Tag Archives: PC

Review: Palmystery

palmysterylogo
via Itch.io

Palmystery (2017)

PC / NR

Horror / Cartoon / Adventure

Publisher: Paloma Dawkins

Developer: Paloma Dawkins


It only takes a matter of seconds before Palmystery starts to get…puzzling.  The game, designed by Paloma Dawkins, is illustrated as a “surreal horror cartoon video game.”  It is cartoonish and there are some surreal moments…but it is not necessarily horrifying in anyway.  In fact, the game is more unsettling than scary…with brief moments of relaxation thrown in between.  Allow me to explain.

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Palmystery is littered with hands.  There are hands galore in all shapes and sizes.  There are big hands, small hands, foreboding hands, hands wagging their finger at you begging you to come closer, hands growing like grass, and hands that form all triangles, which act as the gateways between each colorful and outlandish scene.  According to Dawkins, the game features Palmistry, which is the foretelling of the future through the study of hands, more commonly referred to as “palm reading.”  There are sparse references to Palmistry, however, besides the introductory moments that have you walking through a castle corridor, with the various signs of Palmistry adorning its foreboding walls.

This is not an extensive experience, only taking about a half hour to play through.  You explore a host of colorful scenes that take you to a variety of surreal landscapes.  Some are more comical and lighthearted than others.  There are also some cartoon characters that you will meet along the way.  Dawkins’ little animated creatures are all in various states of panic…and some will be playful, only to get swept up into space the next.  There are a lot of tonal shifts that will most likely throw you for a loop, but it paints an intriguing portrait of Dawkins’ mind.

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Dawkins explains in a blog post that this game is a portrayal of her feelings after Trump got elected as president.  “It stirred within me a darker side to my cartoons that I want to explore,” she goes on to explain.  This explains the shifts in tone that are present in every scene that you explore.  There are a lot of conflicting emotions as you witness these scenes taking place in front of you.  It is unsettling…but can be relaxing as well.

Perhaps the most relaxing portion of the game is the game’s final scene, which places you in a purplish water world.  There is a cartoon deer that is prancing around in the water, dancing from diamond to diamond which float around in the landscape.  While this is taking place, hypnotist Andrea Young facilities a little session of meditation.  It was not the turn I was expecting the game to take, but I cannot really complain.  It was an unexpected way to unwind after a mysterious and confusing experience.

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I am not going to pretend to understand what was going on in Palmystery.  It is a genuinely weird experience that always keeps you thinking.  I believe that was the intention though.  You are not supposed to understand everything that is put in front of you.  It is supposed to be complex in a funny and bizarre way.  It makes perfect sense when described as a product of Dawkins’ mind, who might have been experiencing the same feelings after Trump’s election.  Palmystery is certainly not a game for everyone, but it will certainly leave you uncomfortable and chill at the same time.

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Review: Unravel

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via Wikipedia

Unravel (2016)

PS4 / Rated E

Puzzle / Platformer

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Developer: Coldwood Interactive


When this little indie game from Coldwood Interactive named Unravel was first announced at EA’s 2015 E3 press conference, it immediately caught my attention.  A very nervous Martin Sahlin, the game’s creator, came out on stage and proceeded to introduce us to the game, and its adorable little star, Yarny. (Seen below)  I remember being instantly intrigued with its mechanics and instantly charmed by the games irresistibly cute visual style.  It later went on to release in early 2016, but it seemed to be a game that largely flew under people’s radars…including mine.  After about a year I finally dipped my toes into what Unravel is all about and I was met with a very charming experience with some unique platforming elements that make it standout from some of its peers.

As I mentioned before, the game stars a small red, cat-looking creature named Yarny, who is made entirely of yarn.  Yarny is constantly in awe and wonderment as he explores the objects and environments around him.  The game starts you in a small house that includes pictures of different locations that are important to the homeowner’s life.  Yarny explores these environments and collects memories along the way, slowly telling the emotional and nostalgic stories of the homeowner and their family throughout the years.

It is a very gripping story structure that drives you through the game.  There no cut scenes and a scant amount of characters, but the whole story is told through pictures and mirages in the environments that you explore.  Some of these stories were a little tough to understand, but the game does a fantastic job at capturing the various moments and emotions that families experience, whether it is the happy moments or the sad moments.  It is harrowing at times and will most likely relate to your life in some way.  Unravel, despite its simple concept, has a way of resonating with players, making it a special experience.

