Layers of Fear 2 - title

I played the first Layers Of Fear a couple years ago (just prior to the release of Blair Witch). I didn't bother reviewing it at the time because

  1. The game had been out for years, so I didn't think there was much desire for a late review, and
  2. I honestly didn't know what to make of it at the time.

I wasn't sure if it was an auteur masterpiece, or a boring walking simulator. As time has gone on, and I've played other "walking simulators" that I've enjoyed much more, I've leaned further and further towards the later. In either case, I didn't find the game particularly scary. I was skeptical to bother with the sequel, but I liked Blair Witch just enough to pick up Layers Of Fear 2 on a Steam sale. I think I might have actually liked the first game better. I found it much easier to follow along with what was happening in the first game, and its simpler, more streamlined gameplay (and shorter length) made it less tedious.

Most of the game is walking through a door into a room, looking at what's in the room,
then walking out the same door into a different room or hallway than the one you came in from.

Pretty much the whole of Layers Of Fear 2 is still just walking into a room, looking at what's in the room (often some weak jump scare), then turning around and walking out the same door into a different place than where you came from. It's the exact same stuff as the first Layers of Fear and the last couple hours of Blair Witch, but without feeling like a novel technical accomplishment. Blair Witch at least had the forest setting to play up the idea of being lost in the dark, and also had some more varied and unique puzzles and set pieces. Though to Layers Of Fear 2's credit, it doesn't repeat the same gags over and over again the way that the first game does, and more of the rooms have atmospheric set decorations to help establish a mood, instead of every one having some silly jump scare. So the sequel is a bit more restrained in that respect.

I have no idea where I am on this ship,
or where I've been.

Both the first Layers Of Fear and Blair Witch also do a slightly better job of establishing a sense of place before the reality-warping effects start happening. Having a little bit of time to explore a relatively normal house or forest makes the surreal environments more jarring. Layers Of Fear 2 pretty much just jumps right into it, never giving the player an opportunity to get a feel for how the ship is structured, where you are on the ship, or where you are trying to go. Right from the start, you're meandering through abstract corridors.

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Monday, February 8, 2021 01:00 PM

Maybe Tom Brady is that good after all?

in Sports by MegaBearsFan

I've been a vocal "hater" of Tom Brady (and the New England Patriots) for many years. In fact, ten years ago, I wrote a post about how seeing the Colts playing without Payton Manning (who had been sidelined with an injury) proved that Manning is a better quarterback (and more valuable asset to the team) than Tom Brady. In the meantime, I've continued to maintain that the Patriots are just a very well-run and well-coached football team that would still be very successful even without Tom Brady. But Brady has now gone on to win four more SuperBowls since then, and yesterday, he did one of the things that we haters said would be one of the few things that would change our mind: he won a SuperBowl for a team other than the New England Patriots.

With his seventh SuperBowl victory yesterday, it's becoming increasingly hard to argue that he isn't the "G.O.A.T." (Greatest of All-Time). He is certainly the most accomplished player in NFL history. Despite this SuperBowl win, and despite Brady's success and accolades, his career is still loaded with "yeah buts".

Tom Brady has now silenced many of his doubters by winning a SuperBowl with a team other than the Patriots.

The best team in the worst division of football

First and foremost, he spent his entire career playing in the worst division in football. The Jets, Dolphins, and Bills have consistently been among the worst teams in the league through the Patriots' 20-year dynasty. The Jets had a couple years under head coach Rex Ryan in which they were considered SuperBowl contenders, but their failures exposed them as more pretenders than serious contenders. It is only now in 2020 that the Bills are suddenly good, and the Dolphins almost put together a playoff-worthy record. And it just so happens that AFC East teams becoming good is the very year that Brady jumps ship from the Patriots.

Is Brady finally out of Belichick's shadow?

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have had a sort of "John Lennon, Paul McCartney" thing going on, in which people argued about whether they are as good on their own as they are together. Well now we finally got to see Belichick fail miserably at coaching a Brady-less team, and got to see Brady win a championship for a team not coached by Belichick. It's easy to see this as vindication for Brady (and many do see it as exactly that), but I'm still not entirely sold.

