main goal is entertainment, but just as I’d comment on awkward controls or bad voice acting, you can bet I’m going to comment on things like a lack diversity, and seek out those kind of critiques to read.

The Charnel House Trilogy (Review)

One of the greatest merits of the adventure genre is the platform it gives a writer to tell a story. They can tell of thrilling exploits, amusing capers, mysteries of the world and of the mind. They don’t need to rely on flashy visuals or reaction time-testing action. By letting us step into the shoes of a character we get to learn about their life and story through their conversations and observations about the world around them.

The Charnel House Trilogy - Inhale

The Charnel House trilogy, a classic style point-and-click adventure game by Owl Cave, succeeds at telling a great story. In the first chapter, Inhale, we meet Alex, a 20-something woman who seems to be working to overcome some hardships – a recent break-up that’s still in the forefront of her mind, a sick father.  Alex will be going on a journey. This first act functions mainly as a set-up for the rest of the game, and introduces us to the characters and themes that will be explored more deeply later on. Act 2, Sepulchre, was actually available as a standalone game for a while and is made stronger by the bookending chapters. Sepulchre focuses on Harold, who boarded a train with Alex, and has to deal with strange events that are happening. While Harold seems to be in an almost fugue-like state, Alex is plagued by her memories, which weigh heavily on her. Act 3, Exhale, goes back to Alex and does an amazing job at tying everything together.

It’s hard to say a lot about the story without giving things away, but the titles (Charnel House, Sepulchre) should certainly give you an idea of the direction it takes. While it is a horror game, it’s not scary in the traditional sense, but provides a gradually increasing sense of unease that worms its way in and turns into dread. The writing by Ashton Raze is on point. Dialogue goes from sounding completely natural to Lynchian levels of bizarre. The best praise I can give is that from Act 2 on, no line is wasted. Everything has a purpose, and is building towards something. It’s a very well constructed story with a self-aware script, and it gets better as it goes.

The Charnel House Trilogy - Exhale
For a game that maxes out at a 320 x 200 resolution, not a pixel is out of place. The style is very reminiscent of the Blackwell series (Ben Chandler did work on both this and The Blackwell Epiphany). The character portraits that pop up during conversations are lovely and the backgrounds, few that they are, are attractive.

The soundtrack often blends seamlessly into the background, but when it becomes more prominent, it’s really quite great. I highly recommend playing this with headphones, I put them on halfway through and was immediately impressed by how great it sounded. The voice acting is competent. Madeleine Roux’s Alex started off a little flat, but got better as the game went on. I have no complaints about the rest of the main players. Jim Sterling did well in his turn as a too-friendly neighbour, and the smaller parts were also generally well done. Though to be honest, I can’t hear Abe Goldfarb without thinking of Joey Malone.

The game is light on puzzles, but since the story is the star, that works out. There’s no mindless combining of inventory items or pixel-hunting for objects. Gameplay is quite straightforward, and I think more challenging puzzles would have been a distraction.

I only have one real complaint about the game. Inhale is peppered with in-jokes and nods to the voice actors. In-jokes are okay, but the first 10 or so minutes of the game consisted of little else, so that it was a bit of a turn-off.  Once the game got that out of its system, the story started steaming ahead and I was more than happy to go along for the ride.

The Charnel House Trilogy took me about 2.5 hours to complete. It’s currently available on Steam for less than $5, and it’s well worth the cost. Content warning for the game – it does deal with topics such as violence, stalking, and suicide.

Verdict – Highly recommended. If you’re a fan of adventure games, horror, or just great stories, The Charnel House Trilogy is a treat. It’s a taut, wonderfully written experience kept me intrigued and I ended up finishing it in one sitting.

 

 

Dragon Age 2 is a Better Game than Dragon Age: Origins

After playing Dragon Age: Inquisition, I had the urge to replay through the Dragon Age series. I started with Dragon Age: Origins and I have to admit, it was a little rough going. I think part of the problem was my choice of class. 2H warrior combat consists of pressing an ability button about 3x per minute, it’s really dull. Then I started Dragon Age 2 and I have to say, it’s a much better game.

