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Life is Strange
"It is often said that life is strange. But compared to what?" -Steve Forbert
Probably to a better game, since, despite its commendable drive to improve and expand on the Telltale formula by attempting to provide choices that actually matter, Life is Strange is everything wrong with a certain side of the indie scene: pretentious, derivative, overwritten, with poor dialogue and characters, a stupid story that doesn't follow its own rules and whose open ended nature is only cosmetic, bad voice acting, bad puzzles, unearned plot twists and obnoxious music to top it all off.
///Full spoilers follow///
The game follows aspiring photographer and patient zero of the blandness disease Maxine "Max" Caulfield, the most basic normie hipster known to man, with her selfie-obsession, her "keep calm and carry on" rug, her plinky plonky acoustic guitar playlist that all sounds the same and her array of "google search: I'm feeling lucky" movie references, who goes to some kind of grotesque ivy league liberal arts college/high school amalgamation with a total of two classrooms and where every student is 18 and looks and sounds 13 (which is what happens when you just don't care about believability). Suddenly, and for no reason the game ever bothers to explain, Max develops the abilty to rewind time to a few minutes back, retaining all of her memories and objects on her person but resetting everything and everyone else.
On the gameplay side of things this translates to being able to rewind time a couple minutes back like in the Ubi Prince of Persia games, usually to fix a bad decision by picking a different option (the game even pressures you by having Max second guess every choice you make and flashing a "rewind!" icon on screen) or, more cleverly, to solve puzzles by manipulating the environment. Need to turn on a generator that's out of reach? Pull it down to the ground so you can use its busted remains as a step ladder to climb, then rewind time so it returns to where you are. It's easy and basic stuff, but it does the job when the game presents it, which isn't very often. Sometimes you might have to impress someone by observing events going on in the environment, then rewinding and announcing them before they happen, then cracking a joke about how cool you are.
Therein lies the first glaring problem with Life is Strange: Max's reaction to this discovery is what amounts to "huh". Where a normal person would freak out and start losing her touch with reality, perhaps growing more and more detached and solitary as she realizes people around her are hollow marionettes that sing and dance at her whim, trapped in tides of the space and time that she alone controls, Max's top priority is still taking pictures of squirrels with her camera, finding out what the popular girls at school think of her and why Brooke is, like, totally a bitch; her first real use of her newfound powers is to drop a bucket of paint on the Mean Girls™ because they were sitting on the stairs and she didn't want to walk through or around them. Her attitude towards this paradigm shift in her own existence and the cosmic order at large is "I'm a human time machine: amazeballs! Time for a selfie."
Enter the supporting cast, divided between two distinct groups: teens and adults. It is worth premising that this is a game written by a man likely in his mid-40s, so it's no surprise the adults are marginally better, with a least a semblance of depth and veridicity to them. The teens however are a complete disaster: aside from Max's submissive friendzoned boy there is not a single one who doesn't sound world-weary, cynical, defensive, overly sarcastic, self-centered, verbally abusive, judgemental and egotistic. This, in short, is how someone who hates teenagers thinks teenagers are like. You will quickly slide into this state of mind where you will find a new NPC to talk to and think "great, let's see what kind of asshole this one is". Furthermore, none of these teens talk like real people, or even human beings at all: an annoying blue haired twat with illusions of grandeur will quiz you on photography to see if you're worthy of looking at his pictures, and then says: "You are a kindred spirit, Max. Would you care for a perusal of my portfolio? It's not a privilege I grant to many." Please shut up.
There is a definite component of persecution porn in this as well: almost everyone Max meets is either hostile or bullying towards her, battering her with verbal abuse, mockery, belittling her or blaming her for everything under the sun. It's a trick that gets old really quick.
Even the characters supposed to be written as kind, quiet and bullied do not escape this curse, with the mouth-breathing class pudge Alyssa, a walking stereotype if ever there was one, still having an obnoxious air of self-importance about her (more on her later) and most notably Kate, the christian fundamentalist girl who, in one of the game's boldest statements, is bullied to a suicide attempt by the most sociopathic students and therefore a prime candidate for the player's sympathy, still comes off as a defensive bipolar lunatic due to the wonky nature of the dialogue trees which make it look like her emotions turn on a dime without rhyme or reason, frustrating any and all attempts to get invested in her character and play along with Life is Strange's emotional endgame.
