In Case You Were Wondering…

In Case You Were Wondering…

So in case you haven’t noticed yet, I’ve been trying some new things lately. I love my blog (I even hit the one year mark!) but feel like I don’t get to share enough of my experiences with the games I play. I can tell you how infatuated I was with Gravity Ghost or how angry MURDERED: SOUL SUSPECT made me, but for the sake of time, I can’t tell you everything.

In an attempt to reconcile these feelings, I’m doing something new: streaming. Now I’ve streamed a couple of times in the past, but never regularly, and certainly never well. I’m eight days into a year-long live-stream challenge. The rules are as simple as you’d think: stream every day for a year. And within that challenge, I’m doing two other things:

  1. Review streams. Just like my Transistor stream on Monday, I’m trying to use my stream time to review some of the games I play. There is a lot of back and forth in the review community about what the best way to cover games from a critical standpoint is, and my thoughts fall somewhere in the middle. I think that if the written word is deemed dead in any form of journalism, the sun will fall out of the sky. But I also understand that video games are a visual and interactive media that sometimes need to be experienced to believe. So depending on the game, I might review it here with a post or over on my Twitch channel with a live stream, both of which will have my normal ramblings.
  2. SIMS SIMS SIMS. So I have also decided to go on another impossible and self-indulgent adventure. I haven’t play Sims 3 much since starting this blog since there was no reviewing or writing playthroughs of the game. In an effort to exhaust everything I can think of before I start playing the Sims 4, I’m trying to get every single lifetime wish. Basically I’m taking a game that should foster rule-free play and turning it into a job. I’ll be streaming some of this, and maybe write up some of my experiences playing through the fun–and mind-boggling boring rabbit-hole careers–for you to enjoy (or also become bored by).

If anything, I hope something here sounds fun to you. To check out any of this, go follow me at twitch.tv/heycrumbles and have fun!

Stay tuned.

Transistor Review Stream

Transistor Review Stream

Hey guys!

Later tonight I’m trying something a little different. I finished Transistor last week but am going to play through the New Game Plus mode as a way of reviewing it without spoiling it. I fell in love with this one so much, I want to experience with y’all!

Come hang out at my channel twitch.tv/heycrumbles at 9:30 p.m. EST. Woo!

1, 2, 3, 4: Counting Kingdom Mini-Review

1, 2, 3, 4: Counting Kingdom Mini-Review

Counting Kingdom is an edutainment that I think is meant for kids but was still fun to play through in one sitting on a Saturday night–because I am thrilling.

As the defender of this kingdom, you must fend off number monsters by adding them up to equal the numbers in your spellbook. You use potions to change the numbers on the board, freeze lines of monsters, and clear entire rows of foes. All of this is turn-based, so you don’t have to add too quickly. You could even use a calculator if you really wanted to.

I know this all sounds incredibly simple, and that’s for a couple of reasons. One, because it is, and two, the element of chance does up the difficulty in the later levels. The basic gameplay is very easy, making it ideal for helping your kids with addition or just helping you fine-tune your basic math skills. You can even combine the numbers on your spell cards to make it so you can clear more monsters off the board at once. If you clear the entire board in one move, you get a score bonus. The difficulty comes in when some monsters appear, and you suddenly can’t cast a single spell. You can only use monsters that are in adjacent spaces, and you have no control over neither the rows they enter from and nor the order they appear. This can leave you restarting levels on a game meant for children. I had to try some of the later levels multiple times before making it through with three stars, and it was all because of the chance.

Either way it is a fun learning tool for children and great to play together. I had fun playing by myself as an adult, but I also love math, so I could be an outlier. It’s cheap on PC and even cheaper on mobile, so it’s great for a day at home or a night on the go.

Stay tuned.

Whodunnit? MURDERED SOUL SUSPECT Review

Whodunnit? MURDERED SOUL SUSPECT Review

MURDERED SOUL SUSPECT is an investigative game that tries many different mechanics but succeeds in very few of them.

You play as Ronan, a detective who is thrown out of a window and shot at the start of the game. From there he must figure out who killed him and why before he can leave the in-between plane on earth. Ronan gets assistance from a young girl named Joy, a medium who witnessed his murder. Between her account of the events and a symbol left at the scene of the crime, he suspects a serial killer dubbed the Bell Killer took him down and must follow his trail around Salem, Massachusetts. It sounds like a thrilling concept but was somehow so boring that I kept skipping cutscenes in a story-based game. In case you haven’t realized by now, that is unheard of for me.

