LTTP: Doom Eternal [Xbox]

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2016’s Doom was a very pleasant surprise to many including myself. I loved it; it was easily one of the best games of 2016 with only Overwatch beating it to the number one spot. I was looking forward to Doom Eternal until I heard the impressions from other Doom (2016) fans. As a result of the less than glowing impressions, I held off Doom Eternal until it made its way to Xbox Game Pass and received its ray tracing update for Xbox Series X. With a fresh coat of paint, enough time for the post launch dust to settle, I was ready to find out if Doom Eternal was a worthy sequel to one of my favorite games from the last generation.

First impressions started very positively, but was quickly complicated by the nonsense of a story and over-complication of ideas. I was not a fan of the story, lore, or any of the Doom Slayer, Khan Maykr gibberish they were putting forth. I missed the singular foe for whom the Doom Slayer to focus his energy on. Instead I was subjected to lore that I didn’t want any part of.

Following the footsteps of the original Doom II, Doom: Eternal starts off on Earth. The demons landed on Earth, overran the humans, and it’s up to silent space marine to clear them out. Unfortunately, just like Doom II, I missed the cohesion and sense of progress from place to place. Hopping around the Earth looking for some demon priests was underwhelming in comparison. This was especially true considering how they stitched everything together via the “Fortress of Doom” ship which felt like a giant time waster.

I understand the desire to give the Doom Slayer a place to hang out and display his collectible Funko Pop knockoffs and other useless records that he picked up, but it dampened any momentum the game tried to muster. I wish I could ignore the ship, but they decided to stuff that place full of upgrades.

There were too many upgrades and too many currencies to collect to unlock said upgrades — it was ridiculous and excessive. Weapon points, batteries, two different coins, and crystals? Are you serious? Add the unlockable cheat codes, soundtracks, and the Funko Pop knockoffs mentioned earlier and I’m finding myself checking the map screen every time I step into a new room.

The idea behind shooting off armaments off demons to alter their behaviour and reduce their threat profile sounds like a good idea in theory. It adds a layer of depth that Doom (2016) didn’t have, but at the same time, it made certain weapons indispensable. The Heavy Cannon was always in Precision shot mode and the Shotgun’s secondary was always lobbing grenades; it didn’t make any sense to move off those weapon modes. The added depth came at a cost which was all, but requiring me to play a Doom  game with a scoped weapon. That was blasphemous and I wish I could play Doom Eternal without engaging with that mechanic, but it was somewhat necessary on Ultra-Violence difficulty.

The higher difficulty forced me to come to grips with the full gamut of gameplay mechanics quite quickly. Two types of grenades, super punches, flamethrowers, and dashes were required to tame the demons. Staying on top of ability cooldowns to dispense a steady stream of damage and regularly harvesting resources resource reclamation would eventually yield success. Extra lives found throughout the levels can bail me out of a jam, but they were not absolutely necessary once I was fully kitted.

I think the inclusion of the Marauder; a demon that can block the BFG9000 was the antithesis of fun and was the summation of everything I disliked about Doom Eternal. It swatted the most powerful abilities in the game away and reduced me to playing Simon with it. It’s one of the lamest looking enemies to come out of id Software with the most jarring stagger sound and animation. It wasn’t impossible to deal with a Maurader; it was annoying. Topping it all off, I took a peek at the backstory and it was whole lot of nonsense about betrayals and nothing particularly rad.

It’s funny how my feelings for Doom (2016) to Doom Eternal resembled those from Doom I to Doom II; I liked both original outings more than their respective sequels. Doom II and Doom Eternal felt like games that were made to challenge fans of the original and not necessarily make it more fun. Unlike Doom II, Doom Eternal went too far in a number of areas that detracted from what made the original so good. I realized that the further I got into the game, the shorter my play sessions became and by the end, I was yearning for credits and end my time with this game. Eternal? No, thanks.

Verdict:
I don’t like it

LTTP: The Last of Us Part II

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Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part II was a fitting name for the sequel to the PlayStation 3 classic. Sometimes sequels shake things up or dramatically evolve from one instalment to the next, but not this franchise; it was cut from the same cloth. It evoked similar feelings of despising and pitying the protagonist. It smothered us with stories of humans being absolutely awful to each other. And it gave us plenty of opportunities to dispatch or sneak by infected and humans alike. 

Part II felt instantly familiar as someone who replayed The Last of Us via its remaster last year. There were evolutions and expansions on ideas, but it largely played the same on Hard difficulty. Snuffing out infected and humanoid enemies alike without expending too much resources would often yield even more resources. It all quickly snowballed the two protagonists into powerhouses. Being careful paid off too much in this case. 

Ellie was a playable character in The Last of Us, but she wasn’t a full fledged playable character with her own skill tree. Ellie starring in the Part II was expected, but her sharing the spotlight with Abby, the daughter of the late surgeon that Joel killed in that Colorado hospital operating room, was a bit of a surprise. She had her own story, skill tree, and set of exclusive weaponry. 

