Lucien’s Review: Vampyr

Oh boy.  A long time ago, I talked about how this game is being made by the studio who brought me my favorite game of 2015, and thus my standards for this were sky high.  In playing this game, and seeing the stuff that is coming out of E3 lately, I have realized some things.  The studio who brought us this game also knows that they made my favorite game of 2015, or at the very least they knew that that game was a big deal.  And it seems that they let them go to their head.  Or maybe I should have seen their other games and realized what was facing this one.  I don’t know.  In any case, this game let me down big-time.  Let’s talk about it.

The plot goes that Dr Johnathan Reid has been afflicted with vampyrism, and now he has to manage that, all while a mysterious “Spanish Flu” is working its way through London and he has to deal with that at the same time.  Meanwhile, hunters are on the loose, making a situation that could be bad worse.  All while he also has to balance the vampire caste’s politics.  It was sold to us as a game about balancing your hunger, along with the plot, and keeping the districts safe.  At face value, that sounds really cool.  It sold me.  But the devil is in the details.

First, the vistas in this game are butt ugly.  That is when you can make anything out.  Don’t tell me it’s supposed to be night!  It was night in Arkham City too, and that game had various locations all with their own sense of style.  This game was drab, and boring.  A story set in early 1900’s London has the potential to be gorgeous to look at.  Instead, you can barely tell one district apart from the other, in the tiny amount of area that you have to explore.

Which is another thing – this game’s size is pathetic.  I was thinking that I was going to get to explore London.  Instead, I am in this tiny part of the city, with the rest being this mythical thing that I hear about but never see.  Maybe it is Dontnod just biting off more than they could chew with that, but there it is.  I prefer games with broad levels instead of an open world with nothing in it.  This game seems to be riding the fence about that concept, and it fails on both.

Then there’s the combat.  At first, this is pretty fun.  You have plenty of powers to play with, though you don’t get access to any powers as you go through the game.  Instead, everything available to you is open right from the start.  So learning neat things about being a vampire and getting to immerse yourself in the experience?  That was fucked.  Between repetitive enemies and difficulty that is entirely contingent on what amount of a prick you want to be,

Oh, and while we’re talking about that, this game has a REALLY bad habit of fucking with you in the choice department.  See, I wanted to be a good guy and save the city.  So when Lady Ashbury tasked me with stopping there from being blackmail against her in a way where I didn’t kill the person, that’s exactly what I did.  I found the source, and convinced her to walk away from all this with my mesmerizing powers.  But apparently that was the wrong approach to take!  Because she turned into an undead and started killing everyone.  What?!  Why is that?!  I saved her without killing her.  Why did the game decide that I was going to fail anyway?

Next, there was Sean Hampton.  He’s turned into an undead and is eating raw flesh to satiate his hunger, saying that the Lord is going to be his guide if he ever loses his way.  I decide to give him the benefit of the doubt, even though the REALLY ominous music is not helping.  I guess I should have listened.  Because while I was able to salvage the last district that was falling apart, this one went completely to shit.  So me taking the nice guy approach doesn’t work.  Then I should just kill everyone?  This game is really bad about telling you to play one way, then not rewarding you for that.  It was genuinely frustrating to see all my effort go down the tubes.

Oh, and there’s also the busy work.  Tasks that you have to do because the game tells you to, and if you don’t, the districts that you have saved go to shit.  Like how everyone in your districts is getting sick all the damn time, and you have to save them all the damn time.  I keep having to fight through more powerful enemies over and over to keep the districts healthy all the time.  It gets on my nerves REALLY quick.

Does this mean there was nothing I liked?  Not at all.  The narrative was fairly interesting.  It has a couple of hiccups, but it keeps me going the rest of the time.  If they had only been smarter about making this game, who knows what they could have accomplished.  Not to mention a few characters stuck with me.  Most notably Lady Ashbury.  She’s a vampire who is trying not to be a monster as well, and my attempts to be a better creature of the night at least resonated with her.  That’s one person who is appreciative.

It’s painfully clear that Dontnod is coasting on the success of Life is Strange, using a TON of brand recognition.  In my opinion, it went to their head.  That’s not a good thing.  This concept could have been genuinely amazing.  I wanted it to be one thing, but came out something else.  Which hurts me because I was genuinely hoping for a cool game about being a vampire.  There aren’t nearly enough.  It’s a tragically missed genre that has so much potential.

So I will give you my crash course in a video game about being a vampire.  First, have powers be something that the character learns about over time.  Don’t just throw it all out there and tell me to run with it.  Next, make the narrative more about the vampire world than the human one.  I get the idea of choosing how much of a monster you want to be, and I am all for that concept.  But it gets lost when the humans in the game are such a pain in the ass that you constantly have to look after.  Have choosing to be a monster be more about the narrative and how you have to live with the creature or person you let yourself become.

And since you are stuck in a world of the night, make the areas you explore interesting.  Not just drab back-drops.  Give them flavor.  It’s London, for fuck’s sake.  That’s easy to do.  Some art deco style and appropriate mood lighting and you got yourself a good London dark city.  Have the vampire society have its own aesthetic, to give it a kind of alienation with the world that humans live in.

