Some thoughts on Nier: Gestalt and Automata

I recently finished Yoko Taro’s 2017 masterpiece Nier: Automata. Having never played any of the previous works in the series I decided to check out Nier: Gestalt on PlayStation 3. I was surprised to find that Gestalt, while it stands well enough on its own, feels in some ways like a rough draft of Automata. If you haven’t played at least one of these games this post probably isn’t for you.

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Some thoughts on Resident Evil 7

The first Resident Evil game I ever played was Revelations on the Nintendo 3DS. The second was a re-release of Resident Evil 4 on Playstation 4. I didn’t play the original Resident Evil until after I had played those games and, again, it was an HD remaster on the PS4. All of this was done within the span of a month and as a result my perspective is probably going to be different from most critics. To me, Resident Evil is defined by its atmosphere, its action, and its fear generated as the result of gross corporate negligence and bad decision making.

RESIDENT EVIL 7 biohazard_20170201084716

I wasn’t sure of what to expect from Resident Evil 7. The marketing I had seen made it look more like a game like Outlast and the preview coverage I had read made it seem like Jack Baker, one of the games’ primary antagonists, would be pursuing you for most of the game. Now that I’ve finally played through it (twice) I can say that I think it is a very very good game. One that I’d place right up there with RE4 as one of my favorites in the series.

[SPOILERS BELOW]

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I couldn’t get myself to write a list for Game of the Year 2016 so here is a short piece about Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2

This year, despite the intense workload required of finishing my criminal justice degree, I somehow managed to play a number of good games. Say what you will about escapism with regard to getting stuff done, but from a self-care standpoint it is important to shut all of that out from time to time. Games are a good way for me to do that. I wanted to write a bit about each of those games, but I realized that writing overly detailed lists is boring and I don’t want to just write why I like each of those games. I want to look at specific things in each of them and write more critically than “hey, this game is good because x.” So instead, here is a bunch of words about Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 which kind of do what I said I didn’t want to do for the other games I liked.

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Here’s a thing about Fallout 4

SPOILERS FOR FALLOUT 4

Fallout 4 is another Bethesda game. That’s not to say its bad. It’s quite good. But it continues the trend of games made by Bethesda that strip features out because it seems like the freedom that adds to the game is what players want. In conflict with desire for player freedom, like in past games, is the idea that the main story has to be mandatory. Player choice isn’t valued within the parameters of the story like it is outside of it.

In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, the best role playing game Bethesda has ever made*, players could join a number of factions and complete quests. At a certain point in each of the questlines for those factions, the player would have to make the decision to side with one group over another. If the player wanted, for example, to become the leader of the Fighters Guild, they would have to assassinate a critical member of the Mages guild, locking themselves out of the rest of that guilds quests and potential rewards.

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Gunman Clive? More like FUNman Clive.

Gunman Clive is a game that knows exactly what it’s trying to be. The trailer for the game says as much: It’s a generic action platformer, but even though it’s remeniscent of Mega Man, it’s art style and level design make it just unique enough to recommend. Especially for only $2.

When you start a new game you can choose to play as either Gunman Clive or as Ms. Johnson. Depending on which of the two you select the other is kidnapped by generic cowboy/bandit facsimiles. And then you shoot them. You shoot a lot of them. Truth be told, when I started the game, I thought that all I’d be doing was shooting the same bandit over and over again until I rescued Ms. Johnson. Then, on the third level, I realized Horberg’s probably knew how to design levels fairly well and was hooked until I finished the game. As the game progresses it becomes less and less about shooting bandits and more about the platforming. This is something the game does well. It starts off simple and layers more and more elements on right up to the end of the game, but these new elements are never confusing or too difficult to deal with. Never does a tutorial window pop up and tell you “press a to” or “hold y to.” The game assumes you know how to handle yourself because it’s drawing from such a long lineage of games that do exactly the same things.

The controls are similar to those old games as well. It’s literally just B to jump and Y to shoot. The rest comes down to timing and direct control. While maybe not having as much finesse as, say, Meat Boy, Clive definitely feels better in the platforming department than a game like Little Big Planet. It’s just a more precise affair. I never felt frustrated with the control I had over the character and whenever I died (stage 13 initially gave me a bunch of trouble) I knew it was my own fault. There are some differences between playing as Clive and Ms. Johnson that I should mention. Ms. Johnson controls very much like Peach in Super Mario Bros 2. If you hold down the jump button mid-air she will float down instead of just dropping. She retains the Mega Man-esque gun play that Clive has.

The art style is brown. Very brown. I know that this is a complaint that a lot of people have with modern games, but here it works to Gunman Clive’s favor. The game has an almost hand-drawn art style and the brown only adds to that sketchbook feel. Sure, there is color used sparingly throughout -Ms. Johnson is colored Pink, electric traps are purple, some enemies are yellow, etc- but over all the game looks nice because of it’s lack of major details.

The game is nothing new, but in the short time I spent with it I had a lot of fun. It really did remind me of playing an old Mega Man (or a new one like 9 or 10) game, albeit a lot less difficult. If you’ve just dropped a bunch of money into your e-shop wallet and bought something larger and you’re left with a little over $2 then I completely recommend spending that money on Gunman Clive. Or don’t. It’s your two bucks. What do I care?

