So, it’s not technically on Steam, or even part of my backlog, but it has consumed so much of my gaming time over the past few months, and is the most fun I’ve ever had with a racing game, that I’m going to write about it anyway: Forza Horizon 3 and expansions.
Forza Horizon 3 begins with you arriving in Australia to take charge of the Horizon car / music festival, and starts things off by racing in a buggy down mountainside hills, across streams, and through forests, against a jeep suspended from a helicopter. If that sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is, and this game revels in that. The game includes speed traps (top speed at that point), speed zones (average speed over a road segment), drift zones, stump jumps, and specific challenges, in addition to big showcase races such as mentioned above that pit you against increasingly ridiculous (and awesome) challenges. But, surprisingly, there’s also quite a good racer underneath all those arcade trappings. Horizon 3 nails the arcade / sim sweet spot.
Plug in a racing wheel (mine is a newly acquired Logitech G29 with pedals and shifter, which I love), turn off all the assists, and Horizon 3 becomes a surprisingly capable simulation. It’s not as realistic as Project Cars and similar full sims - and the tracks are designed for longer straights, fewer and wider turns, and faster speeds all around - but it absolutely rewards good racing lines, smooth driving, weight transfer, and proper application of breaks and throttle, while punishing mistakes such as carrying too much speed into a turn, slamming on the brakes, or getting on the gas too fast by realistically sliding off the road or spinning out. The races range from small circuits to long A-to-B treks, and the locations range from small town to urban city, from rain forest to Australian outback, and run across pavement, dirt, and sometimes even people’s back yards.
Horizon has a delightful rewind system, great for those struggling with the arcade hijinx or just getting into realistic racing. After making a mistake, such as missing a jump or bungling a turn, you can rewind the game and try it again. You do sacrifice any Skill points you may have earned prior to rewinding (also lost upon crashing), which are used for leveling up and unlocking in-game bonuses, so there is incentive to avoid using it, but there’s usually no limit on how often or how much you may rewind so the game is very forgiving.
The game is also generous. The base game includes 300+ cars spanning vintage classics, modern street cars, exotics, rally, and off-road. You’ll find everything from a Honda Civic to a Lamborghini Aventador, Ford F-150, Subaru Impreza WRX STI, Ariel Nomad, McLaren P1, or a Hummer (VW is a notable absence, though Porsche makes an appearance). Each car handles differently, and it’s a pleasure to drive each one and see how it feels on the road. Each car can also be modified and tuned, if you so desire, and you can also download mod sets and tunes submitted by other users. There are more cars available via DLC packs, but there are so many already in the base game that I would only bother with the DLC if you really want to own everything or if there’s a car you absolutely want to have.
The game also rewards you constantly for just about everything you do - you can do races, complete stunt events, or just drive around and you’ll still be rewarded. There’s a reward for racing cleanly, and a reward for smashing into everything. The map is quickly filled with various races, stunt events, and points of interest. The game just wants you to have fun with whatever you do.
In addition to being varied, the Australian location is also beautiful, and it’s a real pleasure to just drive around the in-game Australia and take in the sights (when you’re not weaving between traffic at 100+ mph, anyway). Though I did notice that the cockpit camera has some issues with lighting at dusk and dawn making the world look too dark, particularly in the shaded forest areas.
The game runs great, and my PC with an i5, RX 480 4GB, 16 GB RAM is able to run the game at 6032x1080 (triple-screen) at 60 fps on Medium settings or ~45 fps at High settings. I experienced some stability and crashing issues, seemingly related to the game’s server, around the end of last year, but those issues have been almost entirely resolved since, and crashes have become rare. The game does love to gobble up memory, however, and even with 16 GB RAM I have to close out of Chrome and other programs to avoid running out.
Blizzard Mountain, the first expansion, is a curious thing. It can range from really fun to really miserable, seemingly without reason. It starts you off with a breathless drive down the snowy mountain in a souped up rally car as you slide and jump past trucks and SUVs, but if you’re not careful the expansion can quickly go downhill in a bad way.
