After the first Tomb Raider reboot surprised me by being an awkwardly violent and fun roller coaster ride, Rise of the Tomb Raider turned out to be Tomb Raider without the gore, but bloated to the brim with unnecessary, unfun stuff to do, as is custom these days. Continue reading “Review: Rise of the Tomb Raider”
I played through Tomb Raider by accident. It’s a game about killing, climbing and grabbing ledges in the last second. I was never a big fan of the original series, but the recent Uncharted-like reboot intrigued me and for some reason it became dirt cheap quick, which I don’t understand because I think the game is great (spoiler!). Naturally that meant it was doomed to live a life of sad abandon in my game collection, until recently a monthly subscription of a popular bundle provider, who shall remain unnamed, teased me with the second game in the series. Ten hours later, I am writing this. Continue reading “Review: Tomb Raider”
I promise I will be back to games I am surprised by and/or ashamed of owning, soon, but first let me tell you about ‘Prey’ (the new one). ‘Prey’ is another very recent game I threw upon the top of the mountain just to take it off again and I did so with great pleasure.
I bought the game on the following info: first person perspective, space station. People seemed to like it. As with ‘What Remains of Edith Finch‘ I read that the game is best experienced without knowing too much about it beforehand and I now agree with that advice. If you thinking about playing ‘Prey’ and you get triggered by the same words as I do, you should probably stop reading and buy the game.
‘Aquaria’ clearly is a labor of love. It’s just that love doesn’t write good video games, love doesn’t prevent my game collection from getting cluttered up by games I don’t care for and love doesn’t stop me from writing about said games.
After a short confusing intro, we play as fish girl ‘Naija’ in a metrovanian style underwater world called ‘Aquaria’ – yeah I know. The graphics of the underwater caves are nice and full of details, the controls are solid and it even has innovative features like that impractical song mechanic which lets you play short tunes to active special abilities or solve icon/note based riddles. I am sure that there is an audience out there who loves this game and I will gladly tell you why I can’t join them and stopped playing after less than an hour.
The writing is so stiff and corny, full of ‘philosophical’ babble which gets boosted further by the very serious and serene, this-is-my-thoughtful-timbre voice acting. I don’t mind games taking a philosophical excursion. ‘Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs‘ basically poses the question wether mankind doesn’t deserve extinction by pigmen. ‘What Remains of Edith Finch‘ makes a good point about life being shortened by death, but both games do it with a knowing twinkle in their eyes.
Then there’s the music, which at it’s better moments copies chord progressions directly from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ movie soundtrack, but for the most part is so corny, that even the Elves were embarrassed. It goes perfectly with the writing.
In combination with those flaws there’s no chance for a game in a genre that didn’t interested me much in the first place, to keep me entertained.
It is my impression that the game is solidly made and it’s different parts fit well together, even in their corniness. For a ten year old indie game the production values are surprisingly high. It’s simply bad luck for ‘Aquaria’ to have made it’s way into my collection, as my heart is as cold as the frozen water of a wintry lake and bereft of the warming but fragile love it once held.
Those days – when you wake up without a memory and then are stalked by a pig-man, who tries to kill you in a vast labyrinthian underground meat processing plant at the turn of the last century.
‘Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs’ was a fantastic, creepy ride. It took all that stopped me from finishing its predecessor and threw it over board or at least reduced it to a minimum. While ‘The Dark Descent‘ was closer to a classic adventure game, with more elaborate (and annoying) puzzles, an inventory and a lot of backtracking, ‘A Machine For Pigs’ is closer to a walking simulator and therefore a much tighter experience. Freed from boring gameplay mechanics like going-insane-because-I-can’t-find-a-match, and cleverly guided through the levels, I was able to concentrate exclusively on the things I enjoyed about the game. The writing is absolutely great, as is the voice acting. I really enjoyed discovering the gruesome story, which, while pretty over-the-top, stayed mostly interesting throughout the entire game and even managed to give a satisfying ending – a thing that is seldom witnessed in video games or life in general.
It’s not just the inner values that count. ‘A Machine for Pigs’ is beautiful. Regardless wether you wade knee deep in blood or fecal matter or both, I often paused just to take a look at the scenery. Sometimes the art design reminded me of the Bio Shocks, but I prefer that it has a more realistic feel to it. The sound design also is great. The developers made a better use of agonized pig squeals than most Death Metal bands. I also appreciated the restrained use of the very good music (no Death Metal, though).
