Rust

Rust1

Survive.

PC Release: February 8, 2018

By Ian Coppock

It’s surreal to see so many Early Access games suddenly cross the finish line. CAT Interstellar, Gang Beasts, Subnautica, and now Rust have all exited Early Access just in the last few months. Some of these games spent years bearing that stupid blue badge on their Steam store pages… Rust longest of all. It’s time to see how one of Steam’s most well-known titles fares after so long in the oven.

____________________

How long did Rust marinate in the puddle of horror and regret that is Steam Early Access? The game first cropped up in Early Access in the winter of 2013, which makes Rust one of the first titles (if not the very first) to launch within that program. The game underwent many changes over the next four years, guided by the steady hand of Garry Newman (the Garry’s Mod guy) and the folks at Facepunch Studios.

Rust has changed a lot since its 2013 debut, but through thick and thin the game has always been about mulitplayer survival. Players spawn in naked and alone on the shores of a mysterious land and their goal is to stay alive as long as possible. To that end, they can search for food, gather resources, build bases, and band together for common defense. They can also descend from the hills wearing nothing but a headscarf and promptly beat new spawns to death with rocks. Absolutely terrifying.

Rust2

Must… murder… noobs…

Rust‘s tutorial provides just enough guidance to get new players on their way. The game gently prods new spawns to complete a series of increasingly complex tasks. Gather wood. Gather stone. Build a pickaxe. Gather more wood. Build a house. Find some food. Eat the food. EAT THE FOOD! Players also have no control over the race or sex of their character; Garry Newman has continually insisted that Rust is about survival, not identity. Those are some bold words in this age of hypersensitive identity politics.

Spawning in with no clothes and only a rock for defense may sound daunting, but Rust is kind to resourceful players. The game has a resource flow similar to that of Minecraft, i.e. gathering materials, building new tools, and using those tools to accrue more advanced materials. Before long, players can go from living in a dilapidated shack on the beach to an expansive fortress reinforced with stone walls and metal gates. Likewise, clubs and spears eventually give way to pistols and even rocket launchers. Players can also gather food by foraging plants and hunting animals.

Rust3

“Well the weather for the whole area, will continue much the same as the past few days…”

Rust‘s gameplay and user interface are both pleasantly streamlined. It’s easy for players to scrounge for items just as it’s fun to engage wildlife in combat. In keeping with the game’s goal of staying alive as long as possible, players have to manage health, thirst, and hunger meters as they make their way around the world. Finding water and food is usually pretty simple; the fate of the health bar, though, hinges on players’ ability to “git gud” in combat.

Players can craft lots of other stuff in Rust. The game’s menu is a simple two-panel affair comprising inventory and crafting screens. The latter menu lists all of the items the player can craft; just click on a weapon, wait thirty seconds, and boom: instant spear! Rust‘s items are divided into smaller menus that look an awful lot like the menus in Garry’s Mod; overall, it’s a system that’s easy to pick up. Just don’t call up the menu while standing out in the open. Enemy players love that.

Rust8

Welcome to Rust World! Check out the severed heads on aisle 12!

Rust contains many realistic survival threats that range from chilly nights to cold river currents, but these natural phenomena can’t hold a candle to the game’s greatest danger: other players. Yes, just like so many multiplayer survival games, Rust is a breeding ground for hilariously unhinged psychopaths. True, some of the folks in Rust are just fellow digital pilgrims peacefully going about their business… but many more are cutthroat raiders who’d sooner shoot a player than mic chat with them.

Human enemies are always much more terrifying than computer-controlled characters, and the proliferation of them in Rust adds tension to the game. It’s hair-raising to be approached by a spear-wielding stranger during the morning mushroom forage, especially if they refuse to mic chat or lower their weapon. In the end, it’s up to each and every player to decide how to interact with the people around them. Rust players either die civil or live long enough to see themselves become assholes.

Rust4

Ah, a refuge! DON’T SHOOT I’M NAKED

Gathering mushrooms and killing occasional nomads works well for solo players, but the best way for large groups to sustain themselves is through all-out war. Raiding is the name of the game in Rust, as players suit up and break into each other’s fortresses for food and sleeping bags. These turf wars can be frustrating (especially if unwelcome visitors come knocking while the player’s logged out), but damn if it isn’t fun to blow up a gate and rush in at the head of a blood-crazed war band. Another beautiful day in Rust!

Rust is now balanced enough to give logged out players a chance to protect themselves. It used to be that anyone could come in and take all the things during logout, but players can now build nigh-invincible doors with keys and code locks to protect their loot during the workday. True, a door won’t stop someone who has C4 and a rocket launcher, but attackers have to invest a lot of time into Rust to acquire such sophisticated weaponry. It’s not perfect, but compromises rarely are.

Rust5

Roll out!

The notion of players competing for scraps of food lends Rust a postapocalyptic vibe, and so does the game’s world design. Players spend most of their time in the wilderness but occasionally stumble upon dilapidated buildings and rows of rusted-out cars. Rust has no narrative outside the stories its players make, but these unsettling sights still succeed in making players wonder what happened. It’s a bit creepy to wander through a dark, cold munitions factory in search of food, especially when there’s signs of recent occupation.

Rust‘s artwork is also both bleak and beautiful. The game is absolutely saturated with bright colors from the roots of its green grass to the top of its searing blue skyboxes. The game’s textures are above-middling but could still use a bit of refinement, especially on those wooden house panels. Rust also makes effective use of lighting, or rather, the lack of it. Days are brightly lit but nights are dark and full of terror. These artistic choices inspire caution in players, which is appropriate considering that Rust is a survival game.

Rust6

What happened here?

Rust‘s sound design also goes to great lengths to make players feel as vulnerable as possible. Whenever music does play, it comes in the form of mournful little interludes that barely constitute a whisper above the game’s other sounds. They sound like the piano medleys from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as rewritten by The Sound of Silence-era Simon & Garfunkel. Really creepy (albeit pretty) stuff.

When these tracks don’t play, players are left alone with the sounds of the wilderness: the birds, the wind, and the occasional creak of metal. This minimalist setup is not dissimilar to that of PUBG. Players are left alone with these sounds and have to creep around wondering when the sound of another player will finally break the tension. Rust‘s environmental sounds are, well, sound. Everything from the creak of a wooden door to putting scrap metal in the inventory sounds rich and full.

Rust7

(breeze blows)

Rust is one of those rare survival games that combines fun gameplay with smooth presentation. The game runs well on PC and its options menu contains more toggles than players can shake a stick at. Players might notice occasional lag during gameplay, but alas, such is life in the world of online video games. Facepunch made good use of Rust‘s elongated Early Access cycle, though, as the title is now all-but completely bug free.

Many players, though, continue to insist that Rust faces a hacker epidemic of Biblical proportions. Such claims have dogged Rust since it first hit the Steam store. While players might run across the occasional hack-riddled superhuman, the claim that every other Rust player is a Chinese bot needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Gamers are a creative group, but they’re also one of the saltiest bunches on the Internet. Was that enemy player really a hacker, bro, or was he just better?

Rust9

No, I’m not interested in hearing about your lord and savior.

Rust was in Early Access for over four years. That’s a long time. It’s worth pointing out, though, that Garry Newman and the folks at Facepunch made damn good use of that time. Rust is an example of Early Access done right, because even though the game took a while, Facepunch made regular updates to the title and interacted with the community. That’s more than can be said for the dozens of Early Access titles in which devs update “whenever they feel like it” or just ghost from their projects altogether.

Rust can feel like an unfair game. It’s a title that doesn’t care about players’ feelings and chides them for being “asshats.” Players live or die by their ability to make good choices with the resources that they can find. The game inspires euphoria with every successful raid just as it inspires hopelessness when players are captured by a 20-man crew of AK-47 enthusiasts. All of these experiences, fair and otherwise, are what make Rust a compelling game. It’s both a breakneck survival odyssey and an endlessly entertaining glimpse at online human interaction.

____________________

You can buy Rust here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Flix and Chill 2: Millennials

Flix1

Find friendship and (maybe) love in the confusing landscape of millennial dating.

PC Release: July 18, 2017

By Ian Coppock

Comedian Patton Oswalt once described dating as a fun nightmare with boners in it, and he’s not far off the mark. In this age of social media ghosting and Tinder hookups, dating can be more exhausting than rewarding. However, with Valentine’s Day 72 hours away, this is no time to bemoan the perils of finding and maintaining a connection. Instead, it’s time to have a realistic conversation about both the fun and challenge of dating with a little game called Flix and Chill 2: Millennials

____________________

Flix and Chill 2: Millennials is a dating adventure game created by Jason Lovett (with a surname like that, he’s clearly destined for this line of work), creator of the original Flix and Chill. Like its predecessor, Flix and Chill 2: Millennials explores dating and relationships among the youth of the digital age. It’s a bit confusing that the sequel is subtitled Millennials (since the first game is also about millennials), but this title also touches upon a few facets of millennial life beyond dating, so it’s cool.

Despite what the phrase “Flix and Chill” implies, Flix and Chill 2 is not a creepy dating sim or a niche visual novel. It’s an episodic adventure game that challenges players to get to know a person and allow (or disallow) a relationship to spring up from there. Each episode follows its own character and players steer them around the story by picking dialogue options. Just like in real dates, success in Flix and Chill 2 revolves around saying the right thing at the right time.

Flix2

So… what’s your favorite color?

