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. Maybe I'll add more to the "homepage" at some point, but this is serviceable for now.
Another two weeks, another update. Much to my own surprise. I kinda winged it this time seeing as Book of Demons is the kind of game I could've taken a lot more time with before penning a review, but I think I'll also keep it installed for a little while longer. On the other front I've covered Castlevania S2 and Y: The Last Man as part of my finally correctly titled Multimedia section. You can teach me to schedule, but you can't take the obsession to standardize out of me.
What do you think about actually listing what I’ve reviewed in the opening and including samples of graphical media when I review them?
Book of Demons
Action RPG time it is! Or was it hack & slash? I don't know, God of War kinda co-opted the term for some reason, but it doesn't matter because we're talking about Book of Demons and how I finally finished it... once. By their very nature these kinds of games cannot really be easily called finished yet I would list “completing the main story” as a valid quantifier. So let's delve deeply and greedily into these ephemeral loot drop tables with strong Diablo homages I got on a whim at 66% discount + coupon.
Story-wise this game knows for sure what it is and makes good use of it. Stop me if this sounds familiar: you arrive at a village tormented by demons who make their home out of a descending church that eventually goes straight to hell, and along the way you're helped by a motley crew of villagers counting among themselves a tavern girl, priest, witch and a mysterious geezer to identify your crap. Alright, some of the genders are bent, but it's the first Diablo and you love it. Major difference is Book of Demons takes a tonally different approach in a sense it embraces the self-awareness of the material it draws from and makes light of it whenever it can with references and jokes. Grimdark fantasy this is not. Characters themselves also adhere to the above and once in a while even got a smile out of me so job well done, especially not!Deckard Cain who hams it up as much as he can get away with. Outside of their gameplay functions these characters have voiced gossip topics that really let the VA shine and I did not expect such a production level from an indie game. They all eagerly expect the protagonist, whichever one of thre three you select – those being Warrior, Rogue and Mage, to get to the bottom of things and vanquish the Archdemon.
But that's about as far as I'll go regarding the story... which honestly is about what you'll get. Now it's time for systems and all the nitty-gritty.
In case you've never played Diablo or any of all the Diablo-clones out there the basic idea is you go down descending levels of ruins with steadily increasing challenge to find better loot and fight more dangerous enemies. You then return to town, identify and sell off stuff while keeping the good to advance your character. Rinse and repeat in a satisfying loop. Satisfying provided that basic moment-to-moment gameplay is on the level and it is in Book of Demons. There are couple of major differences developer committed to that really makes this game stand out among the clones, though. I'd say both are game changers in their own ways. First – there is no conventional loot in the game. Whatever could you mean, you ask? This is a part-time card building game. Wait wait wait. It's not like that. Cards are your loot. Whereas you would find Goreshovel in another game here it would be a Legendary card you can upgrade further to make it even better. You use rune cards and gold for upgrades and both are relatively plentiful when you hit your stride and learn how the game works. Second big change is the following – game runs on lanes, corridors, whatever. Meaning you can't actually navigate through levels freely and are rather constrained to tight corridors that branch. This doesn't actually affect picking up loot (hover over or click) or attacking enemies (you don't have to be directly in their face to attack), but what it does impact in a major way is positioning becomes the new king. You can get easily cornered later on and it is highly recommended to have an “escape” ability or at least something to crowd control with.
While we're on the subject of combat and enemies I might as well get into some things I liked here. Small touches like ability to dispel poison manually when you see the icon change over your health globe, getting knocked out actually knocks you out and forces you to click on the stars to wake up as well as disturbs some of your cards so you have to “fix” them before they're usable again, freezing you actually chills the interface and seriously messing with your mobility, etc. Now imagine all of those happening at the same time in one combat encounter because by god does this game love to check your resistances. While enemies do tend to be new skins as you go further down there are also quite a few enemy TYPES and some will annoy the hell out of you. Nothing like getting focus fired by flaming skeleton archers hiding behind health bars of enhanced armor you have to bust through, for example. And there are myriad of types like summoning reinforcements, suicidal variety, frequent impervious periods, etc. This is not even getting into named sub-bosses which go through phases of their own. Sadly, I think having only three major bosses is one of the game's mistakes even if they do mark major milestones. Drawing from Diablo is all fine and dandy, but considering other strides they've made adding more bosses should've been one of them as well.
Never again feel like you're stuck in a long level with only five minutes to spare before you have to leave.
Craziest thing is I'm already so far into this review and haven't talked about what is arguably the third biggest inclusion – Flexiscope. Never again will a game of this type waste your time with needlessly short or long levels when you don't have the hours to sit your ass down and play in one continuous session without losing progress. I didn't exactly see the point of Flexiscope at first simply because I accepted how I played these dungeon crawlers so far. Now I realize having the ability to set your own session length, visible in minutes and number of rewards/gold you're likely to extract, is invaluable. Yes, about five minutes for one short level option is there for when you need that fix. It goes up to 50+ minutes. Needless to say game tracks progress constantly and no “Save on Exit” is going to waste a single second as you immediately return to where you left. Having progress presented in such block format also motivates you to go push forward for that small chunk of completion. It does mean there's little unique content until you reach the bosses because it's procedurally generated and interchangeable, though. But what else is new?
So what haven't I talked about yet? Audio and visuals? Alright.
Thing Trunk developer said Book of Demons is part of their Paperverse, where they have more games planned as you can see in the game lobby where you choose Book of Demons'... book, and I think they nailed the aesthetic for sure. Traditional animation is scarce as everything is made of paper and tends to animate in that fixed fashion where it plops up and down, is jerked strongly from side to side, or such methods. You'll rarely see an elaborate show off. That works for the kind of game this is and, as I said above, feeds into very competently executed flow of action and pacing. Nothing feels like it's wasting your time. As far as audio goes I'd say it's on the same level. Already mentioned VA is pretty damn good and soundtrack itself is downright impressive albeit scarce. Village theme hit all the right notes for me as far as nostalgia goes. All the hits and bumps are gloriously exaggerated and now I know the MISS MISS MISS cue all too well.
Castlevania (Season 2)
Almost two years ago I reviewed the first season of Castlevania and wondered how its sequel would turn out considering the first one, which consisted of mere four episodes, was basically just a setup to get our party together so they embark on a quest to hunt down Dracula proper. Time has come... well, time actually came last year yet here I am today having seen all eight episodes of the second season attempting to put it into words.
Where to begin? In hindsight it turns out having that tight-packed original was better in every way compared to what we got in this offering. I'll get into actual problems as I carry on, but the most obvious one for me is there's basically just as little if not less story here than we got earlier except it's now dragged out across twice as many episodes with unhealthy dose of filler thrown in for good measure. Show also fell into “bigger and more = better” trap in the attempt to escalate story stakes when the groundwork was already laid down and that should have been used instead.
Story buildup we saw up to this point gets resolved in the last two episodes. Until then it becomes painfully obvious writers watched too much Game of Thrones and thought vampire politics was what I wanted in my Castlevania animation. They were sorely mistaken. Now, vampires and politics can work, as Vampire the Masquerade can attest to, but in this case it results in just a whole lot of static shots where vampires stand in the grand hall and pretend to politic/strategize while old Drac is tired of life and wants to end it all. When you consider half of most of the episodes are dedicated to vampire POV it drags the whole thing down. Flipside is there are two new human characters who are interesting and I genuinely wanted to see more of and show thankfully provided it with backstory flashbacks. Once in a while you cut loose with gratuitous action scenes that don't really provide much context to the story under than to, I don't know, justify the action tag? It's just all so unfocused and I don't think the director knows what pacing means as they were given too much time and not enough plot to fill it with. Even our intrepid trio of protagonists does little until the finale and I can only stand so much bickering between Alucard and Trevor with Sypha mediating between the two manchildren. All three of them are fundamentally the same characters we saw in the original so nothing's really changed there. They simply have to get new stuff and learn new tricks to actually get to fight the big D. But those last two episodes, man. That's what I wanted the show to be – action galore and finally tossing in some Castlevania music. Such a shame it comes so late and is resolved with assumed expectation from the viewer to be already invested in these characters. Except in this second season I can't even cheer for Dracula anymore because he's gone full nihilistic. And show then has the nerve to sequel bait not once, but TWICE... with season three already confirmed.
As you can probably tell I did not enjoy this. It simply comes across as a tremendous downgrade in almost every respect that has to do with pacing, writing and development. Sure, the visuals are still there and combat choreography was good, considering they seriously increased the time spent fighting so it occasionally dips into frame jank, but even the sound design is somehow just there. Vampires going all “diversity mode” simply so you can have an international cast to slay, who barely utter a word so they're just stereotypes, seems like a waste of time and effort, for example.
Y: The Last Man
Time for another graphic novel. Or comic, if you prefer. Y: The Last Man fits well within my spheres of interest aka not being your “cape comic” that seem to be all the rage these days and comes neatly collected. As a matter a fact there are multiple collected editions out there and I'd probably track down Absolute Edition because it's the entire story in just three books.
It's 2002 and the unthinkable has happened – all the males have died. Well, everyone except Yorrick Brown and his pet monkey Ampersand who makes it his favorite past time to throw excrement at Yorrick. Needless to say this turns the world upside down as society breaks down and begins to rebuild over the course of the story. What is the story, though? There's kind of a lot to take in because the story clearly runs on arcs, but what we start off with is Yorrick wants to get to Australia to locate his girlfriend Beth while the rest of the world, of which there are many parties including the Israeli military, female US president drafting the mysterious Culper Ring organization to protect the only surviving male, and lots of other crazy shit that eventually gets introduced. Story is not really Y's strong point if you ask me. Barring some asspulls and twists you can largely guess how this “world gone crazy with women” premise turns out for the only guy around and ultimately comic relies on introducing more outlandish elements to throw roadblocks in Yorrick's way as the cast expands. Ultimately it's the premise I found the most engaging when you have the types of New Amazons popping up, piracy taking a new meaning and not even the astronauts are forgotten. Not to mention asking if there's truly hope in such a setting?
With all that in mind it's the characters that really carry this one. Or will break it utterly depending on where your preferences lie. Mr. Brown himself is kinda that stereotypical early 2000's wisecracking smart guy using it as a facade to deal with his own inner turmoils and is largely likable. Where he got on my nerves is with constant referencing when it felt out of place or just to reinforce the notion he's a brat. Fortunately he's balanced by excellent agent 355, a no nonsense government agent who's role it happens to be to watch over Yorrick. She doesn't have an easy job and relationship is one of barely tolerating each other early on. Naturally, it goes places. There's probably about a dozen of other characters involved, particular standout being Dr. Mann who may or may not know what actually caused the extinction of the male population worldwide, but it's the dynamic duo that carries the story and how they develop.
So what's my last word on Y? Well, uneven would definitely qualify. As well as groan-inducing at times. Aside from the whole in your face feminism thing, which got on my nerves real fast but with Yorrick being the way he is you can almost see the women in this story may be onto something, it was author's incessant need to stop and deliver a paragraph worth of “as you know...” type of exposition. It's unnecessary and kills whatever pace you had. No, I don't need to be reminded who the Amazons were in the middle of a tense standoff, for example. This persists throughout the comic. It is a decent looking comic, I'll give it that. Definitely modern made and you can tell corners were cut with some backgrounds, but the cover art is gorgeous so that was a good way to get me hooked. On top of general artwork gradually getting better as more issues were released. I think one of the artists was actually from Croatia?
Another collection of shorties reviewed in under a day. Just like with my last Grab-bag all these games are free and, this time at least, available on Steam as precursors to upcoming games. I have not really found a solution for games lacking “proper” covers yet so I guess current format could work for those versus full “cover on the side, multiple screenshots” package. What do you think? I wish I managed to squeeze in at least one more review under the non-games section down below, but one will have to do.
You’ve probably seen these pop on Steam prior to me posting here. Eh.
It seems to have become a thing these days to offer what are essentially demos of yore in some form or another, and Unsung Story – Prologue is one of these offerings. What we have at hand is quite short, but I think it represents a decent so-called “vertical slice” of what the game should turn out to be. Baring some major development changes along the way, of course.
At first glance game looks like dime a dozen 2D platformer with someone who cares about what they're doing and operates within his means helming the art department so we have actual drawn art assets versus someone's misplaced notion of what 8bit and 16bit games from their childhood looked like. And it is all of that, but you'll also notice something that makes it stand out – characters appear quite small or maybe the camera is simply zoomed out more than I'm used to from these games. Maybe it'll factor into larger areas and bosses than caves and skeletons we see here? In any case, this is a platformer where combat appears to be second despite how much effort is put into systems backing it up when you take into account gear system at work. You can buy new equipment from the shops with loot you occasionally find from fallen foes or salvage from chests you come across, although at the moment this was limited to whether you wanted one-handed + shield or two-handed weapons in addition to ranged attack. Prologue culminates in a boss fight following a rather tense platforming section as level continues to collapse and demands you combine double jumping with dashing to get across where it turns out not everything is exactly operating under the premise which lead our hero to enter the cave in the first place. Plot thickens.
All in all, it was a good first taste and all the groundwork is already here if you ask me. Now it's just a question of whether Unsung Warriors proper will materialize considering their Kickstarter pitch failed.
Sometimes you get tidbits representing what a game may be in the future and sometimes you get what is couple of hours worth of content. Sin Slayers: The First Sin is definitely among the latter. Before I even get into talking about this... well, honest to god demo in everything but name, it's probably worth pointing out Sin Slayers will most likely resonate strongly with the Darkest Dungeon audience due to its reliance on challenge, difficulty and running the same content over and over.
So what is it? Basically a roguelike with 3v3 RPG style combat considering it is party-based and people take turns. If not for clear cut reference above one might even be tempted to call it JRPG combat, but I think the rest of the game themes itself rather nicely in a different direction. There's little story to speak of – your playable character help two people slay some demons and they all retreat to a nearby church where others have also taken refuge. Local priest also seems to have a plan regarding how to get rid of the corruption infesting the land... and conveniently splitting it off into domains themed after Deadly Sins. Cue content progression in traditional roguelike sense where each “sector” is randomly generated upon initiating each new session. This naturally lends itself to replayability, but one aspect I like is Sin Slayers' genuine difficulty early on because you don't really get natural increment in power through level ups. No, you need to craft better equipment with slowly acquired materials and recipes, unlock new tiers of skills by directly paying money, etc. Where crafting giveth, character management taketh, though. There is no handling your characters between sessions and they recover to full health. Real focus is on the exploration map and combat here with intricacies like enemies being vulnerable to specific types of damage, weighing PROs and CONs on which decisions to make with events and such.
This one is a game that will find its audience, and probably already has one, not to mention it is a pretty impressive showcase if it was intended to get you into the entire package. However. For the exact reason of being what it is game will also be avoided. I can already see grinding zones for materials and to do all specific quests will take a while, but stuff like characters having skills they can use outside of combat for level navigation, witty writing if that's your thing, etc it may still be worth at least checking out. Maybe you just like detailed sprite work.
To be perfectly honest with you Stoneshard: Prologue is essentially meant to last about 25-30 minutes. Fact it took me over two hours for just as many successful runs should clue you in on two possibilities: A) I really have lost my edge or B) gods of RNG were not looking favorably on me. Maybe it was a deadly combination of both?
Despite what I can see from Steam's store page for the main game itself, which promises much more and has you leading a caravan among other proper RPG things, Prologue I've played is a roguelike through and through inspired by some of the most stalwart genre classics. Which means turn-based combat and managing Verren as he struggles to escape from a prison cell he finds himself locked in by a mean looking vampire. As a matter of fact you'll be dusting quite a few vampires on your way up and let me tell you Stoneshard has no intention of making it easy. Mainly because enemy distribution and loot can make or break your thankfully short runs for the purposes of this limited experience. What really sold me on the game was the fact your inventory will be more loaded with things to handle your condition over some brand new gear. For example, standing near explosions can cause a concussion, blocking a particularly harsh blow could cause long-term arm damage or Verren can simply get depressed if things start going badly for you. There are solutions for these things such as bandages, food/drinks you need for survival aspects, ether inhaler to give yourself a boost with detriments in the long run, etc. It's a dynamic puzzle you have to balance and it makes the character actually feel alive on top of classical character building with stats and skills.
Provided Stoneshard can deliver this and more, I'm sold and game has its place on my wishlist. What I have played is an extremely tight roguelike that manages to evoke terrific atmosphere with relatively simplistic visuals and certainly got me hooked on its greater story with mere journal entries and some lines of dialog. Just... prepare to die.
The Long Tomorrow
There are many approaches one can take when writing a novel set during or after an apocalyptic event, and so we have on our hands this time. The Long Tomorrow might actually surprise you because it's not an action drive story, but that in no way diminishes its own take on the premise.
