33 Reviews liked by dvader654

Kena is a baffling experience: though its childish art style, naif narrative and focus on cosmetic items seem to hint at a product intended for a younger audience, its sudden and absurd difficulty spikes seem to be pandering to the Dark Souls crowd, leaving you to wonder exactly who this game was meant for.
In it we play the role of the eponymous Kena, a young medium tasked with sending restless spirits to a peaceful afterlife. Not a novel concept by any stretch, but at the very least a fine premise for an action game. Unfortunately, the story the game tells is as uninteresting as they come, offering little drama or even any twists to keep the player engaged. If you're really into recent Disney animated features, chances are you will find this more engaging than I did.
Kena's main means of defense is a quarterstaff that doubles as a bow, plus a gaggle of overly cute minions called "rot", who allow her to perform various special attacks and interact with the environment. These creatures are a cowardly lot, so Kena needs to damage enemies in order to make her minions gain courage, symbolized by a filling bar. Muster enough courage and you will earn a charge to spend on whatever action you want, from healing to unleashing super attacks.
Combat seeks to be a blend of Dark Souls and Horizon Zero Dawn, alternating melee combos to slow motion precision archery. Good on paper, but the lock-on system is simply too poor to be useful: not only is its range pitiful, not only does it break constantly, but it also makes your roll direction relative to the targeted enemy, instead of simply focusing the camera on them and leaving you free to evade in any direction. As a result, you will often dodge right into an attack, as opposed to away from it, meaning it's usually far better to skip locking on entirely and keeping your enemy in sight manually.
Some of the bosses are made especially aggravating by this factor, since you might not be able to see their attacks as they are being telegraphed for you to avoid, simply because the lock-on is such a chore to deal with and you might be looking elsewhere whben things are happening.
Concerning bosses, these often present some unreasonable difficulty spikes: there is one in particular that keeps teleporting around firing high damage homing fireballs and spawning low level enemies to harass you. Not content with that, the developers gave it the ability to heal completely without limits when under a certain HP value. Fighting one is annoying enough, but when the game forces you in a main quest fight with two of them at the same time (only they now spawn exploding kamikaze bugs instead), things get really annoying really quickly.
And that's when the game even bothers to explain its mechanics which, despite the overabundance of tutorial messages, it fails to do on more than one occasion, like with the spirit dash skill, which is explained to you as a defensive and traversal ability, but in reality it is also required to be used as an offensive move, which the game never explains in any way. Being crucial to defeating late game enemies, this is a grave omission.
Despite some cool attacks (detonating bombs to debuff and slow down enemies is fun), combat is generally not very good: melee attacks lack oomph, hitboxes are often imprecise and some enemies seem to be missing frames of animation, throwing off your prediction of their patterns. At least archery is entertaining, rewarding timing and precision.
When not following the combat-rich main story, going off the beaten path will present you with the chance for limited exploration with some light platforming, combat challenges and very easy puzzles. The rewards for these activities are usually chests, whose contents range in usefulness from good to absolutely pointless. Specifically, a lot of these contain nothing but hats that you can make your rot minions wear, with no benefit or effect to the gameplay whatsoever: you're simply making your barely visible pokemon a tad more colorful.
What's worse, unlike games like Jedi Fallen Order, whose chests largely contained nothing but cosmetic items, but had the sense of being clearly color coded so you knew that was the case, Kena likes to surprise you with the contents of a chest: it might be a useful rot upgrade that contributes to unlocking more of your skill tree, or a talisman to aid you in combat... or, more often than not, it will be just a pointless hat that does absolutely nothing.
It would have been easy to tie some kind of gameplay system to what hats your minions are wearing, for instance their action bars might have charged faster depending on the pooled rarity score of the hats they are wearing, or the duration and damage of their effects on enemies might have been affected. None of that is here: there is absolutely no purpose to the hats and, as such, to the crystals used to purchase them from the hat store, which you find in great abundance around the world, making even more chests and containers completely pointless.
As you progress through the campaign, a dedicated trial mode becomes available in the main hub, consisting of archery challenges and boss rematches under stricter circumstances (take no damage, do it under the time limit). Each rank presents you with three challenges, offering undisclosed rewards: sometimes they are mildly useful buff charms that complement your playstyle with frankly negligible bonuses; more often though the unlocks are just hats or outfits that change none of your stats or abilities. As a result, it becomes fairly demotivating to deal with these recycled content trials when the rewards are so inconsequential.
There is nothing more disappointing than completing a tough combat challenge (usually by fighting old bosses now fought in pairs or with unfun handicaps applied), only to be awarded with a "rare" hat, which does absolutely nothing the same way a common one does. It only costs more to equip for the same effect, that is to say, bugger all.
