[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] Firewatch (2016)

Collaboration post! 1537 and Caught Me Gaming have joined blogging forces once again to bring you a fulsome review of the game, Firewatch! I take on the game, 1537 takes on the soundtrack! Please go read his fantastic post here!

When tragedy strikes in life, often one needs to take stock and re-evaluate. Some run into the arms of family and friends for solace, others crave solitude.

Henry’s life was in an upheaval to such an extent that he felt his soul needed time to heal and be by himself for a while. When a Fire Watch job came up in the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming, he figured the fresh air, the landscape and seclusion would do him good. It was perfect. And it wasn’t like he was completely alone either – Delilah, a fellow Fire Watch stationed at another post in the Forest a few miles away, was at the ready via walkie-talkie.

Henry’s days consist of watching the landscape and ensuring no fires are started. When Delilah radios in to alert Henry to some fireworks that were being set in the forest, an adventure ensues that develops into an intriguing mystery. Here, Henry is under the impression he is alone…but discovers some mischief afoot – some harmless…some downright frightening…

Firewatch is a very enjoyable first-person adventure game set in 1989. You play as Henry and don’t see much of him appearance-wise other than his hands and feet. Henry is given a map of the forest, which initially is rudimentary, but becomes more extensive as he explores and finds outposts in the park which contain maps that are added automatically to his main map. He also carries a compass, which in conjunction with his map, I found a bit confusing at first. For some reason, I kept reversing East and West (quite common behavior for me to get turned around…I honestly need to tattoo L on my left hand and R on my right to help me remember…). Yes, it was rage-quit central at the House of Sim…BuriedOnMars had to help me initially. Once I slowed down and got the hang of it, it was aces.

There is a lot of walking simulation in Firewatch. Thankfully the game doesn’t have a time limit so you can go explore the forest if you want, which I did extensively once I got the hang of navigating the landscape. The controls were simple to use (WASD keys and mouse), and of course, there was that cross-hair in the centre of the screen so I didn’t get motion sickness whilst playing.

Along with the map and compass, Henry is provided with a walkie-talkie that is used to communicate with Delilah. The interactions with her, whom we never see in person, involve dialogue choices, but none are quick-time events. Your dialogue options determine how much of a relationship develops between Henry and Delilah. My Henry initially was quite aloof and abrupt with Delilah, who tried her best to be friendly and accommodating with him, despite him acting like a bit of a dick to her. It isn’t until several weeks go by in the timeline of the game that their dynamic has changed, and the dialogue choices are more amicable.

Stylistically, I absolutely LOVED Firewatch. The game was awash in hues of faded yellow, red clay and blues. I read that the developers drew from old American National Park Service ads, and I can definitely see the inspiration.

1537 will get more into Firewatch‘s music, but I have to say that I didn’t notice much music until one scene when Henry encounters a couple of teens having some fun in the lake. They had left their boombox blaring to tunes very reminiscent of Taylor Dayne, but it wasn’t…it was poppy, synthy and overall, catchy! Very 80s.

Firewatch can be played in under 4 hours. Available on PC, MAC, Linux, Playstation 4 and Xbox One, this is one game that looks great and plays well and has a great story. I highly recommend it!

5/5

Firewatch (PC)
Campo Santo
2016

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

[Review] Her Story (PC) (2015)

I have played a handful of games that have touched on the subject of criminology, where you play a detective on the beat picking up clues, interviewing suspects and arresting perps. Some games do the subject well and are intuitive (see Cold Case Files: the Game or Unsolved Crimes), while some crime games, not so much (see Crime Scene or CSI: Dark Motives). Never have I had a crime-themed gaming experience like what I had with Her Story. Instead of getting clues at the start, you are using already-collected evidence to come to a conclusion.

Her Story opens with a feeling you have gone back in time to the days of Windows 98, as you are presented with a dusty CRT computer monitor. A database program from twenty years ago is running on-screen. No sound is present, except for the faint humming of overhead fluorescent lights which can be seen reflected in the monitor.

A handful of live-action videos are open and available on-screen for viewing. All are short clips (30 seconds or less) of a woman who appears to be in a room being interviewed. They all seem to be out of sequence. The subject matter of what she says instantly piques your interest as you soon realize this woman is being asked questions about the whereabouts of a man named Simon and her involvement with him.

