Arby's Backlog Hell Arbiter Libera’s profile
~ Let's Get Some Games Done ~
An Ongoing Exercise in Clearing the Backlog Extraordinaire
Nothing special here for now, really. Just my updates divided for somewhat navigable lists
using the artwork I used when updates were originally published with all now updated to current art assets fitting to match 2019 updates and also easier to click on if you're using mobile. Maybe I'll add more to the "homepage" at some point, but this is serviceable for now.
First Report of the year didn't take long even if I do wish it was for a better game. Admittedly, I beat Blood Knights in 2020 and typing the multimedia review was the actual hold-up. Hope you celebrated end of the year famously and you'll stick with me in 2021 as well.
( PC (Steam) – Action, RPG – 2013 ) + TRAILER
Even though it may not exactly change how you look at vampire-themed games in general, Blood Knights is still a game that left a mark. How does this action RPG fare with one foot in what has become a rather ubiquitous genre mix and with other in a rarely seen bloodsucker game? Well, it could've done better in both departments.
What struck me as the oddest decision was to not set the game in some fantastical homebrew world, but rather our own medieval times with a fantasy spin. Rome, for example, is very much real with their vampire hunting organization running around. It's precisely following one of those where we see our protagonist Jeremy & company in a sticky situation. Seeing as others are warriors it falls on the magic wielding priest of the group to decide there's only one way out – they'll bond Jeremy to a vampiress called Alysa so they can use her powers and get out of the tomb. Why were they there? Looking for something called the Blood Seal as unleashing it would essentially turn the world upside down. What managed to take me by surprise is the fact they FAIL, resident vampire boss has a bad day and turns our protagonist into the very thing he hunted mere moments earlier. With his former compatriots leaving him for dead and bond with Alysa still active it falls on the unlikely pair to chase after the Blood Seal seeing as merely removing it cracked the Moon and it would be a terrible weapon in vampire hands.
While all of the above actually makes for an interesting premise, one that facilities co-op play rather than switching characters if you go at it alone, I'm disappointed to report it fails to deliver on narrative fronts. Perhaps because the game is so short yet you could dismiss that thanks to having no filler to speak of as you're constantly driven to reach your goal. I'm fairly certain both story and characters were afterthoughts here. For a war that's been going seemingly forever the Church isn't exactly in the know about what vampires can do, but they sure have their miracles. Likewise, while there are hints about vampires own society based on comments Alysa and some make, you're left to guessing what “bred for war” and “wild free vampires” mean in this context. Maybe latter was just an excuse to bring werewolves into the story as enemies? Yeah, I'll go with that.
Jeremy and Alysa are our only protagonists and for a relationship that's supposed to almost represent a buddy cop affair that eventually turns into grudging respect we only see intermittent hints of the latter. It's like the writer(s) HAD that very idea, but didn't have enough non-combat and dialog bits to pull it off so you get those sudden “when did you two go from forced servitude to cracking mutual jokes?” scenes. Besides those two there are only a handful of characters that get, well, characterization and rarely overstay their welcome. Even with dubious VA I kinda wish they did, though. Surprising no one, sexy all-female vampire bosses get plenty of screen time. There are some basic attempts to portray jealousy from Jeremy's second-in-combat and doubt from other characters, but like I said – it's all very basic and not enough to carry legitimate character arcs.
With all that in mind it's probably for the best I get to gameplay and mechanics. After all, I don't think Blood Knights really is an RPG in true sense of the word. Rather it is an action game with roleplaying elements aka token stats and gear, along with binary quest choices that encourage committing fully to either human or vampire side.
You could say it's worrisome just how uneven our two protagonists are in their gameplay styles. Even if he IS the main character Jeremy's melee approach almost immediately become secondary to Alysa's twin-stick rapid fire repeater crossbows. Especially once she levels up a bit and you've invested in faster fire, higher critical chance and movement speed skills. This resulted in Jeremy falling into severe disuse, perhaps reserved only if unfortunate camera angle or enemy spawns put me in a position where vampiress would get needlessly damaged. In fact, due to there not really being a block function I'd argue playing as our strapping protagonist would be a very poor choice since he relies on wonky dodges and then striking in retaliation. On the flip-side Alysa's limited grenades and longer cooldowns are, in theory, supposed to be limiting factors, but due to how affordable/avoidable it all is this is a non-issue with some rings you get later on. Seeing as I haven't played on hard I can't comment on how much that changes the base formula, though.
It's like this – go through a level taking out enemies and picking up all the gold they drop. You find chests that provide loot for very elementary stat changes like damage, armor or crit chances, with each character getting their assorted stuff. Only sometimes you will come across a Blood Coin and after pocketing five of them you upgrade you attribute (health, strength or luck). Blood Knights has an inventory system, skill and attribute system. Hell, there's an even shopping in case you want to specifically customize how your characters play or looks as gear alters appearance. Problem here is none of this really matters. Game will provide enough loot to keep you organically going without much hassle so you're just going through the motions to regularly equip pieces that have green arrows pointing up. I only ended up going to the trader to dispose of outdated equipment and looking at stuff like Lucifer's Fang or some such I didn't really need.
Game's major gameplay headache boils down to just how shaky it all feels to play. All those pieces necessary for an action game are here, but overall moment-to-moment impression is almost something released a generation too late. That's not necessarily a BAD thing considering I really liked action games this apes like Return of the King or such, but additional elements bolted on don't add much and just dilute an already short package.
Sung in Blood ( Fantasy – 1992 – 200 pages ) + GOOD READS
Considering this is Glen Cook we're talking about here, man with experience writing both fantasy action and detective stories alike, I was surprised to see how half-baked both of these elements turned out in Sung in Blood. As I hope to explain below I think the problem may be his writing style not complimenting a fast-paced story like this one.
City of Shasesserre is protected by its, well, Legendary Protector Jehrke Victorious who is essentially this Gary Stu keeping tabs on the city in unofficial capacity simply because A) he's so badass that no one, not even kings, can really out-maneuver or overpower him, and B) he seems to be immortal considering he's been running the gig for centuries. Well, that changes in the opening as he fall victim to an elaborate murder scheme that gets him literally nailed to the very wall of his tower. In steps Rider and his posse of friends as it falls on them to gradually unravel the mystery of WHO got his old man, seeing as WHY isn't really a mystery considering he was ultimately a beloved stabilizing influence. There's also a matter of whether Rider now inherits the title of Legendary Protector or whatever else he actually wants to do.
Problem is that last part is kind of lie on my end.
Rider, a power house in his own right or else the magical protective Web Jehrke maintained would just go poof without someone to mend it, settles naturally into solving the mystery. Not overtly out of any love for his father because he is that stoic, distant and all-competent protagonist type, but more due to it needing to be done as these perfidious easterners involved are looking to take out even more key figures in the city to destabilize and take over. Now I've matched everything that Sung in Blood feels inclined to tell you about Rider himself. Same really applies to his companions who stick to Cook's reliable nicknames routine so you have the likes of Preacher, Soup, etc with standout being a shapeshifting Imp Su-Cha who definitely gets mileage in this story. Out of all of those I'd argue maybe only Su-Cha and barbarian Chaz get some further identities beyond one line summaries, those of comedic relief and straightforward northerner. That's not to say Sung in Blood is above having them do whatever story requires at the moment, but I'm left puzzled as to whether that speaks of depth or sheer convenience.
Reason why all of the above does not click for me is simply because you have a story that stops being a mystery about a quarter or so in only to turn into this prolonged parry and riposte scenario as the “real” antagonist is revealed. Secondly, due to Rider being the one who primarily does things while others seem to just get kidnapped or fail at their tasks with their feeble recoveries always somehow factoring into Ride-master's plans. What we have at hand is an extended case of dick measuring if I ever saw any, albeit one adapted into unexplained magical workings wielded by key figures.
At the end of the day you have a story with basic stereotypes for characters playing out at breakneck pace with signature author focus on keeping it flowing without being bogged down by details. Result is a very lean novel that could have honestly benefited from a higher page count if only to expand on a cliffhanger ending that never gets resolved as tale of Rider and Shai Khe is never re-visited. Airships are cool, though.
I managed to sneak in one last Report for the year. On the offer are six short reviews to take a break from my regular walls of text. There were some games I had plans for full reviews, but instead I axed them from my hard drive because if a game languishes there for half a year or more I'm clearly not into it that much and will re-visit at some point later on. I had another book review in mind so that's something I'll get around to posting in next year's inaugural Report.
Small change I'm making is linking to my own reviews where applicable [Steam, etc] provided you click on cover art because hey, gotta chase them Steam points.
Through the Darkest of Times ( PC (Steam) – Strategy – 2020 ) + TRAILER
Taking a trip to see the rise of Nazi Germany, its peak and eventual downfall is definitely on the unique side as far as experiences go and, if nothing else, Through the Darkest of Times excels at it. Shame it falters at other aspects you'd expect a strategy of this type to handle far better.
Aforementioned problems quickly rear their ugly heads as it doesn't take long for you to realize this immersive period is built on rather simplistic turn-based strategy. After randomly rolling your character you have a leader of your resistance group. With time you expand it with more generated members, each with their traits and proficiency in matters of subterfuge, propaganda, etc, and map of Berlin offers hotspots to interact for missions. You assign members to task, possible modifiers like equipment come into play for risk/success rates, and off you go. Problem? Even though it may make some narrative sense in order to stay alive, game almost encourages you to play passively and forego high profile missions. Only things that actually matter are those that directly affect group's longevity prospects aka funds, supporters and lastly morale. Keep those decent and you can stroll through game's four chapters with ease.
Apart from those mechanical bits that affect the math you also have evocative narrative CYOA pieces which are, sadly, mostly there for the fluff. Game is obviously geared very much against the Nazis and definitely does not hold back any punches in terms of what topics are broached. Morality boils more down to how OTHERS see the regime, how people are converted to it, etc. Historic events are the highlight of the game and serve as milestones. To feed into the above they're also arbitrary time skips so you have no idea just how long you'll spend in each chapter. This ended up backfiring more than once and I never got to set off that bomb during the Summer Olympics in 1936. Or smuggle out those prisoners when I had the chance...
Vampire - Coteries of New York ( PC (Steam) – Visual Novel – 2019 ) + TRAILER
A Visual Novel that doesn't require any familiarity with Vampire: the Masquerade to be enjoyed yet I would still say Coteries of New York is helped if you have some. Particularly with the latest edition of the tabletop roleplaying game that updated the setting used here. Is THIS game worth playing, however?