The setting is a small snow resort at the base of a mountain, complete with snow men on the sides of the road, and has you drive across snowy roads, frozen lakes, and through deep snow. It’s again lovely to look at, if not as immediately eye catching as the original location, and can be a real blast. There are a variety of races, and the stunt events from the main game also carry over. Unfortunately, it can also be a real pain.
Blizzard Mountain increases the difficulty by making the AI drivers much more aggressive, while the AI difficulty setting itself seems to have very little effect (there’s a little difference between the lowest and 2nd lowest setting, and almost no difference from 2nd to highest). Looking online, I saw many users complain about how difficult they found the expansion, while a few found it to be much easier. The snowy terrain favors drifts and power slides, and the choice of car makes the biggest difference in whether you will succeed or fail. The game warns you that cars without snow tires will handle poorly, but not that rear-wheel drive cars will cause you to spin out almost constantly (which is realistic, but seems not to affect the AI at all). Driving one off-road race in a rear-wheel drive car was an absolute misery that saw me coming in last, while driving a different all-wheel drive car of comparable performance in the same race saw me easily come in first. Unlocking everything on the mountain now requires accumulating stars - with 1 star awarded for finishing a race, 2 stars for finishing 1st, but the 3rd star requires finishing 1st while completing an added challenge such as getting a certain score by the end or completing a certain number of drifts, and that 3rd star can prove very difficult to acquire.
But nowhere is the bizarre difficulty as apparent as when driving the Subaru Impreza WRX STI rally race car. The game includes two models of the car, the #75 and #199. The cars appear identical in everything aside from their appearance, as they should, but racing them on Blizzard Mountain proved to be night and day. In the #75 car, I struggled to come in 6th, having to lower the AI difficulty to the lowest to have a chance of winning. In the #199 car, I would reliably come in 1st every time. Same exact car, but with two radically different results.
As such, Blizzard Mountain may be lots of fun as you engage in hill climbs, slide through snow covered descents, and other races best suited for rally and off-road vehicles. But, if you chose your vehicle poorly, it can be as miserable and unforgiving as the harshest winter.
Hot Wheels is a silly, joyous, and wonderful expansion from start to finish. The Hot Wheels tracks slot in unbelievably well with the Horizon framework and are an absolute blast to drive on. They’re brilliant orange pieces of joy. The very first introductory race had me literally grinning.
It borrows the Blizzard Mountain framework of having stars as rewards for challenges, however the bizarre AI difficulty that plagued that expansion seemed to have been left on the mountain. And while the 3rd star may still be difficult to acquire, the expansion is much more generous about unlocking races and events such that you never feel like you’re forced to try to get it - it’s reserved as a challenge for the hardcore rather than as a requirement for progress.
The tracks themselves, set in a cheerfully sunny city surrounded by a beautiful blue ocean, are delightful - with sharp banks, speed boosts that hurtle your car down the track at incredible speeds, jumps, loops, twists, and some surprises I won’t mention. Just driving across the tracks is a pleasure, and there’s one in the middle of the map that was so fun to drive across that I literally went over the same segment, back and forth, half a dozen times for the pure joy of it.
The new Hot Wheels cars with their wacky designs didn’t really appeal to me - as I have no experience or affection for their real-world toy counterparts, and some of their cockpit views were unfortunately small and obstructed - but regular cars worked just fine, and you can take your whole collection of cars across the crazy tracks.
Hot Wheels is wacky, silly, wonderful, and an absolute joy. It may not appeal to those looking for a more serious experience, but the kid in me loved every bit of it.
Crystal City is a kinetic adult visual novel, meaning that there is a fixed story with no choices but many sex scenes.
I enjoyed the art, with new and appropriate (if low detail) backgrounds and very nice character models.
Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this based on the writing. I appreciated that the novel tried to create a new and unusual world, with some interesting sci-fi trappings, but it never did anything interesting with the setting or really explored it, and seemed to trip over itself at the end in the rush to reach a conclusion and throw out some surprises as the structure and logic seemed to collapse under the burden. It felt like it was written by a teenage boy.
I actively disliked the main character, initially presented as a nerd stereotype, who was unsympathetic throughout and whose actions often seemed to come out of nowhere. Every female is presented as the eroge cliche of being there solely to be saved by the main character (and for sex), but without anything interesting to show for it or your interactions (as you might find in a better VN such as Katawa Shoujo).
