Video Game Reviews

Mortal Shell: An Adequate Homage

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Mortal Shell is an action-RPG developed by Cold Symmetry and published by Playstack. It borrows heavily from From Software’s Soulsborne games, but definitely has a certain flair all it’s own.

The game follows “The Foundling,” a strange pale being from what appears to be a purgatory of sorts. The Foundling’s mission is… 

Well, I’m still not sure. He just kind of appears and sets about murdering most anything that gets in his path. Then, in a very Zelda turn of events, a clearly evil guy asks The Foundling to bring him glands from nearby temples. 

That’s about as clear as the story gets. 

I, however, knew that the story would be somewhat obtuse because, as I stated earlier, this game based most of its content on the From Software games. So, I didn’t really pay that much mind, because if I really wanted to know what was going on in this game…

…and yet I still have no idea what was going on in this game

Mortal Shell also hit the nail on the head as far as gameplay mechanics and setting were concerned. So let’s not concern ourselves with its sameness with the games it chose to emulate, and instead focus on what made this game stand out, and if those things were good or bad. 

Cling to Life

Mortal Shell’s claim to fame is its shell system. This allows you to switch between the bodies of different fallen warriors and take on their attributes. There are four in total, and each one easily fits a certain playstyle. They essentially boil down to:

  • Tank: High Health, but low stamina and resolve (the stuff you need to use abilities)
  • Rogue: High Stamina, but crazy low health and resolve
  • Warrior: Middle of the road with all stats
  • Wizard-ish: Moderate health and stamina, but massive amounts of resolve

There are a few things that make this shell system interesting. The first is that each shell’s stats are static. Their health stamina and resolve essentially stay the same throughout the game, meaning that mastering their resources is vital to survival. It’s also a neat system, because while you can’t change their base stats, you can unlock abilities for each shell that lets them become even more powerful. 

The Tank gains a stacking damage buff the more people he kills. The Rogue gains the ability to poison enemies, and have that poison trigger other effects. The warrior focuses on defense and gaining the in game currency. And the Wizard/Scholar guy is good at using and regaining resolve.

The other thing the shell system does is give you multiple chances to defeat your enemies.

You see, if you run out of health while in a shell, The Foundling will be expelled and all enemies in the area will freeze for a short time. 

Like so

While playing as The Foundling, you only have one hit point, but it opens up the opportunity for you to live again. 

If you have a clear path to the shell you were just kicked out of, you can run back and re-enter it —which completely refills your health bar—and begin round two. If you don’t have a clear path back, you can attempt to finish the current fight as The Foundling, but with only one health, you have to be crazy careful not to get hit.

Red Light Green Light

Another of Mortal Shell’s key features is “Hardening.” This allows you to turn yourself into a statue in order to avoid damage. It’s a little like using a block… 

but absolutely nothing like that

For starters, you can harden at any time. Jumping into the air, you can harden. In the middle of a dodge roll, you can harden. Winding up your heavy attack, you can harden. Fighting a guy named Hadern, you can harden. 

That last one is funny because it’s true… and because Hadern can also harden. 

Harden does break once you’ve been hit, and it has a four to five second cooldown, but otherwise there are no limitations on its use. It even lasts for about a second after you’ve been struck (as long as you hold the button), making sure that any consecutive enemy attacks also do no damage. 

Honestly once you master the harden feature, it makes the game far easier than previously indicated. You can basically beat any enemy as long as you back up and wait for your harden to reset. So, unless you’re fighting a ton of guys that are all attacking at wildly different intervals, you can block most incoming damage. 

Something Amiss

For each of Mortal Shell’s stand out features, there were glaring bugs or oversights that would crop up to annoy me. 

For example, every once and a while, my weapon would just disappear. I’d be swinging my hammer one moment, and the next I’d be flailing my arms wildly like I’d entered some kind of medieval dance off, or become a…

Wacky, waving, inflatable, arm-flailing tube man!!!

This wasn’t terrible, but it was off-putting in a number of ways.

What was terrible was that sometimes my character would simply refuse to do something. That something was usually dodging or hardening, and not dodging or hardening often got me killed, or at least booted out of my shell. This led to some minor (read: major) frustration.

There were also a number of smaller things that I ran into from time to time. Such as:

  • Items not showing up in my inventory when I picked them up
  • My currency counters not updating in a timely fashion
  • Getting stuck in the item use animation
  • Enemies not noticing me when I’m standing in front of them (this one was ok)

None of these things stopped me from playing the game, but I would have had a much better time if everything had run smoothly. 

Shuffle Off

Overall, Mortal Shell was an alright game. It managed to capture the feel of a From Software game while putting a refreshing spin on the genre. The gameplay, while slow, was intentional and fair (unless you glitched out). and the graphics were phenomenal for a game with such a small development team. 

Unfortunately, the game was also really short and ended up feeling like exactly one fourth of a standard game, though the price-tag reflects that pretty well.

I’m giving Mortal Shell a brittle 6.5/10. It was fun at times, but it never really lived up to the standards it set for itself. It had some interesting ideas, and maybe one day we’ll see them again in something a little longer and more balanced. 

Video Game Reviews

Little Nightmares II: Two Little Nightmares

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Little Nightmares II is a side-scrolling 2.5D platform/puzzle horror game developed by Tarsier Studios & Supermassive Games and published by Bandai Namco.

Now, I was really late to the game on the first Little Nightmares. So, I tried my best to be more timely with this one. I think almost a year is slightly better than four.

Anyway, Little Nightmares II starts an indeterminate time after the end of the first game. You play as Mono, a young boy who wears a paper bag over his head as he traverses increasingly twisted and disturbing locations in order to… well it’s not really clear what he’s trying to do.

Not sure if running away from danger or toward it

Fortunately for Mono, he has a traveling companion in the protagonist from the first game, Six. So, at least he’s not alone in trying to do… whatever it is he’s trying to do. 

Unfortunately for me, the second game is very similar to the first one, so there is actually very little to do by way of reviewing. It has the same art style, similar controls, same puzzle structure, and an overall similar atmosphere and feel to it. 

Basically, If you liked the first game, it is very likely that you will enjoy the sequel.

This means that I can only really point out the two biggest ways in which the games differ to give you an indication of what to expect, so that you can make an informed decision about whether to purchase this game or not. 

Difference #1: A Second Nightmare

Like I mentioned above, you spend a good deal of time in Little Nightmares II traveling with Six, the protagonist from the first game.

While this is hardly the first time a companion has been introduced to liven up a franchise…

…which doesn’t always work out the way we want it to…

…the inclusion of a secondary character worked very well in the context of this particular game.

The first marked difference that Six makes is that she adds a layer of complexity to the obstacles and puzzles that you face. She can help you reach higher platforms, jump across larger gaps, and push heavier objects. While this extra layer isn’t exactly thick, it does make for a nice change of pace from the first game.

The second thing that Six does, which I think is infinitely more important than a layer of puzzle complexity, is get you more emotionally invested in the experience as a whole. What I mean to say is that you quickly become attached to her… or at least I did. 

It was nice to have someone else with you when you’re walking through the nightmarish hellscape that is the world of Little Nightmares II. It wasn’t long after encountering Six that I found that I was sad if the level design forced her to be away from Mono, and almost elated when it brought her back. I even found myself using the hand holding feature to make sure she was close, even if it offered no benefit other than to ensure that someone else was close at hand when things were at their scariest or most off-putting.

