Video Game Reviews

Biomutant: A Deleterious Mutation

Biomutant is an open-world action-RPG developed by Experiment 101 and published by THQ Nordic.

The game takes place long after the end of humanity, and small anthropomorphic mammals have become the dominant species. You play as one such creature who has been tasked with saving, or destroying, the Tree-of-Life. You’ve also been tasked with uniting all the tribes of the world, and taking down your parents’ murderer.

Let’s just say that there is a lot on your “to do list.” 

I remember seeing quite a bit of information about this game a few years ago, and I was pretty excited by what I saw. It was going to have your characters look reflected by their stats. So, high agility would result in a lankier appearance, while high strength would create someone a little beefier. I also remember seeing that kung-fu was somehow involved, as were giant monsters, and giant mechs.

Basically, I was sold from the get go. 

Then time passed and I sort of forgot about Biomutant. I’d see something about it every now and then, but largely, it fell by the wayside.

When it finally dropped on the Playstation Store, I suddenly remembered everything I’d seen and heard about it, and bought it right away.

This was a…

I’m not sure why he’s an opera singer

I’d like to let you know why, so you don’t make the same one.

Sound and Fury

Biomutant’s story is a confusing mess, and is arguably its worst aspect.

The game starts with your character casually using a puddle of hazardous waste to mutate one of their hands. You then go through a tutorial of sorts where you fight an invincible monster in order to learn the basics of combat.

When that’s over, you make your way through a bunker while occasionally fighting the odd bad guy. 

However, once you run into Out-of-Date—a wheelchair-bound old man—you get a lot of information all at once. 

He tells you that you are, apparently, the offspring of some great warrior who once united all the tribes. Unfortunately, all the tribes split up again when she was murdered. 

So now you need to unite the tribes again. 

Also, Out-of-Date planted a Tree-of-Life when he was younger, and now the Tree-of-Life is dying, so the world is dying with it? 

Maybe? 

It’s a little unclear how that works, but he does instruct you to kill four giant monsters that are destroying the roots of the Tree-of-Life.

So, you need to unite all the tribes, and save the world… unless you don’t want to do that. Out-of-Date is pretty upfront about the fact that you can choose to destroy the Tree-of-Life and be a bad guy, and that it’s a perfectly legitimate choice to make.

Oh, also, that guy you fought in the tutorial? He was the guy who killed your parents, and he’ll show up occasionally to try and mess you up.

I know that stories in open-world games can be a little dicey sometimes, but this heap of exposition and plot points is extremely jarring. Out-of-Date, in one info dump, gives you all your main quests and then appoints you savior/destroyer because your mom was important. 

The story doesn’t get any more coherent. In fact, it kind of devolves from there. 

A Nettlesome Narrator

One thing I thought I was really going to like about Biomutant was the narrator. The soft spoken british voice was welcome in the opening, and hearing him use words like “Jumbo Puff” and “Brown Bobs” was hilarious. 

However, it soon became pretty apparent that the narrator was not injecting the game with personality. He was, in fact, sucking it out.

Like a cheery British dementor

I think it came down to the fact that with him voicing over every single character, every single character became a soft-spoken british guy. It didn’t matter how crazy the characters looked, or acted, all of them had the same voice to define them.

There was also the matter of him interrupting the flow of events. He was scripted to say things at specific times. When the sun rises, he says some platitute about light being good, which is fine. It’s less fine, however, when you’re in the middle of ransacking an enemy settlement and he says “Ah, light has come to the world” or “feel the sun on your face.”

It was really weird and he needed to cut it out.

Now, I’m not saying that this kind of narration can’t work. I think it worked very well in Maneater. The shark’s actions in that game were given a voice and personality by the very talented Chris Parnell, and it worked perfectly with the documentary feel that the game was going for. 

Unfortunately, when you take away the voice of a cast of characters — who actually have their own personalities– you do them a disservice by washing over everything with that same documentary-ish voiceover. 

Fortunately, the latest patch for Biomutant sort of remedied this by giving you the option to turn off the narrator. I honestly haven’t tried it since then, but it can’t have been anything but an improvement.

Meh To Combat

The combat in Biomutant was abysmal for a number of reasons. 

The first and foremost is the fact that stats didn’t seem to matter… like at all.

The first character I created was a Psy-Freak with an intellect of 50, which seemed high at the time. I chose Psy-Freaks because they start off with an electric bolt attack and I wanted to capitalize on it for the early game. Unfortunately, with an intellect of 50, the bolt did middling damage. 

So, I started over and created a Psy-Freak with an intellect of 100… and the bolt still did middling damage. I was a little disappointed, but I attributed this to the fact that it was still the beginning of the game. I would assuredly get stronger later, right?

Halfway through the game, all of my psy-powers were still doing middling damage and they never seemed to get much stronger no matter how many points I put into intelect. In fact, I did as much damage with my two handed weapon and 20 overall strength as I did with over 200 intellect and a bolt of lightning.

This was the most egregious of all my issues with the combat but there were others… which I shall now list. 

