Spring Cleaning 2021

I just wrapped up the spring semester last week, and as usual, it was a bit hectic. I’d planned on keeping up with these posts, especially because I’ve recently played some games that I had lots of thoughts about, but ‘twas not to be. So, given that two of my most anticipated games of the year are coming out this week and next (Resident Evil Village and Mass Effect Legendary Edition), I figured I’d do a spring cleaning, as it were, and just jot down some brief thoughts about the many games I’ve played since my last post. These aren’t even all of the games, actually. I’ve continued to play Ghost of Tsushima and Minecraft with friends, I played a bunch of VR games with my family, and I’m finishing up a platinum trophy run of Arcade Spirits on PS5 since I picked it up on sale and was itching to replay it anyway. It’s been fun seeing the other romance options, but Naomi is still #1 bae. I just read that the sequel, Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers is coming out early next year, so my hype for that will slowly be rising. Anyway, let me stop jabbering and get to… more jabbering.

Life is Strange 2

When I saw the trailer for Life is Strange: True Colors in March, I was reminded that I’d never gotten around to the second game in the series. I played and loved both the first game and Before the Storm, and I’d purchased LiS 2 in a sale, but I just never played it. Given that I’m writing this, I think you can guess that I ended up giving it a shot. Wouldn’t that be the worst twist? Write out a whole prelude about how I’ve been meaning to play each of these games and then just move on. No, no. I did play it, and I mostly really liked it. It follows the same formula of the previous two games, including having your character keep a journal. Where Max was big on snapping photos in the first game, our new protagonist, Sean, will find a quiet place to sit and sketch his surroundings, which you do several times throughout the game. You also collect little trinkets and sometimes if you investigate something in the environment while you’re exploring, Sean will write about it or add a little sketch to the journal. I love these kinds of charming details in these games. It goes a long way in developing these characters and complicating the story that is more directly told via dialogue and cutscenes.

There was a lot I liked about the game, but my main complaint has to do with just how much of a bummer the story was. I wouldn’t hold that against it in an objective review. Some of my favorite stories are tragedies. I think the game says some serious and important things about timely issues, like racism, the US justice system, homelessness and more. And I think it handles those issues pretty well. But, I tell you what, it makes for a depressing ride. The narrative structure is what I’ve come to call “tiered tragedy.” I don’t know if that’s a real phrase, but I couldn’t get it out of my head as I was playing it. The other games in the series might also be called tiered tragedies, as would something like The Walking Dead. In these kinds of narratives, our characters never seem to catch a break. There is a tragedy at the very beginning of the story (a popular girl goes missing, a father is killed, a zombie apocalypse), and our characters are ushered from one tragedy to the next, seemingly endlessly. They can never really catch a break, because any time they find some time to rest or begin to rebuild their lives, the narrative structure demands that they encounter a new tragedy, probably worse than the others. In LiS 2, this meant that no matter how hard I tried to make Sean a good brother, an honest survivor, a heroic figure, I seemingly just kept being punished for it. And, like I said, I wouldn’t say that this makes it a bad game. It just left me feeling kind of defeated in the end. There is no “happy” ending, as I verified by looking them up after I finished the game and got a pretty sad ending. Turns out it was one of the better ones. There is definitely a place for stories like this in games, though, and that sense of hopelessness may very well have been a part of the point of the game. These characters, Sean and Daniel, are not only burdened with being Hispanic during a time in the US when a violent, vocal minority despises them, they’re further  marked by this new tragedy that makes them orphans, criminals, and transients. What kind of life do they have ahead of them, even with the “happiest” of endings? But, again, maybe that’s part of the point. It’s hard to succeed and overcome tragedy when the system fails you again and again.

Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas was another game I’d been meaning to play for quite some time. “Some time” being, uh, just over a decade. Jesus. When “newer” games on your backlog are ten years old, you know with some certainty that you’re getting old. Sigh. Anyway, I absolutely loved Fallout 3 when it came out, and I spent many an hour scouring that game’s fictional Washington DC/Virginia wasteland. I collected every bobblehead, did every single mission I could find, and squeezed every ounce I could out of the story and world. So, playing New Vegas seemed like a no-brainer. I was a little worried that it was being developed by Obsidian, which by that time I’d only known as the developer of the very good but very buggy Knights of the Old Republic II, so when the reviews for New Vegas started coming out and reviewers complained about the many bugs, I grew even more worried. I hated the idea that I might encounter a game breaking bug 20 hours in. My friend, Ron, did play it at launch, and he reported that he encountered something very much like that. So I put the idea aside and told myself I’d come back to it after it was patched. And I did! Plus… an extra decade.

