Friday, January 13, 2023

CONTROL (PS4)

 

Remedy games are definitively different from any others. However, they are more or less similar compared to other Remedy games: They normally have a male protagonist, living in a realistic world where paranormal elements quickly take over. At the end, the barrier between what is real and not is blurs (reminds me of some of Philip K. Dick´s novels?)

Well, Control has a female protagonist, although it doesn´t matter much: Her role is the usual on Remedy, dive into a weird world that players won´t fully understand – Even if you complete the story. Intentional, of course, they´re working on the sequel now :D

On the plus side, I haven´t played Quantum Break but I understand Control is Remedy´s first “open world” game and for the most part it works. It retains the company's DNA of unique storytelling, visual impact and engaging gameplay. The 3Cs work very well, and that´s not a little feat since the player character has a nice set of “magical” actions at his disposal. I also liked some of the design high level decisions – like the repeatable hotel sections – adding gameplay time at little cost

However, “open world” is a rather grandiose term for a big building with loading screens between floors. You can walk freely across your current storey, but it´s often difficult to know where you´re going, the maze-like layout makes very easy to get lost. Check/Savepoints are not as common as you´d like (Darksouls style, I think), and they´re only available at specific locations. It´s common to have to backtrack on sections you already completed. UI menus were stylized but could have some navigation improvements in my opinion. Also, the use of both live footage and rendered CGI was a weird mix to me. I don´t think we´re quite there tech-wise

Anyway, it was an interesting playtime, a proposal that stands out from others and a nice story attempt to make sci-fi using innovative parameters. I hope the industry generates more games like this


Saturday, December 3, 2022

THE DARK PICTURES ANTHOLOGY: HOUSE OF ASHES (PS4)


I’ve always enjoyed interactive storytelling. I see it as an evolution from the 90s graphic adventures. That was one of the major reasons why I accepted a job at Quantic Dream some years ago (it didn´t go so well). Aside from the visual values or cinematic values, I like seeing a story unraveling along with your choices

I recently finished The Dark pictures anthology: House of Ashes. It´s the same company that gave us Until Dawn, and it shares some elements with it: A host character setting the mood, premonition collectibles, a tracking page for choices made and the usual structure of gameplay + cinematics of the genre

Looks like Supermassive is trying to evolve within the genre. Maybe using the Dark pictures anthology series as a test case for new possibilities? In House of Ashes, you can try a semi-coop mode where players take turns on characters. Aside from that, I found the setting refreshing: It takes place at Iraq right after the occupation from US forces. The characters are soldiers dragged into what they believe is a subterranean storage of weapons of mass destruction, but turns out to be a Sumerian temple populated by ancient demos. You don´t see recent history events being integrated into games so often

On the minus side interactive stories commonly let me down when I make choices: The game awaits your decision but won´t give you much info on what the consequences will be. As such, you come up with your own background logic that might not align with the game´s ultimate goals. In this case, one of the first cutscenes gives you some clues regarding the character´s personality, and I largely tried to match that during gameplay. Not only that approach doesn´t impact on the endings I aimed for, but also there were some trophies that promoted different patterns, like finishing the game only taking logical choices (normally there are 2 options, heart/logic decisions)

The decision tracking page helps you remember what you did in the past, but doesn´t help you during gameplay since your character goals are basically made up along the way. I wonder if the genre could use something like “internal quests” challenging players to achieve certain goals, to help you refine your choices. And not rely on checking trophy websites to find out what type of decisions have rewards

But I digress. Good game, especially if you like interactive storytelling, unique setting, some thrills and innovations in the genre. Can you ask for more?

