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.
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.
Before I start blabbering let's just say it's pure coincidence this turned out to be the twelfth update of the year despite my conscious effort to not keep monthly updates anymore and doll them out on “when it's ready basis”. Also, this was supposed to be a much meatier update, but circumstances got in the way and I could do nothing but roll with the punches. There were some books I got around to, but never put into reviews so I will most likely delay them to 2018.
Don’t you understand? I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want either of us to end up killing the other. But we’re both running out of alternatives, and we both know it. Maybe it all hinges on tonight. Maybe this is our last chance to sort this whole bloody mess out. If you don’t take it, then we’re both locked onto a suicide course. Both of us. To the death. It doesn’t have to end like that. I don’t know what it was that bent your life out of shape, but who knows? Maybe I’ve been there too. Maybe I can help. We could work together. I could rehabilitate you. You needn’t be out there on the edge anymore. You needn’t be alone. We don’t have to kill each other. What do you say?
I guess this somehow became a Batman update seeing as it was the only game I managed to complete in allotted time. Might as well roll with it. If anything I learned I start playing way too many games even if I realize I'll have to put them on hiatus or just might never get around to finishing them. Telltale games lend themselves naturally to completion because of, well, uninvolved they are mechanically.
₪ Genre: Adventure
☑ Release date: August 2016
♬ Soundtrack: Revolution and Decimating the Bro Code
Back into the fray with another Telltale game. I'd say giving it a year long break since my last game, that being Michonne, is probably about right when it comes to their formulaic approach not wearing out [too] much. To cut the long intro short it's time for Batman - The Telltale Series.
It is interesting to see a Batman media that simultaneously glosses over his origin story, told and re-told so many times already, and yet makes its own version of said story so integral to the entire premise. What do I mean by that? Well, keeping this spoiler-free let's just say that Telltale has their own spin on what Batman's parents were up to in cahoots with the local criminal boss and blatantly corrupt major. This comes back to bite Bruce Wayne in the behind seeing as consequences of those decisions endured. Get it? Actual present story you're dealing with ranges from the local major candidacy run, with everyone's favorite two-faced coin tosser being a central figure, some cat burglary happening about and no Batman game would be complete without a green haired fan favorite who, much to my own surprise, ends up relegated into a cameo more or less. Now that I think about it Telltale really put their own mark on the game with the way they handled established characters and even some you wouldn't expect. The likes of Vicki Vale, for example.
There's your story or as much as I can divulge of it. Seeing this is a Telltale game you can see there's plenty of “we're winging it from episode to episode” but in my opinion this is probably one of better examples of tighter storytelling versus something like The Wolf Among Us which, despite its qualities, really suffered from pull-push writing and constant lack of focus. Batman actually has a solid story to tell and you can see threads of overall narrative in every episode with a healthy sprinkling of characters advancing their plans over the course of multiple episodes. This is kinda where we tie into my first big problem with the game – it's all so very low scale and production for about first two episodes or so until the meat of the story kicks in. While this benefits from them becoming more fleshed out in the process, you're basically interacting with the same half dozen characters or so and, looking at it from the final standpoint, game really blows through everything it has to offer during those episodes.
As far as tackling the characters goes... they're your Batman cast. You'll be seeing most of the favorites befitting a relatively small-time criminal story which sadly means your more specialist antagonists like Mr. Freeze and others are out of the picture. Game is quite dedicated to keeping it grounded with plot points like police force corruption, hostile company takeover and old friend from Bruce's youth returning until the last episode when it goes into overdrive with action. I can't really add anything new here because characters largely play it straight with their established personalities. Game's highlight is still its character interaction and there are some particularly effective scenes, like for example when Batman and Catwoman have a very real existential crisis moment wondering if it's all worth it or Bruce and Harvey with their BFF interactions. I liked it and it felt like real people interacting more than once.
Adding anything about Telltale's games mechanics might be redundant at this point seeing how dead set they are on being adventures-lite, but Batman actually has few surprises in his toolbet in that department. Is it it perfect? No way, but I rather liked the clear cut between more diplomatic Bruce approach and aggressive Batman style. Game offers you the choice on who will take the lead on couple of occasions to predictable results where former gets to talk his way through situations while latter is more along the lines of planning out his takedowns. Problem here is talking your way through problems is how Telltale games play while Batman's action/deduction approach feels either clumsy because the engine can't handle proper action so it's QTE central with awkward stop-and-go between segments or game stops to a halt so you can “solve puzzles” aka connect two obvious clues in sequence and then wait for the game to explain it to you. In short, it's familiar and action segments from Michonne are now greatly expanded upon in order to make for bulk of Batman's action.
Technically you can tell devs absolutely put in effort to upgrade the visuals from what I would classify as their last-gen games, but why couldn't performance be the priority? It still chugs when transitioning between scenes and odd shader flickering isn't uncommon when even I managed to notice it. That hand drawn edge filter around the edges also has its odd moments when looking at the screen from a distance, but looks much better up-close when you can appreciate it without dithering and aliasing detracting from overall presentation. All I can say is I guess I was lucky to not experience many problems people seem to be reporting on the forum.
So what to say in conclusion? You've seen the recommendation and despite having some, mainly technical, issues I liked this one as well. I've given up on choices actually mattering in these games so I won't hold it as a negative against Batman which admittedly has some different outcomes, for example how Harvey Dent situation plays out. I walked away satisfied in no small part thanks to moody soundtrack and a satisfying finale that actually managed to have a fight that wasn't godawful.
Consciously or not, we are all on a quest for answers, trying to learn the lessons of life. We grapple with fear and guilt. We search for meaning, love, and power. We try to understand fear, loss, and time. We seek to discover who we are and how we can become truly happy.
I've embraced this category and won't berate it anymore. There's simply not enough time for me to play all the video games I'd like to anymore so I have to settle with WIP reports. Really glad to finally get around to Pillars of Eternity and ESO seems like it's in for the long haul. Black Flag I could see finishing before 2017 is out, but better safe than sorry. :D
As fate would have it I actually bought Black Flag a week or so before it was free on uPlay so I got gypped out of couple of euros, but I can live with it. Coming back to Assassin's Creed is always odd because they're fundamentally all the same games with just a different time period and some bells and whistles added to fit appropriately, but seeing as it's been while since... what was it, Liberation? Yeah, I think I was due for more faffing about.
My progression indicator is saying I'm at 48% completion, but seeing as I've fooling around and collecting stuff more than progressing in the main story I'm not sure how suspect that figure really is. I kinda wish story was tighter in the opening act seeing as you're just carried about, and I have no idea how you're supposed to acclimate if you're not already familiar with the series, and the never-ending tutorials are grating on me, but the famous sailing everyone's lauded is in indeed very satisfying.
Because everyone needs their MMO fix every now and then, and because I got it for cheap + Morrowind expansion, Elder Scrolls Online has been something I've dabbled in for a while. Mind you “a while” really means I haven't even played dozen hours over the extended period I've had the game, but that's par for the course. I go a long way back with TES series so why not?
Considering I'm just barely out of tutorial and I've essentially been treating the game as spin-off TES title aka playing with gamepad, player names off, etc... I can say I've had a great time so far. Not really a fan of soft TAB-targeting when they could've gone with proper action combat and I RELLY don't like how you're locked into a selection of classes from the beginning, but former is a technical necessity while latter is something you sidestep because freedom to “train what you use” is still the crux of the game. Looking forward to it and perhaps even getting some of the DLC I'm missing, but it's pretty pricey.
And here we are – Pillars of Eternity. Game I've followed from inception ever since it was announced on Kickstarter that Obsidian was working on an independent title. Game I actually bought on GOG, got on Steam and then waited for a deal on Expansion Pass before I finally started playing it. Isometric CRPGs are my jam and Obsidian ranks pretty highly as far as RPG developers go so, needless to say, I'm IN.
Still in tutorial. Not even joking. I like the character creation and that's basically the extent of what I can comment on. I have noticed the game bombards you with information and it has nice QoL features like hyperlinks that further explain/detail mechanics or terms. Sure beats looking them up in the manual if you're not familiar, I'll give them that. Let's hope it's good.
As 2017 comes to a close I feel like I should commemorate the event. I certainly never thought I'd last two years here on BLAEO or keep producing content for that long, but more than anything it would've been impossible without the support from the awesome BLAEO community we have in these parts. Nothing like chatter to keep you going or pull you out of procrastination. There's a good chance I won't be around come holidays proper so I decided to release the update a bit sooner in this case.
Here's to all of us and may we endure even longer despite all the obstacles in our way. :)
It's been a while, hasn't it?
I wish I had some cozy explanation, but it was a deadly combination of real life and honest to god laziness on my part to write something up. Games were on regular schedule for the most part, but I wanted to have something else from other category to show as well so here we are in mid-late September. Weird thing to do my reading at work so I can count myself lucky to have the time to do so.
Hope you have fun reading all of this stuff.
