A Look At the Mirror’s Edge Catalyst Beta

A Look At the Mirror’s Edge Catalyst Beta

At some point in time, I registered for the closed beta for EA’s upcoming Mirror’s Edge Catalyst and then promptly forgot about it. Therefore I was surprised to find my access code in my email last Friday morning. After entering that code Saturday morning (okay, afternoon) with my cup of coffee, my weekend disappeared.

After playing the first Mirror’s Edge last summer, I was salivating for a sequel. It was hard to imagine having to wait nearly a decade for any new parkour endeavors. The first game only dipped its shock-conducing tennis shoe soles into its dystopian world and felt more like an experiment than a full-fledged idea. With nine years to ruminate and rethink Catalyst is everything I wanted from the inaugural title—at least from what I could tell from the beta.

The beta had the first four main missions and any available side missions, upgrades, and collectibles. It’s clear from the start that Catalyst suffers from the early stages of today’s open-world epidemic. While Mirror’s Edge had linear chapters with a few collectibles in each, Catalyst has a map filled with markers for delivery missions, player-created time trials, and runner bags filled with graffiti decals. Fortunately I’m not sick of open-world games, but if you are, you’ve been warned.

The game opens with Faith’s release from a juvenile detention center run by KrugerSec, a fairly in media res start for a long-awaited sequel. So far there’s no mention of Kate or the dramatic rooftop ending to the first game. After getting her GPS monitor for her parole, Faith gets pulled away by her old runner gang, reinstating her fugitives status only three minutes into her lawful freedom. Now she’s back to running missions to earn scrip and pay back her debts to Dogen.

The three biggest changes in Catalyst are the structure, and the addition of an upgrade tree, and the combat system. Instead of completing each chapter in order, you can complete the main missions at your own pace, choosing to freelance and run deliveries or hack security systems instead. You won’t want to get too far off track because while you earn experience with everything you do, your available upgrades only grow as you progress through the main campaign.

The upgrade tree consists of three categories: movement, combat, and gear. While the latter two are straightforward, the movement tree is frustrating. Most of the options were moves that were available at the start of the first game—rolling, quick turning, and lifting your legs to gain speed. From what I could tell, you unlock these early on, but nothing is earlier than usable in the tutorial.

As for the performance, it ran moderately well on my mid-range PC when I put the settings on low. The main issue I had was a slowdown whenever I started running. In general it was tolerable, but it made some of the more difficult timed delivery missions impossible. Why does the timer start while the environment is still loading in?

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst releases next month, and I can’t wait. To enjoy it fully, definitely make sure our computer can handle it. Platforming takes precision, and that’s hard to do when you fall off the building before the game registers you hit jump.

…or maybe that’s just me.

Stay tuned.

My (Very Short) Games of the Year!

My (Very Short) Games of the Year!

Last time my year-end round-up focused on what HD remakes I had played that year. For me 2014 was more about replaying new versions of old games I played either as a kid or as a teenager. Fortunately I managed to play a grand total of FIVE games from 2015, four of them for PC.

Lucky for me, that means no picking and choosing but instead ranking very single game I played that released this year.

So let’s get it started already.

5. Gravity Ghost

First things first—if you read my review, you know I don’t hate Gravity Ghost. Between the heartwarming/soul crushing story, art style, and relaxing gameplay, I loved the afternoon I spent with it. And by I loved the afternoon, I mean I laid on the floor crying with my dog after finishing.

I also want to make it clear it ranks over many games I played this year. It is only outranked by these.

Damn, I still feel guilty.

This game is perfect for if you are stressed. The physics-based levels are not precise, but watching the swirls of the girl’s white hair and the colorful planets against the twinkling dark sky are entrancing.

The number of levels is perfect too. While so many games this year looked to pack in content of varying degrees of quality, Gravity Ghost curates its short levels down to roughly a hundred short experiences, never overstaying its welcome.

4. Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

When looking back, I will remember 2015 as the year of the Witcher. Since the summer, I have played—and nearly completed—all three games in the series. This year I got invested in the characters, lore, and politics of Temeria and the Nilfgaardian empire.

So why number four?

