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(Non-spoiler review, but the third paragraph contains minor spoilers for the second half of the game)
I probably shouldn’t have made Silent Hill: The Short Message my first foray into the Silent Hill franchise, and although it shares no connection to the other entries, I wish I would’ve played those first to be able to give more insight into how well it stands against them, but the damage is done… so whatever! I’m not going to go too deep into this one, as it’s a free—two hour horror game akin to some random steam indie, and I don’t want to spend too much time thinking about this—honestly? Complete and utter fucking waste of potential.
The idea of a self-contained, standalone, high-budget horror game aiming to convey a brutally honest and sincere story of anguish with mental health undertones is brilliant, but the execution is shockingly piss poor here. At times—most times… it feels as if this was written by a film student without a single creative bone in their body. It’s generic, with blatantly underdeveloped themes due to its tight—not even two hour—runtime, and its worst aspect is how on the nose the writing is; throwing constant talking points at you with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Some people are excusing and chalking this up to how short the game is, and that’d make sense—clearly that’s part of the issue, but it’s still an issue. It doesn’t matter if there’s a reason for a particular shortcoming… a shortcoming is still a shortcoming. And for me personally, if a game is talking at you rather than guiding you through the experience… it becomes exhausting to play. “Bullying is bad”, “Suicide is not the answer”, “Talk to people you’re close to about your problems”, is it me or did I just get transported back to 2017 when Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why released? Like fuck me! Come up with something more interesting to say about such complicated issues. I know this isn’t the best comparison, but a game called Gris delved into similar topics and was substantially more subtle and in-turn meaningful about them—and not only that, it had gameplay that meshed well with its writing and aesthetic to a degree. But that’s on the completely opposite side of the spectrum, as people said it felt too abstract; and I guess that’s a line these games have to toe sometimes… but I much prefer the latter.
And it pains me to say all of this, because there are some good ideas at play here. Specifically the whole child abuse angle, I think the game does well to showcase the dread of having to endure a parent’s—a monster’s spiraling mental stability; circumstances continuously worsen until you finally break and all of their mistakes ripple into the rest of your life… leaving you to pick up the pieces. Like a dark cloud hanging over you, chasing you through every step of the way known as life—every loud thud, getting closer and closer; wondering if you’ll ever escape them... It’s a haunting metaphor that the game doesn’t fully pursue, as I’m sure “the monster” is linked more so to Anita’s friend: Maya, as they both share the same sweater—rather than her mother. I suppose the metaphor works both ways. Maya and Anita’s mother are two sides of the same coin, both events drastically propelled Anita’s life into chaos and pure misery; so I think it makes sense if they’re both chasing her throughout the maze, acting as a personification for life itself. But that’s sadly where the positives end. The 15 points I gave has everything to do with that thread. Whereas everything to do with the: “I’m ugly”, “She gets more likes and followers than me” story is woefully inept at conveying anything engaging… at least for me. And I’m not saying real people don’t experience feelings like that—they obviously, very much do! It’s sometimes hard not to when so much of your life is based around seeing the highlight reels of other people’s lives in the form of social media, but a game isn’t real life—and I don’t think it has any business portraying something so mundane with nothing new to say. I genuinely think my personal experience with bullying is more creative, and it feels weird to power scale “bullying”, but fuck me if it isn’t true! You’ll have to take my word on that one though, I am not elaborating further… But that’s pretty much the entire reason why the story didn’t click with me; and so the ending with the clear, hopeful sunrise directly contrasted against the bleak and fog-filled start menu… didn’t feel earned to me. It’s a nice way of conveying an arc of sorts, but at the same time… was it impactful enough to make me care about it? Nope, I can’t say that it was. But that’s not even the worst part… the gameplay is.
I’m not well-versed with walking sims, I don’t think I’ve ever really played one for longer than a few hours. But as far as I can tell, there doesn’t seem to be much here? It’s very linear in the way that the player is literally tasked with going from one room/hallway to the next, to look at notes, which more often than not will trigger a chase section—you then complete it, and the cycle restarts. It’s nothing groundbreaking—in fact, it’s among the most generic gameplay loops I’ve ever seen; and along with all the issues I’ve gone over forms a really dull experience. Its most aggravating aspect are the aforementioned chase sections. These are little “puzzles” that you have to solve by finding the correct door in a maze while outrunning a monster. And there’s definitely something exhilarating about them; running—but seemingly never being able to escape it, hearing those powerful footsteps bang against the concrete floor every step of the way—right behind you, while you slowly open doors and what-not… but when it’s so heavily rooted in trial and error—which it is, it becomes a slog. The final chase is the most guilty of this, because you’re essentially running through countless rooms that all look the same trying to find five random photographs, and if by chance you die then you'll have to repeat the entire thing; and I can’t emphasize this enough… it’s BORING, it’s AWFUL, it’s HEADACHE INDUCING. I had exactly zero fun with it.
The funniest thing by far is that Silent Hill: The Short Message is basically a UE5 tech demo… with the one huge downside being that it runs like complete fucking ass! The FPS go from the high 50s to the 30s very often due to how many assets are on screen. I’m convinced there’s forced motion blur too? But I’ve seen nobody mention this so I can’t be sure, all I know is that turning the camera felt like shit—and I couldn’t see anything. Lip syncing is also terrible, although maybe that’s intentional? Either way, it doesn’t look good and makes focusing on the cutscenes difficult because I’m constantly distracted by its weird visuals. And if this is what the future of UE5 looks like for the Playstation 5… then I don’t want it. I’d rather get a technically competent UE4 game with consistent performance that doesn’t take me out of the experience. I don’t think UE5 is viable for this console generation, as the only way to achieve stable performance would be through very heavy-handed upscaling techniques that we’ve seen plenty of games use so far ahem Jedi: Survivor, ahem Final Fantasy XVI; and both of these are using older engines! So yeah... but maybe on the Playstation 6!
All in all? This game made me want to kill myself.
Playtime: 1.6 hours
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This review contains spoilers
My Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune review if you want more context (beware of the quality difference! I feel like I’ve improved a lot since then).
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is often heralded a masterpiece, the best of the franchise, and is certainly one of the most beloved Playstation exclusives of all time—with people praising the abundance of exhilarating high-spectacle set pieces, the pulpy nature of both the story and characters, and the pure adventure of it all. If you want a review that’ll regurgitate all of that to you… then you’ve come to the wrong place. I like this game. I enjoyed it. It’s good. And it’s a step-up from Drake’s Fortune. But in my humble opinion, it’s severely overrated, and I’m convinced most people take a big dose of copium/nostalgia when they rate this game a perfect score (not that you shouldn’t). And I get it! This isn’t a first-time playthrough for me, I used to play these first two games religiously when I was younger, and I loved both of them, but as you’ve just read—my love for them has only deteriorated. Recently I’ve found myself longing for something more, something more personal, something that might challenge me—however that may be, and maybe that’s on me for placing such expectations on an Uncharted game, but I go into every game with those expectations—sometimes they’re met, sometimes they’re not—regardless, I appreciate the games that make me feel, more than the games that are nothing but a short stop at the entertainment venue. Which is all this game is. It’s not complex, it’s very simple in fact—too simple. There’s no finesse or depth to the combat, the platforming is nothing but an excuse to prolong the game and give you a chance to look at some beautiful environments (the only valid reason), the puzzles are still the most undemanding and pointless inclusions I’ve ever seen in a game like this; everything—from the gameplay to the story is by-the-books and uninspired. It’s like Uncharted 2 is an appetizer—something light before the main course; an experience so weightless, that you’ll forget it ever happened within a week of finishing the game (I know how silly that sounds given its acclaim). But you might ask… why the three stars (albeit an extremely low three)? Well for that reason alone: the entertainment value. I can’t deny that I had fun. So from here on out, this review will be split into three parts: the story, characters, and gameplay. And will detail why I—personally—believe these aspects to be a front for Naughty Dog to fill the screen with destruction galore and a bunch of big explosions.
I’m not going to shamelessly recap the story, if you want—here’s a short video that’ll do just that in case you haven’t played the game, but… who hasn’t? So if you can go off by memory, then do that—but let’s not kid ourselves here, this game doesn’t have much of a story so you’ll be fine!
I want to paint a picture for you. Imagine laying down on your bed during a rainy night, turning on your PS5, booting up the game… and you hear it. Those drums—in quick succession, building. The brass coming in with an adventurous and heroic melody, slowly dying down to reveal a melancholic strain that—signifies something more, something deeper; before building one final time to finish in an epic flourish that combines both parts. That’s right… it’s Nate’s Theme 2.0. Differing from 1.0 in the way of more instruments, but I’m no music expert so I can’t really elaborate on that. This theme—unlike the actual game—imbues nostalgia in me on a level I can’t describe, and is able to deliver more emotion—than the entirety of the game—in less than two minutes. Greg Edmonson clearly wanted to iconify something, and he succeeded with flying colors. This singular theme is some of the best video game music I’ve ever heard, and clashes tonally with the story of Uncharted 2 in a way that has always stood out to me. It’s deep, thought-provoking, and emotional—whereas the story is none of those things. In typical Uncharted fashion, it’s an amalgamation of tropes from a bunch of action-adventure movies that were released in the 80s, with the huge one being Indiana Jones; the globe-trotting adventure, the romance, the betrayals, the artifacts, the villain’s self-serving desire to rule the world—among many, many more. Which is why people often defend the pulpy nature of it. They say “It’s not meant to be thought about!”. They say “Don’t take it so seriously!”. They say “Who cares? It’s just an action movie!”. I say… is the genre of action-adventure-pulp an excuse to write a painfully mediocre script that massively prioritizes style over substance whilst expecting the audience to not question any plot decisions? Because there’s a ton of stuff that doesn’t make any sense in this game; alongside creative decisions I fundamentally disagree with (I’ll go into some of those when I talk about characters). So as per usual, Nathan Drake is back to steal another artifact so he can stock up on some V-Bucks given how his last adventure left him broke—both in terms of relationship and financial status. I’m bringing this up because it’s one of my biggest issues with the story here; there’s hardly any connective tissue between Drake’s Fortune and Among Thieves. It’s a sequel, yes, but I’m confident anyone could start with this one without batting an eye. It’s a return to normalcy. A return to the status quo. Last game’s story? Oh that! Forget about it… I mean it. Nate and Elena’s promising relationship? Yeah? I said fucking forget it dude… or else. Because they got together and broke up off-screen! It’s a shining example of the similarities between Uncharted and other action-adventure/espionage films such as Indiana Jones or James Bond—odd example, I know—but it’s an issue that plagues a lot of these massive blockbusters, the fact that nothing ever progresses from one to the next apart from obscure references. It’s all a clean slate! None of it will ever amount to any meaningful character work or a storyline (or a part of one) that develops throughout the entire series. I understand that’s a defining characteristic of these films/games, but it’s an aspect that’s always been seared into the back of my brain while playing—that none of it matters, the outcome will always be the same. And maybe it speaks to my disinterest in the genre of action-adventure pulp, but it’s hard to be invested. It’s hard to care. And is that an unfair mindset to hold… since that’s exactly what Naughty Dog were aiming for? I don’t know. I can’t tell you that. Maybe. Maybe not. All I can do is tell you how this game made me feel. And it made me feel precisely nothing. If it weren’t for some of those high-octane set pieces, this would easily fall into the forever nothingness of… “mid”.
