Category Archives: Game Reviews

Metroid Dread

Metroid Dread is Metroid 5, and the end of the Metroid series as we know it. We haven’t seen a new Metroid in the mainline series since Metroid Fusion in 2002. Zero Mission remade Metroid and Samus Returns remade Metroid 2, but this is the first original 2D entry in the Metroid series since 2002.

Metroid Dread was worth the 19 year wait.

I love this game. I was always going to love this game. I’m going to gush about it for a bit before I get a little critical.

All of the movement in this game feels so good. Samus is mobile, fast, and infinitely maneuverable. This is even before getting the morph ball. At first, I was a bit frustrated with how long it took to get to the morph ball, but, in its place, Samus can slide. Sliding works to get through most of the same gates a morph ball would. You slide through small gaps. It requires no build up, just move in the direction and hit the slide button. Always feels good.

Since Super Metroid, Samus has been able to shoot in eight directions. In Metroid Dread, she can shoot in any direction. It comes at a bit of a cost; you have to stand still to shoot at odd angles. You can still shoot at a 45 degree angle while running, but it’s a bit inaccurate because you’re moving while doing it. But the trade off is worth it. No more positioning Samus to hit something with a 45 degree angle shot that a 50 degree angle would hit without moving.

The game has a lot of short cutscenes, and Samus is awesome in all of them. She’s doing flips, she’s shooting things in the face, she’s action posing. Even though a lot of boss fights start with a cutscene, which means you see them every time you die and start the fight over, they’re all skippable after the first watch.

The headline enemy in Dread is EMMI. There are seven of them, they hunt Samus in patrolled areas, and they cannot be killed with normal weapons. This leads to a lot of cat-and-mouse gameplay in EMMI areas, and it’s a lot of fun. EMMI has a huge hearing radius, which is attracted to movement. Once it comes to investigate, it’ll try to find you with a vision cone. Samus can run or hide. I found running to be more of my style, and the chases were genuinely exciting. Getting caught means near certain death, but the checkpoint is always right outside the door to an EMMI zone. If you’re bad at escaping, this might get really frustrating. I loved it.

The map flows really, really well. There are obvious gates in every area, and lots of one-way doors to keep you from getting too off track. It’s just enough to get a little lost sometimes and not feel completely railroaded. It’s also huge. There are several areas connected by trains and teleporters. Secret items are hidden everywhere and it’s a joy to explore and find them.

Okay, now my minor gripes. The music isn’t what I expected. I can still recall some previous Metroid themes, and I couldn’t even hum a single tune from Dread. It’s almost nonexistent. Also, as the game goes on, the default arm cannon feels more and more useless, even when it’s getting more powerful. Missiles and screw attack are basically all I used near the end. Thankfully, missile replenishment was generous throughout the game.

I loved this game from beginning to end. It fell straight into it from the start and couldn’t play anything else until I finished it.

Prey

Prey has nothing to do with Prey. That is to say that the game named Prey released in 2017 is completely unrelated to the game named Prey released in 2006. The only connecting tissue between these two games is their name, being played from a first-person perspective, and involving aliens. I don’t think I even noticed a single cheeky callback or reference to the previous Prey.

Prey is excellent. As an immersive sim in the vein of System Shock, Deus Ex, and Bioshock, it’s a worthy addition to this genre. One of my favorite additions to the game is the recycler. Everything you pick up can be recycled, which breaks it down into material you can use to synthesize new things, like ammo and weapons. One of the weapons is a recycler grenade, which can be tossed into a group of enemies to suck them up and spit out materials. It’s awesome.

So why did it take me four years to finish Prey? One reason is that I can be easily distracted by other games. If I don’t buckle down to play something, if it’s just occupying my time, then I’ll bounce off to the next thing that interests me.

Prey also has bugs. Even four years later, I ran into bugs. In ~15 hours of play (since I picked it back up, that is), I hit two crash-to-desktop bugs. One of them forced my video driver to restart entirely. A side quest bugged on me by failing to give me the next step after I completed one. Another quest directed me to listen to something on my computer. The thing I was supposed to listen to wasn’t there. If I ran into bugs when I wasn’t committed to playing Prey, that would prompt me to drop it for something else.

There were other things that were slightly annoying, but not significant detractors. Prey doesn’t have the sense of bodily movement that Arkane games usually do. The hacking minigame is slightly annoying, as most hacking minigames are. There’s no fast travel between levels, so some of the navigation is a bit of a pain.

This is a game I should’ve finished the first time I played it. I love what it does and how it does it. The bugs and annoyances aren’t enough to cast a shadow on the gameplay and story of Prey.

