Critical Examination: Open World vs Open Levels

I’m about to make an argument that is more than a bit unpopular in today’s gaming world – open world games are really starting to suck.  It’s true.  As I was playing Final Fantasy XV, I was in awe of the beautiful visuals and the fun gameplay.  However, after a while, so much of the open world got very dull.  Why?  For the same reason that most open world games are suffering, these days – lack of stuff to do.  It’s easy to have a big, open space that has nothing in it.  That was the biggest flaw with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.  Well, that and the fact that the game was clearly incomplete.  Funny, that’s the same feeling I have about Final Fantasy XV, too.  The plot to both games was stupid in the extreme, while the gameplay was fun beyond all reason.

The simple reality is that with more and more games looking to go open world, they are sacrificing making the most of the space they have to just give the player more area to be bored.  Sure, there are the games that do it right, like the Grand Theft Auto franchise, or The Witcher 3, but the reality is that they are the exceptions, not the rule.  And both of those games have a mix of open levels to open world.

I can hear your question – what’s the difference?  What separates an open level from an open world?  It’s easy – open levels are contained spaces where things happen.  There are rigid boundaries that dictate where the player can and cannot go.  The common gaming culture says that this is nothing but making things linear, and while there is some amount of truth to that, I think people with that perspective are not seeing the bigger picture.  Just because it is a limited space doesn’t mean that it is a corridor.  Before we get into that, let’s analyze why an open world is not always a good thing, by showing when it goes wrong.

Games that do Open World wrong

The first big example – Watch Dogs.  Didn’t play the sequel.  Never will.  Was burned enough by the original game.  The original game had a vast, very tacky open world.  And like most Ubisoft sandbox games, something about that open world – it was boring.  There was virtually nothing to do.  It was the same repetitive shit, over and over again.  Without anything truly interesting to look at, the whole concept got dull almost like that.  However, then there were the internal areas.  Once you were cut loose inside of buildings or levels you had to infiltrate, using your hacking tools was infinitely more fun.  You could get through a whole mission without a single bit of violence, if you knew what you were doing.  Those were the best moments in the game.

Next up, let’s talk about Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.  I actually do really like that game.  When you are doing what the game was meant to do, it is loads of fun.  Sneaking through a base, never killing a single soldier, is an awesome experience.  Sure, sometimes Quiet would blow someone’s head off because they spotted me, but that’s why I have her with me.  The base is on alert, but that just makes sneaking easier.  Now I can quietly get around in the confusion and tranq a few soldiers who just happened to be dumb.  The base levels are awesome, and make me feel like a stealth agent.  But then there is the overworld.  In Afghanistan, I’ll at least give that the overworld is fun to look at.  Hell, it’s downright beautiful.  The desert they rendered was simply fantastic.  Made me wish the entire game could have taken place there, because Africa was butt-ugly.

Speaking of games with an overworld that is nice to look at, but boring to traverse through – Final Fantasy XV.  The world of that game is sublime.  No joke, I love looking at it.  But the problem is that the overworld is really big, with not one fucking thing to do.  Sure, there are the monster hunts, and those are genuinely fun.  Aside from the nighttime ones, when you can’t see shit.  Or the wasp ones, where they spray the confusion stuff and make fighting them so much more difficult.  However, that game had the unfortunate distinction to not having many cool contained areas to explore.  Were it not for how fun the gameplay is, this game really would have fared much worse, in my eyes.

So, what have we learned?  Hopefully, that an open space means that you just have more opportunities for the player to get bored.  It’s impossible to have some massive space and have enough stuff to keep a player’s attention.  Ask the makers of No Man’s Sky how that works.  Let’s look at some games that took the open level design motif.

Games that did Open Level right

Let’s look back at 2016, and talk about Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.  This game was very linear, but was still able to use open spaces within its levels to give the player options.  Whether it be the driving segments in Madagascar that allowed you to explore a frankly-gorgeous terrain, or the areas in an action space that allow you to make use of stealth or go all-out, guns blazing, the game has lots of variety in its environments while still keeping it contained.  That was part of the fun.  Another Naughty Dog game, The Last of Us, used a similar style.  Anywhere that there was sneaking to be done, the game gave you lots of options in each level.  Each area had a ton of choke points or hiding spaces to make use of.

