Category Archives: Review

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.

This War of Mine (Review)

It’s dusk. The city has been under siege for a month. You haven’t eaten anything today because yesterday was your turn to eat. You’re sore, exhausted, and starting to feel sick. The temperature is hovering dangerously close to freezing and, though you’ve chopped up all the dressers and shelves in the house, you’re almost out of wood. You do have one book left, but reading is the only comfort you have and you don’t want to burn it. Not yet. You have a choice. You can go scavenge for food and medicine, probably having to steal what you need, possibly running into patrols who could shoot you on sight. Or you can stay in to guard the meager supplies you have left from others. What you really want to do is lie down, shut your eyes, and get some sleep. Maybe the shelling won’t be so bad tonight.

As you can probably guess, This War of Mine is not a fun game. It’s not a game you turn on to relax or clear your mind. But it is a very good game. Part of the appeal of video games is that they can take us to places we’ve never been and that includes places we would never want to be.

This War of Mine crafting

You play the game as a number of different civilians who have banded together in an abandoned house to try to wait out the war. You need to find food, medicines in case anyone gets sick or hurt, and fuel to keep warm. There’s also a crafting system that lets you build things that will help you to survive. Everything from beds and stoves, to weapons and ammo, to contraptions that can help you create your own materials – animal traps, rain water collectors, herb gardens. You can also build a radio which gives not only the comfort of music but also news which can help you be prepared for what’s coming next, whether it be cold weather or roving thieves.

The gameplay is fairly simple, but involves a lot of decision-making. During the day your characters can craft items, eat, use medicines, catch up on sleep, or do activities that will relax them, if available. There’s also a chance you’ll have visitors, whether it be people looking to trade or people asking for help. Night time is when scavenging is done. One character can be sent out to look for resources, while the rest stay at the house to either sleep or guard it from hostiles.

This War of Mine character

There are about a dozen playable characters. At the beginning you choose a group to start with and they’re the ones you need to try to keep alive for the game. Each character has their own habits and skills. Marin, for example is a handyman, so he is able to craft items with fewer materials. A very useful skill. Katia is good at bargaining, so she’s the best character to use for trading. Some characters can carry a lot of items or are very stealthy, making them good scavengers. The characters’ mental states are something that need to be managed throughout the game as well. Some characters are smokers, who can be relaxed by a cigarette. Some are sensitive – they become depressed very quickly if you need to steal from or kill other civilians, while others have an “it’s us or them” attitude. Make too many decisions that negatively impact a character’s mental state and they can become broken, effectively removing them from gameplay

11 Bit Studios have taken both war games and resource management to a new place were the challenge doesn’t come only from the mechanics, but also from the kinds of decisions you need to make. Will you steal from your elderly neighbors who have plentiful supplies and won’t defend themselves? Or will you risk venturing out further to avoid stealing from good people to get what you need? If you steal from your neighbors you will be responsible for shortening their lives. If you go to a more risky area then you could be hurt or killed yourself.

This War of Mine house

This War of Mine is a very challenging game, especially at the beginning. During my first couple tries, I quickly got my characters killed. After a bit I was able to get the hang of it and successfully completed a game. I was able to finish the game without fighting or killing anyone, and I appreciated that this was a possibility. I did steal, I did get shot at a few times, but I was always able to run away. The game does throw curveballs at you. As you get to a “comfortable” state where you have enough supplies, suddenly the weather will change and you’ll need much more fuel to keep warm. Or your go-to places for scavenging will dry up or become unreachable due to enemy attacks.

The game does have a few mechanical annoyances. It’s really easy to have the wrong character selected when you give a command. It’s not a huge deal to correct, but it happens so often. Combat is also quite awkward. Now, I think this is somewhat intentional. Given the setting combat should not be fun or easy, however I think it could be a bit more smooth. I also found the game lasted too long. In my first play, the war ended after 45 days. My second game lasted 25 days which I found a much better length. Again, given the setting, there’s merit to design choices which make the player uncomfortable, but there needs to be a balance between message and mechanics.

There is a decent amount of replay value in the game. There’s a lot of randomness, whether it be the house and supplies you start with, the locations you have access to, or the season the game starts in. Playing with different groups of characters can also change the experience. It also has the “just one more turn” addictiveness of something like Civ or XCOM.

Verdict – Highly recommended. This War of Mine is an achievement which combines a fresh take on war with challenging resource management and compelling gameplay. It forces you to make hard choices and has real emotional impact. While there are some mechanical annoyances, I highly recommend the experience.

