Deadly Premonition: The road to Greenvale

Saturday morning I stared into my coffee as I always do. I asked it what game I should play that day, and from the steam the letters D P arose. It could only have meant Deadly Premonition.

Every Saturday morning I make breakfast, get my fortune from my coffee, and do the dishes. Then I sit down and play video games. That’s the weekend ritual.

Recently I got an Xbox One. I’ve had Microsoft consoles in the past, but often second hand, and usually many years after its initial release. And for whatever reason, they never survived long. I think I parted ways with my Xbox when I moved to Seattle, and the disc drive on the 360 I bought from a kid on an ATV in the hood off Craigslist eventually stopped working. I don’t buy my consoles this way usually, but for whatever reason, I was never passionate enough to properly invest in a legit functioning Xbox. In fact, if I remember correctly, the first Xbox I got was found in an abandoned car that was brought into my dad’s auto shop. Ironically, the console had a copy of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City that was left in the disc drive. Funny how things happen.

Anyway, the only reason I got a 360 in the first place was for Deadly Premonition. I managed to beat the game, but I was never able to 100% it due to the failing disc drive. Eventually, I just let go of the console, and made a shrine for the game. After I moved to Seattle, it came out on PS3. I bought it again, of course, and beat it once more. But, again, I didn’t 100% it. And this time I didn’t have an excuse. Maybe it was just my lifestyle at the time? I attempted it, but still, I never collected all its trading cards, and never finished all 50 of its side missions.

Also, I missed the 360 version. In its attempt to “remaster” the PS3 version, the game performed worse than its original 360 counter part. Its load screens were longer, the framerate bounced all over the place — it just wasn’t the same. It’s the video game-phile in me, maybe.

Alas, the thing that finally made me get an Xbox One wasn’t its exclusives, wasn’t the fact that PUBG was on it, or that Game Pass actually seems like a really valuable service, but because Deadly Premonition is backwards compatible.

So instead of catching up on the Gears of War series that I’ve never had the chance to play until now, I decided to instead playthrough a game I already had twice, but this time, with the intent of 100%ing it from the start. Most of what’s stopped me is its silly complicated side missions that can only be done at certain times during certain chapters.

It’s also just good to really take my time again and digest this game once more. And though I’ve made a video about it being more that just “Twin Peaks the game,”playing it again is really driving that home for me, and allowing me to appreciate it even more as its own entity. Especially Francis York Morgan, which upon replaying, is much more rude then I remember the first time. Especially in the scene where puts his cigarette on a plate in the police station conference room.
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Over the weekend I got to chapter 6, and this is where I’m going to attempt to slam out most of the side mission. I’ve collected maybe 10 out of the 65 trading cards. (Also, I’m trying my damnedest to not use a walkthrough.)

Contrary to getting an XBONE just for Deadly Premonition, I am trying to get through the Gears series. I’m currently trudging through number 3. Those games are fun and macho and stupid — I’m having a good time. But admittedly, I am beginning to feel burnt out on its testosterone levels. I want to get through as many games this year that I haven’t played as possible, but Deadly Premonition is like comfort food for me, and sometimes it feels more therapeutic than anything to just take a break from everything, and drive aimlessly through Greenvale’s quirky and mysterious streets.

Old Man’s Journey Nintendo Switch Review

Old Man’s Journey plays more like a virtual pop-up book than a game. However, that statement should no way discredit the impact of my experience with it. It’s a quick playthrough, with little to no replay value, but is remedied by an endearing illustrative art-style, charming aesthetic, and in the end, left me emotionally shook, delivering a simple and effective tale that’ll surely be true for ages.  

The game begins with a burly old man receiving a letter. With no indication of what it says, it leads him to pack his bags and head out from his quaint seaside home,

The game features no tutorials, nor are they necessary. Intuitively I began clicking around the screen, interacting with the surroundings, and pointing the old man on where to go. Instead of traditionally moving left and right, you guide the old man further into the foreground by shifting and manipulating the terrain.

