Category Archives: Reviews

2019 Dream of Waking Video Game Awards

2019 Game of the Year

Control

Few games this year grabbed me like Control did. It combines a lot of things I already liked (creepypasta, Lost, Remedy Games, The X-Files) and put it into this beautiful, dark package.

Runner Up: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

2019’s 2018 Game of the Year

Return of the Obra Dinn

What a unique adventure game. I was into it the minute it was announced as the next game from the maker of Papers, Please but it absolutely delivers as a tantalizing mystery and an experience that’s impossible for other media to replicate.

Runner Up: Timespinner

The “I Wish I Liked This More” Award for Games Everyone But Me Loved

The Outer Wilds

If you accused me of not giving The Outer Wilds a fair shake, you’d probably be right. I’ve played it long enough to figure out its “trick” but I haven’t gone back since. It’s obviously well loved by many, and I’m likely to go back and give it a real go someday this year, but I find myself challenged to start up a game that gives me such an easy stopping point.

Runner Up: Metro: Exodus

The “You Tried” Award for Games Punching Above Their Weight

Terminator: Resistance

Terminator: Resistance isn’t a great game. It’s a fairly basic FPS, only extraordinary for being a decent Terminator series game. But looking at this developer’s abysmal track record, Terminator: Resistance is easily the best game they’ve made and it’s a huge improvement over their past. This game could’ve been a Rambo: The Video Game level disaster, but it turned out pretty good.

Runner Up: A Plague Tale: Innocence

Other Awards

Movie of the YearUs.
Runners Up: Shazam, Alita: Battle Angel.

Album of the Year1000 Gecs by 100 Gecs.
Runners Up: Young Enough by Charly Bliss, Fear Innoculum by Tool.

Book of the YearSeven Blades in Black by Sam Sykes.
Runners Up: The Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (I do not care if it came out in 2016, I just read it this year), One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Review

When credits rolled on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, there was one question I simply could not shake: “what the shit was that?” It was shortly followed by “why did they do that?” and “why would they do that?” For those who want to avoid spoilers, here’s my spoiler-free review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a bloated mess that caps the Skywalker saga disastrously. It’s not even a fascinating trainwreck. It just sucks.

Spoilers follow.

If The Force Awakens remade A New Hope, and The Last Jedi set out to do its own thing with mixed results, then Rise of Skywalker is a desperate attempt to rewrite the themes of The Last Jedi so we can go back to plundering the grave of the storyline of the original Star Wars trilogy. Literally pulled from the grave, Carrie Fisher’s green screened lines are replayed in strange contexts that make it extremely obvious that they’re chopping up whatever footage they have left to give her a significant role almost three years since she died. Also literally pulled from the grave, Emperor Palpatine! Oh boy, he survived a drop down a massive hole and an entire deathstar explosion and he’s back in Warhammer 40K form. And hey, remember when Darth Vader realized the error of his ways and turned against Emperor Palpatine? Kylo Ren gets a new coat of light side paint three-quarters into this movie, and it also takes his death at the end of a lightsaber battle to save him. Did you want planetary destruction? Because we’ve resurrected the deathstar in the form of a fleet of Final Order Star Destroyers, all of which are armed with planet-destroying lasers! And surprise, they have a single point of weakness that the scrappy Resistance will capitalize on! Rise is everything you’ve already seen before, and some nonsense.

Speaking of nonsense, let’s talk about Rey. Surprise. TFA gave us a mystery. Who is Rey? Surely, she’s someone special considering this is a Star Wars movie and she’s a scrappy person sensitive to the force on a desert planet. TLJ solves this mystery in an unexpected way: Rey is no one. Her parents are nobody. They sold her off for money. But Rise has to rewrite everything TLJ did, so now Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter. What. How was this necessary? It’s change for change’s sake. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it didn’t add anything to the stakes. They tease that Rey has some darkness in her, but they tease that with every force user in the series. That’s the thing about all force users, they could be good or bad at the flip of a switch. It’s a senseless change that only serves to resurrect a dead threat and wave around some of that Good Old Star Wars.

