Return of the Obra Dinn - title

Well, with a Madden review in my rear view mirror, and while waiting for the indie football games to hit the market, I decided to try out one of last year's darling indie games. I very much enjoyed Lucas Pope's previous game, Papers, Please, so Return of the Obra Dinn was high up on my wish list of indie games. It was just a matter of finding time to sit down and play it and give it my full attention.

This isn't a game that you can just kind of casually play. Much like with Papers, Please, Return of the Obra Dinn requires your close attention. You have to pay very close attention to details, which can come from one of several different places. It might be a single word or a name in a snippet of dialogue. It might be inferring a person's naval rank based on the uniform they're wearing. It might be making a mental note of what room a person is running into or out of. You then have to use those details to make genuine deductions or judgement calls.

Elementary, my dear time-lord

The basic premise is that you are an insurance claims adjuster (I guess) working for the English East India Company. A missing merchant ship suddenly returns with all hands missing. You must search the ship to piece together the events of its voyage, and try to determine what happened to as many of the crew as possible.

Search a derelict ship for clues to the fates or whereabouts of its crew and passengers.

Your only tools are a notebook and a mysterious stopwatch (or is it a compass?). The notebook contains a crew manifest, a drawing of all the crew and passengers, a map of the ship, and a few notes on where to look for initial clues. It is also used to log all of the pertinent information that you find. The other tool is the mysterious stopwatch that has the ability to manifest a recreation of the scene of a corpse's death. Where such a fantastical tool came from and why you have it is not really explained (at least not at first). When you find a body, you can activate the stopwatch to see how that person died. The stopwatch manifests a 3-D freeze frame of the moment of the person's death and replays the last things the person heard before he (or she) died.

The whole game consists of exploring these scenes to try to figure out who the deceased person is, how they died, and to cross-reference the scenes to figure out who everyone else is and what happened to them. It's actually a lot more challenging that it seems.

Try to figure out the names and fates of as many people as you can, using the clues provided to you.

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Axis Football 19 - title

Well, the football video game price wars have apparently begun. Unfortunately, however, the prices are not shifting in the direction I'd like. Instead of EA being forced by competition to drop the price of Madden to something reasonable, like $30 (as they had to do in 2004 to compete with ESPN NFL 2k5's budget price of $20), both Maximum Football 19 and Axis Football 19 have upped their price from $20 (in 2018) to $30 (in 2019). I've already complained that Maximum has shifted its retail price out of the budget indie tier and into the middle-market (or "double-A" tier), and that Maximum isn't quite up to the level of quality that I might expect from a title at that price.

Axis Football doesn't feel quite as over-priced, as it was a much more feature-complete product to begin with (and remains a more feature-complete product this year, despite Maximum's new dynasty mode). That being said, I don't feel that Axis is improved enough to warrant a 50% jump in price.

Whereas Maximum focused on adding a much-needed dynasty mode in order to prop up its mediocre-at-best on-field gameplay (and moderately succeeds in that regard), Axis already had a working Franchise mode. What Axis needed was to improve its on-field gameplay. ...But they kinda didn't... Like, not at all...

Same as last year?

I was optimistic about Maximum Football and Axis Football because I expected them to make significant improvements to on-field gameplay from year-to-year -- something that EA has consistently failed to do with Madden over the last ten-to-fifteen years. So to see both of these indie games play virtually identical to last year's counterparts is very disappointing and has substantially deflated my initial optimism.

My excitement for the potential improvement of Maximum and Axis has been deflated
by both games releasing with virtually identical on-field gameplay compared to last year.

If you read the gameplay section of last year's review, then you pretty much know how this yea'rs game plays. Axis Football 19 still has much of the same rigid and robotic player animations. The locomotion system is terrible and allows runners to cut and turn on a dime. Defensive players still frequently stand in place. Deep zone coverage is still atrocious. The CPU still never defends 2-point conversion attempts. Receivers still lack varied or convincing catch animations, and defenders similarly lack pass defense animations. Blocking and tackle interactions can still be triggered with players who are not in physical contact with each other. I can still run my defensive end around offensive tackles, unblocked, for free sacks.

