Fallout 4 Review: The Endless Wastes

Hi all! Sorry I’ve been gone for so long; what with work and trying to complete Fallout 4, I’ve been busy. But I’m back with a review for this huge game, and though it’s quite a bit late, I’d still like to lay out my thoughts on it. So here they are!

Continue reading Fallout 4 Review: The Endless Wastes

Below: GDC Trailer

You gotta see this new trailer for Below. And turn your volume waaay up. If this isn’t the most epic thing you’ve seen all day…well, then you live a more exciting life than I.

Below is a “brutal but fair” rogue-like made by Capy Games, coming to Xbox One and Steam this summer.

Bioshock Infinite Review

Perhaps this is a bit late—Bioshock Infinite was released back in 2013—but I only just finished it, and let me just say, all the hype surrounding it was totally warranted. For my final blog post I would like to discuss this amazing game and hopefully make you interested enough to try it out for yourself, if you haven’t already.

Continue reading Bioshock Infinite Review

Gone Home Review

Gone Home, a computer game from The Fullbright Company, is the latest in a recent trend of first-person walking-simulator story exploration adventure games (wow that’s a mouthful), like Dear Esther or the upcoming Firewatch. In it, you play as a college student who’s just come home from studying abroad, only to find that you’ve come home to an empty house. You explore the vast mansion, reading notes left behind by your family, listening to journal entries by your younger sister, Samantha, and picking up and examining objects for clues. Those are really the only mechanics in the game: walking around and picking things up. If you’ve played Dear Esther, which has even less mechanics (just walking around), you may already be used to this. But I must warn you that this is not really a “fun” game. This isn’t a game I would play if I wanted to let off some steam and relax. This game is more like a short story, the plot points of which you unravel as you make your way through the mansion.

Continue reading Gone Home Review

Little Inferno Review

Little Inferno may be the strangest game I have ever played. It is many things, and at the same time, nothing. It’s hard to explain. I don’t even think I had fun playing it, and yet I still enjoyed it. Or maybe appreciate is the better word for it. It is definitely an art game, and difficult to recommend. If you’re looking for something distinctly game-y, like Tomorrow Corporation’s previous work (World of Goo), you will be disappointed. If however you are not looking for anything, you need to play this game.  Continue reading Little Inferno Review

The Elder Scrolls Online Will Be $15/month

Well, I guess I won’t be playing it then. It’s a shame—I was really looking forward to this game. But I’m not going to pay $180 to play it for a year, three times as much as a brand new game that I can play forever.

Read the full article here.

Lone Survivor Review

I forgot I wrote this review a while ago when I played the game Lone Survivor. So, here’s what I had to say about it.

Lone Survivor is one of the only games that I thought I understood, but was frequently proven wrong. On the surface, it is simply another zombie game. But there is so much more underneath that I don’t quite understand yet. Often I found myself saying “What’s going on?” out loud. The confusion I had mirrored the confusion of You, the main character. You hallucinate. You meet other characters who don’t seem quite right. I’ll need to play it again in order to understand it further, but here’s what I took from my first playthrough:

Your choices end up mattering, and affect how the game goes. I unfortunately didn’t realize this until late in my playthrough. Your choices boil down to two things: avoid violence and hide, or confront the enemies by shooting them. I chose the latter option—the “Blue” ending. You can take pills to help you, which are mysteriously restocked every day. Blue pills give you more ammo. Green pills give you batteries for your flashlight. Red pills wake you up. When you take a blue pill, it makes you drowsy, and when you go to sleep, you dream you are on stage, sitting in a chair next to a man. You never learn his name, but I believe that he is a part of you, and his name is Draco, which I inferred from diary entries scattered about. He is the violent side of you. When you take the green pill, you dream of The Man with a Box on his Head, who is shown in a better light and presumably wears the box to hide from the world, as you do when you hide from enemies. The game seems to favor the Green path as more morally acceptable. However, both ways require you to rely on drugs to advance. They are easy to obtain and easy to fall back on, since they help so much. Take enough of them and you begin to develop a need for them, and the hallucinations start. I didn’t realize there would be any consequences, so I took as many as I wanted, since they were so helpful.

 

 

There are several side quests and supporting characters whom you meet, who either help you with items or advice—or nothing at all. Most of them are just weird and out of place. It makes me wonder how alone You actually are, and whether the zombie apocalypse is real. There are several scenes where You remember Her, or at least, feel like someone is missing. Her is presumably your girlfriend…I’m not sure. But it seems like she died, and You don’t remember Her. There are scenes in the game where you come across what appear to be relics of the past and signs of some sort of tragic event. However, your observations of them make them seem unrelated to the apocalypse, and out of place.