Kena Bridge of Spirits is definitely a mixed bag: while on one hand it delivers some passably basic basic combat, exploration and puzzles, on the other the lack of a compelling story and especially the disappointing nature of the loot you find (unless you really, really enjoy playing self-contained dolls dress-up) make it a half-baked product.
It's a decent enough first effort from a new studio, and a budget-priced title at that, but considering some industry veterans worked on it, there are many areas in which they should have known better.
Most of all, the jarring disconnect between its visual presentation and bizarre difficulty spikes makes this difficult to recommend for any of its possible audiences.

"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.

Fallen Order does the hard part mostly right but fumbles the easy part on the finish line.
Ok combat - Decent puzzles - Deflecting lasers is fun - Mostly good cast - Mongolian throat singing
Glitchy climbing and movement - Poor performance - Bland story and protagonist - Forgettable music - Lacks understanding of its sources of inspiration - Comical cloth glitches
85% of collectibles are pointless cosmetics
Ever since they have ventured into the franchise, EA's output regarding Star Wars videogames has been less than, well, stellar. Starting with 2011's struggling Old Republic MMO, continuing with the empty shell that was 2015's Battlefront remake and the lootbox nightmare that was its sequel, and 2021's disappointing VR-centric Squadrons, Fallen Order represents for many the high point of EA's Star Wars offering, perhaps with good reason. Despite that, we are still looking at a product that didn't try hard enough to be polished, well designed and to make proper use of its systems.
The problems start with a bland and uninteresting story, in which we assume the role of poncho-enthusiast Cal Kestis, a padawan of the Jedi order whose training was cut short by Order 66 which, in one of the most engaging moment, we see first hand in an interactive segment in which clone troopers who were friendly a moment prior turn against the Jedi in the blink of an eye. Following those events, Cal has been living in hiding for the past several years, working as a scrapper on an unpleasant junkyard planet, until imperial inquisitors show up, forcing him to leave of a galaxy-trotting adventure in search for a holocron containing a list of Force-sensitives who can repopulate the long lost Jedi order, armed with nothing but a lightsaber, a chicken droid perched on his shoulder and a damaged connection to the Force.
Not a bad premise on paper, but Cal is such a goody-two-shoes potato that it becomes really difficult to relate to him in any meaningful way. Not only will you not be able to shake the feeling of being playing as a mellowed-out store brand Anakin Skywalker due to how the main character is modeled, which is a downside in and of itself (one wonders just how mnay Star wars fans want to be reminded of Hayden Christensen), but suffice it to say that the game features a dedicated "cuddle droid" button, or how Cal mourns for the giant superpredator boss he just defended himself with, which should give you an idea of what kind of eyeroll-worthy character we're dealing with here.
The rest of the cast is better, except for an annoying "fuggeddaboutit" furry pilot, both allies and villains are well characterized, from the Jedi in hiding Cere to the evil Second Sister to the Dathomir witch Merrin and the obligatory cameo by Forest Whitaker, it is a fairly solid ensemble. It's just a shame that the writing fails to engage or convey any kind of sense of urgency, in no small measure due to the game's "we'll get around to it after this sidequest" attitude to its main storyline, which puts the pacing all over the place.
Gameplay-wise we are looking at an "Uncharted meets Dark Souls with Metroid elements" type of offering, much in the vein of what Darksiders 3 did a year before: you move from "bonfire" to bonfire, respawning there when you die with a retrieval mechanic. The souls-lite combat is generally pretty good, with the usual parries and dodges you've come to expect from the genre and cool things borrowed from previous Jedi-themed games, such as shoving enemies around with the Force and deflecting blaster bolts at them with proper timing, which is really fun.
Leveling up is present and it works like a mix of Sekiro and Bloodborne: you gain experience by killing enemies and this builds a progress bar which when completed grants you a perk point. A partial progress bars is lost upon death and has to be retrieved by landing a hit on the enemy that killed you. there are three skill trees with a number of health, force and damage upgrades and a number of optional skills like saber throw and a number of booster versions of powers unlocked throughout the story. A note is that said powers tend to come a bit too late: for instance Force push, perhaps the most basic power in Jedi canon, is acquired only halfway through the game.
While combat is decent, some of the enemies are an absolute pain to deal with, namely the purge troopers and the two boss fights against siths, all of which suffer from a bad case of blocking everything you do and leaving very few punish windows open to get the fight over with in any reasonable amount of time. If nothing else the purge troopers have terrible AI and can fairly easily be pushed off a cliff or be tricked into repeatedly being eaten by a venus flyrtrap but the Sith bosses will require an amount of practice and persistence ranging from frsutrating to absolutely inordinate before you can defeat them, which is not helped by the fact your saber swings sometimes seem to go through the enemies without effect. Not fun at all.
