1727 Reviews liked by jobosno

One of the biggest game studios in the world spent a hundred million dollars to make a kinda clunky and at times visually repulsive game about a drunken self destructive loser going on a boneheaded quest for redemption that he fucks up every step of the way, it rules

A significant portion of the world's most enduring video games are born from a simple concept. Give the player a gun and some targets. Let them run and jump over increasingly complex obstacle courses. Send them on a quest filled with swords and sorcery. Stack blocks. In Out Run, you are given a car and told to drive to the finish line. I could over-complicate things by talking about how the game is deceptively challenging in spite of this basic foundation, about how it has multiple branching paths that let you organically adjust said difficulty, about the laid-back vibes and soundtrack that keep you chilled out in spite of the nail-bitingly tight time constraints, about the superb cabinet design that practically begged you to sit down and play it, and about how the Ferrari Testarossa Spider is one of the coolest cars ever made. But I won't do that. I'm just going to pick up my device of choice and go back to trying to top my last high score.
In all seriousness, there are very few titles that I can point to that are decades old but still hold up due to a simple understanding of what makes video games appealing. Out Run is most definitely one of those, and its addicting gameplay loop coupled with its charming vintage visuals make it timeless. There's plenty of ways to play it today and most of them do an excellent job of adding some extra bells and whistles while leaving the core gameplay untouched. And that's all well and good, because it doesn't need it. The only thing stopping me from putting this up there with the likes of Tetris is the fact that the elements of randomness and awkward (though obviously tremendously impressive for the time) sprite scaling can lead to some frustrating moments where you will feel you couldn't have possibly helped slamming into that truck... But you're going to get over it very quickly. It's a true classic and I think I'll probably be playing it until I'm dead.

knew I was deep into touhou when the most hype moment of a game I played this year was seeing aya from shoot the bullet show up as the boss of stage 4
bomb mechanic is iffy (as it often is) and I miss grazing, but everything else here's lovely so it's hard to complain. there's a celebratory whimsy and playfulness that's above and beyond even perfect cherry blossom; the kind of joyful bombast that just feels cozy and makes it easy to sink into effortlessly
the bosses are as good as ever, the backgrounds and portraits are better than ever, and the soundtrack might be the best one yet, but what stands out most to me is how much zun's honed his talent for giving even the smallest, faintest moments their own charming flourishes. little swerves like hina's introduction or nitori fleeing from her own initial midboss encounter before it starts are delightful, and tracing the lines as the series gets more and more confident with conveying personality thru mechanical and structural means has been an absolute pleasure; nearly every frame of a character's presence — thru danmaku, dialogue, or lack thereof — being used to fullest effect by this point, leveraging elegant, iterative design perfectly
it's time to admit zun's the most accomplished auteur in the medium and it's not even close

Ultimately, Crusader Kings III is a downgrade over its predecessor even if it adds some appreciated individual improvements (cadet branches, dynamic cultures/religions, etc.). In my opinion, the game's fatal flaw is that it's simply too easy. Once you get over the initial hurdle of learning the mechanics, it becomes almost laughably easy to create lineages of godlike characters who live into their 80s, most of the time without even trying or "minmaxing." Similarly, wealth is far too easy to accrue and expansion is similarly easy, meaning that even a moderately skilled player can restore Roman borders within 2-4 generations. A common point made by fans of CK2 is that it took somewhere between 2-5 years of expansions/updates to become truly "great," but considering both the pace at which Paradox is releasing updates, as well as the fact that most of these updates so far have focused on "flavorful" additions, such as tournaments and relationships (which ultimately end up becoming little more than further sources of character boosts/money), I do not have high hopes for the future of this game. However, I will say that this game is much more accessible for newcomers, and can offer a few fun campaigns until you see its relatively shallow depth.