Making a fun vampire game is a tricky deal.  But I was REALLY hoping that this was more Vampire: The Masquerade, and less Remember Me.  Overall, this game is horribly terrible.  It’s just insatiably boring.  Dontnod really is floating on their success with their last big title, and that’s unfortunate.  Because I could look past the flaws of Life is Strange like the dialogue being wonky or the world looking odd because the aesthetic was all its own.  I went after that game for the bigger issues, like fucking up the ending to the series in a worse way than Mass Effect 3.

Dontnod really wants to capture lightning again after their last major game.  Hell, they just showcased a new game that for some reason is set in the same universe as Life is Strange about a kid dealing with growing up alone in the middle of nowhere with a drunk dad.  Don’t know why they set it in that universe, other than a way to market it to people like me.  This studio needs to assess what they want to be, because they have one good but flawed work, while several other REALLY mediocre ones.  That’s not a good look.  Take this for what you will.

Final Verdict
4 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

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SIONU: Finding Myself at Odds With Nerd Culture

Everywhere I look, I am noticing something.  Since I follow an amount of anti-SJW types one all sides of the political fence, I get exposed to lots of different ideas.  I even have some SJW types who at least will talk with the opposition that I follow, such as Laci Green.  I don’t want to live in an echo chamber, so I am doing my best to get as many perspective as I can.  I also follow the GamerGate page on Tumblr, that still posts to this day, and that’s where I am seeing a lot of this.  But on both sites, I am seeing a continuing perspective on certain games, and it has me confused.

I recently have played David Cage’s newest game, Detroit: Become Human, and I have liked it very much.  Connor and Hank were by far my favorite characters, with Kara and Alice being my least.  Their arc had some insane plot convenience that did take me out of the story.  The game isn’t perfect.  I’m the first to say that.  There are flaws.  The same flaws inherent in all David Cage games – wonky controls, narrative heavy in the extreme, QTEs that if you hate that stuff will get on your nerves.  But for what the game is, I do like it very much.

But then I pull up my social media and it’s thing after thing about how awful this game is, how it somehow signifies the end of the world for gaming.  How it is SJW-heavy and how I should hate it for that.  On and on and on.  What’s more, a gaming channel that I watch decided to shit on another of Cage’s games – Beyond: Two Souls, making the argument that Cage’s games have no audience.  The dude is welcome to his own opinion, I am just confused about why it was so awful.  Was the non-chronological order an issue? A little.  I would have personally liked more of the stuff like when she was doing her infiltration mission.  That shit was great!  Or the mission where she was on the run facing off with the military trying to hunt her down.  That mission was also great.  I can look past the flaws for the things that I like in it.  Am I the only one?

Then today, another person I follow on Twitter was asked if he would cover “Life is Cringe.”  An obvious spin on the game Life is Strange.  I have made no secret of how that was my favorite game of 2015.  I have gone on about it to the point of excess, and I won’t be going on here.  I am just curious what is so awful about it.  The stilted dialogue?  Don’t think that escaped my notice.  Sure, it is a little off-putting at first.  I had to adjust to it.  But once I was able to quantify it as part of the universe that this game exists in, I was able to enjoy it substantially.  But I do acknowledge the stilted dialogue as a flaw.  Made very clear of that in my review of the first episode.  So what is it, then?

People have pointed out to me that there is SJW themes at play in the game.  Chloe Price, my favorite character, has been savagely ripped to pieces by the Internet.  Is that the issue?  Here’s the thing about me – I don’t hate a game or character with SJW parts on the merits of their existence.  Not so long as the narrative or the character doesn’t make those parts the majority of the whole.  It’s why I can hear her talking about keeping the gun she has out of the hands of men and not just write her character off.  Because that is one small part of her overall whole.

I’m trying to get where the hate of all these things is.  What are other people seeing that I am not?  Or is it the reverse?  Am I seeing something that everyone else is too obtuse to see?  Is my ability to see nuance and not just hating something because it has elements of a movement that I personally disagree with giving me a perspective others lack?  Or am I completely wrong and there is nothing of any redeemable value in any of these things?

Where did this all get started?  One could say that this goes back to the review for Gone Home.  A game that the games media slobbered all over the knob of like it is one of the greatest games ever.  A contention that I most assuredly do not agree with, make no mistake.  That game also has flaws, though I believe that people’s belief that it is nothing but a “walking simulator” is a bit overstated.  I liked the previous work by that company Dear Esther.

Game after game that I enjoy, but the Internet that I follow despises.  Firewatch, Beyond: Two Souls, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Life is Strange, Detroit: Become Human.  What am I missing?  I have even seen people accusing the game L.A. Noire of being in the same vein as this.  WHY?!  Because you spent a lot of time talking with people?  You know, the most fun part of the game!  Instead of that boring driving and shooting shit?!  Where you analyzed crime scenes and interrogated witnesses?  I loved that part.  It bugged me how the less interesting parts of the game had to be there at all.  I would have loved a game all about crime scenes, solving crimes, and being a detective.  It could have spawned a new breed of game.  Instead, it bankrupted the developer and that was it.  There will never be a sequel.

