#Reviews

Middle-earth: Shadow of War – impressions

5
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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

5
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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.

 

Castlevania & Dante Alighieri

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A nice literary comparison. My experience had a similar journey, with extreme highs and some disappointing lows. In the best moments I was amazed i never heard/played this game before as I found it trully EXTRA-ordinary and wonderful, thinking it might become one of my favorite games everz, but then there’d be the bad design decisions which brought this beautiful angel-bird all the way down through the mud… But the good moments and story were so great it was worth pushing through even in the face of high frustration, and to the extent I forgot the bad tastes it left some one of a kind spectacular memories as an aftertaste.

Persona 5 – Review

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After 90 hours of Persona 5 I am still not quite finished with the game, but I feel like I am near enough the end to finally deliver my review on this game. The review has been a long time coming now and I am a little bit sour that it took so long; but better late than never, right? So let’s start.

 

 

Back in the old SNES days, JRPGs were some of my favourite genres. After all, Secret of Mana was the game that brought me to game development in general and spawned my interest in programming. You could say my whole “career” started with the words “DARKNESS SWEEPS THE TROUBLED LAND, …”. But later on, I lost interest in most of them. Among the JRPGs I started but never finished were Final Fantasy X, Lost Odyseey, Blue Dragon, Tales of Symphonia, Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XV and even the wonderful Ni No Kuni. But I kept coming back to Persona 5 even after weeks of not playing it due to shortages of free time and the thought of not finishing it never crossed my mind once which is partly due to the fact that the art style of this game fulfills a very important function that most JRPGs lack: it makes the menus and the way the game is to be played easy to remember. That is the first of many strengths of the game and I can’t stress enough how important this is. Regardless how little I remembered about my last steps in the game after a longer period of time, the menu navigation was always an anchor point that I could use to get back into the game and in this regard Persona 5 really changed my perception of UI design. I knew that P5 would be a very stylish game before thanks to all the trailers, but I didn’t expect to learn so much about a topic that before was merely an afterthought I wanted to minimize as much as possible in my own designs.

 

The style of the game also helps disguising the game’s PS3 origin although its technical simplicity becomes obvious if you look close enough. Thankfully this never became a concern and it speaks volumes about P5‘s ability to be regarded as a timeless classic that the overall style negates its technical debility already. The next thing I need to praise in volumes is its soundtrack which is absolutely stunning. The last time I was blown away by a game soundtrack was probably when Bayonetta got released but P5 easily tops it. Sometimes I would just lay the gamepad aside to listen for a very specific song. Overall the audiovisual design fascinated me so much that I’m using a Persona 5 style theme on my smartphone and every alarm sound is a song from the OST. And it’s great that the design is so good because otherwise the fights would probably get tiresome very quickly despite the fighting system being the best shot at turn based battle systems that I have seen so far. Now I know people might disagree on that and would prefer a more time based approach but I love the fact that I can really take my time in battles if I want to without pressure (well, most of the time; there are one or two exceptions to this in the whole

 

 

The overarching narrative of Persona 5 is that of a pupil being sued by someone for essentially stopping an imminent rape. The protagonist gets transferred to a different school for rehabilitation and this is when things slowly start to get weird as the protagonist awakes to the power of his Persona and starts changing the hearts of bad people. The game doesn’t start with that though; it actually starts at the last quarter of the game, the protagonist gets captured and interrogated and the interrogation itself is what the player experiences and plays through up until past and present sync back and the endgame starts. The structure of Persona 5‘s storytelling – at least as far as the main story is concerned – is to get a new “big” target. Those persons’ twisted desires have created palaces in the metaverse that the player needs to infiltrate, steal the treasure of the target and change the target’s heart by doing so. If this sounds complicated, let me break it down for you: you need to play through a dungeon and defeat the dungeons boss. The thing about those dungeons is that they must be completed until a certain deadline. Within this timeframe, you are pretty much free to spent your time as you want to. Don’t want to proceed the palace but instead go learning at the diner on a rainy day? Do it. Time management is one of the mechanics that I first thought would really annoy me; but I quickly figured out that it solves a problem for me that I often have with open world games or other games with loads of side activities: it keeps my focus in check. Most side activities cause one half of the day to pass, so you could fill one day with two side activities. Exploring a dungeon however will cause the whole day to pass. So if – for example – you want to go fishing at night (because it’s cheaper) you can’t go to the dungeon that day. The time management only gets more complex as you gather more and more confidants (more on that in a moment) that you want to build a relationship with in addition to the protagonist’s own skills that you want to enhance by taking part in certain activities. You can even lend DVDs to watch at home that you need to return within two weeks. That all might sound annoying but it really isn’t; it actually helps the player prioritizing instead of getting lost in all the possible activities.

