Horizon Zero Dawn

I stopped doing game reviews for a while because I just don’t have time to delve into something so consuming. When I start a game, I tend to involve myself fully and absolutely; this tactic has its benefits and detriments. During the academic year, I try to stay away from them. Luckily, we’re in the middle of summer.

I recently had a chance to play Horizon Zero Dawn, one of the biggest releases of 2017 (I think). I actually happened upon it by chance, while browsing for other games on Amazon. I didn’t know too much about the game– only that there are mechanical monsters– but that was enough to sell me. I think it was the fact that you saw one of those giant creatures on the cover. I love things featuring gigantic monsters (Godzilla! The Last Guardian! Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom!).

So yeah, I didn’t know anything going in. Other than there might be giant monsters. I didn’t see Aloy at the bottom, either, because my eyes were drawn to the massive iBeast. Sorry, I know that it has a technical name but I can’t remember it right now. :’-)

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^ This is a “tallneck”. They’re MASSIVE. I couldn’t find a screenshot that properly conveyed how ENORMOUSLY HUGE it is, so you’ll have to use your imagination.

You start out with this gorgeous cinematic that depicts an older man traveling with an infant; it establishes the relationship between this man (Rost) and our main character, Aloy. The two of them are outcasts; I won’t say more on why they were outcast. I know part of Aloy’s story, but nothing pertaining to Rost. I hope that you find out more during the game (I didn’t play through the whole thing). The first half hour or so is a tutorial, and establishment of Aloy’s background: she and Rost live together on the outskirts of a village, hunting the mechanic creatures and surviving on their own. The villagers don’t speak to or acknowledge them; Rost treats them likewise. Aloy, as a young girl, seems put-out that they refuse to talk to her. She doesn’t have any young friends, so she only wants to make some– and this goes badly, as we see in one scene where she is shunned by a Village Mother and the children. The things we see in this first part help connect the player to Aloy, as well as understand how to use her “sight” device– a strange, alien contraption that allows her to identify targets, look through walls to find electric components, and register the walking path of different creatures. I’m sure there’s more you can do, but that’s all I can really remember right now.

A recurring theme throughout Aloy’s childhood is the question of who her mother is. When Aloy is older, she decides to take part in this ceremony that 1. allows challengers to become a part of the village community and 2. if she beats everyone else in this competition, she may have one wish granted. Aloy plans to ask the elders about her origins.
From here, life becomes more structured. Your main goal is to become strong enough to compete in and successfully complete these trials; Aloy trains by fighting the machine creatures, discovering ruins, and furthering her skill-set.
I really liked how EXP and skill build-up worked in this game. It was really simple to understand. I remember trying to play Dead Space 3 and the worst thing about it was how difficult it was to understand the weapons-upgrade system. One of the most awful things you can do in a game is over-complicate power-ups, so I’m glad that the developers stuck to a default model, where each skill is part of a branch, and costs a certain number of “points” that you can gain by working on your EXP and raising your level.

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The map isn’t too helpful– I’m terrible with directions, anyways, but luckily, if you’ve played Arkham Knight or any of the other Arkham games, it follows the same kind of thing where you have an objective marker on the screen and just have to follow it around. Crafting and Inventory are equally easy to peruse.

The game itself is stunning. One of the things I was so drawn to was the machine-mixed-with-nature aesthetic. I know I’m pulling a lot of random video game references, but it really reminds me of Enslaved: Odyssey to the Westwhich is one of my favorite games of all time. Aloy even reminds me a bit of Tripitaka (maybe the child of Trip and Monkey) (but that’s just wishful thinking lol). You’ll see what I mean in the following screenshots; both games rely heavily on intricately-built jungle-based environments entwined in the harsh, stark lines of technology and machines. I bet it’s symbolic for something, like the contrast between what man makes and what the natural order of the Earth follows, but I just think it’s a really nice visual.

Right? Left is HZD, right is Enslaved. I don’t know. I felt like they looked pretty similar.

Oh man. Thinking about Enslaved makes me so nostalgic. YO. IT’S SUCH A GOOD GAME. PLEASE CHECK IT OUT.
Back to HZD.

I love female protagonists, and Aloy fits the bill. Although… I will say that she’s a pretty flat character. She’s whatever you shape her to be; she doesn’t have any super definitive traits, like Emily Kaldwin from Dishonored 2. Rather, she seems to adjust to whatever the player wants her to be, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I do think that it’s interesting that the developers decided to make her female, when they could have easily made her male and been done with it. It’s kind of cool that your default character is a woman and you have to play the game through her eyes; most of the time, being a woman in a game is a choice that you consciously make. I don’t know if this sounds rambly, because it’s 2 AM and I’m exhausted, but I feel like you don’t really get too many female protags in games and so I do appreciate it.

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You do have dialogue options; they cycle between a compassionate response, a logical response, or an angry response. Though your choices affect the characters directly (like say you make an angry decision and yell at someone; they’ll probably remember it later), they don’t impact the overall storyline. So they’re futile, just put in place to make you feel like you made some change to the story, which is kind of disappointing. I’ve always loved those games where your choices matter.

