Tag Archives: review

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

Timespinner

Everyone slept on Timespinner. I know I did. I saw a Giant Bomb quicklook for it once, and then got a reminder of it during their game of the year articles, and that was it. This is the kind of game that Steam and other storefronts are doing a disservice to. It definitely would’ve landed on my best games list, and I barely heard about it.

In Timespinner, you play as Lunais, a time messenger. Lunais’ people have built a time machine, a timespinner, and they have to routinely send time messengers back in time to prevent the timespinner from falling into enemy hands. But after Lunais jumps into the past, the timespinner breaks and she has to sort out a conflict between two worlds.

I’m not going to dance around it. Timespinner is heavily influenced by Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It’s a 2D action platformer with character upgrades, multiple weapon types, usable and wearable items, experience and leveling, familiars, and a huge variety of enemies. In many ways, it improves upon Symphony of the Night. There aren’t as many weapons, but they level with use and that means there are fewer/no junk weapons. They nearly all have unique functions so it’s a matter of your taste or enemy weaknesses to choose what weapons you like. There are no subweapons, but you can equip two weapons per set, and switch rapidly between three sets. You also get powerful spells that use a mana-ish bar that are trivial to use. Instead of Symphony‘s fighting game inputs for spells, you just hold down a button.

The levels are good looking and the music is the best imitation of the excellent Symphony soundtrack I’ve heard. I got a bit overleveled by the end, which took away a lot of the challenge, but I was ready for it by that point. I had upgrades that made movement fast and easy, so when I wanted to blast through an area just to get to the other end, it was as simple as it should be considering I’d manually traversed the area before.

Timespinner is an excellent game that I should’ve been playing since release. But Steam is a hellhole and it’s just flooded with trash. A game like Timespinner not only has to compete against this endless chute of garbage, but also the super high budget, AAA game releases. Steam has all kinds of algorithms to show you things it thinks you will like, but it never put Timespinner on my front page. I’m looking at games cycling through it right now and half of it is stuff I have zero interest in. I get that no recommendation engine is going to be perfect, and Symphony is a console game, but it hasn’t learned that I love Metroidvania style games so it’s not showing me those. It’s showing me NBA 2K19 because Humble Bundle gave me that game once. It’s showing me stuff I own on other platforms. GOG is a more curated storefront, but it’s also not putting Timespinner in front of me. I had to search this game out.

Here’s my attempt to correct these wrongs. I’m singing Timespinner‘s praises. If you enjoy Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, or Super Metroid, or any modern Metroidvania, you should play Timespinner. After bashing my head against Hollow Knight for so long, I think Timespinner deserves as much praise as that game got. Timespinner is a better game. It improves on Symphony in many ways, and it has an actual story worth investing time into. It shouldn’t have been so hard for me to find and it deserves more attention.


Reference: Lunar Ray Games. Timespinner (Chucklefish, 2018)

Source: Purchased from GOG

Dusk

I was skeptical of DUSK. I’d seen it being played by others when it was in early access and I wasn’t particularly drawn in by it. It emulates older games, but I thought the enemies looked goofy in a way that would take me out of the game. As it got near non-early access release, it’d acquired some buzz behind it. Since I loved the games it purports to be inspired by (Blood, Quake, Redneck Rampage, Heretic, etc.), I gave it a shot. That was a good decision. DUSK was my favorite game to come out in 2018.

DUSK has a story in the same way all of those games had stories. It’s loosely told, doesn’t really mean anything, and it’s totally optional. This is a classic first-person shooter. Collect weaponry, find colored key cards, kill enemies. It’s got episodes that each have a theme, going from rusty farms to industrial plants to hell.

I am a product of the generation that made those classic FPS games and DUSK really takes me back to those days. It feels like a sequel to Quake. From the movement to the survivability to the weapons and the hordes of enemies, DUSK perfectly emulates those games. It just feels right. There’s no modern “niceties” to it. Health doesn’t regenerate. There’s no recharging shield. You can carry as many weapons as you can find. No objective marker. No one yelling at you to shoot the something or other. It really is “find the key, kill the enemies”.

Beyond the sometimes goofy-looking (but always lethal) enemies and some levels that weren’t quite as easy to navigate as others, I don’t have much to complain about. It’s a fast moving, fast action, classic FPS. The music rips, the levels are really atmospheric, the action is excellent. If this came out 20 years ago (okay, maybe 22 or 23 years ago), it’d be hailed today as a classic. Who knows what the future holds, so today DUSK is the best example of neo-retro done right.


Reference: David Szymanski. DUSK (New Blood Interactive, 2018)

Source: Purchased from Steam.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (ACO) is a role-playing game. I know I said it was moving in this direction with last year’s Assassin’s Creed Origins, but this entry in the series is as much of a RPG as The Witcher 3. But where Origins last year pushed Assassin’s Creed further into RPG territory and further away from the focus of assassinations, ACO takes this series even further from its roots. In fact, this entry may as well be an entirely different franchise.

In ACO, you can select from the start whether you want to play as Kassandra (woman) or Alexios (man). Either way, you are a Spartan in exile, a descendant of Leonidas himself, during the Peloponnesian War. In the broad game world, Sparta and Athens are at each other’s throats. In the story’s winding path, you learn more about your destiny and how the Cult of Kosmos is attempting to leverage your bloodline to control the world.

