Astro Bot: Rescue Mission Review

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I’ve grown pessimistic in my old age. I tried virtual reality for the first time with an HTC Vive and some of the quintessential VR titles of the time like Space Pirate Trainer, SuperHot VR, and The Lab. I was impressed with the tech but I didn’t see myself doing any of it for an extended period of time. I saw it like Wii Sports; I didn’t buy a Nintendo Wii for Wii Sports. I waited for Super Mario Galaxy’s impending arrival before I pulled the trigger on a Wii.  

Then Astro Bot: Rescue Mission made waves with many equating it to a Super Mario title. Couple that praise and a very attractive Black Friday deal and I was convinced that I had to own a PlayStation VR.  

I wouldn’t if someone told me Team Awobi were comprised of ex-Nintendo designers. The ideas and nuance demonstrated in Astro Bot: Rescue Mission would not be out of place in a Super Mario title. A straight forward romp through the five worlds filled me with wonderous VR tricks and spectacles. If I just left it at that, I would have come away with a very positive VR experience. I would have collected just enough robots to unlock all the worlds to finish the game.  

I found Astro Bot: Rescue Mission was as much of a demonstration of the DualShock 4 as it was of PlayStation VR. Tight platforming controls on a DualShock 4 controller wasn’t novel but transforming the controller into a water cannon, grappling hook, and other tools made allowed me to interact in the VR space without the need for PlayStation Move controllers. The marriage of a well made platformer with well made VR exclusive gimmicks and abilities brought me an experience that was both deeper and more diverse experiences.  

When I took the next step and approached each level with VR rules and capabilities in mind, I was rewarded with additional robots and other hidden secrets. I was able to deduce the locations of all but a handful of robots and hidden chameleons by peeking a certain way doing what made sense in VR. I looked high, low, behind me, above me, and below me in an effort to find all these living collectibles.  

The hardware powering PlayStation VR wasn’t perfect. A hold of the Options button fixed most of its tracking issues but every once in a while, a full level reload was required to fix the orientation of the DualShock 4. The stylized visuals played to the PlayStation 4 Pro’s strengths; anything too realistic often looked far too grimey on an already less than ideal level of clarity offered by the PlayStation VR’s headset.  

Astro Bot: Rescue Mission convinced me there was a pathway to infuse virtual reality ideas into 3D platforming. It was reminiscent of playing Super Mario Galaxy for the first time. New and refreshing ideas were being introduced right until the very end which meant every play session was filled with joy. It’s the title that I was constantly wanting to rope my significant other, my brother, and anyone who will listen to try. It was genuinely wonderful and should not be missed.

Verdict: 
I loved it

Ratings Guide

Marvel’s Spider-man Review

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Insomniac Games’ Spider-man may be my favorite piece of Spider-man content in recent memory. I enjoyed it more than the movies and any other game featuring the web crawler. That’s how good the main story thread was. That’s how good it felt to swing, fight, and be the amazing Spider-man in this game.  

Spider-man was my superhero of choice while growing up. I watched a lot of the Spider-man: Animated Series. I genuinely enjoyed the game of the same name, Spider-man and Venom: Maximum Carnage, and the Dreamcast release of Spider-man by Neversoft. Since then I mostly stayed away from Spider-man games; I barely touched that much lauded Spider-man 2 with its awesome swing mechanics. In fact, the most Spidey action I experienced since the Dreamcast days came by way of the Marvel vs Capcom games.  

This game may not be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but Marvel’s influence and touch was all over it. Spider-man was extremely polished from top to bottom with audio and presentation cues inspired by Marvel’s movies – a notable cameo from those movies even makes it in. Spider-man’s various suits were incredibly detailed and well rendered. I found myself admiring them until the very end of the game.  

By virtue of advancing tech and talent, Spider-man seamlessly transitioned from one acrobatic move to another without missing a gameplay beat. I cannot stress how good Spider-man feels to control. Thanks to the smooth framerate delivery, responsive controls, and stellar motion blur, I forgot that it’s a 30 FPS game.  

Insomniac Games’ created a relatively frictionless experience with Spider-man. The main story thread propelled me forward with ebbs and flows of drama and action. I found their depictions of iconic Spidey characters such as Peter, Mary Jane, and Aunt May to be top notch. Doctor Octavius and Norman Osborn filled their roles well giving them modern updates that gave them depth. In fact, I felt a lot of the Spider-man staples were superbly re-imagined in this game. I have no idea how much of that was lifted from the comics but I felt Insomniac Games made all pieces fit.  

