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
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Rime Review [Nintendo Switch]

From a glimpse, RiME hits all the right points in presenting itself confidently among other contemporary artful adventure games. It has a distinctive art style, emotionally pounding soundtrack, and a sad yet touching story about a lost boy — yet none of those things feel completely its own, and through all its emotional elements, it seems to lack what matters most, and that’s heart.

You play as a boy who wakes up on a desolate island. With no explanation or context you’re free to roam around.

As you wander through what appears to be ancient civilization left in ruins, you are subtly guided with aid of a wild fox, but never are limited to explore at your own pace. You’ll encounter puzzles primarily solved using the environment around you by shifting certain items, playing with shadows, and other visual elements. The puzzles are easy, some of which I solved on accident almost immediately before understanding what it was that I had to do in the first place.

With easy puzzles and seemingly safe environment, it was hard to pinpoint the importance of doing anything. From the start we’re faced with a tower in the distance, obviously pointing the direction we should be heading. But why that was a priority for a boy that supposedly washed up on shore, didn’t really seem to make a lot of sense.

The stakes are raised, however, when encountering the game’s most prominent foe — a giant bird creature that tails you from above for more than half of the game. Here the creature takes an important object for progressing forward, but again, what we’re progressing towards still seems to have no relevance.

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Thankfully, the story behind the boy is unveiled as the game progresses using its environment, and collectibles hidden throughout the world, giving the player somewhat of an objective to explore in order to understand what’s going on. But unfortunately we’re left only with hints, most of which don’t make sense until the game’s somewhat underwhelming and cliche ending.

Environments do vary from an open peaceful seaside, to underwater ruins, but still maintain a similar gray blocky theme throughout, which becomes dull fairly quick.

To its merits, it is much longer than other games of its genre. However, after my 7-10 hour playthrough, I’d make the argument here that length is only as important as the value gained from the experience, and in this case RiME could have benefited from some heavy trimming.

RiME doesn’t utilize any of Switch’s features such as motion controls or its touch screen while in handheld mode — and that’s okay. It does however suffer from severe framerate drops that occur consistently. Most of which happen randomly with no indication of the game doing anything taxing to the hardware. This is my first rodeo with the game so I can’t compare its performance to its PS4 or XboxOne release. But I’m hard pressed to think it’s due to any limitations of Switch given its current library which seemingly has much more demanding titles. I can only hope that there’s a day one update that addresses its performance.

RiME’s strongest traits come from it’s design, and artistic direction, but fails to implement anything new to the genre. It has a little bit of everything from environmental storytelling, puzzles, and exploration, but it doesn’t do any of things particularly well or original.

What we’re left with in the end is a hollow attempt at trying to be some its better contemporaries. And by never truly fulfilling its own identity, it all comes off trying a bit too hard, making it more self-indulgent than rewarding for the audience.

Given Switch’s currently library, RiME does fill a much needed gap in its genre of art focused exploration puzzle games such as Journey, ABZU, Unfinished Swan, and the like. So those eager for a unique experience, especially on the go, RiME answers some of those prayers. Just be ready for a inconsistent performance, easy puzzles, and lackluster pacing.

Switch owners solution to games like Journey and The Witness, this is not.

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

Preview: Super Mario Odyssey

Like a strange sense of Deja Vu, stepping into Super Mario Odyssey was equally as familiar as it was new. Upon placing the Joy Cons in my hands, and pushing forward on the analog stick, followed by a three jump combo, everything just felt right. It was like seeing an old friend who had grown up over the years, but still had all the quarks that made them unique in the first place. This is a Mario I welcome back with open arms.

I played Super Mario Odyssey in docked mode. The rep insisted that I played the game using motion controls, never really making it clear that all the motion control functions were available as buttons.

I don’t hate on motion controls. In this game, however, I felt absolutely no need to use them. In Splatoon 2 and Breath of the Wild, the motion controls enhance the player’s performance, making for more accurate shots that are otherwise too precise to achieve on an analog stick alone. In Super Mario Odyssey, I felt like I was brought back to the early days of the Wii, when every game’s motion controls were focused on vigorously shaking all the time, just for the sake that you could. Thankfully for Odyssey, motion controls aren’t a requirement. I’ll be playing this one with a grip or Pro Controller.