So the last thing I’ll talk about is the plot: I’m intrigued. It’s a sci-fi adventure, but I don’t want to give too much away because it’s one of those things that’s better discovered by yourself. Aloy’s powers are cool; the game’s enemies are actually kind of difficult to kill, at least in the beginning, but they’re not impossible. Oh geez, I tried Prey (Arkane Studios), hoping that it would be as amazing as Dishonored 2, and I’m sure that it is… but I couldn’t get through the first part, even. The enemies in that game are ridiculously hard to beat, and I was playing on the easiest setting :’-)

I’m definitely going to purchase Horizon Zero Dawn eventually; probably after I’m done with all my big exams coming up in the next few months. Gotta focus on grad school… which I’m not, because I’m reading all these books instead. uuughghhgghghhhhh…
I would definitely recommend HZD to anyone with an interest in adventure games and open worlds with structure! Though you can go on side-quests or explore on your own, it never gets to the point where you’re like “what am I even doing,” like it did for me with Skyrim. I’d often get so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff that was available to do, that I never did anything of importance. HZD ensures that you more or less stay on track.

I hope you get a chance to try it out and take down some mechs! Kachow.

Dishonored 2: First Impressions (and Spoilers!)

I caved and bought Dishonored 2 for the PS4 this last weekend; I had been planning to buy it later on in the year, maybe when the price fell a little… I rarely pre-order games or buy them fresh off the shelf, but I just couldn’t stop myself this time. I’ve been looking so forward to Dishonored 2 ever since completing the first game and its DLCs over the past few months. Due to academic stuff and just the amount of work that I have, I’ve only been able to put in about 2-2.5 hours into the game, but so far, I’m completely blown away!

Right off the bat, you notice that the environment and the world are so painstakingly crafted. It’s gorgeous—Dunwall is tall and gloomy and exactly what you would imagine. You can see the cityscape in the beginning and little people milling around like ants among the streets; you see the whalers’ boats coming into the harbor and docking at the ports, massive, dead whales strung along their decks… it’s incredible to see just how interactive everyone is, and the amount of detail etched into every single one of these interactions is thrilling.

I would recommend starting off with the tutorial—it’s a separate option on the start menu, but even if you click on the campaign it’ll offer you the chance to play through the tutorial before you begin the story. The tutorial, unlike many other games, counts as “Mission 0.” It features Corvo and Emily (AND YOU GET TO HEAR CORVO TALK FOR THE FIRST TIME!!) practicing all of her physical skills: jumping, running off of roofs, climbing, sword-fighting and choking people out, sneaking up and pickpocketing, etc. It’s useful, but it also provides a unique window into Corvo and Emily’s relationship—which really tugged at my heartstrings, especially since you play this level from Emily’s point of view. He’s such a proud father and you can tell through their conversations that they share a very close bond. Of course, the Royal Protector is still tough on his little ward—but he works really hard to keep her safe.

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Speaking of voice actors—I love most of them. Corvo and Emily’s voices, Stephen Russell and Erica Luttrell respectively, nailed their roles. Russell keeps Corvo’s voice gruff and appropriate for a man of his age and with his experiences. He sounds dangerous, like you wouldn’t want to mess with him. Luttrell’s pitch and nuances bring a new dimension to Emily’s character; you can really hear every emotion that Emily experiences. She’s portrayed as tough and perhaps a little bad-tempered, but earnest in her actions. She really takes her roles as the empress seriously, but as a young woman of twenty-five, she’s also curious about the world and shifting from that stage of naïve innocence to the ethereal and absolute dignity of an older woman. She’s quick-witted, reactionary and full of anger, but she’s also a meticulous planner. Luttrell embodies Emily flawlessly—I don’t know if anyone else could have done it.

The only voice actor that I really, really hate is the new voice of The Outsider. For some reason, Arkane decided to get rid of Billy Lush—who was incredible as the Outsider in the first game—and replace him with Robin Lord Taylor. First of all, I want to say that I don’t despise Mr. Taylor or anything, and I don’t want to be mean— he’s an actor that I really appreciate. His role on Gotham as the Penguin, Oswald Cobblepot, is admirable, and he portrays the villain with gusto. In fact, he might’ve been a great Outsider if Billy Lush had not done the role first and so perfectly. Lush’s voice was what made the Outsider such an incredible figure. He maintained this cold and aloof distance; he was detachedly amused by everything and didn’t care in the slightest how the story turned out. He wanted to be entertained. The fact that he was replaced was crushing—one of the best things (at least, for me) about Dishonored was the existence of the Outsider. He was this figure of mystery and enigma, and I wanted to know more about him. I wanted him to pay attention to me, and tried my hardest to do right by him. From things I’ve read about Dishonored 2, it seems like you interact with the Outsider a lot—but I’m not looking forward to it. I rarely ever dislike things about games—if you’ve read my other reviews, you’ll see that I’m fairly easy to please—but I just cannot stand Robin Lord Taylor’s voice. Not in this role. The thing that made the Outsider so beguiling in the first game was his quiet malice. He always spoke slowly and so pensively, like he wasn’t even really talking to you but himself. He was the embodiment of aloof, terrifying and intriguing, and he seemed to personify all of Dunwall in one character. Mr. Taylor speaks way too quickly, with too much enthusiasm and earnestness. His version of the Outsider is more of the hyperactive, wheedling God-child that wants to be involved in your journey and won’t take no for an answer. He’s too invested in everything that happens, and it’s so dissonant from the first game that after my first interaction with the Outsider, I had to stop playing and reevaluate whether I wanted to go on. It was massively disappointing; whenever I do find the Outsider in D2, I try to get through the actions as quickly as possible, and it detracts so much from the game.

