Archive for the 'Game Reviews' Category


Game Review: Darksiders III

It’s been an interesting year. I’m not going to go into all of it here; there will probably be a post about it later, but the short version is it’s been a long December, and one is hoping next year will be better than the last. Illness, financial concerns, and mental and emotional difficulties have plagued this one.

This is supposed to be a happy post. Despite all the bad press about gaming over the year, there’s been a lot of good things that have happened, with some amazing titles.

There’s the obvious ones; God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Red Dead Redemption. Everyone knows those names. Two of those are amazing games, the third is competent (unlike many, I am not a huge RDR fan. I don’t have anything against it… it just doesn’t hold me down and make me play it.)

There’s some lesser-known titles that deserved some love, too; Octopath Traveler was an incredible old-school RPG (and yes, I still think it was robbed on some counts at the video game awards) for the Switch fans, Call of Cthulhu was also pretty good and enjoyable title, though I don’t think it was worth the initial outlay. When it drops down to $30 or so, it’s well worth your time. Yakuza 6 and Shenmue HD both dropped this year, and if you enjoy brawling RPGs, crazy minigames, and “slice-of-life” sims, all three are well worth checking out.

The clear owner of my heart right now is Darksiders III. It’s taking a bit of a beating, with people complaining about too many Dark Souls similarities, unfair and unintuitive difficulty, graphics that aren’t quite photo-realistic and amazing.

I think they’re wrong.

Darksiders III looks good for what it is; a labor of love from a smaller studio who basically relied on that love, hope, and the support of fans – alongside a healthy dose of luck – to give rise to it. It’s not a AAA title, and it’s not meant to be. But the graphics are still damn good, pleasing and understandable. The character and enemy designs are great, clearly cut from the Darksiders mold. From the moment you start the game, you know what you’re getting into if you’re in any way a fan of the previous titles.

Gameplay wise, the Dark Souls comparisons are a little odd. The checkpoint and XP/currency system is similar, yes. Control and combat wise I think comparisons are being overblown; Fury is infinitely more maneuverable than any of the Soulsborne protagonists, and there’s a great deal more fast-paced hack and slash than you’d expect from those titles. Some enemies need you to drop back and study their patterns a bit more than your average God of War-like game, but those are intended to be the more difficult or mini-boss type enemies. Once you level up and unlock a few of the additional skills and weapons, it’s not quite like that.

So far as difficulty, I don’t see it. I’m going at it on Apocalyptic, as I did on the previous two titles, and yes. Combat is challenging. Not insurmountable, and I never feel as though my deaths are unfair. Grinding and learning patterns gets you past it. It feels appropriately difficult. A lot of folks complain about the lack of a minimap and the way the compass in the game works… but it doesn’t seem that hard to know where you are and where you’ve been. The compass adjusts quite quickly and is always pointing in the direction you need to go. If you can’t go the way it wants, swinging the camera around for a moment will typically show the path, usually a minor puzzle that needs dealing with (most of which are neon and color-coded to which power you need to do it.)

I think the root problem isn’t with Darksiders; it’s more in the mindset of gamers. Old farts like myself probably played more games with minimal direction or confusing UIs, punishing difficulty spikes that were designed to suck up your quarters or your continues. Compared to some of those, Darksiders is a walk in the park; at least you have that wonky compass (which still works better than that found in, say, Destiny, cough cough) and the reasonable expectation that learning the mechanics and patterns of a fight will lead to victory without random chance and glitching screwing you out of it.

All in all, I have to say Darksiders III is well worth it, and a lot of places still have it discounted to $40 post-holiday, so a great time to jump into it. Give it a shot.

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Game Review: Call of Cthulhu (2018)

It’s been a while since we had a proper cosmic evil video game. Call of Cthulhu has been making the rounds for a few years now, often whispered about like the rumors of what the neighbors are doing in the basement or what’s really in the meat you’re eating, occasionally bobbing to the surface in a brief and oh-so-tantalizing-yet-maddening bit of exposure before being submerged once more.

The call was finally answered this Halloween, and I was powerless against it. The question is, though, if it was worth it.

Short answer? No. At least, not right now.

I had some videos up of my playthrough, going over some of my issues and demonstrating some of them, but had to take them down due to potential copyright issues (apparently some of the music flags it), but I’ll try to speedrap some of the problems. My screencaps are likewise AWOL due to a faulty flash drive, but some of them made it onto my Twitter, at least.

One, the graphics. Now, the environments are great, though they were a little too in love with the color green – I mean, seriously, why do all the oil lamps glow green? I get it, in some instances, since what the whalers have been hauling up of late may not precisely be whales, but ALL the lighting? – but still well done, very detailed, and appropriately moody and atmospheric.

The denizens of Blackwater, on the other hand, are tripe. Their faces look wrong – and not in an Innsmouth Look way, but in a “poorly designed” way – and the generic NPCs have maybe 3-5 possible face/clothes combos, yet have as many as 10-15 in a small area, making you wonder if somehow the influence of Cthulhu has led to an upswing of twin and triplet births. The primary characters are a little better, but they’re still poorly animated, weirdly proportioned, and consist almost entirely of stock characters. (The drunk/drug addicted cop, the shady financier, Old Willie the Groundskeeper, etc etc etc.)

