Category Archives: Game Reviews

ICEY

ICEY calls itself a meta game in disguise but that disguise is real thin. When the game exits the prologue, there is a narrator constantly commentating on your actions. The narrator is the meta game part of this otherwise familiar 2D action game, and one of its biggest detractors.

You play as ICEY, a clone in a tank, or maybe a cyborg, and you have to find and kill Judas. He’s the bringer of the apocalypse, that wicked devil. At the start, that’s it. The narrator and environment reveals more of the story, sort of.

The gameplay is simple sidescrolling action. Move to the right, mash the light or heavy attack until the enemies die, then use money to upgrade your combos or life meter. It’s competent and mostly fun without getting too repetitive, but the game is rather short.

What makes ICEY unique is the Stanley Parable-esque narrator. He tells you where to go or not to go, what to do, sometimes even why you’re doing it. The narrator frequently breaks the fourth wall and addresses the player directly. He talks a lot, and the game touches on a broad range of stuff from player choice to the elder gods.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It feels like there’s something to it, some message, but it’s all given to you in bits and pieces. None of it really adds up. Also, the voice acting on the narrator is bad. It’s lifeless, and stiff. Worse, the narrator is ever present. The bad narration follows you everywhere. If you can’t get over it, you’re never going to enjoy the game.

Some of the ideas may have been lost in translation. The developers are Chinese, so it may make more sense if it were played in Chinese. But there’s not a lot of excuses for the narrator. He’s a central figure in the game and one of the least enjoyable parts. Despite these problems, I enjoyed ICEY. It’s got enough weird in it that I wanted to press on to see what else it’d do, and the action is fun. But it’s hard to deny that the time wouldn’t be better spent on The Stanley Parable and Dust: An Elysian Tail, both of which do well the narration and action parts (respectively) of what ICEY tries to accomplish.


Reference: FantaBlade Network (developer). ICEY [X.D. Network, 2017]

Source: Purchased via Steam

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

If Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is anything other than an enjoyable video game, it’s a value proposition. Developers Ninja Theory are no stranger to big budgets; they made Heavenly Sword for Sony, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West for just about every platform, and the most recent Devil May Cry game for Capcom. They know how to spend money, so it’s interesting that they’ve separated from big publishers to develop and publish Hellblade at a $30 price. The end product is mostly good.

In Hellblade, you play as titular Senua, traveling deep into Nordic territory to rescue the soul of your murdered lover. In the vein of what Ninja Theory does best, it’s a third person character action game. What makes Hellblade unique is that Senua suffers from hearing disembodied voices and seeing things that don’t exist.

A lot of the marketing around the game has to do with the challenge in trying to portray a character with mental illness. Plenty of games have tried and it’s almost always a flat portrayal of someone who’s zany or unpredictable without a lot of nuance. With the help of consultants in the neurological sciences, Ninja Theory has crafted a tortured, sympathetic character in Senua.

Another aspect of the game that reflects Ninja Theory’s experience and skill is in the look of it. It’s a beautiful game with some really incredible motion capture, particularly in the faces. They don’t look like video game faces; they’re expressive and emotional every time you see them. This really helps with connecting to the characters and feeling what they feel.

While they nailed the characters and look of the game, the game parts are kind of lacking. Each level of the game will have you doing one of two things: finding hidden objects in the environment, or fighting. The hidden object stuff is mostly clever, but it’s almost always boiled down to aligning objects in the right perspective to find the symbol you’re looking for. It doesn’t change much from beginning to end.

The combat is also not very robust. There are five enemies, excluding bosses, that you will encounter in small groups. The challenge is to keep them away from your back as they’ll try to flank you to attack. With infinite ability to dodge, and most attacks blockable, the only thing that has to be figured out is reading attacks to time blocks (or dodge), and how many whacks it’s going to take to kill the enemy. It’s fun for a while, but it really wore me down by the end. You’ve got one weapon, so once you’ve figured out how to use it, combat loses its shine.

But the thin combat and environment puzzles couldn’t keep me from seeing it through to the end. Senua and the darkness that haunts her was compelling enough on her own to keep me playing. What Ninja Theory set out to do, make a high quality game at an indie price point, is successful as long as you keep your expectations at the sub-blockbuster level.


Reference: Ninja Theory (developer). Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice [Ninja Theory, 2017]

Source: Purchased via Humble Store