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    The Bridge (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Sep 20th, 2016 at 18:26:53)

    Didn't realize I was so close to the end of The Bridge. This is a cool puzzle game that I played most of on an airplane last month. It's a cross between Braid (rewind time, and looks similar too) and And Yet It Moves, an old indie platformer I played forever ago where you rotate the screen to manipulate obstacles and move your character. A clever mash-up indeed.

    The Bridge adds boulders that can roll over you, phasing (you click switches to turn from light to dark, which affects the objects you can interact with), wind direction that you can manipulate, and Escher-esque levels. The game isn't particularly difficult until right toward the end, and I admit to YouTubing the final two levels. I think I would have figured out the next-to-last eventually, but not the last one. I've read over and over again that it took people like 1-3 hours to figure it out, and I'm not that patient.

    It'd be nice if there was more of a story. I'm not even sure what the context was. You're a guy, maybe a physics professor or something, and you have a house, and in your house are a bunch of rooms that are the levels of the game. Is something lost in there? No, you don't ever find anything. Are you exploring the mysteries of time and space? Maybe...I have no idea. There is some cryptic text scattered around that was so cryptic I don't even remember what it said. Something about existence maybe.

    Story or not, the puzzles were clever and I felt fairly smart figuring things out. It does rely too much on physics and trial and error, but you have to get the gist of what's going on before you can get too too far.

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    The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Sep 20th, 2016 at 15:56:03)

    Whoa, whoa, whoa. The Book of Unwritten Tales was a great point-and-click adventure. The Book of Unwritten Tales 2...I'm 4.5 hours in and bored, bored, bored. It started off great, opening with the elf princess Ivo and some cute characters (Cheep, her pet/guardian bird, and a little ent who is the gardener at the castle). Ivo is supposed to marry some elf prince whom she doesn't like, and her mom mostly complains about Ivo and calls her fat. Well, she wasn't just being insensitive because Ivo finds out that she's actually pregnant. Mystery! There's a running joke that she doesn't know what sex is, and also doesn't know how she got pregnant.

    So during the opening of the game, you are trying to help Ivo escape from her parents' castle. That part was pretty good. As in the first game, the female voice actors are top notch. Thennnn, the game goes to Wilbur Weathervane, the gnome mage from the first game. He's just gotten a job as a professor at some college and he mostly doesn't know what he's doing. He is not. funny. at. all. I've wandered all over the college, talked to the headmaster, listened to the story of political intrigue there that is not intriguing at all, and I have to do a bunch of chores like clean cobwebs and get rid of dirt in the hallway. It is really boring.

    The art is colorful and vibrant, and the music is nice enough. It's the same interface and all from the last game, which I enjoyed because it's logical (not typical point-and-click game logic) and you can press space bar to highlight all interactable things on screen. Characters have quips and stories to tell about every object. I think the difference so far is that Ivo's conversations are very world-building and made me curious, but Wilbur's come off as inane observations and poor humor. For example, you can read through files in the headmasters office, and many of them are just bad puns.

    I might be giving up too soon, but I don't care. After 4.5 hours, I should be more interested. Where is the paladin from the first game, or the behind-the-scenes MMO? Where are the big jokes and parodies of video game culture and genres? Not a whole lot so far, though I did appreciate the parody of MMO fishing (and you even fish up a hat--"the uglier the hat, the better fisherman it makes you"--great reference to WoW). And supposedly this game is about 25 hours long, twice as long as the first one. I can't play for more than 45 minutes at a time! I get bored or start to fall asleep. It's just not that fun, and I rarely want to play! Very chore-like!

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    Metro: Last Light (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Sep 10th, 2016 at 22:33:04)

    Political post-apocalyptic FPS set in Moscow metro. Watch Communists and Nazis continue to enact their ideologies underground. Encounter one female character for every 25 male characters, where the females are almost always mothers or sex workers. Get betrayed over and over again. It all comes to a head when you find the mysterious Dark One creature for which you've been hunting. Can the two of you save the day and restore peace to the metro? Or will the the Earth's surviving population be doomed to live in a classless Communist hell?