  • No good way to lock onto an enemy
  • All the fights felt the same
  • Enemies would reset if you got more than a few feet from where the fight started
  • There was no urgency to fights (I never felt engaged or challenged)
  • Did I mention that all the fights felt the same?
  • My attacks lacked weight, so I didn’t feel like I was doing any damage. 

There were more issues, but I can heap them under one word. 

The combat was “floaty.”

With combat out of the way we can move on to… 

The Other Terrible Things About This Game

  • The way you upgrade your automaton (a little bug robot that helps you out)  is with weird flashbacks given by a “mirage” that you must “catch.” However, it is neither a mirage nor does it run… so you just talk to a guy and he lets you pick whichever upgrade you want for no particular reason.
  • Most quest objectives are in hazardous areas, and the only way to get through the area is with a specific item, which is usually hidden in another hazardous area… and the only way to get through the area is with another item which is in another restricted area.
  • The NPCs kept giving me shit for wanting to save the world. They kept saying stuff like “Why are you trying to save the world you idiot? Let it burn.” Which is disheartening when you hear it from half the people you run into.
  • My giant mech did far less damage than my character did on foot (Pre upgrades). 
  • The in-game cutscenes were very poorly shot and animated. They literally looked like Playstation 1 cutscenes, but with better graphics.

I’ll stop there because I feel like I’ve badmouthed the game enough for the moment. I’d like to get to the two things I actually like about Biomutant. 

Two Rights Wont Save a Game

The first thing I like about Biomutant is the aesthetic. It’s not perfect, but it is pretty. 

I like the bright colors, I like the somewhat stylized look of everything, and I like the way they meshed post-apocalyptic junk with little fuzzy animals. One of my few joys while playing this game was running around to take a look at everything.

Unfortunately, once you start looking around, you realize that even though there are places to explore, the impetus to get lost and wander is very low. Most places have a few items to grab, and maybe a puzzle to solve, but I never felt the need to explore, which is paramount in an open-world game. 

The other thing I liked was the way you crafted in-game weapons. In fact, this was probably the highlight of the game for me. 

You start off with a base weapon part to which you attach a handle and some random odds and ends that increase things like damage and armor piercing. When you’re done, you simply hit craft and—bam—you come out of the creation menu like…

Again, the system isn’t perfect. You only find so many parts for weapons, and can only put them together in so many ways, so it gets repetitive pretty quickly. However, I can see the potential in this type of crafting system. If Experiment 101 had expanded this aspect, and tightened up the combat, they might have created something worthwhile.

Nonsense Mutation

Overall, Biomutant was not good. It was a hot mess of elements thrown together in the hopes that it would make a decent game. The story lacked direction and weight, so it slid all over the place. The combat was so lackluster that I have a hard time describing why it’s so lackluster. And the overall experience was sub-par to the point that I think my mind is actively purging anything related to Biomutant

Hopefully, my mind leaves enough behind that I know never to play it again.

I’m giving Biomutant a malignant 3/10. I found a couple of things to enjoy in this game, and other people may even find things they love. However, to me, it’s not worth the time or the asking price.

I usually like to end with a little joke that calls back to something about the game, or to an earlier part of the post—like this time I was going to do something with forgetting about the game and “wondering if I should give it another try”—but I’m just going to end by saying this: 

Do yourself a favor and don’t buy Biomutant.

Late to the Game Reviews, Video Game Reviews

Late To The Game: Bloodborne—Fear The Old Blood…Borne

Bloodborne is the From Software game that put the “borne” in Soulsborne. It was released in 2015 to massive critical acclaim (and the sound of every gamer in the world screaming obscenities at their televisions).

I did not play Bloodborne when it was first released… 

Actually, until recently I’d never played any From Software game. Everyone was always going on and on and on about how hard they were and how many controllers had been laid to rest as a result. So, naturally I avoided them like the plague.

Then, in early 2018, Bloodborne was one of the free Playstation games of the month, so I thought I’d give it a try.

I barely played it for a couple of hours before turning it off. I can only die to regular mobs so many times before I understand my limitations. Also, I’m not that much of a glutton for punishment…

…or I wasn’t, until I played a little game called Hollow Knight. It wasn’t From Software, but that little gem taught me what it was to hone your skills through many deaths and the feel of victory over what seemed insurmountable odds. 

Cut to a couple of weeks ago, and my dad called me and says “Hey, have you played Bloodborne.” To which I said “Yeah, for like an hour and then I shut it off.” 

Well, he’d been playing it recently and he convinced me to give it a try. 

Now that I’ve finally managed to beat it, let me give some perspective to some others who might have been a little gun shy simply because of its reputation or it’s pedigree. 

Not For Everyone

I’m going to start my review with a big old truth-bomb. This game is not for everyone. There are multiple reasons for this. 

The first would be, surprisingly, the genre and setting. You see Bloodborne is… well it’s gross, scary, unsettling, and did I say gross? Well it’s gross. I could use words like atmospheric and whatnot—which it is—but overall it’s a very stressful game because of how tension-inducing it is. People averse to body horror or jump scares should probably stay away. 

