Video Game Reviews

It Takes Two (to Write This Review): Cooperation Is Key

It Takes Two is the latest action-adventure game from Hazelight Studios, the developer responsible for the 2018’s A Way Out.

While I never played A Way Out, I did hear great things about it. The thing that really stuck in my head was that it was a co-op only game, meaning that it required two humans — no A.I.’s allowed — to play. 

I thought that it was an amazing, if somewhat risky, move. At the time I thought “I’d like to play that,” but I was also pretty sure it would be hard to convince my main co-op partner (read: wife) to play it with me. 

In 2020 I started seeing advertisements and trailers for It Takes Two. It had the same co-op only gimmick, but it had replaced a gritty prison-break setting with the colorful tale of a soon-to-be divorced couple being turned into dolls by their daughter.

I can only assume she was using the same magic that forced Jim Carrey to tell the truth in Liar Liar.

This, I thought, would be a much easier game to sell to my wife.

It immediately became one of our most hotly-anticipated games. 

Now that we’ve finished it, I’ll give you a rundown on what makes this game a blast to play. I’ll also have my wife give her two cents. After all, the game required us to work together. We might as well continue that for this post. 

Two Way Street

The game begins with Cody and May, a couple on the brink of devorce, trying to explain to their adolescent daughter, Rose, that they are breaking up. Rose leaves to play with some dolls that she made of her parents and play-acts them fixing their relationship. While playing, she becomes overwhelmed with emotion, and her tears fall on the dolls.

Cody and May then find their consciousnesses trapped within Rose’s dolls. As they try to figure out how and why this happened, the “Book of Love” appears and tries to force them to cooperate because…

The two try to ignore him and make it to their daughter, hoping that she will know how to break the curse, but the book places obstacles in their path to force them to work together and begin to repair their relationship.

While the story isn’t overly complicated, you really get a feel for who Cody and May were and how their bond slowly fell apart over the course of their relationship. 

I will say that at first I was a little iffy on the plot focusing on forcing two people to reconcile their marriage. But the story was told well enough that it never became the issue that I anticipated. 

Wife says:

The best part of the story, for me, was that it focused on a stay-at-home dad and a working mom. I love that it bent the typical narrative in this way. 

The worst part? With a few people in my personal life going through divorces of their own, it hit a little too close at home at times. 

I also didn’t love the assumption, from the very beginning, that the two of them staying together was the “right” decision. Like Vuk said, it didn’t become as big of an issue as I thought it would, but it still wasn’t great

Better Than One

A game that can only be played cooperatively sounds tricky, but It Takes Two takes this premise and executes it almost flawlessly.

At the start of each session, each player selects the character that they would like to play as. The options are May, the wooden doll; or Cody, the clay figurine. 

While it’s not really important which character you choose, it should be noted that the two characters have different experiences throughout the game, creating a dynamic relationship between the two players. 

For example, during the opening level, May acquires a hammer head that she can use to pound things down or grab onto certain surfaces. Cody, meanwhile, receives nails that he can throw to activate switches, create handholds, or pin certain objects in place. 

This means that, within the first area, Cody is often trying to position himself to help May across platforming segments, while it’s May’s job to remove obstacles in Cody’s path.

I don’t want to spoil any of the other levels, but suffice to say that there are a good number of these individualized segments, and they are the best of what the game has to offer.

Wife says:

Let’s be real: the worst part of playing couch co-ops is knowing that Vuk will destroy the level and find everything worth finding before I’ve managed to remember what my controls do. 

My usual play-style.

With It Takes Two, he didn’t have that option. The game is designed for both players to do their part. As a result, he had to deal with the fact that I’m not as good as he is at platforming… and I didn’t get frustrated by feeling like I was just dragging behind him like a kite string tied to a motorcycle. 

Mini Games for Days

One of It Takes Two’s standout features is the sheer number of minigames offered throughout. 

What makes these even better is that they are, somewhat counterintuitively, competitive games.

Because nothing strengthens a marriage like competitive gaming.

Here are just a few of the games on offer:

  • Whack-a-Mole
  • Slotcar races
  • Long Jump
  • Shuffleboard
  • Snowball fight
  • Chess
  • Battle tanks

In total, the game has 25 different minigames that will test your skills against your fellow player. They are all fun to play, however, they were not all created equally. Some have pretty poor descriptions of the controls involved, which can lead to a few rounds of play-testing to figure out exactly how best to trounce one another. 

There is one other thing about the minigames that’s less than ideal, and that’s finding them.

Near the beginning of the game “The Book of Love” says that you can find the games if you listen for “this sound.” The sound he was referring to was that of a tambourine being shaken ever-so-gently. It was almost inaudible, especially once you consider the background noises of the game itself. 

Honestly, we happened upon the games more by accident than anything else. 

The good news is that there is a menu that tells you if you’ve missed any of the minigames, and another one that can take to you the exact chapter that the game is in. So, even if you miss them the first time you play, going back and finding them is pretty simple. 

Wife says:

While I enjoyed the minigames a great deal, Vuk definitely had the advantage on most of them because he has so much more gaming experience than I do. I’d have loved it if a few more of the games were designed to be beaten by thinking instead of just mashing buttons quickly and aiming your toggle stick, because then I at least would have felt like I had a chance of beating Vuk more than one in every 6-10 rounds. 

Chess was a nice addition, though. I didn’t win, but it actually felt like an equal match-up. 

Idle Chit-Chat

One of my favorite aspects of the game is simply the relationship between the two protagonists. Sure, they snipe at one another throughout most of the game, but they were clearly once the best of friends, and it shows in the amount of bittersweet dialog shared between them.

While I won’t say that the voice acting was always completely top notch, it was good. It was always believable and delivered in a way that made me feel like the relationship between May and Cody was real. 

While most of the dialog in the game happens when you reach specific points, some of the most poignant and informative dialog can only be found by scouring each level with both characters.

So, if you’re into learning every little thing, you may want to consider who you’re playing with, lest you hear “Oh my god, what are you doing?” every five minutes as you try to explore. 

Conversely, if you’d like to get on with your day, you really don’t want to get paired with someone who spends 10 minutes climbing the same stack of books hoping to “find something.”

There’s NOTHING UP THERE. Give it a rest!

Wife says:

I’ll admit, I can be a bit more of a “rush headlong into things” player. I tend to have a short attention span, and I like to know I’ll complete a game in full before my brain moves onto the Next Big Thing. But I liked the chit-chat between May and Cody enough that I joined Vuk in exploring. 

It helped that exploring was just plain fun. There were things to bounce on and climb underneath, so exploring any given level tickled that child-like curiosity most of us have been taught to suppress. 

A Great Combo

Overall, It Takes Two is an amazing game. The sheer number of games, game mechanics, and concepts crammed into it is awe-inspiring to begin with, and the fact that it stays cohesive throughout is a testament to the developers’ dedication. 

The story, while a little lacking in weight at times, is heartfelt and grounded—even when you’re dodging dust bunnies that have been hurled at you by a sentient vacuum. Add to everything else the fact that this game is co-op—one of my favorite types of game—and you have a recipe for something special. 

I’m giving It Takes Two a stunning 9/10 for daring to be co-op only, and seamlessly blending so many game types that it kind of made my head spin. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go talk to my daughter and make sure that she never beckons to an ancient mystical force that turns me into an animal or something just to teach me an important life lesson…

That’s what video games are for. 

