Category Archives: Reviews

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.

2021 Dream of Waking Video Game Awards

2020 Part 2 is over and Part 3 is well on its way. It’s time to look back Ln the year that was, at least as far as video games I played go. I apparently didn’t call it quits. I even fixed my WordPress and maybe blogged more in this year than I have in the last decade. What I didn’t do was finish a lot of video games.

I touched a lot of games, maybe even made significant progress in them, and then, for whatever reason, stopped playing. I can’t say I’m going to dedicate more time to finishing games in 2022, and my selected winners this year prove that I should finish some games, but life is too short to force yourself to play something you’re not into. This year I’m dipping my toes back into the negative award waters, not because I want to crap on games, but to crap on myself. Heed my warnings to avoid regrets.

2021 Game of the Year

Metroid Dread

I can’t say I saw this coming. I’ve been a huge Metroid fan since Fusion, but I underestimated Metroid Dread. I thought that it wasn’t going to be the same since it was developed outside of Nintendo proper. I was wrong. Metroid Dread is amazing.

My runner-up, Devotion, technically didn’t release in 2021, but publisher problems caused it to be yanked from digital storefronts soon after its original release. 2021 is the year it came back for the rest of us, and it’s amazing.

Runner up: Devotion

2021’s 2020 Game of the Year

Prey (2017)

I didn’t give Prey my full attention when it was first released, and that’s my fault. Prey is an excellent successor to the System Shock/Bioshock formula. If you didn’t finish it this year, go back and get it.

My runner up, Dishonored 2, is a lot of the same. I guess what I’m saying is that Arkane makes great games, I’ve known that for a while, and I should give them more attention.

Runner up: Dishonored 2

The Most Pleasant Surprise Award

Marvel’s Spider-Man

I knew Spider-Man was good. Everyone said Spider-Man was good. But when I got a PS5 and finally got an opportunity to play it, I was still surprised by how good it was. On another note, I had no idea where Cruelty Squad came from, it looks like ass, and it’s still fun.

Runner up: Cruelty Squad

The “I’m Never Going to Finish This” Award

Inscryption

This one hurts a little to admit. Not the part that I don’t enjoy card games. That’s easy to admit. No, it’s admitting that I’m unlikely to finish a Daniel Mullins game. I like the trappings surrounding Inscryption and never is a long time. I might go back and finish it. But I left off on a good run and if I get stopped by the next boss and have to start all over, I might just uninstall.

My runner up here is a game I wanted to enjoy, and I’ve heard enough praise for to give it a couple shots, but I have no artistic skill. I’m just playing a no-violence FPS where everything is stationary.

Runner up: Umurangi Generation

The “Why Did I Play So Much Of This?” Award

Marvel’s Avengers

I completed Avengers. I played it from beginning to end. It’s just a mediocre beat-em-up. Nothing about the gameplay or gear collecting or any part of the video game kept me going. I was playing to see the story, and the story wasn’t good. I’m mad about the amount of time I spent playing it. Likewise, Resident Evil 6 is a big, expensive waste of time. It’s so long, and I didn’t even finish the first act/chapter/story arc.

Runner up: Resident Evil 6

Other Awards

Movie of the Year – Bo Burnham: INSIDE
Runner Up: Arrival

Album of the Year – INSIDE (The Songs) by Bo Burnham
Runner Up: N/A

Book of the Year – Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Runner Up: Truth of the Divine by Lindsay Ellis

JETT: The Far Shore

JETT: The Far Shore is the followup to Superbrothers first game, Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP. That game came out more than a decade ago, and I only played it once, but it impressed me to the point that I got excited for JETT just from hearing it was a Superbrothers game. That excitement wasn’t misplaced, because I ultimately enjoyed JETT, but this game isn’t going to be the hit that Sword and Sworcery was.

JETT is a third-person action/exploration game. You are Mei. Your community has undertaken a 1000-year journey from your homeworld to an alien planet. As a scout, you have to explore this new world and plant the seeds of future colonization. This is all wrapped in a bit of religious or cult symbology.

The bulk of the game is flying your jett around the world. You can scan alien life, pick it up with a grapple and toss it, bother it with your jett’s engines, or flash it with your headlight. Different lifeforms react to this stimulus, and you use a combination of these things to solve some simple puzzles.

My enthusiasm for JETT hit a bit of a plateau at what I now know as the halfway point. My task was to grapple a glob a stuff, take it to one pool of liquid to energize it, and then throw it at a rock to blow it up. Simple. But the glob explodes before you can get it to the rock unless you drop it into a different pool of liquid that resets the explode cooldown. Still with me? Grapple glob, take it to the charge pool, carry it to the nearest cooldown pool, and then the next cooldown pool, until you get to the rock, and throw it at the rock. The throw even gives you an arc indicator.