And though its lack of tutorials are welcomed, it would have been nice to know that there were several ways to play. Which is by touching the screen, using the joystick, or removing one of the joycons and using it in a Wii remote-style.

As you progress, each chapter will end with a beautifully illustrated still,  which are the only point of reference for telling the story, as well as the old man’s past. Some of the stills are worthy of being hung on my wall. And of many times I sat just watching them loop over and over again, accompanied by its worldly folk soundtrack.

Occasionally the Old Man’s Journey will change its gameplay by introducing puzzle elements like herding sheep in order to clear a path for the old man, to toying with its physics, but it never strays far from the core principles of shifting and moving the land around.

These subtle attempts at adding puzzles I found quite easy, but it seems intentional that they’re not meant to feel like roadblocks, but rather a means to add variety and interaction with the story. Again, similarly to a pop-up book.

Herding sheep, however, does get a bit tiresome and repetitive, and was more annoying than endearing later in the game.

As the game progresses and the story unravels, it sways in and out of sadder tones, which is a welcome departure from its otherwise peacefully pleasant aesthetic. And upon its conclusion, I was left emotionally moved and satisfied, which for me  justified the game’s fairly short playthrough.

At its core, Old Man’s Journey is about someone who wants more, to explore, and in doing so harms those closest to him. I, for one, can relate. I have many times chose my own work and ambitions over others, and it was even more eerily appropriate that I played this game while on a trip for work away from a loved one.

Something else I appreciated about this story is that it poses the old man in such a light that makes his morals questionable — something that few games rarely attempt in its protagonist. And to see it done effectively in a game of such small stature, was refreshing.

It’s important to note that Old Man’s Journey was previously released for PC, Mac, iOS, and Android, but its many ways to control, as well as experiencing the game on a big screen and on the go is what separates it from its previous release on other platforms.

If you haven’t already played Old Man’s Journey, then this would be the time and way to experience it. Otherwise, it doesn’t serve much of a second playthrough, and aside from control and its hybrid portability, the Switch version doesn’t offer anything new. But despite this experience being a one-and-done, I have a feeling that I’ll be remembering this game well for years to come like an old memory, both pleasant but at times sad.

The Evil Within 2 is making me question why I even play games

I couldn’t tell you what the fuck The Evil Within was about. Sincerely, I have no idea. I’ve tried explaining it to colleagues, but nothing I’ve said about the game’s story is met with any confidence. Yet here I am, succumbing myself to the sequel for whatever reason. It’s because I’m an unapologetic sucker for the survival horror genre. That’s really all it comes down to. And frankly, those games haven’t been masters of storytelling by any means.

Nevertheless, despite walking away from the first Evil Within feeling frustrated and cheated, there were still glimpses of inspiring moments. And really, at the end of the day, it was Shinji Mikami’s name (Resident Evil) that made me pick it up.

After reading some positive things about its sequel from some journalists I like and trust (and a good black Friday sale), I picked up The Evil Within 2. (Though, this time around Shinji Mikami was only a producer, not a director.)

It still stars the cliche hardboiled detective Sebastian from the first one. The story is a little more focused, this time being a simple rescue mission for Sebastian’s daughter who was presumably dead. But still, Sebastian must enter this matrix-esque machine into another reality or some crap like that, to get her. Apparently her death was faked and she’s being used for some tech study and blah blah blah.

The game has a ton of style — as did the first. But a fault in the first was that its environments changed so often and drastically that it became exhausting rather than cool and always interesting. This one does a better job of balancing that. I’m still flying through varied environments quite often. However, it tends to consistently comeback to the micro sandbox town of Union.

At its core, the mechanics haven’t changed since the first game — with the exception that the environments are tremendously more open.

Sebastian runs around like an old man with a load in his pants. He’s slow, even for his normal movement speed, and always looks like he’s on the verge of keeling over. Overall the movement is just clunky and unresponsive. Especially when in a very stressful situation where I’m desperately trying to switch weapons, but have to wait until one of his animations is over to attempt it again.

