Category Archives: Review
At the start of April I noticed a special offer sale for Poker Night at the Inventory and its sequel, Poker Night 2. Aside from the shorter name what caught my interest are the characters who would be entertaining us during the game this time. We would have Brock Sampson (from the Venture Bros Series), Claptrap (From Borderlands 2), Ashley Williams (From The Evil Dead) and Sam (From Sam and Max), with Glados acting as the Dealer. While waiting for Poker Night 2 I decided to play as much of Poker Night at the Inventory as possible and I was pleasantly surprised. The humour was rich and interesting, the inter-changeable decks, table covers and chips added something interesting to the game, and the random occasional rewards spiced things up for my Team Fortress 2 account. I had one major issue with Poker Night at the Inventory, and that would be the surprising Hardware strain on my Laptop. I was armed with similar expectations when I finally entered Poker Night 2, and I was very pleasantly surprised.
Bioshock: Infinite is the third hit from Irrational Games, and frankly the weakest of the three. I know saying that has just ignited a lynch mob and is bound to fill the comment section with people screaming STFU, but please hear me out.
I acknowledge wholeheartedly that Irrational has created a sweeping experience that slowly carries the player from a place of ignorance to one of enlightenment. It’s a long series of carefully placed clues intertwined with a satisfying story to bring us to the story’s twist (just as there was in Bioshock). And we as players get so bent on looking for and anticipating that moment of revelation that we’re willing to forgive and forget a lot, but it has to be said that the experience Bioshock: Infinite presents is simply not as solid as its forebears.
First, I’ll sing the game’s praises and hopefully tiptoe through the explanation of its weakpoints without giving away any spoilers. So allow me to give a stream of consciousness regarding my first few moments playing.
RAGE at paid day 1 DLC. I already paid a fucking arm and leg for the game, Xbox, and TV. I’m not throwing more money out for the DLC, Xbox Live, and internet when there was no reason other than greed on earth, heaven, and in hell for this business practice—Wow, cool music video! Fuck the season pass store! Rowing, rowing, rowing, learning I’m playing as Booker Dewitt, an ex-cavalryman who served at Wounded Knee. Being talked about like I’m not there by a couple of bickering Brits. Now I’m being stranded. Now I’m reading a threatening note from a creditor that can’t possibly have been placed in such a remote area by anyone other than an inhabitant. Find religious tripe. Repeatedly. Then, oh blue fucking Jesus, a man’s been tortured to death…which I suppose is historically appropriate for religion too. Alright, stuffed into a rocket, then shot into the sky—Where I find the sublime dream of an America that never was in gold, white, and blue. Is this heaven? Crap. They’re all Christian fanatics and I’m seeing triptychs and iconography reminding me of a combination of several cults and architecture pulled from major churches of the Latter Day Saints… This won’t end well.
Columbia, the city in the sky, is a metaphor (both in the glories presented and the evils hidden) of a society governed entirely by a unified religion. It’s a metaphor for the promised land that was the American Dream, and our character is a metaphor for the lowly immigrant who ventures across dangerous waters and uncertain circumstances for the hope that the dream is a reality. It contrasts sharply with Rapture from Bioshock, a forward thinking society that had cast out all religion. The subtext of Columbia, whether implied or just plain unavoidable, is that adherence to any one creed in word and not in deed brings about the same earthly evils as any society with or without a religion. The joke whose intentions I’m still questioning is that adhering to any creed in deed will bring about horrors of a different but equally terrible nature. It maintains both capitalist and segregationist overtones while presenting its citizens in a fashion that I think qualifies as uncanny valley.
Unlike in Bioshock, where you arrive to find Rapture already in ruin and are left to piece together in your mind the splendor of yesteryear, Columbia is filled with living, breathing citizens. They say a few words as you pass by. But you can’t respond. And their mood is both so peaceful and bland (reminding me of the Eloi from The Time Machine) that you realize the entire city (with its peoples) is based on The American Adventure pavilion at Epcot Center. There’s even an homage to it with an animatronic George Washington at the floating boardwalk. That in itself could be enough of a hook to pull us in. Sadly, it doesn’t really go anywhere. They all simply disappear when the shooting starts. There are no murmurs of dissent or slowly changing popular opinion as the game progresses and the city spirals further into dystopian ruin. It’s simply a stage early in the game that’s just as easily forgotten, and to match as gripping an experience as the first Bioshock requires that each element of the story and stage of the game lock together to create a tapestry that flows and moves, each piece of the utmost important to the whole.