There are two main reasons I couldn’t stomach the narrative. One Ronan is unlikable and barely redeemable as a protagonist. His only personality trait is TOUGH, a postmortem cigarette always in hand. His only backstory is that he’s a bad boy who reformed for his now-dead wife and joined the police force. There’s nothing about him that makes me want to make sure he reunites with his wife on the other side. Besides being one-dimensional and boring, he is mean. The young girl Joy who is helping him is also looking for her missing mother. When she says halfway through the journey that her priority is to find her missing mother because there’s a chance she’s, you know, not a ghost, he calls her a bitchy teen. What’s worse? She apologizes for being too harsh. At that point I went from uninterested to wishing I could make sure he lost in the end.

Along with a leading man I couldn’t stand, the story is entirely too predictable. MURDERED SOUL SUSPECT makes the common noir mistake of using predictable red herrings. They are supposed to throw you off of the real suspect’s trail, but I never believed one of the misdirections for a minute. On the other hand, the ending was still satisfying. I saw neither the real culprit nor his or hers motive coming. If the writers had left out all the false flags, the story would have been strong. It wasn’t predictable from the start, so why the need to try so hard?

Outside of the story, the gameplay and mechanics didn’t do much to draw me in either. The investigations felt less like I was playing a detective novel and more like I was playing a glorified hidden object game without a word bank. All you do is run around the area in third person and hope a keyboard prompt pops up. At no point do you get to reconstruct the crime scene or try to make sense of the clues after you find them. Instead you sometimes answer the question, “Which clue is relevant?” Um, I like to think they all are since I spent a half hour searching the room for them. Other times you are asked to determine the order of events, but the events given have no logical time stamp on them. They are regular clues that happened in no particular order, leaving you to click on everything and using trial and error to figure out the solution.

Outside of the investigating, you spend a lot of time hunting down collectibles that contain extra story bits, and somehow this is a lot more fun. While both used the same mechanic–searching aimlessly in a limited area–not collecting every piece of lore didn’t hold up my progression for a half hour. Not finding the clue hidden behind a picture that I swear wasn’t clickable the first ten times I looked does.

Now one of my biggest pet peeves not only in games but in everything with a story is something that doesn’t keep its own rules. At the beginning of the game, tutorial Wednesday Addams tells you that you can walk through walls, but not into buildings without an open window or door, but sometimes you can, and sometimes there are ghost walls you can’t walk through even though they have the word ghost in them, and are you getting my point? You never know where you can go and when because MURDERED SOUL SUSPECT wants to pretend it has some logic to it when really the developers didn’t want to abide by any set of rules. For example you can walk through mausoleums without anyone letting you in, but not other places around town. Why? You tell me.

2015-08-28_00002
See, I wasn’t exaggerating.

Also while the game has no map, you do get waypoints that lead you to your destination, making me wonder why there couldn’t be a map in the first place. Ronan is a local, so why you have to wander around Salem like a tourist who spilled Gatorade all over her map is completely illogical. I wish the developers had at least taken on the approach that large-scale RPG makers do where locations become available on a map as you explore them. Backtracking to find collectibles was nearly impossible because everything in town looks the same, and the waypoints constantly rubber-banded in terms of how far away I was from my destination. The moment you got only a few meters away, you were either met with an impassable obstacle or the distance suddenly went back up to thirty or so meters.

Now I know Salem’s residents weren’t the brightest back during the Witch Trials, but they haven’t seemed to get any smarter. To keep the town from feeling empty, the developers programmed NPCs to wander around the streets in the same pattern over and over again. Considering the game takes place in the middle of the night while a serial killer is on the loose, deserted streets would make sense. Instead we get a bunch of insomniac townspeople with no sense of self-preservation.

My last complaint is specific to the PC version. The menus and inventory were hard to navigate because every time you opened them up, you never knew whether you need the keyboard or the mouse to move around. I would spend minutes throwing my mouse around before I realized it wasn’t working and needed to use the arrow keys. the bane of a right-handing PC gamer’s existence.