Having only three playable clans; Brujah, Ventrue and Toreador, is an odd choice, but one obviously aimed at representing core values of the vampire “government” that is the Camarilla. Seeing your character was on the receiving end of a rogue Embrace it's not long before your life is spared by Prince of New York and giving lease on unlife under Sophie Langley as she ends up vouching for you. If any of this is confusing don't worry because game has a neat glossary you can reference. One glance at the genre should pretty much tell you everything you need to know. Only “stat” to really keep track of is your Hunger as the only indicator you have is how much strawberry gem is smeared over your screen. I can't shake the feeling an actual stat screen could've immensely helped here to fight the arbitrary nature of what your character can do at points. Adding a sort-of timed nightly nature means you'll have to forego bits of content for replays, awkward narrative that should have perhaps given you more to do past errand duties and a single railroaded ending make this a short ride even with rather solid writing.
Other than gorgeous production values for the genre you can't help but marvel at, even if you're looking more at the dialog screen than animated backgrounds themselves, in case you ARE familiar with the source material there's quite a few references and callbacks here. Particularly with canonical characters in such a hotly contested area like New York. Primary issue running through Coteries of New York is just how cut short it plays. Both in how it strings main events and in the ending itself which throws everything to the wind for a sudden cop-out not even companions you worked for can save.
A Case of Distrust ( PC (Steam) – Adventure – 2018 ) + TRAILER
Stepping into the roaring 1920s with A Case of Distrust isn't as perfect as you might have hoped for, but this text-based adventure nails the period more than anything else that may have been on the table.
Phyllis Cadence Malone doesn't have to wait long until her police officer turned private detective office has a visit from certain Mr. Green as he divulges about the threatening letter he's received before putting down a $100 bill as down payment as our protagonist accepts the job. This sends her down the route of visiting a suspicious bar and even calling back on her San Francisco PD for some inside help. And yet, befitting stories such as these things are never as straightforward until they are because hey, this isn't the first private eye mystery murder case you've played.
I'd have to say how flat the entire plot feels was what irked me the most. I got the impression there were very few peaks in how the story was told. Even as you reach the climax when you point out the murderer, in familiar murder novel format, it just lands as very matter a factly. This is not helped by the fact game buries you in evidence and clues gained from clicking on everything during the more guided first half or so before the training wheels come off... and you're left with a truckload of material uselessly occupying your journal. It's not like A Case of Distrust is particularly intent on obfuscating its simple logical sequences, given there are no puzzles as such and instead you rely on asking the right questions, but final section had me driving around more than warranted. Still, it was a while before taxi driver dialog was exhausted.
True to what game's description says art style is certainly one to pop with stylized silhouettes and apt use of minimalist visuals. It was the richly saturated scenes and transitions between them that stood out the most for me. Presentation manages to offset limited content on offer and period-appropriate music does its job. I wish there was more.
Distance ( PC (Steam) – Racing – 2018 ) + TRAILER
How often do you play a racing game with a narrative? To raise the stakes even further, how often does that game turn out to not even be focused on racing itself? Well, Distance is such a game and even though it doesn't end up being my kind of thing it's still a title worth checking out.
Now that I've blown that load I kinda regret it because I can't really tell you much about the story. It's the future and some kind of ominous corruption is spreading as people are fleeing via teleporters. Reason why details elude me is because narration about the events and what lead to them is conveyed to you while you're busy avoiding stage hazards and focusing on driving your car. Which in my opinion is quite a shame because I found the package very atmospheric and straight up unnerving when certain level transitions happened.
This is firmly rooted on the arcade side of things as you're not really racing, although multiplayer exists and there are various trial modes, so much as surviving each level. What start as simple as “boost so you can jump over a ravine” turns into grasping which surface to stick to or avoiding moving lasers. Limited boost meter is recovered upon passing ring checkpoints and mastering it is key to enjoying Distance. Game doesn't overwhelm you with myriads of gimmicks, but of those included some are more finicky than others... and yet in spite of that “game feel” is very satisfactory. Bite-sized levels don't overstay their welcome and Workshop has a bunch of them up for grabs.
Distance is a game that loves its contrasting colors and makes good use of signaling what's what with those colors which is worthy praise considering you need to be able to tell at a glance whether that's a drop you need to reverse boost for or jump over. Electronic soundtrack is the absolute star here and gets you pumped for the journey, though.
The Shapeshifting Detective ( PC (Steam) – Adventure – 2018 ) + TRAILER
Last time I played some Full Motion Video adventure games they came on half dozen CDs you had to rotate to get access to areas. If anything I'm glad that advent of larger hard drives got around those with radical new features like full install, but I would hesitate to actually call The Shapeshifting Detective an adventure game as such.
Upon starting the game you're sent on a mission to resolve a killing in small town of August, but even as you're briefed up to speed by an antagonistic agent it's clear you, the character who assumes the name Sam, isn't exactly normal. Shifting forms is your primary tool as you check in the local guesthouse housing a motley crew of characters who may have had a hand in the murder of Dorota Shaw. Or seem to have foretold it seeing as they're a group of tarot readers everyone is wary of.
Where the game falters is more or less the fact it's just a sequence of interviews you have with real life actors playing these characters. That is the draw. A novelty, if you will. What The Shapeshifting Detective eschews in the process is anything resembling puzzles or challenge in general. You interview people, assume their forms and then ask again under pretext hoping they'll spill some beans. This goes on for couple of literal hours after which you make the decision on who you think is the killer. Needless to say this is somewhat of a simplification on my end lest I spoil anything, but as you play you clearly find out not everything is as it appears to be in this small town and everyone has baggage they'd rather hide. You are there for the experience rather than brain teasers.
I'm glad to report that, baring select few, performances are on the quality side of acting, Zak and Poe's actors hamming it up a smidgen too much for my taste. This works on some level because the killer apparently varies if replay information is to be trusted. Hourly news reports book-ending each Act and radio drama readings do wonders for the atmosphere.
Minit ( PC (Steam) – Action, Adventure – 2018 ) + TRAILER
Appropriately named, Minit is among the best throwbacks to the very first Zelda I've played, albeit with a twist of its own. One that annoyed me at first until I came to terms with its workings.
You get 60 seconds in each run after which you die and respawn at your Home. Befitting a well-designed it's not like the entire slate is wipe clean, though. You keep whatever progress you've made – be it finding that last annoying hotel resident hiding among the bandits or unlocking a camera. My comparison to Zelda was not an off-hand comment either seeing as Minit operates on basically identical formula with the distinction it's a lot more condensed because everything has to be within a minute's reach. With what few coins you find you can buy faster shoes to move around and you do unlock Home teleporters. Without a map you're left to rely on your own devices and memorizing what each screen contains. Contrary to the above I'd say neither combat or dungeons are the most vital elements here as it's more finding your way through the world.
You know story would be the first paragraph for me to tackle in reviews, but there really isn't much here. It's gradually unveiled that a local factory is up to no good and you almost accidentally end up involved in foiling their plans to manufacture swords. Characters with few lines stood out more for me than any overarching narrative. Possibly because I was clinging to their every word fearing obtuse hints to keep a watchful eye on, but at no point did I find myself lost.
Looking at screenshots you can clearly tell we're working with a monochromatic pixel presentation here and yet what it won't convey to you is effort that went into charmingly animating Minit. There's low fidelity appeal here you either like or can't stand on artistic principle. On the other hand this soundtrack is not above flexing.
2020 sure has been a crazy year in more ways than one. In fact, some would argue it's an all-time worst and I've lost count just how badly our entire world has been thrown into disarray. I can only hope you weren't impacted too badly in real life because our backlogs will always be there waiting for us. Hope you have great holidays ahead of you.
Time for some bookkeeping.
As far as Reports go this has been a nice year for yours truly. Yes, there were some updates you could dismiss as filler where I got to try out demos and free games, even covering an RPG Maker title, but overall the entire effort has been a terrific creative outlet. I had some stuff planned like covering certain MMORPGs in-depth and even posting solo RPG reports, but those fell through as I couldn't present them in engaging way or they were just unsuited to what BLAEO is doing. Just branching out past video games as far as backlogs go is more than enough for me.
And now for something different – in the collapsed tab below I've linked all the Reports from 2020 for your reading pleasure. All previous years are likewise available at my profile page. You know, in case you really have some time to waste. Things sure have changed since 2016.
This game has been installed on my hard drive for about half a year and do you want to know what actually took me finishing it? Binging Dragon Quest XI demo for six hours. 2020 continues to be a crazy year. I can't shake the feeling that by not getting into Dragon Quest so far I've missed out on a tremendous franchise well-deserving of its acclaim. Such as it is, I have an action spin-off to bring to your attention. On entirely unrelated note I've also finished a novel that had spent just as much time in the freezer... only for me to read the remaining half in a single day.
It's my plan to put out one more update before the year is out so fingers crossed.
I had a lightning fast Secret Santa so I would like to thank him here. ;)
Dragon Quest Heroes
( PC (Steam) – Action, RPG – 2015 ) + TRAILER
There are two sides to this review seeing as on one hand I'm an avid Musou aka Warriors fan, or was one back when the franchise was more relevant and less spin-off reliant, and on the other Dragon Quest is one of those JRPG titans I've largely remained ignorant of primarily due to erratic original releases in the West. Most of the cast included constitutes guests from core entry titles, but that doesn't end up being as much of an obstacle the way you would imagine for Dragon Quest Heroes. Does this marriage of convenience work out?
Taking place in a world apart from the rest of Dragon Quest games we have a unique situation where monsters and people are coexisting and even cooperating. Chief among these is the Kingdom of Arba where our two protagonists, Luceus and Aurora serve as captains of the guard under the watchful eye of their king. They also have a heal slime called Healix who indulges in goo puns all the time. Well, things go south when we see a mysterious mage who's up to no good and through a ritual causes monsters to turn on citizens. Realizing the same thing is happening across the entire world our intrepid heroes recruit the king's master inventor Isla, board the flying fortress dubbed Stonecloud and embark on fixing whatever went wrong. From little I've heard about the adapted franchise in question this evolving into “chosen ones of Light must save the world from the Darkness” seems like natural course of things.
Amusingly enough story is only ever truly strong in Warriors games when they're licensed spin-offs such as this. That's not the say this is going to win over many JRPG fans or some such. Good half of the game is spent visiting desert, forest and underground locales so you can solve their problems and recruit characters for your roster. I'll get more into the latter down the road, but story is your classical POWER OF FRIENDSHIP so no surprises there. If there's a structural issue it would be how predictably set up it is. Do couple of missions, story introduces new characters, rinse and repeat. More often than not we're also dealing with padding as story has you going through three or four missions where one would suffice.
When you put into context that only four out of thirteen characters (whoops, I meant twelve because one is totally a secret) are Dragon Quest Heroes' originals you're left with the remainder who happen to be fan service done right. Now, I wouldn't call them deep or anything, but this is probably due to being distilled forms of their original incarnations aka there isn't really any room for character development that would alter them tangibly. Good thing is characters like boisterous monk princess Alena or would-be-brides pair Bianca and Nera still succeed at delivering much needed variety in terms of personality and gameplay style. One element I wish I could change would be to make some characters more viable. Your mysterious swordsman Terry absolutely slays house with fast lightning-based attacks and self-healing when needed, for example.
