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    Mar 27th, 2018 at 21:21:29     -    Here They Lie (PS4)

    I'm not quite done with the game yet, but I feel like I must be close. The story elements are ramping up, the environment has changed drastically, and something big feels like it must be coming. My concerns about finding answers are even larger, now. I've received very few answers, and a lot more things are happening that can only be described as psychedelic. It sort of feels like a cheap trick by the game in an attempt to scare me, but it's only ever unsettling instead of actually frightening. A large part of this is just because I don't truly understand what's going on. All kinds of themes are being brought up, though: drug use, failed relationships, death and the afterlife, figuring out one's purpose and reason for living, etc.

    The first few playthroughs of the game I struggled to see how I could approach it critically through an ethical lens. This playthrough, however, completely got rid of that difficulty. One particular scene was gruesome and difficult to play, and I'm still not entirely sure what its purpose was in the game. You enter a theater where a play is about to start. It won't start, however, until you get on stage. As soon as you do, a spotlight lights up the stage and a body falls from the ceiling, hanging from a noose. You have the option to go up to the body and help him out of the noose. As soon as you do, however, another body drops, and another. I spent more than 5 minutes freeing body after body, but there didn't seem to be an end. I finally gave up and just watched the bodies fall until the stage was full, and then it stopped. I felt horrible as if I hadn't done enough to try and save these people. I'm not sure the game would have allowed me to save them all, though, or if it would have just gone on endlessly until I let enough people die.

    The ethicality of that scene is most definitely questionable. What was the purpose behind it? Did it have a purpose besides creeping the player out? If it was meant to convey some kind of message, what was it? Just that the player was a bad person? And if that's the case, why is that a valid message, and how does it tie into the overall theme of the game, if at all? Hopefully the ending of the game can answer these questions as well.

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    Mar 27th, 2018 at 00:40:35     -    Here They Lie (PS4)

    I'm a good chunk further into the game now, and I can definitely say that I am the target audience for this game. I'm a sucker for mysteries stacked on top of mysteries, and so far this game is offering that in spades. I worry that the game is offering up more questions than it has answers, but hopefully the game proves me wrong.

    The game has mellowed out a bit, creepiness wise. It's still scary, but in much more of a suspenseful, something-could-be-around-that-corner type of way instead of the jump scare, creepy imagery way that the game started off. Personally, I prefer that, as it allows the players' minds to fill in the gaps and make things even creepier. The art direction for the game is phenomenal. At first, I thought the very muted, grayscale color palette was a result of limitations, but it's definitely not. The art style makes the world dark and somber and devoid of life, which is a big theme in the game so far. The environment itself is fabulous and is rich with environmental storytelling. Subtle narrative clues, such as the environmental storytelling, are the main way that the game is getting across the story and I think it's an incredibly effective way to do so. The game also does audio logs, but they're purposefully vague and confusing, and it's the environmental storytelling that actually gets across what is happening in this world. For example, in one small alleyway, I found a newspaper lying on the ground with a headline that answered one of my biggest questions in the game. It felt like the game was rewarding me for playing it in the appropriate way, which was really nice.

    The other thing the game does a superb job at is directing the player throughout the environment. There is no map, no mini-map, no in-game directions of on-screen guides. Instead, the game uses light, color, and sound to guide the player to specific areas. The sound one is especially effective for me. Anytime I started to feel like I was lost, the sound of children giggling or a ringing phone would lead me in the right direction. It was also intensely creepy, which helped heighten the atmosphere in the game. The sounds were never random, however, but instead tied into an action I was supposed to do or a snippet of the narrative that I would uncover. It made the game world feel natural and real and allowed me to become much more immersed, which in turn made me more invested in the game world.

    I did die for the first time during this play session, which was fascinating (and more than a little horrifying). The death screen itself became part of the narrative. Instead of just having a static "game over" screen, the game instead offers the player a hint into what is truly going on before it starts them over in a previous location. I've never seen this done before, and because the game already has strong themes about death and the afterlife, it felt completely ludonarratively accurate.

