Xenoblade (Final)

It’s so good.

IT’S SO GOOD.

I could probably just leave it there, but no, I’m fucking serious.  Xenoblade is one of the best games I’ve seen in ages.  At first I was thinking “This is pretty much as good as FFX” since that was the last time I remembered being heavily invested in characters, but then it got better.  And then it got better.  And then it GOT FUCKING BETTER.  I kept thinking “This is so fucking amazing it cannot possibly get any better” and then it kept doing it.  And I was thinking to myself “This is super amazing but I’m sure the ending will be pretty cliche, but that’s okay because it’s really fucking good”, and then the ending surprised me.  Oh my fucking god.  It’s so good.  Game of the decade, sitting on the top shelf right beside FF6 and Chrono Trigger and Earthbound and all the other RPGs I have enjoyed more than anything else.  This game is already somewhat hard to find, so I am going to enshrine my disc for the inevitable day that it becomes a priceless rare collector’s item because it’s so fucking good.  I can’t believe how good it was!  I keep repeating myself but that’s because it was really good, guys!

Now for confession time – I didn’t finish playing it.  I put many many many many many hours into it and started feeling really burned out (I really dislike the real-time combat, which is the huge glaring flaw in the midst of everything), and then discovered that after all of those hours I was only just under half done.  But I really wanted to know what happened!!  But then I’d play more and be like “nnngh.”  But I REALLY wanted to know what happened!!  So I totally cheated and looked up a youtube channel that would show me all the cutscenes.  Watching the cutscenes loses a bit from the game, because a lot of the inter-character development occurs while running around or through cheesy heart-to-heart events, but I was already sufficiently attached to all of them that I was happy just seeing how the story ended.

The cutscenes alone?  ELEVEN HOURS.  ELEVEN FUCKING HOURS WITHOUT ANY GAMEPLAY OR SIDE QUESTS OR WALKING AROUND OR TALKING TO RANDOM NPCS.  ELEVEN. HOURS. OF STORY.

I watched all of it and it was the most epic movie I have seen since the Lord of the Rings trilogy (and at a comparable length too, huh).

Oh my god it was so good.

The worldbuilding.  The character development was good, but there were a lot of flaws with the characters that popped out at me.  They’re all so self-sacrificing and then everyone else in the group gets mad at them for being self-sacrificing and then they go “I’m sorry guys I didn’t want to worry you” and then they all go “TELL us next time – we’re a team!” and then next time they don’t tell them and it happens all over again.  There were plenty of character cliches at work under the surface too, but they were sufficiently buried that I felt it didn’t detract.  Also the romance got a little sappy.  But the worldbuilding.  This is a case study for excellent worldbuilding.  What an amazing world they built.

It really makes me sad that it was lost on the Wii, where the majority of people will not play it because they don’t own it, and the majority of those who remain will not play it because they think the graphics suck.  The graphics did kinda suck, but that’s because it’s a Wii.  I got over it.  It makes me even sadder that they’re supposedly developing the sequel as a Wii-U exclusive.  The console is already considered an abandoned husk :/.  I have no idea how they’re going to top this game, but if they DO, lost in the wasteland of the Wii-U library… noooooo… tragedy of the decade in the making.

This bears repeating: It’s really fucking good.  If you see a Xenoblade Chronicles disc, buy it.  If you don’t own a Wii, buy a Wii after buying the disc, solely so you can play it.  Or just put the disc somewhere for when it becomes a collector’s item because I am totally calling that right now.  Buy the disc to support the game and at the very least cheat and watch the cutscenes like I did, because you cannot miss this.

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Starforge (Alpha)

This is probably a little unfair because I played, oh… about 10 minutes of this game.  Maybe there is a really good game buried under the shit I was exposed to in those 10 minutes, but it was enough that I made a pretty disgusted face and then uninstalled it.  I very deeply regret spending 10 dollars on this, and that was 50% off.  What’s worse, my husband bought it too because we played multiplayer.  That is 20 dollars wasted on this.  I feel bad for supporting it, but maybe they will turn it into not-shit game sometime soon.  I can’t get rid of the god damn thing now so maybe in a year or two it will be worth installing again.  I can hope.

