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Monday, February 20, 2017

Serious Sam Sucks. Seriously.

Serious Sam hails from 2001 and alleges to be a no-nonsense, to-the-point action shooter that's simply about mowing down hordes of enemies with a full arsenal of machine guns, shotguns, and explosives while frantically running around spacious ancient Egyptian levels collecting armor, health, and ammo drops and searching for hidden secrets for extra powerups. The series is often mentioned on message boards as being one of the best 90s-style arena-shooters ever made, with people absolutely loving it for its frenetic, over-the-top action. I have a fondness for these types of games, with Doom, Painkiller, and Ziggurat ranking among my favorite FPS games. I also remember enjoying Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior back in the day, though I never finished them and haven't played either one in almost 20 years.

I went into Serious Sam: The First Encounter (as part of the Classics: Revolution version, available on Steam Early Access) fully expecting to enjoy it, based on a combination of its esteemed reputation and my appreciation for this style of game. I started out thinking "this is pretty good," but as I got further into the game it started to annoy me, and after a while I started to actively dislike it. After completing nine of its thirteen levels, I just have no desire to continue playing it any longer. The game is too tedious and repetitive to be fun, for me, and there's nothing inspiring about its weaponry or level design. Despite the promise of bombastic, over-the-top action and all-around whimsical silliness, the game feels bland to me, and it doesn't feel worth the hassle for me to push forward just to finish it.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

SOMA Review: Somewhere Beyond the Sea

"From the creators of Amnesia: The Dark Descent comes SOMA, a sci-fi horror game set below the waves of the Atlantic ocean. Struggle to survive a hostile world that will make you question your very existence." That's the product description on Steam, which labels SOMA specifically as a horror game, and even goes so far as to imply that it's not just horror -- it's survival-horror. That's kind of misleading, I feel, because SOMA really feels more like an adventure game first and foremost. The story is clearly the main point of emphasis, with you spending the bulk of the game learning about what happened to the doomed crew of the futuristic underwater research station, Pathos-II, and solving light puzzles to progress. The horror elements are definitely there -- a few monsters show up to impede your progress, and there are some good scripted scares and moments of genuine tension -- but the horror in SOMA is really more of a theme than a core gameplay mechanism.

You play as Simon Jarrett, a man suffering from a traumatic brain injury as the result of a car crash. The game begins with you agreeing to meet a researcher to take part in an experimental brain scan for a developing technology that he thinks might be able to help. You sit down to perform the brain scan, your vision goes black, and then suddenly you find yourself in another place, surrounded by metal walls and high tech computer terminals. It's dark, and there's blood on the floor. A few dive suits hang in the nearby corner. No one else seems to be around. You stumble upon a call log, in which two people talk about sealing the doors to keep "them" out and making sure everything is set to run on standby for when they evacuate. The rest of the game is a matter of finding out what this place is, what happened to it, how you got there, and how you can get back home -- if you even can at all.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Resident Evil 7: "Survival-Horror's Back, Baby!"

I used to consider myself a fan of the Resident Evil series, from the slow-paced adventure-style gameplay of the originals to the stronger action focus of the fourth main installment. But ever since Resident Evil 5, which I found to be an underwhelming letdown, I've found myself cynically jaded by the barrage of sequels and spin-offs to have been churned out by the grand corporate machine. Revelations seemed promising, but ended up subtly disappointing me on every front. I never even bothered with Resident Evil 6, and I was super skeptical of Resident Evil 7 at first. Claiming that it was taking heavy inspiration from the series' roots while adding a modernized twist on the classic formula (in the form of the first-person perspective, a series first), I was a little worried that it was going to be just another haunted house jump-scare simulator with little in the way of actual gameplay.

It certainly seemed that way for the first 30 minutes, but once I got past that introduction sequence and starting exploring the main part of the game, it really started to shine, and I realized: this is the most Resident Evil-feeling game I've played in a long, long time. It really does capture that old-school vibe of exploring a spooky house, searching for convoluted keys to ridiculously locked doors and solving puzzles to progress, while managing a limited supply of ammunition and healing items, and occasionally fighting or running away from enemies. A handful of boss battles cause the intensity to spike periodically, but Resident Evil 7 is much more of a true survival-horror game than an action shooter, despite the "innovative" first-person shooter perspective, which I might add actually does a lot for the game's atmosphere and immersion.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Shadow of Mordor: "Eh, It's Aight"

I didn't like Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor at first. In fact, there were times when I actively disliked it. For the first two hours I was so confused and overwhelmed that I just wasn't having fun with the game, and so I stopped playing for a couple weeks. I came back to it later, put another two hours into it, and started getting the hang of things; I could see some of the game's appeal, but it still wasn't catching my interest. I stopped playing for a few more weeks, then came back for another two hours and decided that I just wasn't interested in finishing the game. I was ready to start writing a negative impressions review, but after giving it some sleep I decided to give Shadow of Mordor one last chance. That's when everything finally clicked for me, and I finally started having some fun. I finished the game two days later.