Wife says:

It Takes Two blew me out of the water. I was legitimately excited to play every night and disappointed when it ended — not because the ending was bad (it was solid), but because I just didn’t want to quit playing. 

It’s some of the most fun Vuk and I have had together in a while, and I really appreciated that they didn’t just make the game “co-op compatible,” but that it was legitimately designed with the enjoyment of two different people in mind. 

I’m also giving it an amazing 9/10, with that one extra point removed because the story was a little trite and the animation when the characters were in the “real world” wasn’t given as much love and attention as the animation when they were in their doll form. But those two issues were barely consequential when every other aspect of the game was so en pointe. 

Video Game Reviews

Far Cry: New Dawn – A Beautiful Waste of Potential

Far Cry: New Dawn is Ubisoft’s follow up to Far Cry 5. Just like its predecessor, it’s an open-world first person shooter with some light RPG elements.

If you have not played Far Cry 5 I suggest you do so before reading this review. 

As a follow up, it is like those that came before it. It is smaller in scale than its accompanying numbered entry, but it is also crazier in a lot of respects.

However, unlike the previous entries, Blood Dragon & Primal; New Dawn is a direct sequel to Far Cry 5.  This is a good thing in a lot of ways, but in some ways the game suffered because of it.

Now, I played straight through both games without really taking the time to blink in between.

I take my hobbies VERY seriously

So, one moment I was exploding cultists in and around Hope County, and the next I was exploding road warriors in and around a post-apocalyptic Hope County.

If it sounds like there wasn’t much difference between the two, that’s because the two games were very similar. 

I’d like to take the time to get into the differences, because that’s where New Dawn excels. Of course, nothing is perfect, so we’ll also get into where this game went off the rails. Which is to say, right off the bat, because it starts with a train wreck. Like, a literal one… so it went off the rails, but not in a bad way… at least not at the beginning…

You know what? I’m just going to move on.

Hope, Risen From the Ashes

SPOILERS. Seriously. Go play Far Cry 5 if you haven’t yet.

At the end of the previous game’s canon ending, the world was destroyed in a nuclear apocalypse. Which is generally considered, you know, bad, for a myriad of reasons, one of which is that after the bombs drop, everything becomes a desaturated hellscape of burnt trees and collapsed buildings. 

Fortunately for the residents of Hope County (at least the ones that managed to get to their bunkers in time), the exact opposite happened. It wasn’t overnight, but several years after the collapse of society, to quote the great chaotician Ian Malcom…

The trees are lush and verdant. Flowers blanket the valley in a color scheme so bright that it can be hard to look at, and the animals have returned—and not as two headed monstrosities.

It’s practically a paradise.

This is by far New Dawn’s greatest strength. 

Ubisoft went way out of their way to create one of the most unique post-apocalyptic landscapes I’ve ever seen. Sure, there are the obligatory abandoned buildings and the occasional area consumed by radiation, but these were few and far between, leaving everything else to stun and amaze you as you make your way across the valley. 

One Man’s Trash

New Dawn tries so hard to lean into its genre. It has road warriors, makeshift guns, and it even has its own thunderdome. Unfortunately, it never leaves the comfort zone of its predecessor and stays, somewhat unremarkably, a Far Cry game. 

What I mean to say is that there were a lot of elements of the game that could have been amazing if New Dawn had just dove in head first instead of tentatively dipping a toe into the water. 

In the game, you can find materials around the map, like duct tape or springs, that you can use to create weapons or upgrade your settlement. This sounds, at face value, really freaking awesome, especially since you immediately use this mechanic to build the game’s signature weapon. So, early on, I got my hopes up, thinking that at some point I might be building the Far Cry equivalent of a Power Fist or a Super Sledge

What I ended up getting was a bunch of regular guns that had a post-apocalyptic aesthetic and nothing more.

I spent so much time wandering around to each point of interest on the map so I would have enough resources to make the guns I wanted… and then I immediately made those guns. After, I was left with more components than I could reasonably use.

Anyone need 2,000 rolls of duct tape?

Even upgrading the settlement was a banal affair that, after a couple of hours, left me shrugging. I mean, sure, it was helpful, but it was more like upgrading your character than actually upgrading the camp.

Precisely One Third of the Original

While you could consider New Dawn to be it’s own game, it is essentially a large DLC for Far Cry 5.

This impacted the game in numerous ways.

I felt like I never really got to know the villains beyond “they’re bad, so you should stop them.” There are a couple of good scenes with them, but they never really got a chance to stand out.

Aside from their attire, they are the most conventional evil this side of Vaas

The same could be said for all of the good guys you encounter as well.

I feel like the developers were trying to use the fact that it was a sequel to their advantage, and it kind of made the game fall flat on its face instead.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved seeing what became of the characters from 5, but most of it was just pandering to the old instead of building something new.

Diminishing Returns 

The game’s small size, and its failure to fully embrace its genre, lead to a point in my game where I didn’t care anymore.

At first, I explored everywhere and took the time to find everything. I was super pumped because of how amazing the scenery looked, and I wanted to see it all. I was also determined to upgrade Prosperity, the home base, and lay waste to everyone who got in my way.

 A few hours in, I looked at the remaining points of interest across the map and felt numb to the idea of visiting them all.

It turns out that I need a reason beyond “this place looks cool” to keep exploring, and New Dawn never gave me one. There were several treasure hunts—little puzzles, or challenges, that hid perk-points and resources—which would have been enough for me to keep exploring, but there were only a handful, and once they were gone, that just left the character missions and story beats to keep me engaged. 

Get to the Choppa!! 

There was one breath of fresh air in what had become a stagnant game.

The expeditions. 

Expeditions were basically little challenge maps that had nothing to do with the main game, save for the fact that they let you acquire the resources you needed to build top tier loot. Basically, you would get on a helicopter and travel to a location where the bad guys had set up a base. Once there, you were tasked with picking up a package and then staying alive until someone could pick you up.

Oh, I’ll clear the landing zone alright!

There were a few things that I liked about these excursions:

  • They let you see more of post-apocalyptic America
  • They had multiple difficulty levels
  • You could approach them any way you wanted
  • There was an immense sense of satisfaction as you fly away on your helicopter while the enemies still fired everything they had at you. 

Unfortunately, there were few expeditions, and once you’d completed them on every available difficulty, they sort of lost their luster. They were, however, an interesting departure from the main game, and could have been used to greater effect. 

Swing and a Bunt

Overall, Far Cry: New Dawn was a perfectly serviceable game. It was absolutely beautiful, but relied too heavily on the game that came before it. Without the willingness to come out from under its parents’ wings, this fledgling game couldn’t seem to fly on its own. This means that we got a bunch of partially-realized ideas attached to a standard Far Cry frame. Which isn’t so bad, but it’s a shame to see so much wasted potential. 

I’m giving Far Cry: New Dawn an adequate 6/10. It didn’t ruffle any feathers, and at the end of the day it was still fun to play, even if it only lasted a little while.

Here’s hoping that Ubisoft has the stones to try some off-the-wall things with Far Cry 6‘s inevitable follow-up game.    

Video Game Reviews

Returnal: Bullet Purgatory

Returnal is one of the first big Playstation exclusives to be launched on the PS5. Developed by Housemarque and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment, it is a Roguelike third-person-shooter that falls squarely into the bullet-hell category.

The game takes place on the planet Atropos where Selene, a planetary scout for the ASTRA corporation, crash lands while searching for a mysterious alien signal. As she stumbles from the crash site, she discovers the body of another ASTRA scout. When she tries to confirm the scout’s identity, she is horrified to discover that the body belongs to her. 

