Tag Archives: exploration

Review: No Man’s Sky

no-mans-sky-cover
via Moby Games

No Man’s Sky (2016)

PS4 / Rated T

Action / Adventure

Publisher: Hello Games

Developer: Hello Games


What do you get when you mix together a fresh new idea, an unconventional publisher-developer relationship, a massive development cycle, and hype levels the size of space itself?  You get No Man’s Sky, a game that I really wanted to like.  Sean Murray and the team at Hello Games promised to make an expansive game rooted in boundless exploration and science-fiction nostalgia.  They teamed up with Sony to bring a console exclusive that would be revolutionary to gaming.  Unfortunately, the game was treated like a AAA game with the size of an indie studio.  When you pair that with a plethora of broken promises and an unclear scope, you get a game that lets a ton of people (like myself) down.

no-mans-sky-1
via Gear Nuke

Again, I really wanted to like No Man’s Sky.  The game brought and touched upon a ton of different concepts and ideas that would have made for a fantastic game if handled with a little more care.  The prospect of getting in a space cruiser and flying through the endless expanse of space, exploring different planets and their wildlife on the way, is an idea that should get any sci-fi nerd bouncing with excitement.  On top of that, a fluctuating space economy and the ability to interact with different alien species paint should have made No Man’s Sky the space exploration game we all were waiting for.  So where did it all go wrong?  Why did the game fall short of its expectations?

One reason is reality of the game’s planets versus what we were promised over the course of the game’s prolonged development and PR cycle.  If you watched any of the game’s demos, you probably saw a lush and vibrant ecosystem, filled to the brim with a wide range of mystical creatures roaming about.  It’s a setting that looked ripped from a painting.  It was beautiful, and it got a lot of gamers excited to explore the game’s randomly generated planets for themselves.  We all bought a ticket for the hype train.  We all bought in to the Sean Murray’s tremendous vision, one that might have been a little too far-fetched.

no-mans-sky-2
via Segment Next

At the end of the day, No Man’s Sky is just a game.  A game with limitations, just like any other game.  What Hello Games was promising fans was a game that would exceed technological innovation.  Instead, what we got were computer-generated planets that looked barren and empty, usually with some sort of radiation or extreme temperatures that make exploration a major pain in the ass.  Instead of these mythical creatures we saw in pre-release footage, we got a fair amount of atrocities that looked like the by-product of an animal creation algorithm gone wrong.  Remember EA’s character creation game Spore?  The creatures that you encounter in No Man’s Sky look like Spore rejects.  The ecosystem in the actual game just doesn’t match up with what we saw leading up to the game’s release.  This made planet exploration a bummer, especially when I started to see a lot of the same animals and planets over and over again over the course of my travels.  Random generation is great, but the limitations of such a system started to become apparent after my visit to my fifth planet.

Besides flora and fauna, you can also explore abandoned outposts, monoliths, and other structures, some populated and some empty.  Inside these buildings you can find new items, upgrades, money, and directions to other locations of interests.  The variety of these buildings, just like the animal and plant variety, starts to quickly wear thin as the buildings you explore start to become super familiar as you go on.  The monoliths, which are essentially ancient alien structures, are the most intriguing structures to explore as they offer the most variety and they also look amazing as well.

no-mans-sky-3
via Investor Place

The universe of No Man’s Sky feels empty as well.  Talks of a space economy and different alien species that you could interact with made me believe that the world we would be exploring would be a living and breathing galaxy.  Instead, members of these different alien species stay in the same spots, whether it’s in a space station or a planet’s outpost.  They talk in foreign tongues which makes it next to impossible to feel like you are actually having a conversation with an alien.  You can find tomes throughout the galaxy that help you understand these species’ languages, but this doesn’t help the fact that these NPCs that you encounter are lifeless quest givers.  The space economy does deliver in that you can find different prices for materials in different space systems, but I don’t think these prices are determined by any meta-statistics.  If I were to sell tons of iron to a space trader, the price of iron across the galaxy would not go down, which is a shame.  A space economy that actually reacted to players’ buying habits would be amazing.