I’d like to thank Lenor for bringing to my attention that I can, in fact, change the font color within tabs. It completely slipped my mind until I saw your post. :)
You learned a lot by playing RPGs, although not all of it was useful, or real for that matter – unless you really believed that wolves normally carry seven gold pieces, a flawed garnet, a scroll of ice storm, and a lock pick somewhere about their person.
Would you believe it was one game that held up this entire update? Hand of Fate simply wouldn't cooperate in those last few levels I had to go through until it finally did couple of minutes ago and now I'm writing this brief piece here. Also, it just dawned on me that people who have me friended on Steam read these reviews when they're actually posted on completion and don't have to wait for my sporadic updates.
₪ Genre: Adventure, Action, RPG
☑ Release date: May 2015
♬ Soundtrack: Touch of Kether and Fixer's Hope (Previews)
Looking back on my experience after finishing Dex just an hour or so ago I can't shake this feeling that I approached the game with different expectations compared to what I got in the end. Very much to my surprise this is an even rarer case where this turned out to be a good thing for the game in question. So let's get down to it, my pretties – how does Dex fare in the nitty-gritty department?
One thing you quickly realize is how well it nails the cyberpunk sensibilities. I'm not talking merely about the aesthetic either, but it is part of the package with its gloomy and despairing locales contrasted with neon advertisements and jacked up people who think nothing about augmenting themselves with implants. Story? Well, it's cyberpunk. So much is endemic to the genre itself that little needs to be said – corporations are up to no good and you have to fight them. Dex doesn't exactly throw any curve balls in that department and largely plays everything straight... which is perfectly fine considering that's what you're here for in the first place. Our protagonist finds herself on the receiving end after she becomes a target of a corporation called the Complex and is saved by a famous hacker in the nick of time. This sets her down a path of the seedy underbelly of Harbor Prime and beyond as she attempts to piece together what exactly is happening.
In a sense this is where some of the game's problems come about – Dex is just a really forgettable protagonist. Not necessarily bad as much as conflicted because story and major characters you interact with throughout the game portray her as some badass almost in the vein of Major from Ghost in the Shell, but really in few cutscenes and voiced dialog lines she has Dex comes off almost as a hipster valley girl trying too hard to be snarky. It's a minor gripe of mine, but it took me out of the game whenever she spoke. Another issue, although justified by the situation she find herself in, is the way she keeps getting dragged into things and going with the flow WHILE at the same time point doing all the grunt work. This results in obvious division between story and gameplay parts, and had at times lead me to honestly forget the main story was even there as I was fooling around in Harbor Prime. Which brings me to...
All the other stuff.
The way game is structured it wouldn't be a lie to call it a metroidvania of sorts, but only in a sense there are segments of the map(s) locked to you until/if you acquire certain abilities that will allow you to re-visit and explore said sections. These take form in shape of skills and cybernetic implants. Contrary to what you might expect when you look at the game and see something that plays like a 2D beat 'em up or a very basic shooting affair when you throw firearms into the mix, skills like lockpicking and charisma get more than decent mileage for just two skill levels versus the regular six levels your main skills that pertain to combat and weapons. Add things like shops, variety of gear and as well as miscellaneous items and you suddenly have a title fleshed out with a number of moving parts. What also impressed me is the fact how modular the game is whatever your play style might be, and this is coming from someone who combined melee and stealth. Getting an implant that let me see enemy's field of vision and advanced armor which made bullets a joke essentially prepared me for anything end game could throw at me.
While they might have you tracing back and forth I found most of the side missions very enjoyable and involved on story level more than I initially expected. I think the dullest one in the entire game is collecting old memorabilia for a certain weapon shop owner, but even in that case you get a tiny bit of history as well as decent reward so you don't feel like the game is wasting your time. One thing to note, so you don't end up looking like a fool the way I did, is to remember game actually has fast travel and you don't have to traverse all the districts of Harbor Prime on foot. NPCs you come across are generally your safe cyberpunk archetypes and they play it as such while clinging to enough new personality to be likable when contrasted with the protagonist herself.
Feeding into what I said above about skills and game's open approach it actually took me a while to get into as I thought I was initially doing something wrong. Turns out exploring new locations the moment they become available aka what every sensible person does, might not be the best thing seeing as Dex does not hold your hand. If your character build will let you get there, you can get there. Hell, there are almost always additional routes/information that actually feel integrated into the world and air ducts aren't just there so you can have a stealth route, for example. I can't count the number of times I've come across alternative solutions to problems and, equally as important, info that isn't spelled out as vital but is something you can use. Like how in one mission you come across information a certain character owes money to a bank and with your hacking skills you can do away with it. This is not required for the mission involving said singer, but she'll be grateful and give you a little something regardless. I like these small things and Dex has a lot of them spread out all over the place.
Fine fine, have some negatives. There really aren't many when I think back on it. One that persists is how the game doesn't really explain some things to you or how most systems are very basic, but all of these work just fine as individual pieces of the grand puzzle. Another problem I have with the game is the way it ends seeing as there are multiple endings based on your decisions yet one is clearly the “good ending” and gets the attention. In other words, Dex is a game that could be insanely expanded on in the sequel because they have the groundwork right. As long as they keep the stellar soundtrack and artwork, mind you.
I expected a simple 2D sidescrolling game and instead got more-or-less an RPG masquerading as former mainly because of technical and financial [Kickstarter origin] reasons. You won't have to ask me twice whether I want to play more cyberpunk games though, especially not when they're as quality as Dex turned out to be. My one regret is putting it off this long.
₪ Genre: Action, RPG
☑ Release date: April 2013
♬ Soundtrack: Power Struggle and Shadowlair
It feels comfortable to take a dip back into the ever-increasing pool of mid-budget RPGs that have been making a steady return since, well, pretty much last generation of consoles the entire part of the market was on a steady path to extinction. I can safely say I'm glad we got games like Mars: War Logs out of that course correction even if I'm not sure whether it's palatable enough for audience at large. Even genre fans. For reference's sake I would put Mars in more-or-less the same category as Game of Thrones: The Roleplaying Game and Of Orcs And Men which I reviewed earlier and liked both while finding them incredibly overlooked and underrated.
So let's end the preamble and get down to it, shall we?
While the game has a codex that details major historical events and general chronology that lead to current state of things all you really need to know is the following – we're on Mars about a century or so after a great upheaval following a period when Mars was essentially abandoned due to reasons and left to fend off for itself. Water is obviously scarce and terraforming is taking its sweet time so it became the top commodity. Organizations looking for water and managing it in general would eventually become Water Guilds. Story takes place in this wartime period where two of the largest Guilds – Abundance and Aurora – are duking it out in a straight up war with each other. There's more to it with with mysterious Technomancers who harness old technologies to essentially turn themselves into mages of the setting with powers like electricity, kinetics, etc who have their own angle, but I'll leave that for you to find out.
Important thing is we open up in Abundance's POW camp where game pulls a nice bait and switch when it reveals who the main character is and I can't remember when was the last time a game surprised me like that. This one is maybe on me because I knew nothing about the game prior to starting it up other than it's genre, though. It was a good feeling to realize I was not, in fact, the whiny kid. Nope, we take control of Roy who is seemingly just another POW that ended up in the camp following some earlier raid and he has the great escape in mind.
First act deals with getting out of prison and I think is largely a good representative of the rest of the game... albeit for both its positives and negatives rolled into one. We're talking tight quarters here and missions that take you back and forth across the same few levels as you do your stuff. Good news is game genuinely dispenses with annoying “kill X of Y” type of missions and even when you're [rarely] collecting stuff for others it's never a one-off deal, has story associated with it and leads to more later down the road where you might not see it at first. Also speaking of missions I have to say this might be the best part of the game next to its setting for me. They're varied and flesh out said setting, but they have this weird habit that will make you like them or hate them depending on which side of the street you're on – they present you with choices where you seemingly have to make a decision which isn't necessarily clear. For example, later on you have to sort out a case of a serial killer in Shadowlair and while evidence points out to a single guy, evidence you've collected yourself, at the end of the day it's you who has to make the call on whether to ice the guy or not. Are you in the right or are you killing the wrong person? That's up to the outcome and if you don't save scum your way there's quite a few of surprise like that where you may be taken aback.
Rolling it back to gameplay a bit I think that's really Mars' sore spot in many ways. At its core we're dealing with a simple action RPG where you have a regular attack, block breaker, dodge and block. Simple, right? Yes. There's no joke at the end of the tunnel here because that really is all to combat. Now, don't misunderstand because there are a lot of moving parts here seeing as you have a shortcut wheel you can use. That brings a lot more stuff to the table – indispensable “throw dust to their eyes and confuse enemies” move that you get from the get-go and I frankly overlooked at first, gun you unlock and is your ranged attack for a good long while with limited ammo you need to manage, stuff like traps and bombs you can use to really turn the tide if used correctly and, which is no spoiler seeing as it's in the menu visible, Technomancy abilities. That's quite a nice selection and seeing that it's further modified/unlocked by using skill points you can actually customize Roy, who is otherwise a fixed character, to a surprise degree. There is even stealth in the game and while it certainly falters in later parts it is also usable far more than I expected it to be with only a few skills focusing on it so even if you mess up and “focus” on stealth you're still not horribly out of luck. This is by no means like Of Orcs And Men where you NEEDED stealth to even the odds, though.