Of Mythos horrors, you won’t see much. A couple of mutant freaks, the suggestion of a squid-monster, and, if you get the bad ending, a pretty badass Cthulhu design for about 3 seconds. To be fair, for a Mythos story, it’s not what you see, but what you don’t, and knowing that what you see could be far worse, not having them front and center is almost okay. What isn’t is that you never really feel like they’re close. They don’t provide the looming intensity of knowing that insanity lies just around the bend, and the couple you DO see are almost cartoonish and not really that intimidating.

Sound-wise, again, the background noise is great. The subtle sloshing of waves when you’re on the beach, the groans and echoes of the mental asylum, the ominous chanting when infiltrating a cult’s secret lair… all good stuff. Music is minimal – except for the lovely copyright strike-inducing radios in a couple of areas – and not intrusive. The voice acting, though… ugh.

Our hero is the best of the lot, which isn’t saying much, but at least he reads the lines like a normal human being. The problem with him is that he’s also the voice of Jonathan from Vampyr, with a similar overall design and attitude. I spent half the game mocking him for being in the wrong game and wondering why he was lamenting his sanity instead of eating rats.

The others are varying degrees of bad, from Groundskeeper Willie feeling lifted out of the Simpsons, your cop buddy sounding like the worst combo JFK/Joker impression ever, and the Mysterious Woman trying to sound threatening and seductive but coming off like a bad Neptunia NPC. The generic NPCs all seem to have the same voice actor, and they sound like they’re trying to portray someone who’s performing a bad Russian accent who in turn is attempting to mock a Boston accent. While channeling their inner Wishmaster djinn on top of it.

Controls are… okay. There’s not really anything to be said, there; given that the game is essentially a glorified walking simulator, it just needs to be competent, which it is. A button to run, one to duck, one to search, and one to flick your light on and off. It’s all you need, really.

Story wise is where the game shines – even if it does have a few plot holes that are never explained, or even lampshaded with “Because you’re crazy, yo” – with a properly Lovecraftian slow burn building up to final madness. (Especially fun is, if you’re been poking at the things you shouldn’t, you’ll start getting dialogue options on R’leyhan) There isn’t much one can say about it without spoilers, but anyone reasonably well versed in Lovecraft or the Mythos can probably guess the broad strokes not too far in, and find the joy in watching it play out and seeing their guesses proven right or wrong.

All in all, the story redeems the poor character graphics and voices to a great degree. The backgrounds are great, and the controls are serviceable. So why say it’s not worth it?

Length vs. cost. At $60 you’re looking at 6-7 hours if you poke every corner on your way to the end. 4 or so if you’re speedrunning. About 12 hours, give or take, for a Platinum on a game that costs $60 and is half broken isn’t exactly good value in my mind. If the game was $40? Oh hell yes. At $30 it’d be considered freaking amazing. But $60 is just too high. Wait for a sale, or Redbox it.

The Call of Cthulhu is worth answering, yes.. but wait for the collect cost to come down a bit, first.

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Game Review: Spider-Man (PS4)

As a former fan of Marvel comics in general and Spider-Man in particular, and an avid gamer, the release of Marvel’s Spider-Man for PS4 was something I was looking forward to with a great amount of optimism and trepidation. Pete hasn’t had it easy over the years, with some winning titles (Ultimate Spider-Man and Web of Shadows come to mind) jarring pretty badly against some pretty crappy entires (Friend or Foe comes to mind, here.) That’s just recent memory; it only gets worse if you go back further. Remember Amazing Spider-Man for GameBoy? No? Good. Probably better for you.

Having 100% completed the new game, pre-ordered the DLC, and not having brought the disc back to GameStop, I’d say it says something about it; it’s good. Maybe not as good as Web of Shadows, which remains my favorite Spider-Man game (yes, I really do think it’s better than Spider-Man 2. Fight me.) but certainly on par with Shattered Dimensions, or Ultimate Spider-Man. That doesn’t make it perfect – there’s a few flaws, here, some of them serious – but it’s still a damn good game and well worth the time and money spent playing.

First, the good stuff: Graphics look great, and never mind all that Puddlegate crap. The lighting’s amazing – especially when you’re flipping around New York in the early evening – and the detail level is possibly the most intricate I’ve seen in a game with the possible exception of Prey or Bioshock. All the heroes and villains are instantly recognizable but with a unique spin that makes sure Marvel fans know who they’re dealing with but also aren’t going to be bored.

Sound-wise, the sound effects are decent, covering the bases and not getting in the way. Nothing particularly standout, but nothing actively bad either. The voice acting is amazing – especially Spider-Man’s, which has several of the open world conversations recorded multiple times that play back in different states. You may take a call from MJ in one play through while chilling on a rooftop playing with the camera, and Peter sounds relaxed. That same call may play on a different run through the game while you’re swinging through Central Park in pursuit of a mugger, and while the dialogue doesn’t change much, the inflection used and Peter sounding out of breath and hoarse really adds to the immersion.

Gameplay-wise, it hits all the right notes with a varied combat system that relies on agility and inventive web usage over brute strength, as befits the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Boss fights introduce new mechanics in appropriate ways, and dealing with the Sinister Six during their tag-team matches (especially on the Spectacular difficulty setting) can become appropriately hectic.