Difference #2: Setting

While the first game took place wholly inside of a decrepit submersible known only as “The Maw,” the second game eschews the claustrophobic confines of a submarine and instead takes place in the semi-claustrophobic confines of a dilapidated city.

It might not seem like much, but these new environments actually provide some insight into the world of Little Nightmares. 

The first game gave us a little snippet of children being raised to be eaten by a group of overweight cruise-goers. Unfortunately, it didn’t offer any explanations as to why that was happening or what the hell was going on. 

The sequel doesn’t do much on that front either, but it does give you a larger pool of locations, such as a schoolhouse and a hospital, which gives you a greater sense of exactly how screwed up the world was, is, and is likely to be. 

I’d rather not give away too many details about the setting, because the little details are seemingly the only thing holding the narrative of the game together, and I’d rather you discover them yourselves. 

Suffice to say that having finished Little Nightmares II the only thing I know is that…

But I’m okay with that… for the most part… 

Alright, I’m dying for an explanation… but I’m also worried that the answers won’t be any fun.

Awakening

Overall, Little Nightmares II was a pretty good sequel. It didn’t really try anything new, but honestly, the foundation laid by the original game was solid enough that it didn’t need anything special to be decent. 

The addition of a companion to help you endure the often eerie and unsettling world was welcome, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it again. Meanwhile, the multitude of locations to explore gave a greater sense of depth to a world that already seemed an abyss.  Unfortunately, I do have to lament the lack of originality in this game. I really would have liked to see… more. Instead I saw more of the same, and while that’s not exactly a bad thing, it kept this game from being great. 

I’m giving Little Nightmares II an unsettling 7/10. I think I get what the developers were trying to do. I just wish it had worked out better. 

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go assume the fetal position in the corner of my room and rock until I understand what the hell I just played. 

Video Game Reviews

Wasteland 3: Cold Justice

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Wasteland 3 is a post-apocalyptic turn-based tactical RPG developed by InXile Entertainment and published by Deep Silver. It takes place sometime after the canonical end to Wasteland 2.

You play as Team November, a squad of Arizona Rangers that has been tasked with garnering aid and supplies from the Patriarch of Colorado. Unfortunately, in exchange for his help, the Patriarch wants Team November to reign in his three traitorous children. They are:

  • Victory, a technical genius who has fallen in with a cult that worships God President Reagan
  • Valor, a psychopath who was exiled and later returned with an army of chemically-dependent road warriors. 
  • Liberty, the greatest threat of all, who has more ruthlessness, cunning, and drive than her brothers combined.

I’m going to be honest, I haven’t played either of the first two Wasteland games. 

I don’t usually start with the third installment of a game. If I see a sequel that looks promising, I almost always go back and play the original so that I can get the most out of both experiences.

Well, after watching the trailer for Wasteland 3, I took leave of my senses and decided that I would ignore my usual policy and play the third installment first. 

Now, after playing through Wasteland 3, I can say that it was a pretty good decision. I mean, there are clearly a lot of references from the previous games that I won’t get until I’ve played them, but I’m cool with memento-ing my way back through the series to see what I’m missing out on. 

Hopefully it works out better for me

Anyway, if you played either, or both, of the first two games, great. I hope that I can give you enough information so that you can decide if you want to try Wasteland 3. If you didn’t play the previous games, I’ll let you know what it’s like to start on the third installment.

No I in Team

Team November is exactly what it sounds like: a team. So there is literally no main character in this game. You might say that the first two characters you choose—or create—are “the protagonists” ; this isn’t exactly true.

Eventually, you can create a number of characters, if you want, and trade them out as you see fit. The only caveat is that you can only have four of these “Ranger” characters at a time. The other two spaces in your squad are occupied by companions, which are basically the only characters on your team with an actual personality. 

And by personality, I mostly mean they have voiced dialog.

And you wasted it on this

You can also get some tertiary team members (I’ll call them followers), including but not limited to:

  • Any neutral animal you can find (if you have enough points into “Animal Whisperer”)
  • Various robots
  • A underdeveloped clone of one of your characters
  • A guy who speaks only speaks Latin
  • A small voltron-style robot made out of cyborg chickens

These followers are a little harder to keep track of, because—as far as I could find—there were no menus where I could view their information. At least the animal followers had health bars that were visible, but it wasn’t always the case with the other followers.

This led to the majority of my followers dying without me realizing it, which kinda sucks because some of them were really helpful.

Hymn of Battle

This section isn’t going to be huge. I just wanted to draw some attention to the specific musical choices. 

There are some battles that, for whatever reason, have actual songs playing over them. These songs are generally ones you probably know. However, they are not the versions of those songs you’re used to. The first, and therefore most memorable for me, was “Blood of the Lamb.” It’s still stuck in my head, and I beat that game weeks ago.

Here is a quick list of the other songs that struck a chord with me:

  • “Down in the Valley to Pray”
  • “America the Beautiful” (two different versions)
  • “Glory Glory Hallelujah”
  • “Onward Christian Soldier” 
  • “Monster Mash”

You can look these up on YouTube to get a general idea of what I’m talking about, but if you have any plans to play this game, you should let yourself be surprised.

Brass Tacks

As you would expect from a tactical turn-based RPG, combat makes up a large portion of this game. 

Sure, you get to run around and open boxes and talk people into not shooting you, but a good portion of your time will be spent deciding if you want to move your sniper forward for that hail mary shot or keep them back and heal up.

You should heal, by the way

Anyway, the combat is about what you would expect from this type of game. You move your team along a grid-based battlefield and try to move them into the most advantageous positions, not unlike a chess piece… 

You know, if chess pieces had mini-guns and chainsaw swords. 

I will say that while the combat was solid, the interface was very hard to get used to. It’d been a while since I’d played a tactical RPG, but even then, the controls were, initially, very hard for me to get used to. I felt like there were too many menus and too many buttons, and too many menus for all the buttons. 

After a while, though, it did get easier, but I can confidently say that I was still messing up which button did what even near the end of the game. 

All that said, combat was always fun. I attribute this, largely, to the fact that you could have six primary squad members. Having so many meant that you could experiment with different weapon and item combos. 

This is even more true since each character can carry two different weapons, meaning you could have a sniper that also specializes in explosives, or someone who carries a mini-gun and a flamethrower at the same time. 

There were some technical issues with combat, and the game in general, but we’ll get to those later. 

Later

Oh my god, this game is soooo buggy.

I’m not sure what it is about tactical RPGs, but they always seem to be about 80% buggier than most other games, and unfortunately, Wasteland 3 leaned into this real hard.

For starters, it had a tendency to completely crash during loading screens, and this got worse the longer I played. Fortunately, it also saved before starting those loading screens, so at most I had to reload and try again.

For brevity’s sake, I’m going to list the most egregious errors because if I were to put them in paragraph form, well…

  • Music cutting in and out
  • Items not registering as being able to be picked up
  • Combat freezing for intensely long periods of time between turns
  • Pathing errors that resulted in my characters getting stuck 
  • Attacks that used templates would go completely wild and fire in the wrong direction
  • Voice lines not playing
  • Voice lines playing at weird times

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

These bugs and glitches weren’t game-breaking, but they did diminish my overall enjoyment of the game as a whole.

The Final Deluge

Overall, Wasteland 3 is a fairly good game with some outlandishly fun moments in a grim post-apocalyptic setting. The dialog is well-written, and you’ll need an ethics degree to figure out if you’re making the right choices. The combat is solid, and the character creation and leveling systems will keep you engaged with your characters throughout your playthrough. 