Issue with things above and game in general is that you can clearly tell production values weren't up to snuff and it was Spiders trying to do way more than perhaps they should have. Result is a troubled game with faulty camera and questionable targeting in combat where sometimes you'll end up swinging and praying you're hitting the right people fast enough so no one can sneak up on you off-camera. Some skills like “block attacks from every direction” are vital when it comes to staying alive, in my opinion. This general practice also extends to levels which I already touched upon briefly in a sense that they're mostly corridors and when they're not you're dreading one thing alone – re-spawning enemies. Well, that's not entirely genuine on my part seeing as I barely noticed the practice, but when I was forced to retread the same ground it became painfully evident. It's not helped by the fact enemies drop crafting materials and Serum aka currency you have nothing to really spend on seeing as this is also one of those RPGs where you don't want to buy anything ever because you'll find it or be given the good stuff. Mars lets you customize gear, by which I mean suits of armor and weapons, to a satisfying degree but it's also not really theory-crafting material seeing as you'll always have the materials handy and upgrades are rather straightforward. One thing I personally was annoyed with at first but grew on me when I realized there's loot aplenty was the fact you have to EARN your right to loot by spending points on it.
This same general problem extends to story and characters because you can once again see developers spreading themselves way too thin and going for a Bioware formula with what must've been a fraction of the budget. There are companions, but they're frankly more just meat shield distractions in combat to soak some enemy blows and outside of combat they sadly don't get many interactions. Innocence and Mary were by far the most developed ones seeing as you interact with them in early to mid parts, but latter companions you get are utterly forgettable. You can only have one with you at any time and maximum of three can be had in end-game. Some are better at combat than others, but I think there were maybe a handful of fights where they didn't end up unconscious. Greatest offense game makes as far as I'm concerned is the way it robs you of your well earned ending. No matter which route you take, and there are two, they lead to the same finale but interestingly enough not the same ending. Sadly, neither is exactly satisfying since there's no real boss at the end and you get your conclusion in the epilogue narration which clearly shows a morally gray world in case it wasn't already obvious.
Now I've set myself up for a fall. Would I recommend Mars: War Logs? Hesitantly because I really liked it despite all its faults and there are many. Two persistent itches are general level of jank in the game that permeates every aspect of it and odd, oppressive feeling of an incomplete project that had to make some hard cuts along the way. Dubious VA doesn't help and visuals are what they are, but I'd say RPG fans with higher than usual tolerance should give it a go in order to experience an ambitious game that somehow against all odds still manages to work despite needlessly imitating other games with much more money to go around
One thing I know is I sure as hell want to play more of Spiders' games now to see them grow.
₪ Genre: Action, RPG
☑ Release date: February 2015
♬ Soundtrack: Deal of the Millennia and Dead Skin
At last, Hand of Fate has been dealt. I... couldn't resist. In any case there is some truth to that considering how long it took me to finish the game versus what I expected, but I'll get around to that in due time. For now let's see how this rather outlandish action/card game hybrid works out in action.
Thing is I've already told you the basic structure of the game and its main hook – dual nature of an action RPG married to a card game. I wouldn't call it CCG because that constitute a whole different set of parameters Hand of Fate [thankfully] doesn't indulge in, but allow me to break it down a bit further mechanically in how it works. You only assume direct control over your character in situations that call for combat scenarios, most of what you'll be doing, or in rarer cases when you have to maneuver through a trap-filled level. Other than those most of Hand of Fate's gameplay is relegated to a game board where you move from tile to tile ever weary of your dwindling food supplies lest you go hungry. Major attraction lies in how these two segments interacts with one another in a symbiotic relationship. There are dozens of cards with different effects ranging from quest chains that will take a while to complete as you gradually unlock new stages, straight up combat skirmishes like ambushes or alike, etc but most cards have a SITUATION to deal with. Keep in mind you also get to make decisions and they're not all positive but there's usually the best one for most cards that will either unlock a token aka rewards you get when you finish a round or have a decision to make. For example, one of the few entirely beneficial cards is The Maiden that simply asks you what do you want be it food, gold, more life, etc. These are rare and few in-between seeing as most cards can have a negative outcome or outright refuse to play out for you unless you've met some prerequisite.
What I'm trying to say is cards are varied and remain a mystery until you come across them in game proper so they can reveal themselves. Keeping in mind this also extends to things that have more tangible impact on your character like gear or curses/blessings you can easily see how the game maintains this air of mystique until you unlock most of the cards and know exactly what to choose for best outcomes. Sadly, there's also another factor at play here – dreaded RNG. Good majority of cards contains a choice between four cards, which can have varied number of successes and failures, and you have to choose the correct one after they're shuffled. Speed with which they're shuffled varies and can be affected with certain equipment or level of difficulty which depends on your character, but goddamn if it didn't feel like the world was out to get me at times. This is simply the name of the game with RNG systems, though.
You'll note I've skipped my usual blabbering about story which is something I do first in reviews, but it's valid in this case considering there effectively is no story to Hand of Fate. There is the Dealer and you're there to play his game, that's it. That's not to say the entire thing isn't incredibly moody the way he narrates based on how the game is developing, what your character's status is, whether enemies are returning after you've defeated them, etc. Very much like in Bastion having an interactive narrator adds a ton to the game, but I especially found it intriguing how he gets more antagonistic towards you as you progress and gets bitter when you defeat his cards or when “these things are too good for you”. Considering the Dealer is the only real character in the game and so much hinges on his delivery I'd say it's a job well done.
While being powered by Unity engine doesn't spell doom and gloom, despite what we hear from people who know about it even less than I do, game does have some minor performance problems as it tries to hide the loading screens by seamlessly transitioning from the board into combat for couple of seconds accompanied by jitters. It never went away for me and I just had to accept it. Speaking of combat I was disappointed to see a very, very basic Arkham-style one present and you don't get much variety outside of two abilities that depend on your weapon/artifact. Enemy roster fares a bit better and benefits from having four factions with couple of units each in addition to bosses you'll be facing to fill in your cabinet of cards along the way. I do wish combat could've been expanded a bit more in some way because even had I played the game in 2015 when it was released old BamHam combat had already worn out its welcome.
Presentation itself is more than acceptable as far as I'm concerned. Once again it's the Dealer himself who steals the spotlight with his emoting and gesticulation, but what game lacks in sheer polygon count it most definitely makes up for in art style and employing an intelligent color scheme to color code things for the player. It could have of course benefited from more common enemies, but once you're up against a larger number based on what the cards throw at you combined with level hazards you appreciate what's there. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the outstanding soundtrack which sadly gets relegated to the background more often than not considering you're either focusing on what the Dealer is saying or you're rushing past it all. Shame because some of the songs are criminally good and you just hear short clips.
In conclusion, then. Would I recommend Hand of Fate? For sure I would, just keep in mind a game of this type brings with it a random factor that might annoy you. I know it's highly frustrating to breeze through combat encounters, until the finale when game sadly stumbles and puts you through a predictable boss gauntlet, only to be gypped by chance cards and lose your health when food runs out with no shop in sight. Not to mention there also happened to be sudden rise in difficulty in the last two-three games as you get burdened by harsh conditions that keep pilling on.
This is definitely the kind of game I might keep around on my hard drive for a bit longer if only to try out the Endless mode and other characters.
Beyond the Rim
What happened to fantasy for me is what also happened to rock and roll. It found a common denominator for making maximum money. As a result, it lost its tensions, its anger, its edginess and turned into one big cup of cocoa.
A bit of everything in this one. I should warn you there's a tiny bit of nudity in one of the The Ruby Throne images so if you feel averse to that you might want to not look at all of them. I think it's the second one. Outside of that I finally caught up on some stuff I've been looking forward to and... surprise of surprises nothing turned out to be horribly bad for this update. I hope it stays that way. :)
₪ Genre: Science Fiction, Action
☑ Release date: May 2017
⇲ Running time: 136 minutes
It should be stated I liked the original Guardians of the Galaxy so it's only natural I would watch the sequel, aptly titled Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 because subtitles are for suckers, apparently. Sadly I missed it when it was available in the cinema so I waited for a home release. Let's just say it was well worth the wait.