Easiest way to point out how different Dragon Quest Heroes is from your usual Warriors fare would be to explain what the latter is.
You pick a character from what is, at this point, a roster made up of odd hundred characters, choose a level from the list and then proceed to rack up hundreds and hundreds of KOs as you clear out enemy bases, fell enemy lieutenants with your blade, etc with relatively simple combat relying on button mashing more than any in-depth planning or peak manual dexterity. Keep at it with new characters and storylines for many, many hours. Thing with this game is you have a significantly smaller playable roster and you take a while to fully unlock it. Fortunately, this is offset by the fact each of them IS unique so we're not just dealing with re-skinned attack animations + there's the RPG power progression attached with points eagerly awaiting to be spent as you level up.
When you consider who their boisterous guardian was it's amazing how different Luceus and Aurora turned out.
The unfortunate bit is inclusion of a brand new element – tower defense with monster minions acting as eponymous towers. As you fight monsters they may drop a medal. You promptly pocket the medal and can then summon the monster in that level until they either do their thing or their health bar gets depleted as they protect the surrounding area. Problem with this is general lack of control as enemy waves start pouring in including more high-tier monsters. You can only handle so much with the character you control, other three in your four-man party tow are doing their best as potential targets, but they're always rubber banding to you. This means monster protectors get left in charge of holding choke-points or, Goddess help you, actual objectives. I lost count how many times in end game I was at my wit's end dealing with an AI system I had no direct control over and silly prioritization it engaged in. Seeing “protect X” in story missions made me dread the worst, but those were generally fine. Side quests were the ones that drove me mad because they weren't as finely tuned and you were expected to reach a certain level before tackling them. Basically, monster minions are meant to detract and slow down incoming enemies as you go around to deal with Mawkeepers that spawn new forces. In practice this leads to frustration.
There was clearly tangible effort put into including more RPG elements in this one as well. Whereas level up usually just meant flat increments here it's a gateway to skill points for you to distribute. Is it perfect? I'd say no early on because it locks basic functionality behind a progression wall, and having freedom means you can prioritize wrongly, but once you clear that hurdle it's smooth sailing power curve. Only Luceus and Aurora are mirrors of each other seeing as you choose who the game protagonist is when you start playing. For the record I think I made a mistake because Aurora's ice based magic seems way more useful her counterpart's fire magic. This inversion is humorous with their personalities taken into account as Aurora is the feisty, spontaneous one. Not to mention everyone has four special skills on top of regular light/heavy attacks, former costing mana points to cast. Old staple of building up your attack meter, called Tension in this game, and unleashing a special, screen clearing attack is still in and will be your go-to solution.
I would argue Dragon Quest Heroes is a game stretched out far more than it should've been. There's maybe fifteen or so hours here, but as story milestones are reached you will need to spend some time doing sidequests [re-using existing maps for kill or collect missions generally] to keep up. Those weapons won't buy themselves nor will Orbs acting as armor for your full-fledged stat system. You can even craft accessories, but I found those of limited use for regular play. Maybe they matter more in end game or New Game+. I wouldn't know lacking the willpower to commit more that 30-ish hours I already put in.
All of that seems like a highly negative review yet it is more about my own annoyances with game's diversion from the Warriors formula I'm familiar with. Tower defense sections in late game almost brought it to naught for me, but denying evident production values would be akin to lying. Enix's supervision most likely had something to do with it, and stellar VA accompanying fitting soundtrack certainly adds to the package. It's all so... charming and straightforward. Larger than life drama has appeal of its own as it hits those traditional JRPG story notes in all their simplicity.
Alien Earth ( Science Fiction – 1992 – 368 pages ) + GOOD READS
At some point in near future aliens visit Earth bearing ill tidings – both the planet itself and humanity is screwed, and only hope for survival is to take their offer of one-way trip to twin worlds of Castor and Pollux where new life awaits if they take up the dogma of Harmonious Unity where things and beings don't compete, but cooperate in existence. Earth's problem is ecological in nature and fingers get pointed at humans for essentially ruining the world as carefully selected pools of people embark on this arduous journey to unknown worlds aboard arks grafted to living Beastships with mysterious Arthroplana acting as pilots. Amusing bit is all of the above is just the opening of the novel which then jumps two thousand years forward after humanity has settled on twin worlds with generations upon generations accustomed to the new way of life under the watchful eye of Human Conservancy as their lives become longer. Until the main cast gets involved with Earth Affirmed's generation spanning question and agenda regularly ignored or snuffed out by the Conservancy – what happened to Earth?
There's multiple POV characters, even couple of surprise ones novel springs on you, but initial ones include; John, Connie and Tug – human captain, crew and Arthroplana pilot of Beastship Evangeline, respectively. Much of the appeal of Alien Earth lies in observing this now-alien society through the lens of people who happen to be outsiders as taking the job of Mariner manning Beastships is precisely that. Arthroplana, with their long spanning lives and access to living ships in a setting that abhors “dirty tech”, have a monopoly on space travel and seeing as trips are done in real time human crew undergoes extensive periods of Waitsleep similar to suspended animation. This means John and Connie are akin to Methuselahs to the rest of human population as they don't belong and see the cycles repeat, on and off. Being one of the enigmatic alien race Tug is an interesting counterbalance to two humans as he cannot leave the Beastship he pilots and it's implied humans are on-board said ships as sort of intellectual amusement for decidedly alien pilots.
I've already done too much summarizing and not enough opinions so I'll stop with the former, but THEMES are on full display in Alien Earth.
You'd think this is ecological SF, but I'd argue against it. Biological “technology” has largely replaced conventional tech as it is degradable and adheres to the most important tenant of Unity – humans must leave no trace. This should already be triggering some red alerts, but on Castor and Pollux everything is in such perfect cooperative harmony that humans end up living as mere observers. One character even brings up an anecdote of what she did earlier in life where her job amounted to carefully weighing how many petals fell of trees and adding precisely the same amount of nutrients to keep everything balanced. Day in, day out. This ideology is then pushed to the extreme with some minute events like a child stepping on grass leading to, back in the day, exile to life on stations or, more recently, euthanasia. Not to mention the infamous Readjustment process if you're not perfectly in line with Harmonious Unity. Humanity has seemingly accepted this as way of life or even punishment for their perceived “human guilt” of destroying Earth as that is the accepted message. All of this is further muddled by the fact Conservancy continually excises, edits and obfuscates old information as select people delve into illegality to preserve bits of history, but most are content to live out in comfort as their history fades making them lesser in the process.
Alien Earth does that thing I like with an unfamiliar setting in that it consistently drip feeds you bits of information on every page. As captain John verbally spars with deceptive Tug you also get tidbits on why so few people live on the twin worlds, for example. I have to admit this was huge part of the draw until about halfway into the novel when plot proper starts and oh boy, does it kick into overdrive in the last third or so. Character breaking-the-sound-barrier fits more than “development” in this case, but there was some awkwardness to how sudden and aggressive it is... until I realized it's a perfect response to their in-universe situation. After all, how would absolute freedom change you? Certain line about “taking our language and giving us a slave one” was a bit too on the nose, though.
Having not even realized what's going on it would appear I've accidentally had myself a German Month. I also decide on a new backlog-first and cover a free RPG Maker game and brand new TV show both sharing that very same country of origin. Can you feel the cultural difference compared to the usual stuff? You tell me. I'm not sure whether I'll make it a habit to cover non-commercial stuff seeing as that would REALLY balloon my already bulging backlog, but this was short and sweet enough to include.
End of the Year approaches fast...
( PC (RPG Maker) – Adventure – 2016 ) + TEASER
It was inevitable that I would branch out past commercial releases at some point and here we are with my first take on a fan game. Unlike most RPG Maker titles Erayu is not, in fact, an RPG, but rather a Point & Click adventure foregoing myriad of RPG mechanics editor was made for. Is it worth the effort, though?
Considering the genre it falls under and said genre's traditional strengths are it should be pointed out we have a native German game here, meaning I've played a fan translation of somewhat dubious quality. Understandable when you know all parties involved did it for free. There were more than few instances where lines were off, like trying to use nonsensical item combination in a puzzle resulting in “I should sleep” response, but I think occasional obtuseness derived from language barrier and arbitrary game progression was worse.
What of Erayu's story, you may ask?
Interestingly enough it involves two worlds – one where Josh, your average teenager with daddy issues, finds the eponymous game during his school vacation and has nothing to do but indulge to see where it goes as form of escapism, and blank slate protagonist in said game you get to name while dealing with amnesia in a world gradually being taken over by the ever growing Darkness from which there is no escape as few diminished places of civilization remain. I'm not sure how to exactly describe the pacing of this story because game toys with you as fantasy and real life stories switch priorities. Throw in some twists for proper experience you'd expect out of JRPGs Erayu borrows heavily from sans the customary damage numbers.
Yet while a JRPG would customarily have a crazy cast of character that's not really the case here. Maybe because game lasts only 3 to 4 hours, but amnesiac protagonist certainly doesn't help because proper revelations are reserved for the last fifteen minutes or so. You are quickly separated from support cast apparent leaving you largely to your own devices tackling an endeavor way above your pay grade. Even playing as Josh in the real world there's barely anyone to interact with other than your brother and father. Game also has that awkward storytelling structure where everything feels rather disjointed until the last quarter before clicking together into touching and poignant whole. Keep in mind our protagonist is a teenager going through his rebellious phase as it affects the tone, though.
Remember how I talked about genres in the opening? Yeah, that's where Erayu's mechanical problems start rearing their ugly heads. RPG Maker operates on tile-based triggers for events and re-purposing it for mouse-driven P&C adventure breeds its own set of problems. Chief of which are pixel inaccuracy when display is blown up to fullscreen because there are no resolution options and general reliance on highlighting interactive “hotspots”. Even with extensive effort that went into visual side of things, one that did not go unnoticed, you're still working with repeatable tilesets and all hollow stumps look alike. I assume this was the reason why puzzles were kept relatively straightforward and simple while retaining basic inventory functionality, such as combining items. Functional journal system felt like an overkill, albeit a welcome one, in a game this short that doesn't expect from you to keep track of multiple objectives or anything.
If there's a single department where I don't have anything but praise it would be the presentation. Saying visuals or audio trump this one would be selling the other short because outstanding effort went into both, multiple times over compared to most RPG Maker titles content to rely on stock assets provided with software itself. Soundtrack in particular stole the show for me, though. So much so not even arguably short loops and generally depressing tone of the compositions got in the way of my enjoyment.
Barbarians ( War Drama – 2020 – 6 episodes ) + TRAILER
I had no idea Netflix was even producing Barbarians until the entire thing was released and I read about it receiving high praise for its costume designs. Following up one more opinions I decided to give it a whirl for myself.
