Category Archives: xbox one

2017 Game Review Haiku, #120 – Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor – Lord of the Hunt

The trite hunt is on
Another round of warchiefs
Spew Tolkien vomit

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

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2017 Game Review Haiku, #112 – Layers of Fear

A disturbed painter
Striving for his masterpiece
Will do anything

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Begin your King’s Quest by outwitting four other knightly candidates

I have zero association with Sierra Entertainment’s King’s Quest series, despite its legacy in the point-and-click adventure game genre and my love for entertainment based on pointing and clicking. I remember hearing something once that these Sierra games were punishing and reveled in killing the player from time to time, and that’s lived inside of me ever since. From what I can tell, it helped pioneer the use of animation and pseudo-3D environments, as well as introduced the notion of players solving puzzles and advancing by using items found earlier and stored in their inventory, which is a big deal. It’s on my “want to play eventually” list, along with Loom and Day of the Tentacle, which I do own copies of the latter, but I don’t know when exactly that day will arrive.

Anyways, “A Knight to Remember,” the first episode of King’s Quest and free to download on the ol’ Xbox One, is a series reboot from The Odd Gentlemen, which you may know from their work on The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom. Well, that’s where I know them. It tells the story of the likeable yet overly excitable Graham, who’s working on becoming a knight and, eventually, the king of Daventry. That’s not a spoiler, seeing as the main meat of the game is told via flashback, from an older, bedridden Graham in bed, many years later after he became king. He’s telling the story of his life to his granddaughter, Gwendolyn. Still, as a young knight-to-be, he needs to outwit four other candidates for the open position and make his name heard.

King’s Quest is most definitely a modern point-and-click adventure game, one clearly designed for a controller and home console, but still retaining many of its genre roots. For instance, there’s no tutorial or quest log to remind players about what they should be doing. One needs to quickly learn how to figure stuff out for themselves; that, or try every item on every other item, which is usually my go-to attempt when stuck. There’s also multiple solutions to puzzles, and, strangely enough, Graham can die, though since this is told via flashback the narrator quickly walks back any life-ending decisions like that. It also very much does not follow in the footprints of Telltale Games’ hand-holding, decision-makers, and for that I am thankful.

You control Graham like you would any avatar in a 3D character-action title, and there’s some sick cape physics to admire. Gameplay consists of exploring locations, talking to people and navigating through dialogue trees, picking up items, using said items, and surviving quick time events. You’ll put your wits to work occasionally and do a whole lot of walking. Let me touch on that last point a bit more because it is where I struggled with the game the most, to the point of almost walking away from it entirely, pun totally intended. See, King Graham, you’re not the only one with the good wordplay.

One of the better advancements in point-and-click adventure games is the introduction of a mini-map or the ability to double click on edges of screens to have the protagonist either move there automatically or simply jump to the next location. When a game is structurally built on revisiting the same locations over and over and over, some of which are four or five screens apart and broken up by loading screens, this is paramount to maintaining a good pace and not forcing the player to watch in stark boredom as Graham meanders to and fro like there’s nothing better to do. Lastly, you can’t skip dialogue, and I suspect that my six to seven hours with this first episode alone could have been trimmed down immensely if The Odd Gentlemen made room for a few more user-friendly design concessions.

Visually, King’s Quest is my jam. Specifically, my cel-shaded jam. This results in environments with a hand-painted effect that looks cartoonish, magical, and, somehow, completely natural. Characters stand out against these backdrops, but only initially. For this first episode, locations are limited, but strikingly varied. Graham ends up in the village of Daventry, inside the castle briefly, visiting a theater, exploring a darkened forest, and creeping through a cave home to a massive dragon, who may or may not be friendly, depending on how you interact with it. Strong, ambient lighting and minute details help round out this fantastical world into something believable and lived in. At one point or another, it felt like moving through a painting. This is also all backed by a good soundtrack and strong voice acting, specifically Christopher Lloyd‘s deadpan delivery of puns.

If I’m being honest, the reason I finally sat down and played King’s Quest is because it is a large, sizeable install and I wanted to open up some space on my console for other games. That said, I don’t think I’ll be purchasing the other remaining episodes any time soon, but maybe they’ll pop up in a nice bundle down the road or just eventually become part of the Games with Gold program. I mean, I already know Graham becomes king, but I guess it is all about the journey, after all. We’ll see if I ever see it through myself.

