Posts Tagged ‘game review





cathrine-full-body-normal-hero-01-ps4-us-21aug19Apparently, I’ve been blocked and unpersonned by several people this week. Over a video game. The game, in this case, is Catherine: Full Body. It’s an animated visual novel/puzzle game dealing with a mid-thirties man who has no idea what the hell he wants out of life and has to navigate through a series of killer nightmares, his longtime girlfriend and her demands to grow up, a young and vivacious lady who represents the forbidden fruit and everything he thinks he wants in a woman, and a strange girl who recently came into his life.

Big spoilers incoming. Stop now if you don’t want to know.

The mysterious girl? Not actually a girl. By the end of the game, he explicitly identifies as a boy. He’s a crossdresser. Also, not human – actually an angelic alien – but that’s really a sideline. Thus began the screams of “problematic!”

This was exasperated by hodgepodge clips that showed Vincent’s shocked face, pan shots of Rin (the angel), and a scene where he bats Rin’s hand away. Of course! It’s that nasty transphobia!

Except it’s not. Because Rin’s not trans, for one. Also, because all of that is taken out of context. The pan shot they used? Vincent isn’t even in the room at that point. Vincent’s shocked face? Taken from a different part of the game where young Catherine is discovered in his bed and he has no idea what happened. The hand-batting is the closest thing to “problematic,” and in context of the scene – and what happens immediately afterward – it makes sense. Vincent ran to Rin because “she” fell down. He thought “she” was hurt. I’m putting it in quotes not as an attempt to spread “hate speech,” but because up to that point of the game, you have no reason to think of Rin as anything else, and all the characters (except Erica, who is problematic in her own ways, supposedly) refer to Rin as “her.”

Rin is mostly naked, and when Vincent checks on “her,” he sees a male body. He’s surprised. Not revolted, not having a moment of so-called trans-panic. Just shocked. Rin tries to comfort him – which, throughout the game, Rin has been kind of bad at, not being used to normal human interactions – and he bats Rin away.

Rin looks hurt. Understandably so. Vincent realizes what he’s done, and immediately begins to apologize, but Rin runs off. You spend most of the rest of the game trying to get ahold of Rin, to apologize to him. If you’re following the Rin path through the game, Vincent admits that he doesn’t care what others think, what gender Rin is or is not, or even if Rin is human. On the Rin path, Vincent knows what he wants, and it’s Rin. If you’re on the Catherine or Katherine paths, he still admits to having feelings for Rin, and still isn’t repulsed, but his feelings for Catherine or Katherine are stronger. Not because they’re “real” women, but because Vincent feels something for them, and he still expresses regret at having to hurt the other two, no matter what the combination of affection levels is.

Then there’s the Erica stuff. Erica’s a transwoman. She’s also been friends with Vincent since high school (pre-transition.) There’s been reams of paper spewed forth on all the problems with her, but what it basically boils down to is that she gets deadnamed on some paths, the nightmares (which are specifically applied to men who are cheating or otherwise not engaging in “fruitful” relationships) afflict her, and a character who becomes her boyfriend over the course of the game gets a little weirded out when he finds out about her past.

Note that in that last instance, they don’t break up. There’s no indication of trouble in the relationship. The nightmares affecting her? Well, somehow I doubt ancient Babylonian gods like Duzumid are very woke, and further, Erica IS preventing a fruitful relationship by being involved with Toby (who could be off knocking someone else up, which Duzumid the Shepherd considers the primary criteria for who gets to live), so her having the nightmares isn’t exactly a surprise.

Note that most of that is gone in the new version. Erica is still trans, but almost all references to her biological sex have been scrubbed… except one, but that has set off the hornet’s nest all over again.

In one of the endings, Catherine (the young one) creates a time portal and sends herself and Vincent back through it, to when Vincent was still in high school. She then appears there, and they begin a relationship, all for the purpose of having a chance to be happy with him. In this ending, Erica is shown to still be Eric. Some people interpret this ending as being the “happiest for everyone,” and thus the ending is transphobic because it’s saying Erica is happier as Eric.

Those people are stupid. The ending is not intended to be the happiest outcome for everyone; it just works out that way in some cases. Jonny, for instance, who has had a thing for Katherine since they were kids, is now free to be with Katherine, as Vincent is with Catherine instead. Orlando, warned by Vincent of what’s going to happen, has a chance to save his business and marriage before it goes south. But those are side effects of the central idea: Vincent and Catherine get a happy ending.

Second, in other paths, it’s explicitly stated that Vincent and his friends knew Erica as Eric in high school. This ending shows them during their high school years… which would have been pre-transition for her. There’s 14 years between that and when the bulk of the game takes place… the likelihood is that she just hasn’t transitioned yet, not that she doesn’t. There’s also some images that imply there’s something going on between “him” and Toby even pre-transition, so it looks like it may work out for them in the end anyway.