The two protagonists were more capable than ever having remembered that they were humans that could go prone and crawl through grass like Metal Gear’s Solid Snake. They could even shoot while on their backs which gave me Metal Gear Solid V vibes. New gadgets and skills mixed things up a bit, but they weren’t enough to stave off the familiar feeling of it all. The characters continued to consume decades old pills or “supplements” to expand their skill trees in-between firefights involving makeshift bombs and Molotov cocktails. Fighting off infected felt as natural as swimming (which you can now do) while human enemy behaviors stood out like a sore and inadequate thumb in 2021. Many of these issues exist in newer full-fledged stealth games, but I was hoping Naughty Dog made further advancements in that area.

I was also disappointed by two new enemy types: the dogs hunting along with humans and the Stalker from the infected ranks. They were annoying to deal with and didn’t really pose the interesting threat that the developers intended. I see how these two can seriously ruin someone’s day in the higher difficulties, but on hard difficulty? They were either silenced unceremoniously, lured into a makeshift bomb or greeted with a shotgun blast to the face. Yeah, the game is still very violent.

The Last of Us was violent and occasionally cruel, but I felt Part II was very violent and often cruel. Abby and Ellie were monsters in their own way and they displayed it often in both gameplay and cutscenes. They were born into a world where the most monstrous survive and where restraint and compassion often leaves you lying in a pool of your own blood later down the line. The story’s twists and turns didn’t surprise me, but its expansiveness did. It felt like they made two games that joined at a single event before concluding with yet another decision made by characters that I personally did not agree with, but understood. 

The developers sprinkled minute and overt touches of humanity amongst the enemies this time around. Enemies would often call each other by name. They’re often heard discussing plans for their own communities and the threats they faced. And by the time the player swap occurred, it was apparent that people were just trying to survive and many of them were following orders to ensure the survival of their friends and family. I’m not sure what it says about me, but I didn’t change my approach even after these details were made very apparent. You could say I just played my side’s role to the extreme, but I just wanted to loot in peace.

Exploring the environments was the highlight of the game for me. I tried to explore every nook looking for “environmental story telling”. The hotel and the basement floors of the hospital were my favorite spaces because they told epic tales from the early days of the outbreak. There were dozens of tiny awful discoveries through the course of the game, but the one where this small town’s greatest archer drugged his friends and neighbours and locked them in a spore infested mechanic’s office stuck with me. The brilliant touch was me stumbling across this hell room first; before piecing together the journal entries and notes to discover the grim reason for this room full of infected. 

I’m glad I chose to wait a whole year before playing The Last of Us Part II. In that time, the PlayStation 5 launched and a free PS5 update unlocked the framerate to 60 FPS among other tweaks. The game ran extremely well on Performance mode; I’m certain it’s playable at 30 FPS, but I’m opting into the 60 FPS life when I can. The animations were top notch and was a technical highlight. I don’t know how they kept everything looking so smooth and responsive. I didn’t feel like I was waiting for actions to play out. 

The Last of Us Part II wasn’t a wild or earth shattering sequel like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was, but Naughty Dog did just enough to keep me locked in. I want them to shake up the gameplay systems for the next game, but I don’t know what that would look like. All I know is that this loop of seeking out supplements and silently snuffing out humans and infected is well worn territory. I wasn’t bored or tired of it by the time credits rolled, but I don’t know if I can tolerate a third installment of the more of the same on the gameplay front. 

As for story? Questions linger. What are the fates of the survivors? Will there be a bitter sweet ending one day? Is there hope in this world or will humanity be doomed to succumbing to barbarism? Only Naughty Dog knows and I’m looking forward to finding out how it all unfolds.

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Spirtfarer [Xbox]

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The opening third or so of Thunder Lotus Games’ Spiritfarer was the most emotional gaming experiences I ever had. I got misty eyed thinking about death of loved ones and aging. I spoke with my fiancée about life, death, and family. I enjoyed exploring this space and meeting all these colorful characters. The process of getting to know them and discovering how they’re connected to the protagonist, Stella, was driving me forward. I wished the game ended shortly afterwards, but the game kept going and going. There was a lot more to see, but it’s a shame that most of it wasn’t worth seeing.

I’ve seen Spiritfarer described as Animal Crossing meets 2D platformer and it’s a pretty good summary of it. Unlike Animal Crossing though, I played as Stella, the new Charon of Greek mythology. Stella’s job was to meet spirits, get to know them, build things for them, plant veggies, harvest fruits, collect materials, upgrade buildings, and repeat. Unfortunately the novelty of that loop hinges on the size of the loop, and the rewards at the end of each loop. I felt Spiritfarer just didn’t have enough interesting rewards after overcoming the first major hurdle. 

I was given the opportunity to customize the layout of the ship used to transport the wayward souls that I met, but I found it to be plodding and tedious with the controller. Unfortunately, I couldn’t overcome the travel times between the islands fast enough. Fast travel points helped reduce the travel time, but increased annoyance because I just found that dumb seal’s music and animation incredibly grating after the third or fourth time. Unless it was saving me significant time, I would rather just sail across these oceans and tend to the countless menial tasks around.