Of the two levels available to play, I chose the Sand Kingdom level, which takes place in a desert known as Tostarena. A world influenced by Mexican Day of the Dead culture, populated with mariachi skeletons. Being able to freely move around and roam wherever I wanted was immediately reminiscent of Super Mario Sunshine and Galaxy. However, I found this experience weighing more towards Sunshine because of the more grounded terrain and level design.  The design did a good job pushing the player forward to the other end, opposed to leaving the world massively open. It was a good balance of exploration but straightforward narrow design.

I used Mario’s hat, also known as Cappy, to take control of bullet bills and fly through obstacle courses. I went through a green pipe that transferred Mario into pixelated Super Mario Bros. 1 form onto a wall, A Link Between Worlds-style.

All-in-all, it felt like Mario. It controlled exactly as it has in all previous 3D Mario games. A new move added to Mario’s roster is a tumbling crouch roll. Mario squats into a ball, and by shaking the controllers, fiercely rolls forward smashing through enemies and obstacles

Though I’ve been a massive fan of the most recent Mario games like Super Mario 3D Land and World, it’s about damn time Nintendo has has taken the wants of its audience in consideration. It’s undeniable that consumers, myself included, have wanted a more mature control structure for Mario again. And again, I’m not putting down Land and World, but this is the Mario game we need right now. Aside from its loyal core audience, Nintendo has struggled to keep the attention of the every day gamer. From the brief time I had with this Odyssey, I have utmost confidence that this will satisfy our needs of real modern Mario game.

I wasn’t able to check out New Donk City, or try on any of the outfits that the game had to offer–which is a new addition to the series. But all those things would have been an enhanced bonus to an already seemingly great game. I  won’t fully know until October 27.

Kurt Indovina
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Preview: Skyrim Switch

It works. It works really well. I can’t help but have had skepticism of how the massive open world rpg would play on the Switch, but it just works, and without skipping a beat. Skyrim’s been remastered, repurposed, and re-released over and over again since 2011. So upon seeing its appearance on Nintendo’s initial Switch launch trailer back in October 2016, I blown away at the idea of having a game as demanding as Skyrim—even from six years ago—in your hands on the go, but I had to see it to believe it.

Nearly a year later, I was able to test it out for myself. At the Nintendo booth it was only available to be shown in handheld mode, and this seemed entirely intentional. Nintendo and Bethesda wanted this game to be seen in a way that Skyrim hasn’t been seen before, and in such away that was bound to impress even the most salty Nintendo hater. With that said, I had no comparison to how it looked in docked mode versus handheld mode.

In handheld mode it played very smooth. It’s obvious that this is not the HD remaster that was released for the PS4 and XBONE earlier this year. But that’s okay. That’s forgivable in exchange for a well performing game that’s as loaded as Skyrim on the go. That said, the game definitely lacked some of the visual graphical depth that we’ve grown used to. Some of the textures to me seemed a little flat; a tad muddy. Shadows weren’t very apparent, and the field of view did not stretch as far as the eye could see. But damn did it play well, and subtle graphical nuances aside, it felt amazing. And never did I think I’d ever be saying this, but, it felt a little at home on the Nintendo console.

During my short playthrough, I visited Riverwood. I was eager to test combat and the limitations of the game, so I began attacking chickens and villagers. Most of the hiccups and frame drops that I had become so familiar with my PS3 copy were not present. I only hoped that after six years, and several re-releases, that the game would be optimised better by now. And it is.

I am one of the few who’ve only purchased this game once, and I never got around to getting any of the DLC. I was admittedly on the fence as to whether or not I wanted to buy it again, but after finally getting it in my hands, and feeling how well it played, despite its now dated graphical capabilities, I’m in. I’m going to buy it. Besides, there’s no denying the absolute coolness to taking Skyrim anywhere, wherever your heart desires.

Kurt Indovina
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