Come on, you nuance-lacking mother-fuckers!  Tell me what I’m missing here!  Tell me where the hate comes from.  Is it the simplistic gameplay?  Is it the narrative focus instead of the mechanics focus?  Is it the thematic elements that tie in to a culture that modern gaming is so at odds with?  Tell me what it is.  I genuinely am trying to figure that out.  Because while there are lots of games that I really like, it starts to feel like I am the only one on my side of the fence who agrees.  I’ve never actually been called an SJW for my taste in gaming, but part of me wonders if that is people’s unstated opinion.  I just want clarity on what I am missing here.

Feel free to comment, whoever.  I let all opinions be heard.

Until next time, a quote,

And as I sat there, looking out into the darkness, I thought back on all the things I’d built and left unfinished. I realized something – I wasn’t sad that it was gone. I had had fun making all that stuff. I would have done it anyway. And then, somehow, I knew that when I woke up, all my work really would be destroyed.” -King, The Unfinished Swan

Peace out,

Maverick

RAB: GNC and My Enjoying David Cage Games

I don’t normally take requests, but since I found out my coworkers read my site, they posed a thought to me about a post idea that at the very least I had to take another look at.  You ever notice these GNC stores all over the place?  At least two malls I’ve been in have had them.  Here’s the thing which gets me and my coworkers – there’s never anyone in there.  Seriously, how do they stay in business?  I have never, ever seen a single person in any of those places.  Neither have my coworkers.  Yet they are all over the damn place.  How does that work?  You’d think that the lack of customers would eventually get to them.

Of course, I have the same thought about Sears.  Seriously, in the town I grew up in, there is a Sears with this big-ass parking lot, and it’s almost totally vacant.  Yet while a Sears here in my current city shut down, that one is still open.  It legitimately makes no sense to me.  I’ve been trying to figure this out for a while.  You’d think they’d need a certain amount of business to pay the overhead cost of staying open, right?  Is that something the corporate office takes care of?  There’s an interesting thought.

Next up, it seems that I am really in a minority when it comes to liking David Cage’s video games.  I enjoyed Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, and his newest one Detroit: Become Human.  I think they are not the most original stories, but the presentation is good and the performances have all been engaging for me.  But all over the Internet, it’s lambasting everywhere I look.  Did I just miss something?  Are these games all just secretly so awful and I am missing something?  I don’t think so.  Part of me thinks it’s the whole thing that people have against games deemed “walking simulators,” which is a mentality that I have never and will never subscribe to.  I don’t mind games that are more about the narrative than the mechanics.

Everywhere I look it’s that his games are hackneyed and boring and stupid.  I swear, sometimes it feels like I am lost in this industry.  My favorite game of 2015 was Life is Strange.  Even though the end does piss me off, it was an engaging experience up to that point.  But everywhere I looked there, it was people saying it is stupid and boring and hackneyed.  I’m not sorry for liking these things.  I think they’re good.  No apologies for something that I like.  If you don’t, you don’t have to play it.  You can engage in whatever PUBG, GTA clone you want.  As for me, the story is the only thing that matters.  Sure, if the gameplay sucks, I won’t partake, but the story is the one and only thing that factors in my mind when thinking about a game’s playability.

Maybe it’s the culture war against the SJWs and the total death of nuance in any dissection of anything.  Part of me thinks I am on to something.  After all, I remember doing a post about how people calling Life is Strange “SJWs: The Video Game” was dumb and these people are missing what I found.  But of course people would think that.  See, I don’t mind something that has some amount of socially conscious content, so long as it’s not smashing it in my face or making me out to be judged by it.  I have no problem with the female empowerment brand of feminism on display in the Wonder Woman film.  Not even a little.  But some people choose to find every stupid thing that they don’t agree with and make it a huge deal in everything, regardless of context.

I don’t know what is separating me from mainstream culture, but I’m pretty sure it’s not me missing something.  I think it’s just people who are “suffering” from a difference of opinion.  Yeah, David Cage’s games aren’t for everyone.  I’m the first to admit it.  But am I the only one they are for?  That can’t be right.  Unsure.

Until next time, a quote,

“Thank you in advance for your cooperation.” – Connor, Detroit: Become Human

Peace out,

Maverick

Critical Examination: Ending Choice-Based Games

I do not know what it is with games that feature choice as a gameplay mechanic and finishing them.  Can someone explain this to me?  What is it about ending them in a satisfying way?  I am probably gonna answer my own question here, but any insight that my audience has would be appreciated.  It’s just that I do not understand why some games that feature choice as a central theme go so well, and others just plain suck.  It’s a mystery.  Let’s do some critical analysis of some of my favorite games with choice as a central theme, and analyze what went right and what went wrong.

The Wolf Among Us

For whatever reason, Telltale Games just knows their shit.  At least where their early works are concerned.  Now they are just derivative bullshit, but once upon a time they set the standard for how to do episodic games right.  This was an awesome concept and a fun game.  Based on the Fables comic series, telling a murder mystery involving a rundown slum where fairytale characters are living their lives is just fantastic.  You play as a grungy cop who isn’t a bad guy, he just has a very violent history.