Her suicide scene is particularly egregious: with Max's time powers suspended, it boils down to a pop quiz to see if the player has paid attention to Kate's dialogue and the content of her room over the course of the brief interactions the game offers with her, all to convince her that at least one person cares about her so she'll walk off the ledge on the safe side. Getting any minor detail wrong causes her to jump to her death (don't worry, you can just reload a checkpoint and try again, negating any lasting impact or consequence that might be interesting) and the way the dialogue is written makes Kate sound like a complete asshole: "Oh Max, you remember my favorite scripture from the bible, I believe that you do care about me", then a second later "NO! You know I don't have any brothers, only sisters! I knew you didn't care about me Max!" and she jumps. The developers could and should have implemented a system in which the charcater gets increasingly frustrated the more answers the player gets wrong, recording multiple responses with varying degrees of aggravation, but they didn't, opting to make the character go from 0 to 100 with her mood without warning or regard for any reassurance achieved moments before. Result: she comes off as bratty and irritating to the point you want her to jump and get out of your face. Abject failure at storytelling.
It doesn't help that the voice acting for some of the characters, including important ones, is nothing short of atrocious, probably not the actor's fault so much as a woeful lack of direction in the recording booth, which has left them to fend for themselves and approximate (too often failing to) the necessary emotions, which further cements the failings of a very poor script.
On that note, the time has come to talk about Chloe. No hate for Ashly Burch, who is a talented actress who has done good work in The Last of Us, Horizon Zero Dawn, Saints Row and Borderlands, but Chloe is simply too poorly written for Burch to save her. A rudderless teenager lashing out at the world due to the sudden death of her father, there is is a lot to work with there, but all Chloe does throughout the entirety of the game is be a danger to herself and others, a chaotic narcissistic Candlewick to Max's Pinocchio that you cannot help but find obnoxious and will make your eyes roll back into your skull every time she walks on screen, let alone open her mouth to say nothing but something cynical and sarcastic, or to guilt trip Max into some sort of idiotic self-destructive behavior. She got under my skin so much that i tried to kill her every time the game puts her in harm's way: being repeatedly shot, run over by a train, mauled by a rabid dog, the works. Unfortunately the game won't let you go through with any of it, forcing a time rewind every time you try to get rid of her. "My dad died and abandoned me, you left and abandoned me, everyone abandons me! Fuck you Max and fuck everyone else!" Me, me, me, me, me. That's Chloe in a nutshell.
It is clear to the player that Max is in an abusive relationship, and Chloe is the abuser. Clear to everyone except the writing team, who are quick to brush all of the red flags aside as "poor girl, she has suffered" when all the signs of an abusive relationship are there: Chloe is controlling and jealous, berating Max for answering the phone to talk to another friend. Chloe spends the entire game guilt tripping Max on a constant loop for never calling when she was in Seattle, even though she herself never called. She does this to force Max to do things she wouldn't do otherwise. Chloe constantly talks to Max about her ex girlfriend and how amazing she was, belittling Max in the process. Chloe repeatedly points a gun at Max in jest, but clearly establishing a physical hierarchy through the simulation of violence. Chloe expects Max to take the fall for her screwups, like claiming the weed found in Chloe's room was hers, and repeatedly berates her if she doesn't. The list goes on and on.
And just to dispel any doubt that she is that way because of her father dying, even in the alternate timeline where the man is alive and well but Chloe is paralyzed on a wheelchair, she still aggressively manipulates Max to convince her to pull the plug on her so she can die, which would obviously land Max in monstruous legal troubles, possibly even 25 to life for murder. Chloe doesn't concern herself with that: she is a bad person who only thinks of herself and she doesn't care about Max at all.
Hysterically, the finale of the game gives you a choice between two endings (the usual button A or button B affair, with no impact deriving from your decisions in the game), all hinging on whether Max decides to sacrifice the entire town to save Chloe or the other way around. For some baffling reason this is a 50/50 split if the players' choice stat screen is to be believed, but one I didn't even have to think about: Chloe just had to go and it's a shame you only get to make that choice at the very end. She is a terminal sociopath under every angle of scrutiny, self-obsessed, manipulative and possessive to the extreme. The fact that the writers were evidently convinced they had written a complex and relatable character is disconcerting to say the least.
