Review: Prey

Prey: purpelish black blob attacks
Welcome to every enemy in ‘Prey’. This one has a purple tint. Hooray!

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.

Continue reading “Review: Prey”

Impression: Aquaria

Aquaria: game scene
A picture of a pretty game I do not like.

‘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.

Aquaria: a red crystal
Why would you need save points? I didn’t.

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.

Info: ‘Aquaria’ was developed by Bit Blot and released in 2007. You can get it at GOG and Steam.



Review: What Remains of Edith Finch

What Remains of Edith Finch: a view through a round window into a dark forest
So much atmosphere!

After deciding to not really talk about a game, I am now talking about a new (yes, new as in ‘just released a few weeks ago’) game, and it doesn’t start with an ‘A’. ‘What’s going on?’ you moan. ‘I don’t like change!’ you lament, and I understand. Bear with me, because change, as scary as it might seem to us, can also bring new light into our lives – or at least give us great games like ‘What Remains of Edith Finch’.

What do you say if you really like a game? I don’t know because my collection is made entirely of horror and puzzle games I never asked for. I am a bit at loss for words, because ‘What Remains of Edith Finch’ is more of a visual and emotional experience and can’t be described by the usual “very good multi-death killing mechanics, but the subpar severed limb physics left me disappointed”. Surprisingly enough, this pure walking simulator contains more death, than your average shooter tutorial.

What Remains of Edith Finch: a kite pulling chairs in it's wake
Also crazy stuff is happening.

Maybe it’s not even a good idea to describe the game in detail. It’s one of those games you will probably enjoy most if you know least about it. I certainly was grateful for that hint. If you like walking simulators, stop reading and buy the game, now! Yes, full price. If you like well written stories about tragic deaths with a streak of the darkest of humor, buy the game!  At first it reminded me a lot of ‘Gone Home’ my much appreciated introduction to the genre. A girl returns to the empty family house and explores, but apart from the basic premise the similarities end. ‘What Remains of Edith Finch’ shows how far walking simulators have developed in the last few years. The game tells multiple neatly strung together stories in a unique and creative way and everything looks and sounds fantastic. You will get more atmosphere than from your average early 90ies Black Metal record.

I finished the game in about two hours, which might not sound like much for a 20€ game, but it’s worth it. Like I said about the pig game, I prefer a short and tight game over whatever Ubisoft does these days. It’s great to not be bored for a second, start to finish. The game left me in a state of melancholic pondering and I’m grateful for such rare video game moments.  I also laughed more than I probably should have.

What Remains of Edith Finch: a view of a basement
Even the basement is crammed full with atmosphere!

Info: ‘What Remains of Edith Finch’ was developed by Giant Sparrow and was released in April 2017. You should head over to Steam or a less evil alternative and buy it full price, so that the developers may provide me with more quality games.


Impression: Antichamber

Antichamber: a black and white minimalism corridor
Look everybody, it’s art!

Antichamber is one of those games you chose to show your ignorant non-gamer friends as proof that video-games are not just cynically marketed products full of violence and questionable ethics targeted at white, male teenagers without a soul, but thoughtful art.

It’s an indie puzzle game. It has a minimalist art style which is nice, but maybe has a bit too much of a ‘Look at me, I am art!’-vibe going. I played for a while and the game made me feel clever, which I enjoyed while it lasted. Then I got stuck, felt less clever and remembered that I would much rather like to kill someone and loot their corpse, because that’s what this hobby is all about. I am talking about video games.

Antichamber is the game you give to your kid to share your hobby in a save and positive way. It also keeps your offspring distracted for some hours while you tread your inner 15-year-old with the immature, violent and sexist content he or she craves.

Info: Antichamber was developed by Alexander Bruce and released in 2013. Buy it on Steam to make others believe that video games are evolving.

Impression: Anomaly: Warzone Earth

Anomaly: Warzone Earth: explosions!
It looks much more impressive on your phone.

Anomaly: Warzone Earth has a typical three word, nonsensical video game title. It is also not a port from Android to PC, but I thought it was because I played it on my phone first and it seemed a bit to casual for a PC title. That’s life on Earth for you – a wild rollercoaster ride of confusing emotions paired with wrong assumptions. It was only a question of time until aliens would try to put an end to this madness and we would fight back by leading a small convoy of military vehicles through a maze spiked with armed towers, that try to defend something.