Combat, whether it’s on foot or in the sky, is largely underwhelming.  While exploring planets, you have a multi-tool, which allows you to mine for materials as well as fight enemies.  You can upgrade the tool with better upgrades and abilities as you go.  When exploring planets, your only enemies are aggressive creatures and the flying sentinels that scour the planetscape, waiting for someone to cause trouble.  The creatures are easy to take down with your multi-tools’s blaster but the sentinels become a real nuisance as they traverse through the air.  The gun combat doesn’t feel great and I often found myself recklessly shooting my gun in an attempt to destroy the sentinels.  Combat does get easier with subsequent upgrades, but it never felt fun, which is a big problem.  In the air, your space ship has blasters and lasers that aid you in taking down pesky space pirates you track you down if you have any valuable cargo on board.  These fights were the most frustrating of them all.  The space pirates zoom by you and do nimble acrobatic maneuvers through the air as you try to shoot them with your sluggish aim.  Your best bet is to park yourself in place and turn your ship around in an attempt to take down the enemy ships.  This, again, was not fun at all and was the source of a good amount of deaths.  In fact, most of my deaths in this game came at the hands of space pirates.  Luckily they have no interest in your cargo as you can go retrieve your lost goods in the same place where you went down.  There are no stakes to these fights, which makes them a little easier to swallow.

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Up to this point, I have probably talked about half of what you do in No Man’s Sky.  The other half you may ask?  Well, you are going to spend a lot of time with inventory management, which is another major detriment to the game’s experience.  The thing I like about No Man’s Sky’s user interface is the inspiration it draws from Destiny’s user interface.  Unfortunately, navigating through your inventory becomes a hassle thanks to the limited space that you have right from the get-go.  Your Exosuit (your spacesuit) has an inventory as well as you ship, which usually has a larger inventory.  These inventories are pretty small in the beginning which makes resource mining a pain.  I constantly found myself having to sacrifice some materials in order to make room for rarer materials and items.  It also doesn’t help that suit and ship upgrades take up inventory spots as well, which makes upgrading your gear a tougher decision that it should be.  Your inventory space should never get in the way of upgrading your gear.  In order to expand your inventory, you either have to purchase suit upgrades at outposts or obtain bigger and more expensive ships with more space.  Again, as a player you should never have to upgrade your inventories in order to make them useable.  Moving resources and items around in order to make room for other things is a big portion of the gameplay, which is a major shame.  It starts to become a drag really quickly.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that half of your playtime will be spent in the game’s inventory menus.  You’re going to be managing your inventory a lot…which is not my idea of a good time.

Finally, I feel like I need to talk about the multiplayer aspects of the game, rather the lack of multiplayer features that the game has to offer.  You have the choice to name the systems, planets, animals, and plants that you discover in hopes that another player will stumble upon your discoveries.  Why else would name these things?  However, the reality of such a massive random generation algorithm means that millions of planets are being created.  Sean Murray has made it pretty clear that the chance of stumbling upon someone else’s discovery are pretty slim.  Over the course of my playtime, I found nothing that was discovered by someone else.  Because of this, I found myself skipping the naming process, sticking with the randomly generated names that the game gives to these different aspects of the universe.  I stopped claiming ownership of such discoveries, because in the end, they don’t really matter.  Realistically, no one is going to stumble upon your discovered planets…which is a damn shame.  This is the theme of No Man’s Sky.  It’s a damn shame.

No Man's Sky_20160808131201
via Segment Next

I could go on for multiple paragraphs, but this review is starting to run long.  There’s a bevy of great ideas and systems that No Man’s Sky implements, but they all feel half-baked and undercooked.  Black holes, Hyper drives, puzzles, and the mysterious Atlas are aspects of the game that I haven’t talked about.  However, none of these things managed to stick out because they were either mishandled ideas or cheap by-products of another random generation.  I admire Hello Game’s commitment to fixing the game and trying to make it a better experience for players after the game has launch, but a lot of these problems could have been fixed if expectations were tempered and promises weren’t made.  The No Man’s Sky we were expecting versus the No Man’s Sky that was put on shelves are two different products that tell two different stories.  One could have been a defining addition to gaming history while the other was the product of a hype train gone off the rails.  I wanted to like No Man’s Sky so much, but in the end it’s a game that just can’t get into.  Who knows, maybe the game will be different in a year’s time with the developer’s plans to update the game, but I don’t think I will be making the return trip into No Man’s Sky.

no-mans-sky-score

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Review: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

ethan carter coverThe Vanishing of Ethan Carter (2014)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: The Astronauts, Nordic Games, EuroVideo Medien GmbH

Developer: The Astronauts


Never have I felt more alone while playing a video game than I have in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.  The game literally throws you straight into the world with no guidance or hand-holding.  I’m serious, the game straight up tells you that from the very beginning.  There was a lush landscape in front of me that was just calling my name.  The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is game chock full of discovery, beauty, mystery, and sometimes horrifying imagery.  There’s some weird things going on and it’s your job to investigate.

ethan carter 1
via Push Square

Players assumes the role of a nameless detective who’s tasked with finding a missing boy.  As a detective, you have the power to rip holes in reality, giving you visuals of horrible crimes that have taken place within the game’s world.  It’s necessary to go around and put these visuals together to solve the mystery of the missing child.  A lot of this legwork involves stumbling upon a rift in reality in the environment and then proceeding to investigate the rift.  A lot of these investigations involve piecing together the events of crimes and forming a clear picture of what took place.

