Firewatch Review

By The Colonel

When you initially come across Firewatch, it will probably stand out to you, like it did with me. What with its beautiful and charming aesthetic, and its mysterious teaser trailers that hint at the story to come. So, you’re interested, but do you continue and make the choice to buy the game? Well let me explain if you should or shouldn’t.
2016’s Firewatch has a world that is something to behold, but only at first glance. It’s a work of art on the surface and holds some mysteries and secrets underneath that artistic, lush frontier. But how deep does it go?

You play Henry, a character with a past, and come into contact with few people along your journey in your new summer job. What happens along the way, is not really up to your in-game movements but rather your dialogue choices. You play through the eyes of a single character, you feel lonely, you feel connection through technology even out in the middle of the wilderness. While the element of choice is a modern staple in today’s games, some games only provide the illusion of it, for the sake of offering a better story. Firewatch’s story pulls you in, but abruptly pulls you out.

But don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to like about Firewatch. The characters, if even for brief moments, offer its shining moments. It does build tension and mystery through character, which is hard to find in gaming and movies nowadays. Dialogue drops interesting ideas of what you think the direction of the plot is going, or relationship tension under the stress of isolation and real-life themes of growing old and falling apart. I found the introduction to the game to be the most emotionally heavy. Overall this game may warrant at least one more playthrough with its limited choices.
Gameplay wise, is nothing special, and pacing of the game is mostly hand holding with linear missions. You are left to explore things to a degree and make decisions as you want within the confines of the plot, but there are no plot altering consequences as like The Walking Dead TellTale series does, something that this game could’ve been more like.

Firewatch does well to establish setting, but backtracking and repetition in environment leads to finding myself drudging on, like a hike that has gone on for too long. Interaction with the world can be narrowed down to disguised QuickTime events, and freedom to take pictures using a camera.

You never feel lost in Firewatch; which can be a good thing and a bad thing. Game design shows you where to go so you don’t go in circles, but modern open world game design now encourages the player to go out and get lost in the world, something I didn’t find myself doing, but wanted to do. Branches and stones block the paths I wanted to travel, which is a symbol in how the game is carried out – stay on the path, because nothing else is really offered.

Like a lot of games out there, Firewatch made an impact in what it got right, and that is mainly its setting. Awe striking visuals oozing with unique aesthetic, sounds off in the distance that make you feel like someone is following you, and a true feeling of being vulnerable, alone, and connected with nature. Walking around in the open world is a treat which you unlock by completing the story. And with that one initial feature alone, the setting hooked me in and grabbed my attention, but not for long.

Firewatch hooks you in with its mysterious teaser, quirky dialogue, and beautiful aesthetic, but what you get feels like a rushed, hand holding, and unfinished game. Overall it ends to quickly in a world that should’ve allowed you to explore on your own, instead you’re left backtracking with only new dialogue choices to spark the variety. Instead of exploring and finding your own path, you move the narrative along through a hiking simulator. If there were more subplots or additional “chapters” like the standard of games like these, this would have been forgiven.
You can wrap things up in a nice package by add emotional music and touching themes of contemporary issues to hide the lack of content, but at the end of the day, gamers want content content content and more content. Firewatch could’ve been so much more. With more thoughout puzzles, more open-ended plot discovery, and even a coop mode where one player is in the supporting role. Now if there was a promise of more chapters to come, or even DLC, it would be worth paying what you did, but $10 for 3 hours is simply not enough to warrant that purchase.

As a first outing for an indie game studio, Firewatch is ok, but nothing special. It’s a few hours and a good play for those gamers on a tight schedule, but only worth it at max if it drops to $4 or $5 dollars. Even if you feel that was a waste, you might feel better if you think of it as supporting the devs to iterate and expand on what could’ve been. Overall, I’d say don’t buy it.

Watch out for Firewatch on sale in a year or so, otherwise don’t waste your time.

Ori and the Blind Forest: First Impressions

ori-and-the-blind-forest-wallpapersLadies, gents, and other such creatures, news be good! We have an awesome-ass game to review today! Ori and the Blind Forest is the subject of today’s ass kissery. This awesome little ball of luminescent fun is a 2D platformer. You’re Ori, a forest cat-like spirit, running through multiple levels, solving puzzles, and fighting enemies along the way with your little balls of energy.