Gimme Five’s random questions just keep coming

gd-gimme-five-xbox-pc-impressions

If I could have just one TV channel and not include anything else in my personalized cable package, it would easily be the Game Show Network. So long as they let me cut out Idiotest and replace that nightly time slot with either dead air or a live feed of some dude’s sick-ass-fish-heck aquarium. On a related note, fish heck should totally be called Pheck. Anyways, both options are 100% better than Ben Gleib’s shambling mess of brainteasers wherein the goal is for contestants to prove to the audience they are not dumb while everyone points and laughs at how dumb they are, especially the host. Ugh. I’m also not a fan of Divided, but I don’t want to get into it here.

Smooth transition time: I am, however, a big fan of Gimme Five, a surprisingly addictive trivia game that puts your knowledge of anything and everything to the test. No, really, the subjects at hand–pun totally intended–vary immensely. I’ve gone from answering questions about coins in the United States to famous Wimbledon winners to identifying prime numbers to figuring out what counts for furniture in the question-asker’s mind.Well, if I’m being honest, Melanie helps me out on all of the math-related items while I handle the ultra hard tasks of naming X-men characters and female protagonists in videogames.

Basically, the game’s goal is simple: answer as many trivia questions as possible–before time runs out or you get too many wrong. See how far you can get. I usually hit a snag between questions 15 and 20, though we did reach question 30 the other night thanks to the mighty skip power-up. Each question has five correct answers, and you must select from nine potential click-able squares. Because this is a videogame and not simply someone giving you a multiple choice test to take, you can use some power-ups to help in this endeavor, such as one that shows you all five right answers, one that highlights a single correct answer, and one that skips the question entirely. Depending on what item you equip before you start playing, you’ll have different amounts of each power-up, as well as other perks, such as bonus time added when answering correctly; I personally like having more skips than anything else because I will never know a single NASCAR championship driver–so stop asking me.

In doing a little research for this post, I discovered there was another game called Gimme Five that came out over a decade ago, from Namco, on mobile. Think about what mobile meant in 2005. I have no idea. Sounds like it was a card-based mini-game thing. This more recent Gimme Five feels mini in its user interface and design, but is addicting enough to keep me coming back for one more run of random questions. I just crossed the level 30 mark and have seen a fair share of repeated questions, but that’s okay, because now I can answer them quickly thanks to memorization and without having to burn a power-up. The developer Shuboarder could also add a few more famous starting quotes, and if they need inspiration, just watch any episode of Criminal Minds.

As you play, you earn KP, which naturally stands for kudos points and not everyone’s favorite animated comedic-spy thriller Kim Possible. This is a type of currency that you save up and spend either on unlockable items to affect your power-ups or you can use them to continue after you hit a dead end. However, each time you continue it costs more KP, and you don’t magically start fresh with a full stock of power-ups and time. If you answered incorrectly and only had a few seconds left on the clock, clicking continue will start you with a new question and the same amount of time to go, so you need to use your continues wisely. The first one costs 10 KP, the second 40 KP, and I’ve never been brave enough to use it a third time though I suspect I’ll have to if I’m ever to see the 50th question.

Strangely, I don’t remember Gimme Five being a product that cost money, back when I installed it in early February 2017. It was a free thing then that certainly looked free and felt free and also offered up 1,000 Gamerscore points, along with in-game statistic tracking. But it seems like it’ll strip your wallet of $4.99 now if you want in on all the crazy questions, and I’m not sure it’s worth that amount of digital cash seeing as there’s a billion trivia games out there, many of which are free or no more than a dollar. I am having fun, as is Melanie, but it also helps that I got into this thing early when it was a freebie.

Back to Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, where the shadows are

I acquired a digital version of the Game of the Year edition of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor at the same time I got Dragon Age: Inquisition, which was last Black Friday. Not a full year ago, but somewhat close. Still, knowing that both were big, meaty adventures with intricate systems, I decided to start one over the other and promised not to diverge from that plan until credits rolled. I went with Dragon Age: Inquisition and greatly regret that decision. I had played inferior versions of both games, click here for whinging about glitches in Ferelden and click here for whinging about insufferably long load times in Middle-earth, but I was more interested, at that time, in a traditional roleplaying adventure that was all about managing stats and less about quickly climbing up rocks and sticking daggers in necks. If only I knew then what I know now.

