Iron Lung

Iron Lung is a short, atmospheric game whose degree of fun depends entirely on your ability to navigate blind. You have a perfect GPS and a map and you use them to traverse an area and take photos. If you don’t know how to navigate, you’re going to repeatedly run into the ocean walls and die. If you do know how to navigate, it’s a fairly short and tense experience.

The game does a great job of setting a mood. From the introduction to the gameplay itself and the tiny little details in your cramped space, it’s all building dread. When I got to the end, the word that came first to my mind when trying to describe it was “effective.” Iron Lung is effective at what it is doing.

Chasm: The Rift

When I was a kid, one of the first CD-ROM demo discs I played came from a PC Gamer magazine, and on that disc was a demo for Chasm: The Rift. I was impressed, but I never found the game. I had Doom 2 and Quake and I didn’t look back. Now, in the year 2022, I’ve been reminded of Chasm: The Rift.

Chasm is so weird. It looks like Quake, it has a linear but episodic structure sort of like Quake, but it’s actually closer to Wolfenstein 3D than Quake in gameplay. It’s completely flat. It’s all polygonal, but completely flat. There’s a jump button because they manage to put platforms in rooms, but the ceiling is still the same height. It also manages to have in-game cutscenes with talking heads. It’s doing all this in a software rendered engine. It’s absolutely wild.

Chasm plays great as a Wolf3D/Quake clone, but it’s really mean. I didn’t have to resort to cheats but I was tempted in several areas, especially in the second half of the game. Some of the melee enemies just eat up health, don’t stun easily, and every room is fairly cramped.

I’m not sure this is a game I’ll revisit again, especially not to play from end to end, but I’m glad I played it. It’s an interesting relic that will likely never see another release. It may be lost to time, but the “Chasm Portable” package has made it playable in 2022.

Outriders

I played Outriders on Xbox Game Pass, and I don’t think anyone should play it otherwise. You also shouldn’t play this game if you’re not playing it on an Xbox Series X. In fact, I put this down after my first 10-ish hours and I probably shouldn’t have picked it back up.

Outriders looks like Gears of War, but if you play it like Gears of War, you’re going to have a bad time. The game’s 4 classes restore health for different things, and, at least the class I played, meant doing the old stop-and-pop would not work. My class restored health with close range kills, so I spent the game running up to groups of enemies and whacking them with my time knife. It took time to figure that out, and the game seemed inordinately difficult until I did.

Also making the game inordinately difficult is the world tier system. This is a game that is meant for coop multiplayer. You’re supposed to go through it Diablo-like, over and over, with friends or coop randos. The world tier sets difficulty, increases the loot and XP you get as it goes up, and can be set to auto-increase. This might be fine if you’re playing with friends, but I played solo. I’m mildly competent but I ran straight into a difficulty wall because I was doing well and the world tier kept ratcheting up until I was no longer doing well. I had to dial it down and turn off auto-increase to progress, and then I had to turn it down another notch at the final boss because I was tired of getting mopped.

I’m sounding very down about this game, because I am, but one thing kept me going: the story. It starts strong but it quickly dangled a worm in front of me that it used to lead me on through the rest of the game to an unsatisfying conclusion. Its worst sin is committed in the last couple levels as I was monologued at by the equivalent of audio logs explaining what happened instead of just showing me what happened.

By playing this coop loot shooter solo on a previous generation of console hardware and caring about the story, I played this game wrong. Even though it was sometimes too difficult and ran like garbage, the real knife in the gut was the disappointing end. Since finishing it, I’ve gone back to play some of the side quests on my Xbox Series X, which plays the game much better. It’s still an always-online game that can be played solo for masochists like myself, and I’m still a People Can Fly fan, but this game is a miss in a lot of crucial ways.

Hardspace: Shipbreaker

Haven’t done one of these in a while, have I? I fell deep into an Elder Scrolls Online hole. I saw a lot of Tamriel and completed a lot of story quests and ate up a lot of time. I’m crawling out to play real (ha) video games again.

Hardspace: Shipbreaker lands in the category of fun disguised as work. Like Euro Truck Simulator, House Flipper, and Power Wash Simulator, this is a game about making the mundane fun. In this case, the fun is cutting up space ships with a laser cutter and taking them apart with a grapple beam.

There’s a story here, about how I’m playing a character who goes 1.2 billion credits into debt to a space travel company. I’m working off my debt shipbreaking. The company, however, gobbles up a lot of my earnings with fees. My tools are rented. My suit and my helmet are rented. My body belongs to the “Everwork” program, because shipbreaking is dangerous. My helmet shatters and I suffocate, or I accidentally drift too close to the furnace and incinerate myself. The story is about labor, and how me and my coworkers are exploited by the company we’re working for.