Although Flix and Chill 2 uses the same dialogue setup and multi-episode structure as the original Flix and Chill, the sequel implements a few key narrative changes. Whereas the goal of Flix and Chill was all-but-explicitly to get the girl and save the day, Flix and Chill 2 doesn’t label going home alone a failure. That’s a nice touch, because while the stereotype of a successful date is bringing someone home every time, real success on a date is being able to discern whether the other person is the right one. Flix and Chill 2 allows players to make that choice for each protagonist.

Lovett also deserves props for the expanded representation in Flix and Chill 2. All but one of the original game’s protagonists was a straight dude; this time around, players also get to also follow the lives of gay characters and people of color. Flix and Chill 2 demonstrates that people of every race and sexual orientation go through the same motions of dating, relationships, and love no matter how different they may look and be from one another.

Flix3

Dating is an equal opportunity nightmare generator.

Whether it’s set in a raucous nightclub or during a coffee break at work, each story in Flix and Chill 2 is about getting to know someone. Players are given more agency than in Flix and Chill to ask questions, respond to questions asked of them, and ultimately decide if the other person is a good fit for the protagonist. That part is left almost entirely to the player’s own sense of the dating world, so any player who’s a miserable failure at snagging a date in real life can look forward to accomplishing the very same thing in this game! 10/10 would be forever alone again.

Then again, Flix and Chill 2 demonstrates that underneath all of the jitters and physical attraction, most of a date is just getting to know another human being. The dialogue in each episode feels organic, though occasional spelling and grammar errors risk breaking the immersion. The game also does well at presenting dating against the backdrop of millennial life. Whether it’s stagnant wages or an addiction to coffee, Flix and Chill 2 is replete with millennial subject matter that’s just as important to the narratives as the dates themselves.

Flix4

Oh great, a douchebro.

As in real life, dating in Flix and Chill 2 is challenging but doable. Players who fail to score a second date might be a bit disappointed, but that hardly means that the overarching narrative has to end on a sour note. Players who have an easy time remembering little details will do well in Flix and Chill 2; nothing pisses a girl off like forgetting her birthday or her favorite type of coffee roast (or Valentine’s Day, do not forget Valentine’s Day).

Though the stories of Flix and Chill 2 have their charm, that charm is (literally) stunted by each narrative’s short length. Each episode in Flix and Chill 2 takes about 20 minutes to complete, giving the entire game a run time of 1-2 hours. There’s nothing wrong with a short game, but each episode does feel a bit rushed. The game’s only a dollar, though, so hold off on accusing Jason Lovett of being a merciless swindler.

Flix5

How you doin’?

In addition to its more intuitive narrative structure, Flix and Chill 2 introduces some visual changes that more accurately reflect the dating world. The characters in the original Flix and Chill had no facial features, a design decision Lovett said he implemented so that players could imagine expressions to go along with the dialogue. Fair enough, but dating is just as much if not more about body language than spoken, and so Lovett put faces to the characters in Flix and Chill 2.

The introduction of facial features lends an advantage to both Flix and Chill 2 and to its players. The change makes the characters seem more alive and engaged with the world around them while also giving players a chance to visually gauge how much fun their date is having. Flix and Chill 2 lets players judge that on a scale that ranges from the mischievous raised eyebrow to the bored grimace. When a date leans forward and talks excitedly, that’s good! When they’re eyeing the exit like it’s made of chocolate, that’s bad.

Flix7

Choose your mating call.

Flix and Chill 2‘s artistic improvements aren’t limited to its characters. Each episode’s game world looks like it was made out of construction paper and is therefore absolutely adorable. Flix and Chill 2‘s art galleries, coffee shops, and bookstores are all just so damn cute. Brightly colored, too. The game’s character animations are a bit primitive, but hardly odious. The biggest problem in that department is that everyone who dances in Flix and Chill 2 does the Commander Shepard… but that’s more an amusement than a flaw.

While on the subject of flaws, Flix and Chill 2‘s music loops a lot. Yes, it’s a collection of happy electronic grooves that players can’t not nod along with, but each song is pretty short and loops conspicuously. There’s also no other sound design in the game save a little effect that plays when characters talk to each other. Flix and Chill 2‘s omission of other sound design elements is conspicuous at best. Nothing builds a world like great sound design; even some background chatter in the coffee shop would’ve done wonders for atmosphere.

Flix8

Do the Shepard, do the Shepard, do the Shepard…

Because of its graphical simplicity, players don’t need to worry about performance issues with Flix and Chill 2. The game runs well on monster rigs and potato laptops alike; any machine will do for experiencing this game’s world of millennial dating. Though Flix and Chill 2 runs well, the relative lack of performance and graphical options leaves something to be desired.

What Flix and Chill 2 doesn’t leave to be desired, though, is a keen understanding of how wonderful (and insane) the dating world can be for millennials. It believably examines finding connections in the digital age and its charm at doing so is inescapable. Players who have an extra dollar and an hour of time to kill owe it to themselves to play this charming little adventure game. The title isn’t without its flaws, but its dedication to organically exploring the world of dating shines through the rough spots.

____________________

You can buy Flix and Chill 2: Millennials here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Lost Sphear

Sphear1

Delve into ancient memories to save your homeland.

PC Release: January 23, 2018

By Ian Coppock

Truly, strange times are afoot. A reality TV star is president, Britain is leaving the EU, and weirdest of all… a JRPG is being reviewed on Art as Games. Lost Sphear is the first ever JRPG to get a spot on this page, and it seemed like a good place to start because its developer, Tokyo RPG Factory, insists that it’s a collage of everything great about the genre. Lost Sphear does indeed offer up a lot of JRPG conventions; whether those constitute a successful game is the question of tonight’s review.

____________________

Created by the one and same Tokyo RPG Factory that produced 2016’s I Am SetsunaLost Sphear is an isometric Japanese role-playing game that just screams Final Fantasy. The game kicks off with a nameless king battling an ancient evil before fast-forwarding to a small town in a magical kingdom. As JRPGs so often go, players are given command of three heroes with whom to stop the moon from destroying the world… or something. The exposition is a little vague on that one.

The aforementioned protagonists hit every JRPG checkbox. The star of the show is a kid who lost his parents and is destined to save the world. His sidekicks are a blatantly obvious love interest and an embarrassing best friend who provides forced comic “relief.” Each character also adheres strictly to the JRPG dress code with crazy hair, bright clothes, and shoes that are about 10 sizes too large. Likewise, the game’s villains are the usual flamboyant masterminds who look like they’re on their way to a Criss Angel lookalike contest.

Sphear2

In case it wasn’t obvious enough that this was a JRPG…

Lost Sphear‘s characters look straight out of a 2004 JRPG, and not just because of their attire. This game’s characters look dated, with fuzzy facial features, stiff animations, and blocky extremities. They also do that JRPG thing where they awkwardly move their entire bodies for even the smallest physical expressions. It would seem that, in its haste to emulate the JRPGs of yore, Tokyo RPG Factory ripped off even the now-obsolete graphics of Lost Sphear‘s predecessors.

Even though Lost Sphear‘s character models look like they were copy/pasted from Final Fantasy VII, the game’s environments look fine. They’re lovely.  Tokyo RPG Factory can’t render a character model worth a damn, but the studio excels at creating intricately detailed environments that burst with color. There’s also plenty of object detail to draw players’ eyes. While it’s great that Lost Sphear‘s world looks pretty, that prettiness cuts a conspicuous contrast with the mannequin-looking characters. Save some pixels for them, Tokyo RPG Factory!

Sphear3

Meh.

Lost Sphear scores some additional art points with its soundtrack. The game’s background music is a lovely assortment of light strings and woodwinds, while the combat anthem sounds straight outta Pokemon. While Lost Sphear‘s music is mostly pleasant, it has a nasty tendency to loop. There’s one town in the game where players have to suffer this problem in the extreme, as the same dainty little song repeats itself over and over and over again.

Lost Sphear is incompetent when it comes to other areas of sound design. While its music is nice, everything else from the sounds of combat to exploring the wilds sounds muffled. This is particularly troublesome for the combat. Part of the thrill of battle lies in hearing the force of every hit, but even the fiercest sword strike sounds more like a butterfly kiss than a blade rending flesh. Like many JRPGs, Lost Sphear is so focused on making its world look cool that it forgets to make that world sound cool, and that’s a problem. Nothing breaks immersion like a conspicuous audio-visual imbalance.

Sphear4

Do we have any hearing aids in the item pouch?

Lost Sphear‘s combat isn’t much for immersion, either. As with many JRPGs, Lost Sphear relies on that clunkiest and most boring form of “battle”: turn-based combat. Y’know, that system wherein the combatants stand in neat lines slapping each other instead of actually fighting. Some JRPGs have agonizingly long “battles”, but Lost Sphear‘s are mercifully quick. Use an item or ability, sit there like a b**** while the bad guy slaps the player back, rinse and repeat.

That last sentence is more of a tutorial than Lost Sphear ever provides. This title continues the age-old JRPG tradition of burying players alive in an avalanche of menus and expecting them to just… figure it out. The tutorial points out how to use a few specific attacks, but fails to illustrate how to effectively use the overarching combat system. Seriously, even a few button prompts would be great, Tokyo RPG Factory. Anything to help this game’s combat system be less of a sleep aid.

Sphear5

(yawn).