Content warning – Obviously there’s a lot of dark stuff in this game. Content that can be encountered includes gendered slurs, allusion to rape (of non-player characters), violence, depression, death, and suicide.

If you’re looking for some tips on This War of Mine to get you started, check out my next post.

The Cat Lady (Review)

When we first meet Susan Ashworth, she has just swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills. She’s tired, traumatized, she feels like life has never done her any favours, and she’s had enough. Susan looks forward to oblivion, but it doesn’t come. Instead she finds herself in a surreal world which quickly turns from serene to horrifying. She can’t die. She’s been chosen to overcome five monsters, human parasites, that feed off violence and suffering. Rejoining the living is the last thing Susan wants, but she doesn’t have a choice.

The Cat Lady - Susan in the pest controllers basement

Mechanically, The Cat Lady is a point and click adventure game, except it’s fully controlled by keyboard so there’s not really any pointing or clicking. The keyboard controls were a bit awkward at first, but didn’t take very long to get used to. There is a lot of dialogue and gameplay consists of choosing responses and solving puzzles. The puzzles hit the sweet spot of having some challenge to them, but not being overly difficult. Solutions made sense, which is not always the case in adventure games. Often you just need to pay attention to your surroundings.

Narratively, The Cat Lady will take you on a journey that is disturbing, psychologically horrifying, and thought-provoking. It’s a game which is in turns harrowing and enlightening, infuriating and empowering.

The Cat Lady - Susan exploring an apartment.

Susan doesn’t start off as the most sympathetic character – people suffering from depression often aren’t to those on the outside. We don’t know why she hates life so much. We see people trying to help her and befriend her, but she’s so far down the rabbit hole that she doesn’t even see them. It’s not until Susan begins to suffer horror at the hands of the parasites, and experience some shared suffering that she begins to wake up. We begin to learn more about her past and why she has problems trusting people. She begins to entertain the prospect of letting other people in.

The Cat Lady excels at one of the most important aspects of games for me, atmosphere. While the graphics are a bit rudimentary and not technically amazing, I found this game visually stunning. The use of colour is genius. The majority of the game is in black and white with occasional pops of colour. Often it’s blood red, which is a common visual style, but The Cat Lady really stands out when it adds other colours into the mix. It changes the atmosphere completely. The dull blacks and whites show how the real world is an ugly, hopeless place for Susan, while colour starts to seep in during the more surreal parts of the game. When the game is the most violent, the most disturbing, the environments are suffused with suffocating greens. Golds and rich yellows are warm and comforting at a surface level, but often cloak the characters with the most sinister intentions.

The Cat Lady - Susan and The Queen of Maggots

The sound effects are sharp and often startling, while the music punctuates the game’s important events to great effect. The soundtrack covers all kinds of different styles and moods, from angry NIN-esque industrial, to erratic jazz, to sorrowful classical piano pieces.

This game is very unique. It’s like nothing I’ve played before. It covers some really dark topics with sensitivity, maturity, and style. At one point, Susan talks to a psychiatrist, who asks questions about her relationship with her parents and what her life was like. As I chose the responses, I felt like I was the one being psychoanalyzed, because there were responses that fit my own life pretty well. The ability to choose Susan’s responses about her past made me feel close to her in a way that was more deep and unexpected than most games are able to pull off. Even for people not currently suffering from depression, there’s something to relate to and empathize with here.

The Cat Lady - flowers

Really my only complaint about the game is that on occasion it’s too verbose. There are some extremely long conversations that take place, where the only interaction required from the player is choosing a response every couple of minutes or so. And often you end up choosing all the responses anyway. Though the conversations are interesting and well-written, and the voice acting is good, they’re just too long. Some of the dialogue could have easily be edited down, which would have improved the pace of the game.

The Cat Lady is made up of 7 chapters and has about 9 hours of gameplay. While I found the game exceptional, I do have to give very strong content and trigger warnings. While the visual style isn’t overly realistic the game has a lot of violence (including references to sexual violence), and tackles topics like death, depression, suicide, and abuse in a very direct way.

Rating – 9/10 – The Cat Lady is unlike anything I’ve played before and really broadens the scope of what adventure and horror games can do. It has wonderful atmosphere and tells a story that is both harrowing and empowering. It will take you to a very dark place, but there is light at the end.


I made a few videos of my playthrough of The Cat Lady, here’s the entirety of the first chapter if you want to see it for yourself.