The game sets a tone of loneliness as there is no one to be found as you roam around the gorgeously lush world.  The sense of discovery that the game provides is immense.  The game doesn’t tell you where to go…leaving the exploration to the player.  There’s forests, lakes, cottages, and caves that you will end up exploring.  Each of these environments are beautiful and look wonderful on the PS4.  I haven’t seen the PC version but I can only imagine that the visuals are heightened on the platform.  Sometimes it’s a little tough to figure out where you need to go next, but you’ll most likely stumble upon the places you need to go without having to worry about it.

ethan carter 2
via New Game Network

The amount of interaction you have with the world is limited, but the game does a good job at enticing you to move forward.  Most of the gameplay involves pressing a button to open up a visual of a previous crime or walking around and piecing together different events of a crime. There’s also some lite puzzle solving, but nothing that will drive you crazy. That’s about it.  There’s not much to be found in terms of gameplay, but the exploration more than makes up for the lack of interaction that you have with the world.  There was a multitude of times where I just wandered away from my objective and just took in the sights and sounds.  There were many vistas and landscapes that seemed screenshot worthy.  In fact, 98% of the game is screenshot worthy.  98% is an arbitrary number…there’s no science behind it.

Remember the game Everybody Has Gone to the Rapture?  Yeah, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is basically that game but better in almost every way.  (Graphics wise, the two are comparable) In both games you are walking around the environment piecing together the events that took place prior.  There’s a sense of mystery and intrigue in both games, but TVOEC captured my interest way more than EHGTTR.  The story in TVOEC is a lot more interesting and gave me more incentive to explore and dig deeper.

ethan carter 3
via New Game Network

I feel like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a game that passed everybody by.  It didn’t make a big splash when it was first released and the talk surrounding the game waned as weeks went on.  Hell, I even passed up the game when it first came out.  I remember looking at it and having interest in playing it, but I never went back to it.  I am glad I finally visited this short and unique experience.  Its full of interesting ideas and intrigue-driven exploration.  The game also looks fantastic, probably one of the prettiest I have seen in years.  It’s an extremely immersive experience that is worth sinking some time in.

ethan carter score

Also available on PC.

Review: Fallout 4

fallout 4 cover
via Giant Bomb

Fallout 4 (2015)

PS4 / Rated M

RPG / Shooter

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Developer: Bethesda Game Studios


It’s been almost seven years since Fallout 3, one of my favorite games of all time, was released by Bethesda.  The game included massive amounts of exploration in a rich world with stories and adventures around almost every single corner.  It was impossible not to get lost in the Capitol Wasteland.  The novelty of seeing familiar historic landmarks with a post-apocalyptic lather over them was also unique, especially for an RPG of Fallout’s size.  It was only this past summer when Fallout 4 was introduced to the masses and it took gaming fandom by storm.  It’s pretty rare these days to have a game announced the same year that it comes out.  Excitement and speculation were everywhere leading up to last month’s release.  However, what’s the one downside of massive amounts of hype?  Overhype.  Luckily, Fallout 4 met most of its expectations and delivered one of the year’s best experiences in gaming.

fallout 4 1
via Inquisitr

One of the most unique and different aspects of this iteration in the series is the game’s introductory sequence.  In past Fallout games, you only saw what life before the war was like through billboards or posters that could be found around the wasteland.  In Fallout 4, you finally get a glimpse into what life looked like before the bombs dropped.  You play as a married military veteran (man or woman) with a kid named Shaun.  It’s just a normal day in Sanctuary Hills when things start to go south really quickly.  Your personal Mr. Handy, Codsworth, alerts you to the television where news of nuclear fallout starts to rear its head.  It’s then a full on sprint with your newborn child in hand to nearby Vault 111 where you will wait out the Great War.  Unfortunately, things are not so happy and cozy in the vault, as you emerge from the vault 200 years later as the sole survivor.  I’m not going to sit here and spoil what goes on in the vault, but it’s pretty easy to draw conclusions.