Unfortunately, the laundry list of bugs and glitches throughout the game will certainly put a damper on said playthrough. 

I’m giving Wasteland 3 a dynamic rating of 9/10 for initial enjoyment and story, and a 7.5/10 once you’ve gotten tired of dealing with all the technical difficulties.

Despite the glitchiness of this title, I can honestly say that I’m hoping that there are other Wasteland games coming down the pipeline. Hopefully, between now and then, some wizard will come along and fix whatever the hell is wrong with tactical RPGs. 

Until then I’ll pretend that the crashes don’t bother me. 

Book Reviews

The Last Wish: Which Witcher is Witchiest?

Please Note: This site uses affiliate marketing. This means that if you click one of the links on our site and make a purchase, we may—at no additional cost to you—receive a portion of the proceeds. Thank you for supporting MediaVore. 

The Last Wish is the first book in the Witcher series. It was written by Andrzej Sapkowski and published in 1993, though the franchise originally started as a series of short stories dating back to the 1980s. Oh, by the way, that’s all for the original Polish versions of the book. The first English version wasn’t published until 2007, which is the exact year that the first Witcher video game was released. 

For anyone who doesn’t know, The Witcher series follows the adventures of Geralt who, if you couldn’t guess, is a Witcher (which is essentially a monster slayer for hire). He travels around a continent imaginatively named “The Continent,” a fantasy realm filled with monsters, wizards, and more assholes than you can shake a stick at—and I’m assuming that you can usually shake a stick at a lot of them.

You just have to watch out for sticks that are also assholes

To be honest, I didn’t know that the Witcher started off as a book series until Netflix made the television show… which you should watch if you haven’t already. I was perfectly content to just play the games. Especially the third one, which is still one of the best RPGs available today, so you should play it if you haven’t already.

However, after recently re-watching the first season of the show, in preparation for its second season, I seem to have caught Witcher fever, and the only prescription… is more Witcher. I found myself thinking, maybe just watch that season again, or play back through the third game. 

Instead, I found myself drawn to the idea of reading the books.

A quick google search revealed that The Last Wish is the official first book in The Witcher series. It also happens to be a collection of short stories that introduces you to Geralt and his witcher-y ways.

So, I bought it and read it. Unfortunately, it only took a few hours because the book is only about two-hundred and eighty-eight pages long. So, kind of a sneeze as far as most fantasy novels are concerned.

It was, however, better than I expected, and my expectations were set pretty high because of my previous experience with the games and the Netflix show. That being said, I’ll try and keep to the book for this review…

But, fair warning, I reserve the right to trail off into a game/show rant. 

A Well Contained Anthology 

The Last Wish starts with a fairly straightforward tale of Geralt fighting a monster. Near the end of the story, he finds himself gravely injured, and he spends the remainder of the book convalescing at a temple run by a sect of healing priestesses. As he recovers, he flashes back to previous moments in his life, making The Last Wish an anthology, which made me hesitant at first.

I’ve found, over the years, that most anthologies suffer from a fatal flaw: not all of the stories contained within are good. You usually get one good story, a couple of alright ones, and then an army of duds. 

This can be hard to suffer through.

The Last Wish manages to elevate itself from the usual anthology fare by containing no duds whatsoever. Now, art being subjective and all, I can’t say that you’d enjoy every story (I did) but I can say that, as a whole, it tracks well and gives you a very good picture of Geralt and what his day-to-day life is like.

Just picture this, but in different settings

The Netflix series is actually a pretty faithfull retelling of all of the stories contained in The Last Wish. Although, the show takes certain liberties, has a larger overarching story, and weaves the stories of other characters in between Geralt’s exploits.

A Progression of Prose

I don’t know if it was because this was the first book I’d read in a while, but I felt like the first story in The Last Wish started off a little… janky. The wording felt weird, the dialog was stiff, and the characters were kinda…. 

The story was still good though, so at least there was that. 

Starting with the second story, the prose improved steadily. By the end, everything flowed, the dialog was witty and dynamic, and the characters felt more alive.

This shift might have been because it was translated from Polish, or because some of the stories were written at an earlier time. Either way, the book had a little bit of a rough start, but managed to conclude rather gracefully.

Stealth Reference

One thing about The Last Wish that caught me completely off guard was the inclusion of several well-known fairy tales.

Imagine my surprise when I realized that the second story is actually a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, or that one of the characters from the third story is ostensibly Snow White. Of course, they don’t just come out and say these things, but it’s pretty obvious if you stop and think about it. 

I know that there are a lot of reimaginings, retellings, pretellings, and alternate history versions of these stories, but I enjoyed the almost stealth way the fairy tales were presented in this particular book. 

When I first realized that I was reading Beauty and the Beast and the Witcher, it felt a little out of place. However, once the story concluded, I thought that it was an imaginative and concise version of a story I’ve seen a thousand times.

I’m not sure if the rest of The Witcher series has any stealth fairytale references, but it was a welcome addition to this anthology. 

Toss a Coin to Your Witcher

Overall, The Last Wish was very good. I think the whole franchise, including the games and television series, does a good job of telling the story in their own way. I don’t know if it was better or worse than the show (which I think was funnier) or the games (which were more immersive), but I think the first Witcher book managed to convey the heart of what makes the Witcher series great… which is, honestly, Geralt. I feel like the show and the games give you a pretty good sense of who he is, but this book in particular is really a study of this magnificent character. 

I’m not going to give this one an official rating. In my mind, the game, show, and book all swirled together in a beautiful miasma of Witcher, and giving this one segment a rating would feel disingenuous. I will, however, say that I really liked it, and if you are interested in getting into the world of The Witcher, The Last Wish is a fantastic jumping-off point. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, reading this did nothing to curb my want of more Witcher, so I’m off to watch the show again… or play the games…. or continue to read the book series… or be crippled by decision paralysis. 

Probably that last one if I’m being honest. 

Movie Review

Free Guy: Yeah… That’s How Video Games Work

Please Note: This site uses affiliate marketing. This means that if you click one of the links on our site and make a purchase, we may—at no additional cost to you—receive a portion of the proceeds. Thank you for supporting MediaVore. 

Free Guy is a movie that is, ostensibly, about an NPC (that’s Non-Player Character for the uninitiated) inside a video game who slowly comes to the realization about who and what he is. 

I’m going to try and keep this review on the rails. However, I might have to make a couple of disparaging asides. This is because if you’re watching Free Guy as an avid gamer, it seems entirely possible that no one on the movie’s production team understands how video games work. Hell, I would hazard a guess that they’re not even sure what video games are, given the egregious misrepresentations perpetrated throughout its runtime.

They’re just like The Matrix, right?

I will, however, try and balance my asides with some actual nice things to say about the movie.

Also: SPOILERS! For, like, the whole article. Because I tend to rant, and I can’t do that without over-explaining. 

Free City

The movie takes place, predominantly, in Free City, an MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online game) that is something akin to Grand Theft Auto. In the game, players cause havoc by completing missions which, in this case, amounts to committing crimes. Players rob banks and bodegas. They steal cars in the middle of the street. And they pilot jets between the city’s skyscrapers.

