Jan 2023 Video Game Reviews
I’ve considered getting a letterboxd and/or a backloggd, but I would just rather have my own reviews written in my own markdown files that happen to post to a website via GitHub pages and DNS magic.
Bioshock (Remaster) 9/10
Bioshock was my personal gaming albatross: I’d tried and failed to play this game about three times. Similar to Transistor, it’s a game that I should have no problems playing and beating, but just like in Transistor when I hit the first non-trivial fight and was sent back to respawn with fewer resources than I had when I got beat…I fell off.
I knew the game is considered a masterpiece and by all other measures I ought to have enjoyed it: fps-horror with magic and dunking on Ayn Rand? Hell yes. So, I put it back into my backlog and floated it to the top.
So given that this game is nearly old enough to graduate high school, what’s left to be said? It was super solid and lived up to the hype, even after nearly two decades. The story was great, and even though one of the two major twists was spoiled to me, it did nothing to lessen the experience. The choices made led to lots of conversations with my lovely gaming co-pilot.
However, the biggest annoyance was the sound mixing and balancing. It was downright ruinous at times. I would be getting radio voice-over with crucial plot points but somehow the vending machine and slicer repeating the same lines for the billionth time a room away were somehow louder. Boss’s dialogues were similarly overly muted. And god forbid you try to hear anything while a bot alarm is going on.
Not nearly as bad as the sound mixing, but the weapon design was too much. Really the breaking point was getting a crossbow in the late game that somehow does more damage than a grenade. Just because there are 8 points on the dpad doesn’t mean there must be a weapon for each one (and each weapon doesn’t need to have 3 kinds of ammo). I felt like I spent more time in the weapon radial menu and saving the game than actually playing the game. Sure, the compulsive saving is on me, but the point stands. Another disappointment was how little the ice
spell plasmid interacted with the environment. The telekinesis, lightning, and fire plasmids were so interactive but the ice plasmid couldn’t even freeze water!
The ending boss fight and cutscene left a lot to be desired. Not the worst, but not the best.
All that said, the game hits on nearly every axis: you feel fear as you worry if your bullets and Eve will be enough, you experience horror from the character’s actions (and even abhorration at your own choices), and excitement. The Resident Evil style of limited resources still hits. The political commentary (Objectivisn’t) is just as poignant as ever. I’ve never been so enraptured (ha!) by every poster and audio recording. Hearing the diary of a plumber was honestly some of the best parts of the game. I could just listen to a whole podcast of the tape recordings.
Blackwood Crossing 1/10
tl;dr: don’t judge a game by its logo
I thought this would be in the vein of Dear Esther or What Remains of Edith Finch. And can you blame me? Look at the game cover art; it follows the pattern perfectly: simple black and white diagram of some seemingly complex structure.
This game does not even compare though it obviously tries to. Within 30 seconds I’d figured out what it’s “about” (guilty grief) and it made it even worse to play the rest of the few hours we did play. The character walking is wobbly and nauseating. The main character is the boy/brother and not the character you control. He’s insufferable and it’s like the writers made him insufferable on purpose…as if to make what it’s “about” even more impactful or traumatizing I guess??
The whole game is about a heavy subject but then presented with graphics I can only describe as Jimmy Neutron but worse.
Aztech Forgotten Gods 1/10
tl;dr: I liked the concept but this should’ve been a zine.
I was really excited about this. I thought it was going to be in the vein of Black Panther-esque Wakanda but for Latino/Mayan in a beat-em-up. And even when you start playing, it almost seems that way, but very early on they explain that their civilization only developed in the advanced fashion because of the Quezacotl god’s intervention, which really sucks the air out of the room.
The dialogue is cringy, the plot is paper-thin, and the gameplay isn’t fun. The “cutscenes” are poorly done. At one point one character just teleports back and around the room while having a conversation. I try to give this the benefit of the doubt given that it’s obviously a super-indie game but this got to be painful to play.
Cult of the Lamb 9/10
tl;dr: an absolute joy to play and fun to watch/listen as well
Cult does so much well, it just puts you into an entrancing gameplay loop. It’s in the vein of Stardew Valley in that a majority of the game is caring for your cult. While Stardew Valley has the cave-diving as a late-game “mode”, the roguelike runs of Cult are actually The Point. The runs themselves are really short, compared to nearly any roguelike, but that’s kind of okay. It doesn’t feel great to have a great run end so abruptly, but it also makes bad runs less bad.
The art style and music are immaculate. It wasn’t long before I started hearing the Cult music in true stereo in my house: once from me playing it and again from the other room as Amanda played the soundtrack on her speaker in the other room. The adorable bubbly rubber hose style juxtaposed with the subject matter of cults, demons, and sacrifices all blend beautifully.
The combat felt a bit unfinished and the game was quite short. Only the dagger and sword feel viable, and the latter levels are easier than the earlier stages. I hear a combat revamp is in the works. I don’t think it needs a full rehaul, but just a bit of tweaking could really help. As you approach the end-game, you know that it’s coming. But honestly, it’s not even an aspect I’m terribly upset about. It’s great when a game knows when to stop while it’s ahead.
tl;dr: An impressive soulslike. While it fell short of my expectations, it shows promise for the studio’s future.
This soulslike is most similar to Bloodborne, with some Sekiro elements, depicting an alternative world where steampunk porcelain automats determine the fate of the French Revolution. If Bloodborne is Lovecraftian London, then Steelrising is Steampunk Paris.
The game’s combat is pretty good. Your character was previously a dancing automaton, and that comes through beautifully in her moves. With any weapon, you amass an array of varying elemental attacks. While weapons are not quite as deep as Bloodborne’s (what could be??), they are reminiscent.
I’m not personally a fan of Metroidvania style of blocking off areas until you get The Necessary Gear, I’d say the way Steelrising does it is one of the better ways.
What’s Good: The really great part is the protagonist, Aegis herself. She’s just perfect. Her style, her sass, her character development; just A+++. Try to not fall in love with her, I dare you. Speaking of her style, the drip in this game is stunning. I normally couldn’t care less about style but I found myself checking the store at each “bonfire” for new outfits, just hoping I could get to see what next beautiful hat or blouse I might find. They fully channeled Fashionborne.
Screenshots (no spoilers)
What’s Bad: The level design is bad. The maps are far too sprawling. I understand they’re trying to depict an actual real-world city with limited resources, but what you get is lots of mostly-empty city streets. What is in the streets is the repeated assets. I know exactly how many dead citizen models and carts there are.
What’s Mid: it took quite a while to build up, but the NPCs whose names I could hardly tell apart in the beginning get to be close, familiar faces by the end. I thought I wouldn’t care about any of them but before I knew it, I was saying “Bon Son!” along with them as the story progressed. The story is a slow burn but it really pays off in the end.
What’s Terrible: the boss fights are a complete snooze. The entire souls-genre is centered around memorable, difficult (but usually fair). Nearly every boss fight (except ONE) in Steelrising was utterly forgettable or a complete snore. At one point I started playing with one hand. It was downright unenjoyable.
Overall, I generally like soulslikes. I know they’re not the “real deal” and am willing to give several concessions. Steelrising certainly demanded such benefit of the doubt in some areas (the boss fights) but rewards it justly in others (characters and style).