The Uncharted side of things consists of a few types of fairly decent puzzles involving pushing and pulling elements with the Force, slowing them down or rolling boulders around to solve clockwork rooms. They are not the best puzzles you'll ever see, but they are serviceable. Aside from that it's the usual array of climbing on clearly signposted surfaces and performing a number of brief parkour trials reminiscent of ye olde PS2 era Prince of Persia games, with wall running and vine swinging used frequently. This aspect is not problem-free either, as surface detection is far from flawless: your character will all too often glitch out and miss a ledge or zipline or fall through level geometry, plunging in shame into an abyss. The designers must have know this, since instead of sending you back to one of its (monstruously long) loading screens when this happens, they simply respawn you at the nearest safe platform losing a paltry bit of health, not unlike what Zelda has done for the past three decades and counting. That's a definite departure from the souls formula, since it entirely removes any kind of need for attention or prudence when navigating the levels.
The game also takes a wrong page from Uncharted (worse stil, in fact) in another key aspect, which is the items you find around the world. An absolutely key aspect of Dark Souls and its emulators is that they provide meaningful loot scattered around their dungeons; the harder an item is to reach the richer the rewards: a new weapon, an upgrade to the healing flask, a rare upgrade material for your gear. Fallen order does very, very little of that: there are exactly two things you can find, that is health and force upgrades (which are somewhat redundant since all the ones you need are unlockable in your skill tree) and health stim stock upgrades. These constitute about 15% or the overall collectibles the designers placed around the levels. The remaining 85% are nothing but audiologs and the worst kind of pointless cosmetics you can think of: new poncho colors and pieces for your lightsaber you will never see up close enough in game to even distinguish. There are no consumables, no upgrade materials, nothing. At least in uncharted you might find a hidden power weapon, or a cache of grenades, it's not just cosmetic items. This is a problem that Fallen Order shares with Nioh, whose collectibles were just randomized caches of procedural loot, only this game manages to be even worse in that regard.
There is nothing more disappointing than solving an optional puzzle, defeating a copy/pasted miniboss or, worst of all, traveling back to a previous planet specifically to open a chest you couldn't access before, just to be rewarded with a brown poncho you have no use for whatsoever, especially since the game's cloth physics are completely broken, making it look like there is always a strong wind blowing, even in a starship in deep space. It's comical at first, until you realize that it's permanent and it never, ever stops, which means you will likely disable the poncho as soon as possible just so you don't have to look at it spazzing out in every cutscene, de facto making all those collectibles even more pointless than they already were. If nothing else, the game has the common courtesy to clearly color code the treasure chests: white for useless cosmetics and yellow for health stim upgrades, so at least you know what you're getting. It gets to the point that halfway through the game you will likely stop opening the white boxes entirely, ignoring them just as you find them, since the animation to open them is fairly long, always the exact same, and the cosmetic boxes are dozens upon dozens in each world you visit.
Level design has highs and lows: some areas, like the cliffside halls of the Dathomir witches, are well designed, with appropriately placed shortcuts and meaningful secret areas, others, like the first area of the game proper, are a confusing and frsutrating mess of paltforms that are placed just a few inches too far apart for you to jump, belying the linear structure of areas that are only open and expansive at a glance, before revealing thelseves an an annoying maze that is gradually opened up via navigation upgrades, on paper Metroid-style, but nowhere near as well done. there is also no fast travel feature whatsoever, meaning you will have to traverse the same areas over and over again to get wheere you need to be (and usually for rewards that aren't worth the effort in any way).
Another aspect of Dark Souls the game fails at replicating is "if you can see it, you can fight it": luckily this only happens once, but they put a massive dragon on a plateau in the very first area, with a path leAding right up to it but not quite, and you will waste hours trying to reach it to do battle, only to eventually google it and find out it's only there for show and cannot be interacted with in any way. they must have known players would try to go ther, and simply did not care they were wasting everyone's time.
Sound design is mixed, with appropriate blaster noise and lightsaber buzzing and clashing but completely forgettable music that barely sticks with you for the time needed to underscore the action and them is flushed way from your memory without leaving a trace, an issue common to most recent Star Wars games and even the new batch of movies. the welcome exception to this is the use of a throat singing piece from Mongolian folk metal band The Hu, which is used as some kind of alien rock anthem and fits the purpose admirably. Voice acting is good, but oftentimes overheard conversations between enemy troopers are cut short as you are trying to listen to them: at least one time one plays over an elevator ride you have no control over and is interrupted the second the lift stops. Sloppy.
Performance is bad, aside from the aforementioned broken physics, the game suffers from frequent frame drops and even the occasional crash.