Making the entire affair lead up to Teutoburg kinda makes the rest of the show meandering dealings with tribe drama and Roman politics when Arminius is the one that matters, though. Not helped by the sequel hook because one of your three main characters was just kinda there for the duration and get sidelined by war-makes-love-a-convenience pair. I guess I shouldn't be surprised the Romans, as seen by already mentioned Arminius, were more interesting than WE'RE DEAD PEOPLE barbarians because we get the resident strong female character of Thusnelda to represent the latter. It wasn't as cringy as I expected it to be seeing as her character exposes herself to not being above scheming and pulling a ruse or two to get the entire thing going alongside Arminius' military expertise, but she has plot armor and worst harm that happens comes by her own hand. I'll even buy "female warriors" on the battlefield if Germanic tribes had to bring everyone who could feasibly fight to better their odds against three legions. All the character whining aside I have to admit the very last episode definitely kicked the presentation up a notch from what were previously rather bland and muddy visuals. Some pretty neat warpaint makes for striking high points among the Germanics... and Rome gonna Rome in style to match.
Main problem is you could've probably achieved the same result with half as many episodes and less "I'll sell my daughter to you for five horses" that only ends up in setting up obviously treacherous characters as treacherous. I'm not sure where the sequel is headed other than yet another foregone conclusion.
These reviews have actually been on Steam backburner for quite some time now as I waited for the right time to upload them here. That translates to “finally finishing a novel that took me quite a while to get through as it kept giving me migraines” so take that for what it's worth, btw. In any case here's another offering of FIVE (5) short reviews because sometimes there's really no need to go hog wild with the word count... or so I hear.
A Short Hike ( PC (Steam) – Adventure – 2019 ) + TRAILER
If there ever was proper time to use “comfy” to describe a game it would be right now with A Short Hike. With games becoming bigger in scale and scope it felt comfortable to play something designed for bite-size experience rooted in humble indie origins.
Exploring Hawk Peak Provincial Park and climbing the summit to get that phone reception, as game smartly obfuscates why when you're supposed to be away from all that business to enjoy hiking the same way your mom and aunt did, is the main course here. Game never really gives you further directions beyond this drive and leaves you to your own devices. While you ARE gated at one point by required jump/glide/climb ability level how you go about it is up to you as long as you get the golden feathers necessary. What can you do here? Well, there's talking to other anthropomorphized animals who are simply doing their hiking or who may have a favor to ask, like finding her bandanna so a rabbit runner gets her confidence back, as well as finding various items you can use to get coins or progress further. There aren't any notable underlying RPG systems here to keep track of, though. If anything A Short Hike really does play like a throwback to older adventure days and lack of combat turns it into a mellow experience where enjoyment comes from world exploration itself. You are a bird and park quickly opens up to you as upgrade your gliding ability. This somehow doesn't end up invalidating game's terrific world design that had me memorizing the entire place by the finale, though. Really good job there.
I may be letting my bias seep through here, but these early 3D visuals appeal to me on some personal level. You'd call it low polygon today and well chosen art style brings the aesthetic together. If there's one negative it would be very limited control over camera which usually works except in few instances where it actively got in the way as I was “breaking” the intended route. Add a fitting soundtrack and you have a tiny, but impactful package.
The Darkside Detective ( PC (Steam) – Adventure – 2017 ) + TRAILER
As far as traditional adventure offerings are concerned I'd say The Darkside Detective definitely falls to somewhat middling side of things, but that's not to say game is bad or anything.
We assume control of Francis McQueen in a world filled with endless homages and references to familiar works not limited to the likes of Twin Peaks, entire game even taking place in Twin Lakes City, as our detective operates under the Darkside Division dealing with spooky and creepy unexplained phenomena. With no one except charmingly dimwitted officer Dooley to help him pair tackles 6+3 cases of mysterious events unfolding while presenting it in witty and cheeky style. I would say The Darkside Detective's strength and weakness are one and the same – there's no REAL coherent narrative because six initial cases can be played in any order you wish even if they do callback to certain bits that may leave you confused unless played in order as you're gradually shown rather than told about the urban fantasy setting. What is Darkside and what does their own police do? How is it handled when they crossover with Brightsiders? Neat ideas.
It's the gameplay department that didn't exactly blow me away. You may be wondering why because you know exactly what the deal is in a P&C adventure, but we have a case of rather stark unevenness. Cases were not created equal and bonus ones unlocked at the end air too much on wasting your time with simple moving back and forth to collect items or making Francis figure out how to advance... even though you figured it out ten minutes ago. Due to fragmented structure of the game this never becomes a huge overarching problem, though. If you have even rudimentary puzzle experience this is a very easy game as well with only couple of logic-based, connect the dots ones requiring some thought. I found myself playing for game's humor more than anything with 4th wall breaking present and accounted for. Pixel art is pixel art and comes in pretty barebone variety here so if that's a deal breaker you may have a problem with The Darkside Detective.
NAIRI: Tower of Shirin ( PC (Steam) – Adventure – 2018 ) + TRAILER
My initial plan was to have a longer review for NAIRI: Tower of Shirin, but not far into the process I realized padding was taking over because at its core game is more-or-less a straightforward Visual Novel meets P&C adventure deal that accomplishes what it set out to do marvelously with aplomb.
Early on in her adventure Nairi ends up separated from her wealthy family and even their fallback extraction plan fails as she gets taken by a roving gang of cats. Turns out they're not so tough and friendship is soon formed as they help our girl return to the capital where she'll attempt to re-unite with her missing family. Hovering over this tale of cutesy characters and childish adventure is an underlying threat of unstable political and religious order, old prophecy foretelling of an unavoidable danger and another major player up to no good who ends up crossing paths with Nairi as she unwittingly gets involved in all of it struggling to overcome her trials. I just wish story didn't end on such unfinished note as sequel is in the works, though.
But what's gameplay like? For what starts out as a VN with very light puzzles from first-person perspective with some dodgy hotspot placement at times, like having to poinpoint positions for holes when game fails to telegraph where to EXACTLY do so, this turns into quite the puzzle machine in the finale. To such a degree you absolutely need to consult your journal where clues get saved in the very last “dungeon” and puzzles galore present there. It's a point where game shifts from “hey, a kid could play this” to radical cipher translations and lateral thinking.
If you ask me presentation is a huge seller here. I'd hesitate to call it purely watercolor, but art style has identity and charm that elevates it beyond that sterile modern digital look. Package is akin to a highly produced kid's playbook at times even if it comes at the expense of mostly absent animation, mouths flapping and slideshow “cutscenes” notwithstanding.
11-11 Memories Retold ( PC (Steam) – Adventure – 2018 ) + TRAILER
Occasionally you play a game where objectively nothing has gone wrong on a design level, but you don't like it for whatever reason. That's 11-11 Memories Retold in this case and I can't really say I outright liked anything it does.
We follow both Kurt and Harry, German engineer and Canadian photographer respectively, as two find themselves enlisting in WW1 for reasons of their own, and while you will experience both perspectives you get to choose who to play as first in each chapter. Not long into this very light adventure I quickly found myself leaning toward one of these people simply because his involvement had a much more profound cause compared to the other one's. They embark on an emotional roller coaster across Vimy to Somme and beyond as game constantly reminds you how long until the Armistice. You can tell this won't end well, but that's not to say I'm excusing any of it. In fact, I'd argue not a single out of six endings included was up to snuff for me. There was obviously intentional effort put into not painting any of said conclusions as good or evil yet and still what we have instead are tones of gray for their own sake. Veering briefly into gameplay department, where there really isn't much to say other than “modern 3rd person adventure”, Harry and Kurt are different enough as former is a photographer and his efforts get used for narrative points which surprised me while latter with his communication repairs are primary source of puzzles. Which isn't saying much.
Soundtrack amazed me by how well it fit with character's narration and evocative wallpapers breaking up gameplay sections. What is most striking are the visuals as closest approximation would be to call them “oil painting in motion”. I positively could not stand it. Not only does it actively hinder finding collectibles at a glance if that's your thing, but looks like just a poorly handled cost cutting measure for art assets. Which makes it odd when art style hits its stride with more surreal visuals later on.
Paratopic ( PC (Steam) – Horror, Adventure, FPS – 2018 ) + TRAILER
I just played through this very brief game, which cannot be saved and has to be completed in a single sitting, and I still have no idea what Paratopic is about. From what I've read after the fact it's meant to be replayed, dug for meaning and what you missed out on because you played it like a typical game.
It all begins in a seedy hotel as your character is seemingly hired in a roundabout fashion to perform a hit on someone, but it's not long until you start playing as two other unrelated characters. One dealing in forbidden VHS tapes and lastly a totally random bird watcher. Either that or our hitman has odd hobbies. From that point it's very convoluted with a narrative that jumps heads, places and time without ever telling you about it yet still remains strangely compelling. Maybe because of how obfuscated and alien everything shown to you is? People speak in this weird kinda reverse speech, but also “I can almost understand what they're saying” English that just creeps you out the more you play. Not to mention weird stuff begins to happen, first at the fringes and then in your face as Paratopic thrusts you in the finale. I don't think pacing as such really applies to this first-person horror experiment because never letting you get comfortable seems to be the idea. Except those strangely long driving sections while you listen to garbled radio host.
There's no way around saying the visuals look like they came straight out of early 3D period very few remember fondly, but clever use of color scheme and filters brings the aesthetic together. It's ugly looking. Which may be on purpose to portray this grimy almost-our-world it's aiming for. Sound is definitely the star of the show, though. From already mentioned voice work to quality tracks ranging from synth stings to atmospheric pieces when you're just, well, bird watching. Set aside an hour and try this one out. If nothing else it managed to unsettle me and leave wanting for more... which might defeat the purpose of this peculiar exercise.
Riddley Walker ( Science Fiction, Adventure – 1980 – 256 pages ) + QUOTE
Part of me dreads talking about Riddley Walker, but six months after on and off reading I almost feel like I owe it to both the novel and myself.
Premise is pretty straightforward by itself - we follow the eponymous Riddley Walker after his old man has an accident and Riddley is poised to inherit his role of the "connexion man" aka someone who interprets prophecies and meanings as seen in traveling puppet shows' performances whenever they visit settlements. That sounds kinda silly until you factor in this is roughly two thousands years following a world ending event that more or less destroyed everything and society has slowly rebuilt itself to something akin to Iron Age technology except they don't really mine ore but rather remnants of now ancient material that they then deconstruct and re-purpose. This Inland territory with illustrious names for places like Arse Dead Town is seemingly organized and ruled by some weird amalgam of politics and religion riding in the same cart drawn by half-remembered science, folklore, whatever rolled into one with their influence propagated by already mentioned, you guessed it, traveling puppet shows adhering strictly to accepted stories and even puppets themselves are regulated. It's a world where creative thinking is called "clevverness" and highly discouraged because it could bring back whatever vague recollection people have of that which destroyed the world in the first place. But as our boy Riddley will soon discover there are plans afoot that could forever alter what Eusa Story preaches and warnings of Littl Shyning Man are all about it.