I seriously hate it.

The worst thing is that I would understand if Billy Lush had been busy with other commitments, as Harvey Smith claimed on Twitter. Unfortunately, Lush has rebutted these statements on the Dishonored subreddit, explaining that, “ My schedule was wide open. They never called me!” and that he, Did the trailer and was waiting to do the actual game. I didn’t find out they replaced me until I saw an announcement of the new cast members. Up until that point I was expecting a call any day to go in because I knew it was coming out soon.”
I honestly hope that Arkane provides an explanation for all of this… or at least rescinds their statement about scheduling clashes. I don’t have any expectations, though.

One of Lush’s speculations on his failure to be rehired is that, “I honestly never heard anything. When I did the trailer for 2 I did some voice work on some test material where the outsider was talking about how he became the outsider. My guess is they didn’t like it. The new outsider sounds more fragile. Maybe that’s what they wanted?” And, speaking of which, that was another disappointing thing—he voiced the trailer and it got me so excited for the game. When the Outsider started speaking during your first encounter in D2, I couldn’t help but stare at the screen. He sounds so wrong. They tried to overlay Mr. Taylor’s voice with all sorts of special effects to make him seem more mystical, but it just sounds like he got too close to the microphone. I just don’t understand why they’d try to fix something that wasn’t at all broken. Maybe to get some more attention from the public? I don’t know.  I hope that, if there are future games, they rehire Billy Lush—no one could do the Outsider’s voice better.

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Okay! Enough about that. I’ve ranted about my disappointment for the last three paragraphs, but I’m going to move on to things that I enjoy. So far, the story is so intriguing. Delilah Copperspoon, AKA the Brigmore Witch that got tangled up in business with Daud during the events of the Dishonored DLCs, has reappeared. Claiming to be the Empress’s older sister and therefore, the rightful heir, she boots Emily off of her throne and takes over. She also accuses Emily and Corvo of being responsible for the Crown Killer Killings—the Crown Killer is this mysterious force that has ended the lives of anyone who criticizes Empress Emily Kaldwin, who obviously isn’t responsible for the acts of terror. Either way, no one protests much when Emily and Corvo are arrested. The character that you choose not to play with ends up being “out of commission” for the events of the game, which is a cool twist. I won’t say exactly how—you’ll have to watch the game for yourself to find out. But you know immediately that the replay value of D2 is going to be amazing, because you’ll experience a vastly different story from the eyes of the other character. I chose to play as Emily first, but I’m already eager to play as Corvo.

Emily’s powers are super cool, though I’m still getting used to them. Her far-reach ability is tangentially related to Blink, and involves more of a grappling motion. If you ever played Arkham City as Catwoman, it feels a bit like grabbing onto buildings with a whip and pulling yourself up. She also has a sort of Dark-Vision that makes pulsating purple waves roll across the map, and enemies show up in bright orange. It’s more difficult to use than Corvo’s Dark Vision from the first game, but it provides an additional challenge. Also, the AI in this game is infinitely more sophisticated—civilians can be alerted to suspicious behavior, and it’s so much easier to catch a guard’s attention now. This is terrible, because you have to try very hard to stay out of their view, but again—more of a challenge.

The game utilizes a lot of music straight from Dishonored, which was really cool because the first time I heard strands of familiar music I was washed over with a wave of nostalgia. It’s very atmospheric and makes the experience even more immersive. Also, though the new visuals are much more realistic than the old world of tiny heads and big hands, the distinctive style of Dishonored is still present in smaller ways, such as in advertisements and artwork and even in the characters themselves. Speaking of visuals, Emily’s hands make brief appearances through the game, when you’re running or picking something up or climbing, but they’re really long and slender and pretty. It’s funny to think that someone was trying to figure out what Emily’s hands should look like.

This game takes place in Karnaca, which is to the south of Dunwall. It’s described of smelling as strange spices (and seawater? I think?) and has a story of its own: the businesses of Karnaca are looking for workers. They’re suffering from a bloodfly infestation, and being terrified of bugs, this was really, particularly awful. Instead of suffering from swarms of rats, you have to creep through occasional bloodfly-infested houses, where massive nests filled with buzzing, deathtrap bugs wait for you to wander inside. Bloodflies lay their eggs in dead bodies, and as a result, any bodies in quarantine zone looked like they came from The Walking Dead or something of the sort. They don’t attack you outright, but will start glowing and getting aggressive if you move too quickly or get too close—and by moving too quickly, I mean if you are pressing on a joystick with more than the barest amount of pressure, you’re going to get caught in a swarm. I don’t even know how you’d deal with them with a keyboard. Luckily, the bugs aren’t impervious to fire—and you can often find flammable, high-quality liquor sitting around quarantine houses, waiting for you to hurl them at nests.

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Dishonored 2 presents a wide range of new enemies, new environments, and new experiences. The story is fascinating and the characters are strong, deep, and easy to grow fond of. Erica Luttrell and Stephen Russell have breathed life into Emily and Corvo; many of the voices are perfectly matched to their character (except, of course, The Outsider,) and each character seems to have some sort of underlying story to be discovered. I can’t wait to delve more into this game and explore Karnaca—and see Emily’s, and later Corvo’s, revenge on Delilah Copperspoon play out.

