Tom Chick

A bit of madness is key in Lovecraft Letter

, | Game reviews

Seiji Kanai’s Love Letter, a game about getting a princess to like you, has come a long way in five years. Back in the day, it was a shrewd little exercise in simplicity, featuring only eight different cards in a deck of sixteen cards. Your hand size was one. On your turn, you drew a card and then discarded down to the hand size, playing the ability of the card you discarded. In other words, all you ever did was decide which of two cards you’re going to play. It was over in minutes. After a few rounds, you moved on to play a Real Game.

But then came the rewrites. The latest rewrite of Love Letter has failed its sanity check.
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Prey is the opposite of American lives

, | Game reviews

(This review was written for one of my Patreon review requests. Since Prey has been out for a while, I wrote specifically for people who have finished the game. It contains spoilers. Lots of spoilers.)

When F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American lives, he wasn’t talking about second chances. A guy who writes Great Gatsby obviously believes in second chances. He was instead talking about the traditional structure of a three-act story. The first act sets up the conflict, the second act develops how the characters will deal with the conflict, and the third act is the climax in which everything is resolved. Fitzgerald was deriding Americans for skipping past the important second act in which the characters develop. Americans, he implied, go straight for the payoff.

Prey, a solid entry in the tradition of Bioshock, is the opposite of American lives. It is almost all second act. Continue reading →

10 things missing from Pinball FX3

, | Features

Back in 2011, I wrote an article detailing the five Pinball FX tables I’d like to see. They were Star Wars, a Western theme, splatter horror, the Cold War, and Bioshock. Zen Studios must have been paying attention, because nearly half of those tables came out shortly thereafter! You’re welcome, world.

Really, it’s more than half, since there are about twenty Star Wars tables. The Western themed table, Wild West Rampage, is one of my favorites. Although they aren’t technically splatter horror, the Alien, Aliens vs Predator, Doom, and Walking Dead tables are horror enough for me. Which leaves the Bioshock and Cold War tables yet to be realized, so maybe they’re still working on those. Since Zen has already worked with Bethesda, I’ll accept a Prey table instead of a Bioshock table.

But a lot has happened since 2011. Pinball FX has come a long way. So it’s time for me to do my part in continuing to make it better. You’re welcome, world. Continue reading →

Assassin’s Creed: Origins is also its Destiny

, | Game reviews

“They’re just scavenger hunts,” my friend says. He’s dismissing big-budget open-world AAA games like Assassin’s Creed: Origins. He’s explaining why he doesn’t play them. I’m explaining why he’s totally missing out.

“Well, sure,” I agree. “But the idea is they’re scavenger hunts in really cool places. Imaginative places where you want to spend time. The scavenger hunt is disguised as gameplay, and it’s your reason for being there. The real point of the game is the place, the worldbuilding.”

Many many hours later, I will come to rue these words. Or will I?

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I can’t quite figure out which tables are missing from Pinball FX3 for the Switch

, | News

Today Zen Studios announced what everyone with a Switch hopes will be announced for every game ever made: a Switch version of Pinball FX3 is on the way!

Pinball FX3 hits the system on Tuesday, November 14, 2017. In addition to evolving the groundbreaking approach to community gaming that has come to define Zen’s series for a full decade, Pinball FX3 takes full advantage of the Nintendo Switch console’s revolutionary capabilities with exclusive features like vertical play orientation and HD rumble support. Thirty tables are available at launch, with more playable content and features to be added in the months to come.

The vertical play feature will be particularly welcome to those of us who Zen Pinballed on the Vita, where the rectangular screen was ideal for a full-frame top-down view of the table. But then comes the bit about 30 tables. I have 68 tables in my PC version of Pinball FX3. Why are fewer than half making the cut? Hmm, let’s peruse the list of announced Switch tables:

Universal Classics™ Pinball (Back to the Future™, E.T.™, Jaws™); Aliens vs. Pinball (Aliens, Alien vs. Predator, Alien: Isolation); Balls of Glory (Family Guy, Bob’s Burgers, Archer, American Dad!); Portal; The Walking Dead; Sorcerer’s Lair (free); Zen Classics (Shaman, Tesla, El Dorado, V12); Core Collection (Pasha, Rome, Biolab, Secrets of the Deep); Medieval Pack (Epic Quest, Excalibur); Sci-Fi Pack (Mars, Paranormal, Earth Defense); Iron & Steel (Wild West Rampage, CastleStorm)

There seem to be some conspicuous omissions in there, all properties belonging to a single entity. For what it’s worth, on the Nintendo Wii, the Star Wars tables were released as a separate game with its own progression based on building up your choice of Light Side points or Dark Side points. Maybe there’s something like that in store for the Star Wars and Marvel tables? Or maybe they’ll be sold separately later? Or maybe Disney is taking their balls and going home, so to speak.

