A year and a half ago, I was grabbing some takeout, and while they were wrapping up the thai, I circled though the neighboring Gamestop. On the shelf in beautiful pastel colors sat No Man’s Sky. It had been described by a CEO friend as “very relaxing”, and the image of Stan slouching into the couch, chasing the dragon, in the South Park Guitar Hero Episode episode came to mind. That’s about perfect, I thought.
I played it for a little while, marveled at the beauty of interstellar travel and exploration, and then put it away. Fast-forward a year to a quiet Friday night when I decided to pick it back up, and to my surprise discovered an almost entirely new game. It had added large gameplay changes like bases, vehicles, star freighters, missions, and difficulty settings. And then there were small enjoyable changes, that while unnecessary, added to the experience: like charming little quotes when you died (which now, thanks to the new difficulty settings, actually happened).
And yet the best parts of the game remained. And it was as it had been described to me- “very relaxing”.
I’ve never seen a game continually iterate and provide so much free post release content. Another massive update has released this past month, which shows a continued desire to bring more structure to the experience. And while I appreciate the additional story content, there was something beautiful about how little the game held your hand before. The mixed reviews I had read when it released appeared baffled by the pacing and lack of purpose. The story itself is an exercise in restraint, in which you can take as much or as little of it as you want. What is revealed is typically cryptic and haunting.
It’s in this interstellar loneliness, punctuated by moments of deep meaning, that the game becomes something incomparable. For it’s original aspirations, for what it is, for what it continually tries to be, it’s a phenomenal game. And one that was dismissed too quickly.
Review: 5 stars (out of 5)
Memory: The desperation the first time you get stuck/lost on a planet.
Title: The Wolf Among Us
Maker: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Platform: PS Vita
Pop culture references the Walking Dead so incessantly, that I could never play the Telltale versions. They looked fine enough, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, even though I have the series sitting in Steam from a Humble Bundle. The Wolf Among Us is so enjoyable that it makes me want to go back and give those early games a try.
Title: Spec Ops: The Line
Publisher: 2K Games
I certainly wouldn’t have picked up Spec Ops if I wasn’t aware of it’s concept. But it was billed as Heart of Darkness set in Dubai. Ok, I can get into that. And it’s reference to the source material aren’t subtle, but they’re appropriate. You’re on the hunt for a man named Konrad, pronounced the same as Joseph Conrad. And as you push deeper into Dubai, things unravel further and further.
The setting is cool. But ironically, you rarely feel that you’re marching through Dubai except when you’re out in the open sands. The buildings, what you assume would make for the most interesting environments, are usually the most forgettable. The indoor settings are extravagant but seem to also conjure up colors from the 60s-70s, just in case you were to miss the Heart of Darkness references, they can hit you with Apocalypse Now. And maybe that’s the biggest complaint you can make against the game: that with the occasional fourth-wall breaking, and the Vietnam War style radio stations, all in an effort to show callousness, they sometimes push so hard that it pulls you out of the game.
But this is a small complaint to make. Many things about it are spot-on. The voice acting is solid, from the Dennis Hopper radio DJ (an Apocalypse Now reference that hits the mark), the main characters, and especially Konrad. Konrad’s look and sound is about as perfect as you can hope for. The charters repeat phrases in fire fights, but it doesn’t detract as they usually reaffirm the players mental state.
As a game it plays acceptably. A little too much stop-and-pop, and lacking some polish (trying to run from a grenade is way more difficult than it should be), but as you continue to play things meld together and on a second play through you’ll find yourself covering huge parts of the game rapidly.
And that’s really the thing about it. The initial experience is a solid three stars. But it demands a another play-through. The second time is better than the first. The pace of the story makes it difficult to appreciate everything the first time. On the second you find things more enjoyable, it moves briskly, and all the implications bear themselves out. Foreboding hangs over everything, and you realize it from the very beginning. One scene in particular is amazing, and having missed it the first time, that alone validated the return. The second play-through is enough to make the game worth another star.
Review: 4 stars
Memory: Difficult because most memories are spoilers. A safe one- Viciously beating someone to death with a rifle butt when they startle you.
Jikandia: The Timeless Land
Platform (Format): PSP (UMD)
It looks pretty cute, right? The outside is charming enough I bought the game for $10 before a flight to Europe. As an iOS game I would still consider it quite unpolished. The characters and story are generic, but have the potential to bring the whole thing together into something worthwhile, but sadly they are the most unbearable part. The fact that the translation was run through something like babelfish acts as a constant reminder while playing how much of your time you’re wasting (much like an iOS game).
The gameplay is enough of a grind that you develop a routine after the first few levels (go in for a few minutes, die, reequip and gain bonuses from meeting goals, go back in for longer and beat the boss). Even on an Atlantic plane ride I couldn’t bring myself to play it longer than a couple hours. Although I can’t help but feel it might have been pretty funny in it’s original Japanese.
Rating: 1 star