I asked for a whirling, living, breathing machine, and she gave me the hell I most desired.
Economics is kinda bullshit, okay? I’m a communist, plenty of you fuckers are communists, we’re obligated to believe that if nothing else. But wouldn’t it kinda be neat if economics had something to it, if everything was just supply and demand at various levels of scale, if you could feel the veins within the invisible hand of the market and twist them in any way you liked? Fundamentally, this is what Victoria 3 offers the player: You get to build an economy and make it run so goddamn good that you launch your country’s standard of living into the stratosphere.
The process of industrialization is the beating metal heart of this game. It starts, if you are a weak enough power, at the most basic level: You set up logging camps, use the wood you produce to build tools, use those tools in your logging camps to increase productivity, start mining iron with the tools you built, increase the efficiency of tools using that iron, and on and on it goes. It’s all very straightforward in a line by line description, but fails entirely to capture the dynamic energy that sets this apart from other grand strategy games like it. That energy comes from the populations. You’ll hear this come up whenever people discuss Victoria as a series: It’s all about population management. You want to meet their material needs, provide them with jobs, track what classes of society they come from and who you are empowering, so on and so forth. It’s all about the populations.
But there’s almost a sense that management is the wrong word entirely—left alone, your populations manage themselves. They’ll work on subsistence farms and provide their own needs, and everything will stay at a relatively good equilibrium unless a greater power swoops by and annexes your entire country out of the blue. Whoops! There’s a very real pressure to be better, be stronger, be more capable of resisting imperial powers, and this can only be managed with a directed vision. Pure reaction will never be enough. This is why resistance movements and rebellions in the real world do not merely dissolve once they have achieved their immediate goals—dissolution of the state creates a power vacuum that is just asking to be filled. (Vincent Bevins writes about this phenomena at length in relation to modern mass movements in his excellent new book If We Burn, as a side note. Please read it!)
No, management implies that you are creating from the ground up the forces of society. But these forces arise naturally—they are a structure inherent to any group of people interacting at scale, though they may manifest in different modes. Our role is not to create, but to direct as best we can the immense forces that we already possess. This is the feeling you have when your country begins to industrialize and you see the basic production you had at first start to swirl in self-powering feedback loops, profits seemingly arising from nowhere by the sheer nature of the movement of money between industry and consumer and government. There is no better feeling than when you painstakingly direct the production methods of each factory and construction company and mine, one by one transitioning to the new tools you have access to, causing your country’s productive capacity to explode exponentially, only ever growing bigger and bigger. Your standard of living increases, industrialists and the petite bourgeoisie grow more powerful, and demand more and more—
And so you become a monster, lost to pure momentum.
My favorite thing to do in this game is to play as marginalized and minor powers across the world. It’s incredibly satisfying to do that initial work of building something from nothing. With the way that this game encourages you to think about populations at all times, it almost feels tangible how many people you are pulling out of poverty. But with smaller nations, there’s always a ceiling. This takes one of two forms: resource shortages, or population shortages. The first of these is not such a big deal—this is what trade fundamentally solves. Sometimes you have way too much iron and need more oil. The solution presents itself. But population shortages? If you run into these, you’re fucked.
See, this machine of pure human and industrial momentum is always stealing just a little bit from the future. The process of industrialization is a challenge to outrun the consequences which you necessitate by engaging in industrialization. Your profits come from constant expansion and growth. Your citizens are happier when you are doing more, cutting down more trees, mining more iron, squeezing every last drop of steel out of the resources you have. But what if there is no expansion left in the interior? You can’t build any more factories, you don’t have people to work in them! In fact, given how much of your economy depends on the construction sector, you'll even start to implode, unable to sufficiently create demand for all the goods you've been producing, if you're unable to keep building. How can you continue to compete? If you don’t compete with the global market, they will overtake you, grow more powerful, be able to raise a greater army, and then you will be back where you started—just a minor power swept away by the colonizers and conquerers that surround you. What can you do when you don’t have any of your future left to steal from? You steal it from someone else.