And then we get to Poe. Poe, who spends the vast majority of the new trilogy making the wrong decisions and fucking things up. He can fly a spaceship, but he shouldn’t be trusted with anything else. When Leia dies, she leaves Poe in charge. What. Poe? Poe?! What did he do to earn that? He then proceeded to gamble the Resistance against the Final Order in the same way it was gambled at the end of TLJ, except this time, for no explainable reason, other people came to help. Poe led the Resistance to their death.

Finally we get to the mountain of silly scenes that aren’t played for humor. The Knights of Ren are shown on screen and completely meaningless and die just as meaninglessly. I guess that mystery wasn’t worth expanding on. Super Palpatine starts shooting lightning out of his fingers into the sky like he’s fucking Shazam, except Shazam has the brain of a tween and not an immortal space emperor. There are constant turns in plot that make you completely numb by the end of it. Rey is no one, Rey is the most important person. The gang finds a Sith dagger that will lead them to the Sith wayfinder, oops now it’s gone. Chewie is dead, Chewie is alive. Hux is a mole who can help stop Ren, Hux is dead and can’t do anything. Rey has the Sith wayfinder (another meaningless MacGuffin), the Sith wayfinder is destroyed. Ren is dead, Ren is alive. Rey’s going to kill Palpatine, nah nevermind, he’ll suck the life out of her and Ren and become the super emperor. Ren is dead again, Ren is alive. Rey is dead, Rey is alive, Ren is dead for real. Everything is meaningless because any meaning to it is just going to flip around on you. This isn’t intricate plotting, it’s exposing how low stakes this conflict actually is.

When Disney bought Lucasfilm and Star Wars, it created an opportunity. Disney has demonstrated that they can create a Marvel universe, loosely link the movies together, and make something greater than its pieces, with all the intricacies it entailed. I expected them to do the same with Star Wars. It’s just three movies. But even discarding the Expanded Universe, it’s clear that they went into this with no plan. The Force Awakens aped A New Hope so hard that it’s essentially the same movie. The Last Jedi didn’t please everyone, but at least it tried some new ideas. And now we have this overstuffed, nostalgia-poisoned capper that truly exposes the sham. I don’t expect high art out of Star Wars. I expect some semblance of competent story telling, and I didn’t get it. I’m glad this trilogy is over. I hope Disney can find more success in individual Star Wars universe films (mixed bag so far) and TV shows (hey that The Mandalorian is good, right?). But I don’t want a new trilogy and won’t again for a while. I’m not saying this stuff is easy, but it shouldn’t have failed this badly.

Things I’ve Played and What I Think of Them

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep

I don’t know if I ever finished all of the stuff in Forsaken when I rolled into Shadowkeep, but that’s okay. Shadowkeep adds more missions that further the Destiny 2 storyline in meaningful ways, though it does stop a bit short from really satisfying. It takes place on the moon, which is a location from the first Destiny, and reuses some of those areas in ways I found mildly triggering. I spent so much time on that moon already. Still, it’s kind of great to know pretty much exactly where everything in the old areas are. If you know what Destiny 2 is, then you probably know if you like it, and you should play Shadowkeep if you like Destiny 2. If you don’t know what Destiny 2 is, it’s free to play for a really significant amount of game that is out there, so play that first.

Tormentor X Punisher

Twin stick shooter, really bloody, everything dies in one hit. The trick is that your primary machine gun shot runs out of ammo until you use the secondary shotgun shot. It’s fairly difficult even with everything dying in one hit and bosses usually introduce some walls and obstacles in the open arena so they don’t die as quickly as everything else. Not my favorite twin stick shooter, but it’s got a lot more flavor to it than most of its competition.

Mafia III

I play Mafia III off and on for a while. It’s okay. It’s slower paced than a lot of open world games of its ilk. It looks great though, and it nails its atmosphere. I guess the thing that keeps me from spending more time with it is the fairly rote gameplay and the somewhat unsatisfying combat. I’m just not chomping at the bit to get back into it, so it becomes the game that sits on my hard drive forever because I don’t love it.

Disco Elysium

All the comparisons to Planescape: Torment are warranted. I like the tone of the game, though I find myself unable to will myself back into it because it really is a lot of walking around and reading dialog. It’s one of those games that’s an exercise in trusting that there’s a reason for all of this reading and it will eventually pay off.