The problem is that the arc indicator is not accurate and I constantly overshot the pools. I did this over and over as I learned the true arc of the throw. All the while, jett movement when you have the glob is very slow. I spent way too much time slowly carrying a glob and throwing it sloppily and missing the pools or missing the rock. This was the first time the mechanic game up, and it essentially never came up again. I don’t know why this sequence was in the game.

This led me to my other frustration. The basic plot of the game is fairly simple. The world around it is confusing. It’s wrapped in the mysticism of a fictional civilization that isn’t particularly well explained. To make matters worse, everyone speaks a made-up language with English subtitles. An awful lot of dialog comes from your co-pilot mid-flight. This is fine when you’re just cruising around, but he’s telling me what’s going on and what to do while I’m being attacked. I can focus on not-dying or I can read subtitles.

If I sound down on JETT, it’s because it’s close to a good game. When I was cruising around in the jett, exploring and taking in the atmosphere, I loved it. It was beautiful and alien and wonderful. But the little annoyances added up and ultimately detracted from that fun. I finished JETT and I’m no closer to understanding it than I was from the start. I just happened to have some fun along the way.

Solar Ash

I loved Hyper Light Drifter but I had a problem with the lack of narrative. Heart Machine obviously took that feedback to heart (ha) because Solar Ash has a lot of narrative. But they also reduced a lot of the complexity of gameplay between Drifter and Solar Ash, and the trade-off is where we start getting critical.

Solar Ash is a combination of Shadow of the Colossus and extreme sports. Instead of laboriously climbing enormous monsters to slowly stab them in their weak spots, Solar Ash makes you race from weak point to weak point, or else you’re immediately tossed off and forced to start over. Between giant monster slaying, you also get to explore some really creative and beautiful environments, doing mini versions of the weak point stabbing and collecting the voice logs of the people who came before you.

The weak point runs are part platform puzzle, and part speedrun. It’s either about taking the correct path to hit the weak points or taking the fast path. Even if you know which path to take, you then have to execute on getting there. The good news is that game is fairly forgiving. I rarely felt cheated out of run.

Solar Ash also gives you everything you’re going to use to play the game upfront. There are no mechanical upgrades. If you see something that looks out of reach, it’s not. You can reach it one way or another. This was something that wasn’t entirely clear to me, and I kept expecting a new ability that I never got. I found that revelation, when it came, fairly refreshing. Instead of waffling back and forth on whether I was an idiot or just not far enough along, I knew I had the tools to get something done and I just had to figure it out.

But how about that narrative? It’s got voice acting! It’s got a story! And the core plot is pretty coherent. But it’s also super heavy on in-game jargon that I can’t repeat without sounding like I’m doing Star Trek style technobabble. Your world is going to be consumed by a black hole, you have a tool to stop this, and you need to activate the tool to do that. To go any further than that, I’d have to explain the Ultravoid, the Starseed, the Remnants, the Voidrunners, and that’s ignoring the side stories. I was 90% of the way through the game and I was still questioning where this story was going, but it became rather clear at the end.

Solar Ash is a simpler game than Hyper Light Drifter, with a narrative that’s far more obtuse than it needs to be. The gameplay was plenty to motivate me to get through it, but if you’re here for the story and don’t enjoy the core gameplay, you might feel pushed away before it wraps up.

Axiom Verge 2

Axiom Verge 2 (AV2) does a lot of what I loved about Axiom Verge. If you think you’re going traverse the level one way, and you just need to find that upgrade, you’re wrong and you’ll be doing it in a different way, sometimes subverting tropes of the genre.

Here are one and a half examples. Early on, I was dropped into a large underwater section. Like all underwater sections in games, my movement was limited. I couldn’t jump as high. I couldn’t run as fast. In most games, this is used to gate progress until later in the game. In AV2, I almost immediately found an upgrade that not just made movement underwater the same as movement on land, but better because I could jump higher underwater. I also came across the common Metroidvania obstacle, the platform just a bit too high. All I need is a double-jump to get up there. You do not get a double-jump in AV2. You get something else that is both more limited and more useful. I loved this as I loved exploring the map.

Where AV2 falls a bit short is in the narrative. It plugs along just fine, but it ends abruptly and in a manner that obviously sets up a sequel. Since this game isn’t really a continuation of the first, it’s more like the first part of a two part series. It’s awkward for a game called Axiom Verge 2. Axiom Verge 3 is all but guaranteed by the narrative, but I would’ve rather had more closure at the end here.