Tag Archives: steam

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

If Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is anything other than an enjoyable video game, it’s a value proposition. Developers Ninja Theory are no stranger to big budgets; they made Heavenly Sword for Sony, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West for just about every platform, and the most recent Devil May Cry game for Capcom. They know how to spend money, so it’s interesting that they’ve separated from big publishers to develop and publish Hellblade at a $30 price. The end product is mostly good.

In Hellblade, you play as titular Senua, traveling deep into Nordic territory to rescue the soul of your murdered lover. In the vein of what Ninja Theory does best, it’s a third person character action game. What makes Hellblade unique is that Senua suffers from hearing disembodied voices and seeing things that don’t exist.

A lot of the marketing around the game has to do with the challenge in trying to portray a character with mental illness. Plenty of games have tried and it’s almost always a flat portrayal of someone who’s zany or unpredictable without a lot of nuance. With the help of consultants in the neurological sciences, Ninja Theory has crafted a tortured, sympathetic character in Senua.

Another aspect of the game that reflects Ninja Theory’s experience and skill is in the look of it. It’s a beautiful game with some really incredible motion capture, particularly in the faces. They don’t look like video game faces; they’re expressive and emotional every time you see them. This really helps with connecting to the characters and feeling what they feel.

While they nailed the characters and look of the game, the game parts are kind of lacking. Each level of the game will have you doing one of two things: finding hidden objects in the environment, or fighting. The hidden object stuff is mostly clever, but it’s almost always boiled down to aligning objects in the right perspective to find the symbol you’re looking for. It doesn’t change much from beginning to end.

The combat is also not very robust. There are five enemies, excluding bosses, that you will encounter in small groups. The challenge is to keep them away from your back as they’ll try to flank you to attack. With infinite ability to dodge, and most attacks blockable, the only thing that has to be figured out is reading attacks to time blocks (or dodge), and how many whacks it’s going to take to kill the enemy. It’s fun for a while, but it really wore me down by the end. You’ve got one weapon, so once you’ve figured out how to use it, combat loses its shine.

But the thin combat and environment puzzles couldn’t keep me from seeing it through to the end. Senua and the darkness that haunts her was compelling enough on her own to keep me playing. What Ninja Theory set out to do, make a high quality game at an indie price point, is successful as long as you keep your expectations at the sub-blockbuster level.


Reference: Ninja Theory (developer). Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice [Ninja Theory, 2017]

Source: Purchased via Humble Store

#40 – Deadpool (PC)

I got this more or less on Steam sale impulse, and I was pleasantly surprised! Deadpool is kind of a dumb character, and Deadpool is kind of a dumb game. But it’s dumb in a good way! There are a ton of stupid jokes that miss more than hit, but the action is pretty fast-paced and varied, and the platforming is mercifully brief. Deadpool talks constantly, as is expected from the character. I heard “what’s your blood type?” more times than I want to count.

The environments are not the most exciting. Sewers, a prison, the ruined island of Genosha, and a rather tame interpretation of Hell. What kept me going was the cameos from X-Men and how Deadpool interacted with them. The main story isn’t exciting, or particularly cohesive, but Deadpool’s interactions with Cable and Death were good. What particularly hurts the action is the camera, which doesn’t always seem to be in a good position to follow what’s going on. But it’s not a deal breaker.

It’s also a game that makes fun of a lot of video game tropes, some more competantly than others. Remember the strip club scene in Duke Nukem Forever that was really weird and creepy? In Duke’s fantasy, he’s the coolest guy and all the ladies want him. It’s just the weirdest thing because sexy polygon ladies is always weird and they’re coming onto you. Deadpool takes this in the other direction. There’s a pool party and Deadpool tries to hit on the women there and they just shoot him down every single time. He’s gross and weird and they want nothing to do with him, and it’s hilarious. Deadpool frequently breaks the fourth wall and points to the dumber stuff in video games.

It’s no masterpiece, and it’s short (6 – 7 hours), but if you’re into Deadpool and competant action, it’ll keep you entertained for a weekend or a long afternoon.

#39 – Antichamber (PC)

I don’t know what I really think about this. It’s a really visually striking as it’s a lot of white rooms with splashes of color. The puzzles range from simple to what in the hell, mostly because not a lot of it makes logical sense. There are plenty of parts that are really awesome with how it plays with perspectives, but a lot of it also feels like “look at this cool stuff I did in Unreal engine”. I also managed to hit some hard limits of the engine as I crashed it three times using one of the later abilities in the game.