This is the enticing trap of colonialism, for once your country tastes the labor, the goods, the blood of one colony, they will never be satisfied. Interest groups are often a mechanic that feels a little half-baked and oversimplified, but on this point they feel fundamentally correct: Basically no group within a colonial power opposes colonization. It’s just objectively profitable for them, when the world is filtered through this lens of economics to such an extent that all is consumed by it. Even when your society has more than anyone else in the world, they still desire to just consume more and more and more. I’d almost say this game is cynical if it wasn’t so fucking on point. When the world is all an abstract map of economic affairs, the desire to paint your color across the world is almost natural. For a moment, I understand how we got to where we are.
But then I zoom in on the world and it comes alive, and I can understand no longer.
- - -
A post-script as thanks for reading:
I find recently that most of my media analysis tends to find itself drawn magnetically to human nature as a concept in one way or another. Sometimes it's an obvious connection, like Killers of the Flower Moon, and sometimes it's a little more obtuse, as with this review. But even here we made the connection at the end: "the desire to paint your color across the world is almost natural." I think this actually comes full circle to the comment I made about economics being bullshit at the beginning of the review, a connection which I'll explore in a moment. I think it's probably a very important idea to focus on because it seems to deeply underpin basically all of how we understand the world, and I think we don't get to the center of that nearly often enough. How can you deconstruct an ideology without understanding its foundations?
There's this pretty fundamental assertion that every regressive, conservative, etc. etc. likes to make in their art, which is that on some level This Is Just How Things Are, which always takes the form of telling us that some particular tendency is just part of human nature. Isn't it just so convenient that those who did horrific evil in order to claw their way to the top of hegemony, and who continue to employ great violence at their behest in order to maintain that power, didn't really do anything bad because if everyone does something how can it really be bad? It's a deeply false but psychologically necessary claim: That the evil I do is not evil, and you would have done it too if you were me.
It's the same reduction that is made to turn humans into economic machines—understanding us simply as a set of material inputs and outputs who consume and produce things. It's a claim that if you had the same material conditions, you would necessarily do the same thing. But this denies the "you" in you, doesn't it? Think about yourself for a moment. Find where "you" are, the consciousness and the observer of the consciousness, whatever that means to you. How is this amorphous primal beast of a thing reducible to deterministic inputs and outputs? Do you really believe that? This is merely an assertion of their axioms of truth onto yours, a refusal to negotiate reality with you but instead an insistence of their own experience, a complete and utter denial of the real of the subjective, of the concept of a You! It is the ultimate solipsism, the greatest sin, the making of man into machine with a computerized brain, the ooze of capital left behind in the creases of everyone's brain from its utter hegemonic power in the ideological realm.
All of which is why I say that economics (or rather, the mainstream capitalist understanding of economics) is bullshit—it is a fundamental reduction of humans to being consumers and producers, and that can never meaningfully capture the picture of any social structure that emerges from how we interact with one another. You've gotta look elsewhere to understand that. It's stuck too deep in the realm of asserting its own axioms, that great circular reasoning, to hold any real truth. It's fundamentally inflexible and immobile in a way that the absolute reality of what we call a political economy can never be reduced to.
Victoria 3 captures all of this incredibly concretely, a little glimpse of the irreducibility behind economy, the first of the shapes in its stages of dialectical development on the way to understanding what that irreducibility even is. It's an astounding achievement, even if it is limited at times by the boundaries of its understanding and imagination.

