#Featured

ELEX – impressions

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Pfu, this was a big one, with some rough corners, but totally worth it. Here’s my quick thoughts as the credits are rolling:

+, +, + fascinating interesting world to discover

-, + from the creators of Gothic I kept hoping for another interesting medieval world, but that’s okay because despite my bad expectations they somehow managed to pull it off, to make a mix of medieval and scifi that felt half believable. I didn’t expect that.

+, +, +, +, + Amazing and fascinating story. I say this despite my initial skepticism, but because of the many times it impressed and twisted things around, so many times I thought I had a point of view and opinion which was wonderfully flipped into new revelations and new curiosity and interest. I gotta say I was impressed

+, +, +, -, +, + Amazingly big and fascinating world. So much to explore, so much to do. In many ways it made me think of Zelda Breath of the Wild, in this kind of gameplay of a big world in which all directions are open, where you’re struggling but discovering. The world feels much more mature and well thought out, but also not quite classically fairy tale beautiful. Shockingly it is that too, with many many moments of jaw-dropping beauty. There’s areas in it which are not as artistically well done, but then others which are simply beautiful (amazing vegetation and the day night cycle come to mind). The beauty is enhanced by:

+, +, +, -, – there’s moments of technical excellence. Sometimes the world looks faantastic. And I suspect not just the artwork, which I found just okay, but the tehnical side, the god ray, the HDR lighting, the draw distances. Unfortunately also on the technical side there were some embarrassing weakness. Framerates/controls felt sometimes clunky or lack of fluidity in animations/movements. Another example eeeevery single going into the inventory took bothersomely long. And this is an acitvity that you do as you’d think VERY often in an RPG. Or weird stuff like going into the map and not being able to reach the North East side of it… except then later we discovered at a certain zoom level

-, -,+ the game has a lot of unpolished corners, from clunky controls to the occasional seeming “bugs” nothing game breaking, but little moments of frustration. It felt okay though as the amount of options and things to discover were worth overcoming these things.

+, + quite interesting and often beautiful vegetation. But also the deserts are quite beautiful. As usual didn’t like much the cold and snow areas, but hey, the variety overall I guess had to have it, and there’s even some lava fields. Still, my favourite were the green areas.

+ there’s some nice touches with sounds, for example when I noticed the bird chirping in the green areas I was quite pleasantly surprised

-, +, – the game mechanics are often too little explained. In this it’s a bit like the original Dark Souls, and no, i don’t mean like gameplay like most people do, I mean in it being that kind of unpolished gem where you keep getting annoyed at things that weren’t explained, at stats/traits which seem trivial/useless but then are crucial… but then we forgave it all seeing how much thinking was put behind the stuff and it’s not that the world was bad, just the explanations were underbudgetted

+, + quite cool minigames, I liked the lockpicking in particular, and the hacking was interesting too… but again hoooribly eplained, had to youtube/google it

+, + the music I found okay, not amazing but not bad either; however through repetition does add a lot to the mood of various places

+, +, + pretty interesting factions

– annoying too strong startup/logo/intro sounds… at each startup being too loud and scaring a bit, so many times jumped to grab the volume control, often too late

+, + there’s some nice amount of choice and tradeoffs

– the freedom in gameplay choices means you can easily make a game which can already be hard to learn the ropes of, even harder, which is what I did.

-, – yet another game which doesn’t understand the meaning of an “easy” difficulty, though in the end it was a good enough game to be worth putting up with that

-, – there can be pretty strong discrepancies between what your character says and how he speaks and your actual abilities in the game, like he may be talking like a powerful person while you feel yourself in practice very weak. Similarly you encounter people in the world which talk to you like you’re some great hero and powerful problem solver even while you’re in fact hiding behind your companions which do most the work or you simply run away from places.

+, +, + a large amount of interesting quests loaded with interesting characters and stories, both in world characters and companions that surprise and delight

– the endgame has a bit of a cliff hanger ending… which I don’t fully agree with as I prefer great stories to be closed, even if they will be enriched or expanded later, but one has to admit it was done pretty nicely and while one is left with curiosity I have to give it to them they do manage to misdirect wonderfully with a lot of wrapups of other loose ends and mysteries.

+, +, +, + I really had the impression they have put a lot of thought into creating this world

+, +, + plus although i would’ve hoped for a purely dark fantasy world without the scifi, I gotta say they managed to do amazing world building here, and in particular I have great admiration for the effort of creating a NEW world, something which, it’s true, can only be done once, but it is the more remarkable because of that. It’s much easier to build on an existing world, but to create a new one, and do so with such ambition and backstory, i gotta say I’m impressed

Overall I’d give this game a 3.9 on a -5 5o 5 scale. Despite the rough corners and lack of polish which made me initially just think of just a 3.5 the size and scale and grandeur of the project, the ambition and choices… as well as the amazing length of the story (I think about 90h so far, and story ongoing after credits also) has impressed me in great ways.

PS: it’s only after the credits and after doing another big set of wrapup world exploration that when the game did a “summary of your actions” ending type of things that I remembered again just how much this game reminded me of my beloved Fallout 2: not just in the way where it pays off to go around to talk with random people in the town but in it’s quest and story structure, perfect for this kind of complex ending that requires a very flexible non-cinematic summary, because your actions in the world cannot be summarized in 1 or 3 or even 5 endings, but instead they are upon locations and upon people and upon projects. Another great plus for the game! + +  + +

PS2: even after finishing the game it’s still a fun to explore more, and I’m finding to my surprise still new and interesting areas.

Prey (2017) – impressions

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Well, I finished it yesterday evening after a looong time (impressively long game), here’s my quick thoughts before I forget:

+, +, – A new game in an old master style:  All through the game i had this very mixed feeling, like the game takes so much from so many classics, going back against modern trends. At different times in the game I felt like it’s taking from different series such as Bioshock, System Shock, Half-Life, Dishonored, Elder Scrolls, Deus Ex… I am saying this descriptively not as a critique of its originality, as I believe human creativity is not revolutionary in general but building on past greats, and as such I admired the game for doing that. For example i loooved the  way they made the audio logs available on player command, something where Bioshock was so revolutionary but then so many games came and went and stupidly never learned from that even many years later instead using weird unpleasant mechanics such as having to go into some convoluted menus to access them. The This ideology was done so consistently though that sometimes it made the game feel older even freshly released, and some of the mechanics were at times slightly clashing (for example one of “tunnel of fun” with one of “lots of backtracking exploration”). But overall i really loved that they did that and am very thankful they dared to do that, which brings me to:

+, +, + A gem, probably a tragic one: this is a game which I wouldn’t be surprised to find out it becomes a cult classic with a very long endurance in recommendations while at the same time fails commercially, the kind of game that destroys studios even while leaving consumers with a one of a kind experience that they keep wishing more were made of. This is because 1) the game is refreshingly not following cliches 2) doesn’t do a lot of player hand holding 3) goes off the beaten path and many more such reasons… which surprise and delight, but in doing so lack the predictability of a modern movie hitting lows and highs at expected moments. An example could be how the game starts somewhat underwhelmingly but then as it progresses I realized that’s a sign of moral fortitude, that it makes perfect sense within the story and the ideology of the project… yet surely a lot of people will never get past the beginning parts and rather remain with that impression

+, +, +, +, + Mind-blowing soundtrack & soundscape: I totally didn’t expect this one. So many games in the last years where i had to force myself and struggle to even notice or remember the soundtrack, all with passable and okay parts, always fitting, but never memorable or ear-mind opening. Not so with this one. This is particularly strong due to the game’s choice to be quite minimalist, with lots of moments of silent exploration. So sooo many times a new song would start up, and i just couldn’t say if it was aaaamazing choreography on the part of the devs in syncing an event with a song or just a great song fitting into the emergent gameplay my own exploration and struggles was creating. Rarely do I find a soundtrack so worthy of standalone listening. I particularly love this song: Human Elements as well as 2-3 other ones that I love.