I haven’t played the newest iteration of Hitman, because of the episodic bullshit and the always-online DRM crap (planning on getting it when it comes out on disc so I don’t have to deal with that), but from what I was told, the use of open levels was done brilliantly.  The levels are large, and have a lot of moving parts, but because it is still a contained space, the game lets you play around within its space.  You have more tools at your disposal to get your signature kill done.  That’s smart.

Another example of doing it right is in most JRPG games like Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch or Skies of Arcadia.  In both of those games, they have a large overworld that you can explore at your leisure, but the details are vague and travel is implied to be over a period of time.  This is smart because it gives the player the chance to explore and find hidden secret areas, while having the individual levels be really open and interesting.  I have actually been missing such an overworld.  Been missing a good JRPG, too.

Both of these styles of games have their advantages.  The best example of both concepts coming together was in The Witcher 3.  That game not only had a very dynamic open world, but also very dynamic smaller levels to play around with.  It was right brilliant.  However, that game was the exception, not the rule.  Ubisoft has become the punching bag of the Internet for doing the concept wrong.  Sometimes they catch lighting in a bottle, like with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, but that game REALLY was the exception.  Developers needs to learn that it’s okay to sometimes make things linear.  Just balance it out by letting the player have more open spaces to play around it.  Linear can be good for moving the story along.  Sometimes you don’t need a huge amount of space to fuck around in.  All you need is a hallway to walk down, or a building to explore.  However, then you go to a place where the game lets you unwind and explore at your own pace.  It has to be a balancing act.

Part of me is hoping that we’re going to be stepping away from these big open-world games for a while.  It’s become not only a hassle for developers, but also a crutch for games to lean on.  After all, if you can have a huge world for players to grind and do busy-work in, then that keeps them playing for hours and hours.  Makes them a lot of money.  However, true inspiration comes from when you are able to make the most of what you have.  Open levels give players the best of both worlds.  The linearity that gives games smooth plot progression, and a way for them to feel like they have control over the pace of how they play.

What are your thoughts?  Let me know in the Comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“Choice.  The problem is choice.” – Neo, The Matrix Reloaded

Peace out,

Maverick

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Top 10 Most Anticipated Games of 2014

Alright, people, I did one of these last year, and I thought I would do one this year.  However, that said, I have a lot of reservations about this list.  The first is that I don’t have any of the new consoles, which is how I game.  The reason is – I’m poor.  There are a lot of great games that are still coming out on the current generation, which is good (and really smart for developers), and some games where there is a fuck-ton of debate on which console they are coming out on.  One on my list, I hope is coming out on Xbox 360, because I am not getting the Xbox One.  The creepy camera that recognizes your face and watches you.  Yeah, Big Brother is the nice word for it.  But, there are games on the next-gen consoles that do interest me, and I want to play.  For the games that are exclusively next-gen, they are going to be at the bottom of my list.  It’s nothing personal, but I can’t afford them, yet.  That said, here we go.

The Order10. The Order: 1886
What do you get when you cross steampunk, vampires and some pretty badass knights?  You get a game that has captured my attention.  The fact that it is PS4 exclusive is a little annoying, but whatever.  This game has style and grace.  While I haven’t been able to see gameplay yet, it has at least held my attention, which is more than I cay say for most games.  The setting looks great, the combat looks cool, provided that the trailer says something for the game itself.  Victorian England always makes for a fun setting.  I have high hopes.  I hope the game meets expectations.

The Witness9. The Witness
The people who made Braid have decided to come back and give us another Indie puzzle-platformer, only this time, it’s in three dimensions.  What I have seen of the gameplay, setting and style of this game is great.  It’s got great use of color, the aesthetic design is neat and there is still a sense that you are solving something.  The bright and shiny world is hiding some dark secrets.  I am certain of it.  It is the people who made Braid, after all.  I’m excited to see what this game becomes, since everyone is being tight-lipped about it.  Something tells me that the final product won’t disappoint.