This game is enormous, and I could spend hundreds of words describing just the game. Instead, I’ll sum it by saying this is a third person character RPG in a historical setting. Even though killing people isn’t your only course of action, most missions are resolved with murder and there are four different power structures to be murdered: the Cult of Kosmos, a seemingly endless string of mercenaries, an arena full of champions, and the national leadership of the Greek states. This may sound like a lot and it is; each of those is a different tweak on the game.

The cult is hunted through finding clues, usually by killing other cultists, sometimes through sidequests. Hunting the cult is some of the most fun this game has and it ties deepest into the main plot. While most cultists are just a name, some are given personality and character, and there are some genuinely surprising reveals.

The mercenaries hunt you when you’ve committed crimes, usually murder, sometimes theft or destruction of property. They’re an endless stream of difficult enemies with unique qualities (“takes less assassination damage”, “has a wolf companion”) in a way that sort of makes it like the Nemesis system in Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, except this is far less fleshed out. It’s one of the game’s biggest missed opportunities. With any amount of personality ascribed to these mercenaries, it might have added something significant to the mindless murder, but instead it’s just another long chain of bodies.

The arena, by comparison to the rest, is fairly simple; fight waves of enemies in an arena and then kill their champion boss. The fights aren’t particularly different from what you do in the game world, but they do take place in an arena full of obstacles to avoid and exploit. There’s a story to this arena that’s worth seeing to the end, but that’s about it.

The least fun of these are the nation takeovers. You have to first lower national threat levels by infiltrating forts and destroying supplies, stealing their war chest, and killing their leadership. Then you can take to the battlefield in a mass combat scenario that’s a lot less fun than it sounds. It’s just a lot of the same combat except with more enemies on screen, and most of them are occupied in fighting other nameless soldiers that are on your side, until one of the two nations wins. Your influence is in killing enemy captains and heroes, which are just the same enemies except with more hitpoints. If you were on the winning side, you get a big reward of gear. If you were on the losing side, you still get some gear. It ultimately does not matter whether Athens or Sparta controls a region, so it’s really just another lost opportunity but maybe it’s commentary on the game world.

I highlight these power structures because they’re the vast majority of the game, and where it loses the most Assassin’s Creed flavor. The focus of these power structures is mostly built on killing the people at the top, which is what you’d expect an assassin to do, but you’re not playing an assassin. The word “assassin” might not ever be used in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Where Origins reduced the functionality of the “single-button murder” that was a staple of the series, it’s almost entirely removed in ACO. No longer does catching somebody by surprise and pressing the murder button kill them outright. For most non-fodder enemies, it only takes a large chunk off of their health. The satisfaction I derived from this game was looking out over an enemy infested fort, sneaking around to kill all of the fodder stealthily, and then getting the drop on the cultist, national leader, general I was there to kill and fighting them without backup because I killed all their backup. This is a formula Ubisoft has been building on since Far Cry 2. It’s still fun, but Assassin’s Creed used to make sneaking in and just killing that one target without engaging in mass murder feasible.

Another major change is the addition of dialog options. Sometimes, you can talk your way out of bad situations. None of these are influenced by your character’s stats, which are solely focused on how easily you can kill someone, so the choice of dialog often feels like a guessing game. ACO doesn’t pretend that these choices are particularly meaningful, except that at six points in the main plot they can influence which of the nine conclusions the story reaches. Even then, the results are largely the same but who comes to the end with you changes.

This is emblematic of ACO. It presents the illusion of choice, but there’s really not much choice at all. Your choices don’t have far reaching consequences for being a story largely centered around your character’s special bloodline. The game world is wide open but it’s a static thing. Killing one nation’s leader just results in another filling in their place. Killing one mercenary moves you up the ladder, but another mercenary fills in behind you. Random name, random traits, no personality. The only murders that count are those against the Cult of Kosmos, but even half of those are just faceless people. I found two of the last ones just sitting alone in the woods. It seems that as Assassin’s Creed has opened up the world over the course of the series, it has reduced the player’s impact on it. Prior games were more linear affairs that could do things like jump 20 years in the future, or kill major characters and show the impacts of those deaths. In ACO, no one’s death means anything. By the end of the game, my character’s actions have had no meaningful impact on the game’s world. Maybe it’s a direct contradiction of the game’s “chosen one” story, or maybe it’s commentary on the meta narrative of the series, which is that all of this is largely meaningless because this world has been simulated to completion. Ancient aliens solved all of this long ago and humanity is just going through the motions. The ones who thought they could change things were wrong.

In this Assassin’s Creed game, you are not an assassin, you’re not part of a group of assassins, and you hardly assassinate anyone. In most aspects, this game and Origins before it are unlike any others in the series, and they benefit from it in some ways, but calling them “Assassin’s Creed” is a misnomer. The game is still historical tourism, with appearances by famous Greeks such as Socrates, Leonidas, Herodotus, and Pericles, among others, but it’s otherwise an entirely different animal from the series that came before Origins. I look back on the 70ish hours I’ve spent in the game, and I enjoyed my time playing it, but it’s a sort of hollow enjoyment. This is a popcorn game, tasty but void of nutrition or substance.


Reference: Ubisoft. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (Ubisoft, 2018)

Source: Purchased from Green Man Gaming.