Moving along, I’m now working my way through Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor at the same time as I tackle the open wilderness in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, at more or less the same pace as I did with the Xbox 360 version, even tackling the side missions and collectibles similarly. What can I say, I’m a creature of habit. The only difference really is that this GOTY edition provided me with some extra special weapon runes from the start, one of which lights my sword on fire after a long combo streak. I’m usually not a fan of pre-order bonuses that dramatically make things easier for the player, but this time I’m not complaining. Also, it looks cool as heck, the kind of effect that Beric Dondarrion would quietly appreciate.

The ho-hum plot takes place between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. You control a ranger called Talion, who was killed by the Black Hand of Sauron alongside his wife and son. The wraith of the Elf Lord Celebrimbor bonds with Talion’s body, and together they set out to avenge the deaths of their loved ones by taking down every goblin, orc, and troll in their way. Also, there’s Gollum, because of course there is, and his missions often have him leading you somewhere and then following hidden tracks to trigger an event. I’m a little further story-wise than I was during my first go at Talion’s take on revenge, and I’m not finding it all that thrilling, and this is from a guy that has played a lot of Lord of the Rings games, including sub-par ones like The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Aragorn’s Quest, both from the PlayStation 2 era.

Gameplay in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, which one could easily call a third-person open world action-adventure thing, is basically the Assassin’s Creed series with big improvements to mobility and combat. You run around, you climb, you attack swarms of enemies, you collect collectibles, and you level up your weapons and abilities by gaining XP. You can be a stealthy ranger or an action-first ranger or, most likely, a mixture of both. The combat is rhythmic in the vein of Batman: Arkham Asylum, and it feels good to be in complete control of a mob of Orcs, keeping the combo chain high and mighty. There’s no surprises here so far, but a lot has been streamlined to feel better or make things easier, such as not taking fall down from high heights or being able to get a burst of speed after mantling an object. My favorite is a new ability I just got that lets Talion immediately warp to a selected enemy’s location; Tolkien sure did love his teleporting rangers.

Obviously, the biggest hook in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor‘s arsenal is the Nemesis System, which tracks any non-generic Uruk that the player comes into contact with, either through story beats or simply by killing Talion or surviving a fight with the ranger. These Uruk will be promoted into captains, and defeating these leaders helps weaken Sauron’s army. On the flip side, being killed by a named Uruk will cause the current mission to be cancelled, and the victorious Uruk will gain additional power, making him more difficult to defeat in the next encounter. This system was not fully implemented on the previous generation version, and I definitely missed out on a lot of personality, character, of really feeling like these Uruks were living, breathing, vengeful monstrosities traipsing around Middle-earth according to their own schedules. See, each of these named Uruks have a range of strengths and weaknesses that Talion can exploit in combat to quickly take them out, such as a fear of explosions or invulnerability to ranged attacks, and you can gain this type of knowledge by draining and interrogating marked enemies, systemically removing the leader’s bodyguards and barriers.

I’m mildly enjoying Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, but in bite-sized chunks. Hop into the game, find a collectible or two, take on a story mission, and close out, as the combat can become quite button mashy and my thumb often needs a break by the time Talion is done beheading his fiftieth orc. The stealth, when successful, is great and makes you feel pretty powerful, but I’m not invested in the story bits…one bit. As this is the GOTY edition, there’s plenty to see and do, with DLC included, and I’ll probably keep plugging away at this while everyone enjoys Middle-earth: Shadow of War next month. Thankfully, I’m in no rush to see Sauron’s army fall, especially knowing that it will just rise up again, bigger and stronger, in the forthcoming sequel.