There’s also the accusations that the game is misogynistic (because Vincent is portrayed as a serial cheater, because Katherine is frequently “bossy” or “bitchy” – generally, because she’s tired of being his mother and wants to be his girlfriend and for him to have his shit together – or because the guys give crap to Erica – ignoring that they give each other the same amount of shit, as any gang of high-school mates is liable to do) or how Catherine is a rapist (because Vincent doesn’t remember many of their encounters and frequently finds her in his apartment even though he doesn’t recall inviting her over or letting her in.) Like the rest, they’re missing the big picture and seeing what they want to see there.

Long story short: If you read/see/hear some piece of art or entertainment is “problematic,” instead of just joining the bandwagon and starting to slam on anyone who enjoys it or discusses it, go out and experience it for yourself. If you still think it’s problematic, that’s fine. But understanding the context and the whole story seems like it should be necessary to make that judgment.

But that’s just my two cents. What about you? Did you play Catherine, either the original or the remake? What did you think? Is there some other art piece that’s treated as “problematic” that you are judged for enjoying, or that you end up having to defend? Let us know down below!

KA Spiral no signature


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!


KA Spiral no signature


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.


Game Review: Agents of Mayhem

I’m running a little behind on this one; everyone else I know who cares finished the game quite a bit ago, but I figured I’d give my thoughts and opinions anyway.

AoM Logo

Agents of Mayhem

Agents of Mayhem is Volition’s new entry (sort of) in the Saint’s Row franchise; for those of you keeping score, you may remember Saint’s Row IV‘s standalone expansion, Gat Out of Hell, which the titular character, longtime fan favorite gangbanger Johnny Gat took over Hell following his untimely death, and was given a pile of possible options as a reward. One of those options was to recreate Earth… with a few changes.

Those changes have led to the world of Agents of Mayhem, a near-future version of South Korea that has been thoroughly soaked in the love (some might say worship) of G.I. Joe, and Transformers – the Saturday morning cartoons that were awesome, not their abominable modern film counterparts – before being deep fried in the humor and mindset of Saint’s Row, rolled in the game mechanics of Crackdown and lightly sprinkled with some minor RPG elements and a dash of Diablo(very)-lite loot and crafting.

Sounds utterly schizophrenic when you describe it that way, and to be fair, it kind of is… but it’s also exactly what I wanted from the game, and I loved it. Let’s go over the bits and pieces.

Story: There isn’t much of one, to be fair. It’s mostly a string of crude jokes strung together with “go here, blow this up, go there, kill that guy” mission targets. The broad strokes are that Persephone Brimstone, formerly bad-guy mistress of the LEGION of Gluttony, has taken control of crimefighting agency MAYHEM and has turned the titular Agents loose against her former comrades, primarily the nefarious Dr. Babylon. Babylon wants to steal a comet to power a doomsday device, to please his lord and master, the Morningstar, and (cue evil laughter) TAKE OVER ZE WORLD! The whole thing feels very much like a season of G.I. Joe, even including the little PSAs from the end of each episode, and the story is about as fascinating and surprising as you’d expect from such situations.

Where the story actually shines, though, is in the interaction of the characters. The random comments and radio chatter between different Agents while in the field, and the personality profiles of each character that can be viewed if you’re willing to sneak into the HR office and peruse them show a surprising amount of depth to the characters. All of them, despite being easily plugged in as archetypes (if not stereotypes), have interesting backstories and relationships with the others, frequently surprising ones. (My favorite is the romance between Friday and Braddock; their discussions regarding Braddock’s safety are great and honestly a little touching. Also of note is Kingpin and Yeti’s ongoing chess match, if only because they actually make it plausible that a Russian mutant super soldier and a stereotypical gang banger are actually mini-Kasparovs in their spare time.)

Really, though, those are just perks for completionists. The story is fairly barebones, but that’s okay. It’s just a wrapper for the gameplay. Final score here? 2/5.

Gameplay: Here’s where AoM shines. Seoul, unlike a lot of similar open-world type games, is relatively compact, going for verticality and cramming plenty of stuff to do in a smaller space over inflated travel times to sell the experience, Controls work very well, and even though all of the game’s 14 playable characters have unique mechanics and abilities, they’re done simply enough that you shouldn’t have any trouble when flipping between them, adapting to the playstyles of each as the situation demands. Traversal is quick, easy and entertaining, with air-dashes, ultra-fast summonable vehicles and triple jumps to get you where you want to go, but still having some appropriate challenge when working out just how to reach that tempting little collectible hovering in the air over there.

The game is smart enough to have a variety of enemies that need different tactics or abilities to take down, but in the spirit of experimentation, isn’t going to completely beat you over the head like some games do (I’m looking at you, Witcher 3) if you, either through accident or choice don’t have just the right Agent for the job. Where there’s a will, there’s a way… though there’s almost always a better way.