Lost Sphear‘s exploration is marginally more interesting than its combat. It’s not anything that JRPG veterans won’t already have done a million times, though. Walk around neat little mazes of houses (or trees), open treasure chests for money (or items), and occasionally uncover hidden paths (or not). This exploration system isn’t odious but it sure doesn’t deviate from the road trod by dozens of other JRPGs. Isn’t blazing new trails the point of exploration?

Lost Sphear‘s strident dedication to rehashing what’s already been beaten to death in other JRPGs seeps into its user interface. The game’s combat and navigation menus feel primitive… almost as if they’ve been plucked from an early Final Fantasy game rather than built for a contemporary title. Lost Sphear‘s options menu is an unadulterated train wreck that contains a few paltry options for visual and audio fidelity. There are no options for rebinding controls; worse still, players who opt to play Lost Sphear with a controller may still have to input a few commands with a keyboard!

Sphear6

Good question: it’s the void where Tokyo RPG Factory’s QA team should be.

Lost Sphear has committed many egregious sins so far, but the title’s piece de res***stance is undoubtedly its writing. Lost Sphear‘s writing is stilted, awkwardly phrased, and feels like it’s there more to fill space than to tell a story. The game’s character writing is laughably bad. Every person in this title spends ten minutes arguing about the most trivial details, and not a single joke lands in the entire production. None of the characters evolve beyond their well-worn JRPG niches, nor do they ever shut up about the usual platitudes that this genre drowns players in.

The narrative that these characters trudge around in is worse even than the dialogue, and it only kicks in after about five hours of playtime. That’s par for the course with JRPGs, though; nothing terrifies these games more than letting players jump into an actual story. No, Lost Sphear says, let’s slow the narrative down with drawn-out character intros and running around in the woods doing nothing of interest.

Sphere7

Use your words, buddy.

Lost Sphear‘s story doesn’t have much to tell, especially to JRPG veterans. Basically, an ancient evil is returning after many years away, and a boy has to stop it using the powers of love, friendship, and phoenix down. Lost Sphear gets a point for its evil taking the form of a white fog instead of something more conspicuous (like the Heartless), but its narrative goes through the exact same motions as the stories of many JRPGs before it.

Lost Sphear is one of those rare games that disappoints all gaming audiences equally. Players who dislike JRPGs will despise it for exalting the genre’s worst tendencies, while JRPG fans will grow bored with the game’s reluctance to innovate. In trying so hard to be a love letter to past JRPGs, Lost Sphear ends up being utterly derivative. It’s a flavorless, unoriginal blob that’s too busy ripping off of other games to conceive a single iota of novelty. Gamers of all stripes are thus best off giving Lost Sphear a wide berth.

____________________

You can buy Lost Sphear here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Aviary Attorney

Aviary1

Solve crimes and search for the truth in a city on the brink of revolution.

PC Release: December 22, 2015

By Ian Coppock

Video games are the best medium for people to test their wits. Unlike films or books, games’ stories can be changed by the decisions of the person beholding them. This makes them an ideal place for people to evaluate their smarts, as the right (or wrong) choice can have profound implications for the story around them. Aviary Attorney is a game that strives to be one such mental test bed.

____________________

Aviary Attorney (or Legal Eagles, as it’s fondly nicknamed by fans), is an episodic mystery game set in an 1848 Paris full of animal people. Protagonist Jayjay Falcon is an eagle-eyed (ba dum tsss) attorney who investigates crimes and solves mysteries with the help of his faithful sidekick, Sparrowson. Falcon’s lack of legal pedigrees makes work hard to come by… until a mysterious heiress stops by to ask for his help in investigating a murder! (Gasp).

Falcon agrees to take the case and immediately begins questioning witnesses and gathering clues. As the feathered duo edge closer to solving the mystery, they realize that the murder is a small piece of a conspiracy… one that imperils the whole of France! As Falcon, it’s up to players to navigate the treacherous waters of French high society and unearth the sinister plot simmering beneath Paris.

Aviary2

How can you be a detective and NOT have a corn cob pipe?!

Aviary Attorney immediately draws the eye with its striking caricature artwork. The entire game was drawn by an artist who specializes in such illustrations (talk about a niche field). Everything in this game from the collar of Falcon’s coat to the ceiling of Notre Dame is sketched with extraordinary detail. The illustrations are then given a hint of sepia toning to make the image warmer than a conventional black-and-white drawing. The result looks like something worthy of the Louvre (or, at least, a hypothetical anthropomorphic art section of the Louvre).

There’s no denying the beauty of Aviary Attorney‘s drawings, but they come at the expense of character animations. Falcon blinks, and moves his beak while talking, but is otherwise stiff as a board. While it’s understandable that illustrations this intricate can only be moved around so much, that still leaves Aviary Attorney‘s characters feeling more like cardboard cutouts than living beings. That the characters have the same facial expressions no matter their emotions is also a bit weird.

Aviary3

Does anyone else remember that meme showing off Dick Cheney’s various emotions but it’s just the exact same picture of him six times?

Despite the aforementioned animation problems, Aviary Attorney‘s aesthetic remains enrapturing. The game sounds lovely too, with a soundtrack of romantic-era songs that are right at home in 19th-century Paris. Most of these songs are built on deep horns and delicate strings. Some characters even get their own theme that plays whenever they enter the scene (the Spanish fox’s medley is particularly bombastic).

Aviary Attorney‘s sound design is fleshed out with the audio details one might expect of an 1800’s European city. Wherever Falcon and Sparrowson go, players can count on hearing the background chitchat of the city or gentler sounds like a grandfather clock. Both types of sound come through crisply and cleanly. Aviary Attorney‘s close attention to sound design helps these stiff caricatures come to life.

Aviary4

We find the soundtrack lovely, your honor.

Y’know what else helps bring stiff caricatures to life? Narrative. Aviary Attorney‘s story features many moving parts, some of which move more fluidly than others. For a start, the inter-character dialogue is solid. Each and every character’s writing is believable and fun to read. Sparrowson’s writing is particularly enjoyable; as Falcon’s assistant, he serves as the game’s main source of comic relief. His antics during the investigation provoke laughter just as they provoke fondness. Meanwhile, Falcon makes inroads with his own jokes and a heartfelt desire to see justice done.

Aviary Attorney‘s characters are memorable long after having played the game, but the narrative that these animal-people ply is much choppier. The first episode is all but completely disconnected from the rest of the game; the remaining three episodes circle a confusing drain of conspiracies, false identities, and way too many characters jumping in and out of the story. The occasional spelling error doesn’t make this narrative any easier to take seriously.

Aviary5

Terrible.

Exactly how difficult is it to keep track of Aviary Attorney‘s story? As previously mentioned, the first episode is a cut-and-dry murder case with a delightful twist at the end. The next three episodes dip in and out of a conspiracy that threatens the player’s senses just as much as it does 19th-century Paris. Though they have their moments, these later episodes suffer from slipshod pacing. The second episode is crammed with nothing but twists and excitement, but the third drags on bereft of either.

The fourth episode manages to pick up the third’s slack… at the cost of shoehorning an eternally confusing twist into the last half or so. The game’s character writing remains consistently tight, but the narrative risks throwing much of that writing at the wall in its scramble to wow players with a deep conspiracy story. Aviary Attorney‘s characters are great; its story is much less so.

Aviary6

That’s a good question, Sparrowson.

To be fair, it’s not entirely the writers’ fault that Aviary Attorney feels messy. The gameplay certainly does it part to smudge the game’s proverbial ink. Aviary Attorney‘s gameplay doesn’t take a detective to understand: players simply visit locales around Paris, question suspects, and look for clues. The narrative progresses once players have formulated a hypothesis from all those interrogations and scavenger hunts. Falcon must then convict his suspect in court, overcoming enemy attorneys in a battle of wits a la the Ace Attorney series.

All of that sounds perfectly fine on paper, but many of Aviary Attorney‘s investigations are pockmarked with design flaws. For instance, some evidence is far too easy to miss, requiring absurd amounts of pixel-hunting and elaborate guesswork. This makes it easy for players to get bogged down in a grueling grind of trial-and-error, as they reload earlier and earlier checkpoints to get that one little clue that alters the entire storyline. The latter two episodes of the game are where this problem really takes hold; that puzzle about encountering a crook in an alleyway can choke on an expired baguette.

Aviary7

Yes, but I didn’t find that pencil in episode two so our whole case is toast.

Aviary Attorney falls into that adventure game trap of letting critical plot points hinge on easy-to-miss objects. In that way, the game’s design feels dated and merciless. It’s difficult to take seriously a game in which the fate of Paris hinges upon the player’s ability to check vases for candy bar wrappers. The game’s concept of a detective uncovering what basically amounts to the French Gunpowder Plot is compelling; the execution isn’t. These problems lend a poetic irony to the name of the studio behind this game: Sketchy Logic.

Of course, gamers who like such strict adventure games as Aviary Attorney might find this talk of mercilessness attractive. Perhaps old-school adventure gamers was the audience for which Aviary Attorney was actually made. Even so, that doesn’t excuse some of the aforementioned design flaws or the story’s atrocious pacing. For anything that can be said about hard-as-nails 90’s adventure games, their narratives were (usually) good.

Aviary8

Touche, old bean! I do say!