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via Coldwood Interactive

The game is made up of twelve different levels spanning environments like forests, mountainous hilltops, and snowy valleys…to name a few.  These levels require you to use Yarny’s body made of yarn to get pasts its various obstacles and dangers.  Yarny can create rope to swing across gaps, make bridges, and maneuver objects.  If that was not enough, Yarny also unravels (insert title card) as you make your way through the level.  If you are overzealous with your yarn usage, you will eventually run out of yarn and Yarny will be stripped down to his basic frame.  To combat this, there are various “checkpoints” in the levels that allow you to re-spool, giving Yarny more yarn to work with.  I did not find myself running out of yarn too much, but it does add another layer of complexity to the levels and their thoughtful design.  In terms of overall difficulty, the game is not too challenging.  There are moments where the game will get you, but death is never really a burden given the generous checkpoint system.  You also can warp back to the latest checkpoint if you find yourself stuck.

One gripe I have with Unravel’s mechanics are the floaty controls that sometimes make tougher platforming sections a little frustrating.  There were some moments in the game were tighter controls would have been more helpful.  There is a trophy (on PS4) that requires you to go through each level without dying and I quickly found myself giving up because the controls were not as up-to-snuff as I would have liked them to be.  There is also the tiny issue of freshness when it comes to the game’s mechanics.  Unravel does a commendable job, for the most part, of giving you new challenges that change things up, but this evolution in gameplay starts to taper off when you get to the later levels.  Due to the game’s simplistic nature, it is tough to constantly give you new ways of using the mechanics at your disposal.

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via Coldwood Interactive

But let us talk about the game’s main attraction: just how darn cute the whole thing is.  There is an enormous amount of detail that went into the game’s visual style from the environments to Yarny himself.  Everything has a tactile feel to it and Yarny looks super realistic.  Coldwood Interactive most likely drew some inspiration from Nintendo’s games like Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Yoshi’s Wooly World.  The game’s score is also well done, meshing perfectly with the game’s heartwarming story of family and nostalgia.

Despite the few issues I had with the game’s mechanics Unravel still manages to invoke tons of feeling, something you do not see too much from puzzle-platformers.  The game’s eye-popping adorability is what pulls you in but it is the gripping and emotional story that convinces you to stay.  It is a relatively short, but powerful, experience that manages to do some cool things with its yarn-based mechanics.  Unravel is worth your time.  It is worth it alone just to see Yarny’s curiosity of the world around him.

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Review: DOOM

doom-cover
via Pinoy Tech Blog

DOOM (2016)

PC / Rated M

First-Person Shooter

Publisher: Bethesda, Zenimax Media

Developer: id Software, Certain Affinity, Escalation Studios


DOOM doesn’t waste any time before throwing you right into the action.  There’s a demonic invasion…and it’s your job to kill every single demon that falls in your path.  DOOM is a constant thrill ride from start to finish, turning the notch of intensity up with every level you play.  I’ve only played the game’s campaign, but that was all I needed out of this experience.  I just needed an excuse to kill a lot of demons…and DOOM delivered in every way.

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id Software has created a game with a hell of a lot of style.  (Pun certainly intended…yay for bad jokes!)  The game’s initial moments, which have you donning the iconic suit of the Doom Slayer, immediately set the mood and tone for the rest of the game.  As you make your way to an elevator, the main theme starts to play and we get the game’s title sequence.  Perhaps the best part of it all is the final beat of the song, which perfectly syncs up with your character cocking his gun, ready for the hell-bent mission awaiting him.  It’s the perfect introduction for the game, immediately putting you in the right mood.  It’s always important for a game to nail its initial moments, and DOOM’s first impression is outstanding and wild.

Understandably, the story tends to take the back seat for most of the game.  DOOM takes place on Mars where a UAC facility is being invaded by the evil and demonic forces of Hell.  You play a man who wakes up on an alter in the bowels of the UAC facility.  Upon freeing yourself from your chains, you quickly find your Praetor Suit, the suit that turns you into the Doom Slayer.  You then begin to realize that the facility’s demonic invasion has been enabled by Dr. Olivia Pierce, the game’s main antagonist.  With help from Dr. Samuel Hayden and the facilities’ VEGA system, your mission is to prepare yourself to stop Hell’s forces and end the demonic onslaught for good.  There’s nothing complex about the plot which mainly serves as an excuse for you to make your way through the Martian facility and eventually the pits of Hell.  It’s hard to knock the game because of its story since the game clearly knows what it is all about and why people are playing it.  You’re here to kill demons and DOOM clearly recognizes that, which is a good thing.

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via ONRPG

Besides the campaign’s objectives and waypoints, the other force that drives you through the game is the metal soundtrack that accompanies your every action.  Unlike most games where the soundtrack is mostly passive, DOOM’s soundtrack is an active soundtrack, one that really motivates you to kill the demons that step in your path.  The soundtrack, written and composed by Mick Gordon, is full of gritty and electronic metal.  It pairs with the game perfectly and does a great job at painting the game’s atmosphere.  There were many times where I was bobbing my head to the beat of the music while murdering hordes of demons onscreen.  It just felt right.  It made for some kick-ass moments.  It’s an example of a well-realized soundtrack that really jives with the game it’s accompanying.