Now, the downsides. First, the music. What music? No, seriously. It’s rare that it’s present, and when it is, it mostly consists of a single twenty-second long generic superhero “rousing sound” on loop. It gets louder when you’re doing a lot of swinging, diving and web tricks, which only makes it more annoying and apparent.

Second, the combat. This may just be my own gripe – I was just coming off of Yakuza going into this – but combat frequently feels floaty and difficult to control. Especially using the quick-fire gadget/web button, it would often arbitrarily target someone other than the guy about to punch me in the face, or shoot the random thug who was no threat over the guy with the rocket launcher who really needed to eat an Impact Web, like, yesterday. I got used to it, eventually, but was still annoying.

Black Cat brings up my third gripe; I was excited as all hell to see trophies relating to her, as I have always been more of a Felicia boy than an MJ one. (Yet another reason Web of Shadows holds pride of place, I think. That symbiote Black Cat costume… mmm.) You get some entertainingly flirty and frustrating messages from her while you play an elaborate game of hide and seek, only to find… nothing. She’s gone. You never actually get to meet her, and after finding her collectibles and infiltrating her lair, you never hear about her again. Now, this is supposed to be resolved with the DLC – she’s a prominent factor, from what I hear, and may even be playable (Yes, please!) – and not everyone is going to care so much about her, so this may not be much of a negative for some.

Last complaint: It’s kinda short. Total playtime once I had 100% and the Platinum was about 22 hours. This is made more obvious by how repetitive the side-missions get (after you’ve pulled over your fifth speeding car, beaten up the thugs that came out of it, then beaten up the backup, you”re over it… and you’ll be doing that at least 10 more times, if not more); it feels a little content starved at times. The story missions are varied and great, though, and it’s a fun ride, regardless of length.

Bottom line; is Marvel’s Spider-Man worth playing? Hell yes. At least if you have any interest in superhero action games. It’s not the best Spider-Man game ever (please see Web of Shadows), nor the best super-hero game ever (Batman: Arkham Asylum or X-Men Legends II holds that title, depending on my mood) but it is still a goddamn amazing game and well worth your time.

No review copy was provided, and no company sponsored or endorsed this review. All opinions are my own. If you’d like me to review a particular game, drop me an e-mail or use the contact page.

What were your opinions on Spider-Man? Good, bad, ugly? Am I crazy for complaining about the things I did, or liking the parts I did? Want to argue Spider-Man 2 vs. Web of Shadows? Use the box below!KA Spiral no signature


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Game Review: Far Cry 5




My time in Hope Country has come to an end. Last month’s Far Cry 5 was an interesting diversion, but is it really worth $60 right now?

My short answer? No.

That’s probably going to be a somewhat unpopular opinion. I want to clarify that by noting that the game itself is gorgeous, the characters are amazing and interesting, and the weapons, vehicles, and pet bears are fun to play around with. The problem is that it ultimately just feels like more of the same. If you’ve played “the Ubisoft open world game,” you know how it works. Removing signal towers and a scattering of icons does not make things any more fresh and new; it frequently just makes it more annoying to find the next objective.

The story – crazy cult takes over a remote location and proceeds to kill or enslave everyone – is basic. It’s reasonably well executed for what it is – and as long as you’re willing to completely ignore logic – but its not really anything groundbreaking. A lot of people seem to think it’s commentary on the current sociopolitical situation, but I think that’s giving Far Cry 5 too much credit. The ultimate blandness of the plot doesn’t seem to have any legitimate things to say. As interesting as Joseph Seed may potentially be, he and his kin ultimately seem wasted in the story here, and end up being both less charasmatic than Vass from Far Cry 3 or as shades of gray (and potentially right) as Pagan Min in the series’ fourth installment.

The problem is there’s only really one mission type. Go here, blow that up, kill those people. There’s never a mission that deviates from that in any meaningful way. When combined with the significantly less helpful HUD/mapping system and the near-constant assaults from trash mobs and dealing with broken companion AI, it just becomes kind of a tedious slog. Once you can get ahold of attack helicopters, it becomes “fast travel to helipad, spawn helicopter, fly to location, get out, blow up, fly to next” which speeds up the process, but still bores me to tears.

I suspect my problems may be due to my dislike of the whole “emergent gameplay” thing, which in a lot of cases seems to be secret code for “the developers couldn’t be bothered to come up with an actual plot or some interesting set pieces, so we’ll just make the player try to find the amusement and claim it’s artsy.”

Beyond that, Far Cry 5 is also completely illogical from an in-world perspective. You can jack helicopters, jets, big rigs, and heavily armored and armed SUVs. There’s no realistic lockdown in effect. The Deputy plows through thousands of mooks in the game without much effort. Please explain why I can’t just hop into a helicopter, fly south straight out of Hope County and come back with the National Guard and FBI? Previous games had beliveable reasons as to why the protagonists are stuck dealing with the problem, but the Deputy is not trapped in a culturally and technologically backwards remote area that has no law and order other than the enemy. Also, I kept wondering why nobody seems to have a cell phone, a satellite phone or a damned CB. Yes, there is a mission discussing how the cult has scrambler towers messing up signals, but very early on you tear them down and start a pirate radio station, so… yeah.

