Dear Esther is a non-traditional video game that doesn’t demand various button presses or trigger pulls to perform pre-determined actions.

Dear Esther: Landmark Edition
The Chinese Room / Curve Digital

Reviewed On: PS4
Also On: Xbox One, Mac, Windows, Linux
Street: 09.20

The Chinese Room is a small indie studio that began their foray into game development by creating mods for Half Life. Their most notable mods include Dear Esther (2008) and Korsakovia (2009). Shortly after Korsakovia was released and they had a greater understanding of the Source engine, they moved on to develop a full-fledged, stand-alone remake of Dear Esther for Valve’s distribution service Steam, in 2012. Since the release of both Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs and Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture, Curve Digital stepped in as publisher to release Dear Esther: Landmark Edition for consoles. 

Dear Esther is a non-traditional video game that doesn’t demand various button presses or trigger pulls to perform pre-determined actions. In fact, every button available zooms in on objects exclusive and the bulk of the experience is spent walking at a snail’s pace along the various walkways of an island inhabited by shipwrecks and abandoned buildings. As you meander around the island, an omniscient British man reads letters to his wife (Esther), sharing his experiences at home after her death, his revelations about the person responsible for the car accident that killed her, as well as his experiences and interpretations of the island he has found himself on. Throughout the island, pictographs, molecular structures, words of wisdom and warnings are painted all over the walls of abandoned buildings, cliff faces and the large inner chambers of caves. In later chapters, they become more prevalent the closer you get to completing this beautiful and depressing story.

It can’t go without mentioning how beautiful, stunning and captivating the environments are, especially in the latter half of this short (roughly two-hour) storyline.

It can’t go without mentioning how beautiful, stunning and captivating the environments are,  especially in the latter half of this short (roughly two-hour) storyline. There were so many instances where I was admiring the artistic beauty of the island, the waves crashing onto the shoreline and the dark sky above me. Furthermore, the sound design is impeccable and it’s incredibly engrossing soundtrack gave me chills every time it came alive to drive the narrative home; it’s hauntingly beautiful and ethereal, demanding the volume be turned to 11. Jessica Curry, co-director and in-house composer for The Chinese Room, is an incredible talent that possesses a next-level understanding for the emotional impact music can have in video games.

Since Dear Esther’s 2012 re-release, critics and players alike have had mixed feelings. At the time, it was jarring and unconventional for a video game to take away basic player interaction and guide them through a directed story. But the beauty of Dear Esther is that it’s an emotionally powerful story that’s open to the player’s interpretation, despite the scripted ending. It’s a sad story of a man who lost his wife in a tragic accident and how he’s dealt with it. However, by the time the credits started rolling, I was asking more questions about my life and the important people that populate it, rather than this man’s story, no matter how captivating and heartbreaking it may be. I am floored and honored to have experienced Dear Esther—now I need to play it’s spiritual successor, Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture.

Arcania screenshot

Arcania: The Complete Tale

Nordic Games
Reviewed on: PS4
Also on: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Street: 05.29

In an ever evolving RPG landscape, where one game borrows from another, perfecting age-old, tried-andtrue mechanics, upgrading graphics, expanding open worlds, adding consequence to every interaction, etc., Arcania: The Complete Tale seems to be the baby boomer to the millennial. Instead of trying to do anything new, it’s stuck in the ways of old. With repetitive combat, limited (not to mention extremely buggy) traversal, brainless practice dummies for enemies and an inventory that is as unintuitive as it is a cluttered mess, the question that needs to be asked is: Why is this game being released for a third time? Most RPGs shouldn’t get any sort of re-release treatment. The most memorable, albeit classic games in the genre have never had a re-release outside of porting them to consoles. Why the hell would this gaming generation want—let alone, need—an RPG that in no way stands up to its counterparts? If this were the year 2010 and games like The Witcher 2, Fallout: New Vegas, or even Mass Effect 2 weren’t out around the same time, then maybe Arcania: The Complete Tale would be a fun, fill-the-void RPG experience, but even that would be a stretch. –Trey Sanders

Photos: Matt Brunk

The second annual PSX has come to an end. It was just as awesome as last year’s outing and twice the size of the inaugural event a year ago. For those unfamiliar, PSX is dedicated to the fans who have made PlayStation what it is today by throwing a private party filled with current and future titles for everyone to enjoy. For those of you that couldn’t attend the festivities, here’s a small handful of titles to look forward to in the coming months.


