PS4

[Review] Journey (2012) (PS4)

It was a Sunday night whim that got me playing the game Journey for the PlayStation 4. The hubs, BuriedOnMars, had tried playing this game earlier in the week and dropped it. But, he encouraged me to try it out to see how I liked it. I knew nothing about it going in, except that it was a type of walking simulator, which I very much enjoy (Firewatch, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture).

In the first scene of  Journey we see an expanse of desert sand and a hazy sun in the sky; a sweeping violin music sets a melancholic mood. A star falls from the sky, and what we see rise up is a striking robed figure which is the character you maneuver. You lead this character across the sandy plain to come upon hilltop stone markers with bits of ripped cloth tied to them, blowing in the breeze. A high mountain presents itself in the distance, a bright beam of light shining at its apex. This is your destination – your destiny – as you traverse the desert. The bits of cloth are your life line. You play a tiny chime and the rags come to life by extending yours, and by chiming in, your character develops a scarf-like garment that flows behind them in the wind – an important garment that allows your character the ability to jump and fly to great heights.  This trait is important as it gives your character the ability to complete brief but important tasks to allow you to pass on to the next level.

Along the way, you encounter other figures like yourself – these are actual gamers in their own game networked in through the PSN, who like you are trying to reach the mountain. At this point you encounter a handful of companions that help you complete levels and get to the end. The game takes under two hours to complete.

The first thing that drew me in was the graphics and the music. The game had a middle-eastern flavour, which I particularly liked. The music was beautiful, and reminded me a lot of Glass Masquerade as it really gave the game that mystery flair. I am also a sucker for odd-looking characters with a mysterious past, and Journey‘s main character certainly fits the bill. The game looked great. The controls were simple enough: using the PS4 controller, besides the sticks, you really only had two buttons to worry about – X and O – which I can definitely get behind. Great music, neat-looking characters, gorgeous graphics, easy gameplay…what’s not to like?

Well…I kept wondering what the punchline to Journey was…what was the end game…the point?

Was I leading this character from birth to death? …The harsh landscape they must travel to reach higher heights…the fluidity of relationships as people enter the game and depart just as quickly. The symbolism is palpable which wasn’t the issue for me – I could actually get behind the theme. I had one serious problem with an integral part to the gameplay: I did not like the fact other players could enter my game to “help” me.

I encountered about 6 other players while in Journey, and found most to be a nuisance. Aside from one guy who stopped by to chime “Hi” and disappear, the majority walked in and took over everything, completing important tasks in the game before I was given a chance to even figure out what I was supposed to do. They were just too damn fast for me! I remember turning to BuriedOnMars and saying, “WTF? Get the eff out of my game! Whose game is this supposed to be anyway??” I was trailing behind these strangers like some pathetic chump while they leveled us both up.

I didn’t get that sense of accomplishment obtained by completing the game myself. This goes beyond co-op: when the hubs and I game, we are doing things together and taking turns on tasks that make sense for a multi-player game. Borderlands is a great example of co-op done well. Journey, on the other hand, had one linear task to complete at a time, and tasks that were really only meant to be completed by one player. So when you have two people, and the stronger player completes all the necessary tasks like they were trying to beat the game in record time, what am I left with?

I don’t like feeling inadequate when gaming, let alone in my life. I know myself well enough to know Journey‘s multiplayer component did not match my will at all. I am stubborn, I have endurance, I am passionate, and I am fiercely independent. If anything, my journey in playing this game highlighted those characteristics in me. So, I suppose I can say then that Journey has the “metaphor for life” analogy nailed down…especially when you’re dealing with me.

3.5/5 graphics

2.75/5 the rest

Journey (PS4) (available for the PS3 too)
thatgamecompany
2012

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[Review] Overcooked (PC)

As of this posting, I have been on a well-deserved week-long stay-cation. From day zero, the hubs and I have been obsessed with playing Overcooked on the recommendation of Chris, Myles and Kathryn from @FlockofNerds. We’ve been “cooking up a storm” ever since!

Overcooked is a cooking strategy game where you play as a short order cook trying to fill orders as quickly as possible. You are given a food order with a set of required ingredients. For example, pizza requires dough, tomato, cheese and maybe sausage or mushrooms depending on the order. Each ingredient needs to be chopped. All the while you are washing dirty dishes and watching the oven to ensure your prepared food doesn’t burn. If your kitchen has a mouse problem, you have to contend with your produce going missing.

