The Legacy of Spec Ops: The Line

 

I haven’t played a ton of shooters over the years. One exception was that five years ago I bought Spec Ops the Line. If I were to judge my old reviews, that would be right up there with Bloodborne as one of my worst reviews (although my next review was Killzone 2, which I still feel is spot on).  I gave it 4 stars at the time, and it deserved 5. Since then I’ve thought about it as much or more than the best games I’ve played. I like it so much  that I still fall for Spec Ops the Line related click bait, that I would normally be able to avoid with more forgettable games (How do you think I found the energy to even right this?).
I’ve always been fascinated with Apolcapalyspse Now. And though I’ve only now begun to develop any taste for Konrad (I can now read more than two pages without falling asleep).
Mechanically, it’s not a great game, but it’s also not as repellently bland as it’s made out to be. The mechanics are so well worn that they actually feel pretty good. The story and the scenes though… there are so many good parts, that even reading the review brought back a flood of memories. It can lack subtly, specifically in naming it’s awol commander- John Konrad, and blasting Vietnam rock over the loud speakers. Yet the descent is always effective.
It’s too easy to distill it down to some Heart of Darkness/  Apocalypse Now comparison and call it a day (if you want to watch a great tribute to Apocaplpse Now, watch the Hearts of Darkness Community episode. A great episode in one of the most underrated TV shows). Yes, it does encapsulate those, and yet pushes beyond them. The conflict itself is about decadent disintegration and as a result also feels distinctly modern. It’s Apocalypse Now and the Hurt Locker and Mad Max. It’s a remarkably clear dream that you wake up with and then continues to follow you around for a day.
It’s a game that pushes so many buttons that it makes you glad that you showed up, while also praying that you never end up in a wind-swept blown out Dubai.

 


Dandy Dungeon – My Unlearned Lessons With F2P

Title:  Dandy Dungeon
Platform: iPhone

Arabesque!

Our Lovable-Pirouetting-Jail-Bait Chasing-Loser Hero at Work

Dandy dungeon is the best type of free to play game: the type where you forget that it’s a free to play game. Which then makes you wonder, how much better would it be if it were just a normal game: balanced drops, fewer and more discrete weapons, laser focused purpose? Because the biggest sin is that like almost all commercially relevant f2p games it throws everything and the kitchen sink at you in an ever increasing world that’s made to suck quarters like an Altered Beast cabinet at the hat-shaped Pizza Hut of my youth that eventually when out of business and became a Chinese restaurant. Because if you can’t make money slinging dough, canned tomato sauce and cheese to Americans, that’s not America’s problem, that’s yours. And then America’s 20 years later when obesity has quadrupled.

But that’s Pizza Hut, and this is my iPhone, the epicenter of f2p. And I don’t like myself on f2p. I can’t consume a game that’s dripped out to me slowly. My life is such that I have to play in a fat time slot on a Friday night after half a bottle of wine. Every time I download a f2p game I tell myself it will be different, I can quit it whenever I want, and then I wake up in the morning thinking, fuck yeah, I can play for 15 and a half more minutes. All of this could be mitigated by paying $7.95 to unlock some unlimited package that would break the game in half, but then it’s the same question, why even bother? Paying in a f2p leaves me with the same guilty feeling that I got from plugging in my Game Genie.

All that to say, Dandy Dungeon is as good as they come. Even if it leaves a sticky garlic taste in the back of my throat like all f2p.

Review: 4 Stars (out of 5)

Good Remakes

Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Curse is the best remake I’ve ever played. Mostly because it’s not a remake. Instead it’s an audio and visual reskin, that can be flipped seamlessly. Press a button and it converts from heavily-layered HD graphics to the bright spartan 8-bit predecessor. Press another button and see how the reimagined audio compares with the beeping original. It’s fluid, and even works with shop NPC’s.

Cool gimmick, so what makes it work so well? Because this type of remake has the dual benefit of denying you the ability to claim that the original was better, while still being able to layer on new personality and depth. Which Lizardcube does well though it’s labor of love, right down to the childhood pictures of the team at the date of the game’s original release in the credits (1989).

I was born in the 80’s so I’m in the prime nostalgia demographic. And if the targeting took a few cues from Wonder Boy, it would feel less vacuous than it normally does.