After you gain the knowledge that your child Shaun was taken from the vault, your mission to find your son begins as you take your first steps out of the vault into the harsh wasteland, courtesy of a couple of nuclear bombs.  (Sound familiar to the plot of Fallout 3?  Well, just switch out “your son” with “your father” and bam, you have the same exact plot.)  As you explore the wasteland, you’ll find settlements and factions that will help you with your quest to find your son.  There are four factions in the game, including the Minutemen, the Railroad, the Brotherhood of Steel (which should be familiar to anyone who has played Fallout), and the mysterious Institute.  Each have their own motivations and enemies and it’s up to you to decide which faction you want to carry on with to the end.  This promises four different endings, with minimal differences between them, aside from the Institute ending.  The story is not the strongest aspect of the game, but’s its serviceable and it acts as a device to get you exploring the world, which is in my opinion the best part of any Fallout game.

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Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are the home of Fallout 4.  Its immediately apparent that the nuclear bombs did not do a number on the city like they did Washington D.C.  Boston still lays in ruin, but the scenery is much more colorful and there’s an abundance of buildings that are largely intact, including some tall skyscrapers.  For one, it makes the world a lot more enjoyable to explore.  The boring drab atmosphere of Fallout 3 got old after a while, but Fallout 4 changes it up a bunch with locations ranging from metropolitan sprawls to swampy marshes to coastal beaches to rural farmland to suburban neighborhoods.  The map is also massive with tons of locations and points of interest.  The best part?  None of it seemed to be filler.  Almost every nook and cranny had a story to tell.  Bethesda has managed to create a living and breathing world where NPC’s do their own thing and random events happen all around you.  My story exploring Boston will most likely be totally different from another player’s experience, which is a good indication that you have done something right.

Fallout 4’s gameplay and combat mechanics have also gotten a massive overhaul.  Combat is actually more fun this time around.  In previous games you had to rely on V.A.T.S. (Vault Assisted Targeting System) to take out your enemies because aiming with your gun was a joke.  Although the game does not compare to your modern FPS, Fallout 4 manages to make it easier to aim you gun and play the game like you would a normal shooter.  A more updated, and now dynamic, V.A.T.S. system is in place (and still highly recommended), but you can use your sights again.

fallout 4 3
via Softpedia News

Dialog options have received an overhaul as well.  Gone are the days of scrolling through a menu of dialog options during a conversation.  Instead, you have four options which are paraphrases of what you are going to say.  You now have options like “Sarcasm” or “Threaten,” but without the exact words that you would utter.  This dynamic system also allows you to leave a conversation at any time you want by just walking away mid conversation.  This dynamic system seemed cool at first, but it had its troubles.  I often found it hard to determine if I was in a conversation with someone because the classic conversation camera zoom from the previous games is gone.  I often found myself walking away from characters who would then get annoyed that I was ignoring them.  It’s too bad there wasn’t an “Apologize for Being Rude” option, because I would have used that one a lot.

The level up system has also changed, giving you a chart of all the perks in the game right up front.  Depending on your initial stats that you set in the beginning of the game, you can place your points that you receive from leveling up into the different perks, ranking them up to get more advanced versions of those perks.  This allows for more customization based on the way you want to play.  Some people have been put off by this new approach, but I found it more enjoyable.  Finally, there are a lot more options for modding your weapons and armor.  Now, all the junk that you find in the world has a purpose beyond just populating the world.  You can use the junk and materials that you find to develop more advanced versions of your weapons and armor, giving you the advantage in battle.  There was a surprising amount of customization options for your guns, armor, and power suit.

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via US Gamer

This leads me to one of the craziest parts of the game which is settlement building.  Fallout 4 gives you the tools to create your own settlements from the ground up using all of the junk that you find throughout the world.  You construct buildings with beds and then defenses and power.  You also have to make sure you provide your settlers with water and crops as well, keeping them happy.  The mechanics can get pretty deep, especially when you start talking about trading between your settlements.  You can create trade lines between your settlements, which in turn give you more supplies and resources.  Although some of the mechanics and systems are a little janky and hard to use, I spent way more time then I originally imagined I would in this mode.  There’s no real point to creating big settlements, but it was still fun anyway.  It’s something that you can show off to your friends.