Reverse tower defense games usually have the same problems as non-reverse tower defense games – they get repetitive fast. Anomaly: Something Earth is no exception, but it tries really hard. The game has some things going for it: the graphics are better than expected (but I expected an Android port) and the game interface feels really slick. No complaints on the controls. It also tries to mix up the old formula by letting you chose the order of your upgradeable convoy vehicles and the route to your target, which you can, and often have to, change while on a mission. The insanely fast man you are playing gets a lot of special powers. It’s not front loaded, but has a progression of skills, units and enemies. It even tries to tell a story, which is very uninteresting and was probably written by someone who was impressed by Anno 2070‘s storytelling abilities. In the end all those nice little details can’t hide that it’s a (reverse) tower defense game – and they still get repetitive fast.

Anomaly: Warzone Earth: tactical map
It’s a pretty map.

If you like playing on your phone, because you are a millennial or ashamed of playing real games, it’s a nice enough distraction, but on PC it’s not enough to make me want to come back to it.

Info: Anomaly: Warzone Earth was developed by 11 bit studios and released in 2011. Get it on Steam if you don’t own a phone.

Skipping: Anno 2070

Anno 2070: view of an early settlement
It’s a screenshot of the game.

Welcome to my new category: ‘skipping’. Here I will be talking about games, which I don’t want to play (again). What an ironic twist. Nobody saw it coming.

The first game to be skipped on the way to the mountain top is Anno 2070. According to Steam I already played the game for four hours, but I couldn’t bring myself to spent even another 30 minutes with it. It’s not because the game is terrible. It isn’t. It’s because 2070 does not just refer to the future year, but also the number of hours you should spend in this game to really get the hang of it. I don’t want to do that in a game that strikes me as an okay building strategy game. I was never a big fan of the series and I only chose to take a look at it because of the science fiction setting. It is still very much a typical Anno game. Build and trade and build and possibly deal with people you don’t want to build and trade in your vicinity. I remember being bored by the tutorial campaign, but then again you don’t play Anno for it’s great story telling abilities. You play it because you are in between jobs or have no other interests in life. It’s entirely possible that I might revisit Anno 2070.

Review: Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs: a church altar draped with dead pigs
Before you start being offended, think of how the pigs must have felt!

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.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs: a dimly lit corridor
Sometimes it’s like walking in a painting.

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.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs: a view from inside a box
Yes, I had to restart the game because I got myself stuck in a box permanently.

Impression: Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Amnesia: The Dark Descent: dark figure in darkness
Er… ‘ello?

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.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent: entrace hall castle brennenburg
You will soon wish for a roof in even worse repair.

Info: Amnesia: The Dark Descent, was developed by Frictional Games and released in 2010. You can get your uplifting horror adventure on Steam.

Review: American Truck Simulator

American Truck Simulator: beautiful scenery
It’s pretty, and/but nobody dies.

‘American Truck Simulator’ aka ‘the thing I do when I want to listen to a podcast, but I have already done the dishes’ is, depending on your needs, a deep Truck Driving Simulation with superficial economics, or a serious alternative to Zen meditation. I mainly care for the latter and I really appreciate that the game let’s me decide how much of a simulation I get. I don’t care for complex parking maneuvers and accurate fuel calculation. I just want to WASD myself on the highway, drive frozen vegetables from Show Low (AZ) to Sacramento (CA), stare into the golden sunset and listen to some questionable gaming podcast while my brain slowly drains itself. That is until I crash my truck into a police car at 75mph, because I didn’t realize that I  already left the highway a few moments ago. It’s spectacular proof of why video games are so important for our society. I can live my truck driving fantasies, which I didn’t know I had until I played Euro Truck Simulator 2, right here in the comfort of my own home, and nobody has to die.

American Truck Simulator: night
At night it’s dark.

I already spent some time with ‘American Truck Simulator’ before, but as many others, I didn’t like that they changed the scale of the map from 1:20 in ‘Euro Truck Simulator 2’ to 1:35 in the new game. America felt too small. So, as many others, I was more than excited to hear that SCS Software decided to rescale the map back to 1:20. This is my first time revisiting ‘American Truck Simulator’ after the rescale, and I am happy to say that SCS did a fantastic job. It’s still just three states, but the scale feels right now. I can finally try to repay that generous bank loan I thought was a sensible investment when I first started the game. I don’t play often enough to ever build up that truck empire I dream of while running a red light in Reno at 80mph, but it’s always fun to come back and do another tour. It certainly beats washing the dishes.

