#Reviews

Shadow of the Colossus (PS3 + PS4)

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I’ve started the game on PS3 and then replay-ed and finished it on the new PS4 release. The remake is in some sense incredibly close to the original, so I find it ok to review both at once.

+,+,+,+ Great mood all through the game. It’s a silent atmosphere, deepened by serene surroundings. I was not bothered by the lack of explanations, it’s what makes half of the game, the mood of the character and the ‘feeling’ of what needs to be done, “without ever knowing why”.

+, +, +, + The visuals are amazing (and greatly enhanced in the PS4 version, where they are state of the art). You find some incredibly beautiful forests with beautiful clearings and springs; beautiful desert areas, amazing ruins.

+,+,+,-  The actual colossi fights are many times genuinely original and interesting. The grabbing system is many times pure fun to play with. Other times though it can be frustrating, when it’s not obvious what needs to be done next.

+, +, -, – Each colossus’ beginning stage is different, which makes the game captivating. However, it happened 2-3 times that I just didn’t get what I had to do and the hint wasn’t really helping, which made it even more frustrating

-, -, -, + The controls are really hard at times. The only small plus to this is that they are manageable in the end, and it feels quite good when you finally, after half an hour of getting angry, manage to actually ride the horse while looking backwards and in the meanwhile aim with the bow in the creature’s moving eye, which every now and then gets out of the sand… can’t believe I eventually got the hang of that!!

+, +, +, + Beautiful soundtrack… I was still humming the songs days after finishing it.

+, +, +, +, +, +, + Most importantly for me: what an original game! It’s a pleasure to find such a gem where, unlike all other games, you don’t fight 100 enemies, but instead have only a hand full of significant creatures to defeat. A special experience from beginning to end, I’d recommend it to everyone to at least experience a couple of the colossi, just to have this in one’s collection of memories.

0: I wouldn’t complain about this, since the game makes sense as it is, but it’s maybe worth noting: there’s no dialogue, no quests, the story is linear. It’s a certain kind of game which needs to be enjoyed for what it is, and these things must not be expected from it.

Overall: 3.6 (on a -5 to 5 scale).

The Evil Within – impressions

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+, +, + remarkable production values

+, +, +, + epic length/value for money. It felt like 3 times as long as I was expecting, and all continuing not with stretched content but with constantly new locations and set-piece moments

+ the classical music sections such as the safe zone were nice, in the rest i didn’t remember/notice/like any special music. The credits has a bit of it.

-, -, – a lot of gore and shock horror, way too much and way too rudely in your face in my opinion

+, +, + the overall story felt pretty interesting

-, – it felt often very “gamey” … like contrived with game elements, enemies spawning, strongly scripted moments (in the bad sense) like enemies appearing at certain moments, no freedom, and the occasional totally gratuitous twist just to say put you in a “now you’re shooting a machine gun”, “now you’re locked in a moving elevator + shooting gallery”

+, +, +, + some really spectacular locations in variety, and also in production values, with little recycling and amazingly done. I often couldn’t believe this is not some prerendered scene because so much of the environment was changing around me, buildings falling/changing/ending up in new places…

+, +, + nice story twists, original story and a nice twist on horror with even some science elements

-, -, -, – overdone gore

+ some of the most spectacular game OR movie street city crasing/earthquake scenes I’ve ever seen

-, -, – bad pacing… too much tension and disgusting things without alternating with peace/contemplation/observation/something different… it tried to keep the beat too long too stressful leading to often just wanting to close it and for months not looking forward to start it again

+, + but in the end did because of the great production values

-, -, -, – a LOT of one shot kills and unfair moments.

-, -, – made worse by long loads. Any game that has so many unfair player kills should at the very least instant load… but still the problem is unexcusable because:

-, -, – it doesn’t make story sense. Every time the protagonist said “phew, i made it” all i could think is, “no, no, you didn’t, you died sooo many times. this movie would’ve ended so far before”.

+, + there’s moments where it felt satisfying, an environmental puzzle which made sense, or where being careful was rewarded with a payoff giving a Dark Souls style satisfaction of overcoming adversity in an interesting setting, but then they were also killed off by others which were simply arbitrary and felt random

+, – the horror/supernatural/fiction setting can be a wonderful thing a fascinating world to discover… but it turns out it can also feel like “a nightmare” in a more literal and unpleasant sense in that it feels arbitrary. I mentioned Dark Souls earlier, at least those worlds felt consistent in the rules, and in the world .. here sometimes it was interesting, sometimes random.