Oddly, many people don’t agree with this. From a critical perspective (at least a metacritic perspective), DA:O has an average review score that’s a bit higher (8-9% depending on platform) than DA2. As far as user reviews go though, DA2 received a deluge of really bad review scores and has an average score of 44% compared to DA:O’s 86%. Because gamers are spiteful creatures, a little like Hurlocks.

That’s not to say DA:O is bad. It’s a good game and I like it but DA2 does almost everything better. Like…

Dialogue is better

  • Going back to DAO’s voiceless protagonist is very strange. The Warden doesn’t feel like an actual character, she’s an empty vessel. This is a huge downside to DAO.
  • The dialogue wheel is much more interesting and effective than static response options.
  • In DAO the mean/negative/renegade? conversation options just make your character sound like an asshole, while in DA2 the conversation options are more snarky or direct. Playing through the Dwarf Noble origin story, most of the “bad” dialogue options basically amounted to “Get away from me you lowly peasant.”
  • In DAO, despite women being present in all the major battles, and in positions of power and leadership throughout Thedas, female Wardens are still subjected to “What? You’re a woman? How shocking!” reactions all the time.

Relationships with your party members are better

  • No trading random gifts for sex or acceptance.
  • Each of your party members has their own life, it’s not 100% about the player character. You can visit them in their homes, they can visit you at yours. They can have relationships with other party members or NPCs which can grow over time.
  • Other characters can disagree with you, but still stick around.
  • In DAO it’s really easy to miss or even kill possible party members. If you didn’t know Zevran was supposed to be a party member, all you need to do is make one choice and you kill him and miss a lot. Likewise with Wynne – agree with Cullen in the Tower? She attacks you, you kill her, no healer for you this playthrough.

Combat is 700x better (I did the math)

  • From an animation standpoint, everything is faster and slicker.
  • You can move around the battlefield much quicker, rather than feeling like you’re wading through quicksand.
  • Talent trees are bigger, more interesting, and allow you to customize your character much more.
  • By the end of DAO you pretty much have every talent you can use so your choices meant very little.
  • Your companions get enough tactic slots for all of their abilities.
  • You can take your dog into fights with you without having them take a spot in your party.
  • When you tell a character to take a potion, they take the damn potion.

Story is better

  • I enjoyed the story from DAO, especially the first time around, but it’s a fairly generic fantasy.
  • DA2 has a lot more depth. There are more politics, there’s more nuance. Elements from other parts of Thedas get incorporated into quests or character back-stories rather than just referred to in one of the 7 billion codex entries.
  • Since the story takes place over a number of years, you can see how Hawke is making a difference in Kirkwall and in the lives of its people. The scope of the location is small, but the scope of the story and timeline is much bigger.

UI, inventory and controls are better

  • Having your party members have a single set of armor that can be upgraded, makes inventory management much less tedious. You can still customize their weapons and accessories but don’t need to worry about armor, boots, helms, and gloves. It’s also easier to tell when something is an upgrade.
  • Besides gear, there’s less junk to manage. At once point in DAO I had 20 gift items taking up space in my inventory, there’s none of that anymore. Also, quest items you pick up can’t be accidentally junked or sold.
  • Runes are much simpler to manage. Their effectiveness depends on the level of gear you’re adding them to so you don’t have to worry about different rune levels like journeyman, master, etc.
  • It’s much easier to tell your other party members to stay put, or move as a group. They get in your way a lot less often.
  • There’s more useful stuff to find, like items that start side-quests, recipes, or armor upgrades. This makes looting everything much more useful – you have a chance to pick up something other than yet another damn Darkspawn Dagger.

So that’s that. I know the big complaint is that DA2 recycled dungeon areas which, I’ll admit, isn’t good but in the grand scheme of things is rather minor.

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.

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.