Valiant Hearts Review

Title: Valiant Hearts
Platform: PS4

Let’s Play! WWI

Valiant Hearts is an odd game.

I’m left asking myself, “who greenlit this”? Is it an educational game in disguise, made to secretly teach teenagers about the atrocities of WWI, much like my 9th grade reading assignment of All Quiet on the Western Front? (Which is a memorizing book: Humanizing Germans, shitting next to each other in trenches, hanging out with French girls, the atrocities of war perpetrated on and by teenagers, & no escape. It has a rating of 3.9 on Goodreads. Moby Dick has a rating of 3.5 on Goodreads. The current New York Times bestseller, Leverage in Death by J.D. Robb, has a rating of 4.5.)

Or is it a puzzle game with some light action rammed in for hell of it? Maybe it was just a bunch of WWI nerds who wanted to spread the word about how insane this nearly forgotten nationalism/machismo-fest really was. And good for them if that’s the case. There were parts of France that experienced so much death that it salted the earth. And then in less than one generation, a new war was raging in those same places.

So how would you present this unprecedented level of pointless death and destruction? Again, the game doesn’t seem to know. It oscillates between a Saturday morning cartoon caricature villains and hidden violence (when you throw a grenade into an enemy embankment, they throw their hands up an run off the screen comically before it explodes), to scenes that are so violent that you’re hiding behind mountains of corpses, as French soldiers are being ripped to shreds all around you. These scenes are over-the-top, and intentionally so given the fact that this is WWI, but then why wait until the end of the game to show something so grotesque? Yes, the Neville offensive was a huge waste of life, but there were over a million casualties in the Battle of the Somme alone (one of a dozen other ugly battles you’ll march through), none of which are presented with as much butchery.

It does have a nice feature where you can collect little artifacts around the level that give you information about WWI living conditions. Normally these types of search quests would be a drag, but it’s pretty seamlessly integrated, and never overly frustrating. I enjoyed it enough that I went back and found them all when the game was done.

As a game, it’s not much. As an educational game, it’s admirable. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt that it’s the later.

Review: 3 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.


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.


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)