Oxenfree’s supernatural coming-of-age story nails teen talk

Oxenfree from Night School Studios got the distinct honor of ranking number four on my Top 10 Videogames I Didn’t Get to Play in 2016 list. I had originally tried buying the game during the Christmas holiday sale, but this was back when my Xbox One decided to stop working when it came to accessing the store and other menu options, and so I moved on. Then, thanks to the Humble Day of the Devs 2016 bundle, I got a copy on Steam for a few bucks, but just never got around to installing and/or launching it. Thankfully, my waiting and reluctance-ness paid off, as Oxenfree is a Games with Gold freebie for this month, which means I got to play it comfortably from the couch with a controller in my hand. Woo, go me, go waiting.

What is Oxenfree? Y’know, other than a word most famously known for its use as a catchphrase in hide and go seek. Well, it’s a supernatural thriller starring a group of teenage friends who accidentally open up a ghostly rift on Edwards Island. You play as blue-haired Alex, and you’ve just brought your new stepbrother Jonas to this overnight island party that quickly goes horribly wrong. Also there is Clarissa, who used to date Alex’s deceased older brother, Ren, a light-hearted stoner, and Nona, a shy being that may or may not have feelings for a certain pot brownie-loving, easily excitable goofball. It’s kind of a point-and-click adventure, but with little pointing and clicking and more wandering around the island, chatting with your friends, and solving radio-based puzzles to battle ghosts and close time loops. Also, gorgeous background art.

Ultimately, Oxenfree is a game primarily about conversation. Thankfully, there’s a simple and extremely effective speech-bubble interface for all of these interactions, with each dialogue choice tied to a respective button on the Xbox One controller: X, Y, or B. This allows you to still walk around a scene and interact with items or climb platforms using A while people speak around you. You can also, much like in every Telltale Games title these days, stay completely silent and not pick a response, and there’s even an Achievement for doing this all the way to the credits, tough as that might be.

Here’s what makes the talking in Oxenfree interesting–characters are constantly chatting, and it is up to you to have Alex respond at the sort of tempo that would be home in a true-to-life conversation. This means you can interrupt someone or wait until they are done to say your piece, and each action feels just as natural as the other. There’s no pausing and waiting, you need to react quickly and naturally, and if you don’t, the conversation moves on without you. This realism can lead to frustrating moments where you simply don’t have time to respond accordingly or you can accidentally cut off someone mid-sentence and never know what they were planning to say in the end. Thankfully, the writing and voiceover work is strong, full of charismatic and everyday voices from industry staples like Erin Yvette as Alex, Gavin Hammon as Jonas, and Britanni Johnson as Nona. These definitely feel like teens talking like teens.

Oxenfree is short and punchy, but I expected that. A couple hours at most, but I played it in two separate sessions. It doesn’t waste time, which is a funny statement when you understand that several of its puzzle sequences are about being stuck in a Groundhog Day loop. These scenarios are easily solved through repeating actions, and the only real puzzles involve Alex and her portable radio, which can be tuned to specific stations. Find the right one, lock in on it, and open up a channel to communicate with the angry, vindictive ghosts of Edwards Island. The “glitchy” effects and how you continue to interact with a scene going topsy-turvy and quickly changing from one second to the next are unreal and captivating. I also found a lot of the ghosts, especially when taking over one of Alex’s friends’ bodies, to be extremely unnerving though I’d never call this a horror game.

Endings are where it matters most in Oxenfree, and I don’t know how many there ultimately all and refuse to look it up, but there’s definitely more than one. I am happy with the one I got. Based on your conversations with friends and actions taken, you can end up with some hating you or falling in love with others by the time credits roll. My choices resulted in a mixed bag of outcomes. Often with games like this, I usually stick to one single playthrough and cement it in my memory as the only way that story could have unfolded because, to me, that’s how it all went down. Though I am very much interested in a second go-around where Alex is mute and doesn’t react at all to the terrifying things happening around her.

Get to ghostly work in Murdered: Soul Suspect

You might not have ever guessed it considering I’ve never really said a word about it, but Murdered: Soul Suspect is a game I’ve been genuinely curious about since its release. Which, um, was way back in 2014. Y’know, when cars began to fly, entire meals were in a pill, and aliens visited us peacefully to share all the knowledge of every galaxy ever. I remember it well. It’s got all the trappings that I often enjoy in my digital entertainment–ghosts, a murder mystery, lots of collectibles, an emphasis on exploration and not combat, and playing detective. It’s kind of like the Blackwell series of point-and-click adventure games on a bigger budget.