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Up Up Down Down Left WRITE – A Book Review

Nathan Meunier’s Up Up Down Down Left WRITE – The Freelance Guide To Video Game Journalism, like the Necronomicon, is a dangerous book. I grew up playing video games and at a certain age I started reading magazine and internet articles about them to further my knowledge of the medium. It blew my mind that playing video games and writing about them was something a person could do for a living. I’ve dreamed about being able to do that ever since, but there have always been questions about it that I’ve never been able to ask. I’ve never had a resource to turn to that satisfied those inquiries. Meunier’s book is dangerous because, while it is packed to the brim with details that might scare some people off, it answers all of the questions I’ve ever had about freelance work (and questions I didn’t know I had) and makes me think that I could pursue games journalism and go beyond my hobby.

I happened across Up Up Down Down Left WRITE on Twitter, where someone had retweeted a link to the books Kickstarter page. I was unable to donate at the time, but swore to myself that I would buy the book as soon as I could. I got it on Kindle and was overwhelmed by the amount of topics listed on the table of contents page. I thought I had some idea of what was involved in writing about games, but my assumptions barely scratched the surface. Everything from pitching articles to covering conventions and even paying quarterly taxes is covered in this book. Meunier doesn’t write about these subjects in dry-textbook manner, either. Humor and pop culture references are sprinkled throughout and they work to relay information to the reader in a relatable way. The book feels more like a friend who works in the industry is telling you about personal experiences than it does a college professor demanding you absorb information.

Meunier leaves no stone un-turned and as such, the reader often gets to see the grimy underside and negative aspects of freelance journalism. I think a lot of us want to believe that it’s as simple as playing a game and churning out a review in a single draft, but it’s much more work than that. I recommend this book, not just to the people who are interested in trying to write about games for a living, but also to those who get online and post comments on reviews and articles. I think we could all benefit from having an expanded knowledge of the journalists side of the industry and Nathan Meunier’s Up Up Down Down Left WRITE is an excellent point of entry.

5/5

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Besting The Burning Hells: Diablo III Review (PS3)

My sword hews the head from atop the collapsing body of an enemy in one stroke. The mass of flesh is still falling as I swing a second time; I see both the head and body blasted away from my character by a powerful gust of wind and watch as they slam into the dungeon wall, crushing a table in the process. A glimmer of orange light appears amid the blood and body parts. I pick it up, identify it, and equip it. It is a legendary war hammer. Thus begins a cycle of loot-driven carnage and addiction the likes I haven’t felt since Diablo II.

Loot is the primary draw in Diablo III and it falls constantly. The rate of normal, rare, and legendary drops seems finally tuned enough to satisfy a stats geek like me, but the high-powered gear I sought after didn’t appear so frequently that I was constantly comparing numbers in the inventory screen. I can’t speak for the PC version because I’ve never played it–my last experience with this kind of game was Torchlight II–but the inventory on console works well. It’s a wheel-based system that allows for quick selection with the analog stick and while it might feel cumbersome at first its functionality became second nature and didn’t damage my experience in the slightest.

Keeping the player out of the inventory and on the battlefield is optimal considering the quality of combat in Diablo III. The encounter detailed in my introduction was not a singular occurrence. There are subtle physics applied to enemies and when blended with developer Blizzard’s top-notch animations and art it creates an engaging and intense gameplay experience. Heads and limbs, separated from bodies at regular intervals, are sent flying because of the sheer force demonstrated by a characters might. I distinctly remember cracking a smile the first time I attacked and noticed that my weapon was generating air current and moving objects in the environment.

Unlike similar games on PC, Diablo III has the player taking direct control over the character they’re playing as. On PC, pointing and clicking the mouse tells the Barbarian where to go and who to attack. It’s something that has always felt more like giving orders to me. Now, moving the analog stick and seeing my character move in conjunction with that movement, I feel more connected to the action on screen. That connection is further punctuated by the inclusion of a God of War-style combat roll that, to my knowledge, wasn’t included in the original PC release. The roll is an integral part of the combat experience and I don’t think I could play a version of the game that doesn’t have it.

Having come off Torchlight II on PC, I have to admit that I enjoy this style of isometric RPG even more on console. The inclusion of same system co-operative play reminded me of days when my brother and our friends would play games like Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance I & II or Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes on the original Xbox and I’ve always preferred playing this kind of game with friends in the same room to playing online. However, there are two unfortunate downsides to playing Diablo III on the same system as friends: First, while gold appears to be divided among players, loot is not; whoever gets to it first gets it. You’d better hope your friends aren’t greedy. Second, only one player can be in their inventory at a time. It’s a minor gripe, but depending on how many people are playing it increases the amount of time spent out of combat.

There are very few drawbacks to the console version of Diablo III. It has brutally satisfying combat, a steady supply of loot, and for players like me, its couch co-op play tugs on nostalgic heartstrings in a way the PC version never could. In bringing Diablo III to console, Blizzard has developed the best possible version of their action role playing game and I’m sure I’ll be playing it, both by myself and with friends, for some time to come.

9/10

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