Then there is, unsurprisingly, the game’s crippling difficulty. It’s a hard game. There is no getting around that. The first mandatory boss you run into will eviscerate you more times than you can count, especially if you’ve never played a Soulsborne game before. 

This can be more than discouraging. It’s where the term “git good” comes from. While a bit derogatory, it sums up the series pretty well. You will either come to understand the game’s mechanics and acclimate accordingly, or you won’t. 

There is no shame in turning it off & walking away before THIS happens.

I, myself, was defeated by pretty much every boss several times. Every time a new boss would stomp me into the ground before I could even blink, I would immediately get melodramatic and think to myself “I’ll never beat this boss” or “I’m going to be stuck here forever,” but a few tries later I would start to understand what it took to survive. 

Finally, I will cite the game’s lack of hand-holding as a barrier for entry. 

Did I say lack of hand-holding? I meant to cite the Spartan way it kicks you out into the shit and smiles and waves as a werewolf rips out your intestines. 

Sure, there are notes you can read in the Hunter’s Dream, but there are things I’m still learning about this game after having beaten it that would have made my playthrough easier.

The Unseen Story

The story of Bloodborne is largely unimportant to the gameplay. So much so that you could play through the entire game and realize that you have no clue what the hell just happened. I’m still trying to piece it together, though thanks to some well-made Youtube videos, I’ve gotten the gist of it. 

Basically what I’m saying is that if you are looking for a narrative-driven game, look elsewhere. However, if you like to earn your story, this is definitely the game for you.

To fully understand the scope of Bloodborne’s story, you’ll need to read every item description, find every message, fight every boss, and fully explore every area (including the completely optional chalice dungeons). Even then, you may find yourself turning to the internet to fill in the blanks. 

TMW you don’t understand the first YouTube video you find…

I will say that locating the story is totally worth it. Bloodborne is basically one of the most epic Lovecraftian stories ever told. 

Unfortunately, it’s hard to know that if all you did was hack your way through the game without taking a look around. Then, the game feels like a bunch of unrelated cutscenes held together by little more than monster guts. 

Weapon of Choice

One of my favorite features of the game is the way they handled weapons. 

You can use any weapon you want, and it’s a legitimate choice. Did you like one of the starting weapons? Well then, keep it. 

Every weapon is upgradable to the same degree. Your +5 Hunter’s Axe that you’ve had since the beginning is just as viable as a +5 Blade of Mercy. It all depends on how you want to play. 

I, myself, was a Blade of Mercy wielder. I liked how fast they struck, and how their damage scaled with the skill stat. Sure, they didn’t hit nearly as hard as other weapons, but once you started a combo, most enemies were dead by the end and had little opportunity to defend themselves from the chainsaw I had become.

The other nice thing about the weapons in Bloodborne is that each and every one has two distinct modes. Simply press L1 and your saw could become an ax, or your short sword could be pulled into two smaller daggers. This gives you a ton of flexibility in a fight, especially since you can carry two melee weapons at a time (giving you four styles to choose from).

Me, with my chosen weapons in hand

If that wasn’t enough for you, then you can also use L1 in the middle of an attack to change the weapon’s form and attack in the same motion. This allows for some interesting combos, and makes it so that you can deal damage without having to slow down your assault.

Obtuse By Orders of Magnitude

One of my least favorite things about Bloodborne was how hard it was to figure anything out. There are a lot of things that the players of this game just take for granted these days, since basically everything can be found online pretty easily. 

I’ll be honest and say that this was the first game in a long time that had me looking up things almost constantly. 

Of course, I’d see a video of someone with an amazing looking weapon and go “How do I get that?”

Well it turns out you had to talk to someone that you didn’t know you could talk to, then get an item that’s so hidden that you have to basically break the game to get to it, then you have to talk to another person at a very specific time, and finally you have to have already done something you didn’t do, so you can’t get it this playthrough. 

I made some of that up… but it’s not far from the mark. Most things in this game felt willfully obtuse, and I applaud the original gamers who found these things out and then shared them with the world. 

I mean, there’s something wrong with those guys, but I thank them anyway.

Tips For New Hunters

I’m just going to list some things I wish I’d known starting out.

  • The more insight you have the harder the game becomes
  • If you do a charged R2 attack directly behind an enemy, you can stagger them and use a visceral attack 
  • If you shoot someone as they are attacking, you can stagger them and do a visceral attack
  • Fire works exceptionally well against beast type enemies 
  • Your weapons degrade over time, but are very cheap to repair
  • Dodging away from an enemy is likely to get you killed. Dodge to the side or forward past them 
  • You can fall quite far without taking fatal amounts of damage
  • Guns do more damage to dogs

There are plenty of other things, but these were the ones that really would have helped. 

The Beckoning Bell

Overall, Bloodborne is a very solid game, albeit hidden behind an exclusionary difficulty wall that many may not be able to overcome. The combat is fluid, once you understand how it works, and is insanely hard but actually pretty fair most of the time… 

…Some of the time. 

