Monday, March 14, 2022

Dan Plays Video Games, Part 1

This post started as "finishing games I already own", but it looks to be spiraling off into a review series as I do with books. So have at it, then! Just to prevent it from getting overwhelming, I am starting from the beginning of this calendar year.



Psychonauts 2


It is an absolute shame that this game seems to have slipped under the radar. It is the ideal continuation, moving forward without a hitch after what, 15, 16 years? Doesn't skip a beat. The visuals are wild, the gameplay is smooth, but the writing takes the cake - some truly excellent comedy accompanied by genuine thoughtfulness not often seen (of the admirable sort where ostensibly kids' media is clearly dealing with some very serious topics but has faith in the audience)


Gris


A beautiful little puzzley-platformy art game. You know what you are getting into with this, a little experience with gorgeous visuals and wonderful music, that is precisely as long as it needs to be. It's a Journey-alike.

 

Scourgebringer

Plays like a dream (cannot overstate just how good the moment-to-moment flow is), great visuals and sound design, but it ran into the great curse of roguelites - I unlocked everything and was no closer to actually reaching the end of the game. So I went into the accessibility settings, set on invincibility, and cleared it. An ignominious flat note, though self inflicted, to as game that started so strong.



Little Nightmares


Short, atmospheric, good balance of dread / tension / horror / quiet. Nice and grotesque. Gaub vibes.



Bloodstained Ritual of the Night


I got to the final boss and quit. Close enough.

Here's the thing about Metroidvania type games. There are a shit ton of really good ones. We are spoiled for choice in this genre and the art has been honed to a master sheen. Making a game that is exactly the same as games that came out twenty years ago, keeping all of the old frustrating bits and adding none of the quality of life improvements the last decades have seen. Combat is slow and lacks variety (and a dash with I-frames), health items are at a premium, money is too scarce, but instead of being fun it's just "grind until you have enough crafting materials and coins to afford stuff."

Hollow Knight has absolutely ruined a genre by simply being too good.



Lobotomy Corporation


Another one I attempted to finish, but did not finish.

A game with a great concept (SCP management sim!) that needs mods to make it tolerable, but by the time I found the mods my tolerance had long run out. At bare minimum you need the wiki open at all times and the difficulty curve is based around beating your head against a wall and grinding out minuscule improvements in a pseudo-roguelite gameplay loop. The monsters are cool and there are hints at some interesting stuff in the setting but the grind is just unforgivable.

It wants to have its cake and eat it too: the game goes on and on about how you will have to sacrifice your peons to complete the day's tasks. Problem is, each of those peons is an enormous investment of time and resources, which means that your brain is going to go right into risk avoidance mode, which makes a dull, grindy game even more boring and grindy. Complete misunderstanding of basic loss-avoidance behavior.

Someone, anyone, please make a game like this, but good instead of hopelessly frustrating. 



Remnant: From the Ashes


This game tries to be a lot of things and doesn't excel at any of them. Co op shooter, souls-ish mechanics (well, it's got a dodge roll, at least), Lore(tm), there a sorta roguelite mode and the environments are randomized (?). It doesn't work. It is, at best, a passable, if dull 3rd person shooter. At worst it is absolute bullshit. Solo play ranges from trivial to impossible. Environments edge towards being insteresting but gameplay is mindless. They really want you to care about characters and a world that are just shy of completely incoherent. If they had just sat down and focused, there could have been something good here.

You know how, in co op games, if you get downed a teammate can revivie you? If you fall off the edge of a boss arena you can't be revived. One of the boss fights is on a bridge. You still get rewards but you have to watch your teammates finish the fight. It's that kind of game.

I got to the final boss, which has a nigh-unavoidable instant-kill attack that it opens the fight with. Nah, fuck that. 



Kingdom: Two Crowns


Minimalism is fine and good, until it gets so minimalist that the player cannot adequately comprehend what is going on in the game. This is unfortunately one of those cases. There is so little guidance or direction that I felt like I had no control over what I was doing, and no knowledge of what I was doing anyway.



SUPERHOT


JUST LET ME PLAY THE GAME, I DON'T CARE ABOUT THE FRAME NARRATIVE, IT WRECKS THE PACING.



CROSS CODE


This feels like a DS game that time forgot, or one that slipped through from an alternate timeline.

The setup is novel - real-life MMO game played by proxy avatars, except you apparently have been memory wiped and are stuck with a broken voice synthesizer updated a word at a time. The gameplay itself is real-time twin-stick shooter but has the trade dress and structure of a JRPG, which is also part of how the world has a JRPG overlay put on top of it, and it's all rather clever. NPCs with three voice lines ask you to haul back ten bear asses but you know that they are an abstraction and gamification of the world within the game you yourself are playing and I just think that's neat.

Also it's gorgeous, plays super smooth, and has a boppin' soundtrack. Like I said, lost DS gem. Definitely pick this one up, it's in the Ukraine Charity Bundle.



Horizon Forbidden West


A game doomed by time and style to be compared to Elden Ring, and the comparison is not favorable. As a game, it is fine. Enjoyable. Solid, even. Few minor things added, mostly the same as the first. It is a decent enough AAA open world game, and...god those games are fucking chores.

The pacing is terrible. You know how sometimes, there's a moment of "finally, I am freed from the tutorial area and I can actually experience the game" when you play a game? Forbidden West has done this THREE TIMES so far and I'm sitting at the 20% mark. There are so many errands and tasks and sidequests but none of them give you anything of value, nothing that changes the game or allows you to change how you approach things. It's filler, it's all filler, and the game is constantly interrupting the act of playing by giving me more things to do but no value, narrative or mechanical, out of doing them. There is no point, and yet the developers are seemingly so terrified that I will be bored by exploring this vast world they have made that they insist I have a chain of wonderfully crafted but spiritually empty NPCs telling me exactly what I need to do. Also this game pulled "he was one of the good ones" twice in trying to avoid addressing any sort of moral complexity regarding characters who participated in war crimes.

It could have been just good. There is still underneath it all much to be praised in it. But it is a game whose core conceits, the things it values and treasures are anathema to me...



Elden Ring


because in Elden Ring I get to be a FOOLISH SAMURAI WARRIOR WIELDING A MAGIC SWORD.

Game good.


 

2 comments:

  1. A larger Elden Ring post will happen soon enough.

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  2. I'm disappointed to hear Lobotomy Corporation is a swing and a miss. Not all that surprised though, considering how many times it's been in and out of my Steam cart. You'd think "you get to be a SCP Site Director!" would be a conceptual slam dunk.

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