In conclusion, Fallen Order is a better effort than other recent Star Wars games, at the very least being a coherent single player experience, but it's still a flawed product that lacks vision and awareness of the industry around it, and could have been so much better with a little more understanding of the playstyles they were copying. It's not going to take the scepter away from Raven Software's Jedi Outcast as best jedi-themed action game anytime soon.

A mysterious masked ball on a crowded train, a person questioning three strangers about their disturbing life stories.
Liberally inspired by a Calvino novel, Four Travelers is a gorgeously presented free point and click adventure structured in three acts: a homosexual man living under 1920s fascism, a schizophrenic woman in interwar England and a black doctor returned from WW1 to impact with racism among his colleagues. All three take a significant turn for the macabre, especially the third one.
It in more than one way reminds of I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, though not nearly as messed up or rough around the edges.
It's exquisitely written and animated, with its only real downside being the puzzles, which are very very few but also fairly obtuse, relying more on rote memorization than logical association. You might for instance need to remember someone's remarks while looking at photographs in order to play three records in the correct order, or examine plants in a greenhouse in a certain sequence based on the movements of an apparition. The narration is so good that you might find yourself wishing that were all the game had to offer, foregoing the unnecessary puzzle gameplay aspect entirely.
With all that said, this is a must play for horror fans or anyone interested in seeing social commentary done properly in a videogame.

An ancient idol with murderous powers, a sinister cult poised to transform 18th century England into a life-stealing orwellian dystopia, a proletarian revolution brewing. Murder, betrayal, assassins, spontaneous combustion, love triangles, ritualistic poisoning and magic spells. All of this and more is what constitutes the grand conspiracy behind the curtain of this Latvian investigation game made by two brothers.
Overtly inspired by Lucas Pope's modern classic Return of the Obra Dinn, this game puts you in the shoes of an omniscient detective tasked with solving the central mystery in each of the shocking multilayered tableaux that compose its non-linear overarching narrative. The challenge is not in finding the clues (the game even advises turning hotspot highlights on so nothing is missed), rather to piece them together using deductive reasoning in order to figure out who's who, what they have done and why, which is easier said than done. You might have to sift through love letters to find the first name of who was sitting next to whom at a dinner party, then consult delivery receipts to dig up a last name, then cross-reference information from other rooms and characters to understand motivations, so you can fill out a report of exactly what happened.
Unlike Obra Dinn, which to an extent sacrificed complexity in the name of multilanguage accessibility, limiting itself to [First and Last name] was [Fate] by [Perpetrator], The Case of the Golden Idol is made for the English language alone, as such manages to present a far more elaborate syntax: it's not uncommon to have to fill out sentences structured as follows: [First name] [Last name] [Verb] [First name] [Last name] in the [Place] because [First name] [Last name] wanted to [Verb] the [Object]. It even color codes categories of words as to make the incomplete report sheets less confusing at a glance: brown for people's names, yellow for objetcs, blue for actions and grey for places and ranks.
The result might be something like "John Smith drugged Jack Jones in the garden, then stole the diamond from the study and planted it in Jack Jones' pocket to frame Jack Jones for the murder of Tom Brown." It's all very satisfying when everything finally clicks and you manage to figure out what transpired. It's a great feeling of accomplishment to suss out who sleeps in which bedchamber from their belongings, or who was where at which time based on their bar tab and winnings at the cards. One scenario requires you to figure out the hierarchy and rituals of the secret cult, while another entails understanding the intricacies of the orwellian party's judicial system based on the rules of virtues (how bad do they consider a lie vs being drunk or lustful?).
To keep things flowing there are a number of assists designed to aid you in your deductive process: aside from the aforementioned hotspot highlights and color coding, the game's deduction board is segmented into multiple panels, of which only the main one is required to solve each scenario. The game informs you when you have made two mistakes or fewer, to let you know you are close to solving a panel. This cuts both ways, because while this helps you realize you are on the right track, it also opens the way for trial and error: there were one of two cases where I did not figure out someone's motive at all, and simply replaced words until the panel turned green. It's an unfortunate byproduct of accessibility, to prevent the player from getting too stuck and frustrated, since many of the cases can get very complex.
The game also places many, many red herrings in your way to try and veer you off course: sure, that suspicious man carrying a sack on his shoulder might draw your eye, but he might not even be involved in the case in at all. That mysterious half-empty vial under someone's pillow might be the poison you need... or not at all. On that subject, it would have been good to be able to draw the wrong conclusion and accuse the wrong person, much like in Frogware's Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments, which featured a comparable deduction board which didn't shy away from leading you towards the incorrect conclusion if you were too hasty or sloppy. Golden Idol doesn't do that unfortunately, as there is only one solution to each scenario and no real penalty for getting it wrong. Maybe an idea for a sequel.
