Around the end of last year, I became aware that as much as time as I spent thinking and reading about games, I wasn't really playing
them that much - there are so many titles I've been wanting to get around to experiencing one day, but I've instead been opting to consume game content passively. So for 2016, I've decided to try playing one new game a week. Chronicling Retour
cut into that goal a bit, but my recent purchase of Capcom Classics Collection Reloaded
for $1.99 in a recent PSN sale has tipped the scales in the opposite direction. But it's no use playing
games if I don't talk
about them, so let's begin to address the review backlog.
Like Alan Wake
has become such a Steam staple that it seems redundant to recount the premise of this fantasy action RPG: you follow a survivor in the wake of an initially-unspecified world-shattering calamity as he finds his way to his culture's last refuge, the titular Bastion, and travels to hotspots among the ruins of the earth collecting power sources that will allow him and the scant other survivors to travel back in time and undo the damage. Besides the third-person narration by a Sam Elliott-alike that details your every move, Bastion
distinguishes itself through its terrifically diverse range of weaponry. Your arsenal accommodates a huge number of different movement patterns and attack strategies: you can choose to take the time to draw a bead on your opponent for a devastating single attack, or lob explosives into crowds, or protect your personal space with a continuous trail of HP-eating flame, or - just tons more. Though there's ultimately too much choice for the length of the game and the limited range of situations it throws at you to support, combat is sprightly, you have a number of solid number of challenges to complete with your weapons, and experimenting with the different loadouts and customizable upgrades is addictively fun: I played Bastion
all the way to completion over the course of three days, which is an accomplishment in the face of my work schedule and procrastination, let me tell you.
It's unfortunate, then, that the game feels ultimately disposable to me. For one, though the art design is kind of impressive in detail, Bastion
in aggregate takes this cluttered rag-and-bone approach and adopts a muddied palette, both of which make its environments feel samey. (Their isometric, aggressively-quadrilateral grid-based design doesn't help; it makes the locales seem as organic and lived-in as graph paper.) The game really doesn't have enough story to support its omnipresent, legend-in-the-making narration, and telling the tale in third person puts you at an emotional remove from the characters, who generally do bupkis anyway. While the variety of enemies is refreshing in the different tactics each foe requires, there are no sweeping changes or unexpected twists in gameplay or the challenges you face, and as mentioned previously, the game's just such a slight, short thing. Bastion
just doesn't make a lasting impact - except at the end, in a way it really shouldn't, due to a plot denouement whose implications were not considered by the writers in the slightest.
See, the story [Spoiler (click to open)]focuses on a conflict between the culture that built the Bastion and the Ura, a native people whose visual design is rooted in Japanese culture but who are blatantly modeled after American Indians. (There is pointed exposition about how the ruling powers stole the Ura's frontier land through dishonest treaties to build their railroads, etc.) Though the Ura have been conquered and subjugated, TPTB are antsy about lingering unrest among the Ura and the prospect of another war. So they devise a final solution: a weapon that will exterminate the Ura to prevent any further conflicts. The Ura scientist dragooned into creating the weapon, though, secretly rejiggers it to target the entire population instead of just the Ura - leading to the calamity that depopulated the world.
Eventually, one of the Ura survivors you pick up finds this out and reports back to his brethren, whereupon the rest of the surviving Ura declare war on the Bastion to prevent you from finishing the genocide. Just a big misunderstanding, huh? Later, however, you learn that - ha-ha - they're exactly right, as collecting the world's last power sources to fuel the Bastion is killing the Ura's remaining settlements. But you have to persist, as powering up the Bastion is the only way to go back in time, undo this whole horrible timeline, and save everybody, the Ura included.
OK, so you eventually do fully activate the Bastion, and you reach the end of the game - whereupon, to my puzzlement, it presents you with a choice. The cute female Ura survivor you picked up starts going on about how free & happy she's felt in humanity's sole refuge and how all the moments she really treasures have happened after the breaking of the world and the holocaust of her people - despite the fact that you haven't interacted much at all, and that most of the action in the story has been the player character fighting & Uras dying. Nonetheless, she urges you to forget all this "saving humanity" nonsense and just tool around the cursed earth in your awesome flying fortress with her for the rest of your days. And, instead of fulfilling your mission, you can actually choose to do this. Dumbfounded, I thought, well, no. I didn't commit genocide for nothing here. What are you even talking about?
It turns out, however, that saving the world and averting mass slaughter is the wrong decision. Choosing the "go back in time" ending will unlock the game's New Game Plus mode, whereupon you learn that, ha ha, the calamity can never be averted, just because you can go back in time doesn't mean you can change time, what were you even thinking, you dope. So why were the characters trying to activate the Bastion if they couldn't change anything? Your band includes the engineer who built the Bastion - he knows exactly how it works. The answer: Because the writers wanted to stack the deck toward a trite ending that espouses letting go of your past and FREEDOM - even if that ending inadvertently argues that the game's Native American genocide was totally cool, since it got you a sweet spaceship, so weren't you silly to be so concerned about that whole mass extinction of humanity thing the first time around?