The one gripe I have with the gameplay side of things is the Contracts. Once in a while, you’ll receive an Agent or World Contract; they’re basically bounties of the “Do X with Z Y times.” Those are fine; complete them, get a little dose of cash, crafting materials or XP. You’ll be fulfilling these almost constantly, as they don’t require much – if any – additional effort on your part, and with the exception of one Achievement/Trophy, don’t have any real impact on your completion stats. And honestly, you’ll pop that award just playing the game, anyway.

But then there’s Connected Contracts. There’s three assigned per day, and they’re designed to be done by groups of people. Players (my experience has been between 1 and 7, but I suspect there isn’t a hard limit; it’s just there’s not that many people playing or using them, I think) all chip in towards a common goal, which is usually something ridiculous. Like kill 1,800 enemies AND pick up 400k in cash AND harvest 4,000 crafting materials. That takes a while. Like, all day. Even with multiple people working on it. And for the kicker, if the last kill/pickup/whatever occurs and you’re not online and playing at the time? Sorry, Charlie; the contract is removed, and you get no reward, regardless of how much you’d put into the kitty that day. Like the World and Agent Contracts, these are almost entirely optional, with the exception of the related Trophy, but for completionists like myself, it’s annoying. Final score? 4/5.

Graphics and Sound: Here’s where Mayhem shines. The art style is done perfectly, looking just like you’d imagine if G.I. Joe had the money to spend on well-done CG; the animated cutscenes between episodes look like lost episodes of the cartoon that someone decided to overdub with rude humor and vulgarity. As is to be expected in a game tied to Saint’s Row, there is an overabundance of purple in the color scheme, but it doesn’t hurt the game, in my opinion, and unlike a lot of third-person shooters, at least Mayhem acknowledges colors other than brown exist. There’s great graphical touches and easter eggs everywhere (the doves flying out of Johnny Gat’s sleeves when he uses his Mayhem attack, or Hollywood’s sunglass-flipping explosions during his ultimate come to mind) and the animation is beautiful, again giving each Agent a distinct personality and style despite the large roster. (Try looking at each character’s triple jump animations for examples; you can very easily infer a lot about Daisy’s attitude compared to Joule’s just on their animation alone.)

Sound does an amazing job as well. The basic sound effects are all fairly stock, but suit the game as a whole; half the noise is lifted from Saturday morning cartoons (complete with the strangely satisfying pew-pew of cartoon lasers), while the remaining effects are the standards in an open-world crime game. The voice acting is where things really stand out, though… again, with such a large cast (14 playable Agents, around 10 support characters, your car, and six LEGION bosses) it’s impressive that they have as much diversity and instant recognition without any difficulty in telling who said what, even if the subtitles are off. Nobody’s phoning it in, either; they’re all great performances, conveying the right mood in all the right places.

A random touch I really liked? Every Agent has their own dialogue in contextual situations, none of it feels canned (except for the “I picked up a thingy” for collectibles, but I can forgive that one), and it never comes off with you saying “what did that have to do with what’s going on?” Even better? The generic grunt badguys have the same care. They address the Agent currently in play by name (or code- or nick-name), acknowledge if you switch mid-combat, and react appropriately to changing situations, health remaining (both yours and theirs) and what weapons and tactics you’re using. It’s honestly probably better done than a game of this type deserves, but amuses me greatly… especially because there’s games out there, frequently lauded for their AI (Gears of War and F.E.A.R. come to mind) who can’t provide appropriate reactions half as often as the dialogue system of Mayhem manages.

The little “background” voice tags are hilarious, too. The ongoing Uranus jokes, though a little juvenile (though, c’mon, you’re playing Volition’s love letter to Saturday mornings; what did you expect?), they’re usually enough to get at least a chuckle. The “announcements” when sitting in MAYHEM HQ or in LEGION bases are brilliant. (“Taco Tuesdays are permanently canceled since the incident. THANKS, CARL.”)

And then the soundtrack. While the majority of the game’s “music” comes from the screams of your dying foes and the pew-pew as you’re “firin’ yer lazers,” there’s two bosses who are very musical indeed… during the missions that lead up to their apprehension, you are treated to some surprisingly great K-Pop and boy-band music that is fitting, well-produced, and quite funny… and over the end credits you get an ensemble heavy metal/rap/pop tune with pretty much every Agent and Minion throwing in at least a verse, which served as a suitably epic end to my time with the game. If they offered the soundtrack, I’d totally buy it. Final verdict? 5/5 on this count.

All told? Agents of Mayhem makes me happy. If you liked Crackdown, and you enjoy the attitude of Saint’s Row, and think that putting those into a blender with old-school G.I. Joe sounds like a great idea, you should give this a try. It’s on PS4, PC and XBox One.

Final score? 4/5.

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