So that may even sound compelling, right? Let me just quote a brief paragraph from the book for you:
Belnot Phist wer stopping on at Widders Dump. That same day he put a crew to cutting timber for a new projeck of his. It wer going to be some kynd of a working. Where they gone for the timber it ben a special place of myn. Where the old track sydls the hy groun sholder. It wer woodit with oak there. Hy groun on 1 side of the track and on the other it sloaps off sharp tords Widders Dump. The track runs pas that holler they call Mr Clevvers Roaling Place it wer the track we all ways took going to and from the form. It wer the shape of the groun I liket and the feal of it. That fealing you get on hy groun over looking the low. Some times sydling that sholder youwd see crows be low you cruising. Looking down from there at Widders Dump it seamt so low and littl it lookit easy ternt a way from. Back then I never Ice ben on that hy groun sholder oansome. Never ben any where at all oansome. Never in my woal life put foot outside a fents without at leas 5 mor for dog safe. I ben saving up that hy groun in my mynd tho. Thinking may be some time there myt come a time Iwd chance it oansome. I dint want no woodlings cleart there I jus wantit that place lef the way it ben. I tol my self never mynd but I myndit.
Entire novel is written like this as it replicates a language that re-invented itself from nothing following civilization's collapse. Being an ESL individual I felt a migraine coming on after periods of extended reading and that's probably the reason why finishing this took so long. Eventually I realized reading out loud helped because I phonetically connected the dots, but it was continual effort regardless. That's without mentioning parts that come from earlier in history and were carried over orally EXACTLY as uttered back then and are barely understandable so you get a guessing game until the very last act. On the flip-side, I don't think I've been more engrossed in a work than I have with Riddley Walker. Glossing over lines will get you nowhere and paying attention is actually required which results in high retention. When you add that little HAPPENS in the story and it's more focused on twelve year Riddley surviving in this world you end having to sift through musings and opinions more than actual plot. Needles to say there are lessons here on everything from morality to history and how some things are doomed to repeat, but does it have to be that way if we can change it?
Yay or nay? Single most obstacle present is really the Riddleyspeak itself Hoban chose to write the novel in. Everything else is solid and even intriguing once you piece together what's going and understand it was mainly terminology that hobbled you getting there sooner rather than later, but you're so actively engaged taking in this foreign world told through the eyes of a twelve year old kid figuring out a large part of it for himself.
I've been on a spree of playing some short games with even shorter reviews, but at least half of that statement has now been invalidated with Wandersong because it got me busting out the usual long form review. Hey, it's only been... a month? Aww, shucks. I also wrote a brief take on a particular anime OVA from the 1990s. In case you really want to feel old and enjoy some occasional gore.
Hope you're staying safe and enjoy the read. ;)
( PC (Steam) – Adventure, Platformer, Puzzle – 2018 ) + TRAILER
This Wandersong review kinda grew in size almost against my will as I kept playing because original plan was to not give it the full-length treatment, but as game kept throwing pleasant surprises at me one after another I relented. So, here we are.
Following a trippy dream where he attempts to use the sword and can't seem to our bard wakes up only to meet a chill rainbow girl, spirit, whatever as she delivers her message – bardlet is to become the fabled hero and save the world by recovering seven parts of Earthsong from just as many Overseers. In case he fails the rainbow girl, acting on behalf of goddess Eya, states rather clearly his world will end. Before promptly peacing out. Only problem is our, at this point, nameless bard isn't exactly of the Dungeons & Dragons variety aka only thing he can do is SING.
What follows is a story of heartwarming, depression and everything in-between you can imagine because this isn't even remotely as clear cut as it appears initially with a cliché premise being what it is. Essentially we have seven acts of figuring out how to access the Overseers' spirit domains, navigating these would-be dungeons of sorts and finally dealing with the Overseers themselves. Taking into account who our protagonist is we'll be taking the scenic route because each act has its own story arc, usually self-contained while expanding on the quest at large in some capacity. You'd think convincing performers to form a band, with you as an impromptu frontman for a legendary performance, would be pointless as your companion Miriam points out, but that's where you'd be wrong because there's payoff aplenty. If nothing else game has a really satisfying epilogue tying everything up with a neat bow.
Final word in the narrative department before I switch up to gameplay proper would be Wondersong's characters. While there are really only three key character, two of which I've mentioned and last is a spoiler game rather ingeniously springs on you, all side characters are just as unique with plenty of lines all lovingly “voiced” in that sample kind of way reminiscent of certain N64 titles, but knowing when not to go overboard with the stylistic choice. They feed into sub-stories or have memorable personalities of their own. I was especially impressed by Miriam's relationship with our bard, though. Sidestepping what I expected and exploring their dynamic may have been more satisfying than resolving Eya's task looking back on what they've been through together and how they've affected each other.
Seriously, that's enough. Entire narrative is great with good feelings aplenty and curves thrown in for good measure as well as humor. How's the gameplay?
In a way it's amazing what variety developers have managed to cram in with a protagonist who can jump, sing, crouch and dance. Last two are optional. While Wandersong is a lightweight platformer, some “dungeons” I'll get to notwithstanding, it would probably be fair to state it's just as much of a rhythm game. Or that it has some tiny traces of puzzles in its DNA makeup. None of those are wrong. However, overwhelming majority of bard's interaction with the world surrounding him occurs via eight notes he can produce, errr, you produce by rotating the right stick if you're playing with a gamepad. Aside from expected pitch difference they're also color coded... and now possibilities open up on how they could be used for problem solving. Everything, and I mean everything, is handled through this eight-directional input. From actual singing to deflecting stalactites, directing bug swarms to carry that awkward boulder blocking the passageway, choosing what to say in a conversation, throwing coal into factory furnace, even talk to ghosts. That's without getting into actual rhythm bits which would classify as puzzles unot themselves if they weren't essentially impossible to fail because they just restart. Highlights of this system are without doubt bard's performances during dramatic scenes and my one regret is something I've noticed in almost all games that have inputs during such moments – you end up paying attention to what you're doing rather than to what's going on. And in this case there's some rather neat songwriting getting the narrative point across.
If it sounds like I'm trying to dodge the main point or some issue here, that's really not the case. Wandersong isn't a complicated game and what would classify as a major deal, something that subverts your expectations in a good way, would be getting into spoilers so I'll steer clear. Each act is different enough to stand apart. For example, one has you sailing with a crew of coffee drinking pirates on an honest-to-god overworld while other has a day and night cycle with passage of time which you have to keep track of. In fact, if you're looking for something more conventional I could talk about AND I've already mentioned it would be the Overseers' spirit world “dungeons”. It's what they are sans combat. Even more so than acts, each has a gimmick you need to master to navigate through and, oh boy, with one particular I was at my wits end. Let's just say I don't enjoy pitch black levels where you're hunted by nasties. While they vary in enjoyment some are absolutely neat like feeding flying seals purple crystals so they fly against the wind or using your singing to stretch blobs of goo into correct shapes. These areas are also the only challenging ones in a sense your platforming and reactions will be tested. Just a tiny bit, though. Considering there's no concept of lives or health you can just keep going keeping generous checkpoints in mind. Proper pacing with nothing overstaying its welcome helps, though.
Presentation is its own beast and requires to be talked about. You know, “it's like papercraft” would summarize Wandersong just fine, but it also wouldn't do it justice. Vibrant colors with layered locations you can jump to and from are difficult to convey in words. At times paper collage and pop-out book it definitely does the job with the visuals. This goes well with strong design as I've noticed no points where artists decided to be lazy thinking you wouldn't look, down to one-off designs still standing out.
It's a game about a bard going on epic adventure to save the world. Soundtrack does not falter. You wouldn't think how effectively those eight notes could be used paired with voice acting samples and yet it somehow works. OST numbering over 100 tracks easily stole the show for me and listing favorites would be futile. If you can think of a situation there's a track for it, courtesy of A Shell in the Pit doing a marvelous job.
A.D. Police Files ( Action, Cyberpunk – 1990 – 3 episodes ) + OPENING
What to say other than it really is perfect '90s anime - action and gore with some nudity here and there. It is a shame how it got cut down to only three episodes over some supposed legal disputes, though.
Show itself is set in the same world as Bubblegum Crisis, but taken at face values it definitely seems disjointed with three standalone cases that still end up featuring luscious tanned Jeena and her rookie partner as protagonists or side characters. Year is 2027 and we're in Mega Tokyo as technology has given birth to cyberpunk and all the madness that entails. Amusingly enough, fully synthetic humans are called Boomers [or Voomers, depending on translation] and as a response team to their existence we now have AD police alongside Normal police. In best Hollywood action movie fashion former leaves a wake of collateral destruction in their wake and aren't much beloved by latter. If you know cyberpunk you can already guess what you're getting here as everyone involved ponders about whether technology is encroaching on humanity's spirit, whether it's wrong to replace what you originally were or if it's just a path forward. There were chilling scenes when female Boomer model goes mental as she is recycled and only lingering memory she hangs onto, that of being shot to pieces, becomes her fetish as she seeks her "killer" to re-live it or when a full-on police cyborg realizes he's gone berserk as he internally screams for his comrades to kill because he can't help himself.
Basic yet short enough to recommend if you're not squeamish about some gore with notable effort in the presentation considering this is a '90s OVA. Perhaps even look into the setting with more works.
I guess it's kinda pitiful to say this is an impromptu update spurred on by another Steam Gifts event daring people to clear games included in Humble Monthly, now Choice, no matter when they were part of it. Which is neat because it gives me an opportunity to try out my “expanded minis” review format where I still hang onto vertical covers, but ultimately gives me more than double the word count previous one had. You decide whether it worked out or not seeing as three paragraph structure was what I gravitated to for clarity's sake. I already miss screenshots, though.
When it comes to non-video games stuff I've returned to some reading and posted a YA werewolf novel review. Pretty surprised by the outcome. This also marks my 50th Report proper and it only took me three years and some change to get here. Felt like hundred at times, but I'm glad to see you're still tolerating me. 😊
Lethal League ( PC (Steam) – Fighting – 2014 ) + TRAILER
Going by time played it's fairly obvious my exposure to Lethal League has been limited, but that's not a slight against the game in any way. What's being offered simply isn't my thing in this case. That doesn't mean it's bad, though.
Imagine a fighting game except all the fighting is done by batting a ball among two contestants and if one gets hit he loses a point. After you lose five, you're out. That's it in a nutshell, but beauty of a short title like this really lies in game flow specifically. I would say six characters is on the low side compared to your average fighting game rosters these days even with varied approaches. From Sonata's heavy hammer to Candyman's
absolute magical nonsense I wanted to choke him over teleportation balls all manner of variations on fast, gimmick, strong, etc are present and accounted for. Real kicker here is you are, well, hitting a baseball ball around which means accounting for direction and ricocheting seeing as you don't REALLY have a block function. You can punt the ball which robs it of momentum and steadies in mid-air, but that also creates this chance for it to get stolen if you're not quick enough. If there's actually a key element to Lethal League it's how said ball builds up speed with each hit that lands leading to fairly ludicrous speeds unless stopped. As in “reality is being torn to pieces and each impact causes black holes” kind of speed.