Jurassic Park: The Game (Review)

So much for going through my Steam backlog alphabetically.

Jurassic Park: The Game was developed by Telltale and released in 2011. I’ve been slowly playing my way through it over a number of months. It’s not a long game but it’s well-suited to being played in small doses.

Jurassic Park: The Game intro screen

Dinosaurs.

First, I have to say, I love the movie Jurassic Park. I saw it in theaters 3 times when I was 10, I saw it when it was re-done in 3D (despite avoiding going out to movie theaters otherwise), I re-watch it at home at least once a year. It’s one of the rare things from childhood that isn’t solely enjoyed through a lens of nostalgia-tinted glasses. It’s still an exceptional experience for me now. So I might have a better opinion of the game than others who aren’t so taken with it.

Jurassic Park: The Game takes place within the timeline of the first movie, but with completely new characters. When Nedry doesn’t make it to the boat with the dino embryos, a mercenary is sent to retrieve them. Other major characters include the park veterinarian and his daughter and some more mercenaries, sent in by InGen to rescue the people remaining in the park. You play all of these characters – a total of 6 of them – at some point during the game, and the transitions between characters are seamless. Perhaps a little too seamless, as it was sometimes hard to tell when a switch had happened.

Jurassic Park: The Game Harding, Jessie, and Nima

Though the story isn’t anything exceptional, it’s true to the spirit of the movie. People being awestruck by dinosaurs and surviving attacks is pretty much the point. The writers are able to create a good amount of tension as each of the main characters have their own, often conflicting motivations. The dialogue sounds natural and the voice acting is competent. The environments are also well done, using replicas of the scenes from the movie, along with some new areas.

While this game adheres to Telltale’s general oeuvre, it’s also quite different from the more recent releases. The story isn’t as strong, so I didn’t grow attached to any of the characters as I did in The Walking Dead. As a result, JP isn’t soul-crushing like many of the later Telltale Games. It doesn’t make you love characters over the course of a game only to kill them in front of you and make you think it’s your fault for bad decision making. There are decisions to be made, but they aren’t difficult and rarely have the same weight or consequences as a decision in TWD.

Jurassic Park: The Game - Harding being eaten by a T-Rex

You might see death scenes like this a lot.

In terms of gameplay, I found JP to be a lot more fun than TWD or A Wolf Among Us. Now, I am someone who likes quick time events, so if you don’t you can take this with a grain of salt. JP felt more game-y than the recent Telltale games. There were many more places where you could fail, and more puzzles too. The QTEs could often be quite unforgiving, requiring some very fast twitch reactions, though not every failure resulted in death. There’s a medal system for each scenario. No mistakes gave you gold, while if you made many mistakes you could end up with a bronze or no medal at all. These medals didn’t seem to impact anything other than my pride though.  If you fail a critical event, your character dies, but not permanently, you just have to redo it until you succeed.

Though the story and characters aren’t particularly memorable, I enjoyed my time in Jurassic Park. The 4 chapters in the game took a total of about 7-8 hours to complete. I do recommend using a gamepad if you’re playing this on PC, it made the QTEs (with one notable exception) much easier.

Rating: 7/10 – A fun game that captures the spirit of Jurassic Park with a lot of dinosaurs and fast-paced action sequences. Unless you don’t like quick-time events, then you should skip this one.

Analogue: A Hate Story

I used to be a gamer who was proud of having a small library of steam games that I actually played. Over the last year though, I’ve become one of those people, frivolously partaking in every sale and buying way more games than I have time to play them. As I’ve just reached 49% unplayed games in my library, I decided I needed to do something about it. Clearly the answer is to play more games. Inspired by Dahakha’s Steam Challenge, I’m going to try to work my way through the unplayed games in my library.

Steam library

I’ve also got about 30 games in a Finished category, and about a dozen in a Go Away category of games I’m not interested in. Does it drive anyone else crazy that you can’t delete DOTA from your library when you never wanted it in the first place?

Anyway, I thought I’d start at the top so the first game I played, when I could drag myself away from Dragon Age, was Analogue: A Hate Story. Analogue is a visual novel with a lot of choose-your-own-adventure aspects and a touch of dating sim, maybe. In the game, you are investigating a generation ship that disappeared 600 years ago and has just been found. You’re tasked with finding out what happened by reading through the ship’s logs. The ship has two AI which can help you with your mission, though they aren’t particularly reliable narrators.