Once again I enjoyed others more. Though I had fun the entire way through, the Witcher 3‘s main plot was not paced as well as its predecessors. Without spoiling anything, Witcher 3‘s second and third act could have easily been combined. Even more confusing, the first act somehow consisted of three separate story arcs. My English major sensibilities of the traditional dramatic structure and five acts plays are seriously shaken by this.

With a game that takes a minimum of eighty hours to finish—and that’s with barely exploring the map—it must have a logical pacing to propel the player forward. So while I enjoyed nearly everything about it, the way it drug on in the second half killed it for me.

Also I am an insensitive prick with no understanding of human emotion who ended up alone despite romancing Triss for three games straight.

3. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

The one title not on PC, but it released this year in North America and took up a lot of time.

Fun story first: Over the summer, I was visiting my parents with my then seven month old and newly adopted puppy Remy, I was running errands and didn’t have his kennel with me, so I left him in my childhood room alone for a couple hours without thinking about the 3DS I left on the charger.

I came back to find carnage. Remy ate the charger first, pulling the 3DS free in the process. Then he pulled my Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate cartridge free and chewed it to bits. Then he spent the rest of his time nibbling at the plastic around the game slot.

And that’s how my dog killed more monsters in two hours than I did in a hundred.

Anyway this was my first Monster Hunter game, and it was the perfect place to start. Whenever in combat, I rarely think strategically, but Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate forced me to. Every weapon and monster means you must fight a different way, and if you aren’t efficient and don’t focus on offense and defense, you will just die. It was a great game and a learning experience.

Now my boyfriend always complains that I refuse to play multiplayer, I might have to soon. Since getting my new copy, I have yet to hunt a single monster.

Maybe I’ll need his help now.

2. Dying Light

One of my top choices for superpowers is to parkour like runners in Mirror’s Edge or, in this case, Dying Light

As my first zombie game, it did not disappoint, but the movement system is what won me over. The closest I will ever come to flying is scaling city buildings in record time using my brute strength.

What I appreciated most was how well the game rationalized its apocalypse:

  • The zombie virus broke out at the Olympics, explaining the speed with which it spread, and the number and diversity of both zombies and survivors.
  • Because of the athletic nature of the event, it also explains how so many people are capable of the feats displayed in the game.
  • The area is in quarantine, meaning the rest of the world is not infected, but there is a temporary cure that holds off the virus if you take regular doses.

Basically it wins the logic versus mechanics award of the year, and in a medium where you must suspend your disbelief and more than I wish, I appreciate the sense Dying Light makes.

And the winner is…

Remy the Monster Hunter!

IMG_0932

Just kidding, it’s Her Story

And I know, I know. I chose an indie darling. Sue me.

But don’t because I’m super broke.

Her Story has stuck with me. I still vividly remember when and where I was when I played it on release after counting down the days until its release. My nana had died the week before, and I was at my boyfriend’s parent’s house in their living room alone. I sat at their table, pretending I was a detective.

It wins the award for being the only game I played by myself this year without Netflix playing in the background.

If you argue it’s not a game, you’re silly because it has a clear win state and a database to complete. But honestly, I also appreciate pleasant discourse, so feel free to comment what you think.

I love its disjointed narrative and how what it’s about is still debated to this day.

I love the slow reveal of who you’re playing as in the game.

I love the silly nineties desktop user interface, complete with the glare that comes from the old rounded monitors.

I love how something so simple conceptually could feel so big to me.

I love it all.

Next up: The games I wish I had played in 2015.

Stay tuned.

The Renesmee of Item Shops: Recettear Review

The Renesmee of Item Shops: Recettear Review

After my long break while I attempted NaNoWriMo and fell eighteen thousand words short with a game-ending illness on Thanksgiving, here I am back with a new review while I put off gathering my Game of the Year thoughts.

Recettear is a hybrid between a dungeon crawler, a management game, and a roguelike as well as a bitch to spell. Recette is the daughter of an item shop owner who decides to go out on an adventure and never returns—you know, like all responsible single parents. She mopes alone until the item shop’s proprietor, Tear, shows up and demands payment. After realizing the situation at hand, Tear helps Recette open the item shop back up in hopes of getting Recette back on her feet and getting her money back. Recette must make weekly payments on time or Tear shuts the whole place down.