But I don’t know. It’s no Braid or Portal, but it’s got a lot of puzzles that got stuck in my brain until I solved them, or shamelessly youtube-d the solution.

#38 – Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Brothers has been on quite a few top 10 lists this year for good reason. It’s fantastic. It’s kind of like a single-player coop game, in that you control two characters with the control sticks of the gamepad and they’ve got independent movement and actions. Most of the game is traversing terrain and simple puzzle solving, but it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s relatively short (about 3 hours) but it’s perfectly paced and no part of it overstays its welcome. It’s three hours well spent.

#37 – Dishonored (PC)

I probably should have finished this game long ago, but I wanted to get the “good” ending, and that requires not killing everyone, and this game makes it a lot more fun to kill everyone. It requires patience to sneak around and choke out so many of the things in your way, and I’ve played this in fits and starts because I’m much more direct than that.

There’s also a lot in this game. The levels are enormous and there are books and lore and non-hostile characters all over the place. Much more of the game world is revealed in the texts than ever presented on the surface. Maybe I didn’t connect enough of the dots, but I want more of that world-building because it’s really interesting. It’s a great blend of sci-fi and industrial age.

#36 – Papers, Please (PC)

It’s hard to describe what’s so fun about Papers, Please. To put it simply, the game is about checking the documents of people trying to cross a fictional Eastern Bloc nation’s border with ever-changing rules and procedures. It’s an oppressive environment as you’re constantly choosing between strictly enforcing the rules of your superiors, or bending them at your own expense to do what seems right. You can have people detained for cash. You can take bribes. Everyone seemingly has a story or excuse for their discrepancies. And all the while, the rest of your family is starving and cold because you can’t afford food and heat.

But it is fun! It’s so fun. It’s almost entirely mouse-driven, but everything feels perfect. You move the documents onto your desk for closer inspection. Stamping papers makes a satisfying “kachunk” sound. Upgrades to your interface bring shortcuts. There’s a time limit to each day, and you get paid by the person processed, with fines for screwing up (either intentionally or unintentionally) more than twice. It moves pretty briskly but once I got a rhythm down, I never really felt oppressed by the clock. Everything just works great.

Glory to Arstotzka.

The best games of this generation

Tomorrow’s the day that this long console generation finally dies, and it has been an amazing ride. Huge changes are a big mark of this generation, particularly in the Xbox 360 and the PS3. Those consoles are not the same in form or function than they were from the start and they only got better with age. This is my entirely biased list of my favorite games of this generation. I simply couldn’t bear to reduce it to 10, so you’re stuck with the odd number of 14. Every single one of these games is a classic.

  1. Batman: Arkham Asylum – What can I say about Arkham Asylum? Did anyone ever expect a good Batman game? But it happened, and it’s amazing. There’s no point in that game that is not dripping with Batman lore, and makes you feel any less than the one of the most legendary comic book heroes of all time.
  2. Mass Effect 3 – The Mass Effect trilogy is amazing, but the third one is my favorite. The ending does not tie up every loose end, but the whole sequence of events leading up to it are amazing. It also improves upon nearly every aspect of the previous two games.
  3. Halo: Reach – I love Halo, and not just for the multiplayer. I love the Halo lore and the single player. Halo: Reach has, hands down, the best Halo campaign. Being a prequel, it’s no spoiler to say that Reach has to fall for the Halo series to start. It’s the story of the spartans on Reach and the sacrifices they make that give Reach weight.
  4. Borderlands 2 – I was a huge fan of Borderlands, having played through all of it twice, and Borderlands 2 is more Borderlands with more variety and better writing. Borderlands is funny. Borderlands 2 is funny, dramatic, serious, and silly.
  5. Alan Wake – Alan Wake has the best parts of Twin Peaks combined with the solid action of Max Payne. Instead of a slow-mo shoot-out, you manage enemies with a flashlight. It does an amazing job of establishing atmosphere.
  6. Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Human Revolution is the sequel Deus Ex deserved. It’s got cyborgs, conspiracy theories, and humanity. It kind of feels like a Metal Gear Solid without a lot of the nonsense story.
  7. Killzone 2 – I came to Killzone 2 well after its release, but it really grabbed me with a story that was better than I expected. This combined with some excellent first-person shooting makes it one of my favorite PS3 games.
  8. Fallout: New Vegas – I loved Fallout 3, but Fallout: New Vegas is much bigger, much more varied, and slightly improved. I mean, FO3 is great, but New Vegas allowed for more viable character builds that didn’t always rely on shooting. It also has some of the best DLC this generation with Honest Hearts taking things tribal and Old World Blues sending the game into the 50’s sci-fi movies it often draws inspiration from.
  9. Left 4 Dead 2 – Left 4 Dead 2 made coop easy and fun. When you have friends to play with, it’s some of the most fun you can have with a game. Even solo, it’s still pretty good. What’s not to like about blasting hundreds of infected with your friends?
  10. Rock Band 3 – Another game that gets better with a room full of friends, and Rock Band 3 didn’t even require everyone to be in the same room. It built on the madness that is plastic musical instruments that were introduced in Rock Band and my Rock Band 3 song library is enormous in no small part to the ability to bring the songs from previous games with you.
  11. Spec Ops: The Line – Spec Ops: The Line has no rights being as good as it is. The Spec Ops games for Playstation were generally dumb action games. Spec Ops: The Line is far more insidious. It appears to follow the dumb modern military genre but almost immediately starts questioning everything about it.
  12. The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings – Assassin of Kings took the best parts of the first Witcher and gave the story more complexity, more paths to take, and kept the swamps and drowners to a minimum. Many third-person action RPGs aspire to achieve what The Witcher 2 accomplished handily.
  13. Bastion – This generation of games was huge for indie developers and Bastion is absolutely one of the best. It’s got relatively simple gameplay but there’s so much charm in it. The music and narration in this game is better than that in games which cost millions more to develop.
  14. Shadow Complex – I love Metroid games and Shadow Complex is Metroid in everything but the name. It’s criminal that this game only came out on Xbox Live Arcade but I will never not own an Xbox 360 because of that. It hits every action platforming game note perfectly.