The above mention of the finale segues into another problem: your decisions have no lasting impact on the way the story ends, which wastes all the effort put into trying to elevate the game above Telltale levels of storytelling. Sure, your choices are brought up by the NPCs in lines of dialogue, and they might even hold a grudge which might lock or unlock some dialogue option, but the results are usually the same. Does it matter if David gets to install his surveillance cameras or not, or whether he has to leave home or not? No, he still shows up at the climax as normal. Does it matter if Victoria hates or likes Max by the end as a result of their interactions? No, she still gets kidnapped and killed because Max warns her about the wrong person anyway. Is there any consequence to killing Frank as opposed to wounding him or resolving peacefully? There isn't, only a few lines of dialogue.
So your choices don't ultimately matter, but does the game at least provide the illusion of player involvement in the development of the plot? Ultimately, no, because what really sets this game below the par line in that regard is the fact it forces you to pick between doing something stupid and something even more stupid. After Chloe steals a handgun from her stepfather, Max eventually faces the decision of who should keep that gun between her irresponsible sociopath of a friend and a shady drug dealer out for her blood. there is no sensible decision possible, like taking the gun back to the police or dropping it into the owner's mailbox. When the mean girls are sitting on the steps of Max's dormitory and she is too much of a wimp to just walk through them, your only recourse is to use your powers to drop a bucket of paint on them, which is blamed on the janitor (and Max doesn't care, because he's weird and talks to squirrels, so fuck him). Max very rarely does behave like an intelligent person would. The only time Max does something sensible is when she starts wondering if she's actually a self-righteous hypocrite, which of course she is.
On top of all this there are instances in which the game dips into pure and simple idiocy. A few examples: Max going to take a shower in her pijamas, hanging it inside the shower and them coming out perfectly dry, or how, after breaking into the drug dealer's trailer and stealing his encrypted notepad, Max and Chloe go knock on his door to ask him for the encyption key, which he gives to them with the right dialogue choices, without putting 2 and 2 together that they would only need it if they stole his notes (he freaks out if they know his dog's name though: "the only way you'd know his name is if you broke into my house!" what?) at which point he pulls a weapon on them. What about the aforementioned pudgy nerd Alyssa, who, over the course of the game, you can save from being hit with a mundane object five times: a paper ball, a football, being splashed with water by a car and so on. If you fail to do so even a single time, Alyssa will refuse your help during the final scene when the town is being ravaged by a tornado, and as a result dies. Even though she doted on you four times for somehow saving her from very minor inconvenience, she flees in terror at the sight of you to her death because you failed to warn her about a paper ball in class that one time. There are literal dozens of moments like these that are too stupid to be believed.
Lastly, the resolution of the story: this is where the game actually managed to surprise me, since the entire time I assumed that the missing girl you keep hearing about was actually going to be revealed to be alive and well somewhere, thus my brain discarded the possibility of this inane snoozefest hiding a killer at all. When the twist does come, and the friendly (though gratingly pretentious) hipster professor turns out to be a psycho murderer it feels absolutely out of the blue, mostly because his character is so incredibly irrelevant to your experience that you would be excused for even forgetting he existed in the first place. I wouldn't be surprised if many players had a "who are you again?" moment, especially those who played the episodes months apart as they were released.
Life is Strange was an ambitious game, but ultimately its repulsive misportrayal of an abusive relationship as something pure and aspirational, plus its poor execution under every point of view completely negates whatever good ideas there might have been in there. Even stranger than life is the fact this series had the success that it did, spawning a disconcerting number of sequels and prequels. Sometimes you just can't stop failing upwards.
Katana Zero é um jogo incrível. É impressionante o que UMA pessoa conseguiu fazer. A arte desse jogo é IMPRESSIONANTE, um dos jogos indies mais lindos que já vi. É tão impressionante que praticamente cada cutscene vira um wallpaper.
A história dele consegue ser tão imersiva e boa que faz com que o jogador tente interpretar ela várias e várias vezes. Ela é tão enigmática e bem contada que meio que "obriga" o jogador a ligar os pontos e saber como tudo isso acabou.