+, +, +, -, + A PLACE just as much as an experience: This one took me by total surprise. In fact it even lead to some frustration as I refused to accept it and think accordingly. But in the end this is probably the strongest reason I’ll remember this game over the many years as unique fantastic memories: The space station, the discovery and exploration… it’s just fantastic. It’s crafted like a real place. This may sound like a plus, but can also be a minus: in that good games often guide you places with light, convenience, environmental design, story threads… and if, like I did you don’t come at it with the right attitude, this can lead to frustration. I think for 60% of the game (meaning many real life months) I just didn’t accept this, and i refused to look at the map, or reeeeally look at the environment as a real place, always assuming that like in most linear games the devs would guide me, that it’s wasted effort to try to really observe the environment, because i won’t be coming back here anymore… not so. SO NOT SO! My experience changed wonderfully after I accepted that, I started to realize that everywhere in the world, like in a real functional facility there’s labels and arrows and designations, and that all those were crucial to the lives of those there… and only when i accepted that did the game move to a different level for me. I suspect i’ll remember this PLACE for many many years, even now if i close my eyes I have a feeling for it.

-, -, + A series of frustrating being stuck moments followed by revelations: So, so many times i got stuck in this game. Often i’d start it up, be stuck for a while, and close it back down for a few weeks or even a month or two). This caused in me some resentment. BUT i now realize this was again part of the integrity of the concept and design, of the supremacy of what it is and represents over the entertainment, which I can’t help but admire. In playing this game it is not even so much that my character that changed, but **I** learned. I learned my surroundings, i learned to think and to observe, I learned to pay attention and to search for my own solutions instead of waiting for them to be pointed out. Everything changed for me when i started to view the station as a real thing, and the experience as a real Robinson Crusoe sci fi. Then i started to think about how it’s built, about the functionality, about why the solar panels from afar make it look solid but in fact hide a very clobbered together functional facility, how repair tunnels made sense, to understand how the central elevator was a spine to the whole facility branching out, to actually check the map, to see blocked areas not as the generic game “you don’t go this way” but an invitation to understand how that relates and where it could connect to. A similarly huge revelation I had about “locked doors” when i started to think about crew members, and that like in a real facility different people will hold keys to different areas, and in moments of being stuck to search for those people using the location bands and the security stations…

+, +, +, + Lengthy game with amazing endurance & surprises: Not only did this game take 60h+ not counting the loads to see different endings and the fact that I might restart it to see it all with the new eyes I now have (amazing how much they hid, with the bravery and integrity of even being badly judged for that). Multiple times i thought it would end, and then it would bloom anew. After a while I started to get the feeling of a real place in orbit, where there’s always new things happening, new emergencies followed (surprisingly) by new periods of delightfully boring calm. In the periods of calm I sometimes even proceeded to just roam around the ship, made it a personal point to fix everything, every little leak and every broken machine part I could find as I was familiarizing myself more and more with the place, all the while being encouraged by the now re-re-reconfirmed knowledge that it will pick up again later, and without any expectations I will find myself in an emergency situation, wanting to rescue somebody trapped or fix a critical problem quickly and that lead me to even more treasure the moments of quiet observance. Cathartic.

+, – Okay graphics, but not great: Both in art direction and in tech. That’s too bad, as all the moments when it reminded me of Dishonored made me hope even more for beautiful decorative furniture/design/architecture. I guess it makes sense given the realistic scifi direction, yet I think it would’ve been better had this been pushed further like Bioshock or Dishonored was. There were some nice touches, but nowhere near awe inspiring levels. The tech was similarly good and functional but not mind-blowing

+, +, +, +, + Great Story with Depth & Twists: Again, something I didn’t expect. From the small things like the articles and the alternate timeline political commentary to the big structure story, characters and woow, mindblowing endgame twists that put everything in a new light to the point where it changes all.

-, – Long loading times & iffy guidance: If there’s one thing I think would hugely change the experience of this game would be if it managed to get rid of the loading times. Not just because they’re particularly long, but because it is SUCH a major part of the experience how all the places connect. Think of that moment you realized in Dark Souls 1 that everything is interconnected and that started to matter to you, similarly this station is so packed in a way that makes a lot of sense, unfortunately the loading times can obscure this. This is made worse by the direction pointers, which are not the best, sometimes having trouble in staying consistent in the path, at times they pointed me back to the place I just came back from.

 

Overall I’d see this game as a memorable gem for the ages, unfortunately one that I’d bet most people will miss or experience late, partly due to its little problems and partly due to the integrity of the vision which, like a strong willed person with beautiful character hides the best parts for the few who are willing to look behind harder less flashy surface. I’d give this game accordingly a 3.5 (on a -5 to 5 scale), it’s an excellent game, but i wouldn’t call it “easy to digest”… still, to anybody who plays it I’m pretty sure they’ll remain with a very powerful memory. I can fully understand those of my friends who were put off by the mixed reviews and will only get this on a sale and/or might take a long time to get around to playing it. One thing though that wouldn’t surprise me also though: that many such people will then finish it and be deeply impressed, and wish they could go back in time and get it at full price to encourage the development of such nonstandard yet deep games, even while fearing it may be too late.  I went through a similar customer satisfaction roller-coaster, with fist weeks of delight at the game and then frustration and wondering why I got it on release since I’m not playing it but then turning back into great joy  of playing and satisfaction that I encouraged in my own tiny way the developers of such a remarkable and unique masterpiece. I really hope they’ll be able to make more games like this, even as I fear they will fail but I rest confident in the optimistic knowledge that even if many years should pass others impressed by this greatness will try again and again, even at the risk of sacrificing themselves in the same way… and we players will be all the more blessed for all of this. Super thankful for such different games and I can only wish the best to those who dare make them!

PS: If anybody wants to start this game, I’d like to leave you with some advice that I wish I had gotten when i started it: look around. REEALLLY look around. Understand where you are, look at the signs, read the texts, take the time to open the map, not the local one but the big one, understand what connects to what, and every place you go to, don’t look at it like eye candy you’ll never see again, but like a place you’ll come back to and grow to love more and more with every visit as it becomes “your own”. It reminds me of the programming thing with leaving comments: some don’t want to, but I once read the advice of doing it because you’ll be reading the code many more times than you wrote it. Similarly in this game, don’t do like what I did: it’ll save you lots of frustration (and loading screens)  if you take the time to read things and observe & understand. Also, the quest indicator text, take the time to read it. It often contains crucial hints. If you do these things I believe you’ll have an even better experience than the awesome one that I did overall even while stubbornly fighting the game for the first half.

PS2: i played the old Prey and i couldn’t feel a single connection, which makes it a bit weird/confusing with the naming, however if this helped the devs in getting just a few more sales of this great gem I can accept it. It’s a shame that so many will probably miss this one, and indeed all through the game I was looking at the achievements even those from the main story and saw how many were lost along the way. Too bad. This was aaaamazing.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War – impressions

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Well, finished it yesterday evening. Surprisingly completely even, 100% main story (including the grindy-er second half), 100% collecting all the “moons” (with the interesting story items!!!), 100% of the spider-web puzzles with the female antagonist backstory, 100% of the forts and so on… I think i’ve still got a few of the challenges, but it’s a wonder even that I did so many given that i mostly ignore them in games… that being said, here’s my quick random thoughts:

– having had played and surprisingly enjoyed the prequel Shadow of Mordor I was a bit saddened to feel the game was more a Mordor 1.5 rather than a new game, or so it felt to me for a long time

+, +, +, +, + The orc simulation/generation/personalities is aaaamazing. Seriously, this is one of the most amazing mix of technology and artwork of our time. I just couldn’t get enough of them, and so sooo many times I would just stare in wonder. In fact they were so good just in that in this game alone I’ve seen tens of characters more memorable and interesting than whole main characters and principal antagonists of many other games. I just couldn’t believe my eyes just how expressive they were, what interesting props they had, how lifelike they felt in their expressions, and how there could be JUST SO MANY so very interesting and unique. Had there been one or two or five, but it was tens and tens of unique characters, each with interesting props, distinguishing silhouettes, all visually interesting and making an impression, and yet all “generated” on the fly for my enjoyment, as if whole divisions of character artists were working just on this just for my game. Aaaamazing! Many of them deserve to be stars of whole stories if not games, they’re THAT good.