In case you haven't done so already I would recommend you give the first movie a watch before this one. Not because you really need it for some deep story reasons, but rather because the sequel doesn't waste any time on recaps or re-establishing the characters all over again, couple of throwaway lines notwithstanding here-and-there. We're treated to a flashback sequence albeit one that doesn't directly involve any of the main characters, but delves into the relationship of Peter Quill's aka Star Lord's earthling mother and human-looking alien father she has the hots for. Important plot point that gets brought back good three quarters into the movie is established here. Jump forward to, well, the present I guess and we see the eponymous Guardians of the Galaxy doing the job – saving the goddamn galaxy. This time they're fighting off an invading monster that wants to feed on some batteries. Entire following sequence is set to franchise's signature use of popular songs, '80s period appropriate with justification considering Quill's origin, but in my opinion is one of the low points of the movie because I think the director overindulged and scene could've been shortened by a good minute or so with nothing lost except some baby Groot dancing. This is merely the opening act and because of Rocket's pointless greed Guardians find themselves in golden skinned Sovereign race who end up bent on killing them...
One surprising thing is the way movie is not content to just have that as the main story and in fact it takes a backseat to various legitimate and meaningful character developments, primarily the way story wraps around Star Lord and his old man with all that entails. I wish it could keep the early moment of their dynamic going on longer before it devolves into a rather predictable twist, but I would say it's all the other smaller arcs that kinda end up stealing the show. Like how two former sisters of Thanos come to terms with one another, Rocket and Drax with their specific existential crisis, and probably the show stopper as we get to see more of Yondu who fully realizes his threat of hogging all the attention made manifest in the first movie.
In a sense Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is more of a movie about its characters, soundtrack and exploration of a fantastical and really well realized setting than it is about the story. That doesn't mean it's bad, but that central thread is really not what what ended up gripping me throughout the work.
I'm not sure what I could really say about the visuals and audio that you can't infer from the trailer or screenshots, but goddamn is the movie gorgeous. Some more organic effects like certain monsters come off as somewhat video game-y, but considering most of the movie is about technology the team made really good use of CGI. Needless to say that's pretty much expected in this day and age when working with budgets these movies have, but I still think it's worth a mention because it all lends itself to a cohesive whole. Not to mention I still have trouble believing they managed to somehow create an animated raccoon and a tree man without me doubting their authenticity. Maybe that says more about me, who knows?
Are there negatives? Some, sparsely spread out and present. For my taste I think they went a bit overboard with musical choices and their usage, but in a sense that's also the calling sign of the franchise so I suppose it's expected. I just think said usage was less poignant and more just done for the sake of “this is what we're known for!” effect. Certain characters also did not get the same amount of attention yet that could also be excused by the fact they're relatively one-note by design. I do wish the Sovereign guys had more to do other than chasing our heroes. That spreading out too thinly is a persistent problem throughout the movie although in the end this is a clear case where sum of all parts is much better then if you look at parts individually.
In the end it's pretty clear I really liked the movie and definitely recommend it if you're in the mood for some fast-paced and causally light-hearted space action in the vein of old pulps. It says something when both of these movies managed to make me feel something not a single other Marvel superhero movie accomplished by this point.
Not to mention putting importance on a proper ending that gives both the viewers and characters some space to breathe and think about what just happened.
₪ Genre: Fantasy, Mystery
☑ Publication date: August 1987
⇲ Pages: 256
Sweet Silver Blues is another book I put off for no real reason and I've done it for almost ten years at this point. Why? No idea, but it might have something to do with the fact it's only the first book in what is a series known as Garrett Files or Garrett, PI. Had I known it would turn out like this I would've read it all the way back.
Before delving into the novel itself I should make it clear my favorite video game adventure is most likely Discworld Noir and baring the license rights and some of that game's signature black humor Sweet Silver Blues is precisely that in literary form. What do I mean by that? Well, we follow one Garrett who works as a private detective for hire in city of TunFaire and, as fate would have it, he accepts a certain job for the patriarch of the local Tate family of gnomes. As befitting all mysteries this one has a lot more going on, drawing from Garrett's old marine days serving his country of Karenta and an old flame to exploring more sordid elements of TunFaire's criminal underbelly as he's forced by circumstance to enlist aid for his endeavor, but that's something you should explore for yourself if you pick up Sweet Silver Blues.
Seeing is this one is a detective mystery I can go even less into detail than I usually would, but I'd still like to point out I really did appreciate the fact it IS a mystery novel first and foremost instead of being an exercise for Cook to show off his fantasy setting. Don't misunderstand because a lot happens and plot even takes couple of leaps I didn't exactly follow as they rely more on Garrett's own intuition without making the reader privy to how he came to such conclusions yet all the necessary information about the characters, places and events are doled out in appropriate chunks so you don't have to read through paragraphs of purple prose. Those familiar with Cook's writing from his best known series The Black Company may be intimate with his writing style which seems to leave people polarized – some love his utilitarian and no-nonsense style while subtly building events in the background and some dislike how direct and simplistic it may seem. That's really up to you and he's back to his old tricks in this one. I especially enjoyed seemingly throwaway comments regarding the war between Karentia and Venageta which may develop into some major in the future.
Let's give characters some love. Truth be told I'm surprised I can remember so many of them considering the story has basically two characters who are firmly in the spotlight; Garrett himself and his comrade on the more shady side of things – half-dark elf brigand extraordinaire, Morley Dotes. His vegetarianism is cause of many laughs and antics, but opposed to more cynical and simultaneously [secretly] idealistic disposition of his friend Morley is more on the dangerous side with equally as analytical and keen mind. One simply bent more on crime and no qualms about killing if need be. These two characters feel like not so much two sides of the same coin, but rather the same side of two different coins. We also have other characters joining the troupe as story progresses ranging from various half-breeds such as insanely strong groll triplets, mix of troll and giant with poor tolerance for alcohol, centaur popping in and out, ratkind who really love their sweets and can be persuaded to do anything for them and other darker elements I won't spoil. There's a varied offering at hand and author goes into quite the effort to characterize them via racial or personal quirks.
And to keep things short for a change I think that's about it.
Not everything is perfect, especially our highly archetypal protagonist when compared to other detective stories with a dash of noir thrown into the mix seeing as he's a cynic with a heart of gold, but I'll re-iterate I enjoy Sweet Silver Blues a lot. Towards the end of the novel there were couple of bits I wasn't clear on, but that could be based on how much we know about Garrett's knowledge of the world or current events. It's a really short book so if you're even remotely interested in fantasy that deals with more than just a group of heroes bashing in evil doers give this one a read.
₪ Genre: Fantasy
☑ Publication date: September 2014
⇲ Pages: 64
In a sense reading The Ruby Throne was treading familiar grounds for me seeing as it's actually an adaptation of the existing story and a rather faithful one at that with some artistic freedom here and there. One thing of note is Moorcock's opening commentary where he actually welcomes the changes citing he would've most likely written the origin story by employing some of them. So let's get down to it.
If you don't know who Elric of Melnibone is, well, I'm not really going to give you an extensive primer but let's just say he's a beloved character penned by Michael Moorcock that somehow never achieved prominence in wider fantasy circles. Unjustly so, I would point out considering he's not only an interesting character but also meant to be an anti-thesis to fantasy heroes popular in the '60s or so when it was all about buff dudes clubbing things to death and saving damsels. Elric, on the other hand, is a weak blooded albino emperor of an island nation that ruled for ten thousand years before falling into decadence and obscurity from the world. When I say “weak blooded” I'm referring to his physical prowess considering he's an incredibly powerful sorcerer as well as summoner deriving his power not only from natural talents but also from pacts with Lords of Chaos that emperors of Melnibone have held pacts with since basically forever. Just to put things into perspective Elric is 428th emperor so that's quite a line of succession and takeovers.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because The Ruby Throne is our protagonist's origin story presented in graphical novel format... in proper chronological order this time, unlike with novels where it took a while for author to actually explain Elric's story and advance him from “mysterious wanderer with a curse”. We see that people of Melnibone are decadent as all hell and see themselves superior to other nations, Younger Kingdoms as they call them, while Elric himself is having doubts about their very nature and mindset. He's not exactly what an ideal emperor of such people should be and his cousin Yyrkoon is far from impressed which sets him on a path to do something about it which kicks off events of the story proper. Sadly, The Ruby Throne is merely the first part of the origin and you'll have to check out Stormbringer to see where the moniker comes from and how Elric ends up becoming an adventurer that opens him up to even more stories.
Seeing as this is a graphical novel it's only fair I say something about the artwork, right? If you glance at some of the pages it becomes obvious this entire production and package are absolutely breathtaking. I'm talking cover art worthy here and it persists. Particular thing of note is the outstanding lining and shading derived therefrom. There is nary a flat surface in sight and shortcuts were definitely not taken. After all, we are talking about proficient artists the likes of Poli and Recht here. I also liked how writing and art worked in tandem to not really sugarcoat the Melnibonese culture in any way and you see it all – gore, nudity and acts that would put Elric in dubious camp, but they're just part of what he has to do keep his health up. Writing in particular, while obviously simplified for the sake of the medium and flow, does a solid job at hitting the notes from the books. I can't say for certain considering novel was translated from french but I'm almost willing to bet some lines taken directly from the novels. Don't quote me on that, though. If I had one negative in this department it would be wishing they were more liberal with layouts and flow. Neither is bad in the first place, but paneling doesn't have to be as strict, doubly so because they demonstrated they're willing and able to free it up a bit here and there.