The story is amazing, if you can find it, and the atmosphere is relentless to the point that ir starts to get into your head. In other words, it’s a From Software game.

I’m giving Bloodborne a belated 8.5/10. While it’s not my favorite Soulsborne game, it was an experience that will be hard to forget. So if you were on the fence about it, I recommend giving it a try if you have the time and don’t mind dying to the first boss an inordinate number of times. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to go play something bright and colorful to get the sound of squelching blood out of my brain.  

Video Game Reviews

Resident Evil Village – An Encouraging Fusion

Resident Evil Village is a survival-horror game from Capcom, and is the eighth installment in the long-running Resident Evil franchise.

The game follows Ethan “I’ll block it with my hands” Winters, the protagonist of RE7, as he travels to a remote European village to find his kidnapped daughter. Unfortunately, said village is filled to the brim with vampires, werewolves, actual wolves, and one overly-enthusiastic shopkeep.

No, not that one.

I have long been a fan of the Resident Evil franchise. The first game I ever played on the original Playstation was Resident Evil 2, and Resident Evil 4 is one of my all-time favorite games.

However, with the fifth installment, the franchise started moving in a more action oriented direction, and then completely ran off the rails with 6. In fact, 6 was such a mess that I’d almost written off the series as a whole. 

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard brought the series back in the best possible way. It dialed back the action and cranked up the atmosphere and horror. It also introduced some new characters and ideas that really helped to revitalize the franchise in interesting ways.

So, when I heard that 8 was in the works, and that it was going to keep the aesthetic and functionality of 7, I was super pumped.

Village did not disappoint. In fact, it was better than I expected. It did not, however, move the series forward. I mean, it did story-wise, but from a spiritual/technical standpoint, Village actually felt more like…

Resident Evil 7.4 or 4.7… Whichever Makes More Sense

As I said in the opening, Village is about the protagonist of a previous Resident Evil game traveling to a remote European village to rescue someone who’d been kidnapped. Which, if you’ll remember, is the plot of Resident Evil 4

In fact, there are a number of similarities between the two games that have to be more than coincidence. Both games have:

  • A suspicious, yet friendly, teleporting vendor
  • A village filled with infected townsfolk
  • A castle run by a crazy person
  • A big lake monster
  • Sparklies that you shoot to acquire treasure
  • A religious leader who tricked people into thinking they were magic with the use of a Bio-Organic Weapon

I only realized the similarities between the two games when I was about halfway through my first playthrough. I was telling my wife all the reasons I really liked the game. By the time I was through my list of reasons, I realized that I’d said “like Resident Evil 4”  an alarming number of times.

4 managed to walk the line between horror and action very well, so using it as a template for the feel of Village while still maintaining the look and mechanical aspects of 7 was a fantastic choice. The fusion of the two allowed for some bigger action set pieces, while also making sure that the rest of the game felt grounded enough to be scary.

Bump In The Night

There is not a single place in the entire game that feels safe… except for the safe rooms which, you know… are safe.

The rest of the game gives you an overall sense of impending doom, and I attribute this almost entirely to the audio.

My playthrough could be broken down as follows:

  • 20% – shooting unspeakable horrors
  • 5% – inventory tetris
  • 5% – trying to figure out where I was
  • 10% – looking for ammo
  • 5% – running from unkillable monsters
  • 55% – firing wildly at nothing because a twig snapped behind me

That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. I spent so much time creeping slowly through areas in case something attacked that I actually made the game more unnerving for myself. 

You see, most areas have a number of ambient noises that randomly occur as you make your way through. If you’re walking through the woods, you hear lots of snapping twigs and things running through the underbrush. If you’re in a house, you hear creaks and groans, and if you’re in the castle… Well, you mostly hear Lady Dimitrescu screaming about how dead you’re going to be.

These seemingly innocuous noises, paired with the often subtle soundtrack, increased my paranoia to the point where I sometimes felt more afraid of the noises than of actual enemies.

We all have our priorities.

For example, I could fight an entire group of werewolves and be fine, but walking down an empty stretch of forest with nothing but the sound of rustling leaves and the slow creak of an iron gate in the wind would have my heart racing.

This oppressive feeling is one of my favorite aspects of the game. It really made Village a true horror game in my eyes, as opposed to something like RE5, which was an action game that was occasionally scary. 

Walk. Walk For Your Life

One thing that I really wish they’d tweaked between RE7 and Village is the movement speed. I understand that it was meant to increase tension and give the game a more deliberate feel, but it was honestly frustrating to deal with. 

The walk speed in Village was fine. It was a slow, but reasonable, pace. However, when I hit the “run” button, I felt like I was pressing the “casual jog” button instead.

Now, I’ve never been attacked by monsters, but I can almost guarantee that if I were to run into a goddamn werewolf, I would more than double my walk speed. Ethan, on the other hand, just kinda power-walks.