– it’s a shame they actually took steps back in some fields from the prequel. For example the prequel had this very cool storytelling via the ps4 controller speaker, at each loadtime I was intrigued and i think more often during gameplay also, the effects on the sounds as well as the directionality made it into a wonderful surreal whisper experience. Another feature that I found was brilliant and unique before and for some reason they dropped it: when examining new objects you would search for a certain spot which would reveal the story, a small minigame forcing you to even better notice the great details on those special story objects.

+, +, – The world is big, and in fact there’s a lot of worlds, with variety from snow to volcanoes, to greenscapes and swamps and forst, all in the form of quite huge maps/locations with their own mood and secrets that you gradually learn. The minus to me is that as in the previous game they felt somewhat bland and generic in the models/textures of the buildings. Nice in the gameplay but visually i couldn’t describe to you much of what made one orc fortress special to another. This is compensated by the gameplay & great simulation, but still, i wouldn’t call the world a delight for the eyes, even if it’s nice to explore.

-, -, -, – corrupting impact of microtransactions to the game enjoyment. I want to clarify, i’m not against the costs, I’m all for the developers getting well paid for such masterpieces, I’m talking about the devious ways in which such decisions corrupt the gameplay and make it less enjoyable or introduce unneeded and undesired grinding an frustration, all of it intentionally with a purpose. Many examples of this come to mind, all of them of course with a speculative element (lacking a counterfactual timeline of our universe), here’s some that come to mind now:

-, -, -, -, +,  – with the orc army being the best point of the game, and some of the best experiences being dynamic such as encountering one, maybe him killing you, meeting him later, then converting him, all of this creating a memory bond with him, while being associated to a location and a set of events. As well as a moving part of the whole simulation, it is such a shame that they break the whole simulation of the world by dislocating the orcs from space and time via the ability to “generate” them from loot boxes. This breaks the whole game “economy”, creating an artificial unlimited outside source that’s unrelated to your experience and your actions in the world

-, -, – I’ve spent many possibly even hours in the “store” section of the menu. Not only is that un-immersive to a fantasy universe, but it clearly was not done for player enjoyment. All the mechanics there, could’ve been a legitimate fun discovery/experimentation/gambling experience, if they were done offline just for your enjoyment, but instead it’s constantly syncing to the server (“validating purchases”, “waiting for response”, “confirming”… ), sometimes not working and locked, but even when it is, for every page view or opening anything there’s always a lot of back and forth, sending and waiting for server response, leading to a very unresponsive laggy experience with lots and lots of waiting and potential breakpoints. It’s like browsing the web in dial-up 90s, you get the page of orcs in the end… but there’s waiting and refreshing involved. This all could’ve been considered a legitimate design direction maybe … if it was done all offline just for you, but it’s for them, not for the customer.

-, – , – this monetization is in some ways a method of “pay to not play the game”, which is never a good sign. In a good game I should be happy to and beg them to give me the opportunity to pay more to experience more of the game, instead of pay more to experience less of it

– the game wasted a lot of my time through having to “destroy” randomized items. Like i’d get a lot of them which are useless, and it takes many seconds to destroy even one, and by the end i had many many tens of them, it was an even bigger chore to manage this than in other such games like Destiny. Also there’s a time wasting loop that goes like this (aggravated by all the serverside syncing): you have a lot of items, which you then sell, to get coins, it’s slow and takes time but now you have the coins. So what do you do with them? You could potentially get a weapon loot box… but 95% of the time you get another weapon which is worse than what you have, which you then sell, but you still have too much money… and so on so forth. If at least the game allowed to spend huge ammounts of the low-value currency to get something better, but that’s payed with a much more valuable commodity: your time.

+, -, + now before you think I’ve spent a ton of money on loot boxes, not so. In fact I played for a while not checking the license agreement checkbox of sending data and i didn’t play with them at all proud of my loophole, and then later when I did I never spent real money, just in-game currency. This is the plus side of the game, that you can obtain lots of (some of) it, that this was possible, and in fact that I could obtain just by having fun in the game a LOT of it… well, ate least the “silver” one. The premium one they offered just once at some point I didn’t realize… but then i never got it again even for major missions as I was expecting. So it’s cool that you get to play with the loot boxes and get lots of orcs just like that, without paying extra, but then again it makes the game feel “incomplete” with >50% of the items there that i never touched because I didn’t want to spend more money on the game. This kind of “a game you bought gives you an incomplete/negative feeling” is one of the reasons I think these monetizations screw up the customer experiences and could result in a buyer backlash when compared to a past where everything in the game was yours and you could make the game fully yours just by taking the time to explore it, while now you pay for it but then get a feeling of intentionally built-in dissatisfaction from it.

– something that can give one an indication of the bad choices and the incentives built in is that there’s actually a  store eitem costing 100$ which doesn’t have the game, nor dlc or content… it just has 12000 ingame currency. And of course you could buy it repeatedly… while the simple fact that it exists tells a lot of story to those prone to thinking of incentives and aware that in fact humans do respond to incentives…

+ the way in which (in-game currency) loot boxes could’ve made a somehow passable design choice (even if less immersive) was in the later game if you think of it as a game mechanic to save you time and give you even more options, to see many orcs. Thus I multiple times just “flooded” a territory with “generated” orcs, and that in itself was initially interesting, while leading to me not playing the game which, again, i find speaks of bad design when inviting to such an extent. I did it partly to do a proof of concept point testing, that even if they limited this for me leaving only the premium currency it would still be a game breaker. This option will likely exist in a future where payed content becomes ubiquitous and it by necessity introduces a game breaking outside source.

+, – the main story campaign was so so. Good enough not to complain, not spectacular or worth remembering. I wish instead they would’ve put that story content into the orcs, giving them more dialogue lines, more custom experiences and quests. As it is the two components of the game actually fought against eachother like two separate games sometimes. This was made worse by:

– , – , – artificial barriers. Unlike I hear many reviewers I actually really enjoyed “playing with my orcs”, i was mind blown by the arenas, and had a lot of fun developing them, picking favorites and trying to help some of them survive through the trials. However it was a shame that the game actually went to lengths to prevent me from reaping rewards from this: I was constantly hampered with the orcs by a level cap for them forcing me to play more of the story missions I didn’t enjoy so much, and during the story suddenly all my achievements with the orcs, from calling one to making use of the army to easier pass a frustrating mission, I kept being locked away from that as if I didn’t do that. Particularly annoying to me was one main mission when in one of the typical worst practices of such open world games they locked me in a room with a boss, which was spawning infinite enemies and regenerating and i struggled a lot, all the while knowing I had built an orc army which would’ve helped a lot. And if this were to happen just once, but it happens many maaany times over. I really find it a horrible design decision (and did so from way back on the old Fallout 2/Baldur’s gate 2 times) when a game which gave you choices in character building or an open world with options and you’ve developed strategies and a certain playstyle you enjoy while relying on it, but then a game decides “to be cinematic” and takes everything way from you to force you to live it’s maker’s very particular limited view of how it should be played there.

+, – i think i saw something like 173h of play on a counter, now on one side this reflects how much fun i had with the game, particularly the fascinating arenas, but also that a huge part of the engame i just had orcs playing against eachother, just so they level up, and also it turns out to be a great source of coin, of which huge quantities are needed for the grindy 2nd half. I enjoyed the parts I did voluntarily from the start of the game ignoring the story whenever I could, but the way they set it up what happened later is that I would just leave the PlayStation on for long periods of time coming back to it occasionally to start a new orc fight and going back away. This management element could’ve been a fun android game, and for me personally it was even enjoyable, HOWEVER, I believe due to the corrupting choice of monetization this is not geared towards customer satisfaction as much as to an intentional frustration buildup to encourage you to buy more. It happened to not have worked on me as I enjoyed it BUT i think this is a bad decision overall and worthy of lower reviews and I’m not surprised hearing a lot of customers just stopped playing after a while. If they had more audio storytelling/in between the different attacks, and with the orcs themselves, that would’ve been another story.