That’s how I would describe most scenes in this game: out of place. This is not just another zombie game. There are things at work here, layers and layers of meaning. You come across a crashed bus, which I believe might have been what killed Her. You survived, and were sent to the hospital, which explains why You were on the clipboard. And the monster you fight, with the sword things for arms? Apparently that’s your mother, according to the end stats screen. It tells you how many times you shot your mother in the legs. What the fuck.

In my ending, I finally got to control myself on the stage in my dreams. I walked over to Draco, and he was being a dick as usual, and dared me to shoot him, so You did. But it didn’t kill him—“You’ll have to do better than that!” It was incredibly weird. But everything went blank, and it cut to scenes of destruction and a desert and the tree and cliff overlooking it all, with You sitting next to Her, talking and holding hands. I think when I shot Draco, I shot myself, and then I died so I could be with Her. What happens when you get the Green ending? Do you just pretend everything is okay by hiding from your problems? And what happens if I don’t take any drugs at all and have a playthrough with both hiding and shooting? Will I not hallucinate, and see things more clearly? Would the story make more sense? There is a lot of room for interpretation here, and it probably requires multiple playthroughs. I enjoyed my one playthrough, but I don’t think I’ll be playing it again. It would be interesting to see how things could pan out differently, however.

8.0

Botanicula Review

Botanicula is one of the most beautiful, quirky games I have ever played. A point-and-click adventure game by Amanita Design, Botanicula doesn’t last long, but it holds your attention the whole time.

image

Amanita Design is known for its old-school, point-and-click adventure games—you may have heard of its other game, Machinarium. In a time filled with first-person-shooters, Botanicula is a breath of fresh air. The last point-and-click game I played was probably Pajama Sam or Putt-Putt. Botanicula brought me back to those much simpler games. The gameplay is slow and calculated, letting you take in the artwork and puzzles at your own pace. I spent several minutes just staring at the beautiful art design. That is Botanicula’s main thrust: its unique, quirky art design sets it apart from other games. It almost kind of reminded me of a stop-motion Tim Burton or Henry Selick film.

Not to mention the fantastic sound design. The art and sound design work together to give the game a wholesome, organic feel. It sounded like most of the sounds were made with human mouths and voices, which was really cool. The music is relaxing and ambient.

image

The gameplay is pretty straight-forward: solve puzzles with your mouse, have the characters move from screen to screen. The puzzles are pretty easy, which I didn’t mind at all, aside from one tricky puzzle near the end that I had to look up. Each group of levels has you collect a certain number of somethings to proceed. There are also cards to unlock by interacting with certain characters or objects. The game doesn’t give much incentive to actually collect the cards, since all they are are cards featuring a character, but the reward is in the discovery itself. Setting off a cool animation, discovering secrets—this is all the incentive the player needs.

Needless to say, I loved this game, and at $5 on GOG.com, plus all the extra stuff they threw in (artwork, wallpaper, soundtrack, avatars—check out my Tumblr avatar) it was totally worth it. I definitely recommend this game to the gamer who likes to stop and smell the flowers.

9.0

Mass Effect/Mass Effect 2 Double Review

A couple nights ago I finally finished Mass Effect 2, right after I had beaten Mass Effect 1. (Yes I know I’m late to the party.) After hearing such great things about the franchise, my expectations were high. I was not disappointed. Since I played both games consecutively, I’m just going to review both of them here.

image

Mass Effect is an RPG/third-person-shooter hybrid. Mass Effect 1 leans more towards RPG, while 2 leans closer to third-person-shooter. It might sound a bit awkward but it actually works quite well. The gameplay in 2 is better, however, because it is much more seamless and the action never gets interrupted like it does in 1. In 1, I was constantly comparing new weapons I obtained to see which one had higher stats, and I kept having to get rid of extra weapons when my inventory became full. This happened more often than it should have and interrupted the flow of gameplay. However, this problem is solved in 2, because your inventory is limitless, and all weapons and equipment are pretty balanced, and there are much fewer of them, making the decision process much simpler.

The main RPG aspect of the games is the level-up system: each time you level up, you gain points to spend on stats. I enjoyed this part of the game—being able to fully customize your character’s skills is very nice. It is even more streamlined in 2, which has fewer skills but bigger upgrades to them. 

The last aspect of the gameplay I would like to mention is more story-based: in Mass Effect, story is what really shines. Player choice is at the forefront—you are able to choose paragon (good), neutral, or renegade (bad) during any dialogue tree, and you can make lasting decisions that actually affect future events, EVEN IN FUTURE GAMES. This is freaking awesome and blew my mind. I’ve never played a game where I had to think carefully about how my decisions would affect my playthrough of the next game in the series. Huge respect for Bioware.