It would also have been nice to have a summary sheet listing all the characters you have correctly identified, accessible from any scenario: there were certain characters whose identity was difficult to remember from one case to the next. You can quit out and revisit completed cases to check who's who, but it's that extra step that makes it cumbersome.
These are small quibbles, however, and that such are the only points of criticism to be moved against this title shows how we really have something special here: there are so precious few of these games around, where you need to actually think about the clues you have, as opposed to just clicking around until an automatic dialogue option unlocks like in most so-called detective games, that it's impossible not to highly recommend The Case of the Golden Idol to anyone even remotely invested in detective fiction.

A passion project a decade in development turns out as yet another carbon copy of Super Metroid with great presentation and tacked-on soulslike elements that serve no real purpose.
Its gameplay is perfectly serviceable, with an interesting overheating mechanic that not only prevents you from firing your guns non-stop, but also greatly boosts damage from your melee attacks when your gun is red hot, encouraging switching between ranged and short range combat. It's definitely not Ghost Song's fault that during its troubled development the indie metroidvania scene has been so prolific that such games are by now as numerous as the stars of the sky, oversaturating an industry with an ocean of perfectly competent copycats that make if far more difficult for any single one to stand out. In a different time, Ghost Song would have been special, but the way things are, it's yet another metroidvania that does nothing different from the crowd.
Extrinsic factors aside, it has problems of its own as well: taking a page from Hollow Knight, the world is frustratingly dispersive, requiring the player to wander around for far too long looking for the one way to make progress, running into dead end after dead end, which can get infuriating. The 3D geometry that composes platforms has strange hitboxes, which can lead to the player sprite falling through them when you feel like you landed on one properly. Bosses are few, far between and not very good.
The music is quality stuff, but it rarely fits the action: Metroid did not feature many loud and bombastic tracks either, but its moody and haunting ambients conveyed a sense of danger. Here we are treated to beatiful tunes that belong more in a walking simulator than an action game. Silence would have been more tense.
The soulslike elements boil down to the usual currency retrieval mechanic after being killed, plus that irritating feature from Dark Souls 2 that chips a small percentage off your maximum health each time that happens. Only here it doesn't require some rare resource to restore: just go to one of the broken robots that serve as level up/fast travel points and repair the damage for mere pocket lint. All it does is add a minor inconvenience after every death: walk out of the respawn room, shoot one critter enemy, go back in, spend that currency to repair the damage, go back to your business. One minute wasted on what only amounts to pointless busywork.
You also have the usual dodge move tied to a stamina bar, different stats governing your attributes, and the game is smart enough to not respawn enemies immediately after leaving a room to discourage level farming. Leveling up grants energy points, which set a hard cap to limit how many of the upgrade modules found around the world you can equip at once. These range from some that will decrease your overheating rate (or increase it, for a melee build), make collecting currency easier, display enemy health bars, increase your i-frames, and so on. It's a good system, similar to what is found in The Surge, allowing for fairly deep customization, even though none of the modules is really necessary for beating the game, since it's fairly easy.
A similar principle applies to the many weapons, which use the same energy pool and therefore require you to choose which ones to equip, usually only being able to afford a couple. I found the basic Metroid-style missile attack to be the most efficient, along with a blob weapon spawning small jellies that seek out and damage enemies. It's not as dispersive as Axiom Verge, which gave you dozens of weapons, with only a few of them being useful, but you still get the feeling that most of the advanced ones are little more than a gimmick.
There is a story, and a quite verbose one at that: a number of friendly NPCs living in a stranded starshipwreck will talk your ear off about how they are sick of mushroom soup or they can't comb their hair properly. There is some interesting stuff in there, but you'll have to sift through the uninteresting drivel to get there, all the while what you really want is to go out and explore. It's bored depressed people telling you how bored and depressed they are, and that is not very conducive to urgency and engagement.
The map feature is precisely what you'd expect, with the feature from Hollow Knight to place abstract markers on it for reference. The problem is that not only do these not represent anything, forcing you to make note of what you decide each one stands for, but as of the time of writing this they are completely bugged, since they will change at random to a different one, completely defeating the purpose to have multiple types in the first place.
Imagine deciding that, say, a triangle means "I need double jump here" and a circle means "need air dash here", placing down markers accordingly, then the next time you boot up the game discovering that all your triangles have become circles and all your circles have become squares. I had to bypass the bug by setting multiple markers in the same room and associating different meanings to their number instead of shape. Sloppy.
All in all, Ghost Song is fine, it's competently made, but it's confusingly laid out, too easy and with an invasive and unengaging story that doesn't really explain anything by the end. It's a shame, but with all the similar games that populate the market these days, it really doesn't do anything to warrant too much attention.