Much like an uncompromising detective, Aviary Attorney does not do middle ground. Its artwork, music, character writing, and system performance are great. Its gameplay, options menu and overarching plot, by contrast, need a lot of polish. Players who enjoy adventure games might come to Aviary Attorney for its vividly realized world, but they probably won’t stay for the convoluted plot that twists through that world. Oh well; at least players have Sparrowson to provide a few chuckles.

Video games are the best medium for people to test their wits, but Aviary Attorney is much more a test of patience than smarts. With that, this review is over. The prosecution rests.

____________________

You can buy Aviary Attorney here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

The Red Strings Club

Strings1

Investigate a corporation’s scheme to transform humanity.

PC Release: January 22, 2018

By Ian Coppock

Imagining what technology will be like 20 years from now is both inspiring and terrifying. It’s inspiring to imagine things like smart cars and cures for terminal illnesses… just as it’s terrifying to picture an AI creating its own language (oh wait, that happened last year). Media are quick to imagine how technology can shape mankind’s future, but often get bogged down in cool gadgets instead of addressing how tech shapes something deeper: the soul of mankind. The Red Strings Club is all about that question.

____________________

The Red Strings Club is a cyberpunk-noir title created by Deconstructeam, the studio behind Gods Will Be Watching. The game is set in a dystopian, futuristic metropolis whose citizens are all about upgrading their bodies with emotional implants. Whether it’s the desire to detach from social conscience or jack up that sex appeal, the Supercontinent Corporation has an upgrade for every desire. The game begins when one of the androids responsible for fashioning those implants shows up at the game’s titular Red Strings Club.

Bar owner Donovan and his hacker boyfriend Brandeis learn that the android was busted out by a group of hacktivists who are convinced that Supercontinent is up to no good. Indeed, the firm seems intent on using its implants to regulate human emotion, and has even figured out how to inflict that regulation upon people who have no implants at all. As these three characters, it’s up to players to investigate what Supercontinent is up to and stop the firm from reshaping mankind.

Strings2

Can I get you a drink?

Stopping a giant conspiracy may sound like a tall order for three barflies, but there’s much more to this unlikely team than meets the eye. Akara-184 may have been shot up during their breakout, but is now free to put their insanely powerful android brain to the task of stopping Supercontinent. Their abilities pair well with those of Brandeis, who is one of the best hackers in the city whenever he’s not too busy loitering near the harbor or firing off corny one-liners.

Then… there’s Donovan, who uses his drinks to manipulate his customers’ emotions. Donovan’s ability goes beyond simply getting someone drunk; he can read a person in a matter of moments and craft a cocktail that can lift (or crush) their spirits. This manipulation works wonders for getting customers to spill valuable information… and it just so happens that most of The Red Strings Club’s regulars are Supercontinent employees.

Strings3

What’ll it be?

Mixing drinks is the most pivotal component of The Red Strings Club‘s gameplay. The mechanic is presented as a minigame in which each client has his or her own emotions for Donovan to draw out with booze. Players have to use Donovan’s four liquors to push a cursor over the emotion they want to elicit from the customer. Most emotions require a cocktail of two or more boozes, plus an ice cube for good measure. Additional mechanics, like a shaker, are added later on in the story.

Once Donovan’s boozed up the customer a bit, it’s time for questioning. Donovan can ask virtually anything of his clientele, but whether he’ll get a straight answer depends on the mood they’ve been put in by that drink. A client who drank something confidence-empowering, for example, might feel much chattier about a sensitive company matter than if they’d been fed something that makes them depressed. Donovan only has one shot to ask a question, so players have to pick a customer’s mood carefully if they hope to learn anything.

Strings4

Jolly Rancher shots belong at the bottom of the harbor.

The Red Strings Club‘s mixology is a stylish twist on adventure game conversations. It adds another dimension to the challenge of interrogating an NPC for answers. Players have to consider not only which questions to ask, but also which cocktail will get them the best answers to those questions. This booze-sleuthing makes for a delectable gameplay challenge that opens up conversations for many more possible outcomes. In The Red Strings Club, there isn’t a right or wrong booze; only a best booze.

The Red Strings Club‘s other protagonists have minigames of their own. Players get to spend a bit of time sculpting implants as Akara, using nothing more than a pottery wheel and a few different tools. It’s a fun minigame that, sadly, doesn’t get nearly enough screen time. Meanwhile, Brandeis is out in the city chatting to contacts and impersonating Supercontinent execs to get valuable info. This part of the game is where The Red Strings Club‘s adventure game roots really shine: talk to people, gather info, try that obstacle again.

Strings5

Sorry, no, Billy is, uh… “sick” right now.

The Red Strings Club‘s story is less fixated on the details of its cyberpunk universe than technology’s impact on the human condition. The game’s dialogue is written decently well, but most characters don’t change measurably as the story progresses. Akara-184 offers up the usual “why do you humans do this?” observations that robot characters do in many stories, while Brandeis is a composite of every 80’s comic relief character ever.

No, the most compelling character in The Red Strings Club is Donovan, who frequently opines about the danger of using technology to control human emotion. Donovan frequently defends “negative” emotions, arguing that people can only know what happiness is by also experiencing sadness. His defense of sorrow is both an eloquent epithet about the human experience and some of the year’s best video game writing. It certainly gives players cause to oppose a corporation with such a seemingly benevolent vision.

Strings6

Don’t do it! You have so much to live for! Like giving me info!

The Red Strings Club‘s dialogue is pretty well-written, but it’s brought unnecessarily low by a single, juvenile flaw: spelling errors. The Red Strings Club has an unfortunate proliferation of typos; they’re not exactly jumping out of every sentence but they crop up often enough to break the game’s immersion. With all the spelling and writing resources available online these days, there’s no excuse for having this many typos in a game. They’re the visual equivalent of Donovan belching mid-speech.

The other writing problem The Red Strings Club suffers from is exposition… as in burying players in an avalanche of it. This game is JRPG-like in its zeal to drown players in names, acronyms, and other details, making it difficult to keep track of who Donovan is asking about what. Thankfully, this flood slows to a trickle as the game’s story progresses, but that first hour or so of gameplay makes for a LOT of reading and re-reading.

Strings7

So Bob is in charge of marketing, and Jill is in charge of…dammit!

Fortunately, Deconstructeam was more consistent with The Red Strings Club‘s visual design. The entire game is built out of crunchy pixels, strengthening its retro adventure vibe. Despite being made of pixels, The Red Strings Club‘s visuals are strongly colored and sharply defined. Moody colors and lighting effects are put to great use creating its dystopian, Deus Ex-esque cyberpunk atmosphere. The character animations are also damn good for a pixel-y game.

As with many great games, The Red Strings Club‘s world comes alive most through sound design. This world is replete with organic, satisfying sounds; everything from liquor pouring into a glass to shoes on wooden floors sounds oh so crisp. Players will enjoy the mixology minigame as much for that delectable clink of ice in a glass as the chance to make a drink. This sound design, when mixed with a soundtrack of lounge music and low synths, makes for quite the audio cocktail.

Strings8

Nothing like a bit of lo-fi pottery.

The Red Strings Club is a gift for players who enjoy story-driven games. It’s a title that keeps players guessing with its various methods of investigation, which are strung together with vivid (albeit occasionally misspelled) dialogue. The game is less concerned with the gadgetry and neon of the future than what all of that glitz means for humanity’s collective spirit. It questions, aggressively, whether humanity’s ability to think should supersede the species’ ability to feel. It’s a good sci-fi narrative, make no mistake, but it’s a sci-fi narrative whose main point is the human condition.

Few games address that question of the human condition as passionately as The Red Strings Club, which is why it deserves a shot from players of every stripe. The game is a smoothly built glimpse at a world in which humanity’s brilliance is its own worst enemy. It treads that philosophical minefield with a soft but firm touch. Give it a try; if not for its heartfelt dialogue, then at least for the chance to serve drinks to cyborgs.

____________________

You can buy The Red Strings Club here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Far Cry Primal

Primal1

Bash heads and shatter ribs on a quest to reclaim your tribe’s homeland.

PC Release: March 1, 2016

By Ian Coppock

Once upon a time, in the distant past, mankind flourished in a golden age. An age without murder laws or sanitary guidelines. An age in which men and women were free to don the skins of their fallen enemies and bash people’s heads in with rocks. An age that predated all of this modern “civilization” and “judiciary” nonsense that man now suffers under. That age is, sadly, long gone… but video games have brought it roaring back to life in the form of Far Cry Primal.

____________________

Released in the spring of 2016, Far Cry Primal is a spin-off of the Far Cry series that takes the franchise a whopping 10,000 years back in time. Rather than killing foes with AKs and machetes (as is customary in Far Cry games), players take up a spear, unleash a mighty caveman battle cry, and charge into combat at the head of the most unwashed horde of warriors gaming has ever seen.

Far Cry Primal begins when a mammoth hunt goes south and all but one caveman in the hunting party gets mauled by a saber-tooth tiger. Forced to journey to his ancestral homeland alone, player character Takkar arrives to the Land of Oros expecting his fellow Wenja tribesmen to be everywhere. Instead, all he finds is a handful of survivors and a land ravaged by war (proving that the vaunted awesomeness of bashing someone’s head in with a rock is really a matter of perspective).

Primal2

Hey! That’s MY deer skull!

Luckily for what remains of his tribe, Takkar is good with animals… some might say that he’s unnaturally good with them. Whether it’s his shining personality or some kind of voodoo, Takkar has the ability to befriend Oros’s many animals and lead them into combat. Players start out small by taming badgers and dogs, but can move up to bears and lions before too long. Takkar can also use an owl to mark targets and places of interest like the drone in Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands.

