Among the Sleep - title

This is a game that caught my attention back in the beginning of the year. I was on the lookout for new horror games to whet my appetite, and the novelty of this little Indie game had me intrigued.

Among the Sleep - teddy
The teddy bear actually comes off as a bit of a creeper at the beginning of the game..

The novelty of Among the Sleep is that the player character is a two-year-old toddler. I actually think that this is a very clever conceit for a horror game. The world can be a very big, scary place for a small child, full of things that are outside of the child's control and beyond the child's understanding. A young child is completely dependent upon its parents or caregiver, which makes them inherently very vulnerable.

Unfortunately, since the game is being played by adults, we can't play the game with the ignorance and naivety of a two-year-old, so we would see any real-world environment as exactly what it is: not scary.

So in order for this to work, the designers would have to be very clever in how the environments are presented. Easily he most effective part of the game is the early chapters when the child is lost in a closet and then exploring the house after waking up to find his mother and teddy are absent.

The first person perspective puts the camera very low to the ground, which makes the ordinary environments look large and menacing. The character moves slowly and clumsily (running for more than a few second results in the character falling on his face). Thus, simple hallways seem long and treacherous. Even interactions as simple as opening a door require a small amount of puzzle-solving since the character can't reach a door handle without climbing onto something. This section takes good advantage of the central concept of playing as a toddler by using the legitimate hugeness of the real world, and tapping into our own innate desire to protect and shelter children, in order to make the player feel small and vulnerable.

You even pause the game and access menus by covering your eyes with your hands! Hooray for a lack of object-permanence!

It is a promising start to the game.

But instead of expounding upon this and turning an otherwise mundane environment into an intimidating one, the design quickly shifts into a blatantly-imaginary, whimsical dreamscape. This disconnect from reality suddenly shatters the immersion of the child character, and squanders the inherent novelty of the game's central concept...

Among the Sleep - birthday cake
The mother plays an important role in the narrative,
but the player doesn't interact with her long enough to develop any attachment to her.
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Amazing Spider-Man 2 game - title

After 2012's Amazing Spider-Man tie-in game presented some interesting ideas, I was really hoping that Beenox would have an opportunity to take the things they'd learned and apply them to a new, stand-alone Spider-Man game that would not be constrained to the plot and release schedule of a film tie-in. Sadly, that hasn't happened yet, and we have a new movie tie-in game that suffers from almost all of the problems associated with a movie tie-in.

Once again, Beenox was smart enough to know better than to follow along with the movie's asinine plot and opted to write their own side-story. Unfortunately, this one isn't as well written or as well presented as the previous game. It could have been a good story, but plot is clumsily-executed, and the associations to the movie only drag it down further.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 game - oversized Kingpin
The Kingpin is comically (and ridiculously) oversized.

The bulk of the story is based around Wilson Fisk (the Kingpin) using rising crime rates as an excuse to deploy his private anti-crime task force in New York city. His company partners with Oscorp (who supplies the task force with its tech), and sells the task force to the public as a way of stopping crime and ending the vigilante justice that has plagued the city. But secretly, the task force is really out to destroy rival crime bosses and give Kingpin a monopoly on New York's organized crime underworld.

There's another secondary plot about hunting down the serial killer Cletus Kasady, who is killing criminals. This plot is only barely tied to the Kingpin thread, but it takes center stage during a large chunk of the second act of the game, and almost seems to become the main story - almost as if the writers couldn't decide if they wanted the game to be about Kingpin or about Carnage.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 game - web-swinging
Web-swinging uses pseudo-physics that requires more active involvement from the player.
It's more rewarding than the prevoius game, but still not up to the level of earlier Spider-Man games.

Aside form a couple obligatory super villain boss fights with Electro and Green Goblin (Harry Osborn), the game has very little relation with the movie on which it is supposedly based...

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Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss - title

I may have been a bit hard on Dark Souls in my original review (despite spending like six months playing it before I reviewed it). I guess - despite my best efforts - I just couldn't get over my love for Demon's Souls (which I still think was a better game for its time). But Dark Souls ended up eating up a lot of my time, and I have fallen as much in love with it as I had for Demon's Souls. As such, I have updated my original review with a new, retrospective score to go along with this DLC review. I bought and downloaded Artorias of the Abyss DLC on day one (PSN) when it was released last year, but didn't get around to playing it until earlier this year.