Minit

It’s like Zelda except you die and restart every 60 seconds. And I kind of hate Zelda. It’s cuter than Zelda though, and the death gimmick makes me like it more than Zelda, but dying every 60 seconds just means I have an out every minute, and I end up taking it after about 5 deaths.

Distance

Distance is a driving platformer. Yes, that’s right. You drive in a mostly straight line, jump onto platforms, float onto platforms, and wall run (drive). Maybe it’s closer to an endless runner? Except it ends. It’s got a good look to it, but there’s not a lot there.

ECHO

I slowly walked around in an empty world for a half hour and I still haven’t experienced any gameplay.

Star Wars: Battlefront 2

How did they make a big battle Star Wars game that’s so boring? It’s pretty, but that’s it. The single player is an absolute slog. This is barely fun.

Untitled Goose Game

HORRIBLE GOOSE! This game is more fun in memes and fan art than it is to play. Or maybe it’s funnier with a group of people watching? But playing it alone, it’s just mildly amusing to mildly frustrating.

Blair Witch

I’m the rare person who likes everything about The Blair Witch. I like Book of Shadows. I like Blair Witch. If I had a chance to play the first trilogy of The Blair Witch games, chances are that I would have liked those too. Imagine my surprise when the game Blair Witch was revealed at E3 this year. It had what I wanted. Woods. Darkness. Dilapidated buildings. Even a dog! But, much like my feelings about 2016’s Blair Witch movie, this game doesn’t quite coalesce until you get to the end.

Blair Witch is a first person horror game in which you play Ellis. You have volunteered to scour the Black Hills forest for a missing boy. You brought your dog Bullet and little else. As you make your way through the woods, you find a trail of breadcrumbs that lead you closer to the boy and further into the forest.

Blair Witch follows Bloober Team’s recent forays into horror, namely Layers of Fear (a haunted house) and Observer (a cyberpunk haunted house). Layers of Fear‘s did a lot with atmosphere and loud noises because there wasn’t a whole lot of capital G Gameplay, but Observer added in some monster avoidance sections, ala SOMA, in which you could run face first into some kind of monster and die. Blair Witch throws in some portions where you are expected to look where your dog is barking and blast tree monsters with your flashlight. It’s clear that Bloober Team is trying to expand their horror horizons, but this felt kind of hokey. These parts weren’t terribly difficult or frequent, just sort of annoying.

If most of the gameplay is a progression of Bloober Team’s prior works, the rest is carried by the Blair Witch movies, namely wandering around in the woods and spooky rundown buildings. There’s no map and the feeling of being lost in the woods is really effective. Minus the hokey tree monsters, the horror mostly works. It builds effectively and, even with a companion dog, it’s hard to feel safe. This is what Bloober Team did well in Layers of Fear and Observer.

Where this game falters is in its narrative. Ellis never really becomes a sympathetic character and the story is built around slowly revealing his dark past and whether or not he can be saved. Bullet is a more sympathetic character here, and he’s a dog. The game also sort of relies on the player having seen some parts of the movies, leaning heavily on the most recent film. I knew what was going on because I’ve seen all of them, but I think a non-fan would be rather confused about a lot of the things that go unsaid. There’s also a laundry list of collectibles, and no way to go back through the game after you’ve beaten it to collect them or alter your ending. You can make game saves mid-game and return to those, but there’s no chapter select. Once you finish it, you’re going to have to play it again from the start if you’re chasing achievements.

I’m a tad disappointed. I saw a little Silent Hill 2 in the trailer, and I see a sliver of it in this game, but it’s not quite there. Hard to recommend for those who haven’t seen the Blair Witch movies, which I obviously enjoyed, but even fans may not enjoy this because of the weak antagonist and silly tree monsters. The scares are here, the tension is here, but it’s far from perfect.

Reference: Bloober Team. Blair Witch (Bloober Team, 2019)

Source: Free via Xbox Game Pass

Control

Control had some work to do right out of the gate. Quantum Break wasn’t exactly an unqualified success and Remedy’s relationship with Microsoft seemed to disintegrate from it. Now back out on their own and paired with 505 Games, Control is a bit of a return to form for Remedy. Smaller in scope than Quantum Break, but doing more with less.