    There were a few small issues I had, mainly with gameplay controls, but nothing too serious. I am still worried about the game's ability to answer the questions it's raising, but this play through gave me a little more hope that the game knows what it's doing and has the answers ready for me. Guess I'll see.

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    Mar 26th, 2018 at 00:47:28     -    Here They Lie (PS4)

    (So just a quick heads-up: I downloaded this game before I realized it was built for VR, and I don't have PSVR, so I'll be playing this game in just regular, non-VR mode. Hopefully, that doesn't change the experience too much.)

    From the outset, I can tell that this game was designed for VR. I only played for about 40 minutes today, but you can tell that the environments of the game were designed for people with a headset on. It's an environment that requires players to have full access to a 360-degree view and often requires frequent panning back and forth between different spots in the environment. This is probably much easier with a headset on (you can just turn your neck), but it's not too bad with just a controller. The game wastes no time in throwing you into the story, and then it wastes very little time after that attempting to creep the player out. It worked for me, especially the use of audio. The scene that takes place on the train is grating and tense and nerve-wracking, in large part because of the constant metal-on-metal grinding screech that overplays the entire scene.

    The little of the story presented so far (mainly the character of Dana and the presence of demonic, ethereal beings that seem to chase the player) is intriguing, but in a way that I'm worried about. It seems to be headed in the type of direction that raises a lot of questions and answers very few of them. I've heard the game is very short (roughly 4 hours), so I hope the game answers these large questions instead of just piling on new ones. The purpose of the game is unclear right now, but I almost feel like the purpose of the game is to figure out the purpose of the game. There's obviously at least a small mystery going on (who is Dana, what is your backstory with her, and why were you separated from her?), but the even more interesting things aren't (seemingly) related to Dana at all. These things, such as the ethereal demons, a lone Ferris wheel, and other seemingly random images point to a larger, more interesting mystery that I hope is solved.

    At this point in the game, however, it's got me hooked. It's creepy, interesting, and more than a little unsettling. The music is great, and the art style and direction of the game is fantastic. The colors of the environments especially drive home the point of horror. The controls were frustrating at first (mostly because there were none), but I'm getting the hang of it. I'm definitely interested in what's to come.

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    Feb 14th, 2018 at 01:29:20     -    Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (PS4)

    I almost exclusively spent my time this play session (around 1.5 hours) doing all of the available missions to free slaves in the surrounding areas. In my past couple of play sessions, I had freed the slaves because I felt morally obligated to, but I didn't see how freeing them helped me at all besides earning a (relatively small) amount of experience. However, when I freed another camp of slaves at this beginning of this play session, I unlocked a wide series of slave-rescuing missions and discovered that rescuing slaves put me in their good graces, and by rescuing more I could unlock intel about leaders in Sauron's army. I was much happier to discover that doing something that the game presents as morally good was actually rewarding in a significant way (does that make me a bad person, that I only really want to do the things that the game's ethical framework say are good if I'm being compensated in a large enough way? Probably).

    Another interesting thing I discovered is that the orcs and uruks will have conversations with each other if you eavesdrop on them. The fascinating thing is that the conversations generally aren't boring and inconsequential; instead, they're about the power struggle in Sauron's army and how they feel about their direct superiors. Occasionally, after I'd fought with some of them, some of them would even discuss me and my prominence among the gossip circles. It was cool to feel like the game world was moving constantly, even if I wasn't doing anything. Having this living, breathing game world made it feel so much more real, and that just increased the impact of the story throughout the game (if the world feels real, then the slave within it are, in some sense, real). This whole system was especially enjoyable because the actual main campaign/storyline isn't particularly interesting or nuanced, but the Nemesis system and the way that the characters interact with it has more than made up for it, in my opinion.

    Speaking of, the Nemesis system is the meat and bones of this game, and it's clear to me now why the game won Game of the Year at GDC. Navigating the political nature of Sauron's army, figuring out who to kill and who to target next, gathering intel on your opponent's weaknesses and strengths and how best to defeat them... it's a fascinating, unique approach to gameplay that I didn't expect to find in a LotR game. I think it's interesting to think how similar systems could be used in other genres to great effect. I mean, come on, now I just want to play a House of Cards game with a Nemesis system in place.

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