+, – the soundtrack i found like the environments, passable but not memorable and feeling somewhat generic and hard to notice. Except the music that starts when riding a Caragor which got me engaged every single time.

-, + the “challenges” i normally ignore even in games i love such as Dying Light, however I actually played a few of them simply because they are providing small insights at least into the mood of Celebrimbor, the to me more interesting side of the main character.

– the other secondary characters felt very bland and boring

+, + extra points to the game for doing an edgy subject matter (if you strip away the Tolkien skin it hides under), a bit of insight as what could’ve lead to this is done quite beautifully in the nice tribute done to a person (who i presumed died?) at the end of the game, as well as how they get you to care about him via the mysterious helper who saved me more than once out of hopeless spots

Overall I’d say this game was a mixed bag. I personally believe if they didn’t have the design corruptions mandated by microtransactions this game would’ve been worthy even of a 3 on a -5 to 5 scale, particularly for somebody who didn’t play the prequel, however given all the bad customer experiences they chose i couldn’t give it more than 1.5. I enjoyed my time with it, but as it is I find it hard to call it GREAT game as that rating would imply, being a mixed bag of amazing brilliance and wow moments and so-so agravated by bad customer treatment. Again, I want to emphasize, unlike many who complain about microtransactions I’m not against developer monetization, neither do I expect the devs to work for free and great things, I just think this is a sneaky inflationary and somewhat deceitful practice of selling you an “incomplete by design” product and that hurts it. Ff this game would’ve cost double but didn’t have their domino effect of bad choices and instead the resources had been use to do the right things giving a good customer experience I believe I would’ve appreciated it despite the price, but as it is it’s like having a great cake with some rotten parts thrown in intentionally into half of the mix to get you to buy another cake. It’s weird and i think bad business practice alienating customers. Also i should mention i’m not even against “randomized boxes” as much as one might think, i think these could have a valid place in game design, to express statistical probabilities, gambling discovery or as a different type of gameplay… BUT it has to be done for user enjoyment, not the opposite: for his disenjoyment that he may pay to avoid the displeasure.

PS: i think they had a bad (again probably biz/management driven ) title, Mordor 2 would’ve been much shorter and catchier, this title is hard to abbreviate, and i think every company should care about how easy it is to talk about their product

PS2: if you actually read all of the above, I am humbled and honored, thank you for taking the time. It came out much longer than I anticipated… I guess the game took long enough that it spawned a lot of thinking about it.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 – quick impressions

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+, +, +, + Amazing one of a time story, the subtleties, the twists, even time loop, timeline and series references. Great characters and great character motivations. Superb twists. Does a great job at weaving a convoluted plot line and time-line and does some very nice cinematography type trickery in the way it presents the story and reinterprets sections previously played in new lights. Wonderful jump of a few centuries in time + story and world building implications of that.

-, -, – It’s a game built on “bosses are cool” ideas, which for somebody like me, who thinks bosses are the worst, really sucks. Everything from special to multi staged to special condition & challenging bosses, hated all that

+, +, +, + Spectacular value for money. I felt like i’ve been playing the game like forever, so much so i was shocked when it ended as I had gotten used to playing it regularly over many months if not a year, with breaks, sure, but still, it felt endless. I think i finished at least one if not two seriously big audiobooks while playing it in between cinematic sequences

+, -, -, – The game I wouldn’t quite call open world, but for all intents and purposes it is, in the sense that it’s huge, just not really one big area but rather a huge number of interconnected areas so you can get from anywhere to anywhere. Now you might be wondering why this could be a minus for somebody who appreciates big world and quantity of content… well, at least 3-5 times I got completely stuck. This is a game that (i felt) doesn’t hold your hand that much, meaning a bunch of times I didn’t know what to do next, or how, so I’d go into one direction or on a false idea and waste a huge amount of time and often after that I’d just abandon it for weeks on end. A few times I even resorted to looking it up online to get unstuck. I think this is a big flaw to have in a game

+, +, +, +, + The artwork in this game is just spectacular, from amazing 3d sculptures to drawings that show amazing artistic mastery. Everything from the main menu to the help manuals just made me in awe either of the artistic skill or the effort they put into this direction. Some concept art pieces might not have been made by elder masters, but even they were interesting and you could tell thought was put into them and they more than made up when you see how those ideas got implemented into the end-game

+, +, + The music was super good. Sometimes it was so-so, but then there were moments I didn’t expecting and some fantastic orchestral or moving theme would start in the background and i’d be awed and excited

+, +, -, – I loved the medieval and internal mind locations, the castle complications, but there were also modern areas and somewhat futuristic ones. These I didn’t feel fleshed out or original enough and I felt were rather a minus. It worked together well for the overall story, but I didn’t like them.

+, + cool secrets, interesting places, interesting use of varied powers to get to them.

+, +, +, + amazing character & creature design. To be honest i don’t say this often or am i so often inclined to appreciate this… or so I thought, but some of the characters here, when they are presented, totally surprised, both with originality and fictional believability. Even when they “failed” they failed in an original way that inspired my respect. Not only in that ordinary enemies would feel like they had a back story (which they did, at least one two pages!!), but their shape language was original and exuded individual personality

– the game did feel at times a bit hard (even though i think i played it on the easiest difficulty)

+, +, – you know how in games you usually have one type of gameplay and everything done through that, and it’s surprising when they have a 2nd or a 3rd programmed mechanic? This game felt like it had a bunch of them. Multiple times I’d think i’ve seen all the mechanics the game has to offer and then I’d see a new one for some minor place i didn’t expect it. This brings great variety and originality and a feeling of surprise. The minus is that some of these feel somehow contrived or increase the difficulty. I remember for example a section where I had to hide from a boss in a garden, on the one hand it was interesting, on the other frustrating. For a while i thought it was impossible until i thought of new and original ways to use my powers. But it’s not like that same logic was ever useful to me in that way again… still, there’s something to appreciate in all that custom scripting at least from a developer point of view

 

Overall I’d give this one a 2 (on a -5 to 5 scale).  Though in terms of recommending it might only be a 1. What I mean by that is that to me the game left a huge and lasting and quite good impression. That’s because it had moments when it was a solid 4, maybe even 4.5, but then again there were moments when it went even 0 or -1, getting me frustrated, curious about more content but hitting walls of obstacles. Over time I’ll probably only remember the good things, and I’m happy i finished it, and hope for a continuation of the series with such greatness.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider – impressions

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Wooow, this game was like WOW! Great surprise. Finished it in like 3 days, and not because it was short, on the contary, but I get ahead of myself in excitement:

+, +, +, +, + Aaamazing value. Seriously, like what?!?! I mean this was < half the price of a full game, I think I got it for 30 instead of the usual 70 and that on day one. And despite that the content was very rich. I normally don’t see such day one prices except for multiplayer games I couldn’t care less about, and here I had a singleplayer fantastic game doing the same. I wish there were more “expansion” games if this is the level of quality that results. Makes me think of a documentary I saw recently about Fallout New Vegas developed as a “huge expansion”, and ending up for many as possibly the best recent Fallout game.  I wouldn’t go quite as far with Death of the Outsider but definitely the same direction. The content felt like a lot, great, and I still see a lot of replay value in it, I’ve definitely missed some content PLUS choices branching, as well as a smart NG+ choice I saw they made. This game had more game content than many full game, and all so intriguing.

+, +, +, + Great story. I think this might be the first Dishonored game, (and I loved them all) where I read every single bit of paper I found with great interest. And not because I didn’t try with the others, I did, but after a while they would feel samey and I’d just open them only to close them down after scanning for a code or something. With this one I was genuinely curious about what they said, and it helped that a lot of them were about the mythos of this universe. Also even the little paper cinematics at the beginning of missions felt more interesting, engaging in narative and well done dramatically.

