Thursday, October 12, 2017

This War of Mine - Review

This War of Mine (2014) is a point-and-click resource-management survival-simulator in which you play as a group of civilians attempting to survive as long as possible in a city that's under siege as part of an active civil war. The original hype surrounding this game centered entirely on how starkly it contrasted with typical military shooters (which tend to glorify war and murder) by putting you in the shoes of regular people -- not soldiers -- who have to suffer all of the hellish effects of war, despite being innocent bystanders. Although the game is decently engaging from a mechanical standpoint, it's really just a simple, run-of-the-mill survival-simulator; the real reason to play This War of Mine is to explore its theme of what it might be like to be a random civilian trying to survive a war, and to see a completely different wartime perspective than what's usually on offer in video games.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Mass Effect 2 Sucks

The first game I ever reviewed on this blog was the original Mass Effect, back in 2011. You can go back and read the review if you desire, but the whole thing is crudely written and doesn't really capture the nuance of how I felt about the game. It's been so long at this point that I can't elaborate on those thoughts any further, because I simply can't remember much of anything from ME1, except to say that I remember generally enjoying the game despite being constantly annoyed by simple, repetitive gameplay and obnoxious enemy-scaling and loot-scaling.

For years I've been hearing about how Mass Effect 2 was supposedly better than the original. A quick scan of google search results shows hundreds of articles and forum posts from 2010 heralding it as one of the greatest RPGs -- nay, greatest games, period -- of all time, while more recent articles with years of hindsight continue to sing its praises and laud its place in the pantheon of video game history. Apparently these people have never played good RPGs -- or good games, for that matter -- or else they all have wildly different definitions than I do as to what constitutes a "good" game, because there's virtually nothing about Mass Effect 2 that I can actually praise apart from its slick presentation and general aesthetic.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

DOOM 2016: "Holy Hell, This is Actually Good."

The original Doom games from 1993 and 1994 are some of my favorite first-person shooters of all time, but I haven't really enjoyed anything that developer id Software has put out since. Quake (1996) felt a little too bland and uninspired to hold my attention and I quit part-way through its second episode; Doom 3 (2004) was alright but felt too much like a System Shock-inspired survival-horror game, and less like a Doom game; and Rage (2011) inappropriately and ineffectively tried to cash in on the open-world post-apocalyptic FPS-RPG fad that was already running strong with Borderlands and Fallout: New Vegas. So when id announced DOOM (2016), which was supposed to be a reboot of their beloved series and a return to the style of fast-paced, no-nonsense action shooter that they single-handedly invented back in the early-90s, I had little faith that it would actually be any good.

As it turns out, DOOM (2016) is actually a solid FPS. It's one of few reboots that supposedly "goes back to its roots" and actually delivers on that promise; DOOM un-apologetically bucks many of the trends souring modern FPS games and offers a gameplay experience that focuses on intense action blended with complex level design. It feels very much like the original games, but with the added benefit of some modern polish and extra features. Even disregarding the legacy of its predecessors and how it stands up against them, DOOM works great as a stand-alone game with a decently long campaign that offers a ton of satisfying variety, challenge, and progression. This is a quality game from top to bottom that, for once in a AAA game, deserves all the praise it's received.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Red Faction: Guerrilla Sucks

Red Faction: Guerrilla is one of the worst games I've ever played. That statement's a bit hyperbolic, I admit, but even when I don't like a game I can usually find some sort of redeeming value, some reason to maybe like it in spite of its problems. I can't do that with Red Faction: Guerrilla. Sure, the Geo Mod 2.0 system, which allows you to reduce towering buildings to piles of rubble through a full-fledged physics-based destruction system, can be a lot of fun, but literally everything else in this game -- vehicles, combat, missions, the story, the open world -- is either underwhelming or completely rubbish. It's like they had this idea for a great destruction system and then slapped a bunch of stuff together to make a game out of it, without bothering to make sure any of the actual game was any good.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Armello Review: A Poorly-Designed Board Game Dressed Up Like a Video Game

Most digital board games are merely adaptations of actual, physical board games; they keep all the same gameplay elements and components of the physical game and simply add a digital interface so that you can interact with the components, and therefore actually play the game. Platforms like Board Game Simulator and Tabletopia are just physics engines with digital versions of board game components that play virtually identically to the real thing, with you picking up and moving your pieces across the board and dragging cards into the play area, substituting your hands for a mouse cursor. Armello -- successfully Kickstarted in May 2014 and released on Steam in September 2015 -- may be the only digital board game without a physical counterpart, since it was designed from the ground up to be digital. As such, it's basically a hybrid game with the design concepts of board games and the functional feeling of a video game.

