Game reviews

Stay outside this Inside review until you’ve played Inside

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Sometimes you pay a price when you write reviews for people who’ve already played a game. That price is people who look to reviews to decide what they’re going to play. Where will they spend their time or money? But if I’m going to critique Inside based on what I know after I’ve played it, and if the majority of Inside’s appeal is discovery, I can’t tell you much without compromising your experience with the game.

In other words, there will be spoilers.

But first, I have three things I want to tell people who haven’t played Inside.

After the jump, don’t worry, it’s safe to keep reading! Continue reading →

The brilliant Quadrilateral Cowboy finishes what Gravity Bone started

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There’s a bit of The Witness in Quadrilateral Cowboy. Just a tiny bit. The Witness is a game about teaching you how to play The Witness. Period. Full stop. Quadrilateral Cowboy is, at times, a game about teaching you how to play Quadrilateral Cowboy. Dot, dot, dot.

After the jump, I promise you won’t read the word “heuristics” because this isn’t that kind of review. Continue reading →

If there was a draft, being selected for Arma 3: Apex wouldn’t be so bad

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The lumberyard sits steaming in the jungle and my unit, a special operations task force consisting of me and two guys, has orders to destroy bandit supplies hidden within. I open with some rifle shots, taking out a couple of sentries, before the bandits catch on and start laying down a withering blanket of fire into random terrain features. My buddies shoot at an idling cargo truck. I don’t think they’re following the plan any more. An enemy runs down the road, goes prone, spins on his belt buckle, then runs back only to get flattened by another truck going the other way. I die thanks to a lucky shot, but I kill everyone by respawning as a grenadier and lobbing explosives into the encampment. I run between stacks of logs and shoot the last enemy as he stands arms-outstretched in a Christ-like pose while slowly sinking into the concrete floor of a garage. My partners split up so one guy can kneel and stand up, kneel and stand up, kneel and stand up, while the other moron watches a rock. Thanks for the help guys. We leave, me on foot, my team by teleporting. I’m dumped to a mission end screen showing that I killed 23 bad guys by myself. This is Arma 3: Apex.

100 square kilometers of South Pacific Generation Kill, after the break. Continue reading →

Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens but the game snoozes

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I want to like Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I really do. In the past, the folks at Traveller’s Tales have whimsically recalled the joy of Batman, Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and, of course, Star Wars. But unlike JJ Abrams whimsically recalling the joy of Star Wars with his adroit filmmaking, this latest Lego iteration can’t live up to its inspiration. It’s familiar, played out, and disappointingly half-baked.

After the jump, 87/243, so only 156 Lego characters to go! Continue reading →

Goodbye gets painted with Blood and Wine in The Witcher 3

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Early on in the The Witcher 3’s Blood and Wine expansion, a man is killed right in front of the player character and a chase ensues as the murderous “Beast of Beauclair” runs away. There is a fight, a complication, and the killer escapes. Instead of returning to the person that started you on the investigation to report what happened, or going back to look for clues on the body, (the victim is literally gone from the crime scene if you return to the site) the game instructs you to go wander off to meet an old friend or make some renovations to your new house. So goes Blood and Wine.

Is The Witcher’s final journey all that it should be? Continue reading →

The smart perky Overfall can be awfully demanding

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It’s hard not to like Overfall. It’s has such an eager-to-please enthusiasm. The way it talks to you in tiny snippets so as not to wear out its welcome. The ingratiating pop culture references. The simple breezy battles with a thick gooey center of complexity. Its archipelago busy with criss-crossing little boats going about their business. All these cute NPC classes waiting to join you. Ice Maiden. Wrestler. Knife Juggler. Kirinborn, whatever that is. Unlockable weapons like Bloodfang, Nightbane, Harvester of Sorrow, Deepest Ocean, The Butterflies. The elliptical hints for how to unlock them. Overfall is playful, sly, sleek.

And, after the jump, overbearing. Continue reading →

Paint the town blue in Homefront The Revolution

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The deck is stacked against Homefront: The Revolution from the outset. The forgettable first game; the license dumped into a fire sale; the project in progress passed around among publishers and developers like a too small T-shirt with a logo no one wants to wear; the eventual developers’ most recent credit for a full game is the half-baked Playstation 3 boondoggle Haze; the pile-ons about the silly story in a genre where almost all the stories are silly anyway, so I’m not sure why this is everyone’s new whipping boy; the Crytek engine at its level worst. Really, you don’t even have to play it to know Homefront: The Revolution is a stinker, right?

After the jump, what you find out when you actually play it. Continue reading →

Once upon a time in the West were Legends of the American Frontier

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There are two kinds of boardgamers in the world. When they play a card, one kind reads the name on a card before they read the card’s effects, and the other kind just reads the card’s effects. I have always been the first kind. Furthermore, I have always wanted my friends to be the first kind.

“Okay, so now my attack is +2,” one of my friend’s might announce as he slaps a card onto the table.

“What’s the card?” I’ll ask.

“It’s +2 to attack.”

“No, no, what’s it called?”

“Oh.” My friend looks down at the card, since it never occurred to him to read that part. He’ll tell me it’s called Heroic Attack, or Eldritch Blade, or Stimpak, or Unceasing Fury, or something. I realize it’s sometimes annoying that I ask this, but I believe games are better if you let them lead with as much theme as they want to provide. As I played Legends of the American Frontier, I first thought it was for people who read the names of cards. However, I’m not so sure anymore. They might actually be the ones it’s not for.

