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Nidotamer
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by Nidotamer » Sun Apr 29, 2018 7:05 pm

Another bump!

Boy did I forget to do this one, huh?

Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus

The sorta-but-never-really-planned sequel to Abe’s Oddysee, this game was born out of the unexpected success of Oddysee, and the resulting demands from the publishers to have another game to release. In only NINE MONTHS. The producers’ demands and the extremely unreasonable timeframe sounded like a recipe for disaster, the kind of scenarios that create the likes of Sonic 06. And yet while a number of assets and plot points do get borrowed from the first, with little time to revise the script and all, it somehow comes out as an even better game, and much bigger in every way. It’s kind of like an expansion pack, except twice as big as the base game. It’s absolutely insane and a real testament to the hard work that went into Oddworld Inhabitants, and might just be my favourite game from the ps1 library… by a fair shot.

Story

Abe’s Exoddus picks up right where the last game left off, from the best ending specifically. Abe just finished rescuing all 99 of his co-slaves from Rupturefarms and shut it down for good. However after a little accident at the celebration Abe is conked out cold and visited in his dreams by three weird ghosts that want Abe’s help, as it turns out the Glukkons are digging up the bones of the Mudokons’ ancestors for some unknown but most definitely nefarious purpose, one so horrible they’re using blind Mudokons to dig the bones. Well, blind because their eyes are stitched shut. So before he even gets a chance to sit down and have a drink, poor Abe is sent onto another mission deep within the Mudokon burial ground of Necrum.

Despite taking a few friends with him things go awry quick and even after a quick separation and reunion, they go against Abe’s better judgement and start guzzling the latest product of the Magog Cartel; Soulstorm Brew. Which turns out to be unbelievably addictive, and made from the bones being dug up! So Abe’s tasked with shutting down Necrum Mines, curing his buddies which requires him to go through the Mudanchee and Mudomo vaults to get that power, and head over to Soulstorm Brewery via Feeco Depot and take it out!

Though after curing his friends (and hitting disc 2 in the initial ps1 release) there’s a slight snag. Three executives that’d been left to run the brewery in Molluck’s absence (because of course he also owned the OTHER big exploiter of Mudokons for tasty treats) lock down the Brewery’s terminal at the Depot, infiltrate the other areas run by each exec and get them to disarm the lethal electric barrier blocking the way to the Brewery… which they obviously ain’t gonna do under their own free will. Early on it does borrow some story beats from the first game, but the second half is a neat loop to throw, and forces Abe to take detours in several other Glukkon-owned locales with all the death traps that come with it.

Gameplay

At it’s most basic form, it’s the same as Oddysee. However that’s not giving it nearly enough credit for revamping, revising, expanding and improving EVERYTHING. For instance, Mudokons actually come with moods! So saving them comes with the extra catch of trying to work around their problems like the wired Mudokons that loudly follow you around especially when you don’t want them to, angry ones that will refuse to follow Abe and tend to repeatedly turn wheels and pull levers that just happen to activate bone saws and trap doors or even blind ones that require some extra care to stop them from getting themselves killed. And Gamespeak has been expanded to allow Abe to deal with more puzzles, from apologising to angry and depressed Mudokons to bring their mood up or getting them to pull switches or get back to scrubbing (a handy tactic if Sligs are nearby, can save more than a few from getting shot).

There’s also a lot more enemies, from the motion-sensing vending machines gone deadly wrong turned security bots, the Greeters, to the double-headed worms that will try to eat Abe, Fleeches. And Abe can actually possess more than just Sligs, including Scrabs, Paramites and Glukkons, which opens up even more possibilities for puzzles to contend with. Oh, and farts. He can possess farts and detonate them. I am so not kidding. Instead of having to lead Mudokons one at a time like in Oddysee, Abe can call out to every Mudokon on screen, which adds the extra layer of guiding up to about eight or so at once. And there’s an option to Quiksave (how they spell it :P) and create your own checkpoints, but far from making the game too easy it instead allows for far more split-second reactions and dangerous situations than before, like trying to get grenades out of a machine that’s in plain sight of a slig and slink back to the shadows quickly before it turns and fills poor ol’ Abe with lead.

Characters

Abe: Still our hero. Despite literally being the Mudokon’s messiah he still has problems being treated with respect.

Sligs: Their trigger fingers are as itchy as ever. Now they have a few more types, the grenade-dropping Flying Sligs and Sligs without pants known as Crawling Sligs that seem harmless, but once they get to a pants dispenser you may be facing against a platoon of ‘em with nowhere to hide.

Slogs: These guys are virtually unchanged from before, though now they’ll attack any Mudokon that tries to answer Abe. They also have a younger, tiny and slower variety known as Sloggies, they’re pretty adorable!

Fleeches: Worm-like critters that tend to be found in Necrum. They look harmless but possess sharp tongues and a massively expansive jaw. Though unlike most creatures, it will take a few hits before they kill Abe. Not that it helps against multiple of them and the fact that they can climb.

