When I booted up my PS5 for the first time and signed into the PSN, I immediately downloaded a few of the must-have games. You know, the Demon's Souls remake, Miles Morales, and Returnal. I also downloaded some other ... shall we say "less high profile" games that piqued my interest, including the [ultimately very impressive] World War II shooter Hell Let Loose and a little indie game that claimed to be a sequel to H.G. Wells' classic sci-fi novel The War of the World, called Darker Skies.

Darker Skies takes place during the aftermath of H.G. Wells' classic novel The War of the Worlds,
but the visual and sound design is clearly pulled from the 2004 Steven Spielberg movie starring Tom Cruise.

Budget "Last of Us"

I didn't have high hopes for this budget indie title, but I was curious what a game developer would even do with a property like War of the Worlds. As soon as I saw the first enemy, a zombie shambling around just like a Clicker from The Last of Us, my heart sank. With all the potential of the source material, Steel Arts had to go with a zombie game?! The War of the Worlds is a classic sci-fi novel about a Martian invasion of Earth. My expectation for a video game adaptation of The War of the Worlds would either be some kind of survival horror game about surviving against Martians who survived exposure to Earth's microbes, or an action shooter about humans counter-attacking the Martians on Mars, or something akin to XCOM. It absolutely would not be a total knock off of The Last of Us, right down to having infected zombie humans.

And when I say this is a knock off of The Last of Us, I'm not just talking about the presence of Clicker-like zombies. The protagonist has an X-Ray "focus" vision, he scavenges random supplies in order to craft consumables supplies, and most encounters with enemies are intended to be dealt with by various throwable tools. There's even areas of the map that are overgrown with red Martian tendrils, similar to the spore-infested areas of The Last of Us, except this time around, the character doesn't need a gas mask to get through.

The character can use X-ray vision to detect enemies through walls, but only if they are moving.

The only thing missing is the tag-along NPC child character -- which is a big problem because the interactions between the two characters is a huge part of what makes The Last of Us a great game. That's where the heart and soul of that game was. If you played The Last of Us, and you thought the best thing to emulate is the crafting system, then I feel like maybe you missed the point...

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Stranded Deep - title

I've been diving into my Steam wishlist and backlog while waiting for this fall's suite of football video games. Stranded Deep is a game that I had on my Steam wishlist for years -- when it first became available through "early access" -- along with games like The Long Dark and The Forest. I don't typically invest in early access games because I don't want the incompleteness of the game to combine with my overly-critical eye and completely sour me to an experience that would likely be positive when the game is finished. This is also the reason that I rarely go back to games that received major overhauls post-release, like No Man's Sky or SimCity (2013) -- I'm already soured on the game, and it's unlikely to win me back.

I never got around to buying Stranded Deep on Steam, even after it left early access which is apparently still in early access on Steam, because the "survival sim" fad had petered out and my own interest in that particular game fizzled out as well.

Survival sims were a huge fad on Steam, but the fad started to fizzle out
long before indie titles like Stranded Deep or The Forest ever saw full releases.

But Stranded Deep showed up as another free game for PSPlus subscribers (along with Control), and I went ahead and downloaded it. Gotta get that $60 per year of value from the subscription somehow. Honestly, I use my PSPlus subscription mostly for the cloud storage. I consider it "game progress insurance" in case my console fails on me. So I rarely play the free games. But I mostly liked Control, so went ahead and gave Stranded Deep a shot too.

Stranded Deep is definitely not as good as Control.

Survival of the wiki-est

I kinda knew I was in for a disappointing experience when I had to pause the game during the tutorial in order to look up how to proceed. My girlfriend also said as much and wondered out loud why I would even continue playing a game that couldn't even do an adequate job of communicating its fundamental mechanics. She said I have much more patience than her, because she would have given up right then and there.

I had troubles right from the start with simple things like operating the inventory and performing some of the early tutorial crafting. The thing that dead-ended my progress and forced me to look online was trying to figure out where to get the leaves to make rope to craft the knife. I thought I would use leaves from trees, but I wasn't sure which trees, nor was I sure how to pull leaves from trees. The game lets me pluck coconuts off of trees, so I thought it would allow the same for plucking leaves off of trees. Nope. So I tried using my stone tool to cut leaves off of palm trees, only to get palm fronds, which cannot be made into rope. Then I started doing laps around the island looking for seaweed or hemp or something. So 2 minutes into the game, and there I was stuck on the tutorial.

I had to go online to find where to get fibrous leaves.