So many stories regarding the apocalypse decide to set themselves far off into the future to cut all ties except those they'd like to keep to the old world, but as the reader learns through the eyes of a fourteen year old Len Colter that's not exactly the case this time around. It has been scantly two generations since the world ended so there are old people still around who remember what the cities were like, for example. And it is a notable example because in this new world order one rule reigns supreme – cities can never return. Does that mean everyone's turned nomadic? Not really, they just returned to more rural life style and put hard caps on what passes for civilized hubs. Going beyond mere cities people also abhor much of the advanced technologies and swept in religious doctrine they consider them evil and remnants of what caused humanity to forsake God who then decided to burn them away for their sinful ways. Such is the world view we get through Len's eyes. View, you might say, is heavily biased considering it comes from New Mennonites who rose to become just one of many sects to keep the society going. This life will soon be cut for our boy protagonist as he and his friend Esau have ideas of their own and don't want to be kept ignorant for the rest of their lives when there has to be so much more out there. Well, if you dodge Ishmaelites who have become zealous savages and a vile place called Bartorstown where technology may have endured to plague the world.
From my setting summary I think you can kinda put two and two together and make an educated guess where this story is going, but it's a good thing the journey itself is why you're here. Seeing these two boys enact their plan and witness the world, with the reader along for the ride, beyond their village is the real draw. Nothing's perfect in this new world yet there are familiar problems. Kinda like with zombie stories you realize despite all external circumstances we are our own worst enemy in most situations, and no matter which form it took it seems like the apocalypse hasn't really changed that. Journey I mentioned above is also an internal one where Len's worldviews are tested and he has to decide what to believe in. Even whether his father is in the right and this way of living they practice is the correct one when they weight against the days of yesteryear. Not to mention new societies that have risen and struggle balancing the old laws with the inevitable increase in population and [old] issues that will bring back that cannot be solved by faith alone.
I enjoyed The Long Tomorrow a great deal and would recommend it. There are some things that didn't work for me, especially the resolution and some buildup towards the ending when Len suddenly makes certain calls, but those do not undermine a great story of self-exploration we have here.
Now this is more like it and what I had in mind when I scaled back updated to one per game. Also to break the monotony I've brought back my takes on other media which will no longer be reviews proper and rather more like impressions or summaries. Makes it easier that way, although I doubt anyone will notice with my walls of text. Have fun reading and fire back any feedback you have.
If you’re reading the ANTHOLOGY section please comment on whether it was uncomfortable to read with cover art on the right side. I found it distracting myself.
Product of Kickstarter funding and adaptation of an existing series of books, The Dwarves has been sitting on my HDD for a while now and I'm happy to confirm that it has indeed been finished. Was it worth? Well, first I'd like to say I am unfamiliar with the series of novels, but game is based solely on the first one and ends on satisfactory note with some minor bait that will most likely never materialize in a sequel. For what it's worth it sure got me interested in the novels as of today.
Girdlegard is something we must tackle first seeing as it is the setting of the game. And oh boy, is it overwhelming unless you're familiar with the property. Not that I mind “sink or swim” approach where you have to puzzle things out for yourself, but where The Dwarves stumbles is in sheer quantity of information thrown at you in such a short time. To simplify – Girdlegard is a region primarily populated by human kingdoms, but also home to various Dwarf clans in the mountains edging the region. Five dwarven kingdoms, to be specific. Game refers to them as Firstlings, Secondlings, Thirdlings, Fourthlings and Fiftlings respectively. This is important because you can easily mix it up until you're about a third into the game, reach one of these kingdoms and start to piece things together. There are also magical fields in Girdlegard where Magi make their bases. You can imagine the issues from all of this amalgamating and interacting, but there's also added tension because there are other factions at work – Elves, Orcs and Alfar... who are kinda like evil Elves. The Perished Land is also a thing and it's an evil spirit/region, but also something that seemingly has a will of its own and seeks to infiltrate Girdlegard while the Magi are holding constant vigil to keep it outside.
With that out of the way our story proper concerns Tungdil Goldhand, a dwarf youth who oddly enough does not live with his kin but rather in one of Girdlegard's enchanted realms where a Mage Lot-Ionan rules. Tungdil was orphaned you see and saved by said mage who kept him to work as a smith where he has now built his life. Sadly, things take a grave turn when Tungdil is sent by his master to deliver an important package to a meeting of Magi deciding how to protect the land. Along the way he comes across two dwarves who manage to save his life, stakes get raised as dangerous Alfar massacres a village and suddenly our dwarven lad is in a fight to save his life while his two new companions seem desperate to take him to Secondling's fortress for some unknown reason. Plot thickens.
So yeah, that's the gist of it. While this is technically an RPG, and what isn't these days, I wouldn't really focus on story in The Dwarves. It's there and typical fantasy fare is what you'll get, but what game focuses on is gameplay.
Best way to explain the combat system at hand would be to imagine an action RPG except you can also pause to input commands from instructing characters to move to a specific point or use abilities. Sadly, it's a single step kind of input so you cannot queue actions aka you cannot order “move here and THEN use ability X” which tends to make combat hectic because it is, essentially, a dynamic puzzle board that never stands still. Overhead view with freedom to rotate the camera and limited zoom is maintained, and there are times when you don't want to keep it zoomed out to the max. Mastering the combat system definitely took me a while, though. Tutorial overwhelms you without necessarily breaking down the very basics so you think simply standing still and bashing will work when in reality getting surrounded is a quick way to die.
Reading the above you may think fighting is what you'll be doing for most of the game, but that would be wrong. Mostly. Traveling across the world map is really what will take a big chunk of your time and let me tell you it's not all peachy there. World is divided into nodes you move to and from with each transition taking a day's worth of time. You also have a food supply to keep an eye on. Yes, it's one of those games. Twist here is you will not starve if you run out of food, but it will cripple your characters' ability to heal injuries sustained in battles while traveling. This becomes less of a problem later on when you expand your roster, but that raises a separate conundrum I'll get into later. Once the shine wears off you'll realize there are too many nodes in the world that serve no purpose other than to waste your food and time. Former can at least be replenished through events or straight up buying it at outposts for gold which you'll honestly be swimming in anyway. Little one-off events you come across are the main attraction and most have alternate outcomes. For example, how you handle a mercenary situation could result in fighting half the town or getting their support. I liked this element of the game and wish it was condensed a bit more. Then again, you can also ignore everything and just go for the main story question mark.
Seemingly familiar real-time with pause combat definitely takes a while to get used to its flow because it's so reliant on using abilities over everything else.
When you get into fighting is when entirely separate set of issues rears its ugly head. For starters there's how the game handles physics and idea of “force” behind attacks. When you select which attack to initiate it usually has a cone or arrow of direction where it'll fire off to or what area it will affect. Thing is, this also affects allies and you can cause massive damage or displace them resulting in stuns. You can hand wave this early on when only couple of characters have AoE clearing attacks, but as they get more prevalent it becomes a serious issue requiring careful positioning and party composition. Problem – this is a highly melee-centric game and not everyone is built like a dwarven ironbreaker your main cast is. Secondly, there's also pathfinding which tends to lose its shit the moment you're not in open fields and calling characters to your position can have comically disastrous results. Nothing like being close to finishing a level only to send your ally tumbling down a cliff because you accidentally caught him with a sweeping attack.
Which feeds into another matter and that's highly imbalanced characters. You'd have to be crazy to take some of them into combat with you... except you end up doing precisely that with the game forcing them on you in couple of situations. This could be entirely on me and maybe it changes if you play on hard difficulty, but trying to charm enemies to fight for you is nonsensical when you could just focus on knocking them down, executing them and gain those sweet sweet APs you need to activate abilities. The more varied party you bring to fights the more incessant micromanaging is required on your end to keep everyone alive. This is generally not a problem because there are couple of situations where you really don't want to fight through hordes of orcs, who make up 90% of game's enemies, and rather rush to green exit marker, but towards the finale game likes to surprise you with three back-to-back fights without chance to recover health unless you spend/have potions so you'll be forced to rotate your party. That was probably the worst part of the game for me because it felt like I was dealt a bad hand and somehow had to make it work regardless.
Taking into account The Dwarves' Kickstarter origin you may think compromised visuals or cut corners elsewhere, but if I'm being perfectly honestly only problems I'd call out in production department would probably be related to Unity engine itself. Loading screens are way too frequent and ended up breaking already questionable flow of the game which may have been the result of trying to stay faithful to the book and balancing it out with the development process. Game is definitely in somewhat a of a lull until the second half and then punches full on into overdrive for the final act. It also takes a while to move past green meadows and burning villages until locales diversify a bit, but when it does it's dwarven architecture aplenty until the end.
Prophet + Prophet: Earth War
It's been ages since I last tackled a comic or graphic novel, whichever you prefer, so I figured it was time once more and with 700 or so pages I figured Prophet would make for triumphant return. One thing worth noting is you don't need to know anything about the '90s iteration of the comic because this 2012 one is a reboot for all intents and purposes, albeit one that's aware of the original and later on pays more than just homage from what I've pieced together.
John Prophet wakes as his drill-pod digs its way out of the ground. Barely surviving after getting attacked by an alien life form and injecting stimulants to rouse his body after untold years of dormancy he realizes this is no longer Earth he remembers. Time frame is not given and nor is it relevant – Prophet has a mission to accomplish, clearly embedded into his mind with psychic conditioning and extreme training. He is a one-man army equipped with only the bare essentials old Earth Empire left him in case he ever needs to rebuild it. Knowing what he has to do to reactivate the G.O.D. satellite he embarks on his journey to prepare and perform his duty.
All that? That's just part of the first volume and one of multiple Prophets we follow over the course of the run. Or should I say, over the course of these first two volumes because Prophet is only partially an anthology of individuals all embarking on missions of great importance until its plot crystallizes into a tighter narrative with a more permanent cast of characters yet even then it's not like authors (because each story has a creator so you get different takes on similar core themes) completely abandon the notion of feeding you background tidbits so later stories won't feel the need to explain all over again. If you were to ask me I'd probably say I regretted that shift in focus and preferred the standalone stories themselves, but I would also lie if I didn't say it was awesome the way most of them are brought back in some capacity. What REALLY drew me in was the setting, though. It is absolutely amazing in that “show, don't tell” approach that goes so hand-in-hand with an alien setting like this one. Closest approximation would be one of techno barbarian future existing in the shadows of once powerful empire still lingering but there are other players in this rich and layered history Prophet presents. Not to say the empire itself are really the good guys when you consider they basically have no limits to what they'll do with genetic tempering, psychic control, slavery, etc. I liked the setting and its mystery so much that I was kinda disappointed when they went and presented two in-file sections in a later volume to shed some light on it.
Considering the medium it's only expected I talk about the art, framing and such things. Fortunately, all I can say is they're outstanding all-around. There are multiple artists at work here so you cane expect variety, but nothing too drastic that will stand out. It also means you'll see plenty ranging from survival on an alien space station lead by a mental projection with clones around you who failed to epic space battles between bred warships and ancient rock titans, for example. This one's a winner, guys.
The Airs of Earth
Problem with anthologies in general is I have yet to find a way to comprehensibly cover them in review-style format considering there's [usually] no uniformity to them and works tend to vary quite a bit. In this particular case with Brian Aldiss' The Airs of Earth it is easier because they're all penned by the very same author, but that does not negate the uneven nature of the collection as a whole. There were definitive high and low points among the eight stories featured so I will not attempt to break down each and every one of them. What I will commit to, however, is commenting on those that stuck with me the most for whatever reason.
Going in reading order first one what stood out for me was, well, the first one - A Kind of Artistry. On surface it is a story about one Derek Ende who comes off as almost your typical pulp era space opera protagonist who can do no wrong and is extremely competent, but that's honestly just a facade for the story where he undertakes a mission to “make liaison” with an alien on behalf of the government. Real theme is the protagonist's underlying relationship with his mistress and her possessive/not really/kinda attitude towards him as well as inherent desire to be free yet wanting to be bound. It's hard to put into words without spoiling, so let's just say she's not merely his mistress and that complicates things. Next one would definitely be O Moon of My Delight! from which the cover I've posted comes from and is honestly kinda simple when you get to it considering it mainly deals with a tech engineer posted to a Tandy Two where Flange system exists aka method to slow down ships coming out of FTL. Explaining reasons and logic behind I won't go into, because that's precisely what our lead does to get the point across to a very sharp little girl, as they're all departing and taking the next ship off-world. It involves romance, sheep herders with malfunctioning robot dogs, and a tragedy waiting to happen no matter where in universe you may be. Penultimate story I would give attention to would probably be The Game of God with its straightforward twist if that makes any sense. Opening to a god accepting two sacrificial bowls full of freshly extracted guts and hating his followers to it we switch perspective to a team of scientists landing on planet Kakakakaxo where they're seeing a legendary figure Dangerfield who landed there 19 years ago and survived, being the only human to have done so. What's the story behind the primitive reptilian natives and their two slave races? That and more if you read in what is probably the most typical story in the collection, in my opinion. I would end summary with, fittingly enough, final story - Old Hundredth. Problem is I have no idea how to go about it. It is a far future story where humanity seems to have disappeared and Venus now orbits our planet. What replaced humanity are the Impures, or should I say intelligent creatures apparently engineered by old humanity on Venus at some point. Dandi is one of those as our protagonist, a mega sloth of sort, and she wanders the planet while maintaining a mental link with her Mentor. Did I mention Mentor is a intelligent dolphin in an underground tank? Her trade/art is exploring the musical resonance psyche leaves on death. And then something happens to her that changes things, but it's getting into the idea of musicolumns where story spends the most time on alongside occasional hints about history now gone which may be fitting considering this is the most out there story of the bunch.
I was planning to also break down my least favorite stories, but this has already dragged out long enough for what was supposed to be short so I'll skip that. Let's just say to enjoy half of the books is a good deal with an anthology and I didn't actively dislike any stories. Some were very obvious, like the military or smiling drug one, but for the most part I enjoyed The Airs of Earth. Your mileage may obviously vary.
Love, Death & Robots
To finish off this little trifecta I have going on here let's dabble into moving pictures. Love, Death & Robots was a Netflix initiative to fund a story anthology where various studios would get to display a short of their own using whatever animation technique they felt like employing. It turns out almost all of them really like CG versus traditional animation, but I'm not complaining with what's on display. Worth pointing out – like it says on the cover it is a NSFW anthology so expect nudity here and there. They aim to please both camps.
Out of eighteen shorts present and accounted for there's quite a few I enjoyed so I don't think I'll go into extensive breakdowns, merely brief opinions here and there.
Three Robots and When The Yogurt Took Over stood out for their humorous take on what passes for pretty grim scenarios when you stop and think about it. Former could've done without the cat part, though. Standing in the off corner we have Beyond the Aquila Rift, Good Hunting, Shape-Shfters and The Secret War as more serious heavy hitters of the package in both their presentations and themes. First one deviated from the book it was based on somewhat, but stunning CG display was something to behold and had me impressed throughout. The Secret War almost fes like someone animated Metro games and is the most self-contained movie of the the entire anthology in a sense it has clear beginning-middle-end structure you'd expect. Couple of shorts that didn't wow me like the above, but were still absolutely worth watching would be Sucker of Souls and Zima Blue which were both honestly on the basic side of things and one even lacked a proper ending, but not underwhelming enough to write off. I've seen people rave about Zima Blue online and I can't say I really get why.
Sadly, there were also a handful of episodes I could not stand. Alternate Histories is just someone asking “what if Hitler died and we made six scenarios out of it?” that should've honestly been left without an answer. Idea is solid, but execution is easily the worst out of everything on the offering. Then there's also Blindspot which landed with a very dull thud and I honestly forget it even existed. Needed some more thought put into premise and script, not to mention the ending invalidates everything I just sat through so it can evacuate through the nearest window. Lastly there's also Ice Age. I have no idea why this was included other than to get some celebrities aboard, I guess. Not bad, but just flat and already seen.
So what did I make of Love, Death & Robots in the end? It's a tough sell and I'm almost hesitant to recommend it as such, but you can never tell with people. You may end up liking specifically what I couldn't stand. For example, there were shorts like The Witness that were visually breathtaking but otherwise felt like filler with some supposedly deep ideas going on. If you do a head count you'll see there's couple of missing episodes I didn't talk about and that's simply due to lack of impression or bad/good balancing out for a mediocre sum.
So much about going with individual game updates in hopes of leading up to faster updates, huh? I've fallen into a trap of tackling too many games at once and making little progress in all of them as a result. I also got around to playing some of the short and free projects that exist out there, like I already did once way back when, albeit at this point it risks appearing as filler content considering the update drought. Keeping it simpler this time. As usual, I've linked to where you can get more info about and download these games from by clicking on their banners.
Of the three games included I think Santa Monica by Night is probably the closest to a full-fledged game you can get and by that I mean it's a point & click adventure that has a beginning, middle and end. Needless to say, it does fall on the extremely short side of things and it took me about 20 minutes to play through, but the foundation is there. Playing the game coincided with the fact Bloodlines 2 got announced not to long ago to much hype and anticipation.
