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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
When I was a teenager, a game called The Bouncer came out. It was an early PS2 game, when the PS2 desperately needed new games. But the reviews and chat around the Babbage’s was that The Bouncer was bad. Short, repetitive, linear. A good looking but dumb beat-em-up. I didn’t play The Bouncer, largely because of this reputation but also because I was pretty broke.
The Quiet Man is a The Bouncer for this generation. I should have treated it accordingly.
This game is a movie that you play. Half of it is cutscenes. The other half is a simple beat-em-up, except that the game does nothing to explain its own systems. How to fight, how to counter, how to finish a fight, none of that is explained at all. It’s also extremely cheap and frustrating. The button that dodges attacks will dodge right into the attack even if you’re pulling away from the punch. Some enemies seemingly can only be beaten with a special attack mode, but I couldn’t figure out what it took to trigger. Overall, terrible gameplay.
But half of the game is cutscenes, and these are all professionally shot. It’s not a bad looking game and blends well between cutscene and gameplay. But your character is deaf and the whole game is from his perspective. In a completely bizarre stylistic choice, you can’t hear anything. Every spoken word sounds like muffled harps. Even your own sign language isn’t captioned. You can’t do anything but watch a mostly silent movie.
You can’t skip cutscenes, even if you’ve already seen them. You can’t save mid chapter, and most chapters start with a long cutscene. Once you finish the game once, you can replay it with the actual dialog and sound back in. But you’ve suffered enough, really. Doing this twice is just cruel.
When I didn’t have a PS3, the Resistance series gave me a reason to want one. It’s my thing. A first-person shooter set in an alternate timeline where World War 2 is replaced with a fight against an invading alien species. But what really drew me in was the reviews for Resistance 3. It was compared to Half-Life 2 frequently. I played the two games before this so I could get to Resistance 3, and then I didn’t finish it. I guess I got distracted.
Here, almost 10 years post release, I am finishing this game. Were the comparisons to Half-Life 2 warranted? Maybe 10 years ago. But it comes up a little short on Half-Life 2. There are clear parallels here, with the focus on a journey to stop an alien invasion, and some of the levels are fairly comparable to each other, but Resistance 3 lacks some of Half-Life 2’s hallmarks.
Is it worth playing 10 years later? Sure. It’s easily my favorite of the three games. I didn’t finish the first, and the second was okay. Once I got really rolling in this one, I was having a hard time stopping. The last couple levels, though, really tried my patience. They’re some of the most action heavy and least forgiving. But in 2021, if you like PS3/X360 era first person shooters, Resistance 3 is one of the best. Play it while you can. The Resistance series apparently isn’t moving beyond this era of Sony console.
Quite a while ago, I wrote about what I thought of the Dragon Age series as it was prior to the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition. I won’t say that I was wrong, because I still stand by those opinions, but Dragon Age: Inquisition has absolutely redeemed the series for me.
DA:I takes place several years after the events of Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2 and it starts with a bang. The conclave, a gathering of templars, rebel mages, and Chantry religious figures, explodes, and a huge green rift is ripped open in its place. The player escapes the rift with no memory of how they got there in the first place, and a glowing green mark on their hand. Implicated in the deaths of everyone at the conclave, Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast invokes a backup plan put in place by the now-dead Divine Justinia, and enlists the player and others to close the rifts and stop whatever caused the explosion at the conclave.
Inquisition takes a lot of the best parts of Dragon Age: Origins and combines it with the best parts of Dragon Age 2. It is absolutely enormous. The game takes place in many locations spread across Orlais (a French-inspired state) and Ferelden (typical medieval state). The environments are as varied as they are large, with almost every common biome represented. It’s a huge improvement over the complete lack of variety in Dragon Age 2. It’s even an improvement on the large world of Origins.
Many improvements were made to the core gameplay of Inquisition over the previous games. The flashier, more action-focused attacks in Dragon Age 2 are refined in Inquisition. It’s almost an action RPG, except that it also includes a “tactics” mode, where the game is paused and the player can micromanage their party members to their heart’s content. Complaints against the lack of tactical options in Dragon Age 2 have been largely addressed. What you see is what you’re fighting. No more bad guys teleporting in during a fight, except when it’s to close a rift and then you’re still seeing where they come from. My only complaint about the action is physiological. The attack button on a controller is the right trigger. I spent so much time playing DA:I that I strained a muscle in my right hand from holding down the trigger constantly. This is why I’m poorly suited for racing games. I suffer for you.
Some BioWare tropes are also minimized or adapted to better use in Inquisition. While you still gather a party of character sympathetic to your mission, and your actions still influence how they feel about you, it’s not as overt and game-y as it was in previous games. There’s no light side/ dark side meter. No good/bad. No saint/satan dichotomy. Conversations options are marked by tone, and not even by name. There’s an icon that indicates a stern tone, and an icon for a sad tone, and an icon for a quizzical tone, among a few others. More often than not, conversation options don’t have a tone at all. This makes playing the game feel a lot more natural. It’s hard to say that you’re going to go on a light side playthrough when your “good” options aren’t marked outright. In my playthrough, I tried maintain a consistent point of view and that’s my playthrough. If I were to play it again, I can’t say I wouldn’t make the same exact choices, with a few major, obvious exceptions.