I could complain about the lack of story, but does that really matter here? Gameplay is extremely sound and feels just right once you get a grip on mechanics. Lack of singleplayer content beyond mere challenge mode is worth pointing out, though. Bring a friend if you plan to stick around. Aforementioned mode quickly got on my nerves as it forced team matches on me while team AI is dodgy at best of times. 2D visuals never detracted from the experience for me... possibly because I was keeping my eyes on ever faster ball rather than characters themselves. Same goes for sound assets and I would recommend trying out training just so you see and hear what mental end game looks like.
Nova-111 ( PC (Steam) – Strategy, Action – 2015 ) + TRAILER
Starting with this opening alone I found Nova-111 a difficult topic to broach. Not because it's bad, far from it actually, but more because it seems like such an interesting shape-defying title to be pigeon holed the way many games get today. What at first seems like a turn-based roguelike meets strategy quickly introduces real-time elements you're forced to react to. Result is this anomaly where two different schools of thought interact while you only have turn-based tools to respond and it can get quite tense at times. You're slowly eased from “take your time, enemies react to your moves” to “oh god, why is everything on fire?” as you approach the finale and it's a well executed build-up.
Getting into specifics – you control this small utility machine and quickly surmise, from what your Dr. Science mentor keeps telling you, that something has gone horribly wrong and it's up to you to fix space time or whatnot. I found the entire thing to air on more humorous side of things with every scientist you rescue sharing a funny quote with you or outright delving into reference and meme territory. Game still retains sense of gravitas to convey the notion this is, in fact, serious as you see everything going crazy whether you're in ruins of your lab or nowhere in time. While three worlds each with six levels may seem short the looks between them are definitely unique visually to stand apart and game settles into gradually introducing new enemy types and powers for you to play with. Approach to treating bosses as half-puzzles, half-fights was also the correct way to go considering you're navigating around enemies as much as levels throughout the entire game as you wait for cooldowns and Science meter to refill so you can unleash attacks.
Soft colors and pleasing 2D visuals were a correct decision in this case and game is extremely inviting as a result. Three tilesets employed look otherworldly and go well with oddly ethereal soundtrack, which does admittedly get overwhelmed by all the sound effects when things heat up.
Metrico+ ( PC (Steam) – Puzzle, Platformer – 2016 ) + TRAILER
It's easy to get tricked by Metrico+ thinking you're getting one of those artsy platformer that seem to have cropped up left and right, but you'd be successfully fooled. Before I get into the game proper I'll hand wave the story because that's precisely how the game handles it. Employing metaphoric imagery with symbolism only where you yourself see some ensures Metrico+ has a narrative that's dependent entirely on you. Taken at face value it's about a character becoming less human on his abstract journey.
Gameplay is something entirely different and you could say, taken with visual style emphasizing metrics for everything you do alongside levels morphing before your very eyes as you progress providing this visceral testing feedback, it's almost like pulling back the curtain on platformers and puzzlers as respective genres because everything is given to you as clinical data. Things like default character jump distance and other elements you intuitively take for granted in similar games become something you're acutely aware of when all other distractions are removed. This is purely about testing your character's limits and each new world introduces more abilities to use. In the purest fashion there are no tutorials so much as you're organically taught through examples gradually ramping up to devilish difficulty. I have to admit those last two worlds dealing with ricochets and swapping places had me at my wits' end multiple times, but it's not like the game wants to one up the player by playing dirty. You need to master all the tools you have.
Minimalist art style toying with pie charts, contrast itself and other visual tomfoolery took a while to get used to until it became second nature. Inclusion of mellow synth music to the mix guarantees Metrico+ never really goes into tense territory which is entirely appropriate when you consider game is equal parts puzzle AND platformer when clear thinking is what matters. That uncompromising commitment makes it a hard sell unless you know what you're getting into, though.
The Masterplan ( PC (Steam) – Strategy – 2015 ) + TRAILER
I went into The Masterplan expecting something akin to The Sting!, that burglary simulator extraordinaire from yesteryear, and in a way I got exactly that. Can't say this '70s crime game lived up to expectations, though.
Story doesn't really matter, nor should it necessarily in a game built around putting your team together and pulling off unrelated robberies/heists/whatever higher tier is called, but game begins with our protagonist busting out of prison during the Nixon presidency and returning to life of crime with his brother. Seeing as two people would make for poor use tactics in a strategy game you'll keep hiring more people for up to six members total and embark on missions, as well as buying more equipment and weapons along the way with your ill gotten gains... all of which you'll rarely use. Real problem here is a basic one, sadly – entire execution is too CLUMSY. I lost count how many times I got hung up on doors after “acquiring” color-coded keys from guards I've threatened at gunpoint before hiding their bodies away or odd paths my characters would take straight through camera vision cones, for example. That's in addition to somewhat arbitrary reactions from guards like not responding at all even when I blow up walls to gain entry. Maybe this speaks more of my own inflexibility, but game doesn't really define what is seemingly the “correct” way to play it. You can go in guns blazing if you don't mind spending half your take on covering up evidence. Playing undetected or causing minimum disruptions means praying everything aligns just right and you'd think over-the-top perspective would help here if only game didn't lean so strongly on line of vision for everything. Useful when applied to enemies not so much when your guys are just as blind.
This is also one of those rare cases where I won't be finishing the game in question before writing a review due to it quickly becoming a chore. I can handle repetition and failure when they're due to my own lack of understanding or mastery, but this seems like a case of game biting more than it can technically deliver on.
THOTH ( PC (Steam) – Twin Stick Shooter – 2016 ) + TRAILER
Rarely have I come so close to just throwing my controller out the window like I have with some of the later bits in THOTH. Being a twin stick shooter it's immediately not up my alley, but bite-sized levels allow for that instant gratification you get after beating them. Only for that accomplishment to be stripped away from you because you'll be replaying them. A lot.
Keeping in mind they can last as little as 30-odd seconds to couple of minutes having what seems like only 64 levels, in the main story at least, may appear as insufficient, but you better believe this challenging game will make you work for it. Main gimmick here is you never really defeat enemies and they instead lose health aka color drains from their shapes, only to become even deadlier and start honing onto you. When THOTH starts introducing new dangers, such as ever expanding “black holes” you have to carefully time when to destroy lest they remove your room to maneuver or insta-kill borders that enemies don't have to respect, you realize having two tries per level isn't much. It was at times such as those when I became thankful this isn't an NES game, which it may very well be in design ethos, because at least you have checkpoints every four levels and can restart from there. At its fundamental level this is a type of game requiring constant attention with no breaks as bar for manual dexterity and reflexes is constantly raised. Knowing this it falls up to you to decide whether THOTH is something you want to try out or not because it is a short title.
Minimalist is yet again how I would describe the visuals and still you find yourself needing this visual clarity on display. Instances where enemies overlap so you can't tell their status are rare enough to not get in the way of style serving function. Soundtrack was what stole the show for me, though. The way electronic tracks seamlessly build up to “boss stages” is definitely punching above what you'd expect a game of this production to aim for. Presentation in general is on the money, but if narrative is what you're after look elsewhere.
Steredenn ( PC (Steam) – Shoot 'em up, Bullet Hell – 2015 ) + TRAILER
Side-scrolling shoot 'em ups with elements of bullet hell-lite are definitely an acquired taste, but I think addition of session-based roguelike progression is what may set Steredenn apart... for better or worse. Add semi-randomized levels into the mix, while still adhering to progression structure, and that's a lot of hyphens to have in your opening.
Story included here is of “blink and you'll miss it” variety, but from the moment your base ship gets blown up by mysterious enemy to that final showdown action never relents in the slightest. You don't get to choose levels and their randomization factor is still influenced by gradually scaling difficulty with each new boss thrown in your way. How this entire thing operates: you have one life and a health bar, you clear levels full of enemies and face a boss at the end. Defeating that boss is your primary way to restore health and choose one of randomized upgrades offered, ranging from higher damage for specific enemy types, damage resistance, etc. Pool of these upgrades is relatively small and it won't be long before you find what synergises with your specific ship/weapons of choice. Right, dakka. You can carry two shootas and they [randomly] drop after you blow up supply ships. When you add ships themselves ranging from all-rounder, slow, fast and specialist, each with their own unique skill and starting weapon, you realize there's plenty of moving parts here to work here. Final, possibly deal breaking, touch is the following – you cannot take breaks from your current run. Meaning you need to beat Steredenn in a single sitting and when RNG works against you that can get the nerves really acting up. Let's just say dropping the game was on the table for me at one point.
Frantic action wouldn't be half as intense where it not for game's outrageously HYPE music tracks. I was born to save the universe from the moment I started playing. Not that pixel art visuals detract and, in fact, manage to clearly convey what's going even as explosions and effects ramp up. Your ship transforming to warp to next level is a neat touch, for example.
SUPERHOT ( PC (Steam) – FPS – 2016 ) + TRAILER
You could say SUPERHOT operates on a gimmick and you wouldn't be wrong. Certainly defines the package itself and is one of those examples where chosen narrative supports it due to, what's that fancy word yet opposite... right, ludonarrative synchronicity. Not that there is much of a story here, but that's all the more reason to keep it under tight wraps because it's so short and should be experienced. You need to re-examine video game obsessions after this one.
That aside what about the gameplay? Well, it's a FPS of its own breed that ends up playing more like an action puzzle with inclusion of manually aiming attacks. Quick reaction times are somewhat less of a keystone here because the trick is time moves only when you do. You and enemies both bite the dust with a single bullet no matter where it hits, but making weapons extremely limited in use and disposable with a throw to stun your enemies adds even more unknowns to this equation. SUPERHOT beats to its own rhythm which means some trial and error is inevitable due to levels being carefully constructed to ensure each has a logical route. Frustration of thinking you're a one-man army actually becomes reality once you master that “go, execute everyone, go” loop and marvel at your own replays. Barely clocking in at two hours or so you could argue play time is a serious problem here, but there's more to do from the piOS menu and challenges/endless mode stand as the most prominent features.
Intensely bright and saturated levels make bright red enemies pop out like there's no tomorrow and that's how it should work considering ability to quickly discern spawning enemies is what will you keep alive for that extra second. My one complaint in the entire technical department is how disorienting jumping bodies can be and finicky nature of snatching weapons mid air. Looking back to title's humble beginnings, SUPERHOT sure turned out to be quite the marvel and you'll be dodging bullets in no time to this soundtrack. ONE OF US.
Mongrels ( Fantasy, Young Adult – 2016 – 300 pages ) + QUOTE
"Young Adult coming-of-age werewolf story" sounds like a recipe for disaster when observed through the lens of modern YA attempts, but if I had to describe Mongrels with a single word it would without a doubt, and in completely non-buzzword context, be visceral. Less due to gore and brutality, although there is both presented in almost casual manner, and more with how nitty-gritty it gets with some elements you don't really think about in most werewolf works.