Scrabs: Still freaky and quicker than ever to try and charge any Mudokon they can reach. They can now be possessed which allows them to use a spin attack to shred Fleeches and even take out other Scrabs, or maybe you might just wanna move ‘em outta the way.

Paramites: Another familiar critter that seems to be doing better for itself now Rupturefarms is gone. When possessed they can climb up and down webs, command others to follow them and do other tasks, soundlessly get rid of the very loud Slurgs and pull hoop levers. Pretty dexterous little fellas really!

Slurgs: Just about the only thing more pathetic than the Mudokons, they can be killed just by stepping on them. Of course doing that causes them to make a loud noise and there’s bound to be some slogs or fleeches that were previously sleeping nearby…

Glukkons: The sadistic money-grubbing bastards are back and can now be possessed! They really can’t do anything on their own but many voicelocks will answer only to them and unlike Sligs, they can jump. They can boss around Sligs, make them follow, pull levers and even shoot. In fact due to this, they’re actually really good at clearing out rooms with a lot of Sligs, possibly even better than a possessed Slig.

Director Phleg: One of the three executive Glukkons and “head boner” of Bonewerks, which takes the mined bones and processes them to be used for Soulstorm Brew. He’s a complete drama queen whose career is spiraling down the toilet… mostly because it relied on Necrum Mines which Abe blew up long before reaching Bonewerks.

General Dripik: One of the three interim bosses of Soulstorm Brewery. Taskmaster of the Slig Barracks, which trains Sligs for their inevitable careers in armed security. He puts up an image of being a stern, rule orientated boss but in reality is a complete ditz that keeps forgetting his own name. Fond of having rulebreakers shot and THEN punished. (“All violators will be shot, then court-martialled.”)

Vice-President Aslik: A lower ranking Glukkon than the previous two but still one of the big three bosses of the brewery, even if he gets no respect due to his position on the Glukkon heirarchy being just a “Wannabe” as opposed to Big Cheeses like Phleg, Dripik and Molluck despite arguably being the smartest. Always the third one faced. He likes to play the part of a kindly boss, often calling himself “Uncle Aslik” but really, he hates the Mudokons just as much as any other Glukkon. Runs Feeco Depot, a train station that links many Magog Cartel properties.

Brewmaster: A Glukkon left in charge of Soulstorm Brewery… likely because everyone more qualified is either dead or in hiding. Excessively French and takes it upon himself to enforce quality control.

Thoughts

Well I’m sure the gushing above told you enough. It really did take everything that made the first game great and just made it better. Somehow. There’s a lot of fun to be had with the variety of foes that can be encountered or even controlled. One of the best things is how, despite it being a much longer game, it never feels like it drags on, at least to me. Every single area has something or another that makes it different and no area really feels generic. This is especially helped with the new variety Mudokons have and the puzzles that revolve around them.

There’s also a little horrible touch in the story I really enjoy:
Spoiler
Ngh, there’s just so much to appreciate, even moreso when I learned that it took only nine months to make.

I guess for a very, very token criticism, there are a couple things that aren’t utilized much. For instance, Sligs have a command to beat Mudokons, while sadistic it does serve a use as doing it to an angry Mudokon that’s constantly pulling levers or turning workwheels is the only way to make them stop without getting to them as Abe first… but it only comes up once near the end of the game. But as said, it’s a very token criticism and considering it boils down to “I wish these cool things were in the game even more!” it barely feels like one does it?

Well this was a long one, maybe to make up for how long I took to get to it? Plus it feels good to gush.
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by c_nordlander » Sun Apr 29, 2018 7:30 pm

Thanks for writing this! The Oddworld series isn't really my kind of game, but I like how much originality went into the writing, and from your gushing, it sounds like they did a really good job with such a cramped time frame.

Oh, for the record, I always thought the plot of Abe's Exoddus felt like an even sicker twist on the plot of Final Fantasy VII, except with "bones" instead of "souls" and "tasty soft drink" instead of "power source".
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by SirMustapha » Tue May 01, 2018 1:40 am

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Braincells

... ok, so that's not the real title of the game, but do I give a shit? No, I clearly don't.

You know, there's a lot of things that a game can do to make me dislike it. There's lots of areas and aspects of a game that can cause me not to care, and, lo and behold, The Witcher 2 scores all of them. I think the worst offence of the way this game is designed is that it gets stuck halfway between different play styles, like it's too scared to really go all the way in, and ends up doing everything wrong. The game is supposed to be "open world" and give you freedom of choice, but it's also annoyingly linear and restrictive, so the only choice you have is which of the boring, menial side-quests you want to do next before you trudge on with the main plot. The battle system is stuck in between the familiar Dark Souls reflex-based style (look at that! This game even made me spell Dark Souls correctly) and the Batman Arkham series of fast and fluid beat-em-up, but does both things wrong. It's like the game doesn't know who it wants to appeal to, so it throws all these elements into a blender, throws the goo at the wall and hopes it'll stick.