Anyway, let’s get to the game already. Like Fallout 3, this was a huge game, and I spent a lot of time with it. I didn’t quite exhaust every side mission and collect every snow globe, but it was pretty close. I started playing on my old PS3, but I ran into some technical issues with it so I switched over to playing it via PlayStation Now on my PS5, and near the end of the game I was plagued by some very annoying hitching. Between that and the encroaching release of Resident Evil Village, I sort of rushed through the final stretch of the game. When I started, though, I was at first a little put off by the graphics. Well, not the graphics. The movement. The game seemed very dark, and there was a certain amount of motion blur that made me feel… odd. I’d never run into that in a game before. I turned the brightness up and decided to press on, and I’m glad I did. As soon as I began doing quests for the townsfolk in the opening area, I could sense that same magic that I’d loved about Fallout 3. Roaming the desert, helping friendly strangers, sticking it to the scum that would take advantage of the less fortunate, stumbling upon stories and relics from people that died long ago in the war or shortly after.

This game, more than the other two I’ve played, really plays up the concept of factions and their conflicting motivations. There were so many factions, major, minor, and even medium, and I truly had a difficult time choosing how to deal with some of them. I supported the NCR from the beginning, but I found myself trying to be at least somewhat diplomatic with the other factions so that they wouldn’t stand in my way at the final battle with Caesar’s Legion. Sometimes that meant actually helping them out, and sometimes that meant killing or ousting the current leadership and inserting someone who was easier to influence. It was much more complicated than I expected, but I appreciated it. The final battle could have been a little more engaging, but overall I loved this game, as I could have guessed I would. Oh, and for my primary companion, I went with Veronica as much as I could. Who doesn’t want Felicia Day following them around, punching heads off and quipping wise? As for my second companion, I switched pretty regularly between ED-E and Rex, a very good boi.

Emily is Away ❤

I was looking forward to this game from the minute Kyle Seeley, its developer, announced it. I loved the first two games in the series, Emily is Away and Emily is Away Too, in part because of how they tapped so directly into my nostalgia by taking place entirely in AOL Instant Messenger chat windows. The third game takes place in a fictional version of Facebook (Facenook) in 2008. Setting aside, the game’s narrative plays out just as the previous two did, via a series of chats with other characters. I named my character after myself, selected the pixelated profile picture that looked most like me (which wasn’t very close at all – I’d love future installments to allow actual character creation, but given that one dude makes these, I doubt it will happen), and jumped in, ready to find love… I hoped.

I don’t want to spoil much of the story, but I will say that I liked the writing a lot. The interactions seem very real and believable, and there were so many scenarios that seem ripped straight from my early years on social media. It’s what these games are really good at. They simulate memories that I’d nearly forgotten all about. There is something exciting and visceral about flirting with these virtual characters, in part because they stimulate real feelings I once had doing that exact thing. Unfortunately, as with the other two games, warm and fuzzy flirtation isn’t the only mood the game simulates. As I said, I won’t spoil anything, but there are several endings, and after my first playthrough I was bawling. I was hurt, and it felt a little too real. Just as with the happy emotions, I was all too familiar with the sad feelings of distrust, inadequacy, rejection, and abandonment.  I felt like I’d done everything right, and yet things just didn’t turn out my way. And that was the most painful part, I think, because that’s the kind of thing that goes through your head when a real relationship falls apart. In both cases, I was left looking back and wondering what I did wrong. Maybe if I’d done this different or said that another way… but that kind of thinking, as it is in real life, changes nothing. You have to move on. So I did. My second playthrough ended much, much better. Fuck Emily. Evelyn 4 ever. That should be the next game’s title.

Peggle 2

I don’t have much to say about Peggle 2. I played and loved the first game, and this entry is more of the same. The concept seems so simple, but there is a surprising amount of skill involved. Yes, you basically just launch a ball into a screen of pegs and hope for the best. But once you start getting the hang of it, you begin to see better and better ways to aim your ball, resulting in awesome chain reactions that result in those oh-so-satisfying endings that the series is known for. The new Peggle Masters are just as cute and charming as the first game’s, with Luna being my clear favorite. So spooky and cute. These games are old and I decided to play this one for the first time on a whim, but I do wish PopCap had churned out a couple more over the years.