It may be kind of silly to hate on the game so much for story logic flaws, but they kept breaking the immersion for me. Sure, there’s moments where I was laughing and having fun – the “Disco Inferno” mission comes to mind, as well as anything to do with Hurk or Larry – but for the most part I was bored, leaving me plenty of time to contemplate the story flaws and in the end that ruined the experience for me.

Your milage may vary here, but my honest opinion is that you’ll have more fun with Far Cry 3 or 4, and I would recommend waiting for a steep sale to pick this one up.

What about you out there? Have an opinion on Hope County and its crazy inhabitants? Let us know down below!


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Gaming Roundup


Since I’ve been essentially in limbo for a month or so, it has given me time to catch up on my gaming; I would still rather be at work, either in front of these keys or at my desk in my office, but it kept the brain turned on to some degree, at least.

I’m not really feeling a huge in-depth review of everything I’ve played, but a quick speedrun through the hits and misses is in order. So here we go.

Kirby Star Allies (Switch) – It’s Kirby. At this late date, you should know whether you enjoy Kirby games or not. It doesn’t do anything amazingly new and shocking and doesn’t screw up the existing formula. I enjoy it.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (Switch) – Not quite what I was expecting – having heard it billed as an action RPG and bearing some of Star Ocean‘s DNA, I thought battles would be a little more hands-on, rather than staring at little bars and waiting for them to fill before I push a button once in a while – but still enjoyable. It consistently ticks off every checkbox in the “anime-style JRPG cliche” list, but is occasionally self-aware of it at least, is very pretty, and has some seriously deep customization, crafting, and level-up systems in place. Very worthwhile.

The Evil Within 2 (PS4) – I know, I know, it’s old and all. I’ve been picking at it for months, but I finally got to finish it. Found it enjoyable, suitably tense at moments (though it’s not kicking Outlast or Resident Evil 7 out of the “scariest games” slots) and a definite improvement over its predecessor. The main issue I had here was realizing the game isn’t trying to be Resident Evil 4, and playing it that way will get you killed (at least on the higher difficulties.) Playing it like a horror-themed Metal Gear or Splinter Cell, however, made it much more entertaining and enjoyable. At least until the last couple of chapters, where it turns into a shooting gallery for no reason. And the last boss made Ruvik seem well-designed – which he certainly wasn’t, in my opinion. Still, good game and seems to be half-off most places at this point, so give it a poke.

Devil May Cry HD Collection (PS4) – To be fair to it, it is hard to come down from Bayonetta 2, which basically perfected all the things DMC set out to do, but the DMC Collection still feels like a dumpster fire. The controls are clunky – which they kind of were to start with, though I don’t remember having this much trouble with them when I played the collection on PS3 – but at least somewhat forgivable given the age of the games.

What isn’t forgivable, however, are the graphics. I’m not a graphics whore (as something a little later in the list will prove), and normally I can’t even tell what resolution or frame rate something is running in unless it’s obviously broken. But DMC Collection looks like ass. It’s grainy, it stutters, and the resolution or aspect ratio seems to be “off” somehow. What’s odd to me is that I played the PS3 version on the same television and it didn’t seem to have this problem… seriously, what the hell, Capcom? But if you crave the games and don’t have a PS2 or PS3 around to play those versions, it’ll do. Or you can just hop over to Switch and play Bayonetta

Prey (PS4) – It’s BioShock in space. I love it. If you like BioShock, play this. If you didn’t like BioShock, you probably won’t like this. If you somehow didn’t ever play BioShock, you can grab the collection cheap, and Prey is usually around $15 these days, so grab one, try it out, then grab the other. You’re welcome.

Dissidia: Final Fantasy NT (PS4) – It’s hard to describe these; they’re sort of like strategy fighting games, I guess? I had some fun with the first two back on the PSP, and was pretty excited for this one, but having played it I kinda feel “meh” to it. It’s okay, I guess, but it feels a lot clunkier than its predecessors, the AI is set to ridiculous levels, there’s not really a story mode, and the online community is almost nonexistent or full of elitists, so if you actually do manage to get in a match, you’ll have waited probably five to ten minutes followed by a swift booting or disconnect. Maybe it’ll pick up. I hope so.

Metal Gear Survive (PS4) – Everyone’s ripping on this game, and it’s kind of silly, really. Is the game a great Metal Gear? No. Is it still a very entertaining blend of Dark Souls and Don’t Starve? Yes, it is. At least to me. I really think 95% of the hate this game gets is because of the name on the box, and if it said anything else on there but Metal Gear, it’d be doing just fine. It does take a while to warm up, so if you check it out, at least try to get through all the tutorial/sample missions – to where you can actually start building your base – to get a real idea of how it works and thinks. If you’re not into a slow burn that’s much more interested in mechanics than sensible storytelling, look elsewhere.

Mass Effect: Andromeda (XB1) – I kinda like it. I know that makes me a pariah, but you have to consider that I’m getting to it a year late and after tons of patches. I also didn’t think Mass Effect 2 was the best game ever. I enjoyed Mass Effect, I merely tolerated 2. Didn’t play 3Andromeda, to me, is equally enjoyable as the first game. It’s got problems, but I have fun with it. I do kinda miss the Paragon/Renegade system, though I see what they were trying to do by stripping it; we’ll see if a more nuanced approach bears fruit later in the game (I’m not terribly far, yet; just got the first colony up and running.)