The survival element of it is good. I never feel completely capable of mowing down even the easiest foe in the game. Getting seen by an enemy always escalates to a fight or flight feeling. Nothing quite as reminiscent as the early Resident Evil series, however. In The Evil Within, though ammunation is sparse through the world, there’s always a means to make it or earn it elsewhere which lowers the risk of its loss when faced in a fight. But whatever.

You know, I’ll say this: The Evil Within series does make me question why I play games in an interesting way. I think most gamers like to think that the story in a game is just as important as the overall experience. I deeply disagree with that. The story is never the reason why we started playing video games in the first place. Of course a story is important to drive the player to the end goal, but I don’t think it’s the root of the experience.

I stand by that claim with The Evil Within. I’m not playing this game for the story. I think it’s a confusing, over complicated mess, with cliche two dimensional characters. The Evil Within 2 could have starred anyone but Sebastian and I wouldn’t have been phazed. I’m playing it because it’s the closest I can get to style of gameplay and genre that I love to experience. It’s one of the only genres where you’re made to feel a little helpless, and in doing so, forces me to adapt and play in such a way that’s truly rewarding.

So not only am I playing it, but even more importantly, writing about it.

I’m about ten hours into my playthrough, and I’d say I’m having an alright time. It’s hard to say that I feel inclined to finish it beyond the fact that I want my money’s worth, and while I’m playing it, I’m having an alright time. We’ll see how I feel when I finish it.

Wolfenstein 2 and its portrayal of relationships

I can’t stop thinking about Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus.

There were moments that made me squeal and flail out of both excitement and distress. There were scenes I was genuinely astounded to be experiencing in a big budgeted FPS. Scenes that feature raw and weighted emotion from a main character that would have otherwise been portrayed as the cliche macho masculine non-stop killing machine war hero with nothing to lose. But The New Colossus manages to do something so few, if not any, games have done with its buff, tough-as-nails, main character BJ Blazkowicz, and it’s make him a believable, vulnerable, human being.

The New Colossus sets the player up from the start with a character whose fate seems to be already sealed. BJ wakes up after the events of the first game bound to a wheelchair, only to find out that some of his organs have been taken out to ensure his survival a little longer, and that Anya, his love interest from the first game, is pregnant with twins.

It was my immediate assumption to assume: “Anya’s gonna die, and Blazkowicz is finally going to become that cliche ‘man with nothing to lose’ nazi killing son of a bitch that’d  feed into our nazi killing veins.”

But the game never fulfills the cliche of the cheesy action stereotype. Instead, it does the absolute opposite.

The game transitions into BJ’s childhood, showing his relationship with his Jewish mother, his abusive father, and his first love.

His father is a horrible man, but in many ways, a man of his time. He’s an ignorant racist whose sole purpose is to work, provide for his family, and exert the power of his masculinity. He abuses his wife, and humiliates BJ for taking comfort in his mother’s care.

There’s one particular flashback where a young BJ is afraid of the dark, and his father consoles him by handing him a BB gun, and head together into the basement so BJ can face his fears and realize that it’s only his imagination. I found this scene fascinating because it’s the only time we see his father not being a complete piece of shit. And it’s that contradiction of his father’s character that makes him more believable. Not every good and bad guy is black and white, and it’s this sort of character portrayal in The New Colossus that make its character development so complex.

In so many ways, the game’s most prominent theme is about parenting and relationships. Even the game’s antagonist, General Engel, is a mother. And the display of her relationship with her daughter is made front and center of a particular scene early on that sets the stage for just what kind of person Engel is. It’s brilliant.

I liked the first Wolfenstein, The New Order, quite a bit. But nothing prepared me for how developer MachineGames would completely pivot the franchise. I now think about the game’s characters first before even associating it with killing nazis — which is obviously what we’ve always known the franchise for in the first place.

Whether or not it’s my Game of the Year, I can’t say just yet. You’ll have to tune in tomorrow on my YouTube channel to find out my Top 3 picks for GOTY.

And I haven’t even dived into the gameplay itself and how it varies and changes almost constantly. Maybe for another time.

