The Persistence Review – Head Space

The Persistence Review – Head Space

“Oh set me up with the spirit in the sky, that’s where I’m gunna go when I die.”

 

Just once I’d like to see a journey through the universe’s vast unknown go without a hitch in the plan. According to every piece of media not invented by Gene Roddenberry, it’s all space bandits, carnivorous aliens, and failures of science somehow turning up in the airlock, and that’s bullshit. Nonetheless, in the search for a space travelling tale where everything goes swimmingly, you must have persistence! A-HA!

 

This is the latest title from Firesprite Games, a Liverpool-based studio who’s made games that cater to PlayStation’s gizmos like the PlayStation Camera and PSVR since 2013. The Persistence is their first title to release on home consoles outside of the PlayStation, which was a given after The Persistence was updated to be played on flat-screen TVs in 2019. How time flies.

 

You play as Zimri Eder, a graduate from the Star Wars Academy of Stupid Names, who is a security officer making the rounds on a spaceship known as The Persistence. While the rest of the limitless crew were working on their own experiments and maintenence, some of which involving Dark Matter, the ship suddenly meets a terrible fate and several crew members perish in the unknown and probably foreseen accident. Zimra was one of the casualties, and she finds herself revived in a clone body thanks to the currently-AI companion Serena Karim. Serena instructs her how to repair the ship and return home before the black hole sitting outside the window sill sucks us all in.

 

An in-game screenshot of The Persistence, showcasing the player character confronted by a mutant crouching on a table.

 

Real quick, I’d like to mention the humorous nature of the story, considering that it’s essentially a group of ghosts who can’t wait to return home to their families… in a ship filled with murderous mutants and anomalies of atoms. The 2009 film Moon taught us that clones have a shelf-life equivalent to store-brand sushi, so I look forward to Zimri returning to her family with half of her body parts missing.

 

I only bring this up because The Persistence is so bloody eager to explain almost every game mechanic as a wonder of science, or at least something that needs an explanation. The reason behind why we have unlimited clones, why there’s lockers that randomly explode in your face, why some lockers inexplicably have live grenades in them that only activate when you can visually see them. It’s absurd to the highest degree, and it works more against the immersion than it does to help it, especially when it’s done for mechanics and not the actual origin of the accident.

 

“Hey, Serena, why are these Witche– I mean, Weepers screaming and crying with an alarming clarity, despite the lack of actual fucking lungs?”

“Oh, it’s because they’re doing it from the diaphragm, and not the throat, Zimri.”

“Oh, okay… no, wait, what?”

 

An in-game screenshot of The Persistence, showcasing the player character cutting it close with a mutant.

 

Anyway, The Persistence is a lot of things, most mainly a roguelike; a slightly ambiguous roguelike with a corrupted core, but in due time. A first person shooter first and foremost, your main task will be to stealth your way around 4 separate floors attempting to complete storyline objectives while also reaching the end before you meet the bad end of a black hole. Standing between you and victory are a ravenous horde of mindless mutants you’d be forgiven for thinking are actually Millwall fans in disguise, and the game allows you to take ’em down with a pretty hefty arsenal of gadgets, gizmos, and guns. 

 

Teleporting chainsaws, .50 caliber revolvers, black hole grenades, electrical riot batons, stuffing a stem cell harvester into their spine. The toy box given to you is magnificently versatile in its ways of executing the monsters on board, and a lot of the time, they’re also exceptionally fun to use. A personal highlight would be the Valkyrie, an electrical harpoon gun finding new meaning in an environment without water. It pins everything to the wall effortlessly, with ragdoll physics making more than just a money shot.

 

While the firearms provide power in tense situations, the game heartily recommends melee combat. All of the firearms are slow-firing, bar The Needle, which detracts from its rapid fire rate with pathetic damage. The Persistence aims to hark back to the days of visceral melee combat seen in titles like Condemned and uhh… Condemned 2, which is a bold ambition, even though The Persistence lacks everything that made Condemned so brutal to play. 

 

An in-game screenshot of The Persistence, showcasing a mutant hugging the touch-screen wall, with the player character behind them.

 

For one, despite the misconceptions of psychotic homeless folk disregarding personal space, the hobos in Condemned respected the rules of the arena, and their capabilities were always telegraphed. In The Persistence, mutants ready to give you a kiss with a fist almost always clip into your model, providing them with an un-counterable hit despite being given a shield you’re supposed to use for such an attack. For two, Condemned‘s AI wasn’t stupider than a sack of wet gravel posing as a British civil servant. 

 

Their go-to strategy is always simply running at you. They don’t manipulate the environment, they don’t move snake-like through the claustrophobic halls of scattered boxes and bloodstains, they’ll walk through anything and everything just to take a shot at you. Sounds fair under the right context, but when it’s the *only* retaliation these dimwits have, it’s tiring to fight constantly in a ship adorned with fuck all to look at.

 

Despite making a flawless transition from VR to a flat-screen, The Persistence‘s graphical qualities aren’t anything to really write home about, and really dampen the experience. Visual money shots are few and far between. There is some environmental design that adds a lived-in feel to these drab workshops, but they’re usually tied to one-time story events as opposed to being the set dressing permanently. 

 

An in-game screenshot of The Persistence, showcasing the player character with a mutant under the influence of Ivy Serum.

 

Instead, The Persistence‘s best assets stem from some truly excellent sound design coming from the creaking ship and its freakish inhabitants. The ship stutters and hums with low power, footsteps echo through the ventilation shafts to other rooms, and the heavy breathing rumbling in your ears can cause even the strongest of folk to shiver. Mind you, all of this tense atmosphere is immediately run over with a van labelled with “J. Umps Care”.

 

Every single piece of intentional horror is an audio jumpscare. Pipes inexplicably popping and letting off steam, random panels falling from ceilings, monsters screaming at you from behind, and the most egregious of all, a door that slams in your fucking face. The last one is especially the most tedious, as it just turns into useless busy work that puts you in an unskippable cinematic which provides no challenge or threat. It is there just to startle you and nothing else, and every time it happened that high from fear suddenly crashed. 

 

This is easily the worst thing about the entirety of The Persistence: everything in the game is at odds with itself. Beyond the horror’s two separate juxtapositions of context, this roguelike’s attempts to shine are faltered by betrayals in pacing and overall anger brought forth by an honestly unfair difficulty spike. The average run through to the end of this figurative and literal nightmare can be anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, depending on how ill-equipped you are against the current seed, and for a roguelike? That’s lethal. 

 

An in-game screenshot of The Persistence, showcasing the player character up-close with the body of a Weeper.

 

It also deflates any chances for strong player agency. Here we are, with a impossible region of space-time sitting outside our goddamn space house. We’re urged to get our ship back to working conditions in order to save ourselves, but we have unlimited tries to do it. Our progress is still clocked, we acknowledge previous failures, but we have all the time in the world, because Berty here is currently chowing down on a nearby quasar.

 

It begs the question as to why the roguelike is even there to begin with, considering it throws a spanner into this machine trying to churn out a tribute to SOMA. You’ve got basic implementations of permanent upgrades that’re mostly vague in their descriptions, schematics which provide a slightly stronger starting loadout, and a handful of clone bodies providing incremental differences in gameplay. These do nothing to add unique flavour to separate playthroughs since it all comes from the weapons in-game which, while versatile, are a drop in the bucket compared to what other roguelikes like Enter The Gungeon, NeuroVoider, and Void Bastards have to offer. 

 

Even the procedural generation from the map layouts are a waste of time considering that it feels like the game has to meet a specific quota of preset layouts, all of which look the same, and always have no more than two shuffling shamblers making pathetic strolls through an iota of the entire room. Why was this a roguelike when these efforts aren’t remiss of a more terrifying adventure through a linear sequence of events with a progression more enticing to the player? 

 

An in-game screenshot of The Persistence, showcasing the player character confronted by a mutant crouching on a table.

 

When The Persistence released in 2018 for the PSVR, it was met with acclaim due to its immersion and robust nature into providing a VR adventure that wasn’t just an glorified slide-show using [ENTER PROPERTY HERE]. It had replayability, it had chutzpah, content, and it mixed several different genres together into something that stands out amongst a platform still teething. Making the transition to normalcy though? You’ve been beat out to the finish line, overlapped by titles that are still celebrating. 

 

In the end, The Persistence is a game desperately battling with each and every single one of its factors. An interesting adventure lacks context in favor of a gameplay loop akin to a lobotomy, the horror is one part Silent Hill and eight parts Five Nights at Freddy’s, and the gameplay is both visceral and a lying bag of tricks. What could’ve been a shining star is instead dead space. 

 

In this case, Dead Space 3

 

This Review of The Persistence was based upon the Xbox One version of the game. A review copy was provided for this purpose.

"Oh set me up with the spirit in the sky, that's where I'm gunna go when I die."   Just once I'd like to see a journey through the universe’s vast unknown go without a hitch in the plan. According to every piece of media not invented by Gene Roddenberry, it's all space bandits, carnivorous aliens, and failures of science somehow turning up in the airlock, and that's bullshit. Nonetheless, in the search for a space travelling tale where everything goes swimmingly, you must have persistence! A-HA!   This is the latest title from Firesprite Games, a Liverpool-based studio who's…

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Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling Review – Float Like A Butterfly

Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling Review – Float Like A Butterfly

In an industry whose frontline is so reliant on spectacle, it’s tough not to conflate evolution with cynicism. More than any other form of entertainment, AAA game development is relentless with casting away mechanics that are no longer at the forefront of technological advancement. On a large production scale, game development rarely has an affinity for its own history. It all too eagerly molds longstanding genres and IPs around trends instead of holding past triumphs and current expectations in balance.