Alienation

Housemarque /Sony Computer Entertainment
Reviewed on: PS4 (Exclusive)
Street: 03.02

For those of you who have played and enjoyed the many hours of intense, palm-sweating action of Dead Nation, it’s spiritual successor, Alienation, is primed to blow your mind. Like its predecessor, it’s a top-down, twin-stick shooter that’s populated by just as many enemies, just as many environmental hazards and just as much edge-of-your-seat carnage. Aside from it’s unmistakable likeness to Dead Nation, Alienation expands upon what was already built and adds a lot of new ingredients to the already stellar formula. Instead of zombies, gathering money and increasing your damage multiplier on the battlefield, you’re fighting aliens, finding new weapons, equipment, gadgets and buffers that have various rarity levels that can be kept or scrapped for materials. Your arsenal is limited to three weapons and one piece of equipment at any given time, however, they can be switched up at any point, should the need arise. While every soldier has unique abilities assigned to them, they can be upgraded via the skills tree to better fit any kind of play style. Alienation is already everything you could want from a Housemarque game, and it’s not even done yet. Keep your eyes peeled for this title in the coming months. –Trey Sanders


Dead Star – Featured at PSX. Photo: Matt Brunk / unlifephotography.com
Dead Star – Featured at PSX.

Dead Star

Armature Studio
Reviewed on: PS4
Also on: PC
Street: early 2016

Dead Star is a procedurally generated, twin-stick strategy arcade shooter that features various 10-vs.-10 online battles between different gangs of convicts (or what I like to call “space pirates”) who have been banished to the edge of space next to a dying star. Under the watchful eye of the Guardian AI, these factions wage war against themselves to gather as many resources as possible to try to leave the dangerous sector of space. During our demo of Conquest, everyone was vying for control over various AI-controlled bases as well as the player-controlled locations. After filling up on resources, players take back what they’ve gathered to upgrade their bases, making them more impenetrable to enemy attacks. Most matches last between 15 to 20 minutes and require a lot of team cooperation. While the lone wolf route is possible, thanks in part to minute damage upgrades with every new level, a lot of the fleet works best as a unit. Everything you do on the battlefield grants you more experience that can be used to upgrade your ships’ weapons and aesthetic look, but it’s promised to not give any one player an unfair advantage over anyone else. –Trey Sanders


Gang Beasts

Boneloaf / Double Fine
Reviewed On: PS4
Also on: PC

Gang Beasts has been on Steam’s Early Access for a little over a year now, but Boneloaf and Double Fine have been hard at work to finish this one-of-a-kind, hilarious fighting game. At launch (the first quarter of 2016), the game will come with more stages to fight in, a cooperative campaign, online multiplayer and more. In comparison to the pre-alpha build, the game has seen a great amount of improvement. For instance, the characters now have clothing instead of being their naked and gelatinous selves. In addition to covering the characters up and adding more personality to them, they can now head-butt and kick their opponents instead of just punching and grabbing each other. The controls have been tightened up and are far more responsive, while maintaining their drunken movements. It was also nice to see that they’ve added a few new maps, as well as new sound effects and music in the year of its absence. Gang Beasts, even in the state it was in a year ago, was some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing a video game. It’s exciting to see that it’s finally becoming a fully realized experience that will have endless reasons to keep playing. –Trey Sanders   


Metrico + – Featured at PSX. Photo: Matt Brunk / unlifephotography.com
Metrico + – Featured at PSX.

Metrico +

Digital Dreams
Reviewed on: PS4
Also on: Xbox One, PC

Metrico + is half remake and half a reimagining of Metrico, the PS Vita’s puzzle-platformer where the world is made up of mathematics, infographics and shapes. I can hear you saying, “Well, that doesn’t sound fun,” but you’d be wrong to assume that. Yes, the game is built on and presented with everything from graphs, charts, shapes and even percentages, but that’s part of its business-esque aesthetic and charm. At heart, every game you play uses mathematics to make everything work together as one, but the tiny team over at Digital Dreams has taken something unconventional for the world of video games and have crafted a charming, challenging and thoughtful puzzle game. Every step you take or jump you attempt is counted throughout each environment that forces the player to use their trial-and-error skills to get to the end of any puzzle. For the sake of time, I was shown a number of mechanics that will be introduced in later levels to make puzzles more challenging, more rewarding and more unique than Metrico did a year ago. Upon release, the six worlds of puzzles will be raised to eight, and there will be a new storyline and new mechanics, just to name a few major changes. –Trey Sanders