To be completely blunt, there’s not much worth talking about in terms of story—that wouldn’t be me mindlessly recapping it while interjecting at certain points with a comment. It’s all based around beats like “Hey, take a look at this map/note/symbol”, “Let’s go here”, set piece ensues, which now that I’m thinking about it… is a critique in and of itself huh? But I’d much rather talk about Among Thieves’ implementation of the supernatural… You can probably tell by my “tone” that I don’t really like the supernatural element in this franchise at all. Now, this is the part where a lot of the Uncharted fandom is divided. Some fans love it—exclaiming that it’s what gives these games their own identity; while other players (myself included) dislike it because of their intrusiveness and out-of-place feel. I want to preface that having supernatural elements isn’t inherently a bad thing, I actually applaud Naughty Dog for taking that approach in the first place; as I would agree with “some fans” in saying it gives these games a unique touch… but the execution is half-baked at best. The structure of exploring these elements has been the same in both games; occurring towards the latter-half, introducing fresh locales with new (annoying) enemies—which links in with gameplay—and treating the whole ordeal as a twist (from the perspective of the characters). It comes off as very predictable storytelling. There’s always a massive change in tone that happens during the second half—as it’s kept relatively “grounded” for the first. It’s inconsistent and an annoying way of splitting up the game. If they’re going to go in that direction, then commit to the idea of the supernatural? It’s no surprise that the beginning-to-middle of these games are always the most enjoyable and fresh parts (for a myriad of reasons—gameplay included). It’s funny, because I genuinely like the setting of Shambala towards the end, but how come we didn’t get to spend any time there? Apart from two—heavily combat focused—chapters. Let me absorb the gorgeously vivid, breathtaking atmosphere, let me explore the undeniably zany culture of the guardians, let me ground myself in this completely new world! But no, instead we have to hurry to the next set piece! This hearkens back to what I said about Uncharted’s story elements near the beginning of my review; it feels like they’re an excuse to push the player into countless action sequences. Can they ever slow down? Can they ever actually take the time and effort to do something outside the box? Hell, even the Indiana Jones movies did that! And the rushed nature of the Shambala segment wasn’t even worth it, because it resulted in a laughably bad boss fight followed by a (pretty much) beat-for-beat ending of the first game. Like??? I’m sorry if all of this comes off as nitpicky or… petty, but I don’t know how else to express my thoughts on this game, it doesn’t sit right with me. And to end this segment off, I don’t know why Nate and Elena have trouble believing in Shambala's legitimacy when they literally encountered Nazi-fucking-zombies in the last game? Why do they all of a sudden find the possibility of a secret city hard to believe… it makes no sense, I don’t buy it. All in all, it’s safe to say that I didn’t enjoy the story of Among Thieves—much like its predecessor! It’s middling in some aspects—downright bad in others, and doesn’t try to do anything new or worthwhile. I don’t know much about Uncharted 4, but I do know that it takes a completely different approach to its storytelling, a far more realistic and nuanced approach, which makes me curious, hopeful, and above all else—excited—to get to that entry.
“You got a great ass, Sully.”
If there’s one thing I undeniably like about this franchise… it’s the characters—or more accurately their witty and sarcastic interactions with each other. It’s what makes those “going from point A to B” sections of the game tolerable and occasionally funny. What’s better is there’s more characters in this one. In Drake’s Fortune it was mostly centered around Nate and Elena—who have the least amount of chemistry due to the fact that they’re both very different people and thus have less of an aptitude for bouncing off of each other in humorous or creative ways. Not to say that I don’t like her or the pairing in general—because I do! It’s actually one of my most anticipated aspects of the fourth game, but the writing lets it down in this entry because of how focused it is on those sarcastic comments instead of building up their relationship or showing why they even… like each other? I need more to truly care about them as a couple; instead of constantly telling the audience that Nate’s jealous of Jeff through little remarks with Chloe, how about you have Nate talk about what exactly their relationship was like, what went wrong, and why he wants to get back together with her. I know you’d be sacrificing the humor (for a few chapters), but it’d do magnitudes in building up their dynamic. What’s even better is you could intertwine those moments around Chloe. Build up all three of their characters at once! But they clearly had no intention of doing anything even remotely similar to that… which is why the ending when they get back together comes off as rushed and weirdly… out of place? I didn’t pick up on any sexual tension between them while playing, it’s not like they were getting closer or more intimate throughout. It’s almost like it’s a happy ending for the sake of a happy ending, it means precisely fucking nothing because it says nothing. I do wonder if they’ll still be together in the third game, or if she’ll even be in the next game. Maybe a potential return to the status quo!? I can’t wait!
Nate & Chloe take more of the focus here (at least for the first half), a nice surprise since I liked her selfish and double-crossing manner—in what is otherwise an underdeveloped character—making for some fairly compelling and unexpected moment to moment gameplay. She’s just really fun?—as if this franchise needed even more of that… but it does make me excited for her spin-off. The title of best duo easily goes to Nate & Sully though, which is a shame considering he’s only in two chapters. That’s a missed opportunity and a half. So much of Uncharted’s identity is based around their father-son bond, so it’s weird to me that I haven’t seen any of that two whole games in (much less a critique and more of an observation). Like who the fuck are these people? Does Sully not care about Nate’s well being as he left him with a woman he barely knows to go off to find Shambala of all places? He then magically reappears at the end with no explanation… I really don’t appreciate the Sully underutilization. His displeased reluctancy to every situation is the best part of this series.
A huge point of contention within this franchise is the whole “Nate is a bad person who kills hundreds of people without remorse” argument. I only kind of agree with this. Ludonarrative dissonance is a term that effectively means there’s a difference between the narrative and gameplay elements in a game, one doesn’t necessarily have to adhere to the other for continuity's sake; they’re basically two different—isolated parts of a game that don’t share the same logic. With this term in mind, Nate doesn’t actually kill hundreds of people in a single day, it’s more like a dozen (from boss fights/cutscenes). And I don’t have an issue with this explanation at all, I mean—sure, it’d be an interesting way to deconstruct a character like Nate; integrate themes of mortality and morality, but in the end—it’s not what Naughty Dog were aiming for, so the exclusion is fine. But my issue lies more with how inconsistent that explanation is when you take the ending into account. Why did they bring it up? Why did they call attention to it? If they hadn’t, there’s no issue… but they did. Not only did they call it out through one of the worst villains I’ve ever seen, it’s also an outright dumb thing for the game to do considering they’ve put no effort into establishing that as part of its themes. The closest they get is Nate not wanting to kill any innocent guards during chapter two… but… he throws one off the side of a building? In all fairness, he swims away if you look down, but why would Nate assume that he can swim? Or that the fall wouldn’t kill him since it’s a 15+ story fall? Or that he wouldn’t hit any walls or rocks on the way down? Again, I’m probably not supposed to think about this! But I am, and it makes no sense. It seems like the swimming away part was added to counteract all the people that would’ve called out the inconsistency. It’s half-assed and lazy. Lazarević’s entire speech introduces the idea that Nate is “merciless” and “cruel”... and he’d be right. But why does he then take issue with killing Lazarević when he’s murdered countless goons who have families and are probably only doing their security job? So you’re telling me he can kill goons... but not the one genuinely terrible person who absolutely deserves to die? I got severe whiplash when this cutscene played because of the drastic change in tone; the entire game up until this point had been light fun with a few moments of drama sprinkled in—yet now they’re talking about morality and shared violence—taking issue with killing horrible people when they didn’t before. It’s a weird shift. To my surprise Nate doesn’t kill Lazarević and instead lets the Guardians finish him off—sort of disproving his point, but I’m pretty sure he returns to cool old-fashioned murder right after this game? So I guess it was all in vain and didn’t mean anything. Great! Thanks Naughty Dog, for some genuinely fantastic writing here! I said this before, but I’m fine with ludonarrative dissonance—as long as they don’t call attention to it, but they did the exact opposite, and not only that—but in such an arbitrary way. On a fundamental level, I think story and gameplay should acknowledge each other. I think it leads to a more well-rounded experience, and exhibits intention where there otherwise wouldn’t be, which is contrary to how it appears here—intention-less! And more like a way to cover up their writing mistakes.
The way all of this is delivered through Lazarević is the most shocking aspect though. Lots of people go on about how he’s the series’ best villain, and if that’s the case… what the fuck am I in for with the rest of this franchise? Because he’s not good at all. He comes across as cartoonish and mustache-twirling—and not even in an entertaining or fun way. There’s usually something to latch onto with other roles of the same caliber; the actor’s performance, their personality, mannerisms—but here he’s so shallow. He’s a big tough military guy, who… wants money—no, he wants power! Woah! Really fun and creative Naughty Dog! He’s more of a physical obstacle for Nate to overcome than a character with his own story. Does he impact Nate in any meaningful way? Does he allude to any themes? Does he do anything of value? No. He’s dull and generic. I can’t stress enough how bored I was whenever he popped up. Flynn on the other hand would’ve been a much better alternative, he actually had a charming personality and some chemistry with Nate—not to mention history too! I don’t know why he went out in such a disappointingly anticlimactic way when he was clearly the superior character.
“Yeah, good luck pal, that's almost impossible to- oh, you did it. Nice.”