In short, nothing about this game was enjoyable at all for me. This is quite fascinating; in these big, ambitious games, there's usually something, you know. Well, this entire game just left me cold. All of it. For starters, the plot might be my most hated cliche of all time: "wrongly accused and having to prove my innocence" bullshit. I was already annoyed when the game sets Geralt off in captivity, and you're being interrogated, having to recount what happened. Every time you choose what you're going to recount next, the game warps you back in time to play that section of the story. It's a bizarre, ridiculous device that adds nothing, neither to the story nor to the gameplay. It's just stylishness for its own sake. The story is that you're leading an assault with King Foltest of whatever who's trying to get his two children back. Once you get him to his kids, he's murdered by an assassin, who promptly disappears; and since you're the only one there, well, cliche accomplished. After the interrogation, you're allowed to escape in a really terrible "stealth" sequence. Well, at least it's supposed to be about stealth, but it's annoying as molasses and I just really want to kill some guards because that's why I play these goddamn games. After that, the story just gets more and more complicated and needlessly confusing, and eventually I was just going from quest to quest, mostly ignoring the context, except when it was really necessary. Eventually, Geralt's girlfriend is kidnapped, so now we have a "wrongly accused" / "damsel in distress" combo for all the fans of unimaginative writing. I don't know how much of this is based in the books; I guess I should check, but I can't even be bothered.

The world-- I HATE this world. Just your usual run-of-the-mill fantasy, trying to set itself aside through "edginess". Gratuitous references to sex, prostitutes, sex, whores, prostitutes and sex, and so much cursing that even Martin Scorcese would get sick of it. The game keeps throwing characters and storylines in your face like it's in a competition to see who has the largest penislore. I remember when Extra Credits made a video criticising the intro to Skyrim for throwing words and names at you without any proper context; but this is much worse. For all the criticism, Skyrim was at least trying to create a mood and an atmosphere; this game is just insecure. Overall, exploring this game is just plain awkward. The levels just feel cluttered and confusing, and they don't look appealing. It's grotesque, but not stylishly so. It's easy to get lost in it, and the map sometimes makes it even worse. And there's no fast travel either. You know, the GTA series doesn't have fast-travel, but at least you can drive in them.

The game mechanics are... frankly, a mess. Like I said above, the fighting is very unsatisfying. It feels clunky, random and arbitrary, and most of the time, Geralt makes an ass out of himself. Sometimes, targeting and attacking sends him rolling and bouncing all over the place, and other times, he'll just keep swinging his sword in place. You're supposed to be able to attack, defend, parry (or "riposte") and roll away, but it just never seems to work the way you expect it to. it's impossible to tell what's happening most of the time. Geralt will get hit when he's dodging and when he's attacking, and you get next to no feedback on that. And, as is the hallmark of great game design: when you're unable to make your battles actually challenging, just throw multiple foes at the player at the same time and hope for the best. Hell, as much as I lambasted Dark Souls, at least the fighting made some sense and you got feedback on what was going on. It was still shit, but it made sense. And, oh, you can't heal during battles! You can't drink emergency potions while you're fighting: you have to "meditate" to drink them, which is a horrendously slow and boring process. And you have no magic healing. All your magic is resumed to five "signs", which have cryptic names that you have to just memorise and fuck you.

Other than that, the game is horrendously complicated in about everything you do. Leveling up involves investing your "talents" in four distinct skill trees (a la the "perks" from Skyrim), but then you can invest "mutagen" in some of them and I never figured out what it does properly. You have this absurdly huge list of crafting items to create weapons and armour and traps and whatever--as long as you have the corresponding blueprint--and to make potions--as long as you have the recipe. And you can improve items with permanent upgrades, or with oils to poison them and whatever, but not only this feels overbearing, but it just doesn't matter when the battle system is so bad. What's the point of having all this complicated nonsense when the gameplay itself is boring?

Also, on a technical level, this game feels clunky and unoptimised. It's a 2011 game, yet it runs sluggishly, with a few low FPS in my machine (this game was from the same year as Skyrim, which runs flawlessly on my machine; hell, GTA V runs decently, with occasional lag and slowdowns, but it feels playable at least). Navigating the screens and menus feels like a pain in the ass. Oh, and the game has no autosave. That is, it seems to randomly autosave at times, but very often you'll be thrown into a surprise fight, in which you are forbidden to save, and if you die, pray to heavens that your last save wasn't too long ago! And, oh yes, this game has fights that happen immediately after cutscenes. You die? Watch the cutscene again. What about fights immediately after dialogue scenes? Hell yes! So much fun. Listen to the whole crap again, don't skip the lines too fast otherwise you might choose the wrong dialogue option, and off you go. Oh, and how about when the game just randomly makes you play as another character, one you're totally unfamiliar with? Yeah! You're just getting familiar with Edgeralt, and boom, now you're playing as some king you've never seen! Oh, and how about when the game throws you into fights you're supposed to lose? Die too soon and "GAME OVER"! Keep fighting harder, and the cutscene will defeat you anyways. Isn't this an RPG? A Role-Playing Game? What role am I even playing if the game just yanks me out of it whenever it sees fit?