+ if one could strip away all the bad design choices in this game you’d end up with a game with a cinematic spectacle rivaling an Uncharted game and reminiscent of Resident Evil 4…. too bad there’s also all the frustration

Overall I’ll give the game a 0. It’s weird. For the high production values and length and the interesting story i’m tempted to give it a 1 or even a 2, but then I remembered all the moments it made me soooo hate it, like seriously angry, with cheap and random deaths, with boss battles, with repeated pointless frustration. There were even moments even close to the end where i had settled on -1 despite all the pluses because along with the greats there were so many horrible things it did and backward choices, but in the end I guess it deserves a 0 on a -5 to 5 scale. I can imagine people really admiring and appreciating some things in it, but I can also imagine people who like I felt at times feel like throwing the disk against a wall and promising to themselves to never again buy a game from this dev because they don’t entertain but rather abuse their players… but yearh, then there’s the good portions with are impressively professionally done and the great variety in locations and the interesting story elements…. so overall, well, it’s a draw. It was frustrating enough to not deserve the standard 1 that i give to mediocre but AAA games, and yet there were great moments and content in there. I wouldn’t recommend it though. I did buy the sequel and I’ll give it a try hoping they’ve kept the good and thrown away the bad… we’ll see.

PS: I’ll end this more critical review with and example of one of the redeeming sides of this game, it’s sometimes fascinating environments, of great variety, one of which is this mansion, which shows how much nice historical building research they did

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.

Gears of War – impressions

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I’m just 9 years after everybody else… but yeaayy, I finished it also! :D Played it on and off in the past year. Here’s my quick thoughts:

+ I can see why for it’s time it might’ve been technologically and in terms of gameplay quite innovative

-, + The world i find a mixed bag. It looks like there’s some visual and backstory interest, but then it’s very very skin deep and it never materializes

-, – very “box-design”, cubes and cubic stuff in all directions, all convenient for cover taking but with little thought to being visually pleasing or making sense

+ the music is at times interesting, with some orchestral elements. They didn’t quite impress but at least they tried.

-, -, – to me a very boring and annoying “go soldier, go” barking orders atmosphere and story. Nothing epic and definitely group oriented as opposed to epic hero.

+, + it’s great that the game offers splitscreen co-op and supports it so well. Also what helped me get unstuck at the end. I can imagine a lot of people in the world had fun playing it with friends

-, – i disliked the bulky soldiers and the 3rd person camera, something which combined to have an annoying “why is he blocking my screen” feeling, this was particularly bad and made even worse by the horrible sprinting mode, which has a very sickness inducing shaking on top of all that.

-, -, – very little/shallow world building/world backstory, it feels like it’s there just the bare minimum for the soldiers to keep shooting at stuff

+, -, – Mostly it felt okay in the “boss” department (I hate bosses), with doable stuff. The end boss was particularly frustrating though, and I remember a few other places where I got a bit stuck not being clear how to advance as enemies were “spawning” by digging themselves up from underground.

Overall I’d give this game a 1 on a -5 to 5 scale. Good enough to finish it, possibly it would’ve gotten a bit less today but I can imagine in 2006 it might’ve been pretty cool and path opening, and even today it does decently. I wouldn’t recommend it, but I had to play it for all it is to gaming history.

 

 

Halo 5 – impressions

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Finishes it yesterday, in thep ast week, here’s some thoughts while it’s still fresh:

+ looks at all times polished and even good sometimes however:

-, – , – , – was 95% of the time incredibly increeedibly bland and generic in it’s visual design/world/world building/visual language. It all was “generic mech-i sci-fi” writ large. At any moment you look you seem something that looks “cool” yet I easily found myself spacing out at just how same-same everything was. And I could also tell this based on the reactions of my wife as I would keep saying “look, this looks good” but then 2 seconds later she would look away and the thing is, i felt the same even while playing: the recipe is always the same: at any moment you look at the screen you see a) big empty mechanical surfaces without visual interest (hardly any wear and tear, planlife or life or use, even though they were supposedly houndreds/thousands/millions of years old b) on which boring visually uninteresting mechanical humanoid characters were walking and the camera was taking it’s sweet time to keep showing this. And the characters felt so bland, not just story but visuals too that:

-, -, -, I think I was like 60-70% through the game until I realized the 4 characters in my team were actually sometimes also another 4 characters, that’s how little they looked different and how bland mechanical and without personality or personal style flair they were. Only then did i have a flash of realization that the game keeps switching me between two teams of opposing 4 characters. You may laugh at me if you want, but i think this shows a huge flaw in the visual design. This is made worse by:

-, -, -, very very bland story, that I couldn’t care less about. Soldiers always talking like there’s a great urgency, like there’s not enough time, and this in EVERY mission, this has to do with:

-, – the game has very bad pacing, Like a good game I expect to have highs and lows, moments of quiet and moments of action, tension alternating with awe, this game felt like it was always trying to do tension, tension, rush, rush, rush. There’s pretty much always some big scale battle going on, and banter of “quick quick, we don’t have time…”

+ the game felt uniformly polished looking, like consistently AAA quality in the content presentation, smoothness of running and flowing things forward

+ it kept moving forward, which was good and kept me going even to the point of finishing it, too bad:

-, -, – a lot of the game felt like a series of interconnected arenas. They were not small, but there was always the feeling of “clear the enemies and the next door will open” a few times even leading to confusion or fear of bug because of some lost enemy. And this wave based fighting felt very much the opposite of any personal adventure or exploration (for some reason i keep wanting to contrast this to the now ancient aged game Unreal )