 

This is all to say that turn-based gameplay does not have as much of a hold on the RPG genre as it used to. It utilizes little of the fluidity that improved graphical fidelity lends itself to and though credit must be given to the Persona franchise and the occasional new IP like Octopath Traveller, a growing impatience has crept into contemporary Final Fantasy and Paper Mario entries. The former has found success bypassing turn-based gameplay entirely but the latter has still failed to reach the heights of its first two games, overtly simplifying its combat system at the expense of the franchise’s core identity.

 

In recent years, control of the genre’s legacy has ceded to independent studios who see its constraints as a starting point instead of a relic. Success stories ranging from LISA: The Painful to the Divinity: Original Sin series have illustrated ways for the role-playing genre to advance without abandoning its roots, and Moonsprout Games’ Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling aims its aspirations at a specific archetype. The aesthetic and strategic features of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door practically serve as a genre unto itself and Bug Fables largely operates within it, preserving its charms and often making outright improvements.

 

Such an unapologetic reference point does inherit a degree of skepticism. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door remains such a singular, renowned title that merely matching its technical qualities sixteen years down the line sets your title up against a reputation that may be undefeatable. Bug Fables doesn’t fully cultivate an aesthetic that is separable from Paper Mario either, as cutely and competently as its story is told. Yet consistently through its 20-hour campaign, it does imprint its own strategic inclinations onto the player preventing Bug Fables from feeling like a mere fangame.

Gameplay image from Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling showing Leif about to deploy an Icefall against a Chomper enemy
The colony’s all here; Image courtesy of DANGEN Entertainment

The distinguishing factor at Bug Fables’s center is its attachment to a designated three-character ensemble. Bug Fables builds its gameplay around co-protagonists Vi, Kabbu, and Leif, as opposed to Mario and whatever ally you choose. If it’s a concession to players, it doesn’t negate the skill with which you will have to juggle their distinct abilities and it lets you bear witness to tangible growth in their powers throughout the game. By focusing in on these characters, there’s no weak link in the group with each character proving useful in combat and integral to respective puzzles. There are of course the requisite checks-and-balances amongst each character’s health, attack range, and strength against respective enemies, but the dilemma at hand is not which characters to use, but how to use them all.

 

In combat, you can gift extra turns to other characters at the expense of your turn (Vi for example is the only character who can knock enemies out of the air), but you can also rotate character order mid-battle. Bug Fables provides numerous avenues for ensuring a turn isn’t wasted because your character is incidentally not of use. The game as a whole avoids kneecapping players through arbitrary design choices. Challenge and conflict manifest naturally without archaic structure intercepting. Advances are made analytically, determining the weak points of various enemies and committing them to memory, not through sheer luck of having the right character order. Bug Fables establishes early on that it’s playing a fair game, making the nuanced strategy it asks of its players largely rewarding.

 

In its purest form, Bug Fables‘s combat system upholds the same rhythm as Paper Mario‘s. The player rotates through their character ensemble deploying an attack of their choosing from each character and timing their input to maximize its effect. Special attacks are tailored to each character but revolve around one currency system so much that 4 “Teamwork Points” (“TP”) allocated to one character’s special move means 4 points taken from everyone else. Depending on the enemy you’re facing, certain special attacks range from being indispensable to entirely useless. The starting Tornado Toss skill especially saved me multiple times and otherwise rained notifications of “zero damage dealt” across my screen, losing me 3 “TP” points all the while.

 

With Bug Fables’ controlled allocation of “TP” points, earned by picking up or purchasing various inventory items and also by leveling up through combat, using special attacks conservatively is a mainstay in combat. Points deplete deceptively quickly and the game makes it a point to incrementally reduce damage dealt by a special attack if you are just using the same one repeatedly. Bug Fables’ ability to get around player exploits is bolstered by the shrewd attention paid to diversified enemy design. Early on in the game, a go-to strategy of mine was to place Leif with his freeze-powered attacks at the back of my roster and then use a special attack to freeze an enemy right before it was their turn to attack. Bug Fables will gratify such a demand, but not across the board. If you don’t internalize which enemies are not receptive to such an attack, you’ll find yourself spending your points and doing every input correctly, but only doing meager damage to the aggressor.

Gameplay image from Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling showing an arachnid opponent screaming at your characters

The enemies of Bug Fables often deal vast damage once it is their turn to strike, but the game distributes save points generously and even lets you re-organize your roster when backed into a corner by a boss battle. As is common in turn-based RPGs, towering bosses punctuate the end of each chapter as a culmination of the enemy grind that got you there. At the mercy of monolithic beasts ranging from the Wasp King to a sentient glob of honey, the sturdy responsiveness of the controls and elaborate list of attack options fully shine.

 

Throughout the campaign, players obtain medals that modify health, number of TP points, and more. The use of these medals operate on their point system ensuring that you cannot equip so many at once as to be unstoppable. The exception to this is the “hard mode” medal available from the start of the game that successfully rebalances the game (at any point when it’s equipped) to make enemies more difficult, but also offer a line of special medals rewarding your efforts. Bug Fables without hard mode toggled is a rock-solid introduction to turn-based RPG gameplay with enough urgency to keep players from being on autopilot. With hard mode on, Bug Fables is a formidable challenge that is still well-balanced weighing all obstacles against the strategy of the player.

 

As the landscape broadens out chapter-by-chapter, weaving new empires into unforeseen locations, the distribution of each connected area remains coherent though the absence of some navigation features does start to become an issue. Noticeably, Bug Fables lacks a map as well as a fast-travel feature. NPCs always give you guidance in the form of cardinal directions, which on an isometric map leaves no doubt as to which direction is north, but destinations are mentioned by name without any visual notation. A fair amount of time will be wasted figuring out how far northeast you need to travel.

 

This does however readily feed into the benefits you gain from meandering through town. Outside of its elaborate campaign (which even manages to integrate mandatory stealth successfully), Bug Fables is not lacking in side quests. These range from conventional but painless fetch quests to… more Bug Fables combat, but the rewards for your participation are handsome. More medals and skills than you may know what to do with are offered here and as low as the stakes are, they allow the game to become more playful, introducing an intuitive battle card game that mirrors the reward of the core combat.

Gameplay image from Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling describing the Queen's hope to connect Bugaria with Ant Tunnels
Bug Fables is at the very least not lacking in a distinct vocabulary; Image courtesy of Steam

Where Bug Fables often compelled me the most is its main-game environment puzzles. It first does wonders in pacing out the turn-based combat. At their most prominent I did occasionally flee repeat encounters with respawned enemies just to avoid prevailing tedium. Alongside combat, the puzzles justify the game’s reliance on three core characters by evolving their distinct traits and testing them across various temple-like contraptions. The common need to freeze enemies and use them as weights before they melt makes for speedy and cerebral hurdles on your way to a dungeon’s treasures. Elsewhere, Vi’s boomerang and Kabbu’s ability to cut through shrubbery gives players an arsenal to logically unearth collectibles and make ever so satisfying progress.

 

Few of my hang-ups with Bug Fables rest with the quality of its gameplay. It truly does improve on Paper Mario in the balance of its combat, and it otherwise preserves a sorely missed approach to turn-based combat. It’s ultimately in presentation where Bug Fables approximates Paper Mario more than it does expand it. Its admiration for paper-like fields treads very closely to Paper Mario’s main domain and looks slightly less lush than Thousand-Year Door. The environment variety is laudable but not too out of the box for similarly quaint RPGs and platformers. The Honey Factory goes the farthest in distinguishing the game’s setting though it still doesn’t quite carve a unique aesthetic for the game.

 

The story handles character motivations very steadily but boasts a surprisingly muted sense of humor given the colorful ensemble. I did find myself missing the lunacy of Thousand-Year Door amidst a story that resembles a pretty traditional hero’s quest. Characters make their mark within the story but don’t necessarily leave you with many memorable quips or idiosyncrasies. Bug Fables obviously cares about its characters but where the effort is observable, distinct charm is not always apparent. Credit must be given however to the at once sweeping and zany OST which infuses a fair amount of spark (and MIDI upright bass) into the presentation.

 

As perhaps foretold by its immediate impression, Bug Fables’ ambitions of being the second-coming of Paper Mario are a bit of a double-edged sword. Its presentation and narrative comfortably slots into RPG norms more often than not, making for an astute tribute but not an origin that stands on its own. However, Bug Fables makes meaningful improvements to the efficiency of old school turn-based combat and paces its gameplay deftly enough to let combat and puzzles reciprocally delight. My lasting connection with Bug Fables’ mechanics usurped my distance from its story. Its ancestors may be obvious but Bug Fables performs like a whole new breed.

This review is based on the PS4 version of the game. A review copy was provided by the publisher.

DOOM Eternal Campaign Review – Quite Messy

DOOM Eternal Campaign Review – Quite Messy

“You sound real good and you play the part well, but the energy you givin’ off is so unfamiliar — I don’t feel ya.”

 

Man alive, 2020 is an absolute mess, isn’t it? That bloody virus, our stupid leaders powering the economy with our dusty bones, like there’s going to be an economy if we keep throwing workers’ skin into the grinder. While it’s refreshing to see people realizing just how little of a shit the 1% gives about them, it’s a sentiment that was timed poorly with my playthrough of DOOM Eternal.

 

This is a sequel that needs no introduction, of course. The highly anticipated follow-up to one of the most revered games of the 2010s, DOOM, which electrified and revived a genre that was widely considered to be in need of re-invigoration. It’s been a long time coming, and it should’ve been something that took longer, but in due time, let’s just rip (and tear) this band-aid off.