First and foremost, I point to 2008, when Brady was sidelined with injury, and Matt Cassel had to start the rest of the year. Cassel played exceptionally well, the Patriots went 11-5, and only missed the playoffs because they lost tie-breakers to the Dolphins (for the division title) and Ravens (for a wildcard spot). Cassel became the hottest free agent in the NFL that following offseason, and largely flopped at every team he played at since. The Patriots without Tom Brady were still playoff contenders.

Matt Cassel looked like an all-star and almost
lead Patriots to the playoffs in 2008.

We also saw the Patriots perform well during Brady's four-game "Deflategate" suspension in the 2016 season. The Patriots won 3 of those 4 games (convincingly) en route to a comeback SuperBowl championship against the Falcons. We've seen the Patriots be god without Tom Brady, multiple times.

We didn't see a Brady-less Patriots team again until 2020, which, of course, was the year of COVID. It's hard to really judge anything that happened this season because the whole thing was so topsy-turvy. The pandemic was disruptive to many teams' training camps, as it limited team activities. Almost every team had players opt-out of playing in the season altogether. Because of these disruptions to activities and rosters, it is very likely that otherwise good teams may have underperformed. One of the hardest-hit teams might have been the New England Patriots, which had to make due with six players opting-out, including two defensive starters and a starter on the offensive line. Furthermore, positive COVID tests for players (including elite defensive back Stephon Gilmore) caused further disruption to the Patriots' game and practice schedules. Despite all those problems, the Patriots were still only a couple games out of wildcard contention!

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Final Fantasy VII Remake - title

Well I think I waited long enough before playing and reviewing this game that I'm probably not spoiling anything by saying that Final Fantasy VII Remake takes some interesting creative liberties with the original's story. Those hoping for a one-for-one re-telling of the 1997 PlayStation classic might be disappointed that Remake only covers the early half of the original's first disc. It doesn't even make it as far as the emotional sucker-punch (and ludic shake-up) that was the conclusion of the original's first disc. But then again, that opening act is very faithfully recreated and expanded here, and the narrative curveball that this remake throws is bold, creative, and an interesting artistic statement about the reverence for the original masterpiece.

The decision by Square-Enix to put the word "remake" in the title is a deliberate, and important choice. This game isn't simply Final Fantasy VII (2020) in the way that the remakes of Shadow of the Colossus, Demon's Souls, Resident Evil, or even Resident Evil 2 are. Resident Evil 2 takes dramatic creative liberties with gameplay feel by ditching the static camera in favor of an over-the-shoulder shooter, but despite the wild deviations from the original's fundamental game design, the remake is still an effort to recreate the original game's story, environments, and game strategy in all the ways that matter.

No, Final Fantasy VII Remake puts the word "remake" in its title because at the same time that Square-Enix is remaking the original Final Fantasy VII, the game itself is remaking the story and continuity. Final Fantasy VII Remake does not seek to be an upgrade that replaces the original game. The story of the original game exists within this new game's canon, and is being remade within Remake's own fiction. In so doing, it plays with the ideas of fate and destiny. The sky is the limit for where the sequel(s) go from here.

Square imitated Paramount's attempt to keep the original Star Trek's existence as part of the reboot's continuity.

Square-Enix is trying to do with Final Fantasy VII Remake what J.J. Abrams and Paramount tried to do with the 2009 Star Trek reboot: write the original's existence into the continuity of the reboot. Yet Final Fantasy accomplishes this so much more successfully because, unlike Star Trek (2009), Final Fantasy VII Remake tells its revised story while still remaining faithful to the ideals, themes, and spirit of the original. Star Trek (2009) and its sequels (with the possible exception of Beyond) only took the campy space-adventure aspect of the original Star Trek, but did not replicate the thoughtful science fiction and character drama that the original was known and beloved for.

Final Fantasy VII Remake on the other hand, replicates the ludic complexity, strategy, and versatility of the original's character-development and materia systems, and retains all of the original narrative's themes of classism, environmentalism, and the fuzzy line between "protest" and "terrorism" (a question that has become increasingly relevant in recent history). Its expanded length even allows it to explore some of these topics in much greater detail. It also allows the game to further explore some of the relatively minor side characters from the original, giving them more depth and significance in the story (some more successfully than others). It does all this while re-creating the original characters almost exactly as they were. Eat your heart out, J.J. Abrams...