Tender

Tender is an iOS game that simulates the dating app Tinder. You eventually learn that you are a human that’s travelled to an alien planet in search of… love? Maybe? You swipe through a variety of quirky, hand-drawn aliens, each with a short bio. These profiles aren’t as expansive as real dating profiles, but you see some familiar lines and attitudes. If you match with someone, you chat with them in much the same way as you do in Emily is Away. You choose between 2-3 dialogue options, and then tap your phone to pretend to type it out. If your conversation sparks interest, the other person (?) proposes a date, which you schedule in real time, meaning you have to actually pick up your phone and virtually meet the person at the time and date that you selected. If you forget, they understandably get pissed. It’s a very cool and interesting concept, and there is lots of cool and unique artwork in the game, but ultimately I walked away feeling underwhelmed. Part of the reason for this was that, of the eight or nine characters I chatted with, none of them went particularly well. What’s worse is, apparently the game asks for the name of your real life ex at some point (which I had forgotten and had to be reminded of by Tab, the friend who recommended the game) and it introduces them as one of the characters you can swipe on and romance. Not realizing this, I thought the name was a coincidence and swiped right on her. I then had to virtually chat and romance (and, ultimately, try and fail to reject) my ex. Not cool, man.

Layers of Fear

I love horror movies and games, but something the two share is that there are plenty of crappy releases of each. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, because there are some people who voraciously consume any and all horror, regardless of quality, and more power to them. I just don’t have the time to check everything out, and some of the bad stuff is, like, annoyingly bad. So, I was I hesitant to try Layers of Fear until I heard Brittney Brombacher recommend it on the What’s Good Games podcast. I’ve listened to that podcast enough to know that Brittney’s tastes pretty closely align with mine, so I figured I would give this game a shot.

While it does have the hallmarks of B level horror (less-than-stellar voice acting, cheap scares, weak writing), it also plays around with environment and expectations in some cool ways. I really like when horror games mess with perspective, perception, and other visual components. It’s why I loved Eternal Darkness on the GameCube so much, and why I’ve wanted them to make a sequel. LoF starts out as a pretty standard spooky-mansion game, then devolves more and more into an exploration of nightmare imagery. While I did appreciate the mind-bending visual puzzles, I was also a little sad that the story was told in an unsatisfying way, seemingly in service of the visual spooks. Where the story ended felt very different than where it began, so I almost wonder if they had given us more chances to revisit the mansion in its original state, knowing what we know later in the game, if the story’s conclusion would have felt more grounded. Maybe none of this makes sense if you haven’t played the game, but I’m trying to avoid spoilers, since this game is a mystery, too.

Sakura Succubus

I was tipped off to this game by that same friend, Ron, from the famed New Vegas blurb (above). “Play it and tell me how it is,” he said. Fine. I’ll play the erotic hentai game. For you. For friendship. Okay, so maybe it’s for friendship and maybe it’s because I’ve played a few other sexy-type games. Either way, I played it and was mostly disappointed. It’s rated M, but it’s hardly all that scandalous. It’s suggestive, at best, and despite the game’s tagline of “There’s no shortage of women to woo!”, there are only three. Three women to woo. If that’s not a shortage, it’s gotta be pretty close. I mean, granted I am single, so three women is a surplus to me, but in terms of a fantasy dating sim/visual novel, I’d count three as a shortage.

I didn’t hate this game, because it did have a few funny lines and some of the art was pretty decent. But that’s about all I can say about it. The reason I tend to avoid many visual novels is that they rely almost exclusively on two things: writing and art. There are rarely any gameplay systems or puzzles or even very much in the way of animation. They’re mostly static images and text, so if those elements aren’t interesting, impressive, or engaging, I get bored very quickly. This is where my main issue with this game lies. It has an interesting enough premise, and some of the static images are cool, but there isn’t very much variety in terms of different character poses, expressions, or minor graphical variations, and the writing is pretty bad. I don’t always like to criticize writing in games, because it’s historically been less than impressive to begin with, but the writing in this game contains the kinds of things they tell you not to do in writing classes and workshops. You’ll click through a scene, then the next scene begins with your character waking up and walking you through what you just did. Like “My memory’s a little hazy, but I remember talking with that sexy lady at the bar, and I followed her back to her place where she seduced me, and then I…” We just did that! Why do me need a recap! There is also a lot of unnecessarily elevated adjective work. It’s one of those things they try and break in novice writers. If you mean “face,” you should probably just say “face.” Put the thesaurus down. No one calls it a “visage” anymore. I’ll end on a positive note and say that this was the easiest platinum trophy I’ve ever gotten, though. I literally just clicked through a story for a couple of hours and *badoop* Platinum Trophy Unlocked.

Resident Evil Extravaganza (Resident Evil 0, Resident Evil Code: Veronica, Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil Village Demos)

In a previous post, I mentioned that I’ve recently felt like I could revisit old games without feeling like I was wasting my time (thanks, anxiety). Because of that, I decided to go back and finally, finally finish Resident Evil 0, the only mainline game in the series I haven’t finished. I’d started it twice and never got past the first or second boss, respectively. I think part of it was that I wasn’t a fan of switching characters frequently or the new inventory system, so for this run I decided to use a guide and lower the difficulty to easy. I probably could have just stuck with normal because it ended up being very easy with the guide, but I was able to blaze through the game and I’m glad I finally played it.