It’s not too much later that an alien creature kills Selene, only for her to wake up in her ship, which is already mid-crash. As she tries to make sense of what’s going on, she starts to realize that she is stuck in a never-ending loop that always begins and ends with her death. 

It’s basically Live, Die, Repeat, but with less Tom Cruise.

I, personally, was looking forward to this game for a few reasons:

  • I thought the graphics looked great.
  • I wanted to see if it made full use of the PS5’s haptic feedback & adaptive triggers
  • I thought the story looked interesting, if somewhat cryptic.
  • I was ready for something more fast-paced than what I’ve been playing recently

It did most, if not all, of those things, and now that I’ve beaten it I can share my knowledge.

Don’t Fear the Reaper

Death in Returnal is almost mandatory. I’m not sure if someone could beat it the first time through, but even if they did, I think that would be missing the point.

When Selene dies, a number of things happen:

  • You lose all the currency you’ve accumulated
  • You lose the weapon & items you were carrying
  • You hurl obscenities at the screen because it was “some bullshit” that got you killed

The most important thing that happens, however, is that the game’s map changes. Nothing will be exactly as it was before. Sure, you might run into some similar rooms, but the overall layout will have changed. 

While this is typical of a roguelike game, what makes this feel so different from other roguelikes is how Selene herself reacts to the changes. You can almost feel her losing her grip on reality as she traverses areas that are both familiar and alien.

It was an interesting lens through which to view the death of an in-game character. You get to see the psychological toll that it takes on the being that you are ostensibly in control of. I would posit that Mario probably feels the same way as Selene once he’s died a dozen or so times.

Baby Steps

There is a level of progression that you do get to keep between loops (or cycles, as the game calls them).

You retain a specific type of currency that can give you some major advantages on future cycles. You also get to keep some suite upgrades which let you explore different areas, much like a standard metroidvania. And you can upgrade weapons through repeated use.

The weapon upgrades were the cornerstone of my ability to make it further with each consecutive cycle. As you progress through a cycle, your proficiency level increases, allowing you to find guns of higher quality (but only during that particular cycle).

The higher the level of a gun, the higher the stats will be. This is useful for the current cycle.

However, there are persistent upgrades that you can unlock for specific weapon types, which can impact future cycles. 

This is not an empty threat.

Take the carbine rifle, for example. It starts off as a basic assault rifle. However, you can find versions that will allow you to unlock such upgrades as:

  • High Caliber: exchanges fire rate for more damage
  • Rising Pitch: fires faster the longer you hold the trigger
  • Hardened: grants increased protection from damage
  • Leech Rounds: gives a chance on hit to restore some health

Every time you unlock one of these upgrades, it becomes a possible feature of any future guns of that type. This means you might find one that has Hardened and High Caliber, or one that gives you Rising Pitch and Leech Rounds.

This makes it vitally important to unlock every single upgrade as soon as possible, so that any future weapons you pick up have more potential benefits.

Risk vs. Reward

Almost every decision you make in Returnal is about assessing a risk against a possible reward. You see, almost every item in the game has a second version that is considered “Malignant,” meaning that it is infected with purple bad stuff. This purple bad stuff has the potential to cause your suit to malfunction. 

Malfunctions are basically penalties applied to your current cycle. They can be anything from enabling fall damage to screwing up your map to decreasing your ability to heal. Though they can be fixed by completing specific requirements unique to each malfunction, it is often harder than it should be to get rid of them. 

This makes any interaction with a malignant item a potential risk. But if you’re super low on health, a malignant healing item might seem worth it at the time. 

Just remember what might happen next.

This is also true with one of the game’s other mechanics: parasites. These are essentially items that give you a boon but also come with a cost. You could find one that allows you to heal 25% more effectively, but that could come at the steep price of being damaged every time you pick up an item.

Parasites aren’t easily removed, either, so you need to be certain you need one before you let it attach itself to you. 

The whole game is filled with these decisions, and it was actually one of my favorite design elements. It made each cycle unique and allowed me to try and build a version of Selene that I thought could make it further than any other, despite the handicaps I had to place on myself. 

Xeno-Cartography

The map in Returnal was not a disappointment. It was, in a lot of ways, one of the best maps I’d seen in a while. I don’t think there was a single cycle where I got lost (except the one where a malfunction made my map all scrambled). It was clear, easy to read, and every point of interest was visible.

My favorite aspect of Returnal’s map was the way it marked doors. There was one symbol for a door that lead along the main path (meaning that you would eventually find the key or mechanism to continue the story), and another for doors that lead to side paths. 

This meant that if I wanted to explore, I could exhaust all the side options before returning to the door that would take me to my next objective.

The map even grayed out doors that I’d already been through, so it was easy to see where I might have missed something.

So, for someone like me, who really needs to make sure I didn’t miss anything, this was a tour de force. It made my playthrough of each cycle smooth and about as thorough as I could ever want. 

It’s the most helpful map since this guy.

All that being said, there was one thing that the map did not do that it really should have: it did not distinguish between malignant items and regular ones.

This means that every chest shows up on the map, but it will not tell you if the chest is malignant or not. It also means that you might see four healing items in an area, but only use one of them because the rest might cause your suit to malfunction.

This just seemed ridiculous given that the map would already tell you if a door or chest was locked or unlocked. They could have just made the malignant items purple on the map, or at least marked them as malignant once you got close to them. There was nothing more infuriating than seeing a chest I’d missed and running back through an area, only to find out that it was a malignant chest. 

All the Bullets

Overall, Returnal was fun to play. The play action is smooth, responsive, and ultimately fair, which is essential to any bullet hell. The gameplay loop—pun intended—was satisfying and gave you just enough to progress further each cycle without letting you steamroll your way through the game. And the levels were varied enough to keep things interesting. 

The story was… all right? I guess? It was incredibly hard to decipher, and sort of seemed irrelevant overall. But that never had a direct impact on my ability to enjoy playing. I often found myself shrugging after a cutscene, only to immediately forget my confusion while trying to dodge hundreds of onscreen bullets.

I’m giving Returnal a respectable 7.5/10. It was not the blockbuster I was expecting, and the story was literally ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, but it was some frenetic fun that got my adrenaline pumping and gave me a sense of accomplishment any time I survived a boss encounter.

Also, Returnal is one of the first big Playstation exclusives to be launched on the PS5. Developed by Housemarque and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment, it is a Roguelike third-person-shooter that… falls squarely…. into the bullet-hell…

…anyone else getting some serious déjà vu? 

Late to the Game Reviews, Video Game Reviews

Late to the Game: Far Cry 5 – Keeping the Faith

Far Cry 5 is an open-world first-person-shooter from developer Ubisoft. It follows the franchise’s long and storied history of dropping a protagonist into a remote—and usually inescapable—region of the world where roughly 95% of the population wants them dead.

Except the main villain, who needs you alive for monologue purposes

The series has seen great success over the years, but really took off after the third installment, when it began introducing its insane, yet oddly compelling, villains. I, myself, thoroughly enjoyed both 3 and 4, as well as their sister games, Blood Dragon and Primal.

5, however, I did not buy right away. At the time, I couldn’t justify the expenditure, and just when I was contemplating the purchase, the announcement for Far Cry: New Dawn came out, in which I learned the ending of 5. This put me off the idea of playing the fifth installment altogether. 