Gameplay mainly consists of reading through the ship’s logs and asking the AI about them, who may then open up new logs for you. The main interface for accessing the logs is slick, attractive, and very easy to use. There is also a Linux console interface which you use to perform certain actions on the ship, such as enabling or disabling the AI, or downloading the log files. As someone who has never used Linux I found this interface a bit puzzling at first. It’s the first thing you see when the game starts and it took me a few minutes to figure out what it was expecting me to do.

The most exceptional part of the game is the writing. The logs, written as diary entries are enthralling. There are multiple authors and each one has a clear and distinct voice. They paint a picture of a spacefaring society that has somehow regressed into a medieval patriarchy. You don’t get access to all the entries though, and often get things out of order, so you need to piece together the story for yourself. Depending on which AI you have active, you may learn some parts of the story but not others. It’s quite well done.

Analogue: A Hate Story - conversation with Hyun-ae

As for the interaction with the AI though… ehh. One AI is a giggly, cosplay-loving schoolgirl. The other is a casually misogynist and homophobic security program.  If I had known nothing about the creator of this game, Christine Love, I likely would have written the game off as sexist drivel and quit before I got too far in. However, I assumed that there was probably going to be a bigger point or message to the game, so I continued.

Analogue made me feel a number of the same things that To the Moon did, though not as strongly. The overall story and writing is great, but the two characters that are around to comment on everything just bugged the hell out of me. I think that was part of the point, but I don’t really play games to be annoyed. Based on interests and gaming preferences, I don’t think I’m quite the target demographic for this game.

I haven’t played a ton of visual novels before, the most similar experience I’ve had to this was Long Live the Queen. An aspect of the genre I find hard to reconcile is that I want to see multiple endings, but the process of replaying and trying new things to get to those endings is exceedingly tedious. Careful use of saves can reduce the amount of repetition, but it’s hard to know exactly when the important branches take place and I find myself mindlessly clicking through things I’ve already read/seen way more than is enjoyable.

Verdict: Recommended for those who like the genre. The writing is strong and the story is compelling. While I personally don’t enjoy the repetitiveness required to experience all of the endings, I think this game will appeal to fans of visual novels.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (Review)

It’s 2054. You are Jack Mitchell, a stoic, well-muscled, permanently scruffy, United States Marine. Your advanced weaponry lets you jump over tall buildings in a double bound, paint enemies with threat grenades, and control remote operated drones. You are the manliest of men. You’re sent to Seoul to battle North Koreans along with your brother in arms, Will Irons. Will is a stoic, well-muscled, permanently scruffy, United States Marine. When you first met him you were a little jealous that he had an even better sounding all-American manly man name than you, but you got over it and now you’re best buds. The mission in Korea ends in tragedy and you are honorably discharged from your military duties because of injuries sustained. But your story is not over. The Illusive Man Kevin Spacey can rebuild you. He has the technology. Jonathan Irons is the CEO of Atlus, the most powerful private military force in the world, and there’s no way that can end badly. On your first mission you’re paired up with Gideon, a stoic, well-muscled, permanently scruffy…

Snark aside, I actually quite enjoyed the game. The fact that I’d never played any CoD game before likely increased my enjoyment. Advanced Warfare is the 12th Call of Duty game (14th if you count the ones released on handheld/mobile) released since 2003. The fact that increasingly shiny versions of the game are pumped out every single year never inspired a whole lot of confidence, and I’m sure that if I had been a fan of the series all along I’d be getting burnt out on the whole concept by now. But for a first time player, it was a lot of fun.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare Kevin Spacey as Jonathon Irons

First of all, it looks absolutely gorgeous on my XBox One. Close-ups of people look almost photo-realistic. There are often dozens of enemies on-screen, along with allies, civilians, and vehicles. The environments look equally great and there is so much variation in the 15 mission campaign that nothing ever feels stale or reused. AW takes you from the high rises and neon lights of Seoul, to icy arctic crevasses, to blue skies and traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Likewise, your combat specialization changes from mission to mission, giving you access to novel abilities so gameplay changes and evolves throughout as well. In some missions you can grapple up to rooftops, or climb walls. In others you can send out a remote-controlled drone to deal with enemies, and block incoming attacks with your exo shield. Some levels require stealth, so you’re given a cloaking ability and mute charges for silent kills. It says a lot that I found the stealth parts of the game very enjoyable, because I’m generally far too impatient for subtlety in action games. Gameplay is fast, fun, and the controls are responsive and smooth.