Viking Squad

Slick Entertainment
Reviewed on: PS4
Also on: PC

Viking Squad is immediately reminiscent of Castle Crashers from the Xbox 360, only this one isn’t as cute. Before you and your buddies can fight against the rule of Jarl, you must choose between four unique Vikings, all sporting their own unique weapons and abilities. Then it’s off to pillage their village, bash their heads in and stay between the lines in the process. Aptly dubbed as a “lane-based” brawler, Viking Squad aims to keep everything a little more organized as you hack away at your foes to avoid those “swing and miss” moments by keeping the players and the AI in specific lanes to avoid the frustrations of missing your target. They’ve stripped away the on-screen icon to cue heavy attacks by replacing it with a visual que and HUD icons to display its power and readiness; if filled all the way, feel free to unleash your super ability. As you make your way along any of the procedurally generated maps, you collect treasures, more powerful weapons, liberate fantastical gods, and find secret areas to conquer. The talented gentlemen at Slick Entertainment have something special for all of us in the next few months, and all of you should be ready to bring more glory to Valhalla. –Trey Sanders

Nova 111

Nova-111

Funktronic Labs/Curve Studios
Reviewed on: PS4
Also on: PS3, PS Vita, Xbox One, Wii U, PC
Street: 08.25

In Nova-111, scientists have been developing the “Greatest Science Experiment” with the intention of unlocking “real-time” in a turn-based world. After some time, everything went horribly awry, resulting in the creation of a real-time/turn-based vortex. The 111 scientists have been scattered throughout various alien landscapes, and your job is to rescue them and survive the creatures of this new world in your space-fridge, Nova. Because of the resultant vortex, the world and its enemies are shrouded in shadows, making every movement a little nerve-wracking. With a little exploration, I was able to find hidden treasures, ship upgrades and stranded scientists. Movement in this game plays out in real-time, but my enemies and I are restricted to the standard turn-based rules, including our attacks. The gameplay is solid overall, but with so many upgrades, it became a little overwhelming. However, with so many tools at my disposal, it made finding new strategies that much more enjoyable. The small team at Funktronic Labs has clearly learned from the PixelJunk series and has built themselves a strategy game to be proud of. –Trey Sanders

Need for Speed

Need For Speed
Ghost Games / EA

Reviewed On: PS4
Also on: Xbox One, PC
Street: 11.03.15

Two years ago, a brand new studio full of ex–Criterion Games developers, Ghost Games, released Need for Speed: Rivals to coincide with the launch of the PS4. It incorporated everything great about Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2012) and added unique offensive and defensive weaponry for both Racers and Cops to use, called Pursuit Tech. They included EMPs, Shockwaves, Spike Strips, Jammers and Helicopter Support to name a few. By using the mechanics from Most Wanted, Hot Pursuit and Rivals, Ghost Games has taken the series back to what made Need for Speed: Underground (2003) so great while incorporating an ambitious storyline, a new open world to play in, insane customization options, impeccable audio design, beautiful visuals and an always online racing community.

 

Need For Speed

The narrated cutscenes that followed both sides of the racer/cop rivalry have been stripped away and replaced with live action scenes that follow Spike Manu, Amy, and Robyn as they try to draw out the champion racers of Speed, Style, Build, Outlaw and Crew racing throughout Ventura Bay. It was cool to see the story play out like an episodic movie, but only a few actors did an admirable job with what they were given. The dialogue left me cringing more times than I could count, and none of the characters are relatable, let alone likable. As I completed the numerous character-specific missions, the storylines started to crash into each other, making absolutely no sense. A great example of this is after I showed up to Amy’s hub after completing a good amount of her missions: Spike showed up and bitched us out for bailing on him, but at his specific meeting spot, mere minutes later, he was happier than ever to see me, as though nothing happened. Despite this, the transition between cutscene and gameplay was seamless and helped immerse me in the world and the convoluted story elements, despite my character being an introvert.

 

Shotty Tuning

Need For Speed places the same emphasis on drifting through corners at insane speeds as Most Wanted, Hot Pursuit and Rivals did before it, but they’ve tightened up the handling significantly, making it more responsive. By maintaining a high speed, proper cornering technique and a well-timed press of the brake pedal, I could sling shot my way through corners like a bonafide badass. In terms of handling, each car I drove made the frustrations I did experience my own doing. If I didn’t anticipate a corner properly and failed to hit the brakes in time, I’d find myself bouncing off the outside wall. If I overcompensated on the brakes and couldn’t initiate the proper drift, I would lose all momentum and slow to a crawl, allowing other racers to catch up in no time. With that said, the AI-controlled drivers seemed to rubberband their way around; one moment they’re up front with the gas pedal down, gliding through turns with ease, or they’ve slowed down to a crawl like any distracted driver who’s checking their phone instead of focusing on the road ahead. If I was trying to score points with any of the characters they, too, would rubberband their way around and never seemed too interested in sharing the road with me, hitting into me or forcibly spinning me out around corners.

