Tacoma is boring. That is a shame because I really liked its predecessor Gone Home, which was the first walking simulator* I played and it opened my eyes to the great possibilities of the genre. Like most people my first thought was “I want this again, but on a space station.” Of course I had something dark and sinister in mind, not a display of an Utopian society, which is so colorful and diverse, that in its awkward political correctness an evil mega corporation seems out of place. Continue reading “Review: Tacoma”
Oh Arcanum, I really wanted this to be a proper review, not just a mere impression after a (good) couple of hours. I put in the work to make you run. I installed patches and mods. I ran you in the proper compatibility mode and as administrator. I did some weird command line shit to make playing you as smooth and painless as possible – from a technical stand point. Come to think of it – that probably should have been GOG’s job, where I bought you for real money. What I want to say is: I really tried.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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’!
I don’t know anything about this game, apart from it being an adventure game with a cyberpunk theme. After a decent pixel-art intro and some 80s synths, I end up looking at a bedroom, that reminds me very much of Zack McKracken’s, one of the first point and click adventures I ever played. This kind of thing is so overdone in indie games. While I understand that it’s convenient for developers to go with this art-style, nowadays it just feels lazy and boring to me. I’m done wallowing in nostalgia all the time – and that’s coming from a guy who is very much into 80s stuff.
After accidentally clicking on a newspaper article on my in-game laptop (‘lappy’), I end up reading a much too long chunk of text via an interface that’s not suited for long chunks of text. I can feel boredom creeping in immediately. I’m supposed to write an article on a pair of headphones (boy, this is getting exciting). I play some music on them and after I try to use them on ‘lappy’ with cyberpunk-youtube, the whole game crashes to my desktop. I’m not sure I’ll give this another try.
I gave it another try and it crashed again. So far this journey is much worse than I imagined. I found some workaround in the steam forums. Last try.
OK, so I got around the bug and I realized that this is not a point and click adventure. It’s an interactive story. So far the story goes like this: I’m a failing writer in a crappy apartment. One night a condescending robot with a child’s voice (ugh) breaks into my flat and bores me with never ending dialog. I feel a definitive vibe of preachiness and pseudo-philosophical twaddle. Put this on top of the overdone cyberpunk theme of ‘what’s consciousness?’ and you got something that I don’t want to spent any time with.
After the prologue the informs me doesn’t have an auto-save function and that I should save frequently. Why doesn’t it have an auto-save feature? Could I at least have the nostalgia wallowing without the inconvenience of yore?
This is not for me. I can safely mark ‘2064 Read Only Memories’ as ‘done’.