 

It’s worth pointing out that the topics that Persona 5 attends to are often heavy. The game – as lighthearted as it can be at times – deals with sexual harassment, physical and psychological abuse, working conditions, drugs, blackmailing and even rabble-rousing and murder. Games are often a way to escape reality and the problems we face in reality for a bit, but while many games chose to offer a more abstract or even ridiculous way of relieving stress (sometimes even by building a different type of stress) Persona 5 lets the player stand against those real life problems, solving them with supernatural powers and even explains that bad people are not born bad but fall victim to their own desires which are often created by defining experiences in their past. It’s unusual to find this in a game and even though monologues and dialogues are mostly delivered in a very anime, over-the-top style, I feel like Persona 5 never falls flat on the severity of its topics.

 

Of course the protagonist doesn’t fight alone. You will meet a certain number of confidants – supporters if you will – that can roughly be seperated into two types: party members and supporting characters. Party members will fight with you, you can change their equipment, chose skills of their Persona when they level up and even tell them what to do in rush more – some sort of fast forward for easy fights. Supporting characters will sell you stuff or help you enhance your skills and while party members are not missable and tied to the main story, supporting characters can be missed. I know for a fact that I didn’t forge a bond with at least one confidant and another one I didn’t get until the last story dungeon (which means I played through the game without the ability to change fighting party members in-fight; yes, those kind of abilities can come with confidants). You can strengthen your bond with every confidant by spending time with them and with some you can even enter a love relationship (you can even have more than one love relationship at the same time) but it’s not always as easy as approaching a confidant and pressing a button. Sometimes they don’t have time for you, sometimes you need to reach a certain level with a skill (Angelic Kindness is till haunting me) which means you’ll first need to spend your time on activities increasing your skills like watching movies, reading books, caring about your plant or eating fast food (sic!). With all of that the game develops a totally different kind of dynamic compared to other JRPGs and it’s this dynamic that helps countering the problem of pacing that many games in the genre often have. It creates a nice back and forth between engaging exploration with frantic fighting and interesting interaction with NPCs and more mundane activities and although the beginning of the game is very slow, this slowness is what helps emphasise the drama once shit hits the fan and the wheels start to spin faster.

 

 

I already wrote that to me P5‘s fighting is the best iteration of turn based JRPG combat so far and that has a lot to do with the way Personas work. While other party members stick to one specific Persona, the protagonist can hold more than one and Personas are acquired by negotiating with enemy Personas, trying to recruit them. You will also learn the skill to fuse two (and later more) Personas into one new Persona and it’s this variety and freedom that truly brings Persona 5′s fighting system to life especially since the combinations of elemental strengths and weaknesses, passive skills, buffs and debuffs and other special abilities like drain and reflect create a complexity that I would consider good complexity. Many games introduce complexity to their mechanics just for the sake of having said complexity but in P5 this complexity is an optional toolset that is evolves naturally but can also be largely ignored if the player wants to pull through the game by brute force. It’s another way of keeping the fights interesting throughout the game.