Naru adopts Ori
Naru adopts Ori

The plot starts off on a stormy night when Ori is released into the world from the spirit tree, Nibel. An ape-like creature called Naru finds Ori and adopts him. They live together for a short while happily, until a cataclysmic event takes place. The tree of life releases a powerful light signal which was meant to summon Ori. However, living and growing up with Naru, Ori ignores the signal. On that night, a vengeful Owl called Kuro steals the light source from the life tree. The forest starts to slowly die, and Ori has to go on a quest to retrieve the light.

First things first. This game is absolutely GORGEOUS. It is a visual orgasm through and through. The colours, textures, effects are absolutely magnificent. Coupled with those, you have a really haunting and beautiful soundtrack by Gareth Coker. The combination of the visual and musical quality really immerses you into a fairy tale world of beauty and wonder. You can genuinely forget that you’re sitting in your chair playing a game, and you can just sink into the innocent and wonderful beauty the narrative delivers. I’m not one to usually rave about graphics, as I do generally feel that they don’t contribute all that much to games. But in this case, they are actually a part of the game. They enhance the immersive and poetic experience of the game. Unbelievably great job, 10/10!

Now, as for the actual gameplay experience, it is also very solid. It’s pretty standard as far as platformers go. You run around, jump over obstacles, fight the odd enemy, try and solve puzzles and tricky obstacles. The controls are pretty straight forward. You have your directional buttons, jump, and shoot. Nothing too fancy or difficult. You also use the mouse to target your enemies, which is also quite easy. Ori Main shot

 

What makes it stand out as a platformer is all the upgrades and nifty little mechanics. When you complete certain levels, you run into spirit trees, which more often than not will give you some kind of power up. The ability to break obstacles, do a double jump, climb and slide down walls, etc. While most of these mechanics are nothing new to the genre, when integrated effectively, they make the gameplay very enjoyable. Your path forward isn’t always clear, so a lot of times you have to experiment with what you can and can not do, and the ambiguity gives you the feeling that you’re exploring the world rather than just being guided through it, which is a big plus.

Unlocking abilities from the  spirit trees
Unlocking abilities from the spirit trees

There’s also nifty abilities which let you interact with the environment. One such is Bash Attack. Bash Attack allows you to use an enemy or an enemy projectile to give yourself a boost in any direction (which you control with the mouse). It also serves the dual purpose of redirecting the projectile attack, or pushing away the enemy. While in a lot of games like Devil May Cry and God of War this mechanic is nothing new, Ori does it in a way which feels FREE of a determined path. You can use the ability to do some really cool evasive tricks, you can do it to fling your enemies to their death, you can do it to get to some really high-to-reach places. You can do it to just evade attacks, or solve puzzles.

Ori uses Bash Attack to propel himself upwards
Ori uses Bash Attack to propel himself upwards
Ori uses an enemy projectile to make an impossible jump
Ori uses an enemy projectile to make an impossible jump

 

Again, this is a big plus for the game. I feel like I can explore this world at my own leisure. I can accumulate all these nifty abilities, and just go wondering around at my own pace. I don’t have to worry about following the guided path, accumulating points, or other trivial things like that. I can just immerse myself, and that’s a really big win for any gaming experience.

The leveling system is very simple and straight forward. You don’t have to be a big game buff to understand how it works. You have three different sets of skills: Offensive, Finding resources, Agile abilities. You pick which one you feel like you need at the time, and you just click. This contrasts greatly from games like Final Fantasy where you need 10 years of experience, a PhD, and an optimal combinations simulator to make the right decisions in your ability leveling.

Leveling up Ori's abilities
Leveling up Ori’s abilities

 

So there we have it. I’ve only beaten the first third of the game, so I can’t lay down the final word until I reach the end. But as is, the game is fantastic. I’ve loved everything about it through and through. It’s beautiful, it’s alluring, it’s fun to play. It’s simple to understand and play, yet there are parts which will challenge you both in problem solving, and in just accomplishing difficult agile tasks. You get a perfect balance of both. It’s not too hard, and it’s not too easy, and it sure as hell is fun. Also, more likely than not, it will hit the feels. The story seems well written so far, and it definitely gets quite emotional and poetic on a few counts. I strongly recommend it, it’s probably one of the best games I’ve played in the last three years.