Murdered: Soul Suspect is all about once-criminal, now-cop Ronan O’Connor, who is killed off immediately at the start of the game–major spoiler alert!–as he hunts down the elusive serial killer known as “The Bell Killer”. The game takes place in a fictionalized version of the American town Salem, which is famous for its seaport and burning witches. Anyways, for some reason, Ronan returns as a ghost. His long-dead wife, Julia, also in spirit form, says that the only way he can join her on the other side is by solving the Bell Killer mystery. Sure, sweetie. Will do. I mean, that’s what I was trying to do before I died so I might as well keep on keeping on. Also, I might want to see what is up with that creepy ghost girl.

The gameplay in Murdered: Soul Suspect is both simple and linear though there is some room to explore at your leisure, but that’s only if you want to find all the collectibles, which I totally did. You navigate ghost Ronan around town, and since he is physically body-less, you can pass through walls and other solid objects, so long as they aren’t blessed. There’s also some contrived reasons that Ronan can’t enter buildings with doors that are closed, but I don’t remember the exact phrasing. Your search to unravel the Bell Killer mystery will take you to a church, an apartment building, a graveyard, a mental hospital, and so on. More or less, you walk around an environment, looking for clearly identified clues, and Ronan has some ghostly abilities up his see-through sleeve to help in this endeavor, such as teleportation and possession. Each area has a specific number of clues to collect to progress through the level and the story, and they are found and put together in a way similar to L.A. Noire‘s investigation sequences, except you are not trying to catch people in a lie or hopping to and fro various locations.

The story is entertaining enough, but fairly straightforward, and that’s including the twists, which are not difficult to see coming. Ronan befriends a young, troubled girl called Joy, who is a medium and able to interact with ghosts, and she is, without a doubt, the best part of all of Murdered: Soul Suspect. Eventually, you’ll learn about why the Bell Killer is targeting his victims and how Salem’s history fits into everything. Much like an episode of Criminal Minds or Law & Order, the game steers you towards a specific person as your suspect right until the very end.

There’s been some talk recently about playing detective in games and what ways work and what ways don’t. For sure, Murdered: Soul Suspect does not work, but I’m not mad about it. I didn’t come to it for that one aspect. Still, honestly, the game constantly felt worried that I wouldn’t get the answer right, which occasionally lead to me overthinking things. Take for instance one of the earlier optional “Unfinished Business” cases in which Ronan helps a young female ghost figure out how she was killed and what happened to her body. I scoured the apartment of a cranky old couple until I found all the clues I could, but two of the clues needed to be drawn directly from the old man and woman, respectively, and to do that, you needed to select a clue you already found to influence their train of thought. I assumed the “gardening tools” or “newspaper clipping” would have sufficed, but all both needed was the initial inquiry about a missing girl that started this whole thing off. It felt strange and wrong and that all my years of watching police procedures was for naught.

Some other quibbles because I’m me. First, while I can’t resist picking up every single collectible shining on the ground, I do wish many of the item’s descriptions had voice-over work so that I could continue to explore my surroundings while learning about what I picked up. Instead, you have to read a small, somewhat uninteresting paragraph of text for each one, and I eventually stopped doing this altogether. Second, the game gives you a lot of tools, but not the freedom to do much with them, such as using poltergeist to affect tangible objects, but only when needed to distract a guard in one specific sequence. You can also possess a cat, but only when possessing a cat is vital to getting somewhere high up. Lastly, I too suffered from the “Investigate the War Room” bug, which stayed as my current objective until the end of the game, but thankfully I was able to remember where to go next as I basically played through Murdered: Soul Suspect in a few multi-hour bursts and it’s not too difficult to figure out where to go next.

I enjoyed Murdered: Soul Suspect quite a bunch even though it is far from perfect, but it does sadden me to know that Airtight Games is no more and so a sequel, a chance to improve on the lackluster detective work or zero-fun combat scenarios with demons. The only other game from Airtight Games that I’ve played is Quantum Conundrum, though I walked away from it once the puzzles became too complicated. Oh well. Not everything can be as easy as a ghost going into someone’s body, peeking at their computer screen, and then manipulating their thoughts based on this information to have them do exactly what you want to move the case forward.