And this isn’t one of those games where they say that your decisions matter but in the end they really don’t. (Although I’ve heard some things about Mass Effect 3…) Your decisions can mean life or death for your crewmates, or even entire species. 

Mass Effect has one of the best narratives I have ever encountered in video games. The universe is just so detailed, it feels alive, breathing. Characters remember you and your actions, and they respond accordingly. The lore and background of each alien species is fascinating—you can read about the Mass Effect universe in your Codex if you’re intrigued. To me, it’s really the Star Wars of video games. This is the most realized sci-fi world I’ve experienced in a video game.

The fact that you control the story’s outcome every step of the way means that every player is going to have a different experience. One of my favorite things to do while playing was to talk to my friend about the choices he made, and how our stories diverged. It is incredible that Bioware was able to make the story come together so well. It also means that it has great replay value. If you start a new game, you can play a different class, a different gender, make different decisions, and you will have a completely new experience. 

Graphics-wise, Mass Effect 2 is a huge step-up from 1, and it looked and ran beautifully on my PC. 2 did have a few annoying glitches that forced me to quit, and 1’s gameplay mechanics were pretty inferior compared to 2 (I hated the freaking Mako’s controls). But these complaints are minor compared to the incredible experience these games provided. They are seriously like nothing else I have ever played. If you haven’t played them yet, there’s no time like the present. Now I wait patiently for Mass Effect 3 to drop in price…

Mass Effect: 9.0

Mass Effect 2: 9.5

Braid Review

This is the second time I’ve played Braid. I wasn’t able to solve all the puzzles without a guide either time. Braid is not a game I would call “accessible.” However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Braid’s gameplay forces you to think in ways you don’t normally, in ways you thought you never would. Jonathan Blow, the creator, said he hoped it would be “mind-expanding,” and it certainly was for me. It simultaneously pays homage to and deconstructs platform games and how we approach them as gamers.

The classic platform games of the NES and SNES eras are often celebrated for how difficult they were. They required pinpoint accuracy and razor-sharp reflexes. Braid is difficult for very different reasons. Wrapping your brain around each new mechanic is incredibly hard, and once you feel you’ve mastered the concept, putting it into practice is an entirely different story. This translates to the narrative as well—it is very deep and whenever I thought I had a piece of the puzzle, something else comes up and I don’t know what to make of it. An interesting thing to note is that you can actually blow through the game without collecting all the puzzle pieces, but you won’t see the ending, which is really the crux of the narrative, unless you do. Blow rewards players for engaging with the game and understanding its systems.

In many ways, Braid is a critique of modern gaming trends. Its references to Super Mario Bros. and its very different take on the “save the princess” motif are particularly striking, but something else I noticed is that you really aren’t given very much choice. Each puzzle has exactly one way to solve it. It is very deliberate, almost scientific puzzle design. A trend in modern games is giving the player more choice, and making those choices have impacts on the game world. “Open-world” is the name of the game; “linear” is almost a bad word. Since you can’t really die in Braid, it’s kind of like a sandbox for the player to experiment in, which could have lent well to having more player choice, but Blow’s decision to make the game without choice provides a very different experience. Since the gameplay is so scientific and exact, it makes me think that the narrative is similar, in that there may be only one way you are supposed to interpret it. In his interview with the AV Club, Blow seems to suggest that some people get it and others just don’t. I think he intended for there really to be only one interpretation of the work. “Braid isn’t a subjective work of creativity: it’s a system, meticulously designed to convey a meaning that really isn’t up to broad interpretation. If you think the puzzles are too rigid, or you hate the text – maybe it’s because you don’t understand the point. If you pull an interpretation out of thin air, it’s probably wrong.”

Aside from gameplay and narrative, Braid features beautiful, painstakingly crafted graphics. The backgrounds look as if they are alive, using particles and other effects to give the illusion that they are moving. But they don’t distract from the gameplay, because everything in the foreground is sharper and more focused. The music is also very beautiful, and works well with the time-rewinding mechanic, playing backwards when you reverse time. A particularly cool instance of this is in one world where time is mapped to left and right movement—that is, moving left rewinds time, and moving right moves time forward—and a lullaby is played, forwards and backwards in time with your character.

Everything in Braid is there for a reason. There are no random platforms, no random enemies. Everything is very deliberate, everything has a purpose. The same goes for the narrative. It is clear that a ton of work went into making the game as polished as possible. The puzzle and platform design is very tight. My only complaints are that the game is unnecessarily frustrating at times, and I don’t see how anyone could solve some of the puzzles without using a guide. There is no mistaking it—Braid is a hard game. But it is so worth playing. If the ending doesn’t blow your mind, I’d be very surprised.

9/10