I assume this is where they got their information

I will say that his lack of urgency did cause me to have panic attacks, because I could hear the things chasing me getting closer, but ultimately it felt downright sluggish.

Ebb and Flow

One thing that Village does very well is making sure you have just enough stuff to survive. I’m not sure if it was based on an algorithm or if the developers were psychic, but somehow I only ever had enough supplies to survive whatever was just ahead.

Sometimes I would find tons of supplies and ammo, and start feeling a little cocky—like, “yeah I don’t even care what they throw at me. Look at all the bullets I have”—only to find myself down to five total bullets moments later. 

There were literally times when I would question if I could continue playing because my resources were so low, and I didn’t know where to get more. 

Then the craziest thing would happen. I would make it through the next section with only those five bullets.

Me, every five seconds.

Then, I’d find six more, and make it through another round of enemies.

I think the game wanted me to feel that helplessness. It wanted me to be at the bottom of a dungeon fighting creature after creature, wondering if I would make it to another box of ammo before I ran out. The fact that Village made me run this razor’s edge the entire game is impressive. 

I mean, what would have happened if I had missed my shots more often? Would I have been out of luck? Would I have had to start over because I was out of ammo? Or would I have braved the entire game using only the knife?

Now that would be scary.

Best Of Both Worlds

Overall, Resident Evil Village was an impressive game. It seamlessly combined elements of two previous installments into a game that had the strengths of both, without their obvious shortcomings (looking at you, RE4 QTE’s). 

The voice acting was spot on, and the graphics were phenomenal. The gameplay, while sluggish at times, was executed well enough. It could have used improvement, especially where movement speed was concerned, but didn’t stop me from enjoying the game.

The story wasn’t quite as good as I was hoping it would be, but interesting characters and a terrifying setting made up for the lacking narrative and made the experience enjoyable throughout.

I’m giving Resident Evil Village a terrifying 8/10 for daring to evoke feelings of RE4 and largely succeeding in the process.

I would also like to…

[twig snaps]

Video Game Reviews

Cyberpunk 2077: All Revved Up With No Place To Go

Cyberpunk 2077 is a first-person action RPG developed by CD Projekt Red—the same company that brought the world the critically acclaimed The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.  It was one of the most hotly anticipated games of 2019… and then for several different months in 2020… 

I had personally been waiting on this game since I first saw the trailer in… let me look this up real quick… Jesus, it was 2013. I waited for this game for seven human years

These words—”Coming, When It’s Ready—were at the end of a now-almost-a-decade-old trailer. I respected it. It signified that these people were taking the development of this game seriously enough not to release it until it was fully complete.

Jump to the beginning of 2020. When it got pushed back from the first quarter to the third quarter of that year, I told myself, “Well they did say that it would come out when it was ready, so they must be putting the finishing touches on this—the feather in the cap, if you will.” 

Well, here I am in 2021, and having played through Cyberpunk: 2077 I can honestly say that it was worth the wait…. 

Oh wait, no… it’s the opposite of that. Sorry, I often get those two things confused. 

While it wasn’t a disaster of the proportions that some claim it to be, it was a thoroughly underwhelming experience. I will say that there are some amazing things about this game. Unfortunately, they just don’t cut it when comparing them to the bad things, like…

A Maelstrom of Glitches

Now, most of you have probably heard about the litany of glitches that plagued Cyberpunk’s launch like a… well, like a plague. 

I was not privy to the majority of these, since I got my copy in January 2021. However, even by that time, there were issues that hounded my entire playthrough. 

Literal footage of my Cyberpunk playthrough.

The first, and most obnoxious, was the constant system crashes. These would happen for seemingly no rhyme or reason…

  • Getting into a car = system crash. 
  • Walking down the street = system crash
  • Hacking into a system to crash it? System crash = system crash. 

It was maddening and exhausting. It got to the point that my wife and I would usually say that “when it crashes next, we’ll stop playing and do something else” because it was almost guaranteed to happen at least once every time we played. 

Other than that, there were a number of other—minor—things that were more annoying than they were gamebreaking. This included, but was not limited to:

  • Items would be marked as new even if we’d viewed them a hundred times
  • Quest markers and waypoints would duplicate on the minimap and start moving around
  • The line that leads you to your quest objective would circle around on itself in a never-ending loop
  • NPC’s would appear and disappear at random
  • Items would be visible, but could not be picked up.
  • Wrist rockets would be installed, but would refuse to fire.
  • Enemies who were clearly dead would still shout that they were looking for us (from beyond the grave. WOOOooOOOoooOOoo spooky) 
  • Your character would die for no discernible reason. Just WHAM! You’re dead.

Sure, none of these were too terrible, but the frequency with which they happened was more than a little frustrating. 

Bright Lights, Big City

Now that I’ve shit on it a bit, let me take a step back and talk about my absolute favorite part of Cyberpunk 2077: Night City. 

I’m giving a ton of kudos to CD Projekt Red for making Night City feel like an actual city—or as close to one as I’ve seen in games in quite a while. 