+, +, –  Music is good, and now that i listen to it separately there’s even great musical moments, but little of that was to me apparent while playing the game. Maybe it was the monotony of the wave based enemies, or the annoying pointless in-between soldier-soldier dialogues, but most of the time i didn’t notice it (maybe also shows that it wasn’t used good, at the right moments & the existence of moments of breathing to notice it), except a few times when i remember thinking what a waste it is was when they overused and abused the “finish the fight” (i think Halo 3) majestic song which had tones of grand last stand but this as a completely trivial moment which meant nothing, and then again, and then again, trivializing it and being a bit lame if one thinks it was an attempt to project greatness feeling and a feeling of story and purpose in which such were missing

-, +, – The whole game and world, instead of being an excuse to see and feel alien worlds and interesting stories felt populated only by faceless fighting soldiers. I thought for a while in a mission about a mine i’ll get more of a feeling of a colony, but that was super shallow (Rage shined in contrast to this) while for the most I’d see a grand looking camera fly by some alien structures, but instead of seeing some indication of alien or even human living activity there there would be only more faceless soldiers doing nothing

-, -, – I found it incredibly embarrassing and annoying that they kept the signature halo little silly enemies and even worse they gave them some silly voices saying stupid things. This further destroyed any pretense of this being a well thought out universe with interesting participants with own motivations. I get it, it must’ve been a whole different world in 2001, 16 years ago when the first Halo game was made, and maybe back then they were meant as a little comic relief, but today, with such a big franchise, this felt just embarrassing. Even under obligations of keeping the identity I would’ve hoped modern days would at least try to minimize such enemies, make them less common and overshadow them by something more immersive.

-, – there’s this one race of robotic aliens that appears again. It was there in Halo 4, it felt there too lazy, and it does so even more in these bland environments. The weapons they drop are pretty cool looking, but their designs I find totally lazy and cheap. Sure, clean and sleek, but lazy and part of this bigger problem of the look/atmosphere of the whole game.

– the dialogues in the story I also found pretty bland and forgettable.

-, +, –  I’m not a huge fan of the game always forcing you to switch weapons. It’s like it thinks it’s “game design” is more important than your fun or player choices. I get that it forces you to try different weapons, but this is even if you don’t like it, aaand it feels a little silly to in the middle of battle constantly be trying to pick a new type of weapon for ammo aaand at the beginning of new mission segment it keeps forcing you back with a selection of weapons which you’ve already many times shown the game you don’t like, but it disregards that and puts you back with them. I get it that it can be justified as “but it fits the characters”, but i still find it bad for disallowing player expression and agency.

Overall I’d give the game a 1 on a -5 to 5 scale. Surprising maybe given all my complaints, but still it does feel like a AAA title, even if I was very disappointed. It did keep going forward so that I liked and is why I actually finished it.

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.

Super Mario Odyssey – Review

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2017 has been a great year for videogames and one of the indicators is the release of both a new 3D Zelda game as well as a 3D Mario game. It’s also remarkable that Nintendo didn’t announce Odyssey way in advance as they have done with Zelda. The public only learned about the new 3D Mario game at the beginning of this year and the prospect of getting a proper sequel to Mario 64 and Mario Sunshine has driven expectations through the roof. But how good is Super Mario Odyssey and does it have the qualities needed to be another beloved installment in the series? Let’s find out!

 

 

The classic story of Mario saving princess Peach has been used so often now that it became a cliché played upon by a myriad of pop culture referencing works like cartoons and songs. Odyssey is fully aware of this which becomes apparent on quite a few occasions during the main game, but it seems to be indecisive on how to act on it. On one hand it is still just used as an entry point and mild motivation for the character of Mario, on the other hand stakes are seemingly higher than ever with Bowser this time not only kidnapping Peach but also trying to force her into marriage which serves as an antogonistic motif to wreak havoc over multiple kingdoms. It becomes obvious that Nintendo has somehow given up on using story in a Mario platforming game for anything more than an alibi to introduce new worlds and mechanics. Once again, if you are expecting some lore based world building (which for example Breath of the Wild did pretty well) or some serious storytelling you won’t find it here. It’s something that – at this point of the franchise – shouldn’t be expected but it wouldn’t hurt an iconic veteran protagonist like Mario to give him an additional dimension; especially since he is travelling across the world and meets many new faces that – weirdly – are able to be much more interesting characters than Mario himself through their actions and motivations.