 

All of this doesn’t mean P5 is a perfect game however. I already wrote how the game is technically a PS3 game but it doesn’t ran smoothly on my PS4 Pro all the time either. Hickups were rare but they did occur which seems strange. Also the game takes a bit to get up to speed and the beginning hours can feel sluggish. Probably my biggest point of criticism is the way the camera behaves when using the stealth mechanic. Being a phantom thief means you will sneak through the palaces and try to ambush enemies to get an advantage in combat. This advantage combined with clever execution on the enemies’ weaknesses is what enables the player to overcome enemies that are much stronger which feels great and empowering no matter how often you do it. On the other side, being ambushed by lower level enemies can quickly result in a game over if the weaknesses of your party are exploited. This happened to me 2 times in my whole playthrough but every time it made me stop playing the game. Not because I had lost but because the ambush was only possible due to the way the games’ stealth mechanic work. As long as you’re not detected by an enemy, you can go into stealth mode at specific points in the environment and you can also swiftly jump to new cover positions without being seen and also ambush enemies that come within reach. However, the camera tries to avoid solid obstacles, forcing you to try and get an enemy into your viewport and then hitting “X” to ambush. However, if the enemy turns in the meantime or the distance changes slightly you will ambush into the empty space right beneath the enemy and if you’re seen the enemy will likely ambush you faster than you can react. It’s weird because every other aspect of the game is so well polished.

 

 

Conclusion: 5 (on a -5 to 5 scale). I really had a hard time coming up with a score for Persona 5. I didn’t expect to play a game like Breath of the Wild that feels genre defining to me again so soon. And I certainly don’t want to be part of the score inflation of the recent decades although my review is merely an amateur one. But every time I picked up the gamepad to lead the Phantom Thieves to their next target, every time I chose to go learning at the diner for upcoming exams, every time I had to decide between multiple confidants asking for my time to discuss topics or simply spend time together I overdrew my videogame time limit; hard. I also know there are multiple positive points I wanted to address when I started writing this review but forgot by now; but it doesn’t matter. Persona 5 is the type of game you can enjoy on a hot summer evening with a cold Gin & Tonic as well as on a cold winter day with a cup of hot chocolate. It stole my heart, how could I not give it the best possible score?

Mafia 3 – impressions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+ A lot of interesting characters

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

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

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

 

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

 

ARMS – Review

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The genre of Fighting Games – which is not to be confused with Beat ’em Ups – can be tracked back to 1976 when SEGA released their game Heavyweight Champ. Nowadays, Fighting Games have become a wide field of competitive sensation that even got its own popular event every year called Evo that’s a profitable championship with tens of thousand viewers watching as pro Fighting Game players compete against each other in different games. Those game can get as technical as the long running Tekken series but can also be much less about combo crafting and more about tactical mind games like Nintendo‘s popular Smash Bros. series. The genre has grown a lot since the rivalry of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat and it’s terminology as well as the abstract ideas behind them can be quite intimidating for newcomers who want to get into them. ARMS tries to extract the core idea of Fighting Games and transform them into something more digestible without scaring off players familiar with the genre. Can it do to Fighting Games what Mario Kart did to Racing games? Let’s see…

 

 

The name ARMS could not be more fitting to this game that puts its fighters with their extendable arms front and center. The idea is to play a game of spacing and strategy, resulting in tactics born from action and reaction in a kind of rock, paper and scissors style. Punches can be blocked, blocks open an opportunity for throws and throws can be cancelled by punches, but there are almost always means to use those actions and trick your opponent; you could block for a prolonged time only to wait for your enemy to start a throw and then quickly punch them. This leads to many situations where the game quickly gets to its meta mechanics of risk and reward, trying to outplay your opponent with witty tactics and unpredictable behaviour. But that doesn’t mean skill is not involved. ARMS is a very dynamic game where composure can make all the difference in a close battle as you try to pull off actions as you intended and not starting to mash buttons (if playing with classic controls) or moving the JoyCons furiously (if playing with motion controls). Its also useful to have a general strategy, a battle plan, set up that you always can go back to. Such strategies would depend on the arena you are fighting in and the character of you opponent which means that knowledge of the game’s content will definitely come in handy and make you a better player. It’s worth noting that the motion controls work very well and while I prefer my sticks and buttons, this is definitely not Wii Sports Boxing 2!