As you level up in Overcooked, the venue and layouts of the kitchen can change and impact how your character moves through the arena. In one level, your kitchen is divvied up among the back of three flatbed trucks, one of which moves around, and happens to be the only one with the essential ingredients to make your food. The complexity of the food you are making also changes (beef burritos and rice anyone?). You have to watch what is going on the entire time to ensure orders are prepared right and on time. Points are given when orders go through correctly, and lost if you screw them up. At the end of the timed challenges, you are given up to three stars depending on your score. The hubs and I played Overcooked together in co-op and it really got competitive for us: It was “three stars or bust”! The end boss is a real trip – I don’t want to ruin it for you, but let’s just say that it’s one-a spicy meat-a ball!

Overcooked is a very polished game, with cute characters, a neat little navigation map and catchy music. The developers, Ghost Town Games, paid serious attention to the details. Likewise, those that play Overcooked must pay attention. This game reminds us of some practical life lessons in game play, namely, keeping the communication pipeline open with your partner. As in life, it is important to let the other know what you are doing and where you are going. Screwing up is common in Overcooked, so be prepared for failure. And if you have any neuroses about that, you need to remember to take it easy on yourself and your partner, because the game is worth playing together to the end.

We played Overcooked on PC via Steam, but it’s also available on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. Go on, buy it! And make sure you play with a partner!

Overcooked (PC)
Ghost Town Games
August 2016

[Review] Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (PC)

Collaboration post! 1537 and Caught Me Gaming have joined blogging forces to bring you a fulsome review of the game, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture: I take on the game, 1537 takes on the soundtrack! Please go read his fantastic post here!

About eight years ago, I read a book called, “the World Without Us,” which looks at how planet Earth would manage if humans were to suddenly disappear (Spoiler alert: the world would get on just fine without us). Whenever I hear of games where I explore abandoned towns, this book pops into my head. Without having all the information, a game title like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture conjures up thoughts of this deserted earth. What should I expect? The environment overrun with weeds? Should I bring a machete?

With talks of a rapture, I also thought I would get some doomish church sermon out of it too. Thankfully, there was no such sermon, or talk of Armageddon for that matter. But, this game does leave one with thoughts and questions that last beyond the end of the game.

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (referred to as ‘Rapture going forward) is a mystery adventure game that takes the form of a first-person walking simulator. You are dropped in the middle of a small English village where all its inhabitants have disappeared. You are left to wander the town, exploring buildings to get clues as to what happened there. Interactions with phones and radios randomly scattered throughout the village allow users to hear odd messages from Scientist Katherine (Kate) Collins, and her husband Stephen Appleton who both worked at the town’s Observatory and who were trying to find an explanation for the mysterious patterns of light that have suddenly appeared in the sky. With it is a desperation to find a correlation between the light and the terrifying health-related illnesses happening to the local townfolk. The game also delves into the personal lives of Stephen and Kate and their interactions and interrelationships with the locals. Orbs of light are found everywhere within the game, are non-threatening, and very much used as a device of guidance when one gets disoriented. They also invite players to interact with them to trigger cuts scenes that tell a richer story of what happened here.

A walking simulator such as ‘Rapture where there is no threat of attack or enemy is a blissful experience. The scenery in the game was so realistic and lovely. Combined with a beautiful soundtrack that marries an atmospheric opera with minimalistic music, you get a sense of what you would experience playing this game. Yet… there is definitely a creepy, unsettled feeling, walking through this abandoned town, into people’s homes, half expecting to run into someone…and maybe I’ve played too many survival horror games, but I for sure thought a zombie was gonna jump-scare me straight from my relaxed state. The most unsettling had to have been the beep-booping sounds coming from random radios and phones found scattered in backyards and along to streets.

There is plenty done right in ‘Rapture. For one thing, I have to give props to the devs, The Chinese Room, for creating a game that honours accessibility, particularly for the hard of hearing. Not only does the game have optional closed captioning, but also the ability to make the audio cues visual, as in the instance of a radio making sound, it will show a flashing icon in the direction of the sound. Also, often I get motion sickness with first-person walking simulators without a cross-hair in the centre of the screen, and thankfully, ‘Rapture has that option.

The game was originally made for the PS4, and ported to the PC. Having played the PC version with mouse and keyboard, I have to say it played okay, if it had a few rendering issues with objects appearing blurry at times. But, predominantly my main complaint had more to do with a very fundamental device that was missing from the PC version – a PROPER manual save. That’s right folks, there was no ability to save at will within the game… that is until The Chinese Room heard the ire of fellow gamers who were asking for refunds because of it…. The only time the game would save your progress was when you would find a glowing orb that would change into a cut scene. For a game that is open-world – that encourages the player to wander and explore – it was impractical to walk around and NOT have a manual save state. The first evening I spent in ‘Rapture, I wandered for an hour and a half, but it only saved 25 minutes worth of gameplay. What’s the point? I looked online for a solution, and thankfully, the developers pushed a patch that allowed players to click on framed maps found around the tiny village to save the game manually (this solution was found on Steam in the forums here, in case anyone is interested). Incidentally, this does not seem to be an issue for the PS4 – they have a suspend mode whereby the game can be paused, which was not possible with the PC version. Anyway, props to the devs for fixing this downright annoying problem. Why they didn’t think of this as a problem before, I have no idea.

Overall, I didn’t regret my time spent in ‘Rapture. It’s a gorgeous game, and if walking simulators are your bag, don’t pass this one by!

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
The Chinese Room
2016 (PC) / 2015 (PS4)

Thanks to 1537 for the game suggestion and the idea to join forces! Now go read his review here!

Jessica Curry Everybodys Gone To The Rapture 08

[Review] Life Is Strange (XBox One)

Undo. Rewind. Do over.

Don’t you wish sometimes you were given a second chance to go back in time and correct mistakes made, or make right a bad ending? Be careful what you wish for! That is one lesson learned while playing the Square Enix game, Life is Strange!

Max Caulfield moved away from Arcadia Bay, Oregon to Seattle, Washington with her family when she turned 13, leaving behind her best friend, Chloe. Five years later, Max returns to Arcadia Bay to enroll in the prestigious Blackwell Academy on a Photography scholarship.  The geeky and kind Max enjoys spending her time peering through the lens of her Polaroid camera (her chosen medium) and taking pictures of nature. Blackwell Academy, for what it’s worth, is full of the typical cliquey high school drama. Max tries to avoid it, and concentrate on what is important to her – the upcoming Photography contest, and her dreamy teacher, Mr. Jefferson.

It was a violent incident one day on campus that made her aware of a new power she had at her fingertips – the ability to turn back time. She soon put her powers to work, changing negative outcomes to more favourable ones whenever the opportunity would present itself. This newfound ability was surprising and unbelievable. Her powers worked well for a spell, and was even fun, but soon, too much turning back father time created a shit storm of negative environmental events which become hard to untangle without risking lives…and timelines.

Life is Strange is a graphic adventure game where the player is provided a set of choices that have consequences depending on the path you take. This was about the only difficult thing about the game – making choices for Max. Thankfully, unlike some other choice-driven games like the Walking Dead, there is no time limit – you actually have time to read and reflect on the decision (in the Walking Dead, they give you, like, 10 seconds for four choices – barely enough time to decode and process what I just read…). The menu system for the game is pretty easy to use and is where you have access to Max’s personal journal (which was interesting, voyeuristic) and her cellphone to receive texts from her family and friends.

Although set in modern-day, this game’s layered sub-plots and relationships between characters brought back a tonne of teenaged memories for me – the friendship between Max and her best friend Chloe, Max’s insecurity about her talent as a Photography student, taking art classes and opining about art, putting up with cliques…I saw a lot of myself in Max. Even decisions having to do with loyalties with friends (who hasn’t dealt with that?).

Let’s talk about the style of Life is Strange: gorgeous. The game’s use of light, shade and tonal gradation to emote a feeling was very effective. I mean, I could stare into those sunsets all day. The game also lingers long and takes its time, using strategic shots to set a scene. Every shot appears to have been thought out and successfully executed. Absolutely awesome.

The version I played was from the Life Is Strange Limited Edition package on the Xbox One – a gift from my husband – and it is awesome! The collection includes the entire game, a scrap book and a soundtrack CD – pretty damn cool. The music is an off-beat mix of atmospheric modern-Indie Folk, alternative and dance; Syd Matters, alt-J, Foals and Jose Gonzalez (to name a few) fill the game’s soundtrack with a sound that pairs well with the stylings of Life is Strange. I know some people won’t like the music, and I can’t say I like all of it, but I think most of it is very good.

This game was the first one I played on the Xbox One, and I have to say I am pleased with the smooth experience. No glitches at all, and everything looked crisp. Overall, I highly recommend Life is Strange. It’s available for Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3 and Windows.

9/10

Life Is Strange (Xbox One)
Dontnod / Square Enix
Released: January 2015