It turns out, the necessary fibrous leaves are harvested from the exactly 2 yucca plants on my starting island, both of which are kind of hidden next to large boulders. Or I could cut the baby palms growing all over the island for small amounts of fibrous leaves. But I didn't think to try this because I didn't have any reason to think that the baby palm fronds would be any different from the adult palm fronds.

This specific tutorial problem could have been fixed by modifying the tutorial objectives to specifically tell the player to harvest fibrous leaves from a yucca or baby palm. More generally though, it would have been helpful if the game could provide a tooltip when the player hovers over certain resources that explains what that resource might be used for. Or have the character speak to himself out loud that "I could probably use the leaves of that yucca to make rope.". The character comments out loud how "disgusting" it is to skin an animal every time I do it (even though the character has been living off of skinned animals for weeks and should be used to it), so the developers were definitely able to implement contextual dialogue. And even if that kind of dialogue is too difficult to implement, an "examine" button (like in old-school survival horror games) could have worked to tell the player in plain text what can be done with any given resource on the island.

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Let us cleanse these foul streets. Fear the blood.

I'm not a big cosplayer (yet), but I'm also no stranger to cosplay. Many years ago, a friend of mine helped me put together a Pyramid Head cosplay for an anime convention. I was pretty pleased with the result. I tried to be as accurate to the Silent Hill 2 video game as possible, but at the time, it was difficult to find decent reference images at the fidelity necessary to get a good idea of what materials to use and so forth. Nowadays, however, Konami has granted licenses to toy companies that have gone on to make numerous statues and figures. So any would-be Pyramid Head cosplayer now has plenty of reference material. Lucky them...

Years ago, I made a Pyramid Head costume [LEFT] without all the figures and references [RIGHT] that I have now.

For the most part, however, I didn't do much cosplay (and wasn't much into costumes in general). Over the past few years, however, I've been getting more into costumes. Part of this is because I started buying swords from ren faire, and wanted excuses to wield them. Another reason is that my girlfriend has a friend who hosts a pirate-themed Memorial Day party every year at his lake house in California, and we make the drive out there to attend -- costume required!

We attend an annual Memorial Day pirate party -- costumes required!

Another factor is that we have a six year old girl running around the house who just completed kindergarten, and she's getting into arts and crafts. Which means that my girlfriend and I have to get into arts and crafts as well, and we need projects for her (and us) to do.

Currently, we lack the time, energy, and skill to make full cosplay from scratch, so we're still stuck making small modifications to costumes that we buy. Though I'm looking forward to getting my hands on some warbla and seeing what I can do with it! We've also moved on to crafting accessories for the costumes.

This year, we bought tickets to a local comic book convention, and my proxy daughter wanted to attend in costume. So my girlfriend created a homemade Harley Quinn costume for her. As for us adults, we decided to go with Bloodborne costumes.

Hunter and Doll costumes

I started out by buying a (rather expensive) Bloodborne hunter costume off of eBay. I had just received a large bonus check from my former job and had some extra discretionary money to treat myself. I had been laid off in November (along with everybody else I worked with in the local office), and had forgotten about the annual bonus payments. So the money came as a pleasant surprise, and I decided to splurge by purchasing this costume. This costume can also be purchased from other sources, such as Amazon, but I chose eBay because sellers were selling it for much cheaper...

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Far Cry: Primal - title

I've never played any of the Far Cry games. I possess a copy of Far Cry 4 because it came bundled for free with my PS4, but I've yet to actually insert the disc into the console and try the thing. I was intrigued by Far Cry Primal because it looked like it might explore a novel subject matter that games have kind of ignored for as long as I can remember. Apparently, Far Cry 4 had a bit in it in which you play as a primitive human riding around on animals during a drug-fueled hallucination, and Ubisoft decided to adapt that concept into a full game.

The last time that Ubisoft had done something like this, they had taken the naval combat from Assassin's Creed III (the completely dissociated highlight of an otherwise boring and stupid game) and converted it into Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. And I loved Black Flag! So I was optimistic that Ubisoft might have another novel treat in store for me. I've played dozens of first person shooters, but I've yet to play as a caveman in 10,000 BCE, so let's give this a go, shall we!

The game begins by showing the date 2016, with modern ambient sounds, apparently intended to make the player think that the game might have some kind of present-day framing device (similar to Assassin's Creed). But then the clock starts ticking back to 10,000 BCE, and the game begins. I wonder if this was intended to mock Assassin's Creed and subvert possible player expectations.