Some football rules are also still wrong or not implemented at all. Axis might as well just end games in ties if they can't implement a working overtime ruleset. I can still exploit kicking kickoffs out of bounds without penalty in order to pin opposing offenses deep. There's no fair catch. I can't motion receivers before the snap to see if the defense is in man or zone coverage.

The developers failed to address many of the problems that plagued last year's game --
such as poor deep zone coverage [LEFT] and the ability to easily run around offensive tackles [RIGHT].

Much moreso than last year, I'm noticing that outside runs seem to be far too effective. The reason for this seems to be the crazy success rates of receivers making (and holding) blocks on the edge and in the second level. Safeties are not only bad at deep coverage, but they're also terrible in run support. They stay back too deep (and sometimes just stand around), instead of trying to meet the runner in the lanes or trying to force an outside run back inside. If a receiver or tight end gets into the second level and blocks the safety, then the play is practically a guaranteed touchdown.

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Maximum Football 2019 - title

I was harsh on Maximum Football 2018 last year. Perhaps overly so, considering the game's indie nature and budget price. I wasn't trying to hate on the game, nor am I a Madden fanboy (feel free to check out my reviews of the last few years' of Madden releases if you need proof of my being fed up with lackluster releases from EA).

I was harsh because I wanted to point out as many possible flaws as I could, so that as many of them as possible could be resolved, and Maximum Football would get better the following year. I bought Maximum Football 2018 in order to support the developer, Canuck Play, to that end. I also bought Maximum Football 2019 in order to continue to support Canuck, because I am still hopeful that this game can turn into to something special. I didn't wait a couple weeks and buy a used disc for cheap off of eBay, which is what I usually do with Madden because I don't want to give EA a cent until they actually earn it.

College and Canadian football legend Doug Flutie offered his name and likeness.

Not in the bargain bin anymore

Canuck isn't there yet. But I honestly didn't expect them to be (which is why I made a YouTube video about being excited for 2020, rather than 2019). I'm still approaching Maximum Football 2019 as an "early access" work-in-progress.

At last year's budget price point of about $15, it wasn't too hard for me to overlook Maximum Football's many flaws and limitations and still recommend it to people who want to see competition in the football video gaming marketplace. It wasn't much different than paying for "early access", after all. However, with the price of this year's game nearly doubled to $30, it's a lot harder to make a similar recommendation. The inclusion of a Dynasty mode does partially resolve my single, largest complaint with last year's game, as it means that there is an actual game here to play now, with an actual sense of progression and accomplishment. But Maximum made so few strides in its core gameplay, that I'm just not sure it's worth the hike in price.

$30 pulls Maximum Football out of the category of "budget indie title", and puts it firmly into the price point of "Double-A" or "mid-market game", alongside games like Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, Lords of the Fallen, and Cities: Skylines. But Maximum is not "Double-A" quality!

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Her Story - title

Having a little bit of free time between playing Madden 20 and starting out this year's indie football games, I checked out a couple indie games that I've had sitting around in my Steam library for months. Both are player-driven mystery games about trying to deduce the events of the past. The simpler of the two is called Her Story, which is a game that released all the way back in 2015. So I'm quite a few years late to this party.

Her Story attracted my attention because it was developed by Sam Barlow. Barlow had previously worked as a writer for Silent Hill: Origins and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. Personally, I felt he and the other writers at Climax had butchered Origins. His work on Shattered Memories, however, which was not bound by the constraints of established Silent Hill canon, went in a more interesting direction. Maybe not as interesting as if they had gone with the initial Cold Heart pitch, but whatever. I was curious to see what Barlow would do when completely free of the Silent Hill namesake.

I was curious how Sam Barlow would handle himself when free of the Silent Hill namesake.