 

 

The game itself is broken down into multiple kingdoms, larger areas which led some people to denote Odyssey as an open world 3d platformer. This is not the case. The areas rather act like a mixture of large levels and hub worlds into smaller levels. But what do you do in this game? You need to repair and power up “The Odyssey”, an airship that Mario and his new friend Cappy use to chase after Bowser in his renowned flying fortress aircraft. Powering up the Odyssey works by feeding it “Power Moons” which can be found all over the world. Each kingdom requires you to get a certain amount of those moons in order to proceed but actually a lot more can be found. This serves two purposes:

  1. there are enough “easy” moons so every player will be able to get at least through the main part of the game without frustration; stuck on a certain moon? Just go ahead and find yourself another one
  2. after the main part of the game is over, additional moons will unlock a couple of new areas and outfits so the challenge is there for players not satisfied after they finished the story

Interestingly moons can also be purchased with coins in case you want to unlock the additional areas and outfits but are stuck finding or reaching them. The game really does a great job providing you options so you’re not at the mercy of the lvel designers and that’s a good thing because a lot of them moons especially in the end game can be devilish and sometimes outright frustrating.

 

 

The platforming gameplay is of course the heart and soul of Odyssey and everything from the backflip to the head dive is there. Nintendo also did a great job bypassing a lot of the problems commonly found in 3D platformers by changing the distance between Mario and the camera according to the surroundings. Still, it can be hard sometimes to land on certain platforms or nail a jumping passage without manually moving the camera to a better position which can be problematic when you don’t have enough time to do. So there is still room for improvement in the future but it tells a lot about the genre if Nintendo has been the only developer for quite some time now to try and improve it.

But as usual with Nintendo games, Odyssey does feature a new mechanic. Mario is this time joined by Cappy, a hat ghost that he can throw on objects and enemies. Sometimes, cappy will just get an object (like coins) or defeat an enemy but often the player can take control over an enemy (or object, I’ve been a rock and a tree in this game more than once) and this is where Super Mario Odyssey goes from being a first class 3D platforming game to a showcase of masterclass gameplay design. Not only do the different abilities of the enemies lead to new puzzles never seen before in a Mario game, some of them are actually so superb that a complete smaller budget title could be made out of them. It really shows how the designers were allowed to run wild with ideas and it’s almost saddening to think that Odyssey could remain the only 3D Mario title in the series to feature this mechanic. Another neat gameplay mechanic to shake up the standard 3D platforming gameplay are the 2D sections where Mario becomes an 8Bit representation of himself painted onto a wall with small 2D level layouts to proceed through. They are almost always tailord towards the theme of the respective kingdom you will find them in and feature different mechanics. The whole game is just filled with so much creativity in gameplay design that keeping it all together with nothing more than a boilerplate story and the task of collecting one type of item is remarkable.

 

 

Visually the game is a mixed bag. Technically it aims at a 60 FpS framerate which really supports the platforming gameplay and has been one of the key areas that Nintendo seems to be pushing with their own releases (save for Breath of the Wild). The general art direction for the different kingdoms is also something I’d like to praise. From the very monochromatic hat land to the multicoloured food kingdom there is a lot of variety. Some could even argue there is so much variety that the game lacks some overarching art direction. Where the game is sometimes lacking is in detail. This may have something to do with the fact that the Switch doesn’t have a lot of power left for pushing higher detailed models at 60 FpS, it could also be a general design direction to emphasize the puzzle areas. Either way, the game can look bland at times. The music though is best in class with memorable pieces that you won’t get tired of listening to.

All in all the game is just a bag full of joy, a diamond of design that shines bright even if it very rarely can seem a little bit rough on some of its edges. The main part of the game is easy enough for unskilled players to complete while certainly offering some challenges for players who are not satisfied with the easy go-to solutions. The post-game content is noticeably harder though, giving you the option to perfect your skills if you want to put in the time.

 

 

Conclusion: 4.8 (on a -5 to 5 scale). Let me start this conclusion by telling you that I had a lot of moments where I thought “now that’s a 5/5 game if I ever have seen one”. But over time I did encounter some situations where I just wasn’t satisfied fully with the game or even decided to put it down for half an hour. Now Breath of the Wild and Persona 5 aren’t perfect games either (both received a rating of 5 from me) but as I mentioned in one of the reviews: there will never be something like a perfect game. I try to evaluate the qualities of a game based on what I think the game wants to be and offer. To receive a rating of 5, the game can have weaknesses but if the game masterfully does what it wants to do, little issues will not affect the rating of the game at all. This is not quite true for Mario Odyssey I think. The platforming could be just a little bit better and the presentation sometimes takes away from the absolutely brilliant game design. I might be unfair on this but I always think that 3D Mario games could be that little bit better. Still, this game is outstanding! It’s a must buy if you own a Switch and have even the slightest interest in the genre and it’s filled with so much fun and creativity. It can be enjoyed by players of all skill levels and is indeed a worthy entry for the core 3D Mario series. Well done, Nintendo! The year 2017 has been indeed a great year for videogames, and Super Mario Odyssey seems like the cherry on top of the icecream.