To begin with, there's very little actual story here because meat of the novel is essentially seeing a child as he becomes this teenager who may or may not have the werewolf gene while being raised by his aunt and uncle, part of the triplet including his now deceased mother, with plenty of shenanigans to go along with the entire affair. Fact they both ARE werewolves means family is constantly on the move as that's how they see this life panning out. Or, well, that could just be because they're essentially what you'd call white trash aka almost social outcasts doing low end jobs, ditching disposable cars to hop from one state to another, etc. Adding the werewolf aspect simply reinforces this notion further because you can't stick around for a long time as someone will notice things going awry, you might "wolf out" at extremely inconvenient times meaning highly urban areas are very much off-limits and there's plenty of other stipulations a werewolf has to keep in mind. Interesting idea is that Libby and Darren both accept this lifestyle as something normal and necessary to keep the wolf nature within them alive. For example, in their view even finishing high school is an accomplishment unto itself because it means you were able to keep it together despite all the werewolf changes that come along by the time you're 12 or 13 and something like that takes a while to come to terms to with. Not to mention living on the outskirts of society means you want to start earning money as fast as possible and not entirely above board if payments are in cash.
Seeing as Mongrels is told from the point of view of the nephew, and story does bounce from present day and earlier years chapters, focus is almost entirely on the werewolf nature itself. Which is good because author has some interesting thoughts about it. It's important to point out these werewolves aren't hulking, feral man-wolves walking on hind legs stereotype, though. Not being above using humor to teach a lesson. Darren, bravado uncle looking to emulate his own father and his "war stories", imparts some knowledge to the kid as the book goes on. Ever wondered what happens when werewolves go to prison? Did you know your greatest enemy when shifting indoors are doorknobs? Yeah, yeah. On the other Libby is the straitlaced one keeping the trio together... and type to comment on how human and werewolf intestines are not the same. Eating some garbage as a werewolf might seem like a great idea, but if there's sharp tins in there they could just rupture your insides when you're human again. Book is filled with wisdom and anecdotes like these. Lest you get the impression this is a comedy it most assuredly isn't even with plenty of levity to go around because everyone is very casual about it and not bent on preaching to the reader. You'll also learn why werewolves tend to not mate with other werewolves and what may have given the rise to the werewolf stereotype. Not to mention why it's imperative to not leave anyone you wound survive. Ever.
All in all, werewolf existence is portrayed as rather miserable and ill-suited to wherever they go with, ironically, human side and their family keeping it all bearable. Making that whole "mate for life" quite the issue if your other half is an abusive werewolf who spent so long as a wolf he doesn't know how to shift back anymore. Being a YA novel you can see the big question answered from miles away and losing some of the suspense, though.
It's almost like I never left. Tends to be the case when you play short adventure games one step removed from playing themselves. Not that I'm complaining or anything. Glad to see The Walking Dead finally concluded or until they pull the “we never said it was over!” sequel card. Hell, I totally forgot Telltale actually went bankrupt and their resurrection may go a long way to explain why this is four episodes long rather than usual five I've become accustomed to. Looking forward to what they'll do next.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season
( PC (Steam) – Adventure – 2018 ) + TRAILER
So here we are at long last with the last of Telltale's offerings. One appropriately titled The Walking Dead: The Final Season and promising to deliver on the story of Clementine, whom we have followed since the days she was a little girl under Lee's tutelage and now come into her own as young adult. Is this newfangled offering worth it, though?
It has been a few years since A New Frontier and our girl has diligently taken care of her little goofball AJ. Being a kid of five-six years means he is also a more fully realized character as opposed to a cutesy prop he used to be... although, that might be its own problem as I'll go into later on. Story catches up with Clementine and AJ as they stop their cool wheels to inspect a derelict train station house in hope for some supplies. This being The Walking Dead franchise things don't exactly pan out as intended leaving them displaced until they're seemingly rescued by kids from Ericson's Boarding School for Troubled Youth who have managed to stay hidden since the zombie outbreak began. Realizing this just might be her opportunity to a stable home for AJ, and owing a debt to students for saving them, Clementine decides they just might stay and contribute.
I'll refrain from divulging specific story beats, but seeing as this IS a Telltale zombie game you already know what tools it has to work with. One sidetrack I did like is how passage of time is acknowledged in more than just our two protagonists aging. It has been seven years since the first game, after all. While zombies are still a major problem in the world it's not like everyone stood by idly. For example, problems and conflicts are even more human-focused than they've been so far as we hear about survival groups engaging in all out war with both sides being spoken of as despicable in their methods. There are even weirder groups like the Whisperers who have their own ideas about the walkers and humanity's place in this new world. Titular walking dead are treated more like instant instant danger and drama rather than focal point of this particular story.
So we come to characters themselves and this [supposedly] being the very last game you all know why you're here.
The Final Season definitely aims to emulate the original game with its setup aka having this older, more experienced character step into a mentor role for a young newcomer. For the most part it works. For Clementine, at least. I was much less sold on AJ which could be due to how the game handles him. You could say it's somewhat believable because Clem herself knows being a kid doesn't mean you're helpless, and in fact leaning more to brutal pragmatic side just might be the desirable mindset in this new dead world, but AJ is simply too reasonable and entrusted with too much for a five or six year old. I had difficulty buying into it and characters questioning why he was given a loaded gun honestly made me wonder the same thing. Reason, of course, is Telltale never really said goodbye to your choices just being flavor because story is pretty set and game decides to pull a fast one on you at the very end. Had it not been a happy outcome I would probably be ranting about it because they piss all over your final decision totally invalidating it in the process. This ties into the whole raising AJ goal that persists throughout the game. Developers are rarely comfortable just letting the goofball act based on his learned lessons and Clem aka player still tells him what to do. In rare instances you don't character operates based on his own leaps of logic that never left me satisfied with the outcomes. For god's sake, Episode 1 ends in a disaster because there is no way to teach AJ the “correct” lesson and there's a fixed outcome that has to happen. Bringing a character I had a hard time remembering as the main antagonist felt like a C-list pull game could've done without.
Replacing tighter QTE sequences with simpler button prompts has loosed up the formula somewhat, but has also lead to shorter gameplay loops.
Ironically enough I think this may be the first Telltale game where technical changes are notable in more than just skin deep appearance. Visuals have definitely come leaps and bounds from the first game, and built upon the last one's foundations, but I think a single major change may have kickstarted attention to detail work – The Walking Dead embraced over-the-shoulder camera perspective. Because nothing good lasts forever real issue now is how samey the game looks. West Virginia as portrayed here looks very brown and dull green, with swamps and rundown buildings all blending together. Odd textures here and there notwithstanding I find this to largely be an issue with the art direction.
While we're on the subject I'd also like to point out The Final Season also plays somewhat more loosely. Gone are the days when every single interaction was presented as elaborate QTE sequence. Oh, those are still around aplenty, but there are more sections where Clementine can actually move around “combat zones” and engage enemies on her own with simple one-two attack or take aim for ranged attacks when scenarios call for it. It's actually integrated into gameplay proper now, albeit in very rudimentary fashion with hotspot prompts. This sadly came at the expense of nonexistent puzzles as game will not only automatically use whatever you need to, but will also turn the camera to WHERE it is if you don't have it. Idea of character inventory is just window dressing here and collectibles you can adorn your room with are more tangible as far as importance goes. Which reminds me – this is the first game in which Telltale implemented achievements for more than playing through the normally. How much this matters to you will vary based on how (in)tolerable you find unskippable cutscenes for repeat plays.
Here I am again and faster than last prophesied. That's one good outcome from when you mark a game as “finished” after just one successful playthrough, while said game was built for multiple ones. Not that I'm complaining or anything, mind you. Dodged a bullet by choosing not to commit to a general re-do of the game review format for two reasons; I'm too attached to covers on the side and because it would require more work on my end with dubious availability of the assets for each game. I at least brought the basic info section more in line with Multimedia style. Speaking of which I covered a novel decidedly out of my comfort zone.
How are newly introduced Steam awards treating you? Kinda surprised they went and tied actual money into it, but hey. I even managed to get a few for my reviews which means someone is reading them on Steam. ;)
Skyhill ( PC (Steam) – Roguelike, Survival – 2015 ) + TRAILER
You could say there's very little to expound upon when it comes to Skyhill. Probably due to lack of general variety for a sort of game it sets out to be. Is that necessarily so bad when you observe the offering as a complete package? Well, I guess that's what we're here to find out.
Guy rents a VIP suite in a 100 floor hotel and is extremely fortunate seeing it has “the latest bio-hazard protection installed” because come tomorrow everything seems to have gone totally bonkers. Discovering the elevator system is malfunctioning he realizes there's an arduous descent awaiting him if he wants to reach the bottom floor and escape. Along the way some monsters, mutants or whatever lurk in the rooms on the lookout for their latest victim. Putting together all the resources he can muster, with only his VIP suite as safe haven, our protagonist embarks on his merry way hoping to retain fragments of sanity.
You know I'm a story kind of guy, but as far as direct plot goes that's kinda it – escape. There's a bit more in what you scrounge over the course of playing, though. Game drops stuff like New Europe info early on and you can tell this isn't exactly our world anymore. What really fleshes out Skyhill are notes you find. In fact, piecing [parts] of the bigger picture is how you get alternate endings. I actually fairly liked how different all three of those are even if the game is arbitrary about it in a sense they're independent of one another, but can be unlocked in a single run. For example, I made both alternate endings available, but one overrides the other so you don't get to choose. If you ask me the default ending is probably the most effective seeing as it's heavily hinted at if you pay attention to audio recordings protagonist comes across. I remember the initial crowdfunding pitch numbered three playable characters so maybe they would have expanded the story more had that come to fruition as intended.
Setup we're operating with here gameplay-wise is that every floor has a stairwell/elevator area + two rooms, one to each side. Moving from room-to-room costs you one unit of food, which feeds into the survival element because you have to keep your hunger in check lest you start losing health. I'll go into it later on when I talk about specific systems, but in each of these rooms are almost always containers holding everything from weapons, ingredients for all your crafting needs or consumables like low-tier food and health kits. You can move between your VIP and any floor with operational elevator access by spending two units of food which is a lifesaver when you're nearing the exit and need to craft and rest to heal. Trick is that sometimes a panel has to be fixed and you have to keep doing this whenever you see one because if the chain of working elevators is broken you won't be able to use them at all. Game does throw you a bone by not requiring a specific skill or to fix things, but rather putting a certain part requirement up OR you can improvise, spend some time and lose a random item from inventory with a chance of failure. In practical terms this was never an issue for me because you have plenty of stuff in your backpack and losing some wiring won't immediately kill you.