Look, the gameplay's strong enough that I'll eventually check out the studio's follow-up effort, Transistor
, but what I'm saying is: maybe you shouldn't draw such close real-life parallels with your genocide if you're arguing that it was really the best
thing to have happened and totally sweet.
(Also: Special mention must go to the love interest, who is one of the most token throwaway female game characters I've seen. She's a pretty singer! She cooks badly! She gets kidnapped! Wait, she didn't get kidnapped; she actually ran away so the male lead would come find her and prove how much he loves her! Did they glitch out the part where she says that "Math class is tough"?)
As I am the very last person on Earth to check out Plants vs. Zombies
, you probably don't need me to tell you that it's a surprisingly robust tower-defense game where you landscape your gridded lawn with legume-spitting sweet peas, melon-launching catapult vines, and spore-breathing fungi to keep an army of increasingly resilient and mobile zombies from invading your home. Despite the fact that the zombie theme is played-out even beyond the limits of undeath, Plants vs. Zombies
has an avuncular Zombies Ate My Neighbors
sense of humor & retro aesthetic that, together with the shared emphasis on plants & greenery and the sunshiny art style, neutralizes the game's overdone subject matter - and there's no off-putting gore. I clicked on a Flash version of game for a lark, bought a Steam copy after getting drawn in for eight levels, and played it for 24 hours over the next week-plus. Turns out that as much as zombies love brains, they find your productivity even more delicious.
Despite its plaudits, you'll understand my trepidation toward purchasing Her Story
when I learned that the scribe of Shattered Memories
was behind the project. Thankfully, actual adults were involved in this production, leading to a considerably more tolerable game. You're set in front of a police database UI with a few interview videos loaded and the word "MURDER" helpfully inputted into the search engine. You're given no initial information beyond that: you have to watch the starting videos, identify possible lines of inquiry, and input keywords you think will be fruitful to bring up more videos and piece events together. It's Googling as a game, a totally unique, intuitive, and instantly engaging approach to gameplay. The hook of piecing together the events and players under investigation, as well as the gradual truth (or something like it), is strikingly compelling.
Now, while the story is indeed several steps up from Shattered Memories
, it might not be for everyone, as per this review.
(And it is indeed possible to figure out what you might call "the twist" relatively early on in the proceedings, as that couple did - though there's much more to uncover after that regarding whys & wherefores, as well as small character moments to appreciate; it's far from the endgame.) Granted, the more you think about the story after the fact, the dafter it becomes, but in the midst of the gameplay, told in the bits and pieces of the video clips, it's fascinating - and it's sold well in its telling, from a possibly unreliable narrator, by an actress who's just the right degree of authentic (you'll see what I mean) for the job. I hope the developers produce more stories in this vein.
(But, guys: Out of Loreena McKennitt's entire catalogue, you choose to copy her guro transformation filk?)
Unlike the saga of Henry Townshend, the PC puzzle title The Room
is all about breaking in instead of breaking out. Namely, you're attempting to break into a series of nesting puzzle boxes inherited from your vanished grandfather that are said to hold at their core the end result of his Lovecraftian experiments into the nature of the universe.
It's very difficult for me to judge the technical performance of The Room
, since I played the game on a laptop that's several years old - indeed, I'm grateful that the designers were considerate enough to include a vast variety of display settings to make the game playable on a wide range of machines. Still, I feel safe in saying that the PC controls can be a little finicky - with all the flicking, twisting, turning, and winding of the boxes' control mechanisms (all mimicking real actions with clicking & dragging; no simple button presses here unless there are on-box buttons to be pressed), it's clear this was designed for tablet touch controls. That's a minor drawback, though, one that doesn't significantly interfere with the real treat of The Room
: exploring the smart Hepplewhite-come-steampunk design of the boxes, and how they unwind, unfold, and transform themselves to reveal more sinister surprises. The puzzles are good, mostly not too hard, but enough so to provide a sense of accomplishment when solved, and rewarding curiosity and thoroughness - they're at just the right difficulty, and in just the right amounts, to sustain a satisfying yet sprightly playtime. There's an unspoken tension throughout the experience, too: you know, despite your gog-eyed fascination with the parade of neato doohickeys you that unleash, that none of this is going to end well. But you just have to see
Unfortunately, despite a few potently creepy moments that seem like they're really building to something, you have to reconcile with the fact that there's not any ultimate point or endgame here except "Ha ha, stay tuned for more Room
, hombres!" - which you can't, actually, if you're on PC, as only the first game has been ported from mobile & tablet to that platform. Still: The Room
has been crafted with as much diabolic care as its boxes and is clearly worth a look for puzzle fans.