Getting down to it the game does have an interesting premise – it takes place between the original Bloodlines game and the upcoming sequel. You also play as someone who really liked the game when he played it years back and was fascinated by what he saw... only to get turned into vampire himself at some point later on. Your sire sends you to Santa Monica on a mission to find out more about another vampire and extradite him safely out of there if possible only for things to quickly complicate once you hit the ground and learn more. What I found the most appealing is this is the first foray into the new 5th Edition of the Masquerade ruleset with the accompanying lore changes. Hell, this ties intrinsically into who your character is and there's a brief snippet into the Second Inquisition and their impact on the vampire society. It goes without saying you'll also see some favorite characters making a cameo.
You would be amazed how many games there are on itch.io that have Red in the title, but make no mistake because this Red is an expanded take on the Little Red Riding Hood tale if Little Red decided to defeat the big bad wolf by combining clues.
Not to be a downer or anything, but I think this just might not be a game for me. It's not like I need story in all my games yet this game will deliver what it has in the form of an interesting cutscene where you see the big bad wolf chomping on grandma as you run away from the house with a mystery note that starts you down the path of adventure. Alongside collecting mystical stones, mushrooms, etc to progress you will also have to navigate the forest itself which is pretty damn immersive now that I think about it. Visuals are what they are, but I think setting lighting plays a major role in setting the mood – from ominous dark woods navigable by following fireflies to thorny patches. Did I forget to mention that werewolf will occasionally be on the prowl to get you? Well, now I have. Red is a game about exploration and collecting things so you can progress further through claustrophobic environments with the occasional puzzle to break it up.
From what I've gathered 7 Days in the Fire Mountain was made in under a month during the studio's “team building” exercise or whatever you call it. For what it is, it's pretty alright, but I think there also exist clear asset limitations because of such short development period that were smartly compensated for by choosing the correct setting and type of game, but does it succeed?
To put it plainly, no. At least not for me. What we have on our hands is an exploration game with survival elements taking place in a mountainous forest area. Two problems rear their ugly heads: survival and forest. There is, take a guess how many, set number of days to explore around and your health ticks down with time so you have to find means to increase it which becomes a chore and yes, you can GAME OVER if you hit zero. On the other hand the setting itself is fine. I mean, I have nothing against temperate forests personally. Problem is there's only so many different sprites and tileset variety and you'll see pretty much all of them in the first few screens so get used to disorientation which is a problem when you're timed on screen transitions. Some things also appear at different times of day so that's something to factor in.
I would also point out there's a story here about finding yourself and what happened. It's intriguing at surface level so I won't spoil it, but it sometimes comes off as pretentious in that indie way when an indie studio misunderstands what “less is more” means. That could just be me, though.
Well, in endless pursuit of streamlining my post format and process I've taken truly taken after the AAA publishers and got right down to axing stuff. Seeing as my updates take forever, and I often find myself sitting on reviews before I have them all so I can put them together into one neat package, I've now decided to take the sensible route and release them as I finish games. Now, I'm not sure if I'll stick to just GAME reviews for individual updates, but let's see how it works out for couple of these. Also did some work on the banner template which should be usable in general.
Have fun and enjoy the read. As usual with Steam reviews you can also find it on my Steam page. ◕‿◕
Grand Theft Auto IV
Grand Theft Auto 4 s probably one of those games I should've reviewed years ago when I first played it, but I also imagine it would've been received much worse considering the state of the PC version. While I'm on the subject it's only fair to emphasize I modded the game with GTA4 Reborn mod which largely handles all the [now] leftover GfWL/XBox Live issues, bug fixes and restored some content like all the songs Rockstar in their expiring licenses wisdom saw fit to remove. Real question is how much can you fix a game that has such deep core issues related to its platform and does it stand the test of time after a decade of open world progress? Well... let's find out, cousin.
Following my usual format story is up first, but honestly if you have any GTA experience you can kinda tell where it's going – start from rags and become a very rich person or disappear anonymously.
This fourth installment does its own thing with a certain twist ending, but that's clearly spoiler territory so we won't go there. In any case, we assume the role of Niko Belic escaping his history concerning Yugoslav Wars shenanigans and who has some pretty bitter memories on the matter as he finds his way to Liberty City where his famed cousin Roman is living the high life. Except it all ends up being fanciful tales considering he barely owns a taxi service and has to deal with pushy Russian mobsters. Well, NB being the protagonist that he is, things certainly take a turn following his arrival and it's not long before he gets to pursue a certain obsession that has essentially ruined his life – track down the person who betrayed him back during the war and got his other friends killed in the process of selling them all out. This becomes the proagonist's primary motivation when you're not being an errand boy for everyone under the sun with their greed and need.
Which is already where my problems start to rear their ugly head. Story in GTA4 isn't really that good and never goes beyond the basic level it starts out. That department is carried more by whether you care about the main cast or not... which could be said about all the Grand Theft Autos from 3 onward, though. And I do care about Niko. Roman less so, but they make for a great dynamic duo until the game kinda forgets about them after the first third or so after which you get mired neck deep in the affairs of organized crime simply because you want to get paid. I'll touch on this more when I get to discussing actual systems and gameplay. Let's just say you're not really working for all that useful payout, so real currency you're looking for are interesting character stories. GTA4 thankfully delivers on those in spades even if they end up being little more than criminal/national stereotypes at their core. From your friendly Rastafari masquerading as a mobile weapon shop to myriad of Italian/Russian/Irish gangsters and other small time pushers. They all have missions that desperately require someone to solve them and you happen to be available. I would like to point out there are story choices on multiple occasions, but only the very last one truly matters in a sense it determines the ending. Meaning it's not some extensive investment to see both of them unfold.
I feel like any city GTA game is set in almost acts as if it were a character in its own right so Liberty City deserves some attention. Definitely not one of my favorites. It goes without saying the city is based on New York City, albeit representing four out of five boroughs, but I'm not a fan of it being so heavily urbanized and split onto islands. Meaning you're always crossing bridges and I can only assume it may have something to do with hiding loading times because it ended up annoying me and just taking taxis to distant locations was far easier than driving there myself. That's a problem in a game where hijacking cars and driving are both kind of a big deal.
While I'm on the subject I might as well transition into gameplay itself.
Before anything else is said there's a HUGE elephant in the room that has to be addressed – driving physics. I cannot emphasize strongly enough how mad they drove me and were going to play a major role in rating GTA4 negatively as I set out to play the game even back in the day. Until they just stopped annoying me one day as I realized it simply took time to, as kids say these day, “get good” at driving. Not all cars were manufactured equal and you really end up looking for those better, premium cars that handle better overall. Where game makes a misstep is missing any form of car customization past getting a new paint job. I feel like at least some of the inherent problems with these driving physics, where most cars handle like tanks trying to ice skate, could have been alleviated with customization where you get to tweak things like breaks, suspension, etc. Alas such system is absent from the game and it takes a while until good cars become easily available. Thankfully, you can at least store them in front of your apartment(s). It is worth noting there are also bikes, helicopters and boats in the game with airplanes being suspiciously absent. Less said about helicopter controls the better. I just don't get what is it with Rockstar and helicopter controls, but there was little fun to be found in matching altitude while dodging rockets and trying to hit my target with the machine gun simultaneously.
I killed this guy only to forget to check whether his replacement is equally as bitchy or he simply comes back to life. Taxis were unavailable for a while, though.
You could make a valid argument out of which is deadlier – that plaid shirt or sticky cover system GTA4 employs.
Second-most thing you'll be doing is shooting, naturally. This entry sees the first modern implementation of a sticky system for the series and naturally there were some bumps left to iron out in the future. After pressing the cover button Niko will stick to the nearest viable cover from which you can then shoot wildly or take aim for more accurate shots. Standard fare for modern TPS so far. My problem with the system was this weird [lack of] accuracy if you take your time to aim shots because you kinda have to take into account Niko has to make a move to “step out” of the cover to actually fire which throws off your aim. It's something you learn to compensate for, but bullets basically won't be landing precisely where you've aimed them at. Speaking of movement this ties into the way protagonist moves about as GTA4 embraces that slow, almost weight-based movement some don't like. I didn't mind it, but it certainly takes a while to get used to coming from snappy arcade approach of older 3D titles in the series. One thing I do not like is walking being the game's default movement speed and having to constantly keep a button pressed to run or, god help us, mash the button to sprint. Analog sticks were in use so why couldn't have that range of motion been used instead? At least basic running. It comes off as one of many pet peeves it would probably take Rockstar a game or two to figure out fully.
Earlier I spoke about how money isn't really your reward for doing things in the game. Except it is, but you have nothing to spend it on. Game loves to shower you in cash, and even netting you real nice lump of change after the final mission, but unlike previous games where you could buy real estate to serve as a noticeable money sink, once you buy the clothes you want there's nothing to invest any of it here. This is not helped by the fact game gives you apartments, where you sleep to advance time/save and change clothes, for free as the story progresses. I kept saving my money wondering when I'd be able to spend it all only to be disappointed. This problem kinda extends past financial matters into the game as a whole – I feel like GTA4 ended up being too boring, too mundane in its pursuit to be serious. I mean, unless you really like hunting those 200 pigeons and have given up on life. Even customary taxi and police missions, along with Brucie getting you into the car stealing business, feel like they barely make a difference in the overall content drought unless story was what you signed up for in the first place.
So you've been reading up to this point and probably thinking “Whoa, that's a lot of negatives!”. You're right. Problem is that positives in GTA4 are actually under the hood or simply far too outweighed by the negatives to make a difference.
Euphoria system, for example, is one of those sadly forgotten gems that combined physics, adaptable animations and AI to create true semblance of a living world, eschewing pre-determined animations and overt recycling thereof. It also permeates the entirety of the GTA4 experience and is mind blowing once you actually realize how it's working. Shove button is in the game for a reason. I wish it was used for more tangible things than that seeing as it makes for a very immersive addition that never goes past that, though.
I'll finish this with a quick summary of the PC port. In short? Pretty low on the totem pole of ports out there. I'm grateful for not having to play the game in the state it was released in, but even modded and with the benefit of a modern PC it still has issues like reliably unreliable framerate that varies all over the place, even more awkward vehicle controls with M&K, etc. Most of the problems lie on the technical side of things and I have found solutions but some, like uncapping the framerate to get around jerky performance, leads to further comedic situations like camera zooming in extensively during cutscenes. Its a mess all-around and I would not recommend playing the vanilla version if you ever intended to play GTA4 on PC.
If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.
~ Anne Bradstreet
On the short side this one, but I got some reviews this time around so it feels legit. No Quizzical seeing as I don't want to spam it on the regular and I put off some non-video games stuff I didn't feel was quite ready for a review or first look. Maybe in the future? We'll see. Oh, I also get to cheap out with the cover art because INTERNET. Have fun reading.
Also, you can now subscribe to people on BLAEO so you never miss their updates. I know I made good use of it.
Chronicles & Ventures
Considering the merger of what were previously two categories into one, the single most important change this time around is BLUE now signifies PC reviews while GREEN has been assigned to game reviews from other platforms. Be they from consoles, mobile, etc. Also made some changes to Steam covers by actually using, but availability of such beyond bigger titles remains to be seen. I guess it's ironic I'm committing to this in the final update of the year so I'll have to give it some time to stretch legs in and see how it pans out, though. As usual my tl;dr summaries are at the bottom if you don't feel like reading the good old wall of text.
If you can't find Call of Chtulhu anymore on my account that's because the game was revoked during the whole Humble Bundle pricing shenanigans fallout. I was never more thankful for Steam's offline mode. Humble Bundle gets a big demerit, though. Honor your price mistakes.
Call of Cthulhu
I have no idea what the hangup in question was, but Call of Cthulhu is one of those games where I took a break between finishing it and penning the review. Before I get into reviewing proper I'd like to say I really liked the way it used Lovecraft's writing as a whole and goes beyond widespread stuff you are likely to be familiar with if you know the author by reputation alone. I just wanted to point out upfront there's plenty of little stuff Lovecraft aficionados will notice even if it is in distilled form for the most part.
So what do we have on our hands? Is it another Dark Corners of the Earth? Surprisingly enough that comparison strikes closer to home than you'd expect in some aspects, but we'll get around to it.
We step into the shoes of Edward Pierce, a war veteran turned private detective during the 1920s and one who may have drinking problems. Or not, depending on how you play it throughout the game. Other pressing matter is his PI license might get revoked if he doesn't get off his ass and actually starts taking cases. This just happens to coincide with Hawkins senior coming with an offer – solve his daughter's death on an island called Darkwater not too far away from Boston and small enough to be remain quite isolated. Being pressed into it more by an earlier call about the license Pierce accepts and he's off to adventure. All of this really the first ten minutes or so summarized, though. As you can imagine things take a turn and matter escalates into considerably more than “Was my daughter's death a case of foul play?” it initially appears to be. Let's just say that Darkwater Island for sure lives up to its name and I'm not talking about waters running red from the now dead whaling industry which put the screws on the locals as they conveniently found an alternative. Really, if you manage to not see it from a mile away it's a fairly entertaining story if not engaging.
Characters themselves were more of a mixed bag for me, though. If I had to put a phrase to it I'd probably say very few stuck with me. This was not helped by the fact the more interesting character was or had a cool premise the less we see of them. For example, Cat. She comes off as a highly competent gang boss who can potentially give Edward a whooping, but is absent for 80% of the game and when we eventually get back to her she's used to introduce a mechanic I couldn't care less for. Someone like that at least got a resolution, but even characters who are genuinely sympathetic or who's goals align with the protagonist's tend to float in and out of the story leading to a very disjointed flow. I think the problem is the same one that applies to the story above – it feels as if like large swathes of the narrative were cut or extremely simplified to get the basic gist of the plot across. Considering the kind of property we're working with here, and scale of things as story advances, you can imagine most of these characters do not have a happy ending. Or possibly even worse it may feel as if the game had forgotten about their existence past a certain point.
Kicker of the review is that the above, as conflicted as my feelings were about narrative elements at times, would arguably have to be the highlight. It's an immersive game if you soak it all in and marvel at the green rot that comes through its every pore. Games don't live on story alone, though. “Walking simulator” is a derogatory descriptor many apply, but is that truly the case for Call of Chtulhu? Gameplay and things thereof to follow...
Considering you actually get to, you know, do things beyond just walking and inspecting items to no impact or significance you'll be glad to hear that Call of Cthulhu is, in fact, not a walking simulator. Regardless, game is still rooted in shallow adventure mold where gameplay is stripped down to basics while puzzles themselves are not at all engaging. That's what we popularly like to call “casting a wide net” aka hoping you'll catch multiple audiences at the same time with just enough basics. If not to keep them throughout at least past that initial hour or so. You should also keep in mind this is a first-person only game so if some swaying and dramatic setpieces shaking the camera have detrimental effects this might be a tough sell.
I like to imagine Edward is mocking her for playing on easy mode in Cthulhu.
You'd be surprised to find out which skill is least used. Or not if you're familiar with Call of Cthulhu RPG proper.
Call of Chtulhu has the added benefit of RPG elements on top of it.. which is something that has become ubiquitous in modern gaming in a way it no longer raises eyebrows in curiosity. In game terms this translates to Pierce having couple of skills which you can raise with points you get as game advances. Not a leveling up system per se, but still one in all but name. Skills are separate matter unto themselves. At times there are hard checks (can't really expect to overcome a groundskeeper without decent Strength, for example) and unlockable dialog options depending on how high your skills are, but there are two skills that cannot be raised normally past character creation and in order to advance them you have to track down fitting items – Occultism and Medicine. Throughout the game you'll have some HAX opportunities to raise your Occultism at the expense of sanity, but even having located a truckload of medical books I was surprised to not have increased my Medicine significantly. I saved the worst/best of the bunch for last though, and that would Spot Hidden skill. Why the conflicted impression? On one hand you have a game that actually makes use of what's typically a filler skill everyone avoids, but on the other it's also a skill that triggers on percentage chance. Now, all skills operate like that but failing to pick a lock or convince someone you are on their side is different from items plain NOT SPAWNING depending on your Spot Hidden ranking. Even early on this can lead to awkward situations where, for example, to open a sewer grate and create an alternate passage to a warehouse you need three pieces of equipment to fix the crane. Two you can find normally, but the last one spawns if your said skill is high enough. Provided it isn't you're left wondering where you went wrong or is it yet another case of game bugging out. Add inability to save manually into the mix with percentage-based successes and you have a recipe for frustration provided you're not game for some RNG.
