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 shit 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 which is the 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
Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

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.

 

s2_3

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.

s2_8

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.

s2_1

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
Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

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
Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

 

Opinion: Thimbleweed Park relies too heavily on nostalgia

[This is a spoiler free article on Thimbleweed Park. This is not a review.]

Upon its Kickstarter announcement, Thimbleweed Park is a game that I’ve been looking forward to since late 2014. At its heart, it’s a nostalgia project. Like so many other Kickstarters for point-and-click adventure games, it used the nostalgia of the genre’s heyday to sell itself: a self-proclaimed “LucasArts adventure game you’ve never played before.” But what separates this adventure game Kickstarter from all the others are its developers: Ron Gilbert—arguably the godfather of the graphic point-and-click adventure game—and Gary Winnick. The duo that brought us the 1987 classic Maniac Mansion.

To say it simply, adventure games are my favorite genre, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit just how excited I was to get this game. But after putting 6.5 hours into Thimbleweed Park, I’m left with a conflicting judgment: Where should the line be drawn between trying to develop a good game, and simultaneously make something that embraces the nostalgic roots that influenced a game’s existence in the first place? Even more importantly, where do I stand with judging the developers who’ve practically created the genre?

Within moments of starting the game, you are immediately reminded that you’re playing a pixelated point-and-click adventure game. Ron Gilbert wastes no time breaking the fourth wall, and has his characters cracking jokes about the tropes of classic adventure games. At first, this got a chuckle out of me. But it didn’t take long until I realized this would be a common theme in most of the conversations I would have in the game. So much to the point that I was being taken out of the experience, and felt completely removed from the narrative of the story: solving a murder in the small town of Thimbleweed Park.

Screen Shot 2017-04-21 at 6.13.11 AM.png

Being taken out of the game is a frustrating contradiction to what has made this genre so important to me. I love adventure games for their immersion. Because they’re a “play-at-your-own-pace” style of gaming, and rely almost solely on story and atmosphere to drive the player forward, it forces the player to step into the world, rather than speed through it. It influences the player to relax when other games heighten them. I’ve always preferred adventure games over other genres for this reason.

Gilbert’s constant wink at the players almost feels like he has to remind you that he was one of the creators of the genre. Like he’s giving you a proud shoulder nudge, met with an exaggerated smirk, and saying “yeah, that was me. I created that.”  It feels like he’s trying to prove his worth to the audience, as if they forgot about him, which clearly isn’t the case, given that the Kickstarter’s success could be directly owed to his name being attached to it.

It’s strange—the constant reminder of the basic mechanics of the genre feels like it could be intended to tell a new audience the rules of the genre, like saying “this game was expertly designed to have no dead-ends or deaths.” It’s something longtime fans already know, but it equally feels like it could be patronizing to a new audience of the genre. It doesn’t allow them to figure out how the game works on their own. Whether or not that was the developer’s intention? I don’t know. I’m speaking not only as a player, but also a long-time fan of the genre, and I’m annoyed on both ends. It alienates newcomers.

blog_6

Give yourself a nice pat on the back, Gilbert.

Contrary to what I’ve said, I’m enjoying the game quite a bit. Actually, it’s really good. Its pacing is like none other I’ve played in its genre. It moves fast, while still giving the player time to experience their environment and discover at their own pace. Its soundtrack sets the mood immediately; the settings are wonderfully varied and well crafted; and the characters are unforgettable. And as the game progresses, the references become much less frequent.

But despite all that I like about it, the experience has left me asking: how much nostalgia is too much? Where is that line drawn between trying to please fans, and making a good game? In this case, Thimbleweed Park is good, but I can’t help wonder if I’d be enjoying it more if it just took a step back from itself.

I also think it’s safe to assume Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick made this purely to satisfy their own need to make a game in the genre that they helped create. And with that respect, I totally get it: artists and creators should make what they want to play. At the end of the day, Gilbert is the artist, and artists can do whatever the they damn want. He did, after all, create the engine Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion (SCUMM) that all Lucasarts point-and-click games were made with in the 90’s. So more power to him.

Screen Shot 2017-04-21 at 6.57.33 AM.png

Get it?

Thimbleweed Park does, however, represent some of its nostalgic references right. X-Files and Twin Peaks are deliberate influences, but take a back seat in developing mood, atmosphere, and story, opposed to telling the player that they were influences within the game. Also, there’s good references to past adventure games, specifically when a character refers to his cousin Bernard (a lead character in both previous Gilbert projects Maniac Mansion and Day of the Tentacle) is a quick nod to previous installments in Gilbert’s works, but done right.

Gilbert and Winnick set out to make a game that would reward longtime fans, and by doing so, risked alienating a new audience. And whether or not that was their intention, or should have even taken that risk, is debatable. I just didn’t expect that I would be one of those feeling alienated.