There are no meters on your relationships with the people you attract. The choices you make will either be approved or disapproved to some degree, or cause no reaction from any particular member. For example, Seeker Pentaghast is religious and orderly. These aren’t spelled out in a character profile. It’s just traits I determined by her reactions. When I did things that supported the Chantry, Cassandra approved. When I made exceptions for bad people, Cassandra often disapproved. Again, these contributed to the feeling that the game world is living and that it’s not super game-y about it. These characters have motivations and desires. I couldn’t just buy their happiness.
The quest design is rather good, if heavy on collection and fetching. As is typical, the main quest line and the quests connected with party members are the best in the game. They’re varied and expose more of the interesting characters. The party members have excellent in-game banter that seemingly never repeated itself. It lent to me mixing up my party more often than I do in most BioWare games. If there’s one complaint to be made about the main story, it’s that there comes a point where it feels like you’ve walked into a movie that’s already started, and I’m not speaking as a Dragon Age newcomer. It’s not overtly explained, but this feeling comes from having not played the Dragon Age 2: Legacy DLC. I can hardly be blamed for skipping it because I wasn’t a fan of Dragon Age 2, but I now kind of wish I didn’t. Without having played it, it feels like I might have missed out on something that probably should’ve been in Dragon Age 2 to begin with.
As with previous games, DA:I is heavy on lore and there is a lot to dig through, if you want to. If there’s one thing DA:I could stand to steal from Destiny, it’s that there’s so much lore that it should really have come with a companion app/website to read it all outside of the game. It’s interesting stuff, except that when I’m in the game, I want to play the game. Destiny was starved for background and motivating information. Inquisition is the opposite. I get enough out of the story that they give me. I want to be able to read the side/extra stuff when I’m not playing the game.
I went into Dragon Age: Inquisition skeptical, but left it a believer. It’s an excellent Dragon Age game, and very good BioWare RPG. By improving upon video game parts that worked in the series, and making it feel less like video game in the roleplaying parts, BioWare has made something great. If you liked Origins, and you suffered through Dragon Age 2 like I did, you owe it to yourself to play Dragon Age: Inquisition to see the series shine again. If you haven’t played either of them, Inquisition is still a good place to start, even with the middle-of-movie experience at some point.
It’s hard to review horror. Horror is pretty subjective because it relies on making a connection with the viewer. It has to have some strings to pull to be effective. I’m not afraid of spiders. A horror game about spiders isn’t going to bother me much, but it could be really effective for someone else. Frictional Games has been making horror games for quite a while, and they’ve really found a formula that works. They don’t focus on the horror. It’s not the jump scares of Five Nights at Freddy’s. There are no monster closets; you’ll know something is coming for you even if you don’t know what. No, SOMA focuses on dread. They build a sense of dread, and let the dread invoke horror in the player.
In SOMA, you are Simon Jarrett. You’ve recently been in a bad car accident that killed your friend and left you brain damage and cranial bleeding. In search of help, you allow someone who’s explicitly not a doctor to begin an experimental treatment. He’ll make a xerox copy of your brain, treat it until he finds something that works, and then apply that treatment to you. The helmet comes down,the brain copying begins. When the helmet comes off, you’re in an derelict underwater station.
This raises a lot of questions, none of which I’ll provide as they’re half of the point of SOMA. I can assure you that most of the answers are unpleasant. You find them in interactions with the other things at the bottom of the sea. There’s also no lack of logs and recordings to find. Like previous Frictional Games, SOMA is about exploration of your surroundings. You’ll rummage through drawers, and poke around on the workstations still on. It’s a lot of Gone Home (which could be said got a lot of its inspiration from previous Frictional Games) with some hide-and-seek. See, there are also things down there with you that don’t want you to survive.
Some have said that the monsters are the worst part of SOMA, but (to me), they’re necessary to keeping up the tension. You never feel safe in SOMA, or at least you shouldn’t. Each of these things has a particular weakness. You’ll never kill one, but this weakness makes it easier to bypass them. They’re not hard to figure out, and there aren’t many of them to begin with. However, you will spend most of the game dreading what comes next.
That’s what SOMA nails. Dreading what comes next. You know the answer before you hear it said out loud, and you still don’t want to hear it. But it’s impossible to put down. The situation continues to get worse and you can’t help but see it to the end. It’s Frictional’s best game, and a new high standard for horror games.
I’m a huge fan of the Alien franchise. Alien is an amazing movie. The rest of them are mostly good for different reasons, but Alien is the true masterpiece. The video games based on the franchise, however, have largely focused on Aliens and beyond. It’s all marines, and pulse rifles, and “game over, man”, and usually predators too. The next most recent Alien franchise game was Aliens: Colonial Marines and it was a huge mess, but it was a straight-up action game. A bug hunt, if you will. It seemed like Sega had wasted a lot of money and time to make a game that couldn’t do any justice to the movies. Now, we have Alien: Isolation. Note the difference in title. Alien rather than Aliens. Isolation, not Marines.
There is but one alien. There are no colonial marines. There are no pulse rifles. This is a game that wants to recreate the suspense and horror of the original Alien. The game casts the player as Amanda Ripley. Amanda is the daughter of Ellen Ripley, the main character from the Alien series. Amanda’s an engineer and she joins a Weyland-Yutani crew to retrieve the flight recorder of the ship her mother disappeared from in Alien, the Nostromo, from the space station Sevastopol.
Isolation is a first-person game, but to call it a first-person shooter would be misleading. Sevastopol is inhabited with scared civilians, scavengers, maintenance androids (known as Working Joes), and an alien. Though the game provides a handful of weapons and constructable devices to combat these threats, in most cases, it’s a better idea to run and hide. In sharp contrast to every single other Alien game ever, this alien is invulnerable. It cannot be killed, only chased off or evaded. The androids are not invulnerable, but they are rather hard to kill. You will waste a lot of ammunition if you try to kill all of them. Fortunately, Sevastopol is littered with cabinets, lockers, and closets to hide in. The AI is not particularly hard to get away from, either. The alien has rather good vision and runs faster than Ripley, but the androids seemed particularly unaware of their surroundings. They were more of a threat in numbers. Human combatants seemed to have the awareness of the alien, speed of androids, and guns. In fact, I was rather put off early on in the game by the first encounter with hostile human enemies. I started the game on ‘hard’ difficulty, and as soon as anyone spotted me, I was riddled with bullets and reloading my save game. It happened about 10 times on the very first enemy encounter. I just couldn’t get around them sneakily. After I dialed the difficulty back down to medium, it was less of a problem.
This mixture of threats lead to some interesting situations. If the alien was around, it could be exploited to clear a path. Most often, if I found hostile humans, I’d use a throwable or other tool to make some noise. It would attract the alien, who would summarily clear the room of all hostile humans. Then I could swoop in, pick ammo off of the bodies, and continue on my way. This never seemed to work with androids, though. I guess the alien didn’t care about them. This ambiguity also affected the constructable items. There are a lot, such as noisemakers, smoke grenades, EMP mines, molotovs, and others. There is no tutorial, which I appreciate, but it takes some practice to learn the usefulness of each item. I never found a situation where the flashbang would’ve been more useful than any of the others. This combined with a save point system to create a lot of tension, but also at least some unneeded frustration.
You can’t save anywhere, only at emergency terminals. These terminals helpfully beep continuously, so they’re easy to find. However, there is a delay between when you use it, and when the game saves. This means that if the alien is chasing you, you can’t run to the save point to save your progress before it impales you from behind. There were also a couple situations in which the next save point is far enough away that dying before you reach felt like a real loss of progress. A particular section had me navigating a stairwell while stopping to turn on lockdown systems. The stairwell was littered with androids, and the alien was lurking around. Combat makes noise, so engaging the androids meant also engaging the alien, which I was not equipped for at that point. I died more than a few times because I had gotten two of the three lockdown systems turned on, but an android stumbled across me, and the alien ate my face in the ensuing struggle.
So the AI isn’t great, the save points suck sometimes, and the story is thin, but Alien: Isolation is fantastic to play. All of the environments are ripped straight from Alien, and amazingly detailed. Sevastopol looks lived-in and falling apart. It almost decays in front of your eyes. Every work area is filled with tools and containers. One of the best parts of Alien is that the set design is amazing and it’s just as good in Alien: Isolation. Human enemies talk to each other. Working Joes mutter to themselves constantly. The alien hisses and crawls through vents. All of the screens and monitors and computer interfaces look perfectly early eighties. The environment in Isolation is unparalleled.
This level of detail is also enhanced by the immersive controls. They’re fairly simple, but the game combines them in interesting ways. Door bars need to be removed, maintenance hatches need to be cut off with a torch, security systems need to be hacked. These are all done with two mouse keys, a use key, and the movement keys. You can look around while you’re performing most of these actions, so you can see if an android is approaching or if the alien is in the distance. Even though it was often too late to escape if you did notice such thing, being able to keep an eye out felt right for this game.
Most first-person games clock in under 10 hours. The bigger budget games can get even shorter, such as Call of Duty games. Alien: Isolation does no such thing. I clocked 15 hours into it. It may have gone on a little longer than it needed to, but I never felt like it was outstaying its welcome. In fact, the more I played, the more I wanted. After getting past the frustrating stairwell bit, I was hooked.
The bottom line is that, despite some minor flaws, Alien: Isolation is an amazing game, probably the best Alien franchise game ever.
Bonus DLC Review: I had a chance to play through the “Crew Expendable” and “Last Survivor” DLCs for Alien: Isolation before posting this review. These two DLCs are short (maybe 30 minutes each) but replicate some of the intense parts of Alien, taking place on the Nostromo and playing as members of the crew. It’s cool in the way that walking through a movie set is cool. The ship is lovingly recreated and there are audio logs from the crew scattered about. There’s not a ton of new game to play in here, but any Alien fan should play them.