Even though a few tamed bears make for quite the intimidating posse, Takkar has his work cut out for him navigating Oros. The game world is populated by dangerous ice age-era wildlife, including saber-tooth tigers, gargantuan cave beers, and woolly mammoths that’d sooner stomp on a caveman than look at him. Most of these beasties can be hunted for valuable materials, but think twice before taking on that huge rhinoceros (and check Takkar’s quiver for extra arrows).

Primal3

HOLY S*** BACKUPBACKUPBACKUP

Bloodthirsty animals aren’t Takkar’s only problem. Two unfriendly tribes have invaded Oros and whittled the Wenja’s once-expansive empire down to nothing. To the north reside the Udam, a tribe of cannibalistic neanderthals led by the biggest, baddest warrior of them all. To the south can be found the Izila, a matriarchal tribe that likes burning people alive (but it’s their sincerely held religious belief so it’s totally okay).

Players can only secure victory in Far Cry Primal by systematically reclaiming Wenja territory and, ultimately, wiping both enemy tribes out. Each tribe has its own combat challenge: Udam warriors are huge but slow, while the Izila compensate for their slender size by using advanced weapons like fire bombs. Each tribe also has its own slate of combat specialists who wield different weapons for Takkar to contend against.

Primal4

OOGA-BOOGA!

Far Cry Primal certainly has a greater emphasis on melee combat than other Far Cry games. Players can craft and upgrade spears, clubs, and other weapons to take the fight to the enemy directly. Ranged weapons still have a place in the player’s arsenal, though. Bows, longbows, and slings help round Takkar’s weaponry out and give players some long-distance options. Most melee weapons can be thrown if the player is out of ammo (or is feeling particularly pissed).

In lieu of cars, players can get around Far Cry Primal using the animals they tame. As amazing as it would be to ride a honey badger into battle, Takkar can only ride beasties larger than himself. Primal‘s riding controls feel smooth and most of the animals that Takkar can ride can also leap over obstacles. Ridiculous and unrealistic though this mechanic may be, nothing feels more badass than leading a tsunami of cavemen into battle from the back of a saber-toothed tiger.

Primal5

CHAAAAARGE!

Even though Far Cry Primal gives players a spear and a tiger instead of a gun and a jeep, the game still plays a lot like the mainline Far Cry titles. Just like in those games, players take outposts from enemy factions, search the world for medicinal herbs, and hunt animals for their hides. The combat’s shifted focus and the whips are a little hairier, but beneath that caveman stank is a good ole Far Cry title.

Far Cry Primal does make a few shakeups to the Far Cry formula, though. Because cavemen have no understanding of money, players have to make their own weapons and tools from materials found out in the world. Some materials are only a stone’s throw away; others are much harder to find. Still others exist only in certain regions of Oros. Players may also happen upon animal skin bags that contain a random assortment of goodies for Takkar to sort through.

Primal6

Primal stops short of letting players use human body parts for tools… I think…

Players out looking for crafting components should take some time to enjoy the view. Far Cry Primal goes beyond being pretty by being the most visually sophisticated Far Cry game ever made (at least as of writing). Far Cry Primal succeeds in delivering a, well, primal environment, covering Oros with exotic-looking plants, huge redwoods, and cavernous rock formations. All of these objects are brightly colored and accented with volumetric light.

Far Cry Primal boasts impressive visual effects in other areas of its design. The title’s in-game character models are gorgeously animated and detailed, more so than those of other Far Cry games. Primal‘s facial animations are scarily lifelike; never before has spotting a dead bug between a caveman’s two front teeth been so easy! Primal‘s visuals succeed at capturing that primeval, untamed vibe that could only come with the Stone Age, which makes the game more immersive.

Primal7

Oh! You made me a, uh… drink? …Thank you?

Far Cry Primal‘s characters may look stunning, but there isn’t much more to say about them. Each one occupies a fixed niche in the caveman community: there’s the witch doctor whose jokes fall flat, the aged huntress who makes fun of Takkar for no apparent reason, and the chick who’s obsessed with collecting ears. For some reason Ubisoft elected to shoehorn Hurk (err, “Urki”) into Primal. As with all Far Cry games, the antagonist is the most interesting character. Ubisoft elected to make the neanderthal war-chief a sympathetic villain instead of a comedic one, and it works surprisingly well.

The reason why Far Cry Primal‘s characters aren’t all that memorable is because they only get so much screen time. This game devotes very little time to conversations with NPCs… or, really, character development of any kind. The reason for that, in turn, is almost certainly because all of the characters speak in an artificial language that sounds like vulgar Latin. Ubisoft probably only had so much time to develop words and syntax for such a dialect, which would explain why it’s spoken so sparingly. For some reason there’s an option to turn Primal‘s subtitles off; y’know, for all those millions of gamers who can speak made-up caveman lingo.

Primal8

Hey Fluffy, what’s the caveman term for merciless slaughter?

So, what do Far Cry Primal‘s archaic weapons and nonsensical animal powers mean for players? The game doesn’t have much going for it in the story department, but it offers up a, aha, meaty slice of gameplay. Primal‘s combat and exploration both feel like deconstructed variants of the main Far Cry series’ gameplay, but in a good way. The game’s stripping out of vehicles makes exploration feel more organic, while the combat’s focus on melee fighting is elegantly implemented.

Couple these simpler gameplay emphases with excellent system performance, and the result is a game that captures the fierce spirit of its modern-day forebears despite being presented in a different format. Far Cry Primal may be set in the Stone Age, but its focus on smooth exploration and open-ended combat is not lesser for that setting. Players who enjoy open-world games and lots of brutal melee combat will likely enjoy Primal; just make sure to take a break if all that combat starts to feel repetitive.

____________________

You can buy Far Cry Primal here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Storm1

Help an unlikely friend confront her inner demons.

PC Release: August 31, 2017

By Ian Coppock

Ohhhhh boy, another Life is Strange game. Another one of those games that shatters hearts into a million pieces and squeezes every last drop of moisture out of the ole tear ducts. The main reason this review has been put off for so long is that the last Life is Strange: Before the Storm episode released only last month. That said, it’s also intimidating to revisit a series that puts players on such vicious emotional roller-coasters. Nevertheless, it’s time to get started.

____________________

Set three years before the events of Life is StrangeBefore the Storm is, like its predecessor, an episodic adventure game that runs on player choice and densely-branched dialogue trees. Before the Storm casts players as Chloe Price, the punk-rock deuteragonist of Life is Strange, in an all-new adventure in the fictional town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon. The game portrays a Chloe whose emotional wounds are rawer than they’ll eventually be in Life is Strange, and boy does that show in her character.

Before the Storm opens with Chloe struggling with the death of her father, whose passing in a car accident led her to bury her pain beneath tattoos, cigarettes, and perpetual rebellion against her mother. Friendless and deeply depressed, Chloe strikes up an unthinkable friendship with Rachel Amber, a vibrant young woman and the most popular student at the local Blackwell Academy.

Storm2

“Rachel Amber” sounds like a folk singer.

Even though Chloe’s apathetic, cynical worldview couldn’t contrast more with Rachel’s optimistic self-confidence, the two teens bond over a shared fondness for breaking the law. If Life is Strange: Before the Storm is any indication, hopping trains and vandalizing park viewfinders are both tickets to an instant friendship. Rachel is drawn to Chloe’s fiery thirst for rebellion, while Chloe is in turn impressed that the most popular kid in school is a genuine, down-to-earth person.

Though the teens’ friendship starts off well, things take a turn when Rachel discovers a dark secret in her family and turns to Chloe for help sleuthing it out. Desperate to hold onto the only friend she’s made in years, Chloe agrees to help Rachel uncover yet another of Arcadia Bay’s many, many secrets. Who knew that picturesque northwest towns could be so damn depressing?

Storm3

Breathe in… breathe out…

As in the original Life is Strange, players advance Before the Storm‘s narrative by talking to characters and making critical story decisions. Even something as seemingly inconsequential as being nice to Chloe’s mother can be very consequential later in the story. Before the Storm shares its predecessor’s knack for making those consequences hard to spot right way; players oftentimes won’t see their decisions fully shake out until an episode or two down the road.

The dialogue linking all of these choices together is as about as well-written as that of Life is Strange, which is quite an achievement considering that Before the Storm was made by another dev. That’s right; indie darling Deck Nine took on development duties while Life is Strange OG Dontnod Entertainment finishes up Vampyr and Life is Strange 2. Deck Nine was a fervent study of Life is Strange‘s dialogue, infusing its writing with witticisms and character development worthy of the original game.

Storm4

Dammit, I’m crying again…

While on the subject of writing… Chloe is f***ing hilarious. Make no mistake, Life is Strange: Before the Storm has plenty of dark moments, but Chloe’s minute-by-minute observations of her surroundings comprise some of adventure gaming’s funniest writing. Whether she’s swearing at a D&D boss or inferring the size of her stepfather’s penis from the type of car he drives, Chloe’s inner monologues are always worth listening to. Click all the clickable things to commence the belly laughs.