Again Information: ATS was and is still being developed by SCS Software and was released in 2016. You can buy it on Steam.

Review: Alpha Protocol

Alpha Protocol: Michael Thornton wearing a green beret
In the garden, always wear the green beret! You’ll be invisible to your enemies.

Alpha Protocol is a half-finished spy RPG with very simple stealth mechanics and crappy combat controls. I enjoyed it a lot.

The thing I liked most about Alpha Protocol is that it cared about story first, and everything you did fit right into it, most of the time, at least in it’s slightly crazy over-the-top (somewhere between Bourne and Bond) spy setting. There was always something happening, and while the stealth and combat system weren’t great, at least they didn’t get in the way. I chose a stealthy character and after a few levels my recruit was able to murder himself through an entire building complex without being seen. If you’re looking for a great challenge, then Alpha Protocol is not for you.

If you like a game that gives you choices and the feeling that they probably would have mattered more, if the developer’s actually had time to finish their game – in that case it’s the perfect game for you.

Granted, I had forgotten who was working for/betraying whom by mid game already but I still enjoyed the well written dialog, and the sometimes cringe worthy characters (there’s a crazy hacker called ‘Heck’) of good b-movie quality. The writing went well with the looks of the game, which are fine but probably didn’t impress anyone even by 2010 standards. They even included a more than awkward sex scene, where you have to imagine the sex part.

Alpha Protocol: Michael Thornton wearing a blue beret in bed with Mina
With the ladies, always wear the blue one! You really don’t want to be invisible now, Mike!

I have read articles that criticized Alpha Protocol for having an unsympathetic main character. While I agree that Michael Thornton is basically a prick, no matter what dialog options you choose, I really enjoyed him being one. As someone who sticks his knife in other people’s necks on a daily basis, I think being an asshole is a fitting character trait. Most game ‘heroes’ are full on mass murdering sociopaths portrayed as rouges with a heart of gold. Hey, I think this is my first chance to say ‘ludonarrative dissonance‘ – Alpha Protocol doesn’t suffer from it. I guess you could try to go a non-lethal route (some NPCs don’t like it when you undo civilians or police officers), but the game doesn’t really want you to, and you’ll wade through blood of your enemies soon. By the end of the game you get a disturbing amount of ‘execute’ dialog options. ‘Spy’ is really just a euphemism for assassin in this game.

There are a lot of things that might put people off in Alpha Protocol. It’s a clunky PC-port and who ever thought of the mouse control for the hacking mini game should be stabbed. A lot of it felt unfinished or not fully fleshed out. Yes, your decisions and relationships to NPCs do matter, but not as much as you would like. There were a lot of moments, that felt like they were just placeholders, where originally something bigger had been planned. Also the dialog options are only one word per option, which sometimes makes it hard or even impossible to anticipate what exactly Thornton will do if you chose them. Chose ‘aggressive’ and instead of intimidating the guy, good old psycho Mike will grab his head an bash it on a counter. Chose ‘joking’ and instead of saying something clever, Micky will tell his girlfriend to fuck off.

Alpha Protocol: Mina looking at Mike
She’s like: ‘He’s so hot, he just executed like a hundred people.’ And he’s like ‘She’s hot, but I really wanna execute her.’

Which is so like Mike. As I played the final mission a bug kept the ‘save your girlfriend’ objective lit, even though I had already passed the point where I could save her. So instead of reloading the checkpoint I played through to the end only to see a solitary Mike drive a boat into the sunset saying that now that the action is over he’s worried about getting bored. Oh Michael. Thornton is a flawed man in a flawed game, but I still am looking froward to playing him again (in about a thousand years from now, after the mountain). Next time I will play as ‘veteran’ (an option that unlocks if you played as ‘recruit’) and go full on psycho, because I think Mike is really just happy when you chose ‘execute’.

Actual Information: Alpha Protocol was developed by Obsidian Entertainment and released in 2010. You can buy it on Steam.