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    Alien: Isolation (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Dec 13th, 2018 at 21:20:38)

    Holy moly I am terrified of the xenomorph. I hide in lockers. It rips the door off and eats me. I hide under tables. It eventually spots me and eats me. I creep around a corner. It also creeps around the corner and it eats me. I open a door. It is casually walking by and oh hey it eats me. I turn the difficulty down from hard to medium and learn how to use the scanner, which detects movement. It eats me less. I startle a human in the med bay. He shoots at me. The alien eats him. An NPC has spent more than three minutes with me. The alien eats them. I'm fiddling with re-wiring. The alien eats me. I'm reading a computer screen. The alien eats me. I'm saving my game...the alien eats me.

    The alien does not care what you want or what you do. All it wants to do is kill you, and it will succeed because it is a perfect life form. I cannot play this for more than a couple hours at a time because my nerves can't handle it. I haven't used any items yet except melee weapons and medkits, but I've been crafting them as I become full of supplies--flashbangs, smoke bombs, pipe bombs. I'm sure these will come in handy in the future. But for now, I'm just trying to find a trauma kit to patch up my crew mate who, let's face it, is going to die one way or another. The alien will probably eat her...as I'm applying the medkit.

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    Thomas Was Alone (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Dec 11th, 2018 at 16:31:55)

    Short game, clocked just about 3 hours. It had potential to be longer and more complex. As is, I enjoyed this oddly calming puzzle platformer, never felt too challenged, and at the same time as some tricks were getting old and tedious to perform (stacking characters to reach higher), new ideas were being introduced that felt only partially explored (e.g., the color fields). It has a clever little story about Thomas and other AIs in a mainframe liberating the AIs. It's well voiced, and I was surprised how much personality could be given to featureless colored cubes. One was curmudgeonly, one was a liar, another wanted to be a superhero, two were falling in love, and Thomas was proud of his jumping abilities. The chuckle-worthy script and cheeky British narrator reminded me of Portal 2 and The Stanley Parable.

    As for the gameplay, you guide colored blocks to where they need to go. The blocks have different abilities. Thomas is a good jumper, and you later meet a yellow block that is even taller and a better jumper. The purple block can double-jump. The red-orange one can bounce other blocks. The blue one can float in water. The little orange block just seems like a liability, and it's no wonder he's curmudgeonly. Later on, there are "color fields" that change the color of the gray blocks that pass through them. All these different abilities and block sizes are manipulated to get each block to a specific spot on each level, which clears the level. There are some obstacles like spikes and moving platforms, but like I said before, it is really relaxing for a puzzle platformer.

    I enjoyed the music, which sounded like distorted instrumental post-rock like Explosions in the Sky with some chiptunes bleeps and bloops thrown in. But it did loop over and over and over. Variety would have been cool. The game also reminded me a lot of Ibb and Obb, particularly the latter bits with the red and green blocks with opposite gravity working together. One criticism is the character selection interface. You use the number keys to select characters, which are represented as colored squares in a row on the bottom-right of the screen. There should have been small "1", "2", etc. on the character icons because when you have 8 blocks on a level (and in the later levels most of them are gray, which just leads to a long gray bar instead of individually identifiable block icons), it's really hard to glance down and know which number will select the block you want. The levels are short and the blocks change order from level to level, so it's not like you can memorize "yellow is always 5" or anything like that. Yellow will be 5 on on level, 1 on the next level, 3 on the next level, etc. There was a lot of unnecessary number pressing trying to cycle and select the block I wanted to control.