 

Unparalleled Customization

Unlike Rivals, where you’d purchase a new car and get to racing, Need for Speed harkens back to the import/tuner culture that was introduced in Need for Speed: Underground. Ghost has made everything from new Cylinder Heads, Ignition Systems, Air Filters, Cooling Systems, Intake Manifolds, Fuel Systems, Turbochargers, Electrical Systems, Engine Blocks, Cam Shafts, Differentials, etc., all staggeringly customizable. On top of the insane amount of performance upgrades, I was able to tweak how my car handled everything I’d put into it; better suiting my driving style. In my Subaru BRZ, I opted to keep the tire pressure low up front to better steer into, through and out of a drift, and slightly less in the back to maintain just enough grip as I fishtailed around corners. I wanted my brakes to be strong enough to initiate a drift easier, so to help with that, I made my steering response quicker, made the drift smoother and easier to handle. To complement my steering, I made my sway bar stiff to limit the body roll for any sharp or aggressive turn. Finally, I chose to have my Nitrous produce more power for a shorter amount of time rather than choosing less over a longer span of time.

 

Frostbite 3

Since Frostbite 3’s debut in 2013, the engine has become beautifully versatile, and Need for Speed is a perfect example. By performance standards, it handles everything on the streets of the fictitious, and always wet, Los Angeles—Ventura Bay—with ease and packs some of the best audio design I’ve ever heard in a racing game. Ghost has blended every individual sound from the RPM’s climbing, to the turbocharger forcing mass amounts of air into the cylinders, or the squealing tires as I drift around every corner and the backfire exploding from the exhaust pipes as I slow down. The only drawback to audio is the incohesive soundtrack. With such an incredible amount of great dubstep and drum and bass tracks, why muddle it up with bad alternative rock and pop songs? The graphics are absolutely stunning, flirting awfully close to being photo realistic. The cars are beautiful and include every fine detail possible on the outside, but it’s a shame that there’s no cockpit view to appreciate everything inside as well. Ventura Bay never seems to get any sunlight, let alone stay dry for any length of time, but I ignored it because of how beautiful and detailed everything is.

 

Always Online Competition

Need for Speed requires an Internet connection at all times so that other players, along with NPC’s, can populate the world to challenge each other to various impromptu races. These range from Time Trials, Sprint Races, Drift Trains, Drift Trials and Touge Races. While I’m out trying to beat the clock, crush other racers’ times, drift with friends and on my own, or combining my speed with drift skills—I can complete the various daily challenges that have returned from Rivals. Upon completion, I receive extra cash, rep, and rank. These rewards are earned from a variety of feats that can range from accruing a substantial fine for speeding and getting away from the cops, narrowly missing other cars during a pursuit, competing against friends in different challenges, etc. Questionably, cops didn’t populate the streets or become a nuisance until after I’d completed more than half of the story missions.

 

Need for Speed is a solid reboot for the tuner side of the franchise, but it crumbles under the weight of its ambitious and disjointed story, as well as the awful characters it revolves around. It’s just as fun and tight as ever, looks and sounds immaculate, and the always online functionality works surprisingly well but doesn’t make the case for why it’s necessary. While I’ve enjoyed coming back to the series and customizing my vehicles, I’d rather play Most Wanted or Rivals instead.

Pumped BMX +

Yeah Us! / Curve Digital
Reviewed on: PS4
Also on: PS3, PS Vita, Xbox One, Wii U, PC
Street: 09.18

Yeah Us! received a lot of critical and commercial success when Pumped: BMX and Pumped: BMX 2 were released on mobile platforms in 2012 and 2014—so much so that Curve Digital partnered with them to produce a console version of the two. They’ve completely overhauled the control scheme to better fit a controller, improved the graphics and added an entirely new—and fantastic—soundtrack to this definitive edition. It’s built on the simple, sometimes frustrating, momentum-based mechanics of Trials, utilizes the always hilarious ragdoll psychics, and is presented as a two-and-a-half-dimensional, platform-racing game with a stylized cartoon aesthetic, much like Joe Danger. After getting over the irony of my avatar looking like a lifeless character from Coraline, I started to figure out how everything worked. Moves are mapped to the right stick, which can be modified by pressing L1 or R1, while spins are done with L2 or R2. Pumped BMX + is a total blast to play and gave me endless amounts of laughter when things didn’t go according to plan. While it’s not as deep as Trials or even Joe Danger, it’s a great pickup at $10. –Trey Sanders