Well, now, a little over three years later, I’ve taken the leap and given this title a try. So, if anyone else passed on Far Cry 5 for the same reason I did, or if they were just not feeling a Ubisoft open-world —because, let’s face it, those can be overwhelming at times— I’ll let you know if it was worth it or not. 

All That Remained Was Hope

Far Cry 2 took place in darkest Africa, 3 on the Rook Islands—which were somewhat comparable to Indonesia—and 4 in Kyrat, a fictional country nestled in the Himalayas.

Far Cry 5 hits a little closer to home (for some of us) than the previous installments. Instead of dense jungles, tropical islands, or arid mountains, 5 offers you a glimpse of the Big Sky State and takes place in the fictional Hope County, Montana.

At first, I was a little skeptical of the location, given that the locals of Far Cry are usually completely cut off from the rest of the world. 

Well, worry not. 5 continued the tradition. 

You see, Hope County is completely surrounded by mountains, and the main antagonists of the game have cut off all roads and communications out of the county, making this little slice of Americana one of the more interesting locations in which to Far Cry.

We’re not counting the in-between games.

I do have to admit that this was bizarre compared with… well, most other open worlds.

Most open-worlds take place in a fantastical location, or at least a place very far removed from anywhere I’ve ever been. So, being dropped into Montana and told to go on what can only be described as a killing spree of biblical proportions was off-putting, to say the least.

That being said, it was a magnificently crafted world, and if we were judging by that alone, this game would take top billing. 

Do Not Drink the Punch

The main villain of Far Cry 5 is Joseph Seed. He‘s the fanatical leader of The Project at Eden’s Gate, which is a cult that believes that the end of days is approaching. 

You know, THESE guys.

While not as mental as Vaas or as charismatic as Pagan Min, Joseph’s brand of evangelical zealotry is intense. When you add in his “Family”—Jacob, John, and Faith—they round out to be a pretty great rogue’s gallery.

Each of Joseph’s “children” offers a different dime-store version of a religious cult. Jacob is basically a militia leader (and not like an actual militia, but the kind that builds compounds and often threatens to kill elected officials). John is the kind of cult leader that believes in self-actualization and “the power of yes”. And Faith is more of the hippy-dippy “love, acceptance, and copious amounts of drugs” cult leader.

You play as a deputy tasked with arresting Joseph and bringing him to justice. The only problem is that he has a seemingly-endless amount of followers who are completely devoted to him. So, when you do try and arrest him, he takes it as a sign that the end is nigh — because, let’s face it, it was for him — and begins enacting his vision for the future. 

This “vision” is basically to steal every resource in the whole of Hope County and then kidnap and convert everyone in their way. Of course, if being forced into a religion isn’t your thing, they are more than happy to send you away in a pine box. 

This, for me, was one of the best versions of Far Cry I’ve seen. Usually, the villain is already in power and you are trying to depose them. In this one, Joseph is trying to take over the county, and you and your ragtag resistance (mainly composed of doomsday preppers and good ‘ol townsfolk) are trying to make sure he doesn’t succeed.

A Wingsuit and a Prayer

The gameplay in Far Cry 5 is phenomenal, but gameplay for Far Cry has always kind of been phenomenal. So does it mean that it’s still good if it’s always good? 

Yes. The answer is yes.

Everything feels right in this game. The movements are smooth, even when driving or operating the wingsuit. The gunplay is great and somehow feels closer to reality than I would have liked at times. The only real problem I encountered with the actual play-action is that after playing so much Apex Legends, where the slide is so vitally important, the slow and stubby slide in Far Cry 5 felt like a joke.

I would also like to take a moment to point out how many great characters are in this game. It seems like almost everyone you run into is somehow a main character. Whether it’s Pastor Jerome tending to his flock with a pump action shotgun, or Skylar Kohrs—a woman so into fishing she’s willing to fist fight an armed cult just to catch a fish—no one is lacking in personality. 

Did I mention that one of your teammates is a bear named Cheeseburger?

My only real gripe with the game (other than being kidnapped every 5 seconds) is that I never really felt like I was exploring Hope County. There were places to go, but they were mostly places to receive missions or places to complete missions. Even when I got to those locations, I never really felt the impetus to take a look around.

I never even had to walk anywhere, because I took the parachute, wingsuit, and airdrop perks early.

The airdrop lets you do just that: choose a location and drop down. In conjunction with the wingsuit and parachute, this essentially means you never have to walk or drive anywhere. You simply airdrop to a nearby location and glide to your mission objective. If you can’t make it in one drop, you can do it in two or three.

I know I didn’t have to airdrop everywhere, but I could,  and it seriously hampered my ability to appreciate the beauty of Hope County. 

The Collapse

Overall, Far Cry 5 is a pretty great game. It has a ton of personality, the gameplay is amazing, and the characters are interesting. While the overall plot is a little stunted, it’s still beautifully realized. There are some weird narrative choices — again, you get kidnapped way too often for an action hero protagonist — and sometimes the A.I. pathing would kill my allies at inopportune moments, but these things never stopped me from enjoying my playthrough. 

What did that was knowing how the game ended before it began.

I’m giving Far Cry 5 an objective 8.5/10, but a very subjective 7/10, so, do with that what you will. 

I’m also currently playing through Far Cry: New Dawn, so…

…aaaaaand I’m being abducted again. I’ll be back with that review after an intense villain monologue where the bad guy totally could kill me, but arbitrarily will not.

TV Show Reviews

Sweet Home: Home is where the Monsters Are

I’m not sure what’s up with Netflix recently. They’ve gone way off into left field making several live action versions of different manga, manhwa, and webtoons. 

This is, of course, the most correct thing they could have done.

Good for you, Netflix.

Sweet Home was originally a manhwa webtoon by Hwang Young-chan and Kim Kan-bi, and was recently brought to the small screen by Netflix. It follows the residents of Green Home—a large apartment building—during a monster apocalypse.

If you’re not sure what I mean by “Monster Apocalypse” it basically means that a percentage of the population is randomly turning into monsters and killing any people they come across.

The main character is Cha Hyun-Su (or just Hyun-Su). He is a suicidal shut-in who moves into Green Home after his parents and sister are killed in a car accident. At first, he’s a bit of a downer. Don’t worry though: His backstory (even beyond the whole family dying thing) is tragic enough that you can see exactly why he behaves the way he does. 

When his neighbors start turning into monsters and killing each other, he originally opts to stay in his room and hope for the best. However, when he witnesses two children in peril, he ultimately ignores his own problems and, with a knife taped to a mop handle, sets off to save them.

While there are a lot of manga/manhwa that focus on a monster apocalypse, Sweet Home was a novel first outing for this specific subgenre for a few reasons. 

What Do You Desire?

What’s interesting about this particular monster apocalypse is that it isn’t a virus, or external force, that turns people into monsters (at least not at the time of this writing). No, what turns people into monsters in this story is their own intense desires.

If someone wanted to be stronger, they might turn into a large hulking monster. If they wanted to be faster, a speed demon, and so forth and so on. This leads to some bizarre monsters with some interesting abilities. While you don’t get a backstory for every monster, the ones that you do get range from anecdotal to tragic.

Sometimes both at the same time.

What I really like about this idea is that it’s not about being bitten by a monster. You could fight one all day and never turn into one. It does, however, mean that anyone, at any time, might suddenly start showing symptoms of the change. This is especially true during the apocalypse where the desire to live could suddenly change you into a freak of nature. 