Thief8. Thief
Man, here is a franchise that has DEFINITELY needed a breath of fresh air.  And thus far, it looks like the next generation of consoles will give it just that.  These games are among the best stealth games of all time, and the demos I have seen of this one are showing that this will be no exception.  With Eidos Montreal being the lead force behind this game, I have high expectations.  Thankfully, they have proven that they know what they are doing and get the job done.  It’s been so long since I have played a game with this name, it is good to see this game making its big debut.  Hopefully they will put a HUGE emphasis on stealth and give you lots of toys to get it done.

LOGO_VECTOR_RGB7. Infamous: Second Son
This is a game that I want to play for the exact same reason as I got the reboot of Devil May Cry – combat.  Only difference here is – I get to blow shit up.  Lots and lots and lots of shit.  It looks awesome.  I am so stoked.  While it is PS4 exclusive, I am still looking forward to it, whenever I get around to playing it.  A new character, a new setting and some awesome new talents.  This game definitely has a lot going for it.  An anti-hero character, fighting against the government and blowing shit up.  What’s not to like?

Halo 56. Halo 5 (Maybe)
So, here’s the thing – there is a LOT of talk around the water cooler that this game is going to come out for the Xbox 360.  The common argument I hear against that is – these games are system sellers.  I agree.  But then, if that was the case – why not debut this game with the new system?  For real, this game would sell consoles.  It looks awesome!  With how awesome Halo 4 was, breathing new life into this franchise, a sequel would be a game that would, sure as shit, sell systems.  The PS4 would have gotten a head start, but Microsoft could have recouped their losses with a new Halo as a premier game.  A launch title by a studio who does good work.  Plus, releasing this on Xbox 360 is smart!  I’m not alone is being poor as shit and not getting a new console right off the bat.  Having this game come out on the last generation, maybe as a swan song for it, would be a good move, and the money would roll in for Microsoft, while they would also have the next gen gamers also getting it as well.  It’s a smart business choice.  We’ll see what happens.  I hope it does come out on the Xbox 360.  I’d be all OVER that!

Tales of Xillia 25. Tales of Xillia 2
For those who read a post I wrote about my hatred for the ending of the first iteration, let me explain – this game looks good.  For real, that’s it.  The first game, ending issues aside, was a VERY solid game in the Tales franchise.  The previews I have seen for a sequel have looked pretty damn good too.  I am excited to play this game.  Here’s hoping that the issues with the ending get better.  Since there are so many plot issues that are unresolved, that just makes me even more excited to play it.  This game is going to be one of the best things, provided that the same love and attention that was given to the original is paid to this one as well.

4. Tomb Raider 2
A game that is as tight-lipped as is possible for a game to be is being made.  It’s this one.  Every single person and their brother has questions.  Everyone wants to know where the story of Lara Croft is going next.  After how good the reboot was, the sequel anticipation is sky-high.  Hopefully they keep with the darker nature of these games.  It was a good look the first time, I have no doubt that it will go well again.  I don’t have much more to say than that, because we don’t have any definitive information.  But, I am excited in the 10th degree.

Watch Dogs3. Watch Dogs
One of the games I was excited for last year, them pushing it back to this year just makes it better.  Hopefully they pushed it back to spit and polish everything that they could on this game.  I am not pre-ordering this one, as I want to see what it ends up being first, but I have a lot of excitement.  A spy game where technology is your oyster.  The concept has been making me super-happy, and the addition of some kick-ass combat helps a lot.  All-in-all, I am excited, and I hope that the rest of you are too.  I view this game as a kind of pre-cyber punk.  Like they are headed there, but not yet.  I’ve already talked about this game before, so I’ll leave it at that.  I am so excited.

The Last of Us Left Behind2. The Last of Us: Left Behind
Surprised?  A DLC add-on to be on this list?  I make it no secret that I believe The Last of Us to be the best game of this year, without any contenders in its class.  This was a game that was mature (as in emotionally and intellectually, not with blood and boobs), dark and left you with all kinds of feels, from start to finish.  This was a game that rose above what all the others like it tried to do, and succeeded.  Now, this DLC has got my attention in ways you can’t believe.  I am hoping that they don’t have this as like an add-on to the game.  I hope they are able to slip this directly into the campaign, that way it will give me an excuse to play the game again to get to it.  I get the feeling that this was what Joel was talking about before the final act, when he said “the building the Firefly mentioned.”  I am certain that this game will be worthy of its name.  Naughty Dog knows what they are doing.  I hope the rest of you are as excited as I am.