Down the deductive rabbit hole

Her Story stands out because it is a completely player-driven experience. You have almost free access to a database of interview answers from a woman who is a suspect in the disappearance (and murder) of her husband. The game consists of searching through a series of live-action videos of interview questions, in which every word of her answers have been indexed for search. The catch is that you can't simply watch all the clips in order, and the game will only give you (at most) the first five clips at a time (in chronological order). You also don't know what questions are being asked, so you don't necessarily have the context for her responses.

Each response is laden with bread crumbs of keywords that you can pick out and search in subsequent queries in order to find related videos and discover additional details about the suspect's life, the victim's life, and the events leading up to the disappearance of her husband. This is where Her Story really shines. The game starts with the word "murder" in the search bar, and each clip that you watch will reveal new names and places. This should lead you towards going down the rabbit hole of searching for each new name or place until you eventually come to the weirder and more interesting testimony.The scripts is expertly designed to distribute bread crumbs in such a way to dole out the story over the first hour or two in order to build up the mystery.

Pick out key words from her testimony to find related statements.

There's also no hand-holding or guidance of any kind. It's just you and the search engine. It's entirely up to the player to input the words you want to search for. You can follow-up on a particular clip by searching for a keyword in her response, or you can search for some completely different, random word(s) instead. The game doesn't highlight the next words for you to search. It doesn't stop to tell you that you've "solved" some mystery or completed some objective. There's a widget that shows you how much of the database you've viewed, but other than that, there is no in-game progress-tracker. In fact, there's not even a real end goal.

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Blair Witch - title

Blair Witch, as an intellectual property, is in a frustrating place similar to the Alien franchise. Both were innovative horror films that set numerous standards and conventions within their sub-genres, and which have been copied and ripped-off numerous times. Sci-fi games from Starcraft, to Metroid, to System Shock, to Dead Space have all taken heavy inspiration from Alien and Aliens. So much of the iconography of Alien and Aliens have been borrowed by these games, that when someone comes along with a game based on the Alien intellectual property, it's hard for that game to not feel like it's derivative of one (or all) of the myriad Alien impersonators.

the Blair Witch Project has similarly left a mark on the horror landscape. It single-handedly popularized the "found-footage" genre against the backdrop of a creepy, supernatural forest. Games such as Outlast, Alan Wake, and even Resident Evil VII all have a little bit of Blair Witch in their DNA. So when a game comes out that actually bears the "Blair Witch" name, it's kind of hard for it to stand out in the larger horror landscape.

Plenty of games (such as Outlast [LEFT]) have used tropes inspired by The Blair Witch Project.

This is the case with Lionsgate and Bloober Team's new Blair Witch game, exclusive to Microsoft platforms. Nothing that Blair Witch does feels particularly new or creative, even though most of the game's ideas are competently executed. Using a camcorder as a tool for navigation, exposition-delivery, and puzzle-solving feels pulled straight from Outlast or Resident Evil VII. Wandering through the woods and defeating monsters by pointing a flashlight at them gives me flashbacks to Alan Wake. Navigating the forest and occasionally picking up other people's trash also reminded me of Firewatch. Eventually, the whole game descends (rather predictably) into P.T. territory -- but, you know, without all the nuance or careful pacing that made P.T. so unnerving.

Who's a good doggy?

Blair Witch's most innovative feature is probably the dog companion (named Bullet), but even that feels pulled straight from Fallout 4. I probably would have been a bit more impressed if not for the fact that Bullet seemed to lose relevance as anything other than a monster compass, for a large chunk of the middle of the game. Without having healing items or ammunition or any other consumable supplies, the ability to send the dog out to find things feels like a sorely under-utilized mechanic.

Bullet is very well-introduced, and is integral to the early levels of the game. He finds clues for you, fetches key items, guides you to the next objective, and warns you of potential danger, all completely organically and without breaking immersion. But after a couple of hours, he just runs out of things to find and things to do. The puzzle shift away from using the dog, and more towards using the camera to do everything from manipulate the environment, to navigate mazes and looping paths, and even spotting monsters.

Your emotional support dog, Bullet, serves an integral role throughout the game.

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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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