Pinball FX3 is also getting a new carnival themed table and a Greek mythology table on November 14th. Both of which be available for the Switch.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins goes from PC to PS4 in 37 minutes

, | Games

I’ve already invested a fair amount of time in Assassin’s Creed: Origins on the PS4, but I couldn’t resist taking a gander at how it looks on the PC. Hoo boy! What a difference a GTX 1080 makes! “So much for playing on the PS4,” I decided, hunkering down to catch up with where I’d gotten on the PS4. But then three things happened in the 37 minutes I’ve logged on Steam: 1) Bayek doesn’t actually whistle when he whistles for his camel. I just press a key and the camel shows up, as if we have some sort of mind link. I’m uncomfortable with a camel inside my head. Plus, as someone who can’t do that cool pet-summoning whistle in real life, I want my power fantasy avatars to be able to do it. 2) I slew a leopard. Then it’s body melted about a foot into the ground. Which would be no big deal except that the twinkly loot point was also a foot under the ground. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the loot prompt to appear. The upper twinkly bits of the “loot here!” effect danced tantalizingly on the ground, like the leaves of a half-sprouted tuber. But the leopard pelt that I hunted fair and square was beyond my reach. 3) Bayek walks and runs in complete and utter silence. He even swims in silence. There is not so much as a gentle plash. While I concede this is a useful trait for an assassin, I kind of prefer the ambient shuffle of feet as Bayek’s boots pad across the sand. Visual immersion is all good and well, but it sort of falls apart when the sound is messed up.

So it’s back to the PS4, begrudgingly, where none of these three things happens. But now I’m having second thoughts because it’s so much easier to get headshots with a mouse. What’s more, the Destiny inspired inventory and quest screens aren’t so clunky when you’re driving with a mouse. And did I mention how much better it looks? I just have to accept the sad fact that no matter what platform you decide to play on, it’s always going to be an imperfect choice.

Best thing you’ll see all week: Wheelman

, | Movie reviews

Locke is a tough movie to pull off. Just a guy in his car, on the phone, dealing with a personal crisis. Watch him make difficult decisions. Watch him take responsibility for his own bad choices. Watch him troubleshoot his own life. Baby Driver is an easy movie to pull off. A kind-hearted getaway driver getting into car chases, meeting a cute chick, and going on a heist. Watch him drive really fast. Watch him listen to catchy music. Watch him brood furiously into the camera. That Locke works and Baby Driver doesn’t speaks volumes about the difference between Tom Hardy and Ansel Elgort.

Wheelman is a little of both. It accepts the challenges of Locke, but embraces the simplicity of Baby Driver. One of its smartest choices is putting Frank Grillo in the driver’s seat. Visually, he’s ideal leading man material. That immaculately unshaved jawline, those intense sunken eyes, that wild hair refusing to behave. As an actor, he’s got just the right mix of hardened tough guy and soft-hearted dad. He’s the city and the suburbs, Hollywood and Sundance, drinking buddy and heartthrob. And he’s finally got a whole movie to himself, literally in the driver’s seat. A lesser movie would have made this about a tough criminal. But Wheelman insists on also being about a father, which gives the movie a lighter touch and ultimately a ton of heart. By the time it’s over — about ten minutes too late, but it’s earned a lot of goodwill by then — Wheelman is more Locke than Baby Driver. Daddy Driver.

First-timer Jeremy Rush shows fine instincts by shooting the movie with the same intimacy as Locke. Contrast this to a structurally similar movie called Getaway, which stays with Ethan Hawke as he drives through a souped-up thriller, which gets splashier and sillier the longer it goes on. Selena Gomez is along for the ride, which tells you all you need to know about Getaway. But Wheelman knows a car going fast is never as cool as a car going fast driven by someone you care about. Add someone who matters to the passenger seat and now you’re giving Locke a run for its money.

Gremlins Inc founds a new colony

, | News

The board for Gremlins Inc looks like a swirly looping mess of random spaces. Until you play the game and discover that it’s not. Clockwork Town is a very specific place with a specific layout with specific gameplay implication. It has a hard-to-reach Heaven, a Hell just a short jaunt off the beaten path, and a progression from the courthouse to the treasure vault to the bank to the office. The newly released prisoner will find himself approaching the casino, and he won’t get to the marketplace anytime soon. Like the board for any boardgame, it reveals patterns as you played it. It rewards you as you pay attention to it. It has geography.

Now it also has company. Continue reading →

Zen Studios and Pinball FX3 decide zen is not enough

, | Game reviews

Since the dawn of time, pinball machines have been all about the high scores. When you play, you’re trying to get a higher score than you’ve ever gotten. Otherwise, your time is wasted. Too bad. Hope you enjoyed the laid back zen of that ball doing its thing. Because now you have nothing to show for your efforts but a pocket a few quarters lighter. Or, in the case of virtual pinball, less time to spend leveling up a Diablo III character.

The Pinball FX developers at Zen Studios are about to ruin all that. Continue reading →