Danganronpa

Danganronpa: The Animation
Funimation

Street: 11.10.15

Before I dive into this review, I need to come clean: I’ve never been a big fan of Anime, in fact I’ve nearly avoided the genre over the years. I’ve only ever watched the shows that interested me, and they’ve been few and far between. With that said, I’ve seen great Anime titles like Samurai X, Samurai Champloo, Cowboy Bebop, Gungrave, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away to name a few. I was hesitant to purchase Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc a year ago because so much Anime was hit or miss for me—still is, to be honest—but I’m glad I did. It hasn’t rekindled any lost love for the genre by any means, but it has become one of my favorite franchises.

 

Danganronpa: The Animation is based on Spike Chunsoft’s PS Vita Interactive Mystery Novel, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. It tells the story of 15 “Ultimate Students” who find themselves locked inside the once elite high school, Hope’s Peak Academy. The only recollection any of these students have is walking into the school and waking up to find themselves imprisoned together. Shortly after the main character Makoto Naegi meets the rest of the students, the maniacally sadistic teddy bear Monokuma calls them into the gym and tells them that the only way to graduate is to kill another student and get away with it. Following the discovery of a crime scene, the investigation period begins and everyone must scour over the evidence they collect and present them in the Class Trial. If the murderer is found guilty, they’re executed in a grandiose and macabre fashion. However, if the wrong person is accused, then everyone else dies and the murderer walks free.

 

Seiji Kishi is no stranger to turning japanese video games into an Anime series; back in 2011 he directed Persona 4: The Animation. With Lerche helming production, Seiji Kishi and his team created Danganronpa: The Animation shortly after the game was released, but up until Funimation localized it, it was only available in Japan. They’ve stripped away the text filled interactions between each character during their daily “school life” to—thankfully—move the bulk of the story forward, while keeping the in-game cutscenes intact. Apart from streamlining the story and combining in-game cinematics, they’ve beautifully recreated the source materials’ meta-game aesthetics and presentation throughout the 13 episodes and it’s on full display for the Class Trials. Truth Bullets were loaded up to “shoot” contradictory statements, Hangman’s Gambit (a Duck Hunt-esq, Hangman) made a couple of appearances to spell out clues, and the Manga strips were laid out to recount the series of events, followed by the Slot Machine to celebrate (yes, celebrate) who was found guilty and the spectacular executions that follow.

 

It’s funny, I had to forgive the absence of the original voice actors, especially Brian Beacock—the original voice of Monokuma from Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair—I don’t typically care about that, but needless to say I fell in love this Anime adaptation. Not many TV shows or movies could match the source material beat for beat, in fact they’d probably fail horribly, but Kishi and his team are clearly in love with the Danganronpa universe and have crafted a fantastic visual experience by taking what was already a great presentation in the game and giving it a visual flow that’s so organically patched together, it’d be a shame not to applaud them for what they’ve achieved. However, for the people, like myself that like to take a peek at the behind the scenes footage to see how things were put together or even check out deleted scenes; don’t waste your breath. Extras include a commentary for the first episode and the option to watch the opening and closing credit songs independently. However, If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll love what Kishi and Lerche have put together. Danganronpa: The Animation is an incredible adaptation of Trigger Happy Havoc, and a great way to introduce people to the series.

Unwritten Tales 2

The Book of Unwritten Tales 2

Nordic Games
Reviewed on: PS4
Also on: PC, Xbox One
Street: 09.17

It’s been a long time since I’ve played a point-and-click adventure—a decade or more, to be exact. Naturally, I was overjoyed to get my hands on The Book of Unwritten Tales 2. Its art style is immediately reminiscent of Escape From Monkey Island, and it works so well in a fantasy setting. My favorite thing about this game is how many pop-culture references Nordic Games has stuffed inside of it. There’s everything from Game of Thrones, Monsters Inc., Skyrim, Portal and Final Fantasy VII, to name a few. I’m not too keen on the controls, however. They’re not very responsive when moving about any set piece or moving to interact with an object, but being able to move from one character to the next with the right stick was welcome. No point-and-click adventure is complete without its puzzles, and this game is no exception. Every puzzle required careful attention to dialogue and heavy use of my intuition in order to complete them, resulting in trumpets loudly signaling my accomplishment. The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 was a great re-acquaintance with the point-and-click genre, and at the bargain price of $20, it’s hard not to make the investment. –Trey Sanders

Unwritten Tales 2

The Book of Unwritten Tales 2
Nordic Games

Reviewed on: PS4
Also on: Xbox One, PC
Street: 09.22

 

It’s been an extremely long time since I’ve played a point-and-click adventure. In fact, the last time I played one was Grim Fandandgo when it was re-released on the PS4 not too long ago, but before that, it was Escape from Monkey Island. Yeah, it’s been a while. Despite the ridiculous amount of time that it’s been, I was overjoyed to be given the opportunity to play The Book of Unwritten Tales 2.