First, a derail: I want to rant about this early access bullshit Steam keeps doing.  There are SO MANY games popping up on steam and you’re like “ooh this looks unique!” and then you click and find out it’s actually an unfinished alpha game that they want you to buy into so that it funds their development.  This is all Minecraft’s fault (and I admit to buying Minecraft as an alpha, but it was actually worth it back before everyone was fucking doing it), and it’s led to things like Kickstarter… but when you buy unfinished shit on Steam you get unfinished shit with no real promises attached.  I don’t so much mind the option – I bought Minecraft, and I even bought Towns on Steam, and both were interesting ideas that ended up developing in interesting directions that I would like to encourage, so I don’t regret funding them – but I hate that there are so many of them showing up on Steam and that they’re not sequestered to their own little section.  Sometimes it’s really tough to tell just how unfinished these things are when you buy into them and you have to rely on other people’s reviews before deciding to drop the cash.  I wish that more of these would give you a demo or something.

The game markets itself as a sandbox experience where you “gather resources, build bases, craft anything you want, and survive on an alien planet”.  That is exactly the kind of game I love, and exactly the kind of game I want to encourage more developers to make.  Not enough to drop 20 dollars on it (ahahahaha 20 dollars for an ALPHA BUILD what the fuck), but 10 dollars… if it encourages more resource/crafting/survival games, sure I can invest in that!

The problem is, that is not what this game is at all.  I suppose going by the words it matches that description, but I feel misled by this marketing, and that makes me bitter.

You collect resources – by grabbing boxes that drop on the ground and dragging them back to your base.  This is not Minecraft style resource gathering, this is shit dropping from the sky and you hoping to find the right box of stuff lying around.  I can’t even describe to you how disappointed I was by this.  If it had decent resource gathering I probably would have still been enchanted by running around looking for new stuff to exploit, but exploring was marred by giant oil drums appearing out of fucking nowhere and the realization that the landscape around me was really only there to provide a surface.

You build bases – with an incredibly shitty interface that was frustrating to use. The terraforming seems promising but, eeenh.  I spent the vast majority of my opening minutes hitting google trying to find a guide to the controls (because the game sure as fuck isn’t helpful).  Once I figured out how to open the building menus, the mouse control drove me nuts.  It’s a 3D world, and the mouse behaves like you would expect it to in an incredibly amateur engine from several years ago.  It floats all over, you have to wrestle it onto the square you want, and your camera is constantly getting in your way.
Bonus bitch: Head bobbing that cannot be disabled in game.  See The Bobbing Rant.  If I wasn’t going to uninstall you BEFORE, well…

You craft anything you want! – provided it’s in the incredibly limited list of things you can build, and you’ve dragged the proper resources into a pile next to your forge.  This is not like Minecraft style crafting, this is literally just select it from a list and it either goes *boop* ok you have that now, or *boop* you need to drag more resources over to here to make that.  It’s a little unfair since it’s an alpha and they’re going to add a bunch of shit (god, they better), but once I figured out how to open the build list… boy that was disappointing.  Not only that but there were no tooltips so I was building things in an attempt to figure out what the fuck that icon represented.  It took several clicks just to see what was necessary to build a thing so I could go find out what I needed to drag back.  This is like some sort of study in how not to design a friendly UI.

You survive on an alien planet – and here is what made me uninstall the game.  This is where the game showed its true colours.  I was expecting Minecraft, right?  You run around and collect shit, build a little base, expand your empire and build cool things, and defend yourself from alien fauna that probably wants to eat you.  I first played single player “creative” mode and it can probably be hammered into some facsimile of that, but the whole “surviving” aspect was pretty thin.  Creative mode seemed to be more about building things (one description said “test base layouts” for the other modes, which is telling) , except building things wasn’t very fun in its current state so it was more about running around looking at landscape and being disappointed by the ugly resource crates lying all over it.

When my husband and I tried multiplayer we tried the more survival-ish mode.  And it turned out to be just a crappy version of Sanctum.  Sanctum, if you’re not aware, is an amazing game that is like a first person co-op tower defense game where you have a core that you must protect from the waves and you build walls and towers to aid you in the destruction of the things that want to destroy it, so you coordinate your resources and weapon types to be an efficient team.  Starforge gives you a tank full of aliens (why do I have a tank full of aliens and why should I protect it?  It doesn’t explain) and a forge, and dumps you into a world where streams of monsters continually run toward you and try to destroy it.  You have to run back and forth dragging resource boxes to your forge and build defenses while these things come at you.  It’s like playing Sanctum with no pauses between waves, mandatory tedious resource collection, and shitty-ass controls.  It was not good.

I already regrettably wasted money on this so I will check in from time to time to see if they’ve turned into a GOOD open world collect-resources-build-shit survival sandbox, but I really cannot recommend it in its current state, and I kinda feel like Steam shouldn’t even be promoting it right now.  The content and UI are NOT worth the price it is asking, even at 50% off.  It’s not that the ideas behind the game are bad (and the implementations of them have time to mature), and I admire small teams of people who try to make ambitious projects into reality, but asking 20 bucks for this just seems greedy and I don’t think it should be encouraged.