Just as Deck Nine does a great job bringing Chloe’s comedy to the forefront, the studio was also quick to display the character’s pain. Chloe has recurring nightmares about her father’s death and deeply resents eventual Life is Strange protagonist Max Caulfield for abandoning their friendship. Before the Storm finds other, more overt ways to push Chloe’s trauma to the front of the story, and these moments can be difficult to get through without shedding a tear. Before the Storm aptly juggles both facets of the character without overwhelming the player in emotional anguish.

Storm6

I’m so sorry, Chloe…

Deck Nine also did well bringing Rachel Amber to life (no small task considering how much her reputation was built up in Life is Strange). Like Chloe, Rachel is a study in contrasts, concealing pain beneath a bold, bright-side persona. Even though the two characters have little in common on the surface, the chemistry between them grows believably as the game progresses. This makes Before the Storm one of those rare prequels that makes replaying the original game better, as players finally get to see the roots of Chloe and Rachel’s friendship firsthand.

Because Before the Storm is so heavily focused on Chloe and Rachel, the game’s other characters only get so much screen time. The title reintroduces a few familiar faces from the original game, including that big-hearted drug dealer and those insufferable brats in the Vortex Club. Before the Storm also brings in a few entirely new characters, like a pre-Max wallflower who unexpectedly stands up to jocks. These supporting characters benefit from decent writing and voice acting, but are otherwise relegated to the background of Before the Storm.

Storm7

C’mon, gimme that natural 20…

Before the Storm‘s minute-by-minute gameplay is similar to that of Life is Strange, with one tiny exception… unlike Max, Chloe can’t manipulate time. Before the Storm swaps Max’s rewind power out for Chloe’s own ability to insult people until they give her what she wants. No joke: the backtalk system challenges players to turn NPCs’ insults against them, something that Chloe is exceptionally skilled at (even for a teenage girl). Chloe engages in these verbal bouts only on occasion, but much of the game’s narrative hinges on their outcomes.

The backtalk system is an interesting way to give Chloe her own “power”, but it’s an easy system to use and abuse. All players have to do is select a phrase that has one or more of the same words as the phrase the NPC just uttered. That’s really about it. Even the minigame’s timer only does so much to make backtalk difficult. What’s more, these confrontations don’t get harder as the game progresses. Once Chloe’s talked her way past the bouncer at the Firewalk show, she can give guff to anyone she wants.

Storm8

“No, YOU’RE a butthead!”

Deck Nine might be uneven when it comes to minigames, but the studio is an absolute pro at sharpening up visuals. Before the Storm‘s graphics are substantially better than Life is Strange‘s, with much sharper textures and better use of volumetric lighting. With the exception of Chloe’s walk animation, Before the Storm‘s character movements are also much less robotic than those of Life is StrangeBefore the Storm‘s graphical overhaul brings Arcadia Bay to life in new and wonderful ways.

Before the Storm‘s sound design is also a re”sounding” (ba dum tsss) success. The game packs a soundtrack of light folk music that is both relaxing and somber. The characters’ voice acting is also excellent even though most of Life is Strange‘s main cast didn’t return for Before the Storm. Even Ashly Burch, Chloe’s original voice actress, couldn’t participate due to a voice actors’ strike and was replaced by Rhianna DeVries. Though she occasionally sounds more like Max than Chloe, DeVries closely studied Chloe’s mannerisms and Burch’s voice work to replicate the character’s mannerisms. She did a damn good job of it, too.

Storm9

Them’s some good lighting, I tell ya what.

Finally, players can rest assured that Life is Strange: Before the Storm runs well on PC. The title is free of several of the bugs that plagued Life is Strange (including that conspicuous lip-sync error). The options menu isn’t too in-depth, but it does give players enough recourse to deal with any problems they may come across. While Before the Storm‘s graphics are substantially better than Life is Strange‘s, they’re not so much better that it won’t run on older machines.

As mentioned at the beginning of this review, Life is Strange games are emotional roller coasters. Before the Storm is no exception. Even though the title was made by a different studio and features a roster of different voice actors, the production is faithful to Life is Strange and sheds more light on Chloe, who is arguably the series’ most important character. The game seems a bit more afraid of letting players control the narrative than Life is Strange, but it still has plenty of its own deep choices. It certainly provokes laughter and tears as only a Life is Strange game can. That’s why everyone should play it.

____________________

You can buy Life is Strange: Before the Storm here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Trials of the Blood Dragon

Trials1

Save the day, freedom and the world from retro sci-fi threats.

PC Release: June 13, 2016

By Ian Coppock

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon delighted players with its 80’s vibe and the endless one-liners of point man Rex Power Colt; so much so that it’s regarded as one of the best standalone expansions ever made. Understandably, Far Cry fans have spent years clamoring for a sequel. What many of those fans might not know is that there is a sequel to Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon… it’s just not very well-known. UNTIL NOW! (Dun dun dunnnnn).

____________________

Trials of the Blood Dragon erupted from Ubisoft’s glitched-out nether regions in June of 2016 with little more than a whisper. The title was developed as a collaboration between Ubisoft and another studio called Redlynx. The game is indeed a sequel to Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, but it’s presented in one of the last formats any Blood Dragon fan would ever suspect: a Trials game.

Anyone remember the Trials games? Those side-scrolling stunt bike games with floaty physics and absurdly obstacle-ridden race courses? That’s what Trials of the Blood Dragon is: a sequel that sheds Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon‘s open-world FPS format in favor of side-scrolling motorcycles. Bit of a disconnect, right? Just wait: there’s more. A lot more.

Trials2

Wait what is happening…

In addition to being produced in a format that no one asked for, Trials of the Blood Dragon trades in Rex Power Colt for two new protagonists that no one asked for: his kids. Like their father, teenagers Roxanne and Slayter are cyborg agents who fight to defend a retro-futuristic America. Unlike their father, Roxanne and Slayter are insufferably bland characters who lack both Rex’s wisecracks and his humorously overboard patriotism. Neither character creeps even an inch out of his or her ho-hum niche.

It’s a bit strange that Ubisoft decided to let two unfunny teenagers stand in for a much funnier action hero. Rex Power Colt was a big reason Blood Dragon fans wanted a sequel, so to remove him from star billing in Trials of the Blood Dragon is a slap in the face. The comedic writing that fueled so much of Blood Dragon is but a shadow of its former self in Trials of the Blood Dragon. Few of the jokes land and the protagonists are barely memorable. Indeed, the teens’ commanding officer is the only funny one in the production… and that’s mostly because he’s a lot like Rex!

Trials3

Would the real Rex Power Colt please stand up?

With Rex Power Colt down for the count, only his children can defend America from a wide swath of futuristic threats. These threats exist as only the 80’s could imagine them. Whether it’s fighting drug dealers in Miami or taking one for the team in Vietnam War IV, all of Trials of the Blood Dragon‘s scenarios are straight out of the 80’s sci-fi playbook. Each threat takes about 3-4 missions to contain and is even more ludicrous than the preceding one. Trials of the Blood Dragon, at least, managed to preserve that part of Blood Dragon‘s storytelling.

What Trials didn’t manage to preserve was its predecessor’s attention to an overarching plot. There is a shell of a story tying all of these disparate levels together, but it’s weak at best and the ending payoff is pretty lame. The story’s implication that Rex might be alive after spending years listed as MIA serves only as a framing device for fighting bug-men one second and Vietnamese cyborgs the next. Players who are invested in Blood Dragon‘s retro-80’s lore are all but damned to disappointment with this title’s storytelling.

Trials4

Far out!

Fortunately, Trials of the Blood Dragon‘s gameplay is more fun than its story. Even though no one asked Blood Dragon‘s sequel to come in the form of a stunt racer, the game does a good job of providing challenging, multilayered levels for players to race across. Most challenges in Trials of the Blood Dragon consist of jumping over ravines or traversing trap-laden lairs. Though some of these sections are teeth-gnashingly frustrating, Trials‘ physics are very forgiving and make the game accessible to novices.

Trials of the Blood Dragon also dips its toes in platforming. Every so often, Roxanne and Slayter have to ditch their bikes and take the fight to the enemy on foot. These sections are made up of side-scrolling, cover-based shooting. Despite being fast-paced, the on-foot sections of Trials of the Blood Dragon suffer for shallow controls and being far too easy. Get off the bike, shoot a bad guy, press a button, and bingo! It’s back to the track!

Trials5

Do you like hurting other people?

Trials of the Blood Dragon also scores points for its artwork. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying the game’s fealty to low-fi retro-futurism. The entire game is saturated in neon from start to finish and utilizes VHS visual effects to convey that 80’s vibe. The object and detail placement in this game are excellent, as are the character animations. What’s more, players can run all of this visual goodness on machines new and old thanks to Trials of the Blood Dragon‘s competent optimization. The options menu ain’t half bad.

Even better than Trials‘ fondness for 80’s visuals is its lockstep adherence to 80’s music. With hazy synths, pulsing beats, fast-paced drums and warped vocals, there are few better game soundtracks out there for players who are fond of the 80’s. The only problem is that the soundtrack isn’t available on Steam; the only way to buy it is directly from Ubisoft, and that version is missing some of the game’s best tracks.

Trials6

(plays Indiana Jones theme inside own head)

Even though Trials‘ visuals are fun to look at and its music great to dance to, its mediocre storytelling seeps into even those facets of its design. A few readers might’ve noticed that that screenshot two images ago looks an awful lot like a 3D Hotline Miami. The one posted a paragraph and-a-half from now’ll look just like DOOM. See a pattern here? Trials‘ various threats aren’t just kooky 80’s pipe dreams: they’re actually shallow ripoffs of other popular video games.