Or “the Danger Zone,” as it’s sometimes called

Guy (played by Ryan Reynolds) is an NPC and bank teller whose bank gets robbed several times a day by various players. This doesn’t bother him, or any of the other NPCs, because the gameplay loop of Free City is their lives. So, to them, the chaos caused by the players is just a matter of course. 

One day, when Guy is leaving work, he passes a Player who is singing a song that resonates deeply with him. Without hesitation, he turns to follow the player so that he can talk to her, thus breaking him from his predetermined path. 

Through the Looking Glass

Now, the biggest difference between the players and the NPCs of Free City is that players wear sunglasses and NPCs don’t. So, the NPCs imaginatively refer to the Players as “the sunglasses people.”

After failing to catch up to the singing player (Molotov Girl, played by Jodie Comer), Guy takes it upon himself to steal a pair of sunglasses so that he can talk to her.

Now, this is absolutely ludicrous for a few reasons. 

Not only is it ridiculous because he could steal the sunglasses… the fact that there are sunglasses at all is absolutely insane. This means that no matter how you design your character, it’s always going to have sunglasses of some kind. It also means that the developers of this game made it a requirement to have them on so that Player Characters can see the game as it truly is.

Looks right to me

Did I not mention that before? Yeah, the NPCs just see a normal world, and the only aberration seems to be the jerks who get to wear Ray-Bans. 

However, with the sunglasses on, Guy can see all of the UI elements and in-game markers that players can see. So, now that Guy is effectively a “sunglasses person,” he goes about using his newfound sight to find Molotov Girl.

Reasons

When Guy does finally catch up to her, she rebuffs him, saying that she doesn’t need the help of someone who is only level one (Read: Noob), and to come back when he breaks level one-hundred.

What follows is a montage of Guy “playing” the game so that he can level up. However, instead of running around killing people and robbing banks he opts to—Audible Gasp—help people. For some reason, his antics take off around the world because he’s the only “Player” in Free City who’s not a dick.

This means that no one—NO ONE!!—had ever tried to play the game as a good guy.

So, at least that’s accurate

Eventually, Guy gets to level 100 (pretty easily) and becomes a worldwide sensation in the process, all because his crush set an arbitrary level requirement for him. 

Anyway, it turns out that Molotov Girl is actually a game developer herself, and is trying to prove that Free City was built atop a game that she helped develop. And what she needed help with was stealing a video file from another player’s home base… 

Because that’s where we keep our video files. Not on our desktops, but inside a video game location as an item that any other player can take.

So, now that Guy has the prerequisite experience, he joins Molotov Girl on her quest.

Electric Sheep

The worst part about this movie is its missed potential. Yes, it’s a family-friendly action movie starring Ryan Reynolds, so it never really had to try very hard.

A cinematic masterpiece

However, there was a much more contemplative movie lying underneath Free Guy’s surface.

You see, Guy is (within the world of the movie) the first true artificial intelligence. He is a thinking, feeling entity that is fully self-aware. He even passes an impromptu Turing Test when Molotov Girl is unable to tell that she is talking to an A.I. and mistakenly thinks that he is another player.

This plot point leads to moments of true introspection as to the nature of humanity and what it means to be self-aware. Unfortunately, these moments pass quickly and are undercut with (admittedly funny) jokes and more video game references than you can shake a stick at.

Dev Notes

Overall, Free Guy is an alright movie. It has plenty of heart, which was overshadowed by a lot of video game references and childish humor. 

Though, I guess that was probably the point. 

It was supposed to be a fun action-adventure about seeing a video game from the point of view of an NPC, and that’s exactly what you get with this movie.

Could it have been introspective and thought-provoking while still maintaining its sense of humor and devotion to video game tropes? Probably. However, the end result was a movie that was mostly entertaining, not entirely coherent, and had fun with its premise.

I’m giving Free Guy an underwhelming 6/10. It wasn’t a tour-de-force, nor was it utter garbage. It walked a fine line between being funny and being good, and unfortunately, it suffered for it.

There was one thing that this movie did for me personally. I think watching this as someone who has played games his entire life has made me realize what it must be like for cops to watch procedural crime shows, or doctors to watch medical dramas. 

Sure, it’s still entertaining, but boy howdy, when the movie gets something wrong does it yank me right out and destroy my suspension of disbelief. 

So, I guess my point is: I should never become a cop or a doctor, because I like media too much. 

I think that was the right lesson to have learned from this… 

Probably.

Video Game Reviews

Lost in Random: A Toss of The Dice

Please Note: This site uses affiliate marketing. This means that if you click one of the links on our site and make a purchase, we may—at no additional cost to you—receive a portion of the proceeds. Thank you for supporting MediaVore. 

Lost in Random is an stylized action-adventure game developed by Zoink and published by EA Games.

The game takes place in the Kingdom of Random, where everything is decided by the roll of a dice… the Queen of Random’s black dice to be specific. When children in the kingdom turn twelve, they are forced to roll the black dice to determine where they will spend the rest of their lives.

Fairly accurate

You play as Even, a surly eleven-year-old who lives in Onecroft, where all of Random’s garbage is sent. When Odd, Even’s sister, rolls a six and is taken by the Queen, Even sets off on a journey across all six lands to save her sister and overthrow the evil queen.

This, for me, was a knee-jerk purchase.

I usually go back and forth on whether or not I’m going to buy a game for a while. Lost in Random just had so much going on that I felt the overwhelming need to purchase it. It had a quirky Tim Burton-esque aesthetic to it. I really liked the narrator’s voice. And the combat looked intriguing if a little overly complicated.

I was a little worried that I was falling into a trap, even after I purchased it. I mean, sometimes a trailer can polish a turd to the point that you don’t even realize that you’ve purchased utter crap. However, after actually playing Lost in Random, I can now see it for what it was, and tell you all about it.

Noteworthy Narration

I’m going to start with my favorite part of this game.

The Narrator.

Whatever else I say about this game, let it be known that the Narrator, and his narration, was amazing. 

I put it down to three factors. 

  1. His voice was the perfect balance between a gravely action narrator and soft spoken British guy
  2. Whoever wrote his dialog did so with great care
  3. He felt like as much a part of the story as every other character that was introduced… actually he felt like more of a character than half of NPCs in the game.

He just had so much personality that it was hard not to stop whatever I was doing so I could hear every line of his dialog. He would make jokes about the fact that he was a narrator. He actually seemed to care about Even, the subject of his narration. And sometimes he would break the fourth wall to make a point.

I’d really like to get into the parts of the narration that had me completely taken aback, but I’d rather let you see those for yourself.

Countless Quirks

If you’re a big fan of wordplay, or puns, then you’ll probably enjoy a lot of the naming conventions in this game.

The world of Random is broken up into six cities, and each city is named after, and based on, a specific number. This means that people will have names like Una or Quatro, often with the most ridiculous last name you can think of.

These characters often have crazy voices and equally insane views on the world. 

In addition to the hilarious, and yet simultaneously groan-worthy, character names, there is a lot of personality by way of the game’s aesthetic design. Which, if you were wondering, is something akin to a Tim Burton fever dream about a really big casino.

Wait… that already exists

This means that in addition to the humanoid characters like Even and Odd, there are also some really bizarre people who live in Random. There are wolf people, little gribbly people with masks, people with upside-down faces, and people who look like the Magic Man from Adventure Time (if you dropped him into a pile of greasy garbage).

I don’t know that I liked every bit of the relentless quirkiness of this game, but it was much better than having a game completely devoid of personality.