-, + There is a tiny bit of content reuse, but it’s the good kind, not just for enlarging the world and anchoring it but more importantly they do the smart thing I’ve been wishing for many years of taking the same environment and showing it at different moments in time with logical lived-in alterations having had changed it

+ Surprisingly interesting main character, which was unexpected to me as I liked the previous 2 protagonists quite a lot. It helps that she doesn’t say enough to be bothersome for the immersion.

+, +, + They took some wonderfully brave but well thought out game design choices, made sometimes subtle but sometimes radical tweaks to the powers and progression that actually had me thinking in new ways and playing in new ways within the (to me) well known concepts

+ Interesting side missions

+, + The occasional quite fantastic story scripts, many times I would be into doing something, even knocking out an NPC  and then he’d start saying something so interesting I’d change my plan just to find out what happened.

+, +, + The entire environment felt somehow like a big puzzle, but unlike other games it was wonderfully integrated, to the point where the puzzles felt well a part of the world and fitting. And as soon as you’d figure out one type of puzzles and were expecting boredom they’d put some other type of puzzle to figure out that made you think differently.

– the end location, while also beautiful and original, they go back to that lazy old style game design, with a frustrating ramp in the difficulty curve and that trial and error gameplay familiar from the past where you’re not given enough tools to deal with new complications of the situation in the first goes so immersion breaking trial and error results. It’s a shame that it puts a shadow at the end on the past experience although the location idea could’ve been good and it was well set up.

+, +, +, +, + There’s a lot of branching. And different ways of doing things. This is ‘UUUuuuuge, really. There were even moments when I couldn’t figure out some puzzles despite struggling a lot, yet I was still super curious to go into some areas, but then I figured out some other puzzles and managed to see the area after all.

+, +, + The sense of “scale” is quite amazing. I can’t think of many other games where 3-5 rooms could keep me busy for an hour or more… like they would feel like a universe of their own. You’d think “what can I do in a few rooms, I just wanna move past them?” but this game was so rich in content in them and they were so complex in figuring out their spacial placements and many interconnections that I was multiple times amazed for how long I had been in a few rooms just and my brain still found it fascinating to figure them out and how they work together.

Overall I’d give this game a 3,9 on a -5 to 5 scale, making a truly excellent game. What it may lack in comparing it to a big huge new game this game makes up in density of content, good story and originality, as well as really unbeatable value. This is half price for a FULLL game, truly.

PS: I’m sad to predict that probably this game won’t sell well, this was as far as I can tell the worst marketed great game in recent years or maybe forever: even I, a person who’s been following and waiting for it almost missed it, it wasn’t advertised anywhere, not on the web, not on youtube, not even on the PS store page, everybody just acted like it didn’t exist. Should you think you might like it/want more of such games I think the devs could really use the signal of early buyers despite this bad situation. I rarely advocate so strongly for a game but this one I really feel it would deserve it and I’m saddened to predict this will go unnoticed until it will be too late.

Mafia 3 – impressions

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+, +, +, +, + My favorite thing about the whole game was the world that it brought to life. Maybe i wouldn’t have gone with the same sepia/desaturated look at all times, but i gotta admit it worked, this being just one on top of a million other things that made this world/period/location incredibly real feeling. Even after finishing the game, as many times before I just started the game just to be in this world, the whole atmosphere, the houses, the streets, the people, the cars… everything seems to work so wonderfully together… A great world to simply BE in.

+, +, -,  + I came into this game with high story expectations from Mafia 2, particularly in the story department, and this game totally managed to live up to them. There were little bumps where it felt a bit stretched but the overall story, atmosphere and world it creates is spectacular

+, +, +, + Amazing soundtrack. Full of old classic period songs of the highest calibre. Not all my favourite but  it definitely adds and keeps a lot of mood, from the great menu music to the wonderfully responsive moody action music which adapts based on player actions and even performance, and down to pleasant background things.

+, +, – I didn’t particularly love the radios/presenters/shows, felt a bit too much of the propaganda views of our times projected into those, however it was great to have them there and a delight to hear the abundance of content, weather while driving or while walking past radios

-, + i can’t fully object to the people who called the gameplay structure a bit repetitive, but yet for some reason it never really upset me, never dragged on for too long and it was generally enjoyable.

-, – I had a section around 70% through where i just didn’t figure out what to do next… i can’t remember weather it was because some objective was not seen on the map or it had to do with taking over missions… Still, i passed it and it was okay. Still, those icons and the  way you choose them, how they’re still there after being completed and not super clear when they’re selected… gave me a bit of trouble.

+, +, +, -, + the story itself, as in the main cinematics was quite good, written with twists greys and nuances, I quite enjoyed it. Where it fell a bit short, not in content but in presentation were the dialogues with some characters where they weren’t animated/they were rigid, ingame and static, in those moments i felt it broke a bit the immersion because they were so stiff, but then there were superb cinematics both ingame and prerendered which more than made up for it. And the story overall dripped with believability.

– although i thought Lincoln was a very cool character and his story a great gangster story there was something that kept bothering me about it, this feeling of “positive racism”… like it’s all good and okay when a black guy kills self justified white people with some hints of race, but of course such a movie would be buried alive if a white guy would kill black people in these ways. In this this, the game follows the typical mainstream of our times, with branding of southerners as religious fanatics whites (there’s for example a mission like that where they have a union flag and in a church and they sell slaves). I mean I find it’s totally okay for a story, just saying that it plays to the prejudices and tabus of our times… but then again if it didn’t it wouldn’t have been allowed to come out… so I’m happy they did if this was the only way to make this game/world/story.

+ A lot of interesting characters

+, +, – the retrospective/storytelling mechanic i might not like as much as i would’ve liked a “we’re there/then” approach, but as it is it still works great to create a strong atmosphere.

+, +, +, + While (maybe through the filter of nostalgia?) i still think there was “more story” in Mafia 2 (something that probably isn’t true neither in time length or subtleties), this game does something more remarcable  in making the world open, so interesting and full. of so many lovingly crafted corners.

– , +, +, + while i felt a few moments that some content was a bit “stretched thin”… in fact there was SO MUCH content, not just the amazing world but a story that kept on giving, and giving and giving… that overall I’m very impressed with the length and quantity of this game, to tell such a great story/world and to keep it up for so long… i didn’t expect that.

 

Overall I was very very impressed with this game, even more so than I expected, and I still wonder at some of the subtleties of storytelling, in characters, in developments, and find this world one which i enjoyed every moment breathing it and I probably will find myself starting the game in years to come too just to “be there” again. In fact the game was so good that although I might not have expected with such a long and meaty game, I look forward to buying the DLC expansions, which afaik are all story oriented and i look forward to seeing their story and through their excuses to see the world again. So, despite the occasional thinness, and a world not super decorative, my impression still is a spectacular 4 (on a -5 to 5 scale) because of it’s great story, lengthy story and great realized open world.

 

7 games in 7 years

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This article is not so much for gamers, as for people who enjoy artwork in all it’s forms. The kind of people who pick up a good book and look forward to the magic how with every page they sink deeper into the wonderful world it describes. To people who like to see amazing paintings that fire up the imagination, and marvel at the beauty of sculptures or wonder in awe at amazing architectural monuments that come to us through time and across the centuries, telling stories of ages past. To people who enjoy listening to immersive music, weather classical or modern, quiet ambiental or engaging, music that moves and creates a great atmosphere. And to people that enjoy movies, with great characters and fantastic adventures, and interesting story twists.