    That was a fun paragraph to write. Really though, if you liked Metro 2033, you...probably will like this. It's definitely more action-oriented, more scripted, more cinematic. The upside is that the story is always moving forward. The downside is that control is constantly taken from you for some set piece or cut scene or dialogue. Consequently, I struggled to play at times. The first 1/2 of the game is very guilty of heavy scripting, which illuminates how linear it is. I don't think I played the first 1/2 of the game for more than an hour at a time because I usually would start nodding off (also a consequence of playing after work at night). All these things came together to make me tired/bored.

    The second half of the game is better and I finally was able to get into it. This was around the time of the main betrayal, when you finally get to go off on your own without an NPC chatting at you and stopping you all the time. The second 1/2 of the game features longer excursions to the surface, so that you finally get to worry about suffocating (though air filters are abundant and I was never close to running out). The survival horror dial is turned down in Last Light from Metro 2033, but the second 1/2 approximates the feeling of the first game that I liked so much. Desolation and hopelessness in the Moscow wastes, with powerful, ferocious mutants everywhere howling and prowling. It is anxiety-inducing.

    The end levels are a joy of loud destruction, although the story ending was unsatisfying. Yet another ending that I didn't really like in recent memory.

    A couple more overall points about the linearity. A negative: action sequences can feel like shooting galleries. Enemies are all predictable and therefore an easy strategy is just to stand in a corner and wait until they come single file to where you are. Shotgun bam bam bam insta-win. A positive: towns in the metro are really believable. There are a ton of NPCs, and as you walk your linear path through town, you are treated to conversations and glimpses into their everyday lives. I recall standing surprised by a guitar-playing NPC in Metro 2033, listening to him play a couple songs. You find the same kinds of interactions here, couples playing with their kids, soldiers trading tales of the surface, doctors diagnosing patients. The best was a multi-act stage show. It was fantastic. There were fire twirlers and a funny animal trainer who couldn't control the animal. A lot of care went into crafting the towns and the NPCs there, and so I appreciated the linearity that took me through those snippets of life in the metro. Really brought the underground to life.

    Eto vse, Artyom.

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    Beyond Eyes (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Aug 12th, 2016 at 21:22:05)

    I have a reason for playing this. I am teaching an upper level course, Sociology of Disability. After having some fun with my summer class using Never Alone in a lesson on culture, I must have been paying attention to games about disabilities, because I noticed Beyond Eyes, which puts you in the role of Rae, a blind girl looking for her missing cat. So I wondered if this would be somehow useful for a lesson on anything in the disabilities course. Well, I played the game, and the answer is yes. I can see this fitting right alongside a discussion of the harmfulness of disability simulations.

    Before criticizing the game's portrayal of a blind child, I'll say that it's much better done than I thought it would be. But that's the insidious part of trying to represent the experience of someone with a disability. You will never succeed. The game tries from a place of good will, and is heart-warming and empathetic. But let's pick it apart anyway.

    1. Rae is blinded in a tragic fireworks accident, so she acquired her disability at, say, age 8. It is said that she was out with her friends. After becoming blind, it seems she is very sad and sits in her garden alone all day. She befriends a cat that comes into the garden, and nothing else is said about her other friends. Where did they go? Have they abandoned her because she is blind? Has she socially isolated herself? This is a common myth when people acquire a disability, that they become socially isolated and their friends desert them. This is also one reason we fear becoming disabled. Granted, she finds one of her friends later in the game, and the game closes with them talking after [spoiler spoiler]. So perhaps the game shows Rae's process of coming to terms with her disability and not becoming socially isolated after all.

    2. Rae wanders around in her garden in the snow with no jacket. People with blindness are not stupid. Why doesn't she have a jacket on? She even hugs herself for warmth. She is portrayed as helpless, and this is visible throughout the rest of the game as well. This perpetuates the myth of dependence.

    3. Rae seems very jumpy and afraid. Blind people are not jumpy and afraid. According to the narrative, she had been blind for a year before she goes wandering out of her garden after her cat. She would have gotten used to it. This shows how we often assign character traits to certain disabilities. Blind people are like this, deaf people are like that, etc.