The element of choice is central to this game, and how it plays with the concept to affect how everything ends with the setting, the villain, and the resolution was so well done.  Maybe it was because the story wasn’t especially complicated.  Or maybe it was because the story was the center of everything and the characters built around it.  I think that might have been it.  By keeping their focus on the story instead of the characters, they could keep the time spent having to develop characters and their relationships simple.  The mystery was engaging, so you do have to think about it.

A game where the plot is the central focus may be the best thing for this kind of medium.  This game, along with its predecessor, The Walking Dead, got it right.  Granted, that game was about a small plot involving a small bunch of characters.  It was able to strike the delicate balance between flushed out characters and flushed out plot.

Mass Effect

It bugs me so much how close this game came to being a story-telling masterpiece.  Had it succeeded, this franchise would have been the hallmark in a style of gameplay that would never and could NEVER be topped.  The way that the three games in the franchise (fuck Andromeda.  We never speak of that travesty again) built a steady narrative on a personal and galactic scale was just amazing.  All throughout, you could see real effects on what you did, both with the worlds around you, and with your party that you are brought to know and care about on a very deep level.

What I love is that the game had this nice thing where you can do really nice stuff but in a way where you are being the biggest asshole, which can sometimes lend to some absolute comedy gold.  Like in the second game, where you can yell down a bunch of admirals and basically tell them to fuck off, and still get Tali to not be exiled.  It’s awesome.  And if it weren’t for the fact that Morinth won’t come to my party, I’d have totally let her come instead of Samara.  I’m talking about the Citadel DLC, for those who are wondering.

Then we get to the end of the last game.  Everything after when the Victory Fleet goes to Earth.  And that’s where the game just DIES.  I do mean everything.  Nothing about when the Victory Fleet goes to Earth is fun.  Not one thing.  I built up a massive fleet!  I want to see what I got!  I want to see the Geth and Quarians.  I want to see the Turians and Asari.  I want to see the remains of the Batarian fleet coming out and being eager to start a fight.  I want to see Aria’s mercenaries.  I want to see krogans riding kakliosaurs riding into battle.  I want to go to battle with all the assets I had built up over so much time, and have every decision affect who lives and dies on a galactic scale!  What’s the point telling me about how I let Jack’s students become biotic artillery if I can’t see them in action!  I want to watch them fuck up the Reapers day!

The trailer for the game showed your fleet fighting it out on Earth, and that being central to the plot.  Yes!  That!  Let’s see how bananas this can get!  Let all of the decisions I made, from letting the Council live or die at the very beginning of the franchise, to which central characters I lost along the way factor in to the final battle.  To do that would be a monumental undertaking unlike anything seen before.  But it can be done.

A lot of gamers blame Bioware for how this all ended.  It’s not their fault.  It’s EA’s fault.  They were pushing hard for Bioware to get the game out the door before the new console generation dropped.  If EA wasn’t such a shit-storm of a company, maybe we could have gotten the ending that we deserved.  Where there aren’t just three color-coded paths to the end, but a plethora of challenged that you can pass or fail.  This franchise was poised to be the hallmark moment in a genre, instead it smashed its face on the floor sliding into the finish.  That sucked.

Until Dawn

This game had a fantastically simple premise – keep seven people alive until dawn.  Every choice you make factors into who lives and who dies.  Failure means losing one more person.  The first time I ran through the game, I had one person die.  But I never lost another.  This game was phenomenal.  How a studio who had never done anything like this before was able to get this done baffles me.

Unlike Mass Effect, this game was a very small story, but devoted equal parts to character development and relationship development vs plot development.  Because this was a very small game, and the punishment of your choice was pretty clear – people die.  You succeed in the game by living.  The ending will ultimately play out the same regardless of how many people live or die, but you are able to feel the consequence as the credits roll and the characters who survived are being grilled.  It’s good stuff.

Each choice you make in the game is as consequential as the in-game context that you are doing whatever you are doing in.  You choose to save Ashley when you have the choice of who to save and who to let die, it immediately sets your relationship up with Chris.  I liked those two, by the way.  They are a very cute couple.  When I got the best ending and the two kiss, it felt earned.  So many choice-based games tend to drop the ball with romantic elements.  Mass Effect 2 comes to mind.  That game had a bad habit of having characters in your crew who fall in love with you seemingly out of the blue.  It’s bizarre.  And since you get virtually none of them back in your crew in the following game, it doesn’t matter.

One nice touch in Until Dawn was the fact that the items you chose to examine and analyze comes back into play.  That was a really smart touch that went a long way for me in helping make the game believable.  It is similar to how things worked in another game that we will see later on in this list.

Now we get to one that I have a lot of things to say about.