We’ve arrived at Uncharted’s most middling aspect, and that’s obviously the gameplay. I’d say this is a universally agreed on opinion, I don’t think anyone genuinely likes Uncharted’s gameplay enough to play an isolated version of it. It’s not what makes their games, as it’s a common complaint thrown at literally everything they’ve ever developed. There’s more variety in Among Thieves when compared to Drake’s Fortune no doubt—as it’s a sequel, but I don’t think it fixes any glaring issues the first game had, or improves upon any existing systems in noticeable or note-worthy ways. But… how can they really improve this system? Structurally, it requires the player to rush into every room to hit headshots with a bunch of interchangeable weapons; there’s not much here, they dug their own grave when they made the gameplay take the form of a semi-grounded cover shooter. Naturally, a lot of this game’s praise comes from the set piece moments—and oh lemme tell you! They’re fun as hell! Going from that iconic first chapter of having to scale a train that’s slowly toppling down a cliff—while bleeding all over the place, to sliding down a collapsing building, progressing through a moving train while being bombarded by a helicopter, running from a tank, hopping from moving truck to moving truck—albeit clunkily… it’s all great stuff. There’s a lot of variety in terms of set pieces here. But seeing how (mostly) short they are, it doesn’t sustain the game with “fun” throughout, as right after one of these… you’re forced to do another shooting room! And another climbing section! And for some unknown reason… the first chapter again (that’s right they make you repeat it twice, they could’ve easily connected the two timelines by having Nate resume from where he was before). They also could’ve put more effort into making mundane objectives more fun… like to disable an alarm system in chapter two all you have to do is flip a lever by finding it in the most obvious place ever and pressing a single button. Like that’s it? Hell if that’s what it takes to turn off alarms maybe I should get into the burglary business! I know it shouldn’t explicitly adhere to reality’s rules, but they could’ve done something there? Put in a short minigame, a puzzle of sorts—as it already has a limited number of those. I say all of this but I actually did enjoy the stealthy nature of the second chapter, I thought it was a unique way to pace the game out and it was surprisingly creative with unconventional level design. Rooftops laid out in a fairly linear but open type way, never making the player feel like they’re on rails or being guided by a hand in the sky; allowing for choice (although usually only two) in terms of how you approach “combat” scenarios or make your way to the next objective. Thankfully the QTE’s from Drake’s Fortune are gone too, but there’s still remnants of that here. Button prompts are littered everywhere (although I guess that’s a staple of the seventh console generation), but I wish they flowed into gameplay seamlessly instead of being real-time cutscenes. It’s a whole lotta “boost me”, “pull down the bridge”, “open the door”, it exemplifies the “companionship” vibe, but gameplay-wise—it does nothing and its repetitiveness is starting to sink in for me.
Similarly, the same thing can be said about the shooting—but I won’t be as gracious with it… It’s the goddamn same. Among Thieves? No dude, it’s Drake’s Fortune. There are no improvements here, apart from a bigger variety of weapons that don’t impact gameplay whatsoever, as you can practically put all the weapons into one of two groups: slow fire rate vs fast fire rate; and the difficulty of the fight will be determined by which of these you have. The awful—inaccurate bloom makes its return; when my crosshair is directly on top of an enemy’s head, the bullet somehow flies off to fucking Mars? The shooting is arcadey enough as it is, so I don’t know why they would intentionally make it this way. It’s so heavily rooted in luck. The weapons in general lack kick and oomph. Sound design is flat and sterile so it feels like you’re using a pea-shooter most of the time; guns do not feel like guns. This next thing might sound like a nitpick, but it makes a world of difference in a heat-of-the-moment shoot-out; whenever you’re aiming and decide to change shoulders—and by chance let go and re-aim, it switches back to the default (right) shoulder. This disrupts the flow of gameplay since it constantly demands changing it back—causing a potential death (this is especially annoying on crushing/brutal difficulty). It’s even worse on specific chapters that have shallow walls placed in the environment—meaning you can’t properly hide behind them (without using the cover mechanic—which in and of itself is hit or miss and doesn’t work a lot of the time). Although I appreciate that Among Thieves places most cover spots in naturalistic parts of the map; for example, in a jungle, a cover spot might be a tree, whereas the first game had an excessive amount of boxes placed everywhere, even if it made no logical sense (this is still a problem here, but less prominent). And a little side note; I genuinely hate the M32 Hammer and the RPG. Those two weapons don’t have a blast radius which is an odd choice. They both shoot explosives, and I have to treat them like any other gun—directly shooting at enemies’ chests. It’s just another reason—in a sea full of them—that the guns feel awful. Where’s the distinctiveness? Where’s the power and force? They’re fucking explosives! It’s really lackluster weapon design.
You know those moments in God of War (2018) when you’re climbing a mountain, or shuffling through a crack in a wall to another section of the map, or generally scaling something? Yeah, those moments work because you have constant banter, and more often than not important character building. There’s a back and forth there. Which is the entire reason those moments work. They progress arcs, give context—have value, and generally provide something to hold your attention as you get to the next fight or story moment. Among Thieves doesn’t have any of that. It feels like you’re climbing just for the sake of climbing. There’s some occasional banter, but with all the issues I went over regarding characters—those don’t do much when all they’re good for is making you laugh (sometimes). Are the environments captivating to observe from such heights? Yeah. But that’s not enough of a reason to validate the entire existence of the aforementioned gameplay segments when that’s all you’re doing. These moments are the worst parts of the entire game, not for any insulting or frustrating reason, but more so because they’re just really boring to play, and that’s arguably the most heinous thing a game can do. Not to mention how clunky the movement is in general. I don’t know if this was only an issue on my end, but Nate would sometimes jump/climb in the wrong direction despite me pressing/holding the right buttons. And it only became really noticeable on my third playthrough. The only time the platforming worked for me was chapter six, when you were in Nepal and were going in and out of this huge building as you made your way to the top. I liked the scale and the intricacies of the layout. But nothing—and I repeat nothing, will make me hate the fake-out falls any less. Am I a fucking moron? Because I don’t get what these add to the game. Some tension? Some fear? Or is it to make the game more cinematic? If so that’s all well and good, but maybe keep a limit on them? Don’t throw in hundreds scene after scene (slight exaggeration but that’s what it felt like). The one huge positive I’ll say is that they went above and beyond with the placement of treasure. Something as miniscule as collecting collectibles has never been quite as satisfying, and it’s all very creative and clever. There’s a genuinely worth-while incentive to grab them too—with rewards such as skins, cheats, weapons, etc, being unlocked. It makes future playthroughs more fun and I wish this was standard practice in most games with collectibles.
But all of these issues (with shooting and movement) culminate in the boss fights, and it’s almost like I’m fighting against the game during those moments, which is obviously frustrating. The train carriage one was tacked on—it didn’t serve a purpose, and felt claustrophobic (I realize that’s intentional, but the shoddy movement made it a nightmare). Lazarević’s was the biggest headache though, that’s the one that seriously made me question the purpose behind them in this particular franchise. Every single one up until this point has felt like a gimmick, been repetitive—and not something that’s even remotely belonged. It speaks to Naughty Dog’s roots with Jak and Daxter, but they’re two completely different franchises, and trying to carry that formula into Uncharted doesn’t work. They should really let it go. And it sucks because that’s not even the worst part, the guardians are. As I’ve said, I don’t inherently mind the supernatural elements, you can have them! But for the love of god… please don’t put in bullet sponges as substitutes for enemies. Is pumping around seven entire mags into a single guardian supposed to be fun? Or just annoying? It’s not engaging, it’s dull—even when you can kill them faster using a crossbow. If anything this is consistent with the first game. Drake’s Fortune also introduced enemies during the second half that were annoying to fight—both are lame attempts at enemy variety.
The last thing I’m going to talk about regarding Among Thieves’ contents are the puzzles. I’m sure it’s not surprising at this point that I didn’t like them either. Again, it’s the same issues that plague Drake’s Fortune. There’s not enough of them, they’re incredibly easy, and they lack creativity. Imagine my shock when I was on chapter 19 (seven away from the ending) and the game had only given me two full-on puzzles to do. And I’d be fine with that number if they were challenging… but they’re not. They all revolve around symbol matching. Like am I playing fucking Candy Crush or something? Maybe root some of them in the environments? Maybe design them intricately instead of completely laying out the answer for me in Nate’s journal? I had more fun during an environmental “puzzle” when the game introduced a minigun-wielding-brute enemy during the train chapter, and required me to shoot the chains that were holding all the tree logs together where he was coincidentally standing so I could kill him… that was brilliant, and actually funny. Everything else was not.
The obligatory optimization/technical paragraph: I can never escape these… Enemy waves loop if you don’t go to the exact place the game wants you to be at. If you get ahead of the NPC companions when climbing—and they happen to catch up, you’ll be knocked off and have to restart entire checkpoints. There was a bridge bug I encountered which made it so I couldn’t progress because… I killed everyone too soon? (Basically, the game penalizes you for being too good). You can be shot through walls! Brutal difficulty scaling is still horrible, you’ll die as soon as you spawn leading to many RNG moments! They clearly didn’t even consider the difficulty options when creating some of these chapters, they also could’ve just tweaked enemy starting points to fix this issue, it’s a fairly simple solution I imagine. I’ve heard these are all issues with the remastered trilogy though, so I guess it’s my fault for playing that version.
I know it’s hard to believe… but I did like this game! I still think it’s good (barely). The reason for the score is mostly the set pieces, as without them this would easily fall into mediocrity; which is why this can sometimes read like I’m continuously dunking on it, but that’s because it’s the only consistently positive aspect that is the least versatile in a discussion/review.
(This isn’t a part of the review). I honestly didn’t expect for this review to be so long, I thought it was going to be a shorter one but I just kept writing and writing, and it turned into another long one! I need to do less of these, I swear to god…
Playtime: 33.4 hours
Every Game I’ve Ever Played - Ranked (By Score)
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Naughty Dog - Ranked
Uncharted - Ranked
2009 - Ranked
This review contains spoilers
My Fallen Order review if you want more context.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor. The next installment in Respawn’s Star Wars franchise. Oooh baby. Lots of thoughts on this one. So it’s no secret that Fallen Order took a lot of cues from a ton of other memorable games, included but not limited to; Uncharted, Dark Souls, Sekiro, and at times—some of the older God of War games. Survivor definitely continues that trend! But I’ll address those issues when I come across them, so I digress. Survivor is a sequel that improves upon every system in the original—one of those sequels that is undoubtedly better than the original in almost every way, one of those sequels that you can look at and say… “Now this, is a fucking sequel”. You know, something akin to Batman: Arkham City, BioShock 2, or even God of War: Ragnarok. It’s one of those. Respawn are entering their element here, and it’s very obvious—with how many additions and improvements they’ve made across the board. But you might think… why am I only giving it 3.5 stars (which is still a really good/positive score) based on the amount of praise I just spewed out? Well, besides some of the issues I have with the game’s story, exploration, and combat, it’s also a bug-ridden mess. 7+ months after its release. So before I dive into its main aspects, I need to get the technicalities out of the way.
