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Game Reviews

Infamous: Second Son

It’s been a long time since I played Infamous. I remember it being a fun open-world game in the vein of Prototype, except less slimy. But that’s all I remember. Lightning bolts and draining street lights. I finished Infamous, but not Infamous 2.

It’s wild that this game is 8 years old. I skipped the entire PS4 platform, but the improvements since then, to include PS4 Pro, Xbox One X, etc, feel so incremental that it doesn’t feel like I’m on a PS2 playing a PS1 game. It just feels like I’m playing a slightly dated game, even though it’s almost a decade old.

This one shows its age in ways I was not expecting. One of the first things it asked me to do was to hold my controller vertically and shake it, like a spray paint can. Soon it asked me to swipe on the touch pad to open a cage. And then it wanted me to press my right thumb on the touch pad to drain smoke energy. All these sort of unnatural interactions became intuitive quickly enough, but it feels very tech demo-y.

Beyond that, this is a lot of what I remember of Infamous. I can’t fly, but eventually I got enough powers to move fast enough to not need flight. But there was enough pain in the beginning with manual jumping and climbing that I spent those opening couple hours wishing I could fly. I started with smoke powers, but the game introduces other elements into the repertoire. These all functionally feel pretty similar but they have enough differences to be unique. They certainly did their best to map each power to the same button regardless of element, which helps integrate them into my brain.

Like the previous Infamous games, this one has the hero/villain morality system. Like those games, this one has no room for shades of gray. It feels designed to push me into one direction or the other with high powered abilities requiring a certain level of hero or villain reputation.

Here’s what threw me. At the end, you confront the antagonist. She describes her motivations for her terrible actions. Her motivations do not redeem her horrible actions, but they present an interesting future. I pursued the hero route, defeated her, and the epilogue does not engage with that potential future at all. It’s a terrible ending. But not so terrible that I want to replay the game all over again for a villain route to see if that ending is any better.

I devoured Infamous: Second Son. It’s fun to play and there is a lot of little open world activities that I just gobbled up. But that’s in part because the game is not particularly difficult and it’s fairly short.

Infamous: First Light

I also played Infamous: First Light, which takes one of the side characters of Second Son and gives her a story of her own. It functions as a sort of extended demo for Second Son, and a prequel. It’s standalone, but after playing Second Son, takes too long to get started and it’s way too easy. I didn’t die even once in First Light. It ditches the morality system and replaces a lot of the open world activities with even simpler equivalents. It’s fun for an afternoon.

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Game Reviews

The Last of Us

When I think of The Last of Us, the first thing to come to mind is how it makes my eyes hurt. I can’t explain it. I got The Last of Us for PS3 ages ago. I started playing it on PS3. I never finished it because playing it for long stretches of time made my eyes hurt. Maybe it was the color. Maybe it was the radically high detail in every environment. Maybe it was the degree of focus I was putting into what I saw on screen. This time around, I completed The Last of Us Remaster on my PS5. I still felt some of that eye pain but not as badly as I did before.

The Last of Us looks expensive. Everything looks amazingly high resolution. Everything is littered and dirty and realistic. The look of the game is an accomplishment in itself.

To call The Last of Us a fun game is sort of a misnomer. Is there fun to be had in it? Sure. But it’s mostly a stress game. I could never carry too much crafting supplies, too many crafted items, or too much ammo. There’s something a little funny about being able to pocket three molotov cocktails and nail bombs, but only one bottle or brick. If I’m not trying to trick humans into going somewhere else without shooting them, then I’m trying to trick infected into ignoring me. If I have to fight, then I spend ammo and supplies I can’t use to fight later. I played on “normal” and never felt like I was forced into stealth, but that’s mostly because I made that choice to avoid conflict myself. I knew what I was getting into from the start.

If The Last of Us isn’t a fun game, then is it a enjoyable game? Why would anyone play this? I liked The Last of Us for three reasons. The first is that wildly high graphical fidelity. It’s really impressive to see. The second is the story, and the third is the pacing of that story. While the story isn’t wholly original, cobbling together pieces of survival/post-apocalypse fiction into a new but familiar package, it’s effective at telling that story.

The contrast between the pacing of Final Fantasy VII Remake and The Last of Us could not be starker. Where I felt like Final Fantasy VII Remake was herky-jerky from start to finish, with the last couple hours being some real slogs, The Last of Us built to a satisfying conclusion with a real gentle ramp in stakes. When I achieved the narrative goal, I was expecting some gameplay knife in the back. It never came. I got to the end and achieved the goal and the game was over. A game that put me in a fictional post-apocalypse with a emphasis on being grounded in a real world didn’t end with an outrageous boss fight.

The Last of Us is a game that I’m glad I played but I’m not sure I’d ever play it again.