Yes, there were still things, that I could have done without. Too much running away from pig-men for example, or that short part in the middle, where the story lost me for a moment, but those are minor complaints.
I really enjoyed my three and a half hours with ‘Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs’. That may sound like a rather short experience, but I prefer a tight compact game, that keeps me excited end-to-end, to a artificially drawn out Alan Wake-like experience – at least as far as story driven games are concerned. What have I learned? There are horror games out there that I can actually enjoy and kids are great for cleaning clogged up steam vents, when they manage to get out in time.
No five minutes into the game I am told to kill someone. What’s this? Another Alpha Protocol? Sadly no, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a survival horror game, where you do the dying (if you decide to walk up to and hug the monster). It’s 1839, you’re Daniel and you awake in the East Prussian Castle of Brennenburg and, surprise, you memory is gone. You try to scrape it back together as you explore the badly lit castle, always making sure to pack enough oil and tinder so that you may not succumb to the darkness, which slowly drives you insane. Apart from East Prussia not being New England, it all feels very Lovecraftian, which is a good thing. It’s another of those games where, if it wasn’t me playing them, the person playing it might actually have great fun doing so. It still looks good (enough), it’s got a creepy, classic horror atmosphere and good sound design and it doesn’t annoy you with over-complex puzzles. It still does annoy you with puzzles though, that seem to be a notch above insulting Alan Wake-‘There are three buttons, please use the ones that got a green light above them’-level. For me, while not being nearly as exhausting as being hunted by a fantastic looking Alien, it’s just not fun hiding behind my oil lamp and running away from dark shadows. Over the years I’ve brought so much death and destruction to my virtual enemies, that now, being old and tired, I am too set in my ways to enjoy experiencing the other end of the stick. I wonder wether its sequel (the next game in line) might change my mind, and why the first steps of the mountain seem to be predominantly made from horror games.
Info: Amnesia: The Dark Descent, was developed by Frictional Games and released in 2010. You can get your uplifting horror adventure on Steam.
Not just an American nightmare
Unfortunately, playing games in alphabetical order means that ‘Alan Wake’s American Nightmare’ was next, trying its best to undo the semi-good impression that ‘Alan Wake’ had left me with. The spinoff to the original game was released in 2012 and supposed to tell a more action oriented and less serious episode.
As I already stated in my review of the original, the action part of ‘Alan Wake’, while solid, grew boring fast on me and it was the same with the spinoff. Yes, they expanded the weapon arsenal, but that didn’t change the point-flashlight-then-shoot mechanic. Very much like in the real world, fighting gets much easier if you are handed a machine gun, which is either a good or a bad thing – the fights are boring, but they are over fast.
No more madness
I was hoping they’d go for all out weirdness story wise, but there isn’t much story to begin with. Everything feels much cheaper compared to the original. Instead of an insane Heavy Metal shootout, we only get a regular shootout with some Heavy Metal playing in the background. The game looks worse. It has a lot less cinematic cut scenes. The writing is bad and the voice acting bland. The only thing that made me happy, was that they kept the guy who did the puzzles – they are still so insultingly easy, that it feels like the one good joke in the game.
I did a lot of running from A to B and back, only to find out that they used the cheapest trick in game writing to not only reuse all of their three locations, but also had me basically do the same stuff I had already done there, again – and again. At that point I decided I didn’t want to spend another minute with this game, but I had to return and make a screenshot and finished it anyway. It’s probably not as bad as I make it sound. It’s just that you shouldn’t play this right after the far superior original game.
We might not have become the best of friends, but you deserved better Alan Wake.
Not the brightest bulb on the porch
Welcome to finishing off ‘Alan Wake‘. I liked my adventure with him, but I am also glad it’s over. The second part of the game felt less like a chore than the first three episodes, but it still felt artificially stretched in many places.
I enjoyed how the game left me in the dark (ha!) about what’s really going on. There are multiple ways to interpret the story, but fortunately the game never explains what’s actually ‘real’ in the game. This serves the atmosphere quite well, and leads to some clever moments.
Which stands in stark contrast to the dumber than dumb puzzles the game still feels like throwing at me. ‘Press B to solve’. Then again, more challenging puzzles probably would have ruined Alan Wake’s pacing. Remedy should have left them out completely. They fulfill no other purpose than to insult the player’s intelligence, which the game doesn’t hold in high regard anyway. The hints the game gives via Alan’s inner monologue are as subtle as a fat man charging at you with a chainsaw: ‘The viking boat looked imposing – almost like a battering ram’. Gee, I wonder how I’ll get the door open.