Control is a third person shooter with mind powers. You play as Jesse Haden, a woman who walked into the Federal Bureau of Control, and assumed leadership by bonding with the weapon of the former director. If that sounds weird, we haven’t even scratched the surface. The FBC is charged with protecting the nation from supernatural threats, and it’s been invaded by a threat called The Hiss.

Control is a pitch-perfect blend of creepypasta, Lost, and The X-Files. There’s lot of talk in memos and audio logs about containment and neutralization of Altered Items and Objects of Power. Jesse can bind with some of these OOPs to get new powers, starting with the ability to throw stuff with her mind. Littered all over this game are collectibles describing the supernatural effects of these items and how the FBC are working to contain them. There’s also a series of videos that look like someone took the Dharma Initiative videos from Lost and made their own. These all star the same guy who played Alan Wake. Speaking of Alan Wake, there’s also a series of videos starring the guy who voiced Max Payne. This whole game is stuffed with creepy fiction and Remedy all-stars and I loved it.

The gameplay is also well suited to the atmosphere. This is no cover shooter. Jesse has the archetypal shooter weapons: pistol, shotgun, sniper, etc. Augmenting these are the mind powers, with the first and most useful being Launch, which throws stuff. Essentially every piece of set decoration can be picked up and tossed at the enemy. It does a healthy amount of damage right out of the gate and it’s extremely satisfying. More abilities trickle out later, but Launch is a mainstay through out of the game. Both weapon ammo and mind powers are on a delayed recharge, so combat is usually a matter of emptying one of those meters, and then emptying the other while the first recharges. Enemies also explode with health pickups when they die, so it makes no sense to sit in one place and shoot things in the distance. Eventually you need to get up close to heal. There’s a good variety of enemies, so the mix of weapons and mind powers have plenty of uses and combat essentially never gets boring.

There are two things that take away from Control, and that’s the environments and difficulty spikes. The whole game takes place in the same extradimensional building (think House of Leaves or the Tardis from Doctor Who), and eventually I noticed that it’s an awful lot of poured concrete. It’s good looking and well designed but there’s just so much grey I can look at. Jesse is also fairly fragile, and I found numerous points in the game where difficulty spiked really hard, to the point that I sometimes just walked away from a mission and did something else, or quit out of the game entirely from frustration. There’s a brutal section near the end of the game that took me at least a dozen attempts to get past, and required that I play the game differently from how I spent the rest of the game playing it. It wasn’t fun. Even now, there are a couple side missions I may not finish because I’m past the ending and they’re annoyingly difficult.

Despite these fairly minor quibbles, I absolutely loved Control. It’s creepy, it plays well, and it looks great. Control is an excellent storytelling game.

Reference: Remedy Entertainment. Control (505 Games, 2019)

Source: Purchased from Epic Game Store

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Let’s make a recipe to describe Wolfenstein: Youngblood:

Take Wolfenstein: The New Colossus

Chop it in half

Move it along from the 1970’s to the 1980’s

Triple the collectibles

Give it to the people who made Dishonored

Add an extensive weapon mod system

Add two player coop

Add microtransactions

And take out the story

There. That’s about right.

Youngblood is a new non-sequel in the Wolfenstein series, much like The Old Blood wasn’t a sequel to The New Order. It’s smaller in scope, taking only about 10 hours to complete. It’s meant to be played in coop but I played almost the entire game solo. It wasn’t terribly burdensome, though, of course, the AI wasn’t quite as useful as a human player.

It plays an awful lot like how I remember The New Colossus playing. Stealth is an option and sneaking around to silently murder Nazis is extremely satisfying. But, more often than not, you’re going to get caught and have to shoot your way out of an area. All of the weapons have that signature Machine Games look and feel. They sound great, they look great, and they’re very effective! Except that Youngblood added a layer of armor to almost every enemy. Some armor is broken with the shotgun and submachine gun (squishier targets), but most armor is broken with heavier stuff, the assault rifle and pistol. At first, I was annoyed by this system, and it never quite felt great against big enemies, but it does force you to use different weapons in different situations. My biggest problem with it is that there are more weapons for squishy targets than armored targets, but there seemed to be more armored enemies than squishy, so I didn’t get to have as much fun with every weapon.