My only real complaint with Fallout 4 are the bugs and jank that are scattered throughout the game.  It’s hard to fault a game as large as Fallout for technical glitches and hiccups, but it’s still frustrating.  I imagine the QA process for a game like this is a nightmare but I still think it’s inexcusable for a game to be so buggy in this day and age.  Look at a game like The Witcher 3.  That game rivals Fallout 4 in size and scope and still manages to look better and run better as well.  It leaves Bethesda with no excuse for why their game is technically less superior.  Fortunately for them, the game’s other aspects more than make up for these problems.  However, future Fallout games need to clean up their act.

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I have put a borderline unhealthy amount of hours into Fallout 4 because the game basically combines the best parts of the previous Fallout games with more updated and modern mechanics.  Anyone who has played the previous games will feel right at home while new players will find the game to be a nice springboard into the rich and engrossing world that Fallout 4 has to offer.  In a year that has been full of great games, Fallout 4 caps off the year just like a bottle cap on an ice cold Nuka Cola.  Okay, that was a bad Fallout joke…

fallout 4 score

Also available on PC and Xbox One

Review: Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

via gamers.vg
via gamers.vg

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (2015)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Developer: The Chinese Room, SCE Santa Monica


If there is one game that PlayStation has been hyping up all summer, it has to be Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.  Like the studio’s previous game, Dear Esther, The Chinese Room has developed a game that requires no major interactions at all.  Instead, you walk around the empty and lonely streets of Shropshire, a rural town in England.  Whenever I first started seeing the game, I instantly grew interested in what the final product would turn out to be.  Unfortunately, the hype levels might have been set to high, because the game does not deliver on the amount of expectation that it was given.

via Gamers Network
via Gamers Network

It’s pretty clear that something bad happened to the residents of the quaint village but the game does not outright tell you, leaving you the player to pick up the pieces.  The game does not explicitly tell you who you are.  Your just a passive being, roaming around the remains of Shropshire collecting bits and pieces of story through radio recordings, phone messages, and little balls of light that provide visuals of conversations between some of the town’s residents.  In a recent interview, Steve Gaynor from Fullbright Games (Tacoma, Gone Home) used the perfect term to describe this form of storytelling, which is “Forensic Storytelling.”  This type of gameplay worked well for Gaynor’s Gone Home, but it did not have the same kind of effect in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.

Gone Home follows the story of one girl walking around an empty house, picking up the pieces of the story by exploring every nook and cranny.  Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture gives you a full set of characters with their own stories, making it hard to gain an attachment to the stories put in front of you.  The game’s pace in which it feeds you story is slow to begin with and it is broken up into small pieces depending on the places that you explore.  Conversations between characters are the only form of story that the game gives you which makes it really hard to genuinely care about the characters and what was happening.

via vg247
via vg247

I have to admit, the overall story is gripping.  As you roam around the locales and listen to the conversations between the residents, you start to gather questions about the mysterious event that caused the entire population of the town to disappear.  The promise of “the big reveal” at the end kept me edging around town trying to pick up the one piece of information that would break it all open.  Unfortunately this never really happens.  There are some moments of revelation here and there, but the effect is minimal.  The ending was kind of a downer in that it really did not give me “the big reveal” that I was hoping for.

Perhaps the game’s biggest detriment is the way that it handled exploration.  Shropshire is full of homes to explore, gardens to walk through, and parks to play around in.  There is so much to look at and poke around in.  The game looks absolutely gorgeous, thanks to the power of CryEngine 3.  With the town being so large, it’s a shame that you’re walking speed is veeerrrryyyyy sloooowwwww……  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for the speed of the Tasmanian Devil, but I would have at least liked a simple run button to help with backtracking.  The game makes it a chore to go back to places farther back in the game because it would probably take you hours to get back to where you wanted to go.  It was revealed yesterday that there is indeed a “run button.”  If you hold R2, your speed becomes a little quicker after about seven seconds.  This helped a tiny bit, but it really didn’t make that much of a difference.  What was even more bizarre is that the game didn’t even tell players about the option.

via Techno Buffalo
via Techno Buffalo

Every bone in my body wishes that Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture was a better game.  I was really looking forward to the promise of the game’s eerie nature and semi-dark story, but it failed to have a profound effect on me like Gone Home did, a very similar game in nature.  The game looks absolutely stunning, which makes the game worth a play through just to experience a journey through the quaint old town of Shropshire.  (As long as you are not in a hurry, because it will take you a while)  It’s unfortunate because I thought that The Chinese Room had a pretty cool game in their hands, but the story just didn’t do it for me.  I also understand that my opinion is not of the majority, but I will stand by my opinion.  The mystery that you have to solve is interesting in nature but fails to have a lasting impact.

everybodys gone to the rapture score