NHL 18 (XB1) – I play sports games rarely. When I do play them, I usually grab a hockey or boxing game about every four years or so. I traded in my NHL 15 for 18, and… kinda wish I hadn’t. I’m sure I’ll warm up to it in time (and if not, I can reclaim 15 for about $5), but it feels like they made some very wonky changes to the controls and the AI. I like the training camp setup, though. We’ll see how I feel after a few more matches.

Deadly Premonition (XB360) – Yes, it’s old. Yes, it’s ugly. Yes, it’s clunky as hell. But it has charm and is more complex than most people give it credit for. It recently became backwards compatible for XB1, so I of course had to instantly locate a copy and hook back up with my buddy Agent Francis York Morgan for  a psychic-coffee fueled trip to Greenvale, which is totally not Twin Peaks and Resident Evil‘s lovechild. I wish they’d reissue the Director’s Cut version for Xbox, or maybe remaster it for PS4/XB1, but I’ll take what I can get.

Quite the list. Messy. Wall of texty. Oh well. Have opinions on any of these titles, or games you’ve been poking at lately that are worth a look? Let us know down below!

Until next time!

KA Spiral no signature


The Evil Within 2: “You’re Playing it Wrong!”


“He’s playing it wrong!”

This was the dismayed complaint I frequently voiced to my parents when saddled with the responsibility of playing Fantasy Zone: The Maze with my younger brother. He would not abide by the rules of the game, would not attempt to reach the objectives, and would generally cause trouble until we both were killed.

Now, I’ve broadened my scope a bit since then. Realized that – at least in most of today’s games – there’s no one specific “right” way to play. There are, however, better ways to play a given game, that play up the strengths and the way the designers conceived of players making their way through instead of bashing your head against the concrete to see if you could do it a different way.

That’s not to say playing counter to type can’t be fun; I remember a fine afternoon spent with Hitman: Blood Money in the suburbia level, determined to see if I could eliminate everyone in the area without being caught, dispose of them all in the garbage compactor, and walk away. I did. Eventually. But it’s not the optimal way of doing it, it’s not the way the game and designers want you to do it, and it’s an exceedingly frustrating way to go about what is otherwise a fairly simple mission.

Other games you can play “wrong” might include Metal Gear Solid 4 and V, or Splinter Cell: Conviction. Sure, you can Rambo your way through those if you really want to, but you’re going to have a bad time. The developers want you to do it sneakily, and the rules are set up around those concepts even when they give you the chance to break them.

evil within 2

That thinking led to me initially not liking The Evil Within 2 as much as I could have. I walked into it assuming it would be like its predecessor; a semi-functional Resident Evil 4 knockoff with some interesting psychological mumbo-jumbo added in. I spent the first three hours with the game becoming frustrated by the enemy placement, hordes that would come any time combat started, the seeming impossibility of getting around anywhere and monumental task – by design, I’m certain – of trying to kill any of the little zombikins.

I finally came back to it – yes, four months late, but what can I say? There was Shadow of War, catchup with Resident Evil 7, the Switch, and being sick as hell for the majority of this month – and discovered a wondrous thing.

I had been playing it wrong.

The Evil Within 2 has a great deal more Metal Gear and The Witcher in its DNA than Resident Evil (4 or otherwise). Add in a dose of Don’t Starve, and play it like you would those games, you’ll have a much better time.

Trying to get around enemies or run away from them was getting me nowhere. Memorizing their patterns and sneaking up on them for quick neck breaks followed by a swift looting of their environs works a whole lot better. Remembering where to find certain materials and knowing what to craft and when is crucial. Learning how to lure enemies away from where you want to be, checking for potential traps and escape routes, and using the environment to dispose of the baddies whenever possible becomes your bread and butter.

That’s where the Witcher and Metal Gear influences come in, but I hear you asking “Don’t Starve? How’s that fit in?”

Supply runs. The game is semi-sorta-open world, but enemies don’t generally respawn. You’re liable to take at least a little damage, though, and supplies don’t respawn as a general rule either. But there’s usually a safe house where you can regain your health, put all those materials to use, spend your XP (or brain goo, in this game) and save. So an effective tactic is to pick a direction from that safe house. Start working your way out there, checking everything you can, stealth killing anything you can and taking note of the beasties you can’t remove or otherwise neutralize. When you’ve made some progress, scurry back home, put your ill-gotten gains to use, and venture out again.

This leads to a slow discovery of the world, and the tension remains high. There’s very few automatic checkpoints, so pushing too far will result in heavy setbacks; the risk vs. reward incentives are strong, here.

I’ve enjoyed my latest ten hours with the game a great deal more than I did the first three, and almost solely because I think I’m playing it “right.” I may go for a Rambo-mode playthrough later, for Trophy cleanup, but from the success I’ve been having I think this is how the developers intended the game to be played (at least on Nightmare difficulty, which is where I started because I’m a masochist and a Trophy/Achievement whore.)

What about you out there? Have you ever been playing a game “wrong,” either intentionally or because you just hadn’t figured out what the developers wanted from you? How did it go? What’re your thoughts? Is there actually a “wrong” way to play a game? Let us know down below!