 

An in-game screenshot of DOOM: Eternal, showcasing the Doom Slayer staring across a dark hallway.

 

You still are the infallible Doom Slayer, fresh from err… well, we all know what happened at the end of DOOM (2016), with the Slayer stuck in stasis after the imposing Samuel Hayden threw him in there and stole his sword. None of that matters now, as Eternal kicks off with Earth pretty much past the point of recovery, and the Doom Slayer now has a flying fortress outside of Earth, inexplicably.

 

I am aware that there’s already a knee-jerk reaction when someone critiques a narrative as arguably unnecessary as DOOM’s; that “story isn’t the strength,” or the infamous plot-in-pornography counterpoint. This isn’t John Carmack’s world anymore, however, and it doesn’t excuse the progression, the context, and the reasoning behind why Eternal‘s narrative and writing is so bloody poor.

 

It adds further insult to injury when you realize that DOOM (2016)‘s story was perfectly acceptable, even great in places. One could wager that it came from the same coin as Resident Evil 4’s irony-coated way of life but from the other side, so that instead of B-movie cheesiness, it’s absurd ultra-violence brought forth with memetic energy via the infamous DOOM (1993) tie-in comic. In Eternal, they’ve gone so far past fan service that it just turns it all into a bit of a cringy mess.

 

The viking tie-in stuff, the energy that the Doom Slayer’s presence emanates, the smartly placed comedic moments that gave the Doom Slayer’s foreboding character that ounce of personality. It’s all turned silly now as he becomes the polar opposite to what B.J. Blazkowicz became in The New Colossus, except instead of eternal monologues of nihilism, it’s eternal monologues of suffering from whomever Doom Slayer chooses to bisect.

 

An in-engine screenshot of DOOM: Eternal, showcasing the Slayer ready to face off against the shielded Doom Hunter, armed with a Chaingun.

 

The worst of it comes from the odd UAC adverts that pop up in a lot of the missions. Here, a hologram will cheerfully celebrate Hell’s dominance on Earth, while also referring to demons as “mortally challenged”. It’s quite obviously a quip on PC culture, and while I have no quarter on whether or not it’s right or just to make a jab at “easily offended” groups, it’s a joke that comes across as childish and overplayed along the course of the game.

 

It’s especially annoying when you consider how interesting events have been in-between DOOM (2016) and Eternal. Samuel Hayden leading an army against the first waves of Hell on Earth, the mystery of how the Doom Slayer left wherever the fuck he was after DOOM (2016), this is all fairly important info that is either relegated to an info dump or not explained at all.

 

“Maybe this is all stuff that can be explained in the campaign DLC,” he says with gritted teeth and an upset stomach. At this point, however, playing as anyone other than D. Slayer Esq. is grounds for execution in the eyes of wannabe-boomer-shooter players, who only found out about the Slayer’s 20-year-long career from diluted Reddit posts and a love for a warbling Shih Tzu.

 

I shouldn’t be harping on the story this much, but when this mismanagement of different resources seeps into the gameplay, that’s when you have problems. It’s actually interesting to examine and consider how DOOM Eternal manifests three different generations of game design within its brief but fairly satisfying blast of a campaign. It’s a point I’ll get to soon, but right now, let me get this out of the way: yes, this is still a faithful rendition of combat that retains the horizontal nature of DOOM with the verticality of Quake.

 

An in-engine screenshot of DOOM: Eternal, showcasing the Doom Slayer preparing for an attack from a Whiplash.

 

The speed, the violence, the gibbing, the meat, the fire, the sounds, and the passion of it all, it’s still out in full force, grinning at you with bloodstained teeth and a star in its eye. Eternal‘s arenas show vague upgrades in terms of defense, mobility, and pacing. There are a few additions that don’t stick to the wall properly, like the stupid monkey bars you awkwardly fly off in order to take a few hits, but in due time.

 

It’s 90s combat: pure in its essence and warm in its embrace. You won’t be able to rocket jump like the old days, but you could retain a sense of skill throughout as the enemy roster attempts to keep up with your energy and endless stream of bulle– Oh shit, I’m out of ammo. I guess I need to jump into the fire in order to use my chainsaw and– Oh, I lost an extra life while doing that. Guess I need to get my bearings and– Oh, that’s another extra life gone because the monster stopped in-fighting and swarmed on me while I was still. Suppose I should try and get a glory kill and– Oh, that’s another…

 

Eternal‘s biggest issue is an over-reliance on mechanics that remove the free-flowing nature of the combat and instead turn it into a rough clockwork tango with no rhythm. Your ammo limit for every weapon, even when upgraded to its maximum capacity, is quite small, which can lead to varied firefights, although that variation does lead into frustration. Your game plan suddenly becomes unraveled as you attempt to find whomever can be felled by your gas-guzzling chainsaw.

 

This is that seventh generation of gaming kicking in, the generation that saw fear of potentially close-minded players despising freedom. Eternal doesn’t really entrust its players with a lot of its events, always wrestling control from you, just in case your eyes suddenly stop working, or the word “navigation” is removed from your vocabulary. The BFG-10k mission was an absolute farce for not allowing direct player input in what is arguably Eternal’s most humorous and ultimately badass moment.

 

An in-engine screenshot of DOOM: Eternal, showcasing the Doom Slayer fighting off against a Mancubus and an Arachnotron.

 

They also give the Doom Slayer a voice which, after careful consideration, is just an awful decision. It’s not like the VA for this monolith of muscle and pissed off bone is bad, it’s that realistically, the Doom Slayer is presented as more of a vestigial icon than a voice, or a prophet. It’s that fan service issue kicking in again, and the execution is more than poor, no matter which way you cut it.

 

Going back to the combat, and it’s not like the mechanical reliance is inherently bad, it’s just that when paired with the arenas, it adds interims into fights that make this fury-infested battle against Hell quite boring. There’s the Chainsaw for refilling your ammo pools, sure, but then there’s the Ice Bomb, which the game explains is best for Lost Souls for all the three times that they appear in-game. There’re also Frag Grenades, still as limp as ever, Flame Belch that provides you with pretty fucking useless armor drops, the weapon upgrades that come in lots of two for each weapon, the melee options– Oh God, the melee options.

 

Okay, so you have two options for melee, one of which is already the instigator for Glory Kills, which are still as exciting as ever to execute, especially the new ones. The way you practically push a spine through the asses of entry-level shambling Zombies, the blade dance you engage in while slicing a Whiplash into tiny little pieces before any of the body parts hit the ground. They’re gorgeously animated and a way to show you how well-deserved some of these victories are.

 

There’s also Blood Punch, something you don’t get until half-way through the game. It can only be charged with Glory Kills, and its ultimate capability is only worth it on one monster (the Cyber-Mancubus) that has an immediate counter to it. Beyond that, you can get a tiny health boost from killing a fair few Ads, and that’s about it. There’s no base melee option you can use for trivial enemies that you don’t want to waste ammo on, and while you could use a Chainsaw on them, it’s adding spectacle constantly when at some points, it’s admittedly unnecessary.

 

An in-engine screenshot, showcasing the Doom Slayer fighting off against a Mancubus and Carcass with an Assault Rifle.

 

Oh come on, surely you know that a barrage of predetermined animations eventually get stale, and you know that some Zombies aren’t worth the bullets you admittedly can’t spare at points. It’s just a faff, and a lot of the battles in Eternal are a faff, even if this roster of monsters is admittedly impressive. Not only do you have old favorites from DOOM 2 returning, like the Arachnotron, Archvile, and Pain Elemental (Alright, maybe not “favorite”, in that case), but you also have brand new additions that switch things up a bit.

 

Gargoyles are an impressive, low-level entry that manage to still be an annoyance, despite their low health. The Whiplash is a new favorite, mid-tier monster to attempt to thwart, with both its agility and raw power making it a worthy foe to fight and fell. On the other end, there are the monsters that don’t provide the same challenge or well-intended design, like the Carcasses and Cueballs. They’re both confusing additions, especially the Cueball’s weird environmental gimmickry, but the Carcass provides an annoying advantage to enemies that isn’t smart: stupid Plasma shields.

 

Again, not a bad idea on paper, but destroying Plasma shields also provides a devastating advantage to the player, should you choose to destroy it with the Plasma Rifle. If you don’t have that ammo then and there, you’re half past dead since no other weapon can easily destroy it the way a Plasma Rifle can. Beyond that, there’s the Prowler, which is what you get if you mixed the Whiplash with the teleporting aliens from Duke Nukem 3D, and for that, they can EAT SHIT.

 

Finally, there’s the Marauder, a towering foe of pale meat which has already inspired a new wave of “git gud” mouth-breathers to guffaw at anyone who would dare have an issue with its tactics in combat. Honestly, it can keep the truthfully bullshit hitscan shield if he wants, he can have his silly little shotgun, but one thing that needs to be removed is that fucking ghost dog.

 

An in-game screenshot of DOOM: Eternal, showcasing the introduction of the Marauder.

 

While I’m fine with having what is essentially an alt-universe Doom Slayer ready to fight me with less gizmos, but with reactions that force the player to widen their playstyles, the dog gnawing my goddamn ankles doesn’t help. While it does have low health, making it more than trivial in theory, it breaks your line of sight from the Marauder long enough for him to get a free hit in most of the time.

 

The monster roster of DOOM Eternal is great for the most part. It’s a truly versatile cast of Hell’s finest, but the way a lot of them are seemingly plopped into mission with no rhyme or reason betrays a lot of the original’s flair and precision. Christ, even The Plutonia Experiment put more thought into how brutal it can be without first deciding “how can I be an asshole to people”.