Dialog itself is one of the systems I'll praise because it does have options that depend not only on your skills, but also on clues and information you've gathered as Edward did by locating snippets here and there or by reconstructing scenes. Why he can do this? Well, you could argue it's because of story reasons but when you see another unrelated character pull it off it loses all the mystery. It's basically Sherlock mode where you examine clues and Pierce narrates. Surprisingly I have a feeling this was done more for player's gratification and understanding in some cases because the game doesn't really bring it up when it really should. If you're used to RPG dialog where choices and consequences are actually worth their salt that's not really the case with Call of Cthulhu. Dialog and entire presentation is really geared towards pushing you down a set path with couple of forks that come into play later down the road for binary results. You won't lock yourself out of content by pursuing non-optimal choices because the game is already slim as it is so no worries there is what I'm trying to say. You will still benefit from maxing two skills you can probably already figure out.
Those among you who may have played the game for yourself may be wondering right now “No way, is he not going to talk about it?” and you can put your fears to rest. It's time for stealth talk. Video games devs? This has not stop. I thought we were past forced stealth sections years ago but that's not really the cause. No, to be perfectly honest I think it's worse – stealth, such as it is, is actually a big part of the game. Keep in mind when I say “stealth” I really also mean “crawling through a pitch black asylum while pursued by a monster and your lamp oil reserves are dwindling down” kind of stuff on top, you know, regular crawling around the asylum and avoiding guards. Stealth is just too basic and you have no tools beyond crouch and pitiful lean function. It will happen multiple times and several people I talked with have bailed on the game at those specific points.
You have been warned.
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn. Go bask in its emerald madness.
NARUTO: Ultimate Ninja STORM
Let's get some prep-work out of the way first before I delve into reviewing – over the course of this summer I sat through Naruto Kai and caught up so I would be informed about the material I previously knew nothing about beyond “ninja in orange suit” thing. Well, considering the way game dishes out story I'd say that was a pretty prudent decision in hindsight. This comes at odds with my overall ignorance regarding fighting games considering my last foray into the genre was... Tekken 3, I think? Turns out neither of these are really much of a handicap with Ultimate Ninja Storm.
Let's dig in, bakayaro konoyaro.
And now I realize I have to explain Naruto to people. Well, basically it's a society where you have countries but real deciding factor are their Hidden Villages aka villages where ninjas train. All of that is grand scheme background stuff that doesn't really matter for this game past the fact ninja from other villages gather at Hidden Leaf for a sort of student promotion tournament-style event at one point and shenanigans start from there. Before we get to that point we follow the story of Naruto Uzumaki, wannabe badass ninja and future Hokage aka leader of the village who has to persevere through tough life of being an orphan from toddler days and largely ostracized by other villagers because of a dark secret he's not privy to yet – Nine-Tailed Fox beast that destroyed the village when he was young is actually sealed inside of him. Add to that the fact Naruto is a pretty bad ninja and he has a tough life ahead of him. That is, until certain things are put into motion. If you've seen your fair share of anime you can kinda guess where these things go on from here with forging friendships, enduring rivals, secret villains working in the background, ever increasing cast of characters that will be tossed aside eventually, upping the scales of combat, etc.
While we're still on the subject of story I think that's one big aspect Naruto: Ultimate Ninja STORM actually has a problem with – you get really the barest of barebone cliff notes possible. I have no idea how someone is supposed to get anything past the general gist of things from this unless you already have some experience with Naruto. Which is weird because game also clearly shows inclinations towards making original content in the form of side missions with their own snippets of story and character development. I think the problem is more along the lines of coherency and budget allocation than lack of will on developers' end, though. There are also examples where pre and post mission flavor text will tell you the opposite of what happens during the mission itself aka “character X got defeated regardless” because that's what happened in the story... while you just played through the fight as character X and won. That's something I could've used less of. In case you're looking to find out which part of the source material this game covers it's Part I. Shippuden is not included.
Structure is something that warrants couple of lines of explanation as well. Game runs on having a large hub area, Hidden Leaf Village in this case, where you can faff around for a while until you discover it's pretty damn empty. You get some shops and save points alongside NPCs to talk to here-and-there, but seemingly nothing else. That's only the case until you get a grasp on how missions work because they're apart from the main hub and you have to select them from a menu where they're separated into rank tiers ranging from D to S + main tab for the campaign which has point requirements you need finished side missions to accrue. Finish a mission, get your reward in the form of currency and items, progress! Completing missions also spawns stuff like collectible scrolls, ingredients and secret move scrolls in the hub which you collect. Thing is, this happens after almost every mission AND they always pop up in the same half dozen locations.
Let's just say I got tired of jumping around like a money to collect scrolls and moving around blocks/barrels to get to chests or bags after an hour. Fortunately game varies this up somewhat when you unlock Rasengan move and can bust down doors or spin around on wires to get scrolls faster, but that comes way too late in the game for my taste. You'll know Hidden Leaf Village by heart before the story's over.
Boss monster battles are sadly something game rarely brings out. Expect QTEs and clumsily hitting a house-sized opponent.
Given the source material it covers a lot of the flashy stuff is absent. Once in a while you get to go all out with finishers, though.
Now, gameplay is really the meat and potatoes of the game as far as I'm concerned and it's one element I find myself at poor footing in this case considering it's a fighting game. Fortunately for me, Ultimate Ninja STORM also happens to be a pretty casual one at it so you'll be spared reading my fumbling over technical terms and such. I should first point out game runs on three pillars: platforming and collecting stuff in the hub area, fighting in arenas and some mini-games on the side. While couple of mini-games like jumping up tree branches, playing hide and seek with locals kids, etc are amusing distractions (except hide and seek, and whoever approved that needs to never again approve anything) it's the fighting part that's the real attraction of the show. You'll be doing it for about 80% of the game. Is that bad? Well, no. This really is a fighting game at heart but one bent more on spectacle and playing as your favorite characters versus pixel accurate zoning or some such. Not to say there isn't technicality to different types of characters, but I simply found that one of these two approaches will get you through the game just fine: A) gather Chakra and close distance to pummel enemies to death or B) gather Chakra and spam Ultimate Jutsu until it connects. Games gives you various tools like items and support characters that can not only be used as attacks on cooldown, but also be your safety net that can literally catch you if enemies launches you with their attacks. Iffy substitution dodge made me weary of actually trading blows with enemies, though. Freeform arena with camera doing some heavy lifting to keep the action framed yet cinematic took me some time to get adjusted to but once I did it was alright. None of that “my character is too far to see what he's doing” from my experience.
At some point I realized I was overthinking it and simply went with the flow instead. Not all characters are created equal and my favorite (Rock Lee, man. Rock Lee!) is sadly not featured enough in the story, but I'm convinced you'll to find characters interesting enough to play with considering they run the gamut of your melee-focused, range-centric, Chakra-heavy, etc. You should keep in mind I'm talking about the story mode where you slowly unlock stuff until you have a full deck of cards towards the end. Game also has a traditional versus mode... and that's it. Only two modes are included which might be a deal breaker for some of you alongside the fact there is no online multiplayer so you better have a local buddy.
Time to have to decide whether to go back and complete all the missions I have left, including dreaded hide-and-seek, get enough money to unlock extras and go for the true ending. Or not, because you get constant familiar loops over and over again with surprises running out early on.
You know, I don't really wake up one day and think to myself “kinda want to play a game that's turning 20 this year!” and yet these things happen. Lost Concerto somehow found its way to my list of games to play. Possibly because it got recommended on similarities to a certain other game at one point? Well, I'll get around it but don't expect my usual excessive review with this one.
Following the abrupt morning call which cuts his vacation short our protagonist Waffle is called back on duty as policeman seeing that Black Cats Gang is running wild in local town. Well, “policeman” in this setting means you get to drive a cool ass Police Robo, a one-seater mech with surprisingly nonexistent defenses because the driver is pretty exposed. Another interesting cosmetic choice is usage of continuous tank tracks for arms which presumably allows the Robo greater increase in control freedom. Also worth noting is “town” stands for a floating island in the Kingdom of Prairie where game is set and populated by Dog-People as well as Cat-People. As you can suspect something is afoot and it doesn't take long before Waffle runs into one of the leaders of the Black Cats Gang and recognizes her as Alicia, cute cat girl he seemingly gave a pendant to when they were kids in a flashback cutscene.
What could it all mean? What deeper mystery is afoot? Well, surprisingly quite a bit in the story department, but it's all filtered through a game clearly aimed at kids that never goes beyond that even with underlying stuff that's clearly laid down. For example, I was surprised that racial animosity seems to be behind events, but more than that it's character archetypes that drive the story. You've seen it all – dutiful, straight face protagonist who has to contend with eccentric support cast, energetic sidekick, aloof love interest two timing as the antagonist, hot-headed rival, etc. It is what it is and I have no complaints in the this department other than game being short seeing as I clocked in barely four hours to finish. This is not necessarily a horrendous thing it would appear to be in modern times, though. Game doesn't waste time nor does it pad its run time.
While I'm on the positives still I should probably mention the most apparent one and that's the games production value at a first glance. Those low-poly graphics have aged pretty decently if you squint hard enough because while they lack the distinct cell-shading art style a certain blue bomber game employs they're still put to good use and everything clicks together marvelously. Another major point is the fact game has voice acting for all major scenes and that's most of the game seeing as there's little side stuff beyond collecting pieces of photographs.
Said illusion falls apart somewhat when you actually play Tail Concerto and see the framerate vary wildly, but I'll get into that stuff soon. As in now.
It doesn't take long to start sympathizing with Waffle and all the shenanigans he has to deal with from seemingly everyone else.
Let's just say you'll be seeing a lot of the same robot bosses with more and more gadgets bolted onto them. And helping couple of mechanics along the way.
Now, I don't really have any game breaking bugs or design issues with Tail Concerto, but there are definitely two aspects of the game that somewhat drag it down. First more than the other.
Firstly – it's a really simple game. Yeah, I get it because it's aimed at kids, but I'm referring more to the fact it had more to do with struggling with some systems like early 3D camera. Even beyond that and drawing actual comparisons to Mega Man Legends is the fact nothing really changes from the beginning to the end. You'll rely on your trusty swipes and bubble gun to occasionally capture rogue kittens and deal with bosses in highly charming action adventure ways as camera moves around because analog stick was a novelty, but that's it. There's no progression involved and game only gives you a jetpack for level which is probably for better considering how it controls. Which brings me to...
Platforming and controls. Sweet Jesus. Can you believe this brought the game down from a good score for me? It's all fun and games until the you're about three quarters into the journey when it seemingly piles on. Maybe it's the same boss over and over again fatigue kicking in with smaller arenas where camera has to find the right angle, but I got a bad feeling when you had Waffle jumping between pipes and doing a timed platforming escape from a collapsing evil secret base that's only made worse by the fact very long winded and lose controls are not built for this even if you disregard early 3D games not knowing how to handle such things at first. Last section of the game has it the absolute worst with moving platforms, inability to judge jumps due to having no direct camera control, etc. I lost more lives aka Whistles during these two levels than I did in the entire game up to that point and it was pretty rough crashing down from smooth and almost too easy of an experience.
The way it tends to go every year this one has also run its course. 2018's end is almost upon us and what a run it's been. Hectic job schedule and even more responsibility has left me with barely any time to actually play games or read books in the second half of the year. Which makes it even stranger when circumstances conspire in order to allow me to binge on a game in just two-three days.
In any case it's one more year I've survived on BLAEO. Shame some people aren't active on the site any longer, but there's been a ton of new faces who joined so you might say it balances itself out. My output had dropped significantly to less than half of what I put out last year yet hope remains things will change for the better.
Best wishes for 2019!
A man must fortify himself and understand that a wise man who yields to laziness or anger or passion or love of drink, or who commits any other action prompted by impulse and inopportune, will probably find his fault condoned; but if he stoops to greed, he will not be pardoned, but render himself odious as a combination of all vices at once.
~ Apollonius of Tyana
Three months. Quite a break I took there. Life. :D
This is essentially a non-update as far as I'm concerned, but what can I say? Been burdened with work and have honestly been making some pretty bad gaming decisions insofar as making definitive reviews goes. This will be a break “what I've been playing, but got nowhere” kind of deal. As far as update structure I did some streamlining to cut down on real estate and kept one quote at the top instead of the usual, and I also removed descriptions from images. I doubt anyone was reading those but it means one less step for me when writing these. Funny thing is creating the image probably took more out of me than the writing part.
I swear to god this section has become almost filler and part of non-updates I only include when there's nothing to review. On the other hand, I have been playing stuff. It's just that most of it has been long running titles or being spread out across multiple games. Bottom is on top of logging into Elder Scrolls Online and Guild Wars 2 for the dailies. Three MMORPGs are already too much even if I rotate them on semi-regular basis for now. Let's dig in.
I knew nothing about the series The Dwarves is based on and bought the game on a whim. Now I kinda want to track down said books and give them a read. Thinking back on it, for what is supposedly a short-ish game going on what I've heard from other people this has bene installed on my HDD since forever. Should fix that soon.
Odd. I think it took me a good hour or so to acclimate myself to the way The Dwarves does basic stuff.
Although they're nothing alike, I think I can draw certain parallels to Of Orcs and Men because both games EXPECT you to learn how they operate and don't pull back punches. Traveling the overworld? Unless you cheese it with a guide you have to accept the fact optimal decisions are not as obvious as you'd expect them in the CYOA manner game presents them. Doing combat? Oh boy, “mass combat” system is something. The just of it is characters fight on their own when near enemies, but you manually activate abilities and items. This lends a weird ebb and flow to game's combat as you, for the lack of a better phrase, learn to game the system to make the most out of executions and animation timing. Most fights so early in have definitely been by the skin of my teeth kind of affairs... and I like it.
It has been good three months since I reviewed Rogue in my last update and would you believe I installed Unity pretty much the next week after? Nothing really to add here as I'm catching up to Assassin's Creed titles. Going at this rate I'll probably catch up to Odyssey in 2020 if I'm lucky.
I'm couple of hours after Arno gets initiated so its obviously still very early, but I like what I've experienced so far. Generally. Helix Episodes blueballs after you play the prologue section is something I'll never forgive Ubisoft for. Other than that I really like the gear customization, going back to different weapons types after last few games featured nothing but swords as well as massive incline due to addition of a crouch button and sneaking playing a somewhat bigger role. Pair it with deadlier combat and you can't counter-kill half of Italy anymore.
What I don't like is this piss poor co-op implantation restricted only to specific missions. On the flipside of the gear customization I don't think I'll really like gear PROGRESSION, though. There are clearly superior threads and you'd be a fool not to aim directly for those over anything lesser. Item benefits could also be telegraphed a bit better. Gonna keep at it and see how it evolves over time.
My experience with Naruto up until last month – big fat zero. Then I got roped into reading the manga, read 100 chapters and wanted to watch the show instead to get all the BELIEVE IT nonsense. Realized show is full of filler and looked up if there's a way around it. Found Naruto Kai. Watched both parts. Now I'm a Naruto expert, bakayaro konoyaro.
Turns out doing the above was a good call because Ultimate Ninja Storm tells you just about the barest cliff notes imaginable to get you up to speed story-wise. It's a loose fighting game at heart where exploring Konoha village for scroll and ingredient collections is rudimentary at best. Heart and soul of the game is in fights which is odd because I don't think it's particularly tight combat system, or even close to that as a matter of fact. Still, I find myself having fun playing as memorable characters aka Rock Lee = best boy, and wondering whether splurging for the trilogy upfront was a smart financial move.
To this day I have no idea how I keep getting into MMORPGs when I already have barely enough time on my hands. Am I glutton for punishment? I've had previous stints with FF14, going all the way back to original beta days before A Realm Reborn overhauled the original version. Took me a while to dope out that, yes, free trial accounts actually require free trial clients or game won't even recognize your account.
Well, it's Final Fantasy and MMORPG. Pretty different from when I tried it years ago, but something that hasn't really changed is the presentation. I still have issues with... surface diffusion, I guess? Game has issues conveying materials stuff is made from so most of the stuff gives off this vibe as if it was made of foam, polyester or aluminum. But the style itself is great and instantly evokes nostalgia for series veterans. Going beyond that it's a pretty standard representative of its genre in sub-20 levels with some standouts like Leves and exhausting crafting you can really get into hardcore. Ability to level all Jobs on one character is a godsent solution to having myriads of alts running around. I like it so far. I started out as a Pugilist, but created a new Roegadyn Archer not long into the original run.
*Proceeds to do the math on whether subbing to one game would be cheaper than buying 10+ new ones each month.*
After almost a half year break it's time for another Quizzical and I believe this one might be near and dear to us. You know, sort of people who amass vast library of games and then need to get around to actually playing them. To cut things short - where do you stand with video game bundles?
- Do bundles have to feature some highly specific games to raise your interest or are you more of a generalist?
- What’s the perfect sweet price point you’re looking for? On the other hand, what are your maximum and minimum in terms of how much you’re willing to pay?
- Do you actually CARE where you’re getting your games from as long as the price is right? Is the so-called “gray market” a factor in your purchases?