As for the name? It it literally Recette and Tear mushed together like an impossible-to-pronounce sandwich. It’s Twilight all over again.

Recettear falls across multiple genres while still playing from the perspective of the unsung hero of RPGs—the merchant who buys and sells all the random stuff you need. First you must manage the item shop, setting prices, haggling, and mastering the buy-low and sell-high philosophy. As you gain experience and your merchant level grows, you can take orders ahead of time and buy items from customers.You can purchase items from the guilds in town if your stock is running low, or tag along with an adventurer to pick up treasure.

That’s where the dungeon crawling comes in. In this town, adventurers give their cards to merchants, vowing to give their loot to them after finishing a dungeon. You get to play as them though, enjoying classic hack ‘n slash combat as a break from the business world.

As for the roguelike elements, if you don’t make your payments to Tear on time, the game resets, putting you back at day one. Fortunately your merchant level and inventory persist, making it easier to make the earlier payments each time.

I could never figure out whether Recettear’s difficulty had more to do with chance or skill. Because of supply and demand, items sometimes sell for either triple or a third of their normal price, meaning you can make a week’s worth of profits in a day or go broke before the end of the week. I found myself reloading old saves repeatedly, trying new strategies for each week I failed. Unfortunately the price changes are not set but instead randomized, meaning you can never count on the same circumstances twice.

One part of the game irritated me more than any other: the customers. Not all of them, of course, but this small game only has a few customers. You have the old man who thinks you’re ripping him off, the little girl who thinks your prices are unfair, the dithering husband sent by his wife, and the housewife whose rebelling against your prices. While clearly a way of saving time on character models, they still all haggle the same. If you have a day where your only customers are little girls, there is a good chance your day will end at a loss. If the old man spends all day shouting “Make it cheaper, girlie!”, you might voluntarily close your shop down.

Overall, Recettear is loads of fun, even if the odds don’t always go your way. (I almost made an “odds be ever in your favor” Hunger Games joke there, but I refrained. You’re welcome.) If you want relaxing dungeon crawls and a nerve-wracking management in your life, this is the only way to go.

Stay tuned.

Steam Complete: Mistakes I’ve Made Along the Way

Steam Complete: Mistakes I’ve Made Along the Way

So one hundred posts and over a year later, I’m still here, playing and writing with some regularity. I’ve enjoyed having an outlet for consistent content and something to force me to keep writing even on the worst of days. With that said, I’ve made a few bad choices since starting this blog, ones that might have set myself on a different trajectory if I’d had some foresight and avoided them. So don’t learn from your mistakes, learn from mine, and listen up:

  1. Consistency. It’s the number one rule for any kind of web content. If your readers or viewers can’t depend on your content, you’ll lose your audience. Knowing this, I started off strong, keeping to my Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule. I made plans and scheduled my play time around my need to post these three days. Even working overtime at my full-time job, I managed. But my chronic conditions and transfer to a position with more hours left me with my first lapse in content. With that, my view dropped off. After a while I got my groove back only to get so sick I left work, taking another break. THEN after another good period, I took a month off for family reasons with the passing of my nana. After this period, I’ve been going strong doing regular content despite no set schedule. My point in going through my life story over the last year? I have two, and they’re incredibly contradictory. First take care of yourself, and put your health–physical and mental–first. Also write no matter what because consistency breeds a following. I don’t know how to do both, and it has been a detriment. But hey, I’m still here! I picked a rough year of my life to start this blog, but I’m still writing, reviewing, and loving it.
  2. Quantity over quality. This is the way I started off. This started as a way to make me play through the hundred PC games I had. Instead of doing a Let’s Play channel, I was writing them. I talked about weird instances, funny moments, and any glitches I ran into. Regardless of substance, I was pumping them out–also like a Let’s Play channel, har har har. Looking back, I’m a lot more fond of the content I produce now. I might have fewer posts, but I love the reviews. I even did a review stream last month and got a kick out of it.
  3. Self-hosting too soon. About six months into having my blog, I decided to take a step forward, purchase a domain, and convert from wordpress.com to wordpress.org. That basically means you have your own website, but you still have access to the WordPress format for free. I enjoyed the freedom and the professional feel of having my own site. I signed up for Google Adsense, found a layout, and transferred all the previous content. Unfortunately I didn’t do enough research to know what I was going to lose–community. I thought since I was still technically using WordPress, I would still have access to the WP Reader, the place where your posts show up for all of WordPress and your tags actually mean something. I kept my followers but stopped gaining new ones, stopped getting comments from people who just happened upon me through the Reader. My attempts to grow too big too soon cost me, my lack of patience shooting myself in the thigh. I think when my domain runs out in March, I going to acquire it through WordPress so that I can get back to the community it fosters.