Life is Strange

This game had the makings of something truly amazing.  An episodic game that had the potential to be the kind of Twin Peaks/ Indie film of the video game medium.  That aspect made me respect it.  For the first four episodes, it truly did feel like it was leading up to something spectacular.  Your choices don’t have massive consequences, but you can see the progression of all your actions as you go along.  Then it comes down to the end.  Ugh…

I’ve harped on this ending before, so I’m not going to go over all of it now.  Suffice it to say, if you thought the ending of Mass Effect 3 neglected your choices, you ain’t seen nothing.  That game gave you three color-coded options to make all of your choices count for nothing.  This game gave you two.  That’s right, two choices, and no matter what you did prior, it all ends exactly the same.  I just don’t get how this happened.  Here is my belief, and it comes into play in the last game on this post too – they wrote themselves into a corner.  Either that, or they didn’t have the budget or resources to make the last episode bigger.  See, to truly make your choices matter, and to pay off things like the tornado being a representation of countless timelines that Max created paying off, they would have had to devote so much more resources into the final episode.

Part of me gets that it’s hard to end a choice-based game.  To have meaningful payoff for the countless choices that every player would have made, it must be an astronomical undertaking.  But here’s the thing – if you are going to make a game like this, I think it’s on you to do it right.  The player is owed that.  People say that us gamers are entitled babies, and sure, sometimes we can be.  But this company decided to take the effort onto themselves to do this.  We didn’t tell them to.  They didn’t have to.  It could have just been a game like Gone Home, where you have to roll play through another story.  I just know that somebody will come into the comments and say that it is just like that game.  It’s not.  They chose to make this game one where the player is told that their actions will have consequences.  Being able to track those consequences and do it well is a massive undertaking.  Any game company who wants to play at that owes the player a satisfactory resolution.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Boy did this game really have so much fantastic moments where it rose above being derivative, only to crash and burn at the end.  The last episode of this game has two thirds that are just great.  It opens with Rachel acknowledging the closeness that her and Chloe share if you built them up as a couple by holding her hand and asking her to stay when her father is going to tell her the truth.  You have a moment where Chloe faces down her demons about losing what matters to her when Rachel is stabbed and she has to rush her to the hospital and show that she understand just how serious this was.  Then, everything that follows that scene is where it all goes to shit.

The last third of this game takes how the previous game gave you two choices that nix all of your choices before, and switches it over to one.  The final two choices you can make are ultimately meaningless.  No matter which you chose, nothing changes.  I said in my review of the last episode that I think it came down to them wanting to keep to the canon of the game that chronologically follows, and that is still true, but they also had to write a resolution to a story with more characters than it realistically needed.  Or it could have just chosen not to have payoff.  As an example, everything that happened at Rachel’s house could have been nixed.  No, should have.  It served no purpose.  We already knew that Rachel’s dad was doing some underhanded stuff to keep her biological mother way.  Now we need to have a subplot come out of nowhere about him being straight-up evil and wanting her dead?  And even to be helping a criminal get off scott-free in the process?  That’s retarded.

Nixing that plot would also have nixed the even worse final confrontation with Eliot.  Instead of having his plot end there, it could have ended with him meeting up with Chloe at the hospital.  They have been playing with him having feelings for her and you either being kind to them or not as the player.  It could have paid off with you making the final choice of what you want between them.  No big, right?  They could easily have kept this in canon with the game that follows this by having it just be another relationship that Chloe could eventually shrug off as her and Rachel got deeper into the drug game.

Finally, the last confrontation at the mill was stupid and didn’t need to be.  This game should have ended with Chloe finding Rachel’s mom and trying to convince her to come meet her daughter.  It’s simple, it can factor in your choices in how close you have gotten with Rachel by having your relationship play into the argument between them.  How the last episode got so poorly handled baffles me.  I thought I knew the reason why it crashed and burned at the end, but the truth is I don’t.  I really don’t.

Conclusion

Choice-based games are hard.  That’s the thing to take away.  I don’t think a developer should take on something like this unless they are ready to really go the distance with it and not half-ass.  We’ve see it done well, and done poorly, and in some cases coming so close to greatness that it bugs me to see it fail.

What do you think?  What games do you think did it well and which ones did not?  Let me know in the Comments

Until next time, a quote,

“Choice.  It all comes down to choice.” – Neo, Matrix Reloaded

Peace out,

Maverick

The Relationship Development Issue in Gaming

You know what I hate – when a series of games allows me to develop relationships, yet it feels like they aren’t complete by the end.  Or there is something flawed in them.  I’m going to be talking about two examples here, but there are more.  Lots more.  See, for whatever reason, game developers have a gift at making games where the relationship is developing really nicely, but then totally botch it later on because you don’t see real development.  For my two examples, I think there are different reasons, but I think it is something worth addressing.  Let me get into my examples.  That will help illuminate what I mean.

Mass Effect

In my initial run of this series, I had Shepherd going after Liara.  They were a totally cute couple.  Femshep was my character of choice, namely because Jennifer Hale had 1000X more personality than the guy who did male Shepard’s voice.  I don’t know why they picked so bland a guy, but he was dull as dirt.  Femshep was an interesting character.  And the romance between these two was cute.  I genuinely like both characters, so I wanted to see them together.  For the first game, the development of their relationship really felt genuine.  Liara doesn’t understand humans, so her bond with Shepard feels very exploratory for both of them.  Her being an alien is addressed as well.  It’s neat stuff.  We get to learn about her species and her character at the same time.