Would I recommend The Ruby Throne? If my gushing over it hasn't been clear enough the answer is yes. Sure, it ends on a cliffhanger, but Stormbringer is already out and available so you can jump on it immediately after finishing this one. There's little I can really add that I haven't already rambled on about – art is extraordinary, there's no preaching you'd expect from some comics these days and it stays true to Elric while embellishing here and there where necessary. In a sense, it treats the source material with respect and care it deserves and that's a major plus for me.
Even if you're in it solely for the visuals this is one graphic novel I can recommend full-heartedly on those grounds alone. I already know what should be in some future update provided I manage to locate the hardcover at some point.
If possible I would urge you to get the books and read them, though. Comics such as this one are great because they'll put your mind in the right direction as far as visuals go, but they're still otherwise cliff notes wheres books have a lot more information and story to go around. The Ruby Throne is a great window into Elric's world that should be explored more.
Back at you with another update. One that should've in all honesty been released about a week ago. Image above is very much true as I put it together in record time due to sheer inability to find anything more appealing online.
That's about it. I won't waste any more of your time.
Still round the corner there may wait, A new road or a secret gate.
I had bigger plans for more games reviewed, but life got in the way so I'll have to put off some of them for my next update. As things were I gave an open world title like Shadow of Mordor a-go, which probably put off my thoughts on Witcher 3 off for a LONG time seeing as I could go for a break from open worlds for a while, and Homefront which turned out to be... less amazing.
₪ Genre: Action, Adventure
☑ Release date: September 2014
♬ Soundtrack: Attack on the Gate and The Rescue
Now that I think about the ordeal it has been a while since I last played this sort of open world game. Well, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor happens to be the one which breaks the streak of no-plays. How did it do? Only one way to find out.
Let's get one thing out of the way first – this is a glorified and well-produced fan fiction. I've seen so many people lose their minds over how it insults Tolkien and Lord of the Rings. In my opinion these people are taking their fantasy way too far. Story-wise Shadow of Mordor needs to be looked at as something standalone even if it does draw from familiar imagery and, for book readers at least, character(s) you may not have necessarily imagined as competent warriors. To put matters into perspective game follows one Talian, a ranger of Gondor standing watch over the Black Gate, as some shenanigans involving developer original characters raid the place, put himself and his family to the sword for some weird ritual and call it a day. Or do they? Well, that's obviously not the end of the journey for our ranger as he soon find himself sharing his body with a mysterious Elf wraith and sets out to avenge his family and undo as much of the damage as he can.
Problem here is, well, story is very weak. Not necessarily in the premise alone which is your classical “revenge story, but something happens along the way so things escalate”, but in essence how it's presented. Perhaps due to game format with the way it handles open world, but I think it has more to do with how sparsely the main story is dolled out to you. There's maybe five or six hours of it in a 20+ hour game and that's probably being generous. Just as much is allotted to side missions which I hesitate to call quests because they're really not, few exceptions where you team up with exiled ranger, smug dwarf and warrior princess notwithstanding. Game also embraces “collect X of Y” for side content, but I actually rather liked how these had stories associated with them. Broken dagger is just broken dagger until you find out how a slaved escaped with it, for example.
As far as gameplay goes... well, have you played any of the Batman Arkham games? Then you've played Shadow of Mordor. Not to say game doesn't make use of its license for flavor, but that's pretty much it when you boil it down. You do missions, collect experience and currency called Mirian to further your abilities and upgrades. One twist here is that to unlock further ability tier you need Power aka red points which you procure by dealing directly with Uruks, main enemies of the game. I'll talk more about the Nemesis system itself in a later paragraph because it's the sole highlight of the game, but I wasn't really a fan how some pretty vital abilities are locked from you until story advances far enough. This just doesn't work in an open world game where you can explore the first half pretty much however you want and the second half is a greener version of the first.
It should also be noted there is a stealth system in the game and it synergizes pretty well with the rest. It doesn't feel tacked-on so you will fortunately never have the “forced stealth level” experience. I would say stealth and head-on action are represented in equal parts both in gameplay and abilities you can unlock. There is another advancement route and those are Runes you acquire as you kill Uruks, runes you can implant into your three weapons – sword, bow and dagger – for various status modifiers. This is the main way you can affect how Talion plays seeing as you will [eventually] get your hands on all the upgrades/abilities.
Speaking of the Nemesis I've hinted at earlier now's the time to tackle it. I love the damn thing. Could it be improved? Absolutely, but I think the biggest problem is how game essentially locks the most important aspect, branding Uruks and making them your slaves, until you get to the second half of the game. This feels like a really underhanded move for no real reason because they give you everything else and let you have fun with the system. So what is it? Well, there are regular Uruks running around and then there are Uruk captains with their own hierarchy of power on top of which sit the Warchiefs. These captains/Warchiefs are named and have their own cocktail of strength, immunity, fear, etc combinations which you may prey on or otherwise exploit. So what's the best part then? You can game this system to your pleasure. Until you get the branding ability you don't really have much freedom over “do I kill this cool looking captain or not?”, but once you acquire it the world opens do you. Like that particular captain for his ninja mask? Well, brand him and make him your pet project – he goes on a recruitment drive and you follow, rival is about to execute him and you step in to save him... eventually you make him betray his Warchief and you have an inside man. Sadly, for all the amazing uses and potential the Nemesis system requires you to to be bad at the game to A) actually use it naturally without forcing passage of time if you don't die and B) need it to get things done. Which leads me to another point, that being....
Game is damn too easy. I'm not even such a good player or anything, but had the story not forced my hand in dealing with Warchiefs and if I wasn't interested in the system, I think I would've most likely ignored it all because you are a one-man army. Just play smart and use all the assets as well as check for enemy weaknesses and you'll do fine.
I also played DLC for the game so let's give that a whirl or two.
Miscellaneous DLC is straight up Pay2Win overpowered runes you should forget even exist. Do yourself a favor and don't make an already easy game even easier. First real piece of content we get is Lord of the Hunt in which Talion teams up with Torvin and they hunt even deadlier prey. Really, this is all about riding and creature variants. If you liked monsters in the base game and wanted more, this is it. Torvin's journal entries were a really nice additions. Second piece of story is The Bright Lord which is actually a prequel where we assume the role of [name redacted for spoiler reasons] Elf lord before he became a wraith and see how he got entangled with Sauron. The One Ring is OP as hell, but this story also gimps the protagonist and is probably the most challenging of the bunch. Honestly? Both additional campaigns could use more variety and were pretty short running, maybe under two hours each, but if you liked what you already played they're worthwhile extensions. Trials of War is a collection of challenge maps which weren't really my thing because this is not the kind of game where I care about my score, but you might.
So in closure – would I recommend Shadow of Mordor? Yes, just keep in mind you're not really getting an original experience and if you approach with expectations of LotR fan you might be in for some hurt. This is yet another case where Steam could benefit from some neutral recommendation, though.
₪ Genre: FPS
☑ Release date: March 2011
♬ Soundtrack: Main Theme and Goliath
It might be difficult to imagine when you look at what I mostly play these days but I was once an avid player of FPS games. Looking back at it in hindsight rise of these so-called "modern military shooters" like Homefront put a stop to that in due time yet I also think this specific case warrants a closer look at. It also helps I got the game really cheap so there's no place to justify my expenditure, hype or anything of that sort now that it's been good six years since the game came out. Needless to say multiplayer was off the table for this one. Mainly because I couldn't be bothered as there is/was some revival movement on Steam forums to get it going again. It's a mystery.
Probably the only interesting part of the game and one that struck a chord with me personally is the setting itself and backstory which lead to current state of things in 2027 when now Greater Korean Republic, having been united under a fictional version of Kim Jong-un, has been fighting the US on its own soil following an EMP strike that paralyzed the country. Basically, it's a “what if?” scenario in which Korea invades the United States and isactually doing a rather good job of it. They form a puppet state called New Korean Federation of Occupied America where western states used to be while eastern states still remain free. Why is this the most interesting part? Because game puts in effort to explain how GKR actually accomplished a feat such as this one which seems outlandishly impossible. I mean, it is no matter how you look at it but there's some effort put into and explaining the timeline from how they united, took over Japan, how US had a series of unfortunate events like a vicious strain of Bird Flu, gas prices going up over Middle Eastern meddling, etc. It's a compelling read you have to hunt for in the form of newspapers articles and one that is wasted in a straightforward and barebones shooter such as this one, but I appreciate its existence.
And sadly that's really where my praise for the game ends and I could end the review here, but that's not why I'm here.