Enjoy 🙂

(HD, please ^^ )

 

Bastion: A Review

Reviewed by Vladi

(Bastion Trailer)

Kid knows he’s the bee’s knees. He knows his game plays like a Caelondia tune on a fine-strung harp, and he don’t need to tell you twice. Hell, even once is one too many.

Ladies, bottom dwellers, and gentlemen, today we look at Supergiant Games’ Bastion. Bastion is an indie production developed in 2010. The game had much critical acclaim as it came out. It won the Game Critics Award at E3 for Best Downloadable Game, and was nominated for the Best Original Game at the same event. It continued to receive nominations, primarily for creativity and best soundtrack. All of them are well earned, as we are about to take a look at this beauty.

Bastion’s an action RPG set in in the fantasy world of Caelondia. Our story starts  as the Calamity has destroyed much of the known world. The floating cities of Caelondia have mostly all sunk. With civilization in tatters, the world is once again a savage garden, with monsters and bandits running amok, it resembles a very western Wild West. Our main protagonist is the Kid, a white-haired little bad-ass in rusty armor.

Kid means business.”

He remains entirely silent throughout this game. Our story is told entirely through our dynamic narrator, Rucks. Rucks has this amazingly bad-ass voice. It’s like a husky, Clint Eastwoodish, Film Noire voice. And the lines are written accordingly for it. I remember first playing this game, and a couple of minutes in, I more or less kept playing because I just wanted to listen to this guy say stuff. It’s really entertaining, and it really sets the mood/tone for the game. I’ve never before been impressed by a voice in a game, or narration for that matter. But this game knocked it out of the park with this narrator.

Unlike most games, you don’t have to trade one good thing for another. The gameplay is a lot of fun. You walk around platforms and use an arsenal of weapons to fight through levels. You have a good variety of weapons, all of which can be upgraded and equipped in different slots. The vista of possibilities really makes the gameplay enjoyable all throughout the game. If you get bored with one style, or it simply isn’t your thing, you can switch up your weapon slots, and thus change your approach to the combat. The customization is baffling in its simplicity. In fact, that is something I am going to come back to again and again with this game. Everything is very simple. It’s easy to do, and it provides for fun gameplay. You don’t have to spend hours learning how to play this game, you just pick it up and have fun. No need for tutorials or try-harding here.

“Kid needs to pick out his tools for pwnage. Folk in Caelondia loved killing things.”
“Now that the kid has something to pwn with, he needs to pimp it out. People in Caelondia loved pimpin’ their somethings.”

You’re also given one more way to customize your experience. We’re given the Distillery. Here you can activate potions you’ve managed to collect or buy along your adventure, which give you some form of enhancement. The cool thing about it is that there are sometimes trade-offs. You’ll get one good affect with a bad one. The Deardrum, for example, will give you 100% critical strike, but you have to be at 100% health to use it, making you have to play with great care and stealth. The Leechade will give you life-steal on strikes, but it will reduce Tonic potency by 66%, making you rely on your brute combat skill instead of special abilities. You have figure what kind of customization goes well with your style, or if fail that, just what would be pure fun.

“Kid has to choose his poison. Folk in Caelondia sure loved a drink.”

Now, if having an awesome Noire Clint Eastwood voice isn’t giving you an eargasm just yet, take this in. The soundtrack of this game is OUUUUUUUUTTTTTT offffff THISSSSS WOOOORRRRLLLLLDDDD! I don’t mean the ‘out of this world’ type where you youtube the first and last track once in a blue moon. I mean every single track on the list is off the hinges. Not only does it unhinge doors in every scene of the game, but it’s also addictively awesome to listen on its own. There’s a great versatility in the song roster. You get folk,  a bit of rock, some middle eastern tunes and everything in between. Just this crazy variety of sound and style you wouldn’t expect in just one game, or from just one composer. Darren Korb‘s the man. Between him and Logan Cunningham (Rucks), you’re in for an audiogasm.