 

The Book of Unwritten Tales 2

 

The art of style is very reminiscent of LucasArts’ Escape From Monkey Island. It’s a beautiful and charming art style. Both the characters and the landscapes are gorgeous and beaming with vibrant colors. What really struck me about this game wasn’t the great fantasy setting and story, it’s how Nordic Games has littered the world with so many references and inspirations from everything geek culture. One of the first areas I visited was a library, which housed three dragons’ eggs from Game of Thrones, a Rubik’s cube, the Iron Helmet from Skyrim, a Weighted Companion Cube from Portal, and a Rhino that resembles Sully from Monsters Inc. It can’t go without mentioning how the wild plants in the game are inspired by classic cult movies like Little Shop of Horrors and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. There’s even a weapons rack filled with various swords from numerous video games, most notably Cloud Strife’s Buster Sword and the sword from Minecraft.

 

Adjustments Required

Even though the audio levels can be customized, the default settings are wonky at best in The Book of Unwritten Tales 2. The solid voice acting is constantly drowned out by the fantastic orchestral arrangements. There were numerous times when the dialogue was too quiet or too loud during many a social interaction, however, after messing with the audio levels, conversations played out organically and demanded that I pay attention to them, so as not to miss any potential clues or a vague descriptions as to what I needed to do next. In classic Point-and-Click fashion, there’s a lot of dialogue directed toward me, making me feel like I’m a part of the story. There are times when the lip-synching doesn’t quite match up with what words are being spoken, which isn’t a bad thing considering this game was originally dubbed in German.

 

Unwritten Tales 2Charming Controls

 

The characters are very hard to control because of their lack of responsiveness. There were too many instances where I felt my controller was dying, only to find that I was running on a full charge. It made objects difficult to interact with, and I was struggling to not run into numerous objects, even though I was holding the stick in the appropriate direction to avoid or walk around them. Once I was able to get the characters in front of the objects I could interact with, it was nice to be able to look at the multitude of them easily with a flick of the right stick in the corresponding direction—something that was easily done by moving the mouse’s courser over them on the PC.

 

Puzzling Puzzles

 

A point-and-click adventure wouldn’t be complete without numerous puzzles to drive the story forward, and The Book Unwritten Tales 2 is no exception. Many of the puzzles—with the exception of the first few—demanded that I pay attention to earlier conversations and use my intuition to better solve them. I was doing a lot backtracking to find the necessary items or combine the proper combination of things inside my inventory into a singular object. After completing any specific task for any given puzzle throughout the story, an audio cue would blare loudly to signal my triumphant accomplishments—making me feel happy inside. I don’t remember point-and-click adventures really testing my problem-solving skills, but then again, it’s been a very long time.

 

The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 combines great story, humor, characters and an immersive world into something that pays tribute to everything before it, rather than stealing from them. It’s a great comedy with great writing, beautiful set pieces, clever puzzles and an overall great experience. At the bargain price of $20.00, The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is an overall fantastic point-and-click adventure.

Metal Gear Solid

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Kojima Productions / Konami

Reviewed on: PS4
Also on: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Street: 9.1.15

 

When I first played Metal Gear Solid, it changed my life as a gamer. It intertwined story and gameplay in a way I’d never seen before. Sure, there were games in the stealth genre that incorporated a story and great gameplay mechanics, but none of them intertwined so many different facets of lure, character backgrounds, espionage, plot twists, giant set pieces, edge-of-your-seat moments, etc. Hideo Kojima incorporated things that video games had never done before. The most notable—I’m sure this resonates with many of you — is when Psycho Mantis checks your save history on your memory card, pokes fun at the games you’ve played, then disables your controller port. This and many other reasons is why that game has stuck with me to this day. While the franchise has existed since 1987 with the release of Metal Gear on the MSX, the franchise didn’t become what it is until the release of Metal Gear Solid. Since then, the franchise has not only endured for this long, but it has innovated and pushed the genre forward with every new entry. Hideo Kojima has been involved with everything Metal Gear—either as a producer, writer, designer or director, for 28 years. Before development started on Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Kojima wanted to hand the reins off to someone else, but due to “death threats,” he reinstated himself as co-director and has since made not one, not two, but three more entries into the Metal Gear Solid saga.