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Game Reviews

Bayonetta 2

Let’s keep this one quick: I don’t remember much about Bayonetta 2. I finished it over the course of more than four years. I have picked it up and put it down throughout that time and just completed the last three levels in the span of about two hours. What scraps I can recall of the plot are unimportant.

Bayonetta 2 is a great action game but I put it down because it’s so intense. It’s not particularly difficult, but it feels very stressful to play. By the end of every level, I am tightly gripping my controller. I’ve given myself headaches from focusing so hard on the action on screen. There’s no explainable reason for this. I’m only competing for a score that I don’t care about; I’m not replaying this game to get a better score.

Because it took me four years to complete a (relatively) short game, it’s hard for me to say that I love it. I like it, even though it stresses me out.

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Game Reviews

Final Fantasy VII Remake

I have an long history with Final Fantasy VII. When I was young, I read a lot of video game magazines that wrote glowingly about Squaresoft and, specifically, Final Fantasy III. Final Fantasy III was out of reach for me, but I got Chrono Trigger as a gift. It didn’t immediately gel with me, but I caught on to it within a year and ended up loving the game, the world, the look, the style, the music, all of it. I managed to get my hands on Final Fantasy, and it was okay. Ugly. Slow to action. I didn’t love the random encounters. It was no Chrono Trigger.

I learned that the follow up to Final Fantasy III, confusingly titled Final Fantasy VII, would be coming to Playstation. I got to experience the Playstation because my girlfriend’s family had one. I played demo discs and Crash Bandicoot. When Final Fantasy VII arrived, I bought it immediately. I had no income, no Playstation, but I had this game. I played it on my girlfriend’s family’s Playstation. It was fine. Good looking backgrounds, but blocky characters. Great music. More active than Final Fantasy, but still not direct input. Those dreaded random encounters.

It was no Chrono Trigger.

I didn’t finish Final Fantasy VII on my girlfriend’s family Playstation. I moved on and played Wipeout or Crash or more demo discs. I eventually got my own Playstation and took another run at Final Fantasy VII. I didn’t finish it again. Over the years, I picked up those incomplete saves, eventually completing the first disc of the three disc game, but I never finished Final Fantasy VII.

I played all of the Final Fantasy games up to Final Fantasy X before concluding that I did not like Final Fantasy games. The closest I got to finishing was getting pretty far into Final Fantasy VIII. After owning Final Fantasy VII for years, before I ever owned a Playstation, I sold it to a friend. He wanted an original copy without the Greatest Hits packaging. I didn’t need it anymore; I was done with the game.

Many years later, Final Fantasy XV was released. I read reviews that said it was a different kind of game with more direct input. I received a copy of it as a gift. It didn’t immediately gel with me, but I caught on to it within a year and ended up love the game. The boys, the world, the look, the style, the music, all of it. I played it like a character action game. It was a lot of fun.

After finishing Final Fantasy XV, I was ready to give the Final Fantasy series another go. I went back and played Final Fantasy XIII, which was bad, and Final Fantasy XII, which was okay. I didn’t finish either of them. I’m looking forward to Final Fantasy XVI. In the meantime, Square Enix was working on Final Fantasy VII Remake.

Final Fantasy VII Remake is good and I’m writing this review because I finished it. Or, I should say, I finished this part of it; the remake is still incomplete. I’ve technically gotten further in Final Fantasy VII than I have in Final Fantasy VII Remake, but that’s because they’re releasing the remake in parts. With that breaking up of the game, they’ve also expanded what constitutes the part that they have remade. Stretching my memories, I could not describe exactly what has been added (with one major exception) to the game but I know that it is more Final Fantasy VII than Final Fantasy VII.

Final Fantasy VII Remake gets a lot right. It introduces more direct control in line with Final Fantasy XV, which I appreciated, while still allowing me to switch between party members and directly control their actions mid-combat. I found myself playing it like Final Fantasy XV, in which I mostly controlled Cloud and let everyone else just do their thing, and that was a mistake. The game wanted me to use every character in combat and it encourages this with the weapon proficiency system.

Each weapon comes with a special ability. If you use that ability in combat enough times, that character becomes proficient with it and you can use that ability with any weapon. The trick to this is that abilities require ATB, ATB builds faster with the character you control, and just playing Cloud all the time will never get you enough proficiency to get all of the weapon abilities, which are useful. I was making the game much harder for myself by playing it like Final Fantasy XV.

What I did not love about Final Fantasy VII Remake was the pacing. Across 18 chapters, the last third of the game feels like a real slog. The last two chapters are a combination of the game’s largest dungeon and a gauntlet of boss fights. This, combined with several other sections of the game that drag on, make it feel padded. Sometimes it feels like they’re fleshing out the city of Midgar and the people who live there, but more often it feels like they’re putting stuff in to take up time so that this remake takes longer to complete than the original because they had no intention on doing this all in one game.