And the game that I am most looking forward to next year is…

The Evil Within1. The Evil Within
What do you get when you combine the original creator of Resident Evil, who wants to erase the stink of his creation that has become such garbage, and Bethesda Software, who has made some of the best games ever and combine them together?  You get a game that is already giving me chills.  From the first live-action teaser (linked above), to the gameplay footage from E3 this year, this game is on the top of a lot of people’s lists, and it is on top of mine as well.  A surreal game that finally looking to be survival back into survival horror.  I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am for this game.  Thus far, all of my top picks have been games that were worthy picks.  I am hoping that this game will add itself to that pedigree.

Final Fantasy XVHonorable Mention: Final Fantasy XV
A game that I was THIS close to writing off as vaporware came back with a vengeance this year.  I am hoping, beyond all hope that this game will make it next year, but from what I am reading about delays and budget problems at Square Enix, it is looking more and more likely that this game will be coming out in Early 2015.  But I am hoping.  It may be a next-gen only game, but let me tell you – this game alone is making me want to get a PS4.  For real, this is selling me that system.  I am so excited.  I hope the rest of you are too.  This is the Final Fantasy that everyone has been hoping for.  A chance to redeem XIII and all of that bullshit, with ANOTHER cash-grab sequel to that coming out.  This game looks to remedy all of the ugly history.  I can’t wait!

Until next time, a quote,

“So, you’ve come for the crystal?”  -Regis Lucis Caelum

Peace out,

Maverick

Top 10 Most Anticipated Games of 2013

2012 wasn’t exactly the best year for gaming.  Don’t get me wrong, there were some very great games, like Assassin’s Creed III.  And I am sick and tired of hearing people bitch about Resident Evil 6.  I actually liked it.  It mixed the old classic zombies with the newer kind.  Honestly, I like the mode with Ada Wong the best.  It had some of the older zombies, and the newer ones, in the same mode, and it got rid of your partner, which made things a lot better.  If the series could move ahead with that, I wouldn’t have a problem, to be honest.  So yeah, this wasn’t the greatest year.  Part of that is that some game developers pushed back their titles into 2013, which is just fine with me.  Take the time, and get it right.  This year had a lot of rush-to-market games, and we don’t need more.  Of course, some games have been waiting for so long that we don’t think they will ever come out…more on that later.

Anyway, I am actually excited for 2013.  There are a lot of titles, especially from places I didn’t see coming, that I am looking forward to.  And one that I just heard about, but it IMMEDIATELY piqued my interest.  Here is my list for the 10 games that are coming out next year, that I cannot wait to play!

Devil May Cry10. Devil May Cry
And here we go.  I get to have some gaming dumbass come on here and yell at me about how Dante looks too different, or that the series didn’t need a reboot.  Ugh, shut up!  You people are idiots!  I’m starting to think that the people who complain about gamers being a bunch of whiners have a point.  But you know what, screw that!  I like what I have seen so far.  It’s still as over-the-top as the previous entries in the series.  But now, it’s got everything I like an over-the-top action game – blood, guts, swearing for no reason, out of control violence, and hopefully it has some sexy stuff as well.  Knowing the Devil May Cry franchise, and since Ninja Theory wanted to do right by the brand, I have a feeling they won’t disappoint.  But they also added some stuff I REALLY like.  Nods to Anonymous, Occupy Wall Street, clever jabs at Fox News, and also government corruption.  I love all of those things, and I cannot wait to see where they go with this.  And for you whiners, shut up!  You people get on my nerves.  Also, they look to keep the incredibly deep combat controls, and it’s a score-attack game, which is what players want from this sort of game.  All-in-all, I’d say that this is a good facelift to the genre.

Bioshock Infinite9. Bioshock Infinite
Part of me is actually glad that they pushed this game back to 2013.  I want them to get every last detail of this game right.  I want it to totally own in every conceivable way. And from what I’ve seen so far, it isn’t going to disappoint.  This game definitely lives up to the Bioshock mandate of having a rich world, filled with the insane, but also being identifiable.  You have the corrupt government of the flying city of Columbia.  The rebels who have gone from a movement for good to a bunch of thugs who are killing everyone who doesn’t agree with them.  There are a lot of subtle nods to how revolutions happen in real life.  This is definitely a world that I can see myself getting into.  There are also some great character interactions, and even some very subtle nods to other classic cinema.  I was looking forward to this game this year, and I am looking forward to it next year.  Thankfully, I won’t have to wait long.  Hence why it is so low on the list.