Oblivion

This review comes with a disclaimer: We are heavily biased to enjoy space-oriented sci-fi films.  You can take the shittiest most generic plot and put it in space and we will still enjoy it.  We’ll probably mock it, but we will still enjoy it. It’s probably because we’ve watched every single space movie that exists, and some of them are really fucking bad, so movies like Oblivion still feel like a treat.

Very little of Oblivion actually occurs in space, but we still enjoyed it.  It’s sci-fi, it’s post-apocalyptic, and it has decent acting so there are no ridiculously cheesy lines to make you facepalm.  It’s written on greasy onion-skin paper that is so transparent that you can see every single word of the ending from the moment the opening credits roll (Oh a mandatory “security” memory wipe, you say?  Gosh that won’t be an important plot point!  No-sir-ee I bet that’s completely inconsequential and will not be a plot twist at all), but it’s a tried-and-true plot.  Sometimes cliches are cliches because they are good.  It is a little disappointing to walk into a cliche that attempts to hide behind the couch and then jumps out and yells “BOO!” and then you have to pretend to be surprised, but on some level it’s still a little bit fun… provided you go into it with the right frame of mind.

I’m already running out of things to say.  You do not watch Oblivion expecting something new and unique… you watch Oblivion expecting a sci-fi setting with awesomely constructed post-apocalyptic landscapes and a decent (if obvious) plot that also has giant floating death machines.  Tom Cruise doesn’t suck, and Morgan Freeman is always awesome even if he doesn’t really get a whole lot of screen time.  It’s still worth it.

Pacific Rim

TL;DR: I lost count of how many times my eyes rolled, but then giant robots started punching giant monsters and it was awesome.

I’m not sure what I expected when I went into this movie.  I knew it was about giant robots fighting monsters and the fights were supposed to be awesome and didn’t rely on cheap tricks like shaky cam to obscure the action.  That’s exactly what I got!  But it was pretty obvious that 99.99% of their budget went into CGI and cinematography, and possibly 0.000000001% went into the writing. The premise alone got some huge eye rolls, before the characters even started talking!  Then, dear god, the characters started talking…

But let’s be honest here.  You did not go to this movie to see deep character development.  You went to see this movie to see giant robots punching the fuck out of some monsters with rocket fists and hokey samurai swords made out of chainsaw chains, and it totally knocks it out of the park for that!  Which is why it is somewhat unfortunate that it spends so much time on what were apparently supposed to be deep character development moments on characters that have no dimensions.  Every single character in this movie is a cliche cut from cardboard.

The middle of the movie dragged because there were no robots punching things.  Instead we spent a lot of time exploring the feelings and emotions of characters who are all Mary Sue incarnate.  Every single one of them.  Every single one of them.  I don’t know what the record is for number of Mary Sues in a single story, but man.  Everyone in this story has super special talents making them the best at everything, and a tortured past to make them sympathetic (when you’re not rolling your eyes at them, I guess).  Even the fucking robot is a Mary Sue (because it’s analog.  And can I just say: Ahahahahahahaahahahahahaha…).  Everyone is a Mary Sue except the guy who is a dick for no reason.  That guy is a dick.  Except he’s not even a good dick, because we already have a one dimensional evil enemy in the giant fucking monsters who want to take over the world.  So why have this guy being all dickish up in the face of the protagonist?  I don’t even know, because it didn’t even pay off in the end.  Instead they shoehorned in some sort of emotional father-son plot arc out of nowhere.  Make up your mind!

But then robots punched things.  And they punched the fuck out of things.  The CGI is fantastic, the 3D was pretty god damn good (although if I wanted to be all nitpicky I could point out that I was distracted by it a few times, so it was not the best 3D I have seen so far.  So there.)  The only flaw with the robots punching things aspect is that they did not punch things for long enough.  Why did we waste all this screen time on a ridiculous romance story, anyway?  Punch things, dammit!

Pacific Rim is an excellent movie for watching robots punch the everliving fuck out of things.  It is also excellent for making fun of bad writing.  So it’s kind of win/win I guess.

Also: May I point out that it was a terrible mistake to hire Ellen McLain to be GlaDOS as the background computer, and then only have her make one tiny not very insulting jab at someone.  Use your resources properly, people!

The Swapper

And now for an impulse indie purchase: The Swapper.  I knew nothing of this game when I bought it.  That is why Steam exists – to make us drop a couple of coffees worth of money on random games.  I saw someone recommend it as “An atmospheric Sci-Fi Puzzle game with claymation graphics” and I was like “Sold!”