The highlights of the game are the action setpieces. One of the standouts had me running through traffic, then jumping on the tops of buses as they sped down the highway to get to an enemy vehicle. Another had me crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on foot, weaving through abandoned cars, taking out enemies with sonic pulses, and ended with a rather spectacular explosion.

However, the reliance on setpieces also brought about the game’s biggest weakness, as it made many levels feel very much on the rails. There was a definite feeling that I should just be going from point A to point B as fast as possible and, though the game does have collectible Intel that is slightly off the path, exploration was discouraged. I often saw a huge message “You are leaving the mission area” message displayed across my screen, which was jarring considering how clean and HUDless the UI was. Likewise, AI squadmates do everything they can to keep you moving forward quickly, which often involves repeating an order over and over if you don’t carry it out fast enough. “Mitchell, set the charge,” “Mitchell, take him out,” “Mitchell, open the door,” “Mitchell, change your socks.” That got annoying fast. This is where I really felt that CoD was catering to the lowest common denominator. As a player I couldn’t be trusted to pay attention to the mission details at the start and carry out the objectives on my own, or figure anything out myself. The game felt it needed to tell me to run here, duck, put up my shield, open the door, use the grappling hook, shoot, press X to pay respects.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare Gideon shooter bro

The story and characters of AW are rather trite but, even as someone who has never played the series before, I knew this is not a game you play for the story. Twists can be seen a mile away. Characters are not memorable. At the beginning of the game I was dismayed that I couldn’t tell any of the characters, including my own, apart because all the white male soldiers (90% of the characters) have the exact same facial hair. Does military regulation enforce permanent 5 o’clock shadow? Eventually I realized that not knowing who anyone was didn’t really detract from the experience and I stopped worrying about it.

There is a dearth of women in the game. I went through a full 1/3 of the campaign before I saw a woman up close and talked to her. A very important scene that fleshed out Mitchell as a character was unfortunately deleted at this point, but here’s how it was supposed to go:

Mitchell tensed up as he saw Ilona. He didn’t know what to do. It had been six years since he’d seen a woman up close and that had been his mother. “Oh my god, a girl. Don’t fuck this up,” he said to himself as she approached. He tried complimenting her boots because had heard that chicks dig that. She looked at him sideways and told him they were standard issue. He made an excuse and ran back to his bunk as fast as he could without betraying his cool exterior. “Stupid, stupid Mitchell” he chastised, slapping himself on the forehead repeatedly. Maybe once he proved his prowess in battle she would learn to love him.
/scene

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare - Ilona, the lone woman soldier

Thankfully, Ilona does become an actual character and is with you for a number of missions but as far as female representation, she’s pretty much it. Considering 15% of military forces are female now, and AW takes place 40 years in the future, I hoped to see more than one woman (especially in Atlus which is presumably not beholden to US policy). Disappointing, but sadly not unexpected. You can play as a female in multiplayer. Apparently, CoD:Ghosts was the first entry in the series that had this option. Ghosts was released in 2013. Is this real life? Of course, since multiplayer is completely first-person, your gender doesn’t matter a whole lot as you can only tell the difference when you get shot and start breathing audibly. But it’s nice the option was added after 10 years.

I did play a few hours of multiplayer, and while I prefer the campaign, it’s quite fun too. I haven’t had a chance to try all the different modes, I mainly stick to team deathmatch or confirmed kill. The mode I really like is Survival. This is a co-op mode with up to 4 players and the goal is to survive waves of bots. There are also some objective based waves thrown in to mix things up a bit. As someone who does not have much experience playing FPSs online against other people, Survival mode offers a bit more leeway and I found it much easier to get into. It’s good practice before jumping into real matches where people who have been playing online CoD for the last 10 years will frag you repeatedly until you give up.

 Rating: 8/10 – Advanced Warfare is not a game you play for the story or to inspire deep thoughts, but it delivers what it promises – a slick, fast-paced, first-person shooter with outstanding setpieces. The amount of hand-holding the game gives starts getting tedious around 2/3 of the way through but the campaign ends at the right time, before this gets too annoying. Overall an enjoyable single-player experience, with good multiplayer content that will stretch out the game time as long as you want it to.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (Review)