In case you can’t tell, I couldn’t wait for this game to end after playing for only an hour. It was full of ideas that were never fleshed out, and an impossibly impossible story. It’s frustrating and not worth your time.

Stay tuned.

Floating Frenzy: Gravity Ghost Review

Floating Frenzy: Gravity Ghost Review

Gravity Ghost is a physics-based puzzle platformer with an art style and tone that would hit even the Grinch in the feels.

The game follows a young girl named Iona around space as she tries to find her pet fox. Along the way you contact multiple animal guardians and deliver spirits to their woodland creature bodies. While exploring the universe, you’re also treated to flashbacks from Iona’s life. She lived on a rural island with her parents and siblings and was hard to tame. She spent all her time in the woods and was interested in what a local called “space geometry”. These are the first of a few tidbits that draw parallels between her life on earth and her journey through the universe. Though the premise and narrative are simplistic from the start, some moments will still knock you over flat. After finishing the game, I might have laid on the floor with my dog crying. Fortunately there is no photographic proof, so we will instead leave it as a…possibility.

The art style is even more heartbreaking, but in a good way. The contrast between the earth tones of the real world and the neon lights of space helps create the grounded and ethereal tone that run alongside to each other. The use of chalk drawing adds the nostalgic glow of childhood and a style I haven’t seen before. This game placed as much importance on art design as mechanics, and it paid off with a unique experience.

But what are those mechanics?

Essentially all you do is float around and collect stars. You pick up little star chunks to make your hair grow longer, and then use your mane to transform planets into Earth, Wind, and Fire–ahem, sorry–earth, wind, and fire. And that’s really it. No dying, no fighting, just endless anti-gravity frolicking on a serene and safe acid trip.

This gem is only a few hours long and perfect for relieving some stress in a way that’s different from other games. Instead of relying on the controversial concept of catharsis, the design lets you enjoy failure by orbiting around the wrong planet in peace. Though short, it has great replay value. Not because of a lot of content or procedurally-generated levels, but because the existing levels never lose their charm. The gameplay is a great pick-me-up and the story for when you need a good cry.

Stay tuned.

A Different Monster Hunter: The Witcher Review

A Different Monster Hunter: The Witcher Review

I haven’t covered a game with exorbitant amounts of content lately. I’ve stuck to smaller adventure games with few side quests and branching paths. This is my first large RPG since Dying Light, so I’m going to take a more structured approach instead of an anecdotal one.

Story

CDProjekt Red based the Witcher series on Polish novels from the nineties about a mutated monster hunter, or witcher, named Geralt. Though he dies at the end of the books, the first game picks up at his resurrection with–AMNESIA:

downloadNot long after Geralt’s miraculous recovery, members  from the rebel group Salamandra attack Kaer Morhan, the headquarters and training grounds for other witchers. These rogues steal the mutagens and potions used to give the witchers their, for lack of a better word, superpowers. Until now these were protected secrets, and Geralt must hunt down Salamandra and figure out their plans. On your journey, you meet the residents of Vizima and the surrounding areas. You find priests, warriors, witches, merchants, and average townspeople. Soon you’ll also find that these sleepy towns are a façade that covers up a racial and political power struggle. Nonhuman races–elves and dwarves–are the lower class, and those fighting for the church are quickest to believe this. On the flip side, elves and dwarves formed the Scoia’tael, a vigilante group whose actions feed into the public’s belief that nonhumans are savage. This complicated societal structure plays well into the choice mechanics.

Like many modern Western RPGs, the Witcher series employs choices, some meaningless and some monumental. During the Prologue, you’re forced to choose which of two battles to fight–go with Triss to defend the lab or stay and fight a large monster called a frightener. Your decision affects the events that follow, and at the end, Vesemir asks Geralt if he thinks he made the right choice. If the player hasn’t caught on yet. This lets you know subtly to make your decisions carefully from here on out, even if they seem innocuous at the moment.

Unlike my experiences with Dragon Age: Origins, the Witcher series’ morality system weaves a complicated web instead of remaining on two separate poles. Geralt can to constantly switch sides of the current fight with a single choice and even stay out of political matters entirely. Witchers traditionally go where the money does, not where the passions do.

Not spoiling anything, the people you choose to support or let live out of indifference are there to help you in the end in a way that isn’t contrived like many others who attempt this format.