The structure of the game is very reminiscent of Dishonored. There are a small handful of mission areas, and the bulk of the early game is visiting these areas repeatedly to complete short-ish tasks. For example, you’ll go in to one area, make your way to the mechanic’s garage, find an item or kill a particular enemy, and then you can either pick a new mission in that area and do it, or go back to the hub safe area. The result is that a bulk of the game is doing small missions in the same areas repeatedly. There were four major assaults on Nazi strongholds, and those were the big missions. Still not a whole lot of narrative to them, and once I completed them, I was handed another small mission to go back to them. Even the big mission areas get reused. The New Colossus did this too (sending you back to maps you’ve already finished to get more XP or currency), but it was a much bigger game.

The two places where the game fails is in the narrative and failing to exploit the setting. There’s a lengthy cutscene at the start, a lengthy cutscene after you finish three of the five major missions, and a short cutscene after you beat the boss. That’s it. In between, there isn’t a whole lot of motivating narrative to the little missions you’re doing before taking on Nazi strongholds. This is a fairly sharp contrast to The New Order and The New Colossus, both of which were rather competent in their storytelling. It’s particularly painful to have such an uncompelling and absentee antagonist when those prior games had great (well-written but awful) antagonists.

It’s also nominally in the 80’s. I don’t expect it to be all shopping malls and aerobics and new wave, but you can’t just throw around some 3D glasses, VHS tapes, and cassettes as collectibles to make it 80’s enough. The 1980’s in Nazi-occupied Paris should be absolutely fascinating, but instead it’s indistinguishable from any other game depicting a fascist occupation. Rubble, concrete, big Nazi robots. There’s not even radios playing the fascist pop music they made for this game. You only get to listen to it by finding the cassette collectibles and listening to them in a menu. This doesn’t fly for a coop game. Give me a Walkman!

Now let’s get to the ugly. Microtransactions. There are two currencies in game: silver coins, and gold bars. You can find silver coins all over the place in small quantities. You get silver coins for finishing missions. You have to purchase gold bars for cash. Silver coins are what you use to upgrade and modify your weapons, but all the cosmetics in the game (weapon and player skins) can also be purchased for silver coins or gold bars. There’s no lack of silver coins in the game, but for practical purposes, you’re going to spend those on your weapons, not looking good. I know this is a coop game and you can show off your good looks for strangers, but I really don’t understand why they jammed in this second currency. It’s not loot boxes, but it’s greedy and needless.

If I sound down on Youngblood, it’s because I kind of am. It’s the daughters of BJ Blazkowicz fighting Nazi’s in Paris in the 1980’s, and it’s just okay. This is a concept that could’ve been a full Wolfenstein game rather than a half-step before the next full sequel. I liked it but didn’t love it because I want it to be more than it is.

Reference: Machine Games and Arkane Studios Wolfenstein: Youngblood (Bethesda Softworks, 2019)

Source: Purchased from Steam

RAGE 2

I’m terribly disappointed in RAGE 2 so before I go on and on about why I think it sucks, here’s what I liked, in bullet point form:

  • Enemy heads have a huge hitbox and pop in a satisfying manner
  • The ground punch attack feels great
  • It looks good and there’s no loading once you’re in the world
  • The cars sound meaty
  • Exploring the world is fun even if a lot of the map markers are just boring “kill everything” activities

The game starts off okay, with The Authority (the primary antagonist in RAGE) razing your fledgling community. After this tutorial (and honestly, who needs a tutorial in a FPS anymore?), you’re given a car and an open map and set to work. The work is meeting three characters that will help you overthrow The Authority. You gain their support by completing open world activities.

Minus the grinding to build support, the game is more or less just 7 story missions. It’s amazing how short the story is. There was just so little in the narrative to keep me interested. The open world activities are mostly just “kill everything”. There’s one ally whose support is gained through search and recovery missions, which I found to be not only the most interesting but the most rewarding. There are arks scattered across the world, where the game dispenses either a new weapon or a new ability. Since they’re so rewarding, they’re well worth searching out and they build your support with one ally. I finished the game with that ally’s support maxed out and all the others only half full because their missions are just slogs through enemy nests that give you resources to buy things.