- Have there been any memorable bundles that have stuck with you? Any you regret skipping?
As usual I'll put my own opinions down, but I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts and opinions on this stuff.
Glancing at my library might convince you to call me a liar, but would you believe not even ten years ago I was staunchly against digital games? At the time I still saw absolute value in retail games and their packaging, but what my younger self, who didn't really buy new games, failed to realize was that he was basing this on 20+ year old experiences. Compared to packages of the ye olden days buying boxed versions of modern games basically just gets you a DVD/Blu-ray, pamphlet masquerading as a manual and usually a code for additional content download. From what I hear nowadays not even complete games are included and you have to download gigabytes upon gigabytes just to play on launch day. Having realized this I decided I might as well go digital where things are cheaper and easier. Fast forward and I'm on BLAEO.
Humble Bundle specifically was my gateway drug into affordable games and titles I would never in my life pay anything close to full price or even half off. Those early days were great before all the trash started gathering in throwaway bundles. Even to this day HB has treated me right, and I'm even subscribed to their Humble Monthly service where trend of trying out unlikely titles has lived on. Fanatical aka Bundle Stars was my second port from home because site has these specific bundles which stay around seemingly definitely. Inclusion of Star Deal has also been a great attraction if game in question strikes your fancy. Third site was IndieGala before they started rejecting my payment method, but that has been resolved by simply paying with PayPal if I feel like it. One reason in particular in care for IndiaGala is because payment is in dollars compared to my usual euro currency. I'm still waiting for the blessed day when publishers are going to wake up and realize those two don't convert 1:1.
How do you fare?
Here we are again and it only took me a month. As usual I hope you enjoy the read. :D
This is a big 'un, but not necessarily on the front as much as in the work I put into behind the scenes changes only to scrap them. Basically, I had everything converted to a button layout where you could actually collapse and open “tabs” at will. It got reverted because I did not like the fact opened sections stacked on top of each other rather than collapsing all but the one that's currently opened. This works just fine for smaller chunks of text where you can read them without scrolling. With my walls of text where you still have to scroll; first to read through them and then to select the next piece by pressing the appropriate tab button, I think current format works out better.
There are some other changes such as overhaul of the basic information layout which is more of a visual change for the sake of it. To be perfectly honest real intention was getting couple of extra lines to work with, but then I had to separate that from the main body of the text so it evened out. Real change lies in expanding my thumbs up, down or middle to a properly granular rating system at the end of reviews. Why the change? Because I wanted to separate my reviews from Steam's rating system. I simply applied it to everything else from there on out. One last thing is unification of all video game reviews under a single category now titled “Chronicles & Ventures” seeing as there is really no reason to keep Steam games and non-Steam games separate. Now I just have to figure out how to handle Steam games that don't have traditional box covers. Even with something like SteamGameCovers and other resources it's going to be tricky short of creating my own covers and I'm not that crazy yet.
Props to Shax for letting me steal his bolding-for-emphasis technique.
Chronicles & Ventures
The future is unwritten. there are best case scenarios. There are worst-case scenarios. both of them are great fun to write about if you’ re a science fiction novelist, but neither of them ever happens in the real world. What happens in the real world is always a sideways-case scenario. World-changing marvels to us, are only wallpaper to our children.
Why does this always happen to me? I procrastinate for a long time and then cram two games in under a week. Well, it's been almost half a year since I last dabbled in open world so I decided to give it a go once again and with the next Assassin's Creed game no less. For a change of pace I then decided to break it up a bit with something different and here we are. In retrospective it's kind of a shame Syndicate is still stuck on Origin if you want to play on PC.
Assassin's Creed Rogue
If I really wanted to be an ass I would re-direct you to simply read my Black Flag review because this one hits so many things established there, so much so it feels like a companion game. Yet I think that would be a mistake because despite obvious similarities in gameplay design and decisions aka shamelessly copying I'll get into later, Rogue actually serves more as a link between Assassin's Creed 3 and, from what I've gathered, Assassin's Creed Unity – a then-new Assassin's Creed game Rogue's release coincided with on different console generations because Ubisoft, I guess. Looking ahead one can only hope this will result in somewhat shorter review as I gloss over or briefly summarize some established points. A fool's hope, one might say.
Story-wise we're looking at a sort off retrospection opening for this one as our protagonist Shay Patrick Cormac narrates about what appear to be his youthful days and gameplay transitions to chasing a unknown figure. It doesn't take long for his friend Liam to reveal it all to be part of friendly banter and Shay himself to be an assassin in training. Right from the opening act Rogue has much more in common with Assassin's Creed established lore and story compared to Black Flag [take a drink every time I make this comparison, btw] and it takes even less time for us to see some old friends like Achilles and Adéwalé, former a younger version of himself while latter an elder incarnation of the Creed. I do wish many of these characters stuck around for longer periods of time or managed to at least make an impact as far as their personalities go. There's something morbidly humorous in Heytham Kenway yet again standing out despite his support role at best.
I will be honest and admit that despite initial hook and ties being much stronger this time around story itself isn't exactly what I would call well written. In the early parts of the game you're following a weak narrative dealing with Precursor sites and rubbing elbows with your usual historical figures the likes of Benjamin Franklin, but the REAL appeal comes when something so horrible happens that Shay can't help blaming the Brotherhood for and he ends up in inadvertently switching sides to build the world he believes in. This heel turn is helped by simple fact that it gets more screen time. If you look at the previous game Edward undergoes something similar but because it happens so late in the game you never really buy into it or his character development. Even if Cormac starts out with a personality somewhat comparable to everyone's favorite pirate captain his outlook on life changes in more believable ways. If I had to summarize I'd probably say the following: Black Flag's story suffers from being dragged out and poignant parts coming in too late to matter, while Rogue's is simply too condensed because of game's rushed nature considering Ubisoft's priorities at release.
Putting story aside you'll be glad to hear that gameplay is tried and true fare... which probably has you either rolling your eyes or gleaming with joy. No, scratch that, actually. I'd say it's an improvement over last game's take simply because it had more time to refine it. Someone noticed you were doing too much swimming between your ship and small islands so it was lessened with cold water slowly draining your health, which probably lead to tighter designs. There are also some additions which decisively feel like sidesteps, for example. You no longer have access to four guns for rapid fire and stunlocking but will rather have to contend with two and owning a brand new air rifle. Air rifle? You know, the best goddamn stealth tool any assassins could ask for. Multi-purpose darts and grenades reign supreme and you'll forget you even have pistols when formulating your approaches. Many among fandom, myself included, will also find themselves cheering as there are no eavesdropping missions in the game and in fact entire ground segment, while familiar, feels a lot non-intrusive as a result. I'd say there's a far better split between sea and ground segments. Ship play also seems some improvement with having an ice breaker, rapid fire mounted gun to make boarding actions easier than ever as you mow the deck clean, automatic reduction of your infamy level over time, etc. You will still be hungry for materials to upgrade your new ship the Morrigan, sadly. It's one aspect of the game I wish they overhauled significantly considering you're A) not a pirate anymore and B) because of your new affiliation you actually have a standing with the English. In practice it just means you don't attack English ships anymore.
You can hardly spoil something when you've based your entire marketing campaign for the game on said fact.
Was there a period we had mandatory “wounded protagonist shambles around for a while” segment in EVERY game or am I going crazy over here?
I don't think I've done on-foot section enough justice above so I'll comment on it here just a bit longer. Informed people may be aware of the fact that Rogue doesn't have multiplayer, and that's a big blow considering Ubisoft somehow found a way for multiplayer to actually be engaging in these games, but people in charge of designing Rogue actually looked to said multiplayer of all places for inspiration. That translated into enemy assassins looking to set ambushes for Shay and hitting for 90% of your health which can leave you in deadly situations when paired with actually decent new obstacles like gang headquarters you need to clear in New York to clear areas and claim real estate. When these two go hand-in-hand it can lead to great things. Detection ring indicates when an assassin is about and you can actually counter kill them if you act quickly, but they'll do more than just go for the kill. Gang leaders can retreat, fire at you and cover their tracks will smoke bombs. Eagle Vision sees [heh] actual use after a long while, not to mention assassination contracts are now turned on their head as you PROTECT targets and eliminate assassins before the timer runs out and they attack. All-around I would simply describe ground sections as not merely tolerable, but also rather enjoyable.
So far it's been story and gameplay, both offering a mixed bag of sorts that both build on earlier games and include additions of their own. Now let's delve into some of the negatives in-depth.
Major issue which permeates the entirety of Assassin's Creed Rogue is one of almost being an afterthought of a game made simply to capitalize on previous console generation. Which is funny considering it received a Remastered version later down the road. What does this mean, though? It's not like we haven't had games that were essentially addons for numbered entries before. Hell, that's how we got Brotherhood and Revelations and those ranged from great to at least good. So what's different with Rogue? I'd put it somewhere between those two except the problem is there is no emotional hook the likes of what players had with wanting to see Ezio's story play itself out. Naval campaign nonsense with story-gated missions and real-life timers ticking down are still in and I couldn't stand that, doubly so because best melee weapon is tied to progression. Brotherhood system is absent yet again... which actually makes sense this time around so that gets a pass, but the fact Shay switches teams is in no way reflected in gameplay terms. You are still an Assassin and play as one. From what I've gathered Origins underwent a huge shakeup in terms of how Assassin's Creed franchise plays from that point onward, but I think Rogue could've been the one to do it much earlier.
So much for that shorter review, huh? I would still recommend giving the Black Flag one a read because I totally skimmed over or overlooked things to avoid repetition.
Looking back on my reviews it certainly has been a while since I last played a first-person shooter so downloading Syndicate on a whim certainly made for a strange call at the time. I remember it not getting such hot reviews over five years ago and I certainly wanted to verify a game that has remained an Origin exclusive on PC since release. Is it as bad? Not really, but I think there's a lot to talk about in this particular case so rev up those Dart bio-chips and let's get into murky dystopian waters.
Which is sort of weird because for the overwhelming part of the game we see this world is anything but some kind of downtrodden hell. In fact, it all seems very shiny, sleek and sterile clean as we go through syndicate headquarters and other important places. What are syndicates? Mega corporations naturally and our protagonist Kilo works for one, specifically EuroCorp. This is a world where “hostile takeover” between syndicates has a very literal meaning and even raids to steal hard or soft assets are commonplace which is precisely what you're doing when the game opens up further enforcing ideas that these mega corporations have replaced world governments are now running the place. Before I go any further I would just like to stop and give my profound compliments to world building team because it's one aspect of Syndicate I seriously cannot praise enough. Legitimate effort must have gone into it, what with actually hiring Richard K. Morgan to write for the game, and it's a shame they're relegated to datalogs and collectibles you can entirely overlook and not miss anything tangible for it. Whenever I got brief snippets of actual lore delivered in-game through holographic guides and people chatting I was transfixed and wanted more. Fictional history on how syndicates came to be, invention of DART chip that made conventional electronics outdated, conflicts between these syndicates etc, is all there if you want to invest time and hunt for it.
But that's enough fluff and time to get into gameplay itself. If I had to make direct comparisons I would probably draw some to FEAR and Star Wars: Republic Commando. Keep in mind Syndicate is nothing like those really, but where their similarities come into play is Syndicate being a simple FPS without many bells and whistles that simply works due to low component reliability. You have your bullet time mode aka DART Overlay Mode where you turn into a damage sponge and deal increased damage, mode powered by your DART-6 energy bar which refills on its own. There are also merely three abilities; Suicide – make your enemy, well, commit suicide in explosive fashion which has AoE damage, Backfire – expose your enemies from cover, stun them and make them vulnerable to damage and finally Persuade – make enemies switch sides for a while attacking their buddies and finally ending their own life. These “breaching powers” that let you affect enemy chips are not created equal and have different recharge timers so something like Backfire will be almost always ready while Persuade is something you kinda want to conserve unless you're on a killing spree seeing as killing enemies reduces the cooldown quite a bit. And that's basically all you have access to in the game. There are also abilities and skills you invest in talent point style but those are largely passive and require you to extract enemy chips to upgrade. Having finished the game I can say there are nowhere near enough of these boss fights where you get chips from so make your investments count.
Thing is, as simple as this may appear, and it is compared to how many elements games tend to cram in these days no matter the genre, it's the whole breaching system that Starbreeze team managed to make incredibly immersive and satisfying as you interact with the world through it. Be it activating switches long distance, stripping away enemy's special armor to make them vulnerable, turning turrets to your side, etc. It all just fits perfectly into the setting where you're a special operative equipped with the latest DART chip and this new model gives you advantage over everyone else. Which brings me to combat and I love it. It's the kind of frenetic FPS gameplay where you're never idle and in automatic mode. Not like Serious Sam or Painkiller arena action action mind you, but combination of combination of gunplay, breaching options and not entirely idiotic enemies makes for a nice melting pot. Speaking of enemies I wish they had more variety because given the setting you will be just facing dudes armed with different guns and occasionally a boss. I found the latter way more interesting when you take into account they can counter-breach so it levels the playing field as you both have to keep track of your timing and regular shooty-shooty part.
You may have noticed I've skipped talking about Syndicate's visual style. There's a good reason for that. Game looks simultaneously amazing and horrible. Given its release year I'd say these are some pretty good visuals and pretty interesting implementation of near future look where in 2069 there's a whole lot more holographic technology around even going so far it's used for your HUD. This leads to a particular segments when you're off the grid and suddenly find yourself helpless as you have no idea how much ammo you even have, for example. But the flipside is where the real horror sets in – color saturation and bloom. That goddamn bloom. How someone thought this was alright is something I'll never understand. For most of the game it appears as if you're staring directly into a light source due to insane surface... diffusion, I guess? It's just so bright and only reason why you don't go blind is because you're focused on playing a decent game. I wonder what it must be like for bystanders just watching you play, though. There are multiple parts where game pulls visual tricks and especially towards the end I would seriously not recommend this if you suffer from any visual-induced problems.
I'm no expert on music but if you were around at the turn of the decade and some years later you may remember there was a period where WUBWUB became the norm and no one could stop laughing about techno being everywhere. Well, that's kinda the entire soundtrack for the game and surprisingly enough I did not mind at all. Maybe because I simply saw as an oddity and relic of the past at this point? It works for intense action and chase scenes which Syndicate has aplenty so no complaints. Just check out some samples to see if it's up your alley or not.
Beyond the Rim
If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed.
Pretty light update as far as non-games go this time. Decided to re-watch some of the classics after many years and I can say I was pleasantly surprised. Even more than I expected after watching nothing but modern stuff for years. It can be jarring to go back and watch slower paced movies that seemed to have scripts infinitely superior to what we get these days. Well, I'll leave that to your judgement and whether you agree or not.
Planet of the Apes
If I can admire Planet of the Apes for just one among many things it does well it would be the movie's adherence to brevity yet also tempering with necessary buildup and appropriate pacing to set the mood as befitting. What this means in practice is I can scarcely imagine a movie today that would play coy and keep the audience in suspense for the first half hour or so as we don't even see the titular apes. This slow burn to the point when we finally see mounted gorillas results in almost surreal surprise equaling protagonist's own shock. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
We open to a scene of four astronauts returning home to now foreign Earth following a certain mission that will have left them off-world for 700 years. Taking into account they're traveling at near-lightspeed it means going into cryogenic sleep and this hibernation is interrupted due to malfunction caused by crash landing somewhere far away from home if ship's machines are to be believed. Sadly, those machines can do nothing for the only female member of the crew who dies mid-transit leaving our three scientists to find their way out of a sinking space ship and making due with their different personalities and reasons for opting into what was obviously a suicide mission from the beginning...
Did you like any of that? Well, I have some good news and some bad news – good is that Charlton Heston is phenomenal in the role of George Taylor with his abrasive and dismissive personality, but still unbridled professionalism and keen intellect running underneath. He's the unlikely genius explorer opposed by more classical lab scientist and boy scout companions, and perfectly suited for what unfolds as he comes to realizations about himself and confronts why he choose to join the mission. Bad news? Aside from Taylor himself none of the above really matters as Planet of the Apes changes gears about a quarter way in and true survival begins. I haven't read the novel movie was based on, but from what I have read it only borrows premise and decidedly goes in its own direction. Low-tech society we see works and is largely believable, aside from a factoid on whether remaining humans are mute or as this movie's sequel will attempt to capitalize on, something different entirely. Fact we're not dealing with humans does not change the fact movie explores themes ranging from subtle, and not so subtle, racism, religious zealotry and obfuscation of knowledge that could shake one's world. Even observed today this is not some cheap movie to get people into costumes and cheer as our hero engages in fisticuffs. Respectable philosophical themes and nature of humanity are explored with plenty of emotions and reasoning alike to go around.