The Real Monster

Of course, with every apocalypse story, you undoubtedly learn that the true monster of the story is… wait for it… 

Turns out it’s man.

This is also true with Sweet Home

The bulk of the story focuses on the residents of the apartment building learning to survive and live with one another. There is infighting and mistrust throughout the series, even once everyone seems to be getting along. 

This is mostly due to limited resources, but also because at any point someone could spontaneously transform into a giant mouth with snakes for eyeballs or something.

There are, of course, symptoms that precede the transformation (like an intense nose-bleed and auditory hallucinations), but if someone were to hide it, things could go from bad to worse pretty quickly. So, the residents are always on high alert, and ready to turn on one another. 

The flip side to this trope is also on full display in Sweet Home. That is to say that the very best traits of humanity are displayed. Whether that is an old man befriending the only remaining children in the building, or the unscrupulous sycophant taking time to help someone besides himself, the show takes the time to show these moments and relish in them. 

Monstrous Sound

I don’t know if this needed a whole section with a heading and everything, but I really enjoyed the soundtrack to this show. I mean, the sound design was also pretty impressive, but it was the music that really got me. 

There is one song in particular (“Warriors” by Imagine Dragons) that plays in almost every episode, and I love it every time it comes on. It’s always in the climatic moments, and it punctuates them perfectly. 

I can honestly say that my enjoyment of the show is probably 80% all of the other stuff, 20% that song at the correct moment.

A Conundrum 

One of the most frustrating things about Sweet Home is the visual effects. Conversely, it’s one of my favorite parts. You see, there is a strange disparity between different scenes and the special effects—or lack thereof. 

Sometimes, a scene is framed perfectly and the effects are amazing, if somewhat stylized. Other times it’s kind of a hot mess. The effects become janky and the framing is off. This can lead to certain parts of the show feeling a little cheesy in a story that seems, for the most part, to be trying to take itself pretty seriously.

This can also affect the impact of some of the monsters. Sometimes they are absolutely terrifying, and at other times, well this…

Hopefully the effects are slightly more consistent in the second season.

Home Sweet…

Overall, Sweet Home is a pretty solid show. They made the characters a little more grounded and serious than the comic—and also diverged wildly from the comic’s story about halfway through the show—but for the subject matter, it fits. There are some issues—I’m looking at you, Song Kang and your one note face—but they never diminished the enjoyment I received from watching people fight monsters with little more than grit.

I’m giving Sweet Home a monstrous 7.5/10 for… 

…Did you hear that… I think… 

Ah crap my nose is bleeding.

Got to go. 

Late to the Game Reviews, Video Game Reviews

Late to the Game – Ashen: A Light in the Darkness

Ashen is an action-RPG / Soulsborne game from New Zealand developer A44, and published by Annapurna Interactive. It was released back in 2018 to what I would consider a moderate amount of critical acclaim.

I’ll be honest, I’m not really the biggest fan of the Soulsborne genre.

I wonder why?

Though I do play Soulsborne games occasionally, I’ve never played Demon’s Soul, or any of the Dark Souls games (I know, them’s fighting words).

The crushing difficulty of most Soulsborne games can be somewhat— read: insanely — exclusionary. I like a good challenge, but at the end of the day, fighting the same boss seventy-five times is just not something I find inherently entertaining.

Don’t get me wrong, Hollow Knight is one of my all time favorite games, but I love it because I love the art and the story, not because I had to fight Hornet 85,000 times.

Ashen was enough like Hollow Knight to pique my interest.

I know I’m late to the game by about… two years; give or take a few months… but I decided to buy Ashen after I recently stumbled upon the trailer. It had such an intriguing atmosphere about it that I felt compelled to give it a try. 

Now that I’ve finally managed to finish it — without breaking my controller — I can give you a rundown on the best, and worst, parts of this charmingly infuriating game. 

Let There Be Light

The story of Ashen is subtle and yet it permeates every aspect of the game. 

It starts with a creation myth. An Ashen (a bird) brought light into the world and perched upon Yggdrasil (the world tree) for a millennia. When its end drew near, it released its final breaths and its light began to fade. In this dying light the three great ages began.

Gives the term “bird breath” a whole new meaning!

You take control of your character just as a new Ashen is born and light has once more returned to the world. You are then charged with finding and protecting the new Ashen from the Elder Dark, beings who would destroy the fledgling beast and have darkness reign for eternity.

Not only do I love creation myths, but I also enjoy the fact that the whole game feels true to this mythology. The further you get from the place of the ashen’s birth, the less light there is, and the closer, the brighter and more alive things feel.

I also liked that your quest is to save this new light. I feel like other games would have had you groping through the dark to find the Ashen’s egg and start the new age, but Ashen chose to have your journey begin along with the new age. 

It’s a little thing, but it made me smile from time to time. 

An Ashen Darkley

My absolute favorite part of Ashen was it’s aesthetic. The characters look like moving Willow Tree figurines.

So, both terrifying and beautiful

The same can be said for the environment. The style is simplistic, but there is enough added detail that it never feels devoid of personality. It’s actually the exact opposite. Even the bleakest areas of the game are rife with atmosphere.

This is most true in the dark, twisting corridors of the game’s many caves and caverns, where the only light source is your trusty lantern.  While it can be incredibly unnerving to traverse these areas, I also found myself in awe of how the lighting and design worked so well together. It didn’t matter that I jumped out of my skin every time a shadow shrieked from the abyss and clawed my eyes out; I wanted to explore more.

In fact, one of my biggest complaints about Ashen is that it was too short. I wanted to see more of it’s world, and I was sad when it was over.

A Friend In Need

One of Ashen’s best/worst features is the AI companion who accompanies you on all your quests. This is especially nice given the game’s crushing difficulty. 

Basically, whenever you get a quest from an NPC, they will accompany you on said quest. This is fantastic in a lot of ways. It gives you some extra damage and a person to hold your enemies’ attention so you can mete out attacks with impunity. Your companion will even carry a lantern in dark areas, giving you the opportunity to use a two handed weapon or a shield if you want to.

Now, the AI companion is decidedly not the greatest in all situations. When you fall in battle, they have the option to try and revive you. It is an exquisite kind of hell to watch your AI buddy try and figure out what they should do. Sometimes, they try to revive you while a horde of enemies is right on top of them, and other times they refuse to save you even if they have all the time in the world. 

It’s like this.

Sometimes, they do get their shit together and manage to pick you back up, but this rarely seemed to happen, especially later in the game. 

The AI in my game also had a terrible habit that left me screaming obscenities into the void more often than I care to remember. On more than one occasion, they would simply jump to their deaths for seemingly no reason. I would make a simple jump to a nearby platform, and my companion would gear up to make the jump… and simply fall off the map, leaving me stranded at the bottom of a dungeon with no backup.

A Friend Indeed

There is another option for companionship, in case you’re not into the whole AI-buddy system. You can leave your game open, and another player will drop into your game in place of the AI. 

I, however, did not have the best experience with this system, to say the least. 

I only tried it twice. My first buddy was amazing. They signaled their intent and direction, they stayed nearby, and we fought everything together, making light work of some tough enemies, or enemy encounters.

Immediately after they logged off, I was saddled with someone who had no respect for cooperation. They immediately bolted through swathes of enemies, fighting exactly none of them. Before I even realized what was going on, I suddenly had a gang of creatures who were on their way back to their previous positions chasing me all at once. 

It did not end well.

