LTTP: Life is Strange: Before the Storm (PS4)

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Life is Strange was a captivating game. I genuinely enjoyed the tale and dark twists weaved by Dontnod Entertainment. I expected Square Enix and company to forge a sequel but when I heard a prequel by Deck Nine — a different studio — was on its way, I was very skeptical. Life is Strange: Before the Storm fleshed out the lives and events Life is Strange cast members prior to Max’s return to Arcadia Bay. It gave insight into Chloe Price and how she evolved and it gave Rachel Amber a voice. But were these good additions to the Life is Strange story thus far? I’m not certain. 

I found Before the Storm to be a surprisingly excellent self contained story of teenagers dealing with the real world. The influence of peers and parents were explored through the stories of Nathan Prescott and Drew North. They showed how familial pressures lead people down the wrong path or negatively warp their personalities. Some influences were direct while others were unfortunate circumstances.

Showing the origins of Chloe and Rachel’s relationship was fascinating and cute but it just raised more questions. Before the Storm spanned the nascent stages of their relationship but it didn’t address how Rachel and Frank Bowers got involved. The bonus episode, “Farewell”, explored the fateful day when Max left Arcadia Bay for Seattle but it didn’t share why she didn’t stay in touch. Situations and story threads left dangling like this highlighted more opportunities for Square Enix to introduce another sequel in-between but I think that would be a mistake. Some questions are better left unanswered.

Three full length episodes (about 3 hours each) and a one hour bonus episode was just enough time to explore the Max-less life of Chloe Price. Max’s time rewinding mechanic was replaced with a forced and unnatural feeling argument system where Chloe and I can start shit talking people to get our way. I think the only instance where it felt natural was within the tutorial.

For the most part, Before the Storm served to shore up my feelings and impressions of the characters from the original game. I felt a bit more sympathy here and there but as a whole, my feelings were largely unchanged. Max and her faceless parents, though? They altered my opinions of them quite a bit. Max failed to keep her promise to stay in touch and eventually gave up altogether. And considering the circumstances that preceded her departure from Arcadia Bay and how close Max and Chloe were, I was shocked that Max and her family didn’t even visit. They spent so much time together and to just disconnect like that was odd to me. Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised by Chloe’s sense of betrayal by her friend.

One of the most impressive aspects of Before the Storm was how seamless the switch from Unreal Engine 3.0 to Unity was. If that Unity logo didn’t make itself known, I wouldn’t have noticed that they were running on a completely different engine. I wasn’t too keen on the game’s performance on the default “resolution” mode but it ran quite well with the “performance” option. I didn’t fathom 30 FPS would be a problem in an adventure game like this but I was wincing during those camera pans.

I went into Life is Strange: Before the Storm filled with skepticism and left just the same. Was it necessary to delve this deep back into Chloe and Rachel’s lives? I did enjoy their rendition of the Tempest but did I need to see someone remark on that wine stain in the Price living room again? I was glad to see Nathan Prescott before he walked down his dark path but what happened to Samantha? For better and worse, answers and questions ping ponged themselves throughout. While its relevancy and necessity can be debated, its quality was undeniable to me. Deck Nine’s contribution to Life is Strange was solid.

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Horizon: Zero Dawn

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I should have played Horizon: Zero Dawn before The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I know they have very little in common outside of the fact that they’re both giant open world games but Nintendo made some transcendent additions that I sorely miss. I can scale many mountains in Horizon by hopping around like a red haired mountain goat but getting down from said heights was laborious. I missed the ability to glide. It’s not fair to expect the ability to scale everything with ease but I found it frustrating having to run around a mountain to seek out this “golden path” of handholds. Simply put, Horizon: Zero Dawn felt limiting for an open world game.

I wish I could look at Guerilla Games’ contribution to the open world genre in a vacuum but I cannot. The game’s map evoked Ubisoft open world games with its flood of icons. They put their own spin on certain elements like towers (they walk in the far flung future) but it’s so structurally similar that I cannot help but feel like Guerillla Games’ and Sony essentially made a first party Ubisoft game. It’s reductive but that’s how I feel about it.

The moment to moment action involved a fair bit of hunting with a bow. There were slingshots with explosives and the occasional chain gun here and there but the bulk of the action stemmed from the use of the bow. It was easy to wield with a generous amount of aim assist. A myriad of quests gave Alloy, the red haired protagonist, numerous opportunities to kill mechanical animals and humans. Going toe-to-toe with the mechanical beasts was engaging but the same cannot be said with the humans. Fighting them was a chore. Some were weirdly tough for humans wearing nothing but cloth and animal pelts.

