LTTP: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (X1)

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I admire Ninja Theory for their efforts in bringing awareness to mental illnesses like psychosis. I empathized with Senua; it would certainly be maddening to constantly hear differing voices doubting and prodding me constantly. I found the use of binaural audio to give players a sample of that experience effective. Watching someone struggle to maintain her reality wasn’t unique to Hellblade but it was one of the better uses of world bending imagery. I just wished they didn’t use live actors and full motion videos. They were jarring. 

Hellblade didn’t run well on my PC so I flipped over to the Xbox One X version and played it with “Enriched Visual Mode” which produced a good looking Unreal Engine 4.0 game. I wish I could have ran it at 4K and 60 FPS but there’s only so much this console can do. I eventually acclimatized to the performance but I never got used to the eerie uncanny valley. Senua’s eyes conveyed so much human emotion and was effective at highlighting her struggles without words. Unfortunately, her mouth and the way they rendered it was consistently distracting to me  — and there were a lot of close ups of her. I found her ghoulish from the beginning which may not have been Ninja Theory’s intention. Did they want me to view this warrior as a member of the undead army? 

What’s the answer to overcoming the uncanny valley? It’s not mixing live action and computer generated graphics, that’s for sure. Every live action clip that I saw conjured a chuckle out of me; they all looked silly. No matter how they tried to integrate it into the game, I found them goofy like the ones found in a Remedy Entertainment game. I don’t think that was their intention, was it? 

The Nordic mythology and over-the-shoulder third person camera bore unavoidable comparisons to God of War. They were unfair and unfavorable comparisons but I couldn’t help it. In every respect, Santa Monica Studio did it better.  

I enjoy “walking” simulators. I don’t have issue with slowly moving around in a space. But I do have issue with movement speed when there’s so little to see between points of interest. Senua walks incredibly slow and her run speed (which I recommend people bind as a toggle) is not drastically faster either. She can move faster in combat which makes it so frustrating to have her move at snail’s pace. I know what I need to do during these “puzzle” moments; they’re not difficult. They’re just time consuming because Senua cannot be bothered to move about the environment quickly.  

I wished I liked Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice more. I found its pacing add odds with my expectations and many of the developer’s intentions falling short of hitting the marks they sought. I wasn’t supposed to giggle at what were supposed to be emotional moments either but I did. When Hellbade works, it works well. But when it doesn’t? It can make you feel like an outsider. 

Verdict: 
I don’t like it

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (PC)

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MachineGames’ Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus’ strengths do not lie within its gameplay. In a post-Doom (2016) world, Wolfenstein II feels clunky when played a balls to the wall action game. As for the stealthy routes? They felt serviceable and only rewarding in the sense that I managed to avoid another drawn out firefight. Wolfenstein II will not be remembered for its gun-toting but instead for its palpable world building and ridiculous cutscenes and story beats.

Delving deeper and further into the alternate timeline laid out in Wolfenstein: The New Order produced a world where the Nazis won. America surrendered after a nuke was dropped in New York and the land of the free was no more. I’ve caught glimpses of this popular thought experiment before but I never explored any of them in great detail.

I found MachineGames’ depictions of this Nazi America to be detailed and surprisingly nuanced. There’s the obvious shock factor of seeing hooded white supremists roaming the streets alongside Nazis but the additional layer of discovering how the occupying regime saw this extremist group was unexpected. In fact, similar revelatory nuggets presented themselves in written communiques and new articles throughout the world. These little details gave the world a “lived in” feeling that worked in tandem with the visuals.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus looks better than it runs on my PC. I am running the Windows Store version of the game so there may be some wonkiness due to that. I am hoping it’s that because my GeForce GTX 1070 shouldn’t be struggling like to keep pace like this.

I struggled to keep any semblance of momentum through Wolfenstein II. I would start it, play it for an hour, stop for a few days, and repeat. It took me such a long time to wade through. Part of it was other games drawing me away but it’s also one of the easier games to just stop playing because of the natural lulls of exploring home base. Exploration yielded minor rewards in the form of story tidbits and collectibles but I generally didn’t find the submarine very interesting beyond the first couple of visits.  