 

 

ARMS‘s cast of characters consists of 10 different playable fighters that differ in weight, speed, special abilities, design and ARMS available from the start. Most of them are iconic and well designed, easily noticeable and will without doubt spawn interesting cosplay in the future. Like the characters in many other Fighting Games though, they lack deeper personality and so it’s difficult to see them as more than fancy tools that you want to get familiar with. Part of this is the lack of proper and interesting single player content, especially compared to something like Injustice 2‘s great campaign mode. The only reasons to keep playing the single player tournament is the AI – which is quite capable in the middle levels and is able to destroy you at the higher levels – as well as the fact that you need to beat the tournament at least on difficulty level 4 (of 7) to unlock the competitive ranked online mode. Other than that the only thing I got out of the mode so far are coins which you can also get by playing other modes like the online party mode where a lobby of up to 12 players will be thrown at each other in combat scenarios of 1vs1, 2vs2, 3vs3, 4vs4 or even player vs boss AI. The single player mode can be played cooperatively though which is a great way to ease your friends into the game! Combat modes range from classic fighting to target destruction, basketball (where your goal is to punch or throw your enemy in the basket) and volleyball. It’s a much more interesting and fun mode to learn about different ARMS and characters and to farm coins. And farming coins you will do. A lot. Every character starts with a set of 3 different ARMS that you can select from before every battle for your left and right arm separately. Those ARMS are mostly fine for learning the basics of each character but once you found your main character you will want to get more to broaden your selection and thus your strategic options. Acquiring them is done by playing a mini game in which you will need to destroy targets and once in a while get the chance to punch a box which will grant you a new ARM for one of the characters. This mini game can be played in a short, medium and long variant and playing them will cost you 30, 100 and 200 coins respectively.

 

 

The problem with that is this: not only are the ARMS itself random, the character they are for is randomly chosen as well (although the chance is increased to get an ARM for the character you’re playing the minigame with) which means you will spend a lot of coins to even unlock a complete set for the character you want. The number of ARMS you unlock is also tied somewhat to your performance in the minigame and also the maximum amount of boxes that will appear differ, which leads to the next problem: I have seen 3-4 ARM boxes in short, 8-11 in medium and 18-22 in long variants of the minigame. This means one ARM will cost you between 7.5 and 10 coins in short, 9 and 12.5 coins in medium and 9 and 11 in long variants (according to my own experience, other players may have different numbers). To me this means that the short variant is pretty much the best one which I also have to save up the least for and it overall reduces the danger of completely messing up because with one bad run, you only waste 30 coins instead of 100 or 200. To me, it’s not a good adaptation of the system used in Mario Kart 8 especially because you’re not exactly awash with coins. Technically the game is very solid, with great use of color and specular materials and it runs at a rock solid 60 frames per second which is absolutely key to such a fighting game; the exception is the 4 player splitscreen where the game has to compromise with 30 frames prer second but this mode is only good for casual party gaming anyway. The arenas are varied and the soundtrack is quite catchy but still not nearly as good as Mario Kart 8. The game’s mechancis work great and are a lot of fun to explore and apply and the depth of this game becomes apparent after the first few fights. It’s certainly the most unique fighting game available which says a lot when you have other fighting games that are brutal or cute, have Superheroes and -villains fighting each other as well as over the top Anime characters and even drawn stick men.

 

 

Conclusion: 2 (on a -5 to 5 scale). ARMS is one brilliant idea flawlessly executed but not backed up with a lot of content. Nintendo has already promised future free content updates and the first new character is about to be released, probably with a new stage as well since every character has its own signature stage. The unlocking mechanic is something that I feel holds ARMS back although it means to keep players engaged. We will see if ARMS has some legs through its updates (like Splatoon) and I hope it will get enough attention from the fighting game community so this can become a returning franchise for Nintendo. Right now its a great game to enthrall new players interested in the genre but only features enough to keep veterans around. It gets better with every hour played but probably loses a lot of players in the process. It’s like a very tasty sausage, cut down at both ends.

Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed (WiiU game)

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Remember Sonic? A cult figure of the 90´s, surely the most famous hedgehog across virtual reality and the main star of the SEGA game factory. For some of us, there is no need for description: we know Sonic, we basically grew up with him, playing the fun speedy games on those vintage SEGA consoles. Back then, you just had one or two arcade games, the luckiest of us maybe even more, and you were either a Nintendo or a SEGA kid. For all those who don’t know about Sonic, you can take a leap back to the past here.

Since 1991 – the year when Sonic emerged – a lot has happened; the entire game industry evolved so fast, facing revolutionary progress as well as numerous trends, like gaming on mobile devices or using VR equipment. As for the content dimension, one popular trend is definitely the racing game. Racing games are fun, entertaining and challenging, and can be played as a single player or with more people at once. And there are many out there. After a comprehensive review of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe written by HaikuHunter, here is my review about the dynamic and colorful racing game feat. Sonic in “Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed”.

“Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed” was released by SEGA in 2012. The Wii U version came out in November 2012, followed by PC versions for Windows in 2013 and iOS in 2014, and ultimately Xbox in 2016. Critics evaluated the game positively. The Wii U version however got minus points due to some issues in the online gameplay, but there are plenty of offline challenges that compensate. In multi-player mode, further players can easily join the game, provided they have a controller and a display port.

 

What´s special about the game?

 

As the title anticipates, it´s all about racing transformed. The racing car of each character can transform into a flight plane, for air racing, or a boat, for cruising on water. In one race, chances are that you must activate up to all 3 transformations. One of the things good to learn quickly are stunts, for example spinning in the air when taking off a ramp, or drifting in curves. This gets you bonus points and extra speed.

In the “Career” section, the game offers four different modes: world tour, Grand Prix, timed race and single race. These are meant to train your racing skills on different levels, from bronze (easy) to gold (difficult). When you finished a set of races on the bronze level and made it to the podium (top 3), you unlock them in the silver mode, where the competition gets tougher. What I missed here was more variation between levels; after racing through the same scenery several times, you kind of wish more challenging stuff on the next level. In a way, there is a higher difficulty through the fact that in the silver and gold levels, the sceneries are mirror-inverted and the competitors are more fast and furious. If that does it, then you will probably not get too bored seeing the same scenery over and over again. But still, as a single player, you kind of expect more pepper.

If you play as a single user, you can configure whether you use the Pro Controller or the Wii U pad as a main instrument. To make the most out of the game, I definitely recommend the handier Pro Controller. In this case, the Wii U pad will simultaneously show the route map and your position on it during the race. The competitors and the overall ranking per race are also displayed. Personally, I don’t really look at these stats while playing, in order not to get distracted from the race.

Current position and ranking displayed on the Wii U pad

Characters

 

Besides Sonic, you can choose between an entire range of characters from the SEGA universe. Some of them are well known from the Sonic game series, like Sonic´s friends Tails and Amy Rose, Knuckles the Echidna, or his enemy Metal Sonic. There are also further SEGA figures like AiAi – the Monkey (Super Monkey Ball), BD Joe – the funky taxi driver or Ulala – the sassy reporter from Space Channel 5. Each character has his own strengths and weaknesses. While Sonic is the fastest and wackiest protagonist, Amy can fly more precisely, and with Knuckles you have a smooth ride on boat. Sometimes it´s wise to choose a certain character depending on the race ahead you. A curvy race can be mastered better with Amy than with Tails, while BD Joe can get very speedy on straight road. Personally, my favorite character is Amy Rose. She can face most races in a balanced way, especially on boat or plane, which are quite a challenge as a beginner. After some practice, I won many levels with Amy, it´s so much fun to hear her cheering “hurray!” and “wow!” on the way.

During the game, you can unlock some further, hidden characters. Among the figures that can be unlocked there are some more characters from the Sonic family (will not spoil the surprise here ;-)

Amy flying through a tunnel

Tails driving through a village

Sonic driving on a futuristic highway in the Lights City

Graphics

 

The game presents a very colorful visual universe, a vivid and intense journey for the eye. The diversity in the scenery leads the player through green landscapes, casino highways, winter nights, cities with sky scrapers, Japanese landmarks, rivers, seaside roads, industrial depots, flight platforms, mexican lava rivers, spooky ghost houses and many many more.