i was hootin and hollerin. very funny game. i think the aesthetic is just alright and i think as an early access game it has a lot of space to expand into useless additions, bloat, etc but this is real fun. iterative mechanical variety is all its thirsty for i think rn. the loop is a fun mid point between deep rock galactic and phasmophobia. i like how restrictive it all is right now; finite equipment, scrap, etc establishes comprehensible but surprising loops. getting fired is very funny. it might be the new and current hotness but it's actually fun.

At first glance, I thought this was more or less budget Hypnospace Outlaw, with the old internet/Geocities inspiration replaced by some amalgamation of Miiverse, Swapnote, and MSN Messenger. That wouldn't be giving enough credit to Videoverse however; instead of focusing on the mystique of the deep web, Videoverse tackles the intricacies of navigating a dying social network tied to increasingly redundant technology and highlights the relationships within. The game forgoes Hypnospace Outlaw's discovery puzzles, and cuts right to the core of interacting with the community itself, instinctively conveying the fragility of maintaining such relationships. You're constantly scouring the same forums over and over for new comments and any changes, trying to decipher exactly what this particular user meant with just one sentence while playing the simulations in your head about how particular responses (or not responding at all) could make their day a little bit better or potentially upset another member due to unintended consequences.
It's a surprisingly gripping experience despite its limitations: sometimes there are certain responses that the game forbids you from picking because you're not "lawful/cocky" enough even if the responses feel more blunt than out of character, and browsing the same posts repeatedly can feel a bit plodding when the trigger to proceed requires you to leave more comments but the system itself can only mark whether a post is left read/unread. Despite that, the payoff makes the occasional tedium worthwhile; marking down "top posts" in a notebook lets you reiterate those statements to others later on, and the game really comes together when you're using small tidbits of wisdom to brighten an online friend's day. If you're looking for an cathartic blast to the past that depicts the ephemerality of online spaces while thoughtfully forcing players to confront the ambiguity of the interactions stemming within, then Videoverse may be just what you're looking for.