 

The Phantom Pain

 

At the end of the hour-long prologue episode, Ground Zeroes, Snake (Big Boss) has rescued both Chico and Paz—integral colleagues of his from the Peace Walker incident—from their captivity at Camp Omega, an American Black Site in Cuba. En Route to Mother Base for debriefing, they learn that Paz is in immense pain and discover an explosive device inside her stomach. After narrowly escaping the war zone at Mother Base and extracting esteemed colleague and friend, Kazuriha Miller, Snake watches as their headquarters sink into the ocean. After Miller discovers that the Cipher Organization is responsible for the attack on Militaires Sans Frontieres (MSF), Paz comes too, telling everyone onboard that there’s a second bomb inside her. To save them, she jumps out of the helicopter and explodes seconds later, sending the helicopter crashing into the ocean. Nine years after the attack, Snake wakes up from a coma and discovers that he’s lost an arm. Some of the shrapnel from the crash was removed, while some had to be left in place to prevent hemorrhaging. Shortly thereafter, a Cipher assassin shows up to kill him, but was halted by the heavily bandaged Ishmael. With his assistance, Snake escapes the hospital and gets picked up by Revolver Ocelot, who takes him back to his new militia’s headquarters. After catching him up on what has happened in the years of his long slumber—and fashioning him a new arm—he convinces Snake that the only way to stop Cipher is to rebuild Mother Base under the new moniker Diamond Dogs and defeat Cipher once and for all. The story isn’t presented the same way as the Metal Gears before it—its presented episodically; meaning credits roll at the beginning and end of every story-related mission, followed by a debriefing to move the story along. One thing that felt odd throughout the campaign was that Snake’s voice is almost absent. In all the previous games, Snake always had something to say. It’s strange to see that the poster child of the franchise has suddenly become such an introvert, but maybe that has something to do with him being in a coma for nine years.

 

Re-defining Infiltration

 

Hideo Kojima and his team, Kojima Productions have taken everything they’ve built, learned, perfected and innovated upon since Metal Gear Solid (1998), Sons of Liberty (2001), Snake Eater (2004), Guns of the Patriots (2008) and Peace Walker (2010) to create the open world sand box of The Phantom Pain. They’ve taken the mechanics of both Metal Gear Solid 4 and Peace Walker as the two pillars to build their foundation, and have created the most ambitious, fluid and fun entry in the franchise. They’ve given Snake a massive sandbox to play in, and it’s one of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Unlike every other open-world construct, I was never running errands for one specific character, I never felt like I was liberating an outpost because I had to; and I never had to do anything specific in order to achieve any goal or mission parameter—outside of keeping a valuable target or prisoner alive. There’s so many different ways to go about completing a mission that going back through any of them is encouraged instead of frustrating. Snake has never been this responsive or agile—his movements have more weight, whether I chose to sprint or go from a standing walk into a crouching walk, or down into the prone position to crawl. They’ve also opted to go with a contextual cover system instead of button prompts to enter or leave cover. A much-welcome addition is the ability to dive in any direction to cover more ground, conceal myself in foliage, get behind cover quickly, or avoid detection—making this the most visceral, intense and fun way to play as Snake. The inventory and weapon selection has been mapped to the directional buttons and doesn’t pause the action like it has in the past. By tapping the up and down buttons, you can select your secondary and primary weapons quickly. The same can be done with the left or right directional buttons, but holding them down will bring up the selection wheel, allowing me to make my selection with the right stick.

 

The Buddy System

 

In Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, I’m trying to build a private army—so killing anything that moves can make it quite difficult to expand if everyone’s dead around me. Buddies accompany me on any number of missions, be it D-Horse, the pooping traversal quadruped; Quiet, the overly sexualized but extremely deadly sniper; D-Dog, spotter extraordinaire; or D-Walker, the walking weapon of destruction. If things don’t go according to plan, there’s always a way out of any situation. In an earlier mission, before I could use any Buddy besides D-Horse, I remained silent and undetected through the first five minutes until a single unaccounted-for enemy fucked everything up. The mission was to extract a prisoner from a small outpost. I set up C4 on a transport vehicle to create a distraction. After blowing up the vehicle, I silently took down the enemies that were occupying the two sniper towers as the others scrambled to hunker down. After everything had calmed down, I made my way toward the outpost. I took out three guards posted outside the main gate after taking them down silently; I made my way to the main doors. After I arrived at the guard I wanted to extract, a guard just inside the doors saw me. Reflex Time activated to give me time to take him out, but I couldn’t get a clear shot on him. He opened fire and all hell broke loose. Realizing that I was outnumbered and out gunned, I ran for safety in the hills, threw down a flare grenade and let my helicopter do the dirty work for me. After the smoke had cleared, I was able to walk in, grab the prisoner and extract on the very same helicopter. This is just one example of how everything can change in an instant but be resolved in so many ways in the open-ended, open world of The Phantom Pain.