It’s a really good game and I absolutely recommend it.  The premise is that you are exploring a space station that seems to have come under some duress.  The puzzle part of the game comes when you discover a device that lets you clone yourself, and choose to swap to the new clone body or not (hence: The Swapper).  All the clones follow the same keyboard commands, so you can be “controlling” up to 5 of yourself at once, strategically placing them to walk where you want them to walk in order to depress switches, or get you to a new platform or whatever.

The atmosphere is excellent.  It’s got that perfect mix of creepy abandoned space station, claustrophobia, and a sense of wonder and reveal to keep it from being too oppressive.  The graphics are pretty neat too and give it a little something extra that deserves a mention.  Some love was definitely poured into the design of the game.

You uncover bits of the story by accessing computer terminals and listening to creepy recordings (keep subtitles on – some of them are pretty hard to hear).  As a bonus, you wander past alien artifacts which were brought on board, and start to learn a bit about those as well. I haven’t gotten very far in the story and I’m quite interested in what will be revealed.

Sadly, I’m not sure how much of it I will be able to reveal.  See, I kinda suck at twitchy platformy games, and I quickly ran into some twitchy puzzles involving swapping to bodies at just the right moment as they fall through space.  You can prevent yourself from dying by creating a clone close to the ground and swapping to it before you splat, or even climb high shafts by continually creating clones and swapping to them, leaving your old body to plummet to the ground as you gain a few more inches toward your goal (no morality problems here!  Nope!).  I was able to do these things, but… it was stressful.  And this is near the beginning of the game, so I can only IMAGINE the horrible and frustrating puzzles I’ll need to use it on later in the game.  I don’t think I’m going to be able to complete it :(.  Fortunately dying only sends you back to the last save point, which is usually a beam of light right inside the door of the room.  Unfortunately, I suuuccckkkk at this.

But you.  You do not suck at twitchy platformy games the way I do.  You should buy this game.  It’s got some unique ideas, the graphics are an experiment gone correctly, and there is a lot of love poured into it.  It deserves a look.

Organ Trail

Who doesn’t know about Oregon Trail, right?  If you don’t know what it is, you need to either spend some time in society, or get off my lawn.  Or possibly both.  Why, yes, I DID play it on shiny new Apple computers in elementary school!  Why, yes, I AM extremely old.  The best part of Oregon Trail was learning that “dysentery” means “pooping yourself to death” and then laughing when the character you named after your best friend died of it.  I mean, I guess it had some sort of historical knowledge value too, or something, and we were supposed to realize and respect just how hard life was for those pioneers… but mostly it was great seeing what horrible way your friends would die THIS time.

And now we have “Organ Trail”.  It’s a pretty clever … parody?  I guess it’s a parody… of Oregon trail, where instead of trying to migrate to the wild west, you’re trying to survive the zombie hordes.  All the basic gameplay elements remain roughly the same.  Instead of a covered wagon, you have a station wagon.  Instead of wagon wheels and axles you have tires and batteries.  Instead of oxen you have fuel.  Food works pretty similarly, but instead of shooting 7 oxen and then being mad that you can only carry like 3 squirrels of it back with you, you collect cans off the ground while running away from zombies.  And then a hobo randomly steals it all from you in a popup event where you can neither react nor do anything about it other than nod and carry on.

I was pretty excited for this game.  It’s cheap, it’s available for your phone so you can watch your friends break their legs while on the go, and if nothing else it should be entertaining because how do you fuck up Oregon Trail With Zombies, right?

I will tell you how you can fuck up Oregon Trail With Zombies.  You make it impossible to shoot zombies.  I got the game from the humble android bundle so I was able to activate it on my phone AND on steam to try both versions.  I uninstalled it from my phone within a couple minutes because I couldn’t even get past the intro trying to use the touchscreen controls to shoot.  How hard can this be?!?  Tap zombie shoot zombie!  But no, instead it’s tap screen, drag finger, watch your guy spin in exactly the wrong direction, wiggle your finger around to try to make him pivot, watch him spin uselessly until oh! oh!  he’s pointing the right way now!  FIRE!  YES I KILLED ONE.  Meanwhile, 20 more walked in off the edges of the screen and I’m totally and completely fucked.  Also I gathered no food while doing this.  And took severe penalties for failing.  Alright, fuck this, it HAS to be better with a mouse.  At least then I can drag the mouse cursor with more accuracy, right?  … It was a little better but it was pretty much the same story.  I ended up selling all my ammo to buy car parts and just avoided doing any jobs or events where I had to shoot zombies.  I avoided shooting zombies in the zombie apocalypse.  Sigh.  Surprise, I hit an event that wasn’t optional and ended up dying.  I suppose it would be possible to get used to it and get better at the shooting, but I have other games to play that aren’t ruined by stupid and frustrating control schemes.