I immediately locked the multiplayer feature and decided that the somewhat suicidal AI was better than randomly grouping with someone who had no intention of working together. 

It Takes a Village

There were a couple of things in Ashen that were a pleasant surprise simply based on what I had seen in the trailer. 

The first surprise is that the game is fully voiced. Given its minimalistic appearance and overall austerity, I was expecting a silent game — something along the lines of Journey or Abzu. Instead, everyone has a voice, even the random traders you meet in the depths of the world.

At first I didn’t know what to make of the voices. I felt a little like Ashen had betrayed my expectations. But about an hour in, I realized how crazy that was and found an appreciation for the voice acting. 

The second surprise was how the starting area changes over the course of the game. What starts as a vagrant camp that you clear of enemies so that you can save for the first time slowly turns into a village as you progress. I barely noticed at first, but eventually the ragtag assortment of tents becomes a thriving little community.

Seriously. It came out of nowhere.

I’m not sure why, but seeing the town’s progress every time I returned to upgrade my equipment quickly became one of the highlights of my playthrough. 

The End of The Tunnel 

Overall, Ashen is an engaging game that often made me want to smash my controller. It was hauntingly beautiful and bleak in the best possible ways. Could the companion AI use some work? Yes. But having them with me throughout the game gave me a small amount of comfort when I was lost in the bowels of darkness.

Though it could have been longer, it did well not to overstay its welcome.

I’m giving Ashen a glimmering 8.5/10 for both being exactly what it needed to be, and for being more than I expected. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to what I was doing before: shouting obscenities into the pit that my AI companion fell into. I know it won’t bring them back, but it makes me feel better. 

TV Show Reviews

NOS4A2: Inscape From Reality

NOS4A2 (pronounced Nosferatu) is a supernatural drama that airs on AMC and is available to stream on Hulu. It is based on the novel of the same name written by Joe Hill, son of authors Steven and Tabitha King (and author of Horns, which we reviewed previously).

NOS4A2 follows Victoria “Vic” McQueen, a young artist who struggles with her place in the world. She wants to go to art school, but her mother wants her to work for the family business. Her father, on the other hand, supports her in all things, but the bruises on her mother’s face lead her to suspect he’s not the man she idolizes.

When her usual escape from a tumultuous homelife brings forth a surprising supernatural ability, it puts her on the radar of Charlie Manx; a vampire of a different color. He lures children into his Rolls Royce Wraith (license plate NOS4A2) and uses it to drain them of their souls. Once the child has been drained completely, he leaves the creature that remains in Christmasland; a twisted village where it’s Christmas everyday and only “nice” children may enter.

Naughty children need not apply

I wish that I’d gotten that description of the show when I first saw it on Hulu, but I looked at the jumble of a title and the brief description that was far too vague and made a hard pass. I’m a little disappointed in myself, because now that I’ve seen the show, I was actually impressed with how it turned out. 

There Is No Inscape

Vic and Manx are “Strong Creatives.” These individuals are able to create and use Inscapes, which are basically parts of their imagination that manifest in the real world. In order to effectively use these Inscapes, a strong creative has to use a “Knife,” which is generally an object of importance to the Creative.

I don’t know what my inscape would be, but this is definitely my “knife.”

Vic’s inscape is an old covered bridge called “The Shorter Way” that allows her to find lost things.

It sounds a lot more convenient than it actually is.

The bridge only takes her to the general vicinity of the thing she wants to find, and actually traversing it causes several negative side effects. Fluid and pressure build up in her left eye, and she gets a whopping fever that can leave her incapacitated for days. 

What I like about this system of Knives, Inscapes, and Creatives, is how it frames the characters. It makes each character’s power an extension of themselves that’s more than your generic “they’re angry all the time so their power is fire.” 

At one point, Manx is looking for Vic, and the only thing he knows about her is what her inscape is. From that one piece of information, he is able to divine a great deal about her.

Building Character

While the story is ostensibly about a psychic teenager fighting a vampire chauffeur, the interpersonal relationships are where NOS4A2 is at its strongest. Watching Vic deal with her train-wreck of a family while fighting with an immortal, soul-sucking Christmas elf is what makes the show worthwhile. Without the intermingling of these two elements, we’re left with either a depressing family drama, or another season of October Faction… and no one wants that.

The rest of the cast is just as broken, and therefore just as interesting, as the main character. There is:

  • Maggie, a strong creative and recovering drug addict who is trying to find one of the children that Manx kidnapped
  • Bing, a neuro-atypical custodial worker who ends up working for Manx, and…
  • Jolene, septuagenarian and Strong Creative who failed to stop Manx several decades before the show began.

Charlie Manx, the series antagonist, is a great bad guy. He’s well spoken, generally friendly, and completely insane. He’s one of those bad guys that absolutely thinks he’s in the right. He believes that he is “Saving” all of the children he’s abducted from their “terrible” parents.

The level of intensity Manx brings into his delusion allows him to steal the show in any given scene. I attribute this to the excellent acting of Zachary Quintos, but I’ll also own the fact that Manx stands out because he is one of those characters you love to hate. Every time he came on screen, I was both glad to see him and actively hoping that someone would shoot him in the face. 

So yeah… the characters are pretty great. 

Outscape

While there are elements of the show that are somewhat awkward, and the pacing is sometimes broken up in weird ways, NOS4A2 is pretty solid. It might not be the greatest drama to come out of AMC, but it stands firm on its own and shows a willingness to try something different. 

I’m giving NOS4A2 a 7/10 for putting a different spin on vampires.

I will, however, leave you with my main gripe about the show. 

Charlie Manx has fashioned his entire life around “Saving” children. He absolutely believes that he is doing the right thing, and that he is the good guy in the story…but if that’s true, why is his license plate NOS4A2? He never refers to himself as a vampire, or acknowledges that what he’s doing is vampiric. So why would he have a license plate that acknowledges what he is? It should say something about Christmas or something since that’s what his whole persona is built upon.

Instead it clearly shows that he knows what he is, and what he’s doing, or at least has enough self awareness to request that specific vanity plate from the DMV. Is it a joke?… Does he get a chuckle out of it?

Whatever the reason, it does make for an interesting title to the show. I just wish it had been something else, because this stupid vanity plate is keeping me up at night.

Video Game Reviews

Remnant: From The Ashes – A Forward Thinking Throwback

Remnant: From the Ashes is a third-person action RPG that was created by Gunfire Games and published by Perfect World Entertainment. It was released in August of 2019, and by all accounts it was a game I really should have played when it first came out. 

I’m not sure what exactly happened, or why I missed its release, but it is a crying shame that I did. The only reason I can actually give a review of this game is because it was one of the free games this month for Playstation Plus. I would, however, consider it worth the asking price of $39.99, or even the 49.99 for the complete edition which includes two full DLC’s that add some worthwhile content.

Unlike others that will remain… nameless…

I’m going to jump right into what makes this game great, but first I offer a quick comparison that will likely grab the attention of a lot of early 2000’s gamers: Remnant is basically the third-person-shooter equivalent of Diablo II. 

A Magical Apocalypse

The story of Remnant was largely inconsequential to my base enjoyment of the game. You can pick it up, play through the entire thing, and enjoy every minute of it without really seeing the story. However, if you do ignore the story, you are doing yourself a disservice. This is because Remnant actually has some pretty deep lore that is largely hidden in the computer terminals and occasional journals you can find strewn throughout the world.