It's safe to say that I liked Shadow of Mordor overall, but I'm certainly not on the "best game ever" hype-train that a lot of people were riding back in late 2014 and early 2015. Shadow of Mordor definitely has its problems, and although the core gameplay is really satisfying and addicting (if you can get into it), it proves to be awfully shallow and repetitive. This is an open-world game where the open world doesn't even matter, and where all you ever do is kill orcs. This is a mechanically-solid game that successfully blends the Assassin's Creed-style free-running parkour and stealth-action systems with the Batman: Arkham Asylum-style attack/counter-attack combat system, that unfortunately doesn't have much character or soul beneath those mechanics. It could've been great, but the end result is a game that's just a little bit better than average, and ultimately still kind of disappointing.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Impressions of The Last Guardian

I had the opportunity over the last week to play several hours of The Last Guardian, the third and latest game by Team Ico set in the same world as Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. I wasn't able to finish it, unfortunately -- I was out of town playing on a friend's PS4 -- but I made it a little more than halfway through, which I feel is sufficient to write a partial review of the game.

The Last Guardian feels a lot like Ico, with you playing a young boy trying to navigate his way through dilapidated fortresses while escorting an NPC-ally through the environments. Except, instead of escorting a helpless young girl around, you're working together with a giant beast named Trico who needs your help as much as you need his in order to progress. Working with Trico feels, at times, like playing Shadow of the Colossus, because of how you often have to climb and manipulate Trico in order to get around. As the third game of this quasi-series, The Last Guardian feels like a pretty good mixture of everything that came before it. And if the first two games were good, then The Last Guardian must also be good, right?

The answer to that question is, of course, a bit of "yes and no."

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Evil Within: Surprisingly Disappointing

The Evil Within (2014) is one of the most notable survival-horror games of the last decade for the simple fact that it was directed by Shinji Mikami, the man responsible for bringing us the original Resident Evil in 1996 and its beloved sequel Resident Evil 4 in 2005. With the man responsible for popularizing the concept of survival-horror games directing his first survival-horror game in almost a decade, there was a lot of hype surrounding The Evil Within, especially considering its strong similarities to Resident Evil 4. Promising a return to "pure survival-horror" that would become "the new face of horror," The Resident Evil Within certainly looked like the sequel Resident Evil 4 deserved, but ultimately never received.

The similarities are unmistakably present, from the slower-paced survival gameplay that has you exploring environments in search of hidden ammunition and healing supplies to the over-the-shoulder third-person combat system, but The Evil Within spices up that familiar formula by throwing in a stealth system, a more robust system for upgrading your weapons and abilities, and by generally emphasizing horror and tension more than action. It takes a little time for the game to get going and fully open itself up to you, but for a while during the early levels I was prepared to declare The Evil Within a worthy successor to Resident Evil 4 that was actually better in many ways. But as I got further into the game, my awe and optimism turned into detachment and frustration.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Dark Souls 3: Ashes of Ariandel - Review

Ashes of Ariandel is the first of two planned DLCs for Dark Souls III; it adds a new region to the game with a new boss, new enemies, new armor sets, new weapons and spells, and a PVP arena that can be accessed from the Firelink bonfire once you find and beat the second, hidden boss. For $15, it'll get you about four hours of content and at least one new toy for each type of build, which you can put to use in the arenas for 1vs1 duels (un-embered, no estus), free-for-all brawls (timed match with respawn, limited estus, player with most kills wins), or team-brawls (same as free-for-all, except 2vs2 or 3vs3). For the most part, it's all quality content with memorable encounters and fun new weapons, and the PVP arena will really help extend the game's life for those interested in PVP.

Despite its overall quality, Ashes of Ariandel wasn't that satisfying for me. Part of that has to do with its relatively short length; I was able to explore everywhere and do everything possible in a single afternoon, and the whole thing felt anticlimactic. In typical Souls fashion, the story is practically non-existent, with you entering the Painted World of Ariandel on an incredibly vague pretense, and then wandering around aimlessly until you trigger its ending, which leaves everything almost completely unresolved. In the end, this DLC felt more like it was a hidden, optional area that was cut from the base game instead of a proper DLC expansion. It's not a bad experience, mind you, but apart from the PVP arena I feel like I wouldn't have missed much if I'd just skipped it altogether.