This VN was also filled with spelling and grammatical errors that greatly increased as the novel went on, such that by the end almost every line contained some kind of error.
There is also a brief room-escape scene, which involves (mostly) randomly clicking on parts of the background in hopes of clicking on something useful, then combining the few inventory objects to then click those on the background. I didn’t feel it added anything to the VN.
I completely dismissed this game when it showed up in my recommended Steam feed - a free, cutesy, VN dating sim? No thanks. I only played it when I read a recommendation for it on RPS, and I am very glad I did. Doki Doki is one of the best VNs I’ve ever played.
Doki Doki is a game that surprises in delightful ways. But much like other things that rely on surprise - like Memento or Pony Island - to talk or read too much about it only serves to spoil the surprises and mar your experience. It’s a game that benefits from going in as blind as possible.
But I can say that I was repeatedly delighted by the game. It was clever, entertaining, and really amusing. There’s only a handful of games that have ever made me laugh, and Doki Doki did so repeatedly. I highly recommend it, even to people that don’t like VNs. At 4 hours to complete the different routes, it’s a pretty short time commitment. You do have to pretend to be a teenage boy infatuated with four anime-styled girls, which may be a harder ask for some people than others, but it’s so worth it for the experience. The game was so good that I decided to replay it to get the hidden ending, and I’m surprised with how good the game is on a second playthrough, and all the details that I’m picking up on that I didn’t pay attention to the first time around.
Catching up on the past couple months:
What can I say about Dishonored that hasn’t been said before? It’s an utterly fantastic game, one of the best I’ve ever played, and I loved every moment of it.
I’ve never really been fond of stealth sequences in action games, so imagine my surprise that not only did I love the stealth in Dishonored, but I ended up going for a non-lethal, never-spotted playthrough just because it felt like the right way to play. And, to my surprise, it was actually far more satisfying than the violent, action approach. There’s something much more powerful about sneaking up behind a guy undetected, choking him out, and then just leaving him there - a far more effective demonstration of power than just stabbing or shooting someone.
I loved the world, the story, the characters (I was surprised by the voice actors listed in the credits), and the sheer pleasure of sneaking around the world - each confrontation felt like a delightful puzzle. I was constantly surprised by how flexible the game was - each area or obstacle seemed to have 3-4 different approaches, and often it was only after the confrontation was complete that I’d realize all the other paths that I could have taken.
I loved Dishonored enough to do a second playthrough, violent and ruthless this time. It was still fun and enjoyable, but sneaky and non-lethal felt far more so, and seemed like the way the game was meant to be played.
That’s right, I went off-Steam. I was so excited for Nier Automata (to have a better sale), that I remembered that I had picked up the original Nier on clearance years ago and never played it. So I decided to dust it off and fire it up. To my surprise, it was great.
Nier was really refershing, as evidenced by the intro that begins with a woman shouting and swearing - a clear sign to the player that this isn’t your typical RPG. The characters were very unique and interesting, the most unique and memorably characters I’ve seen in an RPG since Planescape Torment. The story and setting were good, the locations ranging from standard fantasy to lovely and haunting spaces. The combat was fun and engaging. The music was fantastic, setting the mood wonderfully - I can’t say enough good things about the music.
I was surprised how much of what I found in the Nier Automata demo was present in the original Nier - the combination of melee and ranged attacks; the changing camera angles that change the game from a third-person action RPG to a side-scrolling platformer or top-down brawler; the bullet-hell enemy attacks; the over-the-top boss fights. It was clearly better executed in Automata, with a larger budget, but the inspiration was there in the orignal Nier.
Speaking of the boss fights, they were incredible - enormous fights, some ranging across an entire town, and over-the-top in the most epic way.
On the downside, the game clearly had more ambition than budget and time. The graphics are fine but hardly impressive, and the camera employs a depth-of-field effect that makes images on the periphery of the screen appear as if someone smeared vaseline all over the screen. The 2D side-scrolling sections are more novel than they are enjoyable, and the side-quests - while occasionally amusing - are almost all tedious gather / fetch quests.