The videos available to you on-screen have been watched…now what? You are given a text box on-screen inviting you to enter random search terms of your choosing. You come to realize you are searching a police investigation database to view the videos. You pull clues from what the woman had said in previous videos and try entering them in the search box. More video results come up based on your search terms. You notice this woman is in all of them, and you learn soon enough Simon is dead and she is a suspect.

Her Story loops around and subtly confuses. Just when I thought I had the sequence of events down, the game pulls a fast one. I take to writing things down in my trusty pocket notebook, like a cop would. More search terms, more videos…suspense ramps up…soon enough, the ending reveals itself…

I am not going any further into the gameplay, except to say Her Story is very much a unique interactive and satisfying experience that I won’t soon forget. Do yourself a favor and get this game!

5/5

Her Story
Sam Barlow
2016

Side note: The “Win 98” desktop shortcuts are .txt files, a trash bin and a game that are active too. You can open them and view them! 

[Review] Glass Masquerade (2016) (PC)

If you’ve been reading Caught Me Gaming for any length of time, you should know by now you can count on me to find games that are a little obscure or off the beaten path.

I had never heard of Glass Masquerade before my “recommended games” queue in Steam pointed me to it, and let me tell you, it is one of the most unique and precious virtual jigsaw puzzle games for the PC I have ever come across. My past experience with this type of casual game has been a succession of cheap-looking, pixelized and badly rendered games (none of which have been worth reviewing as of late…). So, coming across this beaut was worth writing home about.

Glass Masquerade sees you traveling the world – 25 countries, in total – solving a jigsaw puzzle of a clock face designed to represent each country. The clocks are each unique, their puzzle pieces like shards of glass, atypical of your standard jigsaw piece. The goal, of course, is to fit all the shards into the clock face, and they all fit a certain way. These clocks, once completed are absolutely gorgeous: Think an art deco stylization in stained glass is the best way I could describe it.

This game is relaxing and meditative, and what helps achieve such an atmosphere is the moving soundtrack composed and performed by Nikita Sevalnev (Sand Countries is my personal favourite).

Glass Masquerade is fun, relaxing and completely re-playable. It’s indeed a hidden gem, and I highly recommend it!

5/5

Glass Masquerade
Onyx Lute
2016

[Book] Into the wild / Jon Krakauer (1996)

In this world of expectation, structure, busy-ness, and bills, it has always interested me to come across people who abhor these tangles of everyday life and live like nomads. I recently came across some YouTubers who travel the United States, living out of their RVs or vans full-time and loving it. When I thought of this kind of lifestyle in the past I thought of the sad Matt Foley character from SNL “living in a van down by the river”. I am not convinced their life isn’t without its hardships… nor bills… nor eliminating “THE MAN” from their lives completely, but these people do their best to make their cramped quarters and vagabond lifestyle look very attractive. I know myself very well, and can adapt to living without the finer things like a flushing toilet for a few months in the summer. But, living this way as a lifestyle forever? Nope. I likes my heated home with running water.

For many, though, this way of life is a philosophy, a mantra, a necessity. It’s quite curious and intriguing to see the world through their lens. So when I recently reactivated my library membership after a long drought, a virtual trip to the eBook portal landed Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild onto my tablet, and next thing you know, I found myself immersed in one of the more recent stories of an infamous American vagabond, Chris McCandless, a young man who took the concept of nomadic living to extremes.

Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild tells the true story of McCandless, a headstrong, fiercely independent guy who felt more at peace alone in nature than anywhere. Raised by strict parents, he always went against the grain, never thinking a career was important, and that schooling was a waste of time. Following parental expectations was difficult for Chris, but he managed to tow the line, eventually making it through college with honours, with plans for law school. However, he had enough of the litanies of life the day after he graduated, packing up his things and leaving his life behind forever. He gave his life savings to OxFam, burned his Social Security card and embarked on a journey that saw him tramping his way around the U.S., with the eventual goal to live in the Alaskan wilderness in complete solitude. He even assumed a new name: Alexander Supertramp. His family never heard from him again…until his body was found in a remote forest in Alaska by a Moose hunter.