To all these people I write, as I am sad to know that some of them still avoid games even today. Maybe it’s because they have never seen how all those things are present in (some) games of our times, made by possibly the best artists & creators of our generation. Or maybe because they say they don’t know of such games, and all they’ve seen are time wasters where people test only their reflexes or are only worth experiencing when having fun with friends. Or maybe they feel like they don’t have time for the many games, even just to pick the good ones out of the sea of mediocrity and wouldn’t know where to begin this huge field. My attempt to help is to create a list of one game to play per year. Since we are in 2017 I’ll try to thus name 7 years, from 2010 to 2016, with the current year still incomplete. If in each of these years you had experienced just this one game, I believe you would’ve already tasted something fantastic from this great new world we live in and I for one would already consider you cultured in this field where so many are sadly still illiterate. Also I am hoping that going back in time over many years, besides the fun of the journey, there will be games that anybody can play, even people with older computers, access to older consoles only, or simply people who only have a less then powerhouse laptop around to play with. I will also try to name for each year a second-best, in case the main proposed game isn’t found, doesn’t work for you or you simply would like something different… or maybe you feel you could play more than one game per year ?!?

Obviously the list is subjective and is just my best attempt and there are many other great ones, but one’s gotta start somewhere. Each of the titles I picked I think realizes something extraordinary, spectacular for that year and enduring for many years later, a unique experience that you shouldn’t miss if you are lucky enough to live in this wonderful 21st century, where magical worlds exist just for you to explore, worlds more fantastic and more real, more beautiful and more complex than the best best novels of centuries past, painted down to every detail, just inviting you to experience them.

 

This game is a great bringing to life of an old wild west type movie, managing to have a lot of interesting characters, some wonderful story twists, and to tell a moving story from the age when the American wild west was slowly beginning to be swallowed by modernity, but the old world still continued, thus having also that kind of book’s conflict between worlds and ages story.

Backup: Fallout New Vegas. It tells a retro-futuristic post apocalyptic story, the story of a messenger who unwittingly gets involved into a series of events much bigger than himself, and through his eyes you get to discover a whole world, destroyed yet abundant in opportunities, full of choices, including some quite difficult morality questions.

 

Though part of a bigger series, worry not, it’s it’s own encapsulated story and world. And yes, it’s enough to last you a whole year should this be the only game you manage to pack with yourself before you get yourself stranded on an island. The story here manages to be modular enough to allow you to go in any direction and explore anything you want in this original high fantasy world. There’s everything from major story arcs to minor series of stories, to tiny narrations told through journals of text found in lost caves you might wonder into in your curiosity imbued exploration

Backup: if you feel like travelling to the beautiful 16th century Constantinople, at the edge between the western and the Arab world, I’d invite you to try out Assassin’s Creed: Revelations while if you feel like exploring a much darker purgatory-like world and are willing to experience even atmospheric frustration Dark Souls was a gem that appeared in this year, a world in which your own struggles while playing mirror the struggles of the character in this world, all bathing in implied deep philosophical themes.

 

Creating a memorable original universe, happening in a mixture between an artistic vision of a distorted victorian industrial revolution mixing with supernatural elements, this game is remarkable in many ways. The stylized visuals with impossibly high proportions makes one feel like he’s moving through a painting at times, while the fiction creates a wholly original mythos.

Backup: Farcry 3. Essentially a brutal “growing-up” story, the game tells the experience of a group of rich spoiled young people who in their partying travels to a beautiful exotic island find themselves hostages and forced to be either victims or to fight back forgetting their civilized education. The beautiful island, complete with amazing locations and plant and wild life is just as much a character as the friends and their charismatic antagonist.

 

Yes, you’ve probably heard of these games, and if all you know of them is that lame friend who’s just enjoying driving cars and blowing up things I can understand your scepticism to see this game on a list of artistic games. But the reason despite the prejudice that I’d still put this game here as the one special game to play if through some horrible time travel accident you found yourself in 2013 (or hardware of that time) is that on top of all that simulation is built a truly memorable story, with 3 characters which each stand out in his own way. From the old movie loving, problem husband and father, middle age crisis Michael to the more than disturbing chaotic personality of Trevor each of the 3 characters has his own view of the world, and together they go through an adventure worthy of the best action movies, while still managing to have many insightful social and political commentary at modern life.

Backup: Bioshock Infinite. No longer the underwater dystopia of the original Bioshock, this new game manages to tell the story of another man made paradise went mad.

 

You know I was almost about to write down 2014 as a year where nothing truly remarkable came out. I couldn’t find it by year because this game didn’t get the best reviews due to it’s buggy launch, but now if you go back to it, and even then if, like myself, you cared more for the spirit of this almost too ambitious an attempt, I think you may find this is a truly worthy title for the year. Where else do you get to travel back in time and get to see 1789 Paris during the French revolution, complete with buildings that don’t even stand today. The story is good, but it almost pales in contrast to THE CITY, the time, the people on the streets, their clothes, the great monuments, the shouts on the street (IMHO best experienced in French should you know it). And it’s a world that keeps on giving, even past the main game and the great locations, even down to the intriguing little detective stories with subtle hints that you can solve as a total side project. But above all, the city, oh, what a city, what a time… every once in a while I jump back into this world just to wander the streets and to marvel at the beautiful churches and the dynamics of the crowd.

Backup: A split between Shadow of Mordor where you get to experience a personal nemesis simulation in the setting of the Tolkien created Lord of the Rings universe and Alien Isolation, a bringing to life of the kind of story/world that the 1979 invented in the eponymous Ridley Scott movie.

 

A world deeply rooted in the novels of the polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, worth experiencing and exploring due to the the many rich stories and multi-faceted characters. The main story arc, the many secondary and incidental stories, and even the many tens of pages in writing found in little notes and books and writings found across the world, are all worthy of literary greatness. All through one can sense the refreshment of the medieval fantasy through what to me felt like a sense of east-european scepticism and moral choices which are not of the super simplistic black and white variety, but rather often present difficult tradeoffs. Countless stories prove to be deep, for example I particularly remember that of the baron, which manages to touch on difficult themes from familial violence to alcoholism mixed with familial love, and even impossible subjects like abortion, all while keeping it’s medieval atmosphere. And should you find the game too “autumn rainy” it later (2016) even blooms in some wonderful expansions of which “Blood And Wine” particularly impressed by managing to maintain serious stories even while going to brightly coloured lands. But even without that this should be enough for the year.

Backup: Bloodborne. Here we have what may be to date the best materialization of the spirit and mythos inspired by the many wonderful books by H.P. Lovecraft, weather you take movies or games, as even cinefiles have jealously complained. The narrative is told more through experience and mystery than words, but yet one can feel the well developed mysterious lore backdrop that feels consistent even if it took a large online community to dig up the less obvious secrets.

 

For this year we have a split between these two sequels. Neither revolutionizing, or innovating enough to deserve the title alone but both polishing the ingenuity of the predecessors. Dishonored 2 continues in developing it’s universe mixing dystopian industry and magic, whie Dark Souls 3 reunites the existential themes of civilizational and philosophical cycles of it’s predecessors, in some ways polishing, while in others simply returning to roots. Should you in 2016 have had only time for one game, I’d suggest tossing a coin over which, or better choosing based on weather or not you got to experienced/enjoyed their predecessors.

Backup: Hitman. Again just a a return to old form of this Hitman’s story, but a pretty decently done one with good variety of locations and social situations.

2017 … ?

As for the year in course, 2017, we’ve already had big titles like Horizon: Zero Dawn, the story of a tribal young girl in a post-apocalyptic nature overrun world set on a path to discover what happened to earth before her birth, or Prey, a story that takes you onto a satellite research station in space in typical classic sci-fi fashion, only to discover what went wrong, imbued with themes of questioning self identity and the nature of one’s change of self through learning, in this case machine/alien enhanced sudden flash learning. But the year is young, and traditionally the best games come to us towards the end of the year often just in the holiday season, so I have greater expectations for the year to come.

Conclusion

So, this would be the list of games I would personally suggest if you had but the opportunity to play just one game per year for the past seven years. Surely others might pick others, maybe for different story themes, better gameplay, or more social involvement, and luckily we have a lot of choice, but these are my picks for creating fantastic worlds, for excelling in multiple forms of artwork, from storytelling to visuals, be it painterly or sculptural/architectural, all on the backdrop of memorable soundtracks and giving one of a kind experiences. Given this special one game per year limitation I have also chosen meatier games, games that you can sink your teeth into and chew on for a while, with worlds that you can can go into again and again, for weeks, nay months, in the knowledge that each time you go in you will be rewarded by fresh new stories to read or live, places to see and unique emotional experiences to experience.