Sunday, August 28, 2022

WOLFENSTEIN 2 THE NEW COLOSSUS (PS4)


Ah, Wolfenstein. In the early 90s the predominant genre was graphic adventures, and the original game stood out as a real adrenaline-driven experience

Actually I think I played Spear of destiny first, then Wolfenstein 3D. They were released in the US as shareware, and arrived to Spain in the usual way those days: Some friend would get a copy from another friend, you will copy it via floppy disks, and later on another of your friends will copy it from you

Actually, this pirate activity is one of the reasons why I bought the first reboot (2014) and also this one: I felt I owed Bethesda something for the time I spent playing without paying back in the day. Anyway, talking about Wolfenstein 2, it has been re-interpreted as a linear game (the original was maze-like) with a big focus on story and lots of scripted events. But the core remains more or less the same: Angry guy killing nazis

With so many open world and multiplayer games going on, its refreshing to play a good old single player experience. The great thing about these games is that you know where the player is going to be at any given time, and that it's not going to be a group of them. That means you can plan encounters, videos, animations, scripted events and world reactions accordingly. I would say the level of eye-candyness you can achieve is way superior on single player games. You lack freedom and team work, sure, but it's somehow closer to play a movie

The New Colossus is a good sequel to the previous title. The story is interesting, it has some surprises and to some extent a bit of a parody of the USA. The game systems generally work smoothly and there are some very interesting locations to visit. A professional work in all senses

On the minus side it´s mostly evolutionary over the previous title. No big changes or major risks taken. Also, I was close to lose all my game progress - thanks online storage - due to a confusing profile/saving system. On top of that the menus are a bit basic, I could have used some more options and flashier UI design

All in all a highly recommendable game. Killing nazis is always satisfying!

Monday, August 8, 2022

DOOM 2 (PS4)


Since I went through was Doom meant for me at the time of its release in the previous review (here), I will focus on this one on the actual gameplay of these games. Doom 1 and 2 are similar enough as to not consider them completely different products, but they have a number of substantial changes: Not only a bunch of new enemies and the double-barreled shotgun, but also a different level design approach: Apparently the ID team tried to take advantage of hardware progress to create bigger and more open scenarios. That´s probably the case, but in my opinion Doom 2 is simply more fun. In the first game they might have tried to be somehow “realistic” in the scenarios – trying to make players feel in a space lab or a moon base – whereas in Doom 2 scenarios make little sense in regards to authenticity, but are definitively more interesting to play. They spawn enemies in strange locations, the architecture is completely bonkers... but precisely that allows to create many challenging and surprising combat situations the first game only hinted

On the other hand, I think both games suffer from a certain indecisiveness in terms of what game experience they wanted in the end. Not unusual considering game design was at its infancy in 1994: Some of the game mechanics call for slow pace progression (keys, labyrinthic layouts, secret walls) and others call for fastness (par times at the post-level screen, quick resolution of combat encounters, most weapons don´t need reloading, sprinting). In terms of design, Romero explained they just followed their instincts, and added whatever felt cool to have fun. Nowadays I believe designers need to be more vigilant on what is the target experience you´re going for

Sometimes you can even get stuck. However, I guess is fair to say back in the 90s you didn´t have access to so many leisure options. There was no internet, no free to play games, less TV channels, movies were almost exclusive to theatres… you could expect your players to not only try the game but also be unable to make progress for months, and give it second/third chances if you didn´t find the solution to a puzzle or find your way to the exit. Funny enough, there was a way to know if you were getting closer to an unexplored area: Back in those days, your hard drive would purr when loading new data, meaning you were approaching uncharted territory. Also could it be Doom the one that created that stereotype that when you find a room full of health, ammo and armor... that meant you were about to face a boss? Ah, I miss those little things from the early days...