A Modern Prince of Persia Retrospective Commentary

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I found it interesting what he looked at and an interesting perspective on things. For me it was however the only one of them I don’t think I finished… though I remember playing it, so maybe I did… but I guess to me the remained a bland one that I didn’t remember and didn’t like the art style or the general “mood” of things… though I can’t explain more even to myself. Getting back to the video though I find it very interesting the idea that the game streamlined the platforming and I can imagine why some people would love it exactly for this reason, while others might miss the feeling of they themselves taking the decisions and even the occasional puzzlement. I’d be curious how Mario players feel about the mobile endless runner Mario as in some ways this would be similar maybe?

 

This one to me was interesting, more so than the bland world of the first in the trilogy, with the character’s emo rock tendencies… well, I found them a curiosity. Didn’t bother but also didn’t delight as it wasn’t subtle enough for my tastes.

 

 

This one was to me and remains the best in the series. If the previous felt like a rebellious teenager pushing everything in your face this one felt like it had matured, with character but with the subtle confidence of somebody who’s been there done that and now is a grownup. But what really blew me away more than anything was the amazing art work. All through the game I could feel the strong concept art of Bruno “Hydropix’ Gentile and many of the places felt not just incredibly original but interesting and having almost a painting quality. But to me it also hooks back into what the first video was talking about, the fluidity: granted it may not be as trivial to navigate as the 2008 version, BUT I did eventually got into the flow, and like with learning how to fly the wingsuit in Just Cause 3 once that happened the satisfaction was even deeper because of the overcome difficulties. The most cathartic moments I remember was after my brain had gotten into a special analysis mode that would surprise myself too, when simply looking at a big room/path I would instantly “get” the path and having had imagined it I could pull it off, and sometimes i was so much into this instinct-reflex mode that my conscious mind would get surprised and even delighted at seeing at the mind-finger speed and being amazed at even solving new and surprising things on the fly. As far as I can remember so many years ago this kind of no-brain-just-instant-reactions was for me on a depth maybe even comparable to the times I was playing Quake 3 arena for hours on end just for that “too fast to think total immersion” feeling.

 

 

Before I end I wanted to mention this one. People have bashed it a lot, and so I ignored it and when I got it for free on PS+ i didn’t expect much. I was surprised. Sure enough i was not by far so impressed by the artwork/story/content/atmosphere as Two Thrones, HOWEVER, i was surprised just how decent/good it was. And even more so about how well the gameplay was tuned into a series of incrementally building platforming sections, which at times actually got hard and challenging all while feeling part of a cohesive gameplay whole.  This game to me felt to me like a set of great and oiled cogs in a machine: maybe not a masterpiece, but I was impressed and inspired to respect at the refinement and quality of them all and how it all worked together so cohesively. And just a very good “flow” overall inviting “just a little bit more” as it came so naturally and… fluidly.

 

 

Titanfall 2 – impressions

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-, – the world & level design feels not like you exploring a credible well thought out world with a history but rather like a tightly scripted corridor of fun, feeling very much like a “2d platformer” if I may make the extrapolation. To those who like such games this might be a plus, to me it was somewhat immersion breaking to see bits of walls on cranes sitting exactly where you need them to proceed given your very specific movement type. A few times through the game i would’ve found it acceptable, but though the whole game it felt very “convenient” in a slightly artificial way, even if it had the occasional cool moment

+ within that mechanic though there was a section where I almost felt like I shouldn’t judge it as a FPS being empty and bland but rather like a Portal game with more content than just puzzle rooms… not that it was anywhere near the intelectual/world perception shifting that that game was. Plus there was a bit of a nice joke to see a visual assembly of a house/street.

+, -, +, – They said this would be a short game, well, not for me (+): it took me ages to finish, but unfortunately often because i’d lose interest every once in a while

+,+ Started out very interestingly, with a mixture of nature and technology. Also it has moments when it looks fantastic, slightly bland geometry & texturing, but good use of lights & fog as well as size.

+ technically the graphics looked good, good lighting and cool rendering, felt like good framerate

– but artistically i felt it quite bland, blocky world design, boxes everywhere,

-, -, + I personally disliked the in-titan section, but then again for a mech game it was fantastic, probably the best I’ve seen: the movement felt still smooth, almost like a FPS and the interface was pretty cool looking, with some fantastic touches such as parts of the “screen” turning on gradually as you get in

-, -, – an abundance of old game style bland industrial environments, like pipes and sewers and tunnels which are essentially big straight walls/corridors. In this it reminded me of some games I was playing in the 2000-2005 period, as i was playing each and every fps but, like this, they were too bland to remember past playing them

+, +, – the wall running mechanic felt mixed. It would’ve been very very cool, and technically it definitely was, along with the overall “speed” feeling of the game, but the world wasn’t open enough to take advantage of it so it resulted in an environment that was specifically crafted in a linear way to use it’s tricks in ways that felt predictable and forced, sometimes for the ordinary, sometimes for multiple trial & error deaths to figure out what you were supposed to do (as opposed to had the opportunity to do)

+, +, -,  + however in the end game it felt fantastic when it was combined with another even cooler mechanic, of dual timelines/overlapping spaces. I might even go as far as to say that in it’s implementation this was even superior to the experience in Dishonored 2. Not due to artwork, no, definitely NOT, here the game fell embarrassingly lame, with a huge section where it felt like the devs just placed placeholder boxes and environmental walls that they used to proof test the gameplay but never got around to actually replacing them with actual interesting art assets, whereas Dishonored 2 in the dual-timeline level had stellar artistic content. BUT where this was better however was the feeling of running through it, the possibility to skip whole sections by jumping back and forth in time while advancing and dynamic fights making use of it. That felt nice.