Well, there you have it. I celebrate my one hundredth (and one) post by putting everything I did wrong out there. My words of wisdom? Don’t be the me who thought these were good ideas.

Stay tuned.

Witcher 2 Review a.k.a. 100 Post Extravaganza!

Witcher 2 Review a.k.a. 100 Post Extravaganza!

The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings Enhanced Edition is the second in the Witcher game series from CDProjektRed. While it feels like an evolution in many places, a few parts feel like they took a few steps back.

Story

In the sequel, Gerald of Rivia is an adviser to King Foltest when a man with golden eyes–a trademark of a witcher–kills the king and frames our protagonist. You spend the rest of the game looking for answers and trying to clear you name.

Also Geralt has still not recovered all of his memories from the AMNESIAAAAAAA from the first game, but with Triss’ help, he starts having more flashbacks. They still lack some detail and go by so quick that is makes some of his conversations about politics and the surrounding regions hard to follow. It’s not so bad that reading the novels is necessary, but it wouldn’t hurt either. You can still follow the basics of the story without understanding the details though, and if you’re like me, you’ll love the graphic novel style of the depictions of his past. Gerald is one of my favorite game heroes but still remained a mystery until now. It was good seeing his past, and the art style made it great.

The number of decisions you make in the Witcher 2‘s story are fewer but have more impact on the direction of the game. For example who with which you choose to side at the end of the first act gives you two different quest lines for the rest of the game. this adds replay value that many games with similar choice mechanics tend to lack. The Witcher 2 is essentially two separate games with only the beginning and a few boss battles in common.

Other times you make subtle choices. There were a few ultimatums I was unaware I was being presented with. While this is a huge improvement for RPG choice mechanics, my guilty conscience left me replaying one or two later sections to rectify my actions.

Gameplay

I think I’m in the minority here, but despite its low-level of difficulty, I prefer the combat from the first Witcher game. Three words: group style combat. The fast and strong attacks made it to the sequel, but the style geared towards attacking hordes of enemies were cut. In this swordsmanship branch of the character tree are group finishers, but they require you to fill up an adrenaline meter; they act like limit breaks from JRPGs.

Outside of that, it’s not so bad. Parrying and counterattacking–called riposte here–are simpler to do, and blocking in all directions is an ability you can get rough leveling up. Instead of having to select attack styles manually, fast and strong are assigned to the left and right mouse buttons. It’s easier to use items like daggers, traps, and bombs as well as your signs. You select whatever you want from a wheel mid-combat, and you’re good to go.

The difficulty spikes are rough and impossible to predict until late in the game. At the end of each act is a boss battle so hard it feels like you are meant to lose. Once you’re in the midst of the battle, you know what you need to do, but you can’t do it without reloading a previous save. Why? You can’t drink potions and craft the necessary attack items without meditating. No constantly knocking back swallows for vitality regeneration, no using white afford’s decoction when you’re close to death. This one small tweak added all the complexity the first game lacked.