Tomb Raider8. Tomb Raider
Another reboot, this was a franchise that desperately needed it.  Lara Croft was in danger of becoming one of the video game heroes-to-zeroes, like Earthworm Jim and Sonic the Hedgehog (I’m sorry, but yeah.  I love him, but even I have to admit, his brand name has gotten REALLY old.  Sonic could use a reboot).  But man, for once, Square Enix hasn’t half-assed.  Everything I have seen about this game makes it look just great.  The action set-pieces are amazing.  The character is a lot more vulnerable, which is just fine with me.  I want to see her grow into the badass she has inside of her.  The action is a LOT more stealth-based, which is great.  Everything about this game looks good.  Some people are calling it an Uncharted knock-off, but I couldn’t disagree more.  This game is dark, harsh and has a brutal side to it that I cannot wait to experience.  I am quivering in anticipation of seeing Croft facing her own demons.

Tales of Xillia7. Tales of Xillia
A lot like the Final Fantasy series, I have a long and healthy relationship with the Tales series.  Tales of the Abyss is one of my favorite games, and gives us one of the most convincing love connections that I have seen in any game.  From what I have seen thus-far, the visuals in this game are amazing, and the combat system is definitely a lot more action-packed, while still being unique.  This game has already gotten a lot of high marks in Japan, and I cannot wait to see what it’s all about here in America.  I could use another fantasy RPG.  Hopefully they get good voice-actors for the roles, along with a good adaptation from Japanese to English, because that was the last game’s problem – it didn’t have that.  I have missed them so.

The Last of Us6. The Last of Us
The developers of the Uncharted series have shown that they are more than capable of delivering amazing games with incredibly engaging narratives.  The Uncharted series is still one that I play and enjoy, because of how rich the world it created was.  The characters were all vibrant and had their own personalities.  Granted, some of the villains weren’t especially interesting, but hopefully that is where they improve with this game.  The Last of Us looks to have everything that it should.  The main character is a man with a battered past, just trying to survive.  The girl he is traveling with doesn’t look to be a repeat of Ashley from Resident Evil 4.  She looks to be able to take care of herself, to an extent, which is really good, because I don’t want to spend this game baby-sitting her.  And the environment looks great.  The over-grown cities, the bandit factions, and most importantly – the grotesque and disturbing fungus zombies.  There is a lot still in the dark about this game, and I am eagerly awaiting the chance to learn more.

Ni no Kuni5. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
When I heard that Studio Ghibli, one of my favorite film studios there is, was planning on making a video game, I was more than a little skeptical.  Who wouldn’t be?  But I took a lot of relief when I heard that Level 5 was going to be involved in its creation.  They have a long track record of making good RPGs, I took a little comfort.  And then, I saw footage of the game, and the deal was sealed.  My god, this game is gorgeous!  The animation segments are on par with the highest quality of Ghibli animation, and the in-game graphics are beautiful.  But it doesn’t end there!  They have a world with a ton of depth, that you want to get yourself immersed in.  The combat system is also very unique.  They take a Pokemon-esque approach, with you being able to summon and command monsters, and level them up much the same.  I hope they take a couple of cues from Pokemon, and allow you to level up your monsters and change them into new forms.  That would be awesome!  But you, the characters, also have your own value in combat.  There are no fifth wheels, and I am so hyped.  Honestly, I want this game for all of the aspects.  It is going to be loads of fun.  Of that, I have no doubt!