Deep breath. Frame rate issues, broken reflections, grainy movement animations, mounts disappearing/bugging out, clipping, textures not loading in at every possible moment, pop-in, characters T-posing like it’s fucking Fortnite, egregiously bad ghosting, finishers not working correctly—with Cal literally swinging at thin air while enemies are floating in the sky, the camera freaking out whenever you do something slightly unconventional… or dying—speaking of dying! Dying animations do not work. And more… crashes, softlocks, it’s all here! All the issues! I usually wouldn’t deduct this many points because of technical issues, because they’ll most likely get patched… eventually, but in this very specific case, the developers have clearly abandoned the game and it will never get fixed unless they decide to do it before they release the third one. But then again, they never did that with Fallen Order so it’s safe to assume they won’t with this one either. And I get it! These aren’t game breaking bugs, it’s not like I had to restart my game hundreds of times, it’s nowhere near that bad—but that’s also not justification for it being so… ugly, to look at. In a game that is built around immersing you in a universe this inherently special with all of its planets, creatures, lore—it sure likes taking you out of it every chance it gets. I don’t think I was ever immersed for more than 20 consecutive minutes before it reminded me of how disastrous the launch of this game was. And that is plainly unacceptable, I hear it’s even worse on PC—even after all the updates! Oh, and I have to share this because I found it really funny. So the natural assumption behind this game’s development issues would be that EA forced Respawn to release the game early, right? See, I thought that too! But no, It was actually Respawn’s choice, EA even offered them extra time but the lead game director—Stig Asmussen—declined and settled on a six week delay to not compete with other upcoming games like Tears of the Kingdom, and because… he apparently thought six weeks was enough time to get it up to par… well, it fucking wasn’t Stig, was it? I don’t know how someone play tests Survivor on PC/PS5 before launch and thinks “Yeah… this is good”, like no! It’s unmistakably shit. On one hand, I understand why he decided to do it, it’s either; release it near TotK and risk underselling, or push it out early to get all that sweet-sweet money and take a hit to your playerbase’s goodwill. And he chose the latter. This shouldn’t be okay, and I for one will not be buying their next game on launch, since they don’t deserve my money for constantly half-assing optimization just so they can “fix it” later; I will patiently wait for a big sale when the third game comes out. Okay, so now that those issues are out of the way… the actual game.
“The Order’s gone, it’s time to leave it behind.”
From the very first frame, this… looks different… feels different. Darker. More dramatic... more personal. The skies of an imperialized Coruscant—submerged in an overpowering orange hue—not unfamiliar, placing us in a new age yet again. This bright orange sky is shown across all the covers and promotional material, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it looks eerily similar to the skies in Revenge of the Sith, clearly showing some resemblance between events and character transformations. The Empire is in their prime. The Jedi Temple, a symbol of peace and hope—now corrupted into a bastion of tyranny and malevolence. Cal Kestis. A prisoner—more metaphorical in Fallen Order, now very literal (or so it seems). He’s changed, grown—five years will do that to you. The days of the immature, inexperienced boy-scout are over; he’s now a fully fledged Jedi Knight—careless, overly confident, and to put it plainly… a bit of a fucking badass? A stark contrast to his former self, and I bring this up because I really want to emphasize how much of a better character he is here, in every facet of the word. You can see the visible differences in demeanour; how he walks, how he speaks, how he presents himself. No longer is he the insecure boy who’s uncertain of his abilities, following other people into battles—he’s become the leader, continuing the fight against The Empire under overwhelming odds. When I finished the game, I didn’t particularly love what they did with his character, but upon thinking about it a lot more, and connecting the dots between story beats and how his arc is influenced by them… Oh yeah, this is an exceptionally well-woven tale about loneliness, the all-consuming darkness within, and perseverance during what is considered the bleakest point in Star Wars history. It’s a really hard thing to take this inherently grand and expansive universe about big glowing swords, and ground it in such a humanistic way while never losing what made it special in the first place: heart. And I don’t think we’ve gotten anything quite like it since Return of the Jedi—or you could even argue more recently, with Clone Wars S7. What other lightsaber-themed Star Wars projects have been this human, while still being good? I’m struggling to think of any, because it’s relatively unprecedented. And I love that Survivor managed to achieve something so intrinsic and special to the Star Wars franchise—while current Star Wars (in movie and TV form) lag behind in that regard. It’s a substantial accomplishment in and of itself.
“Just trying to survive.”
“Aren’t we all?”
In typical Respawn fashion, this opening hour is impeccably crafted; showcasing spectacle (through Coruscant’s striking and delightfully-dystopian atmosphere), characters, story—and managing to build up and link all its surrounding pieces perfectly. We see the world, and how it’s changed within these short five years. And we see the people—both new and old, and how they’ve changed within these short five years. A nightmare, and desperate—respectively. The underbelly of Coruscant has never been a kind place, but in these trying times, it’s gotten even more deplorable. There’s a strong presence of propaganda plastered all over the city; from billboards detailing Cal as a terrorist, to recordings of Senator Daho Sejan talking about rebels “threatening” homes and jeopardizing The Empire’s success. Their ruthlessness has only escalated. Citizens being forced to leave their shops and homes, and getting beat to the ground because of innocent curiosity. Not only that, but the overall quantity of Stormtroopers has increased. This links in with combat (but I’ll talk about that when I get to it). And this is because we’re further in The Empire’s rule, they have more resources—more people willing to serve them; Cal addresses this later on in the story when he talks about all his endeavours and how he hasn’t made a dent in The Empire’s mission to colonize other planets, which further propels his negative feelings of anger and frustration. He loses so many people… while not accomplishing anything in return. One of the new characters we meet is Bode. He’s a “rebel” fighter, in it for his daughter—but hey, credits never hurt. The Empire took his wife—his daughter’s mom from him; leaving a husband a widower… and a daughter a half-orphan. They continue to take “more every day”. Cal unknowingly assumes he means other people’s loved ones—not quite… Bode is referring to himself—losing himself to the dark side each and every day, battling his own demons, under the guise of doing it for Kata (his daughter). This proves that no matter how long you survive The Empire… they kill you eventually. Physically or mentally. This perfectly sets up Survivor's tone, both through the story and gameplay departments. I was amazed at how well it captured the feeling of pure hopelessness. We’re constantly at a disadvantage due to The Empire’s sheer numbers, and this never lets up throughout the entire game. Survivor wants you to be overwhelmed, it wants you to feel the pressure that Cal himself is feeling every day of his life. And the way in which it places you in his shoes is expertly constructed and deserves more praise. But I’ll move on to the actual story now! The reason Cal is on Coruscant is because he needs important information out of the Senator, so he’s staged his “capture” as a way to get closer to him. And a little side note: The whole “prisoner” thing doesn’t make any sense after you know the twist. Why were Cal’s friends giving him weird looks on the ship when there was no one else there? What about the punch? The comments about propaganda? All of these things are clearly for dramatic effect, but retrospectively—they make no sense. After being brought to the Senator, we get a little glimpse at Cal’s state of mind. The Senator asks where the rest of the Jedi are, Cal responds with “It’s just me” in a way that shook me to my very core. Cameron Monoghan’s performance here (and in the rest of the game) is breathtaking, you can hear the deep sorrow in his voice—the pain of his loneliness and loss. The voice of someone so desperate to find his place in the galaxy, his people—masked by arrogance, under the facade of confidence (and yeah, I genuinely believe he’s arrogant, at least partially—since he’s shown to judge people for living a quiet life outside of conflict). His master. Cere, Greez, Merrin. His comrades. All gone. Why does he continue to fight? If being alone is all that comes from it? He’s desperately trying to hold on to the idea that all of his struggles will result in something positive for the galaxy, but that isn’t true… he knows that he hasn’t contributed much of anything throughout the last five years, and deep down… he knows that there’s no point in continuing the fight. And I think there’s a high chance of this being his arc throughout the next game. The idea that it’s okay not to continue the fight, it’s okay to not think of other people all the time… it’s okay to prioritize yourself and your happiness. He’s not obligated to fight just because he can. And I think that’s beautiful. This is exemplified even more when The Ninth Sister shows up and kills all of his new friends, he becomes enraged—very clearly tapping into the dark side. He ignores Bode and chases after her, with the intention of revenge—despite being able to run away. This is something the Jedi aren’t supposed to do. They’re not supposed to give in to their negative feelings and pursue revenge. And this moment was when it finally clicked for me. This is when I understood what his journey would be throughout the game… that he’ll face the dark side. Which… surprisingly hearkens back to Fallen Order when Cere said: “Every Jedi faces the dark side”. It’s a natural evolution of his character, he’s at the point now where he needs to overcome his feelings—or even embrace them. It’s an interesting topic to talk about, because when I think of the Jedi Order’s values; abstaining from emotion and companionship, only using the force for knowledge and defense, amongst plenty of other things. Cal spits in the face of all of these teachings. He’s shown to feel every possible emotion there is, and he’s not shy about sharing them with people—both positively and negatively. He pursues Merrin romantically, he knows that he wants companionship and willingly embraces that. He definitely uses the force for more than defense—in fact, he uses it in a demeaning manner multiple times… (as he should in those specific circumstances). Point is, he’s barely a Jedi. He doesn’t follow principles, at all. And this links in with a really interesting question which is… why should he? The Order is gone. Why should he uphold arbitrary values that no longer serve anyone—or himself? This is reinforced through countless scenes in the game—but especially through the scene(s) when he has the opportunity to not kill someone, yet does it anyway because keeping them alive is a risk that he’s not willing to take—which genuinely reminded me of TCW Anakin at times… It’s insanely cool to me how much of a 180° Cal took as a character. He has such a deeper and more distinct personality, and some genuine grit now. He’s actually… likeable? He’s a… good fucking character. I actually enjoy playing as him! It’s the bare minimum—honestly, but I never felt that way in Fallen Order. I never cared about him that much, and I love that I’m now looking forward to his next cutscene or moment, it’s a breath of fresh air. Going back to Cal’s use of the dark side. I noticed a good bit of symbolic storytelling when Cal jumped onto a Purge Trooper’s ship and used the force to steer it closer to the ground. That is literally The Second Sister’s move… she used that against The Mantis in the first game. And I might be looking too deep into this, it might not even be intentional; but it’s a look at an affinity between the two. Not only does it show his progress with the force, but also that he’s driving closer and closer to that dark path, utilizing techniques that he saw an Inquisitor use (it’s reminiscent of Ezra, Anakin, even Rey—sort of). I love this so much, it compliments his character in a subtle yet noticeable way, and effectively conveys his past, present, and future all in one moment. And this leads me into the first boss battle of the game (which is pretty spectacular in quite a few ways).