 

 

Ambitious Gear Solid

 

To help immerse the player and raise the tension, the Soliton Radar—which has been a mainstay since Metal Gear Solid—has been stripped away entirely, forcing me to check my map on my iDroid, be more aware of my surroundings and plan my attacks, rather than staying outside of an enemy’s cone of vision. The alert phases are more organic as well—instead of a countdown timer to tell me when I can come out of hiding and continue with my mission, there were a lot of instances where, as long as I could stay hidden after the enemies had marked my last know position, I could wait until they’d completed their search and found nothing, or continue my attacks from different positions. Snake’s been given revamped tools that have been carried over from Peace Walker. His binoculars can analyze enemies to determine what strengths they possess in the following fields: Combat, R&D, Base Development, Support, Intel, and Medicine—some of which come with specific skills or personality traits that can be detrimental or beneficial to my ever-expanding army. By utilizing the new-and-improved (and upgradeable) Fulton Recovery System, all of the soldiers whom I analyze can be extracted and added to the Brig back at Mother Base where they cooperate and join the cause immediately, or spend time locked up until they break. In Peace Walker, only foot soldiers could be extracted, but in The Phantom Pain, the Fulton can be used to steal everything from supply containers, 4X4s, tanks, transport vehicles and mounted machine guns, mortars, various anti-air cannons, etc. While extracting everything in sight is fun, they need to be managed remotely via Snakes iDroid. I can send my various Combat units on ancillary missions for various materials, vehicles and staff recruitment. I need to constantly give my R&D team projects to put their talents to good use to make weapons, equipment, tools, and upgrades, it also helps keep my Base Development specialists happy by expanding Mother Base to accommodate for the increasing population of my forces. I also send my talented Support teams in to provide security and lend a helping hand and find more Intel specialists to increase my probability of success on the battlefield, and provide my Medical team with the necessary plants to better care for the injured or sick. Once my R&D team has reached a certain level and I’ve found a weapons specialist, I can customize my weapons—something that was introduced in Metal Gear Solid 4, expanded upon in Peace Walker, and perfected in The Phantom Pain.

 

The Incredible Fox Engine

 

The Fox Engine is absolutely breathtaking. The visuals are a sight to behold, and all the small details in muscles moving in the characters’ faces, arms, and legs are absolutely fascinating. The way fabrics crease when you walk or crawl is unbelievably detailed. It handles the expanse of the world and everything that happens inside it with unparalleled grace. The sound design is magic to my ears. The guns all have a unique and pronounced noise to every moving part. The Fulton Recovery System is satisfying to watch and ever more satisfying to hear. Every iconic audio cue since the beginning are all intact, including all the quirky ones that come with catching enemies at their worst; distracted by a centerfold’s poster that’s plastered on the front of my oh-so-sneaky cardboard box.

 

Kojima has always been a natural when framing his scenes, but with The Phantom Pain, he’s really outdone himself. He’s captured his scenes in ways he couldn’t have done on the older generation of consoles. He doesn’t need to break up scenes with Codec conversations or black screens to load the next scene; everything works seamlessly when switching between both gameplay and cut-scene. That’s not to say that loading screens don’t exist, but they found a very clever way of going around them. They still pop up when you leave an area, or before your approach to your designated area, but they’re so quick that it never bothered me.

 

Kojima San’s Swan Song

 

Hideo Kojima has ended his tenure at Konami with what is arguably his best game in the Metal Gear Solid saga. It’s so difficult to choose a favorite with how incredible each game has been, but for his effort in an entirely open-ended world, he once again redefined the Stealth-Action genre. Metal Gear Solid has always been fun and captivating, but The Phantom Pain is nearly impossible to put down. No matter the choice, there are just too many words to describe how great—not excluding the entire franchise—The Phantom Pain is. It’s a shame that Kojima and Konami have parted ways after all these years, and while it’s depressing for the Metal Gear Solid fanatics (myself included) that this is the last time he will ever be involved with the franchise, it’s comforting to know that wherever he ends up—be it another publisher or his own studio—that he can create whatever he wants. This is by no means the end for the living legend, Hideo Kojima.