I was glad to see them enter Peter Parker’s life as a young adult trying to navigate life on his own. His origin story is known to everyone by now so there’s no need to revisit it. By the end of the story, Peter grew a bit as a person and learned to trust and respect Mary Jane as a partner and person. I loved how they handled Doctor Octavius and Peter’s relationship. Peter had an admiration, respect, and sympathy for the struggling scientist. It’s a relationship that I’ve never seen depicted before but one that paid off handsomely.  

Analogs to Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham games’ combat were apparent, but I would argue that style of combat suits Spider-man better. I never understood why Batman was dashing between enemies so much whereas it makes perfect sense for the agile Spider-man to do so. Spidey had speed, agility, and web shooters to keep him afloat in combat.  

I chose a slightly higher difficulty which packed more punch in behind firearms and melee attacks, but the true challenge in the game came down to numbers. Not even one-on-one boss battles with Spidey’s foes like the Scorpion, Electro, or Shocker were as tough as being outnumbered. The only way to take me down was to just send a torrent of enemies from all sides, at different ranges, with an array of weapons and weaknesses to exploit. Overwhelming me was the only way to take me down. Fortunately, those who are not keen on the combat can thin out enemies with stealth takedowns akin to those that the Dark Knight employed in his adventures. 

Breaking up the action were stealth and exploration segments involving Peter, Mary Jane or Miles Morales. I enjoyed seeing where Peter worked and life on ground level. Some the stealth segments with Mary Jane were stretching it but I was able to work my way through them with relative ease.  

It’s tough to make a city matter when means of travel encourages me to ignore huge swathes of it. I didn’t even realize I could read newspaper headlines until halfway through. There was almost never a reason to set foot on the ground unless I was addressing a crime.  

Filling New York City with meaningful content is tough. Even with giant open world games like Grand Theft Auto, it’s tough use that space effectively. Insomniac Games’ facsimile of Manhattan was convincing enough for a foreigner like myself. Central Park and the Avengers tower were my reference points as I slowly familiarized myself with the city. But like I said, it’s tough to care where I was when all the side activities didn’t reflect the districts I picked them up in or were drowned out by the noise of all the busy work. They really should have focused on quality over quantity here.  

I didn’t see how the developer of Resistance, Ratchet & Clank, and Sunset Overdrive were going to Marvel’s Spider-man justice. I thought Sucker Punch would have been the natural fit considering their pedigree but I gave Insomniac Games the benefit of the doubt and they rewarded my optimism and created the definitive Spider-man experience. There was so much love and care given to every aspect of the web slinger’s life. Not all of it landed

Verdict: 
I loved it

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Until Dawn

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My Until Dawn impressions as a whole align with my impressions of Rami Malek’s performance and of his character, Josh. It began a little awkwardly with hints of unsettling creepiness and then just devolves into unconvincing lunacy that provided a healthy amount of goofiness.

Horror themed games like Until Dawn and Amnesia: The Dark Descent were most effective when they hid away their monsters and left my imagination run rampant. The monsters were defanged as soon as they’re revealed. Akin to a fool wearing a poorly made Halloween costume, these sideshows hailed the beginning of a game’s rapid decline in scares.

I start to notice faults and the seams unravel. And before long, I stopped playing with mindfulness and welcomed risk with open arms.

Despite its inability to retain its horror hold over me, I found Until Dawn was one of the better branching path adventure games I’ve played. I enjoyed the fact that the decisions I made had a fairly large number of immediate outcomes. There were eight characters who can survive or perish because of my decisions. Little missteps during quick time events or just making the wrong choice, could result in a dead teen. Some decisions were obvious but many were a total mystery which made for a more exciting experience.

Not so exciting or flattering were the visuals which wobbled between looking great and unintentionally grotesque. The environments, objects, and essentially anything non-living looked as they should. Human characters appeared distracting features like Chiclet teeth or overly animated speech. A lot of the faces didn’t seem natural and excessive. Uncanny valley was in full force.

I played the game with the PlayStation 4 Pro and it’s Boost Mode but even then the performance was uneven. The dips in framerate did not get in the way of the life or death situations but they did make exploration feel sluggish. Couple with the plodding pace which the characters move, exploring the locales of Until Dawn felt like a chore.

It took me two Octobers to finish Until Dawn. Picking it back up was easy and the same could be said with putting it down. I never felt enough of a connection with the characters, story, or mystery to keep me coming back for more day after day. There were entertaining moments, a few scares, and moments of intrigue to string me towards the end of a chapter, but in the end, it was a forgettable popcorn horror flick.

Ratings Guide

Verdict:
It was okay

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

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