Without getting into too much detail, there was basically an apocalypse in the late 1960’s which was linked to the discovery of — and experimentation on — several large crystals. An entity, or entities, known as “The Root” infiltrated our world, and thus, the extermination of all life began.

Though, according to some, this happens all the time

The game begins roughly eighty years after this catastrophic event. You are a survivor from a remote settlement of humans, tasked with traveling to a tower above an atoll and destroying the evil that lurks there. 

That’s the gist of the info that the game spoon feeds to you. However, if you choose to read all the information provided throughout the game, you get a much more in depth understanding of exactly what happened after the discovery of the crystals, as well as how insidious the Root truly are. 

While you don’t have to seek out this knowledge, I highly recommend that you do. It elevates an already great game to another level entirely. 

Always to the East

Now, I’d like to get to my assertion that Remnant is basically a third person shooter version of Diablo II. While this is extremely true, keep in mind that Remnant is its own game and shines on its own merits.

The similarities are glaring. You traverse several worlds that are all largely procedurally generated with each new playthrough. There is, of course, the co-op element, which makes both games more enjoyable. And lastly is the immense replayability of both games. 

Then come the differences.

The first, and foremost, of which is that Remnant is a third person shooter, and a solid one at that. The play action is smooth, responsive, and can be a chaotic sort of fun. 

The second difference is that Remnant carries some elements of the Soulsborne genre within it. You can only save at checkpoints and, if you die, you will go back to the checkpoint and all of your enemies will have respawned. This can make the game almost controller-shatteringly hard on occasion, but ultimately makes your successes that much more rewarding.

You will, however, get sick of this screen

The biggest, and most evident, difference was that every weapon or piece of armor in the game can be used at any level. Basically, if you acquire a weapon, it can always be used throughout the entire game.

Each weapon, or piece of armor, has a level ranging from one to twenty. So, you can take your starting weapon to the last boss and light him up if you so choose, as long as you’ve upgraded that weapon accordingly. This also means that you receive fewer weapons throughout your playthrough than you would with something like Diablo II, but when you do receive a weapon, it is ultimately more rewarding than the thousands of weapons you pick up and sell in a game like Diablo.

Please Stand By

While I do praise the world design, which is really quite good, there are some glaring flaws with this game that can be hard to overlook, depending on what’s important to you. 

The character models of the people of Ward 13, your homebase, can be a little lacking. In fact, I felt like I was playing a PS3-era game when I first started out. I mean, the graphics aren’t stellar in general, but the puppet mouths of the vendors in the ward leave a lot to be desired.

Seen here: actual footage of the item vendor.

The cutscenes also have some issues with artifacting, and the animations could have used a lot more TLC. This lead to every single cutscene looking off in ways that I find hard to describe.

For me, the biggest issue was with hair. It was… floaty, and seemed to leave behind a fuzzy sort of after-image. While this did not impact the gameplay at all, and the cutscenes were few and far between, it was still something that broke my immersion and made me question what the heck I was looking at. 

I will say that one of the characters added for the Subject 2923 expansion had a solid design that looked commensurate with at least the PS4 era of gaming.

The most egregious issue with this game is the map. While it is servicable in many ways, there are some things about it that made me shake my head in confusion. For example, there is no way to view any other section of the map, other than the place where you are. So, you can’t ever see what areas connect to where you’re standing. 

Another issue involving the map is that the only way to tell what area you’re actually in is by resting at a checkpoint. This is also the only way to tell that you are in a dungeon. This means that if your objective is to travel to “The Wasteland,” you would only know that you’re in “The Wasteland” if you actually go there and rest at a checkpoint. This can leave you backtracking more often than you would like. 

Consequences of Death

I did mention earlier that Remnant is a bit Soulsbourne-ish. This means that there is an inherent level of difficulty that is not for all players. This can be curbed, or exacerbated, with a couple of friends, but ultimately, if you are playing alone, you might find yourself hitting a wall that cannot be surmounted.

See?! The Cliffs of Inanity!

The nice thing about Remnant, however, is that the only consequence of death is that you have to go back to the last checkpoint. You don’t lose money, experience, or items. In fact, you only gain those things in the process. Enemies will continue to drop money, and you will continue to get experience for killing them. This means you can get stronger by continuing to die.

The enemies also scale with you, so it can still be tough, but you can — sort of — dig yourself out of the hole. 

There is, however, another option you could consider if you find yourself up against something you can’t seem to defeat…

The Re-Roll

Probably the game’s standout feature, at least to me, was the ability to re-roll your campaign. What this means is that you can reset the game to a zero status. It wipes out all of your progress through the story, but allows you to keep your character as-is. Now, this might sound like taking the nuclear option, but hear me out. 

Remnant has multiple bosses, mini-bosses, and dungeons that do not manifest with every playthrough. I played through the opening world twice and got different dungeons each time, and at least two bosses in the second playthrough that I had not seen in the first playthrough. This makes a huge difference, because most of the weapons in the game come from specific bosses. So, re-rolling your game allows you to attempt to get new weapons with which to kill whatever was giving you trouble before…

Of course, it also means that you may not even encounter the thing that killed you a couple hundred times. 

Along with the re-roll, you also have the option to enter Adventure Mode. While completely re-rolling your game wipes out any progress you have made so far, Adventure Mode does not. It allows you to keep your place in the story, and go off and have an adventure.

Come on, grab your friends

Basically, it allows you to play through one of the game’s available worlds from start to finish. This means that if you were looking for a specific boss to acquire a specific weapon, you don’t have to play through the whole game if you don’t want to. Simply go into Adventure Mode and lay waste until you get what you’re looking for. 

Serenity Among Ashes

Overall, Remnant: From the Ashes is an amazing title that managed to walk a razor’s edge between a myriad of different games without being a clone of any of them. The combat is brutal and the bosses are completely unforgiving, but each piece of hard-won gear you acquire is that much more rewarding because of your struggle.

Even the story, which could be considered superfluous, is lovingly crafted, though largely relegated to journal entries and audio logs. Though there were some issues—looking at you, map—it is a game well worth playing. 

I’m giving Remnant: From the Ashes a inspiring 8.5/10 because it managed to ignite nostalgia in me while also moving the genre forward in some remarkable ways.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and reset the whole of the cosmos because there is a pistol that I want to get. So, if you start to feel some déjà vu, that’s probably why.  

Video Game Reviews

Mosaic: Don’t Quit your Day Job

Mosaic is a game that I’d been eyeing on the Playstation Network for a while. It looked like it had something to say (as opposed to a game like Shadow Warrior, which is just an excuse to cut up bad guys with a katana). Unfortunately, it was twenty dollars, and I just wasn’t willing to shell out that kind of cash for a two hour game.

Can’t tell if worth the cost… or waste of money

When I saw it on sale for ten bucks, I finally decided to grab it up and give it a chance.

What I ended up with was a game that did have something to say, although it probably could have said it better. 

A Face in the Crowd

In Mosaic, you take control of a corporate drone over the course of a work week. 

He wakes in a dimly lit apartment with little-to-no personality. You barely manage to drag him out of bed and get him cleaned up before having him shuffle out the door. From there, it’s down the elevator, through the lobby, and off to work.

One of the strongest aspects of this game is how Krillbite Studio used their soundtrack and simplistic art style to inject large doses of existential dread into these moments. When he’s brushing his teeth, a deep low sound reverberates almost oppressively as he stares listlessly into the mirror.  When you run into other people, they lack facial features, which makes for an awkward elevator ride.

Imagine riding twenty floors with this guy.