Instead of just unlocking a special quest as soon as the DLC is download (ala Skyrim), the DLC of Dark Souls can only be accessed by defeating an existing, but entirely optional boss in an existing, but entirely optional area of the world; then defeating an existing enemy that allows access to a specific NPC; then defeating another monster in one of the end-game areas (after acquiring the Lordvessel) in order to unlock the "key" to the DLC content. Phew. That's a lot of hoops to jump through! So it took me a while just to be able to access the new content - let alone play through it. Sure, you may have paid for this DLC, but FROMSOFTWARE is still gonna make you work for it; and kudos to them for not compromising on their principles!

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Civilization V: Brave New World - banner

In my review of the Brave New World expansion for Civilization V, I expressed some disappointment that some of the legacy civilizations didn't receive significant updates. I also complained about a few mechanical issues such as how the "warmonger" mechanic works and the value of trade routes. Well, Firaxis has released a major update to the game earlier this fall that addresses some of these complaints.

Civilization V: Brave New World - German Hanse bank

Several of the vanilla civilizations received a major overhaul. As I mentioned in my review, Germany and America seem to have been completely one-upped by the Zulu and Shoshone. Well, Germany has been given a major update, and America has received a small tweak in order to better differentiate them from the BNW successors. In addition, Japan has received a small (but significant) buff.

Germany was probably the civ that was in the most dire need of a facelift, since the Zulu leave them completely in the dust. Both civs had a huge military flavor, discounts for unit maintenance, and a unique Pikeman replacement, and the Zulu had Germany beat on all accounts. In order to differentiate the two, The Landsknechts unique unit was replaced with a new unique building, the "Hanse".

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Total War Rome II: title

I had high expectations for Total War: Rome II. Shogun 2 is one of my favorite games of the recent years, and its second expansion Fall of the Samurai made it even better!

Total War is one of the few game franchises that has managed to keep itself outside of the grasp of the casual-gaming market, and has time after time provided some of the deepest, and most engaging strategy games available. But it was only a matter of time before Sega and Creative Assembly began to treat their flagship franchise as a mainstream release rather than a niche title, and they chose to begin with Rome II. The result is a series of questionable changes to the way the game is played, a dumbing-down of the overall interface, a gutting of features, and a host of bugs and balance issues in a game that feels more like a paid-for beta than a full release.

Creative Assembly has been tweaking the game with patches every one or two weeks since release trying to bring the game up to par, so it's in a state of constant flux as major balance tweaks, mechanic changes, and even new feature sets are being introduced. As such, I don't feel it's appropriate to fully review the game quite yet, and I will treat the release version more like a public (paid for) beta. Hopefully, the game will see marked improvement, and it will not end up like disastrous SimCity "reboot". I also wrote an impressions post about that game, but never got around to a full review because the game never became worth playing.

The most immediately noticeable area in which depth and control have been lost is in the interface. I'm not going to complain too much about the campaign interface, since it still has most of the information that you would expect. Provinces are divided up into regions, and each region contains a settlement, but the province interface allows you to manage all the settlements in the province. This is a little bit of streamlining that makes sense. You don't have to manually click on every little settlement in order to give build orders or view public order. The only downside is that this system has minimized the role of resources. You don't build specific structures on improvements (such as mines or pastures). Instead, this is all apparently handled by the cities, which would be fine, except that now enemy armies can't pillage your resources directly. Instead, a more abstract "raid" order has been tacked on to armies that lets them automatically pillage resources in the province.

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Gaming for life...

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to opinions about video games and the video game industry. But occasionally, I talk about other stuff too. Feel free to read about the blog.

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Humble suggestions for improving Dark Souls II onlineHumble suggestions for improving Dark Souls II online09/22/2014 I recently posted my much-belated review of Dark Souls II. In it, I criticized the game for having lackluster online components, but didn't go into much detail other than to say that Soul Memory seems like a non-optimal matchmaking method and that invasions are rare and reserved for elite players. I wanted to take a moment to...

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'Civilization V' strategy: Maria the Not-So-Mad borrows luxuries in the name of Portugal'Civilization V' strategy: Maria the Not-So-Mad borrows luxuries in the name of Portugal03/12/2014 Going into the back-end of the new civilizations presented in Brave New World, here is another strategy posts. This time, I'll be discussing the gold-generating machine that is Portugal. The Portuguese essentially initiated the European "Age of Discovery" through the efforts and patronage of Henry the Navigator. After exploring...