Ghost of Tsushima - title

I don't recall the last time I played an open world sandbox game through to the end credits prior to writing a review for it. Usually, I've made my decision about the game long before credits roll. If I like the game, I usually stop before it becomes too tedious, finish up my review, move on to something else, and I rarely ever go back to finish these games. That was the case with Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, Shadow of Mordor, and others. Ghost of Tsushima is a rare instance of me actually liking an open world sandbox game enough that I couldn't stop playing.

One of the sad ironies for me, as an amateur critic, is that I usually play a game longer if I don't like it -- sometimes all the way to end credits. As was the case with Assassin's Creed III and Shadow of War. This is because I want to find out if there's anything late in the game that might redeem it -- even if in some small way.

In this regard, Ghost of Tsushima is a rare exception. I was enjoying the heck out of the game and wanted to see how it ends before I commit to a review. It wasn't even a case of me rushing through the main story just to get it over with (as is the case with many bad open world games). In fact, I completed all the side missions (including the mythic missions), liberated a majority of the occupied towns, and found a majority of all collectibles. I might even play some of the epilogue. So I can say without reservation that I like this game! And it all begins with the presentation.

This is not a promotional still! Nor was it taken with the included "photo mode".
This is just what the game looks like!

You have to see it to believe it

Ghost of Tsushima is not necessarily the most technically impressive game that I've played. Games like Red Dead Redemption II and The Last of Us Part II have had better facial animation, lighting, textures, and/or draw distance. But where Tsushima lacks in technical capabilities, it more than makes up for in aesthetics and artistry. The environments are beautiful, and the weather effects (especially wind effects) are second to none. Whether it's fields of vividly-colored flowers swaying in the wind, or ocean waves crashing on a sandy beach, or the plum trees on a rocky mountain dropping their blossoms into the breeze, or a thunderstorm threatening over the horizon, or a shinto temple towering over a forest of golden trees, there is something pretty to look at no matter where you go.

Screenshots do not do the game justice. You have to see it in HD motion to appreciate it.

I'm not normally one to gush over a game's graphics, but Ghost of Tsushima really stands out for its environmental design. Over the crest of every hill, it seemed a majestic screenshot opportunity awaited me. Picking just one or two to highlight in this review was a real challenge. Even the best screenshots that I could capture do not do the game justice. You really have to see it in high-definition motion (without the compression of an internet stream) to truly appreciate it.

I haven't seen weather effects this good since [maybe] The Witcher III.

This game is perfect as a virtual vacation during the travel-restricted social-distancing of the COVID-19 pandemic. Or at least, it would be, if not for the densely-packed sandbox content making it so that I can't take 10 steps without running into an ambient encounter of some kind. I could be trotting along on my horse through a forest lit with the golden glow of a sunset beaming through the canopy, with the serene ambiance of the wind harmonizing with the background music of Japanese flutes. But I can't enjoy this serenity for more than 5 seconds before a pack of Mongols shows up, the flutes give way to battle drums, and it's back to the swinging of swords and showers of blood.

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The Last of Us 2 - title

Perspective shifts were used effectively in The Last of Us.

I'm a fairly outspoken critic of the first Last of Us. I felt that the gameplay was fairly shallow (though very well-produced), and focused too strongly on the zombie apocalypse plot at the expense of the surrogate father-daughter story that was being told. The best and most memorable moments were the opening scene in which you play as the scared 10-year-old girl as the zombie apocalypse breaks out, and the part where Joel and Ellie pet the giraffe. And maybe the very end where Joel confronts the doctors in the operating room, for those 40% of us who actually completed the game. And the only enemy encounter that was actually good and meaningful was the one-on-one cat-and-mouse boss fight with the cannibal David in the burning restaurant. Those sequences make up the emotional linchpins of the game and are genuinely moving moments of humanity [or inhumanity], and the perspective shifts that reinforce or contextualize those moments are -- dare I say -- artistic! But then 90% of the actual game that you play is rote cover-based shooting separated by stealth-lite and the occasional "puzzle" that never gets much more complicated than propping a ladder up against a wall.

For being a game about a grieving father eventually finding meaning in a surrogate daughter, it never really let the player act out the interactions between the characters. She was invisible to enemies in stealth and mostly took care of herself in combat. She lacked an upgrade tree and didn't really improve her combat or stealth abilities much over the course of the game, so there was also no ludic development of her character, and the player never feels like you are teaching her how to survive, or doing any of the surrogate father stuff that the game is supposed to be about.

So yeah ... overrated... Still good! But like a 7 instead of a 10 out of 10. "Sacrilege!" I know.

The companion isn't the sole focus of the narrative this time around.

This time, however, the relation between the player character and your NPC companion(s) is not the core of the story. This game is not about the character interactions that the player has no control over; this game is about the violence that the player absolutely has total control over! Ellie and Dina's relationship is the B plot behind the revenge plot, and gets further relegated to a C or D plot in the second half of the game. They're already friends/lovers before the game even begins, so there isn't much in the way of building a relationship. In fact, Ellie's story this time around seems to be more about how being a moody, self-absorbed teenager just pushes Ellie away from the people who care about her. It's more a game about being anti-social, which fits much better with both games' core gameplay.