To cut to the chase: I gave up the game just as I was (trying to) end chapter II. Apparently the game ends after chapter III, but I was so sick of it that I just gave up. I have my pride and I don't like feeling "defeated", but this game was killing my brain. Horrendous story, unlikable characters, awful world to explore, clunky and unsatisfying mechanics. This is almost as bad as Risen. Hell, at least I managed to finish Risen!! And I chose the worst possible path in that game! Either I'm just losing my patience, or this game is seriously cursed. But you know, I just won't lose my temper because of a damn video game! Instead, I'll just play something that I like. I know Skyrim has its critics and it's very, very far from a flawless game, but I played that through twice, and I don't discard a third playthrough. It was a much more streamlined game, but it gave me more options, y'know--both in terms of storyline and mechanics. And it's a beautiful game to look at and listen. And it doesn't need to be gritty and edgy to make me give a shit. It just feels good to play.

... and now, I'm not too encouraged to try The Witcher 3. I want to believe it doesn't fall on the same trappings of 2, but as far as I'm concerned, I'll leave that one for later. I already have way too many games I want to try before that. And I have no idea what to choose next...
"And I love you so much, I can't wake up without loving."
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by SirMustapha » Tue May 01, 2018 4:37 am

... I thought I'd make one positive review, just to make it clear that I don't hate games. Seriously, it's just that I'm not comfortable with "okay" or "ehn" reactions. I either love or despise. My time is too valuable for weak experiences.

Grand Theft Auto V

It's been a while already since I finished this game, and I totally forgot to talk about it. It's a shame, because I really enjoyed this, and now my sensations are a little less fresh.

I wouldn't say I'm the world's #1 GTA fan. The only one I've ever played to the end was San Andreas, which I really, really enjoyed. GTA IV, I just skipped entirely, for no particular reason. But this one, I couldn't miss out, and I'm glad I didn't! I suppose most of you are familiar with the basic mechanics of this game: open world, one main quest line, lots and lots and lots of side activities, the ability to steal cars and drive like a madman, rising in "wanted" levels every time the police spots you commit a crime, and so on. Everything is intact in this game. One thing that was talked about a lot in this game is the size of the map. Indeed, it's a really impressive place, with varied locations, and it feels pretty good to drive down these highways and mountain roads and the busy streets of Los Santos. It's a charming, interesting place, with plenty of things worth checking out. Another unique feature to this installment is that, instead of one main character, you control three different characters, each with a very distinct personality, a different background, and more or less the same objective once their fates are irreversibly intertwined: to make it out of the mess they got themselves into, alive, and hopefully with some cash in their accounts.

The game starts in flashback, with a bank heist gone awfully wrong. The player controls Trevor Philips, who sees his friend Michael get killed and Brad get arrested. In the present day, Franklin and his buddy Lamar are working for a dirty sports car salesman, "reclaiming" cars from their owners who couldn't pay the exorbitant prices. He's sent to reclaim the car from some stupid rich teenager, but finds the kid's dad is hiding in the backseat, pointing a gun at him. Franklin is forced to crash the car into the store. Turns out the dad is actually Michael, who was taken into the witness protection service, and is living with his dysfunctional family in the city. Michael, on his turn, gets involved in a mess with a local drug lord, and is forced to go back into the life of crime to pay off his debt. This catches the attention of Trevor, who's now living in the desert, and has become a murderous, megalomaniac meth addict who wants to control the drug business in the region, and is now hellbent on getting back in touch with Michael and find out what happened to his old pal Brad.

For me, the greatest strength of this game by far was the way the storyline and the characters complement each other perfectly. The main characters are powerful enough to carry the game on their own, but the events that unfold keep getting more and more engrossing, and several loose threads end up tied in an absurd knot towards the end. And just the main quests are numerous and lengthy enough to be worth the price of admission. And the way you switch between the three characters is quite masterful. Outside of the missions, you can switch between them at your leisure, and complete their own side missions as you will, while within missions, sometimes you're encouraged (or sometimes forced) to switch between them. By following their own individual missions, I was sucked deeper and deeper into their universes and the characters that surround them. In fact, it's very hard to choose a favourite among the three, since they all have their unique charms. Michael is hilarious, embodying the mid-life crisis thing with his messed up family in a way that's both outrageous yet oddly endearing, and his fascination and nostalgia for the 80's glamour and cheap movies is awfully convincing. Trevor is the impersonation of the most violent and misanthropic urges that players get when playing GTA games, but he also has a weird way of caring about his loved ones. Franklin is a good representation of a young man from the ghetto who's completely swallowed by the life of crime despite his efforts. All three have something to offer to the player, and present a different angle to the story. And their interactions and dialogue, be it in the cutscenes or while you're playing, are wonderful. The supporting cast is rich, colourful and hilarious as well; plenty of people you'll love to hate and hate to love.

