The Twilight Zone VR - title

I like the original The Twilight Zone TV show. I wouldn't call myself a huge mega fan or anything, but it's easily my second favorite show from the 60's. Heck, The Twilight Zone might even hold up better than the majority of original Star Trek episodes, and the show is probably more progressive too. For one thing, it isn't loaded with as much of the casual sexism and fetishization of women that keeps popping up in Star Trek.

In any case, the PSVR2 release of a Twilight Zone game kind of came out of nowhere. I saw a preview of it on my Google news feed on my phone the day before the game went on sale on PSN. Heck, the PSN didn't even have it listed as "coming soon". It didn't even show up in the store until it was released, and I immediately jumped on it and bought it.

The game is a small anthology of 3 short, original Twilight Zone stories with some contemporary themes. I was glad to see the game divided up into multiple chapters, and for these chapters to apparently be playable in any order (even though I opted to play them in order anyway). The Twilight Zone really works better as short stories like this, as the premises and twists rarely (if ever) hold up for longer stories. In fact, trying to pad some of its stories into an hour runtime or longer was one of the biggest problems with CBS and Jordan Peele's recent reboot.

You are about to enter The Twilight Zone.

As a tiny nitpick, I will say that I don't understand why Pocket Money chose to use the term "chapters" instead of "episodes"? The use of the word "chapter" implies a small section of a larger story, with that small section not being a story in itself; while the word "episode" would imply self-contained stories that may relate to or follow one another, but which have their own beginning, middle, and end that does not necessarily depend on the other episodes. Yes, all 3 chapters do refer to one another, and seem to take place in the same continuity, and one of them kind of acts as a prequel to another. Regardless of those connections, each chapter is a completely independent, self-contained story that does not at all rely on the events of the other chapters in order to understand what is happening. You can play these chapters in any order, or play any one of them without playing the others, and it wouldn't make any difference to the perception or interpretation of the stories. And in fact, the game is perfectly willing to let the player play them in any order.

Each of this game's chapters takes about 30 minutes to an hour to play, and the whole game should be playable in 2 hours (give or take). Any of the chapters may take longer depending on how many times you might have to repeat some of its more tedious stealth or shooting sections. So these little VR stories hit the sweet spot in terms of length, and they don't over-complicate their gameplay such that it distracts from the story being told. In terms of story-telling, Pocket Money Games puts up a really solid product here. The actual game, however, is a lot less solid.

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Oh, boy. Here we go. The Matrix: Resurrections is basically The Last Jedi of Matrix movies. If you hated The Last Jedi, then you'll probably hate this for much the same reason. Similar to The Last Jedi, The Matrix Resurrections is all about the creative pressure to live up to toxic fandom expectations, and it's predicated on a twist that a lot of fans might consider to be "unfaithful" to the original trilogy.

Personally, I liked The Last Jedi much more than most. I think it's the best film in the sequel trilogy, even if it does make a lot of very hard missteps. And the stuff that I liked most about The Last Jedi happened to be the stuff that most other people were most offended by.

Despite the similarities, I doubt that The Matrix Resurrections will be received with the same level of vitriol as The Last Jedi was. For one, we've seen a lot of these sort of cynical deconstructions of fandoms and sequel expectations since The Last Jedi released, and so I think a lot of the public is desensitized to it now. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, The Matrix Resurrections doesn't commit as fully to its cynical view of the franchise. While that might appease many fans who just want to see another "Matrix" movie, it's probably the biggest reason that I felt disappointed by The Matrix Resurrections.

Personally, I enjoyed the first half of the movie, but was immensely disappointed with the second half.

The Matrix Resurrections - sad Keanu
© Warner Bros., 2020.
The Last Jedi - jaded Luke
© Disney, 2017.
The Matrix Resurrections reminded me a lot of The Last Jedi, but without the guts to commit to its polarizing twist.

This review will be pretty spoiler-y, as I will be talking about the plot twist. So consider yourself warned, and watch the movie before reading further if you don't want to have it spoiled. Though at this point, just telling you that there are spoilers at all is probably already a spoiler, so what's the point of the warning?

...

If you care enough to not be spoiled, have you watched the movie yet? If not, then I'm assuming you don't care. OK. Good. Let's continue.

...

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Last year, when the PS5 released, I didn't bother trying to pre-order one or buy one after release. I just wasn't very interested in the machine that first year, as there weren't that many games for it. Sure, I was curious to see what the Demon's Souls remake wold be like, considering that is one of my favorite games ever. And I would gladly have played the Miles Morales Spider-Man game. But neither of these (nor the two combined) were enough to sell me on a $500 console. I love Demon's Souls, and was sad when the servers were finally shut down, but not enough to shell out $600 to be able to keep playing it.

I'm sorry Sony, but you really needed more than just a remake of a 10-year old game from 2 console generations ago, and a single sequel to a popular game from a few years ago, to sell me on the new machine. Maybe if Silent Hills hadn't been cancelled, and ended up being a PS5-exclusive launch title, or if Death Stranding or Ghost of Tsushima had been PS5-exclusive launch titles, then I would have been more eager to procure a console.

Everything else that I was interested in was a multi-platform release. I bought Cyberpunk 2077 on Steam (then never played it because the launch condition was so atrocious), and ended up playing Control (for free) via PlayStation Plus. So what the heck did I actually need a PS5 for?