Who are you?
While ‘Matthew Porretta’, the voice of Alan Wake, clearly has never been drunk in his live and thus fails to voice act appropriately, the game designers and writers certainly didn’t lack the experience. I appreciate that the game doesn’t take itself too seriously and manages to wink at you at the right moments. That is until the second half, where the tone of the game goes all over the place. From completely over the top weirdness in Episode 4 (heavy metal concert shootout) to a more Hollywood action comedy in Episode 5. Yes, that pump action shotgun is fun, but a wacky sidekick added on top of that and your already brittle horror mood evaporates. Even though these episodes felt out of place, they still were a lot of fun. The finale on the other hand felt like a couple of end battles strung together that ended in an underwhelming boss battle (but at least it was over fast).
This would have been a great six hour game, but they stretched it into an okay twelve hour game. Still I enjoyed my time with ‘Alan Wake’. It’s pretty looks (even for an seven year old game) and the interesting story kept me entertained til the end.
Confessions of a writer descending into madness
First the good news: Alan Wake is good enough to make me want to play the whole game. The bad news: it’s too long (more on that later) and thus it keeps me from writing on this here blog. I decided to split my review into two pieces. Alan Wake consist of six episodes. In this part of the review I will tell you about my experience of episodes 1 to 3 and part two will tackle the rest. I will probably use this method again in the future – Alien Isolation lingers right around the corner.
About the other guy (Alan Wake)
Alan Wake is a third person horror action adventure released by Remedy Entertainment (Max Payne, Quantum Break) in 2010. The story focuses on psychological horror elements with a good dash of mystery thriller. For reasons I can’t explain, I am enjoying it – it’s really not my kind of genre (neither the perspective, nor the setting). Maybe it’s because as a fan of video games I am just thankful for any story that had at least some thought put into it. Also the writing is decent and the voice acting great. The sad thing is, that it’s rather hard to get to the story bits. For some (probably wrong, business related) reasons, they get interrupted by repetitive fight sequences and a lot of running around in the woods. The combat system is entertaining, but after killing your 50th possessed woodworker with a flashlight and a shot gun it just feels like a grind. The same goes for the woods: they’re dark and atmospheric (even though littered with uncharged batteries and ammunition), but after a while you start wondering why they didn’t just let you jump to the next cut scene. It’s a gripe I have with many of these games, whether they be Max Payne, Uncharted or Tomb Raider. Entertaining, movie-like stuff, cut to pieces by repetitive stuff. The actual gameplay often feels tacked on.
Another thought on atmosphere – all the shooting of ghostly burly men doesn’t feel scary. I think Alan is a bit too much of a bad ass.
I am now getting ahead of myself by predicting the conclusion for the second part of my review: This would have been a great six hour game, but they stretched it into an okay (at least) twelve hour game.
Glorious! Discovering games like ’80 Days’ by inkle studios is one of the finest reasons to continue besting the mountain and brush up your 19th century English. Originally released in 2014 the game found it’s way to steam only at the end of 2015. I bought it a few months after release but it didn’t really get me hooked at the time. I am very happy, I gave it another go.
In ’80 Days’ I play Passepartout, valet to Phileas Fogg. Fogg has a wager going on that he’ll travel the Jules-Vernian 1872 steampunk version of the world in 80 days. As his loyal valet it’s my job to plan the route, organize transport and secure health and well-being of Fogg throughout the entire journey. Alas, in my first playthrough I missed the mark by two days and ended the journey in melancholy and with a heavily indebted Fogg. But what a journey it was! The story of the game is mainly told by text and the world map, but still it was an thrilling ride. I explored every city we visited via a short ‘Chose Your Own Adventure’-like episode, that often ended in a small Adventure itself. This way you discover new routes or new ways to fund your travels. Sometimes the decisions you make can end in utter disaster – Fogg and I brushed with death more than once during our trip. Sometimes events weighed heavily on our relationship, often it was a pleasant an interesting ride. The writing in ’80 Days’ is superb, and I hardly recommend the game to anyone just slightly interested in classic adventure stories.
In my first try we visited 20 cities of over 160 available in the game. I can’t wait for my next journey, in which I will make sure to take another route. One that will keep me far away from the Cholera-ridden ports of Manila. That illness nearly cost us a week!
Go play ’80 Days’!