Chorus is the true successor to the Factor 5 style of arcade space combat games that started with Rogue Squadron and ended with the tragically misunderstood Lair. It's fast, frantic and intense, with smooth controls and expansive open world asteroid sandboxes to zoom though at ludicrous speed and complete missions and side activities in.
Its densely told story follows Nara, a former high ranking member of a space cult bent on achieving the eponymous "Chorus", a forceful state of harmony among all sentient beings via the negation of free will, whose refusal spells doom for any apostate. When Nara is made to destroy a whole planet due to this policy, she starts questioning her indoctrination. Haunted by guilt, she embarks on a quest with her sentient ship Forsa (short for Forsaken, oof) to stop the Cult forever.
As you progress through the game, Nara unlocks a number of psionic abilities, which are really what sets the game apart from similar ones in this genre. These range from EMP bolts that disable starfighters to boosts to spear through enemies and even one to grab foes out of thin air (well, thin space) and throw them into objects. It's a cool gameplay twist, and it adds an extra layer of complexity to the starfighting genre, since each enemy requires a different weapon or power to effectively despatch.
The sense of speed is phenomenal as you turn on your afterburner and dart through asteroid caves and buzz a few inches from space stations with the precision the game controls allow. Fidelity isn't high if you stop and look closely, but the awesome vistas with their sense of gradeur and scale are breathtaking at times. It leaves you wishing that locations were a bit more diverse: if even just one of its sandboxes had been a planetary surface instead of just asteroid belts and space stations, it would have done a lot for its variety.
Combat is a lot of fun, proof be it that when the game's dynamic quest system decides to through an optional enemy encounter at you, you will go out of your way to engage in it more for fun than for the monetary rewards needed to upgrade your ship. Some of the large scale battles, especially the final one, are ridiculously epic in scope, and forgiving enough to be entertaining on top of that.
There are a ton of sidequests as well, many of which are narratively interesting and yield unique upgrades like weapons or efficiency modules you can juggle around to spec your fighter the way you like it.
The core issue with the game are the difficulty spikes: while the core loop of the game is fairly easy, considering how overpoweredd your ship will quickly become, the major set pieces against the occasional boss encounters and even some of the tutorials can become hair-pullingly hard.
Each of the three or four major boss fights can take upwards of 45 minutes to defeat (without retries that is), considering how insanely high their health pools are and how small and difficult to hit their weak spots. If that weren't enough, some of their attacks are borderline impossible to avoid while trying to also be on the offensive at the same time. They're just frustrating, but thankfully they offer mid-fight checkpoints to mitigate the aggravation.
It's also worth mentioning that this is a fairly buggy game: it won't affect most of your experience, but in my fifteen hours with it I ran into a handful of game-stopping bugs that forced a checkpoint restart: enemies didn't spawn a few times, preventing the mission from progressing, mission a couple missions wouldn't end despite completing the onjectives, one time the portal to go back from a side area disappeared, forcing me to fast travel from the map, and about halfway through the game the map itself bugged out, from then on showing my ship as the name of the location mentioned before. This fixed itself near the end of the game but was annoying all the while.
A flawed game for sure that needed a bit more balancing and polish, but definitely a must play for fans of this sparsely populated genre. If you were let down by Star Wars Squadrons you can safely gravitate towards this one.

A stunningly incompetent PS2-level game that cannot decide whether it wants to be comedic or deadly serious. In the middle of a cataclysmic earthquake that laid waste to Tokyo, characters will ramble on about trying their best to find jobs, or worry about what some random survivor thinks about their hair, or the stock market, or hitting on chicks, or again a myriad other things that should at the very least play second fiddle to survival instincts during a time of extreme danger and distress.
Originally slated for 2011, it was cancelled and kept in limbo for seven years due to an earthquake hitting Japan the day before its planned release. Eventually published in 2018, it revealed itself to be completely outaded under every point of view, even by 2011 standards.
Every single aspect of the game is poorly executed, from the moral choices which have no consequences (should you climb the ladder or carefully climb the ladder? Should you yell at the man who lost his job or comfort him? Who cares, it makes no difference anyway), to the atrocious level and puzzle design to the terrible writing and performance (dipping into single digit frame rates here and there)
Some gameplay elements are simply astonishing, such as baffling mechanics like being constantly on the hunt for a toilet to relieve oneself or the outlandish inventory management or the grotesque fixation with ridiculous alternate outfits or tacky skins for your compass, all of which shatter into a million pieces whatever immersion value the game had going for it.