The Knife of Dunwall

Recently I got to play The Knife of Dunwall, a Dishonored DLC that regales us with the events that happen immediately after Empress Jessamine’s death and while Corvo is still imprisoned by the Lord Regent. Interestingly enough, it takes on the perspective of Daud, who you may recall as the Empresses’s murderer. This means that we take on an entirely new set of skills, and several new concepts come into play.

We learn that Daud is a skilled mercenary, specifically hired by Hiram Burrows to exact this crime. Daud’s lore haunts us throughout the main game as well– you hear characters talking about him in the background, find Sokolov paintings that have been done in his image, and I’m pretty sure that there are some texts about him lying around Dunwall. Still, he’s an enigma. The DLC doesn’t shed much light upon his past other than the fact that he’s been around for the reigns of many great people throughout Dunwall’s history, and has even had a hand in some of their “unfortunate downfalls.” Jessamine Kaldwin isn’t the first life he’s ended, but it’s the first to affect him so terribly.

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The Whalers ready themselves for Jessamine’s assassination.

The story begins with one question that defines the rest of Daud’s tale: was he right to kill the Empress? He did it for the money, but he’s seen how abhorrent things have gotten during Hiram’s short regime (the plague, the weepers, both petty and major crime, and the corruption of government officials,) and regrets his part in her violent end. The Knife of Dunwall features Daud and his band of assassins searching for an answer, both to the overlying question of the Empress’s death and the troubling whispers of a new villain on the horizon: Delilah. Who is Delilah? What does she want? And how do they stop her?

TKOD is one of the best DLCs that I’ve ever played: it is an entire game in itself. While not as long as Dishonored (obviously,) the story still packs a punch– and I’m so glad that the creators at Arkane Studios decided to focus on Daud, his story and how he feels about the atrocity he has committed. Daud is the perfect antihero, which makes him an endlessly intriguing character. While he makes an appearance in Dishonored, it is short and fairly objective: he’s just another assassination target. I guess if you get really into the story, you might have some strong feelings about him, but I just wanted the low chaos ending and that’s why I spared him. You do hear Daud talking to his right-hand men about his doubts over killing the Queen, but that’s the extent of his story. TKOD really goes in depth and spells out just how much regret our assassin feels– but instead of moping around and making long, dramatic monologues, Daud decides to do something about it. He wants to redeem himself, and so he decides to go about protecting Dunwall by engaging in a shadowy war with a faceless enemy.

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The game play is very much the same, but you do get new powers; which is another point of importance– Daud has been marked by the Outsider, and you do get to interact with him in a few, essential scenes. It’s interesting to note that the Outsider seems a lot more dismissive of Daud, delegating our assassin with amused detachment. It can be argued that the Outsider is amusedly detached with everyone, but his relationship to Daud could be comparable to that of a negligent teacher with his forgotten protege. Daud means nothing to him, other than being a small source of entertainment. He does, however, display some modicum of interest in Daud’s sudden desire to atone for his sins.

Some of the new powers include the ability to summon assassins, your comrades and subordinates, who will offer helpful hints or fight for you in times of need. I didn’t end up using this much because I felt badly about bringing them into a fight; at the risk of sounding dumb, I’ll admit that they started feeling like my little ducklings. I was very protective of them. You can also use Void Gaze, which is a combination of Corvo’s “Dark Vision” ability and those of The Heart.  Lastly, Daud can use the ability “Pull,” which is pretty self explanatory; at level one you can pull objects towards you, and at level two, you can drag enemies into your sword. You also have new gadgets like chokedust, which is a nonlethal way to stun your enemies, and arc mines that incinerate anyone caught within their radius. Daud’s special ability is “Arcane Bond,” which allows summoned assassins to use powers like Blink, Pull, allows them to move through Bend Time, Shadow Kill and increased health through Vitality.

 

This DLC is incredible, and for only ten dollars, a steal. It is a two-part story, followed by The Brigmore Witches, but that’s a review for another day. The best thing about The Knife of Dunwall is that, like Dishonored, its replay value is off the charts: there are dozens of ways to complete missions and Daud’s story has different High Chaos and Low Chaos endings. For ten dollars, you’re getting a game that you can play several times over again; if you buy Dishonored: the Definitive Edition, you’ll get all the DLCs and the main game for twenty bucks in all. If you’re interested in video games (I mean, you’re here…) this is one of the essentials that you can’t skip playing. Dishonored and its DLCs are a prime example of how storytelling can be successfully accomplished through interactive media, and I’m only getting more excited about the new game coming out in November. Though I don’t usually condone pre-orders, I’m seriously considering pre-ordering Dishonored 2.

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After discovering that Dishonored 2 will be coming out this November, I thought it’d be prudent to get on this game ASAP; I’m only four years behind. Ha. Ha.
In all honesty, when this game first came out, I wasn’t really that interested in it. I guess the visuals didn’t catch my attention, and 2012 was the year of Hitman: Absolution, so my stealth quotient was filled. I don’t know why I was being so dumb, because this game– while not exactly a masterpiece– is incredibly fun to play.

Dishonored follows the story of Corvo Attano, the “Lord Protector” of Queen Jessamine Kaldwin of Dunwall and her darling daughter Emily. When the queen is assassinated, and Emily, kidnapped, all the blame falls upon Corvo. He’s promptly arrested and escorted away to be killed. While imprisoned, Corvo discovers that the Queen’s assassination had been ordered by the Royal Spymaster, a man named Hiram Burrows. After receiving help from this rebellion that calls themselves the “Loyalists,” Corvo sets out to find Emily and take revenge on the man who ruined his life. Things start getting a lot darker as the game goes on, though, and there’s more to the plot that I won’t explain at this point, though there may be spoilers below.