SimCity4. SimCity
I don’t know how many of you haven’t figured this out by now – but I LOVE games where you can create your own world.  As a writer, that is always something I have gotten into.  Plus, another thing I hope you’ve figured out – I’m a far-left liberal.  I would go so far as to call myself a socialist.  Whenever I have a game like this, I want to make it into a liberal paradise.  They have taken the aspects of previous games that worked, and have made them better.  Everything I have seen from demos and trailers shows that despite how complicated this game can be, it’s still user-friendly, which is what you want for a game like this.  I have no doubt that there’s a learning curve, but I’m not too worried.  I mean to create my socialist paradise yet!  The people will love me!  And I will get mocked in the comments section for being a liberal here in America.  Ah, good times…

Crysis 33. Crysis 3
I have a rather recent relationship with the Crysis series.  I got Crysis 2, and I found it was a lot of fun.  Every time I think that I’ve figured out just how to do something, the game gives me a new way to play.  I like that.  You can experiment with all kinds of weapons, tech, and how you use the nanosuit.  I am hoping that the next game expands on that.  Let me customize stuff.  Let me see what potential I can get out of it.  There is a lot to look forward to.  Oh yeah, and the visuals.  Dear god, the visuals in the next game look amazing!  It is going to be a lot of fun.  Plus, you get to be a complete badass who knows he’s a boss, so he just doesn’t give a fuck.  Honey badger can suck it!

Watch Dogs2. Watch Dogs
This is another game that, the moment I heard about it, I was intrigued.  Ubisoft has a gift at finding that odd little idea that you have always had in the back of your mind, and making it into a good game.  Obviously, with the Assassin’s Creed series drawn to a close, they need a new one to market.  And this game definitely looks to get the job done.  The concept is that the entire world is controlled by a large-scale network.  Now, information is the most valuable commodity.  A hacker can get anything, from your medical files to your bank account.  There is a system of watch-dogs, who are supposed to keep things under control, but here’s the big question – who watches the watch-dogs?  This game asks just that, and gives you the tools to find out.  With hints to darker and larger schemes, along with many playable characters, I cannot wait to see what the future holds for this game!  You can hack everything.  Rather than just being a typical action game, there are a lot of spy aspects, and I can immediately tell that part of the fun is going to be finding ways to interact with the world, and mixing up how you play.  People speculate that this game is going to be for the next-gen platforms, but I really, REALLY hope not.  I want to play!  I want to so bad…

And just like last year, my top pick may confuse some of you.  But I don’t care, I want this game SO bad!

BEYOND Two Souls1. BEYOND: Two Souls
When I first heard about the game Heavy Rain, from the developer Quantic Dream, I was more than a little skeptical.  A game that is just one giant quicktime event?  How could I get into that?  But boy did that game answer!  The story was dark and harsh, the characters were all engaging, and by the end, it was a painful experience, that left you with some serious feels.  Seeing that Quantic Dream is back at it again, I am already excited.  This game stars Ellen Page (oh yeah, she’s hot…), and the likeness they got of her is incredible, through 15 years of her life.  Not much is known about her life, and how she got where she is, but she is on the run from the police, being followed by a spirit-being known as Aiden.  What this being is, and its connection with her are also unknown,  For so little being known, I am stoked for this game.  The visuals are amazing, the story is just as dark and compelling as Heavy Rain, and it has Ellen Page, which is a great seller, since they have clearly used her to her best.  Something about her saying “fuck” is just so hot!  I cannot wait for this game.  More than any other, I am going nuts for it!  I hope you are too!

Final Fantasy Versus XIIIHonorable Mention: Final Fantasy Versus XIII
There’s an old saying – Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  But whose fault is it the third time?  Does anyone remember the post I wrote at the beginning of this year about the top 10 games I was looking forward to for 2012?  Well, in it, I had The Last Guardian.  I said that if it didn’t come out this year, it’s never coming out at all.  And I hold to that.  I have given up on that game ever coming out.  Similarly, if Versus XIII doesn’t come out next year, it’s never coming out at all.  It’s been seven years.  I don’t think that’s an unreasonable expectation.  But I want it to.  I really do.  This game looks awesome!  For real, everything I have seen about this game makes it look like it will make up for all the failure of XIII.  Problem is – nobody knows where this game is.  Every time Square Enix makes an announcement about stuff, they never talk about it.  Hell, they’re making another sequel to XIII!  What the fuck?!  Where is Versus?  Is it in gaming purgatory, never to escape?!  I want this game to come out.  I really do.  I hope it does.  It would be a shame if a game with a premise this cool would die on the vine.

Until next time, a quote,

“Tell them to leave me the fuck alone, because next time, I’ll kill everyone!”  -Jodie Holmes, BEYOND: Two Souls

Peace out,

Maverick