Taking out drug dealers in Miami? Hotline Miami. Fighting demons on Mars? DOOM. Retrieving a chalice from an old temple? Indiana JonesTrials of the Blood Dragon isn’t afraid to borrow all but the names of these media. What the game tries to present as loving homages instead come off as blatant ripoffs. This strategy would make more sense if Trials of the Blood Dragon was attempting to parody specific 80’s media, but its copycatting of recent video games makes it clear that it’s just trying to ride its contemporaries. This strategy makes the game feel cynical and derivative.

Trials7

See? Told ya.

The question of why Trials of the Blood Dragon ripped other games’ settings off is rhetorical, but the larger question behind this entire game is… why Trials? Ubisoft’s decision to follow an open-world FPS up with a side-scrolling stunt racer is (to put it politely), conspicuous. If Trials of the Blood Dragon is any indication, it’s better for publishers like Ubisoft to admit that they’re too busy with other projects than to attempt a half-assed sequel set in another genre.

At the end of the day, there’s little more to say about Trials of the Blood Dragon. Some players will enjoy its stunt bike platforming and gorgeous soundtrack, but far more will be unimpressed with its uninteresting characters and a plot that shamelessly borrows from other, better games. There’s no doubt that even if Trials of the Blood Dragon is a decent stunt game, it’s patently unworthy of the 80’s sci-fi badassery from whence it spawned. Approach this game’s Steam store page with caution.

____________________

You can buy Trials of the Blood Dragon here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

PUBG1

Fight to be the last one standing in 100-person gun battles.

PC Release: December 20, 2017

By Ian Coppock

Never has a video game been so worthy of the phrase “needs no introduction.” Reviewing the most popular video game on the planet may seem unnecessary, but there’s nothing more fun than delving into the inner workings of a smash hit. It’s easy to lavish all sorts of “smash hit” and “sales-breaker” synonyms onto PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, but what exactly has made it worthy of those terms? (Besides the obvious promise of chicken dinner, that is).

____________________

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (or PUBG, as it’s almost exclusively known) is a multiplayer shooter developed by Irish photographer-turned-developer Brandon Greene: the original PlayerUnknown. Inspired by the realistic combat mechanics of such titles as DayZ (the mod, not that piece-of-s*** standalone), Greene envisioned setting the conventions of multiplayer shooting on a far, far grander scale than the likes of Call of Duty provided. Greene popularized the notion of a grand-scale battle royale in video gaming, and if PUBG is any indication, the genre and medium meld well.

What exactly is battle royale? To hear PUBG tell it, battle royale comprises putting 100 players on a large island and letting them kill each other until only one person is left to claim the almighty honor of Winner Winner Chicken Dinner. Each player is given only one life with which to advance to the top, and the playable area of that island continually shrinks to force encounters between players. Picture The Hunger Games mixed together with George Carlin’s concept of the Slugfest and the result is PUBG.

PUBG2

Time to move in!

It’s worth mentioning that even though PUBG needs no intro… that’s no excuse for its lack of a tutorial. A game about 100-person deathmatches is merciless by default, but even a quick primer on the controls would be better than the current, abject lack of orientation. If ever there was a game that embodied the phrase “git gud”, it was PUBG. The closest this game comes to teaching players how to play is letting them run around in a small staging area during the 30-second warm-up.

Now it’s time to jump into the heart of the game… literally! PUBG piles all 100 players onto an airplane that cruises above the game world. The plane flies a different path each game, and players have only so much time to settle on a destination and then skydive to the ground below. This stage of the game typically sees a lot of deaths, as players rush to loot-rich areas to grab guns and kill their opponents. Truly, all those Hunger Games comparisons are not without merit.

PUBG3

Be careful what you wish for… punk.

It’s worth mentioning that each of PUBG‘s two maps is huge; in stark contrast to the smaller maps found in shooters like CoD and CS:GO, players are given a 5.0 mi x 5.0 mi wilderness to run around in. Each map sports a versatile mix of open wilds, buildings, and towns, most of which are rife with equipment like shotguns and body armor. Players can also get around the map in one of several vehicles; just make sure to stay topped off on gasoline.

As if 99 other players weren’t enough to worry about, PUBG‘s playable area shrinks every few minutes. Those players caught outside the force field denoting that playable area will gradually vaporize. Though it might sound a bit hair-raising, the force field is a great way to, well, force gunfights between players. It certainly prevents campers from hiding in the boonies and prolonging the match indefinitely. The force field brings each round of PUBG to a terrifying climax, as the last 2-4 players have to kill each other in what’s suddenly become a small area.

PUBG4

QUICK! Out-drive the force field!

The tension of fleeing from cover to cover in search of guns and improvised body armor is what makes PUBG so damn addictive. The game is as much a survival challenge as a competitive one, as players have to rely on both their skill with a gun and their minute-by-minute tactical acumen to stay ahead of their opponents. Sure, being handy with a gun goes a long way in PUBG, but players also have to calculate how to stay ahead of the force field. That takes a lot of math: the kind of math that usually involves taking cover behind as many rocks and trees as possible.

Planning a route ahead of the force field is one source of PUBG‘s tension; the other is the game’s minute-by-minute surviving. The only way to get the best loot is to scavenge buildings, which means risking getting shot in the face by unfriendly occupants. The only way to travel from locale to locale is by sprinting across open ground, which means risking getting shot in the face by a prone foe with a sniper rifle. Few games put players at as constant risk of getting shot in the face as PUBG… that’s what makes it so fun!

PUBG5

Who’s REALLY riding shotgun in this situation?

PUBG may sound intimidating to novices, but the title is actually one of the fairest multiplayer shooters on the market. While it certainly helps to be good at shooters, players in PUBG live or die largely by what loot they find out in the world. PUBG‘s maps are littered with a random assortment of firearms, body armor, mods, and other equipment. This match-by-match randomization helps level the playing field and gives even noobs a fighting chance. This system also punishes campers, as players who decide to sit in a building all day risk losing out on the best loot… and are thus far easier to kill.

PUBG‘s gameplay is elegant and pure of vision. More than almost any other shooter, it’s one of those games that’s easy to pick up but difficult to master. There’s a simple rhythm to picking a landing zone, looting it, and searching out other players among the wilds of the battle royale. Sure, most matches won’t end in Winner Winner Chicken Dinner, but PUBG‘s mix of firearms and tactics is deeply satisfying. The controls (while unexplained), are intuitive, and the UI can be learned in under a minute. These well-designed functions are probably why PUBG tops the Steam charts more days than not.

PUBG6

You guys better not be going to Outback Steakhouse without me!

PUBG makes for a tense survival experience solo, but that tension doesn’t go away with the addition of teammates. Players can tackle the battle royale alone or in teams of 2-4 people, giving them additional support to lean on while also increasing their target profile. Players who enjoy tactical shooters will relish the teamwork opportunities that PUBG provides; just remember to never enter a house through one door and in a single-file line. That right there is a field day for stairwell campers.

PUBG‘s tension also stems in large part from its sound design. The game has almost no music, playing a few tunes in the menu but leaving players with nothing but the sounds of nature in-game. The stark mix of wind and occasional animal noises makes for a suspenseful audio backdrop and demonstrates that minimalist sound design can do wonders for a suspenseful atmosphere. Creeping through abandoned buildings never sounded so satisfyingly creaky.

PUBG7

Using rainstorms to mask footsteps is a must in PUBG.

While on the subject of game design, it’s also worth mentioning that PUBG‘s visuals are bright, if a bit primitive. The game benefits mightily from the use of strong colors, but most of its environmental textures are rough around the edges (if not outright blurry). Hopefully Greene and the folks at the PUBG Corporation continue to sharpen those now that the title is out of Early Access.

PUBG‘s character animations also leave much to be desired. The characters’ movement animations (particularly the running) look a bit… amateurish. Whether it’s walking, crouching, or running, PUBG‘s combatants seem to have a hard time with bending limbs and waistlines. True, these animations have no effect on the characters’ actual (and smooth) movement, but these unpolished animations confer that Early Access stink upon PUBG‘s production.

PUBG8

That woman appears to have her scope glued to her forehead. Most unusual!

A few wonky character animations can hardly blemish PUBG‘s user experience… but the game’s hacking epidemic can. As of writing, PUBG is suffering an unprecedented plague of hackers. Many of them are alleged to be from China, but these dastardly cheaters wreak havoc upon PUBG servers no matter their nationality. A lot of them such inveterate multiplayer shooter cheats as jump and invincibility hacks. Greene has pledged a fix even as thousands of American players clamor for region locking.

Less severe than PUBG‘s hacker problem (though little less annoying), is the game’s penchant for lag. Lag has been a persistent issue for PUBG throughout the game’s development, and it hasn’t gone away with the title’s full release. The problem isn’t so persistent that players can expect it in every match, but it can get gnarly in team-based matches.

PUBG9

CHINANUMBERONECHINANUMBERONECHINANUMBERONE

PUBG promises a bounty of fun and suspense for players who willing to chance occasional lag (and slightly more numerous hackers). Greene has vowed to address both issues as he has throughout this game’s development and has been proactive about responding to problems through the game’s Steam forums. PUBG deserves a try from every gamer for its fair, suspenseful experience. The game succeeds in capturing a hunt-or-be-hunted sensation as few games can, and is immensely rewarding as players continue to improve. Get the game. Try a match. Go for that sweet, sweet chicken dinner.