Armello is a fantasy-themed turn-based strategy game for up to four players, in which everyone plays as different anthropomorphic animal clans (represented by their hero) vying for control of the animal kingdom after a dark poison known as the Rot has overtaken the land and driven the lion King mad. The game lasts up to 20 rounds, with the king -- positioned in the palace at the center of the hex-based board -- losing one health from Rot poisoning every other round, at dawn, until he eventually dies. If it comes to that, the player with the most Prestige (ie, victory points) wins the game by being the most worthy successor to the throne. However, players can also end the game early by breaching the palace and assassinating the weakened king, or by collecting four spirit stones and bringing them to the palace to cure the king. A player who kills or cures the king wins, regardless of prestige.

You'll be rolling dice based on your stats to complete quests, survive perils, and to fight monsters and other players, while using limited action points to move across the board towards specific objectives and to maneuver past obstacles. You'll also be managing a hand of cards, drawing up to your hand limit every turn. These cards consist of different types of equipment, spells, and trickery cards, all of which have some type of cost to use. Equipment cards can be permanently equipped to your hero for various benefits, while spells and trickery cards can be played at any time (even when it's not your turn) on enemies, tiles, or other players. You'll complete quests to increase your stats, claim settlements to increase your income, defeat monsters to earn prestige, explore dungeons for random rewards, and play your spells and trickeries on other players to influence and control the board.

I play a lot of video games, obviously, but I'm also an avid board gamer. I've actually spent more money on board games over the last three years than I have on video games (which includes money spent upgrading my computer), and I've even reviewed a few board games on this blog. It's safe to say that I'm exactly the kind of person this game is intended for, and yet I just don't like it very much. Perhaps that's in large part because this just maybe isn't my type of game (I'm not a huge fan of dice-chuckers, although many of my favorite games use dice and I do enjoy games like Run Fight or Die and Cosmic Run), but Armello features several rules and gameplay features that I and a lot of gamers consider to be objectively bad. While I can tolerate or even embrace some of these things in the right context or in small doses, Armello takes some of them to the extreme, with too much prevalence in a game that's a little too long and serious for what it ultimately is.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Darksiders: Derivative, Redundant, Uninspired

Darksiders (2010) is essentially the love-child of The Legend of Zelda and Devil May Cry. Picture, if you will, a Zelda game in the vein of Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess, set in modern times after a war between Heaven and Hell has wiped humanity off the face of the earth and left its landscape a ruined mess, in which you play as War -- one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse -- trying to clear his name after he's framed for prematurely bringing about the apocalypse, by going into Zelda-style dungeons to solve puzzles and unlock special items that will help you defeat the boss and unlock new areas of the world map, while fighting enemies using a combination of a giant sword, scythe, and pistol to build combo-chains Devil May Cry-style. That's Darksiders in a nutshell; it's a carbon copy so similar to those two games that a cynical person might say it straight up plagiarizes them, while others might say that it is more of an homage in the style of those two games.

I certainly qualify as a hardcore cynic, but I generally enjoy Zelda games and there aren't enough 3D Zelda-clones out there to scratch the Zelda itch while waiting years on end for a new Zelda game to come out (on a brand new console that you can't afford until the price drops several more years later). I was looking forward to playing Darksiders, hoping that it would offer that same Zelda feel but with a more mature theme full of grimdark imagery and bloody violence. Darksiders succeeds on both fronts, but at the same time it feels a little too rote and mechanical, as if the developer, Vigil Games, was so focused on reproducing the Zelda and Devil May Cry formulae that they forgot to put any of their own creativity into the game, thus leaving us with a perfectly functional and decently enjoyable game that's ultimately too derivative, redundant, and uninspired for its own good.