The sabretooth and T-rex sized machines were formidable foes due to their size, ferocity, and complexity. Their resilience in battle meant I had to be smarter and not necessarily stronger to win. This was achieved through exploiting elemental weaknesses, shooting off component parts, or using the terrain to keep the mechanical beasts at bay. I found the last tactic shockingly easy to abuse and wonder how open world games will curb tactics like this. I felt I was breaking the game.

The main story thread was the reason for me to keep going forward. I was fascinated by the past and the events that lead the world to ruin. I was fascinated by how FARO doomed the world and how Elizabet Sobeck devised a plan to save humanity. There were a number of eyebrow raising moments that made me question the plausibility of events but in the end, I found it to be intriguing enough to suspend disbelief.

Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed games have its historic and “present” day stories. I was invested in both narrative halves in those games but I had virtually zero interest in the politics, characters, or problems that did not directly tie to uncovering the past. Carja, Shadow Carja, Sun Kings, and Nora nonsense didn’t register with me after the world opened up. I just couldn’t muster a care in the world for tribal politics when there were giant robots running amok.

The new God of War shared similar limitations with golden paths but they worked within those limitations and didn’t create the illusion of being able to scale everything with a giant open world. I felt every inch of God of War was worth exploring; it felt rewarding and not a waste of time. Horizon: Zero Dawn’s strengths laid with its combat and narrative ambitions and I think they would have been better off scaling down.

Verdict:
It was okay

God of War PS4 Review

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God of War put Sony’s Santa Monica Studio on the map during the PlayStation 2 days. While their PlayStation 3 output wasn’t a barn burner like Naughty Dog’s Uncharted and The Last of Us titles, they were still a force to be reckoned with. I loved God of War III but felt God of War: Ascension was superfluous at best. It’s been 5 years their last big title and was very curious how they were going to make their mark on the PlayStation 4.

When I first laid eyes on this reinvented God of War, I didn’t know what to make of it. On one hand, it looks like they threw out everything but Kratos, the name, and reinvented with modern sensibilities. On the other hand, they threw out all the memorable and distinctly amazing qualities of the old games as well – primarily the scale and gravitas. I was very curious how this game would turn out and I was going to find out on day one.

God of War was a long game. I don’t know my hour count but I played it on a regular basis for over a month. My total playtime was inflated due to my decision to play on Hard difficulty but despite that wrinkle, there’s a lot of game here. I’m sure a significant percentage of that game is spent traversing via row boat but since they weaved in fun little Norse mythology related stories during these moments, I still felt it was worthwhile content. Even though they built in the ability to interrupt and resume boat stories, I still took the time to just sit in my boat and listen to Mimir’s tales.

We’ve heard intentions for Kratos to move from his Greek stomping grounds for what seemed like ages now. The idea of Kratos moving into the Norse realms seemed absurd to me. How were they going to justify pitting this angry Spartan against Odin and his ilk? Apparently the answer was: Kratos just wanted to get away. Portraying this world where different mythologies occupied different regions of the world made a lot of sense — it’s how it is in the real world, why wouldn’t it be like that in God of War’s version of Earth?

I loved how Kratos was ashamed of his past life in Sparta. He slew numerous Gods, Titans, and mortals alike during his quest to take down Zeus. Moving to Midgaard and starting a new family was the last thing I expected Kratos to do but here we are. He has moved on from avenging Calliope to raising Atreus. Kratos was learning to become a father in function and not just in name. While we saw Kratos interact with Calliope in God of War: Chains of Olympus, the relationship was never explored like this.

I loved seeing Kratos and Atreus’ relationship develop. They weren’t complete strangers in the beginning of the tale, but Kratos did not know much about his son. He knew of the basics (like the audience), but we got to know Atreus and his relationship with his mother and Norse mythology throughout the course of the journey. Watching Atreus grow angry, petulant, brave, cocky, and confident was captivating. When a game manages to evoke frustration towards a boy whom I grew to trust and rely on, there’s nothing to say but: kudos.

God of War showed an aged Kratos but an evolving one as well. He didn’t become a great father by the time the credits rolled. However, his relationship with his son did improve, albeit at an accelerated pace. Atreus learned a lot about himself and his father throughout the course of their journey to scatter his late mother’s ashes. He handled it in a believable manner but I felt he processed it in an unconvincing timeline.

Kratos and I also learned a lot about Norse mythology via Atreus and our traveling companion, Mimir. I enjoyed Mimir’s presence and found the game increasingly more engaging after he “stepped” onto the stage. Brok and Sindri were very helpful and added levity to many of the game’s proceedings but they didn’t give the context and flavor that I needed. I wanted to know more about the Aesir, the Valkyries, the Giants, and the realms that Kratos and Atreus found themselves in. Mimir filled the role I wanted and then some.