One of the things that really struck me about this entry was just how gorgeous it is. I played the HD remaster, sure, but the graphics were only scaled for HD, not reproduced. The move to fully 3D environments in Resident Evil 4, which came out right around the same time as this game, meant a sacrifice of highly detailed, pre-rendered backgrounds for more free mobility and camera movement. It was a good choice, to be sure, but there is something very cool about such an old game looking so good. At the time of those games’ release, gamers were pretty insistent on games being fully 3D, gorgeous, and highly realistic. Tides have changed since then, though, and I wonder if Capcom could get away with releasing an old school, pre-rendered-style ­Resident Evil game. Not a mainline entry, because people would probably lose their shit, but a throw-back side story. These screenshots don’t really do the game justice, but the lighting, shadows, and particle effects were especially impressive. The little leech eggs looked so gross and gelatinous and cool! A weird thing to get excited about, maybe, but you weren’t there. You had to see them in all of their jiggly, glistening glory.

Beauty aside, I did end up liking this one. It, like RE4, is where the series really starts getting into some of the batshit melodrama that would climax in RE6, but it also had a lot of fun stuff from the original games, like shuffling zombies, zombie dogs, big, creepy mansions, and more. Plus, it stars Rebecca Chambers, who I was always hoping to see more of after her brief appearance in the original game. She isn’t always given the same love as the other series mainstays, but I really hope she turns up again soon. Maybe Chris really will turn into a werewolf in Village, as Capcom has been teasing (probably misleading), and then he’ll attack Ethan and we’ll be like “no way!” but then right before he chomps his face, a huge syringe will plunge into his shoulder, and the camera will cut over to Rebecca, who will tilt her glasses down and say “who’s the Alpha now?” Because, you see, she was STARS Bravo Team, and Chris was STARS Alpha team… never mind, let me move on.

After having such a good time with 0, I had a hankering to play Resident Evil 4, even though I’ve played through it several times on both the GameCube and the Wii. It was… uglier than I remember, heh. Where 0’s HD makeover highlighted the benefits of static backgrounds (more processing power available to render the 3D models and other things), RE4’s makeover made some things look better (character models), but some things remained very muddy (environmental textures). It was still great fun, though. I remembered, as I was playing, how exciting and different this entry felt when I first played it. I was also reminded of how Capcom ran with some of the more action-oriented aspects of the game with RE5 and RE6, though. Some of the shooting and the action was fine, but what I liked about RE4 was less those elements and more exploring a spooky village and then an elaborate, deadly castle. Sound familiar? As long as there aren’t too many roundhouse kicks in Village, I’m hoping it takes the best elements of RE4 and RE7.

Deciding to stick with my Resident Evil kick, I chose to play through Resident Evil – Code: Veronica X, since I barely remembered it after playing it a little on a friend’s Dreamcast, and then all the way through when it first came out on the PlayStation 2. I remember thinking it was okay but not great back in the day, but I’ve since seen so much love from some corners of the RE fandom that I was convinced I must have been missing something. I mean, I like Claire a lot, so it is cool that she has (mostly) her own game, but after replaying it now I think my feelings are about the same. I began to get annoyed at having to backtrack in the last half of the game, especially with the annoying moths, who would not only poison me, but also force me to stop and endure the injection animation. This game did introduce semi-fully 3D environments, though. Partially-3D, I guess? So it was visually impressive for its time, but it didn’t have the brand-new excitement of the very different RE4, and it also didn’t retain the same retro-feeling magic of RE0. Plus, there are some very overt issues with gender, which was a little cringey. So, this is certainly on the lower end of my list of Resident Evil games, but I wouldn’t say I didn’t like it. It had enough REzzy charm for me.

And, of course, I have been playing the Resident Evil Village demos as they’ve been made available. I didn’t make it through the Village demo the first time I played it, even though I was trying to be pretty efficient and not linger too much on gawking over the beautiful environment. I made it through the Castle demo a time and a half on my first run, though, but much of that showed up in the MAIDEN demo so it wasn’t quite as exciting. With the 60 minute demo of both sections, I was able to make it through all of both areas. I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to say later, after I’ve played the actual game (out tomorrow!), so I’ll just leave you with some of the screenshots I took of the demos. I’ll be playing Village all weekend, so get ready for a big ol’ post about that soon, too!

I was obsessed with this corner. Look at how the light lands differently on the cloth of the curtain, the wood from the wall, and the metal of the gun. *heart eyes emoji*
More *heart eyes emoji*
Is this a Deftones album cover?