What just might kill you is combat, though. Rooms I talked about can also be populated by enemies you need to do away with before you can loot and they're also your main source of experience. I counted handful of enemy types, but considering how long a run takes I didn't find that terribly restrictive. Skyhill also decides to throw more dangerous enemies at you as you descend further and further while keeping in mind you CAN backtrack to the VIP room if you need a quick upgrade. You fight enemies by either simply clicking on them and letting the skill/weapon formula do its thing or you can enable the aimed attack mode where you choose three body parts to attack, each with differing percentage-to-hit and damage. Latter seems like a reasonable choice to go with as most of the time you want that fine control in order to optimize. If there was one enemy I dreaded coming across it was the toxic bloated one who would attempt to poison you if you didn't kill him fast enough. That's quite the problem as it sends your health ticking down without an antidote you must to craft. Speaking of which...
Crafting is a thing that I, much to my own embarrassment, didn't get the importance of while I was doing so well early on. Reaching low 20s and I understood not returning to the suite where crafting station and bed are located was a mistake. You see, you can upgrade your “home base” which lets you unlock more recipes and such. Those are key to acquiring better weapons and actually filling food because what you find as loot is just enough to get you by. Taking into account weapons depend on stat(s) you may want to plan ahead and work with those points you get with each level to put into Strength, Speed, Dexterity or Accuracy so you don't suffer handling penalties if one or more isn't up to snuff. Especially since some advanced weapons require you to have not only crafting ingredients but also other weapons. One issue that stood out was how final damage output could have been a bit more transparent. You can only see what effective damage, with skill bonuses factored in, your weapon will do once you actually equip it seeing as base damage is more of a guideline. It just leads to unnecessary back and forth until you find the best one.
While I'm on the topic of character development I should also briefly bring up active and passive Perks. Those are all locked at first, but as you play through the game they open up and can be quite the game changers. Lucky Bastard, for example, lets you one-shot anything and then goes on extensive cooldown making it something you save. Or Rampage where you always strike first, but cannot retreat from fights. Perks somewhat alleviate that absent degree of major differences across multiple runs in that they can also alter non-combat functionality like make you see through what's on other floors, start off with a strong medpack, etc.
On the production end Skyhill definitely subscribes to making good use of the chosen art style. Visual highlights peak at dramatically drawn shadows once combat is met for higher tension, but presentation also reveals mobile version as the likely baseline. Some detail work like weapon types having their own attack animations pleasantly surprised me and what is in the game certainly looks polished enough. Audio offering is sparse albeit functional, especially with creepy mutant noises. Ominous and moody exploration track is the one you'll grow accustomed to the most as it follows your every step and loops eternally.
Courtship Rite ( Drama, Romance – 1983 – 409 pages ) + QUOTE
Occasionally I aim to ambush myself and start reading a book as ignorant of what it's about as I possibly can be. Courtship Rite is one such case and I honestly don't know how to even makes the sales pitch.
Think civilization building within alien society where polyamory is default. Not to say latter is the primary focus of the novel, but when have you have a family with three husbands and two wives to start off, where they genuinely work as a unit to further their goals, it's a big part of the novel. Weirdest thing? That's the most normal aspect to come from this setting. Geta is a strange world without domesticated livestock with humans and Eight Sacred Plants serving as only familiar ties to good old Earth we know and love. Novel goes to great lengths to convey just how inhospitable Geta is to human life, in large part because there's, well, other life on it and all of it will kill you unless you know the tricks around it. What this has resulted in is perpetual food scarcity and cannibalism is not only NOT taboo, but also normal and expected at times. Bad harvest? Old will volunteer and everyone joins the Funereal Feast where the VIP prepared with plenty of meat strips to go around, bones to turn into broth and skin to be worn when tanned properly. You see, society on Geta isn't really familiar with concepts like countries and is more or less divided and ruled by priest clans. These sit on top of the food pyramid and govern in their own fashion. Two of such clans novel concerns itself with are Kaiel and Mnankrei as they inevitably come to blows in a world that does not know the meaning of war. Or even weapons.
Our aforementioned family belongs to the former clan, who cull their children all year long and do not reserve cannibalism for famine which has earned them a certain sort of reputation, and they get a specific mandate from up top - they must forsake the current woman they were pursuing to be third-wife and instead marry an unknown, so-called Gentle Heretic, in a prelude move to the upcoming clan struggle as Kaiel leadership suspects Mnanekrei leadership may be causing a famine to up the food prices or extort higher "flesh tithe" from weaker clans. It's all part of the great global picture dealing with the fact Mnankrei have big ships and Kaiel are land-bound which limits trade capacity in comparison. If that sounds kinda dull that's probably because it starts off that way and takes a backseat before you get some basic know-how regarding how this madhouse operates. Let's just say that Gentle Heretic, herself opposing cannibalism and who may have an artifact concerning God in the Sky, a star denizens of Geta can see shinning bright, has a role to play. Only for Courtship Rite to backhand you across the room dropping a rather impressive revelation, one that seems to have been spoiled in most summaries I've read after the fact. Three brothers send their loudest and wanton to test the waters with their bride to be as well as expand Kaiel influence. One of the wives is sent with him to temper his fiery nature as they masquerade to hide overt meddling.
I realize I haven't exactly told you much about the book. That's because A) can't get into it without spoilers and B) it really IS more about the world itself and reader becoming accustomed to it. There are brief pieces of fiction opening every chapter that set the mood just right for my taste. People here adore their skin with decorative scars and tattoos, and as rare form of leather it is seldom abandoned. For a technologically agnostic nature of Geta important clans seem to have access to chemistry and genetics to a mental level of proficiency. What we would procure technologically they achieve through genetic tampering. Kaiel leader, for example, is called Prime Predictor and is chosen based on how accurate his "prophecies" were when observed years later. Of course, no good leader just waits for things to happen and always nudges with just enough force to set things in motion.
Entire thing is extremely bizarre and my only complaint is that romance probably takes a good 20% of the book. I lost count how many times everyone has sex almost like saying hello to one another or just sheer dynamics of a marriage five people can have and all the drama that entails when it goes wrong. Strong recommendation despite that, though. I was taken aback by how Kaiel clan interprets discoveries that could shake their entire belief system and seemingly temper it with wisdom. Then again out of all priest clans their shtick is bargaining.
Aww yeah, I'm back with a quickie. Only wish it was for a better game, but Divide is what we have so we'll make the best of it. It just so happens today is my last day off so who knows when I'll again have the time to pen a proper review. Checked out some additional demos on top of those I turned into earlier report and cleared up my wishlist even further. Wasn't the exact opposite supposed to happen?
Having finished Divide I immediately struggled whether a review would be forthcoming and that's kind of a rarity on my end seeing that I enjoy plopping out walls of text much to everyone's dismay. Why? Well, it's a game that both overstays its welcome and manages to leave a lot cut short. Let's check out how and why.
Starting at the very beginning game opens with in medias res setup and we control this unknown guy accompanied by equally mysterious woman as they both find themselves on the run from something called the Vestige. I have to admit it's kinda overwhelming at first because Divide doesn't really ease you into things, but compared to when you actually reach that moment in the actual progression, game certainly gives you a beefed up version of the main character with plenty of upgrades you won't really have then. Still, you continue running through futuristic corridors, activating strange nodes and firing upon security forces with some sort of energy gun only to get ambushed and taken out by a snarky henchman who's been teasing you along the way about the fact you two are apparently intruding somewhere you shouldn't be.
There ends the action bit for a while and our protagonist is taking caring of his daughter Arly on a train ride to meet his wife's acquaintance because he has something important to discuss with him over his wife's work... for Vestige Corporation. More than earlier adrenaline-packed opening it was this segment where we see very charming characters and believable father-daughter dynamic that drew me in. Sadly it also demonstrates rather weak dialog “system” where you use the right stick to choose one of the options and seemingly over-sized levels with nothing to do. We'll get to levels later on, Did I mention your wife Marian is dead? Yeah, her pal Alton hands you a case for safekeeping. Needless to say you open it back home, find a strange orb and AR lenses you put on. Imagine my shock when you end up back in those tunnels with no idea how or why you ended up there. Or where your daughter is.
If that sounds jumbled or disjointed that's probably because it was intended by the game and less so by me in this awkward summary. Basically, you end up somewhere with no idea what's going on and there's robot guards, AR nodes as well as locks you can interact with, the whole shebang. Our hero David only has one question on his mind – have you seen a little girl?
Apart from one major thing left that's all I'll say about the story because the rest would be spoiling. Not to say there's much to spoil, though. Other than brief dialog bits you have with your companion there's very little of it directly told to you. What there is exists in the form of news, technology, upgrades, etc text you'll come across while playing. I found all of it rather gripping and now knowing game end so abruptly I can't help but feel cheated out of this tremendous narrative that could have been. If you go into it blind and absorb all the entries you find from it's pretty interesting to follow how a company interested in technological improvements goes to become... this.
I'll cut the preamble short with a message you need to hear before playing Divide – this is a three hour game stretched to ten or so if you take your time. No idea why they felt the need run with this other than someone really likes having the player wander through identical corridors and similar room layouts, checking out identical console interfaces and looking for Supervisor one to get the Prime key in order to open the next segment of the underground base. I have explained about 80% of the game with that single overly long line. It's not varied and is the equivalent of “collect 3X instead of X to advance” kind of nonsense. Yeah, it takes you around the complex, but that's not a strength because you can only vary the few tilests so many times. I also lost count how many times you're simply left to find your own way using a very general map. Be aware if you have trouble orienting yourself or poor spatial awareness because I could see myself easily lost had I not taken breaks only after clearing entire segments.
To make matters even more confusing there's a matter of combat.
Which isn't bad. Entire game rather controls in this weighty kind of fashion where you have to account for cumbersome movements. Taken at face value this is a twin-stick shooter, but focus isn't on shooting at all as much as simply navigating levels and unlocking doors to advance. I actually found myself avoiding the peashooter you have altogether by running away from enemies, robotic or human, and instead hacking where I could. As you play capabilities of your AR lense only get better and reprogramming or assuming control of robot spiders becomes an option, for example. Amusingly enough game manages to avoid some kind of RPG talent system or such replacing it with merely locating upgrades you then integrate. Better ablated plating, faster gun recharge and capacity, all of those you could feasibly end up skipping. With almost no mandatory combat scenarios to speak of you might as well.
Within its element, when lighting and shadows intermingle as red alert bleeps in the background and squad of Vestige security is coming down a flight of stairs wearing their AR armor, Divide can look stunning for an indie game. I think the isometric perspective may be the deal maker for me because it just goes so hand-in-hand with the visuals Exploding Tuba guys chose. In rare few instances 2D backgrounds are involved it really doesn't stay together, though. Soundtrack takes a notch even higher. Looking at the music department during credits I realize why because they almost outnumber the developers. Let's just say moody ambient pieces work great, but it's not like composer was embarrassed to go all out for set piece moments. Delivered beyond expectations on both fronts.