Now, the boss fights are still not anything mechanically mind-blowing. They’re mostly the same as in the first game—slightly better, but only because it feels like there’s more of them, and because they’re thematically deeper. And I’m thankful that the game doesn’t force me to repeat one of them four separate times! Usually only two or three, which is still better than Fallen Order! They’re also spread out in an even manner, which makes them feel like a natural part of the gameplay loop as opposed to something that happens on occasion for very specific or grand moments. And I kinda like that? A lot actually. I know most people don’t, as it results in the boss fights feeling less “special”, or like they’re glorified enemies—and while that certainly can be true, I honestly take no issue with it. It’s important to note that The Ninth Sister’s fight serves as a tutorial (which further reinforces Cal’s power level) but also that it’s more about the thematics as opposed to the fight itself. It’s not a challenging one, even on the hardest difficulty (which is what I played this entire game on). Her moves are telegraphed well, as always, but the thing that stood out the most to me was the ending of the fight. It’s a look at an Inquisitor that can’t help herself, Cal—while cold and still in his movements—very blatantly gives her a chance to surrender and walk away, whereas Masana (her name, as revealed by Cal) is pacing back and forth, grunting… feeling instead of thinking. It’s impulse vs thought. And I thought that was a simple yet… elegant way to showcase the differences between the two—and how that bridge might close as the game progresses. It’s not unexpected that she charges forward and Cal is forced to strike her down, resulting in a… decapitation… as music swells over the scene with a sinister undertone, hinting at a potentially darker future for Cal. It’s moments like these that make me appreciate Survivor that much more. And this pretty much marks the end of our time on Coruscant (until later on in the game when you can come back). And like I said, this opening section is in-tune with Fallen Order because of how phenomenally well crafted it is for all the reasons I just went over—but unlike Fallen Order, more than a few moments actually manage to live up to it. The result of escaping is taking some major damage to The Mantis, which leads us to the Koboh system—coincidentally where Greez is located… but only after Cal watches a recording of him and his old crew. Keep in mind, Cal just watched four of his friends die right in front of him, going to Koboh is a desperate call for help—he needs his friends back—his family back. He feels alone in a way that is almost deafening—in a way only his family can lessen—but I’m getting too ahead of myself, so let's dial it back to the planet itself.
Koboh. Oh man… I have so many mixed feelings, it’s not even funny. Koboh is an interesting one. It’s a very interesting planet. I don’t mean interesting in the way of its contents—although that too! I mean interesting with how much of a center-player it is. This is the part where they really broke off from Fallen Order’s style; in which they had four fully explorable planets—each around the same size—if not varying to slight degrees. But here? The only planets similar to those are Koboh and Jedha, the rest are all glorified story levels. And when I say it’s a center-player, I’m talking about how everything revolves around this one planet; the characters all reside inside of it (eventually), it’s bound to the story very closely, all of the puzzles and most of the ”side content” is also located here. It’s basically a hub of sorts, the place that you return to after every mission to talk to NPC’s, purchase items, upgrade your garden, etc. And I’m a bit bummed about that? It makes the game lose some of those nostalgic planet-hopping/space adventure vibes. Not that you can’t still do that… but it never feels like I’m going on this grand-expansive journey spanning a wide array of cultures and environments, like the first game did. If anything, it’s pretty streamlined. And I have a feeling many people will say… “But Koboh has so much variety! There’s practically four planets within itself”, and while I can understand that point—it doesn’t at all change what I just said. In fact, that actually adds to my next point. Yes, Koboh has a lot of variety. The environments range from desolate rocky plains, to densely vegetated jungles, groggy swamps, sleek imperial/separatist bases, deep dark caves filled with monsters of many kinds, and much more. But it’s almost… too much? It’s almost like having all of these wildly different biomes integrated into one planet makes it lack a real identity, which is something I can’t say at all about any of the planets in the previous game. And that is the real crux of Koboh. The exploration within isn’t not fun, because it fairly is, but I can’t help but sigh whenever the game forces me to come back to it. Not to mention—with its open world-ly size, exploration can often become stale due to the amount of random junk you have to collect. There’s 30 seeds in each mini-section! Plus 10+ treasure! And 10 chests! And then also 10 databanks! And if you’re an idiot like me who didn’t find out about the map upgrades you can find in the world until late post-game, then you’ll just be mindlessly running around looking for sparkles on the ground (signifying loot). In my defense though, the game never told me about those upgrades… so, fuck you game. And to add onto the point of Koboh being a weak planet, it’s a bit boring—visually I mean. This might just be my unwarranted hate for barren environments speaking, but god! So many rocks, and cliffs, and dirt, and whatever the fuck! It’s not interesting, I don’t want to look at it. It’s not visually compelling. I feel like Anakin in Attack of the Clones when he was talking about sand, except in my case it’s dirt! It’s fucking everywhere. Koboh is along the lines of being my least favourite “full-sized” planet in the Star Wars Jedi franchise; beating out Dathomir by quite a lot, but it doesn’t have the sauce! It really doesn’t. I might be completely alone in saying this, because I’ve seen literally nobody else bring it up. My issue with the lack of “space adventure” vibes is one of Survivor’s biggest flaws. I want to make that clear since this took a really negative turn. I still really like the game! I’m merely describing one of my least favourite aspects of it. This issue is exacerbated by every planet in the game. Coruscant is great—for what it is, but it’s still a small, glorified story level (including some lower and higher levels would’ve been a great way to make it bigger). The Shattered Moon Base is—again, a linear story level. Nova Garon—another story level! Tanalorr—doesn’t count, it’s literally a straight line towards the final boss of the game. So in conclusion, it’s only Koboh and Jedha here. Koboh—as I’ve mentioned, I don’t really like. Jedha on the other hand is a fantastic planet, but that’s it! I only like one planet in Survivor. So it definitely suffers from a plain selection of planets. All of this is a weak link to an otherwise fantastic game. Fast travel has been added though, and that makes getting around Koboh (and every location) more convenient, which is a huge time-saver.
So, naturally, the first thing I noticed was the upgrade in visuals! More specifically, Cal. Holy. Fucking. Shit. His model looks infinitely better than it did in Fallen Order. Infinitely. It’s not even close. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go back, I really don’t. He looks like a real person now—as opposed to the borderline constipated NPC that he once was. In Fallen Order I could never get behind how his face moved—or his expressions… but now I buy it, all of it. You can see each individual strand of hair on his head, his slight eye twitches—complimented by that beautiful bright blue color (this seems to be controversial since they apparently change on a whim), it’s more believable. He looked very cartoon-y in Fallen Order in a way that I don’t think was ever intentional? It was uncanny. The visuals in general have improved a shit ton; textures, lighting, environments, density, foliage, particle effects, etc. As they obviously should given the timeframe between this game and Fallen Order; which even at the time of its release looked outdated in a way that most games released that year didn’t. Whereas here, I can confidently say it’s amongst some of the most gorgeous games of the year, and we’ve had some real stunners. It’s lost some of that “unreal look” to it, where a lot of the assets looked like they were placed haphazardly in the world—like you could literally see where they dragged and dropped certain pipes, or walls, or whatever. It was a really hard thing to ignore if you looked closely enough, and I can’t understate how happy I was to see that it lost all of that ugliness and actually felt like a real game, and not a failed attempt at a tech demo. But, with it came a downside. I’m certain there was somewhat of an expectation to make the game more cinematic—following its story and what they wanted to convey within it. The result of that is a 30FPS cap on cutscenes with an aspect ratio change. I’m not sure I like this. There are moments when it looks okay—and is able to be aesthetically appealing—while being immersive, and I imagine it works even better when you’re playing it in fidelity mode. But I wasn’t. So going from 60FPS to 30 in a millisecond was jarring, and at times didn’t even look like 30? I don’t know if it was my game acting up… as I’m sure that’s likely given its fucking state. Not to even mention how any time it transitioned from cutscene to gameplay had my Cal floating above ground? Only returning to normal after a few seconds or when I started to move… So it’s safe to say the intended effect of immersiveness wasn’t conveyed very well, and the opposite was actually a lot more common! Such a shame. I—and a lot of people, probably, would’ve appreciated an option to keep the game at 60FPS at all times, alongside removing the black bars—although that one isn’t necessary, like at all—it’s whatever. Would’ve been nice to have the option though. And since I won’t get another chance to mention this, I have to say it now. I noticed an annoying design flaw. Whenever you’re at a shop and decide to preview an item, it’s in hologram form. Which means that you can’t accurately see the item that you want to purchase—which is, you know, the very point of a preview? Just something I found a little strange, and I’m not entirely sure how that’s something that you get wrong… But speaking of things that are wrong! (this is heavily exaggerated… I was really desperate for a segue).
My thoughts on the combat in the previous game was that; it was a fairly fun and engaging—albeit janky—system that didn’t have much depth, was mostly focused on parrying/defense with no combos, which often left it feeling repetitive and boring, but that it ultimately managed to retain its fun factor due to excellent enemy placement. Oh and let's not forget its biggest downfall: the force meter. I felt like it alienated both sides of the combat system, since it drained upon using the force and also heavy lightsaber attacks. This made it impossible to use both (since the meter was so limited), and so you had to pick and choose which one was more important to you (I respect if you like this, I did not). So coming back to this game. Almost every problem I had with Fallen Order’s combat system has been completely resolved, although unfortunately—due to them adding a bunch of new things—they’ve made new problems. So yeah, while everything feels more responsive… and generally better, while there’s more variety, while there’s more stances and more force attacks, and while you don’t lose any of your previous abilities when starting Survivor (I’m so fucking thankful for this, what a bafflingly genius idea); Survivor’s rebuttal is, doing little to nothing with that variety, doing little to nothing with those new stances, and doing little to nothing with those new force attacks. It adds so much, yet so little. But, let’s break all of these things down a little more. So, in terms of variety. Survivor has five stances; single, double, dual wield, blaster, and crossguard—previously only having single and double. Survivor has a bunch of new force attacks; push, pull, lift, slam, confuse, and slow (relegated to a special attack now, as opposed to a regular one)—previously only having push, pull, and slow. There’s even perks now, emphasizing the player to customize their own build. And not to forget all of the attacks and abilities within those categories—thanks to the multiple, massive-sprawling skill trees. And oh boy is there a lot of upgrades in that fucking tree… but therein lies the problem. There’s a lot of one-off moves. You can get all of these abilities, but have no way of linking them together—of using them in tandem with each other to create unique and interesting combos. And so it results in the combat loop feeling extremely simple and surface level. There's no room for any creativity or a sense of freedom—it never feels like the player is unique in their playstyle, besides the two chosen stances—which let’s be honest… makes close to zero difference in how you actually play the game. My personal way of fixing this issue would be to give the player a weapon wheel (or using a combination of buttons for a quicker way) to select any stance they want at any given moment—not only that, but also allowing them to link stances together. Make it so the player can transition from one to another via a button press, which could further link into dynamic combos and a wider array of moves. Respawn could even design enemy variety around this mechanic—having certain enemies be impenetrable to specific stances, giving combat that extra layer of depth, which would make the player think a lot more, but then again—that would make the game a lot less accessible; so it really depends on who you ask. Personally, I would’ve been down for this, but I can also understand someone’s hesitancy.
And remember when I said that enemy quantity links in with combat? Well, this is the part where I talk about that. Enemy quantity has increased a considerable amount. Back in Fallen Order, there was only ever… five or six at once I wanna say? Maybe a couple more during end game. But in Survivor? 8+ is the norm. This makes combat more continuous since you have to keep track of—and manage so many different enemies at once. And because of this, the fights go on for a lot longer. Sadly, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. Because of the increased quantity, I ended up getting stunlocked more than I’d like. So, there’s two sides to this; one—as I’ve just mentioned, the enemy quantity. On the hardest difficulty, attacks fly at you at insane speeds—and when there’s eight (if not more) enemies attacking you at once… it’s a bit hard to keep track of what’s what. You’ll be getting attacked by; multiple rockets, melee troopers/robots, annoying AOE’s, and even more attacks that I haven’t mentioned. Point is, it’s a lot. You can’t possibly counter every single attack, because the game simply doesn’t allow for it. And two, you can’t cancel animations (unless you’re dual wielding, which is why it’s easily the best stance). This is a huge deal. Since it limits your freedom of approach. You’ll be in the middle of an attack, and won’t be able to do anything about the enemy that you see coming from behind or your side. This leads the combat to being all about timing. And not even in a fun way, more like a “you have to keep dodging and rolling so you can find the perfect opening” type of way. Me even saying that is a huge understatement. It’s more like that—x20. There were so many instances where I kept dodging because attacking would get me killed in one hit—because I can’t fucking cancel my attacks! (The double rancor fight was especially aggravating because of this… like you literally can’t do anything). But coming back to my general point. Even if you did attack, you’d get potentially stunlocked into multiple enemy combos. This is the problem. I don’t know what else to say, other than the fact that it's annoying. It's an annoying part of the combat loop. And I feel like the only way to solve this issue would be to play on a lower difficulty so that enemy aggression decreases, or to… “get good”—which I think I can say, that… I kind of am? This is part of the reason why I couldn’t be bothered to use any stances other than dual and blaster; since those two have the most control and flexibility. And all of this links in with the fact that normal enemies are a lot harder than bosses, which… you know, is inherently weird since that defeats the very purpose of a boss? Not sure how I feel about that, it’s neither a negative or a positive. But taking all of this into account—it’s an inconsistent system, so when you do get those moments of pure exhilaration—those moments of pure skill—when you’re able to take everyone down in an effective and satisfying manner, is when this game makes me FEEL like Batma—a badass Jedi! In its peak form, there’s nothing like it.
Getting into the visual aspect of combat though… ehhhh. Don’t get me wrong, it’s improved a lot—there are many finisher animations that are substantially more violent and brutal—reflecting Cal’s mindset and skill level. But I also wish there was more of them for every stance, as opposed to Cal switching back to single during many of the finishers. This is when I started to realize just how… boring? Cal’s fighting style is. His animations aren’t anything special—mostly focused on slow swings. The dual stance is especially evident of this. It’s so stiff, it doesn’t look dynamic enough. I hate to compare two vastly different games, but Starkiller in The Force Unleashed had a much cooler move set with his stance. It felt faster, discernible, and had this perfect sheen of visual badass-ery that always made it look satisfying. Cal doesn’t have that, which is a big shame. I want to see more swirls. I want to see smooth and continuous attacks. I want to see a combat style that fits a fully fledged Jedi Knight/Master (in the next game). I am however glad to say that… dismemberment has made its way into the game. Fucking. Finally. Goddamn it… it’s cool as hell, it’s so gratifying. Although! I really hate to complain so much (I don’t), but it’s still not violent enough… heads don’t roll like they did in The Force Unleashed and it’s nowhere near as dynamic as it should be. Sometimes, arms and legs come off when the lightsaber doesn't even hit near the arms and legs… and that’s sorta clunky? And maybe I’m asking for too much (I definitely am), but it’d be rad as hell if you could cut entire bodies in half. I feel like that would genuinely work in the next game given Cal’s descent into the dark side.
And with all of this being said… I still enjoyed the combat.
Traversal has also gotten its fair share of improvements. It’s taken the form of a less tightly orchestrated DOOM Eternal, which I know—is a very strange comparison. Maybe it’s because I recently-ish played that? I mean it has your pole swings, and your grapple points, and your dashes, and your challenge arenas that force you to utilize all of those movement mechanics at once. And I feel like that’s not the most common combination of things you’d find in a game like this. But it certainly feels better. It’s more responsive. It’s more complex and thought provoking—since you’re forced to make split-second decisions in many instances—and if failed could lose you two/three minutes of progress (when you’re climbing a structure), which Fallen Order didn’t have much of. Since the planets (Koboh and Jedha) are generally bigger, you’re given mounts (I love these big fuckers so much). Not only do they allow you to travel through the world faster, they also open the door to a bunch of creatively designed puzzles; like using the height of a Spamel, the jump of a Nekko, or a Relter’s glide for specific collectables. And I like the effect this has on exploration. It’s a lot better than Fallen Order. You can do a lot of things in unique ways—“make your own solution” type-stuff. This is only possible because invisible walls aren’t too common (at least in my experience), meaning you can do things the way developers didn’t intend. I myself—on many occasions, cheesed collectibles by using a Nekko when I wasn’t supposed to, or used Relter’s to glide to places that I wasn’t supposed to go to. It was really captivating, it gives the game that extra layer of freedom and immersive-ness. When it comes to complaints… a big complaint I had with Fallen Order was Cal’s shit-induced running animation… and uh, it’s better, it's definitely better. But still not great… it looks like he’s 50% less likely to shit his pants, but that still leaves 50%, so it still looks like he’s going to shit his pants. Make a new animation Respawn, fucking please. I also wish the animations flowed into each other better; I need more momentum, I want to feel like an actual Jedi in the way that I move. I know it’s wrong to expect Spider-Man 2 levels of polish and fluidity, but it’s always frustrating going from a pole swing into a grapple point and watching Cal pause in mid-air for a millisecond before continuing. It’s a minor thing, but something that’s ever so slightly noticeable, and it sours the experience by a bit. If Spider-Man 2 is like Spider-Man 2, then Survivor is more like Marvel’s Avengers.
I was blown away by how deep and robust the customization was in Survivor. They’ve kicked it up a notch—and it was already fantastic in Fallen Order! It can’t be understated, this is some of—if not the best customization in a third person action adventure game, ever. It’s that good. There’s an abundance of components. You can customize your lightsaber—and all of its pieces, the polish of those pieces, the material, the angle of the vents, and the color. Even your blaster and all of its pieces. BD-1 gets the same treatment, you can now customize all of his individual parts—and again, the colors, the polish. And not only all of that, but Cal can now be fully customized; including his hair, beard, shirt, jacket, and pants. There are so many fucking options. You can now create the Cal that you want to create. He can be your Cal. Which is such a huge part of involving the player in this world; you can tailor everything to specific parts of the story, you can create an arc for him—in the way of his look. I can’t explain how plainly fucking cool that is… I can see people spending hours on the customization alone—I mean, I know I did. Now… I’m not saying there aren’t issues with it, or things that they could do to elevate it even further in the next game… because there are. For one, I don’t like the obsession with keeping customization items aligned within the story’s context… like how the reason they didn’t have any Jedi robes in Fallen Order was because they didn’t want Cal to stand out in the story—because he’s obviously in hiding, and to that I say… who the fuck cares? Why limit what you can include in the game because it doesn’t adhere to the story’s rules. I think there should absolutely be full-on Jedi robes in these games because that’s primarily what the Jedi wore. And that’s something that still isn’t present in this game, which is a big shame (imagine putting on Sith robes during the ending when Cal stands before a sunrise, how awesome would that be?). They took out Mantis customization—and even though it was barebones in the first game, it was something that I appreciated. I suppose the implication would’ve been to expand on it, so if they couldn’t make that work in time then it’s perfectly understandable. I have some suggestions for how they could’ve innovated even further; being able to customize the color of each saber, like you could in The Force Unleashed II. Or even the type of saber? As in; smooth and stable, unstable (Kylo Ren’s), swirly, thick (prequels), thin (originals), etc. These are the only routes they could really take in the next game.
Going back to Koboh and how it’s center-stage within Survivor. The side content, there’s a lot of it. I’ve already gone over the typical treasure, chests, databanks, etc. There are various High Republic tombs that you can find throughout the planet. The whole reason these exist—apart from giving that era and its characters more depth—is to give the player puzzles to solve. Which Survivor absolutely nails. One of my big complaints from Fallen Order was that the puzzles were dreadfully boring, felt ham-fisted—and on top of that, weren’t ample in their amount. These issues were completely resolved; they’re not boring (as there’s more moving pieces to consider—more mechanics to think about, most of which were given to BD-1 to actively involve him in the gameplay), the game commits to them as they’re an integral part of the gameplay experience, and there's also more than plenty—but not too many—walking that line perfectly. Some of them even temporarily stumped me, which is an oddly nice feeling because you can tell Respawn put a lot of effort into them. They all have this BotW element where it feels like you can complete them in creative ways—there’s obviously the intended way, but you can think outside the box and do it in a few different approaches. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like Tears of the Kingdom level of puzzle-solving freedom… like at all, but it’s somewhere in the same field… somewhere—it’s like a very, very, very distant cousin in that regard. Activities called fragmented memories are implemented—acting as either combat or movement challenges. These are rifts from God of War (2018)... This franchise can’t help but take tiny bits out of each popular game they come across—it’s not that big of a deal, just something I continue to find very funny. I’m excited to see what other acclaimed games they “take inspiration” from for the third game. The movement-based fragmented memories are fun. I like the concept of specifically designed challenge arenas taking every mechanic the game has been teaching the player up until that point, only to jumble them up into this weird hodgepodge—and dump them all out into this one tightly-knit level asking the player to overcome the challenge. It’s a shame they’re so easy, and that there aren’t more of them. I wish Respawn weren’t so afraid to go all out—to design more challenging… challenges. But not the combat ones, please! Those are plenty challenging. Almost too much? Bordering on unfair. Some of them are too tedious and gimmicky. Like two fucking rancors? Are you kidding me? That is plain and simple—a setup. Their animations are telegraphed weirdly, and the way in which they have aimlock for some of their attacks is infuriating. I’m proud of myself for beating them within an hour, on the hardest difficulty no less… I honestly consider that an achievement.