I also have to admit that I have an ongoing dilemma with nostalgia, and our reliance on it to make something interesting, like we’re not capable of accepting new ideas unless it refers to something we already know and love. Someday down the road if I have the time, I’d like to elaborate more on our obsession with nostalgia.

So how about you? Do you utterly disagree with me and love a good fan pleaser? Or is there another game of recent times that has made you feel same way?

A list of adventure games of recent years that I love:
The Dream Machine
The Journey Down
Kentucky Route Zero
Machinarium

Follow VGCandC on Twitter.
Follow me on Instagram.

-Kurt

An earnest reflection on my console bias and video game consumerism.

I was there at the midnight release of the Nintendo Switch. I was a consumer. I’d like to believe that I don’t have a bias of systems. I want to say “if there’s an exclusive I want to play on a specific system, I’ll do what I can to make it happen.” It’s why I bought an Xbox 360 from a kid in the hood on an ATV off Craigslist to play—what was an exclusive at the time—Deadly Premonition, and why I inevitably settled on a PS4 when Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, and Bloodborne were announced for it. And of course, I shouldn’t have to list Nintendo’s exclusives. But I can’t quite say that I was at the midnight for the Switch solely for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and I sure as hell can’t say the same for why I had the Wii U day one. If I were to be honest, this goes beyond bias, but actually touches on my PTSD trying to get my hands on a Wii when I was 15. But more seriously, I think at its core, it’s just about consumerism.

Now, at the time of the Wii’s launch, yes, Twilight Princess made me want to get that system (even though I owned a GameCube and could have easily just experienced it on that). But it was the Wii. It had bowling. It was a no-brainer. And like the old story goes, it was very successful upon its release. That made it extremely difficult to find, and I hadn’t got my hands on one until close to a year of it being out. In a silly nerd-like way, it traumatized me. I hated not having it as soon as I could, and was quite frankly, jealous of my friends who did. I spent weekends scouring all the stores in my neighborhood, calling them, just to see if one was in. It eventually went beyond me just wanting a new system (and a game that I could have already played anyway), but it became a vendetta; a self-fulfilling prophecy. It was pathetic. I fell victim to Nintendo’s infamously effective way of supply-and-demand. The hype was raised due to sparsity, and I didn’t just buy into it, I became a slave to it.

Contrary to popular belief, I’m not one of those “Nintendo or nothing” fans. Yes, I worked at Nintendo of America; Yes, I bought the Wii U day one; Yes, I blindly pre-ordered and paid the Switch off without a single feature, or even the user interface being announced. Well, hm, actually, shit… Let’s move on.

I talk a big game on my minimalistic habits, and try to be mindful of what I buy and don’t. I’ve come a long way since I was 15—now being 26. But at the end of the day, for whatever reason, Nintendo games, Nintendo products, they just add a great deal of value to my life. I’d be damned if I didn’t say BotW hasn’t inspired me, gotten me excited, or sparked a sense of instant nostalgia that I haven’t felt playing a game in a long time.

Now to make it clear, I don’t buy that many games. I do when I can. And though this analysis of myself would otherwise suggest I’m a consumer with no self-control, I do actually have a pretty strict discipline as to when I allow myself to consume media (comics in the morning, video games on the weekend, and Sundays are specifically for point-and-click adventure games). I also limit myself from buying something new unless I’m done with what I already got. But there’s something to say when I can’t control the unnecessary impulse to buy into—what appears to be—Nintendo’s very good marketing ploys. And again, like Twilight Princess, I could have played BotW on my Wii U.

I sure as hell didn’t feel that urge to get a PS4 at midnight, and Sony consoles are what I was primarily raised on. I waited almost two years until I settled on picking one up once the price was right and more games were out. That fact alone tells me that I don’t entirely have a bias on my conscience.

And who the fuck am I kidding? I think the Switch is cool. That’s why I wanted it. Whether or not I needed it day one, however, is the truly debatable nature of this week’s rant.

This was intended to be a “what am I playing this week,” but instead this post tripped over itself, down a stairwell leading to a dark basement of self-reflection and acceptance. Especially when I realized that what I was playing was what, in most cases, the same as everyone else.

NOTE: To even the plane, I managed to borrow an Xbox One from someone just so I can play Quantum Break (I actually purchased a copy just to do so). And eventually, somehow, I’ll play D4 with a Kinect.

– kurt

What I’m reading this week:
The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld
Doom Patrol by Gerard Way and Nick Derington
Mother Panic by Jody Houser and Tommy Lee Edwards
Moonshine by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso

What I’ve been playing:
Little Inferno
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild