Tag Archives: free-to-play

One Leaves wants you to know it’s not too late to quit smoking

I’m not a smoker, but I did try a cigarette in high school–thanks, peer pressure!–and found it to be a terrible experience. I immediately began coughing uncontrollably, doubled over, and have never smoked another cig since. Sure, I’ve had some pot and cigars at various points in my life, but those are much different beasts to me, and I’m not addicted to them so many years later.

One Leaves‘ entire narrative is wrapped around quitting smoking, how smoking is bad for your health, and how badly it affects the body. I agree; don’t do it. There’s also elements of tobacco-related death in the game, with a theme that uses statistics to relay the fact that the few who start smoking rarely ever give up. I’ll credit the game for this because it is an important message that any smoker should hear. Alas, it’s difficult to take the game’s message very seriously at all due to how it plays and treats the player.

One Leaves starts out by placing you in a cage. Here, you’ll see three other characters in cages of their own. Each of you has a door to enter, which is locked until an audio message tells you that only one of you will escape. Hence, the game’s title. The moment the door opens, you’re free to patrol the game’s confined environments at your own pace though I guess the point is to move face and with urgency. You’ll immediately see a locked gate that has some power cables running from it. The goal is to follow each cable until you meet its puzzle; solve said puzzle, and move on to the next one until you reach the final area, which is a randomized maze to navigate.

There’s no shortage of framerate issues to contend with, as well as regular crashing and kicks to the Xbox One’s dashboard, which, for a free game isn’t the worst thing ever, but it also isn’t great either. Visually, One Leaves is ugly, complete with poor lighting, bland textures, and a lackluster presentation. The game’s audio work is also subpar.

Alas, I didn’t make it through the final maze quick enough, and so I’m stuck in One Leaves‘ smoky purgatory until another contestant tries to make an escape. Until then, I guess I’ll just hold my breath.

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2019 Game Review Haiku, #38 – One Leaves

Smoking is bad, duh
Escape the maze, run don’t cough
Addiction is death

And we’re back with these little haikus of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

All I can say about Auf Abwegen is nein, danke

This might sound super obvious, but jumping is essential when it comes to platforming, and Auf Abwegen does not nail the feeling of good, reliable jumping at all. And without being able to jump well and with precision, there is nothing I could do to get away from the pack of bloodhounds chasing me, which is a shame because, for a free thing on Steam, this seemed to have promise from the start. Well, from a narrative perspective, that is. Oh well, you can’t win them all, and that’s something I’m slowly coming to terms with. Not everything can be completed or seen through to conclusion.

Auf Abwegen, which I believe translates from German to “gone astray” or “on the wrong path,” has you controlling a red fox in its natural habitat. This seems to be some kind of VR simulation, played by people up in outer space, with the implication that Earth is no more, and this is one of the ways they can experience what life used to be like on the forgotten planet. It is a one-man project from user Kindman, but there is nothing kind about the threats and frustration you’ll experience in each scenario you come across, whether it is simply learning how to go under tree roots or running so quick that you can’t see what is up ahead.

Evidently, there are three levels to master, but I think the one where the bloodhounds chase you is only the second one. Or it could be the last challenge, but I don’t really know since I couldn’t get past it after 40-plus attempts. Let me describe what you do in parts one and two. It opens with a tutorial section, where you learn how to move the fox; it can jump, crawl under roots, and run. You are then tasked with finding food for your family, and it is up to you to both figure out how and what you want to hunt. I got a mouse, a bird, and an egg, I think, which worked out, but getting these things was no easy task. For instance, there is a section where you are leaping from lily pads to logs to rocks in a small pond. Again, the jumping is so loose and finicky that landing on these tiny platforms is seemingly random. Chasing the mouse requires you to run it down–not sure how this thing made it across the water–and again, running fast and jumping here isn’t ideal.

However, after delivering the food to your wife and cubs–do foxes have cubs?–you enter the chase sequence, and this is where the madness begins. The fox can run fast, so fast that you can’t see what is coming up next. However, you have to keep moving or else. It might be a hedgehog you have to jump over or a gap in the ground, and you have to use lightning-fast reflexes to overcome these obstacles because the bloodhounds are coming, and if they touch you once, you lose and must start all over, bugle call and all. So it then becomes a game of memorization, but even memorizing what is next doesn’t help when the jumping is unreliable. Sure, some deaths I’ll blame on me, but most of them were me squeezing my controller in pure frustration because I had cleared a bunch of obstacles only to jump into a wooden log with branches instead of jumping over it because I didn’t press the button early enough. Ugh, no thanks.

I do dig the look of Auf Abwegen, from its science-heavy computer interface at the start to the hand-painted backgrounds of the forest, backed by a soft, melodic piano-driven soundtrack, minus that annoying bugle call signaling the bloodhounds that it is time to hunt. The cartoony parts, such as the fox and fish and bloodhounds, pop against the backgrounds nicely. There’s some decent voice-acting, though I think it is all in German, but there are subtitles to read, with only a couple of grammar mistakes throughout.

If y’all are feeling nice or masochistic enough to play Auf Abwegen, by all means, give it a shot for free on Steam. And let me know what happens after you get past the bloodhounds. I’m genuinely curious.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #17 – Ego Hearts

Warm paper airplanes
To heat up stone-cold bodies
Banish frigid months

And we’re back with these little haikus of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

Murder once more and slide in style with Apex Legends

I’ll just start this post off with a humble brag: my squad won on my fourth go at Apex Legends, a new free-to-play battle royale game where legendary competitors battle for glory, fame, and fortune on the fringes of the Frontier. It comes to us from Respawn Entertainment, as well as EA, which previously made things like Titanfall, Titanfall 2, and Call of Duty, all of which I’ve never played. Well, there was that one time I tried a demo for some Call of Duty entry on the Xbox 360, but it didn’t go well; heck, it went so poorly that I never even bothered to document it on Grinding Down. Wah.

Anyways, the battle royale genre is looking like it is here to stay, at least for the near future, and I’m okay with that. I don’t really play a lot of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds these days, though I did hop into it recently to check out the snowy map, but I am still dipping into Fortnite Battle Royale mode to eat up all the various in-game challenges and level up my Battle Pass. This one, this Apex Legends, does a lot of neat things for the blossoming genre, many of which I fully expect to see show up in other games as soon as they can implement them, and I’m having a pretty good time overall despite not being the greatest guns-blazing attacker. Thankfully, there are support classes to rock and other ways to help out your teammates.

The setup is, more or less, as expected. There’s an island full of buildings, weapons, and differently named locations, and you’ll land on it with the goal of being the last team standing. Ah, see, this is a three-squad game, and there’s no solo mode. I really like that there’s a jumpmaster–basically, one person on your squad is randomly assigned this role, and they get to decide where to land–and everyone on your squad jumps together, locked in, though you can veer off if you want to, but Apex Legends stresses staying together, even offering numerous ways to, ahem, respawn downed teammates. A ring slowly closes over time, forcing squads to face off in smaller areas, and there’s a bunch of high-tech weapons to pick up, along with ammo, attachments, and health boosts.

Apex Legends stands out by offering a playable roster that’s more like what you’d find in a hero shooter like Overwatch, which, again, I’ve still not played, despite there always being a free weekend event for it like every month. Characters called Legends include a robot scout named Pathfinder, a hulking heavy known as Gibraltar, a skirmisher named Wraith who is surrounded by inter-dimensional sparks, as well as several others. They all play different roles, like stealth, healer, or scout, but no one character is faster or stronger than anybody else from the get-go. In addition to a special passive ability, Legends have a tactical move and an ultimate power, both of which are on cooldowns.

So far, for me, the neatest thing that Apex Legends is doing differently is based around reviving your squad members. When you die, your squad has a certain amount of time to get to you and revive you as you are bleeding out. If they don’t make it in time, they can still collect your “banner,” a customizable image that represents your character. At any point during the match, they can then run to a respawn beacon and insert your banner, which will respawn you in a dropship up in the sky. Naturally, there’s a risk to this—using the beacon takes time and leaves you exposed—but it’s a welcomed chance to get back into the game. Usually, in Fortnite or PUBG, after dying, I’d just drop back to the lobby, not caring what happened to my remaining teammates, but now there is more reason to stick around and see if you can rejoin the battle.

I’m real curious to see where Apex Legends goes. Maybe more maps and new characters to play as down the road? I wonder if it’ll make dramatic sweeping changes every season like Fortnite or stay more familiar like with Call of Duty: Blackout or PUBG. Time will tell, but it’s certainly off to a strong start. Also, if you must know, I’m most inclined to pick Pathfinder if given the chance; what, I like cheeky robots, and yes, that includes Claptrap.

Alice in the Mirrors of Albion is stuffed with hidden objects

We’ve gone over this before, but I enjoy a good hidden objects game. Give me a list of things to search for, and I’m ready to go. Don’t need a lot of frills or extra time-wasting work. All I want to really do is look at an image crowded with stuff and find the canary, the umbrella, the globe, the oven mitt, and the tiny bust. Thankfully–or maybe not, depending on how you feel–the market is drowning in games like these. For instance, if you look at Microsoft’s online marketplace, the count is mega-high, and that’s where I found Alice in the Mirrors of Albion, a hidden objects game that combines some detective work with Alice in Wonderland‘s fantasy world.

Right. Well, this is the newest hidden objects game from Game Insight, the creators of Mystery Manor, which I have not played. They make a lot of mobile games. Alice in the Mirrors of Albion takes place in a mystical version of Victorian England, fraught with intrigue, crime, and suspense. The biggest story is that Alice–yes, that Alice–has gone missing, and it’s up to you to figure out what happened. Y’know, but only after you examine scenes for hidden objects. You’ll also have to solve puzzles and experience the game’s unique-if-long-winded story by tackling countless quests in your mission to foil the evil machinations of the Red Queen. Don’t be surprised by the addition of mini-games and an energy system; this is, after all, at its core a free-to-play game brimming with ads and a desire to get you to spend real money to speed up timers and accrue special currencies. No thanks.

For a while there, I was playing something called Twilight Town and Lost Lands: A Hidden Object Adventure. Alice in the Mirrors of Albion, even though it is made by a different developer, follows almost exactly the same format of those two, plus countless others out there. I’m talking about its use of energy, its focus on completing collections, the overworld map littered with icons and things to confuse yourself on, and the different ways it makes you find items in a scene, be it either from a list or pictures of silhouettes. I wonder if all these developers got together in a room and decided this was the new modus operandi for all things related to hidden objects. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t; for instance, in Twilight Town, I could literally do three actions before running out of energy, but Alice in the Mirrors of Albion has been more kind than that.

So, yeah, it’s fine. I do find it humorous that the story kicks off immediately with Alice disappearing and then things drastically slow down because you have to find keys for so-and-so or a special hat for the Mad Hatter…because, well, the developers needed to pad the game out from the get-go. I’m slightly interested in the story, and the writing isn’t honestly terrible, but many of the missions do feel like filler, and this detective work is only inching its way forward at a snail’s pace while a young woman’s life hangs in the balance. Want to save her right away? Sorry, you’ll need to up your mastery in this one location while also waiting for your energy meter to refill. Look, I’m not insane, I know what this game is and am not expecting Hemingway, but it should be either all in on the story or just scrap it entirely and don’t hide the fact that you are meant to play these levels over and over again.

There’s a character in Alice in the Mirrors of Albion that really gets under my skin. His name is Cheshire, Jr., he’s a cat, but also a part of the police-force. Look, I’m not here to ask too many questions. Anyways, the voicework done for Cheshire, Jr. is some of the most atrocious I’ve ever heard, and it really does make nails on a chalkboard sound like a thousand angels singing. You’d think, with him being a cat, that he’d meow like a cat, but no…instead, he says the word “meow” and draws it out with some extra syllables, because it’s not enough to just make your ears bleed once. If he continues to make his presence known, I may not be sticking around too long for this one.

Wish me luck on continuously finding that fire extinguisher, as they actually do a good job of hiding it in the police office scene. However, if we don’t get closer to learning what happened to Alice, I’ll be saying goodbye quickly to Alice in the Mirrors of Albion.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #10 – Dear Cousin

Find eggs for below
Ten total, some hidden high
I fell through the world

And we’re back with these little haikus  of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.