When it comes to the actual act of demon slaying, this aspect of the game felt great as well.  The combat is extremely smooth and fast, which worked perfectly for this game’s style and feel.  The game runs nicely as well, which also enhanced the gameplay.  There’s a variety of guns that you unlock as you make your way through the game.  These guns all felt right and the upgrades that you acquire through skill points that you collect also make for more varied gunplay.  The shotgun and the heavy machine gun are your best friends, but weapons like the Gauss Cannon and the rocket launcher are a good way to go when battling tougher and beefier enemies.  I never felt like I was using the same weapon for too long.  I was constantly switching weapons to give myself the advantage when battling certain enemies, which is great from a game design standpoint.  There are also glory kills, which allow you to “finish off” enemies when they are low on health.  The advantage of performing a glory kill is that the enemy drops health when performed.  These kills were a novelty in the beginning, but they begin to grow old as you advance in the game.  The variety of these kills tapers off quickly and they become quite repetitive.  I never stopped performing these kills because of their benefits, but it’s a shame id Software didn’t do anything to change up the formula.

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via WCCF Tech

There’s no shortage of demons for you to kill in the game.  The game relentlessly throws demons your way left and right, which makes for a thrilling experience.  It’s non-stop action from start to finish with little bits of respite sprinkled throughout.  The enemy variety is great, starting you off with a couple of measly demons.  As you progress your way through the game, more enemy types are thrown into the mix, each with different strategies and move sets.  By the time the final level comes around, all the enemy types are joining forces to get a piece of you, making for some hectic late game firefights.  In addition, there are only a couple of boss fights in the game (three to be exact) which were a little underwhelming.  The three boss fights, including the final boss, were epic and grand in scale, and a lot of fun, but I would have liked to see a little more.  There were a good deal of open rooms with waves of demons coming your way.  It would have been nice if some of these rooms were actually boss fights, especially earlier on in the game.  This is only a minor complaint with the game however, as the action is still very relentless and a ton of fun.

I only played the campaign, so I can’t speak on the multiplayer modes or the Snapmap functionality, but the campaign alone is enough for me to recommend this game to anyone who hasn’t already taken the dive.  DOOM’s campaign is extremely polished and it has a ton of style which is established right from the get-go. The combat is great and only made better with the superb soundtrack that drives you through the experience.  At the end of the day, I came to DOOM because I wanted to kill endless scores of demons, and I can’t think of any other game that nails this experience better than DOOM.  Get ready to kill a lot of demons…Doom Slayer.

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Review: No Man’s Sky

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Vault-Tec Needs You: Vault-Tec Workshop Impressions

Have you ever found yourself wandering through a vault in the Fallout universe and wondering what it would be like to build one of those vaults for yourself?  Have you wondered what it would be like to practice experiments on the vault dwellers within?  Now this dream is a reality in the Vault-Tec Workshop, the latest string of DLC add-ons for Bethesda’s Fallout 4.  It’s essentially a more fleshed out version of the studio’s mobile game Fallout Shelter, which is novel in concept. Vault-Tec Workshop doesn’t go without its faults though.

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via WASD

The add-on starts you off with a quest calling you to investigate a mysterious cave, a new location added into the game.  Inside this cave you find what is seemingly an abandoned vault, although you hear a woman’s voice over the loudspeaker.  After defeating the enemies that are trying to break in through the vault door, you open the vault and come into contact with a new acquaintance, Valery Barstow, a ghoul who was meant to become the overseer of the uncompleted Vault 88, the vault in which you discovered.  After walking into the main area, you find a huge cave with loads of abandoned construction equipment and some feral ghouls who used to be a part of the crew.  After getting to know a little bit about Barstow and her ambitions for Vault 88, she sets you free with the task of finishing Vault 88 and the experiments that it was meant to run.  It might seem unethical at first, but that’s the question you will have to repeatedly struggle with as you continue to welcome in new settlers and complete different tasks for Barstow.  You can either murder Barstow in cold blood or complete her unethical, and sometimes devious, experiments on the settlers you welcome in.  It’s your choice, which is what I like about this add-on in particular.

The settlement space that the add-on gives you to build your vault is definitely the biggest space in the game by far.  You have a massive system of caves that you can explore and clear out to make room for your vault.  The game encourages players to reach level 20 before starting the DLC, because some of the enemies you will have to clear out are pretty tough.  Once you have explored and cleared the cave system, you have a massive cave at your disposal…which you pretty much can’t take advantage of due to the settlement size constraints.  You know that bar in the upper right corner in the workshop HUD that indicates “size”?  This size constraint unfortunately still applies to your vault, even though it gives you a massive space to work with.  If you’re on console (I have been playing on PS4) then you can pretty much forget creating a vault that spans the entire cave system.  If you want a vault that’s nice and furnished, then you’re pretty much going to have to stick to the main area for now, until mods come out that allow you to remove the size limitations.  It’s a pretty large oversight, but I understand that console limitations prevent you from creating vast vaults.  At the end of the day it’s a hardware constraint, but it’s still rather unfortunate, especially when your teased with such a massive building space to play around with.