Did you already play these games in the past years? Then I salute you with respect and look forward to many interesting conversations. If not, may I invite you into these wonderful worlds? Even if you don’t normally play games, and even should you just play one of these games per year… I believe if you give them a chance, you have 7 great years of incredible amazing experiences to look forward to! What a privilege to be living in the wonderful year of 2017!

Dying Light: The following – quick impressions

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This review has been slow in coming not because the game is bad, but because the game is faaaantastic. So much so that after finishing it I felt i wasn’t done with it. And then played portions of it again, and then again some more. And i’ll probably go back to this world because it’s so good. In fact it’s my choice for game of the year 2016 among heavy competition, so looking at it back now there’s now way I’ll do it justice but here’s some random memories:

+, +, +, +, +, + aaaamazing environmental storytelling through props and locations. Finding a set of otherwise ordinary items in a remote location that was totally optional but everything arranged in a way that told a story, that gave me the feeling that somebody had thought about what happened there, about the story of the place before you arrive there… just blew me away so many times. A mattress and a laptop and some headphones in some locked up place suggesting how the poor person was stuck there in the last moments without electricity and tried to get some comfrot from the music, many many such locations made the whole world alive, everything working together to tell a bigger story, a story not of people but of a world. I was very impressed

+, +, -,  + amazingly big world. I was expecting not to like it as much as the original because i hate it when first person games introduce cars and I was sceptical that they could still make a dense enough world on such a scale yet it surprised me. Sure, I missed a bit all the tight environments that didn’t need a car from the original, but still it was pretty interesting and at each place I arrived to I got the feeling of all the glory of the original

+, + still great soundtrack. Just discovered it’s on amazon prime too, yeaayy!

+, + interesting characters and stories with variety

+, + lots of interesting things to do, interesting character progression

+, +, + a lot of fantastic optional stuff

+, +, +, +, + some really amazing visuals, be it beautiful high cliffs in the sun or wet caves with underwater entrances, many many times my jaw just dropped

+ interesting original user content coupled in

Overall I found the game fantastic, played it multiple times and I’m sure I’ll get back into the world in years to come, bought the game again just for that. Definitely my game of the year 2016, and that despite strong contenders and the fact that it launched in january-february, a period where most games are afraid to launch as nobody remembers them for the nominations of november/december… but yes, I think this is a huge gem of a game. Every time I see a game of they year list where it isn’t at least nominated I’m saddened for all the people who didn’t experience this fantastic gem. Warmly warmly recommending it. I’d give it 4,2 on a -5 to 5 scale, making it fantastic.

Dishonored 2 – impressions

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Quick thoughts on credits:

+, +, +, +, +, + amazing environmental attention to detail, from the way old objects clutter to witches having a cup of tea and discussing among themselves on a chandelier until/unless they notice you

+, +, +, + again that amazing level design full of amazing secrets, wasn’t easy to find all the runes but it was worth it. Granted for one of them after trying a bunch of things had to look online. Otherwise however I have to say I loved their subtlety and logic, I like they d again like in Dishonored that they had a physicality to them, making sense somehow and not resorting to cheap tricks

+, +, + nicely deeply thought out universe with rich background and in-character storytelling

+, + great artwork, like it’s predecessors

-, +, + it felt very much like the original Dishonored. For the time passed it felt like there weren’t enough leaps either in technology or quantity of artwork. I mean it was better, but I was sorta expecting more. That being said the artwork was very good.

+, + this the game on the ps4 came with the original Dishonored + the expansions, which made me veeery happy. Although I’ve played them (shockingly) multiple times I look forward to replaying the brilliant expansions once more and their generosity of including it with the ps4 version brings me great joy and to somebody who hasn’t played them could potentially bring value in my opinion almost equal to the game itself despite the passage of time

– on the ps4 pro there were a lot of weird bright edge jaggies, where tiles in the walls met, not a big deal, and most of the time they weren’t there (maybe they even disappeared at some point)

+, +, +, + the infested houses were just aaaamazing, that mixture of luxury furniture and musical instruments with nature invading and the stories in there, told both by environments, and bits of journals… aaamazing

+, +, + some amazing sculptures!

+, + they took in artwork and style as well as original ideas from the 2 brilliant expansions to Dishonored, which were IMHO even better than the original game

– with the art style in the menus i felt it was a little step back from the excellent artists’ work shown in the original game, I also felt less impressed by the faces/expressions of the main characters, they got imo a bit too plasticy instead of that stylized cut look they used to have

+, – you can play it with two characters. This may introduce some extra replayability for some people, for me though, playing Corvo, this probably was the cause why it felt very much the same, with abilities being too similar.

+, +, + a lot of replayability coming from the amazingly interesting locations and events, also many interesting dialogues

+, +, + delightfully many paths through the environments

– At times it felt a bit difficult, or at least strangely balanced difficulty, with first escape mission being really tough while some later missions being almost silly easy

+, +, + path breaking approach with that time-travel map, that’s like 2 maps in one! easy to not appreciate that wonder enough. If they make a whole future game like that it’ll be truly a leap forward, and i consider this a very successful prototype.

Overall I think it’s an excellent game. I’d consider it above the original Dishonored but not quite the level of excellence of the 2 expansions. I wasn’t suuuper impressed simply because the bar was set so high and while the new game met it it didn’t (i felt) rise it in the same way as the original did. So overall I’d give it a 4 on a -5 to 5 scale, making it an incredible amazing game that I very warmly recommend!

Farcry Primal – impressions

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It’s amazing it took me like 8 months to finish this game despite loving it so very much from the launch date. Here’s my quick thoughts:

+, +, +, +, + Aaaaaaaaaaaaaamazing world, so very very big and open and fascinating to explore and beeeeeeeeautiful!!!

-, – too bad it didn’t had voice over. I mean in a way the primitive old language is charismatic, but on the other hand it breaks the immersion a bit not to understand it and it makes it feel a bit like a more “indie” budget title, which it totally doesn’t feel otherwise

+, +, +, + deep and complex story with a lot of moral grays. Many times I was surprised how they dared to be so “politically incorrect” with the kinds of things they said in the game, and the story. I’m used to seeing stories in which the hero is camouflaged for modern tastes and values yet in this game the story and the world is much more unapologetically tribe-vs-tribe, and even in this the game manages to surprise with complex tensions and interests, and even the major villain being presented in a way that made me go “WOOOW”, humanized through his child and brain illness, and even in the mutual deadly hate there is a place formed for mutual respect

+, +, + a nice variety of approaches, locations, from stealth to using animals and to full on spectacular action

– after the initial 20h of great discovery my interest plateaued for a while because of same world, yet what a world

+, +, +, + beautiful graphical engine, beautiful day-night cycle

+, +, +, + spectacularly realized vegetation, in looks, in color spectrum, in variety, in organic distribution

+, + an interesting approach of handling cold weather resulted in wonderfully dynamic experiences and emergent gameplay situations. I remember this one time when I was trying to silently take a village in the snow, yet I was freezing, so i would try to sneak past bonfires

+, +, +, + great variety in the terrain and locations

+, +, + a masterpiece in handling the animals, they are beautiful

+, + I was very surprised how many interesting and unique places to discover they’ve managed to create, with unique looks and atmosphere, world events, caves, ritual sites, villages…

+, + gripping level-up system with a lot of skills and objects to acquire while learning the land

Overall I’d say this is an underrated masterpiece of which i hear way too little of. I’d give it an amazing 4.5 on a -5 to 5 scale. I wish it had had dialogues but otherwise this is a one of a kind experience that totally took me by surprise, I really reeeeeeeally hope they’ll make a Primal 2 or even better further experiment with translating the formula through history.