Actual plot of the game is so generic it hurts and characters fare no better. You get your crazy paramilitary guy, your “are we doing the right thing?” female character, techie Asian guy who fortunately also doubles up as a fighter and our protagonist is a pilot who gets recruited, well, because the story says so. Alright I'm lying but it's a mystery until the last two levels as to why they're dragging you around. And the story? I can't remember when was the last the time I played such ridiculous setup played so perfectly straight only to further rub it in with forced sentimentality and beating you over the head with shocking imagery. This is one of those cases where saying less would've been preferable over characters clearly overreacting to something that's been going for two years.
But this is an FPS and we can excuse all of that if the gameplay is good, right? Well, it's really not. At best I would also describe it as generic which is also par for the course with modern military shooters sadly. What really pushed my buttons is how the game doesn't trust you to do anything. For 90% of the game you're accompanied by other characters and they constantly direct the action telling you where to go, blocking advancement until conditions are met and distract you from all the invisible walls that surround you. I think I got to bust open a door twice in the entire game and for the remainder I had to sit there and wait for them to do it. Short seven levels and even shorter play time, with some segment replays on my part mind you, also don't help the overall impression.
In terms of presentation you can clearly tell the game has aged more like milk than wine, but it was always a case of suffering from lack of production values you kinda need when you go up against a big boy like Call of Duty. Keep in mind this was a 2011 release. Even more than that game sparsely employs unique animations and you'll get sick of Connor moving a fallen object to open up passage, for example. In my opinion it did a lot better in the sound department although this is also a very typical militaristic HURRAH song repertoire meant to get you hype. If it does that for you then you're in good company. I could've sworn some songs looped quite aggressively which becomes real apparent as you search around for newspapers and your comrades are egging you on to get going.
At the end of the day Homefront is a game that doesn't really excel at anything tangible and at this point there's really no need to play it unless you've played everything else under the sun or want this specific kind of dystopian future scenario. It gets props for the setting building even if you don't actually see much of it. Maybe the sequel handled it better.
Maybe the sequel handled it better.
Beyond the Rim
You can’t expect to wield supreme power just ‘cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!
Books, man. Can't live with them and can't burn them all for fuel. Well, I'm not sure where e-books fall under that, but whatever. I did not expect this section to be the stumbling stone for the update yet that's exactly what happened with this one. I simply couldn't muster enough willpower to finish a relatively short book. Finally it's done.
₪ Genre: Action, Horror
☑ Original release: July 2017
⇲ Episodes: 4
Castlevania. There's a name thing should sound familiar to games of all ages, but it's also one that has largely remained in domain of video games. Castlevania, as produced by Netflix, is an odd example because while it is an adaption of the third game in the series it is one that does the deed in its own way. Some things are definitely moved around a bit or outright changed, but all that guarantees is anyone can jump into the show without having to keep track of, well, rather loose story of the video game series.
It should be noted this first season aka four episodes is really a greatly expanded prologue for the second season which should broach the story itself. In this incarnation Dracula falls in love with a mortal woman and while he's away traveling the world like a regular mortal she gets burned at a stake as a witch. Surprisingly enough she wasn't one but rather a woman of science and Dracula genuinely loved her. He returns and sees what's happened only to give people of Wallachia a year to move away before he unleashes his army of horrors upon them. Much to their own expense people, and corrupt head priest responsible for the burning, of course don't take Dracula's warning seriously. They soon learn to regret that. In the middle of all the chaos that begins to unfold we also learn of the Belmont family, famous hunters of the supernatural who have fallen on hard times and our resident Belmont, Trevor Belmont, is up to no good getting drunk wondering what to do next now that he's lost his purpose. Dracula's army catches up.
Above is a very basic summary of the first episode and is just a launching point that sets up the story concerning less “how are we going to fight Dracula?” and more what's the current state of civilized places in Wallachia now that Dracula has been true to his word and unleashed an army of monsters. Make no mistake because show sure won't hold back any punches in terms of what it's willing to show – from massacred piles of bodies and dead child or two to general level of gore you would expect a show to do a quick cutaway or fade for black, for example. I'm not even talking solely regarding the monsters, but also people killing each other as Church goes into full control mode and does away with any pretense while only aiming to control through fear because it can as people are frantic witnessing what must be from their POV the apocalypse. Popular practice of denying the Devil hardly works when supposed illusions and trickery can rip you apart with ease.
I won't go into story anymore because I would like you to watch the show for yourself, but I think the problem is the first season is essentially about gathering the party that will take on the big bad guy in the next season. It just comes off as a sudden.
Characters could have also been a bit more fleshed out, but I think we got what kind of a person Trevor Belmont is and he's definitely the star of the show in this one. Underneath all that dejection and depression is still a hero who will do right because by god it's what Belmonts do even if they get no praise for it. Other than him I think the only other character who genuinely stood out in a sympathetic fashion I did not expect was Dracula himself. We see why and how he transformed from a wandering loner into a rage-filled monster everyone imagined him as anyway, and it's justified. He still took the wrong approach in venting that anger, though. There are Sylph and Alucard who stand out more thanks to their designs than clever writing, but we'll see how they develop in the future.
I love me how the show looks. Clean art with somewhat appropriately dimmer color palette, but artists made great use of the color scheme to get this almost perpetual oppressiveness going on no matter what time of the day is. In my opinion they also minimized CG effects and opted for pure 2D art which really benefits the show, especially during few action scenes where there's less of amazing direction and more of decent choreography taking place. Especially in the last fight of the season. Show also kinda gets away with having LESS action than I expect it to have and yet I wasn't bored by that fact. Nicely done for the visuals department. Audio stuff is alright, but not going for some signature Castlevania songs is a major strike against, though.
If you want my honest opinion I have to say I enjoyed these four episodes. I'm not stickler for what Castlevania is supposed to be or anything like that so my opinion may be worth somewhat less, but I would still recommend you take a gander. Just keep in mind it's kidna slow and builds up things more than it provides concrete answers.
₪ Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera
☑ Publication date: January 1934
⇲ Pages: 287
Triplanetary has gone through some rather strange history as a novel, primarily being much shorter in its original release and without many of the prologue stories we get in the novel nowadays. As it has happened with some of my reviews previously you can read Triplanetary for free by clicking on the cover seeing as it has entered free domain
Where to even begin with a space opera hailing from what was arguably the golden age for genre as far as literary works go? Well, I guess I could touch on what I previously mentioned – this final release of the work was not exactly how it began. Putting aside the fact it was serialized in parts it originally also only dealt with the latter half of the work, and even that was reworked for the final version to include references and tie-in more closely to the entire Lensman series. Which I guess makes the entire thing ironic that for me, as it is right now, it's the newly added prologue that really connects an otherwise very generic SF story to a greater whole and gives weight to events.
Until the original story begins in the second half we are treated to two supreme races; Arisians and Eddorians. They're two polar opposites of each other and yet both are bent on shaping the universe with their hands. Arisians take the role of the archetypal mentor race that was content just observing how things shaped up for the most part and interceded where appropriate for their grand master plan until they met the Eddorians who are just as archetypal evil race doing evil for it's own sake and superiority over everyone else. Sadly, this doesn't mean they're stupid and Eddorians in fact have arguably just as much success as Arisians do even taking into account they subjugate and kill without qualms. This results in a long game of sorts because Arisians realize full-out confrontation between the two would just result in destruction of everything, and it's decided they'll oppose the Eddorians covertly and using others. Book than fast forwards multiple times to different epochs; from fall of Atlantis, Roman times to three World Wars after which there's a break and the original story begins. It was the less engaging part for me so I'll just say it concerns a special agent operative for the Triplanetary government raiding a pirate's artificial moon, government itself finally creating an inertialess drive and there's also a first contact scenario with another race that seeks to claim all the iron it can.
Basically, Tirplanetary the novel is kind of a jumbled mess of many ideas but I rather liked it regardless. I just wish more of said ideas were better explored because it keeps switching to multiple POVs in a relatively short story so it ends up being disorienting. I wish I could tell you more about how it ties into the series at large, but seeing as this is the first book that may be kinda difficult at the moment.
Characters are a sore spot for the story because, well, there really aren't any that get much of a spotlight in the first half because it blazes through so much time so fast. Something is clear, though – Arisians are definitely either encouraging certain characteristics in groups of people or there's a more going on with the story I'm not yet privy to. Triplanetary story proper gets more fleshed out, though. Triplanetary Patrol agent Conway Costigan is our so characteristic for the period protagonist who is seemingly everything rolled into one, from a badass soldier to genius scientist and ladies man. He and crew, of which captain Bradley stands out as support, get rolled up with the whole pirate moon affair and our hero's love flame Clio Marsden ends up coming for the ride. Much to my own surprise she's not as useless as I imagined she would be even if she does still swoon over her man. Pirate boss apparent Gray Roger comes off entirely purposefully almost a a non-character, but has a darker secret that was added with the rewrite and I liked him as the antagonist. Definitely worth mentioning are also the characters working on faster-than-light engine and they're all awesome in their own non-awesome way.