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    The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess (Wii)    by   dkirschner       (Dec 6th, 2018 at 21:52:45)

    Finished! Sort of...I got frustrated and watched cut scenes for the last few dungeons. But finished! Okay so, overall, this was a game that felt like work to play. I occasionally lost myself in a couple of the great dungeons, but more of my time felt spent in tedium. A couple immediate factors leading to this feeling:

    1. Poor instruction and instructional timing for some new items. I remember when I unlocked the water bombs. I saw a lake, dove down, was excited to see destructible rocks, went to select the bombs and...they were grayed out. Why? Hmm. Maybe you don't actually place the bombs while in the water, but drop them from shore and the special thing about these bombs is that they explode in water. I could drop them from the shore, but they blew up long before reaching the rock. Hmm. I later saw on a walkthrough that you have to put the iron boots on first to use water bombs. That doesn't make sense to me. Why can't Link use bombs while swimming, or while standing on the bottom of a lake in normal shoes?

    Another one that happened tonight was using the dominion rod to make the statue use its sword in the Temple of Time. The game doesn't tell you you can do this, and soon after gaining control of the statue, it got seemingly stuck between a gate and a ledge. I couldn't move it. I did everything I could think of and, not wanting to save and exit (more on that soon), I consulted the walkthrough, which said you have to use the rod on the statue a second time to make it attack. Why would I think to use the rod on the statue a second time?! I already control the statue. The game doesn't tell you these hot tips that are necessary to your progression and saw me wasting a lot of time trying to figure out something that I should have been told.

    Yet another one tonight is when I learned (again from a walkthrough) that you can use the claw to pick up shells of a particular enemy type. I missed doing it in a room to get the Big Key for the Temple of Time and, long story short (explained below) quit in frustration. There is no reason for me to assume the claw would bring that object to me when it has never brought an object to me in 20 hours of play with the claw. The claw grapples to environmental objects like grates and moss for platforming purposes. I've tried to grapple other things that would seem to make sense and it never does it. I missed that key, escorted the statue all the way down 8 floors of a dungeon, opened the path to the dungeon boss, and came up against...a locked door that required a Big Key. I turned the game off, made food, and turned it back on after I ate.

    2. But what happens in Twilight Princess when you're in the Temple of Time dungeon and you save and quit after you've escorted the statue? Why, aside from the statue and the gates you happened to smash with it, the dungeon resets itself! All the enemies respawn, the traps reset, you have to re-do puzzles. At a game I was already lukewarm toward, I faced the prospect of having to trek back up 8 floors of a dungeon (and then back down) to get a key from a chest that I couldn't figure out how to open earlier. And that solution happens to be yet another item usage and/or bad (timing of) information that is inconsistent with its usage in the entire game up to that point.

    I'm done ranting. There is a lot I enjoyed about the game aside from what I talked about last time. Some of the later dungeons were excellent, with my favorite being the desert one. The puzzles got more challenging, and the more items you acquire, the more creative you can be with thinking about solutions. In the last dungeon, I used like 6 items. Shoutout to the spinner, a rotating disc you ride around like Marty McFly on a hoverboard. The spinner is one reason the desert dungeon stood out; it's a joy to use.

    One final thing I gathered from playing Twilight Princess is how influential Zelda games are in other adventure games. For example, a couple years ago I played Darksiders, which I really enjoyed (till it bugged out on me and I couldn't finish). But, wow, Darksiders is a Zelda clone!

    I'm glad I played this, though I could have stopped 10 hours earlier. Watching cut scenes didn't add a whole lot until the very end when All Is Revealed. The story is s-l-o-w and the dialogue is written at like a first grade level, not that exciting at all. Come for the neat use of the Wiimote and the charming world.

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    Burly Men at Sea (PS4)    by   jp       (Dec 2nd, 2018 at 19:43:32)

    I actually first played this last weekend - but I feel asleep while playing. I'm blaming tiredness not the game, but I guess my overall impression, now that I've finished it (all the different ways you can finish it) is that I'm somewhat disappointed.