Not only the story itself was so strong and engrossing, but the main missions were absolutely epic. At their height, they make you feel like you're living those outrageous and overblown crime action movies. Heists, car chases, assassinations, massive shootouts and even an escape from a towering inferno. These missions really got my adrenaline pumping, and I really liked the way they balance how much you are in control and how much things are happening in spite of you. I loved these missions so much that, in fact, the open world aspect didn't even seem that interesting! Trust me, there's a fuckload of stuff to do, and the situations and scenarios you get yourself into are hilarious. I can't make them justice by trying to describe them, but this game dissects the decadent, shallow lifestyle of American upper-middle class with sheer venom. There are many, many, many activities to take here. You can pilot jet skis, helicopters and airplanes, take on skydiving, go hunting, play tennis and so much more. I don't think I've done even 20% of all the side activities here. Part of this is because the game is just too heavy to run smoothly on my PC; the world is way too big, there were serious lags when loading up the new areas, so it got kinda tiresome at times. My PC really suffered to make this game run. But almost all the time, I was eager to see where the story was going, so I didn't care too much about going out exploring.

To be fair, though, I didn't find the game too challenging. Yes, some of the missions took quite a few retries, but it was all a matter of insisting and trying not to repeat the same mistakes. The game autosaves (see?? What's so fucking hard about that?), and the missions have a fair share of checkpoints so that they don't get too easy, but not tedious either. One frustrating thing I found is that doing stuff outside of the missions can be way too dangerous. As is usual for GTA, if you die outside the mission, you respawn in the nearest hospital, and you can't go back to resume what you were doing. I got rekt a few times trying to steal from armored cars, and once, trying to save a poor construction worker trapped in a vehicle, I died because I took too long to realise what to do. By sheer chance, I was able to retry this one much later, and succeeded. But sometimes, doing these spontaneous "missions" can be rather frustrating, and you can't save just before trying them: when you load a saved game, you always start in your current character's house, and the "mission" is lost.

All things considered, I enjoyed this very, very much, and I'll certainly play it again in the future. The game's wicked sense of humour, the missions, the radio stations, the characters, the locations; there's too much to enjoy. You can see all the effort and talent that went into the game, and it was 100% worth it.

Oh, and I didn't try GTA Online at all. Not even once. I play games to avoid interacting with random assholes, you know.
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by SirMustapha » Sun May 06, 2018 5:14 am

A two-fer this time around.

Braid

On the surface, this is a simple 2D puzzle-platform game. if you look below the surface, deep inside all the layers of this game, you'll see that it's actually something much bigger than that: it's the reason why every dime-a-dozen shitty Flash puzzle game has a "story" in it.

I'll just come out and say that I mostly enjoyed this game. Mostly. It fulfills its intention of being a puzzle-platform game, even though I think its platform elements got too much in the way of the puzzle aspect. The controls felt wonky and imprecise, and this could seriously crank up the frustration in some puzzles that required pretty long and elaborate set-ups, with fairly precise timings and movement. You know, you'd jump below a platform, but you'd hit the very corner of the platform and be thrown off WAY to the side and completely screw up the set-up. Stuff like that. Anyway, the schtick of this game is that each of the worlds features a different way in which you can manipulate time. Most of them involve the ability of rewinding time, undoing the stuff you did; but then, a lever would remain switched even after rewinding, or some objects were unaffected by this ability, or you're leave a "shadow" of your previous self that you could indirectly interact with. It's decently executed, even though I found that too many of the puzzles rely on information that's withheld from the player, or the "non verbal" way of displaying the mechanics of the game are just too obscure for them own sake, artificially inflating the difficulty of the game. I did have to look up walkthroughs for some of the puzzles, and in none of the occasions my reaction was "ohh, it looks so obvious now!", instead they were more like "the hell? I had no idea that thing worked like that!". One particular instance was finding out that the little monsters bounce way up high when they fall on your head, and this is required to solve one particular puzzle. In my book, this is way, way too close to that "lateral thinking" nonsense. I'm more interested when the rules are crystal clear and the difficulty arises naturally from them. In here, I often had the feeling that my solutions were WAY too awkward and contrived to be the actual intended solutions, only to find out later they were indeed intended. But oh well, I finished the game without wanting to punch the game designer in the mouth, so I guess it's fine.

As for the whole story aspect of the game, I ignored it completely. I find this kind of game to be a terrible medium to deliver any sort of narrative. This isn't an action-adventure game with puzzle elements (like, for example, Toren); it's a puzzle game. I expect puzzles from it, and when I see little books that reveal written parts of a "story", I have no reason to stop and read. I mean, isn't this game all about being "non-verbal" in teaching its mechanics and rules? Then why isn't the story, whatever it is, told in a visual manner? Oh, I suppose that's the case of the very last level, the one before the epilogue; but I didn't even realise what was going on, because I thought the "narrative feature" of the level might be a bug.

Anyway, it's an okay puzzle game. I don't know if it's worth the full price, but it's not a bad game.