The inventory system was also overhauled. Instead of being accessible from the main game screen, you exit out to a separate one to handle everything. From there, you have unlimited inventory slots but a limited weight. So replacing the rationale that Geralt only has so many pockets but is strong enough to carry whatever he picks up is the Elder Scrolls way of thinking where a single plate leaves you moving like molasses. The first was clunkier but was a nice change from the weight-based system that writes its own jokes. Also the new system has everything broken down into categories, some overlapping. It works decently, but sometimes bugs out if an item fits into multiple categories, especially if it is a quest item. I’d pick something up, and when I went to use it, it was nowhere to be found. I had to go to forums just to navigate the menu. For example you have to use warrior nekker’s blood to break a spell for a quest. I had some but couldn’t find it anywhere in my alchemy screen. Turns out that even though the other ingredients for the quest were found there, this one was only under quest items. These silly issues were headaches that the last system never were.

Quests

If there was an aspect of the Witcher 2 that left me more conflicted, it was the quests. Like the Witcher, the quests are divided into chapters and must be completed before continuing to the next. Unlike the first, the chapters are then divided into smaller parts without ever telling the player. Multiple times I failed quests halfway through a chapter for some arbitrary reason that I couldn’t have figured.

Outside of this poor choice, the quests themselves are outstanding the main ones are strong and multi-layered. You never know if what you’re doing and for whom you’re doing it are good in the right, but you know it needs to get done regardless.

The side quests have variety–witcher contracts, investigations, debates in philosophy, and riddle-solving. The intermittent battles and conversations tie these radically disparate adventures together.

Verdict

Despite much of this sounding like complaining, I loved this game in its entirety. I can’t get enough of the characters, the story, the quests. Even with the changes to the sequel of which I’m not a fan, I can’t recommend this series enough. It’s definitely my favorite Western RPG in a fantasy setting.

Also a favorite game series period.

Stay tuned.

[Note: This being my one hundredth post sort of snuck up on me. I have a list prepared for a certain special and self-deprecating post.]

Why So Braggy?

Why So Braggy?

I’m in the middle of playing through The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings, so my reviews have come to a halt while I fight through the third act. But in my effort to reach this last chunk of the game, one giant draug was in my way. No, that’s not a vague game-related metaphor. The final boss for Act 2 was a draug pumped up on all the steroids in thirteenth-century Poland. He was knocking me down in three blows with an unbelievable variety of melee and ranged attacks. I thought maybe I was missing something obvious. Nothing had been this hard since the beginning of the game, and I couldn’t understand the spike in difficulty. So I went googling and happened upon the most, ahem, modest of people. Here’s what I found (with IDs and usernames redacted to save the embarrassment for the braggarts of long ago, i.e. 2011):

BraggyOne
I’m pretty sure potions were a given, kind sir.
BraggyThree
Punctuation is even less of a big deal.
BraggyTwo
“Hit him” doesn’t do much to explain what made it easy for you.

Now before I get raked over the Internet fire about free speech, I know my feelings are completely subjective. Think of this as my wish on a star for people to show a consideration for time and place.

Also for some perspective, I played this boss battle on stream and got so frustrated between the repeated dying and pompous nature of the forums, I quit for the day.

Now that I’ve done some examples, the requisite First Amendment disclaimer, and provided some context, let me now follow all that up with a hypothetical situation.

Say you are in a mixed group of people, some friends, some strangers, and you’re discussing training for an upcoming marathon. You’re having trouble hitting your stride while running long-distance and are looking for advice to help you bridge the gap between you and your fellow runners. After putting your situation out there, three people immediately jump in to tell you that they’ve run like that for years without an issue. No advice, no empathy for when they were struggling, just statements of their own absurd accomplishments like running to the moon.

To even continue the conversation, you’re stuck with an awful choice. You either continue to reiterate how much you suck until you get answer, or you sit there feeling bad for even asking.

Now how does this translate to the Internet? This hypothetical situation sets people up with a clear opportunity to brag a little (or a lot) on themselves. Whether you agree with it or not, you’d expect to get at least one person who can’t stop him or herself from screaming, “AREN’T I GREAT?!”

On the forums pictures above, you have to seek out these opportunities specifically. Not frequent post on even Reddit, forever a lurker, I don’t know often people search on threads on publisher forums, GameFAQs, Steam, and other corners of the web. If you do, comment below because I’m genuinely curious.