Most of the other side content comes in the form of Ramblers Reach. Which contains a cantina called Pyloon’s Saloon—owned by Greez. This is what I meant when I said Koboh acts as a hub. This is a fairly creative way to give the world and the people within it more depth. You can recruit all sorts of people and creatures from other planets into the saloon, usually by completing a little “quest” for them… or by talking, sometimes? It’s not anything special. But by the end of the game you can expect the place to be absolutely filled to the brim with a cast of mediocre personalities. There’s a DJ, a bounty hunter, a fisherman, a gardener, amongst plenty of others. The town itself passively adds to the world, but I wish there was more emphasis placed on actually developing and building upon it. Maybe something similar to Assassins Creed 2 would’ve given the base aspect that extra push to becoming something more innovative and investing; because as it is here, it feels more like an afterthought—a shallow pond, in what otherwise could’ve been a deep ocean. Imagine the town, firstly introduced as a desolate, dirty, run-down place; transforming into a lived-in, polished and clean home—through a money management system. I’m not saying it has to be some otherworldly deep mechanic, something along the lines of Monteriggioni in AC2 would’ve been fine, giving the game some of that cause and effect. There are however plenty of minigames and activities within the saloon, so I’ll highlight some of my favorites/interesting ones. Firstly, my favourite: holotactic. It basically serves as Dejarik—which is the game Chewbacca plays in A New Hope. You’re faced with several opponents on the board, which you then have to defeat by carefully “buying” your own team using a limited number of points, comprised of enemies from the base game. And this minigame isn’t hard, like at all… especially when you figure out the best enemy to use, which is the Hammer & Missiles Droid. Once I figured that out, every match was over in seconds; good balancing is missing big time… but it still manages to be a fun way to spend an hour to win all the matches. The farming activity isn’t one I like, but I can see the potential it has with the variety in plant life. Certain players can probably make their gardens look all colorful and unique, and that’s very cool! But it’s not for me. And finally, the bounties! I like the idea of Cal being a huge target in this era, so if that takes shape in bounty hunter form—I’m down. But again… these aren’t hard fights, if anything they’re all easily defeatable. And that’s even more evident when you consider that most of them are reskins of each other. All of the side content in Survivor is very half-assed. But I did love the moment when you had to go through a horde of them, in-universe—Cal is literally demolishing loads of these bounty hunters with two or three swings. It further adds to how much he’s grown. And obviously the Boba Fett cameo was awesome, since you get to talk to one of the best—most interesting bounty hunters in all of Star Wars. Does it add much? Not really. But I think Respawn have earned their one little cameo…
Any other “side content” is shown through NPC rumors. I’ve seen videos of people saying they’re a big fan of this system. And I honestly fucking hate it? Okay, that was a bit harsh, but it’s literally useless? These rumors act as nothing more than mouthpieces from the developers to inform the player that they haven’t explored a certain part of the map—which is obvious even without them! Just look on the holomap and you can see all the undiscovered sections. These aren’t side quests, they’re not dedicated set pieces, they’re an excuse to make you talk to a bunch of lifeless, annoying NPC’s, and to incentivize exploration. You can “meet” people in the world, and they’ll tell you they saw something in a certain part of the map—now, you can go there… but it’s not going to be any different than if you were to go there without talking to that NPC. It does nothing, I found this to be such a shallow aspect. And to make it even worse, the dialogue isn’t good. It’s generic, low effort, and sounds similar to those NPC’s in the LEGO games. Even Cameron Monaghan sounds like he doesn’t want to be there; he’s so monotone and awkward—which taints his otherwise brilliant performance. And there’s another useless mechanic here that persists throughout the entire game, which are the mind confusion dialogue options. I know the point is to ground you in Cal’s headspace, to make you aware that he can indeed do those things, but letting the player choose between two options does nothing—it changes nothing. It’s very surface level and has no benefit at all to being in the game. They could’ve had those moments integrated into cutscenes for the main story, or removed them entirely. It’s like a weird attempt at an RPG… which they completely failed at—expectedly, because they’re not even trying.
I know most of this review has been me going through various mechanics and gameplay elements. But I want to talk more about the story now that I’ve spoken about pretty much everything else in the game. And to actually preface this. I won’t be going through the story bit by bit like I did in my Fallen Order review, because there’s too much to dissect here—and if I were to do that… this review would probably be around 20,000 words—which is a bit much to me… and I don’t want to sound like a wikipedia plot summary more than I probably already have. So I’ll mainly be talking about very specific moments, characters—mostly, the planets/locations you uncover through the story, and the ending/act three as a whole.
So a big part of this game is the High Republic storyline, which is about 75%—if not more, of the story, and naturally, there’s quite a few characters involved in that part of the game. If you’re not familiar, The High Republic is an era in Star Wars that was set during the golden age of The Republic, meaning The Jedi Order was at its peak—and because of that, they were a lot more focused on spreading out throughout the galaxy as opposed to war or any major conflicts. And for more context, I love The High Republic, along with The Old Republic—I’ve never read any comics or books surrounding those eras, but my love for them mostly comes from the various characters I’ve seen in the games, along with videos I’ve watched—and obviously it’s cool worldbuilding, so there’s that. But the way this era takes form in the story of Survivor is a bit weird, to say the least. Firstly, it’s strange how Greez coincidentally happens to settle down on the one planet housing this whole High Republic mystery. Usually, coincidences don’t bother me that much, as I know they’re intrinsic to games, and to any medium, really. But it’s something I found funny, since all the events in the game wouldn’t have happened if he never landed on this one planet. More importantly, none of it is really necessary… for the story to make sense? You could replace Dagen with a random modern day Jedi and it’d play out almost exactly the same. It feels like The High Republic aspect was nothing more than a marketing stunt for the trailers, so that Star Wars fans would get all excited because “They’re finally doing something with The High Republic!”. I’m not saying this was the definitive reason it was included in the game, as I’m sure that’s not true… but I’m saying it feels like that’s the case; as the weight and severity of the situation is hardly ever brought up by Cal or any of the characters, it lacks focus and depth—thus failing to create a meaningful purpose to be in the game, and it doesn’t help that the characters within that part of the story are completely forgotten about after the ⅔ mark. Which is easily the game’s worst creative decision. It’s baffling to me that Survivor bothers to build these characters up for the majority of the game, only to kill them off in such a nonchalant way in order to focus on a much weaker villain—which is surprising because they were both already boring as fuck!
The two characters I’m referring to are Dagen and Rayvis. These two suck. Rayvis—isn’t as awful, he shares a few scenes with Cal and their back and forth is always entertaining to watch, not to mention his whole “warrior’s death” schtick, which is sort of reminiscent of Kraven in Spider-Man 2. The caricature of a fierce warrior wanting to go out in their own right—defeated by someone they deem worthy is always a fascinating way to deconstruct a villain, as long as they’re… constructed first. Sadly every time I’ve encountered one of these (twice), they’re a very small piece of the puzzle that isn’t given anywhere near the amount of attention they deserve. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if Rayvis was the main villain, maybe? I would’ve preferred that, it would’ve been something unique as opposed to another Jedi turned bad, because it’s been done three times now… in this franchise alone… which consists of two games. Like… dude? It’s not exactly the most original idea ever conceived, or even remotely close to that. And I get that it creates a parallel between Cal and Dagen, but is that really worth the predictability and trope-iness of it all? Not to me. I like that his final scene with Cal gives us yet another execution. These moments are always compelling in the way they’re framed. The final strike—shot like a classic samurai movie with Cal holding his stance for a few seconds after the kill. And this one was quite literally a request. I mean sure—Rayvis attacked, but he knew that the fight was over, and that slight moment of hesitation—ultimately followed by certainty from Cal—right before cutting his head off signifies something colder about him. And since this moment is very obstructed because of the age rating, the music does all the heavy lifting—telling the player how they’re supposed to feel… Shocked. Unnerved. Worried? This is clearly taking a toll on Cal. And he’s about to do it a couple more times! Only getting more and more indifferent to the action each time. Dagen on the other hand… is much worse. Him and Rayvis share a lot in common. And by that, I mean they’re both not given enough screen time along with being severely underdeveloped villains. But it’s a more serious issue with Dagen considering he’s supposed to be the main villain, as opposed to Rayvis who was a pawn of sorts. My biggest issue with Dagen is that he’s so disconnected from Cal. They share no chemistry—or many scenes for that matter. They don’t have a developed connection—hence, devoid of any substance. I wish more writers understood that conflict comes from characters, not plot. I wish they understood that you have to create and develop a direct connection between the protagonist and the antagonist. You can’t just make them share a single scene and then off they go! No. I need more there. I need more of a reason to care. Do they think I care about Tanalorr? I don’t. What I care about is Cal. What I care about is his connection to Dagen and how that makes him feel, and vice versa. How does Cal feel about finding a Jedi—who are all extinct—turn to the dark side right in front of him? Does he feel defeated? Is he affected? That’s one of his own, someone he could potentially connect with—relate with, since they both share similar ideals, and Survivor does nothing with that connection. The game presents no themes between the two except that they’re both succumbing to the dark side (likely not even intentional). It’s boring. And then he’s killed off during the second third of the game and completely forgotten about, never to be mentioned again (maybe once?). It’s such a lackluster ending to the supposed main villain of the story. But oh well! At least we got to see his kyber crystal bleed! And while that’s cool and all—since we’ve never seen something like that in a mainstream Star Wars project—it really shows where their priorities were… Survivor has a serious villain problem, which continues to persist with Bode in the third act, but I’ll talk about that later.
“There is beauty in emptiness.”