Kurt Indovina
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Sylvio 2 Review

When Sylvio first came out in 2015 it was something of a diamond in the rough. A psychological horror game where ambitious design, haunting sound and atmosphere, and truly a original game mechanic, made up for most of the game’s shortcomings such as its visuals and at times wonky controls. Now, two years later, Sylvio makes its return with Sylvio 2, but instead of growing on the strengths of the first one, we are left with an empty shell, narrowed down only to its most core mechanic, leaving for a repetitive experience, with so much more — once again — left to be desired.

Picking up after the cryptic ending of the first game, you continue as Juliette Waters, an audio recordist specialized in EVP — or, better known as ghost recordings. Juliette wakes up in an empty apartment, buried underneath ground by a landslide. She finds a video recording system that captures both audio and visual to allow you to capture EVP recordings, and communicate with the deceased residents of the estates. Juliette escapes the mound, only to learn that Saginaw Park (the park she explores during the first game) has been completely flooded, leaving nothing but a stretching body of water.

She finds a boat rusted and abandoned where she manages to contact Captain Walter via a radio, where she learns that her boyfriend Jonathan is out there looking for her. With only coordinates left on a post-it note to go off of, she ventures out into the sprawling water, island to island to find her boyfriend, and to further explore the mystery of what happened to the residents of Saginaw Park.

 

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Using the S-I-GHT, a ship navigation system, you’re free to explore any island from the start. The rides are very long, with nothing to see on the journey. Fortunately there’s a bed in the main cabin where you can sleep, making it something of a fast travel.

Once you arrive to an island and enter the mound to the buildings buried beneath it, gameplay consists of wandering back and forth from white dots marked around the area, recording audio and visuals, playing back and forwards the audio, then moving to the next point in the area. Though this is doesn’t differ from the first game, a tremendous amount of mechanics have been stripped from the sequel such as puzzle solving, open world exploration, and the occasional run in with a ghost that you’d have to shoot down using a blunderbuss, not to mention the actual ability to use your microphone to track down recordings and the direction you should be heading. Instead, Sylvio 2 opts out for a much more automated experience, leaving only movement, and messing with audio to your control. Picking up EVP recordings is now done automatically by simply getting close to a glowing orb. Though it’s core mechanic of deciphering audio is Sylvio’s most prominent feature, it becomes repetitive and boring in Sylvio 2 without the variety of the other mechanics.

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The open sprawling areas of the first game, covered in a thick red mist, trees, and varying buildings, has been traded for closed claustrophobic rooms that are completely pitch black, which at times are indistinguishable from one another. The water above is a nice change of scenery, until I realized that that’s all it is — sprawling empty water, where all the islands are nothing by mounds of shiny black mud.

A welcoming return from the first game is the amazingly haunting sound design. Though it’s established very quickly that this isn’t a jump-scare horror game, the sound was enough to send chills down my spine and make me squirm with unease. Especially in a particular scene where I had to conduct a seance — I was squirming and panicking, desperately wanting the scene to be over. It was great.

Much like the first, it manages to be as frightening as it is calming. There’s something so oddly satisfying about rewinding and fast forwarding the audio to find hidden messages. Though, at the same time, it’s eerie and unsettling. But it manages to make you feel like you’re genuinely decrypting the signs of the afterlife.

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Voice actress Mia Hansson Bergqvist also returns to reprise the role of Juliette Waters. Her performance is reserved and soft spoken, which I found very effective for the character.

Sylvio 2 takes all the things that made Sylvio 1 unique and special, and strips it down to its one main core mechanic: recording and deciphering audio, with the exception of adding a visual component this time around. Though this was Sylvio’s standout feature, it’s elements of puzzle solving, open exploration, and the occasional run in with an apparition are what made Sylvio an original, calming, ambitious standout title.

By the time the credits rolled, I was left conflicted and overwhelmingly disappointed, still hoping that at any moment the true sequel I was hoping for would suddenly make an reappearance. The first game was inspiring, leaving a tremendous amount of potential displayed. Sylvio 2 does much the same in some ways, but ultimately feels more like enormous step backwards, leaving so much more to be desired.

