Tag Archives: exploration

Conceivably rising to Risen’s challenge of becoming the ultimate legend

I’ve always been intrigued by the Risen games, knowing they were probably something I’d never touch, mostly because big, open-world RPGs on the PC were just always that–on the PC. I mean, I’ve had a personal computer of some sort since my college days, then playing things like Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, The Sims, and Age of Empires, but mostly sticking to consoles for my gaming time and leaving the computer for activities like reading, writing, blogging, adulting, and using Photoshop Elements 3.0 to make killer journal comics. I think the closest I got to playing something Risen-like was trying out the demo for Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga way back when.

Anyways, at some point, from one of those numerous too-good-to-ignore bundles, because I know I did not purposefully seek out these two titles on my own, I got Risen and Risen 2: Dark Waters. It might have been a Deep Silver-themed bundle a couple years ago. Regardless, I have them, and I see them all the time in my Steam library as I scroll past them to play literally anything else, and I finally felt bad enough to give one of ’em a try, specifically the first entry in the series, which now has a total of three games not counting the potential tie-in ELEX. Unfortunately, first impressions are key, and the original game in the series about rising up as a nobody does not make a strong one…even if I do feel compelled to keep playing a bit more, to see where it ultimately goes. Or could go.

Risen‘s plot starts out somewhat generic. See, the gods have forsaken humanity, and from that titans have begun wrecking the world with all their might and rage; unfortunately, the ship you are currently sailing on is destroyed while at sea, sunk, torn to bits. Miraculously, you do not drown during this crazy storm, waking up on the island of Faranga. Alas, you are now stranded, penniless, and unarmed. Strangely, you are not alone, as Sara is another survivor looking to journey beside you. Her attire consists of a handkerchief around her neck, a bra, and a skirt; she’s all midriff in your face, like something out of the early 2000s. Anyways, you quickly begin to explore the area, meet locals, and fight off fantasy-esque monsters like giant vultures with…a stick.

After helping Sara find a safe and temporary house, the player moves deeper into the island and meets a resident named Jan who talks about the ruins and temples that have recently risen from the underground, bringing along strange monsters and animals. Still, these temples are also rumored to house mystical treasures. Because of this, humans from other lands have come in and started an inquisition, as well as instituting martial law, forbidding Faranga locals from moving out of the main town. Anybody caught outside is turned over to the monastery and recruited to the order. Alas, I wasn’t paying attention closely to this cutscene–had Netflix up on the television, duh–and so after it was over I walked a foot or two in the wrong direction, resulting in my character being taken. Either way, my character is now inside this monastery, doing miscellaneous tasks like sweeping up dirt and solving a murder mystery. Also, I can’t seem to leave.

At some point, I’ll need to decide if I’m with the bandits or inquisitors, though that is probably dependent on getting out of the monastery, and I suspect to do that means I’m becoming BFFs with the robe-wearing, -wielding inquisitors. Well, prior to getting kidnapped, I did get to experience some combat which…is underwhelming. Battles are not complicated, and enemies will move around and try to flank you, which makes groups especially dangerous, but I generally only fought one ugly-as-heck vulture at a time. I’m playing on a laptop with no mouse, and the mouse wheel is evidently what brings out your weapon, so to get that to happen I need press both buttons beneath the trackpad together, right in the middle…let’s just say that I hope there’s never a moment when I need to do this action super fast because oh boy. I also expect magic spells to show up eventually, but for now, all I’ve done is hit big birds and bugs with sticks and it is not all that thrilling.

Risen is almost ten years old, releasing back at the end of 2009. By today’s standards, it’s not the prettiest thing to crawl out of the swamp, but I’m not one to get hung up on graphics so long as there’s something to be enjoyed here. Remember, I’m the guy that recently played some Sonic Blast. Alas, I don’t know if there is anything fun here, but again, something about these games has me curious to see more. I need to at least get out of the monastery and give the game’s combat another look before deciding whether to see more of Faranga island or begin the long swim away towards Risen 2: Dark Waters.