A gameplay em si é insanamente divertida. É um jogo propositalmente pra ser um "speedrun style" que faz você pensar o que fazer antes de agir. As mecânicas dele funciona perfeitamente com o estilo do jogo de ser ágil e rápido.
Além disso, as músicas desse jogo são extremamente viciantes. O estilo meio cyberpunk e eletrônico das músicas são muito boas e encaixa perfeitamente em cada fase do jogo.
Por mais que seja bem curto, Katana Zero é um dos melhores indies lançados dos últimos cinco anos (ansioso para a dlc).
God of War
Despite how recently it was released, God of War has not only been considered by many as one of the PlayStation 4's best exclusives, but also one of the best video game rebootquels in recent memory and even one of the best games of the 2010s. Since it beat Red Dead Redemption II for Game of the Year back in 2018, I was curious to see what apparently made this game better than one of my very favorite games of all time, and after beating the game, I'm still wondering that, because God of War felt like a complete chore to play. This game did get one thing right, though, and I'll go over it quickly before getting into why I found the overall experience to be so unfun and derivative. Although practically every new AAA release tries to look and feel "cinematic", God of War did just enough in that aspect for it to feel at least a little fresh, as the use of one continuous take meshed really well with the game's lifelike visuals, rugged art direction, and ancient Scandinavian setting.
For every step that the game's atmosphere takes, the writing, gameplay, and heavy dependence on tired mechanics and systems make the game take a thousand steps back before ensuring that it steps on a giant bear trap. Now, I've only been able to play God of War III due to the unavailability of the first two games on eighth generation consoles, but I still thought that this game's combat was a huge step down from the original trilogy, as Kratos felt clunky to control with how slow his attacks, dodges, and parries were to execute. Fighting several enemies at once made me feel like I was about to have an aneurysm, as the issues of attacks from both you and your spongy enemies suddenly deciding when to land and when to miss are suddenly quadrupled when you have to deal with all of these other similarly annoying enemies, along with how the camera is so close to Kratos at all times that you can't even see more than one enemy on screen. What I especially disliked about the game's enemy encounters was how almost every single boss in God of War was a troll with a giant rock, complete with the exact same attacks and death animations that you have to see over and over again.
The unintuitive and awkward combat of God of War ties in with another one of its bigger issues, as this game felt like a mishmash of every single unoriginal trend that is present in so many modern AAA releases, and the use of those tropes is worsened by how halfhearted their executions were. In addition to the repetitive combat, God of War is plagued with a skill tree and a crafting/upgrade system that we've seen a thousand times before, and the former system doesn't work because almost none of the abilities you unlock for your weapons are nearly as effective as just pressing R1 or R2, while the latter system doesn't work because everyone is going to play this game in the exact same way, which makes the idea of locking the resources needed to craft high-level armor pieces behind a treasure trove of predictable and boring side quests even more puzzling than it already is. Speaking of which, God of War can't decide whether it wants to be an open world game or something more linear, so it decides to combine worse versions of each by filling the game with asinine collectibles and tasks that you literally have no reason to go for, with the only ones that were of any real use being Iðunn's Apples and Horns of Blood Mead.
Pretty much all of the clichés that I had just mentioned were entirely related to the gameplay, but they unfortunately made their way to the story. Not only is God of War yet another story about a grizzled old man and a bratty younger sidekick going on a journey together, but it also features the video game storytelling equivalent to bureaucracy in the form of having the plot constantly grind itself to a halt so that you have to grab some item or talk to some person before having to do those exact things again. As bad and uninspired as all of those aspects of this game were, nothing about God of War got on my nerves nearly as much as its aggravating dialogue and unbearable inclusions of humor, and that especially goes for literally everything that came out of Atreus' mouth. Throughout all 20+ hours of this game, this useless little kid never stops running his mouth, which also means that he tells you the answer to every puzzle before you even get the chance to think, comments on every single thing that happens in the game with some variation of "Well, that happened!", and constantly screams phrases like "FIRE, INCOMING!" and "WATCH OUT!" over and over again in his infuriatingly screechy voice during every single enemy encounter. Atreus is definitely the worst offender when it came to keeping me infuriated throughout the game, but he wasn't the only one to do so, as Mímir did the exact same things while also constantly spouting exposition during boat trips, and Sindri's running gag about his aversion to anything gross or dirty started out annoying before getting more and more anger-inducing as the game went on. Pretty much everything about God of War felt so market-tested, risk-free, tedious, and dull that I wondered what it was that so many people even saw in this game, and since God of War Ragnarök looks like more of the same, I really don't want to play that game at all.