By the time you make it out onto the street, you begin to feel like the only “real” person, while everyone else feels like set dressing.

Late for a very important date

Each day of the game focuses on a particular part of the main character’s journey to the office. Day one is merely leaving your building, while day two is the walk to the train station, and so on. 

As you sojourn toward your place of employment, you pass gray buildings, gray streets, and monochromatic signs advertising mind-numbing phone games. Everything is relentless in its same-ness, to the point where it becomes almost painful to look at.

It’s all… gray-t.

If you bother to check your phone at any point during the trip–one of the few actions you can take in the game–you will be greeted with texts from people simply labeled “Friend” or “Work.” Texts from friends contain reminders that you can’t really be friends if you’re not playing the same phone games, while the ones from work state that if you are late a couple more times you will be immediately terminated.

A Glimmer of Hope

Interspersed throughout the slog to work are moments of respite from the doldrums of everyday life. 

These moments are filled with light and color, and serve as food for the soul of the corporate drone, allowing him an escape from the prison that is his reality. 

After all of the grey, it’s kinda like this.

Whether it’s helping a cat down from a tree (and seeing parts of the city explode and collapse), or watching a butterfly flutter playfully about a construction site, each of these small moments allows him to take a breath for himself instead of going with the flow of the crowd. 

Glitch in the Matrix

Unfortunately, much of the game is riddled with bugs and other issues. 

There were several times where I had to repeat a section of the game because my way forward was blocked by an invisible wall. There was also some stuttering, which wouldn’t have been too bad except that it happened every three seconds or so. This caused me to constantly over- or under-shoot anything that I was aiming for.

Swing and a Miss

There were also some issues with collision that would cause me to phase through walls or windows. This did lead to a hilarious moment where I was trapped in a storefront next to a mannequin, but was ultimately detrimental to the rest of my playthrough. 

Striking Yet Flawed

No one likes going to work… well almost no one. Mosaic manages to capture the feeling of not wanting to go to work and distill it into a two hour game. That’s probably the best thing I can say about it. 

It’s riddled with bugs, and despite its best efforts, the game’s message about conformity and breaking free to do what makes you happy is hamfistedlly shoved in your face. While it occasionally manages some amazing “cinematography,” has some great set pieces, and its symbolism can be completely on point, Mosaic never really manages to be the game it aspires to be. 

I’m giving it a dreary 5.5/10.

Also FUCK BLIP-BLOP. I wanted all the trophies, but a trillion blops is asking way too much. 

Late to the Game Reviews, Video Game Reviews

Late to the Game: Katana Zero–Fast Frenetic Fun

Katana Zero is a 2D action platformer game that came out in April of 2019. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I missed this title when it first dropped. I did see something about it near the beginning of 2020, but I figured I would get to it eventually.

I said “eventually.”

Sometimes, when I get to a game that has been out for a number of years, I can find it underwhelming. This is especially true if someone has taken the formula of the original game and improved upon it, or created something entirely new with the same premise. While I will say that it is unfortunate that I waited so long to play Katana Zero, I will also say that it has in no way diminished this game in my eyes.

So, for the gamers who sometimes don’t have the cash to buy a game when it first comes out, who are inundated with other games to play, or have too many responsibilities, I’ve taken the time to see if this game is worth your time and money two years later. 

Live / Die / Repeat

Katana Zero takes place in a Cyberpunk Neo-Noir future. You play as Subject Zero, a katana-wielding amnesiac who works as an assassin for a mysterious organization. 

Zero has two abilities that make him uniquely suited to be an assassin. 

The first is time dilation. He can slow down time, allowing him a level of speed and accuracy that far exceeds that of a normal human. This is used to slow down the frenetic action sequences and give yourself some time to breathe as you figure out how to deal with the onslaught of bullets.

Just call me Neo

While this ability is helpful, it runs out quickly and takes some time to replenish. I often found myself opting not to use it until it became absolutely necessary to do so. 

The second ability is precognition. You see, death comes swiftly in Katana Zero. One hit, and you die. That’s it. Precognition allows Zero to see the results of any action he takes before he takes it. This essentially means that he can see all possible outcomes to any given situation. When you are playing the game, you are simply playing out those possibilities until you find one that allows you to succeed.

When you do finally complete an area without dying, you are shown security footage of your perfect run. The best part about this is that it does the run at full speed, leaving out any time dilation and making you look like a complete badass. 

A Marriage of Form and Function

What is, hands down, my favorite aspect of Katana Zero is how the gameplay mechanics affect the story, and vice versa. 

Zero’s time dilation and precognition are used to facilitate the storytelling. Sometimes you’ll be in the middle of a mission and it might cut back to an earlier point in the game to show you that Zero essentially lives in a reality unstuck from time itself. You can never truly tell where or when he is in the story because of this. 

How Zero must feel, like, ALL the time

The precognition also lends itself to some very well-done scenes. These include scenes where you play with dialog and death, and others where your security footage playbacks are used to interesting effect. If I went into any more detail it would likely spoil the fun, but needless to say I was very impressed with the way the story used Zero’s abilities. 

The cherry on the top of everything is that Katana Zero is an absolute joy to play. The controls are responsive and tight, and the gameplay is fluid and easy to learn. There is a level of skill involved, as later sections of the game require pinpoint accuracy and impeccable timing, so that’s something to be aware of before purchasing the game.

Though sometimes dying is half the fun.

I will say that there are a couple of levels where you need to use a stealth mechanic that is, unfortunately, not as fun as bandying about cutting people down with your sword. These sections weren’t exactly bad, but I felt that they broke up the action in a weird way. 

What’s There to Talk About? 

Another aspect of the game that I found truly interesting was the way dialog was presented.

You don’t just get one or two dialog options per interaction. Instead, you start off with one off-the-cuff answer that usually derails whatever the other person was going to say.

Baba Booey Baba Booey Baba Booey

If you wait long enough, however, you’ll open up some other options that might yield more information… and they probably won’t piss off the person who’s talking quite as much.

While most of the dialog options never really lead to any big changes within the game, it was a nice way to spice things up when you weren’t running around killing everything that moves. 

Disjointed

While I have already mentioned a couple of times that I really like how the story is told, I also enjoyed the story itself. It may not be the greatest story ever, but it hits some highs–and lows–that I found pretty impactful.

It reminds me of films like The Man From Nowhere or Safe. Basically, a guy with an unknown, yet violent, past kills his ways through an army of faceless bad guys.

Like So.

The only real difference between those movies and this game is that in the movies, the guy is protecting a small child, whereas the game merely has Zero hanging out with one from time to time. 

I also enjoyed that the game wasn’t told in a strictly linear way. There are dream sequences that might be flashbacks, flashbacks that might be inaccurate, and even some future flashes. While it can be confusing, I never found these aspects to be unwelcome. In fact, sometimes the best parts were me staring blankly at the screen trying to figure out what, exactly, was going on. 

Final Cut

Overall, Katana Zero is a game you should not miss out on. The story, while short, is told in a unique and interesting way, and holds a surprising amount of emotional weight. The gameplay is phenomenal, with fast-paced action and pixel-perfect controls. And the game itself is a near perfect combination of the two.

I’m giving Katana Zero a stylish 9/10 for being unapologetically cool with its retro aesthetic and neo-noir setting, and for not only attempting some risky design elements, but for pulling them off without a hitch. 

Overall, Katana Zero is a game you should not miss out on. The story, while short… is fantastic…and… and told in a… unique… have we done this before?