Each scenery sparkles in strong colors and is enriched by animated details, which boost your journey with extra joy.

 

Amy flying though a dream portal

Knuckles flying through old historic walls

 

Tails racing through a medieval city

 

Gameplay

 

Basically, you have quite straightforward controls to accelerate, drift, spin, use weapons. However, there are more tricks available for doing stunts, and the combinations of controls are not transparent, you have to discover them. This can be a challenge, I dare to say.

For moving forward, you use the same control, no matter if you race on road, on water or in the air. A race consists in 3 laps. Usually, the first two laps are quite the same, while the third one gets a bit more difficult requiring transformed racing. Before starting a race, you can choose an available gear for your character. For example, for a curvy route, you might go better with the “Balanced” gear than with the “Turbo” gear. The effects of each gear work differently for each character. As you advance in playing, more gears get unlocked for your character.

During the race, there are collectibles on the way: coins, surprise items you have to hit, in order to get a weapon that can be used against your opponents. The currently available weapon can be seen in the top right corner of the screen.

Here is my list with some of the coolest weapons:

Hotroad – a kind of enormous speed boost like fire gear; you must end it actively with a blast, to sweep the opponents in range away (but if you don’t activate it on time, it will blast you up, to your disadvantage, and slow you down; this happens after a few seconds, so you have to activate the blast quite quickly!)

All Star – a kind of absolute power state that lasts for a short time; you float with super speed accompanied by the character-specific song – Amy´s All Star has a fancy song and unleashes pink hearts while she’s drifting with super speed ;-) With All Star you can easily overrun some opponents at a time, quite a cool thing.

Blowfish – a big round fish to be released on the way, so the cars behind you bump into it – when this happens, they get slowed down. The fish itself has a funny face too!

Ice (Snow balls) – with snow balls you can shoot on the opponent in front of you (precision is required!)

 

On the road, there are glowing pink arrows that add turbo power, if you drive on top of them. On water and in air, these are pink glowing gateways – if you fly or swim through them, you get a turbo boost. It takes some practice to learn to drift successfully in a dramatic curve right after getting a turbo boost… But that makes the entire game so active and fun.

Obstacles like bees swarm, blowfishes, lightning bolts, spiders etc. are placed on the way to challenge your tenacity. The game is very entertaining and dynamic, each race and scenery is unique. Watch below Amy Rose mastering the Mexican “Samba de Amigo”…

…and Sonic ruling the race in the “Carrier Zone”:

By the way, with collected coins you can play casino (5 coins per chance) – if you’re lucky, you can win a pre-package for the next race, for example start your next race with a Blowfish or a turbo boost. :D

Play coins in the bonus Casino to get benefits and pre-packages for the next race

 

Summing up

 

+ Good gameplay, for Wii U very cool to play with the Pro Controller

+ Fun racing with collectibles and boosts

+ Diversity in available characters, more characters can be unlocked

+ Nice graphics, lively scenery, brilliant colors

+ Entertaining music and game voicing

 

– Loading: quite long loading sequences between races or game modes, can sometimes take up to minutes

– Not much diversity between easy and difficult game levels, mostly same sceneries (yet quite many, though)

– I would have loved a story, a story that twines everything together and establishes connections – for instance, a story around Sonic and his friends would have been nice.

– There is no central user manual or game rules directory. I had difficulties to find out how to shoot different weapons (some can be shot even to the rear, others just to the front). You just get some random hints while the game is loading, which is not quite enough. But perhaps it was intended like this, to challenge players.

 

All in all, I enjoyed playing this game. Driving Sonic is quite a speedy thing in this colorful game, just as usual. My great hope is that the next Sonic racing game will evolve around a story and maybe even combine racing with jump&run adventure – thinking further, I would love something like that – Sonic would be the perfect character for such a mixed fun hullabaloo.