That doesn’t happen here. You run across segregationists and ant-segregationists, and just leave them as you found them. The same with a floating version of the Ku Klux Klan that hails John Wilkes Booth as the slayer of the Great Tyrant. You are pulled in as a sort of Anti-Christ figure in their religious mythology, but you’re never given a choice. And since one of the major themes in Bioshock: Infinite centers around the choices we make and their consequences, being railroaded throughout the game just doesn’t make any sense. You are presented with a macrocosm of ideas, possibilities, and ideologies, but have only one way of doing things.
Take for example theft. There are areas in the game where you are guilty of theft and attacked if you pick up things off the ground. In other areas it’s considered scavenging and perfectly fine. I would happily pay for the items rather than steal them, but I’m not given the option. So I’ve gotta be branded a thief and kill a bunch of people unnecessarily.
On the other hand, I have many options when it comes to using my Vigors, Columbia’s version of Rapture’s plasmids. But I only use whichever one I currently have equipped since they all pretty much do the same thing. I can fling them directly at the enemy or use them as booby traps, firing with my gun all the while.
Gameplay in Bioshock: Infinite is diminished due to a lack of strategy. Your enemies all have guns. They shoot at you. That’s it. In Rapture my enemies were armed, unarmed, acrobatic, heavily-armored, navigating a maze of ruined art deco buildings and half-flooded apartments. My ammo was limited and my plasmids at best put me on even terms with the enemy. I had to hack cameras, turrets, and other gadgets and take advantage of semi-destructible environmental items to stay a step ahead of the hordes of crazies who wanted to use my skin as a dressing gown. Here I frequent a lot of docks and loading bays and shoot a lot of people screaming prayers, which is what people tend to scream when you’re walking around shooting at random. There’s no strategy. No puzzle-solving. And no story engagement since I don’t ever identify or get to know my enemies. In Rapture I almost pitied the psychotic splicers who had been driven over the edge of sanity by their own warped science.
The only time Bioshock: Infinite breaks from this mold is when you take the skyrails, mixing high-flying rollercoasters with shooting in a fashion I think was done first in the film Zombieland. Still fun as all get out, though. I restarted several times just to play the skyrails over again.
Since Vigors are not used to their full potential, there needs to be a game-changing element here. That element, or so I thought for the first half-hour, was Elizabeth, the quasi-dimensional Tails to your silent and repetitive Sonic. This is the closest to puzzle-solving that you run across. Elizabeth can open portals to other dimensions. She brings you money, salts, and ammunition. And she can even bring into this reality objects and architecture from other realities. But why, if we’re looking at an infinite number of outrageous possibilities, does this boil down to sentry turrets and skyhooks? A year before Bioshock: Infinite was released, Irrational claimed that Elizabeth would be doing crazy things like dropping freight trains onto enemy’s heads and knocking down walls with speeding firetrucks popping out of thin air. They’re working with quantum mechanics and postulating the infinite universes theory here. They could literally pull from anything their sick, twisted little imaginations come up with, and the best they can do is sentry turrets? That’s throwing pearls before swine!
The graphics are breathtaking, and Bioshock: Infinite modulates the mood impeccably, especially when it has a nasty surprise in store, but there are thematic inconsistencies which taint what would otherwise be a satisfying experience. In Rapture, their entire society was based on casting aside their past and full steam ahead to a bright, unfettered future. That future came in the form of plasmids: a substance which could change your genetic makeup and give you unbelievable powers. Rapture’s rise, politics, economics, warring factions, and eventual downfall all revolved around plasmids. In Bioshock: Infinite, the presence of Vigors is not explained. They have no demonstrable impact on society. What’s worse, considering how hidebound and traditional Columbia’s society is, gamechanging elements such as Vigors should’ve been eschewed. Throw in quantum physics, religion, ancestor worship, capitalism, segregation, and there is, in other words, no singular lore to which Bioshock: Infinite ascribes in order to maintain a tight, cohesive world. Your storyline might move along quickly, but in order to plant the seeds of doubt in the player’s mind which anticipates the inevitable twist it sacrifices substance for glitz. Your voxophones, which are recordings you pick up that are meant to give you a greater scope of the world you find yourself in, only encompass a few main characters rather than helping to give the player a grassroots perspective of the situation.