DOOM 1993 (PS4)

 After reading Masters of Doom, I thought it´d be nice to re-try those games. After all, last time I played them was… 1994? 95? Can´t remember. Their original distribution system was shareware, and that didn´t get to Spain easy. It probably took some months or even years for a copy to get to me. Plus, I´m not sure if I ever paid for them. Maybe I just got the free first episode. Or a pirated copy. I somehow remember paying for a pirated copy of Ultimate Doom, but it was so long ago…

Anyway, I guess it was time to pay back for sure, and relive those times. That´s something most will never get to experience, because when Doom was out it made you feel things. Feel BIG. Graphically speaking it was a leap forward in time so hard you thought you were playing a game five years into the future. The gap was just so huge

You need to remember, the early nineties were dominated by graphic adventures, cartoony style mostly, and the vast majority aiming for kid´s taste. Then Doom came along, with its satanic environments, horrifying sound effects and gory violence. It was a whole new experience, something that caught you by surprise

Apparently it created a lot of controversy in the USA. I didn´t get to see that, but there were congress hearings and everything. I also remember journalists talking about the insane amount of hours American workers have wasted playing Doom while pretending to work. It was a phenomenon, one that I believe set a before/after moment in Videogames: Before Doom, games had limited sales and were kind of niche entertainment. They couldn´t dream to rival movies or even TV. But Doom proved games could be the talk of the town, and make a lot of money on the way

After finishing the game, I was nicely surprised to see it still holds great. The game is just fun: Weapons are satisfying to use, enemy patterns are simple enough to develop strategies, and the different group combinations keep you invested. I also got as many trophies as I could get, and found some additional content (i.e. secret maps) I hadn´t seen before

All in all, still a game you would recommend to others. If Return to castle Wolfenstein (also from the twisted minds of Romero & Carmack) was the grandfather of modern First person shooters, Doom is imho undoubtedly the father. Its offspring continues to thrive to this day, and also pioneered online gaming, speedrunning, modding and the creation of fanbases. I would consider it a must for anyone who wants to be a developer, there are interesting level design lessons everywhere, and more importantly there is a simplicity forced by the tech of the time, that with the time become somehow a virtue

Monday, June 27, 2022

LUMBEARJACK (PC)

Alright, this seems to be the first new game I finish this year. I´m obviously behind, compared to last. Anyway, it´s time to talk about Lumbearjack

In this videogame eco-system where all games need to deliver more than 12 hours of gameplay to justify its purchase no matter the price, Lumbearjack stands out because of the opposite. It´s 2-2,5h long, and proud to be

Also, it´s not challenge-based. The gameplay is simple and easy to grab by any player. If you´re an Elden Ring fan, this won´t be for you. It´s clear the creators wanted to make something simple, cute and short. And they delivered

The older I get, the more I appreciate time and more I like short games. There is no need to stretch gameplay adding repetitive chores or template-based missions to reach a higher numbers of playtime hours. I think we should all praise and buy games that try to offer honest 4-5h and make that content as high quality as possible, even if that means playing a little less

On the other side, Lumbearjack can become a bit repetitive after the first 30-40 min. There aren´t many new features added beyond that point. But still, for playing with kids it´s probably perfect


Sunday, October 24, 2021

MINIT (PS4)

 


One of those indie darlings I tend to like a lot, the rule also applies in this case. The game concept is simple: Every 60 sec you die, but you keep everything you found during that time. That combines with metroidvaina elements, allowing you to find certain objects and unlocking new areas on each try

Failure/death is a certainty, but you don´t find it frustrating. At the beginning of each round you feel motivated to try something different, or see what you can do with that new object you just collected. It´s also packed with secrets and mysterious interactions dedicated players will be eager to try. Not me though. I fear losing too much time of my life trying something that eventually has no reward, so the way I approach secrets in games is to give them one first honest try, but move on if I don´t see a clear solution ahead. Only once I´ve finished my first playthrough I allow myself a second attempt, but generally using an internet walkthrough to minimize time losses

Visually speaking is simple but effective. Pixel art has some flavor beyond players - like me - who first played in the 80s, and it´s certainly cheaper to accomplish than 3D graphics. The only problem I had with the game is the ending: I finished it without really wanting. The story is sketchy at best, and you are not completely sure what is the final challenge you´re supposed to accomplish. It turned out when you throw your sword to the toilet - which you are forced to do at some point - the game is over. Really

Anyway, I strongly recommend it if you´re looking for something different, you like games with many secrets to uncover or simply want to have a good time without next-gen visuals