Am I expected to take these people's tragedy seriously when the game encourages me to run around in a santa outfit, following the direction of an anime idol compass? The tonal inconsistency is mind-boggling and far from the careful balancing act between drama and comedy that products like the Yakuza series achieve: here it's just jarring and awkward.
The inherent nature of this setting and how realistically it's presented simply leaves no room for wacky shenanigans, and trying to force them in comes off as absolutely tone deaf.
And that's a shame, because some of the sidequests can be quite interesting, sometimes even touching on a human level, but it really feels like digging through the dirt to find what little good there is.
Emblematic of the gameplay is a lengthy section taking place around the halfway point, inside a flooded apartment building: an illogical timewaster of a maze made of blocked stairways, ledges to shimmy through and a few windows available to climb in and out of, back and forth doing insulting fetch quests, which in its complex is a microcosm of the worst early 2000s PS2 game design.
It was shortly after that area that I called it: even with a step by step walkthrough it is simply too much of a chore to proceed, especially when the game throws backtracking and repetition into the miix.
I really wanted to like Disaster Report 4, but ultimately it is not for me.

New Dawn is better than the sum of its parts, but those parts are still pretty bad.
Mostly retains FarCry 3 gameplay - Capturing outposts above your level is tense and rewarding - Aggressive monetization doesn't impact gameplay too much - You can kick the crap out of Joseph Seed
Bad story, bad characters, bad villains - Horrible modern licensed tracks - No gun customization - Atrocious, though mercifully rare, boss fights - Fun upgrades come too late in the game
/////Spoilers follow/////
The most universally reviled of the FarCry games, it completely recycled the map from the already mediocre FarCry 5 and positioned itself as an absolute GAAS nightmare, introducing the by now Ubi-quitous looter element that has spread from The Division to Assassin's Creed to Ghost Recon and tripling down on the monetization scheme present in 5: where that game only allowed you to purchase premium weapons to bypass the main quest gear gating, this one flat out offers you to buy crafting materials and perk unlocks with real money, directing to the store when you run out.
That all sounds absolutely miserable on paper, and yet New Dawn is surprisingly fair when it comes to rewarding the player with a wealth of all the things it's trying to sell you, simply for engaging in side content that's pretty fun to begin with. The result is that you will never find yourself feeling the necessity to skip ahead in the grind by spending cash, simply because there is no grind. The only thing that matters in the game is the tier of your equipped weapons: if it's the same level as the enemy you are shooting it will deal good damage, if it's lower it will not.
The bulk of your upgrade materials comes from a risk-reward system: instead of featuring the useless option to reset all outposts, the game allows to reset them one by one. Once an outpost is liberated, it can be immediately surrendered back to the enemy and thus liberated again, only with enemies in higher numbers and of higher level. Being too greedy will mean making an outpost temporarily unbeatable if your equipment is inadequate, but successfully doing this will shower you with more upgrade materials you will know what to do with, and it can be done any number of times.
The downside of this is that all outposts will be pathetically easy the first time around, only becoming even remotely challenging on a second or even third pass, a problem further compounded by the fact that if you milk the early (and easier) ones early on, you will have no real need to do so with the later ones, leaving no real incentive to play them twice, or at all, unless seeking to compulsively unlock every gun and max out your upgrade trees. If that describes you then be ready to replay the same outposts and raids over and over again, but if you don't care about completionism you will experience no grind whatsoever.
Tackling outposts two or three levels over yours is a tense affair: you will have to be clever and absolutely avoid detection, or you will be toast. Stalking that last elite enemy, knowing he can quickly throw all your efforts to the wind is nai-biting stuff, and the kind of player involvement you hardly expect from a modern FarCry game.
By the time the story had progressed enough to unlock the third tier of weapons out of four, I was swimming in so many resources that only the top tier components were in need of finding, and ever so briefly at that, since all you have to do is go in an optional raid or two in order to receive everything you need. There are side activities like convoy hijacking, prisoner rescues and treasure hunts that present you with slightly above Bethesda-level puzzles to unlock caches, perk points and materials. It's all fun enough to do that it doesn't feel like a chore. Unfortunately weapon customization is gone entirely, meaning you are stuck with whatever attachments each weapon comes with, in an inexplicable step back. You can customize the looks of your character you can never see though, betraying the coop oriented nature of the game.
The game wastes no time in handing out all of the typical upgrades: wingsuit, grappling hook and the like, which are available immediately in the perks menu. It does however dole out some of the most fun upgrades (double jump, limited invisibility, super armor) when you are one hour from the ending, meaning you will have precious little time to play around with them unless you decide to go do the outposts again.
So the looter element and monetization are really a non-factor, and the gameplay retains the core elements that make the formula work, so then what is the problem? The problem lies in the fact that this is yet another cookie cutter FarCry game made almost entirely of recycled assets, and the story and characters simply cannot cut the mustard when it comes to upholding series standards. Which brings us to the Twins.