After the jump, Poor At Farming, Failed At Business, And Bewildered By Life In General? Continue reading →

The case of the robot dick and the missing dame in Fallout 4: Far Harbor

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From the journal of Nick Valentine, synth private eye:

I was hanging out with all the loose companions at the Red Rocket Truck Stop like I always do, when my buddy the Sole Survivor hit me up for some business. Seems my secretary put the word out to track down a missing girl and the Sole Survivor needed a partner to help with the search. All of us poor neglected companions shuffled uneasily as the Sole Survivor decided who to take. Eeny meeny miny moe. The job came down to me or the dog, but I have better dialog. Sorry, Dogmeat.

After the jump, Nick Valentine is on the case in Far Harbor. Continue reading →

You won’t hear videogame people talk the way they talk in Oxenfree

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I just tried to play Cinders, a visual novel with intricate artwork, distinct characters, and moderately intriguing worldbuilding based on self-aware fairy tale tropes. “Tried” is the operative word. I wanted to stick with it, but oh my! That JRPG-esque stream of line-by-line dialogue, finely chopped and rolled out one thin slice at a time, a slo-mo machinegun patter of staccato verbal filler. I made it three days into a seven-day storyline. Apparently, you’re supposed to play the storyline repeatedly to vary the outcome. To see what happens differently this time. I just don’t have it in me to read a novel, visual or otherwise, written by a game designer instead of an author. I had the same issue trying to make progress in Life is Strange, which at least had the presence of mind to include gameplay stuff. These are stories written by people who might know how to make adventure games or write visual novels, but they don’t understand very well how to tell stories.

After the jump, the things Oxenfree understands. Continue reading →

The new Doom makes a splash you won’t soon forget

Tom: If I’m going to keep playing Doom — which I had probably better if we’re going to write this review — it will be almost solely based on the campaign progression. Crazy weapon upgrades? Incentivized indiscriminate slaughter? Navigating and exploring using maps? Challenges throughout? The gratifying chaos of pinata monsters popping out candy? Where have I been doing this lately? Ah, right, the latest Ratchet & Clank. There is no shooter that isn’t better by borrowing from Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank series, even if they don’t admit or realize they’re doing it. Have the Bethesda folks been citing Ratchet & Clank as an inspiration for Doom? I kind of doubt it.

Nick: This is the Doom I always thought I remembered. Thumping drums, melee kills, double-jumps, and chainsaw ammo pinatas. Nevermind that none of that was actually in Doom. Somehow id Software and Bethesda found a way to add all this stuff and trick me into thinking it was always in the series. There was an assault rifle with a zoom scope in the original Doom, right? However they did it, they brewed up some damn fine shooting here.

After the jump, now with extra punching! Continue reading →

The bright boardgaming dawn of Twilight Struggle comes to a PC near you

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There’s an old saw about how when you get exactly what you want it might not end up being what you expected. If that ever happens to you, let me know if it’s true. Until then, I’m going to go with the digital release of Twilight Struggle as being the closest thing we’ve got.

I’ve been saying for a while that board wargames have long since outstripped their computer counterparts in design, aesthetics, innovation, and any other positive adjective you can think of, depending on whether or not you ascribe a positive connotation to the word, “detail.” Boardgame ports, on the other hand, have a history of leaving somethingsometimes many things — to be desired. So when a company releases what many people consider the best wargame ever designed, and the PC port actually comes out almost perfect, and it’s about the Cold War of all things, there shouldn’t be much to say, except for “Praise Reagan!” Right? Right??

After the jump, haters gotta hate Continue reading →

The bone-dry sci-fi of Stellaris, a game that doesn’t even work

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The central concept in Stellaris — that a galactic emperor isn’t a god — doesn’t work. It’s a concept Paradox has explored to great effect, especially with Crusader Kings and Victoria (minus the galactic part, of course). Some things are outside the control of a ruler. He does not get to tell each point of population which tile to harvest. He does not get to gobble up territory indiscriminately. He does not get to move sliders willy-nilly. History, Paradox’s favorite subject, is not a strategy game. It is an exercise in limitations. It is about people trying to hold power against the demands of social unrest, religious freedom, petty rivalries, Popes, capitalists, natives making a fuss about self-determination, evolving political philosophies, progress, entropy. To their immense credit, Paradox’s strategy games are the same thing. They are among my favorite historical essays.

After the jump, what does this have to do with sci-fi? Continue reading →

Uncharted serves up one Tomb Raider, a la Indy, hold the cheesecake

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There’s no reason to expect much from Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. The developer, Naughty Dog, is commercially successful but creatively middling (their Jak titles have ranged from pretty decent to pretty bad). The game seems to be an unabashed rip-off of Tomb Raider, with the difference being that the main character is a dude, which out-Tomb-Raiders Tomb Raider for unabashedly ripping off Raiders of the Lost Ark. The prospects are not good.

After the jump, then you actually play Uncharted Continue reading →

Uncharted 2: Nathan Drake and the Temple of the Sophomore Effort

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Late in Uncharted 2, all the gunplay and Tomb Raidering and calculated snappy banter about Chloe’s ass suddenly stop. The hero strolls through a serene village. Along the way, he can pet the livestock, play with children, and watch the women go about their work. They don’t speak English and he doesn’t speak their language. There is no direct communication, and the game knows better than to provide subtitles. It’s pure character. A village, its people, and this newcomer, all bemused at each other. It’s an example of how expressive Uncharted can be when it trusts its characters.

After the jump, the rest of Uncharted 2 Continue reading →