+ the music felt professional but (to me) also in that bland kind of way, even while checking the AAA game/movie checkboxes of quality

+, +, + there’s some great looking cinematic moments, as well as great scripted scenes, even a wonderful time-stop scene which is delightful to explore and still looks great

-, -, –  rather silly antagonists, along with a, to me, somewhat silly to me feeling premise of the humanoid mechs, the relationship with them as well as the whole romanticization of the military structure

+, – the game/story does manage to pull finely on a couple of emotional strings, such as the partnership with the titan, while at the same time doing to me too much of the “oh, i’m an AI so i don’t get jokes but being human is the beeest” that scifi stories of this type do.

+ there were a few moments where I almost felt they were about to start some nice scifi fiction narative on a future humanity… but then they dropped it.

Overall I’d give this game a 1 on a -5 to 5 scale: I’m disappointed in the level of it’s artwork content even as I was impressed in the technical polish of the game. And while I might complain about the mediocre universe and levels I can see why more gameplay oriented people appreciate this game (in a parallel way to to Doom 2016?), especially if one considers that this, to me not as great campaign, is in fact a big huge bonus for people who otherwise would’ve gotten a multiplayer only game, multiplayer which in general I don’t really play more than a few minutes for a peek (seemed decent with fresh ideas) so I don’t count it here. So overall, for me, this is a passable AAA game, albeit a forgettable one.

CoD: Infinite Warfare – impressions

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As usual, I’m only talking about the singleplayer as for me the multiplayer doesn’t exist/is useless:

-, -, – very blocky world design. It felt like a game crew that couldn’t afford sculptors and only box modellers, or if it could was given no budget for artwork as everything was subservient to “60 frames per second” or some-such gamey goal (probably due to the multiplayer?). Coridors are very boxy, many empty spaces, instead of details “bump maps” or such other “2d” effects. Some pretty good, but not enough to make up for a more interesting world.

-, -, – this is quite related to the above, the setting of the game. The fact that it’s a scifi setting should’ve been a wonderful thing, an opportunity for imagination and originality, but combined with the above the game remains a shallow “go soldier, go go!!!” game with a team with either not enough time/budget or imagination to create an interesting futuristic world. I say this in the following sense: if this same team/budget is given to create say historical weapons/locations/architecture, then (even within their constraints of low poly for high framerate) they could create a world which is interesting and has some measure of believability/interest, because even behind lowpoly objects, we can feel the functional design, their reasons for existing, what they’re supposed to do and in what context. All this becomes false for a futuristic world, and instead you end up with like in this game with a lot of generic “sci-fi-looking” equipment/coridors/objects, which you can tell are “skin deep” shallow”, nobody thought enough about them to make them a true original world, nor did somebody strugle enough to make them very interesting visually. In this sense I would say that within this game/constraints the setting results in a lot of mediocrity

+, +, – the thing that saved the game, and why i kept playing was the fact that you were able to keep moving forward. This kept things a little fresh, and even if I found the story shallow and events and characters uninteresting, at least you could sort of steadily advance.

– however I felt i had very little control, like it was useless to play somehow, like I was just playing chunks of cinematics, like the team wasn’t there to support my actions but me there to support their actions, just waiting for the next checkpoint, the next trigger event, more incentivized to waste time and keep ducking back than to play anything engaging

– the story felt very shallow, soldier propaganda level, with a foolish commander/admiral type who regularly forgets to be one but rather acts like a hero, “one of the soldiers” and always aims to save everybody, which without superpowers of course means he dies a lot (even on easiest difficulty)… and getting back to the story, the guy seems to have the idealism of a rookie who’s never seen casualties (or has done so much propaganda he convinced himself). The villains seem cardboard cut-out “bhaahaha” evil, which i guess they need to be since they seem to be colonies which want to break away so in fact the game is from the perspective of an empire trying to keep them under control as they rebel (particularly ironic when one thinks of America’s origins and the British Empire)

+, -, – it tries to mix things up with space fights, which i guess should be appreciated for variety and occasionally *looks* decent i didn’t enjoy it and felt like the rest of the campaign somehow very limited and not player centric

-, + the music felt forgettable, though i think there was some good stuff too, i just never really noticed it

Overall I’d give the game a -1. It’s still a high budget production, but the most disappointing CoD game in the last probably 8 or so. It feels bland and rather pointless. I wouldn’t recommend this game except to really dedicated and bored FPS fans (I guess I must be one since I finished 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.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle – Review

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When UbiSoft‘s first game for the Switch got leaked to some amount, many players were furious. The beloved Nintendo characters of the Mario universe together with UbiSoft‘s silly casual-game figureheads? How would that not be a recipe for total disaster? But E3 came, Mario + Rabbids got announced properly with Miyamoto taking a spot on UbiSoft’s E3 stage and very quickly, sentiments began to change. The game would turn out to be a mix of exploration adventure and turn-based tactics. But did it turn out to be any good?

