The Surge: A Walk in the Park Review

One of the best things about gaming is that so much work invariably goes into each release that developers sometimes get burned out and start coming up with crazy ideas to switch things up, and setting a Souls-y game like The Surge in a theme park gone horribly awry is definitely a crazy idea. After all, the base game is grim and serious, and the few friendly characters you meet are slowly corrupted as the story progresses to further add to the uncomfortable feeling of being totally alone. Fighting a bunch of theme park mascots who shoot lasers out of their eyes while being directed over the radio by a refreshingly uncorrupted ally, then, is about as far as you can get from the tone of the base game. Granted, you’re still wandering around a lot of vents and dark underground areas while crazy people in exoskeletons jump out, but there’s also a significant portion of the game that takes place in and around outdoor theme park rides and attractions. A Walk in the Park is a slightly hesitant but undeniably enjoyable step in a direction the burgeoning genre has yet to explore, and one that hopefully sends a message that games like this don’t need to be crushingly dark (tonally and visually) to be enjoyable. Read more →

SOMA Review

Frictional Games makes some incredibly well-received games, and yet these have been entirely inaccessible to someone like me because of their focus on helplessness. Not having the option to karate chop or minigun my way through monsters just isn’t an experience I’ve ever been able to appreciate. Even in real life, knowing that going crazy and setting everything on fire is always an available option is a strangely comforting thing (though less so to others). When SOMA originally came out in 2015, then, I had no choice but to weather everyone’s talk about this brilliant game that remained out of my reach because of its genre. That is, until now—SOMA’s Xbox One release includes an optional “Safe Mode” that renders you immune to monster attacks, and this mode has been patched into the PC version and will eventually also find its way to the PS4 version. Safe Mode changes the game in subtle ways, causing many of the game’s monsters to ignore your presence until you go out of your way to antagonize them, though a few enemies toward the middle of the game are strangely aggressive regardless. Of course, SOMA is still a thoroughly creepy experience that retains its general atmosphere of there being something horrible just around the next corner, so it’s worth mentioning that this isn’t a “make the game accessible for those who detest scary games” mode. Instead, it’s more akin to a “speed up gameplay by eliminating the need to slowly creep around monsters” mode. Even for gamers like me who avoid most horror-type games, though, SOMA delves into various consciousness and identity issues that you’re not likely to experience in any other game out there, and is well worth fighting through for that reason. Read more →

Tower 57 Review

Tower 57 is a game that’s a lot of fun, but how much fun you’re bound to have with it will depend on a few things. First, whether or not you have a controller. This game is hard, but only when using the keyboard and mouse controls. The difficulty is more reasonable when using a controller (even more so with aim assist), so having one can mean the difference between ragequitting and steamrolling the entire game without much of a problem. It’s also a fairly short game, lasting between 2 and 3 hours if you don’t find yourself stuck on a boss or something. There are supposedly modding tools coming despite the topic all but vanishing from updates around late 2015, though, and that should help give the game some legs. Hey, speaking of legs, this is a game where enemies can remove yours, leaving you to flail around helplessly as a torso in a desperate bid to fend off enemies with whatever crazy weaponry you have. Of course, that’s assuming that your arms haven’t been removed by a dinosaur, because that’s also a possibility, and you’re not going to be shooting anyone without arms. The fact that such sentences can be written in complete seriousness speaks to the utter absurdity of Tower 57, but it should also be mentioned that the game isn’t so wrapped up in craziness that it doesn’t do anything else. We’re talking destructible environments, great art, lovably downsampled voice clips, and a Dieselpunk world just dystopian enough that the jokes about social/class inequalities are reflected in the gameplay. Read more →

Ayo: A Rain Tale Review

The best way to describe my experience with Ayo is a bell curve of enjoyment, where the middle part was incredibly enjoyable and full of character, but the beginning (where you’re going “huh, I wonder if this is going to get more interesting before the end”) and end (where you’re going “please let this be over with soon”) ranged from underwhelming to painful. A slow beginning is completely understandable since games rarely put their best foot forward, having to first establish and set up things for later, but the problems with the end come down to the game introducing more and more gameplay twists to spice things up, and only about half of the things added in around this point actually pan out. It feels like Ayo was so concerned with establishing itself as a game and gradually ramping up the difficulty that it forgot to ensure that all of the things it does to those ends are fun and fair. Read more →

Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back Review

The original Bubsy is a mess, but it’s a lovable mess filled with sunglass-wearing giraffes, roller coasters, and egg-throwing enemies who have a yarn ball fetish. It takes a lot of practice to get used to its strange sense of momentum and instant deaths, but despite it being fashionable to see in Bubsy something truly irredeemable, the first game can actually be a lot of fun. I don’t remember a great deal about the second game, but something that’s stuck with me from the few times I rented it as a kid is how the items are really creative, with the black hole that allows you to escape the level really capturing my imagination back then. Point being, whatever your preexisting thoughts are about Bubsy, those first two games at least brought something to the table. Then there’s Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back, a game that breathes fresh life into the series in the same sense that characters being ripped to shreds in a zombie movie before returning as members of the undead technically have fresh life breathed into them. This is an abomination, and that’s coming from someone who could be considered a bit of a Bubsy apologist. Read more →

Cuphead Review

First, a little context that most people will be aware of, but that’s bound to be lost over time: a game journalist was recorded struggling to get past Cuphead’s tutorial level in the runup to its release, something that caused much embarrassment as well as questions about what kind of playing proficiency it’s reasonable to expect/demand from those in the industry. Now that it’s finally out, there’s been a veritable flood of outlets putting out videos of employees making it through levels unscathed and reviews that are quick to mention how difficult—but fair!—most of the game is. I imagine many of these people genuinely liked it, and that’s nice for them, but let’s not pretend that the overwhelming praise has nothing to do with the fact that the game has become a litmus test for reviewer competency as far as the gaming public is concerned. Let me tell you about my decidedly less positive Cuphead experience. Read more →

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