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via Video Games Zone

When you take into account all of Bethesda’s previous workshop add-ons for the game, Vault-Tec Workshop is probably the biggest and best addition to the constantly growing workshop feature set.  The add-on gives you a pretty hefty set of new workshop elements that give you the ability to create your very own Vault-Tec vault.  There’s a bunch of pre-sets that allow you to build hallways, atriums, dining spaces, living spaces, overseer offices and much more.  There’s also a host of new furniture options that relate specifically to what you typically find in vaults around the world.  Everything from Vault-Tec posters to diner benches have been included, allowing you to personalize your vault to your liking. Perhaps the most practical addition to the workshop is the Vault-Tec generators, that have the ability to produce 150 or 500 electricity.  These generators are powerhouses that will allow you to power up even the heftiest of vaults.  You can build all of these elements outside of the add-on’s underground area in any settlement of your choice, which can potentially lead to some unique creations as well.

For all you diabolical folks who want to conduct experiments on your vault’s dwellers, you get a pretty nice array of experiments to choose from.  In all, there are four objects that allow you to conduct three experiments each, which totals up to twelve experiments in all.  These objects range from elliptical bikes to soda machines to slot machines.  These experiments are not as crazy as some of the others that you have seen in other vaults, but they are enough to suffice.  You also can’t create your own, so your stuck with what the add-on gives you.  There’s a population management terminal that allows you to manage all of your vault dwellers, which provides a nice and easy way to get a glance at what everyone is doing.  You can also equip your dwellers with their very own Vault 88 jumpsuits and Pip-Boys, which is a nice touch in itself.  The add-on goes pretty far in letting you create what feels like an authentic vault.

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via Film Games Etc

Despite the size limitations that inhibit you from creating expansive vault systems, the Vault-Tec Workshop is a nice addition to Fallout 4.  Sure, in the end it’s just a console version of Fallout Shelter, but the add-on provides enough items and features to make it worth taking a look at.  At the end of the day, I would have preferred a little more story add-ons like the previous Fallout games, but these workshop add-ons will suffice for now.  Nuka World, presumably Fallout 4’s final piece of DLC, is coming out next month, but Vault-Tec Workshop should be enough to hold over fans in the meantime.

Review: Emily Is Away

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Emily Is Away (2015)

PC / Not Rated

Adventure

Publisher: Kyle Seeley

Developer: Kyle Seeley


Most people this day and age at some point have probably found themselves in front of a computer with an instant messenger client open.  Before the age of texting and social media, there was a time where AOL Instant Messaging was one of the few ways to get in touch with high school friends or distant relatives savvy enough to use a computer.  Another familiar experience, one that most of us have probably been through, is the complicated high school crush relationship.  With a high school crush, you’re always teetering on the line between a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship or the friend zone, where anything you say could tip it all off-balance.

When you pair instant messaging of the early 2000s with conversations with a high school crush, you probably get a relatable experience, which is where Emily Is Away succeeds in its mission.  Emily Is Away is a small PC indie game designed by Kyle Seeley.  The game encapsulates the complicated and sometimes nerve-wracking nature of talking with a crush perfectly, using a deeply nostalgic Windows XP aesthetic as a wrapper.  It immediately transported me back to a time were punk-pop bands were the norm and Harry Potter movies were new and all the rage.

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The beginning of the game lets you pick a screen name, a name that you will use to talk and communicate with the game’s titular character Emily, who goes by “emerly35” online.  The short narrative journey takes place over five years, starting in your senior year of high school and ending with your senior year of college.  Over this time, you speak with Emily about a wide range of things ranging from music to parties, until you eventually get into some deeper topics like your relationship with her and other love interests in your life.  What you say directly affects your relationship with Emily in more ways than one.  Do you or do you not want to be with Emily?  Oh, she’s talking to another boy?  What’s his name?  Why would you want to be with him?  Do you really think he’s the right one for you?

High school crushes are complicated.  A lot of the times they are talking with other people and feeling of jealousy can rise from the dirt.  You don’t want to tell them what to do with their lives, but you desperately want to be with them as well.  The game captures these feelings perfectly.  It also hits home in a lot of different ways, thanks to the relatability of the scenario. Whether you like it or not, your relationship changes with Emily as you go through college and no matter what you say, the distance between you and her continues to grow.  The ending is pretty depressing, but it’s extremely powerful in execution.  It’s an outcome that you probably dread from the start, but it’s a part of life.  The game has different endings, but I’m unsure if you are able to get a “positive” outcome, no matter how hard you try, which is kind of unfortunate.  However, I think the negative endings work a lot better for the story and they give it more impact.