Mimir was not only helpful narratively, he also served as the literal eyes behind Kratos’ back. The unwritten rule in many third person over the shoulder games like this is to not attack the player from the behind. God of War didn’t care for those conventions and routinely strikes at Kratos from his blind spot. On screen indicators, and shouts from Atreus and Mimir give me a sense of where dangers are coming from. In theory this should be enough but when I’m in the thick of carving undead with Kratos’ magical axes, a single warning sign may not be enough. This was especially true early on.

I’ve played my fair share of From Software’s Bloodborne, so I’ve been conditioned to expect a certain pace for melee combat. I struggled with the combat for the first three hours or so. I died a lot. Some of it had to do with the fact that I played on hard difficulty but a lot of it was the relatively foreign nature of the combat. But once I got the hang of it, began upgrading equipment, and unlocking new abilities, the game clicked. I still died but it wasn’t’ a struggle like early on. There was only one battle where I struggled mightily and it was optional.

God of War reshaped my expectations for long running and successful modern franchises. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End made strides to evolve their character narratively but it didn’t make a drastic in gameplay. We need more games like this; the Breath of the Wilds and Metroid: Primes of the world. I’m happy to see developers of these franchises toss out the playbook and re-evaluate everything when it feels right. I don’t expect next God of War title to reinvent the wheel again but they should feel welcomed to do so the next time the franchise hits a rut. The pay offs can be tremendous.

Verdict:
I love it

LTTP: Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare Campaign Review (PS4)

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I gave Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty titles a couple of chances after the studio’s implosion in 2010. The single player campaigns in Modern Warfare 3 and Ghosts failed to garner any lasting impression but Infinity Ward’s output continues to intrigue me. Although I initially passed on Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare for its lacking multiplayer, the glowing impressions from its single player kept reborn Infinity Ward’s third game in the back of my mind. So a year and a deep discount later, I finally saw what the fuss was about. Infinite Warfare is one of the best Call of Duty campaigns – I might go as far as to say it’s Infinity Ward’s best work since Modern Warfare.

The tale told in Infinite Warfare was a tale as old as the USMC we know today – but now it’s told in space. It’s not going to surprise anyone to discover Martian born colonists are upset at Terrans. Faithful fans of the series should not be shocked to see playable protagonists and regular NPCs perish. The shock comes from how these Call of Duty studios build up to those moments and for the first time in a long time, I felt Infinite Warfare put in an effort to earn its fatal moments. They invested more time giving side characters screen time and roles throughout the game. I started to realize the crew around me were sticking around for more than a few missions which gave their inevitable demise some weight. I knew the good guys were going to win, I wasn’t surprised by Reyes’ sacrifice, but I wasn’t sure how it was all going to go down.

They put Mass Effect in my Call of Duty. I loved the ability to choose my next mission and explore the little bit of the ship available. I could progress from story mission to story mission but I wouldn’t be getting the added perks/upgrades from completing side missions. I also wouldn’t be taking down all the most wanted SDF “scum” laid out on the whiteboard in Reyes’ quarters.

The actual moment to moment game found in Infinite Warfare is well worn territory. I still find it entertaining in spurts and the gadgets and twists added in this release add enough of a wrinkle to differentiate itself from its brethren in the franchise. Pretenders have come and gone but nobody does bombastic campaigns like the Call of Duty franchise.

I did find this campaign a lot more terrifying than other games primarily because of the setting. Space is terrifying. Being sucked out into the darkness of space is unsettling enough but seeing countless others and Reyes himself struggle with retaining oxygen within their spacesuits was enough of a reminder that space is frighteningly dangerous. I found the moment when they decided to breach and clear the bridge of an SDF carrier to be especially cruel. I may have been playing as the “good guys” but these people are ruthless.

I really appreciated the time they took to transition between different facets of a mission. The take off and landing sequence bookending each dogfight was a grounding touch that I enjoyed despite the fact that it was easy. Details like this brought me into their universe and any game that spends time balancing ridiculous action with the mundane deserves praise in my books.

I also have to give a nod to their use of guest stars. While I didn’t find it as captivating as Spacey’s performance in Advanced Warfare, I did find Kit Harrington’s performance to be solid. I even thought the inclusion of Lewis Hamilton in a minor bit role cute. Colin McGregor slotted in his minor role surprisingly well. In fact, I think his was the most natural – perhaps it’s due to the fact that these games tend to feature a lot of roles for angry Caucasians.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare gave me a glimpse at a very plausible future for humans. Old stories and conflicts will undoubtedly repeat themselves once humans stretch out across our solar system and beyond. While I would like to imagine a Mass Effect or Star Trek styled future, the reality is that we’ll likely still be firing bullets at one another in vacuum of space. But unlike Infinite Warfare, I doubt reality will be anywhere as pretty as Infinity Ward envisioned though.

 

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

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