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Samuel the Boatman takes you around to different parts of Dunwall.

So, let’s do the cons first; that way we can end on a good note. I think that my biggest problem with this game was the time it took to load. This is probably because I’ve grown up rather spoilt, but the five to six minute loading time can get really annoying, especially with how much you have to restart levels if you’re a beginner like I am and also trying not to kill anybody/ghosting through the levels. I had to save almost every five minutes to ensure that I wouldn’t lose any progress, and also so that I’d have a backup plan in case someone spotted me during my many attempts to nonlethally take them out. As a result, I ended up loading the game to these checkpoints several-hundred times, and each time it was absolute misery.
The other thing that weirded me out a little was the character design; not that anyone in particular bothered me, it’s just that every NPC human had a really tiny head and laughably huge hands. Their hands were probably bigger than their heads; but I’m pretty sure that this was a style choice.
Okay… that’s it. That’s my cons.

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The Boyle Sisters level involves attending a masquerade ball.

Pros: The game is gorgeous. It’s very thematic, very dark and depressing– it looks like a plague-ridden city. There are multiple extra areas that you can wander through, typically apartments or manors for side quests only, so it’s not too linear. I do like that these areas are only open for specific missions because otherwise I’d spend all my time trying to open every door in Dunwall. Every area has been mapped out expertly, and it plays more like “levels” than a “world.” So you can’t access old areas through this new area, but each level is built to reflect older areas.

The music is really amazing; you mostly hear it in the menu and during the loading screens (so I heard it a lot…) I remember it being very fitting to the game; a lot of kind of creepy, twinkly music. Lots of strings and flute-y chords in the background, and I guess I’d say that it’s similar to the soundtrack from Skyrim. Gothic, and perhaps, medieval; it’s good, really atmospheric. I enjoyed it a lot and will probably purchase the soundtrack, because it makes really good ambient music as well.

The game relies on a lot of manual saving, which can be either a blessing or a curse; it’s great for me, because I like to save every ten to fifteen minutes– especially with Dishonored. Being able to manually save means that I don’t have to proceed from a far-away checkpoint every time I restart after getting caught or killed or killing someone on accident. So the manual saving thing definitely helped me, although there were times where I’d get very far and then make a mistake, and, having forgotten to save, had to start over from a while ago. The game does autosave so you’re not completely left on your own, though I’m not sure how often autosave points occur; probably only when you do something significant or enter a new area, like most games.

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Concept art of Lord Protector Corvo Attano; he’s exactly as broody as you’d imagine.

Another thing that I really loved about this game is that most of the characters that you interact with have specific roles to play and developed backstories. For example, there’s Admiral Havelock, leader of the Resistance and a stalwart captain of the sea. Pendleton, the dignified and kind of prissy nobleman, also part of the Resistance. Teague Martin, a highwayman-turned-overseer that works for the Resistance as well; but it’s not just major players of the Resistance that have their unique personalities. Lydia, a maid who works for their crew, is flirtatious and world-weary and surprisingly willful. Piero, the socially awkward engineer, is careful and pensive and has a massive crush on Callista, another maid who embodies kindness but is rather uninterested in Piero’s (or even Corvo’s, if you try to seduce her) advances. Granny Rags, Slackjaw, Sokolov, The Boyle sisters, Overseer Campbell, the Outsider, even Hiram Burrows and Daud– who I found especially intriguing, considering the fact that he killed Jessamine… but lives on in deep regret and guilt. Each one has their own lore, which can be discovered through audiographs and books that you find throughout the game, or even by simply interacting with characters. If you’d like to unearth their deepest secrets in a more crafty manner, you can use the heart.

The heart was another thing that I enjoyed utilizing; it’s used mainly to locate Runes and bone-charms, both of which will grant Corvo more powers and abilities, but if you point the heart at a person and press the trigger, it reveals their secrets. I can’t imagine the amount of time put into writing the script for the secrets of all the main characters, and even those of the NPCs, considering the sheer number of them. Of course, most NPCs have the lines of male and female survivors, or thugs, so each NPC is part of a larger group and their secrets don’t change but that’s still a lot of history. The heart doesn’t spoil future parts of the game, which is great; but she does make some cryptic comments that make more sense later on.

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Tallboys, whom you have to avoid if you’re going for the low chaos ending.

Another notable character is Emily Kaldwin: the ten-year-old daughter of Queen Jessamine, and Corvo’s kidnapped ward. She’s tiny, she’s spunky, and she’s incredibly insightful. Emily Kaldwin isn’t featured very much during the game, because most of it is spent running after the men who kidnapped her, but she’s undoubtedly a light in Corvo’s dark life when she does make her appearance. I personally believe that her character was written incredibly; she’s traumatized by everything that’s happening and in the midst of grief, after having witnessed her mother’s murder, but she’s also determined to take her place on the throne and insists that Corvo be at her side.  She never loses faith in her protector, even when she’s kidnapped for a second time, and you can get a feel of how much she means to Corvo, who has watched her grow and bloom into this daring, sweet little girl. She’s essentially he’s daughter– and then you realize through discovered lore that haha, she really is his daughter. That just makes the bond even deeper. It very much reminded me of Elizabeth and Booker from Bioshock: Infinite, but this relationship was a bit more tender and not nearly as confusing because Emily is this little child that you have to protect, not a fully grown woman. I might even venture to say that the father-daughter bond in this game is more established than the one that Infinite featured.