In completing Final Fantasy VII Remake, I have not done anything that I haven’t already done in Final Fantasy VII, except it took much longer for me to make the same amount of narrative progress. I’ve gotten further in less time in the original game than the remake will allow. I still feel some sense of accomplishment in reaching the end of the remake. I haven’t yet slain the Final Fantasy VII dragon, but I reached the end of this segment of the game. This gives me hope that will reach the end of the next segment of the game, and could see it to its conclusion. Maybe, if I revisit the original, I could reach the end of that game too.

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Game Reviews

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is too long.

I started playing this game two years ago. I sank 65 hours into it and got something like 2/3rds into it. I might’ve gone further but I was tired of playing it. A patch introduced severe performance problems and I stopped. I had played enough Valhalla.

With recent talk of a new Assassin’s Creed, I decided to check back in with Valhalla. To no surprise, the performance problems were sorted out and the game ran great again. 30 hours later, I saw the ending, probably.

I say probably because the ending is so inconclusive that I can only assume from context clues that I’ve finished the game. I completed the main quest. I completed the major side quests. I fought a boss and watched some cutscenes. Credits never rolled and I definitely was not satisfied by how it ended, but I got as close as one can get without completing every single activity.

There are a lot of activities, which pad out an already lengthy game. Stuff to collect everywhere. Common people to aid everywhere. It’s not the icon-packed map of Unity, but it’s almost worse in that there is a ton to do, and lots of space between spots on the map to travel between them.

While I like the core gameplay of Valhalla, as I’ve liked Origins and Odyssey before it, this one went too far, ends too poorly, and suffers from the same problems as those two previous games. It’s fun and beautiful but it’s too much to a weak ending.

Categories
Game Reviews

Chorus

Two of my favorite games in the space dogfighting genre are Freespace 2 and Colony Wars. These games aren’t on opposite sides of the genre, but they represent two approaches to the genre. Freespace 2 is the PC keyboard full of controls and systems. There is a large array of pilotable ships and weapons to equip them with. There are multiple ways to toggle targeting and what is being targeted on each ship. It’s complex and rewarding. Colony Wars, a console game, has simpler targeting, fewer weapons and ships, but a emphasis on using the right weapon for the right target. You’ve got to wear down enemy shields with one weapon, and damage the hull with another. Chorus lands in the Colony Wars end of this spectrum, with some twists.

What Chorus brings to the genre is an open-world style of gameplay, and special abilities. Once I got out of the (slightly boring) tutorial, the map opened up and I was free to explore a big area of space with lots of little stories. Chorus isn’t the first to do this, but other games in this genre with an open-world are closer to Privateer and Freelancer, where trade is part of the equation too. Chorus has no trade, except the accrual of credits and spending them on weapons.

The special abilities also make Chorus stand out. The first is sort of radar that highlights objectives, enemies, items to collect, etc. Again, starting a little boring. But the second is a teleport that puts you behind the enemy you’re facing. These abilities only get more powerful from here, and it’s how this game makes it possible for one ship to take out dozens. In Chorus, I was rarely supported by allies. It was me versus the cult, and the cult always had me outnumbered.

I liked Chorus a lot. Despite the limited ship selection and arsenal, it delivered some really intense and varied action with the special abilities. The open-world gave me things to explore and find outside of the relatively straight forward main quest. It left the door open for a sequel, and I’d welcome it.

Categories
Game Reviews

Simulators

I’ve played a lot of simulator video games lately. I’m not talking about your traditional sims, like Sim City or Flight Sim. No, I’m talking about what I’ve classed as “drudgery simulators”. I call them this because they make a menial, repetitive task into their core gameplay. Here’s a few of the ones I’ve played recently, roughly ranked from worst to best.

Lawn Mower Simulator

What it says on the tin. I rode around on a mower, mowing virtual grass in virtual lawns. When I wasn’t at 100% complete, I walked around with a weed-whacker and finished off the job. I had grass vision which highlighted uncut grass. Lawn Mower Simulator is about as enjoyable as actual lawn mowing. Your shoes won’t turn green but you don’t get the smell of fresh cut grass either. Not really my kind of boring.

American Truck Simulator

Putting this on the “worst” end of this scale might ruffle some feathers, but it’s just driving a truck on roads I could drive in real life. I see more appeal in Euro Truck Sim because those aren’t places I could see with road markings I don’t recognize. I’ve driven from Illinois to Washington. I’ve driven for 16 hours. I’ve even driven a big truck. This isn’t very fun for me. It’s a safe zone out game but too real.