 

Taras Nabad is a good showcase of this. Your first fight will be with a Marauder, your second encounter with him in the story thus far, but with slightly less health than before. You do the Reddit-Approved SSG/Ballista Boogaloo with him, he’s dead, fair enough, but the next arena fight sees the arrival of an Archvile, and a rather unceremonious arrival, at that. His presence is a game changer, considering he can also buff a lot of the monsters he revives, but id treats him as a footnote rather than acknowledging his status as the Marauder of the ’90s FPS.

 

The same arena also hosts a “secret” encounter, which rewards you with a sole Weapon Point, consisting of one Cacodemon, one Pain Elemental, and the Doom Hunter, another boss turned infrequent enemy, who hosts the same Plasma Rifle issue as the Carcasses. There’s no synergy to this fight, and there’s no synergy with a lot of these fights. It feels like the designers were treating the roster as Pick ‘n’ Mix, throwing them into whatever levels at the cost of thoughtful encounters.

 

An in-engine screenshot of DOOM: Eternal, showcasing the Doom Slayer facing off against a Tyrant, with a Plasma Rifle.

 

Even then, a lot of these fights aren’t necessarily hard, even on Ultra-Violence, “The Gentleman’s Way to Play”. While the Marauder is a shot of Espresso after 29 hours of no sleep, this lack of forward thinking put into how the hordes of Hell can both bless the Doom Slayer and burden him also, is wack. The only button id can be bothered to press is making the demons instigate in-fighting immediately– in-fighting that immediately ceases as soon as you sneeze towards their direction. Good plan.

 

The same goes for secrets, which are about as secret as Geoff Keighley’s lust for Hideo Kojima. You won’t even get halfway through the game before you unlock an upgrade which straight up shows the location of every single secret collectible in the game. This is a double-edged-sword type of inclusion, since it alienates people looking for an appropriate reward for delving into hidden areas, but it also allows lesser players to not try too terribly hard for an item they might consider useless.

 

It’s a great inclusion to have in the long run, but for 90 percent of these secrets, there is next to no challenge in attempting to figure out where exactly there are in the world, how to get there, what mix of skills is required, etc. You’ll check your mini-map half of the time, see a secret next to your icon, you’ll look left, and oh goodie, it was behind a desk, what next?

 

Eternal‘s issues can be best described as “inaccurate”. It’s a buckshot blast of attempting to appeal to all of these different demographics of DOOM fans, when in reality, all it needed was to be DOOM (2016) on Earth, which it almost is at times. The runes no longer contain any overpowered traits that break the game, some of the fights towards the end of the story are some of the best firefights you’ll have this generation, but good God, the road is paved with poor intentions.

 

An in-game screenshot of DOOM: Eternal, showcasing the Doom Slayer staring across a dark hallway.

 

All of it culminates in a tribute to DOOM 2 that manages to be less intense than its ’94 counterpart. It then ends with a kiss on the forehead and a shrug of its shoulders, recommending you play the Master Levels, which are just revisits of previous levels with more monsters, and Battle Mode, which isn’t interesting to me in the slightest (hence the “Campaign Review” title). DOOM has never really had particularly great multiplayer modes, and even with the Quake implementations, that’s still the case. Another world, maybe.

 

It’s hard to judge DOOM Eternal on all of its merits. For one, it’s clear that this is filled with unbridled and unfiltered talent, joy, violence, and challenge, but a lot of it is mismanaged in the most damaging of ways. The difficulty implementations, the monsters not being fully realized in how they can defeat the Slayer, the grating nature of the over-written lore. A lot of it comes off as goofy, but it’s also difficult trying to accept it as fully damaging to the overall quality of Eternal.

 

In the end, DOOM Eternal misses the mark due to a war with its differing attitudes regarding how it wants to be marketed. One-half of a patronizing campaign awkwardly fused with one-half of a brutalizing exercise in quintessential FPS action. Within one hell of a messy core lies one of the greatest games ever made, and while it’s still a good game, it sure as shit isn’t the best DOOM game.

 

No, that title belongs to DOOM 64.

 

This review of DOOM Eternal was based on the Xbox One version of the game.

Saints Row: The Third Remastered Review – Feels Like 2011

Saints Row: The Third Remastered Review – Feels Like 2011

When the original Saints Row launched in 2006 you would be hard-pressed to name something it excelled at. It wasn’t necessarily a bad game, but it seemed like a pale imitation of the Grand Theft Auto series that so heavily inspired it. It wasn’t until Saints Row II when The Third Street Saints became somewhat of a household name among gamers. It came into its own by turning up the ridiculous scale on pretty much everything. Rival gangs like the Katana-wielding Ronin and the tattoo-covered Brotherhood were memorable, not to mention the unique side activities which saw you spraying neighborhoods with fecal matter and breaking up fights between pirates and ninjas as one of Stillwater’s finest.

 

So with all that said Saints Row: The Third had some pretty big boots to fill. The main challenge lay in upping the ante, I mean what could be more over-the-top than mowing down pirates with a samurai sword while dressed as a Police Officer? Oh, and did I mention you’re doing it on a fluorescent-pink motorcycle? So did Saints Row: The Third live up to its predecessor? Yes and no. It presents a fun action romp with plenty of explosions right from the get-go, but in some senses, it feels like a watered-down version of Saints Row II. Despite this, it still had some of the most iconic moments in the series, and reliving these moments in Saints Row: The Third Remastered is just as fun as it ever was. 

 

Saints In Steelport

 

Saints Row: The Third Remastered only improves on the original in small ways. The upscaled resolution, some improvements to character and weapon models, and some rather questionable changes to the lighting. I found driving around Steelport at night to be quite a chore because of just how dark it can be. Even with the brightness turned all the way up I still found myself getting into the odd fender bender when driving down the non-too-well-lit streets. Saints Row: The Third didn’t exactly have the most stellar lighting effects but I don’t remember anything this bad. Characters tend to have a slight glow to them at times too. Although, this can be chalked up to a stylization choice befitting of the cartoonish art-style and it was present in the 2011 release as well.

 

Image from Saints Row The Third Remastered. Shows player character stood in the middle of a road
Daytime is when Steelport looks best, but it still looks rougher than you would expect from a remaster.

 

The most disappointing thing about Saints Row: The Third Remastered is the fact that it’s 30fps. I don’t like to be “that guy” but c’mon folks for a game that came out nearly a decade ago I think 60fps should be pretty much a given. Even at 30fps, there is still the odd dip now and then but it does seem to be holding up better than it did on last-gen. Weirdly, there’s an option to lock the frame rate, which I found odd considering 30fps is the upper echelon and the option doesn’t seem to make much difference.

 

Blowing Shit Up or Some Such

 

A great thing about Saints Row: The Third Remastered is just how much of a blast from the past it is. It reminds me of the time I spent surfing on jet planes and having skydiving competitions with my friends in co-op. It’s from a bygone era of a time when I could spend countless hours in the many open-worlds that the late naughties/ early twenty-tens offered. The open-world trend has somewhat dwindled over the past few years in favor of more dense, intricately woven environments. In this respect Saints Row: The Third Remastered’s very nature is both the best and worst thing about it. If you’re so inclined you’ll spend lots of time doing busy work – kill this group of gang members, buy up all these properties, throw yourself onto the highway for an insurance payout. At the time of its release, the structure of the side content was all too familiar and felt a little tedious, but having not played a game like it in so long I found myself enjoying taking over territories just for the heck of it.

 

Image taken from Saints Row The Third Remastered. Depicts protagonist crouching behind a burnt out vehicle

 

All of this isn’t to say Saints Row: The Third Remastered doesn’t make an effort to set its side content apart. Instead of just “kill that guy over there” or “loot this”, this game’s asking you to “blow up as much as possible in this tank” and “compete in a deathmatch with a bunch of furries”. While fun, my main gripe is that the activities feel a little underwhelming once you reach the latter half of the game. After fighting hordes of rival gang members, infiltrating multiple bases, and jumping out of planes, slaughtering people in a tank feels a little like child’s play. The story itself is pretty short. This means you end up with a ton of ridiculously powerful weaponry and not much chance to use it since most side activities restrict what you can and can’t use. 

 

Let’s Pretend

 

Side activities are one thing but Saints Row: The Third Remastered relies largely on you making your own fun. There’s a plethora of different costumes, vehicles, and weapons to obtain. You can change the way your custom character looks at any time as well using the plastic surgeon Image as Designed. Or you can go to Rusty’s Needle to get yourself some menacing tats. One thing that was always great about these games is your fully voice-acted protagonist, who can take on a few different accents depending on what you choose at the start. 

 

Image taken from Saints Row The Third Remastered. Depicts a clothing store menu and the protagonist wearing a hotdog suit.

 

Another thing that contributes to the fun factor is the wacky physics engine. You’ll be sending enemies and cars skyrocketing with a variety of weapons like the explosive round filled pistols or a large scale military airstrike. It’s less about “can you kill that enemy? And more about “how should you kill that enemy?” A lot of the time my answer tended to be “with a purple tank that shoots lasers!” 

 

Having a Blast

 

If you liked Saints Row: The Third you’re going to like its remaster. Aside from the graphics, (which weren’t great when it launched) the main thing that may have aged poorly for some is the humor. It’s very silly, but at the same time, it manages to obtain a kind of nuance in its self-awareness. Some of the jokes fail to land, mainly the ones that are tied to the early twenty-tens spout of “self-aware humor”. However, I’m sure if you’re a fan of the series you know what you’re in for, and it’ll be interesting to see how and if the writing evolves in the elusive next installment.

 

Image taken from Saints Row The Third. Depicts protagonist tackling an enemy while naked.
One of my favorite wacky moments from the story has you escaping an eccentric brothel completely naked.