    4. Rae seems to have trouble detecting what is what in her environment. She cannot cross the street, which I presume is because she cannot tell when cars are coming. She things the clicking of the pedestrian crosswalk thing is a bird. She thinks a lawnmower is a car. She mistakes all sorts of things for other things. Especially having been sighted for ~90% of her life, and then blind for a year already, she would not be constantly making these mistakes. She would know what a lawnmower sounded like and she would be able to cross the street by listening for cars. I found this sort of insulting. People with acquired disabilities tend to adapt quite thoroughly, and children adapt quite quickly.

    5. People who are blind are adept at identifying sounds and navigating their environment. They do not walk at Rae's snail pace. Blind people can play sports and walk without constantly running into things (though that is common) and are usually very adapted to space. They often go through orientation and mobility training to help them master this skill. Often they learn the use of a cane, or learn how to have others help them. Rae, on the other hand, inexplicably wanders off alone, and thanks to the player (who is "experiencing blindness") constantly runs into things and gets horribly lost. The experience of a blind person is not to constantly run into things and get horribly lost, nor to be afraid all the time.

    There you go. A quick little demo of this game in class could show how the (well-intentioned) game perpetuates some common myths of blindness.

    Now, critiques aside, I enjoyed the game. The idea is great. Since Rae is blind, the player can only see what she perceives, which is what is right around her and what she can hear, such as birds chirping, cars driving, dogs barking, tree leaves rustling, etc. When she hears things, they become visible wherever they are nearby. It is a neat way to traverse the game world. I played another game some time ago called Lurking. It was a horror game set in a house, and it had a similar mechanic. You could only see by making noise, either your character or you, by breathing into the microphone. But enemies detected you if you made noise, so you had to manage noise--make enough to see, but not enough to get killed. It was cool. Anyway, this is a similar idea without all the dying.

    The colors are pretty. The game uses a lot of bright pastels and it has a "paint-brushed" feel to the world. When Rae gets scared (by a dog barking or whatever), the colors will mute and the world will turn decidedly more brown. The music also dampens and becomes sadder. It clearly conveyed the emotions Rae was feeling. And although I criticized her running into things (my fault, I'm sure), she does walk with her hand out if she is near something, to guide her. That was a nice touch. If the game were more technically advanced, she would react to what she touched, be it leaves, or a fence, or water, or a dog, or whatever.

    All this amounts to an oddly calming and/or boring game. I was literally falling asleep at my keyboard. I'd jolt back awake with my finger still holding the W key down to run. Again, it was a mixture of being really boring (because you just walk really slowly and try to figure out where the hell you're going, and hope you hear the cat so you can follow the sound) and really calming thanks to the nice music and pretty art design.

    I wasn't too keen on the ending. I liked how emotional it was. Again, that was conveyed very clearly. But, without spoiling what happens, I didn't follow Rae's logic, or the logic of the game too apparently. What seems to have happened in the end is in no way a certainty. I don't know why Rae assumed what she did. I sure didn't. And our difference doesn't have to do with being blinded or sighted. It's a difference in reasoning, and hers is jumping to conclusions without sufficient evidence. Yeah, I thought the ending was bad. But I liked that her human friend came to visit her.

    That's two games this week with endings I didn't like. What's happening?! Is this a sign of the end times?!

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    Knack (PS4)    by   jp       (Aug 12th, 2016 at 12:15:14)

    Just cleared the 4th stage (these take longer than you'd imagine, but we're playing on hard) and I have to say that while the game is quite endearing, some cracks are starting to show. I think this is mostly in the couch-co-op that my son and I have been playing. There are moments where it is clear that this was mainly a solo player game - not just because of the asymmetry between the two characters you control (regular Knack and "steel" Knack) but in how mission objectives sometimes fall apart. For example, the last time we played we had to make use of a new ability: stealth knack (who can walthrough surveillance lasers and such). It's really neat, except that the other Knack doesn't have it. So, when playing as non-stealth Knack you have to stay behind and die. Sometimes you're warped through. Othertimes...not so much. We're not sure. It's really unclear and works in odd ways.

    The camera is also odd - it essentially follows/tracks main Knack. So, 2nd Knack really is like a sidekick living in the shadow of the other Knack. It's not terrible, just a bit annoying sometimes. For instance, when normal Knack dies you reset and go back to an earlier checkpoint. This doesn't happen with other Knack.

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