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Flame Shields and Mugs


My home has been host to the Switch for a little over a week now, and so I felt it appropriate to give some impressions of the game I’ve been playing the most.

No, Zelda is not it. Yes, I do like Zelda, but it’s not where my soul lives right now.

fire emblem

Fire Emblem Warriors has devoured me. If you’ve played any of the Warriors/Musou games before, the basics remain the same; pick a champion, mash X until a few thousand of your enemies are dead, rinse, repeat. Very grindy. But I like grindfests, so I’m okay with that.

Fire Emblem Warriors does that very well while introducing a few minor adjustments – the “weapon triangle” from the SRPG series makes an appearance, meaning that you can’t always just take your favorite warrior and smash through the whole map; you’ll need a little help from your friends. Assisting with that is the option to order about other units on the map so you can command Lissa to go smash that troublesome Pegasus Knight that you can barely scratch with Rowan while tending to the next three objectives that just popped up on your map.

Fire Emblem Warriors also does have some totally unique features and differences that make it a great game, not just for Warriors fans, but also more generic action-RPG lovers, and even fans of the SRPG originals. The story is surprisingly deep and well done… though I will say it does rely on potentially fatal misunderstandings one too many times (story missions 7-13 are all almost entirely “Oh, they must be the bad guy because X” followed by “I’m sorry, obviously you’re not bad, let’s go talk to Y” whereupon “Y sees you and thinks you kidnapped their friends and so you have to beat them down so we can all be homies” missions.)

The upgrade system for the characters is also a little different, with grids and class changes and raw material grinding. It added something different than just grabbing your character’s ultimate weapon and pressing X until you had the full Gamerscore or the Platinum. The menus for it are a little annoying, with constant “Are you sure?” *confirms* “Okay, I’ll do it!” that you’re going to hear fifty times every time you visit that screen. But it’s a minor quibble.

There’s also History mode, which basically grabs some of the more tactical elements of the mainline Fire Emblem games by dropping you on the map and giving you an array of targets that lead to more traditional Warriors levels, each of which offers goodies for completion and alters the lay of the land on the main History map. Multiple endings for each map (some of which impact the main story mode as well) are a nice addition.

Overall, highly recommend it if you have the system to play it on.

For the second piece, we need to talk about the other game that’s eating my soul, lately.



I don’t have a lot to say on this one. It’s goddamn beautiful. The sound and music are amazing. It legitimately gives you the feeling of being trapped in a 1930s cartoon, complete with scratchy audio and film tears/grain.

It also hates your guts and will punish you every chance it gets. You will see the game over screen dozens – if not hundreds – of times, and that’s before you leave the first world (out of four.) But ultimately, when you do take down a boss or get a better grade on the platforming levels, you will give a barbaric yawp, so insanely pleased with yourself that you feel as though #LifeGoals needs to be altered to include it. Play it. But if you have a low frustration tolerance level, you may want to stay away or invest in extra controllers.

What about you folks out there? Any input on either of these titles? Have something that’s currently consuming your gaming soul? Let us know down below!

KA Spiral no signature


First Impressions

So… I caved. I bit the bullet and took a chance on Nintendo, joining the Switch legions.


So far, I am reasonably glad I did; the pleasure should increase once BayonettaHyrule Warriors and Metroid Prime 4 come out.

But just a few things to comment on from my first few hours with the new shiny.

  1. If you are an averaged sized adult, for the love of God, get a Pro Controller. Pro-A makes some very nice ones, Mario or Zelda designed, for $30 and they make life far easier… at least so long as you’re playing the system docked. The Joycons are evil, especially if you’re playing something like Mario Kart, where you only use one of them.
  2. Enjoy the setup. Or not. I found it to be rather more complicated than it likely needed to be, and the fact that the instructions tell you to set everything up and turn the beast on, then the first thing it has you do is unplug the dock and do the setup in handheld mode was kind of ridiculous.
  3. It still uses bloody friend codes. (Goddamnit, Nintendo, let it go!)
  4. If you are not Japanese, and not used to playing Japanese imports and did not have extensive experience in the SNES or early PlayStation era where they didn’t bother to reverse the controls for our silly American brains, you will continually click things you didn’t mean to and cancel out of menus you meant to look at. This is due to the button on the right side of the diamond being defaulted to “Accept,” and the one on the bottom being “Cancel/Back” in the system software (and most games. They also tend to map “jump” to the right button, which has caused many deaths in The End is Nigh.) The three games I own (ZeldaEnd is Nigh and Fire Emblem Warriors) do not offer much in control customization, either; Zelda only lets you reverse a couple buttons – and A & B are not options – while Fire Emblem and Nigh don’t let you tweak them at all, so far as I can tell.)
  5. You will probably want a memory card. Sold separately, of course. In the era of 30+ GB digital games (and 10+ GB DLC for almost everything), the built-in 32 gigs just aren’t going to cut it.

All that said, it’s a decent enough system. I enjoy the games I have well enough – though Fire Emblem Warriors and End is Nigh were both extremely hedged bets, essentially reskinning games I already love – and there seems to be plenty on the way worth having… now if we can just convince Nintendo to port over Fatal Frame 4 & 5, or the Metroid Prime Trilogy, that’d be great.