2018 Game Review Haiku, #5 – 2000:1: A Space Felony

Determine murders
Accidents, erroneous
Real detective work

For 2018, I’m mixing things up by fusing my marvelous artwork and even more amazing skills at writing videogame-themed haikus to give you…a piece of artwork followed by a haiku. I know, it’s crazy. Here’s hoping you like at least one aspect or even both, and I’m curious to see if my drawing style changes at all over three hundred and sixty-five days (no leap year until 2020, kids). Okay, another year of 5–7–5 syllable counts is officially a go.

In 2000:1: A Space Felony, no one can hear you detective

Until February 2, the Humble Monthly Trove is giving out a couple of free gems, some of which are Humble Originals, meaning they were created solely for the program. Neat-o. You can grab the following DRM-free named games, and I do suggest you jump on it before you forget or our country is vaporized in the forthcoming nuclear winter-war, as well as consider subscribing if you end up liking these types of smaller, hand-crafted experiences:

  • 2000:1: A Space Felony
  • Hitchhiker
  • Cat Girl Without Salad
  • Uurnog
  • THOR.N
  • Crescent Bay

That’s six free games, and all you have to do is click a button or two. Naturally, I grabbed all of them lickety fast, and I even played through and beat one already–2000:1: A Space Felony. Now, before I dig into details of the game, I need to do as I always do and come clean about a piece of pop culture that I have shockingly never seen. Yup, my blue eyes have still never gazed upon Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or read Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel” that inspired it. Nor have I read the full novel written concurrently with Kubrick’s film. Or 2010: Odyssey Two. Or 2061: Odyssey Three and 3001: The Final Odyssey. Phew. That said, because it’s hard to live life these days and not have these mega-popular behemoths seep into every single thing we see and consume, I somewhat get the main gist: an artificial intelligence goes rogue.

2000:1: A Space Felony takes place on the USS Endowment, an interplanetary spacecraft, which has unfortunately lost communication with Earth. Using your flashy camera skills and natural detective intuition, you must explore this damaged space, document your findings, and figure out what went down during the crew’s final hours alive. You basically do this by taking photos of key areas, people, and items, and then you confront MAL, the ship’s on-board AI system, about what happened, countering its talking points with confidence based on what you already know. Cross-examination in zero G should most definitely be the theme for the next season of Law & Order. Naturally, going into this, given what it is based off and just the fact that the melting pot-universe of books, movies, and videogames over the last several decades has been inundated with stories of corrupt AIs–hello, supercomputer AM from Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”, AMEE from Red Planet, and GLaDOS from Portal, just to name a few–you know that MAL is up to no good. The fun is proving it wrong and then deactivating it.

2000:1: A Space Felony‘s look is *chef’s kiss* top-notch. The colors are bright, punchy, magically brought to life through surprisingly simple geometry. It’s not going to win any realism awards, but I lean more often towards games with a unique take on life as we know it. The USS Endowment is not a huge station to explore, a small fraction when compared to Prey, but the spaces are easy to recognize and do come across as lived in. Moving around in no gravity is not complicated, using the WASD keys to thrust in any direction, and there’s even one spinning section that you can land on the floor and walk around in a more traditional sense, which makes the detective work a bit easier. I will forever be intrigued by the design of spaceships, space stations, and so on, and even one as small as this is a joy to explore, both inside and out, eventually feeling homely. Also, MAL’s main room is gorgeous, like the inside of a trippy golf ball or an even more fantastical take on Spaceship Earth.

I found the game’s narration to be especially strong, with ground control more or less narrating every action you take and how you present your case. Represented by a dark silhouette with white glasses and a tie, ground control is extremely straightforward when it comes to this case, with only a smidgen of humor here and there. Often, the juxtaposition between ground control and what MAL says is where Lucy Green’s writing is the most funny and captivating. MAL, voiced by Max McLaughlin, rides the line carefully between innocent, unaware AI and ice-cold, systematic murderer. Nothing really new for the genre in terms of AIs gone bad, but a good performance still. If there was a soundtrack, I don’t remember much from it other than the big, swelling orchestra right at the game’s courtroom-esque conclusion, but you do make a super pleasing donk sound when banging into a wall, and that counts for a lot.