By this point Jedha (the planet from Rogue One) would’ve already been a fully explorable planet. And I… honestly love it? It might be my favourite planet in the whole franchise… I know! I know! What kind of drugs did I fuckin’ take to say something so outlandish and blasphemous??? Well, none, actually. I honestly, whole-heartedly, just absolutely adore this planet. And I know what I said earlier about hating barren environments… but Jedha feels different to me. Maybe it’s the vast emptiness that helps it stand out? Maybe it’s because that’s almost all that it is—giving it an actual identity… I’m not saying there isn’t anything of value, because there’s plenty of memorable places to explore; tombs, ancient temples, and a plethora of caves, but it manages to intertwine those sections around that vast emptiness so well, whereas Koboh really doesn’t. It’s visually stunning too; with windswept locales, expansive-never-ending vistas, dunes—creating this perfect encapsulation of everything a desert location has to offer. And I also like sand… But I generally had a much better time with the game once leaving Koboh. The story bits pertaining to this planet are always a sight to behold, reserved for those grander moments—of pure spectacle, thus becoming more engaging and fun. I’d say there’s two great examples of this. First, that huge escape leading into a mecha-crab-kaiju “fight” whilst flying around using Merrin’s weird teleportation abilities. It’s like I was back in God of War! (I love the little reference to Episode IV when Merrin kisses Cal, and he asks “Was that for luck?”... It’s a cool—albeit disturbing reference if you know the context… I even caught the Episode III reference when Cal said “Let’s take the high ground” on Koboh. (These moments had me going like this). But the kaiju scene? Oh man, big improvement over Fallen Order. Like I said earlier, this game has gone above and beyond in terms of graphical fidelity—meaning I could actually enjoy the scene without getting distracted by its uncanny-ness; the bird scene from Fallen Order is still seared into my brain from how abysmal it looked. The second example is that whole invasion segment. Going from a speeder chase, to a character-switch, to a boss fight with Darth fucking Vader. There’s so much variety in this small chunk of game. The catalyst that makes all of these events take place is Bode’s betrayal. He’s revealed to be working for The Empire, and it’s definitely a bit lackluster. I had it spoiled for me, so maybe that’s why? His character didn’t matter to me; his relationship with Cal up until this point was the very typical buddy-buddy, sarcastic, bromance thing—and it came off as very generic stuff. I will say that I really like his stance after he’s revealed to be a force user (shouldn’t Cal or Cere have sensed him though? I don’t know if Bode was strong enough to mask his presence, especially around Cere and Cordova), he gave off some major Starkiller vibes. He kills Cordova—who I also don’t give a single shit about—and actually, you’ll find that’s a common theme between me and most of the characters in this franchise. I don’t think anyone apart from Cal is developed at all, or they are—but in very non-naturalistic, forced ways, that make it very hard for me to be empathetic towards them. Playing as Cere was a really fun segment, it’s a nice change of pace since she’s drastically different from Cal in a lot of exciting ways. She’s much stronger, so mowing through hordes of enemies while bringing down entire ships onto the ground has never been as satisfying as it was here. And that moment leading into a boss fight with Vader was tense—although again, it was spoiled for me, so I saw it coming. I liked the fight, but it was a much more straightforward way of involving him in the story as opposed to how they did it in Fallen Order. They obviously wanted Cere’s death to make sense—so the only one strong enough to defeat her would of course be Vader, but the way in which it was done was plain, and underwhelming since I don’t care about her. I absolutely love how Cal gets a force echo of her death—as she dies in his arms… like fuck. I didn’t feel much, because again—the characters in this franchise aren’t that important to me, but Cameron Monoghan’s performance here definitely made it feel more powerful—even though the score completely overshadowed it. I think it would’ve been more impactful with some better sound-mixing, or if they made it a quiet scene with his cries being the only audible sound. This moment—but done right, is the opening scene of the game. The overly dramatic music was dope.
Funnily enough, I was going to write an entire paragraph on The Shattered Moon Base, but I have no notes for this one. This really hearkens back to what I said about Survivor having a different style of exploration/level design. The Shattered Moon is basically a story level, that’s all it really is. It has the basics; great visuals—with a distinct style—that’s not present in any of the other planets, some good platforming areas, and a few off-the-beaten paths that you can explore for cosmetics/upgrades. But it’s not a large place at all, and is certainly one of the weaker locations in the game. They could’ve done something with the gravity aspect, I imagine that would change up gameplay drastically—making it stand out among the rest of the planets. As it is here though, it’s more of the same and doesn’t offer anything new in terms of gameplay—I mean, this is where you get the cross guard stance so there’s that? But that’s not anything worthwhile.
Nova Garon is the next location that you go to after Bode’s betrayal. Yet again, it’s another story level—this time inside of a crystalized asteroid? That’s cool as hell, it’s a shame however that it’s another base-type location, which I’ve already explored to a ridiculous degree on other planets. So, again, it’s not anything new… but the story elements more than make up for it. This is where Cal’s dark side comes into play—where he really embraces it. There’s a moment where Cal tells a commander to turn off the base alarm, and he responds with “Or what? You’re a Jedi. I know what you’re capable of. And what you’re not”. I’m reciting this because it’s interesting how mistaken the commander really is… I love the attempt he makes to shoot him, only for Cal to effortlessly toss his blaster to the side, and to point his own blaster at him. To anyone else, this might just look like a threatening gesture to show that he’ll shoot him… but in truth, Jedi don’t use blasters… so that line from Denvik (the commander) juxtaposes who Cal is supposed to be, with who he actually is in the current moment. I thought that was a very subtle but nice touch to further emphasize how far from The Order—mentally—Cal really is. This is also where Cal gets a new special ability—which is basically force slow but powered with the dark side. And it replaces a lot of his moves and animations which is a great way to differentiate him from the light (cough something I wish Spider-Man 2 did cough). He’s visibly more aggressive; opting for lunge attacks and precise sweep-swings, force attacks are more devastating—force push causes more damage and pushes much further (still doesn’t disintegrate enemies like it did in The Force Unleashed—this isn’t a complaint, I just find it weird how differently these games depict the force), and force pull… now acts as force crush—not on humans, obviously—but on those huge droids that were treated as mini-bosses. That’s right, you pick them up and straight up crush them (similar to Luke in the S2 finale of The Mandalorian), leaving them looking like a scrunched up piece of paper. That’s so insanely badass. Not to mention how the confuse ability now kills weak minded enemies… Cal literally agonizes their minds resulting in death. That is… messed up… and I love it! Even the meditation spot background color changes from blue to red; and interestingly enough, it never changes back—even at the end of the game, further showing that Cal’s feelings are unresolved and will be a huge factor in the third game.
The final story level and planet that you can “explore” is Tanalorr. It’s very still and peaceful—complimenting that desire of having a home and being content, not worrying about war and conflict, something Cal desperately needs in his life right now. Light pinks and blues and purples—blending, working in tandem to create an image of serenity and beauty; with leaves swirling around in the air. It’s like this idyllic and mesmerizing painting resembling hope and pure tranquility. I love the colors a lot. An absolutely stunning and brilliant showcase of what Respawn can create within a planet—visually, but also how those visuals can translate to a really powerful message and story. And I think that’s sort of missing with most of the other locations in the game. Like I implied earlier, you can’t explore this planet. It’s a straight line towards the final boss of the game. And oh my god is that final boss hard. I don’t know why I struggled with him so much, but Bode was easily the hardest boss in the game. I interpreted Bode’s death as the final push Cal needed to really break. I think killing Bode utterly broke him—and I think he’s going to be reassembling those pieces over the course of the next game. It’s that moment of realization—Cal realizing… “I need to kill him”. I mean of course, Cal gives him every possible chance to surrender—even after everything Bode has done—after he indirectly killed Cere. And for Cal to offer him a hand is a testament to how strong-willed he is. But it isn’t enough… Bode was never going to recover, he was too far gone, and Cal knew that as soon as he pointed that blaster at him. Keep in mind, Bode’s weapons were gone; his lightsaber was thrown away and his blaster wasn’t working… so he wasn’t a threat, and Cal knew that… he knew that! And still took the shot. Not once… twice. The first shot was merely to disarm him (in the way of making sure he stays down so as to not try anything), as he then glances at Merrin for a second, before… pulling the trigger again. Almost as if he was seeking approval? Almost as if he was taking one last look at the person he loves before he becomes someone he’s not proud of. Survivor does such a brilliant job with the little things. I love those small unspoken moments when you can tell what a character is feeling without needing mindless exposition (something I wish modern Star Wars understood). He even looks defeated after he does it. He looks like Anakin when he cut Mace Windu’s arm off. Stumbling, in disbelief of what he’s done. After this, Cal and the crew take Kata with them, hinting at a potential parallel between her and Cal—dealing with the dark side—as her father did die right in front of her. Maybe that’ll create an interesting dynamic between the two in the next game (God of War vibes???). I also loved another little moment; when Merrin is talking with Kata in The Mantis, Cal enters the ship—only… from the shadows, as music swells with an extremely sinister undertone that made me realize how fucked up Cal will probably be in the third game… you love to see it.
“We will continue your legacy, Cere. We will build something that can outlast the Empire, I promise you that. I promise. But I’m scared. I almost lost myself. I don’t know if I’m ready. I don’t know if I’m ready for what comes next.”
The funeral scene is stunning. A timelapse of dawn, while Cal contemplates his past and future decisions, along with that fucking spectacularly orchestrated score… oh my god, please listen to this! “Through Darkness”... what an absolutely perfect name. I love the few notes you can hear towards the end of the track that are taken straight from Imperial March—I hate to sound like a broken record, but you know what that means..! And listen to the rest of the soundtrack too… all of it is some of the most breathtaking music I’ve ever heard across all of Star Wars. It’s something really special, and gives John Williams a run for his money. Stephen Barton and Gordy Haab did a phenomenal job.
So in conclusion… I did not like Bode as the final villain. He felt weak, and I wasn’t invested—apart from how it affected Cal. The evil side of him was introduced way too late, and it felt like the game was rushing towards the ending during the last hour. I strongly believe that either Rayvis or Dagen should’ve been the main and only villains. But apart from that, Survivor was a really good game! It had some weak links; such as the characters, most of the planets/locations, minor kinks with combat and exploration… and with plenty of technical issues that soured the experience by… quite a fucking lot, obviously. But overall? I had a really fun time and I’m eagerly anticipating the third game. I'm begging for Respawn to release it in a good state though. Please.
My heart goes out to Rick the Door Technician… we didn’t deserve him.
(This isn’t a part of the review). So if you’ve read this far—first of all, thank you, I hope you got something from it, but you also might’ve noticed that this review was a bit shit? There are a few reasons for that. So after finishing the game, I kinda sat on it for about two weeks—and during that time I lost a lot of motivation to write and express my thoughts in general—but more specifically about this game, since I was having personal issues. And then I decided to start it, but I almost forced myself to start it? So it might feel aimless a lot of the time. And it might be really, really, really simple. I tried! But I also pretty much gave up on it halfway through, and then still forced myself to finish it because I had already put so much time into it. I was burnt out because this review was the only thing I was doing every day (in regards to playing games/writing game reviews), but I’m definitely going to start playing more games after this one! And writing more reviews! And releasing them at a better pace too! So yeah, I’m not exactly proud of this one. The structure is all over the place, too much of it reads like a plot synopsis (which I hate), and I also feel like I didn’t have much to say about certain aspects in Survivor which is why it might sometimes read like I’m bored (during the ⅔ point). But yeah next up will be a review on Uncharted 2! It’ll be a short/medium-ish one too since I don’t think Uncharted 2 is the most complicated game of all time or anything, and hopefully that’ll end up being good.
Playtime: 55.3 hours
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