The second game rolls around, and this felt really good.  When you see Liara again, she’s become someone else.  The time apart has had a real effect on your relationship.  There is real distance that you are unable to address.  I like that when you see her again, she wordlessly says something to you and there is intimacy before she has to shut it down.  Then you get the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC, and the distance between them is beautifully addressed.  I genuinely loved that.  The way the tension builds and builds until it all blows up and she acknowledges the feelings that were always there is just fantastic.  But they also address the reality that what Shepard is involved in is violent.  He/she could be killed at any moment.  That’s hard when you want to build a future.

Then we get the third game, and here is where my gripes come in.  Shepard has been incarcerated for months, and then are reunited with Liara on Mars.  That should have been a very intense scene.  A lot of emotional outpouring should have happened.  But it’s fine.  I can handle the little gripes.  My biggest gripe is that it really feels like the game is sending you back to square one with their relationship.  Why?  After having been together for years, these two should really be in a place where they are looking at their future and thinking about something more.  Liara talked about it at the end of the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC.  She wanted to know what Shepard was hoping for with their future.  Now here you are, and she asks if you want to pick up where you left off.  Of course I said yes.

And yet, from that dialogue, it feels like you two are distant again.  Why?  You just said that you wanted to continue where you left off, after having addressed building a romantic future between you.  Shepard even joked about marriage and making babies with her.  So why does it feel like I’m having to win her back?  There should be more closeness between them that was tragically missing in a lot of scenes.

I said that I believe I have an explanation for why.  Here’s what I think happened in this game – they had to leave it open to the player wanting to go another route.  So they give you a chance to set things up with another character.  But see, that makes no goddamn sense.  Because Liara asks you if you want to pick up where things were left.  If you said yes, that should have just locked the player into that arc.  I know it’s cheating player choice, but you gave them the chance to back out.  It’s on them if they chose not to.  To see their relationship grow to something where they are talking about making babies and building a future together, maybe having the last scene be Liara asking Shepard to marry her.  To have that be the culmination of their emotional arc would have been fantastic.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it did have some closure in the Citadel DLC.  I really loved how they treated their relationship there.  Still, in a game all about building a narrative journey across three games, that seems like a no-brainer in developing that to see where it ultimately goes.  Would make Shepard’s passing in the end (if you chose one of the stupider endings like taking over the Reapers or the Synthesis ending which is bafflingly stupid) even more intense.  Seeing Liara in a room sobbing as all the chance to see her girlfriend survive is lost.  Of course, if the ending to the series hadn’t been so fucking stupid, we could have had options to have Shepard live.  I’ve already bitched about that enough.  Wrote a whole post about it.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Now, the original game had its own issues with a lackluster ending.  See, the original game had it where the only time the game would acknowledge Max and Chloe’s relationship is if you pick the ending where you let her die.  That bugs me.  But that’s nothing compared to how annoyed I am at this game.

See, the crux of what made this prequel work is building up the relationship between Rachel and Chloe.  You had to be careful how you set it up.  The wrong things said could derail all the romantic elements you are going for.  I liked that.  Made my investment seem like it was worth something.  Seeing how you go from acquaintances, to how fast these two can fall in love, it wasn’t like some Disney 3-day romance.  Here it feels like two people drawn together by a love that was beyond either of their control.  Which culminated in the second game to them kissing in a scene that was legit wonderful.  Especially after the amazing stage scene I got to have between them where Rachel pretty much says that she has feelings for Chloe in a way where it fits with the play at hand.

But then we get to the last episode.  This bothered me.  These two just made out, and all the momentum is in their relationship.  It felt like they should really be under the spell.  But nope.  The plot got in the way, in all the worst ways.  There were narratives that had to be wrapped up, and this game did it in such a piss-poor way.  It should have ended with Rachel meeting her mother.  Or maybe a plot about Sera being involved in bad things and the game acknowledging that.  Could have left things open for a sequel where the two meet her, and you have to figure out what to do next.  Options are there.

Instead, the game treats them both like they are friends.  The only time they acknowledge what happened in the last episode was via text.  Are you kidding me?!  Young love here, idiots!  Stupid teenager who should be all hormones and passion.  Granted, some serious shit happened with the revelation of Sera’s relationship to Rachel, but this game spent so much time grounding these two’s relationship as the center of the narrative, then totally ditched that.  It’s frustrating, to say the least.

Once again, I think I have an explanation.  See, in the game that this is a prequel to, the relationship between Rachel Amber and Chloe is deliberately ambiguous.  I was at first assuming it is so you can see in this what it was all like.  But since this prequel had to keep to the canon of the original (for reasons I will never understand.  There are so many narrative reasons around that with alternate timelines), it couldn’t let you be definitive about it.  Doesn’t help that I ostensibly set up Chloe to find out that Rachel was cheating on her with Frank.  Ouch.