But the biggest surprise here is Breath of the Wild. I approached with caution, as I have honestly pretty much hated every Zelda game since Ocarina, with the exception of the GBC and GBA ones.

Thankfully, Breath of the Wild is an absolutely awful Zelda game.

Sounds contradictory, doesn’t it? What I mean is that, so far as the last 15 or so years of Zelda go, it’s terrible in doing the things its forebears did. Instead, it honestly feels more like a Witcher-lite, which I am totally okay with. I am prepared for it to eat my soul, though I lament that it may mean I will never get back to Persona 5 and may never move on to Xenoblade Chronicles 2, let alone actually start Star Ocean 3, 4 and 5, which I recently acquired for PS4.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a shrine to conquer.


Game Review: Resident Evil VII


Finally getting around to playing the surprise horror game of the year; I know it’s roughly a year late, but between other games, health and work issues, moving and a general lingering malaise as regards the Resident Evil series in recent years, I didn’t feel much of a pull towards this one until I could pick it up on the cheap.

I feel bad about that, now. The game is surprising, in many ways. Ditching the action-hero premise of the last couple of entries, dropping us into a purely first-person experience (including all the cutscenes), and crowding you into a more intimate environment with a limited number of random monsters but some incredibly memorable “boss” characters, Resident Evil VII feels like an entirely different game… and that’s very much a good thing.

If you’re looking for something to compare it to, I would say RE7 has more in common with hide-and-seek thrillers in the vein of Outlast and Alien: Isolation than any of its forebears, though unlike those games it doesn’t leave you feeling completely powerless with absolutely unkillable antagonists; instead it gives you just enough power to think you might stand a chance, then swats you aside any time you get overconfident.

The graphics are well-done and suitably disgusting, though through almost the whole game it feels like someone applied a white gauze filter over it; given the similar appearance of PT and screenshots of Allison Road, it makes me wonder if this is the future design aesthetic of survival horror, the same way most third-person shooters seem to consider layering everything with a brown slime filter is the standard. The character models of the Baker family are also well-done and suitably off-putting. Mia Winters, the protagonist’s thought-dead wife, seems “off” somehow. Whenever she’s on screen, I find myself looking at her teeth and wondering why they just don’t look right. I can’t put my finger on it, but they just look wrong, and not in the way that a horror experience should give you the heebie-jeebies, but just like the artist was having an off day. Also, the lip-synching is, honestly, atrocious. It doesn’t impede the overall experience any at least.

Sound-wise, the game gets the job done and little else. The sound effects are kept to a minimum and are stock-standard: creepy little girl laugh, buzzing insects, door slams, piano riffs from nowhere, basic gunfire. The voice acting is by turns flat or overdone, and never really feels “good;” depending on your viewpoint, the lack of it being as cheesy and B-movie as previous games may be a detriment or a bonus. The one exception here is Lucas Baker, who puts in a great performance as the trap-obsessed sociopathic tinkerer of the family.

Gameplay wise, you’ll find all your basic Resident Evil concepts; limited inventory leading to playing Tetris with the items you want to carry and what you leave behind in the item box, limited ammo leading to running away and scavenging like a madman – as well as inadvertent spoilers that a boss is coming up when you suddenly find 60+ rounds sitting in front of a door – most of the time, and chewing on mysterious green herbs anytime you get bitten, clawed or chainsawed. Aside from the shift of viewpoint, the main new feature you’ll encounter are the videotapes.

While most games of this type would either subject you to a flashback cutscene or a dry, multipage text description of the solution to a puzzle or clue as to what happened, RE7 instead has a handful of VHS cassettes lying around. Watching these in the players scattered about the Baker Mansion puts you into a minigame, where you’ll have to solve the puzzle or act through those flashback events yourself. It’s different and creative, and they are very entertaining (“Happy Birthday,” in particular.) The one complaint I have about this is the logic behind it; I get that the Bakers are supposed to be sort of backward hicks, but the game still takes place in 2017; who the hell has dozens of VHS tapes, camcorders and players lying around? There’s also the illogic of how some of those sequences are even on VHS tapes to start with, but the answer is probably “because videogames” so I’ll let it slide. (Also in the list of “bizarre technology choices,” the save points are cassette recorders. The typewriters from previous games would have made more sense, or possibly use the phones or a notepad or something.)

Story-wise, the game is decent enough and when it’s doing its own thing – the tale of a strange family’s cannibalistic tendencies and what that may or may not have to do with a mysterious little girl and your wife – it’s surprisingly good. Where it falters is when it tries to shoehorn it into the overall RE narrative of bio-weapons and the evil Umbrella Corporation’s legacy. Honestly, it feels like they could have had an overall better experience by just making the game a standalone, a reboot, or ignoring the other games entirely. Make Eveline a ghost and swap a couple of items for something with a similar purpose but lacking the rooted-in-bad-science explanations of past games, done. The game feels like it wanted to be free of the rubbish but couldn’t quite make it, and the last boss fight and the cutscene that follows feel like tacked on requirements due to the numeral on the cover rather than necessities of the game’s story itself.