 

 

The story is a silly but fun narrative about the dimension traveling Rabbids stumbling across some sort of fusion device, crash landing in the Mushroom Kingdom and the device causing trouble everywhere by fusing Rabbids with the flora and fauna of the kingdom. It’s pretty clear from the start that there is no serious overarching narrative; the story is the silly foundation for a game that wants to exploit the artdesign of Super Mario and the Rabbids in all possible ways and it’s really good at that. Speaking of the audiovisual design: lush graphics, a lot of animated background assets and the creative world design all help bringing the game to life but the characters are without any doubt the diamond core of the design. I never liked the Rabbids much but in this game they often made me laugh through their actions and the quality of the animation of those actions; the designers really worked hard to work out the essence of slapstick. The music is also very good, with one particularly outstanding piece of opera interpretation.

 

 

Technically the game runs fine after the first patch. Before that it would noticeably dip below 30 Fps in certain situations but after the patch the game always remained at a solid 30 for me. This is important in a larger context because the game runs on UbiSoft’s Snowdrop engine, the game engine introduced with The Division and also used in the upcoming Starlink: Battle for Atlas (which is coming out for Switch as well), South Park: The Fractured But Whole and the license games for the next Avatar movies. This means together with AnvilNext 2.0 UbiSoft has already 2 graphic engines for Switch and based on the huge success of Mario + Rabbids it stands to hope that we will see more games and ports from UbiSoft coming to Switch.

The gameplay loop consists of two main parts: you will run around the transformed worlds of the Mushroom Kingdom, solving puzzles, finding switches and looting treasures. Your progression through the worlds is linear but the game does a good job of hiding it most of the time by giving you alternative routes to explore and secrets to find. Regularly you will come across areas marked with pirate style flags. Entering those areas will initiate a turn-based battle, the second big part of the gameplay. In general there are 3 types of those battles: beat all enemies, beat a specific enemy (those are the boss- and miniboss-fights) and reach a certain area within the battlegrounds (sometimes with a certain sidekick character which turns the mission into an escort mission). Your party will only ever consist of 3 different characters and one of them has to be Mario. The other two you can choose from a roster of 7 characters but you need to have at least one Rabbid character on the team (so no Mario, Luigi and Peach team). Each character has a different set of abilities and can use a different type of weapon which means you have a lot of freedom to experiment with your team throughout the game, especially because you can at any time freely redistribute the skillpoints of each character. Can’t beat a certain mission? Maybe try out a different team with different skills and weapons. The game’s difficulty is fine most of the time; it should be not to hard to make it through most battles okay-ish but if you’re after that “perfect” rating for each battle, the difficulty will raise significantly. The perfect rating basically depends not only on your success in the mission but also if none of your characters went KO in the battle and if you managed to finish the battle in a certain amount of turns, forcing you to play as efficient as possible.

 

 

The game contains 4 worlds each divided into 8 chapters (except for the last world who has 9 chapters) and those kept me busy between 25 and 30 hours but I will admit that I tried from the very beginning to solve every battle with a “perfect” rating, making me replay some of them 5 to 6 times. If you rush through the game I guess you will still be busy for 20 hours though. Once beaten, every world will open up additional challenge missions and you can also try to find every secret after the game ends and you unlock the last environmental manipulation skill which will keep you busy an additional 5 to 10 hours I guess. And last but not least there is a dedicated set of coop missions that you can play with an online partner. So all in all, the game doesn’t just offer good gameplay and fun adventure, it will also keep you busy for a while especially if you’re a completionist.

However, the game has some flaws that I don’t want to forget. First of all, there is a planning mode at the beginning of each battle which doesn’t really deserve the name. You can view the battlefield and change up your team but you can’t change the character’s starting points or even see their weapon range after moving. And while the difficulty is mostly fine, at the end of the game there is a noticeable spike in difficulty because the game presents you with a set of three consecutive battles and doesn’t save in between, so if you mess up one turn in the third battle this means you will have to replay the first two as well. And the biggest issue is this: there is no confirmation prompt before your character moves. This is bad because it means if you carelessly chose one field too much or too less in your movement turn, the character will move there without the possibility of rewinding or changing but since positioning is crucial in a game like this you really have to be focused at all times during the battles.