Roll for Initiative

The combat in Lost in Random is an amazing, convoluted mess. It takes a bunch of different ideas and smashes them into a Frankenstein’s monster of mechanics that works, is really fun, and somehow falls short all at the same time.

At the beginning of each battle, Even starts off with only her trusty slingshot, which does precisely zero damage to enemy health. In order to do actual damage, or activate other abilities, she needs to use cards which can do anything from summoning weapons to creating bubbles of slowed time. Unfortunately, the cards can only be activated with points from your dice rolls.

Following me so far?

Anyway, the only way to pull cards from your deck, and roll your dice, is to collect crystals which you can break off of your enemies using—you guessed it—your trusty slingshot. 

While this system is a bit contrived, it actually works pretty well in practice, especially since time freezes after you roll your dice. This allows you to select cards from your hand without having to worry about getting stabbed.

The random elements of this combat system—pun absolutely intended—are what really make the combat special. This is enhanced by the fact that you can curate your deck any way you want, so even if you don’t draw the card you specifically needed, you should always have some options to keep your fights interesting.

In addition to all of this, there are board game fights. In these specific combats, your dice also serves to move a game piece around a track in order to achieve an objective. This both spices things up, and makes most of the regular combat seem pedestrian by comparison. 

A Bad Hand

Despite all the great things about this game—and there are a lot of them—there are also some not-so-great things that weigh it down considerably. 

These include:

  • So many glitches: From disappearing UI elements, to not being able to talk to certain NPCs that you really need to have a conversation with, to getting stuck in certain fights, the glitches are f’reals.
  • A severe lack of diversity of character design: You’ll run into the same seven character models more times than you can count. 
  • Invisible Obstacles: This includes places where you’ll get stuck when walking, and invisible walls in areas where you should clearly be able to walk. 
  • Flappy Dialog Animations: They looped within seconds, making the characters look like they were having seizures.
  • The inability to jump: Speaks for itself. 
  • Not Enough Cards: About two thirds of the way through the game you will likely have all the cards, thus making your currency worthless.
  • Few Enemy Types: The lack of enemy diversity made most fights sort of repetitive. 

There were some other, smaller, issues, but these were the most egregious of my particular playthrough.

Random Rules!

Overall, Lost in Random is a bizarrely solid game. Despite its many technical issues, repetitive (yet deliciously convoluted) combat, extensively reused assets, and somewhat clunky controls, it still manages to be good—and, in some ways, great. I’ll attribute this to the game’s overflowing personality and willingness to take risks, which really fits a game about random chance. 

I’m giving Lost in Random a very lucky 8/10. It could have been a complete flop, but somehow, this house of cards managed to hold together and reach heights that I would not have thought possible.

P.S… Can you do a postscript on a post? Would that be post postscript? 

Either way, there was a moment during a fight about three-fifths of the way through the game that caused my wife to freak out, throw the controller at me, and question the very laws of reality… So, do what you will with that.

Video Game Reviews

Kena: Bridge of Spirits — Ghost of a Tale

Please Note: This site uses affiliate marketing. This means that if you click one of the links on our site and make a purchase, we may—at no additional cost to you—receive a portion of the proceeds. Thank you for supporting MediaVore.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a third-person action-adventure game (with some light platforming) developed and published by Ember Lab

The game follows Kena (pronounced Kay-nuh), a young spirit guide who’s traveled to a long-forgotten valley where a great energy calls to all who are attuned to the spiritual world. In order to find the source of the call, she will have to use her spiritual abilities and empathy to quell a spreading corruption and save the spirits of the valley.

This game went on my list of games to play for one very specific reason: It looked like a playable Pixar movie. 

No. Not that one.

Seriously, the cutscene graphics looked like a fully-fledged animated film, and the in-game graphics didn’t look far behind.

Well, I finally got a chance to play it, and it did not disappoint… graphically. I would, however, like to let you know about some of the other great—and not so great—things about this game.

Blast from the Past

Kena is a bit of a weird game to play in 2021 for one specific reason: It evokes a feeling of the platforming adventure games from the era of the original Playstation and the Nintendo 64. 

You know what I’m talking about: the mascot games like Super Mario 64, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Croc, and Gex. Those games were a major advancement for the time (because of the third dimension) but were a little stunted in other ways. 

Basically, they didn’t have much by way of backstory.

Usually, those games start with a short cutscene that introduces the characters and whatever their whole deal was. You know… someone was kidnapped, or an evil guy was going to do something evil.

Or both

Kena is very similar to these games in a lot of ways. You start the game with a single cutscene, and honestly, there is very little by way of any sort of explanation as to why you are doing what you are doing. 

Trying to… stop an evil ghost… maybe?

While your mission does become clearer as you go on, it unfortunately never really takes off in any meaningful way. The stakes are pretty low throughout, and honestly, Kena’s personal story is a little underdeveloped and in no way tied to the events of the game. 

That being said, it is still a fun adventure marked with interesting characters and beautiful environments.

Mediocre Story but Great Stories

While Kena’s personal story is lackluster in many ways, the stories of the spirits you help are actually the highlight of the game.

As you bring these spirits back together so that they can finally move on, you learn more about them and begin to experience their memories. This is where the true heart of Kena lies. These are the inspiring, heart-wrenching, gut-punching tales that live up to the game’s Pixar style and cause something to get caught in your eyes.

Tears. They’re called tears.

So, while Kena herself may get left by the wayside as far as the main story goes, these interludes with the spirits she’s trying to help really bring both the world of the game to life and give you a reason to keep playing.

A Lot of Rot

The most endearing part of Kena is the Rot, which is an impressive feat because everything in this game is some level of adorable… including some of the enemies.

The Rot (which me and my wife referred to as “Meeples”) are tiny spirits that are so adorable that they basically defy any other descriptors. 

Adorbable?

Other than being extremely huggable, and essentially a collectible item you find around the map, the Rot are an integral part of Kena’s gameplay experience. They serve precisely four purposes.

  1. Experience: The more Rot you collect, the higher your “Rot Level” goes, and as your rot level increases you unlock more abilities and can use those abilities more often.
  2. Power Boost: You can perform empowered attacks that unleash the Rot and deal devastating damage or augment the way your spirit Bomb works.
  3. Exploration: Some obstacles require you to perform a special action that coalesces the rot into a single entity, and then you use that entity to clear paths.
  4. Combat: The Rot can pin down enemies for a period of time, making them easier to deal with and, when coalesced, can attack enemies for significant damage.

Unfortunately, the Rot was probably the buggiest part of the whole gameplay experience. They would appear and disappear for no reason. They would float in the air and walk around. And they would fall through certain platforms, only to bounce back up, only to fall again.

Spiritual Conflict

While Kena is a peaceful game, and it does put a great amount of effort into creating a sense of serenity throughout, it’s also a game that has some pretty solid combat. 

While you don’t start off with much by way of weapons (you pretty much just use your staff to hit things), you eventually gather a handful of abilities that build well with one another, until you are a finely tuned spiritual warrior… 

…or a glorified babysitter

Your arsenal includes:

  • Staff: used to whack bad guys in the face with traditional light and heavy attacks
  • Spirit Bow: used to activate switches, grapple to distant platforms, and pinpoint enemy weak spots
  • Shield: used to block incoming attacks (or parry them), and activate switches and other interactable objects
  • Spirit Bomb: used to move platforms, destroy obstacles, or damage enemies. 