Ion Fury

I love a good neo-retro shooter, and Ion Fury is a good neo-retro shooter. It yanks the BUILD engine into 2019 and made some great levels with it. Detailed, interesting environments, weapons that feel great, and lots of enemies to blow up. I’m fairly annoyed by the fact most weapons need to be reloaded and there’s no indication of how much ammo is in your magazine, but the bulk of the game is fun.

The rest of this review will be looking at some of the atmospheric humor. Shelly doesn’t really cut one-liners throughout the game like Duke Nukem does so this is sort of the only humor to it.

I took three screenshots of stuff on walls, and this is easily the best. A little mashup of two of my favorite things, Doom and Taco Bell. It’s not really that funny, just referencing things I recognize.

Here’s another reference to a thing I recognize but don’t like. The Room is a terrible movie and it’s got a notorious reputation as such, and so this is really not going to hit with a lot of people. It’s still just referencing thing I recognize. Zero humor.

This one is really missing the mark. Beyond the main character, this game has no women, much less android girls. This is posted up in a room that turns zombies into piles of meat. This is just here for the player to say “ha ha, finger stuck in mechanical pussy.” It’s original Shadow Warrior levels of bad humor.

I pulled these out because some other less funny things were removed from the game, and then 3D Realms made some statement about not censoring games. I’m not a fan of censoring games just as I’m not a fan of bad attempts at humor. Whether these posters are funny is up to the player, but I hope their next attempts are punched up a lot. These are, at best, non-jokes that apparently could’ve gone way worse.

Dishonored 2

I’ve been playing Dishonored 2 for almost five years. I don’t mean constantly, but I’ve owned it since day 1. I pick it up and play it for a bit and then I stop. Yesterday, I reached the end.

I can’t pretend to remember all of the details. That’s the trouble with dragging a game out as long as I did. But time has a way of filtering out the things that don’t matter, and what’s left is what leaves an impression.

The Clockwork Mansion level stands out. The stress of slinking around and being spotted also stands out. It might be a bit early, but the A Crack in the Slab level was certainly memorable. And I remember that I liked the first voice actor for The Outsider better than the one who replaced him in this sequel. I remember putting my exploration skills to good use by pursuing the alternative objectives instead of murdering everyone, and that got me a happy ending.

It’s disingenuous for me to say I loved Dishonored 2. If I actually loved it, it wouldn’t have taken 5 years complete it. It’s a game that demands more attention than I’m willing to put into it all the time. But it’s packed full of intricate systems in interesting levels. If you have the attention span for it, it’s excellent in a way that is hard to top.

Demo Derby – Realms Deep 2021

Realms Deep is apparently a marketing event for 3D Realms to show off some upcoming first-person shooters, and some of those from partners. The kids call most of these games “boomer shooters” because they’re going for the neo-retro aesthetic. There are a lot of Quake-looking games in this sale page. But neo-retro shooters are exactly my thing, so I checked out a handful of demos and here’s what I thought of them. I didn’t “finish” any of them, but played them for 10-15 minutes each. Roughly ordered by how much I enjoyed them, ascending.

ASKE

This one is the most like Quake, and also the least exciting so far. Ugly enemies, very detail-less textures, weird fish-eye effect from super high FOV. It moves fast and runs well but that’s about it. Not impressed.

Gloomwood

This came up front with a “this is pre-alpha” warning, but it’s playable. Seems to be a bit more Thief than Quake with a strong emphasis on stealth and limited ammo. It sort of bored me.

Project Downfall

Okay, now we’re getting there. Love the aesthetic of this game, all neon lights and scanlines. Didn’t love the cartoony characters. It’s a little Max Payne and a little Hotline Miami. It’s got a slow start but it’s promising, if they can get it to run a bit better.

CULTIC

CULTIC is my jam. It obviously takes from Blood and Quake, and adds a super limited color palette. This game has like 16 colors. The action felt great, snappy and lethal for the enemies. It had a simple but effective intro. I’m apparently some kind of investigator and then I wake up in a mass grave. This is my first time seeing or hearing about CULTIC and I’m already in love. Super fun.

Marvel’s Avengers

I remember a game called Marvel Heroes. I remember it because I played a lot of it, but you can’t play it anymore. It was a free-to-play Diablo-style game. It shutdown in 2017, but I don’t recall ever learning why. It seemed pretty popular at the time and the developers kept cranking out new stuff for it. If I were a deeply cynical person, I might assume Marvel Heroes had to die so that Marvel’s Avengers could live.

Avengers has a surprising amount of things in common with Heroes. They both sort of flatten out the differences in superhero powers to make the game easier to play and understand. Some characters are shootier and some are punchier. Some can fly, but the others can grapple or double-jump or stretchy-arm. Everyone has four slots for equipment that are wholly separate from what they look like. They’re total nonsense, like I’m choosing which rib cage is stronger for Hulk, but Heroes did this too.

Like Heroes, you can spend a whole lot of cash money on your character’s appearance by buying costumes. Like Heroes, you can also just play the game a lot to accumulate the currency you need to purchase these costumes. They rotate on a daily basis, so you don’t necessarily get to choose whichever you want unless you want to spend cash. I never accumulated enough in-game currency to buy a costume by the time I got to the end game credits.

Heroes was free to play. Gameplay was entirely unlimited, though I was limited to a selection of free heroes to start. Though the characters weren’t free (without playing for currency or paying cash), it was adding characters all the time. It was alive for four years and had over 63 characters before it shutdown. Avengers is full retail price, and seems to be giving heroes away, but we’ll see if that continues beyond the current selection. Since release, they’ve added two versions of Hawkeye, and a Black Panther expansion is on the way. I can’t figure out if that expansions will be free or not.

Whether directly inspired or not, I think it’s pretty clear that Avengers learned a lot from Heroes. But is Avengers good? It’s okay. It’s not endlessly playable like Heroes though. It’s obviously a more expensive game and that translates to a better looking game, but it’s also a game with less to do, less to do it with, and just as much, if not more, exploitative monetization of things that you want in a superhero game. I think I was having more fun with Marvel Heroes before it shutdown.

Cloudpunk

Cloudpunk is delightful little game, even if it’s not very delightful and not very little either. It’s as simple as it gets, gameplay wise, but the writing kept me hooked the entire time. Before I played, I saw jokes that it was the real Cyberpunk (compared to Cyberpunk 2077) and it’s not really that far off from the truth.

There’s so little here as far as gameplay. You drive a hover car and make deliveries. That’s sort of it. Criss cross the map, try not to pinball off other cars or buildings. Your car can get damaged but it’s so sturdy that I never blew it up.

What the gameplay is doing is giving me something to do while I soak in the world. On this night, in the city of Nivalis, it doesn’t stop raining. There is no ground to drive on. It’s only ocean below, as if the rain hasn’t stopped in a decade and city just grows upward to escape it. Every building is painted in neon colored advertisements. People and androids who aren’t in the upper crust of society live below the cloud ceiling and never see the sun. Everyone at the top is a CEO and we’ve long forgotten what that job does. They just exist with everyone else in service to them. If you want out, you can live in the fringe, eating mold and never feeling warmth.

What makes this game is the writing. I remember these details because the characters, especially your character, Rania, are so compelling. I wasn’t racing to each delivery. I was taking a stroll while I listen to the discussion between Rania and whoever I was making the trip for.

The city and its people make Cloudpunk work. Maybe this could have been a visual novel, and I would’ve never played it. But it gave me an interesting place to explore with characters I wanted to learn more about.

Torment: Tides of Numenera

Here’s what Torment: Tides of Numenera (TTN, because I’m not writing this over and over) has over its predecessor, Planescape: Torment – I finished it. Okay, that’s probably a bit unfair, but I’ve given Planescape: Torment several attempts, a bunch of good college tries, blind and with guides, and never finished it. For whatever reason, it didn’t hold my attention long enough to reach the end.

My experience with TTN is a lot of the same, except instead of starting from scratch I’ve just picked up the same save over the years. I backed this on Kickstarter. I’ve had access to it since launch, maybe earlier.

I think it’s taken me four years to finish because it’s a lot of reading. This is the definition of a narrative-heavy game. It’s almost all narrative without being a visual novel. Every map has a dozen plus things to look at and inspect and prod, and every area has four or five named characters with backstories, perspectives on what’s going on, and usually one side quest between them. There are seven companion characters, three can follow you at a time, and they all have their own side quests. I also learned way too late that you can switch them out rather easily, so it’s possible to pursue each of their long-running quests on the same playthrough.

It’s a lot. And the world it takes place in isn’t your standard fantasy world. It’s based on Numenera, a tabletop RPG that puts players millennia into the future. You’re so far into the future that you’re in the 9th world, as the last 8 have somehow ended in cataclysm. One of my favorite descriptions of Numenera is that magic is real, it’s actually technology, you can find it by digging around in piles of garbage, and it’s wildly dangerous. This whole world of cyborgs, mutants, farmers, raiders, slavers, airship pirates, magic, technology, transdimensional beings, living gods, and sentient cities is a whole lot.

What TTN does very well is that it does end with explanations. There is so much weird stuff going on. By doing the quests, and talking to everyone, you can get answers. But like the setting of Numenera itself, you have to dig to find out what’s under the surface. It’s a lot of reading and most of it is well written, but at some point I had to ask myself if I wasn’t better off reading a book.