In my life, there've been more than a few instances where the positive reviews of a game turned me off of it. It happened with Immortals: Fenyx Rising, wherein most of the positive reviews favourably compared it AC: Odyssey - a game I hold in venomous contempt.
But until Starfield, there'd never been a game where the negative reviews made me interested.
See, I like the Bethesda Slop Formula. I really do. Despite my various, thesis-long gripes with Skyrim and Fallout 4 I have about 500~ hours on each title across numerous platforms. So when the reviews dropped, and everyone collectively groaned "Urgh, it's just the Bethesda Slop Formula IN SPACE!", I was excited. Doubly so once a good friend footed the bill just to have someone to talk about Starfield with.
Unfortunately, the negative reviews were wrong. This is not the Bethesda Slop Formula (henceforth BSF), but a hollow imitator of No Man's Sky wearing its skin like a coat.
IMO, the core component of the BSF and its appeal to me is the ability to WANDER. In every other Bethesda game, it is possible to pick a compass direction and simply walk. Along that walk, the player will more-likely-than-not encounter tangible content. Not just procedurally generated content, but quests and unique loot and settlements and all sorts of stuff to cut their teeth on. Fallout 4 perfected this, really, by turning all loot into a part of the BSF through the settlement/crafting system.
Starfield does not possess the ability to wander. For starters, it is near impossible to go anywhere without several loading screens worth of Fast Travel. Even random curiosity requires you point somewhere and go "yes, I want to land here specifically."
And when you do land, 9/10 times there's just... Nothing. A cave with a spattering of resources. An overworld 'dungeon' filled with the same raiders you slaughter by the dozens every 30 real life minutes. Some loot - most of which is worthless. Sometimes a random encounter, which have barely innovated since Fallout 3. But that's about it. Rare are named characters, rarer are the quests, and rarest are the things worth your precious time.
Space itself isn't much better. There are spaceship fights yes, but they're clunky and dull. The developers seem aware of this, with the ship targeting system being a single point unlock that trivializes each fight. There isn't much loot to find in ship wreckages, and what little there is can always be found elsewhere. Sometimes you can find abandoned/hostile space stations to poke around in, but these are egregiously copy pasted even by BSF standards.
Perhaps the worst part is, on top of loot now being mostly meaningless, the loot that is 'meaningful' has very little use. Game balance is deeply skewed, resulting in the vast majority of weapons and suits you find being garbage unless you dip down to Very Easy or are much later in the game. The Outpost system, a lackluster replacement for Fallout 4's excellent Settlements, is nothing more than a DIY resource production/extraction system where you can pretend to build a base. Not a home, though, or a place for people to live. No, you can only 'staff' Outposts. If your dream for Starfield was to make a place to live out in the stars, turn back now.
There is a bespoke crafting system, but it suffers from having far too many components and FAR too many skill-gates. Yes, you can make Outpost construction materials, weapon mods, suit mods and other junk out of resources, but it's a far better use of your skill points to not spec into crafting and instead turn into a scavenger. Sure, you could fuck with research and invest heavily in crafting, but why bother when a quick jump to a higher level planet/space station will more than likely net you better stuff for free?
If this game had Fallout 4's excellent dismantling system, crafting and Outposts might be worth it. But it doesn't, so it's not.
What really ties off this package of misery is that the gameplay just isn't great. FO4's gameplay was solid. Not perfect, but it met a bare minimum of enjoyable and was on par with some of the better Far Cry games. This, though? Everything feels floaty and limp. Even the .50 AE cannon you can use feels like a BB gun. It's almost kind of astounding how bad it feels to play, and melee is the worst it's ever been in the BSF. This can be mitigated by crunching the difficulty down to Very Easy, but at that point it's essentially playing with God Mode on.
All of this, every single complaint I've listed so far, is only compounded by the setting. Say what you will about them, but Bethesda's past outfit has at least made a token effort to make you care about the respective settings and the people in it.
Starfield makes no such attempts. It has some of the most flaccid worldbuilding I've ever seen. The main factions are just banal retreads of popular sci-fi faction tropes. You have the United States in Space, a 'free space' wracked with corruption that uses cowboy/wild west aesthetics, religious zealots in space, megacorps in space and bandits. Oh, and a neutral party obsessed with their own goals.
None of them are given any depth, and characters associated with said faction tend to play their trope straight.
Not that any of this matters, because the game just treats the factions as vessels for banal questlines which are somehow even less interesting than the garbage Oblivion offered up as faction quests. Said questlines offer up the barest of changes to the world, and not even something as insane as "turning a bandit faction into one of the setting's major powers" does anything tangible. Your power to effect change upon the world is null. You are just a tourist, here for the shinies and the funnies. It's an almost startlingly frank admission of what Bethesda writing is at its core, and no attempts are made to doll it up or hide from it.
Oh and the companions are frustratingly bland too. Even Fallout 4's more drab companions had more flavour to them, and there were at least a few I actually liked. Here? I tried out as many as I could, but ultimately stuck with the personality-less robot because he was a good pack mule and wasn't pretending to be a character. This game really could've used companions with strong faction ties, or opinions that they consider sacrosanct enough to butt heads with you over, but... No? None of them even bat eyelids at attempted genocide, and the worst you'll ever get is a finger wagging from Sarah Morgan.
Personally, though? My biggest gripe is that this game squanders the potential of space. There are no outlets to be anything; a surveyor, a miner, a builder, a trader, a pirate, or part of a faction. These are things other space games - Avorion, Elite: Dangerous, No Man's Sky, etc - nailed. They made the space in Space matter by leaning into the fantasies associated with it. Here, space is just a loading screen. Something that hangs in the background as you wait for the galaxy map to load so you can offload your 500lbs of harvested organs to a janitor in the space-boonies. Looping back to the BSF talk, there's a frustrating lack of landmarks in this game. No distinct space stations or inhuman structures or what-not. Nothing to catch your eye and draw you towards it. No Tenpenny Towers, Winterholds or Diamond Cities.
There's a sentiment on this website and other communities - online and off - that mods might fix this game as it did for the last few outings.
I don't really agree.
Skyrim, Fallout 4, even Oblivion and Fallout 3 had decent enough cores that they could be played without mods - though Fallout 3 is straight up awful. The BSF was completely intact, working as intended most of the time.
Starfield does not have that strong core, that foundation to be built upon. It's hollow, frustratingly and agonizingly hollow.
Starfield is frequently called "Bethesda's No Man's Sky" by its detractors, and they're right for the wrong reasons.
This is not 2023 No Man's Sky, with its excellent gameplay loop, mountains worth of features and functions, weird and varied alien planets or captivating interstellar mysteries.
This is 2016 No Man's Sky, with its hollow repetitive planets, its lack of meaningful goal, its total absence of intuitive guidance, its mostly meaningless loot and its awful ending. In a way, it's a time capsule.

- Great story at the beginning and end, but 5 hours of filler in the middle of a 10 hour game.
- Combat is fairly button mashy, got tedious by the end.
- Real/interesting side quests gated by doing a ton of fetch quests.
- Turns out the side content is not optional after all, 75% of the way through the game it you discover you needed to do a few hours of them at least.

The Man Who Sucks at Erasing His Name