It’s a bit hard to describe this in technical terms since there are so many small things that play a part, but I’ll try to be concise.

First off, the NPC’s are great (when they function properly). The sheer magnitude of people walking around the city is staggering, and so is the way they behave. They really do seem to be going about their business instead of just walking around aimlessly. I mean, they are walking around aimlessly, but they don’t seem to be, which is an important distinction. 

Understand?

Night City also has a certain ambiance to it that often made me believe that it could exist someday in the future. 

Really, there is an alarming amount of detail that went into creating this behemoth of an open world:

  • The alarming amount of trash that scattered everywhere, but was somewhat shoved off to the sides. 
  • The billboards that shifted and blinked constantly. 
  • The worrying number of vending machines that sold tacos.

If I could go to the best/worst city of the near future, Night City would be it. 

I also enjoyed how the further you got from the population centers, the more abandoned the City seemed to become. The transitions between these sections of the city were near flawless, and it felt like you were just rolling into a different neighborhood…which, in fairness, you were. 

All of this, combined, made me relish the feel of the city. 

Unfortunately, this was all…

A Thin Veneer 

You see, there was very little substance to Night City beyond the fact that it looked amazing.

Most of the shops and storefronts were little more than a facade.

You know there’s nothing in there…

There were a few you could enter, but most were just for show. Not that I fault the developers for this. Allowing all the buildings to be enterable would have been a nightmare… impressive, but a nightmare.

Still, after a few hours of walking around Night City, you start to feel like there is no reason to spend your time exploring. While there were things to stumble upon here and there, they were few and far between. 

This left me feeling unenthused about going to a new area. I mea,n I would go to the quest markers, but I never saw a building and was like “Ooooo I should go and check that out!”. It was more like, “I guess I’ll go there if there is a quest? Maybe?” 

And speaking about quest markers, there were…

Too Many Quest Markers

The number of small markers on your map is… daunting, to say the least. I tried to do all the “Assault in Progress” quests in Watson, the starting area, and found that it was more like a game of whack-a-mole. The higher you get your “Street Cred,” the more missions become available to you. So the more quests you do, the more markers appear. 

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It means that there is a lot of content to get through. 

The issue is that after the first twenty or so, you’ve seen pretty much all the game has to offer. Sure, a few of the different regular quests are pretty cool, but the majority of them are laughably similar. It can take an awful lot to give me Side Quest Fatigue, but Cyberpunk managed to get me there faster than most.

I had to go with the low-hanging fruit.

I’ve found that ignoring the markers and only doing the Fixer quests if I wandered close enough to them was the only way to play this without my mind melting from tedium. 

Some Things These Gonks Did Right

I don’t want to belittle too many aspects of the game, because some of it was really well done. So I’ll make a quick list just to touch on some of the high points before we conclude this review. 

  • The main story is pretty great, especially the beginning
  • The missions with actual story components were very well done
  • The combat was fun, if a little repetitive
  • Some of the voice acting was great
  • Having Keanue Reeves as Cyberpunk’s angry drunken Cortana was amazing
I’m, like, in the Matrix, dudes

Flatlined on Arrival

Overall, Cyberpunk 2077 was not worth the Eddies I paid for it. 

I really wish that I could say differently. I wanted so desperately to love this game, but I just can’t do it. It is a passable game, with some serious aesthetics, rich lore, and an in-your-face personality, none of which were used very effectively. 

Maybe that’s what happens when a game is hyped up so much for so long (looking at you No Man’s Sky).

Either way, I’m giving Cyberpunk 2077 a not so chrome 6/10

In the end I…

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Video Game Reviews

Bugsnax or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Snax

Bugsnax is a quaint little puzzle game from indie developer Young Horses, who previously brought us Octodad. 

Now, I use the word quaint to describe this game, because… well, it is. But it is also so much more than that. I mean, if I were trying to come up with some other words I would probably throw in “adorable”, “Muppet”, and “body horror.” 

Like this, but waaaaaaaay cuter

In Bugsnax, you play as a reporter who has been tasked with seeking out Elizabert Megafig, a disgraced explorer who claims to have discovered a new form of creature known as a “Bugsnax.” These beings are half bug, half snack, and have many strange properties.

So, In order to save their career, the reporter heads to Snaktooth Island to investigate. 

While that sounds like a semi-reasonable plot for a game, Bugsnax goes above and beyond in a lot of ways.

A Cavalcade of Characters

One of the best aspects of Bugsnax is it’s diverse cast of characters.

There is Filbo Fiddlepie; the self proclaimed (and self deprecating) mayor of Snaxburg; Snorpy Fizzlebean, a conspiracy theorist who believes that a secret organization is out to get him; Chandlo Funkbun, the chillest of dudes and lifter of heavy things; and many more. 

Now, if you didn’t notice already, I’d like to point out that every one of those names is delightfully ridiculous. That’s because the characters in Bugsnax are not human. They are Grumpuses.

For all intents and purposes, Grumpuses are basically Muppets. They are adorable and look like they are made of felt. However, this does not diminish them as characters in any way.