So what do you think?  Why is it that game devs seem to have an issue bringing resolution to relationships in a game or game series.  Some do it better than others.  The relationship between Chris and Ashley in Until Dawn had some resolution if both of them lived to see the end.  I dug that.  And don’t even get me started about how they fucked the relationship between Femshep and Garrus.  That just bugged me!  Between games should have been nothing for them.  Anyway, that’s my thoughts.  Let me know yours in the Comments.

Until next time, a quote,

I don’t think you can analyze love. It’s the greatest mystery of all. No one knows why it happens, or doesn’t. Love is a chance combination of elements. Any one thing might be enough to keep it from igniting – a mood, a glance… a remark. And if we could define love, predict it – it would probably lose its power.” -Neelix, Star Trek: Voyager

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Review: Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 3

Ugh.  I don’t know what it is with game creators and stories with player choice.  For whatever reason, it seems that the vast majority of devs who make them find it difficult to end them in a way that reflects player choice.  But I don’t think that was the problem here.  I think the problem with ending this particular game is the fact that it has a continuity that it has to fit into, because it’s a prequel to another game.  And this game gave you the ability to completely break that continuity if you so chose.  Which I did.  I’m going insanely into spoilers, just a head’s-up.  If you don’t like that, get out now.  This episode had other problems too, which I am going to get into.  Let’s talk about it.

Here is a big issue – the first two acts of this game are done with such a mastery that it really blows my mind.  No joke, I was on the edge of my seat and feeling the feels in a big way.  It goes along with the narrative that it was so perfectly crafting.  Which makes the third act of this game and how far it dies that much more frustrating.  But my frustration with the third act comes from other places as well.

This is where I get into spoilers.  So anyone who doesn’t like that is advised to leave now.  For starters, what is the deal with the confrontation with Eliot?  That was bad!  Some of the worst writing I’ve ever seen.  It comes right the fuck out of nowhere!  So I’m just supposed to believe that he is secretly a crazy stalker who has a domestic violence complex when all the events up to now have told me he’s the sad friendzoned guy, based on the choices I made?  That makes no damn sense.  It was conflict needlessly thrown in there to add tension.  Or maybe to justify him not being in the game that follows this one.  I don’t know.  But that entire scene annoyed me to no end.

Next, why was the relationship I was cultivating with Rachel never acknowledged in the end?  That bugged me.  The previous game had Rachel and Chloe making out by my choices.  Why does it not have any amount of emotional intimacy between them.  It really doesn’t.  You could easily make the argument that they are just good friends based on how their interactions go.  Why?  This episodes goes out of its way to not say anything definitive about how their relationship is.  I know why – because of continuity.

And now we finally get into my biggest gripe with this episode – keeping the continuity.  See, here’s the thing: I broke that.  I broke the continuity of the game that follows it pretty damn hard.  With the choices I made, after a genuinely touching scene of David trying to reach out to Chloe, I had her finally choosing to make peace with him and set up a legitimate relationship for the family.  So they were on the path to becoming a real family, minus all the animosity.  Thus helping to set up a psychological balance with Chloe to help her heal.  Next, I put Nathan on the path to becoming a better person.  He had a real friend who was kind to him and treating him like he wasn’t a piece of shit.  That would set him on the path of becoming a better person and not needing Mr. Jefferson for his twisted fantasies.  Lastly, at the very end, I lied to Rachel about what transpired and the truth about her father being a real piece of shit.  That led her to having a very good relationship with her family that wouldn’t have had her and Chloe desperately looking to escape still.  Not to mention, I had set up in the previous episode that they would be heading to New York and not LA.  Since she wouldn’t have been self-destructive, there would be no reason for Rachel to be in Mr. Jefferson’s Dark Room.  Not to mention, since I had built up the relationship with her and Chloe so strongly (at least I thought I had), she’d have no reason for fooling around with Frank.  Unless she decided to cheat on her.

Do you see the problem?  The developers decided that it was better to keep the continuity intact than to allow player choice to dictate how the game goes.  Because, as I said, they had to keep to the continuity.  That’s bullshit!  If you are going to market a game as having player choice, respect their agency.  Yeah, I retconned the lore of the game that chronologically follows this one.  So what?  The original game, ironically enough, is an iron ball around the ankle of this one.  And that is unfortunate.

What’s even more ironic is that there is such an easy way around this!  Just have the continuity errors be Max in the future changing the past.  One of the bullshit endings to the game has it where Max goes back in time and lets Chloe die, ostensibly stopping all of the rest of the plot from happening.  The idea is that if Chloe had died, Max would never have gotten her powers, and none of the events that followed would have happened.  Even though, Max already fucking did that when she went back in time further than the events of the story and told David about Mr. Jefferson’s fucking Dark Room, which should have caused the same result!  Ugh!  I still hate the ending to the original game.  So yeah, if the idea was to stop the events of what followed after Max saw Chloe die, then anything she would do back in time before then to stop the events should work.  In other words, just have a bit where you see Max in Seattle having gone really far back and changing the timeline.  Then you can fuck around wherever you like.  A game with time travel allows for that.  Or have it be an alternate timeline Max created in time travel.  There are plenty of easy ways for this to work, and it doesn’t.