While this doesn’t seem like a huge list of abilities, each one gets several upgrades that increase its overall effectiveness or provide additional effects.

So, by the end of the game, the combat is more dynamic, especially if you add in all the enemy combinations and the hazards upon the battlefield. 

Inner Peace

Overall, Kena: Bridge of Spirits was an enjoyable experience. It had the flash of a great game, but the substance of an alright one, which equaled out to something in the middle. I really wish that Kena herself had been a little more fleshed out (especially since I really enjoyed her character design), but the stories of the supporting cast made up for that particular misstep. Luckily, the combat was fluid and challenging enough to keep me engaged throughout. 

I’m giving Kena: Bridge of Spirits a somewhat serene 7/10. It was beautiful, evocative (in certain areas), and played really well despite some bugs that fell through the cracks.

My biggest complaint with the game is actually the Rot—or, more specifically, their name. What kind of name is “the Rot” for the adorable little guys that follow you around. They’re not even rot… I mean they have mushrooms on their head and stuff, but they’re not actual rot… They get rid of corruption and stuff… So, that would make them Rot Eaters at most…

I don’t know where I was going with this…

Bye!

Video Game Reviews

Vampyr: Exsanguinated

Please Note: This site uses affiliate marketing. This means that if you click one of the links on our site and make a purchase, we may—at no additional cost to you—receive a portion of the proceeds. Thank you for supporting MediaVore. 

Vampyr is an action RPG developed by Dontnod Entertainment (creators of the Life is Strange franchise) and published by Focus Home Interactive.

The story follows Dr. Jonathan E. Reid, a renowned surgeon from turn-of-the-century London, who wakes in a mass grave and discovers that he has been transformed into a vampire. Determined to see the light of day, and get revenge on the creature that turned him, he begins to study his affliction. During his quest for knowledge, he is pulled into the shadowy world of the supernatural, where vampire castes vie for power and zealotus hunters prowl the night in search of fledgling vampires to kill. In addition to his more corporeal foes, he must also battle the growing hunger within and decide if blood is more important than his Hippocratic Oath.

An amazing naming opportunity was clearly missed.

Honestly, I got this game for free on the Playstation Network, and still never really felt the compulsion to play it. The only time I looked up reviews they were mediocre, skewing toward slightly good. 

Well, I recently found myself with some free time. So, I decided to give this game a shot.

The results were… mixed, to say the least.

Vampyr is definitely an interesting game, but, like its protagonist, it seems to be torn between two worlds. And, not unlike Johnathan, the game suffers by being pulled so roughly in two separate directions. 

Now, I will admit that part of the issues I was having in the game were, in fact, my own damn fault. I made a decision early on, and stuck with it even to the detriment of my playthrough. This is mostly because I’m a stubborn bastard, but also because I’m an incredibly stubborn bastard.

Anyway, in order to best understand the dichotomy between the two aspects of Vampyr, you must first understand those aspects. So, let’s just dive right in. 

Tooth And Claw

The combat in Vampyr is… passable at best. 

It works, for the most part, but never really does anything to set itself apart in any meaningful way. Basically, it commits a cardinal sin of gaming: it’s boring. It’s just so relentlessly standard that it’s hard to even get excited about writing about it.

…because writing is so thrilling otherwise

You get melee weapons with which you can do basic combos and attacks. You have ranged weapons, so you can slightly damage anyone outside of melee range. And you get some vampire powers—like claws or invisibility—that give you a little more flexibility in the way you approach combat.

Unfortunately, none of that matters. Most combat is so straightforward that you really don’t really need to get too tricky. Sure, it’s nice to be able to do more damage, or turn invisible, but most of the fights I experienced were a lot of mashing the attack button and dodging at the appropriate moments. 

There were a couple of cool things added to combat that spiced things up. For instance, there were priests carrying crosses that stun you with blinding light, and other enemies who could see you even when you turn invisible, but these didn’t seem to change combat in any meaningful way.

A second layer of complexity added to fights was that certain enemies were resistant to specific types of damage, but again… that wasn’t that important. It was, however, nice to be able to kill something slightly easier. 

For the most part, though, these resistances didn’t factor into my attack strategies.

It felt like combat might have been the last thing added to the game, and no one really cared if it was great or not, as long as the game shipped on time. I can’t confirm if that’s true, but you’d be hard-pressed to convince me otherwise.

Interview With a Vampire 

My favorite part of Vampyr is basically everything that happens outside of combat.

You see, a good portion of the game is spent actually being a doctor/investigator/busybody (or, at least, as much as you can be those things in a video game about vampires). 

Despite your character having an MD and serving in the war as a doctor, you spend most of your time acting like a private investigator. 

Basically, you do a lot of talking. 

This is a tedious process, especially in the beginning. However, it’s totally worth it because everyone has a secret, or set of secrets, to discover, and to uncover those secrets, you need to talk to everyone all the time. This means that the majority of your time outside of combat is spent making small talk.

In spite of the repetitive nature of this investigation aspect, it all becomes worth it when you finally get the scrap of info you were looking for and bring it back to someone who’s been stonewalling you for several hours.

What really kept me engaged with this particular aspect of the game was how much more alive the world felt while I was running around chatting with people. Sure, it was tedious, but it was also informative. Each conversation was a brush stroke in a much larger picture, and trying to see the bigger picture is what held my attention long after other aspects of the game had proven less-than-entertaining. 

Unfortunately, once you’ve depleted your dialog option in a specific location, you have to brave the tepid combat to make it to your next batch of interviewees.

Wheel of Morality

The morality of Vampyr is a little childish when compared to the complexity of it’s investigation aspect.

Basically, anyone you can talk to or investigate, you can also eat… 

And the game really, really, really wants you to eat people. 

It’s constantly like, “Dude… see that guy over there that you just spent three hours talking to and getting to know? Well, you should probably eat him because he’s full of delicious, delicious, experience.”

Knowing them makes it harder

It does this constantly, and with good reason. That reason being that Vampyr is at least three orders of magnitude harder if you don’t eat anyone. Sure, you get experience from killing enemies, but you’d have to kill about a hundred enemies to give you the experience you receive from eating one hobo.

Unfortunately, that “hobo” was an NPC you could have gotten information from, and killing him not only removes him from your investigations, but it also contributes to the decay of the area in which he lived. 

Basically, the more people you eat, the stronger you are for combat purposes. But if you take it too far, you could really ruin the other aspects of your game. So, you really need to get every piece of info you can from someone before drinking their blood. 

The worst part about the whole system is that you can’t just drink a little blood from someone to slake your thirst. Nope, any time you choose to feed on someone you murder the shit out of them.

This is where I may have been too stubborn for my own good: I chose not to kill anyone on my playthrough. 

Of course, at the time, I didn’t know exactly how much this would hamstring me. I only started to realize it once I was around level fifteen, and all of the enemies were several levels higher, making each fight into a laborious chore instead of a welcome obstacle.

Daybreak

Overall, Vampyr is a perfectly serviceable game. It’s milquetoast combat is offset by an investigation system that has a surprising amount of depth. The characters manage to breathe some life into the game, even if a few on the periphery border on being completely two-dimensional (probably so you’ll eat them). And the environment conveys a  sense of oppression that you could probably only otherwise get in real turn-of-the-century London.

Unfortunately for Vampyr,  none of these elements meshed enough to matter. So, I’m giving it an unenthusiastic 5/10. It was good enough not to be bad, and bad enough not to be good. 

Vampyr just kind of exists at this point…which is fine, I guess.

I had a joke here… something about the game telling me to murder people all the time… but it sort of fell flat when I realized that most games are encouraging me to murder people all the time. So, I just left this explanation here instead. 

Video Game Reviews

Psychonauts 2: A Mind-blowing Sequel

Please Note: This site uses affiliate marketing. This means that if you click one of the links on our site and make a purchase, we may—at no additional cost to you—receive a portion of the proceeds. Thank you for supporting MediaVore. 

Psychonauts 2 is an adventure / platformer game developed by Double Fine and published by Xbox Game Studios. It is the sequel to the original Psychonauts and direct sequel to Psychonauts: in the Rhombus of Ruin

The game follows Razputen (Raz) Aquato as he officially joins the Psychonauts after two death-defying adventures (and roughly sixteen actual years between game releases). Unfortunately, in spite of his growing resume of heroics, he is only qualified to become a lowly intern… you know, because it’s been, like, four days in-game and he’s all of ten years old. 

Everyone knows you have to be at least twelve to save the world.

To make matters worse, there is a mole operating within The Mother-Lobe, the main headquarters of the Psychonauts. So, since everyone else is a little useless, it’s up to Raz to save the Psychonauts from this mysterious threat. 

The original Psychonauts was one of the first games I played on the original XBOX. It was quirky and hilarious, the story was great, and its levels boggled my mind. Unfortunately, this gem was overlooked at the time of its release and only gained notoriety after the fact, effectively hamstringing any potential for a sequel.

Then, miraculously, in 2017, the VR game Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin released. I was literally flabbergasted… which is a weird thing to literally be, if I’m being honest. I had never expected to see another Psychonauts game… 

Ever. 

So when I heard that there was a Psychonauts 2 coming down the pipeline, I was ecstatic… which is a much more manageable emotional state than flabbergasted.

Now that I’ve finally had a chance to play this long-awaited game, I’ll let you know if it was worth the sixteen-year wait.

Spoiler: It kinda was. 

All Aboard the Nostalgia Train

As I mentioned earlier, the original Psychonauts was one of my favorite games as a kid. So, it’s no surprise that this second game would evoke a pretty powerful sense of nostalgia without even trying.

I mean, the game starts off mere days after the end of the first game, and with almost every memorable character from the original installment making an appearance. 

What I did not expect was for Double Fine to not milk that nostalgia for all it was worth.

Psychonauts 2 is almost effortless with its introduction of characters and ideas without hitting you in the face with a sign that says “YOU LOVE THIS STUFF, RIGHT?”. Sure, there is a little pandering, but it was oddly subtle. 

What surprised me most was how this second game tricked my brain into thinking that no time had passed between the two. The voice actors are the same, the character designs remained largely unchanged, and the environments maintained the aesthetics of the first game… though the latter two had some pretty severe graphical upgrades.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that this game is unobtrusive in its execution. 

A lot of games, shows, or movies that get another shot after a decade of collecting cobwebs (not mental ones) turn out to be heartless cash grabs.

Thank you for your 30-second cameo

Psychonauts 2 is anything but.

A Cavalcade of Kooky Characters

The first Psychonauts took place at Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp with a delightfully deranged assortment of campers, counselors, and escaped asylum patients to interact with. Unfortunately, most of the campers received little screen time, and served only to fill out the world a bit and add some personality to the game.

Psychonauts 2 decided to take this idea and expand upon it. This time there are several groups of people to interact with:

  • The Interns: A group of up-and-coming psychic teens who are working toward becoming junior Psychonauts. They are the most diverse of the groups, and have some of the more interesting character designs. 
  • The Agents: A handful of seasoned field agents including fan favorites Sasha Nein, Milla Vodello, and Coach Morceau Oleander, with a couple of new additions thrown in.
  • The Psychic Six: The original founders of the Psychonauts. I’m not going to spoil anything here. 
  • The Flying Aquatos: Raz’s family and acrobatics troupe. Also, not spoiling this.

While I feel like I would have liked to get to know each of the characters better, there is a fair amount of time spent with each group. I especially liked the conversations you can have with your fellow interns.

So, while talking to each and every character isn’t mandatory, I highly recommend that you take the time to seek out—and talk with—everyone to maximize your experience and get some of the better laughs in the game.

Head-space

The level design of the original Psychonauts was one of its most outstanding features. This was mostly due to the fact that the levels took place inside the heads of different characters. So, you could see what they loved, hated, feared, and (mostly) how they thought about themselves.

Psychonauts 2 takes that idea of exploring someone’s mind and expands on it in a number of different ways. From trying to understand what consciousness really is, to wondering what happens if you were to force a change in someone’s mind, the levels in the second game seem more inquisitive and considerate in nature. 

There are, of course, some pretty straightforward levels, but, overall, the designs are more abstract… and I use that word loosely, and also pretty solidly… 

It’s a pretty trippy game

Mental Gymnastics 

What has improved, by leaps and bounds, are the basic controls of the game. Two of my only issues with the original Psychonauts were the somewhat clunky controls and bizarrely-chosen camera angles. While there are still some weird camera choices, the controls (or their responsiveness) have improved immensely. 

I will, however, say that the way you map your controls is pretty crap. You can only have four abilities equipped at any given time, and you have far more than four abilities, so you are constantly having to pause the game to switch them out. This can turn regular platforming segments into a tedious trek. 

Another improvement over the original game was the expansion of enemy types. The original game had Censors (things inside your brain that stamp out thoughts that don’t belong) as the main enemy type, along with a couple of others. This second installment has added some new enemies, and I loved each and every one of them. They include:

  • Bad Ideas: which tend to blow up in your face
  • Doubts: which slow you down
  • Regrets: which weigh you down
  • Judges: which try to hammer you down
  • Enablers: which make other mental enemies invulnerable

There was, however, one holdover from the original game that I was not a huge fan of:

The Figments. 

These are basically the coins you collect for this particular platformer. The only problem is that they all look different and are completely two dimensional. This makes them almost impossible to see if you are looking at them from the wrong angle.

To add insult to insult the developers also decided that sometimes, if the figment was blue, they would put it up against a blue background, making them almost impossible to find. 

I digress. 

Mind the Gap

Despite over a decade between the first game and The Rhombus of Ruin (which was a short VR game), and then another four years until the release of Psychonauts 2, all three games are part of the same direct story.

Me on the Psychonauts 2 release day

Basically, the story in the first game is important to the second and third games, and the story for the third game informs the events of the first two. 

Not only did this work extremely well, but it actually made me look at the events of the first game in a different light. 

So, if you haven’t already, you should play the original Psychonauts before diving into the sequel. I would also recommend playing The Rhombus of Ruin, but, again, it’s a VR title, so maybe just google what happened or watch a YouTube video or something if you’re not planning to invest in a VR

Peace of Mind

Overall, Psychonauts 2 is a pretty amazing game, all things considered. It managed to bring me back into that particular universe in a completely unobtrusive way. It expanded upon the gameplay mechanics that made the original game great in all the right ways. And it managed to keep the heart that made the original so special.

While there were some things that still frustrated me (FIGMENTS!!!), and by inextricably linking the story with the previous two games, Double Fine sort of ensured that you can never judge one without the other, it is still a solid game.

Since I am, however, of two minds about this game, I’ll have to give it two separate scores. 

My nostalgic inner child gives this game a 9.5/10. It gets 9 points for simply existing, and the subsequent  0.5 is for actually being good. 

The critic in me says it gets a 8.5/10 because it’s still a really good game, but is almost completely dependent on the first game for half of its score.

So, now that I know that Double Fine is making amazing sequels to games that are over a decade old, it’s probably safe to start waiting for a sequel to Brutal Legend 

…Right?

Recommendations

6 Webcomics To Read If You’ve Never Read a Webcomic 

Please note: this post uses affiliate links. This means that if you click on certain links and make a purchase then we will—at no additional cost to you—receive a small portion of the funds you spend. Thank you for supporting our blog!

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not really a comic book person. There are some graphic novels that I really enjoy, but for the most part I usually stick to video games, television, and movies. However, I have found that I do enjoy webcomics to an almost absurd degree.

This wasn’t always the case. I used to think they were these chintzy things that were, for the most part, not well done. In fact, I would probably still be avoiding them if a friend of mine hadn’t made some recommendations.

Turns out the joke’s on me. Some of them are pretty awesome. So if you’ve ever wondered about webcomics and are looking for somewhere to start, let me introduce you—in no particular order—to some of my favorites.

The Last Halloween by Abby Howard

This comic is a bit of a weird one, but it’s all the better for it. 

The story revolves around Mona, a ten-year-old girl, who finds herself alone on Halloween night. When a giant monster breaks into her house and attacks her, she flees into the night, only to find a monster apocalypse in full swing. Can she survive the night or will it be… her Last Halloween? 

There are a couple of things about this comic that I really like. 

  • The Lore: What starts out as a relatively simple premise eventually gains an amount of breadth and width that gives the story a solid foundation to stand on.
  • The Aesthetic/Atmosphere: The comic is done completely in black and white, and the style uses negative space in interesting ways. The artwork is somehow simple, and yet it is also complex in its execution, and sometimes I don’t know if I love it or hate it. 

I mean, it’s also funny, and at times actually kinda terrifying, which is a combination that always piques my interest.

The only downside to The Last Halloween is that it is updated very infrequently, so you might have to wait long chunks of time between new pages.

Broodhollow by Kristofer “Kris” Straub

This is probably one of the best iterations of cosmic horror I’ve ever seen. It takes place back when door-to-door salesmen walked the earth. The story focuses on Wadsworth Zane, a down-on-his-luck encyclopedia salesman who receives an inheritance from a distant relative. In order to claim that inheritance, Wadsworth travels to the town of Broodhollow, where all is not as it seems.

What really makes Broodhollow stand out is how the horror is presented. Most of the art in the comic is pretty simplistic and straightforward. However, when an otherworldly horror or misbegotten creature appears, the art style changes completely. The creatures are usually very dark and drawn with a level of detail several orders of magnitude over the normal characters. This juxtaposition of art styles really helps to sell the horror of Broodhollow.

My personal favorite part of Broodhollow is the mystery. You never really get the big picture, nor is a ton of explaining done. So you are left to piece the puzzle together alongside Wadsworth (and a few others who seem to know that something isn’t right). 

This is another comic that, unfortunately, sees infrequent updates, but it’s totally worth the wait. So if you’re down for an intriguing mystery with a heap of cosmic horror thrown in for good measure, I recommend you give Broodhollow a shot.

Guilded Age by T Campbell, Erica Henderson, & Phil Kahn 

Guilded Age is an amazing webcomic that is hard to describe without ruining certain aspects of it.

It is, ostensibly, about a group of adventurers that form a guild for the financial and social benefits that it provides. Unfortunately for them, their guild quickly rises to infamy and becomes embroiled in the affairs of ancient kingdoms, diabolical wizards, and endless wars. 

While this premise sounds like every other high fantasy show/comic/game, I guarantee that Guilded Age will surprise you. I really can’t get into why, because honestly it’s the kind of thing you really need to read for yourself. I will say that the characters are very well written, the overall story is good, and the art is solid throughout (even if it changed artists part way through its run). 

Fortunately, Guilded Age is completed, so you’ll never have to wait for additional pages to be available. Unfortunately, once you’ve finished it, you might wish that there was more on the way. 

Paranatural by Zack Morrison

Paranatural starts off pretty rough. Not story or character-wise, but art-wise. The beginning is all in black and white with some of the sketchiest artwork I’ve seen in a webcomic. (Sketchy like a sketch… not dubious in any way.) It does, however, get leaps and bounds better, to the point that you would never guess that the current work is from the same comic. 

The story follows Max, a kid who has just moved to the town of Mayview. He quickly realizes that something isn’t right in the small town when he starts to see spirits and ghosts. He eventually joins his school’s “Activity” club, which is, of course, full of other kids who can see and interact with the supernatural world. 

What I really like about Paranatural, aside from its story, is how it grows as it goes along. I mean, most webcomics grow over time, but Paranatural grows by leaps and bounds as it progresses. Not only does the art improve, as I mentioned earlier, but the way it handles its characters and themes grows as well.

Paranatural has six complete “chapters” and is currently on its seventh. It is generally updated every Tuesday and Friday. 

Atomic Robo by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener

Atomic Robo is near and dear to my heart. I love pretty much everything about this comic. So just be aware of my bias while reading this. 

The comic is about the adventures of Atomic Robo, a sentient robot with an “Automatic Intelligence,” created by Nikola Tesla in 1923. As such, he has been alive for over a century and had many adventures and experiences.

What makes Atomic Robo stand out, to me, is the way in which the story is told: in individual installments, and not necessarily in chronological order. 

The first time you meet Robo he is fighting against Nazi Scientist, Dr. Helsingrad, in 1938. The second, he’s fighting giant ants outside of Reno Nevada. From there it just gets nuttier. He fights a time traveling dinosaur with a dubious PhD. He fights a Lovecraftian horror through the better part of a century. And he saves the only human to survive vampire dimension.

While all of that might sound insane, I assure you that it is. It’s crazy, hilarious and will often have me literally laughing out loud. However, it will also sometimes punch you in the gut with  subtle, thoughtful, moments that you aren’t expecting. Atomic Robo manages to walk the line between the two extremes beautifully,

Atomic Robo updates at least a couple of times a week, but can have long hiatuses between chapters. 

GunnerKrigg Court by Tom Siddell

GunnerKrigg Court has been around since 2005. Back then, it was a quaint little comic that had a decent aesthetic, a serviceable story, and the ability to make me smile. Much like Paranatural, GunnerKrigg grew over the years and has turned into one of the finest webcomics available. 

The story follows Antimony “Annie” Carver, a young girl who lives at GunnerKrigg Court (a large industrial complex that also functions as a school). There, she encounters increasingly bizarre and strange phenomena including, but not limited to, ghosts, living shadows, sentient robots, the Minotaur, and a giant crab monster.

To make matters worse… or more interesting… Gillitie Woods, a magical forest where sprites, pixies, and gods dwell, sits across a large chasm from the court. 

What’s really striking about Gunnerkrigg Court is how the little details matter. Things that you thought were throwaway jokes or stupid sight gags will almost certainly become very important later on in the story. This means that later chapters are full of references to things that happened previously, but it’s all done in such a way as to be completely unobtrusive.

Gunnerkrigg Court updates Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, so you’ll never be lacking for content. There are also talks of a TV show in the works for this one, which, I have to say, is probably the best news I got in 2020. 

Though, we’ll just have to wait and see if that pans out.