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All the other details surrounding your conversations with Emily are some of the best parts of the game.  Like I mentioned before, the game’s interface lovingly recreates the Window XP desktop. You have your messaging application that you use to talk with Emily as well as your “buddy list” that has all of your friends.  Before every conversation, I found myself reading through my friends’ user bios which usually consisted of song lyrics or other meaningful quotes.  Just like your relationship with Emily, your friends have changed too, and depending on the choices you make with Emily, you have the power to bring them closer or drive them away.  It’s a neat little aspect of the game that only garnishes the meat of the experience.  A part of me wishes that I could have talked with these other friends as well, but that would have only distracted me from the main conversation at hand.  It could have worked, but it would have been tougher to implement in a meaningful and enriching way.

Even details like your “buddy icon” that you select before every year (five years divide into five chapters or conversations) did a great job at putting you in the early 2000s.  The instant I saw the Harry Potter and Eminem logos that you could choose for your icon, I knew I was going to like this game.  There’s also plenty of hidden surprises that unlock different Easter eggs throughout the course of the game as well.  If you set your username to be “vaultdweller” for instance, you might get a special icon available for use.  Some usernames also trigger conversational cues that can add some variety to the conversations as well.  Setting your username to be the exact same as Brad’s (the boy Emily is talking to) can lead to a funny and confusing situation.  (Try it.)

emily is away 4

The short experience that Emily Is Away provides is extremely powerful and one of the most relatable games I have ever played.  Not only does it provide a deeply engrossing, and ultimately sad, story but it also hits all of the nostalgic beats of the early 2000s.  The game is essentially a friend zone simulator and it succeeds in every aspect of its execution.  I would have liked the game to be a bit longer so I could spend more time with the character of Emily, but I think the game is alright where it stands.  If you love sweating over what to say to your crush, then this game is most definitely for you.

emily is away score

Also available on Mac and Linux.

Review: Day of the Tentacle Remastered

dott cover
via Entertainment Factor

Day of the Tentacle Remastered (2016)

PS4 / Rated T

Adventure

Publisher: Double Fine Productions

Developer: Double Fine Productions


Tim Schafer is a genius when it comes to adventure games, and I genuinely mean that.  All you have to do is take a look at his past work, which includes games like Grim Fandango, the Monkey Island series, Full Throttle, Maniac Mansion, and most recently Broken Age.  His latest trend, one that I wholeheartedly enjoy, is bringing some of these classics back, like Grim Fandango, as remastered versions.  Double Fine’s latest remaster project, Day of the Tentacle Remastered, brings back the wacky time-travel adventure that stars three odd-ball teenagers and one very evil purple tentacle.  The remaster beautifully modernizes the story while retaining the charm and amusement of the original.

dott 1
via multiplayer.it

You take control of the nerd Bernard Bernoulli, the weirdo Laverne, and the heavy metal roadie that goes by the name Hoagie.  They are a band of misfits that must work together to put a stop to the evil Purple Tentacle’s plans of world domination.  In order to stop Purple Tentacle in his tracks, they have to enlist the help of the mad scientist Dr. Fred and his janky time machine.  Dr. Fred attempts to send them back in time so the kids can shut off the contamination machine that is the source of Purple Tentacle’s powers, but thing’s go horribly wrong as you would expect.  The three kids are split up into three different time periods, the past, the present, and the future.  They must work together, in different eras, to bring a stop to Purple Tentacle and, in turn, save the world.

The game’s story, primarily designed by industry veterans Schafer and Dave Grossman, is consistently great and on point throughout the entire adventure.  Day of the Tentacle features a variety of comedy styles, ranging from benign potty humor to wry, sometimes dark, humor.  Every joke works well and there are a very slim few that don’t connect, even twenty years later in this day and age.  There was one early moment in particular, involving a down-on-his-luck product designer who puts a gun to his head in his hotel room, only to reveal a bright “BOOM” flag upon firing the weapon.  It was a shocking moment that still managed to paint a smile on my face.  The inclusion of time travel also makes for some great story and character moments as well.  Watching as Hoagie instilled his heavy metal slang on the founding fathers in the past makes for some great comedic material.  The story is smart and sharp all the way through till the credits roll.