What's weird about Unravel is that it was actually one of the first games that I had gotten for my PS4, as I bought it way back in December of 2016, and yet I never played anything past the first level until now. All I remember about the game was thinking that it looked great and that it felt very pleasant and sweet, but I've been meaning to beat the game since then. My thoughts on this game are admittedly a bit all over the place, but I want to start off with what Unravel does right first.
From a technical standpoint, Unravel is incredible. The photorealistic visuals, detailed sound design, and gorgeous score by Frida Johansson and Henrik Oja do an excellent job of bringing the game's Northern Scandinavian setting to life, as the levels go from being set in the lush woods to frigid snowstorms to even machine-filled factories and industrial areas. Yarny is an adorable protagonist, and having him use his yarn to make bridges, swing from objects, and more is a really interesting idea. The atmosphere in Unravel is heartfelt, charming, and occasionally melancholic, and at the core of it all is a beautifully told and emotional story about love, memories, nostalgia, and how the passage of time affects these things.
As pleasant as this game was in terms of its story and ambience, Unravel did have a number of shortcomings that ultimately dragged the experience down for me. For starters, Yarny himself is really janky to control, as the physics of both him and the objects he interacts with emphasize realism above all else, which makes certain puzzles frustrating in how unresponsive and unreliable the game feels to play. Speaking of which, the "Aha!" moments of many of the game's puzzles never really feel all that satisfying, and that's mostly because their solutions tend to be hidden in some obscure, barely visible place that you'd barely be able to figure out on your own. There were also some really cheap split-second deaths where the game would throw something at you that you can't actually react to without knowing they were there in the first place, and this leads to a lot of tedious trial-&-error gameplay that ends up feeling even worse when combined with the wonky physics. The only two levels that I really enjoyed from start to finish were the first level, "Thistle and Weeds", and the ninth level, "Winter Sun", and I really wish that the rest of the game took cues from those two great levels. Despite those glaring issues, the investment and immersion that I had felt while playing Unravel still made it win me over in the end, and I felt pretty satisfied by the time the credits rolled, even if I'm not all that interested in checking out Unravel Two.
At some point during the earlier months of the pandemic, a good amount of the videos I watched on YouTube were those seconds-long videos of NPCs in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion doing something weird or funny. I was always interested in checking this game out, but the ridiculousness of those videos (along with how disappointed I was with Skyrim) was what really made me want to give Oblivion a go, so I was really excited to find the Game of the Year edition of the game at York's CeX. After sinking roughly 50 hours into the game for the past month or so, I have developed a lot of thoughts on it, as I really enjoyed my time with Oblivion, but it also had some glaring issues and questionable choices that held my experience back a bit.
What's so interesting about Oblivion to me is that it succeeds really well in ways that Skyrim failed really badly, despite how it came out five years earlier than that game. Not only is the main quest compelling, but the game's varied cities are all full of creative, engaging sidequests and memorable characters, with the questlines being especially rewarding and satisfying. Rather than having you clear out a handful of Draugr ruins and then suddenly giving you an important title like in Skyrim, Oblivion makes you work up the ranks in both the guilds and the Arena, and I really felt like I had earned my titles when I had finished those questlines. Speaking of which, Oblivion puts a lot of emphasis on having you put in the time and effort to earn useful perks and items, with the most obvious example being its weird leveling system. A lot of people have cited this as one of the game's worst aspects, but I honestly kind of liked it, as it allowed me to really carve out my build while also making my perks feel more significant. The melee combat is also much, much better here, as the emphasis on blocking added a layer of strategy to every one-on-one swordfight, even if actually swinging my sword felt weightless.