I must make it clear that Stroboskop, the developer of Sylvio, is a one-man-show. So there are elements of the game that I’m forgiving of a certain polish these games lack. But I admit, there’s a part of my that makes my heart hurt expressing my dislike for a small one man dev, but it’d be a tremendous disservice not only to developer Niklas Swanberg, but myself, if I didn’t give my honest opinion on this game.

I think Sylvio 1 remains a brilliantly ambitious and mysterious game, that displays ideas and atmosphere unmatched in any game of its genre.

Kurt Indovina
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The Journey Down Chapter 3 Review

The Journey Down first came through my radar years ago when seeking out modern adventure games that weren’t trying to be nostalgia grabs or re-hashes from the past. Though rooted in the genre’s traditions, the first two chapters exemplified a tremendous amount of promise and originality that separated it from its contemporaries. I fell in love its self-proclaimed afro-caribbean vibe, mood setting soundtrack, lovable characters, and its ambitious overarching storyline. Now, five years after the release of its first chapter, The Journey Down Chapter 3 is here, and it delivers a satisfying conclusion to an already great modern adventure saga.

Picking up immediately where chapter 2 left off, Bawana, Kito, and Lina continue their journey, in search for a lost journal that contains secrets and research of an ancient culture that could be the key to a great and mysterious power.

In their search, they come across an abandoned mining facility that contains a secret plan for the big bad corporate St. Armando power company, to drill into the center of St. Armando, a giant metropolitan city, resulting in millions of deaths.

Bawana and Kito, split up from Lina,  while she continues to uncover mysteries in the underworld, and they head back to the overworld to find Professor Moorhead, a vital character from the first chapter.

Bawana joins sides with an underground resistance and band, the “Resistance Rockers,” and a news reporter tired of delivering propaganda, and eager for the “real scoop,” to expose St. Armadno Power Companies dirty secret.

Consistent from the previous two chapters, writer and artist Theodor Waern displays his ability to write a compelling story, that feature characters you’ll love and remember, like Waasi, the leader of the of the Resistance Rockers, all of which play an important part in progressing the story forward. Not to mention Bawana, our star, an often times bumbling goof ball, incidentally turned hero. This chapter, however, is the first time we get to take control of Lina,  which was a refreshing change of pace from the other games.

A welcoming return from the previous chapters is its incredible soundtrack. The production and emphasis on music is unmatched, especially when compared with most AAA studio games. From its perfectly encapsulating Lethal Weapon vibe in the Overworld, to its pirate-esque jig in the Underworld.

And just as varying as its musical arrangement, are its environments. From from the tropical Underworld, shifting into the overwhelmingly congested urban Overworld, the environments are well varied and have character all their own. But in contrast, the underworld lacked the finer, more realized detail of its counterpart. Particularly with some character models, which looked completely 2D and illustrated when compared with the 3D models of the other characters. The production of cutscenes and soundtrack are so high and polished, that seeing these moments felt uncharacteristic with the rest of the game.

One thing seems to be apparent in contrast to its previous chapters, and that is the emphasis on story over puzzles. Though they’re very thoughtfully designed, I never found myself completely stumped. Thankfully, the puzzles make coherent sense, and never fall under the “try every item in your inventory until something works” trope (excluding one puzzle that involves a sticker from a piece of fruit.)

But due to the ease of the puzzles, this may be a quick playthrough for some. The only times I had found myself stuck was because I had missed picking up a vital item somewhere. Of course, all adventure games vary in length depending on the player’s ability to solve the puzzles. But if you’re a veteran adventure gamer, you might blast through this one pretty quick.

It’s a refreshing relief to have a modern adventure game saga have not only a conclusion, but one that feels cohesive and satisfying — especially in a time where most adventure games are done episodically, many of which aren’t yet complete, or cop out for a more cryptic and “up-for-interpretation-style” ending. Other developers should take note on how to properly wrap up a story.