Cycle of Violence

Now, I cannot talk about the artistic merit of the game without talking about the back half of the campaign. Naughty Dog may have embargoed publications from reviewing the second half of the game, but I'm not going to let that stop me from talking about it. Naughty Dog has no place telling critics or reviewers what they can and cannot tell consumers about the game. I'm personally not offended by the second half of the game like some other people are (I think it's the better half of the game, and Naughty Dog is lucky that I'm going to talk about it, because otherwise the game is a D-). I am, however, offended by Naughty Dog thinking they can impose a muzzle order on reviewers, even if it genuinely was in the interest of "not spoiling the game" (as opposed to just trying to hide a controversial element of design that might turn off some consumers). So yeah, I'm going to try to avoid specific spoilers of major plot developments, but this review will contain minor or moderate spoilers about the overall structure of the game.

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Outer Wilds - title

I refuse to give money to Epic,
and waited for Steam release.

Outer Wilds was one of my most anticipated games in 2019. As such, it was immensely disappointing that it became a timed exclusive for the Epic Games Store. I have a lot of issues with how Epic Games runs its business, and with the ethics (or lack thereof) of the company, and so I refuse to give them a single penny of my money. Our daughter plays Fortnite with her friends, and we're not going to disallow her from doing such (and besides, her socialization options were incredibly limited during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, and I think playing Fortnite stopped her from going stir crazy). But I've told her that the first time she asks me for money to buy V-Bucks, it will be the last time she plays the game.

I could have bought Outer Wilds on PS4 a year ago, but it just looked like the kind of game that would be better experienced on PC. I've been burned enough times by Bethesda RPGs that I'm always skeptical of a console's ability to adequately run a game with a world of the scope and comlexity of Outer Wilds. So I bit the bullet and waited the year for the game to release on Steam.

The opening screen recommended the use of a game pad, and I obligingly started using my PS4 controller on my second play session. And I've read that the game ran just fine on consoles. So I guess I could have spared myself the wait and just played on PS4 from the start. Ah well, live and learn.

Outer Wilds plays best with a controller anyway, so there was no need for me to pass up the console release.

Now to go back to finishing Fallout: New Vegas while I await the Steam release of The Outer Worlds...

Knowledge is your upgrade

Readers of my blog know that I'm not a huge fan of most open world games. The sandboxy nature of those games tends to lead to stagnant stories and worlds that feel ironically dead. They also tend to be full to the brim of monotonous copy-pasted content that becomes a drag to play.

Outer Wilds offers an entire solar system as an open world sandbox for you to explore. Granted, the scale of this solar system is considerably shrunk down in order to accommodate a game, such that an entire planet is about as big as a small neighborhood, and the different planets are only a few kilometers apart from one another. It's fine. It works well enough with the game's cartoony aesthetic style.

You have an entire toy solar system to play in.

What's important though, is how rich with detail and intrigue this world solar system is. Nothing looks or feels copy-pasted. Every nook and cranny of the map contains something new that you haven't seen before. On top of that, the map is positively dynamic!

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Cities Skylines: Sunset Harbor - title

I was starting to wonder if maybe Colossal Order was done with Cities: Skylines, or they had moved on to development of a full sequel. After releasing two expansions per year since the game's launch in 2015, we've now gone almost a year between expansions. The last one was the Campus expansion last May. Now here we are with a new Sunset Harbor expansion.

The announcement for this expansion (a mere week before its release) got my hopes up in a similar fashion to the Snowfall expansion. I thought that Sunset Harbor would add a slew of features that I had been longing for in the game for a long time. Sadly, Sunset Harbor disappointed me in much the same way that Snowfall's lack of a seasonal cycle and poor implementation of ski resorts did. Sunset Harbor lacks almost all of the things that I had hoped for, and it continues a trend of Skylines expansions that add new mechanics or content without revising or enhancing existing mechanics or content to utilize the new ideas.

Much like past expansions, Sunset Harbor neglects a lot of seemingly-obvious content.

When I saw the title of the expansion, I thought for sure that this would be the expansion that would finally introduce public beaches! No such luck. There's no public beach area. Sunset Harbor (despite having "harbor" in its title) does not introduce modular passenger and freight harbor areas, or upgrade harbors into a leveled industry like Industries did with agriculture, forestry, ore, and oil. I still can't daisy-chain my harbors to send shipping routes up rivers or canals, despite the fact that the existing passenger ferries and the new fishing industry can. It similarly doesn't convert tourism and leisure into leveled industry or commercial areas.

As always seems to be the case with Skylines expansions, I'm torn between whether I should review the expansion from the perspective of what it actually brings to the table, or from the perspective of failing to meet my own hopes and desires for what the expansion should be.