The garden and cooking fed into each other well and produced morsels of new crafting discoveries. And that sustained me for quite some time. There was a brief moment when I believed that I would take the time to discover all the cooking recipes. As silly as it may sound, I just wanted to see more drawings of good looking food. I generally liked the art style of Spirtifarer. It’s simple and flat, but any moment of flourish stood out and dazzled because of it. 

Once the magic and charm began to disperse, my patience for the game eroded quickly. I began looking at guides to find things faster. I stopped trying to feed the spirits on the boat interesting foods. I just wanted it to see the credits and be done with it. And that’s probably one of the worst feelings to have with a game. 

I will always remember Spiritfarer for its first third of the game and some of the most beautiful and moving moments it shared. However, I will also remember it for the game that dragged on for far too long and diluted its most powerful moments. 

Verdict:
It was okay

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Control Ultimate Edition [PS5]

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I really liked Remedy Entertainment’s Alan Wake. Quantum Break wasn’t well received so I threw it onto the “maybe-play-it-one-day” pile and completely forgot about it until Control was announced. Control was immediately appealing, but I incorrectly believed Control looked like a redo of Quantum Break in some respects. After playing Control, I realized I was just seeing the through line of their work; they make third person shooters that transform players into bad asses.

Remedy action needs to feel hectic — it’s in their DNA — and they layered that increasingly hectic action into Control masterfully. I never felt overwhelmed and just when I thought they were done, they added another variable. The weapons themselves cover the standard video game shooter gamut: pistol, shotgun, rocket launcher, and the like. They were nothing to write home about and assumed a basic pistol shape known as the Service Weapon. In lore, this shape shifting weapon apparently took many forms in the past including Excalibur. 

The marriage between of lore and function permeated throughout Control. The game cold drops Jesse Faden at the precipice of completing her life long quest to find her brother. She found herself in the Federal Bureau of Control’s headquarters known as the Oldest House. What was the FBC? Why is this place empty? Why is the Director dead? Through dialog, reports, and recordings, the universe of Control began to take shape. Nearly every single thing had an in-universe explanation; it wasn’t always the most plausible explanation, but it was fun! I loved the idea of a federal agency trying to explain the supernatural. It reminded me of The Witcher and how Witchers were treating magic, ghosts, and monsters with a degree of logic and seriousness that often wanders into the absurd.

I found the open and Metroidvania-like structure of Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order underutilized. The rewards for exploration were so trivial. Exploring the Oldest House yielded morsels of lore, materials for crafting upgrades, and the occasional side quest. It wasn’t for naught. Exploring a shape shifting office building may not be the most awe inspired thing I ever done in a game, but it was genuinely fascinating to push forward and see what Remedy tucked away. 

Control may be one of the better super hero or Star Wars titles I’ve played. Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order may have gotten Lightsabers to a good spot, but the sensation of grabbing an object from the environment and hurling it towards an enemy was second to none in Control. It was incredible to see how the juggled gunplay, “force powers”, and movement into this elegant dance. Even though I saw Jessie flying in promotional art or trailers, it didn’t occur to me that they would include it as a component to combat. It didn’t take long before I was throwing chairs and computer screens, picking off pesky snipers with my pistol, before leaping into the air to launch rockets at clumps of enemy fodder. 

The Ultimate Edition comes with a PlayStation 5 upgrade that includes a performance mode. There’s a quality mode as well for some 4K resolution nonsense and/or ray tracing, but I didn’t even bother digging into any of that. The game played great at 1440p60 and I recommend it as the way to play. While it may have played well and looked quite striking from a distance, I found the up-close character models very grimy looking. It’s not a full blown next-generation game and I hear the PC version looks a notch or two better, but poor Arish looked like a ghoul in some of those dialog sequences.

True to form for Remedy, the live action cutscenes and in-universe shows were top notch. I’m a big fan of Dr. Casper Darling’s corporate videos. I could watch him enthusiastically explain his discoveries all day. The Threshold Kids puppet show was unsettling a bit, but the reason for its existence made a lot of sense. Kids need to know about the dangers of the The Oldest House!

I wanted more of Control, but I don’t think the expansions were the right way to approach that conundrum. The main game felt concise and varied with sidequests brushing up with the limits of repetition. The Foundation and AWE expansions? They went a bit too far with stretching out the gameplay content. The 1:1 mix of story content and gameplay felt like it was stretched 1:3. Chase this monster again, retread these areas again, fight in this combat arena again. I wonder if I would have felt this way if I played these expansions on the original release schedule because despite their seamless integration with the main game, these expansions felt off.

Control was a fun filled adventure filled with top quality action and an engaging universe that I relished. This very well might be my favorite Remedy Entertainment game ever. It does everything that studio was known for extremely well and I cannot wait to see how they expand upon their ideas. How much of Control do they bring into Alan Wake 2? Can they ever pull off a sequel to Control? Much of what makes it the game it is, is the self contained nature of The Oldest House. The veil of mystery is essentially gone now, so just bringing more Control isn’t going to cut it. I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m back on board with whatever they do next.

Verdict:
I loved it

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