Taking into account when the movie was filmed you certainly have to adjust your expectations, but I would argue it stands the practical test of time. Sets and costumes are both well made, particularly prosthetic lips which are capable of alright to decent articulation. Facial expressions above all else took me aback at times with how lifelike they came across. As someone not native to US or familiar with Glen Canyon those shots alone made me feel like I was peering into a genuine alien world. Gradual shift and eventual total immersion in tribal music goes hand-in-hand with narrative's direction and you definitely feel a sense of belonging much to movie's credit. Or Taylor's complete and utter alienation, depending on how you look at it.
The Day the Earth Stood Still
I suppose it's funny how in retrospective The Day the Earth Stood Still subverts a lot of the usual “space men invade Earth, save the women” tropes despite effectively still belonging to that particular subset of SF popular during post-WW2 1950s. Coming from someone who has seen the remake and its ecologically bent message I far prefer a more original's takes with humanity potentially becoming a threat to the galactic civilization at large as matter of technological progress where ethics did not necessarily follow. Not to say what's being preached is perfect, and protagonist himself admits to that, but it's a very good hook to get the ball rolling.
This is where I'd talk about characters but despite quite a few in the support, I'd say far more of the attention is dedicated to random people worldwide responding to the fact an alien spaceship has just landed in Washington D.C. and everyone's on edge over what this mute edifice wants. In what would become a cliché we see reports from across the world, regular people sharing comments and the US military getting ready as they cordon the area and tensions rise. Difference between the way this movie handles it compared to modern takes lies in there being none of that forced human element we are meant to care for or identify with. There are relevant characters who get introduced later on, but make no mistake when I say this is Klaatu's story throughout as he emerges from the flying saucer under the watchful eye of his giant robot Gort... only to promptly get shot in a misunderstanding and taken away to get his wounds treated by the military. There he demonstrates some of his superior healing and seeming longevity, but also comes with a warning for the entire human race and demands to see our world leaders or he'll have to resort to drastic measures to get his message across because, in fact, things are apparently that dire.
At this point you could say the remainder of the movie is not that relevant as it deals with Klaatu's blending into human society and learning as he finds room and board, but that's really the meat of The Day the Earth Stood Still. He becomes friendly with a local boy and his mother upon whom he echoes many of his ideals and aspirations, he sets up a meeting with the world's most important scientists so he can deliver his ultimatum, almost dies and comes back to life as we witness some of his ship's interior and Gort itself is revealed to have a much bigger role. Message itself is significant, but it's the journey that matters more in this case. Michael Rennie gives something I would not call a mundane performance as Klaatu but rather one that almost comes off as normal. It's odd because you can see glimpses of not getting human society perfectly, but for the most part he doesn't play the stoic or alien ignoramus you'd expect. Imposing resolve and interactions with others establish him as a well-rounded figure with a mission. Only regret is that in the process no other character really gets that much attention.
Not everything is peachy, of course. Given the age of the movie you can expect various jabs at then current political situation in the world with the Russians and why world leaders won't come together. I was also not a big fan of the screechy soundtrack which is just a fixture of period's SF and takes some time getting used to. There's also this notion the way Klaatu's civilization exists is somewhat ridiculous because they do so by effectively handing away control and responsibility to robot overlords and relying on their mechanical benevolence. This is presented as an improvement over humanity's way of doing things and threat of atomics. I respectfully disagree.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
When referred to as a “funny movie”, audience should be aware that Dr. Strangelove falls under dark comedy and should be treated as such. I can remember genuinely laughing only once or twice throughout the entire movie, but I think that more general and “in your face” gag-based comedy is here largely overshadowed by dark humor and overall snappy writing that only occasionally pushed just a step too far to its own detriment.
We have three different points of view feeding into one story so let's break them down.
First and one to instigate the entire incident is General Ripper who initiates Wing Attack Plan R by going through RAF Captain Mandrake and putting 843rd Bomb Wing on alert during. Our second team is crew on one of those B-52 bombers who receive said orders, naturally double check them, only to set a deadly course towards their primary and secondary targets. And lastly we have the Pentagon's own War Room where another General Turgidson is quickly roused to attend a meeting where President Muffley and others are in panic over what they can do about a rogue officer who just authorized a nuclear drop on USSR. Officer who's also the only one holding a special prefix code that will enable bomber crews to receive callback orders and all attempts to get him to stand down have resulted in Ripper barricading himself his own base as US soldiers face each other in deadly combat to get through and save the world from nuclear fallout.
I wish I could say all of the above were equally as strong, but they're not. Which might just be me blowing it up somewhat. Only point of view I would argue is somewhat weaker is one dealing with General Ripper himself and that's mainly because we discover the mastermind who got the ball rolling, east and west in absolute panic as Doomsday contingencies are being weighted, etc did it all over... fluoride water and general being a loony. Make no mistake because USA vs USSR and conflicts between their ideology is central here so it make sense the story uses it as such, but Ripper's character concept wavers on silly and those scenes are largely salvages by some of the now most iconic shots of the movie and his character himself is balanced out by Captain Mandrake – seemingly the only sane man in the movie and one of three roles portrayed by excellent Peter Sellers. Most of the bomber pilot crew scenes are dedicated to them being en-route and eventually getting technically as hell breaks loose. I liked them as an every man crew and there's even some young James Earl Jones action there. Absolute meat of the movie lies in Pentagon scenes which attempt to tie it all together, though. Make no mistake because all these characters are very serious about their job, aside from Dr. Strangelove who is just... well, kinda mental and flashes back to MEIN FUHRER days from time to time, yet their personality and stereotypes come through perfectly. From a somewhat weak president, Russian ambassador always looking to make gains and general Turgidson portrayed by George C. Scott who against his own better judgment realizes this may be it purely because of US superiority. And they may lose because of it.
Going beyond what I already said about it earlier the cinematography is absolutely stunning and so many scenes have stood the test of time. Just some damn good camera work without much dramatic action you'd see nowadays in some elaborate CG fest. Some effects like superimposing background on a flying bomber is one of those effects that's sadly going to age badly no matter how you look at it considering it was a green screen, but what's there is cleverly used and attention to sets is insane. Bomber cockpits with the claustrophobia inducing tight quarters were especially unnerving.
Months since the last update and I bring you this? Sadly, life's been busy and I haven't had much time to play anything I could tangibly put to words. Destiny 2 from Humble Monthly is partially to blame as well with couple of hours here and there, but it has mainly been work. Some non-video game stuff has also been put on backburner with hopes of coming back to some day. Sorry to disappoint few readers who give my scribbling a look.
The cost of oblivious daydreaming was always this moment of return, the realignment with what had been before and now seemed a little worse.
Telltale round two, I guess. Kinda surprised by Epistory because I expected more of an action adventure but at least it was a pleasant surprise. I still have Batman season two from Telltale's offering, but I have no idea when I'll get around to it. It seems like cheating at this point because of my lack of time, and I don't want it to become something like filler. Maybe the Pillars of the Earth would be a better fit for a change of pace?
₪ Genre: Adventure, Puzzle
☑ Release date: March 2016
♬ Soundtrack: Burning Hollow and Arena
Looking back on it in retrospective I'd have to say Epistory - Typing Chronicles is a rather weird game in a sense it is a “type words to fight” formula you may have seen in something like Typing of the Dead, but if I had to go out on a limb I'd say Epistory is pretty unique when it comes to combining said approach to combat with adventure and exploration. So let's give it a go and see how else it stands out and whether it's worth spending your valuable time on.
It's only fair I get story out of the way first because, let's be honest, there isn't much of it in the game. If you want to check out Epistory expecting a worthwhile narrative to go with honing your typing skills I'd have to say you'd be disappointed. We follow a blonde girl riding a giant fox as more and more is revealed from what, at least initially, starts out with mending together the broken landscape and restoring it over your long trek. Insights into the character we know very little about personally are sprinkled across the world and given voice via female narrator. In the last quarter things do ramp up and I wish that level of engagement was maintained throughout prior to the finale. Not to mention the reveal is rather abrupt and could've used a bit more subtlety after what we've been through. Some of it can be pieced together by the player if he's attentive, collects all fragments and notices some of the metaphors the writer is fond of.
More than narrative and story themselves I think the presentation is what will grab you at first and there's sadly no way to show that in screenshots. You need to see Epistory in motion to get the “folding paper” style in properly intended format. I don't think it's very much like Origami look the way Tengami did it and there are 3D elements to the presentation, but it still comes off as pretty breathtaking when you look at absolutely impressive use of color schemes, contrast and saturation which result in every area standing out when you pair it with different levels of depth when it comes to level design itself. I wish the art team applied the same level of identity that made these locations pop, no pun intended, to enemies as well, though. You'll have to settle for simple 3D bug models with merely a handful of variations that don't really change based on their elemental type.
Types? What is he babbling about, you may be asking yourself. Well, it's high time I talked some about gameplay.
Basically, there are two “levels” on which you play Epistory – at first there's a sort-off overworld where you progress the story at large and gain entrance to locations where you unlock new abilities which in turn let you do dungeons and vice versa. For those of you worried that this might be a procedurally generated game please don't be because everything is handcrafted and each of handful of dungeons exist to introduce a new ability until you master it and use to clear the bug nest at the end where enemies spawn and attack you in waves. Then you get to put said power to use in the overworld and open new chests, new routes as well complete exploration. Powers? Well, you start with basic typing and eventually get foure specific types. In no specific order: FIRE (second enemy words burn off on their own), ICE (stop enemies dead in their track), SPARK (second enemy words are zapped off in a chain reaction, as long as it's not their last word) and finally WIND (area effect that blows enemies away from you and slows them down). I think it's pretty evident which is the most OP power, but surprisingly enough they all have legitimate uses if you're a quick enough typist to utilize them considering you have to type their name to switch between them. This becomes imperative as game will start mixing enemy types that can only be hurt by specific powers. Add to this experience points you generate by killing enemies, interacting with the world, progressing the story, etc and upgrading your abilities... you almost have some lite RPG progression there.
To add a footnote let's just say I enjoyed Epistory and hence the rating, but it could've been a more expanded take compared to what we got. Basic gameplay loop is satisfying, albeit it clearly hinges on whether you can type at acceptable speed or it's a complete no-go for obvious reasons, soundtrack is pretty chill with one standout combat track which plays when you're clearing a nest and things do ramp up, and presentation itself is the most impressive element. I'd recommend it, just know what you're getting yourself into.
₪ Genre: Adventure
☑ Release date: December 2016
♬ Soundtrack: Peace and To the Gate
Here we are once more with another Telltale game. I'll cut the preamble short for once and [mercifully] get right in- The Walking Dead: A New Frontier it is. Let's see if them zombies still bite.
My gut reaction going through the game could basically be summarized with “Why was this even made?”, and then I corrected myself because I realized that Michonne game released earlier fit far more into this train of thought. There are good points to A New Frontier and my underlying fear was Telltale made a calculated play banking on fans' investment into Clementine as an on-going character to give this one a go. Well, they were correct but we have yet to get around to that.
Had it not been done already I think starting a proper The Walking Dead sequel with an entirely new cast of characters would've been a bold move. Taking into consideration what we got I can't really say I was impressed. We get Javier aka Javi, and look into his family life of a sort-of wayward son being late to his father's deathbed. Things don't work out and we're introduced to his aggressive brother David who pounces on the guy. It very clearly portrays a complex brotherly relationship with its ups and downs. Along the way we also see his brother's wife Kate as well as their children Gabe and Mariana. There are some hints their marriage isn't all roses as David has a difficult personality, there's a family crisis and all-around resentment. This is cut short when, in fact, little Mariana announces grandfather is not actually dead but rather up and about... and we end the flashback cutting to present as Javi, Kate and two kids are driving in a van on their own four years later, and kids have grown up to teenagers. Frankly I really like this setup and I'm not even a fan of flashbacks in general. Story kinda goes downhill after that because, hey, it's Telltale and you can only play the drama really well once, which they did in the first game so everything feels like it's been dragged through some sort of a zombie drama generator.
I'll avoid spoilers but something still has to be said about overall plot and characters themselves. I think one major problem is they're really one note and when they deviate it's immediately obvious to be a setup for some kind of development. This is really, really apparent in the relationship between Javi and David considering you can see twists and turns for miles before they happen. That's a problem because at about a half-way it kinda becomes one of the focal points of the story. Introducing “civilization that just might not be what it appears to be” to the story will let your mind wander until you realize you already know how it's going to end and just comes down to who's going to fulfill what roles. I did not like how game sets up things between Kate and Javi only to seemingly backhand you for making certain choices while railroading like crazy on others. It's the usual inconsistency I've come to expect, though.
Which ironically brings me to game's one bright spot – Clementine. Yes, we get to see her story continued albeit presented through somewhat awkward flashbacks and come-and-go nature of her presence in story proper. When you start the game you'll notice you can import your old save file if you bothered putting it on Telltale's cloud service, which I did not because who needs another account, but simulating events she experienced and choices she made since the very first game is a neat way to remind the player what she's been through AND you also get to effectively decide another character's personality. That doesn't mean Javier's choices still won't shape Clementine but I liked this particular approach because you get the sense of who she is. Her ties to current groups and individuals are convenient at best, but flashbacks telling her side of the story for that brief time frame when she grew up hit the spot. I haven't replayed the game, but from what I've read there are different personality outcomes she can get at the end and couple of choices in the game are depended on which one she fits into. Good job on this one.
What do I even say gameplay-wise? Provided this isn't your first Telltale game you get a very light adventure where most of the focus is on character drama and choosing flavor of your choices with couple of tangible ones sprinkled into the mix here and there. I am disappointed to say Telltale still loves their binary choices for absolutely no good reason other than putting you on the spot with a mandatory ”you don't get to stand on the sidelines with this one” line. The more I play their games the more these stand out as entirely forced... about the same as spawning zombies for some action sequences. Particularly in one of the middle episodes where token villain will simply screw everything up and put you on the spot just, well, because rather than working it out sensibly.
You would think I'd rate The Walking Dead: A New Frontier negatively but for all the personal misgivings I have, mostly coming from stale formula at this point, I really can't because it's a decent game. I don't think there are many more ways to cut out gameplay after playing this and Batman season one, but I'm sure Telltale will find a way. Clementine parts are great, others feel kinda compressed and telegraphed. Take it for what it is.
Life experience is what defines our character, even if it means getting your heart broken or being lied to. You know, you need the downs to appreciate the ups. Going on the adventure or taking that risk is important.
I wondered what else to put in this rather slim update and then it dawned on me it's been a while since we had our last Quizzical so where we are. Topic? Well, taking into account this convenient timing there's really no other choices but couple of subjects that are surely dear to our hearts – what do you think about various game conventions and games sales in general? We're on SteamGifts so we already realize we have a problem, but let's dig into it a bit deeper.
- How religiously do you follow gaming conventions? Do you even care about announcements made there?
- Have you ever been to any and are there any that happen near you? Perhaps some underrated ones we don’t hear about online that much?
- Steam has our hard earned money, but what do you think about Valve’s sales? Have they gone downhill or are they as good as they’ve ever been?
As usual I'll put my own opinions down in the tabs, but I'm looking forward to hearing your own thoughts about this stuff.
E3 is almost upon us if not already live by the time this update goes out so I might as well open with big boy. It just hasn't been the same since 2013 when Microsoft decided to collectively commit suicide with that Xbox One disaster of a reveal and handed the reigns of this generation to Sony more or less. Nintendo has been been doing their own thing and I can't help but think that was a good call when your new console has enough traction to stand on its own. It does lead to awkward pleading for ports by the fanbase, though. This year? Definitely going to tune in and check out what CDPR is up to with Cyberpunk 2077 as well as if there are some surprises kept hidden. Kinda difficult to do in this day and age when everything gets leaked days before so you're just there for confirmation. Surprise is big part of the package for me.
Other than the above I wish we Europeans had strong conventions like E3. We get Gamescom which generally just ends up playing the second fiddle because publishers repeat announcements or expand a bit on them as if this isn't a global market. I do appreciate the fact MMOs seem to favor Gamescom as well as more niche titles that wouldn't get the time of day at E3. Japanese also have it nice with Tokyo Game Show, promptly followed by “Is it getting localized?” by everyone after reveals.
Certainly a difficult subject to broach, but we all know they're coming round each year and we can't stop them. What do I do about game sales? To be perfectly honest I've found hunting for good deals/bundles all year long gets you much better results. For starters, it's not like big sales have the BEST prices you'll find around seeing as they're really aimed at people who just wait for them, assume it's a great deal and indulge.
It comes down to how or even if you want to spread your library around, though. I've found Steam in particular has been taking advantage of lower discounts ever since flash sales got phased out. GOG is playing its own game and yet considering they've been working on things like GOG Connect, Galaxy client and others you can tell they've been meaning to branch out of good old games for a while. It is funny to see everyone dancing around big Steam sales so they don't overlap. Are we looking at digital retailers clashing in the future?