Make no mistake; Bioshock: Infinite does many things well. The voice-overs and dialogue are toe-curlingly good. The character designs are tight. Animations flow believably. The storyline as a whole is radically different from the norm. It will be very hard for any newcomers to take the title from what’s rapidly shaping up to be game of the year. But it doesn’t top the original Bioshock.
And it makes you think in a bad way. While Bioshock made you spend a quiet afternoon pondering hidden meanings, Bioshock: Infinite will have you pounding your head against a wall trying to make sense out of pieces that don’t comfortably fit.
Lampoons our own preconceived notions of America.
|Cons:||Combat becomes repetitive. |
No unifying theme.
Elizabeth is a resource squandered.
|Game producer's website:||Irrational Games|
|Official website:||Bioshock: Infinite|
|Game available at:|
Some time ago I stumbled upon a small Steam offer for a game called Cart Life. I was hungry, at the time, for a decent Economic Simulation and when the promise was that of playing a Cart Vendor, dealing in prices, supply and production, I was sold. What sold this game for me at this early stage was the price and it’s intriguing Indie look. I do not care about graphics at all, as long as they are functional or in some way eye catching. If we were to take a Triple-A release and compare it to Cart Life nobody would most likely take it seriously. I did, and after playing just fifteen minutes of this game I knew I hit a jackpot. Cart Life is not just a game about running your own Business. It’s about life, in an almost brutal nightmarish sense. There are reasons for that and I will explain them in as much details as plausible.
During the most recent Ubisoft Sale on Steam I got around to buying I Am Alive. Before it came out I was intrigued by one of its Trailers, which was fancy and it gave me the idea that we would be playing a highly demanding Survival Game. The Trailer started off by showing your average Office Worker walking down the street, drinking what I assume was a Starbucks Coffee. Suddenly the world around him crumbles in an instant. Buildings topple over and the streets are engulfed in an ash cloud. Fast Forward some time into the future and we see the same Office Worker, now chased by his co-workers, cornered in some spacious hall. They demand his water and he throws them what might had been a water bottle, only for the glass to crack under the assailants and they plummet to their deaths (as it turns out, I remembered the Trailer in reverse order). That trailer made me think, “This game will be awesome.”. After the game’s release I heard the opinions and read the reviews, it wasn’t that good. Since I could buy the game for petty money due to the Sale I went ahead and decided to see what this specific Survival Game had to offer for itself. I was both pleasantly surprised and very much disgruntled.
Those of you loyal to AlterGamer will recall the mash-up we did between free indie games Slender: The Eight Pages and Haunt, both of which feature the manmade monster Slender Man as their antagonist. In each game you employ a first-person shooter perspective and have nothing but a flashlight with which to defend yourself as you navigate an abandoned camp site with a dark history. On the way, you collect a number of pages, all the while attempting to avoid the faceless horror stalking you, coming closer and closer with each page you find.
Now, Parsec Productions, who made Slender: The Eight Pages, in conjunction with Blue Isle Studios, is going to be releasing Slender: The Arrival, projected to retail for $10. The final version of the game won’t be out until March 26th, but in the meantime we’ve had the chance to look over the beta version of the game.
It’s basically a paid version of Slender: The Eight Pages. The environment layout is similar, with twisted pine trees separating clearings that possess stereotypical camp site detritus (and one of the elusive eight pages you’re after). Graphically, we’re looking at a facelift on par with Haunt. Your environment looks prettier, but still manages to maintain the sense of foreboding that Slender: The Arrival’s predecessor is known for.
Your controls are smoothed over as well. Slender: The Eight Pages was slow and plodding in your movements. Haunt was quicker, but suffered from getting stuck on your environment when running. Here, you can be quick indeed, but you still get caught at crucial moments. Your flashlight is more useful. You can focus the beam, allowing you to pin Slender Man in place for a short while, which prevents some of the cheaper moves he attempts.