Unfortunately, the part where you compare pieces of evidence against each other is the weakest link in 2000:1: A Space Felony. For a while there, I was missing one piece and had to do another loop of the environment, snapping shots of everything, listening to repeated lines of dialogue while growing frustrated. I also had a hard time seeing what pieces I was connecting, and I’d have personally liked for some screens to have faded out after they were no longer relevant, but that’s just me. I finished this murder-mystery in the silence of space in about an hour and change, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I wonder which next freebie I’ll try (spoiler: it’s probably Hitchhiker).

Let loose in Prey’s luxuriously haunting sci-fi playground

It truly is surprising to me that I didn’t fall for Fallout 4 as much as I initially imagined I would, considering the hours and thoughts I put into Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. The game didn’t strike me the same way, and I’ve tried going back to it several times, only to get as far as rescuing Preston and his people and bringing them back to Sanctuary, before losing interest. Still, I love all things Fallout-related, like Fallout Shelter and cute little collectibles, and am super curious to see how the Fallout board game works, especially since it can be played solo, something I actively look for now in my tabletop games. However, this post isn’t actually about Fallout 4, it’s about Prey, the new hot thang from Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda in 2017, which is turning out to be the Fallout 4 game I wanted all along.

In Prey, the player controls Morgan Yu, either as a man or woman, exploring the space station Talos I, in orbit around Earth–Moon L2, where research into a hostile alien collective called the Typhon is underway. Unfortunately, because you know nothing can ever go right with doing science stuff in outer space, the Typhon escape confinement, and Morgan must use a variety of weapons and abilities derived from these nightmarish alien monsters to avoid getting killed while searching for a way to escape the station. It’s a haunting tale of loss and domination, told through environmental storytelling and revealing audio logs that bring to life many, many characters that are very much dead and destroyed. Or sometimes turned against you. Either way, the narrative is strong, believable.

Prey is a systems-driven adventure, playable in a number of ways. An immersive sim, if you will, in the same vein of BioShock and Dishonored, letting you make your way through levels and complete missions, but not enforcing the means by which you must get the job done. Which makes sense considering this is French developer Arkane’s bread and butter for the last eight-ish years. Still, the amount of freedom you have is almost unheard of, both in terms of playing style and exploration, especially once you get to the Talos I Lobby and have access to the no gravity area just outside its walls, which lets you travel just about anywhere you want on Talos I, so long as you’ve unlocked the right doors and can survive the trip. Early on, I suffered from choice anxiety and stuck to the main path, but I do plan to return and roam more freely next time.

Lucky for Yu–cue cymbal crash sound effect–the space station you are on was designed to also research and produce Neuromods, which go right into your eyeball to help make humans faster, stronger, and smarter. These are where you get your skill points from, to upgrade powers and unlock abilities, and you can find several around the environment, but what I found refreshing is, if you want and have the crafting resources to do so, you can make as many as you want through the Recylcer and Fabricator. It almost felt like cheating when I 3D-printed three of them in a single sitting (light spoiler detail: there will be a moment in the story where you can’t do this anymore for reasons, so strike while the iron is hot). My playstyle so far has been mostly human powers, like hacking and gaining more health from kits and food, with a light touch of aliens powers, specifically Mimic and Kinetic Blast. I like being able to repair broken turrets though they now see me as an alien threat since I’ve unlocked too many non-human perks. That was a neat surprise.

Life in Prey is harsh, tough. The might sound obvious when discussing a space station amuck with telekinetic and transforming monsters that want to eat your flesh and soul, but I thought I’d say it anyway, to justify to myself very soon that it is fine to dial down the difficulty setting. I’m currently playing on whatever the default it is, and I’m trying to play it like I would Fallout 4–stealthily, sneakily, avoiding as many fights as possible. Unfortunately, you will have to get your hands dirty eventually, and this is where I struggled with the combat. The guns don’t feel great, even after updating my silenced pistol a bunch, and they clearly want you to use the GLOO cannon to slow everything down and whack it with a wrench, but that’s easier said than done when the enemies move far more swiftly than you. Health and suit armor drops quickly, and resources, so far, are extremely limited. Occasionally, I’ve had to sneak by enemies through creative means, like throwing items for distraction or turning into a banana. Yup, you read that last part right.