McCandless in Alaska

Jon Krakauer gives some context and understanding to Chris’s thought process by recounting his life, childhood and relationship with his family. To round out the book, he interviews other folks Chris met on the road, living a similar nomadic life. In telling these stories, it shows the many layers to Chris McCandless. He wasn’t simply a naive guy with big dreams; he was a guy determined to live out his philosophy at any price. And what one could gather from the book, he touched many lives in profound ways.

I found Into the Wild to be incredibly immersive, balanced and very thoughtfully written.  Might I add, there is a reason why the book is on many “top books to read before you die” lists. It’s good – very good. Get your hands on it and start reading. I highly recommend it!

4.5/5

Into the wild / Jon Krakauer (1996)

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And while we are here…

[Movie] Into the Wild (2007)

Starring: Emile Hirsch, William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Catherine Keener, Kristen Stewart

So, I thought, what the hey…let’s watch the movie for comparison.

The film follows the book very closely. I’d hazard it was a visual representation of the book, but not a thorough one.

The one thing I noticed: Sean Penn, who wrote the screenplay and directed the film, stole A LOT of direct dialogue from Krakauer’s book – seriously. If I hadn’t just finished the book, I would not have noticed…but he does. If I were Krakauer, I’d be taking him to court. And yet, Krakauer only got a “based on the novel by…” credit, which I thought was also a little strange for the amount of the book Penn used.

I didn’t overly enjoy Into the Wild: the movie. It wasn’t terrible, but didn’t do McCandless any favours. It missed the heart and soul of McCandless, showing him as a sort of untouchable, someone you could never get close to and who was completely ignorant and wonton. In fact, I remember when the movie was released, there was a lot of criticism from people saying McCandless’ ways were glorified in the movie, and that no one should take his lead if they think they can survive in Alaska without being properly equiped. The book does well to give more context to McCandless, and to the people who knew him. Besides the fact, I found the book much more enjoyable (isn’t that typical?). Do yourself a favor:  Get your hands on the book!

2.5/5

Into the Wild (the movie)
2007

[Review] Hidden Expedition: Titanic (Nintendo 3DS)

Thank you for sticking with me through my Titanic-themed games series! This review will be my last for awhile, and let me tell you, I think I saved the best handheld Titanic game for last!

Feeling pissed off about my experience with Murder on the Titanic for the Nintendo 3DS, I was reluctant to take a leap of faith and acquire Hidden Expedition: Titanic, also for the 3DS, through the Nintendo eShop. On preview, I discovered this game is developed by Big Fish Games, the leading authority on casual gaming. Now, BFG have made some choice titles, but they have also made some real bowsers. And as I have written throughout this series, a port from PC to the Nintendo often does not go well at all. I am here to tell you, I got lucky for once; Hidden Expedition: Titanic is pretty good! It is a port, but you wouldn’t know it to play it. Huzzah!

You are working as a professional diver, and have been hired by the Titanic Museum Foundation to do a series of dives to find the Queen’s crown. A cargo manifest from 1912 shows the crown was being shipped on the Titanic to New York to be a part of a museum exhibit. Researchers have some idea where the crown is located on the sunken ship, but it will require several dives into the wreckage to find the exact location. Along the way you are asked to save lost artifacts and gems scattered throughout the ship. Since this dive is a dangerous mission, you are permitted to keep any gems you find.

There are 14 dives in total, with each dive exploring up to three areas of the ship, starting from the top to the bottom. Each dive has a time limit of at least 20 minutes long. Within this time period, you are completing at least two hidden object puzzles and finding at least 10 gems. A hint button is provided, but you are penalized two minutes off the clock for using it. Once you have completed a dive, you are then to complete another casual puzzle in the time you have remaining. If you let the clock run down without finishing, you have to start the whole dive over again.

For once, there is a Titanic game that I can confidently say has some replay value. The hidden object scenes in Hidden Expedition: Titanic are challenging – no getting bored! And the images are crystal clear and detailed, even when zoomed in. My only “complaint” is putting a timer on this game – what for? I suppose it’s to simulate the limited amount of time you can be underwater on a dive?

And I played a decent Titanic game!