The problem with dispensing abilities and weapons through open world activities is that if you never find that ark, you miss out on something that makes the game more fun. When I finished, the map revealed the rest of the arks I hadn’t found and I finished the game without three weapons and two abilities. Considering I found use for almost every weapon and ability I did have, it’s baffling that the game was perfectly happy with letting me finish it and not give me the tools to make the game more enjoyable. I specifically sought out arks because they give gameplay-affecting tools, but I guess that was my bad because I could’ve finished it with just a pistol, an assault rifle, and a shotgun. I’m really curious what the bare minimum of this game you have to play before hitting the credits.

Beyond taking away the things that make the game fun and hiding them on an enormous open world map, the travel between points was worse than boring, it’s a waste of time. Driving from one area to another in an open world wasteland should be more dangerous, but I was rarely attacked, and everything that attacked me was easily shrugged off or ran away from. At one point I unlocked a flying motorcycle that just hovered high enough above the ground to make all ground obstacles pointless and I couldn’t be attacked, so I was making straight line flights from one point to another. I may as well have had fast travel.

So most missions are a grind, exploring isn’t necessary, and travel is a waste of time, but how’s the shooting? It’s okay. Nothing has the id Software signature feel to it. Enemies are mostly bullet sponges unless you aim for the head, which is comically easy to hit. It’s like bullets are magnetically attracted to their skulls. I found that most fights boiled down to whether I shoot them in the head at a distance with the assault rifle, or run up to shotgun them in the torso. I had a rocket launcher that was useful for big enemies, and a pistol that shot rounds that would catch on fire that I didn’t find particularly useful, but, again, I didn’t find three of the weapons in this game. Maybe they were super cool. I’ll never know!

The worst part of RAGE 2, the unforgivable part of it, is the bugs. Holy hell. One location never flagged as 100% complete because I opened a chest, died, and the chest remained opened but the counter locked it at unopened. There were a handful of times when the game just hard locked. Once the game crashed my OS. One time I beat a boss but died at the same time. It played the “you beat the boss” cutscene, but I came back dead and had to quit to restart it.

I didn’t think RAGE would ever get a sequel, and I question what this is doing for anyone. The original wasn’t a great game by any stretch but it was better than this one in almost every measure. There’s a lot more to do in RAGE 2 and the open world aspect might appeal to some people, where RAGE was more of linear game, but more to do isn’t a benefit when what you’re doing isn’t fun to begin with.

Reference: Avalanche Studios and id Software. RAGE 2 (Bethesda Softworks, 2019)

Source: Purchased from Steam

Darksiders 3

When I beat Darksiders, I thought it was the best Zelda game I’d ever played. It’s not Zelda. It’s really a mash up of a lot of good games, but its most obvious influence is the 3D Zelda games. Darksiders 3 most obvious influence is Dark Souls, but it’s not the best Dark Souls. It’s not even the best Darksiders.

The story of Darksiders 3 is convoluted, and it doesn’t help that there’s not much “in the previous games” lead up. The short of it is that you are one of the horsemen of the apocalypse, Fury (not an actual historic horseman, but whatevs), and you have to hunt down and kill the seven deadly sins. They’ve been set free on Earth in the middle of the apocalypse. Now there are demons, angels, and sins to kill.

After release, Darksiders 3 got a couple significant updates to address some of the major complaints reviewers had. One of those was “classic” mode, which was intended to make the game more like the previous two installments. I played the whole game in “classic” mode, and I still felt the Dark Souls influences in nearly every aspect.

In a game where you play as Fury, there’s a dearth of fury shown. Enemies rarely come in groups larger than three, and they’re mostly durable. It has a somewhat slow pace, especially compared to the rest of the series, with a focus on watching attacks and dodging them to counter attack and punish the enemy. I was slightly surprised at how few huge monsters there were, especially considering that huge bosses are staple of the series. The sins themselves are rarely bigger than Fury and follow the same approach as the basic enemies: watch the pattern, dodge, and punish.

There’s nothing really spectacular here. It’s an okay action game that obviously apes a lot of mechanics from Dark Souls. The problem is that Dark Souls‘ mechanics match its world and Darksiders 3 does not. Darksiders is a world of comic book action, heaven versus hell, four horsemen riding, deadly sins running amok. The sins are just bosses at the end of uninteresting dungeons. It mashes in some Metroidvania qualities by adding movement options when you get new weapons, and there’s some degree of non-linearity to the middle game. It doesn’t use the Dark Souls influence to elevate the world, and it never turns down the comic book influence to match the more methodical gameplay.