Power Wash Simulator

Now we’re starting to get into the “hours of my life lost” area. It’s not much more than what it describes. I used a power washer to blast virtual dirt off of virtual buildings. The first time I played this, I made myself a little motion sick from bouncing my view up and down blasting dirt. There’s really not much progression here either. I bought more powerful washers and nozzles that let me reach further, but I was still blasting dirt. It’s a bit more satisfying than Lawn Mower Simulator because the results of my work were more obvious, but it’s purely repetitive.

Gas Station Simulator

Where the previous games were almost entirely repetitive, Gas Station Simulator is a juggling act. Yes, the focus is on pumping gas and I pumped gas. But there’s a convenience store, where I stocked shelves and swept and scanned items. I scooped mounds of sand and cleared out trash on my lot as my business expanded. I got a service garage and replaced tires, side view mirrors, and fixed scratches. I chased off an annoying child by throwing things at him, and watched him vandalize my store when I had no trash to throw because it was too clean. I had a lot of fun playing this because there was a lot of shallow little tasks to do. I only stopped playing because its performance is terribly uneven. The game runs fine for a while and then, for some reason, completely plummets into single digit framerate. This is pretty close to legitimate fun.

Hardspace: Shipbreaker

Yes, I wrote a whole review for this, but it’s deep in the same vein as the rest of them. This is probably my GOTY. I had a lot of fun cutting up those space ships and learning how to cut them up faster and more efficiently. While ships follow a particular pattern, they’re all different and I learned how to be a better shipbreaker with each ship I dismantled. It’s the best kind of repetitive task: the kind that teaches me a skill that I can’t use in the real world.

Categories
Personal Nonsense

Getting Dumber

I’m probably going to ditch my fitness tracker within the next six months. Maybe this is a 40 thing, but I’ve been examining why I use “smart” things I do and if they’re worth it. I was super early on Amazon Echo, pre-ordering the first model, and we ditched it a couple years ago. We were using it for a kitchen timer and a music speaker and nothing else, but it was listening to everything we said. That’s sort of an awful trade.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my Fitbit. It’s annoying. I wear it all the time, but I have to charge it twice, three times a week. It always starts doing something I don’t want it to when I shower. If I run in sleeves, the sleeves cause it to stop tracking my run and do all kinds of things that aren’t tracking my run. I’ve been putting up with these minor annoyances for quite a while, and now I’m asking myself why. Let’s run down why I started using it to begin with, and see if those reasons are valid.

The reason I got any non-dumb watch was to track my runs with a GPS. Several years ago, I wanted to know how far I was going, how long it took me to get there, and what my heart rate was. I was a less experienced runner, and I thought these things would help me train. And they did. But nowadays, if I run, I know where I’m going and I have other tools to map distance. I could know how long it took without a GPS. And the heart rate is nothing I really use. I’d lose some interesting stats like number of steps and elevation and whatnot, but that’s not really helpful. I don’t need to wear a fitness tracker every day to track runs anyway. I could do that with a running watch, or just my phone.

The next use was tracking my steps. This is something I started doing after I got my first running watch, but not the reason I got one. Tracking my steps helped me stay active in that first year of the pandemic, and it helped me start losing weight. Today, if I don’t hit my step goal, I don’t really care. I know I’m going to have days where I’m more active and days when I’m less active. Missing my step goal isn’t the end of my world, and I make no effort to hit it. I could replace this with some sort of exercise calendar.

I’ve used my Fitbit to check out my daily fitness stats, like heart rate and sleep and stress. These are all useless. Looking at them has done literally nothing for me. I look at this stuff maybe once a month. I don’t really need this.

Now that I type this all out, I can say that I need to know what time it is, and I’d like to be able to track my runs, and that’s about it. Both of these things could be done with my phone, and both could be done with a running watch that I don’t wear and charge and wash and sleep with everyday. I thought I’d enjoy some of the social aspects of having friends on Fitbit but that never coalesced. I can stop feeding all my daily PHI to Google.

Categories
Game Reviews

Hypnospace Outlaw

Hypnospace Outlaw looks like it’s for us olds but maybe not. It is an adventure game taking place in a fictionalized version of America Online. You play as an “enforcer”, which is a moderator. You search for violations, identify them, report them, and eventually ban the user once they’ve notched enough violations.

I sort of speed ran the “main quest”. This fictional world is dense and it’s packed full of secrets, but my old brain remembers AOL. I remember that there were so many useless and meaningless pages. I play Hypnospace Outlaw and I skip all the “good parts” because I see something that reminds me of wasted time.

What I didn’t crash through as fast as possible was fun. It beautifully replicates a weird internet world in the best and worst ways. But bring a notebook and play it in regular sessions. I forgot something critical between a large gap in playtime and I got the worst ending because of it.

Categories
Game Reviews

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.