Red Creek Valley is a place of duality. It’s home to both great beauty and abject horror. One minute the soft, warm light of the sunset reflects off placid water, instilling a sense of serenity. The next you step into the shadows and are filled with unease. Traps litter the entrance to the valley – are they keeping people in or out? The scenery fools you into thinking you are welcome here, but the darkness within soon makes itself known.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter tells you right at the beginning that it is a narrative experience that will not hold your hand. It holds to that. As you walk into the Valley you’re not told where you’re going or what to do, just that you need to find Ethan Carter. This is quite refreshing. I’ve become so used to waypoints, detailed maps, hints, and having objectives listed on the side of my screen. Ethan Carter urges you to explore and rewards you for it. The game mechanics also aren’t spelled out, but they’re easy enough to pick up.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter scenery

Ethan Carter is a beautiful game. Every five feet I wanted to stop and take a screenshot but at the same time the screenshots don’t really do it justice, as the combination of visuals, sounds, and music really make the experience. The soundtrack is exquisite, haunting, and often ominous. It adds to the sense of wonder during exploration and keeps you on edge as you anticipate how Red Creek Valley’s secrets will present themselves next.

This game really excels in creating atmosphere. There was a major sense of foreboding any time I needed to leave the beautiful country backdrop and go inside. It didn’t matter if it was a Church or a mine, just seeing a doorway made the hairs on my arms stand up. At one point I stood frozen at the entrance to a crypt, knowing there was something to find down there, but dreading descending into the darkness. Tension is maintained through the whole experience. Even just walking through the lovely environments, listening to the haunting music, I was often startled by sudden narration or other sounds.   It maintains constant eeriness, without getting overwhelming. There is only one sequence in the game where you are in any real danger (though death has very little consequence). On one hand, it seemed a little out of place to have an immediate, rather than psychological threat. But on the other, it did amp up the game’s intensity and added a sense of urgency that was otherwise missing.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter cemetary

Gameplay is very simple. This is a first person exploration and mystery game. You can walk, run, crouch (though I found only one place I needed to crouch in the game), and examine or pick up objects. I really enjoyed the puzzles. You weren’t given much direction but everything was logical and the solutions made sense. The major puzzles involve solving murders. You examine the scene, which usually involves the body, the weapon, and a few other key elements. Once you’ve examined everything and put things in their rightful places, you can ‘communicate’ with the body of the victim, which sparks a new puzzle. Vignettes will appear around the crime scene and you need to put them in the correct order so you can reconstruct and watch what happened. Every murder you solve tells you a bit more about the story. There are also some non-murder puzzles to solve, and I found these even more compelling. A favourite of mine involved discerning truth from illusion as you explored an abandoned house. As you solve these puzzles you discover things like Newspaper clippings and stories written by Ethan, which flesh out the narrative.

The overall story is well told – this isn’t about simple murder, there are hints of a greater darkness everywhere. The game raises a lot of questions but doesn’t answer them all. I’m okay with this, as some things are best left up to our imaginations. The voice actor for the main protagonist does a solid, if not exceptional job. He conveys the paranormal detective aspect well, but his lines are a little one-note.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter ghosts

In a few ways, Ethan Carter reminded me of Murdered: Soul Suspect. Solving the mysteries and inspecting clues can be similar, and stylistically there some overlaps. However, unlike Murdered, Ethan Carter isn’t confused about what it is. There are no tacked on action sequences. The game promises exploration and mystery solving and that is what it delivers.

I have very few complaints about Ethan Carter. Sometimes parts of the game world felt a little too large – going from one end of the map to the other required a fair bit of travel time. This was a good thing while I was first exploring, but if I needed to backtrack it felt like a bit of a time sink.

My playthrough of Ethan Carter lasted between 4-5 hours. Given the price-point and the story being told, this seemed just about right. I was tense through the whole game, if it lasted any longer it might have been overkill.

Rating: 9/10 – The vanishing of Ethan Carter is one of the most attractive and atmospheric games I’ve played. It maintains an amazing amount of tension throughout, without going into full horror game mode. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys exploring and narrative gaming experiences.

Content warning – A couple instances of bigoted language.


I have a copy of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter for Steam to give away. It’s one of the pre-order editions, which includes some bonuses like the soundtrack, wallpapers, a making of album, and a map of Red Creek Valley. If you want a chance to win, just leave a comment and tell me what your favourite mystery story is (from a game, book, movie, whatever). On Friday October 3rd I will randomly choose a winner. 


I’m making video walkthroughs of the game. If you plan to play it, I’d suggest you skip them and play for yourself though (unless you’re stuck, then check them out). Here’s the first one.

Edit (October 3rd) – I have randomly selected a winner, and that winner is Dahakha! Code has been sent. Thanks everyone for entering!