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.

Preview: Moss

Among Skyrim VR, the Until Dawn first-person horror prequel The Inpatient, some racing game, and others, the only PSVR game that was on display that made me turn my head twice starred a tiny mouse that was communicating with the player using sign language. It resembled an art style and aesthetic similar to the comic book Mouse Guard, and featured a cute mouse communicating in a way I hadn’t seen in a game yet. That’s the game I wanted play. That’s what I wanted my first PSVR experience to be. It was called Moss.

Upon placing the VR headset on, I entered a woodland scene. From the leaves, the mouse named Quill entered and looked at me. She gestured below to a body of water in front of her. I looked down to find a Miyazaki-esque glowing blue figure looking back at me. It shifted and moved with my movements.  I then realized that I also had control of Quill. I was able to turn and look at the woods behind me, lean forward close to Quill, and peak around corners to reveal areas I couldn’t see before, but I couldn’t move the body of the spirit thing I inhabited; I could only move Quill.

I moved Quill from the left of the screen towards the right, executing Nathan Drake-style jumps and maneuvers up stones, under fallen branches, and leaping across small gaps to the next screen. Quill was faced with a gap she could not jump. As the spirit-like being I was playing, I was able to move the Dualshock 4 which simulated a floating orb on screen, that I could use to manipulate certain terrain and items that had a soft blue glow. Using the triggers, I grabbed onto a large block that I could slide into the gap Quill could not clear, allowing her to finally progress.

Quill and I went through large metal doors into an elaborate dungeon. Mechanical beetles awaited Quill. Armed with a small wooden sword, Quill was able to fight them off. The beetles could also be grabbed and shifted around using the orb.

From the ground I was able to pull out a collapsed staircase that I could also rotate, making it possible for Quill to progress to a higher platform and deeper into the dungeon. After a more complex puzzle that involved rotating and shifting a structure while simultaneously moving Quill through it, the demo ended.

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The rep told me the game was still in its very early stages of development, but it was clear developer Polyarc had a promising game in its hands. It combined the action platformer with VR puzzle solving seamlessly, and had presented a cute main character with unique characteristics that I felt inclined to help.

I was’t able to see just how Quill’s sign language would play a role in the game, but the act in creating a main character that communicated that way excited me, and left me inspired for what it could possibly do for the ASL community.

I don’t own PSVR, nor do I see the possibility of having one in the near future. But no game on the PSVR showroom floor that day enticed me more to get one than Moss.

Whether or not the VR seemed absolutely crucial to the game, I don’t know. But being able to lean in closer to the levels, and look around certain structures, possibly foreshadowed later puzzles that would make it very hard to accomplish without VR.

Moss is currently in development set to be released this winter.

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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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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Going Digital: The lament of a comic collector

I’m quitting comics. Physically at least. Or, well, I’m attempting to.

I’ve had a tough time letting go of reading comics physically. No tablet, phone, or computer screen has come close to replicating what it actually feels like to flip through the pages of a comic. To look at the panel layout; the color and the line work up close; and then organize it with all its corresponding issues. It’s a ritual.

It was different letting go of the physicality of video games, though that wasn’t easy either. After getting one too many plastic cases that had nothing but a disc inside, the idea of of buying games digitally got easier and easier. Yes, I can’t trade them in, but buying digitally makes me think twice about the game I’m buying.

I’m still coming to terms with owning most of my entertainment digitally, but the decision to transition boils down to one thing: space. My girlfriend Juliana and I use to move often, sometimes once a year (once even to another coast of the US and then back again). With every move we are faced with the either taking all our books, records, and games with us, or leaving them behind. In most cases, we go through a purge. Every move we narrow our collection down more and more. The collection that gets it the most severe, every time, are books.

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Our lifestyle is a frustrating contradiction to our interests. We like to travel. To make impulsive choices. However, we love pop culture, and with that, often comes the urge to collect and surround ourselves with the worlds we love. We own a lot of crap, and that gets in the way of our somewhat impulsive nature.

It is undeniably trendy to be minimal right now, but trends tend to reflect the movement of our culture. As we shift towards streaming platforms, owning physical things has become less enticing.

 

Every Wednesday when I come home with a few more comics, I face a feeling of dread when I  drag my comic box out from the closet, and add to the increasing weight of what I consider a very small collection of comics. With a lingering possibility that we’ll be moving sometime in the next year, owning these comics is becoming a burden rather than something I value.

 

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One of the hardest things I think I’ve done in my maturing nerdom is part ways with most of the cases to my DVD’s and Blu-rays. I even moved on to do the same with some old games. Now it’s time to move on from owning comics, and start reading digitally.

This is the week that I officially declare my full blown attempt to read comics from a screen. I’m cringing just writing it. But, I won’t know how I truly feel about it until I at least give it a shot. For the next few weeks I’m going to give updates on my pros and cons on the endeavor.

Kurt Indovina
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P.S. I’d be lying, however, if I said I’ll be quitting all comics physically. Some series’ I’m going to continue to buy issue by issue, mostly with the intent of someday lending them out to someone who I think would also cherish it. Right now, that series is Black Hammer. Holy hot shit I can’t stop freaking out over how fucking good it is. It makes me sick I love it so much.