But I still loved my time with it, and highly recommend it to RPG fans. It’s a great way to pass the time while waiting for Automata to become more affordable.
The original Full Throttle came out in 1995. I played a demo of it in the early 2000s. And finally, 22 years and a remake later, I played through the full game.
As a point and click adventure game, it was alright. I wish I could give it a better recommendation, but I’m honestly torn on it. I enjoyed it overall, but not as much as I expected.
The remade art and audio is lovely, the setting and characters are interesting, the voice acting is great. Playing as the leader of a biker gang in a post-apocalyptic setting is certainly refreshing. Some of the game sequences were pretty funny, and a couple put a grin on my face.
And yet the game clearly shows it’s age in certain regards. Navigating the environment is sometimes difficult as exits are vague. Puzzles - while easy for ‘95 - had me stumped several times. While the audio sounded great overall, the scene transitions during and around cutscenes were often abrupt with ragged cuts. And worst of all, the action sequences, possibly novel at the time, were clunky and tedious - particularly the lengthy and repetitive Mine Road section, and really brought down the otherwise enjoyable game. I also encountered a couple bugs during the Mine Road section - at one point a defeat resulted in a black screen rather than restarting the ride, and at another all the enemy motorists disappeared and I was unable to take any exits and had to reload.
If you like point and click adventure games and own the game, it’s worth a playthrough. Otherwise, I’d much sooner point you towards Kathy Rain or the many great games by Wadjet Eye (or even Telltale, for a modern take).
A great point and click adventure game that gets so much right.
Taking the role of Kathy Rain, a 20-something journalism student, you come back home for your grandfather’s funeral and begin an investigation into his misterious illness. What follows is the typical point & click process of investigating locations, talking to everyone, picking up items, and solving puzzles. What sets Kathy Rain apart is the pretty pixel art, interesting story, solid writing, good voice acting, and intelligent puzzles that naturally lead into the next.
The pixel art is very well done, particularly given the AGS engine’s 320x240 resolution. My favorite part, and a very pleasant surprise, is that the far more detailed character portraits change to reflect the people’s emotions. Characters will smile, or smirk, or frown, or roll their eyes during conversations, and it really serves to bring already detailed characters to life. The good voice acting helps a lot with that as well.
The story was slow to get started, but interesting, and had me guessing as to where it was going and what was going to happen next. The characters were likewise interesting. The protagonist, Kathy Rain, was particularly enjoyable to play as, with tons of personality - I loved her comments, observations, and dialog choices. The writing was good, and ranged competantly from funny to sad. This is one of the few games that made me laugh, and I laughed often due to the sharp and witty writing.
The puzzles are logical, and well connected, such that the solution to one puzzle intelligently leads you to the next. The game helps keep you on track with notes / conversation topics in your notebook, and by keeping the inventory largely limited to useful items and greying out locations that you are finished with. There’s no pixel hunting due to being able to highlight objects of interest, and there’s a clever “Think about” function that serves to both provide backstory and hints as to what the item might be used for. The puzzles are pleasantly on the easy side, though there is a noticeble difficulty spike about 75% of the way through.
I did get stuck three times, about 75-80% of the way through where the difficulty spiked. One code puzzle I just needed a hint for, one I missed that an object had a gained new interaction ability that it didn’t previously have, and the third was a poem / riddle that were so vague as to leave me completely stumped and reaching for a walkthrough.
I also encountered some initial technical issues due to the AGS engine. It failed to start when set to automatic resolution as it tried a resolution that was way too big. When manually setting the resolution, fullscreen would stretch the game out even though I had black bars enabled in the launcher. I had to set the game to run in a window to finally make it work.
Overall, Kathy Rain is a great point and click adventure game, one of the best I played. I highly recommend it to adventure game fans.
Saints Row: Gat out of Hell was my first Saints Row game, and was a lot of fun - a ridiculous super-powered game built on the GTA framework. Rather than going for realism, the game went the complete opposite direction, starting you out with super speed and wings, and piling additional super powers on top. It seemed the developers wanted to pile on the absurdity too, with delightful results - from the stated goal of punching Satan in the face, to a mid-game cutscene that had me grinning with joy.