 

I had a blast playing Saints Row: The Third Remastered. It’s not a particularly long game nor is it the prettiest girl at prom, but it excels at having its own personality with mindless action that allows you to let loose. If you’re like me and you’ve been playing a lot of long-form JRPGs recently, this is the perfect palette cleanser. 

 

This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game. A review copy was provided by the publisher. 

 

Streets of Rage 4 Review – A History of Violence

Streets of Rage 4 Review – A History of Violence

If you’re anything like me, you’ll remember swaddling up underneath a Power Rangers blanket while playing the original Streets of Rage with a friend or sibling. The franchise is held in such high regard by fans that it’s a miracle Sega never tried to revive it once gaming went 3D (although, considering how Golden Axe: Beast Rider turned out, that’s probably a good thing). Now, a quarter of a century later, Streets Of Rage 4 is here to defend its well-earned legacy. Note that this is a numbered sequel, not a reboot. Immediately, this establishes the developers’ objective to preserve the series’ identity rather than reinvent the wheel. Though the gameplay may not surprise, this trip down memory lane occasionally delights while establishing a new standard for modern-day beat ‘em ups.

 

King of the Streets

A decade after the events of the last game, Wood Oak City is once again under threat of a criminal syndicate. The now-aging heroes, Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding, join forces once more to bring down the Y Twins, the creatively named offspring of Mr X, the late series’s antagonist. It’s a simple, if thin, premise, serving mostly as a vehicle to spirit away the cast to their next fighting location. You still roundhouse kick and bodyslam anyone foolish enough to interrupt your relentless rightward march, but some new systems and fighters successfully spice up the familiar gameplay.

Streets of Rage 4 Streets Axel

The two brand-new characters round off the roster nicely. Cherry Hunter doesn’t hit hard, but she’s capable of whizzing across the battlefield while the bulky bruiser Floyd Iraia is all about big grabs and bigger damage. Whoever you brawl as, special moves still drain your HP, but à la Bloodborne, you can recover that lost health by dealing follow up damage. Take a hit before then, though, and you’ll lose that chunk of life for good. That risk/reward concept manifests in the game’s revamped combo system too, which puts your ego on the line for hefty point payouts and invaluable extra lives. These smart additions mesh seamlessly with the existing gameplay, resulting in brawling that’s exhilarating and consistently engaging.

Going solo is doable, but it’s a decidedly more challenging and solitary affair. Not only is co-op the way to play, it’s also where all the game’s new systems blossom. The new characters synergize elegantly with coordinated teamwork, and the ever-growing shared combo meter encourages many shrieks of ‘Did you see that?!’ which are always best shared with a friend, preferably one within high-fiving distance.

Streets of Rage 4 Police precinct

The one thing that cannot be overstated is just how good the combat feels here. There’s something innately satisfying about planting your boot into a hoodlum’s chest to send him hurtling towards a gang of thugs like a tattooed bowling ball. Another small, but genius, touch is the short animation delay when attempting to throw chunkier foes. It gives the impression that you’re suplexing a skyscraper, and the resulting crash is all the mightier for it. The well-tuned difficulty curve ensures you’ll emerge from boss fights by the skin of your teeth. Only the tough survive these streets, and every successful fight feels well-earned.

 

Below The Belt

There are a few speed bumps to endure along the way though. Cheap hits have always been present in the classic games and, while they aren’t as prevalent here, they still pump the brakes on the good times. Stepping onto environmental hazards sometimes ping-pongs you into new traps, thus dishing out hefty damage penalties for honest mistakes. One enemy type loves throwing AOE firebombs, and attacking her while she’s holding one forces her to drop it, resulting in an explosion that almost always hits you too. A handful of bosses also dish out attacks that feel unavoidable, and when the game gives you no real means of dodging or blocking, you’re often forced to soak up the damage. It’s appreciable keeping the gameplay faithful, but cheap hits frustrate, especially when they can swiftly turn the tide on a level’s run.

While the core fighting is polished to a mirror shine, some gameplay variety would have been welcome. Even back in the day, many of Street of Rage’s contemporaries offered some vehicles to mess around with; Golden Axe let you ride dragons, and even the Ninja Turtles had wacky surfboarding stages. At one point in Streets of Rage 4, your character hops on a motorbike, teasing a vehicle segment, but instead, the next level starts as usual with the bike disappointingly parked just off the edge of screen. The series has never strayed off the on-foot style of gameplay; it’s a pity this new installment decides to once again stick rigidly to this structure.

Streets of Rage 4 Night Train

The stage ‘Night Train’ is the closest the game ever comes to a non-walking stage. In gaming, train levels are almost immediately cool, and this one makes a hell of a good first impression as the iconic city skyline zips by in the distance. Unfortunately, the stage itself is a bit of a wreck. Signal light hazards force you to jump over them in an unmemorable pattern, and the level’s final encounter is lazily just two of the game’s previous bosses taped together. It’s also the only level without a scene transition. We never go inside a carriage to trash the upholstery or ram dining carts into thugs. We just stay on the train’s roof, pensively staring into the yonder as we dream about what the level could have been. It’s the only dud in an otherwise stellar line-up of stages.

 

City of Artists

The scrolling beat ‘em up genre is classically rife with Hanna-Barbera-style repeating backgrounds, but never once does Streets of Rage 4 re-use its environments, a statement all the more impressive considering every asset is lovingly hand-drawn. Graffiti gilds soot-stained bricks while the seedy city streets shimmer with neon lights, giving the impression that the world is illuminated by the gentle glow of an arcade cabinet. It’s a marvel in motion, and even amidst all the on-screen carnage, performance never buckles, maintaining 60 FPS, even on Switch.

Streets Of Rage 4 Art Gallery

The music has always been a celebrated part of this franchise, and thankfully, this new installment maintains a high standard. The synth-heavy soundtrack plays like a PG-13 version of Hotline Miami – it never goes in as deep, but occasionally one song will get your blood pumping. The track ‘Call the Cops’ is an early-game highlight that begs you to crack your knuckles and slam down foes to its thunderous drop. The jazzed-up presentation breathes new life into Wood Oak City, and half of the campaign’s fun is in seeing and hearing what’s around the next corner.

 

The Lowdown

There’s a palpable and infectious sense of adoration for the franchise that emanates throughout Streets of Rage 4. While it wears a familiar face, the gameplay will make you pump your fist with glee, not because nostalgia dictates you should, but because the game earns that right on its own merits. The raw gameplay is the best it’s ever been, and it shines all the brighter as a couch co-op experience. This ain’t simply a series love letter; it’s an all-new game that could confidently go toe-to-toe with some of the best beat ‘em ups of yesteryear.

 

This review for Streets of Rage 4 is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game.

 

Pesterquest Review – Roll Persuasion

Pesterquest Review – Roll Persuasion

Yeah, yeah, I’m a bit late with this one. Homesquared is already well on its way and all anyone wants to talk about is its questionable character choices and whatever nonsense its writing team has got up to this week. But to celebrate the end of the school year (and because god knows I can’t do anything else right now), I decided it was about time to dip my toes into Pesterquest, the successor to Friendsim.

I enjoyed Friendsim a good deal, so I had high hopes for Pesterquest going in. Each character has their own chapter with only three endings each, with two choice points throughout. Except in a few special circumstances, there’s only one way to get to the good end, with the other two leading to bad ends with various levels of badness- it ranges from simply not making a friend to some pretty brutal deaths. In short, it’s exactly the same as Friendsim, which is all I really wanted anyway.

Some of the choices can be pretty counterintuitive, urging you to go against common sense, human decency, and the basic drive for survival in order to end up making a friend. In some visual novels this would be frustrating and leave the player feeling like they have to guess their way to the good end, but because this is a comedy game, most players are going to want to see every ending anyway. The simplistic nature of each chapter,as well as the fast forward button means it’s easy to get every ending with no guesswork whatsoever.

Naturally this leads to a lack of challenge, so if you’re the type that likes playing VNs and figuring out how to get to the good end like a puzzle, this certainly isn’t going to satisfy. There’s a few achievements that require going down specific paths, but with such a limited number of paths to go down you’ll probably unlock them all on a casual playthrough. The main strength of Pesterquest is in its comedy, and for me it hits all the right buttons. It reminds me a lot of the early acts of Homestuck, fairly lighthearted humor based off character dialogue (or monologue, a lot of the time) with the occasional really dark joke thrown in there when it starts to get a little too easygoing. While some of the dark stuff is played for laughs, quite a bit of it isn’t, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

 

 

Before talking about the characters, though, let’s get into presentation. I already made a whole article about how much I love Homestuck‘s music, and it continues to deliver here. In the typical HS style, there’s some repurposed old tracks, some remixes, and a handful of new ones. While some of the remixes (Jade’s route especially) weren’t necessarily my favorite, and the title theme sounded unnecessarily depressing, most of the music was pretty great. A good chunk of it was by James Roach, who worked on the music for Hiveswap and Friendsim, and he reaches the same standard of quality as always. He even manages to use the music to add his own brand of humor: John’s theme is “I’ve been calling Andrew Hussie “Andy” for years and he hasn’t corrected me yet”, and Aradia’s theme is a soft cover of Megalovania titled “Yeah it is”.

The art is solid as well, there was a uniform style throughout the game despite the number of artists and no one looked too radically different from anyone else. I enjoyed the way they adapted homestuck’s style, everyone still looks like their original sprites while having human proportions. The only one that stood out as a little weird was Roxy, mostly because of her hair. Most characters look like cartoons of real people, but Roxy’s hair leaves her looking a little bit like a caricature even though her face and clothes look perfectly fine. I’d also like to give a shout-out to the background artists. All the kids’ rooms look wonderfully busy, cluttered and messy but able to showcase each kid’s interest. The inside scenes are full of personality and the outside scenes are colorful (except when necessary) and detailed without being distracting.