 

Nintendo Sceptic’s Journey through Zelda+Switch [part 1]

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As you may suspect from the title this may not be the usual song of praise to Nintendo & Zelda Breath of the Wild. Others have done far more and better than me in this respect, for example check out HaikuHunter’s fantastic Zelda review or his cool Switch review (with a great test!). If anything I come from a very different background and it seems with very different tastes/values than most reviewers of the game, if anything seeing all those fantastic youtube/IGN/GameSpot/IGN/metacritic reviews got me quite critical as I was comparing what I was seeing with other contemporary and past games. Many people respond by saying that the game should be taken into itself but I am a person who’s played games for >25 years and when looking at a new game I can’t just pretend a lot of the great advancements we’ve made in the field in the past 10+ years were not there and just act like this one game just invented all that or lives on it’s own. By that logic I’m convinced if i took a badly rated metacritic game and gave it to a person who’s never played a game they’d be blown away. So, I will be judging this Zelda in the context of all the other games in the recent years, in relation to those, and not at all in relation to other Zelda games (which I haven’t played), and as a person who just bought his first Nintendo console. The fact that I bought this console is a testament to the fact that it’s the first time I saw a possibly play-worthy Nintendo game after the Super Nintendo which I respect for the 90s which I only admired form a distance though and later via some emulation. But with Zelda Breath of the Wild, an open world, and a handheld which I think is more powerful than the aging Vita. This makes Zelda: Breath of the Wild the most expensive game I’ve ever bought, game + console reaching to about 400$. I’ll give my first impressions in bullet points.

Special note: I have to mention that again there’s going to be a lot of “relative context”, in that in some points I’ll not just be addressing the game but also all the praise of it in criticism to other games which I found totally unjustified and shaped my expectations and where I’m coming from (and why I payed so much pretty much for one game). I’ll mark these with * .

 

+, +  [Switch] feels like a nice solid construction

+, + [Switch] Quick and smooth start from unboxing to being right in the game

-, – [Switch] I was rather disappointed with the display quality, on a sunny day it was quite hard to play without going inside (which sort of beats the point). In particular that starting room I kept bumping into walls

– , – [Switch] very very very poor selection of games, never seen such a short list of games in a store, and for me it’s even worse so far Zelda is for me the only game … I can only hope that in the years to come some devs will take a risk and at least port some old titles for the platform.

+, +, + “switch”-ing from docked to portable mode feels awesome, still a miracle even after doing it dozens of times.

-, +, – [Switch] The controllers felt rather tiny, got used to them in the end but they still have signal problems when even slightly away from the TV and i reaaaly dislike the asymetric joystick combined with the (to me) strange button placements and uses which contradict my PC, ps3, ps4, xbox 360 and bit of Xone customs

And now moving onto Zelda tself:

+, +, +, + Looks fantastic on the tiny screen. Just amazing to be seeing such small things with such detail. On the small screen the cell shading did indeed have a charm of it’s own and helped with contrst videwing

-, –  in docked mode though things look pretty empty. The graphics feel ps3 level, sometimes even ps2 level. I definitely and strongly disagree with all those portraying it as a current-gen platform. It feels last-gen at best, sometimes worse, with bland washed out textures without character and very few objects in the world, mostly just rolling hills terrain.

+ but the smooth open world makes up for a lot

– the colors feel pretty washed out. Initially i thought maybe it’s the feeling of a sunny day, which i like, but then i remembered a lot of games which have sunny worlds and yet decent contrast which doesn’t feel like i’m playing things on an aged tv

+, +, + I enjoyed the feeling of exploring the world, the openness was I think a fantastic decision

* So many people have said this game is so different and revolutionary to other games that it allows you to go anywhere and just explore. I didn’t find this at all as different as other games of this type: the moment i strayed of the path to just go another direction I was hit 2x to go back 1) by cold weather i couldn’t resist 2) by the game reminding me that I’m supposed to do something and go somewhere, something which happens later in the game too. Also the game clearly expect you to get the basic powers before proceeding, with the initial area serving as training ground. This is a typical game trope, nothing wrong with that, but I do resent all the statements/reviews which made it seem like this is never done before revolutionary.