As February runs its course it's time to post the first update of the year. Sure took my sweet time, huh? No idea what changes I may have in store for this year but knowing how much I like to nitpick it'll be something for sure... maybe finally that standardized covert art? Last year it was a happy coincidence I came up with exactly twelve reports even though I gave up on regular monthly updates. Somehow I sincerely doubt that number will hold up in 2018. Just a hunch.
Same as usual, then – grab your favorite beverage, settle in all comfy-like and enjoy the read. All feedback is more than welcome. :)
Gravity is a lifestyle choice for many elements of the world.
Not much in my Steam category for this one, sadly. Interestingly enough Telltale's take on Minecraft was the one I was least interested in, but someone convinced me to give it a go I think? Keep in mind I always write these opening paragraphs last and if you go by my Steam review you'll see it's been a while since I actually finished the game so it's all a bit fuzzy on my end here. There should be more to read when I come around next time, though.
₪ Genre: Adventure
☑ Release date: October 2015
♬ Soundtrack: New OOTS and The Traveler's Tune
Before even attempting to review Minecraft: Story Mode – A Telltale Games Series I should probably come clean and admit I'm one of those weirdos who know nothing about Minecraft as global sandbox block building phenomena that had everyone's attention before sandbox survival became a trend in recent years. I never got into it and genre as a whole did not grab my attention. This is worth bringing up because I may have on my hands a rare example of where not being familiar with source material to at least some degree can be detrimental and because you're piecing together what's what as you go along for a spin-off game. How'd I do? Well, let's see.
First episode is actually free so anyone can check it out, but just in case – we follow Jesse as he, or she seeing as you can choose the gender and some skin/clothes colors at the beginning making for a strange character creation in a Telltale game, and his two friends Olivia and Axel, are preparing to embark for EnderCon. Major competition of some sort for builders and that seems to be a big thing in the world? Accompanying them is also Jesse's best friend, a pig named Reuben. We see humor and jabs aplenty in these first few minutes and honestly, minus the QTEs, this single instance of a tree house room neatly condenses a lot of what Minecraft Story Mode is all about. Needless to say and self-evident for every good narrative this is merely the opening and soon world finds itself in danger as new heroes step up to save it. You connect the dots.
Weirdest thing for me was definitely getting over the art style. Fans will think nothing of it and it does grow on you over time, but goddamn if that first episode didn't take some time to acclimate myself. Maybe it looks better if you're playing further away from your TV and not seated in front of the monitor? I can't say. Geometry is simple, but at the same time I can only guess that may be the appeal for fans of Minecraft proper. Especially in later episodes when developers clearly went for some ornate and impressive architectural layouts, and realized them with various blocks. This is actually even brought up for story and character reasons seeing as building things is often the go-to solution for our party, but I really wish it wasn't relegated to just button mashing QTE segments. In fact, that's something I'd like to get into next...
I've ranted against Telltale's tendency to phase out actual gameplay with each new “adventure game” they keep making, but in many aspects this might be the worst example yet simply because such overt actions which COULD be turned into something where the player has to think for himself are automated. Crafting is one element where you do have to get involved, but it comes down to simple “hey, these are the ingredients you conveniently find in the same room where the crafting table is and all you have to do is match the pattern”. Maybe I'm [unjustly] expecting more than what Telltale can and has delivered so far yet Minecraft Story Mode actively made me question if I'm even necessary for anything in the game or whether my role is to just be an observer. For all the formula variations employed across eight episodes this is something that remained a constant – too many cutscenes where you're maybe required to occasionally press a button or two.
And really, it's bringing up episodes that takes me to the worst offender in what is, in a summary, an above average production – filler. My god, this did not require eight episodes. Certainly not if you're going to make two filler that amounts to nothing. Well, technically you got trophies from them that you get to display in the final interactive sequence, but story wise episodes five and six could've been completely done away with. One is a self-contained story and arguably Ivor development vehicle depending on how you handle it, but the other one... well, rarely have I seen such a self-indulgence on display. I can only surmise these characters are famous Minecraft Youtubers/streamers or something that got an entire episode dedicated to not mere cameos but actual story invasion. Let's just say I could've done without that and less said the better. Thankfully, plot steers back to its second arc somewhat naturally after that and builds up to a surprisingly good finale. Might actually be one of the best in all of these games, to be perfectly honest.
I briefly mentioned graphics upstairs, but soundtrack department was much more consistently satisfying. You can read from episode intro vignettes that one composer got dropped after a certain episode and you can hear it, but tracks grounded me in what was going on. Might sound strange when you imagine things like characters dying and other dramatic events happening set against the backdrop of such blocky visuals, but presentation itself is not the problem. It's merely a sort of juxtaposition until your mind accepts what the eyes see. Soundtrack lends itself well to this and chirpy tunes eventually settle in.
Why am I still recommending it then after this kinda negative piece? Because of what I said above – it is still an above average game of its type that simply happens to have some blemishes here and there, large and small. If you're a Telltale fan you already know what to expect and if you were hesitant because of Minecraft, like I was, I still think you should give it a go.
No, the problem with the classical heroes isn’t the heroes- it’s the stories they live in. The truth is we grew up with these do-gooders as our idols, and we try to live up to their ideals every day. But we know how their stories actually play out, and reading about their happy endings insults our intelligence and serves as an ugly reminder: We’re probably never going to come out looking that good.
Someone please remind me not to tackle two open world games at the same time when I get the bright idea to do so next time, alright? Needless to say this section was what held up the entire update seen as I took my sweet time to get through both games. If I was a smart man I would've spread them out in two different updates, but alas. I'll probably take a break and aim for something more straightforward and less time consuming in the future.
☉ Platform: PC
₪ Genre: Action, Adventure
☑ Release date: November 2013
♬ Soundtrack: Under the Black Flag and Queen Anne's Revenge
Back to Assassin's Creed it is for me after nothing but spin-off titles for a while. Surprisingly enough I did not get Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag when it became free on uPlay. No, I actually bought the damn thing some time back and then held off until I got the DLC I wanted for it. Now let's go see if it's same old fare or has the new setting resulted in major changes, yarrr.
Latter only applies if you're newcomer to the series, though. Provided you don't already happen to be familiar with the fact that Assassin's Creed is pretty damn constant in what it provides and setting affects flavor more than anything. You could make the case that Black Flag is the most notable departure so far because sailing is such a major part of the game, in my humble opinion, far more important than actual on-foot sections, but I'll get to that later. For now let's talk story...
... because it was honestly the weakest element for me. You play as Edward Kenway, a Caribbean pirate with cliff-notes backstory where he decides he'll make something out of himself and call for his wife waiting for him in England to join him, and tangentially ends up in embroiled in same old Assassins versus Templar situation we're all familiar with – Freedom versus Control. Now, I could accept the fact he adopts the costume and gear from would-be-traitor he disposes off, but I have no idea where Edward inherited Assassins' abilities the way he did. For a regular pirate with aspirations he certainly has the right skill-set from the beginning and does nothing to earn it. Hell, that's something actual members of the Order comment on when you meet them in the game. Even that isn't the main problem and this ties into the story, though – for most of the game and even Edward's story itself has nothing to do with the whole meta premise and unending conflict between two factions because you're just a guy plundering ships and stealing stuff while, by sheer convenience, having to get involved with things you care nothing about except for, you guessed it, get more booty. In hindsight I suppose this could be seen as a positive and might be the reason why so many people like the game, but for me it meant that about 80% of the story did not grip me in any way and character development/twists towards the very end fell flat because no groundwork was laid down properly for it to be built on top of. This could, admittedly, be just my taste. I wouldn't waste breath on modern day segment except to note they still exist and are presented to you in first person as you assume role of some Abstergo employee working on the Kenway project as part of Abstergo's game development studio. Draw whatever parallels you wish from that.
Good thing Assassin's Creed never really lived or died by its story. Sure, interesting characters and plots help, but they're not necessarily the main draw. Setting and locations play a large role in these things and Caribbean Golden Age of Piracy hits it straight on the head if you care about pirates. Do I? Well, sure. Most of the good pirate games are simulations which has, ironically, limited their appeal as far as mainstream fans care, but Black Flag is definitely accessible and gets most of the experience right. Sailing during the night while crew sings shanties is a phenomenal experience. Not to mention it's one of the few games in the series so far to tie the basic premise and gameplay into such tightly interwoven systems, but that's for the gameplay section.
Which happens to be simultaneously amazing and disappointing, both in already tried and true ways. For you see Assassin's Creed 3 already did sailing or at least basics that get expanded upon drastically in this one, and land sections are same old, same old you can probably play through blindfolded at this point. I did like the reduction in your overall kit so you're not a walking armory like you were in Assassin's Creed 2 trilogy. Good thing to inherit from the last game, of all things. Something I absolutely detested and yet is more prominent than ever are the goddamn tailing and eavesdropping missions. Why Ubisoft insists on bringing back the most despised type of missions in the franchise remains beyond me and doubly so this time seeing as civilized locations generally look all alike. What's even worse is this tailing carries into ship gameplay aka you have to tail ships unseen while avoiding detection areas and other ship's line of sight. Yes, it's absurd because, I mean, you can't really hide in a haystack while you're on the high sea and aboard a ship. Can you?
I wish Caribbean settlements had more identity beyond “shacks and jungle”. Even your own underdeveloped base.
Ah yes, the modern day storyline we can't get away from and you can probably count on one hand how many people care about.
Speaking of ships. Yes, I can safely say it's the best part of the game and finally a reason for in-game economy to exist, not to mention actually be put to good use. By their sheer nature ground sections could always be winged even with the most basic gear/upgrades. Not so with ship combat where you absolutely NEED numerous upgrades for the Jackdaw that come in form of improved hull armor, more broadside cannons, mortar to shell fortress with, ram to... well, ram things with, etc. It's much more of a numbers game with ships because you don't have much room for improvisation when combat is met. Seeing as you're a pirate you will use your spyglass to look at other ships on this Caribbean overworld, so to speak, and engage them in combat whereas you can loot by either destroying them and scavenging or boarding a crippled ship to take their entire inventory. You could fund your operations by looting all usual chests that are scattered around, doing missions, etc but big Reals lie in plundering rum and sugar from other ships and selling them. You also get three resources: metal, wood and cloth, combination of which you need in addition to Reales to upgrade the Jackdaw. All in all it's a very satisfying system and you can avoid the grind if you, well, play the game as a pirate the way you're supposed to which leads to higher wanted level and Hunter ships that carry vital crafting materials aboard. It works.
From a production standpoint Black Flag looks pretty damn solkid considering its release because the next generation of consoles was already underway and everything is apparently subject to those. Vibrant colors abound and lush vegetation lends itself well to organic locations compared to older, more established cities franchise is generally better known for. Unlike the previous numbered entry I think they realized it much better this time around because Caribbeans aren't really supposed to be some half-assed replacement for cities and rather seem to be the dominant biome. Like I mentioned above I wish there were less obstacles between ship play and on-foot sections, though – there's one or two too many loading screens between the sea overworld dotted with islands, fishing spots, diving locations, etc and hubs of civilization when it really should've been seamless to keep up with the illusion. Alas, we do what we can with what we have. What I did not like was probably the buggiest Assassin's Creed experience I've had so far; from disappearing ships left and right, NPC routines being unable to handle tight obstacles and water areas, missions that would just freeze and had to be restarted, vanishing markers, overall mistaken approach to everything naval freezing once you relinquish control of your ship, etc. Good number of these have been faithful franchise companions, but they're at their absolute worst in Black Flag.
Before the conclusion I'd like to talk a bit about the accompanying DLC.
Well, only notable piece is really Freedom Cry because all others are really just cosmetics, OP weapons for Edward to use in the main campaign, resource saving packs if you can't be bothered to collect them properly and multiplayer stuff I did not bother with. Freedom Cry follows Adewale, protagonist's quartermaster in the main story, at some point after the events of Black Flag when he's doing a job on Templars but gets shipwrecked near Haiti and has to make his way back. As you'd expect it's a much smaller game in every way, but interestingly enough I found it a lot more engaging because Adewale is a good character with actual noble goals to him. Keep in mind you can only say SLAVERY IS BAD so many times before you get on my nerves and honestly, Freedom Cry managed to do so in about twenty minutes, but I still liked the addition of the Rebellion system where you liberate slaves from repeatable events and slave ships in order to build up a resistance. Sadly, this is not the sorely missed Brotherhood system where you command your own death squad, but it's nice to have a somewhat working base and gear progress that ties directly into your objectives. Short and focused, but worthwhile DLC that lasted me for couple of hours.
So let's bring this to a close. For me, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag was a mixed experience. I'm not one of those people who seemed to have enjoyed it because they disregard the Assassin's Creed part and just wanted to sail around. No, in many ways it embodies the worst and best parts of the franchise as a whole. What this really should have been is a game about ship combat exclusively. The way it is you still have to deal with very weak story and standards trappings held together by sailing.
☉ Platform: PC
₪ Genre: RPG, Action
☑ Release date: May 2015
♬ Soundtrack: After the Storm and Steel for Humans
At some point in your hobby, career or whatever it may be you'll come across something that's such a milestone that everything else pales in comparison. Doubly so if said product isn't perfect, but is phenomenal despite its very tangible issues. Such is the case with me and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Game had undergone various setbacks before I finally got around to finishing it – waited to upgrade my PC, considered getting it on Steam before going with GOG and then simply that cold and plain fact of having a ton of other games to play while a 100+ hour RPG required a special touch.
So here we are at long last.
Well, this is the third game in the trilogy so I'm not certain how much I should be divulging to get you into because it is, in my opinion, not a good entry if you plan to get the most out of the experience. To cut the usual preamble short, don't worry because there's plenty of beating around the bush to follow, prologue is handled in flashback fashion as Geralt recalls a certain dream to Vesemir, another Witcher and Geralt's mentor. Aside from serving as the game's tutorial it also lays down some basics like who Ciri and Yennefer are, you get to see other Witchers of the Wolf School and some very ominous foreboding about the Wild Hunt and their chilling assault on the keep. Only to pull the rug under you as Geralt reveals this is, in fact, a dream and not a flashback seeing as events never transpired that way in reality yet the key players are very real. This retelling is cut short by a battle as two master Witchers make short work of some monsters and we finally get a tangible goal and reason why they're wandering across war-torn Northern Kingdoms as they're being invaded by Nilfgaardian Empire – Geralt's foster daughter Ciri has been missing for a while and he's on her cold trail alongside his mentor and sorceress lover Yennefer. It's a long shot at best but the duo knows they have to try as they descent to a local village to search for clues.
While not immediately evident from the above because both premise and story are presented in very understandable format, one can assume a fair bit of the Witcher 3 may be lost on newcomers who haven't stuck with the previous two games or, and perhaps more importantly in the grand scheme of things, haven't read the books. This is worth pointing out because even if you diligently follow up on various character entries, in-game literature and such I feel like you'll be stumped by Geralt's comments from time to time. I lost count of how many times I ran into “hey, it's THAT guy” while playing the game. From what I've gathered this has not been much of an obstacle for new fans, though.
While we're on the subject it should be pointed out that despite all of its other flaws and boons the Witcher 3 lives and dies by story, narrative and characters. This is doubly impressive when you consider it also falls under the “open-world RPG” umbrella where this belief that you have to sacrifice all or some of the above to get a world where you can fool around in has been long since entrenched, primarily championed by Bethesda in most cases. What I'm trying to say is the Witcher 3 is a game still strongly rooted in storytelling and, if I had to summarize it bluntly, subscribes to open world philosophy primarily so the player would have an easier time immersing himself into this world rather than so they can forget the story even exists. And make no mistake because what a story we have on our hands. I won't go into spoilers, but it involves traveling across multiple locales, some small and some large with varying degrees of pleasure and frustration along the way, and tackling a LOT of the subjects that go beyond simple “Where is Ciri?” despite that being the primary motivation behind Geralt's actions. It's difficult to put into words how writers did this but provided of willingly going off the beaten path to explore and do side content of your own volition, main story somehow never stops engaging and moving forward. One moment you're dealing with a self-proclaimed baron of Velen only to contend with pogroms against mages in Novigrad yet it all leads naturally as story moves along. It's very well done in a sense it doesn't play out like a set of blocks you have to build in order. After all – this is a Witcher game. Expect gray morality and choosing lesser evils with very few clear cut victories to be snatched from the jaws of death.
Forgetting you can't rob everyone blind when you go from boondocks to civilized places can be jarring. Guards get miffed, you see.
Characters and side quests fare in very much similar fashion – developed and positively worthwhile. There's a staggering quality to a game's writing when you realize even its throwaway side quests are more memorable and will stick with you longer than some other games' main stories would. That's not even getting into quests that feed into the main story, quests you can do out of order and actually get feedback from the game (nothing like doing contracts all on your own before even accepting said contract only for the fact to be recognized) and generally few examples of content that require you to pay attention or use common sense. Characters you interact with get very much the same treatment and I found myself remembering a simple innkeeper from what is essentially a tutorial area because she was animated so well and felt lifelike. If I had to put a finger on this beat it would be that the Witcher 3 benefits strongly from believable approach to writing all across the board. Keep in mind believable is not realistic but the no-nonsense attitude, staying true to premise and story, not to mention sheer memorability elevates the game in this aspect.