A new addition to the gaming experience is Slender Man’s ability to interact with his environment. When exploring the office building that we all know and dread getting stuck in, Slender Man will sometimes lock you in with him. I’m honestly on the fence as to whether that could be regarded as cheap or galvanizing. It’s probably a bit closer to the cheap side when all you need to do to beat the game is explore the map first so Slender Man won’t jump you, then collect all the pages at a dead sprint.
The big question is, of course, is it scary? Not really.
True, there is a tightening in your chest as you collect one page after the next and Slender Man begins to close on you. But the high quality of the game works against itself. There’s a well-composed soundtrack which is always barely perceptible. The presence of music in itself is more comforting than the stark, unsettling silence that was utilized in Slender: The Eight Pages.
And, like Haunt, when Slender Man is bearing down on you your screen fuzzes over and warps out of true, as if the presence of Slender Man is somehow eating away at the player’s sanity. This has the unfortunate consequences of making it unnecessarily difficult to get away because you can’t see where you’re going. It also lets you know when you’re safe, effectively killing the suspense inherent in never knowing where and when Slender Man will appear.
So, while there is a low-level worry involved with the fear of the unknown, what with not knowing Slender Man’s motives or origins, the main draw of the game (which is to say shock value from Slender Man popping up and hunting you down) is not nearly as strong as in Slender: The Eight Pages.
We’ll keep you posted if the final game is any better than the beta, but right now it would probably behoove you to download the free Slender: The Eight Pages for a scarier experience.
Lara Croft rises from the grave more often than the undead creatures whose tombs the little British minx just can’t seem to stop raiding. And, like all reclusive near-alcoholic failing authors with paradoxical inferiority and god complexes, I took my first step to manhood with a gander at Lara’s two rather boxy protuberances at chesticular height. It’s been close to fifteen years since Sir Mixalot sang about PILFs and liking big polygons, but it’s comforting to know some things never change in Tomb Raider: you’ll die at the drop of a hat.
As a child of the late eighties and early nineties, there are a few horror franchises which stick in my mind. Though I was probably too young to be exposed to them, and hence the nightmares, I recall such villains as Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Pinhead, and the nameless xenomorph from Aliens. Somehow, knowing the nature of the creatures made them less dangerous. I could sleep at night because the horror of these abominations had been expounded upon and defined.
Except the alien. Its sheer otherness never ceased to send chills down my spine. I suspect it’s much the same with others, accounting for the massive fanbase which the Aliens franchise has maintained since 1979. At the arcade, it was always plain to see that the dark, brooding quality of the unknown xenomorph appealed to other gamers; the line was usually three nerds deep.
Aliens: Colonial Marines was first announced in 2001. It’s been quite a wait. And now that I’ve had a chance to play it, I know the nightmares that tormented my sleep have eased their way on ichorous talons into the waking world. And not in a good way.
Story: You play as USCM member Corporal Christopher Winter, a jarhead who is thawed out of cryostasis along with your task force on the Sephora. Your story takes place following the events of Aliens 3 and is considered official Aliens universe canon. A distress signal sent by an unknown Marine on the planet LV426, late of the USCM vessel Sulaco, claims the initial Marine contingent sent to LV426 to investigate allegations of a xenomorph infestation is entirely KIA. Once you begin to board the Sulaco, you and your fellow Marines find yourselves neck deep in it when you are attacked by Weyland-Yutani PMC mercenaries for (404 error: plot point not found).
With your own task force facing heavy casualties, you, your constant smartgunner companion O’Neil, and a few other survivors (despite there being hundreds of other Marines aboard the Sephora, you never see them) do what Marines do best and work to stay alive while being heavily outgunned by PMCs and hunted by the ever-present danger of xenomorphs. The shooting eventually takes you down to the surface of LV426 where you tread where the heroes of the film Aliens once trod in a vain attempt to make some sense of the situation.
For reasons never fully understood, your task force was lured to the surface of LV426, where the Weyland-Yutani corporation has set up shop and been studying the xenomorphs for their own cruel yet unexplained purposes.
And then you fight your way back onto a ship headed offworld, where the credits roll before you ever have a sense of just what the hell happened.