Toren

I had this game in my library for ages and I never got to finish it. I made an initial attempt, and for some reason never got back to it, and then my PC crashed and I lost my progress. But then I tried again and finished in one sitting. It's a rather short game, after all. I remember it made the local news back on release, as it was one of the first (if not the actual first) Brazilian games to be partially funded through public tax credit laws. This is quite significant, as it was the first time a video-game was officially recognised as a work of art.

The game is an action-adventure game with puzzle elements (unlike, for example, Braid). You control a female child (who progresses through different ages along the game) who wakes up in a mysterious tower. You slowly uncover the reason you're there and the story of the tower by interacting with several elements, in particular a statue that speaks to you, and other stone figurines that send you exploring your own dreams. I admit I found the storytelling a bit obtuse for its own sake, but roughly speaking, people started building the tower, guided by the Magician (the statue), but this made Time furious or something, and now the sun never sets, and a dragon watches the tower to prevent anyone from reaching the top. The girl you control is the Moonchild, who is destined to reach the top and liberate time. And one of the her main characteristics is that, every time she dies, she's reborn in the same place. Of course, this is one means to allow you to start again every time you die, but this is also integrated in the story; some of those deaths happen beyond your control, and are required for you to advance.

As you climb, you have to face miscellaneous challenges. Some of them require exploring the place and solving minor puzzles, some of them are based on timing and light 3D platforming, some of them are about exploration. I realised that, though I beat the game, I had missed something, so I clearly didn't explore enough (I'll probably try a second playthrough sometime soon). It's not intended to be a difficult game, and it can be solved with little hassle. The game clearly indicates when you're allowed to interact with something or "look" at something, so there isn't a lot that you're supposed to "guess". I found the controls weren't terribly good, and I had to fight the camera angles in a couple of occasions. The quality of the graphics were uneven, but overall it was easy on the eyes. The music was very good, and recorded with an actual live string orchestra (this really surprised me, as many indie games would've just stuck with sampled string sections).

In all, it was a quite playable, satisfying game. Not spectacular or groundbreaking, but hey, it was cheaper than Braid. Could be worth a shot, if you're more interested in the experience and less on the challenge.
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by c_nordlander » Sun May 06, 2018 10:06 am

Finally, a review of a game I've played!

I love Braid. I don't recall having the problem with the controls that you mentioned, but then, it has been a long time since I've played it. The puzzles were great, and the story was original and pretty good -- though I agree with you, the story was pretty much extraneous to the game. (Not completely; each new game mechanic introduced in successive worlds is clearly related to Tim's new mental approach to finding the Princess. But you could lose the story completely and the game would still be playable.)

This article is a few years old, so you may have read it, but it's about writing in indie games and uses Braid as an example: Bissell, Braid, and the Use of Words

Toren sounds very interesting, I might look into getting that.
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by SirMustapha » Sun May 06, 2018 4:15 pm

One thing that I need to make very clear about that review (as well as all others, in fact) is that my impressions are heavily determined by what I personally expect from a game, and you see, I believe that's not only because of the nature of games, but my nature as well. When I pick up a book, or sit to watch a movie or a play, or choose a piece of music to listen, I'm putting myself fully at the disposal of the artist, ready to be carried away wherever and however they wish. When I play a game, though, I want to put my hands on it and have a personal experience of interactivity and control, and the artist's intentions will only seep in if and when they find an opening. I'll watch the opening cutscene, if there is any, and I'll only watch the other ones if I feel they were deserved, and I'll listen to the dialogue if it doesn't get in the way (which is a great advantage for the GTA games, which tell much of their stories while you're driving, which is already fun in itself). But if the game expects me to follow along a story just because it's there, forget it. Especially if it's a puzzle game. I think the only worse genre for telling stories is idle games, honestly. I don't understand, for example, why games like SpaceChem and Infinifactory need "stories" at all; if I need a story, I'll make my own in my head.

Now the question here is, am I being fair? I honestly don't know. I don't know if my approach towards games is any less different or any less unfair from people who expect every animated series to be made for children. When I play a game, I just instinctively want to control it, to mess around with it, and it seems baffling that I should approach them any differently. I believe the gameplay itself should be the determinant factor in how a game qualifies as a work of art, and everything else is secondary. The story is just as secondary as the soundtrack, for example; and there have been many games in which the soundtrack really grabbed me (e.g. Terraria, Starbound, even the abhorrent Risk of Rain), but I never play a game with the express purpose of listening to the music. Why should the story be any different? But again, maybe I'm being unjust. Maybe the story is different. I've just never been convinced of that, and I guess I'm too cranky to try to change my own mind.
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by c_nordlander » Sun May 06, 2018 9:13 pm

Oh, you don't need to convince me. I'm definitely one of those people who don't care if a game has a good story, as long as the gameplay is good. A good story is a plus, and a bad story is a minus, but you could give me a game with excellent gameplay and I wouldn't complain if it were completely storyless.
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by Nidotamer » Mon May 07, 2018 11:49 am

Well that's actually a really good point with games. Sure it's pretty easy to compare them to movies or whatever in the story department but they're really not related that much. Mostly because games do have the option of going minimal or just dumping the story. Do that with anything else and it's gonna be a chore to sit through but games can make up for it. Essentially with games, no plot is better than a bad one. Or a very loose excuse-plot with plenty of memorable bits in between even if they're not entirely plot related, creating a story more from the struggles the heroes face while trying to get on with the plot. Or just make it plain fun.