Day of the Tentacle Remastered_20160327210641
via Polygamia

What made Day of the Tentacle so unique from other adventure games of its time was its time travel mechanics and the ability to switch between the different characters in their respective time periods.  It makes for some inventive puzzles that require some smart solutions.  Speaking of puzzles, unlike most adventure games of its time, the game never had any puzzles that require obtuse or abstract solutions.  Everything that you do makes sense and I never had to bash random items together in hopes of progressing the story.  The game makes you feel smart by letting you solve the problems in logical and clever ways.  With that being said, there were still some tough solutions, especially towards the latter half of the game.  It made me wish there was a built in hint system, which these remasters seemingly never have.  The game wasn’t overtly difficult, but a little dynamic hint system would have gone a long way.

There’s a layer of polish that lathers Day of the Tentacle Remastered that delightfully brings the game to life in this modern era of games.  Every screen was reworked from the ground up, giving the game higher resolution graphics.  The art isn’t the only thing got reworked, as the music was given a remastered treatment as well.  Maybe the best part about it all is that you can switch between the remastered and classic versions of the game on the fly with one press of a button.  I constantly found myself switching between the two just to marvel in the amount of work that was put into the remaster.  There’s also the inclusion of concept art, developer commentaries, and a fully playable version of the original Maniac Mansion, a little Easter egg that could have been found in the original version as well.  This amount of work that the game’s original creators put into this version of the game shows in every nook and cranny.

dott 3
via Fan Pop

As far as remastered games go, especially adventure games, Day of the Tentacle Remastered holds up extremely well, in large part thanks to Tim Schafer and the team at Double Fine.  The game features a hilariously absurd and clever story that’s chock full of witty humor and ingenious references.  It also has a bright and cheery look that translates every single little detail from the original.  If you haven’t played the original, this is about as good as the game is going to get.  Now, the wait begins again for Tim Schafer’s next remaster project, Full Throttle.

dott score

Also available on PC and PSVita.

Review: Bully

bully cover
via Neoseeker

Bully (PS2 – 2006) (PS4 – 2016)

PS4 / Rated T

Action / Adventure

Publisher: Rockstar Games

Developer: Rockstar Vancouver


I never remember high school being this intense.  In Rockstar’s PS2 classic Bully, which is now available on PS4, you take on the role of the new kid.  You start off pretty low on the high school hierarchy, but you eventually work your way up to bigger and better things.  Along the way you accomplish some weird, random, and insane things, stuff I never remember doing in high school…probably for good reason. (Probably) When you think of Rockstar, Bully might not be a game that comes to mind, but it’s a game that’s worth a good amount of praise.

bully 1
via Lakebit

As I mentioned before, Jimmy Hopkins is Bullworth Academy’s newest student.  After being expelled from numerous schools beforehand, which he is very proud of, Bullworth Academy is his final landing place, a place that will supposedly whip him into shape.  The school might be tough, but let’s be honest, there’s nothing stopping Jimmy from his habits.  After meeting some kids and making new friendships, Jimmy becomes determined to make his way up the high school totem pole, not stopping until you literally rule the school.  All of your classic high school cliques, including the nerds, jocks, greasers, and preps, are present and you have to make some alliances along the way if you want to rule them all.

Although your primary goal is clear from the get-go, the journey to achieve this goal is fun and often times ridiculous.  The game’s story and it’s writing is top notch and provided for numerous laughs, way more than I initially thought.  The dialogue is clever and the situations that Jimmy gets himself into are completely insane, especially as you get into the later chapters.  The story starts off pretty grounded, but then starts to go places as the game goes on, especially when the rest of the world, or in this case “the town,” opens up to the player. The characters that Jimmy comes into contact with, including the game’s antagonist Gary Smith, are all pretty enjoyable as well.  Gary Smith is a pretty big dick, so his characterization was pretty well done.

bully 2
via PS4 Pal

The thing I appreciate the most about Bully is the fact that it’s basically Grand Theft Auto, but instead of guns you have slingshots and stink bombs and instead of thugs and the police you have bullies and the school’s authority figures, who are absolutely ruthless by the way.  Technically there are also police in the game, which is kind of ridiculous in its own hilarious way.  Just like any other normal school, you should expect to be disciplined for violence against other students, or any other mischief for that matter, unless you can find a way to get away with it.  Bullworth Academy cracks down pretty hard on just about anything you do, but that shouldn’t worry players since getting away with your dirty deeds is pretty easy to do.  Just prepare to do a lot of running.  Running away from the school’s authority or the police is a majority of what you’ll be doing.  Life’s tough as a bully.