And that long ramble brings me to–

Gameplay

Now if the goal of a witcher like Geralt is to hunt beats, how is the combat? In a word: easy. Using your sword is a matter of aiming the camera at the enemy and clicking the mouse in counts of three. That is the only combo. Any upgrades to the attacks doled out are applied automatically without any additional button presses needed. The only decisions lie in which fighting style you choose and which sword. Geralt has two different swords, one for humans and one for monsters. Each sword then has three fighting styles–fast, strong, and group. Which you use depends on the number of enemies and their speed and accuracy.  At no point is there an increase in the difficulty of execution, only an increase in the opponent’s strength. This imbalance keeps there from ever being a true challenge. The only times I ever lost were when I was either unprepared or impatient.

The strategy instead lies in the use of items and magic. Geralt uses potions to increase his attack, defense, health and vitality regeneration, and other statistics. The trick is you can’t use them all at once because of toxicity and other ill effects. Using too many potions lowers your ability to fight well, so you must prioritize. Other potions give you advantages at a cost, e.g. increased accuracy for decreased defense. Then after deciding on what concoctions to swallow, you then must think about blade oils. While JRPGs depend on elemental relationships (ice and fire, water and electricity), Witcher uses the enemy’s species to dictate weaknesses. You have oils you can apply to each sword specific to necrophages, insects, specters, etc. These are essential when encountering hoards of the same enemy type. Otherwise you may get overwhelmed quickly.

Now how do you get all these potions and oils? This game has an alchemy system you can access while meditating, also known as how to pass time quickly. You use herbs you pick and monster parts you carve off of enemies to create everything you need. Each potion requires a certain quality alcohol base, and each oil needs a type of animal fat. Before you make anything or collect any ingredients, you have to find or buy the recipes and encyclopedic entries. This style creates a certain collection mechanic to make sure Geralt is the most well-informed hunter in the land. You also only have limited inventory space for these supplies, so must either constantly make potions, or prioritize which ingredients you want to collect.

Now the most integral part of any large-scale RPG is the quest system, and that is where Witcher shines. A few of the story quests continue throughout entire game with updates to your journal with each piece of new information. Then each chapter has its own main quest, whether it is exploring the bumps in the night on the outskirts of town or figuring out if there is a mole in the monarchy. AND THEN the chapter has its own contained side quests such as contracts to fight certain monsters or killing large game for trophies. AAAAND THEN you have side quests that continue throughout the entire game such as perfecting your dice poker skills or climbing the ranks as a fist fighter in local pubs. There is so much content and such a variety, but the structure keeps you from getting overwhelmed by possibility. You only obtain a certain number of quests in each chapter and must complete them immediately, helping you figure out the order in which you need to finish tasks and letting you know when you are ready to progress through the story.

And lastly that takes us to–

Performance

For a game released in 2008 for the PC, it still ran poorly on my 2014-era desktop. It constantly dropped frames and only ever hovered around 45 FPS. It crashed at least once every other time I booted it up. Whenever the game would start to lag, I would get that same heart-in-throat feeling I would from playing the Sims on my MacBook after not saving for a while (Seriously, if there was ever an example of compatibility not equaling functionality, but that’s for an other time). I also encountered certain bugs that have been around since launch. I would go looking on CDProjekt Red message boards to find a solution to what felt like a very unlikely problem only to find it had been around since the game’s inception. Once I was supposed to escape from the sewers with a ladder, but for some reason, the cutscene where the soldiers bring in the ladder just never happened. I wasted two hours running around underground thinking I hadn’t done something to trigger it only to figure out all I needed to do was load a previous save and cross my fingers.

Despite some of Witcher‘s lack of reliability, the graphics still looked great. Though the scenery and animations are dated, they are not distracting. While not the best, they still look realistic and don’t hinder a new player’s experience. It’s on par with Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origin which was released around roughly the same time.

And with that we have–

Verdict

Even with its quirks and low level of difficulty, I can’t recommend it enough. To finish all the side quests, I put in over sixty hours and never got sick of it. The only thing I would do differently looking back is play on a higher difficulty. It is incredibly cheap now, and if you are looking to play through the series, start here. I got this game on sale for $1.50. No joke. Keep an eye out, and play it ASAP.

Stay tuned.