Here’s a little sampler of the OST:

Honestly, in good conscience I can say that this is one of the best games I’ve ever played. At least one of the best all-around games. Nothing about it is strictly revolutionary, but it just does everything really, really well. You have gameplay that is engaging, entertaining, and easy to pick up. You have colourful and beautifully designed levels to draw you into the world that literally assemble before you as you discover them. You have a good story to keep you going. You have this great soundtrack to accompany your gaming experience, coupled with a narrator which adds all the colour and shading needed to give that extra dimension. Hands down, one of the best games created recently. I am not often impressed with games. There’s a lot of them that I like playing, or enjoy from time to time. But this game definitely did enough things right to earn my eternal props (can you really hope for more in life?) Definitely an amazing experience. Give Gaben your money and go download now!

Go on, Kid, give it a try.

Alice: Madness Returns – Happy Halloween!

Review by Vladi

In favor of Halloween, I figured I should cover a game worthy of the occasion. Without further ado, we delve into Alice: Madness Returns!

Alice: Madness Returns (2011) was developed by Spicy Horse studios and released by Electronic Arts. This bad boy has been released for Xbox, PS3, and PC, so you can enjoy it on multiple platforms (because, yeah?). It’s a sequel to American McGee’s Alice (2010), a macabre spin on Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

Our main character, Alice Liddel, is suffering from severe trauma from her parents’ deaths. She has been institutionalized in a psych ward for orphans, under the watchful and very creepy eye of Dr. Angus Bumby. She begins to have hallucinations from her previous visit to Wonderland. With her life and sanity falling apart around her, she decides to delve back into Wonderland with the hope of salvaging her sanity. Liddel does she know (GETTIT?!) that Wonderland is also deteriorating, not unlike herself.

Somewhere out there, Tim Burton popped a boner.

The gameplay is actually REALLY fun. It is an adventure game where you have to battle your way through foes of varying difficulty. The battle controls are not too unlike the Devil May Cry series, where you have quick dashes, evasive maneuvers, and multiple weapons with which you can bludgeon your enemies. You have the Vorpal Blade — Alice’s classic weapon (a quick and agile dagger used to slice ’em creepy fuckers), the Pepper Grinder — a culinary automatic machine gun, the Teapot Cannon — heavy artillery of scolding tea (alas, no crumpets), the Hobby Horse — a children’s toy to smash even the most resilient enemies into compact piles of death, and last but not least, the bunny rabbit time bombs; because fuck childhood!

Weapons of mass destruction.

I should also point out that unless you are playing this game on easy mode (may the shame of your ancestors run through you), the battles can be quite challenging. While some of the enemies can be quickly dispatched with the classic button mash, a lot of them have various defensive  capabilities and maneuvers that will actually make you work for your kills. Also, there are mini bosses or pack leaders, which will make head-on combat quite impossible, requiring you to use various degrees of tact and thought in your mindless carnage. Both challenging and fun!

Alice with Hobby Horse: 1 Soon to be compact pile of death: 0

Also, for most gamers out there that reach their limit trying to combat through hordes of annoying little bastards, this game gives you reprieve. “How”, you ask? By allowing Alice to go full PMS mode, and no amount of chocolate or cuddles will save these sorry sods from certain death. We are given Hysteria Mode, something similar to Devil Trigger from Devil May Cry. Time slows down, we get inverted black and white colours, and Alice is shown in her true macabre glory: bathed in blood, an avatar of horror. Besides being outright fun and emotionally satisfying (something has to feed the ego, right?), Hysteria Mode is also very visually appealing. Really cool concept, 10/10!

Shit got real.

And lastly, I wouldn’t have a clean conscience if I didn’t talk about the environments. They are absolutely GORGEOUS! You get a great variety in terms of theme/decor/colour/design. Truly, every new level is unique and entirely different from the last. There’s no monotony to be seen. The levels change, the enemies change, the weapons get upgraded, Alice’s wardrobe changes. The designs are absolutely brilliant. If you’re a fan of Tim Burton or macabre stuff in general, you should really appreciate some of this stuff. I’ll let some of the images talk for me, as I think it would be a crime to allow my petty wordsmithing to describe these kick-ass levels.

Card Castles in The Sky level. Very fun, and very difficult.
Queen of Hearts’ castle.
Twisted playground, anyone?
こんにちは,” said Alice.

The storyline is disturbing and interesting. It definitely keeps you on the edge of your seat, and it does a good job at disguising the next chapters. It’s definitely one of the benefits of having a madness story, you never really know what to believe.

The gameplay is fun, the visuals are great, and the story is well thought out. Honestly, what else do you want? Oh, a bunny bomb you say? Here.

BOOM!