The writing isn’t quite as uniform, Dave’s route breaks the fourth wall repeatedly and overtly bringing up “more work for the artists” while most other routes either make subtle references or just act like the fourth wall still exists. Most of the humor is modeled after Homestuck, specifically the early parts because all the beta kid routes take place when they’re 13, but what parts of that humor is present depends on both the writer and the setting. Gallows humor is much more present on Alternia than when hanging around with a goofball like John. Some routes are much less humorous than others, though, and prefer to lean on drama and emotional beats to entertain. This isn’t to say any chapter is all humor or all drama, just that some lean more on one than the other, and when all of them are put together it leads to a very nice balance.

 

 

One last gripe before moving on, though, the writing is oddly self-congratulatory at times. A couple routes bring up the epilogues and content in it like Ultimate Dirk and laud the writers (some of whom are also involved in Pesterquest) and talk about what a great job they’re doing, and not in a way that strikes me as tongue-in-cheek either, especially since some of them have talked on social media about how grateful we should be for them for making homesquared, and it’s a bit eye-rolling to see. It’s not exactly common, but if you’re going for 100% completion you’re going to run into it once or twice.

As I was playing the game and planning my review, there was one question I realized I had to ask myself: What do I want out of this game, aside from entertainment? If this was an original IP, I’d want to be introduced and get attached to all the new characters, but considering I’ve already read 1,358,808 words about them (per readmspa), I think I’m already pretty well acquainted. In this case, what I want is to see is a different side of familiar characters. For the most part, it provides.

Sometimes it’s something goofy, like Dave secretly loving Olive Garden because when you’re there, you’re family. Sometimes it’s bittersweet, like the protagonist helping Rose hide her mother’s alcohol or allowing Roxy to have a too-short meeting with her mother. There’s happy and victorious moments like allowing Jade to finally spend time with her friends and a surprisingly moving moment when you fail to help Equius in the same way. In terms of the story, I’d say there’s really only two issues.

 

 

Spoilers begin

At the start of the game, you accidentally destroy John’s copy of sburb, stopping anyone in universes A and B from being able to play it. You meet everyone in the time they would be playing sburb, making the game’s canon a doomed reality. Naturally, you end the game by going back in time to allow John and friends to play, undoing every action throughout the game. On its own, I don’t really mind this. You spend the entire game knowing that this is in direct contradiction to Homestuck’s canon, and that somehow every character arc in the game must be undone to allow them to play the game. In Aradia’s route, though, you’re promised something bigger. She’s the only one who realizes you’re in a doomed reality, and as a middle finger to the “powers that be”, the two of you together start to screw with the timeline just to see what happens. The route hints at some potential fallout from this, but it never happens.

Major spoilers end, Vriska’s route spoilers follow

Pesterquest continues the weird relationship HS has developed with content warnings, listing them for each individual chapter but mocking them in-universe. Vriska’s route has tags relating to “gender identity” and “stimming” (I don’t see why either of those require a content warning, but sure), implying neuro- and gender diversity in the route (and therefore in Vriska herself). This is where I start to get a little torn: if this was a completely new character, this would be fantastic, I’d love to see a badass transgender and autistic character introduced into the Homestuck canon. The problem is, this isn’t a new character. It’s Vriska, whose traits and identity have already been incredibly well established. The Vriska in Pesterquest just isn’t Vriska.

When I say that, I’m not just talking about the retconning in of diverse traits into an established character (as a Harry Potter fan, I’ve already complained enough about that for a lifetime). Both the dysphoria and the stimming are integrated pretty well into the story, neither of them take the forefront, they’re just parts of her character that show up in her actions while her actual arc is about something entirely different. Again, if this was a new character, this would be great rep. She just doesn’t act like Vriska. When I play through the route, this character does not seem like the same Vriska who paralyzed her friend, who blinded Terezi, who got Aradia killed. The Vriska in Pesterquest isn’t gleefully violent, she isn’t grandiose, she isn’t controlling, she isn’t Vriska at all.

 

 

The same goes for the player character in her route as well. MSPA Reader is defined by being two things: they are pathetic and they are 100% incompetent. On the occasions where they try to do some grand heroism, it’s supposed to blow up in their face and get them hurt or killed. Vriska’s route ends with MSPAR throwing her spider into a volcano. While normally I’m massively in favor of over-the-top revenge fantasies against abusers, that isn’t MSPAR’s thing. In any other route, they’d either decide against trying to kill her or they’d get gored and eaten in the process.

The only other character that feels “off” in this way is Terezi, although not nearly to the same extent. She’s in a much lower mood than when she’s introduced, more brooding and hopeless than the gleeful and maybe a little unhinged character in the comic. It’s more believable than Vriska, we do see this side of her a bit later on as well as in the epilogues, but I was hoping for more “ laughing legislacerator” than the discouraged rebel we ended up with. Her route also involves her friendship with Vriska a bit more than her personal arc, and it feels like Vriska’s taking up a little too much space her.

Spoilers over

Aside from that, though, Pesterquest was pretty much all I wanted. Not only does it show us the characters we’ve grown to love in new scenarios, it also gives characters that were killed off too early some much needed time in the spotlight. I really loved getting to see new sides of Equius, Nepeta, and Feferi, and hell, I even grew to like Eridan some more. If a game can make me invested in Eridan Ampora, even out of pity, you know it’s doing something right.

Correction, 6/3/2020:

At the time of writing this review, I failed to find the true ending of the game, which is accomplished by clicking on the MSPA Reader sprite during the final choice as opposed to the other two options. For the record, I think this is pretty stupid, and would prefer something more like a completion bonus after finding all endings. Regardless, the true ending is fantastic, and I withdraw my previous comment about the Aradia route under-delivering. I won’t spoil it, as I much recommend playing it and seeing for yourself. The music, visuals, pacing, and content make something absolutely beautiful.

 

This review of Pesterquest was based on the PC version of the game. A review copy was provided.

Infinite – Beyond The Mind Review – Hack ‘n Sigh

Infinite – Beyond The Mind Review – Hack ‘n Sigh

Remember Strider? How about Shinobi or Metal Slug? These are all well-loved games from the side-scrolling action genre which, until the rise of indie gaming, was an exclusive resident of the 8 & 16-bit era. Emilie COYO recalls these titles fondly, and their debut game, Infinite – Beyond The Mind, attempts to pay homage to this classic genre. Heading into Infinite – Beyond The Mind, you might expect a nostalgia-driven experience with some fun, retro action and a dorky but endearing plot. Sadly, the final product manages to be anything but.

 

Damsels In Distress 

 

The story begins in that eventful year of 20XX with Tanya and Olga, two women with special powers. At the game’s start, you’ll choose one of these characters to play as while the other is kidnapped by Queen Evangelyn, the dictator who helms the militaristic Beljantaur Kingdom. From there, it’s your job to take down the Queen’s forces and rescue your spiritual sister before her powers are used for evil.

 

Infinite - Beyond the mind upgrades

 

Anyone hoping to get wrapped up in an evolving narrative throughout the game, though, will be sorely disappointed. Zero context is provided as you flit between jungles and army bases, so you’ll emotionally check out well before you reach the game’s obligatory ice level. The only cutscene occurs moments before the final boss, which proceeds to dump a sudden and underwhelming backstory on the player. More uncomfortably, it then attempts to ‘do an Undertale’ by calling into question how many people you’ve killed along the way in an effort to make the player feel the pangs of cognitive dissonance. It rings hollow, especially when campaign progression is frequently gated until you’ve murdered waves of bad guys. It’s a contrived and unfulfilling story which is all the more aggravating to endure because the actual game leading up to this conclusion is deeply frustrating.

 

A Long Way Down

 

It is, however, fair to mention that the game’s boilerplate, hack-‘n-slash gameplay is perfectly adequate. Combat is a little weightless, and enemy quantity typically stands in for quality encounters, but overall, the game is bug free and the controls function to an acceptable standard. There’s even some fun to be had during the shmup-style levels that’re interspersed throughout the campaign. It’s a shame, then, that the missions themselves are unexciting to conquer and full of maddening design choices. Stages feel endless due to lengthy stretches of empty space and mandatory mid-level wave combat encounters that always manage to overstay their welcome. The sides of spikes hurt you, and some vehicles smash into you from off-screen, resulting in undeserved damage. Before you’ve even pressed ‘Play,’ you can automatically attribute 80% of your total deaths to the numerous insta-kill bottomless pits that litter the game’s second half. Restarting a stage after falling to your death is a demoralising prospect, especially when the slog to regain your progress is lengthy and fraught with unengaging combat. When you factor in the game is a whopping 16 chapters long, that feeling of miserable exhaustion after you die may determine if you actually have the patience to see the game through to the end. Then there are the compulsory turret sequences…

 

Infinite - Beyond the mind enemies

 

Turret sections have long been the subject of ridicule in gaming, but at least they serve some purpose. Even during their most shallow incarnations, they cleanse the gameplay palette and offer a fleeting power trip to the player. The first turret you see in Infinite – Beyond The Mind evokes fond memories of piloting the mechs in Metal Slug, but once you jump inside and start shooting, all those happy thoughts disappear faster than a speeding bullet. Aiming the guns is achieved through a wide and lazy turning circle, so it’s a struggle to take out incoming threats. If the turret takes a hit, an eternity passes as you wait for the stun animation to end. After it does, more foes are ready to attack, thus freezing you in a lengthy cycle of stun locks which is only broken once the gun is destroyed. Turrets can be a fun reprieve, but here, the sight of one elicits thoughts of dread.