I like that they introduced three essential plots (the murder of Jessamine Kaldwin, the kidnapping of Emily, and the rat plague,) and made sure to feature each one in every level. Emily and Jessamine tie together, since the men that kidnapped Emily are also the ones who murdered your beloved Empress, but the rat plague is mentioned in almost every conversation– understandable, considering the fact that it’s brought your city to its knees. Also, swarms of rats inhabit various rooms in different levels, and they’re terrifying to deal with, even if they can be easily defeated.

Lastly, I enjoyed this game because it was sufficiently difficult, especially if you’re going the nonlethal route. Killing everyone that stands in your path is definitely presented as the easier route, and a lot of the powers that you can purchase with runes do make it easier to murder your enemies instead of knocking them out. For example, there’s one power that turns unsuspecting, murdered enemies into ash– which leaves your trail virtually invisible. Another gives you a boost of adrenaline or something whenever you kill someone. So the game is geared towards bloodshed and massacre, but you have to keep in mind that every body that you pile up will lead you closer and closer to the high-chaos ending, which is infinitely sadder than the low-chaos one. Also, I believe that future levels get more difficult as the body count goes up.
On the other hand, it’s so much easier to just chop up a few bodies and not have to worry about dragging them into inconspicuous corners of dark rooms, so they won’t be spotted and alarms won’t start ringing.

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Concept art of Queen Jessamine Kaldwin; the image that was finally used is the one on the very bottom, a portfolio snapshot, and the woman in the center, in purple.

So overall, this game is definitely something that I’d recommend. The replay value is high, especially because you can try for the low-chaos ending and the high-chaos ending. Apparently, murdering people will also change character perspectives of you, so your interactions with Lydia, Piero, Admiral Havelock and perhaps even Emily, etc, will be much different. It has a simple, easy-to-follow story and focuses greatly on your character and interactions with other characters. The time it takes to complete the game is sufficient as well– I actually had a lot of time to spare and so, was able to finish it in the past week. I imagine that it’d take a little longer or maybe a lot long for those playing casually. If you like stealth games, definitely give it a try! And if you’re looking to start, I’d say that Dishonored is a good way to go.

The Boogie Man

Over the past week I made it through this RPG Maker game, The Boogie Man. It’s the story of a detective, trapped inside a castle and hunting down a madman who has taken the residents of the castle tour (of which he was a part of along with his wife,) captive.

The story is really interesting and, in the beginning, was well-thought-out. Our madman, the titular “Boogie Man,” is a genuinely warped individual with a thirst for chaos. He wanders around the castle, murdering and maiming people all while hunting Detective Keith Baring’s wife, Helena. Each room holds another puzzle piece that will eventually help solve the puzzle of who exactly the Boogie Man is, and flowing dialogue, atmospheric music and original artwork help make to make the game intriguing. It certainly held my interest until the very end, and exceeded my expectations, considering the fact that it’s free.

Now, for a free game, The Boogie Man is incredible: there’s a story, changing gameplay mechanics, and so much dialogue. I would recommend it if you’re bored and want to play something creepy, but without jumpscares. There are some cons to it, though, and this is where spoilers begin.
The beginning of the story was good. Detective Keith Baring and his wife, Helena, who suffer a strained relationship due to a past tragedy, decide to holiday at this random castle that they get free tickets to tour courtesy of Dick, who is Keith’s supervisor.

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Haha. You’re in for a ride, Helena.

So Keith wakes up in the middle of the night and realizes that Helena is gone, and then after a few cutscenes and some wandering around the castle, is introduced to the main antagonist: Boogie Man. He chases Boogie Man around the castle for the next six hours or however long it takes you to complete the game, and through various hints you start to guess who Boogie Man might be: is it one of the hostages? Is it Dick? Is it Eric, the clumsy subordinate? But no, in the end, it turns out that the Boogie Man is… Brendon. The castle’s proprietor and the guy who started the tours. He’s the first victim but haha, surprise, he actually destroyed a doll that looked like him. I admit that the unmasking threw me off, not only for that reason but also because Brendon has literally no motivation to antagonize Keith Baring. What was he trying to do? Build a reputation for the castle? No, there’s no motivation at all. This is even commented on by Dick in the epilogue, when he states the same confusion over Brendon’s missing motivation. I think that it’s supposed to be assumed that he’s just crazy, but… why? It felt like a cop-out. They tried to play up a Batman-Joker relationship between Keith and Boogie, but it didn’t work out.

This game also features a lot of voice acting, which might be your thing, but is certainly not mine. I like voice acting in games like Bioshock, Batman, Brothers, you know, ones made professionally. It was a little weird playing an RPG that had voices for their characters. I got used to it after the first few hours: Keith’s voice actor, only identified by the pseudonym “Neon,” did a pretty good job. So did the other voice actors. The only one who irritated me to no end was the voice of Helena, who might have also been the voice of Tod Baring, their son. I could not stand her. She had this very soft, breathy, high-pitched voice which almost convinced me to mute the entire game, which would have been a pity because the soundtrack is pretty great. I wish there was a way to turn off the voices. Boogie Man’s voice was really good, too. I think he was the only one that was actually convincing, whose voice fit their character. Everyone else felt slightly disjointed.

Speaking of the characters, they aren’t super well thought-out, but you become reasonably attached to most of them. Keith especially, since you play as him. There’s also the slimy ex-reporter, Lance, the father and daughter duo, Richard and Sophie, and the married couple, David and Shirley. I think that David actually comes from the game The Crooked Man, which is part of the trilogy that The Boogie Man belongs to. A lot of the characters are stereotypes: Richard is the overprotective father, Sophie is the brat, Helena is the useless and hyperfeminine love interest, and Keith is the emotionless, grade A detective that has no time for your crap. The most interesting ones were probably David and Shirley, mostly because you don’t know anything about them, other than the fact that they consider themselves to be loners. Very mysterious. David’s also the only helpful one, and referred to as the “Robin to Keith’s Batman,” so he made himself a place in my heart.

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Here’s Keith trying to solve a puzzle in a creepy room.

The cutscenes are incredibly long, but they’re fun, so that didn’t bother me too much. I think that the only other thing that really annoyed me about this game was the walking. You had to walk so much, and the castle was like a maze. It was impossible to find different rooms, and you have to run back from Point Z to Point A multiple times when searching for items/events and completing missions. Oh, I actually thought of one more thing: I’m pretty sure that there is no way to complete this game without the walkthrough. It’s hard, and a lot of the events that happen have to be triggered by super-specific things. I think I would have spent an extra six hours just walking around and trying to get something to happen if it hadn’t existed, but luckily, an official walkthrough is online.

Overall, this game is great for being free. It’s a good way to pass the time, but it’s also pretty creepy and features some rather violent methods of death, although it’s all 8-bit so I don’t know if that would bother anyone. I enjoyed it, but I don’t think I’d play it again, even though there are multiple endings. I got the happy, true ending, and I’m content with that. Still, props to the creator, Uri, for putting so much time and effort into this. Here’s a link to the download file if you’re interested in trying it out:

http://vgperson.com/games/boogieman.htm

Uncharted 4

Wooooow. Wow. I literally finished playing Uncharted 4 and I have no words. It was one of the best games that I’ve ever played through. Uncharted 4 is chock-full of dialogue, story, and subtlety, and it’s so amazing. In my opinion, it’s definitely one of the top ten “finale” games to exist.

Uncharted 4 follows the last adventure of Nathan Drake, who has, in this game, retired from his treasure-hunting business and is, instead, working with a salvaging company. He digs things up out of water. It’s like low-stakes, low-risk treasure hunting. Nathan and Elena have settled down in the suburbs, trying to lead normal lives, which obviously doesn’t work too well considering what Nathan ends up doing. I loved this beginning of the game, because you get a lot of background on the characters, but it’s not boring. It’s actually pretty lovely, like an homage to the previous three games. Nathan reminisces over his past adventures and you can even discover little trinkets around his office and home, that belong to these other excursions. I also have always liked Elena and Nathan together, and you get to see them working as a married couple, and that’s pretty cute. They’re a good pair. But it’s easy to tell that not all is well in paradise, because Nathan’s very obviously bored with his job. He loves Elena a lot and doesn’t plan on getting back into treasure hunting, but he’s also really restless with his life right now.

Another thing that I like about this game is the flashbacks– these give us a lot of sight into Sam and Nathan’s relationship, as well as their relationship with the main antagonist, Rafe. We see Sam and Nathan as little kids (which is really cool; they were pretty crazy kids,) and we also see the mishap that led to Nathan’s beginnings. It gives you more of a foundation into Nathan’s personality and why he does what he does. You also learn that treasure-hunting runs in the Drake/Morgan family– their mother, Cassandra Morgan, was a historian who searched for the pirate James Avery’s lost treasure– and that’s what starts this whole mess.

You get a lot of story in this game. I can’t say that enough. This game is all about the story.

The gameplay might put off those who like to experience varied environments. It’s very repetitive, but I don’t mind that at all. There’s a lot of point and shoot, use the bombs, use this rope thingy that you have to swing across wide spaces, you know. The usual Uncharted mechanics.

The scenery in this game is GORGEOUS. I feel like 80% of their budget must have gone into the scenery because it is quite possibly the most beautiful game that I’ve ever played. All of the locations– the residential areas like Nate and Elena’s home, the towns that they visit, the island of Libertalia, the school that Nate and Sam attended, the Paraguayan jail– each and every single one has so many painstaking details. I’ll add some pictures below, because I really can’t describe it well enough. There were so many times that I wanted to stop and paint what was on my screen, or where I just stopped and looked around for a good ten minutes because it was so, so breathtaking.

via n4g, Kotaku, pastemagazine and fenixbazaar.

Let me be clear, here: these aren’t cutscenes or anything– these are actual screenshots straight from the game. It’s so incredible. God, I remember one place in particular– a villa you have to sneak Sam and Nate into to steal the St. Dismas’ cross. It was so, so stunning. I am so sad that I don’t have a house like that manor.

Also, the amount of time that it took for me to complete this game was great! I’m not a serious gamer or anything– I love video games, but I usually spend maybe an hour or two on them a few times a week. Even so, I tend to finish games fairly quickly, but I’ve been playing Uncharted 4 for I think, maybe three whole weeks now. For $60, it’s a really great deal. You get so many hours of gameplay and story, and the story is riveting and the gameplay is wonderful. There are so many places you can explore– the storyline is very linear, but you can go around collecting treasures or unlocking dialogue with various characters, or finding journal pages for Nathan to pencil into his little book. I hate going after treasure most of the time but the journal pages were what got to me– I love being able to read through Nathan’s private thoughts.

The characters are familiar and they’re wonderful. I can’t decide who is my favorite, because they’re all so well-written and they feel almost like real people. The dialogue between them is smooth and natural, and everyone has a part in the story. There are no random characters. The villains are perfect, the whole cast is perfect. There aren’t any awkward animation scenes and there aren’t many bugs in the game at all. It’s incredibly immersive. While you can play this game by itself, I would seriously recommend that you play the first three and then move onto Uncharted 4. It just makes everything so much sweeter. There are a ton of cameos from the old games, so it’s a lot more exciting.

I think that literally the only thing that disappointed me about this game was the lack of supernatural creatures. Uncharted featured those creepy demon-cursed-Nazi creatures, and Uncharted 2 I think had the undead warriors and crazy goat-yeti monsters from Shambhala. Uncharted featured djinn that took over the bodies of dead soldiers and were seriously creepy and a little hard to kill. So I was waiting the entire game for something scary to pop out in Uncharted 4, but nothing ever did. I think that in this game, the shock-factor was supposed to be the treasure itself, and what it did to the pirates and colonists. They all went mad with greed and jealousy and worked quickly to slaughter each other. Even Avery and Tew didn’t survive the massacre, having murdered each other before anyone could escape with the treasure. While I kind of wish that there had been monsters, it really didn’t matter that much. The game was perfect even without them.

The ending of Uncharted 4 was really wonderful, too. I was worried that they’d kill off Sam or something but no, he survives. He’s really, super cool, so I’m excited about that. Also, I think that there might be a possibility that they’ll continue the series with Sam and Sully, but there’s no news on that so here’s to hoping. You get to see an epilogue featuring Nate, Elena, their dog and then their daughter, Cassie (who I just realized is named after her grandma, aww,) and it’s perfect because they’re literally living their best lives. Nate and Elena have taken over the salvage crew and they’re exploring the world, finding sunken treasure. Cassie’s taking after her parents with her curiosity in adventuring, and they leave the possibility open that she might be the new protagonist for any future Uncharted games.

Anyways, my hands are starting to hurt from typing all of this. I can’t stress this enough, but if you like the series and you’ve been worried about getting the game because what if they ruin it? NO. IT’S PERFECT. IT’S BEAUTIFUL. And if you’re looking to get into a new series, Uncharted is where it’s at. Definitely, definitely, definitely play this game!
On another note, if you like treasure hunting and books about treasure hunting, try reading Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series. They’re pretty intense novels that deal with all of this stuff that Nathan Drake and co. do, and they’re so much fun!

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

So over the course of yesterday and today, I finished Starbreeze Studio’s game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. It’s an incredibly short piece, maybe 7 or 8 hours in all, but the aesthetics are gorgeous and the music is beautifully atmospheric. I felt really good about this game. It was more story oriented than anything else, and while the controls were simple (the two joysticks + L2/R2,) they required a lot of coordination. The point of the game is to control both brothers at the same time. There are some things that Naiee, the younger brother, can do,  and some things that only Naia, the older brother, can accomplish. For example, Naiee is terrified of water and has to hang onto Naia’s back in order to get across numerous lakes that appear in the game. Meanwhile, Naia can’t get up onto high ledges, but he can boost Naiee up.

The story follows Naiee and Naia trying to find their way to the Water of Life, so that they can save their dying father. Their father is the only family that they have left; their mother died in a boating accident years earlier (which is the source of Naiee’s fear of water.) You travel through a lot of exquisite landscapes with unique climates and creatures. For example, there’s a winter world with a massive, invisible monster and orca-like creatures swimming through the water, and there’s a summery world where you encounter giants and goblins.

In regards to the ending: although I was pretty upset, I felt like I hadn’t gotten close enough to the character to really– well, okay, I’m sure that I’m being obvious enough for “what happened” to be obvious. Basically, Naia dies. And I was really, really sad, but also… I felt like I hadn’t gotten close enough to him to be too broken-hearted. I mean, it was a short game, so that’s understandable.

The gameplay was super easy and it required more thinking than brute button-mashing. The challenges were not that challenging. After all, you can’t really do much since you only use, again, a total of two buttons in the game. I have to say, though, they were incredibly creative for only having two buttons to use. There are quite a few cutscenes in the game and actually, some of them would have been really fun to play.

I think I’d give this game a 8/10. It’s really good. I’d recommend it for people who like a story but not a challenge, or anyone who’s looking for a quick game to run through. Actually, running through might not be the best idea. The environments are beautiful and it’s fun to explore and admire the landscapes. Before I forget, there’s just one more thing to add– I wish that we could have gotten a better look at the lore behind the different places. Some of them were very intriguing, like the goblins. Who were they worshipping, with that two-person blood statue thing? And also, what happened in the winter world? Why were there so many frozen people? What was that turtle thing that had the ice-shell on its back? Who was the spider-lady and what was she all about? (Although, it was very cool that they insinuated earlier in the game that she wasn’t exactly what she appeared to be, with her superhuman jumping and strength abilities.) Yeah. I’d love to read a book or play another game that belonged in this world.