Shipbreaking is a skill, and I learned it over the course of the 25 hour career mode. If I didn’t take the ship apart in a particular way, I’d lose valuable salvage. It can be very forgiving, despite the nature of the work. The career mode is broken up into 15 minute real time shifts. There are salvage goals, and I frequently made those goals, but there was no particular punishment for not making goals. The worst that happens is you blow up some valuable salvage and don’t get as much out of the ship as you could. Maybe I was just a particularly effective shipbreaker but I never encountered a penalty. If I blew up something valuable, I could restart the shift. If I wasn’t into the ship I was cutting up, I could pick a new one on my next shift and start over.

There were other modes of shipbreaking, such as those without a shift timer and those with a speed timer, but I wasn’t really interested in them. I had a lot of fun in the mundanity of cutting up ships for salvage in 15 minute chunks. After my 25 hours, I had seen all the variety of ships and I’d puzzled out how to effectively cut them up. Conveniently, that’s around the time when I finished my career run.

Hardspace: Shipbreaker is a great way to lose time doing something boring and repetitive. The story is a little hamfisted, but the joy in this game is in learning a trade. When I wasn’t playing it, when I was doing my actual job, I was thinking about my space job.

Why I’m Mad About RPDR S14E11

This is going to be full of spoilers about RuPaul’s Drag Race season 14, episode 11. If you have not seen the episode, and you plan on watching it, you should wait until after you’ve done so before reading this.

This season of RPDR has been good. Better than Drag Race has been in a while. It’s not just the excellent selection of talented queens, but the whole show seems lighter and more fun. Even last week’s episode, where everyone but Deja bombed Snatch Game, was treated with a laugh. Michelle’s investigation into what went wrong was constructive criticism delivered with light humor. It could’ve been a much darker episode. Then it ended with Ru announcing everyone but Deja would have to lip sync for her life in the next episode.

In episode 11, “An Extra Special Episode”, Jasmine Kennedie lip synced for her life three times and lost. She was sent home. I’m not mad that a queen lost a LSFYL and was sent home. I’m mad that this queen lost three LSFYL’s on this episode and this queen was sent home.

Before this episode, Jasmine had LSFYL three times, winning two and tying the third. She sent those queens home effortlessly. There are good reasons why Jasmine was in the bottom for those episodes, but it wasn’t because of her lip sync performance. Jasmine Kennedie is a performer.

I may not be funny, and I may not be a singer or a damn seamstress, but I am a fierce queen.

Alyssa Edwards

Jasmine Kennedie is a fierce queen. In each LSFYL in episode 11, she performed. She was fantastic. She was dynamic and fun to watch. In each one, Ru chose her opponent as the winner. The worst of these was her loss to Daya Betty. They’ve been playing up this sibling rivalry storyline in the most forced fashion. Daya did not outperform Jasmine, but she has more range in the competition. Still, she did not win this LSFYL.

I’m mad that this show put Jasmine through three LSFYL’s and, each time, told her she wasn’t good enough, when she was outperforming everyone else in those lip syncs. Coming down to Jasmine, the best lip sync performer of the season, and Bosco, the worst lip sync performer of the remaining 8, just broadcast that this was all to send Jasmine home. It was done in the worst way possible; by making her do what she does best and telling her it’s not enough.

RPDR had several opportunities to send Jasmine home. She could’ve been sent home after any of her previous three LSFYL’s because her challenge performance wasn’t good enough. They could’ve made her lip sync someone else after the dismal Snatch Game and sent her home. They could’ve put together any other challenge, make her LSFYL again, and sent her home. It’s absolutely ridiculous that they would make Jasmine do the thing she’s actually great at over and over and tell her that she failed to do it well enough to stay in the competition.

I hated it. It’s a terrible way to send a queen home, it was a terrible way to send this queen home, and a terrible episode of Drag Race.

FAR: Changing Tides

Take FAR: Lone Sails, replace the train with a boat, and now you have FAR: Changing Tides.

Okay, that’s not exactly fair. Changing Tides is longer too.

Okay, that’s also not fair. There is more to do in Changing Tides, though it felt like they mostly added to what you do in the boat rather than out in the world. Lone Sails stopped the journey fairly frequently to get out, solve some puzzles, and continue on your way. Changing Tides may be longer but it felt like it had longer stretches of just the journey. This repeats the pattern of keeping the steam engine hot, but not too hot, or keeping the wind in the sails. With so much going on, it’s sort of hard to relax and enjoy the trip. That makes these long stretches the lows of this game. Busy work.

Changing Tides also puts more environmental storytelling into the world. In Lone Sails, you get an idea that some catastrophe happened and now the world is mostly dead. Changing Tides makes you walk past murals depicting events from before but I’ll be damned if they told me anything. I still finished knowing no more about the world than I did at the end of Lone Sails. There’s a narrative connection between the two games, and you should play Lone Sails first.

This may sound like I’m really down on Changing Tides, but I enjoyed it. The problem with it is that it is more of Lone Sails, which was a tighter experience. It doesn’t quite overstay its welcome, but it pushes it. Lone Sails, by being a shorter game, makes better use of its time.