The perks system returned with rewards actions such as silent assassinations and grenade kills. I didn’t grind out completions like I did with The New Order though. Part of it was the lack of time/space to do it all. The other? I was trying to incorporate those newfound abilities introduced at the halfway mark into the game. They felt clunky and ridiculous which made it tough to mesh with it.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus can be summed up by those new additions. The ideas were there but the execution left me wanting. I never got into the groove of things gameplay wise but I can tell you all about the ridiculous cutscenes and set pieces. I don’t know if that’s a mark of a great game but it’s one of a memorable time.

Verdict:
It was okay

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Overcooked (PS4)

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Ghost Town Games’ Overcooked was a good time for 2 players. It may be a great time for 3 or 4 players but I didn’t round up a group of that size. Not that I would want to considering how inconsistent the performance and controller response was on the PlayStation 4 Pro. The experience was so poor that I wrote off getting the sequel on consoles.

My fiancee and I had a great time three starring the early stages but as soon as precision was required, we were grinding against the sluggish controls during some of the trickier and flashier stages. We eventually figured it all out but not without a bit of frustration.

My fiancee loved the frantic pace while I enjoyed trying to dissect, distill, and optimize our workflows to solve each level. After perfecting all the base game’s levels, we tried out the versus mode which didn’t appear to have a 1 vs. 1 option whatsoever. Even if it did, I think it 2 vs. 2 would have been preferable. Playing solo seems to be antithetical to what Overcooked was all about.

We loved the idea of Overcooked and we would gladly play more of it. Thankfully, we still have the free holiday DLC and a sequel to play through. Unfortunately the PlayStation 4 release carried some technical flaws. I may have gotten this game as part of my PlayStation Plus membership but I would gladly pay for a more performant release.

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

Apex Legends Review

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PLAYERUNKNOWN’S Battlegrounds looked intriguing albeit too janky for my liking. 

Fortnite didn’t tickle my fancy either. 

Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII’s Blackout caught my attention but didn’t manage to hold it beyond 3 matches. 

It turns out I was waiting for Respawn Entertainment and their take on the battle royale genre. Apparently, I wanted classes, teamwork, polish, and mobility options. And now that I have all those things in Apex Legends, I cannot put it down.  

It’s the first free to play non-mobile game that I sank both time and money into. I didn’t need the battle pass and what it offered but I felt obligated to pay for the excellent game they hot dropped onto the world.  

Call of Duty: Black Ops III introduced Specialists with abilities reminiscent of other hero shooters like Overwatch. These Specialist abilities were impactful but they didn’t turn the tide of battle like Overwatch’s. Apex Legends’ calls their heroes Legends but they’re essentially Specialists. Certain abilities like Lifeline’s healing bot or Caustic’s debilitating gas traps were useful in specific scenarios but they couldn’t guarantee a win. The same could be said with the Ultimate abilities which will require a bit of an adjustment period for anyone who’s used to Overwatch’s bangers. 

The level of polish and refinement on various aspects of the battle royale experience made Apex Legends very comfortable to play. I wasn’t awkwardly fiddling with menus to manage inventory or equipment. I felt everything was just a simple press away and the entire experience felt frictionless.  

The game wasn’t much of a looker on PC let alone a PlayStation 4 Pro. Performance was also generally sufficient with only the occasional dip below 60 FPS. I wanted better on both fronts but battle royales require a lot of horsepower and that these consoles just aren’t up to snuff. 

Polish, class abilities, and proficient technical chops can only get you so far, so what did Apex Legends do to get its hooks into me? The feel. It feels good to play and it that’s very important. I like the engagement distances in Apex Legends. This game plays at my kind of range. Most firefights take place in the mid to close range with the occasional long range affair to keep people on their toes.  

The brilliant “ping” system enabled a rudimentary but crucial communication between teammates. I feel like it should be in every multiplayer game from here on out because it’s so easy and effective to highlight enemies, suggest destinations and highlight loot. Voice communication is still superior but it is also greatly enhanced with the inclusion of the ping system.   

Apex Legends will likely end up being my most played game this year. Part of it is the battle royale hooks, but I feel a lot of it is the quality fundamentals. I have no idea how they will fare against Fortnite or other games in the genre but I’m firmly behind Respawn’s take on it.  

Ratings Guide

Verdict: 
I love it 

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