#30 – Dust: An Elysian Tail (PC)

Dust is a great game in the metroidvania style, but here’s the amazing part: the credits are very short. Basically the whole game except the music and vocals were done by one guy. It’s got a great cartoon style, along the lines of old Disney shows like Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers or Darkwing Duck. I’ve read that plenty of people are turned off by that because they see it as some kind of furry thing. It’s got bipedal talking animal-people. But it’s a video game, right? Lots of video games have talking animals.

#28 – Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Yes, yes, it took me 10 years to finish KOTOR. Let’s get the bad out of the way. It’s not a mechanically exciting game. The pathfinding AI is frustratingly dumb. It’s no pushover, and sometimes the difficulty feels unfair. The last area is a serious slog through a mountain of Dark Jedi and Sith troopers and that is barely fun.

What keeps it moving is the setting and the story. Even though it’s set well before the Star Wars movies, it’s very clearly a Star Wars game. It starts with an exploding planet and runs through all kinds of Jedi/Sith/force nonsense. It’s got tons of different races, languages, cantinas, and smugglers. Those things KOTOR does very well. And the story is interesting, if a little simple. I had a major plot point spoiled for me years after the game had been out, but it was still worth experiencing for myself.

But I really only wanted to finish it so I could play KOTOR 2, which I’ve read tells a much better story and is an improved game despite some quirks. KOTOR on Steam crashed pretty frequently, which really impeded my progress and pretty much forced me to quicksave every 5 minutes. Here’s hoping KOTOR 2 goes better for me.

#27 – Torchlight 2 (PC)

I finally got around to finishing up Torchlight 2! This is a pretty big victory for me. I’ve never finished a Diablo-like action loot RPG. You don’t have to tell me, I know. I’ve played an awful lot of them (Diablo, Diablo 2, Titan Quest, Dungeon Siege 1, 2, 3,  Torchlight, and others), but this is the first one I’ve finished. Unless we’re counting Borderlands as loot RPGs, which I’m not.

The closest I got before was getting to Hell in Diablo 2, where I was mercilessly destroyed over and over before even getting to Diablo himself so I quit playing it. That’s probably the biggest reason why I never finish these games. They’re loot and run oriented and I hate grinding. Where as many many others would play these games repeatedly for better loot and cooler stuff, I could not care less about loot. The loot is secondary to enjoying the game for me. As soon as it starts feeling grindy, I typically move on.

But Torchlight 2 is pretty fantastic. It’s paced well enough that if you do most of what’s available, there’s no grinding needed to continue on. It’s structured a lot like Diablo 2, where you have a hub area that branches off, and then you move to a different hub after you’ve cleaned out the last one. And then you click on a lot of stuff until it dies.