Each grumpus has their own issues and problems that they need to deal with, and each wants something that they think they will find on Snaktooth Island, whether it’s answers to life’s greatest mysteries, fulfillment, or inspiration.

Residents of Snaktooth Island be like…

Over the course of the game, you help the islanders not just to find snax, but also to handle their own individual shortcomings. 

Another laudable aspect of the game’s cast is its inclusivity. There are same sex couples as well as one character refered exclusivly with “they” pronouns. While it isn’t the first game to do this (see Ikenfell), it is heartening to see more games with this kind of character diversity.

Like Cronenburg… But With Food

A question you might be asking yourself at this point is: “What are Bugsnax, anyway?”

Well, Bugsnax are exactly what they sound like. They are bugs that are snacks… or snacks that are bugs. 

Either way, it’s weird. 

An early example of a bugsnak (or is it a bugsnax? Whichever…)  is the Sandopede, a centipede that is also a sandwich. There are also such bugsnax as the Bannanoper (a grasshopper that is a banana), a Bopcicle, (a popsicle that is a beetle) and countless others.

If all of that wasn’t weird enough, it’s about to get much, much weirder.

Whenever a grumpus ingests a bugsnax, a part of their body takes on the properties and shapes of that type of bugsnax. So if a grumpus eats a Rootle (a snake carrot thing), their arm might look like a carrot. If they eat a Cheepoof (a Cheeto with wings), their leg might become a Cheeto… and so forth and so on.

This leads to some REALLY messed-up-looking Grumpuses

Fortunately, or unfortunately, you do gain the ability to choose which body part changes, so you can at least have some control over the madness. 

Gotta Catch Em’ All 

Bugsnax plays an awful lot like a weird version of Pokemon Snap (which is good considering that was one of the games that inspired Bugsnax). 

Essentially, you are given a specific set of tools, and you wander the island in an attempt to catch the different types of bugsnax. Most of the time the justification is that a grumpus is hungry for a specific type of bugsnax. Other times, you might just want to prove that you are the Ash Ketchum of Snaktooth Island. 

What makes this task more difficult than simply setting a trap is that most of the bugsnax are either too fast or too tough to be caught by your simple starter trap. Some require you to lure them into other, more aggressive, bugsnax in order to incapacitate them. Others might have an elemental affinity that you need to exploit, such as a flaming bugsnax that you can put out with a bugsnax that shoots water.

While this is pretty fun most of the time, it can lead to some very frustrating gameplay loops where you are a split second late and have to start your whole Rube Goldberg machine of traps over again. 

I worked hard on that!

One pleasantly surprising aspect of Bugsnax gameplay is that there is no damage, and therefore no way to die. Sure, you can catch on fire, be frozen in ice, or get punted across the map, but you can’t actually die, which is a refreshing change from most of the games I play. 

The Game is Afoot 

The main story of Bugsnax is broken into two distinct mysteries. Namely, “What are bugsnax?” and “What happened to Elizabert Megafig and her girlfriend, Eggabell Batternugget?”

While most of what you do is feed grumpuses too lazy to catch their own food, there are also interviews you can conduct to gather more information about the island’s inhabitants and learn what happened to Elizabert Megafig.

Because, remember, you’re supposed to be a reporter. 

Most of the grumpuses have their own theories and opinions about exactly what happened to Elizabert, and they all have their own ideas about what bugsnax really are. These diverging opinions have led to a societal fracture on the island that you are attempting to repair.

While finding clues or exploring areas is never very hard, the story is intriguing, entertaining, and occasionally disturbing.

One for the Road

Overall, Bugsnax is a whimsical–if somewhat off-putting–indie title that offers far more than meets the eye. Its gameplay is simple to learn, yet often difficult to master. The characters truly shine through, and the story will keep you interested until the credits roll and you are staring wide-eyed at the screen wondering what the what you actually just saw. 

I’m giving Bugsnax a delicious 7.5/10

…and now my arm is a large seven with fives for fingers… what the heck am I supposed to do with this?

But it’s still so delicious. 

Video Game Reviews

Immortals: Fenyx Rising – A Legend is Born

Immortals: Fenyx Rising is an open-world action-adventure game from Ubisoft, the developers of everything from Assassins Creed to Rayman. I remember seeing a couple of pictures from the game a few months before it was released and, honestly, I was not impressed. It looked like something from the early 2000’s with updated graphics. So, I mostly ignored anything to do with it. 

Then, shortly after its release, I read a short review that compared it to Breath of the Wild—one of my all time favorite games. I was still a little hesitant, but I had just managed to secure a PS5…

Bingpot!

I needed a couple of launch titles to test the system out, so I grabbed Immortals: Fenyx Rising on a lark. 

It was one of the best decisions I’ve made (game wise) in a long time. 

So, if you were on the fence, as I once was, let me try and convince you that the grass is indeed much greener on this side. 