Darksiders 3 is confused about what it wants to be, and I hope Gunfire Games can sort it out by the fourth game and possibly the conclusion of the series. I’d hate for them to get to the end of it and never overcome the greatness of the first game. Darksiders 3 is not going to do it.


Reference: Gunfire Games. Darksiders 3 (THQ Nordic, 2018)

Source: Purchased from Green Man Gaming

Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner – Mars

Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner – MARS (ZOE2) is not a new game. It originally came out on Playstation 2 almost 16 years ago. But in the year 2018, Konami saw fit to brush it up again and release it on PC, and that was a great idea. ZOE2 hasn’t lost a single bit of luster.

You are Dingo Egret and you’re on the Jovian moon of Callisto, mining something in a rickety old mech. After some slow walking and clumsy movement, you stumble upon a hidden mech called Jehuty. From there, the rest of the story is anime nonsense, but you can ignore it. The game itself is super fun.

That introduction in the mining mech serves to demonstrate the contrast between the mechs of this game and the Orbital Frames, particularly Jehuty. Those few minutes in the mining mech are painful. It’s slow, unresponsive, and clumsy. Jehuty is like a surgical knife with jet engine. It moves like liquid and it’s armed with a half dozen types of attacks before you even get to the subweapons.

ZOE2 is the anime mech game you dream of. Instead of plodding and counting ammo, you soar through the air, slice up enemies with your sword, light up the air with homing lasers, and augment your attacks with a dozen different subweapons, from a gatling gun to giant laser that takes 10 seconds to charge. The missions span from arena fights against handfuls of enemies, to traditional boss battles, to battlefields full of enemies and allies.

It’s not perfect though. By the time you’ve acquired all of the subweapons, which don’t really build upon each other in power but give you different options, you’re near the end of the game. It’s short, almost to the point of being too short. I had so much fun with it that they could’ve doubled the length and I still wouldn’t have gotten tired of it. Unfortunately, it does pad the time a bit with the last two boss fights, which are significantly more difficult than any boss leading up to them. Out of the six hours I logged in the game, I must’ve spent two of those hours on those last two bosses alone. I died over and over and over again. And they weren’t fun either.

In 2019, I can still recommend a game that was released in 2003. It’s not the looker that it once was, but it’s still sharp and the gameplay itself absolutely holds up. I would’ve preferred if the last two boss fights were more fun, but the rest is so great that I don’t mind. At 16 years, it might be time to call Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner a classic.


Reference: Konami Digital Entertainment. Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner – MARS (Konami Digital Entertainment, 2018)

Source: Purchased from Humble Store

The Hex

The Hex is made by the same developer as Pony Island. In that game, nothing is what it seems, it’s super clever, and there are secrets everywhere. The Hex is a bit more ambitious and it still keeps those same qualities.

There’s going to be a murder in the Six Pints Inn. There are six potential murderers at the inn, and they’re all displaced video game characters. Throughout the game, you control each character to explore their backstory, their interactions with other characters, and resolve the mystery.

The hook to The Hex is that each of these characters are from different video games, and visiting their past means playing those games. The games themselves simple but enjoyable for as long as they stick around. The controls are simple (just WASD, mouse, and left mouse button) so they’re pretty accessible. The best part about the game is the writing. All of these games and characters are interwoven and seeing how they all unravel is a real treat.

However, this intricate weaving combined with the plethora of secrets means you could miss or gloss over some of the little details that result in a somewhat unsatisfying ending. When I got to the end of The Hex, I knew and understood the main plot, but there were a small number of side stories that I was left feeling unresolved on because I hadn’t plundered the full depths of the secrets. Even with a guide, some of these secrets are pretty intricate. Absolutely not a deal breaker, but it may leave you wishing it were a little more transparent. Pony Island kind of suffered from the same issue.

The end result is a fascinating game that is intricate yet accessible, with some side plots that may vex you unless you follow some achievement guide. The Hex certainly has a target audience that grew up around 16 bit consoles and 90’s PC gaming, but it’s fun and weird enough to appeal to many more people.


Reference: Daniel Mullins Games. The Hex (Daniel Mullins Games, 2018)

Source: Purchased from Steam