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A welcome surprise, the second and final set of DLC for the detective showpiece The Case of the Golden Idol takes you to the mysterious Monkey Paw Island, where you examine the origins of the Idol's appearance in the western world during the main game. The story follows some of the characters and ideas from the first DLC and is Part 2 of the prequel to the main game. I really loved how much more developer Color Grey Games was able to build out their alternative historical world, and the primary new mechanic here of time-traveling between different periods is a great concept and one I wish was used more often in the main game. Fitting for the finale of the cases, these three new solves are intricate and complex, asking the player to delineate ancient traditions, unseen deceptions, and covert missions all from the consistently grotesque and detailed environments you are thrown into. There isn't as much variety in design here, but this is made up for with the sheer volume of locations you can explore around the island. Unfortunately, like the first DLC, the second of the three cases this time around left me with a feeling of an unearned solution, and I felt that some of the clues didn't entirely give enough information to bring the case all together. There is still a lot to love, but these cases didn't feel as tightly constructed as the main game's. Despite this, the DLC is a worthy and welcome addition to the adventure, and I can't wait to see what this team tackles on their next major project.
What if there isn't just one simple solution? An impossible problem requires an impossible answer.
One glance towards Sad Owl Studio's newest game Viewfinder elicits similar technical confusion and wonder compared to games like Antichamber, Superliminal, and The Witness. Its primary mechanic, reality distorting photographs that can be placed anywhere to create platforms and new environments, is a sight that never grows stale throughout the hours of puzzling the game has to offer. Much of the puzzle work here is extremely unique, tasking players with literally thinking outside of the box in order to power the teleporter out of each level. The game is divided into solitary stages, connected by a hub world. While the hubs don't provide much purpose, it was nice to not be just continuously shoved into the next level. While most of the game skews on the easier side, there are a few legitimately tricky puzzles that required a bit more trial-and-error to figure out. Some puzzles I felt leaned a little too much into "breaking" the level, but that also felt in the spirit of the game's design. Viewfinder has no problem introducing new mechanics right up until the very end, and I wish there was more time to spend with some of these ideas, mixing them with earlier ones, and posing more brutal challenges. By the end, there are a few headscratchers, but nothing that will stump you for very long.
Viewfinder wants you to not only be thinking about its creative challenges, but also thinking about its spaces, its characters, and life outside of the game. Frequently, it poses very pressing questions about the state of our known reality, and there are several shocking moments that elevated the fun, peaceful gameplay into something that carries much more weight than it seems. This is the most successful I've ever seen a puzzle game implement a narrative that actually matches the genre's themes and ideas, and they only get stronger the further you get into the game.
I really enjoyed my time with Viewfinder. The graphics and art design are simple, but pleasing, and SOS has no problem switching it up when you least expect it. The accompanying music has a lower-key ambient feel that stays out of your way, with a few more noticeable tracks entering in the hub world and key story moments. There are also fully voiced characters in phonographs and memories scattered across the levels, and none of this blew me away, but the writing was serviceable enough to keep me interested in hearing everything being said. The story was as surprising as the mechanics, and it only left me wanting more. If you are a fan of any similar titles in the FPS puzzle genre, you are going to need to check this out.
Alan Wake is one of those games I could never get myself to finish. I've started it a host of times over the years, but couldn't bring myself to the end. Remedy's later game Control is one of my favorite games of all time, and with Alan Wake II on the horizon, I knew it was time to finally see the original all the way through. While it has exciting ideas, Alan Wake is a product of its time that may be better left underneath the water.
Alan Wake is a writer who appears in the small town of Bright Falls for a getaway with his wife Alice. Quickly, the trip goes south and she falls mysteriously into the lake they are staying next to, and Alan wakes up in a car crash after trying to save her. Alan is then on a mission to find and save his wife as a host of supernatural beings called the Taken try to stop Alan. The story overall is pretty good, and sets up some nice ideas for a world affected in real time by a writer. Unfortunately, the moment to moment writing and dialogue are plainly bad and cliche, and I never once cared for any character because of how dry they came off, both in performance and prose. This is a huge detractor, but the game still kept me interested until the ending.
Alan Wake is mainly a survival action game where you must fight off the Taken with lights and guns. All enemies must be put in a stunned state before defeating them, so shining a flashlight on them is critical before blasting foes with revolvers, shotguns, and flare guns. The act of whittling down an enemy's darkness with the light is satisfying and certain weapons like the flashbang and the shotgun feel particularly good, but the combat never really fully clicks for me. The enemies stay largely the same for most of the game, and nothing really tests your skills more than just faster or bigger things to fight. The dodge mechanic is bad; tied to the same button as the run, it frequently doesn't trigger correctly and resulted in many frustrating deaths. There are also no upgrades, so your measly health bar and max capacity for ammo and gear never improves without the adventure, making me feel like Alan didn't improve either. The final nail in the coffin for combat is the game's obsession with taking all of your collected gear away, not only between chapters but also areas. Alan too often "dropped his gun" when falling about a dozen cliffs throughout the game, and you must wait to collect your stuff again. I wouldn't mind if the game found ways to make you feel powerless or remove your stuff, but taking away the arsenal for no reason just to give it back minutes later is ridiculous.
On top of all of the gameplay quirks, Alan Wake Remastered isn't the most pretty game. Much of the environment work is trees, with the occasional cave and interior space. Their interior design is the most interesting the game looks, which is clear with Control also. The music and sound design is ok, but the default balancing is awful and characters frequently clip their own lines speaking over each other and you can easily trigger cutscenes before finishing critical audio cues. I won't fault some ancient animations and motion capture, but the game is very much still a 2009 title put on modern hardware, not an update in any regard.
Despite all of my opinions, I liked Alan Wake. Or I like the idea of Alan Wake. I think the world that Remedy created here is inherently great, but the game is ambitious, padded way too long and I think had an identity crisis trying to cater to what was popular at the time rather than what would've been the best fit for the game. Control was truly excellent, so if this game walked so it could fly, I'll take it, but I'm very excited to see where they take the upcoming sequel in just a few months.