A Mythic Tale…

The story of Immortals: Fenyx Rising begins with Typhon—the biggest, scariest monster in all of Greek Mythology—being released from his subterranean prison. He subsequently defeats all the gods standing in his way and begins gathering power so that he can corrupt the world and remake it in his image.

Zeus, the last remaining holdout of the gods, goes to seek help from Prometheus. 

Now, Prometheus isn’t in any kind of mood to help Zeus, especially since Zeus chained him to a rock to suffer for all eternity.

So they weren’t exactly “friends.”

He does, however, propose a wager: If a mortal hero can defeat Typhon, then Zeus has to release Prometheus. If the mortal is unsuccessful, then Prometheus will help Zeus by speaking to the Titans. 

Zeus takes the bet because he has no faith in mortals, and either way it’s a win for him. So, Prometheus begins the “Tale of Fenyx, the mortal who will defeat Typhon.”

..And A Godly Heckler  

The whole game is, therefore, a story being told. 

This is one of my favorite aspects of the game for a number of reasons. The first is that, while Prometheus is trying to tell his story, Zeus continuously interrupts with little asides and anecdotes about how awesome he is and how terrible everyone else is. He constantly questions why mortals suck so hard…

Our creations give little evidence to the contrary

…and he’s pretty much out to ruin a good story in the most hilarious way possible. 

This dynamic is also an interesting way to introduce the various myths and legends of ancient Greek mythology. Prometheus usually gives you the standard version of whichever myth you happen to stumble upon, and then Zeus will chime in with his two cents. This injects a huge amount of personality into the story, which it would have lacked otherwise. 

More Than a Copy

The gameplay in Immortals: Fenyx Rising is eerily similar to Breath of the Wild In a lot of ways. You can climb just about anything, you have a depleting stamina gauge, you have a set of wings that are functionally the hang-glider that Link uses, and I could add about a dozen other ways in which it is similar. However for all the ways it imitates Breath of the Wild, there are a dozen more in which it sets itself apart. 

The first is combat. In BOTW, fighting enemies required an amount of strategy and preparation that wasn’t exactly tedious, but could border on it from time to time. This was especially true since your weapons could break. 

Fenyx dumps all the tedium and focuses on letting you run wild. The parry and dodge mechanics coupled with your godly powers and rudimentary skill trees make combat an ever evolving ballet of blades.

The second way Fenyx separates itself from BOTW is the previously-mentioned skill trees. While Link is basically the same throughout BOTW, Fenyx is constantly improving in significant ways. Her progression is similar to that of a Metroidvania protagonist, except your new skills aren’t required to beat the game. Her glide gets a movement speed increase. You even get a double jump.

Or triple or quadruple jump, if you’re good enough

The last difference (that I’ll bother to mention) is the potion system. While BOTW had a staggering amount of potions to make and foods to cook, which had varying effects, Fenyx opted to streamline this process. There are only four items you need to gather in order to create the potions that sustain you. 

That’s it. 

You don’t have to remember any complicated recipes or spend your time trying to figure out the right amount of ingredients. You simply take one of your four ingredients and create a potion out of it. You can increase the potion’s effectiveness by upgrading your cauldrons, but it is simple and wildly effective.

Got My Mind on My Puzzles and My Puzzles on My Mind

My absolute favorite aspect of Immortals: Fenyx Rising is the puzzles—and there are a lot of them.

The most fun I had in the game was going up to a high point, locating all the nearby challenges and puzzles, and then systematically completing each one. 

Sometimes a puzzle was as simple as pushing a block onto a switch. Other times you’d face an interconnected series of puzzles, each of which required you to scour an entire area for every rock, tree, and block in order to solve them.

Now where’s that switch?

Now, I will say that the variation on puzzles wasn’t extensive by any definition of the word. They were essentially the same handful of mechanics over and over. However, what they lacked in variety they made up for in execution. 

Sure, most puzzles involved moving blocks or shooting arrows, but the amount of diversity that was displayed within these confines was enough to keep me searching for more. 

I also found that there was, sometimes, more than one solution to a puzzle. While most were straightforward, others allowed for wiggle room. Can’t find the block that you’re clearly missing to hold down a pressure plate? Look for some rocks nearby and use them instead. Can’t find a large block to stand on to make a high jump? Exploiting your Ares’s wrath ability could give you the boost you need. 

This leniency where puzzles were involved led me to try increasingly obtuse methods to solve them… and it was an absolute blast.

A Hero Risen

Overall, Immortals: Fenyx Rising is an amazing game. The story, while simple, is entertaining, and the characters are hilarious and quirky. The combat is fast paced—even if it does eventually get a little stale once your enemies reach their difficulty cap—and the puzzles are plentiful and on-point. 

So, if you are looking for a game to really sink your teeth into, I recommend you do yourself a favor and pick this one up. 

I’m giving Immortals: Fenyx Rising an epic 9/10.

Zeus: What? you couldn’t just give a ten.

I mean, it was really really good, but it wasn’t perfect.

Zeus: Well, we’ll see how you feel once I turn you into a swan or a tree or something.

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.