____________________

You can buy PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Far Cry 4

Cry1

Liberate your parents’ homeland from an eccentric despot.

PC Release: November 18, 2014

By Ian Coppock

This month’s tour of anarchic third-world dystopias continues with Far Cry 4, the most recent mainline installment in the Far Cry series. Though Far Cry 4 does away with its predecessor’s setting and shakes up the franchise’s storytelling conventions, there’s no doubt that this game is still pure, unadulterated Far Cry. How so? Well, grab a hang glider and a machete, because it’s time to dive into Far Cry 4.

____________________

Far Cry 4 was the one decent title that Ubisoft released in 2014. Following the ho-hum debut of Watch Dogs that May and the disastrous launch of Assassin’s Creed Unity that November, players were suspicious that Far Cry 4 would be as buggy and unpolished as those titles. Fortunately, Ubisoft stepped up to the plate in the final weeks of 2014, releasing a game that both ran well on PC and was largely bug-free. That was certainly more than could be said for Watch Dogs or Unity.

Far Cry 4 continues its predecessors’ proud tradition of providing a lawless open world for gamers to go stark raving mad in. Players can explore a world teeming with enemies to kill and treasure to discover, with plenty of shooting and crafting to boot. Most of the world is also open to players from the get-go, though it’s probably a good idea to level up before tackling that impenetrable mountain fortress.

Cry2

DIEDIEDIEDIEDIE

Though the fundamentals of Far Cry‘s open-world design remain intact in Far Cry 4, the game trades out Far Cry 3‘s tropical island setting for the fictional Himalayan country of Kyrat. Players behold this mountain nation through the eyes of Ajay Ghale, a Kyrati-American who journeys to his parents’ homeland to scatter his mother’s ashes. What should’ve been a simple pilgrimage becomes much more complicated when Ajay is captured by Pagan Min, Kyrat’s flamboyant and tyrannical king.

After being shuttled to the world’s most awkward dinner of crab rangoon, Ajay gets rescued by the Golden Path, a rebel movement dedicated to ousting Min from power. Ajay learns that his father was one of the Golden Path’s founders and is offered help scattering those ashes in return for joining the fight. Once again, it’s up to the player to liberate a beautiful albeit lawless land from the clutches of remorseless bad guys.

Cry3

Min (pictured left) is not the world’s most empathetic boss.

The Far Cry series teaches that there’s no better way to take care of remorseless bad guys than by remorselessly riddling their bodies with bullets. Far Cry 4 bursts at the seams with weapons, which range from suppressed pistols to powerful rocket launchers. Players can get their hands on all of this hardware pretty quickly. Just like in Far Cry 3Far Cry 4‘s guns feel satisfying and make for some of big-budget gaming’s best first-person shooting. Many of the weapons that were present in Far Cry 3 make a comeback, but Far Cry 4 adds plenty of brand-new rifles, LMGs, and custom signature weapons.

Of course, players who aren’t in the mood to make lots of noise can also sneak around stabbing people. Far Cry 4 has even better stealth gameplay than Far Cry 3, allowing players to slip from cover to cover in quick rounds of cloak’n’dagger. Distract a bad guy, sneak up behind him, and liberate his jugular from the rest of his neck. Players can also access all sorts of suppressed weapons for stealth killing at a distance. Sneaking might not always be as fast as shooting, but hey; better to take an extra five minutes killing five bad guys than to let one hit the alarm and summon 10 more of ’em.

Cry4

So much for training honey badgers to be sleeper agents…

Players can pick and choose skills that suit their play style thanks to Far Cry 4‘s RPG system. Ajay can level up by completing missions and killing bad guys, giving players points to put toward such perks as faster healing and better sneak attacks. These abilities are streamlined into two skill trees that generally reflect attack and defense power-ups, and some skills can be upgraded multiple times. It’s fun to experiment with different combinations of perks to nail down that ultimate mountain warrior skill set.

Finally… the animals. Far Cry 4 is overrun with even more hostile wildlife than Far Cry 3. A few animals, like tigers, return from the previous game, but Kyrat is also overrun with new critters like honey badgers, snow leopards, elephants, and rhinos. While it’s fun to encounter these animals out in the wild and their hides make for great ammo bags, one facet of Far Cry 4‘s wildlife design feels gratuitous: the birds. No joke, eagles swoop down and attack the player because logic. The constant bird attacks are as annoying as they are nonsensical, as players frequently get talon’d while trying to scope enemies or just enjoy the view. Someone at Ubisoft is clearly a fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Cry5

You cannot be serious.

If all this talk of guns and exploration sounds like Far Cry 3‘s talk of guns and exploration, that’s no coincidence. Far Cry 4 replicates Far Cry 3‘s gameplay nearly wholesale, from finding treasure to shooting baddies to capturing enemy outposts. The setting may have changed, but players can expect Far Cry 4‘s gameplay to be all but identical to that of its predecessor. At this juncture, the point of tonight’s review becomes less about how Far Cry 4 is “pure Far Cry” than about why players shouldn’t just give Far Cry 3 a second playthrough.

To be fair, the claim that Far Cry 4‘s gameplay is a mirror-image of Far Cry 3‘s is untrue in at least two respects. Firstly, the game adds a grappling hook so that players can climb cliffsides and mountains like a pro. Given Kyrat’s excess of vertical space, this only makes sense. Secondly, players can now shoot from behind the wheel of a vehicle, which is a welcome change of pace from Far Cry 3‘s much more pacifistic driving. Far Cry 4 also introduces mini-helicopters, but they’re rickety things that can only fly so high before crashing. That thin Himalayan air is a real b****.

Cry6

Mayday! Mayday!

Far Cry 4‘s zeal to copy its predecessor seeps into the game’s art department. Though its graphics are sharper than Far Cry 3‘s, Far Cry 4 re-uses nearly all of its predecessor’s character and world animations. Everything from Ajay’s herb-gathering animation to bad guys taking a smoke has been recycled from Far Cry 3. That may not seem like a big deal on paper, but any sequel that reuses animations and assets from previous games has a much harder time establishing its own identity. Such is the case with Far Cry 4.

Players can also expect Far Cry 4‘s missions to be congruent to Far Cry 3‘s. Ajay is faced with the same bout of exotic animal hunts, outpost takedowns, and head honcho headhunts that Jason took on in Far Cry 3. All of these missions are fun, but Far Cry 4‘s reluctance to try new mission types is disappointing. If the point of these past few paragraphs hasn’t been hammered home yet, here’s the skinny: Far Cry 4 feels more like a DLC for Far Cry 3 than its own game.

Cry7

MIC DROP

…Or does it? It’s true that Far Cry 4‘s gameplay is unambitious, but the same cannot be said of the game’s story. Plot, at least, is where Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4 diverge, with the latter having a much more compelling story than the tale of Vaas and the Rook Islands. Though Ajay Ghale is an uninteresting character who speaks almost exclusively in quiet murmurs, he’s far more introspective and believable than Far Cry 3 point man Jason Brody. That the protagonist’s parents are from Kyrat also gives the player an actual connection to the setting.

Meanwhile, Far Cry 4‘s supporting characters provoke both mirth and cringe. Ajay gets some help from some complicated characters, including two British marijuana enthusiasts and an African warlord who found Jesus. Far Cry 4 also dabbles in choice-based narrative, forcing players to side with one of the rebellion’s two constantly feuding leaders. It’s not an easy choice: one is a religious nutjob and the other is an aspiring drug lord. This rift helps keep the story’s tension high and makes it difficult for players to see which leader is better to support in the long run.

Cry8

So you’re telling me that I have to pick between legalizing child marriage and getting the locals hooked on heroin? Good Lord.

Far Cry 4 is one of those games in which the villains are more compelling than the protagonists. This is almost certainly a minority opinion, but main antagonist Pagan Min is a funnier, more interesting character than Far Cry 3‘s Vaas. Min’s royal proclamations are darkly hilarious, as he rants about everything from the perils of lighting candles to how he’s a much better Asian despot than Kim Jong Un (“Why doesn’t Dennis Rodman visit me?!?”). Min also possesses an air of deep tragedy that Vaas lacked, which becomes apparent as players discover why the king has taken such a particular interest in Ajay.

Indeed, the whole of Kyrat is rife with much better lore, writing, and storytelling than Far Cry 3 possessed. Ajay can delve into several layers of the land’s history, which add to the fun of exploration just as much as the promise of treasure. Players even have the option to explore Kyrat co-op, so long as P2 is okay being stuck as the eternally unfunny Hurk. Far Cry 4‘s multiplayer mode is much more hit-and-miss, and isn’t really worth delving into now that it’s all but dead. Also… was it mentioned that players can ride elephants into battle?

Cry9

Charge, Stampy!

While it’s a shame that Far Cry 4‘s gameplay is in near-complete lockstep with that of a preceding title, the game is saved from feeling wholly derivative by providing much better storytelling than Far Cry 3. Players who get into Far Cry solely to shoot things might feel like they’re rerunning Far Cry 3, but other players might also be pleasantly surprised by how good the tale of Ajay Ghale and Pagan Min is. It’s worth it for gamers in both camps to at least try the title, especially since Far Cry 5 is still a few months away.

____________________

You can buy Far Cry 4 here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.