 


Where is My Mind?

I hear a piano version of the Pixies’s, Where is My Mind. It’s not the first time I’ve heard the song, and every time I hear it it brings a slight clench to my throat. And then I realize that the song was the reason I bought Uncharted 4 to begin with:

The irony, is that the trailer isn’t really an accurate (or inaccurate) representation of the actual game. It’s simply a different feeling entirely. That being said, the trailer is beautiful, the game completely different but wonderful, and enough of an enjoyable experience that I’ve gone back and played the earlier Uncharted’s (starting with “2”), that I had skipped the first time around. That makes the trailer worth noting, as it was capable of bringing interest to something that I had ignored three times before.

 


Title:  Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Maker:   Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony
Platform: PS4

The Lovable Kind of Sociopathy
Let’s start with the facts- Nick Drake and everyone he associates with is a sociopath. If you don’t dwell on that too much, there is much to be enjoyed in Uncharted 4.
To start, it’s easily one of the most beautiful games ever created. Ever locale is special, and each one builds upon the previous, until you’re actively excited to see what the game will throw at you next.
Africa

Africa

Island Paradise

Island Paradise

Scotland

Scotland

There is also considerable time and energy put into the character development. Not just through dialogue, or story arches, but actual investment by the player into these characters. The game asks you to go through the mundane necessities of day-to-day life that are required in building a close relationship with someone (before then asking you to go rampaging across the world with them). It’s in these moments that you develop the sincere feelings that carry you through the entirety of the game. As further testament to the writing, each section is stronger than the last, and each moment with the characters builds upon what has come previously
But in the end, it’s impossible to fully invest in the characters, as a result of the moral contradictions presented through the gameplay.  You will mow down literally dozens of people on your adventure, only to show sensitivity towards deplorable antagonists. The game would be better served to have protagonists that avoid killing almost entirely, or are more authentic in their willingness to commit violence.
With all of that in mind, it was built from the ground up around the story and character development. While not as haunting as The Last of Us, you will find it lingering, for different reasons, days after the music has stopped playing, and all you’re left is the opening screen of a skeleton in a gibbet.

 

Review: 4 Stars (out of 5)

Memory: The writing throughout.


Bloodborne: Epilogue

sunrise

Bloodborne: Epilogue

After completing Blood borne the first time, I felt a strong urge to go back and replay the entire game. Even if it wasn’t as memorable for me as the first Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls, there was something about that weird Lovecraft nightmare that I had to see through to completion. Even with the Witcher 3 and Uncharted 4 burning a hole in my stack of games, I went back and beat Bloodborne two more times. Weirdly, this was something I never did with any of the other Souls games. I think I made it half way through a couple, but then quickly moved on to something else.

If I was to play wannabe psychiatrist on myself, I would say that the story of Yharnam and the Hunter’s Dream, found echoes in my current life. Which is why when I completed Bloodborne for a third and final time, and I choose the simplest ending, it is the most appropriate. *minor spoiler- I watch in relief as it all comes to an end, and the character awakes to a sunrise and the long awaited promise of a new day.

The night has come to an end!


Father Gascoigne or Emotions in Videogames

This is a sad post. Sort-of.

As much as I love vidoegames, it’s comparatively rare for me that a game has the same emotional impact as cinema or literature. There are some exceptions, Spec Ops: The Line, was bizarrely tight in it’s descent into madness, and Thomas Was Alone, made me feel for simple shapes, but in general it’s hard for a game to nail the emotional side when there is so much else to do and focus on.

Look at that sad rectangle

A sad rectangle

The Souls games always were head of the class when it came to interjecting intricate easy-to-miss stories, but it’s Bloodborne that actually makes you care about them. However, there is one story that has stayed with me longer than the others, even though I finished the game nearly a three months ago: The story of Father Gascoigne.

There are about a million little bits than I can’t cover here from this single story or it would explode in size (the game is ridiculously detailed). But to give a quick overview: Early in the game you meet a little girl hiding in her home, she’s terrified and you offer to help her find her mother and father, which you eventually do. However, you find her father has lost his mind, her mother is dead (unclear if he was the cause, or this was the catalyst for his madness), and you’re forced to kill Gascoigne, her father. Without given away too much, from here, every action you take to rectify the decision continues a spiral of death and degradation.