By far, though, the game’s most egregious issue is its inconsistent difficulty. You’ll breeze through the game’s opening levels only to get trapped in a stage that suddenly expects far too much from the player. Unless you played the optional tutorial, at no point does the game try to layer in or teach its wall jumping mechanic. As a result, it leaves players ill-equipped to deal with the later stages where, in a brazenly misguided attempt to replicate Half Life’s Xen levels, the game suddenly decides its strong suit was always its platforming. One late-game boss even has the gall to engage you in a room where a pair of climbable walls are the only thing separating you from an insta-death pit of rising toxic gas. This is officially where the game hits rock bottom, and I can personally say that it’s one of the most infuriating and misconceived boss fights I’ve ever had the displeasure of experiencing.

 

Game Over, Man

 

Character design is also oddly unappealing. The look of sub bosses appears to be lifted from the depths of DeviantArt and the overall visual tone never knows if it wants to be cute, sexy, or scary. An early indicator of this arrives in the form of the game’s first boss:, two shirtless dudes strangely introduced as ‘Royal Guards’. In almost any other game, this would establish a jovial, tongue-in-cheek tone, but here it sets a lewd precedent that uncomfortably lingers in the mind like an embarrassing memory.

 

Infinite - Beyond the mind Boss

 

The one thing Infinite – Beyond The Mind has going for it is some genuinely decent pixel art, particularly the game’s backgrounds. Detailed mountain ranges and cityscapes briefly catch the eye when starting a new stage, and they follow the action smoothly, thanks to multiple layers of parallax scrolling. On a technical level, the graphics are of a high standard, but the art direction really lets the side down. Virtually every level uses the same military aesthetic to the point where stages begin to blur into one.

More damning is the unoriginal turn the visuals take in the game’s final act, which is entirely derivative of Aliens. The penultimate level is a Facehugger hatchery, its boss is literally a Xenomorph, and the final encounter is fought in front of a (say it with me) giant air-lock. It’s immeasurably disheartening to see the weight of the game’s finale so shamelessly rely on nostalgic goodwill rather than try to establish its own identity.

 

The Lowdown

 

There’s an underlying sense throughout Infinite – Beyond The Mind that the developer has a technical, but not an emotional, understanding of what makes a compelling game. Thankless gameplay and an undernourished plot make this an adventure that’s near-impossible to recommend. The game would earn some favour if it at least tried to show off a new idea, provide a creative wrinkle in the gameplay, present an original moment in the storytelling, or offer some spark that says, ‘Look at me and pay attention!’ Instead, it’s an indie game with some OK pixel art, and in 2020, they’re a dime a dozen.

 

This review was based upon the PC version of the game. A review code was provided for this purpose.

Resident Evil 3 (2020) Review – Not Quite Five S.T.A.R.S.

Resident Evil 3 (2020) Review – Not Quite Five S.T.A.R.S.

Throughout my first run of Resident Evil 3 (2020), I was conflicted as to my feelings about the game. Having recently played Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, it was impossible for me not to compare every inch of this “remake” to its largely beloved predecessor. Doing so is going to result in a lot of disappointment. The best way I can put it is that Resident Evil 3 (2020) is more of a sequel to Resident Evil 2 (2019) than a modern play-by-play of the PlayStation classic.

The parts are still there: Racoon City, Jill Valentine, Nemesis – you get the picture. It was when I came to this realization that I allowed myself to enjoy the game a lot more. After all, it’s still pretty great in its own right, and if you thoroughly enjoyed Resident Evil 2 (2019) as I did, there’s plenty to love about this one as well.

 

Let’s Talk About The Nemesis in the Room

 

Regardless of your relationship with the series, you’ve probably got some expectations for Nemesis. He’s arguably the most recognizable face of the Resident Evil series, even if it’s a face that a mother couldn’t love – not that Nemesis has a mother. His presence starts out pretty strong as he busts through the wall of Jill’s apartment to give her the what for. The initial chase (which is pretty much an auto-scroller) concludes with him and Jill tumbling off of a parking garage after a nasty fender bender, the crash and preceding explosion causing Nemmy to lose his fashionable trash-bag attire. I thought it was a pretty excellent idea to start off with the titular antagonist gnawing at the player’s heels only a few minutes after you get your hands on the controller. Sadly, his presence dwindles pretty quickly, and most of your dealings with him are in the form of four non-optional boss battles and some very linear running sequences.

 

Screenshot taken from RE3. Depicts Jill inside a store as Nemesis waits outside menacingly
Shop sign reads: “No dogs aside from assistance dogs, no eight-foot-tall bioweapons.”

 

The game’s area structure simply doesn’t allow for the elaborate, heart-wrenching game of cat and mouse from the original. You’ll seldom have to backtrack in areas or go out of your way to search for items. The original game was much more action-focused than its two previous titles, but it still had a decent amount of puzzles, backtracking, and narrow spaces. Of course, Resident Evil 3 (2020) being a modern title does mean that it has to widen the spaces a bit. The narrow back alleys of Racoon City were a massive factor in making Nemesis such a threat before, not to mention the tank controls and less-than-perfect dodge mechanic. Not that I’m making up excuses for the game, there’s plenty they could have done to make Nemesis more interesting. For one, it would have been nice to have spent more time with him in RC. The opening section where you’re roaming the city feels way too short, and as such, Nemesis’ presence feels minimal despite his best efforts to grab you, blow you up, and set you on fire. He goes into his second phase way too quickly as well. It wasn’t until you defeated him in the factory that he stopped being bipedal in the PlayStation title, but now he’s on all fours quicker than he can say “S.T.A.R.S.”

 

Wasn’t I Here Before?

 

Much like Resident Evil VII and Resident Evil 2 (2019), this latest title uses the lovingly crafted RE Engine to its full advantage. It’s particularly strong in its use of lighting, especially in the streets of RC where the dingy sidewalks are lit up by hastily abandoned flashlights, remains of police car sirens, and fires started in the sudden chaos of the outbreak. Resident Evil 3 (2020) is still a narrative treat like the others with its most compelling moments being told through the small details scattered throughout the game world. You’ll be avoiding cars like landmines, as it’s quite common for zombies to pop out of them, and there’re plenty of RPD officers looking to munch down on a Jill Sandwich (you knew it was coming at some point), these undead officers, of course, being a constant reminder of Jill’s colleagues who fought, to no avail, against the imposing horde of rotting flesh.

 

Screenshot taken from RE3. Depicts Jill in an alleway covered in neon light from a shop sign.

 

Where Resident Evil 3 (2020) falls short is its over-reliance on assets from Resident Evil 2 (2019). There’s a new sewer section that, while short, kind of feels shoehorned in so that assets from the previous game can be used. This is even more noticeable when you consider the absence of the clocktower area and the complete overhaul of the factory. Now it takes the form of a sister lab to the one from Resident Evil 2 (2019), and while the optimist might argue it’s to tie them together more, I fear it’s because they needed to use resources made for last year’s release. Plenty of games in the same engine do this, and it’s not always a problem, but Resident Evil 3 (2020) is slightly robbed of its own identity as a result. This one could have done with some time in the oven.

 

Bang, Bang, Splat

 

Combat this time is mostly the same as last year’s installment, and that’s no bad thing. Weapons have their different uses depending on the situation you’re in: the handgun is good for picking off enemies from a safe distance, the shotgun’s useful for dealing with large groups and monsters, and the grenade launcher is best used on the game’s persistent antagonist. You’ll also spend a good chunk of time with Carlos’ assault rifle, which lets you shred through groups of the undead with ammo left to spare. . Enemies are much less bullet- spongy than they were in Resident Evil 2 (2019) as well. This is a very welcome change, even on the harder difficulty levels, they don’t have the ridiculous amount of endurance that they did in last year’s game.

 

 

Getting out of RC alive takes more than just blasting your way through everything, however, which is where the new dodge mechanic comes in. It comes in incredibly handy for slipping by packs of zombies and ducking under Nemmy’s meaty fists. If you time it perfectly, you even get a few seconds in slow motion where you’re able to aim a few shots at the enemy’s weak point. Carlos takes a more direct approach than Jill; his dodge command sees him barging into opponents no-holds-barred. If you time it right, he’ll even deliver a hefty punch to his foe ala Chris Redfield. 

 

It’s Finally… Over.

 

 Resident Evil 3 (2020) is a good game but not a good adaptation. I do worry that it doesn’t have enough replay value for the casual player. With the absence of live selection, random enemy placements, and mercenaries mode, some players may come away feeling it’s a little bare bones. The game does offer two post-game difficulty modes to unlock: nightmare and inferno. These change up enemy and item placements to add an extra challenge, which is nice for people who like the punishing difficulty, but it fails to add much for players who don’t enjoy the challenge. Luckily, most of these problems can hopefully be rectified in the future with new content via free updates or larger, paid DLC.

 

Screenshot taken from RE3. Depicts Jill aiming her handgun at a bobblehead doll.
Bobblehead collectibles return! There are 20 to find in total.

 

I’m currently enjoying my third playthrough of Resident Evil 3 (2020), and I intend to enjoy a fourth, too. It’s a game that feels extremely rewarding to play quickly and well. Coming up with different ways to deal with enemy groups and item management becomes pretty methodical. If you enjoyed multiple playthroughs of last year’s hit, then I’m sure you’ll have fun with this one too.

 

This review is based on the PlayStation 4 Pro version of the game.