I mean compare the not-particularly storied games in the Metroid Franchise to Other M for a good example. I was about to mention the Mario games as an example but when they do have much of a story, it's usually really good, especially Super Paper Mario's.
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by c_nordlander » Mon May 07, 2018 12:03 pm

Well said!
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by SirMustapha » Mon May 07, 2018 3:05 pm

I think this comparison between games and movies is a great weakness for games. It took a long time for cinema to develop its own language, its own vocabulary of storytelling; I mean, it actually took someone to discover that, by editing together different scenes, you can create the illusion of continuity. We take that for granted today, but a hundred years ago, this was a true breakthrough. This meant, for example, that cinema was radically different from theatre, and worked under very different rules. Yet now, in the minds of many people, games and movies seem to operate under the same rules. Games apply visual effects and limit framerates to look "cinematic". I think that's nonsense.

But anyway, here's another review.

Limbo

(or LIMBO. I dunno)

Well, talk about a game that's able to match style and substance! This is the kind of game that you'll recognise immediately just by looking at one screenshot; the dark monochromatic graphics, the shadowy character with glowing eyes, the giant spider. But you just need to play it for a while to realise the visual style is a true, inseparable part of the experience. This game was born to look, sound and feel like this, and I find this is already sufficient praise to make this an at least decent game. But as I say, the gameplay is the fundamental aspect.

The game plays out as a simple puzzle-platformer, and in that department, it does everything right. The controls are simple and smooth and I had no problems with it, which is very noteworthy, considering most of the puzzles are physical in nature. This only strengthens my distaste for Braid, whose puzzles were far more based on logic, time manipulation and spacial thinking, yet the platforming felt horribly awkward. Limbo had much bigger chances of screwing things up by messy controls, yet it didn't. For me, at least. Several of the puzzles felt very satisfying to complete, and this time around, I never needed a walkthrough. I guess this means it's a little easier than normal, but I never felt the need to do any "lateral thinking" to solve the game; it can all be done through experimentation and understanding of the physics. If I had seen the solution to any of the puzzles in a walkthrough, I wouldn't have felt ripped off. So, props for that.

The theme of the game is... honestly, quite unpleasant. For my personal tastes, it's a little bit too gratuitously grim and gruesome, but again, this is part of the experience. Toning it down would've been a mistake, so this is exclusively down to preference. The only "story" in this game is that the protagonist--a nameless boy--is looking for his sister, but that isn't said anywhere in the game (I was unaware of that the whole time), and it doesn't matter. Moving forwards and avoiding death was sufficient motivation for me. And yeah, you'll die a lot. But this is not the edgy "Prepare to Die" Dork Souls bullshit here. Death is not a mechanism to make the game difficult, but just a pretty brutal way of teaching you how the game works. You're expected to die at every turn, and every time you face a new hazard, you respawn immediately before said hazard. The purpose is never to make you tired or frustrated, and the puzzles themselves are devised in a very sensible way. Once you know what the hazards are, you'll only die if you're reckless. The only problem I had was sometimes realising which elements could be interacted with. For example, some objects have little handles to indicate they can be dragged, but because of the monochrome visuals, it was hard to see that on first glance. But that wasn't a constant hurdle, and considering the dark visuals, it was surprisingly well executed.

I admit the gruesomeness was a bit too much for me at times. The one part that made me feel bad happened very early in the game, in one of your first encounters with the spider: it grabs you, binds you in web and sticks you to the ceiling. You're expected to fall off the ceiling and jump around, while still bound by web, for the next few minutes. I found that a little too sadistic, until I read that the game designer was himself arachnophobic; so there was an element of facing your own fears in this that kinda explains it. I actually enjoyed the game more when it became more based on puzzles and less on scripted events.

In short, this is a game I can fully recommend, and one that'll be on my list of "will most likely play again". I'm impressed by how well it found its balance of minimalism and depth, by how enjoyable the experience is, and by how interesting when you look back and ponder about what you did. Well worth the price and the time spent.
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by c_nordlander » Mon May 07, 2018 7:32 pm

SirMustapha wrote:I think this comparison between games and movies is a great weakness for games. It took a long time for cinema to develop its own language, its own vocabulary of storytelling; I mean, it actually took someone to discover that, by editing together different scenes, you can create the illusion of continuity. We take that for granted today, but a hundred years ago, this was a true breakthrough. This meant, for example, that cinema was radically different from theatre, and worked under very different rules. Yet now, in the minds of many people, games and movies seem to operate under the same rules. Games apply visual effects and limit framerates to look "cinematic". I think that's nonsense.
Yes, this is an excellent point.