Twelve years ago, this game was first conceived of. Six years ago, it went into production. You’d think someone would’ve sat down and thought about how best to portray events to galvanize players. No clear antagonist is ever established. No genuine purpose for your task force being attacked is given. It’s like you’ve just been through a thriller film and it ends before that all important moment where the hero explains the plot linking apparently unrelated events into a coherent narrative.
Repeatedly throughout the game the spirit and bravado of the Marines is called upon as the driving force for mortal men and women to face death and barrel headlong into it with a dirty grin. You spend the entire game being given orders by your CO and working to survive with O’Neil, but not once do these characters ever become more than two-dimensional archetypes. You don’t know their history. You never interact in a meaningful way. Feats of heroism and sacrifice abound, but without the depth of humanistic qualities to give it all a reason, it passes by the player without inducing a single thought or genuine emotion. Millions of dollars and countless man hours were spent on this production, and it all amounts to the death of storytelling in video games.
Gameplay: In a word: terrible. What could be a survival horror masterpiece, facing the unknown terrors of the xenomorphs and the merciless onslaught of PMCs, constantly on the back foot, running, gunning, using your head, constantly a step away from death, amounts to a one-player version of Quake.
The AI is beyond trash. Xenomorphs, those needle-toothed deathbringers that terrified us on the silver screen, are reduced to zerg rushing players. They don’t use walls or ceilings. They don’t use camoflauge. They simply charge you on sight and allow you to gun them down en-masse, making for an enemy slightly less dangerous than the old-school zombies from Doom. And that’s in cases where they don’t get hung up on the environment or blip across the screen. PMCs, your only other enemy in the game, have got about the same level of skill, either running forward to blast you at close quarters or falling over themselves trying to turtle behind cover. They would be easy to overcome if the AI of your own allies weren’t as equally abysmal.
I remember my first novel attempt. It presented a grim yet kooky fantasy landscape in which a young boy’s village was destroyed and he was forced to seek out the evil undead king responsible, collecting various MacGuffins in the process. It seemed original for about a month. Of course, I was twelve then and have since learned.
Ville and Anne Mönkkönen, a husband and wife team who make up Instant Kingdom, were both by their portraits online somewhere in their mid-twenties when they began designing Driftmoon seven years ago. That then begs the question of why they didn’t have second thoughts about centering their game around a story which a child quickly realized was walking down an unbelievably well-trod road.
When I heard of the Republic DLC for Crusader Kings 2 I went back to the days of the Guild 2. Starting as a lowly peasant and moving your way up to a ranking official or even noble. From Zero to a Master Merchant (or thief). I like playing as a merchant, because of the freedom of choice I have when it comes to earning money and then using it. Another game which made me fit the DLC to its setting was Patrician 2. Basing yourself in one home port and then traveling between ports, buying, selling and opening up all manner manufacturers. To what end? Wealth. Huge, unimaginable wealth. This rule repeats itself in the Republic DLC. You have one aim, become as obscenely wealthy as possible, and stay that way. Is that easy? You would think so, since you would be playing a Merchant. It’s not, far from it, it can be a small nightmare. Allow me to tell you why.
Being a critic is a strange thing. If you think about it, it amounts to being a mouthpiece for an industry. Developers create games, companies distribute them, PR firms market them, and then critics both professional and amateur must assess them to help the consumer know whether or not they will like the game. If the game is good, all goes well: the critic touts the virtues of the product and the public buys it. If the game is not good, the critic is placed in a difficult position. If he’s an amateur, he likely doesn’t have a very large readership, but he has the luxury of speaking his mind. If he’s a professional, he’s biting the hand that feeds him by interrupting the normal flow of business, possibly leading to his termination.
So then, the most logical solution for this problem is to have developers only make good games. That of course is not as easy as it sounds. For one thing, praise cannot be given constantly or else it ceases to have value. Criticism likewise cannot appear heavy-handed, or else the critic runs the risk of being mean-spirited when in actual fact he’s expecting other members of the industry to have the same thick skin he’s undoubtedly developed over the years of dealing with an editor. So I, like many others, am left to try to find some happy medium between integrity and maintaining the normal flow of business.
Anodyne is a game that tests that medium.