Demo Derby – Steam Next Fest

Demos are hard. The biggest games don’t do them because they don’t need to. Their fans will promote the shit out of their games, with no hands-on experience, to the point that they can rely on pre-orders. Mid-tier games sometimes do them, but often don’t because they’re hard to do. You need to give someone enough to play to get a feel for the game, not so much that you’ve given them all they need, and you have to put your best foot forward so that you don’t turn off a potential sale. Indies do a lot of demos. They need to sell to publishers and they need to sell to potential buyers.

Steam is doing their own not-E3 this year called Next Fest. Part of Next Fest is highlighting indie games, including a ton of indie game demos. A handful of games I’ve been interested either put up demos for Next Fest, or I’m just learning they had a demo. Here’s some impressions, starting from least impressive to most impressive.

The Fermi Paradox

This is a not-4X with a stated goal of guiding space-faring species into meeting each other. Unfortunately, I found it a bit dry. This guiding is done by collecting influence points and using those to nudge sliders like tech level, population, and ethics via random events. For example, a war broke out on Earth. I could flat out stop the war by spending points, I could let it happen without losing any points, or I could encourage the war to add to my influence. That’s sort of the whole game. I didn’t feel like my nudging of sliders was particularly effective. I spent the whole time clicking to collect influence, making a decision every now and then, and none of it felt like I was doing much more than blindly navigating a decision tree.

NORCO

NORCO is a sci-fi Southern Gothic point and click adventure that explores the industrial swamplands and decaying suburbs of South Louisiana. It is exactly what it says on the tin. I love the way this game looks, and the writing is the kind of atmosphere I’m into, but it’s still a point and click adventure. I already had this on my wishlist before Next Fest, but I’m not exactly a huge fan of the genre. It sort of had a Kentucky Route Zero feel though, which I’m into.

The Riftbreaker

This is part RTS, part twin stick shooter. It’s like if you played Total Annihilation without selecting any units beside the commander. It’s a good looking game, but I’m not the RTS type. It starts with building a base.

Death Trash

Third person, post-apoc RPG. I’m pretty into this. It felt like the first Fallout except with direct input action. It’s weird and dark and a bit slow moving. I hadn’t heard of it before now and I’m going to keep and eye on it.

Dread Templar

Quake-like. Fast action, lots of brown and red texturing. It’s plenty fast and the shotgun felt good, but the first weapons are a pair of pistols and the first enemies are a bit too skinny. I know I don’t have perfect aim, but I felt like I was missing when I should’ve been hitting. Give me a bit more credit, please!

Sable

Third person adventure platformer. This game’s got a great look to it and I like the atmosphere. It’s fully 3D but it’s flat shaded and looks like a rotoscope animation. I mainly stopped playing it because I don’t want to get too far and have to redo it all when the game is released.

UNSIGHTED

Really surprised by this. It’s a 2D action RPG, a lot like Crosscode or Hyper Light Drifter. I generally loved what I played and stopped before I got too far into it, but it does suffer from that third person 2D perspective problem where it can be hard to tell what plane of elevation I was on.

Far Cry 5

Yes, I got around to playing Far Cry 5 months (?) before Far Cry 6 is to be released. What of it? I’ve flopped around all over the floor trying to find a game that I want to play, and I landed on Far Cry 5.

Far Cry 5 is fun. I haven’t played a Far Cry since 3, barring Blood Dragon, and this game is still really familiar. Instead of islands and jungle, it’s in rural Montana. That shift in location makes a pretty big difference in how the game plays out too. I spent a ton of time in Far Cry 3 sneaking around and stealthily stabbing and neck-snapping to take over outposts. In Far Cry 5, I get into a helicopter and hover over an outpost while I rain bullets on anything moving below me. Sometimes I have to land to clear out one or two holdouts in a building, but usually my AI companions will do that for me.

It falls apart a bit in the narrative. In isolated, rural Montana, a Christian doomsday cult has taken over. This region is split into three territories controlled by each of Joseph Seed’s siblings, John, Faith, and Jacob. Each of them have their Thing. John is the torturer, Faith is the drug dealer, and Jacob is the militarist. That’s about all the development they get though. This all comes through periodic abductions.

It’s sort of hamfisted, even for an open world game where you can be anywhere and doing anything when an abduction occurs. They occur in different ways, which is a bit hilarious. In each of the three regions, if I completed enough missions, I’d be marked or blessed or hunted, and then I know I should stop doing something time-consuming because I’m going to get snatched.

This is how the vast majority of the narrative is delivered though. Me, in a cage, being talked to by one of the Seeds, before they (for some reason) release me back into the world to shoot their cultists to death some more. The delivery in the cutscenes is great! But it takes me out of the game to push me further along the storyline and that’s not a great experience.

I’m also a bit sour on the ending. It’s appropriate but it’s a bit of a cliffhanger and I have no idea if the DLC or the semi-sequel New Dawn resolves it.