[insert Limbo of the Lost joke here]

You make Limbo sound very good. It never really interested me before, but it does now.
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by c_nordlander » Sat May 12, 2018 12:29 am

After the Braid, I started thinking about how games can integrate the storytelling in the gameplay, not just adding a bunch of narrative onto it. It strikes me that it's probably a lot harder than you'd think, at least if the plot is anything more complex than "go to the castle and rescue the girl." But one game that I think does it well is Psychonauts.

All the minds you visit are adapted to the mental problem of their owners, both in visuals and gameplay. Linda the Lungfish has a brain implant, which is transformed to a creepy monolith broadcasting brainwashing rays in her mental landscape. The Milkman's paranoia is fuelled by Cold War era conspiracy theories, so his mind looks like a 1950s American suburbia, except (literally) warped. The guy you meet in the asylum is obsessed with Napoleon, so his mental landscape is a tabletop wargame. And so on, and so forth. It's great.
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by SirMustapha » Tue May 15, 2018 2:59 pm

Factorio

I finally did it. I finished a free play match. The in game timer tells me it took 20 hours. It honestly feels like it took more than that, but since I played sporadically in sessions of a couple of hours, I can't tell.

What I know is that Factorio is a game I looked forwards to since I saw trailers and articles about it. It seemed to scratch the itch I have for managing production lines and resource production in a much less puzzle-oriented fashion than Infinifactory, for example. The game I actually got is a little different than the image I had in my head, but with the several options of customisation you get on free play, I ended up with just the game I wished for.

The main game has a campaign more, a few scenarios, the aforementioned fully customisable free play, and plenty of modding options. The campaign sets you as a person stranded in an alien planet, inhabited by hostile lifeforms. The idea is that you have to develop assembly lines to transform its raw materials (wood, stone, coal, iron ore, copper ore, water, oil and uranium) into equipment, weapons, armor and tech research to survive the hostile environment. You can create furnaces to smelt ores, turn raw stone into bricks and produce steel, and create assembly machines to produce weapons, turrets, walls, as well as faster and more efficient ways of producing. The logistics is done through transport belts and inserters, which make all the machinery work, and eventually trains to bring in resources over long distances. And you have to generate energy, of course, through steam engines, solar panels and nuclear plants. Thing is, aliens not only attack you and your structures on sight, but they are provoked by pollution. The more your base grows, the more attention it gets, and the more hostile they become. You can fight back by creating all kinds of weapons and enhancing them through research: pistols, shotguns, machine guns, grenades, flame throwers, rocket launchers and even nukes.

The campaign is heavily focused on the survival element, and honestly, I wasn't really attracted to that element. I'm pretty sure the more "hardcore" players are happy with that, as the aliens keep you on your toes, and you can rarely ever relax and let your factories run freely. On free play, though, you can make the aliens peaceful (I think you can eliminate them altogether, but I don't recall right now) and focus on the logistics and resource management, which are by far my favourite gameplay elements. It's really fun to see how you can start out from scratch, gathering materials by hand, and gradually expand and automate your assembly lines. If you're doing a blind first playthrough, though, things can get quite messy, as the production demands kept growing and becoming more complex, and you have to organise the placement of buildings carefully to allow expansion and avoid creating an incomprehensible mess. Sometimes, just getting to the next technology involves rethinking your well-oiled machine to add a new component, move a resource to a different place, or increase production of a particular resource. It eventually becomes a cycle of expansion, optimisation and change: you add a new production line to the assembly, now you see there's something really inefficient; you optimise a portion of the factory, and now you see you're not producing enough iron; and so on. It can be intellectually demanding, but it's a lot of fun to slowly get to the ultimate objective of building a rocket silo, producing the components for the rocket and a satellite, and finally launching it, finishing the game.

There are a bunch of other play modes, with PvP, time based challenges, a puzzle mode involving conveyor belts, and a more sim-like mode involving currency and "purchasing" land to build factories. I don't think it's too rich in replayability, though, but I don't discard doing another playthrough in the future, using my prior knowledge to avoid splitting hairs over how to expand the factory, and being more ready in terms of what comes next. The game is quite easy to learn, and even still in beta, it has plenty of tutorials to showcase the more complex features. The gameplay is smooth and the interface is well-designed, and rarely ever gets in the way. My final opinion is that, if the idea of logistics-based simulation appeals to you, this game is worth a shot; and if being under threat of being torn to shreds by aliens makes this even better, then definitely go for it. The delicate balance of challenge and satisfaction really appealed to me, and I don't regret the time and money spent. It's available for a fair price on Steam and GOG, and even still on beta, it's perfectly playable.
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by gkscotty » Tue May 15, 2018 3:14 pm

Finally, a game we completely agree on!

I went crazy over this a few months back too, and likewise played with aliens disactivated. They weren't the reason why I was playing the game. The factories you create are fun to design and fun to watch, when they're running smoothly. When they don't, it can get frustrating.

I've made a few attempts at playing it again, but never seem to get very far. But the first run through was great.
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