-, + The music i heard (unlike the selections above) felt mostly bland and generic, semi-generated, with some chords and sounds, with only the occasional memorable song. Again, nothing wrong with that, just not the aweeesome sountrack i was lead to expect.  Mostly the game gets away with ambiental sounds of the world. I have yet to find in it though super memorable songs that stick or blow away like I did in other games. To take one example I think the soundtrack isn’t as memorable/professional as the Witcher 3 one, and i didn’t particularly love the soundtrack there, just saying.

-, – the whole world feels very “for kids”, from world to story to everything. For some this might be a plus for me it’s a minus.

* people kept saying how different from other games and unique this game is, particularly how much better it is than the worn out formula of AC games… yet what’s one of the first things I did and patterns I learned in the game?!? You climb a tall tower to reveal/conquer a big map section. duuuuh

-, -, – really low budget feeling with NPC interactions, silly sounds instead of voiced over, a place where i feel the game feels decidedly 10 years+ ago

+ the animations however are pretty nice

– the stamina indicator is i think really badly designed, a circle straight on the character, at the very least it should have been on the edge of the screen if not subtle animations or some overall screen effect like most games do such feedback, they instead placed a 2d distracting animation exactly center screen

– the black & white loading screen felt really not fitting. Might’ve worked for a stylized game like Persona but here it just felt out of place. I would’ve much rather had scenes from the landscape or screenshots or something that was visually fitting (for example handle it like Oblivion did with those frames)

+, -, – while exploring the world was fun, like a mixture of Minecraft, Grow Up, Gothic & Oblivion, as soon as I went into the big village the game showed it’s shortcomings even more compared to other games in the past decade, with the silly sounds instead of dialogues it was barely better than Okami on the ps2, and no longer doing things but rather having interactions the game felt even more backward and underproduced. Couldn’t wait to get out of town.

+ the environment interactions are pretty nice, enemies dropping weapons and being surprised when you take them, flames making fields on fire, nice stuff. Nothing I hadn’t seen done much better in Farcry Primal, Farcry 3 & 4, but still it’s nice to have it there.

* the restriction of some areas via clothing keeps making me think of the much better experience i had with that in Farcry Primal

– didn’t really like the cooking mechanics. It could’ve been much simplified, just interacting with a fire should’ve put you in cooking mode, instead one has to go into inventory, click once, click again to select, and only then begins making a cooking selection. Unoptimized!

* I particularly resented how many reviewers started their Zelda review by criticizing Ubisoft games, and this for a game which I feel in most places does not live to the high standards raised by those games. For example they would often start by saying that those games feel like a colect-a-thlon, unlike Zelda, but this game also feels to me exactly like that. You go around picking up things, finding places, picking up more things. Nothing wrong with that, I just find incredibly untrue how they put it. Sure, there’s moments when you’re delighted in Zelda by finding something unique, but I’ve found even more unique and interesting corners in other games from Assasin’s Creed to Dying Light.

+ I liked the things the game took from Shadow of the Colossus, from the big open areas with sun to the stamina for climbing, great things!

* Again contrary to all the praises I’ve heard i feel the game does a lot of the rinse & repeat type activities, unlike all the praising reviews that said this game is so different than that. You find a shrine, you solve it, you do it again, you find a tower, you climb it… and so on… And here too i saw other games do this more originally and with more variety: take for example the Oblivion gates/dimensions: they felt totally ‘deja vu’ and repeat, just like the shrines, yet some of them had fully lovingly crafted worlds in there, with interesting unique back stories and *fully voiced* interesting characters. Or even in a smaller scale, the towers of Farcry: all the same, and yet with subtle variations and challenges in figuring them out, they were mini shrine puzzles in themselves that I’ve never heard anybody make a big deal of.

 

Well, that’s it for now. Been playing a lot of Zelda, will play more, these are some of my thoughts so far…

TO BE CONTINUED

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