I alluded to it previously, but Triplanetary is written in that very '30s and '40s style of SF where you can immediately tell the author had a background in chemistry of some sort the way he throws term at you. This strangely enough ages the work in my opinion. Not to say that's a bad thing, but coming to it from the way modern SF is written it's definitely odd. While it may suffer from weak characterization it espouses the approach of showing and not telling with rarely present narrative dumps on the reader. This in return means you may not understand what everything characters are talking about is, but I prefer that organic approach. First and second half also feel like contrasting parts in how they approach storytelling purely because one is a setting primer while other is the actual story.
I may have given the impression I didn't like the novel, but that's pretty far from the truth. It was very much enjoyable and sure got me motivated to check out the rest of the Lensman series.
₪ Genre: Fantasy, Action
☑ Release date: May 2017
⇲ Running time: 126 minutes
How many times already has the story of king Arthur and more specifically legendary sword Excalibur been told and retold? Not that I'm complaining since it really is a great story, mind you. Well, it's time for another take titled King Arthur: Legend of the Sword which amusingly enough premiered in China of all places. Coincidence, what with more and more moves adopting the trend? Hmm...
I don't like it when stories lie to me and that is precisely how the movie starts. What we're presented with in the opening act is a story I genuinely wish could have been the meat of this movie instead. King Uther goes against evil warlock Mordred as he brings his evil army to smash Camelot. Evil army? Well, giant elephants on top of which sit mounted wooden pyramid construction from which Mordred charges and unleashes his magical fireballs. In the darkest moment Uther grasps Excalibur and mounts one of the giant elephants in order to barge into the summoning room and kill the warlock in classic good blue vs evil red confrontation of powers. Things happen afterward and we see Uther's brother Vortigern conspires against him going as far as to make some sort of magical pact to dispose of his brother. This is where the opening act moves on as Uther's son Arthur barely survives the slaughter of his family and proceed to grow up in anonymity among the common folk.
See, all of the above is really presented in epic fantasy style you might've come to expect from a story of this caliber. And it genuinely feels grand with appropriate song choices choices and gravity of consequences. Problem is the remainder of the movie seems intent on taking a piss on what is established early on and is a completely different movie in tone and approach. Baring some scenes where it wants to be taken seriously and falls flat on its face due to tonal backlash.
If you've seen anything recent from director Guy Ritchie, primarily his Sherlock Holmes movies, you'll quickly notice he attempts to pull off the same thing in King Arthur as well – fast talking characters being smarmy and witty, scenes that double as montages in perpetual fast forward mode, etc. In my opinion all of this lightheartedness clashes totally with a largely grim and serious undertone the villain presents or very serious characters like the nameless female Mage who ended up being one of my favorite characters purely for standing out so blatantly in her no-nonsense and “you don't understand the severity of the threat, stop fooling around” sensibility. Characters aren't bad per se, but they're very archetypal trope and you have to like that – from cocky Arthur who only in the last quarter or so becomes likable, his forgettable merry cast of bandits who are meant to represent lower class Brits, and honestly other characters I can't even remember because they all blend together. It was amusing to see Aidan Gillen and Djimon Hounsou make an appearance in more grounded counterweights who actually carry the story for a while, though.
Something also irked me tremendously in the visuals department. As if the movie swung between looking like a highly produced LARP effort due to costume designers trying to avoid generic fantasy looks, except for the bad guys who get black spiky armor, so everyone wears vaguely modern-looking cuts but they're in earth tones so it's totally quasi-fantasy AND on the other hand the CGI. Goddammit, that CGI. I swear to god it got worse as the movie went on and started using more and more of it down to the last few big fights when Excalibur gets to shine and every scene becomes a video game cinematic. Think Neo vs Smith from Matrix Reloaded except a bit better. I also have a bone to pick with most of the music choices, except for a particular folk song that plays in the prologue when Uther rushes the not!Mumakil and it fit the scene like a glove. Rest of the soundtrack is standard fare with some odd fast-paced strings highly reminiscent of the Sherlock Holmes movie when Arthur is fast-talking his way out.
I think I made my opinion sufficiently clear at this point. No, don't watch this movie unless you're in it specifically for a schlocky or campy fantasy movie. Even in that case legend of Excalibur deserves a better story and for all the production values it could've been handled better. Wasting some recognizable actors on 90% of forgettable characters was also disappointing considering story is as basic as they come aka revenge story of an unwitting hero who learns to embrace his destiny, and yet they somehow manage to frontload it with cool inform action that doesn't amount to anything.
If you want my honest opinion watch the prologue somewhere online and call it a day. All I can say is I'm not exactly a fan of this trend where studios make sub-par movies and recoup their losses in China.
When all the world appears to be in a tumult, and nature itself is feeling the assault of climate change, the seasons retain their essential rhythm. Yes, fall gives us a premonition of winter, but then, winter, will be forced to relent, once again, to the new beginnings of soft greens, longer light, and the sweet air of spring.
Quizzical returns at long last! Is to pad out the update or do I actually have something to say. Well, I guess you'll have to keep reading to find out.
But in all honesty I found myself having less and less time since summer began to do much gaming at all, especially compared to months prior to the season. This got me thinking about a simple question – how do you handle your gaming habits during different seasons? We all know the internet memes how nVidia cards can warm your home during winter and go into full blast when you boot Windows during summer heat, after all. To get some serious questions rolling:
- How do changes in social obligations/work due to summer or winter affect your gaming?
- Do changes in temperature make for an actual change in how much you spend playing games?
- Has being deserted somewhere without internet ever lead you to try a game you never would have otherwise?
I'll jot down some stuff about how I handle such things, but please do feel free to add your own input.
I live in Croatia, specifically in its coastal region which springs to life during summer because of tourism, and this always translates to crowds of people turning up in cities that were not really built for so many. Fortunately my work has nothing to do with the service industry or tourists themselves so I'm off the hook on that one, but it's the summer heat that really kills my desire to play anything. It doesn't help we're not really accustomed to spending 24/7 in air conditioned rooms like the western world seems to be so I do my stuff in the evening or early morning.
Games? I've noticed I avoid intense games where my GPU has to work overtime because good god does that heat up the place real fast if you can't get some air circulation going aka almost all the time because it's rarely windy when the heat sets in. This means Witcher 3 is currently off the hook and I'll probably play something on my consoles instead provided heat from my TV dissipates better. Let's not even get into holding a gamepad when hands get sweaty. Should've bought that 360 gamepad with in-built cooling mechanism.
In summation – summer is hell and can't end soon enough as far as gaming is concerned.
Consequentially winter is entirely different, but not really an opposite affair in a sense we don't get harsh winters in the region and it rarely snows. Means no white Christmas here where I live, but ferocious winds make up for it because sometimes it blows so hard you can't walk down some awkwardly designed streets out of sheer fear wind will stop you in your tracks. The way it usually goes with bustling tourist places they go numb and quiet during the winter season so it feels like you're going through a deserted city at times. No one sane is coming to the party unless the sun is also invited.
With games I find myself attracted going for more atmospheric winter levels. I can be the only weird who will crack open a window to simulate the cold character must be experiencing himself, right? This struck me as something I do only when I was playing Mafia 2 couple of years back and that first winter level just resonated with me perfectly.
I try to fight somber mood with tea where I can.
Busy busy! I contemplated not uploading anything considering I haven't really done much gaming beyond couple of hours here and there in the entire month, but I figured what the hell. Don't want to break my semi-regular update schedule. I don't think I even proof read anything so good luck it's probably a minefield out there.
Hope you guys are having a great early summer and good luck with HOG theme. :)
Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.
Much maligned “here's what I'm currently playing, might review eventually or not” section returns even after swearing it off multiple times. Truth is I simply haven't finished anything to review because I'm A) busy and B) I chose some rather long games that will require ongoing effort before I can tackle them properly. Also did some formatting for this particular section seeing as it wasn't updated in a loooong time and everyone needs some lovin' here and there.
You might look at this and say “he's back at it again” and yes, it is true it hasn't been that long since my last excursion into this wondrous land of Musou games, last date being with Berserk, but I can safely say Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada is not for everyone.
Even with usual caveats out of the way this one will leave you a bit lost if you attempt to follow the story while playing and that's not because of the story itself as much due to how it throws quite a decent number of characters at you at once ala Game of Thrones style. Historical characters that get their own bio page even before you, the player, actually get to know may take some time getting used to.
Well, I'm not exactly familiar with Sanada bunch seeing as they didn't get that much of a spotlight in Samurai Warriors games proper so far, aside from Yukimura being the game's poster boy, so it really is fascinating to see their tale unfold.
Gameplay-wise we're talking regular “wreck as many enemies as you can, easy to reach 1000” Musou style carnage, but I do like how Spirit of Sanada actually adds some elements from Empires spin-off series. Not to mention even some of the new stuff like passage of time, explorable areas you can go to for resources, etc. Very nice presentation and overall package that makes me even further itnrigued by what Dynasty Warriors 9 will turn out like.