One of the things that was missing from Industries

Sunset Harbor does, however, check off a couple items from my wishlist. At long last, it has provided a desert biome map! As someone who lives in the American Pacific Southwest, I've long been frustrated by the inability to create a city that looks more like the familiar landscape of my own back yard. Now I finally can. Sadly, it's only one map, but the asset editor that's always been included in the game will allow me to make more if I want to, without having to resort to downloading mods that might destabilize the game.

I've long hoped for a desert biome to be added to the game.

The big feature of this expansion is also a feature that I thought was missing from the Industries expansion. I complained that Industries only added new infrastructure that replaced the existing agriculture, forestry, ore, and oil industries that have always been in the game, and didn't bother to add any new industries. Parklife, by comparison, added a couple new types of parks that hadn't been in the game before, including nature preserves and an amusement park. Personally, I thought that the most obvious option for a new industry to add to Industries would have been a fishing or aquaculture industry. Well, now we have a whole expansion that has added that one idea.

The new fishing industry doesn't follow suit with the Industries expansion industry areas, or the Campus university areas. You don't paint aquaculture areas and then grow them and level them up. There's no complicated production line or logistic element. The different types of fish that you can catch also don't do anything different. There's no fancy factories that consume specific types of fish (like a pizza factory that consumes anchovies), or that combine your fish with other types of fish (like a fish stick factory), or with other industry products to create a more valuable luxury good (like combining fish and seaweed with crops to make sushi).

Aquaculture does not level up or have production lines like other industrial sectors.

Instead, there's a handful of fishing harbors that act as resource-extractors, and then there's exactly two buildings that process or consume them. Your fishing harbors can either sell their fish to a market to be sold directly to consumers, or the raw fish (regardless of type) can be shipped to a factory that processes the fish and distributes them as generic goods to send out to commercial zones. In lieu of either the market or the factory, the fish will be exported to other cities for a small amount of money.

That's it! That's everything that fishing has to offer!

...

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Resident Evil 3 remake - title

I played the demo of Nemesis that came packaged
with Dino Crisis, but never played the full game.

Right off the bat, I have to say that Resident Evil 3: Nemesis was never my favorite Resident Evil game. In fact, I never even played the whole thing. I played the demo that was included with Dino Crisis (back in the day when game publishers released playable demos before a game even came out). The original Nemesis erred more on the side of fast-paced action, which just doesn't appeal to me as much as the slower, more thoughtful design philosophy of the original Resident Evil, along with Silent Hill and Dino Crisis. This is why I love the original RE and its GameCube remake, why Resident Evil 4 rubbed me the wrong way, and why I never really got into the rest of the Resident Evil franchise beyond the first game. I tried playing all of the Resident Evil games up through 5, but the only one that came close to holding a candle to the masterful original was 2.

So even though I was excited to play Capcom's remake of the PS1 classic, I went in with tempered expectations. If they stayed true to the original, then RE3make (or whatever we're calling it) would be far more high-octane and action-heavy than the Resident Evil 2 remake that was released a mere year ago. As such, I expected that I just wouldn't be quite as into RE3make as I was into Resident Evil 7 or RE2make. I could only hope that it hit some happy medium between RE2make and Resident Evil 4. But that's really just personal preference on my part. Your tastes may vary.

So now that you hopefully understand where I'm coming from, what do I actually think of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis in 2020? Did Capcom learn any lessons from the few mistakes that were made with RE2make?

Resident Evil 3 is more reliant on spectacle action set pieces than on slowly building atmospheric tension.

The different nature of "Hardcore" mode

If you remember my review of Resident Evil 2 remake (and my lengthy YouTube critique), then you know that one of my core issues with that game was the fact that Capcom locked the Ink Ribbon save system behind that game's hard difficulty. Resident Evil 7 actually had the same problem, but it didn't bother me in that game because RE7 wasn't a remake of a game that included Ink Ribbon saves as a core component of its design.

I felt the Hardcore mode and breakable knife were huge design flaws in RE2make.

In summary, the hard mode made death come much swifter in RE2make. Resource-management wasn't as important as skillful aiming and shooting. Instead of taking a bite or two here and there and having to decide when to fill your scant inventory with a healing item just in case (in the original Resident Evil games), RE2make's hardcore mode made you have to heal pretty much every time you took damage because you couldn't survive a second hit. This low tolerance for mistakes and strict punishment for death felt considerably less fair for someone in a first-time playthrough.

The fact that your knife could break and you could literally be stuck with a save file in which you have zero damage-dealing potential certainly didn't help the feeling of fairness in my book.

My recommendation was for Capcom to separate the hard difficulty setting and the hardcore save system into two options. You should be able to chose whether you want to use Ink Ribbons, and then you should also be able to chose whether you want to play the game on easy, normal, or hard difficulties.

Typewriters are still here, but Ink Ribbons are completely absent.

Instead, Capcom opted to just remove Ink Ribbons for its Nemesis remake. Entirely. They are not locked behind hardcore mode. They are not locked behind New Game Plus. Typewriters are still here, but Ink Ribbons are not in the game at all.

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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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