It’s really too bad because it could be a fun little time waster, but until the shooting controls are changed or some kind of “I’m an idiot let me click on them to shoot them without aiming” difficulty mode is added, it’s just not worth playing.  I can’t even really give the game high marks for being unique because it is literally Oregon Trail.  With zombies.

The Last of Us

I’ve been trying to decide how to review The Last of Us.  It’s difficult to talk about without talking about the story, but I don’t want to talk about the story because I feel that you should see it for yourself.

TL;DR you should buy it.  At full price, even!  The Last of Us is absolutely worth it.  It’s somewhat short… it has about 6 to 6.5 hours of story in it, but the time you spend exploring and picking up collectibles with backstory will pad that out a bit without making it feel like it’s been padded.  It took my husband 12 – 13 hours to finish it, I think.  It was a marathon over two days so maybe more.  NORMALLY I would say that is too short for 60 dollars, but the thing is it’s really good.

In case you’ve been under a rock and have not heard of it, The Last of Us is yet another post apocalyptic “zombie-like” apocalypse game.  In this one, a fungus (based on a real one!  Cordyceps.  Which, incidentally, helps to thin out populations of ants when they become too numerous.  HMMMMmmmm) starts infecting people’s brains, which causes them to lose control of their actions and… start attacking everything (as opposed to climbing up a blade of grass and freezing to death like the real Cordyceps does, but y’know).  Infection spread through bites, yadda yadda, fungal spores mixed in for flavour… the military tries to take control and welcome to the zombie apocalypse.  When my husband was playing through it I wasn’t paying full attention, and I thought it was a pretty generic setting.  I was wrong.  So if at first glance it seems generic to you, take a deeper look.  There are definitely some cliches at play, but the writing and worldbuilding more than compensate for them.  The writing.  I cannot say enough about the writing.  Yes, the base plot has nothing terribly original going on in it, but the characters and the world they’re in.  Everything is lovingly crafted with high levels of detail.  I wouldn’t call it “scary”, but if you like atmospheric post-apocalyptic games, you must get this game.  Right now.

They did a masterful job with the characters – you relate to them immediately and they feel genuine, and at no point did I feel that they were shoehorning character traits in my face to emphasize them.  The character’s motivations are natural and understandable, even if you don’t agree with them, which makes every character strong and believable.  Ellie is one of the best crafted teenage characters I think I have ever seen in a game.  She’s vulnerable and terrified, desperate for someone with some permanence to latch onto, but at the same time teenage defiance keeps flashing out as she struggles to find some independence.  The voice actors do an amazing job of bringing the characters to life, too.  It’s one thing to have incredible writing but a wooden performance will sink it just as quickly.  I am so happy with the voice actors in this game – thanks for doing a good job, guys.  And the graphics don’t hurt, either – cutscenes are incredible, but I did notice a bit of stiffness in the animations when the characters were speaking while moving around the world.  One day we will be unable to distinguish CGI from live action, but it is not this day.  That’s an incredibly petty thing to nitpick on, but I just don’t have anything else to bitch about, dammit.

Speaking of bitching… I hate bringing it up because I feel like a feminist when I do, but the female characters in this game are also fantastic and believable.  I really appreciate it when games go out of their way to flesh out female characters (and also clothe them…) so I feel I must give them another gold star for that.  I don’t usually put a lot of stock into the “Bechdel test” (in order to pass, the media must show two females speaking to each other about something other than a man), but I do find it interesting sometimes to see if whatever I am entertaining myself with at the time does pass it.  Not only do Ellie and Tess talk to each other, but Ellie and Marlene talk, and Marlene and Tess talk, and I don’t think any of them talk about men (unless discussing how to slay male zombies counts, I guess), so it passes multiple times.  Tess is just awesome and badass and I kind of want them to do a “prequel” DLC where we can watch her set up her smuggling ring or something.  Because I want more time with her :(

The only bad thing about this game is that it’s a playstation exclusive.  Not because I don’t like playstation, but more because it limits the audience.  Everyone should be able to play this game.  Everyone should be able to buy this game and encourage the creation of incredible games like this.  It should be on PC so that it can be on Steam and be in the summer sale that is about to start and then millions of people will buy it (and then never play it because that’s how Steam works) and then they can go create more awesome games with that revenue.  Also it should be on PC because fuck shooting things with a controller, grr.

I don’t think I’m even going to say anything more.  I don’t even care if you don’t have a PS3, go buy this game :P