Paired with top-notch voice acting, polished and highly cinematic cutscenes, The Journey Down Chapter 3 is a thoroughly well crafted conclusion to a very fun and surprising saga. It’s impossible to recommend one chapter without recommending them all, since each is a vital continuation of the last, so I don’t recommend jumping into the series here. Those looking for a modern adventure game classic, that’s reminiscent of traditional storytelling, while still maintaining an identity separate from its inspirations, look no further: The Journey Down Saga is great. Sky Goblin have proved themselves exceptional storytellers and world builders with the series. I’m eager to see what they do next

Going Digital: Week 1

It’s been a week. I know, big whoop right? Oh how far I’ve come. But really, in this short time I think I’ve learned a lot. And though there are more cons than pros, I anticipate a good payoff in this journey to own less.

Pros:

  1. Pooping
    My time on the toilet has become infinitely far more valuable since I started reading comics digitally. Instead of aimlessly swiping through a void of infinite social media bullshit, I instead read comics. Of course reading comics while pooping isn’t a new endeavor, however, it’s just much more convenient. Especially when hanging out at Ugly Duck Coffee, where’d I feel awkward taking in some reading material to its only bathroom. It’s socially acceptable to have your phone with you while pooping, but in my case, I’m just reading comics.
  2. Sales
    There’s a few comic volumes that I missed along the way and I found that they’re more frequently on sale on something like Comixology than they are physically at a store. Now, yes, I could order them used off Amazon or eBay in probably pretty decent shape cheaper, however, it’s the convenience of being able to purchase it on my phone, and being able to read it whenever and wherever my heart desires.
  3. Space
    I’m notorious for moving somewhat frequently (though I currently reside in my longest place of living going on four years), and with every move, comics are always my biggest dilemma. Reading them digitally obviously completely eliminates that problem.

 

Cons

  1. Holding them
    Unlike video games which have always been made on a digital medium, comics were originally created on paper, bound to the dimensions they were printed on. Yes, the majority of comics today are produced entirely digitally, I know that. However, they’re still being produced to be seen in the same format and page size as they have for decades and decades. Until I find a comic that challenges the conventions of how a comic is viewed on paper, it’s hard letting go of how it’s always been and continues to be.
  2. Sharing them
    Some of my most beloved comic series’ were discovered because someone handed it to me; they let me borrow it. It’s the very reason I hold onto specific titles, because they’re the books I’ll eventually want to pass off to someone who hasn’t read it yet. But with digital, there’s really no good way for sharing anything. The ability to show or share something in our most recent age is becoming increasingly more frustrating.
  3. Attention span
    I’ve always had a tough time playing games on my phone. There’s too many distractions. There’s too many things to do and see on it. All it takes is one text, email, or any other notification to appear, and I’ll be completely removed from the game. And yes, there’s usually an option to mute these, but it’s the temptation I think. The ability to stop playing at any second, and get carried away in the rabbit hole of distraction. Distraction aside, I just don’t ever feel comfortable holding my phone for that amount of time to enjoy a game. The same negatives apply to reading comics on my phone. I don’t feel as distracted as I do when playing games, but, I definitely don’t feel as absorbed.
  4.  Supporting Local Comic Book Stores
    This is hands down the one I struggle the most with. In an age dominated by digital platforms and Amazon, I feel an obligation to support stores in my neighborhood as much as I can. I preach a lot about voting with your dollar: spend your money with morals. I’m now a hypocrite. And my reasons are entirely selfish.

With all that said, there are still a few comics I’ll be going to buy monthly physically, however. Those are: Royal City, Black Hammer, Southern Bastards, and Moonshine. I cherish these series’, and they’ll be something I’ll most likely want to share with others. So I’m not entirely abandoning my local comic stores. Still, I’m a horrible person. I know.

Looking back, some of these cons feel a bit more petty, and something that I eventually will be able to part ways with. None of them in particular I think will ruin me. Next week I’m taking a trip to Vegas. Trips are usually perfect times to catch up on reading, and this will be the first trip that I decide to go with nothing but my phone and see how that goes for a long plane ride. Armed with my Switch too, of course.

Kurt Indovina
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