So, do I hate this episode?  I hate the final act, but just like the one that came before, everything leading up to that was pretty great stuff.  I guess you can make your own judgements on it from there.

Final Verdict
First two acts: 8 out of 10

Last act: 3 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Review: Life is Strange: Before the Storm (Episode 2)

Sorry this is a little late.  Been trying to organize my thoughts, and have other stuff going on.  Here’s the thing about this game – it’s kind of a mixed bag.  It’s not the original.  Part of me is impressed that it is not trying to be.  This game was created for one purpose and one purpose alone – to give players the back-story between Chloe and Rachel.  But it does make your choices feel weighty.  That’s one thing I’ll give this iteration that the original really didn’t have – player choice feeling substantial.  Since there are so few episodes, there aren’t a huge amount of choices to keep track of.  So the writing is easier.  Plus, it’s easier to make your actions feel meaningful.  Why am I going so far out of my way to preface this?  I guess it’s because I honestly like this prequel.  This review is going to be a little odd.  See, there isn’t a huge amount of stuff to substantively talk about.  The visuals are still in the same vein, and good.  Hell, even the kissing animation you have access to later on isn’t the worst I’ve seen.  It’s not Mass Effect 2 levels of clipping.

What do I think of this episode?  As I said, the core of this prequel is to explain the growth of the relationship between Chloe and Rachel.  And they got that right.  My favorite parts of this episode are when you see the relationship between the two deepening.  It feels pretty good.  It’s not perfect.  The dialogue is stilted as fucked.  But where this game goes right is making the emotions match the scenes.  You do believe these characters when they’re on stage together and Rachel is poetically confessing that she has a bond with Chloe that goes beyond typical friendship.  That scene is heart-warming.

Here’s my issue with this prequel – so much of this really doesn’t feel like it’s tying in to the story from the original.  It kinda feels like I’m ret-conning the lore of that game.  After all, I have worked hard to make the relationship between Rachel and Chloe feel real.  So if the events of the other game happen as you find out they did, then Rachel is doomed to basically cheat on Rachel with Frank.  Given the passion between them, am I to assume that in the months or years from when the prequel ends the two got distant enough for Rachel to leave her girlfriend and not feel at least a little conflicted about it?

Not only that, you can affect where the two girls are looking to run away to, which plays a huge role in what everyone believes happened to Rachel in the original.  Maybe all of this was developed just for fan service to fans of the original.  Maybe I’m really over-thinking this.  But as someone who genuinely enjoyed the original game, a lot of this plot stuff just rubs me a little wrong.

I don’t know.  Maybe I need to change my perspective.  Instead of seeing this as an extension of the original game, see it as its own story.  Where I a guiding the romance between two characters, one of whom I have really grown to like.  I still love Chloe as a character, along with the voice acting.  As stilted as the dialogue is, at least it feels genuine with all the emotion she puts into it.  I just know somebody is going to call me an SJW for liking this stuff.  This game definitely takes inspiration from social justice talking points.  Thankfully, that shit seems to be from characters in periphery.  Chloe and Rachel are not just walking stereotypes of Tumblr feminists.

One thing I really wanna touch on is the dream sequences.  I really do like them.  Each one has a thematic purpose.  The first is Chloe addressing the death of her father from her family, as more and more of him is being stripped away.  The second was her addressing the pain of having her blossoming relationship with Rachel seemingly going up in flames, while her father is the voice of reason who tells her that she still has a place in her life.  This episode had a really great sequence.  It has William sitting in front of the car he crashed, burning, roasting a marshmallow with the raven.  Really wondering what the raven is meant to symbolize in context of this story.  The butterfly from the original symbolized Chloe as a character.  The raven is a point of conjecture.  Chloe sits and starts roasting a marshmallow herself, and William tells her that watching everything burn is beautiful, but she might be missing seeing what other beautiful things are being hidden from her by her perspective.  We see this come to a point when she acts in The Tempest, with the stars in the sky sparkling like the ones on her outfit.

I also am really liking the new side characters you meet.  There is so much more personality from them.  Having a smaller cast let them give characters much more presence, and it really pays off.  This episode has a conversation you can totally miss but I’m glad I didn’t between Chloe and Steph where you can grow closer or end up hurting her and I went out of my way to be honest about the fact that I had Rachel as where I was setting up the romance between the two.  It led to a genuinely touching moment where Steph says you can talk to her about what it’s like, since she has been open about being gay.  Subtle touches like that go a long way.

One thing I wanna mention is the fact that the walking animation is so fucking weird in cutscenes.  During gameplay it’s fine, but in cutscenes the walking is just so strange.  And the running is even weirder.  Do the people who made this just not know how to animated that?  So odd.

Overall, it’s a good continuance of the story.  Granted, the opening act is painfully slow.  But once you get back to the junkyard, things pick up pretty quick.  I like this story.  With a bombshell having been dropped on Rachel at the end of the episode, I am genuinely eager to see how it plays out.

Final Verdict
7 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick