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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Why is no one talking about this? - Dreamfall Chapters, Ori and the Blind Forest

I think one of the more infuriating things about this industry (apart from the shady business practices) is the great or just good games that get over shadowed. We all know what the next Call of Duty is but most games slip under the radar. Its even more unusual when it seems like no one is talking about a game at all. Youtube has its own people posting about their "Top 10 Underrated Games" lists but even then that doesn't cover all of them. This weekend, I picked up two games, one I heard about but never played and another I'd never even heard of.

Dreamfall Chapters is one of those kickstarter children popped out some time ago, October of last year to be precise. Its a continuation of the Longest Journey series that was around during the time of the original Xbox. I always wanted to play it if only for how unusual it looked and probably because of the lack of things people said about it. Even the worst games get their own time in the spot light to get roasted for their five minutes of fame, but this series was just that one title I always saw at GameStop (or EB Games back then; god I'm old...). I never got to play them because I was too young when it came out to pick up an M rated game, too poor to pick it up on the 360's arcade and not really interested to pick up the games on Steam. Too bad for me.
Its a standard point and click game. Pick up item, combine item with another item, solve puzzle with said combination. I've never really been a fan of these games though I suppose The Walking Dead series from TellTale has warmed me up to the idea. Its also sort of in the same vein as Walking Dead. There's a heavy focus on narrative but not in a bad way. Walking Dead was about the loss of humanity and the futility in trying to reclaim it. The story it told was never forced into your face and you were free to respond to it how you pleased. I can't really get a focus on the theme of this game other than "authority is bad" but it doesn't really matter. The writing is really good and haunting at times. Tragically beautiful at points and funny in others. Juggling both dry comedy and saddening writing is no easy feat but welcome when done right.
Speaking of writing, I really like the world building. I've never played any of the other games in the series but it never felt like I needed to. I decided to go in blind rather than get caught up. Thankfully there was an option for me to be caught up to speed in the game which is a nice tough. Its difficult to make a world feel real but the game did a pretty good job. Rather than be assaulted with exposition dumps or dragged kicking and screaming past terms and events I really wanted to know about, each dialogue felt natural and fluid. Though I missed a few terms, common sense filled me in pretty well. I knew what was a curse, what was their term for currency and generally all that was going on. In contrast, if you've ever read a book with just massive amounts of exposition filling the reader in versus a story like 1984 which doesn't hold your hand in anything, its leaning more towards 1984 but not too much so that its alienating.
I have my qualms about the game in certain areas but its a puzzle game and that's pretty par for the course.

Speaking of puzzle games, Ori and the Blind forest. I give off this groan whenever I hear that a game is going to be exclusive to a certain system, especially when it interests me. I can deal with it when its for a handheld system, especially in this generation considering the mechanics of both the 3DS and Vita are unlike any other system to date, but when it comes to consoles its really annoying. I don't have too many qualms about it, I understand the practice, but I just hate it how something might not get the exposure it should have gotten because not everyone had that particular system. Its like if your favorite series had its own cannon continuation but it was on a completely different system and then failed so now you can't expect to see any more games in the coming years. This game looked amazing to me and heart breaking. I was really excited for it but it just kind of fell through once I knew I couldn't play it for lack of owning and Xbox One. Lucky me it was on PC.
This is one of those few times when I debate giving a perfect score if I was reviewing it. Breathless is really a good way to describe something like this. Its like watching a painting move before your very eyes but slowly so you have time to appreciate it as the art itself begins to change. As far as puzzle platformers go, its pretty standard with a few variations. The story and visuals are really where it excels. There's combat but its done in a way I feel I can get stronger. If an enemy is too tough, I can usually end up using my cunning or just coming back later after I've gotten stronger or a better ability. Each encounter you have shouldn't be enraging but rather rewarding. If it is enraging, the player should feel in control so as to not feel as though they've reached and impassible point but rather have options apart from sticking it out to just straight up quitting the game.
Puzzles shouldn't be annoying as well. If I feel the need to window the game just to look up a quick commentary, then you've done something wrong. I did have to do it once, but it was more my fault. Rather than explore the puzzle, I got frustrated and looked up a walkthrough. Of course it was the easiest thing to solve so I felt like an idiot.
In terms of writing its more of a vacuum. Rather than dialogue, visuals are represented. While there is some text, most of it is just telling you minor things. "Go to Point A!" kind of stuff. Its difficult to make me feel sad or any emotion other than unintentional anger for a particular character. Its a greater feat when you make me feel for a character without even having any dialogue spoken. I don't like to feel heartbreak but it invests me in characters. Like how Tali is just my favorite character in Mass Effect for the things she did rather than me being told by the game, "SHE IS AWESOME. YOU LIKE HER NOW." An opposite example would be "Press button to pay respects."

Both of these games are worth their price tag. Good games that I had completely looked over until now and its unfortunate that I did.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Early Access: Oblitus

So I guess I'm starting up a new thing here. Early Access is going to (obviously) look at early access games on Steam. The point being is that I either feel these games are in a state which, while being unfinished, I cannot definitively pin a static score to. That is to say if I either feel a game has some untapped potential in the early access list, I feel it would be 'unfair' of me to evaluate all I've seen/played so far.

Oblitus is an early access game I never heard about. Literally. I just happened across a Youtube video... somehow, about it. The game is supposed to be '2-D Dark Souls', which I can kind of see. Nameless faceless protagonist you are, you have been given a loose directive to find... someone. This objective now tasks you to kill things/avoid being killed by things. I... kind of like it. The immediate problem is not knowing what the hell is going on. After the ten minute loading screen (yes, ten minutes) I was dropped into the main menu and then into the game after a short tutorial. You have a shield and a spear. Pretty standard stuff. You have a variety of moves, mostly just in poke with spear, throw said spear, block, parry, roll and jump.
Progressing into the game you may find small 'power ups'. Said power ups will give you different bonuses. However, as I've seen, these bonuses don't stay once you die and they don't come back with you once you die. First run I got heavy armor. Second run was a poison spear. Third was a spear that went through enemies. And last was an invincibility roll. This is kind of annoying. I don't mind not being able to take said items with me when I respawn but the problem is that I have no idea what said items do. In Dark Souls, I may take a risky path in order to get that one item that is just the most awesomest thing ever and not care about dying once I get it. In Mario, die and your power ups are forfeit. The difference is with Dark Souls and Mario, each of those power up are in static places. So if I was a Mario savant, I know exactly where to get the next mushroom and then fire flower. I can accurately go forward knowing full well what is going to happen. Randomized rewards are... interesting. They keep game play blind like in The Binding of Isaac. I have no idea if said power up was worth having my health shaved off.
Back to not being told stuff, you have a health bar riiiight in the top left hand corner. Difficult to see and since its not numbers, its hard to know how much life you actually have. Its a circle that empties itself when you take damage. Goes from green to yellow to red. Pretty standard. Apart from that, there's a moment when the damage I took led to me having almost no life bar. I mean in the sense it was either so low it was outside of my 20/20 vision, or some problem with the resolution obscured it. When I fought a boss after getting the heavy armor, my damage didn't seem to change at all. I seemed to still take the same amount so I was unaware if it did much of anything at all.

The game shows promise. I feel there's a lack of focus on certain aspects, but the game is playable so there's that. Combat is interesting and definitely has a 'think first' motif. Each enemy varies in how you must deal with them. Some easy enemies will be clunked in with harder enemies so you have to use your moves perfectly to survive unscathed. If this game was finished, I'd probably buy it. I do like the atmosphere and handling of certain things, so I'd say its not bad.