But the small sample I pulled for you above lit my blood on fire. I had lost my patience to the point I was googling live on Twitch for something that should be straightforward. Instead of vast amounts of help or suggestions of strategy, I was met with snobbery over Why So Braggy?quick player deaths and difficulty modes.

Maybe it’s my Southern sensibilities, maybe it’s my inability to properly talk about myself.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been met with people’s pomp and circumstance over their own prowess. It’s just the first time I became this incensed over it. I wrote this over the course of a few days, so I could at least write it with a clear head.

TL;DR The time to (humble)brag is not when someone is asking for help. Just answer the question and move on.

Does this get to anyone else? Feel differently? Let me know below!

Next up: The Witcher 2 review!

Stay tuned.

Division of Puzzle Research: Puzzle Agent Series Review

Division of Puzzle Research: Puzzle Agent Series Review

The Puzzle Agent series consists of two games from Telltale stemming from them collaborating with animator Graham Annable that feel like watered-down Professor Layton games.

The series follows FBI agent Nelson Tethers as he investigates the shutdown of eraser factory in Scoggins, Minnesota. If that doesn’t sound odd enough for the federal government, Tethers works in the Puzzle Research division, and one of his co-workers is in the Vegetable Crimes division. With that said, Puzzle Agent is a modern callback to the silliness of the pre-Walking Dead Telltale game. Considering Annable worked on the Sam and Max games, this vibe makes sense, and the understated humor is what motivated me through the slower parts of the game.

Now like I said, the structure is identical to the Professor Layton games. You get straightforward story bits bookending logic puzzles of all sorts. So let’s break it down the same way.

The story is fun and quirky. Tethers is investigating the eraser factory because the ones from Scoggins are the unnamed President’s favorite. The townspeople are fascinated with puzzles and gnomes, unusual and slightly chilling for this small and snowy town. Those little lawn ornaments have never been as creepy as when they start showing up in unlikely places–and not always inanimate.

At best, the story progression is awkward. The dialogue and voice-acting is slow, and though that suits the small town, it’s not necessary. If the scrolling text in the speech bubbles went faster, I could forgive the slower voice overs. It especially doesn’t help that much of the dialogue sets the tone more than it furthers the story, making this molasses-style pace all the more impossible.

Both Puzzle Agent and its sequel feel less like two separate games and more like a two-chapter story, the first act being the first game and the other two in the second. The first ends with zero resolution, and the second ends with way too much.

Still I enjoyed the characters and the writing, my problems lying mainly with the chosen delivery method.

Now the puzzles were great though the game’s interface for them was a frustrating miss. You get your jigsaws, your ordering events, your who-ate-what dinner parties, your birds smuggling gnomes–all your average puzzle game offerings. They are all fun though sometimes so easy you don’t realize the obvious answer. Other times you can’t figure it out because the puzzle is vaguely worded.

This is the only time I feel it’s necessary to talk about the two games separately instead of as a unit. The first Puzzle Agent‘s puzzles are perfect. At no point were they unfair or poorly worded. Any time I got stuck or second-guessed myself, it was my fault. All you needed was the information the game gave you, your brain, and maybe a piece of paper if your spatial reasoning skills are shit like mine. After these great puzzles, the second game has a poor choice of words and insists you know concepts like binary code, astronomy, and calculus. Seriously, I only made it through one of the game’s puzzles because I knew dx comes after an integral sign, and googling binary code for the number four.

The frustrating thing both puzzles had in common though was their awful choice of an interface. At no point can you see both the rules and the solving area. If you’re solving a logic puzzle with five constraints, you better write those down or be okay with constantly flipping between the two screens. I used so much scrap computer paper to save on this. You solve the puzzles in a manila envelope, so it wouldn’t be hard to fathom you putting multiple pieces of paper beside each other. Ugh.

Overall, I don’t think these were great puzzle games, but they were a nice way of packaging some fun logic puzzles. Instead of feeling like a fleshed-game despite so few mechanics like the Professor Layton series manages every time, Puzzle Agent and Puzzle Agent 2 manage to make you cross your fingers you’re about to run into another puzzle before you’re bored or the game crashes.

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.

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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.