As per tradidion of the FarCry franchise ever since the second game gave us the Jackal, the seminal prototype for the charismatic in-your-face villain with a catchphrase, a trend continued with Vaas Montenegro, Pagan Min, Joseph Seed and more recently Giancarlo Esposito as Antón Castillo, New Dawn makes its own attempt by introducing the leaders of a bland gang of bandits (blandits?) whose main distinguishing feature is that they constantly listen to the worst music in the world. They are bossed around by two black girls going on and on about "solving problems like daddy taught us" (read: committing wanton murder), which is their store brand version of "the definition of insanity". They are the worst villains in the FarCry franchise, having nothing more up their pink sleeves than the most stereotypical loudmouth ghetto characterization this side of a minstrel show, no redeeming qualities, no character arc and no worthwhile sendoff.
The game tries its best to throw flashbacks at you to establish these two as victims of a domineering father, with their mother begging the children to not follow in the father's footsteps, but whatever good will that puts on the table is squandered by the rest of their character development, or lack thereof. They never show any kind of moral conflict or have any kind of disagreement with one another (to the point Ubisoft might have saved on voice actors and merged them into one character): all they do is mouth off and kill everything they see, and they still come off as completely unthreatening. As they lay dying after one of the worst boss fights imaginable, the game gives you what it thinks is a big emotional moment which hilariously boils down to "Shiet, I guess we dying huh? Dayum, we fucked up: momma told us no to become like our dad, but we did. We been bad" to which the sister replies "Shiet, but we had so much fun huh?" They laugh it off reminiscing of their murdering and pillaging and they die. That's very nearly a direct quote by the way.
Almost as an apology for presenting you with such useless villains, New Dawn brings back supervillain Joseph Seed and his religious ramblings from the previous game. He also gets what the game thinks is a redemption arc, involving his ambitious son who only comes off as a spoiled brat who wants to eat this apple of eden macguffin but his dad won't let him. The last thing Joseph Seed tells you before you unceremoniously shoot him in the chest is that he has been a bad bad man, and that only after seeing his son die following the worst final boss fight in the world. The game pats itself on the back, even though this only makes the character even more vile, as he only starts caring about what he's done after his son dies.
Hysterically, due to sloppy game design, the game lets you beat the everlasting crap out of Joseph Seed in front of his entire gathering of faithful and sworn bodyguards, who do not react in the slightest: at one specific point he is treated like any friendly NPC and you can punch, kick, shoot, stab him, set him on fire with no repercussion as he runs shrieking for his life in the most comically out of character way possible. He can't be killed, at most going down for you to revive, so you can just go to town to your heart's content, kicking him while he's down. The supervillain from FarCry 5, everyone, reduced to a complete mockery.
The rest of the cast are what you've come to expect from an Ubisoft game at this point: they look like the sort of people you expect to find at a TED-X talk, sporting ridiculous pompadour haircuts and yammering on and on with interminable monologues that the writers thought would be hilarious but can only make you groan. The one time I did laugh was during a completely unscripted moment in which a wolf interrupted an NPC's ramblings to start mauling them on the spot, evidently sick and tired of their unfunny verbal diarrhea. You'll even meet an assortment of characters from FarCry 5, though I dare you to even remember a single one of them, forgettable as they are.
Presentation-wise, the game looks marginally better than the previous one, with less static vegetation giving a bit more life to the world. The soundtrack is a real sticking point, however: as mentioned, the game uses music as a vehicle to characterize the various factions, with the good guys listening to a good selection of hits from the 60s and the bad guys listening to the most obnoxious dubstep and rap music known to man. This music will be blaring nonstop from speakers in their bases, and muting it is very tempting. The first thing I did whenever I approached an enemy location was finding their radio to destroy it with extreme prejudice. What's funny is that this was absolutely deliberate: the audio director evidently went out of their want to pick the most irritatingly noise that can disgrace the human ear to use it as environmental storytelling. Valid, but it's still horrendous music you're subjected to.
All in all, New Dawn is a pointless spinoff, a far cry (heh) from the glory days of Blood Dragon. No real need to play this, but at least it's better than 6.

This is a very late cycle PS1 game (it came out in 2002, only 9 months before Raven Shield) that does away with the tactical planning and teammates that didn't work at all in the playstation version of R6, and positions itself as a straight-up tactical shooter with the addition of weapon models and vastly improved enemy animations.
It's not exceedinly well designed, having sections that are punishingly difficult for no good reason, but the outlandish problem with Lone Wolf is that it's a whopping 45 minutes long, maybe an hour on a first playthrough. It's not terrible, there simply isn't enough of it.

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