Bully’s mission structure favors short bite-sized missions over long and drawn-out affairs, which actually works to the game’s benefit.  A good portion of the missions involve you doing some pretty stupid things that often work best in shorter experiences.  You’ll partake in a majority of the missions on the academy’s grounds, but the story will also take you outside of the academy’s walls into the town of Bullworth, which is surprisingly big for what I expected.  There’s also a good amount of side missions, although most of them are relegated to fetch quests or beat-em-up missions.  Some of the missions might not be super imaginative, but I never found myself getting bored.  In addition to the missions, you can also partake in go-kart and other BMX-style races, carnival games, newspaper delivery, and combat training…because you know, that’s what high schoolers are into I guess.  There’s also a relationship component to the game that can lead to some hair-pulling fights depending on the girls you kiss.  Let’s just say there’s no shortage of trouble that you can get yourself into.

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Gameplay is where Bully starts to feel a little dated.  Combat handles pretty well and usually only involves punching or slingshot attacks from a distance.  Other weapons in the game, like firecrackers or potato guns, offer some variety in combat as well.  There’s also items like marbles and stink bombs that can give you the upper hand in fights as well.  The first part of the game is pretty tough since everybody hates you and wants to pick a fight, however, once you start to make more alliances and upgrade your arsenal, fights become a lot less frequent and when they do happen, they are much easier to handle.  You’re also able to ride bicycles and go karts, but these can get a little squirrely at times, especially the bicycle which I found myself wiping out on a lot if I wasn’t careful.  Perhaps the most frustrating part of the game were some of the classes, which are basically glorified mini games that you have to attend until you complete them.  (You can skip class, but that basically makes you a refugee in hiding until the class times are over.)  There are five classes in all, and most of them are either boring and unimaginative or frustratingly difficult.  I never remember Art class being that difficult.  Also, if Chemistry was as easy as just pressing buttons, then I’d probably be a scientist at NASA by now.  The classes are essential in that they grant you access to upgrades upon completion, but they are not fun whatsoever…which is maybe the most realistic thing about this game.

Never did I think a teenager’s rise up the high school totem pool would be so fun.  Bully provides a unique experience; unlike most traditional games we are used to.  Some of the game’s mechanics might not date well, but the overall experience still stands as one of Rockstar’s best.  This game makes me crave another dive into Bully’s world via a sequel, although that still remains a pipe dream at this point.  Now, this is the part where I would say I wish my high school experience was akin to this game, but then I realize how terrible that would be.  Bullworth is not a normal or sane school by any means, but boy was it fun.

bully score

Also available on PC and PS3.

Review: The Walking Dead: Michonne

michonne cover
via PC Gaming Wiki

The Walking Dead: Michonne (2016)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: Telltale Games

Developer: Telltale Games


The Walking Dead games are what put Telltale Games on the map.  Okay, maybe that’s not entirely true but they have definitely given the company the most success.  Both season one and season two of their episodic adventure games based on the comic books were critically acclaimed and set the company on the right direction.  With Telltale’s latest installment in the franchise, The Walking Dead: Michonne, they decided to take a different direction in more ways than one, but some of these directions don’t pay off in the end.

michonne 1
via YouTube

Unlike the previous two adventures, The Walking Dead: Michonne hones in on the story of Michonne, a protagonist from the comics.  She’s a stoic figure who doesn’t really talk much unless she needs to.  She’s also dealing with some psychological demons involving her two dead daughters, which is the aspect of her character that the story focuses the most on.  For those wondering, the story takes place between the comic’s issues 126 and 139.  (I haven’t read the comics myself, or seen the show for that matter, so I wouldn’t know.)

Another thing that Telltale does differently with Michonne is its three-episode format, unlike the normal five-six-episode format that most are used to.  There’s nothing wrong with going down the short-form adventure route, but it makes developing a meaningful and impactful story pretty difficult.  It can be done, but it’s tough to do.  Unfortunately, Michonne falls short of giving us an impactful story, which is due in part to the short time we have with the characters.  I grew attached to Michonne, as she was the main protagonist, but all of the other side characters and antagonists meant nothing to me really.  They had their moments, sure, but I wanted to spend more time with them in the end.  Just like the previous games, there will be deaths and tough decisions to make, but they ultimately didn’t matter to me in the end.  It also doesn’t help that the episodes were short in comparison.  I just didn’t feel that attached to what was going on onscreen.

michonne 3
via Rocket Chainsaw

Speaking of decisions, the game plays just as you’d expect.  Telltale hasn’t reinvented the wheel with Michonne, giving you an all-too-familiar gameplay experience.  You will participate in quick time events.  You will pick dialogue choices.  You will walk around small little environments.  You will make some pivotal decisions.  These decisions don’t really have consequence however.  The decisions also weren’t that hard to make either.  It almost felt like Telltale was just laboring through the motions, pumping out a paint-by-the-numbers experience similar to their other games without really putting any thought into what they were doing.