On its own, Oblivion is definitely fun in terms of gameplay and engaging in terms of story, but what made me really love my time with it was just how charmingly unpolished it was by today's standards. Watching the people of Cyrodiil have stilted, nonsensical conversations about recent events while being voiced by the same five or six people never got old for me, and I especially loved just how ruthless and determined the Imperial City's guards were. My copy of Oblivion wasn't nearly as janky as what I'd seen on YouTube, but people's food and utensils still flew up into the air every time someone sat down, so it still had a bit of that lovable clunkiness to it. Although the graphics of Oblivion don't really look that great in terms of textures and detail, I'd still take the game's vibrant colors over the drab lifelessness of Skyrim any day, even if both games had the same generic, vaguely medieval fantasy overlay.
I had a lot of fun with Oblivion, but the issues that I had noticed with the game at first got bigger as I kept playing the game, and a lot of that has to do with its use of procedural generation. Now, I don't know the exact amount of procedural generation that was used in the game, but a lot of the caves felt really similar in terms of their layouts and enemies, and that also extends to a slew of Oblivion Gate quests that pretty much all felt identical. The choice to use level scaling was one that I really wasn't a fan of, as I didn't feel like my character was getting stronger due to how my enemies were leveling up alongside me. Although the melee combat works really well when you have just one target, I can't say the same when you have to fight multiple enemies at once, as having some other enemy interrupt your attack or take in a hit that you meant for someone else disrupted the flow of combat. This overlaps with the outright horrible staggering mechanic, as being able to get staggered by any enemy made no sense when my Block skill and Endurance level were both at 100. These are all pretty big issues, but Oblivion was so entertaining to play and experience that my gripes with the game pale in comparison to my praises for it, and not only am I excited to eventually play through the game's DLC, but I also want to eventually find a way to play Morrowind as well.
Metal Gear Solid
Hideo Kojima's Metal Gear saga has been one of my very favorite video game franchises for over five years, but because of Konami's abandonment of the series, it's been tough to actually play all of its games. The only console that has access to all of the main games in the series is the PS3, but I never had one, so I just assumed that I wouldn't be able to play Metal Gear Solid or Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots until I got my hands on a used one, but since my sister got a PlayStation Classic while I was in York for my first term at university, I was finally able to play through this game for the first time. For a PS1 game, Metal Gear Solid really impressed me from a technical standpoint, as the atmospheric sound design and detailed visuals really brought the snowy exteriors and mechanical interiors of Shadow Moses Island to life. The terrific and distinctive voice acting was especially great, as they strengthened the already excellent dialogue and character writing, with David Hayter giving one of the most iconic video game performances ever as Solid Snake.
For me, enjoying the Metal Gear franchise means appreciating both the gameplay and the story equally, and while I still haven't played the MSX games that came out before this, I was still glad to see that the blend worked so well this early on in the series. The plot of Metal Gear Solid is pretty much flawless, as its compelling atmosphere of hi-tech espionage amplified the impact of each twist and narrative beat, as well as the game's themes regarding the effects of war, the search for purpose, and the human condition. Snake's arc of trying to find out who, what, and why he keeps fighting while also reckoning with his own existence as a killing machine was incredibly enthralling, and it also blended really well with the game's commentary on how its player mindlessly followed its orders. On top of being incredibly well written, Metal Gear Solid is also very fun to play. While the game's stealth mechanics are fairly simple, evading Genome Soldiers was still exciting and adrenaline-inducing, and the game was also chock-full of challenging, yet creative and satisfying boss fights.
Metal Gear Solid was a great game that had an especially well-told story, but that doesn't mean that it was flawless. Although the first half of the game struck a good balance between stealth sections and action sequences, the second half of Metal Gear Solid was almost entirely dedicated to boss fights, and I really wished that there was some breathing room in between them rather than constant action. Generally, I didn't mind the game's controls when it came to sneaking around enemies or fighting a boss, but during scenes such as the stairway chase and the elevator fights, the clunkiness and imprecision really began to show, and that was made even worse due to the PlayStation Classic's delayed button inputs and shoddy emulation. Neither of these aspects of the game compare to the game's tedious backtracking, as you constantly have to go back and forth between areas you've already went through, even when you aren't dealing with temperature-changing PAL keys or a missing sniper rifle. I can't really say that I'm able to look past these aspects of the game, but what Metal Gear Solid did right more than made up for its shortcomings, and the result was a great game that is still fun to play 24 years later.
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