Layers of Fear – impressions

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Finished it. It was a just one day experience, but it definitely was a memorable surreal one. We got the game not knowing what to expect, possibly nothing special, but after 1h of play I was so impressed with the quality of the historical elements in the environment that I went and got the addon on the spot (haven’t played it yet). Here’s quick thoughts while the credits are rolling:

+, +, + , +, + some amazing surreal moments of dream and paradox that I think would’ve had both Escher and Dali impressed. And some changes are so subtly and beautifully integrated that it’s amazing, like one moment you’ll be looking around a room and the next seeing it’s got an endless ceiling, but wonder if it was like that before, or turning around a room to find doors where you remembered walls… or things floating, just amazing moments.

+, + interesting mystery atmosphere, told through small things, placements of things, indirect letters, that kind of stuff

– there were also moments however when it felt like it had too many “booo!” scares… though I got quickly immune. The suspense stuff was better though.

+, +, + at times amazing soundtrack

– Though some story was there I wish there was more story and a bit less of the ‘gore’… just a bit, it mostly worked but it could’ve used IMO more monologue or something

+, +, + loved the historical household objects

+, – the classical paintings in the game were a perfect disturbing fit and wonderful in their ways. The only problem was there was too few of them and they repeated breaking a bit the great immersion.

+, + at times it looked technically very impressive, both as engine and at times even in terms of environment asset quality, there were moments I felt I was playing Bioshock, which is an amazing achievement for what I assume is a team/budget that’s much smaller

Overall I’d give this game a grandiose 3.5 on a -5 to 5 scale: a truly unique and extraordinary experience. Had it’s moments when it was harder to push on but overall it surprised and delighted in a way in which games rarely do and tends to be more the domain of movies: a constant journey of change, change in subtle ways, story always advancing almost without failure and failures turning into development and surprise. This game has greatly surprised me.

PS: though lacking that amazing tech this game is I think a worthy inheritor of the title of what P.T. might have been had it actually been developed into a (good) game. I definitely felt Silent Hill echoes in the game and a ton of ton of H.P. Lovecraft influences. What an impressive pedigree!

Doom 2 quick re-impressions

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Rating: 4.0/5 (1 vote cast)

A funny game to play for Christmas, I know, but I was so excited to find it released on the ps3 as a collection I had to buy it and play it a bit, and one thing lead to another, great fun ensued for days… and i finished it again. So, this is interestingly enough a review… 20 years later.

+ very interesting game designs, variety in level designs

-, –  some puzzles feel a bit arbitrary, and some I found totally unreasonable, being about as hidden as a secret level, except being mandatory for the main game

+ original puzzles making use of gradually built up previously introduced elements. One example that comes to mind is the original tunnel of barrels level which forces you to think of a quick and alternative solution to not be caught in the chains of explosions

-,- obviously very aged graphics for somebody who’s never lived those times

+ i would say the game aged pretty good, still being fun in 2015, of course if one is willing to look over the huge graphical changes in these years

+, – I didn’t remember the game had so many puzzles. I mean i remembered the shooting, but not how often i got stuck and wondered around either aimlessly or trying to figure out things. This is a plus as it creates pacing, moments of quiet to emphasize those of action, but can also be a minus as some puzzles are in my opinion a bit too hidden

+ pretty decent midi music

-, – inconsistent use of visuals: some textures sometimes signified they can be triggered/would move, while at other times the same things didn’t do anything and were just decorative. I understand the need but it was confusing.

+ a lot of content to explore. I didn’t remember there was so much to explore, even stuff that felt optional, and alternate routes! Impressive!

+, + something that i miss in modern shooters, i loved that all through the game there was a lot of advancing and exploration, covering huge distances. (yeah, i feel there’s a drought in such shooters, i’d love to play more FPSs)

 

All in all I’ve had great fun replaying it, of course largely due to the memories, but to my surprise I found that having forgotten >60% of it i also had a large feeling of discovery and surprise, which was very enjoyable. Compensating for the huge time elapsed since launche and/or with some nostalgia sprinkled on top i’d give it a 2.5 on a -5 to 5 scale. Those who are willing to give it a chance might have some fun.

Asssassin’s Creed Rogue – impressions

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+, +, + some really amazing environments. I’ve seen some forts which could’ve even been a Dark Souls level location, with multiple winding paths and secrets and beautiful attention to detail. Very impressive

+, + a brave, interesting and original story!

+ nice music

+, + finally says some things from the other side of the fence with commentary on many of the dubious actions of the assassins. It still tries to morally justify some of it’s own stances, but at least there’s a balance seeing the other side

+, + it was interesting seeing the british empire perspective

+, + it’s really nice how this story ties into Unity! Having had played that before i got the shivers when i realized the link. Brilliant.

+ I wasn’t a huge fan of the ship sections in Black Flag but here i found them much more okay because the locations seemed to have much more personality, they felt less generated and more worked on by good level designers

+, + some reeeeeeeeeeeeally beautiful locations, shockingly enough even optional ones, I remember this one place with bits of ship hulls in ice walls and among ice cliffs…

 

Conclusions: 2.8 on a -5 to 5 scale. This is to me one of the best assassin’s creed games I can think of… i guess many of them are great, but this one brings such a breath of fresh air it even manages to compete in some ways with the epic Unity despite that having much more epic artwork and and decorative locaitons on more powerful hardware. Long story short, I was quite impressed by this one. I gotta say this was much much better than I thought. The environments in particular got a lot of love and good design, with multiple paths and even interesting secrets.

CoD: Black Ops 2

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+, +, + the story is always moving forward, with high production values

+, +, – some locations are pretty cool, while others not so much

+, + nice variety of locations

+ good music (they even have Trent Reznor. Good choice)

+ there’s even some choice moments

+, +, – pretty good story, it has it’s cliche moments but overall it dares to even be controversial at points, which is much appreciated

– there’s a not so nice mission with some tanks or something like a strategy element, luckily it can then be avoided

Overall: A surprisingly good game. I enjoyed Black Ops too, and this one manages to continue the trend with some nice story line pickups and more importantly with some new cool Elements. I’d give it a decent 2 on a -5 to 5 scale, so quite a good game, even if now a bit outdated by the new genera.

PS: as usual i’m writing this while the credits are rolling, and man was i rewarded with some cool extra cinematics. Another point for the game. I’m bumping it up to a 2.5, as I was on the edge anyway, making it an excelent game.

God of War: Ascension – impressions

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+, + very high production values from beginning to end

– didn’t like the rendering style at the beginning, felt like shiny wax somehow, realistic but weird

+, + but then later on it sorta changed and with amazing artwork I came to love the visuals

+, +, + amazing setpiece moments

-, +, +  the story is a bit confusing at the beginning, but then the loops and stories within stories really give a big payoff in the end(s).

-, +, + same old gameplay, but what an amazing gameplay it is, and new moves and new original puzzles, and the fighting felt somehow fresh and different… or at least weird different, but definitely different and that was good

-, +, + the puzzles were sometimes way too hard, with no clues, but man were they mindbreakingly amazing, timetravel elements, complex puzzles with no handholding, to be honest i’m shocked they’d be so cruel to their customers, but on the flipside once you do them somehow (even with online or in my case genius wife help) man do you feel cool and impressed.

+, + weirdly enough towards the end, after a number of times when i had to force myself to push on, especially with stuck moments, i got a kind of excitmenet that i haven’t felt since GoW2 & Gow1, a sense of discovery and amazement

+, + the scene placement creates such a buildup, sections tease future sections, as you see from afar where you’re going, and doing complex things, and by the time you get there it feels so epic you think the game will end, but then it doesn’t and this happens again… and then again (especially going up the huge statue)…. amazing scene setting

+, + superb environments, really superb

+, +  fascinating creatures

+ good character development

+ interesting secondary characters

Conclusions: I’d give it an epic amazing legendary 3.5 on a -5 to 5 scale because it has such high production values. So much innovation in so many ways. I didn’t expect this. Just bought it because i thought the demo was “good enough”… Color me impressed!

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