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

Demon’s Souls PS5 Review

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The Bluepoint remake of Demon’s Souls was exactly what I wanted. It addressed most if not all the complaints that I had 11 years ago. Die hard fans may have qualms with things here and there, but I had zero complaints. As far as I’m concerned, Bluepoint took From Software’s effort and refined into a more palatable game while still retaining most of what I remembered.

The game runs a smooth 60 FPS (except during this one session that required me to restart the PS5). This kind of performance elevated the game to the point of enjoyable. It was playable on the PlayStation 3, but it got in the way of the gameplay. The level of performance was so smooth that I was even willing to start parrying. I wasn’t that proficient at it, but the fact that it was even a worthwhile option was revelatory to me.

Super fast load times meant I was zipping from archstone to archstone within a handful of seconds and dying was rendered a minor inconvenience rather than the 30 second timeout that it once was. I was right back into the thick of things and ready to seek revenge or run right into a reckless death.

I recalled bits and pieces of Demon’s Souls, so the entire game wasn’t a complete mystery to me. Even through the foggy memory, I still recognized the quality of life improvements that Bluepoint included. Not having to haul myself between storage and the blacksmith was once such convenience that got rid of something annoying. Also the ability to send loot and materials back to storage was welcomed as well. Some may say that these things added to the unforgiving premise of Demon’s Souls, but not me. They didn’t do anything, but elongate the game unnecessarily.

With many of the rough edges polished, I was just breezing my way through the game. Much of the original release’s annoyances and frustrations made way for satisfying progress. It didn’t take long before I realized I was at the last boss and seeing credits.

From Demon’s Souls to Bloodborne, I’ve always felt From Software’s ideas were bigger than what they could pull off. The idea behind Demon’s Souls was very sound, but the technical issues kept me from truly enjoying it. Bluepoint removed the ambiguity and friction between myself and the game; when I died, I knew it was wholly my fault. It wasn’t because there were input delays or unresponsive controls. Bloodborne was my favorite game of theirs primarily due to the fact that the framerate was relatively stable. Now, I think Demon’s Souls may be my favorite to play for similar reasons.

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order [Xbox]

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Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was quite the journey and one that I was glad to wrap up. I heard Respawn Entertainment’s first maiden voyage into the Star Wars franchise was a little rocky so I purposely held off, and held off, and held off until it made its way onto the Xbox Game Pass via EA Play and then it became one of the first games I launched on my Xbox Series X. It took quite the journey to get to that point, but a bit more dawdling, and a next-gen patch later, I finally began making my way through it.

The first impressions were generally positive, but it just looked a little off in spots. I found the Cal Kestis’ animations — particularly his running animation — a bit odd in spots. It wasn’t as polished as I expected considering the studio. However, if anything distinctly Star Wars was involved, it was top notch and among the best in the business. It was like they invested all their time and energy into getting the Star Wars parts right. Lightsabers, lasers, and all the fine details on all the characters were so convincing.

I was much less convinced by the decision to give Fallen Order the Dark Souls and/or Metroidvania treatments. I don’t mind that style of game for Star Wars, but I didn’t find the exploration rewarding. I enjoyed the more punishing take on combat; it grounded everyone from Stormtrooper to giant spider. They felt formidable and gave me an appreciation for what the Jedi can and cannot do in ways the films never did. Stormtroopers aren’t just fodder. They can inflict serious damage if you’re not careful and it’s far more rewarding to treat them like fodder once Cal Kestis and I mastered our respective abilities.

I don’t know why anyone would choose to play this game on any other graphical setting other than performance mode. The performance mode isn’t a perfect 60 FPS on the Xbox Series X, but it’s still lightyears more enjoyable than the quality mode at 30 FPS. Even before Respawn patched the game to lift the resolution to 1440p60, I chose to stick with performance mode. Timing windows for lightsaber attack combos and parrying were significantly easier to pull off with the increase in framerate.

Doing and seeing Star Wars things was enough for me to keep playing Fallen Order, but even that started to lose steam towards the end. I didn’t care for the story; I enjoyed specific moments, but I found there was not enough material to warrant the game’s length. Having said that, I felt they rushed the events towards the end. The integration of Nightsister Merrin to the crew was the shining example of that. She was wisecracking and integrated with Cal and the crew in what felt like a half hour compared to the weeks of relationship building that occurred organically with the other characters.

Forgettable story beats and the open ended nature of the game resulted in an uneven momentum. Hopping back and forth between a handful of planets looking for clues for a McGuffin that I just didn’t find interesting in the slightest just made a large bulk of this game feel longer than it needed to be. The pay off will stay with me though. The final fight, the retrieval of the artifact, and the happy ending will be forgotten with time, but the encounter with Darth Vader? That will stay with me. It was the most convincing demonstration of his power for me. The movies have spectacular scenes, but the game really highlights the gulf in power between everyone and him.

And that’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order in a nutshell. It has high highs, some lows, but a lot of busywork bogging it down. I’m not convinced that this was what Respawn intended. In fact, I’m convinced that a sequel in their hands could be something very special. This was a decent attempt by them, now let’s hope they get another try.

 

Verdict:
It was okay

 

Ratings Guide

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