    The game itself is quite simple, clean, and pretty. But...

    a. I had trouble with the cursor - it's movement never felt smooth and I often overshot what I was aiming for. I'm not sure if this was just a "bad port" issue? (I think that the native version of the game is touchscreen, which makes more sense)

    b. I was super excited the first time I finished the game - I got a book with a code! It went on a shelf in the game and I was invited to explore further stories/playthroughs. The number, if I recall, was a five-digit one and it game me the impression that, well, there were thousands of different stories (playthroughs). Furthermore, you're invited to visit a site, input your code and you can buy a book! (physical or digital, your choice) Wow! I was so impressed - and it's such a neat idea. Like a little storybook you can have. I imagined people buying the book to gift to little kids and such. But then, as I played through again, and again I realized that the number is a gimmick. There aren't really thousands of different games. In other words, there aren't that many playthroughs, in fact I completed them all in 90 minutes or so. This was such a disappointment! Now, it's not that the playthroughs were bad or anything like that - just that I thought the game was so much more than it ended up being. Sigh. This is like a No Man's Sky of branching narrative games.

    c. I think it was neat how each playthrough acknowledged previous ones and there was also an effort to shorten some parts that would have been really boring to play through so many times. It sort of skipped ahead (for example the moment when you take fire from the fireplace, the first time you play there's more dialogue and stuff - after that it just skips to the moment when one of the burly men has the torch). It doesn't skip EVERYTHING, and some scenes started to get really long in the tooth (burly men sinking in the ocean particularly), but I did appreciate the attempt to make things shorter than the original playthrough.

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    Absolute Drift: Zen Edition (PS4)    by   jp       (Nov 30th, 2018 at 22:47:53)

    Videos of this game looked really cool. That's the only reason I bought this game.

    Having played it for (only?) a few hours, I'm surprised by a few things:

    a. It's really hard. I just don't seem to get it - in terms of how to best control the car, control my turns and acceleration and what I think are the basic game controls. I bombed the tutorial. My score was in the bottom 5% of all scores! (I eventually got it up to the 45% percentile but that was many attempts later). It's just hard. For me. Which I'm interested in - personally - because I feel like I'm really in the dark as to what I should do to get better at the game.

    b. There's an "overworld" which is how you get into levels and also how you progress in the game. Zones are gated and in order to lower the drawbridge to the next zone you need to complete a bunch of objectives in a zone. THESE I CAN DO! And, I enjoy just driving around each zone and trying to get the objectives complete - the objectives are generally gameplay related (drift in circles around this thing, drift under this other thing) - but since there's no time pressure I can take my time, plan my route, try again and so on with a lot less pressure and, I must say, a bit of fun.

    c. So, the overworld/zones I enjoy playing in, but the levels themselves are a disaster for me. It's very sweet/sour sort of experience and I wonder how better players feel about the overworld. For me it's not easy, but I have enjoyed it - will better players find it a cakewalk and a boring grind?

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    Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (PS4)    by   jchansen

    An overall fun experience, if a bit frustrating as a fan of Lord of the Rings
    most recent entry:   Thursday 18 January, 2018
    So I decided to go back and start a separate save file for Shadow of Mordor to remind my self about how the beginning of the game felt. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly and naturally the game transitioned from exposition to tutorial to actual gameplay. It was also refreshing having to rely more on my intuition and reflexes as I played instead of just crushing all opposition thanks to my end-game wraith abilities. Funny enough, killing the one level 4 Orc captain at the very beginning was more satisfying than killing the Warchief in my last play session. The little amount of character building you and your soon-to-be-deceased family members get was sweet, if a bit "fridgy" in retrospect (in reference to comic book writer Gail Simone's term "Women in Refrigerators", wherein predominantly female characters are killed off to progress the predominantly male hero's story).

    One thing that did surprise me a little was how the orcs were immediately presented as fodder for you to kill and torture. Granted, they did just help kill all your friends and family, and maybe it's just the way the story quickly shifts into gameplay that this happens, but it's obvious from the framing here that we're not meant to think ethically about the orcs, what we do to them, or what happens to them, at least so far as my experience in the early game and the post game has let me know. I'm interested to see if this changes with the Ratbag sidequest (where you help a cowardly orc rise through Sauron's ranks to further your own agenda, which is its own ethical dilemma on its own), or if this is just one more element of the power fantasy, presenting you with an infinite number of guilt-free baddies to play with.

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