Of course, my complaint is a very minor jab on this game. Hidden Expedition: Titanic is enjoyable, and the plot behind it makes some plausible sense. It’s a very enjoyable game, and (I can’t believe I am finally saying this after all this time…) I RECOMMEND IT!

4/5 !!

Hidden Expedition: Titanic (Nintendo 3DS)
Big Fish Games
2014

[Review] Titanic’s Keys to the Past (Android)

All aboard for more Titanic-themed games! Let’s look at what’s available on the mobile market…

This next game review is for a game that is not that bad compared to what I have been playing lately…but it does have one major hiccup. I came upon Titanic’s Keys to the Past after having played a succession of very crappy “Escape the Titanic”-type games (I won’t waste your time on those…). Keys to the Past is a National Geographic game that I actually think is meant for children since Nat Geo have it up on their “Kids” website. I didn’t find the game immature; on the contrary, it was quite history driven, informative and entertaining.

You play as Lillian; someone whose family lineage has ties with the Titanic’s maiden voyage in 1912…Lillian’s great-great grandmother, Rosemary, was a nurse on-board the ship. The story goes that she tried, in vain, to save some people from certain fate, but they were in the third class area of the ship, and the gates separating class areas were locked up, preventing anyone in those areas from being able to flee to the lifeboats. Your great-great-grandmother did not have the necessary keys to open the gate, so she was not able to save those souls, and she too died, knowing she couldn’t save them.

Because of her family connection, Lillian is invited to the grand opening of the newly-built Titanic museum; a self-contained ocean-floor conservatory of the sunken ship. The museum conducts tours of what is left of the ship, with informative exhibits about the Titanic, including its history and information about the fateful night. While on the tour, she happens to find her great-great-grandmother’s half-broken medallion among the ruins of the ship. Upon this discovery, Lillian encounters the spirit of Rosemary, who tells Lillian her story and begs her to help her by going back in time to collect keys that will open the gates and save those people from certain death. To help her, Rosemary transports Lillian through time, back to 1912 via a mirror to allow her to search for these keys. You lead Lillian through the ship, exploring rooms and completing a variety of puzzles, to be rewarded with a precious key. Collect all six keys to fulfill Rosemary’s desire to save those people.

Let’s be honest: as odd as this game’s plot sounds, Titanic’s Keys to the Past was a gasp of fresh air compared to the flotsam of the last few Titanic games I have played lately. Each puzzle was, at the very least, easy enough to figure out. Puzzles vary from HOGs, to mazes, to “unscramble to picture,” to “match the images”. The puzzles were admittedly not difficult, but were a decent pastime, fun enough to play through. In some cases you are able to bypass a puzzle by playing a match-three game instead, but there is a catch in choosing it…you are told you need to match three items enough to gain 200 points in 2 minutes and 40 seconds – it’s harder than it looks! Why such a random time? You got me!

Probably the best part about Titanic’s Keys to the Past that added to the enjoyment of the game was the fact that I could SEE! Images were clear, even when zoomed in. This game is also a port from PC, and unlike game ports to the Nintendo handhelds that I have experienced as of late, this port to android is adapted well for touch screens.

With all the positive feedback I could give to Titanic’s Keys to the Past, I can only wish the game didn’t crash so damn much…Yes, yes, this game crashed…several times. Enough to really piss people off on the reviews on Google Play. I have no idea why there were crashes. If I were playing this game on my old android ASUS eeePad Transformer tablet, I might explain that it was me crashing – not the game (in its twilight years, everything was crashing on that thing), but, I have a Samsung Galaxy Tab A now with the latest OS – no reason for crashes. Keys to the Past crashed a lot, but thankfully it auto-saved, so not much was lost in the way of game progress. Despite this snafu, amazingly, I was a CHAMP, exercising patience and restraint with this game, seeing it to the end.

Titanic’s Keys to the Past costs ~$3.50 on Google Play…Would I pay for this knowing it has this crashing problem?…Hmm, let me be contrary, and say probably not. However! I have hope the developers fix this issue so I could get behind it fully. I actually don’t think this game is that bad…but it does need fixing…

2.75/5

Titanic’s Keys to the Past
Apar Games
2012