Remake probes the limits of the fuzzy line between "protest" and "terrorism".

It's an idea so crazy that it just might work; an idea both ridiculously dumb, but also ingeniously subversive. I just hope that it doesn't fall into the same trap of ridiculous self-indulgence and pretentiousness that killed my interest in Kingdom Hearts by the time the end credits of Kingdom Hearts 2 were rolling. I had lost all interest in Kingdom Hearts 3 about a decade before it released, and never bothered to play it. I hope the same does not happen with the final installment(s) of Final Fantasy VII Remake.

I hesitated to buy this remake when it released because Square had announced that it would be broken up into episodes. I wasn't sure if I would have time to play through three or five acts of a remake of Final Fantasy VII if each act was going to be 40+ hours long (and $60 each). With a new console generation coming out, I also wasn't sure if I would be needing to transfer my save file for the sequels, and if a PS4 save file from episode 1 would be compatible with the PS5 to which episode 2 is certainly going to be exclusive.

If the content offered in this first episode is indicative of the plan for the whole series, then the complete remake looks like it would need to span eight or nine episodes, and take another 20 years to be released. But that might not necessarily be the case, since the end of the first episode implies that the sequels are going to diverge considerably from the original game, such that every scene and plot beat from the original may not need to be recreated. So maybe my concerns will be vindicated, or maybe they won't.

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Last year (around this same time, in fact), we football video game fans were given the bombshell news that EA's exclusive contract with the NFL wasn't quite as exclusive as we thought. That contract apparently only covered "simulation" football games (which makes me wonder how or why EA has the license to begin with, since they sure as heck haven't been making a simulation football game since at least 2011). Other companies were apparently free to purchase an NFL license for "non-simulation" football games, and last year 2K announced that they would, in fact, begin production on one (or more) NFL-licensed arcade games. It wasn't the triumphant return of ESPN NFL 2k that we had been waiting 17 years for, but we'll take it!

EA is [finally] returning to college football games!

Well yesterday, we got another bombshell announcement. EA will be producing a college football video game. Currently, EA does not have the NCAA license or the rights to player likenesses, so the game is to be titled "EA Sports College Football", instead of continuing with the NCAA Football moniker of past. However, EA does have the rights to "over one hundred" schools. There's 130 teams in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, so a team count of over 100 implies that most, if not all, D-I FBS schools will be present, with their respective logos, uniforms, stadiums, and so forth. My understanding is that EA also does not have the rights to the conference names, so in addition to making up randomized rosters, they will also have to make fake conferences for the schools. I haven't seen anything yet that clarifies whether EA will have rights to bowl games or the College Football Playoffs and Championship. But this game is still 2 or 3 years out from releasing, so a lot can change in the meantime!

EA could bypass the NCAA and secure the rights to player likenesses, but they've opted not to do so. It's a shame, but I do understand that without a single players' union (like the NFL Player's Association for the pros), securing the rights to hundreds or thousands of player names and likenesses individually would be a huge logistical and legal nightmare. I would also have to assume that if EA is not pursuing player likeness rights, then they probably won't include the easy roster customization and sharing features of NCAA 13 and 14, as that would likely land them in the same exact legal troubles that caused the series to get canceled in the first place. I would prefer if EA could use player likenesses and pay the athletes royalties from game sales, especially since that would stick it to the NCAA, which for so long denied college athletes the ability to get paid while simultaneously cashing in on those same athlete's names and performances. Since it didn't license its brand, the NCAA will not be getting any money from this game (as of the time of this writing).

Team and player customization is what caused the cancelation of NCAA Football to begin with,
so I doubt that such features would return in EA Sports College Football.

EA Sports College Football will not be releasing in 2021. A 2022 release is possible, but unlikely. So we'll probably have to wait until the fall of 2023 to see what EA will be offering up for this game, and if it will live up to the standard set by NCAA Football 13 and NCAA Football 14. The fact that the game will not have the NCAA license, conferences, or team names will likely put the new game at an immediate disadvantage, since it won't have those real-world images and names to lean on.