 

 

Conclusion: 3 (on a -5 to 5 scale). Despite the lack of support at the end of WiiU‘s lifecycle, UbiSoft has always been one of the most important 3rd party partners for Nintendo, often trying to make the best of the respective Nintendo console’s gimmick. Just think about the sword fighting of Red Steel or the gamepad use in Zombi U. Often those games suffered from a lack in polish, resulting in disappointing sales. But Mario + Rabbids is different in many respects. First off: they took the their time to polish this game and didn’t rush it just to meet the Switch‘s release date. Second: they didn’t try to do something fancy that relies on HD Rumble or motion controls or JoyCon sharing. They focused on a solid idea, perfectly suited for a console that you can take on the go and executed it very well. The result is a game that is neither revolutionary nor relying on some weird hardware feature. It’s just really, really good and fun and the fact that Nintendo was willing to let UbiSoft use their characters to boost sales and really make this a Nintendo exclusive is a very good sign for the Switch‘s future and tells a lot about the new openness of the video game traditionalist from Kyoto. Unless you really don’t like turn-based tactics, this game is worth a buy in my opinion.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate – impressions

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Well, I’ve finally finished it, game plus DLC, here’s my quick thoughts on it:

-, -, – The whole game stands under a huge shadow for me. I preordered it the deluxe editions with DLCs all because of the epic world that was AC Unity, but I was hugely disappointed. I can’t know if it was other less skilled artists or a manager-programmer tyranny which too afraid to get the press criticism of the prequel gave super strict guidelines that killed off a lot of the cool world stuff, making it very “boxy” in designs everywhere, or maybe even a bit of the influence of the city of London as they imagined it (and portrayed it) as bleak and industrial and less romantic, but either way, I was hugely disappointed upon seeing the world and it’s low-poly vibe.

+, + the engine however was top notch, the atmospheric effects, the distant rendering, and also the light on the wet streets, and even some parks, sometimes it looked quite breathtaking in a way that almost compensated for the lacking artwork.

-, – not only the main story itself with the two mediocre main characters but the world’s story felt quite lame. It was so imbued with that mainstream illogicality and and politics of our time! It’s sad to say this is not just their fault but also the perception of writers like Dickens which fits into this world view. It’s sad though to see how the most prosperous country in the world at the time, where the poor were doing many times better than not just the poor but often the rich across the rest of the world is maintained in public consciousness as a horrible place to be when if one had lived in those times that would’ve been the best place in the world to live in. It’s quite silly when people take current time values and project it onto the past, and instead of realizing how exceptional and unique those places and values were, how far ahead of their times, instead they portray them as bad, all while killing in the name of fighting their badness (ironic in it’s own way all the good intentions under which the assassin’s kill hundreds all with a sparkling conscience, tells of the power today and historically proven of this leftist ideology).

+ there were however also refreshing moments when the templars were allowed to also present a bit of their view without being portrayed as one dimensional monsters. Few, but it was still nice to get a bit of the other side’s position. (just to clarify, not that I support their position, this being IMO a false dichotomy, but it was still nice to have some greys out there)

+, +, +, + The truth is though, after I got over the game’s initial disappointment, that it was still an amazing world to look into. The historical research, the streets, the outfits, the animations/acting of the pedestrians, even driving a carriage was okay (i dislike vehicles in games). Every couple of weeks/months when I’d start the game again I’d be again surprised and delighted at all the richness put into this world.

– quite a lot of unmemorable and even uninspired trivial missions

+, + the world impresses not only with it’s scale and occasional great detail but also with a surprising bonus area, it was great to see the same London tweaked forward a half-century or so into the times of the Great War. That was a great cool move, might be worth redoing in other AC games if it’s not hugely at the cost of the big world, especially in cases like this where on the same territory two great ages occur

+, +, – the music is a strange mixture of possible excellence and so-so-ness. In it’s great moments I’d get excited this could be a soundtrack heading in the direction of the fantastic music in the movie Sherlock Holmes. It however never quite goes to that height of thematic excellence or technical skill. Still, not bad and helps with the character of the game, if at bit in a chaotic way (fitting one might argue)

+ The DLC was so so, somewhat forgettable but still decent

-, +, + they came back with the little mini optional stories, a lot of which were silly in the main ideology of the game with a dumbed down Darwin & Dickens as puppet cameos, however I also remember some quite excellent detective stories which actually had me curious and looking at clues in ways at least as good as the predecessor’s stories. I’m happy they dared this game within game, it enriches the world with interiors and stories.

Overall I gotta say that despite all my grumbling and mumbling I was quite happy with the game. I take back some of my initial post AC Unity greatness disappointment, when I said to myself I won’t preorder the next AC because Syndicate disappointed so bad. I guess once I stopped comparing it to it’s greater brother I have to say it was still a great historical period game with a rich big world that impressed in many ways, even if the story was weak and the artwork level quite mediocre in comparison to AC Unity. Still, Ubisoft has proven again that even it’s bad games and it’s bad artists/directors are often better than those of others. Overall I’d give it a reluctant 2.5 on a -5 to 5 scale. It was still a pretty impressive game, despite being a pity in the great footsteps it walked in.

 

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