What more can you possibly say about Civilization 4, game considered by some to be the peak of the series and for many easily in Top 5 game of its type? My history with Civilization started back in the day with the second installment on PS1 of all places and since then circumstances usually conspired against me so I was always lagging behind the series.
Sure, some may raise an eyebrow when they hear about its stacks of doom, but I never saw any problems with as it just simulated armies in the best way it could.
This is straight up cheating considering I'm not playing Civilization 4 for the first time, but I'll still wax poetically about it for a while. Civ4 is kinda janky, something I'd attribute that more to how more contemporary games have streamlined the process, but the core of that specific “just one more turn” appeal is still there untouched. Primary reason for my return have been the mods, though. I never dabbled into them that much and now I'm having a blast with Caveman2Cosmos. Such scale and scope.
Ah, Witcher 3. Now we're cooking with fire. Game I bought on GOG practically at launch yet didn't have the specs to play at nowhere near acceptable performance... now that I think about it, same thing happened with Witcher 2 back in the day. Well, you can probably guess where this story goes. I got me a beefier PC, two pieces of DLC which are supposed to be outstanding and GOG upgraded my basic version to GOTY free of charge. Doesn't really affect anything, but it's appreciated.
I'm barely couple of hours in and haven't even gotten out of White Orchard yet, but goddamn is this impressive. Doubly so coming after Mass Effect: Andromeda. These characters. They're like actual living people that you give a damn about even though they're throwaway NPCs. How do you accomplish that in a game that's supposedly so huge it can take people 80+ hours to finish?
I'm afraid the dream will end after I get out of tutorial and game will go downhill, but CDPR has yet to disappoint me and I'm glad to have supported them so far. Fingers crossed.
Beyond the Rim
Mr. Chairman, my warriors, male and female, dead in honorable combat, are my equals, not my slaves — I am to be first among such equals.
I'm still in the middle of reading a book on the side, but I'll go with what I have – two TV shows. And they're actually recent for once. No need to waste any more time here so feel free to delve into reviews if you feel like. Do suggest any similar shows if they pop up.
₪ Genre: Martial Arts, Post-Apocalypse, Drama
☑ Original run: November 2015 – May 2017
⇲ Episodes: 6+10
I have to admit it's been a while since a TV show throw me a curve ball the way Into the Badlands did and you'll be glad to hear it's a welcome surprise. Prior to going into the show itself I would like to say I've seen both seasons available for now, but won't really talk much about how the story evolves because, surprise surprise, second season continues on the first and I'd be spoiling.
It's an unknown year in the unknown future after a number of wars that seem to have ravaged the world beyond repair, as intro points out to us, and over time seven leaders came out of the turmoil to form their power bases essentially becoming feudal lords in their own right. After banishing guns, presumably because they're scarce as hell they've also mustered armies of their own comprised of Clippers excelling at sword fighting at martial arts. Story follows Sunny who acts as Regent aka head of Clippers for the Badland's most powerful baron – Quinn, but there's a lot of politicking between various barons, familial power plays in regards to inheritance and unforeseen force that could be the tipping point between the barons. It all has to do with this boy M.K. Sunny finds locked in a box. Who is he and why does the Widow, rival baroness opposing Quinn more than anyone else with her oil fields and all-female army, want him so badly? Who can tell...
I think one big thing I like about Into the Badlands is the fact it's not about the post-apocalyptic setting itself. Sure, characters wonder if there's anything better beyond the Badlands but barons are quick to squash any ideas of freedom while they themselves don't know much and only trade with the River King who controls naval trade on the river. What I'm trying to say is a lot time has clearly passed between now and then, and that world has stories to tell of its own residents without constant callbacks to our reality.
It is is amusing to see how everyone's adopted martial arts and melee to such a widespread degree that almost anyone who's not a serf-like Cog that just work the fields/mines/whatever has some modicum of training. Clippers in particular train from childhood after they become students to older Clippers and they're the reason barons can exert control the way they do. Sunny himself, being the star of the show and all, really comes off as skilled and dangerous individual who stopped keeping track of his kill tattoo and wants a way out of this life following certain events. This entire warrior culture is further helped by excellent choreography that pretty much puts every other show out there to shame and most movies as well. While some actors or perhaps their character's designs don't necessarily lend themselves to believability when they pounce and strut around I did not doubt Daniel Wu performance as Sunny for a moment... and that's a good quality for your star actor to have.
Most important thing I haven't explicitly said about Into the Badlands but one you may have inferred from what I've written is the following – it's a martial arts show first and foremost. What does that mean? Well, it has outstanding choreography, you'll especially love smooth direction without cuts to compensate for obviously untrained actors, and Asian aesthetic for the lack of a better word, but that also means its priorities were there and not really in the characters department. Or much of a story, to be honest. Entire first season consisting of six episodes is more or less a primer for the setting, key players, etc with some underlying arcs developing here and there, all the while fighting with two big stories for the spotlight. Without going into detail I can say season two is both longer and more story focused, but almost comes off as a jumbled mess as two much is going at the same time. Whether this is good or bad depends entirely on your point of view, though. I appreciate more of what I liked even some big parts like the whole Azra and mysterious power angle didn't come to fruition. Yet.
Characters? They're alright, but nothing to write home about or cause you to ponder philosophically. Sunny is a stoic with a graveyard to his name while his protegee M.K. is honestly annoying for good part of the show. I think the principal villain Quinn stood out the most for me for his southern plantation owner drawl that makes his strangely likeable. I had trouble buying into Widow being this special assassin with the way she moves and fights in high heels, but her apprentice Tilda somehow came out looking better in the mess. A lot of characters memorable on their own.
So in the end I would recommend Into the Badlands, just be aware you're signing up for excellent fight scenes with ever-escalating levels of gore, but not much else if you're used to modern dramas and whatnot. Second season steps more on that story peddle, though.
₪ Genre: Fantasy, Drama
☑ Original run: April 2017 – June 2017
⇲ Episodes: 8
Fresh out of the oven it's American Gods. The TV series I mean, not the book which I read years ago and don't remember very much about. Still enough to know there are differences in the show, but I won't really focus on it seeing as season two has been approved so we'll just have to sit tight and see where it's all going.
There's a much bigger story here and one that is hinted at just a smidge more in the books if you pay attention, but series takes its time to introduce our protagonist Shadow Moon into the crazy world he's entering. Yes, you read that right. He blames it on his hippie mother. We see our protagonist stuck in prison after a failed casino robbery, which as we learn out later was supposed to be perfect, but he gets an early release... on account of his wife being in a car accident. He says goodbye to a shifty prisoner he roomed with and pretty much has no idea what to do with his life except to attend the wife's funeral. Except along the way he meets a very charming elderly gentleman who calls himself Mr. Wednesday who offers Shadow employment. Having dealt with all the baggage, and finding out wife was cheating on him, he agrees to terms of the compact and Wednesday tells him they're on their merry way to recruit people from all over the US for a gathering of sorts.
Above is really just a premise told to you in the first episode, but there's simultaneously a lot more to this and not really. Getting caught up in the affairs of gods, how they came to be and how they exist to this day and age, brawling with a leprechaun, escaping Anubis to come back to life, etc. American Gods has a lot to offer, but at its core I would say it's about two people traveling across the country; one becoming more and more immersed in this weird state of things and events that seem to happen around them while the other is obviously a smooth talking trickster of sorts with a yet hidden master plan. They meet a decent number of characters along the way, of which their opposition the so-called New Gods especially stand out and represent the modern “gods”. I especially liked how most episodes have a “god origin story” showing how they found their way over.
It is helped in such a case that we have some really good performances at hand.
Guy playing Shadow Moon, Ricky Whittle from what I remember, does a solid job playing up a silent tough guy who somehow seems to be taking all of this in stride until it gets so overwhelming it threatens to boil over and he just shuts down for a while. Good thing he paired up with Ian McShane aka man who can elevate any show he's in by merely being there, and he really is a silver-tongued snake oil salesman who can seemingly get everything done if you give him an angle. Great leads and even pretty much all side characters get their moment to shine. From archetypal Slav Chernobog and three sisters to full on American Vulcan they all get the spotlight they're due. Even Easter. And Jesus. As well as gods you may be less familiar with.
Outside of phenomenal intro theme I can't really comment much about the soundtrack because it's just there, but the visuals are outstanding. Some would say overboard a bit, but I like the trippy and almost neon aesthetic as Shadow descents into this unreal world. For a show about warring gods there are surprisingly few over special effects at work here which manages to ground the show to a degree.
That's not to say everything is perfect, though. You can tell there was a mid point in the season when they most likely got the news season two was greenlit and went a bit too heavily on things that don't have any immediate payoff for the season like Shadow's wife arc, what Bilquis is doing with her vagina nebula, etc. I certainly hope this will lead to something, even if that is deviation from existing story which I wouldn't mind, but for the moment it's lacking.
I still recommend American Gods. Just don't be squeamish about some gore and nudity, gay sex scene included. That raised a ruckus online, I'm sure.