 

Kingdom Hearts HD Collections Now Available on Xbox One

Kingdom Hearts HD Collections Now Available on Xbox One

Xbox One fans have been deprived of the pre-Kingdom Hearts III games for long enough. Kingdom Hearts is finally arriving on Xbox One in full force, with Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX and Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue available digitally today. It doesn’t look like the collections will be getting physical editions on Xbox One, even though a full retail collection of all the games will be coming to PlayStation 4 on March 17. You can check out the full games included in the Xbox One Kingdom Hearts HD collections below.

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX includes the following games for $49.99:

  • Kingdom Hearts FINAL MIX
  • Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories
  • Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (HD remastered cinematics)
  • Kingdom Hearts II FINAL MIX
  • Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep FINAL MIX
  • Kingdom Hearts Re:coded (HD remastered cinematics)

Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue includes the following games for $59.99:

  • Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance HD
  • Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A fragmentary passage –
  • Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover (movie)

Check out our Kingdom Hearts III review and stay tuned for the full review of Kingdom Hearts III Re Mind in the near future. Will you be buying these games on Xbox One or is the fact that they’re only digital make you want to stay away? Let us know in the comments and keep it tuned to Sick Critic for Kingdom Hearts news and more.

Death Stranding Review – A Walking Wonder

Death Stranding Review – A Walking Wonder

“Humans aren’t made for living alone. They’re supposed to come together, to help one another.” 

 

This is the sentiment that echoes throughout Death Stranding, Hideo Kojima’s first independent game following his turbulent departure from the game studio that made him a household name. It’s an undeniably pretty concept, further explored through original gameplay concepts and a weighty narrative threaded with themes of loss, parenthood, and maintaining human connections. Clearly, Death Stranding is a real passion project for Kojima, but has this newfound creative freedom allowed him to deliver a-once-in-a-lifetime game, or a license for him to marinate in his own sense of self-importance?

Sam Bridges looking shook

 

“Once there was an Explosion…”

Underneath the narrative’s Christopher Nolan style grandeur lies an engaging sci-fi set up. Several years in the future, civilisation has become fractured after an apocalyptic conflict. A single courier, Sam Porter Bridges, is enlisted to reconnect the USA by traveling from the East Coast to the West on foot. Though beautiful and verdant, the natural landscape has become a hostile wasteland. The restless spirits of the dead wander aimlessly on Earth and even the rain has become toxic, hyper-accelerating the passage of time for anything it touches.

This is all established through some great cutscenes early on, bolstered by some remarkable performances from the star-studded cast. Norman Reedus plays Sam as if he’s done mo-cap all his life, and though he wears a gruff facade, a slight flicker in Sam’s eyes is enough to betray his vulnerability during key scenes. Mads Mikkelsen on the other hand has an electrifying screen presence that silently commands authority; his scenes are among the game’s best despite not appearing until a little later in the game. However, anyone who’s played a Metal Gear game will know for every good cutscene, there’s ten bad ones on the horizon. Sadly, this is still the case for Death Stranding.

Death Stranding Mads Mikkelsen Shh

Where the storytelling begins to fall apart is in the writing. It wouldn’t seem out of place if any of the glassy-eyed cast begun unironically reciting Rutger Hauer’s final monologue from Blade Runner. There’s creaky dialogue here that would test the faith of even the most devout Kojima fan. Character’s repeat themselves, speak in technobabble, and at worst,  say something irredeemably insane. One character asks Sam ‘Do you remember being inside the womb?’ Unsatisfied with his silence they go on to say ‘I do…’ This was the point the rubber band snapped for me and the writing never managed to pull me back into its fold.

Thankfully, the soundtrack does most of the emotional heavy-lifting whenever the writing fails. Rooted in melancholic science fiction, Ludvig Forssell’s score is frequently breathtaking and lends a real cinematic flavour to the package. Licenced tracks breathe life into cutscenes and gameplay with expert timing, enhancing the mood of the moment without lecturing you on how you should feel. It’s easy to get swept up in Death Stranding’s story early on, but the longer it lasts, the more it’ll test your patience and empathy.

 

Peace Walker

Though Death Stranding’s story is complex, it’s gameplay is refreshingly simple. On his mission to reconnect the world, Sam must visit local distribution centers, collect cargo and deliver it to increasingly westward parts of America. While there are a smattering of vehicles to use, Sam’s journey will mostly be made on foot. If that sounds intimidating, it’s because it is. In real time, a single trip can take up to 10 minutes of unadulterated walking, though much like going on a real life hike, once you surrender yourself to the journey ahead, it can become quite a meditative experience. How high you pile on the cargo is mostly up to you. If you want to keep things light and breezy, take a little bit. If you want to feel the crushing burden of responsibility then lay it on thick. Controlling the distribution of your weight and your momentum becomes the metagame, alongside maintaining your hydration, fatigue, and footwear levels as they gradually deplete while hiking. Trekking around seldom becomes boring since you’re always making little decisions and marvelling at the gorgeous landscapes – it won’t be long before your body clock adjusts to the pace of the game as the hours melt away.

Death Stranding Walking into the distance

Everything changes when storm clouds appear. For every second Sam is in the rain, his cargo will begin to deteriorate. Suddenly your carefully planned route runs into a frenzied scramble. You’ll begin slipping, start making risky leaps of faith and leave lost packages to the elements – anything to flee the downpour. On a dime, your gameplay focus becomes primal and survivalistic, lending a welcome sense of intensity to excursions. Over the 35 hours I spent with Death Stranding, some of my best anecdotes can be attributed purely to the rain.

Occasionally you’ll feel the need to build ladders or climbing ropes to help you traverse the landscape, and this is where Death Stranding’s online functionality manifests to reveal the game’s best idea. Anything you place in the world can be used by players in your instance and vice-versa. While you won’t see them running around in real time, you’ll see indications of the paths they took by the things they’ve left behind. Stumbling across them is like uncovering a long lost civilisation, bridges, power generators and even zip-lines are all remnants of another player’s journey, all placed to aid the collective cargo runs. Using another player’s bridge to cross a once-perilous ravine or waiting out the rain under someone’s shelter evokes the game’s themes elegantly, rekindling your faith in the concept that man-kind can be a force for good.

Large-scale constructions can often only be completed when several players collaborate. During my playthrough, I frequently donated my resources to help construct a road, one of the most expensive and useful buildings in the game. It started as a small stretch of tarmac but over the course of a few days, we eventually built a superhighway that spanned a vast portion of the continent. One good deed sparks another in this world, and it was beautiful to see that sentiment ripple again and again throughout my playthrough.

Death Stranding Menus

The only thing I never looked forward to before strapping on my rucksack and heading out on another long walk was the onslaught of menus to navigate beforehand. Any time you accept a new job, you’ll go through a screen for selecting your mission, a screen for building equipment and a screen for packing your weight, and if you’re lucky, your radio chatter will only interrupt this process once. Microscopic text size and an intimidating UI design make this process even more exhaustive to acclimatise to. It’s also disheartening to see the same distribution centers copy+pasted throughout the game. The world has been meticulously crafted, down to the type of shoes your character wears, but we never see any indication of civilisation living and breathing in these supposed cities.

 

Old Habits Die-Hardman

Combat and stealth also manages to slink into Death Stranding with various degrees of success. BT’s, the invisible spirits of the dead, stalk Sam upon entering their territory and because the consequences of getting caught by one is so dire, sneaking past them becomes your best option. A beeping motion detector is the only means of spotting them, but even then you can never be too certain of their proximity to Sam. Cradling your crying baby as BT’s draw ever closer is a harrowing feeling, and your first handful of encounters with them are truly terrifying. During later portions of the game their effectiveness is diminished due to some unlockable Ghostbusting equipment so they become more of a speed-bump in your travels. Mules on the other hand, act like conventional open-world bandits, eager to get their hands on your cargo. Wandering into their turf un-equipped for battle is often a bad idea; stealth is a viable means to take them out, but once you’ve been spotted you’d best start running for the hills. Fleeing from Mules is genuinely more interesting than engaging them, like prey escaping its predator, weaving through their attacks is hair-raising and barely surviving a chase can result in another exciting campfire story.

Death Stranding Fighting BTs

Boss fights are easily the weakest part of the package because simply put, Death Stranding’s systems don’t support gunplay. Instead of carrying ammo packs, Sam is forced to carry multiple guns of the same kind on his back thus making the typically simple task of weapon swapping an unwieldy mess. Aiming and firing weapons feels clunky and gargantuan enemy health bars mean that fights quickly outstay their welcome. Shooting things in Death Stranding is like cooking a three-course meal on a steam iron. With enough will power it’ll get the job done, but you’ll pine for when it’ll be all over.

 

The Low Down

Between the dodgy boss fights, repetitive mission structure, and bloated story, you may begin to wonder why you keep fighting for the world of Death Stranding. ‘Tomorrow’, whispers Kojima in a mysterious and overly-earnest voice, an answer dripping in the sentimental schmaltz you’d expect to see in a late 90’s Hollywood movie. But when you get to physically experience the collective good humanity is capable of through gameplay his answer begins to make sense.

Sam Bridges Having a Nap

Kojima’s projects have always championed pacifism and mankind’s capacity to create a better world, and in many ways, this is his most tactile execution of those ideals to date. The warmth that comes with sharing a bridge with the invisible player base gracefully encapsulates the game’s themes while making Death Stranding an oddly social experience. This doesn’t excuse all the games foibles (and there are several), but it ends up making the experience feel a lot more interesting to digest.

For what it’s worth, I liked the game. I enjoyed spending time in its world and dwelling on the ideas it puts forward, and when 90% of the game is walking, you can bet I had plenty of time to do just that.

 

This review of Death Stranding is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game.