FAR: Lone Sails

FAR: Lone Sails is a simple and short but effective game. It’s a two-buttoner. One button jumps, the other grabs. Nothing you do requires more than jumping, grabbing objects, and pushing things or buttons with your body. I completed it one day, two sittings.

What it does so well is create a world without words. There’s no dialog. There are signs, in English, but they’re just that: signage. In this game, I traversed a world in a steam-powered train-ish vehicle. I don’t know why, though I now know the goal. I see the remains of a world and I don’t know what happened to it, though I’ve got some informed guesses. What’s here and what isn’t communicates a story.

If I write much more, I may spend more time on this review than I spent playing the game (mostly joking). A sequel is coming soon, and that prompted me to revisit this. It’s one of the better Limbo clones.

CrossfireX: Operation Spectre

This one did not come free on Game Pass. It cost me all of $9. It was worth it.

Operation Spectre is the followup to Operation Catalyst. This time, you’re playing on the opposing side of the conflict, Black List. I love the Spy vs Spy nature of this story. Black List were evil villains in Catalyst, and Global Risk are evil villains in Spectre. They pull this off without completely recontextualizing the characters in Catalyst, but it works.

Operation Spectre is shorter, but a tighter, more exciting, and better looking experience. The visual difference is pretty dramatic. Catalyst is a sea of browns and dust, where Spectre is the blue/orange of a Battlefield game, sparks and exploding light everywhere. Not as many interesting collectibles, but they put more effort into the good ones.

Operation Spectre is a good game, verging on great. It still plays well but it’s so brief that I am left wanting more. I am really looking forward to what comes next from this series. These two campaigns have made me a fan.

CrossfireX: Operation Catalyst

I paid nothing for this game. Okay, not true. I subscribe to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which is not free, and that subscription gave me access to this game for no additional charge above what I already paid. Operation Catalyst is exactly what I subscribe to Xbox Game Pass for.

Operation Catalyst is a single player modern military shooter based on CrossfireX, a multiplayer modern military shooter. As I understand, CrossfireX is based on Crossfire, which originated in South Korea and is extremely popular in Asia. Operation Catalyst, and its counterpart Operation Spectre, were developed by Remedy Entertainment, who made Max Payne, Alan Wake, and Control.

Operation Catalyst plays like a bog standard modern military shooter, which isn’t terribly interesting. You walk slow, aim down sights, and shoot other guys who are shooting at you. This one interrupts the basic gameplay with some sniping sections, but it’s otherwise a slog on foot. It feels pretty good. The weapons don’t sound very powerful but hits and kills are registered on the reticle and the enemies don’t just absorb infinite bullets. They stumble and act like they’re shot.

What kept my attention is the story. It sort of goes some places in a way that reminds me of Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. It introduces some of the supernatural and that’s always a bit of fun on top of the modern military shooter. It pulls up a bit short though, as it’s obviously continued either in Operation Spectre, or some other unreleased game.

I paid nothing for Operation Catalyst, and I’m quite pleased with what I got out of it. It’s not long, but I enjoyed the weekend with it. Even if I were not subscribed to Xbox Game Pass, Operation Catalyst is worth the $10 they are charging for it. Currently, Operation Spectre isn’t included with Game Pass, but I think I’ll pay for that anyway. It’s short and basic but fun.

Star Trek: Elite Force 2

A long, long time ago, I played Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force. It was a fun, Quake 3, Star Trek FPS. I remember it being slightly bland but very Star Trek. It had some unique qualities, but it was a lot of blasting Borg, Klingons, Species 8472, and Hirogen with phasers and photon torpedoes, even if the photon torpedo is fired like a rocket launcher. For some reason, I never picked up Elite Force 2. It turns out I probably made the right call.

Elite Force 2, by its title, escapes the confines of Star Trek: Voyager and lives in a post-Voyager world. You’re still Munro, except now you’re on the Hazard Team on the Enterprise-E, captained by none other than Jean-Luc Picard. Your chief security officer is Tuvok! Even Barclay is here!

This is sort of where we escape the Star Trek known universe, and step into the realm of expanded universe. A lot of the plot involves Attrexians and Idryll, two species invented for the game. I also spent a lot of time blasting exomorphs, which are a bug-like species. The vast majority of this game is running through generic ruins without a lot of detail, blasting bugs, with common FPS weapons that are just reskinned to look a little Treky.

This is also built on top of Quake 3, which I’ve never really liked for this era of FPS. For some reason, this era of FPS is really sort of flat and linear. The levels in this game feel tiny. The enemies do this annoying thing common to a lot of Quake 3 games, which is that they run too fast, stop entirely to fire off a couple shots, and run somewhere else. They barely react to being shot. It’s not as bad as Red Faction, but it bothers me regardless.

The game does inject more Trek into the last couple levels, but it comes far too late. The vast majority of this game could’ve been ripped out and published with another title and it would’ve been forgotten to time as another mediocre FPS. Instead, we have another mediocre Star Trek game.

Ne Cede Malis