I’m near the end of Morgan’s quest. Still, whenever I am done with Prey, whatever that means since I may be curious in a second playthrough on the easiest of difficulty settings to see what life is like with, say, only alien powers or doing my best to read every single e-mail I can find, I think I might need to revisit System Shock and give it a fairer shake than trying to play it when extremely sleepy during an Extra Life stream. Or System Shock 2. Or Dishonored. Or Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Look, I have a lot of immersive sims on plate, so I better start feasting.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Super Motherload

It’s been a couple of years since I played SteamWorld Dig, but, especially given that SteamWorld Dig 2 released this year to good praise, I think about that game often. Not because its story resolved in a way that left me lost and wondering, nor because steam-powered robot Rusty’s journey to rebuild Tumbleton was so distressing that it has forever left me scarred, but rather because that game was both a lot of fun and super, duper relaxing. Like, mega chill. I now have a greater understanding of why dogs like to dig, and the answer is simple–it is because digging is fun. Allow me to further back this claim up by talking about Super Motherload.

Let’s momentarily leave this trash-dump of a planet of ours and head for redder terrain. Set on Mars in an alternate Cold-War era, Super Motherload is a 1- to 4-player couch co-op digging adventure. Yup, a digging adventure. The game’s storyline was written by Image Comics’ Kurtis Wiebe and features a fully voiced cast of Soviet and American characters, with some aliens to boot. Also, it’s procedurally generated, which means no playthrough is ever the same in terms of how and where you dig down. The goals remains to go deeper, and you do that by purchasing powerful upgrades and supplies for your mining pod. These range from faster drilling speed to a large inventory space to taking less damage when you inevitably bounce it against a wall going too fast.

I put more time into Super Motherload than I initially expected to, something like eight to ten hours. Especially when this feature is meant to get in, grab a bite, and get out. So that certainly says something about the game. I really enjoyed digging deeper underground, gathering items and mix-and-matching them with the smelter in specific orders to create better elements, for more moolah. Finding the next base was also extremely rewarding, and I loved the freedom offered here, in that, if you wanted to and had enough fuel, you could just descend, descend, descend. Still, the game wants you to load up on stuff, return to base, upgrade what you can, and do it all over again, inching further forward each time. Actually, that’s not what the game wants, but what it rather is–a relaxing push deeper. Well, until the final boss.

Alas, I was unable to beat Super Motherload. I got all the way to the end boss fight after many hours of upgrading, exploring, and so on, but there’s seemingly no way for me to beat it. See, the fight is two phases repeated multiple times. The first phase is you zipping after this large machine as it shoots up towards the closest base, and you need to quickly follow it as lava is rising beneath you. Once you are at the base, the next phase begins, where you need to dodge it and drop bombs to deal damage. Rinse and repeat for each of the bases going back to Mars’ surface. The problem is I quickly ran out of bombs and money on the first base, and with no money or bombs or other way to get more resources due to the aforementioned lava, I could do very little save for hide in a corner until boredom set in. The switch from a super relaxing time to extreme action and emphasis on early preparation and inventory management–in terms of bombs–was one of the most off-putting experiences I’ve ever dealt with in videogames.

The good news is that, if I do get the itch to play more of this type of game (minus its final 15 minutes) and returning to SteamWorld Dig isn’t cutting the cheese just right, I can grab Super Motherload on Steam. Though me-thinks I’ll either go back to SteamWorld Dig or try out its sequel before I do that. Either way, that’s another PlayStation Plus title tried and uninstalled.

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #126 – Small Radios Big Televisions

Analog, baby
Find tapes, gems hidden inside
Unclear narrative

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.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #125 – Our Place

Our place is haunted
Our place is cold, collapsing
Our place is right here

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.