The only 2 games on PS5 worth playing are not worth buying a new console.

I also didn't feel like going through the trouble of trying to claim the limited pre-order supply of PS5s. I thought for sure that in 6 months or so, PS5s would be sitting on the shelves of just about every Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart, and Gamestop, just collecting dust. After all, people were losing their jobs and health insurance left and right due to business closures and city lockdowns being imposed due to a global health pandemic. Surely people wouldn't have enough disposable income to justify new $500 consoles, right?

Well, apparently, I completely mis-judged the situation. Losing their jobs and being unable to even look for new jobs (due to the aforementioned business closures and lockdowns) meant that people spent what little disposable money they did have (as well as the eventual government stimulus checks) on home entertainment products like video games. The video game business (along with online shopping, streaming television services, home delivery services, and video conferencing services) was one of the few industries that boomed during the pandemic, and much to my surprise, the PS5 and XBox Series X | S became the fastest-selling video game consoles in history, despite the supply shortages.

I will honestly say that I did not see that coming. Though I do have to wonder if those sales figures would be so inflated if not for scalpers buying up all the stock with automated bots.

Now it's December of 2021 (holiday season), the PS5 has been available for well over a year, and I'm starting to want one, but can't find one. What's changed? Why do I want a console now, when I didn't want one last year?

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Tacoma - title

Here's another short sci-fi game from my Steam backlog. Tacoma is Fullbright's sci-fi follow up to its masterful walking sim Gone Home. This time around, instead of playing as a young girl discovering the secrets of your family, you play as an agent of a corporate conglomerate sent to retrieve the company's A.I. hard drive from a defunct space station in which an emergency threatened to kill the entire crew. Instead of reading notes and journal entries, you instead replay holographic representations of logs that the station's onboard A.I. recorded of conversations between the station's crew members.

You have to eavesdrop on recorded conversations as holograms move around the station.

The whole process is much more active and player-driven than the exposition of Gone Home (and other walking sims) because the holographic recordings of the characters move around the stations and converse in real time. You don't just walk into a room and read a conspicuously-placed note or listen to passive narration. You'll have to follow the characters between rooms, and keep track of multiple conversations at once as the characters come and go, and as they split up from large group meetings and start to have smaller, more private conversations. Each recording will usually have 2 or 3 independent conversation threads for you to follow. As you follow each character around, you'll also be spying on their personal text messages and emails.

This gives a greater sense of participation from the player (compared to many other walking sims) and provides a greater illusion that you are solving a mystery. That being said, there's nothing too challenging about finding and listening to all the possible conversations. They aren't elaborate puzzles that will take time to figure out. You just follow each character around the space and listen to them. It keeps the player interacting with the game space without ever applying a high bar for progress.

Don't expect to be stumped by the puzzles.

Without spoiling too much, there is only one ending, and you aren't going to be punished for not uncovering all the available evidence. The worst aspect of the game's "walkign sim" nature is that you're also never asked to apply any of the knowledge that you acquire from your investigations other than a handful of numeric combination codes for unlocking doors and the like. These codes are basically just progress gates to provide the illusion that the game has "puzzles", but the early exposure to these key codes will further encourage the player to snoop around more thoroughly for potential clues to future puzzles or progress gates. It isn't very intellectually challenging, but it does encourage the player to pay more attention.

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In the last post, I talked about how the COVID-19 pandemic affected me personally -- which [thankfully] was not much. This time, I want to present some of my thoughts and opinions on the response to the pandemic from a policy and societal perspective, as well as what I perceive to be the lessons that we (as a society) should have learned.

Some of the most essential workers in our economy are the ones who are paid the least. Health care workers, delivery persons, postal workers, grocery clerks, warehouse workers, restaurant workers, and so forth were the people who had to keep going to work because our economy and lifestyles would grind to a complete halt without them. The median wages among employed individuals in the United States is around $49k per year. Yet according to Salary.com, the average salary for a professional truck driver is only around $42k. Contract or gig drivers (such as Amazon couriers) make far, far less.

Restaurant and grocery store workers also make far less than delivery drivers, often earning minimum wage (or less than minimum wage if you also make tips). Those who maybe kept their jobs, but were reliant on tips were especially hurt during the lockdowns, due to a lack of business and in-person contact.

Low-paid delivery persons and fast food workers were essential,
and had to keep working while the rest of us stayed home and safe.

And then there's the healthcare workers, who were literally putting their lives on the line every day, helping to take care of sick people and possibly exposing themselves to infection on a daily basis. Registered nurses (usually employed in hospitals) make decent pay, but the majority of support staff in private clinics are not necessarily registered nurses. This includes receptionists, phlebotomist, clerical staff, and other assistants. As of 2018, medical support staff earned an average of less than $40k per year!

Remember, these are the people who, during a pandemic, were considered "essential" workers who had to keep working (while everyone else stayed home) in order to keep a bare minimum economy running, and to allow the rest of us to continue to go about our daily lives. When shit hit the fan, we didn't look to lawyers, or corporate CEOs, or hedge fund managers, or brokers, or realtors, or movie stars, or athletes. Aside from doctors, we didn't need any of the traditionally highest-paid classes of workers. We needed truck drivers, postal workers, warehouse workers, grocery clerks, and food service workers, and of course medical staff. So I hope you remember this next time you hear someone say that these workers deserve higher pay, or that minimum wage should be increased.

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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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