Yet it also brings us to the first major negative I have for the game and it's not a minor one.
You see, all of the above can be a double-edged sword if you don't have the systems to back such lofty storytelling and sadly that's really where Geralt's adventures stumble. What do I mean by that? While there's a ton of genuinely interesting, inventive and varied stories to enjoy they're all bolted on top of very simple and repetitive mechanics – you can expect to almost always A) follow someone to get to the objective or B) follow red trails visible with your Witcher vision as Geralt narrates what you should be doing next. This started to grate on my nerves extremely quickly because I decided to tackle side content as well and there's even less [mechanical] variety there whereas major and side quests tend to vary it up to some degree. You can only clear so many bandit camps, destroy monster nests or dive for chests before it all blends together, for example. Not to say some of those didn't have, you guessed it, interesting premises for you often come across bandit notes and such breathing life to characters who's guts you just spilled out. It should be noted that side QUESTS and side CONTENT do not necessarily refer to the same thing in Wild Hunt's context and I've seen a fair share of people equate actual quests with simple activities you can do after finding them in the world and marking them on your map. This is not an honest assessment in my opinion.
I can't believe I'm this far into the review and I've only rambled about things narrative and if you don't already know about the Witcher series you basically have no idea what I'm talking about at all. Taking after its predecessor we once again have an action RPG on our hands, albeit one that's much more polished and does away with somewhat stilted combat system for one that flows much more smoothly. Entire game has been retooled to feel this way, in the same manner as its engine was modified to facilitate open world structure. In many ways you still have all the tools Geralt of yore had access to like variety of magical Signs, ability to brew potions, oils and bombs, but there are new additions some of which like the crossbow are dubious at best and highly situational or perhaps were introduced more for the sake of needing to handle underwater combat of all things? We can only speculate. All character buildings aspects also saw major facelifts and upgrades you uncover along the way and having a access to a handful of abilities at any point in time makes you choose careful which of those you want to have “turned on”, so to speak.
In many ways, as you play through the Witcher 3 and find all the armor, weapons and other equipment to get better in traditional RPG sense you can't really shake the feeling game suffers from development bloat as features were continuously added for the sake of being there or, once again, immersion. Did we really need haggling for contract fees when you get what amounts to minuscule raises? Did we need a specific item that lets Geralt see what people were up to at their moment of death you will use only in handful of situations? Was there really need for contextual Igni actions that let you flick fires on and off? No, not really. But they add to the game and world interactivity and I appreciated them for that.
Aside from being a definite step up from Witcher 2's inventory there's also a lot of usability packed here you may not notice at first like the preview feature.
CDPR should be congratulated for the amount of effort that was put into areas you only briefly visit.
While I'm on the negativity I might as well keep riding it all the way because it leads to the Witcher 3's second problem – questionable itemization and balance. There are many opinions on which path (Alchemy, Combat or Signs) is the best and most OP, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm referring to the fact game was clearly balanced for the so-called “critical path” approach aka just doing the main quest with minimum side stuff required to perhaps reach the level required so you can survive on higher difficulty. In practice this translates to couple of things not least of which being that you'll be pretty over-leveled if you choose to exhaust optional content before tackling the next step of the story AND if you actually bother locating Witcher set diagrams, best sets of armor in the game until you tackle New Game+ from what I've understood, you can forego about 95% of other equipment you come across. That's just sad and tremendous waste. It's not like getting Witcher sets is a major achievement or anything, either. Make that small effort and you've essentially made your own upgrade path you'll never deviate from. There's hope that you may end up starving for crafting components you need to further upgrade those sets, but if you're playing the Witcher 3 like a good little RPG boy aka stealing everything that's not nailed down and where you can get away from the guards, you'll also never want for components. Basically, if you take the game seriously and explore you run into serious diminishing returns in terms of gear progression. But on the flip-side you'll also gain access to a lot of formulas which will future proof you more than you realize. That +50% damage and correct decoction can be a life saver.
So... those are actually pretty serious points against the game, right? So you may be wondering why am I so enthused for it? Because the Witcher 3 is that kind of game proving sum of all parts can be so much more than when you observe those parts individually. There are problems yes, even problems some could find totally off putting like combat which features a lot of moving parts and things to keep track off yet is ultimately simplistic and easily broken with a modicum of thought put into your setup, but when observed as a whole the Wild Hunt shines like rarely any RPG has in recent memory. You could even say it raises the bar in many aspects from its stellar production values and post-launch support to sheer scope and scale with all the content that entails. Make no mistake because you WILL get your hours played with this one and if you add DLC on top of that you, well, you get even more out of it. Speaking of which...
There was a chance I would postpone both of the story DLC when I was considering this review a week or so ago but when I got my claws into them I could not stop playing. I would also like to point out CDPR had a great series of 16 pieces of free DLC, but those are more along the lines of different skins and armor and as such I won't cover them here. Still, nice to have more added to the game.
First order of business is Hearts of Stone which, in all honesty, is almost CDPR's return to form and more scaled back Witcher work with a personal story included versus large zones you have to fill with content. This one is grafted onto Velen, but story regarding one Olgierd von Everec and his supernatural troubles absolutely stands out as one of the best in the entire complete package. You walk away from Hearts of Stone seeing nothing but pure progress compared to base game in every way; bosses are deadlier and actually thought out so they're not just supped up normal enemies, there's even more astonishing production value to go around and shorter play time makes for a very densely packed experience. As if to prove me wrong and show they can do vanilla format except better we also have Blood & Wine which introduces an entire new region of Toussaint where chivalry lives on, but is hopeless to do anything against the Beast which seems to be stalking the region and killing influential people. Formal invitation on behalf of the Duchess sees Geralt resolving what could be the contract of a lifetime. Blood & Wine raises the stakes significantly compared to the previous DLC, but all the same applies on top of introducing the final level of Witcher set upgrades. This is the one you should probably tackle after finishing the main story proper seeing as it has a note of finality in Geralt's final farewell and goes even heavier on fan service than Hearts of Stone. Needless to say, they are both outstanding and should be played as they're absolutely worthy of being called EXPANSIONS in this day and age of bite-sized and overpriced DLC.
That was a long read and I absolutely gushed all over the game while glossing over talking about anything tangible, didn't I? Yes, and yes. I don't think I'm that blind to most of the Witcher 3's tangible faults, but I cannot help liking the game despite all of them. Now for the sad realization I will probably never replay it because it's so huge and will most likely stay fresh in my mind for a long time. It is probably my one regret that I couldn't get more into Gwent, fully fleshed out card game present as a side activity. I think missing a card early on lead me to fail a quest and discouraged me from getting involved further. Not to mention a standalone Gwent game exists now so there's always that. To be perfectly honest I'm containing my yamering here seeing as I haven't even touched on the amazing soundtrack game has that really lends it identity and character in its own right. Vocals are seriously underused in soundtracks outside of dramatic tracks for some reason and it does take some time to get used to them, but region-specific tracks enhance the experience dramatically.
There is no such thing as a perfect game, but looking at it as a modern RPG standing separate from genre's “golden age” and ticking all the boxes I like in games I can stand today, Wild Hunt gets pretty damn close to that mark.
Beyond the Rim
There’s more to research than just looking up facts. Eventually, you have to make subjective calls. If you’re writing a science fiction novel, there’s probably some speculative technology in it. You’ll have to decide how to project existing technology forward in a plausible way.
Remember when I talked about reading some books without writing anything about them last year and that I will make up for that lapse? Well, here it is. Three books from genre fiction just the way I like them. I got into it in the review proper, but goddamn did I delay reading Horus Heresy for a long time. Glad to have finally caught up. The Bug Wars and The Golden were almost random picks, and yet another reason I'm glad to have my Kindle handy. When I think about how I lugged books back in the day... yeesh.
₪ Genre: Science Fiction
☑ Publication date: April 2006
⇲ Pages: 416
I guess I should make the following my motto at this point, but The Horus Heresy series of novels was yet another series I put off for years because at first I just didn't have the time and then I wanted to wait until more of the books were released so I could get a feel from other readers. Needless to say you can imagine my surprise when a decade later series is still going with its myriad of novels and short story anthologies. So lest I dally any longer it's time for the first book in the series – Horus Rising – penned by Dan Abnett himself.
If you asked me whether this was a good primer for someone not at all familiar with Warhammer 40k I would be hard pressed to give you an acceptable answer? Why? Well, because Horus Rising is actually set during 30k aka it's a prequel to Warhammer 40k setting as people know it today. Emperor of Mankind is still around, Primarchs are kicking ass on the Great Crusade, and Imperium of Mankind is on the way to drag itself out of the Dark Ages by reclaiming lost technologies, fighting against the horrors of ignorance and mysticism and in general striving to unite all of its denizens in strong unity to fight against cosmic dangers. This is the time during which we follow Garviel Loken, serving in Luna Wolves, as he follows his legion and their Warmaster Horus on the Great Crusade. Seeing as many things happen over the course of three parts, even changing the protagonist for one of them, and even more plot hooks as well as references fans will appreciate are dropped it's really difficult to talk about all the events that transpire, but let's just say I really enjoyed the switch and bait that almost had me going “no way they're already rushing to the finale”. I would argue REAL strength of Horus Rising is giving the fans look into pre-40k Imperium that many have been asking for, though.
Seeing Space Marines are military you can imagine what you'll get from characters – from stoic sergeants, badassery from discipline, etc. Difference here lies in the source material so you'll also expect a lot of veneration, regular army and civilians looking upon Space Marines with awe, sentiment latter also extend to their Primarchs as ther best of the best. But this is also a time of change as Emperor extends his hand and allows Remembrancers to follow his Legions on their Crusade and document for posterity what is happening. This was a well done perspective that adds more to the novel than I originally expected because these are ultimately academics and artists trying to somehow co-exist and find time to interact with rugged Space Marines, dignitaries, etc to get their creative material. Glances at how these two different groups intermingle and what their opinions are on each other make for a sizable part of the read.
Other part is all action, though. And I couldn't be happier for the way it's handled considering you really get the feeling Space Marines are greater than life figures who get thrown into insane situations. Getting sent on a planet codenamed Murder is a bad sign, but they persevere despite some folly. Garviel is suitably appropriate for what transpires, yet I also really enjoyed seeing there is a person under all that armor with his own personality and opinions. Add to that other characters, be they his fellows or from other Legion with somewhat less friendly attitude, and you get a nuanced look at what are usually stereotypical FOR THE EMPEROR zealots. Running across other human cultures on Crusade's journey just adds more to this aspect of the novel.
So to come back to my earlier point – would I recommend Horus Rising? Yes. Even if you don't know much about Warhammer 40k this is a good novel in its own right. Not to say Abnett doesn't go to length to familiarize you with the setting, though. You will be comfortable with most of the terminology early on as it eases you in with the prologue scenario, but a lot more interesting parts happen internally as we see some wheels starting to move and characters adapting to change. Series certainly promises to be an interesting read if it stays on this level of quality.
₪ Genre: Science Fiction
☑ Publication date: April 1979
⇲ Pages: 217
Another day, another SF book. The Bug Wars sounds like such a generic title, but I found the book to be anything but looking back on it as a whole. One standout fact I wasn't aware of is that this is a relatively rare case of xenofiction aka fictional work distinctly not told from the human perspective. In our case at hand it involves alien point of view, but that quality alone almost makes it a worthwhile read because author had to put in extra effort to flesh out his characters on the most basic level. Or so I assume, at least.
As the book itself points out in the opening song lyrics following events are set at some point in time before humanity was a thing, era when species of insects and lizards were vying for dominance of the stars. We follow the lizard race, so-called Tzen empire, as they embark on another phase of their seemingly long spanning war against the insect coalition comprised of wasps, leapers and ants. Compared to them Tzen are a monolithic and warlike race with their people bred for cast role and our protagonist Rahm is one of the warriors who puts together an unlikely team, because it's not all-warriors the way they're expected to be when headed by a warrior leader, and leads them out into various dangers as they get stranded, play a pivotal role in uncovering enemy intelligence and resolve their own tensions.
Short novel covers what he and his team were doing during multiple offensives made on the coalition, but I honestly think events themselves take a backseat compared to inner group dynamics we become witness to as we get a window into Tzen society. Because of the nature of the book and seeing that I consider this to be the main draw over story, characters and all else I really won't go into detail, but I'll just touch on some things like how warriors, technicians and scientists have mutual distaste for others' caste yet clearly need each other, how given that you can change your cast based on talents can lead to some interesting skillsets that come useful in the wilderness and how familial ties in Tzen can become a tremendous liability because they cannot stand in the way of doing your duty.
Sadly this also brings me to the main problem of the novel – it's incredibly dry in its writing style. What I mean by this is little effort is made for scenes to really flow into each other and god help you with the dialog because it's utilitarian to the extreme and Rahm in particular often resorts to simple “Explain” which is then followed by a paragraph long literal explanation from other characters that doubles up as in-character lecture and conveying the message to us, the readers. I wouldn't even pick up on this if it wasn't so pervasive and ever-present in the book. Events are also clearly disjointed in flow of time, but that could be well explained because Tzen soldiers go to stasis between operations and it's never established how much time has, in fact, passed between major events. One small touch I like is how we're talking generations here and old cast comments how these newfangled Tzen can actually tell colors apart and are brasher with more self-initiative, but also less stoic and not as zealously willing to throw their life away.
In the end it's a pretty good read hampered by Asprin's writing style. I went in expecting action, and you will get some of it alongside exploration of lizard technology and military tactics, but the main appeal is most definitely the social angle. Ending probably left a bigger impact on me than I expected as certain someone wonders what will become of Tzen society now that it has to change.
₪ Genre: Mystery, Horror
☑ Publication date: March 1993
⇲ Pages: 243
The Golden was not exactly what I expected it to be before diving in. Or should I say, priorities were turned on their head. In all too many vampire stories it's the vampirism that gets all the attention as the work becomes an exploration of the state itself, but in The Golden while still prevalent you can tell the whodunit mystery is the focal point and other elements are supposed to feed into it. In a sense I was reminded of David Brin's Sundiver except that was obviously a work of science fiction, but the same principle applied. Let's take a bite and see if holds up.
Imagine the following scenario – important vampires of Europe are gathering in old castle Banat in the middle of the 19th century for an event that's been in the making for the longest of time. So called Decanting where they'll partake in the finest blood that centuries of breeding and grooming can produce, contained in what is merely one mortal vessel – the Golden. Mark of prestige on its own, yet this gathering of immortals provides numerous other opportunities such as the ever-growing question of should the bloodlines spread out across the world further and set out to form new colonies as the Old World grows tiresome and stagnant. In the middle of all of this a tragedy strikes as the Golden is brutally murdered before sampling can take place, and our fledgling vampire Michael Beheim has to put his former Parisian inspector background to use in order to figure out who committed the deed before the Patriarch's time limit expires and potential suspects disperse never to be seen again. Will he succeed in navigating all the obstacles and rivals that stand in his way?
As you've surmised from the above it's a mystery story and protagonist fits the genre like a glove. In essence this is a perfect mystery premise with supernatural elements added on top of it, but aside from couple of trippy parts that really left me wondering “what's going on here?” towards the end I don't think the vampire element added that much to the work. Characters involved still fit general archetypes genre savvy readers will recognize and appreciate, but it sort of detracts from the puzzle at hand. It doesn't help you can figure out relatively early on who the culprit is if you've read these sorts of stories, though. Then again later on you can clearly tell there's more going on here than just hedonistic excess and loss of life. Maybe I would've been content if the book pulled more of a twist on me? Still, I would argue this is a matter of preference on my part and might depend entirely on the reader's experiences so far.
One notable aspect that struck me as rather is the way the book is written and I had to look it up to put into words because I'm not that experienced with old time-y English literature and it flew past me the novel was written in period-appropriate style with lots of foreshadowing and almost overbearing focus on gothic mood. I don't know what to think of it except that it may be the reason why The Golden is predictable if you start thinking about what is transpiring, but is also richly dense in conjuring imagery. Descriptions of the mysterious castle Banat with its purposefully nonsensical layout not really built for mortal lives, nature of vampiric Mysteries and vague tonality of what they are, etc. It seeps throughout the novel and really draws you in.
You might wonder why would I give this a middling recommendation if the summary is generally positive? Mainly due to mystery not holding up and resorting to pulling a rug under you towards the end to keep going. Maybe I'm not explaining it succinctly enough, though. I was also surprised at how a major discovery that could change lives of all vampires is almost hand-waived to keep the current events going.