There are very few story missions, relying instead on completing activities in the open world. However, you’re free to do just the activities that interest you, and nothing is locked off, so it’s pretty pleasant overall and the meter fills before you know it. All in all a delightfully silly and over-the-top super-powered romp.
The one downside, however, was that it was rather unstable on my i5 / RX 480 system. Sometimes it ran fine for hours, and other times it would freeze and crash to desktop 2-3 times an hour. It almost always crashed when I was just exploring and fighting in the city, rather than doing one of the activities, and it automatically restarted the game after a crash (and also caused the Origin client to crash if it was open in the background). Closing all background tasks and applications seemed to help improve stability.
Stories Untold is a delightful little suspense game. Very retro in design and execution, it evokes an ’80s aesthetic in everything from the audio and visual design to using a text parser for some of the gameplay. The individual stories are interesting and varied, and are at times really clever. They build on each other, employing things you learn in the first story in the second, and so on. While the first story starts out with an initially intimidating text parser, it was easy and simple to play through, and later stories use more mouse-based interaction.
I enjoyed playing through the individual stories, but it’s the fourth story that really made me think, “Wow, this game is great!” It’s really clever and smartly done, and was an excellent conclusion that elevated the entire game.
I would characterize Stories Untold more as suspense rather than horror, because it builds and instills a feeling of dread throughout rather than utilizing jump scares, or body horror, or being chased by a monster. As someone who doesn’t like horror games (or movies) because they’re too scary, I had no problems playing Stories Untold.
Such a good game, and impressive in so many ways.
I was initially very dubious. The multiple technical difficulties I encountered due to owning an AMD card were very frustrating. Once those were conquered, it was on the the game, but the beginning didn’t inspire. A pretty boring intro sequence was made worse by the more egregious screen tearing I’ve ever encountered (I had to disable V-Sync to progress through the intro). For a first-person-shooter, it certainly took its time in giving me a gun. What does it think it is, Half Life?
But then I got a gun, and another, and things kept improving from there. The shooting felt great, the guns were fun, the levels varied and allowing different approaches - everything from being sneaky to running in with two guns blazing. What most impressed me was how competent the game was at things you wouldn’t typically expect in a first-person-shooter, let alone a Wolfenstein game.
For example, there was stealth, and it worked really well - sneak up on soldiers and you can take them down silently with a knife, or shoot them with a silenced pistol. With in-game rewards for stealth kills, it made not-shooting in a shooter fun, and I had a blast sneaking around levels and silently dispatching enemies one by one.
And then there’s the story - a bizarre alternate history with sci-fi elements that was surprisingly good. I never would have imagined a story about the silent meat-head of Wolfenstein being good, but the writers worked wonders, and the voice acting was great. I had several genuine laughs along the way, and grew to care for the characters.
I’d like to give a huge thanks to nellyneko for giving away this game on SteamGifts.
It’s a lovely exploration game, exploring your family’s franken-house and learning about the people that used to live there, and quite a bit of an emotional roller coaster at that. I don’t want to say more than that, because I feel that the game’s secrets are worth discovering on their own, but if you like similar exploration games (Gone Home, Dear Esther, etc), I highly recommend it. I think this is one of the best ones.
The only negative is that it consistently gave me motion sickness, so I had to play it in short chunks. It’s bizarre that a slow-paced exploration game inside a house would give me motion sickness, but it did. I had a similar issue with Gone Home, for some reason, but otherwise I’ve only experienced motion sickness with low texture games like Minecraft and the original Doom(s). Weird.
Well, after what feels like forever, I finally finished Just Cause 3 and the DLC.
I really enjoyed the game, it’s the most fun open-world game I’ve played, and I highly recommend it. You can read my full review here: http://steamcommunity.com/id/thenamelessone/recommended/225540
The DLC included with the Season Pass is really fun too, though the Mech Assault one seems to lose sight of what the game is about. The mechs it introduces are overpowered, both when you’re fighting in one and fighting against them. It foolishly ramps up the difficulty, which necessitates that you either wield a mech yourself or die repeatedly. But it’s a small blemish on an otherwise fantastic game.