Overall, the game is solid, fun and well-made. Much better than any game in the series since Code: Veronica (which is heresy, I know, since everyone else is in love with RE4, but c’est la vie.) I’d give it a solid 9/10, though the insistence on ties to older games that break the narrative of this one drops that a bit. Final verdict? 8/10, and well worth a look even if you’ve hated recent entries or enjoy other games like Amnesia or Outlast more.


Game Review: South Park: The Fractured But Whole

Trey Parker and Matt Stone are at it again, in this followup to The Stick of Truth. It leads the question to be asked yet again: can the off-beat, sarcastic and frequently obscene humor of four kids and their hangers-on in a quiet mountain town be wed to RPG mechanics and have everything come out awesome?

Well… in some respects, yes. I will say there were quite a few moments that had me genuinely laughing hysterically, and during most of the conversation, cutscenes and exploration I had a smile on my face. All the characters are true to the show, and you’ll encounter nearly every favorite at some point. The graphics and sound are on point, looking just like an episode of the show, and the characters and combat mechanics they give you to play with encourage experimentation while still letting you mostly play with your favorites.

The script is well done, and there are quite a few nods to the fact that 90% – if not more – of what’s going on is in the kid’s heads, while they play an elaborate live-action game of superheroes… my personal favorite is how, if you are in combat on the streets of South Park, occasionally the fight will be interrupted by calls of “Car!” At these moments, all the combatants will trudge back to the sidewalk and glare sullenly at the oncoming traffic – usually being insulted by the driver – before returning to their original positions and allowing combat to resume.

In Stick of Truth, the kids were playing fantasy; Fractured But Whole starts that way as well, as you step back into the boots of King Douchebag and move to settle the war currently brewing between the Elves and Humans of Kupa Keep and the invading Moorish. Cartman, however, has other plans; Scrambles the Cat has gone missing, surely a sign of a town-wide crime spree, and only the Coon – and his assorted super pals – can save the day. That leads to all the kids switching to superheroes and heading out to save the cat… because there’s $100 in reward money that will help them – or perhaps their rivals, the Freedom Pals – kickstart their franchise, Cinematic Universe style.

All well written, coherent – at least as much as South Park is capable of being – and with a surprising amount of sidelines to play with – such as “Fartkour” with the Human Kite and playing Flappy Bird – if you replace the bird with a rainbow-farting unicorn carrying a fish ghost to heaven – Fractured But Whole spends the first 15 hours or so entertaining.

Then you get to the end. Or rather, what you think is the end.

The last several hours are an exceedingly painful slog that feels like it’s being drug on for no purpose other than to pad the runtime. There were a lot of complaints regarding the length of Stick of Truth, and I can’t help but feel much of the last act is in response to that; I’m not certain why. Sure, Stick was kind of short, but it did what it needed to do, and it knew when it was time to exit, stage left.

Fractured doesn’t. You perform a daring nighttime raid on Scramble’s assumed location, have a truly epic boss fight with some unique mechanics, and save the cat. You’re done, right?

Nope. Not quite. Then you have to go somewhere else, and endure roughly five “boss level” encounters in an area that seems designed to just keep forcing you to summon your friends and lacks much of the brilliance of layout or little details that you’d gotten used to. Then you have yet another epic boss fight. This one takes forever, and honestly the best way to win is spam heal and chip away at it. It goes down… we’re done, right?

Nope. Then you have to race from location to location – no fast travel allowed! – following a chain of clues to lead you to the real villain. Another grueling boss fight ensues. Yay! Triumph! Triumph?

Nope. Then you have to go on a fetch quest, endure the most frustrating fight I’ve seen in nearly any RPG, do another fetch quest, and then engage in a fight that will likely take a half hour or longer… assuming you don’t screw it up near the end and have to start all over.

Are you done? Well, shucks, why would you be? A little more jogging around South Park, and then you get to the actual last boss fight, which is, for all intents and purposes, the one you did three fights ago, just with two of them. To be fair, the dialogue during this one and how it’s finally resolved is some of the better stuff in the game, but I don’t know that it was worth the trouble of getting here.

As it stands, the game’s fairly great until that last part… then bogs itself down and makes you hate every time the “fight starting” animation comes up. If I was going to give it a rating up to the first assumed “last” boss fight, it’d be a solid 9.5. The plot, design, graphics and sound are all amazingly well done, and the combat system being a little clunky and irksome – fights with “turn timers” for certain boss moves are the worst offenders, though thankfully there’s not many – is really the only detriment, assuming you’re a South Park fan.

But dat ending, dough. If you account for that torture, it drops down to more like a 7. Yes, I found it that annoying. There were also approximately five times the game crashed during the last slog, and audio started desynching fairly frequently. The final cutscene and the opportunity to pick a fight with Morgan Freeman jump it up a bit, but the net result is 7.5. Worth playing if you’re big on South Park or don’t feel like the grim seriousness of Assassin’s Creed: Origins but still want some RPG entertainment, but not something that’s going to convert any new fans.

In case it might be relevant – bug-wise, anyway – I was playing on PS4; unknown if there are similar problems on Xbox One or PC. And yes, I was insane enough to grab all the Yaoi and fight Morgan Freeman, so I have a shiny new platinum on my gamercard; more than welcome to follow or send a friend request to Ashande, if you are of a mind.

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