This is all a shame because The Walking Dead: Michonne has a gripping drama in its hands.  Michonne has a tough and quiet exterior, but on the inside there is a bevy of bottled up guilt and sadness that literally haunt her as she moves along.  During her travels she comes across a friendly crew of sailors as well as a small band of vicious and deadly survivors.  How she deals with these new people, as well as the situations she is thrust into, are by far the most enticing aspect the game has to offer.  Telltale has an interesting story to tell, it’s just too bad its brought down by some of the more technical facets of the game.

michonne 2
via Game Over

If you were a fan of the previous Walking Dead installments by Telltale (which most probably are) then this might warrant a look.  There’s some cool stuff the game brings to the table, but just know what you’re getting into.  Wane your expectations.  If your new to the series, then it’s hard to justify a play through of The Walking Dead: Michonne.  I would recommend the previous two installments, but that’s about it.

The Walking Dead: Michonne_20160405165941

Also available on PC, Mac, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, iPhone, iPad, and Android.

Fallout 4 Wasteland Workshop: Cool in Concept, Bummer in Reality

The notion of a perfectly tamed Deathclaw roaming around your settlement in Fallout 4 is rousing and perhaps a little concerning.  Why would you want Deathclaws and other ferocious beats of the wasteland making themselves at home in your settlement?  Well, there’s no reason at all.  You can have them fight your settlers and each other though!  This is the driving force behind Bethesda’s latest add-on for their acclaimed RPG Fallout 4.  The expansion, titled Wasteland Workshop, offers some new stuff for your settlements and the ability to house a battle arena…but that’s about it.

wasteland workshop 1
via VG247

Maybe the biggest draw this time around is the prospect of essentially starting up your own wasteland petting zoo.  The expansion adds a variety of cages into the workshop mode, the aspect of the game that allows you to customize and build your own settlements.  These cages range from small to large, depending on the type of creature you want to capture.  You can capture a good majority of the monsters that Fallout 4 has to offer, including Deathclaws, Yao Guais, Mutant Hounds, Brahmin, and more.  You can also house sentient beings like Raiders, Gunners, and Ghouls.  There’s even cats, although putting a cat cage in the same arena as a Deathclaw doesn’t bode well.  Trust me, I learn from experience.

When you initially capture these creatures, they’re hostile depending on their type.  This is where the Beta Wave Emitter comes in, a new workshop item that pacifies any and all creatures within its reach.  This is the item that allows deadly creatures like Deathclaws to roam around your settlement without the urge to rip your lungs out.  Unfortunately, you have to have certain perks like Wasteland Whisperer and Animal Friend to build this item, which is pretty much necessary if you want to have these creatures in your settlement.  I often found my creatures out of their cages either because of generator failure or you know, just because.  It happened enough that my settlement started to become a littered mess of monster corpses.  I would kill them, reset the bait, and then repeat.  It started to become tedious.  Having creatures locked up in your settlement is also a good way to bring unwanted attention to your settlement.  You’ll find your settlement getting attacked a lot more when you have creatures in the cages.  It was almost comical how much times I started to get attacked as I built more and more cages.  It started to get real annoying after a while and I later just abandoned the settlement…it started to become too much.

wasteland workshop 2
via VG247

Another big feature that Wasteland Workshop brings to the table is arena fights.  These fights can involve your settlement’s inhabitants or your creatures…or both.  New workshop items let you build your own battle arena in your settlements, which sounded pretty exciting at first.  Unfortunately, the battles are a little cumbersome to set up and they’re not that exciting to watch either.  There’s a little value to be found in the first couple of fights…but it started to become too much work to be enjoyable.  Your settlement’s moral goes down as well if settlers are killing each other so there is really no point in having your settlers duke it out, unless you’re a maniacal psychopath that loves to watch the world burn.  If that fits your bill, then this DLC might just be up your wheelhouse.  This add-on does a lot more to destroy your settlements then build them up.

Perhaps the best part about the add-on, and maybe the smallest new feature, is the addition of customizable neon signs that you can adorn on your settlement’s structures.  The workshop gives you the full alphabet, allowing you to basically light up whatever word or phrase that you want.  It’s only cosmetic, but there’s a lot of value.  I was littering my settlements with neon signs in no time.  You can make some pretty silly stuff with these neon signs, which is half the fun.

wasteland workshop 3
via Just Push Start

Unlike past Bethesda expansions, Wasteland Workshop is a barren wasteland in terms of content…or at least content that matters.  The monster cages and arena fights sound really cool on paper but the actual reality of these ideas doesn’t translate the same amount of excitement.  Besides the neon signs, there really isn’t that much else.  I was hoping that we would get a lot more workshop items but instead we only got a select few.  If you’re an owner of a season pass, like me, then none of this really matters anyway.  No harm no foul.  However, if you decided to play it safe by picking and choosing what add-ons you wanted to purchase, then there is really no reason you should pick this one up.  Just wait for their next expansion, Far Harbor.