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GameStop

Last week saw a rare convergence of video games and the stock market in popular news coverage. Well, not video games directly, but rather, one of the most popular video game stores: GameStop. Unless you've been living under a rock for the past week or two, you've probably been hearing about how a group of Reddit posters got hundreds of thousands (or millions) of fellow Reddit readers to buy and hold stock in GameStop over the past few months, raising its stock price from $5 per share to a max of almost $500 per share. This was much to the dismay of many Wall Street investors and hedge funds, who had been betting that Gamestop would lose money. Those hedge funds have been losing those bets due to the actions of these Redditors, and some very rich people are suddenly losing a little bit of money.

I'm not going to talk too much about this because Jim Sterling already released a fantastic Jimquisition episode about this very topic yesterday. It's seriously one of their best work ever, despite not being directly about video games, because it strikes right at the fundamental core of why the video game industry is so corrupt and exploitative: because that's just how American corporate capitalism is: corrupt and exploitative. So check out that Jimquisition if you want to hear more ranting about how the stock market is really just a casino for rich people who like to bet on everyone else's lives, how it's unfairly rigged against small investors, and how it creates perverse incentives for businesses and investors to hurt the workforce. I am in absolute agreement with almost everything that Sterling says in this video.

Monday's Jimquisition about the GameStop stock story is one of Jim's best works.

Nevertheless, I do want to talk a little about this topic because the excesses and exploitative nature of American corporate culture is a particularly frustrating issue that I am very passionate about criticizing. Full disclosure: I (along with some of my colleagues and friends) did buy stock in GameStop (along with AMC, Blackberry, and Nokia) as a form of protest against the corrupt and rigged Wall Street system, and in the hopes of making a quick buck. Unfortunately, I bought mine at one of the peak prices and, as of the time of this writing, I've personally lost several hundred dollars on the purchase, since GameStop's price has been dropping. But I haven't sold yet. I'm in it for the long run.

The hedge fund managers who were suddenly at risk of losing millions of dollars (or more) because they bet on GameStop to fail were suddenly calling for government or regulatory intervention. They wanted stock purchases to be frozen, or for regulatory agencies to bail them out because they lost their gamble. The stock trading app, Robinhood, even conceded to these demands last Thursday or Friday, halting the purchase of any new shares of GameStop and even closing out the accounts of some users who had purchased the stock. They did this in the name of "protecting users from a volatile market", but really, it was almost certainly to protect the hedge funds who were losing money.

I'd like to remind my readers that these hedge fund managers who were crying foul are the same people who complain about government regulation, taxes, minimum wage laws, and so forth on the grounds that the market should be "free". They, after all, make shit-loads of money trading volatile stocks and using various investment strategies to manipulate the prices of certain stocks for their own personal and professional gain. But the moment that the average consumer starts to use these same systems and rules, these promoters of "free, un-regulated markets" start crying foul. It's not "market manipulation" when they gamble with other people's money; but they want to say it's illegal "market manipulation" when we, the average plebs start gambling and winning their money. Elites want "free markets" when they are exploiting those markets for personal financial gain, but when the average pleb starts exploiting it, suddenly, these same corporatists want regulation and welfare from the state to protect them from their own bad bets. Please remember that next time you hear someone criticize progressives for "just giving handouts to the poor". At least the poor need the money or benefits. These hedge fund managers can get by just fine without their precious GameStop short sells. But they don't care. They're greedy sons-of-bitches and want to squeeze the general public for every last penny they can get out of us, even if it means thousands of people will be laid off of their jobs and fall into poverty.

Worse yet, these same elites love to criticize poor and middle-class Americans for not investing our money. But when a bunch of us decide to try, they cry that we're manipulating their markets. Because that's what they think it is: "their market". They only tell us to invest (and then blame us for not following their advice) because they know that the majority of Americans don't have enough disposable income to be able to afford to invest any meaningful amount. Maybe we can put away a few hundred or thousand bucks into the stock market, but even the collective tens of millions of us are not putting the quantities of money into the market that these elites are.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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