A dream devouring itself

A dream devouring itself

The beautiful part is that all of this is missable. In fact it’s designed to be missed, but if you look hard enough, you can see the destruction and personal toll that this event has taken on a single family. It’s comparable to The Shinning, in that you watch a family not only tear apart, but also abandon and turn on the most delicate things that they should innately want to protect. There is something truly terrifying about that, and that is why Bloodborne is a masterpiece in storytelling.


Slayin’ Review

Title:  Slayin’
Platform: iOS (reviewed), Android

How many slimes can you kill?

Cleaning out a closet I found an old Game Informer list that I had torn out of the magazine. It gave the top mobile games of 2013. On the list in the one-two spot is Year Walk (pretty cool) and Ridiculous Fishing (legitatemly awesome). After that it’s a bunch of Star Wars, infinite runners, and adventure games that could have been something if they weren’t redundant. Towards the bottom of this rudandant list was a game that pulled me in with a straight forward name: “Slayin”.

And the name is accurate. It’s simple, short, and a little sweet. It lasts a few sittings, and by the time you’ve beaten it, you feel you’ve seen everything it can offer. But to its credit, it asks very little in return. Its appeal is limited, but it wears it on its sleeve, and how can you blame a game like that?

It's got the makings of a good sequel

It’s got the makings of a good sequel

It’s not a terrible game, it’s just not much of one.

Review: 2 Stars (out of 5)

Memory: The music would randomly stop, but I could never figure out the trigger.


Bloodborne Review (a review for Souls fans)

Title:  Bloodborne
Maker:   From Software
Publisher: Sony
Platform: PS4

Making it to Morning

What should be said about Bloodborne, that hasn’t already been said? Well a lot actually. There are so many steps forward, and so many steps backwards, that’s it’s nearly impossible to tells who’s coming or going.

Let’s start with “who’s coming”: The story and the setting is so significantly improved it’s staggering. After three outings, the Souls games had started to rest on their laurels.  Not Bloodborne. I don’t know if they had a whole team of writers that ate, bathed and slept together for months, or if they had one half-insane screenwriter channeling the ghost of HP Lovecraft, but whatever they did, it’s brilliant. How you can keep all that in your brain without losing it baffles me. The Gothic motif, also allows it to give life to images that normally have no place in games. It’s well orchestra genetic disgust when you meet gigantic bugs with piercing shrieks, or tentacle face brain suckers. It’s also more cinematic. The story still doesn’t hold your hand, but does use beautiful cutscenes, instead of a complete reliance on dialogue. An improvement that I’ve been waiting for since the first Demon’s Sous.

Unofficial Cthulhu bastard child

Illegitimate Cthulhu bastard child

Add in a solid combat engine and this is a 5 star game, except for one massive glaring “going”. They recycle the same enemies, like an 80’s button masher, simply increasing their stats and experience. For a game that rests on combat, this is a huge issue, because the same enemies you’re fighting at the beginning, you’re fighting at the end. What this effectively does is skew the difficulty curve to the beginning, when you’re still learning how to stun-lock enemies, and first memorizing their patterns. By the end, you’ve seen them enough that no amount of extra health and damage is going to take you down. It’s understandable why this was done, the designs, and the enemies; they’re all details and cost a ton to create. But it’s a huge step back from the Souls games in this regard.

Frightening at first, it's muscle memory by the end.

Giant Boar – Frightening at first, muscle memory by the end.

Other than these two main points, it’s minor incremental plusses and minuses. Pros: Beautiful graphics, well thought out warp system, cool-dual weapon system, great endings. Negatives: Repetitive boss battles, terrible healing system (forces grinding), and obfuscating environments.

It’s clear From Software set out to make a game that’s different than it’s predecessors, and stands on it’s own merits. In that, they have objectively succeeded.

Review: 4 Stars (out of 5)

Memory: Everything about Rom, The Vacuous Spider (especially the name)


Modern Horse Physics

 

In Shadow of the Colossus, the horse that helps you cover the vast distances of the world feels like a bus. In years late in playing Red Dead Redemption. But it’s obvious the horse physics haven’t evolved in the last ten years. Movement controls in the game aren’t terrific to begin with, but the horse is out of his gourd.

Ico-SotC-HD-04red-dead