Stone age shooter

This game got off to kind of a rough start for me. I was killed by the mammoth in the tutorial because it charged at me before the game displayed the tutorial tip teaching how to attack with a weapon. So that seemed like a cheap death, and gave me a bad first impression. Fortunately, the next few hours of play didn't have any similarly sloppy design, and I was rather enjoying myself.

Far Cry: Primal - tutorial death
I died in the tutorial because the mammoth charged me before the game taught me how to use my weapon.

It didn't take long, however, for the novelty to wear off. Combat has a focus on melee combat with clubs and spears, which leads to a problem similar to other first-person hack-n-slash games: the constrained field of view makes situational awareness very difficult. Without the option to toggle to a third-person view, it's difficult to tell exactly what is going on immediately around your character, and close-quarters combat with mobs frequently degraded into just spinning around mashing the attack button. Fighting animals can be even worse, as many of them (such as dholes and badgers) are small and fast and incredibly difficult to actually hit. The problem is mitigated somewhat as the game goes on, as new utility abilities are introduced, but I was saddened that Ubisoft didn't really do anything particularly interesting with the basic combat.

And it doesn't really get much better when the utility abilities are introduced, as they mostly just involve simply sicking your tamed beasts on the enemies and hoping that the beast doesn't die. In the regular gameplay mode, you'll also have access to overpowered one-hit kill attacks and bombing runs with your owl that act similarly to an air strike or artillery bombardment in other games. These attacks are so overpowered that the Survival Mode disables them entirely. If you have a powerful enough wolf, bear, or saber-tooth tiger beast, you can often just get away with commanding it to charge a group of enemies while you sit back and watch.

Far Cry: Primal - bow and arrow
This is one game in which a bow and arrow actually makes sense as a primary weapon.
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No Man's Sky

After experiencing some annoying performance issues on the PS4 version of Dark Souls III (including a framerate capped at 30 fps), I decided that I'd hold out the extra three days for the PC version of No Man's Sky. I assumed that the keyboard and mouse controls would be more comfortable, since the game is half shooter, half flight-sim. I assumed that the PC version would perform better and look better. And I figure that the game will eventually enjoy a vibrant modding community that is likely impossible to spring up on the PS4, since (as far as I know) the PS4 does not support modding in any way. I, once again, may have been wrong in my choice of platform

In addition to having to wait three extra days for the game to release on PC, I've read a lot of reports of severe problems with the PC version of the game at launch. It simply won't run on certain machines with certain graphics cards. Many rigs have consistent performance issues. My PC is a few years old, but it more than meets the system requirements for the game, yet I've been stuck having to run it on medium graphics settings. Upping the settings to high only results in the game becoming unplayably slow whenever I step into the cockpit of my ship. I'm talking, like half a frame per second, and the game dropping all my inputs. The final insult is that the game breaks when you alt-tab out of it, which prevents you from alt-tabbing back into it. If you alt-tab out, you'll have to kill the process in task manager and restart the app - which, of course, will cause a loss of any progress since the last autosave. So despite having a dual-monitor set-up, I can't alt-tab out to open up podcasts or play some tunes while I warp around the galaxy.

Most of these problems will likely get fixed at some point (and some of them already have), and hopefully I'll be able to run the game at high graphics settings. But in the meantime, if you're interested in playing the game, then the PS4 version is probably the technically superior one right now. Apparently, the PS4 version also has numerous performance issues, including crashes.

Sadly, technical problems are only the beginning of my complaints with this game.

Betraying the naturalist within

Instead of being a game about exploring strange new worlds and discovering exotic wildlife and natural wonders of the universe (as I'd hoped), No Man's Sky turns out to be quite the opposite: a game about conspicuous consumption. The core game loop does not consist of landing on an alien world to explore and catalog the local flora and fauna. Instead, you land your ship in a vibrantly-colored patch of minerals and plants, and you begin strip-mining the site clean. You harvest the raw materials that you'll use to refuel your space ship so that you can warp to the next planet to strip its resources for more fuel.

No Man's Sky - cataloging alien life
The incentives to catalog alien life feel extrinsicly-imposed and not a natural part of the core game experience.

Actually seeking out and cataloging the local wildlife takes a backseat - if you even bother to do it at all. The game isn't about that. There's nothing in the core gameplay loop or narrative that actually sets the game up to be about cataloging alien life. The only reason that the player has to even bother with scanning and analyzing is because you're rewarded with in-game currency for scanning stuff, even though there's no in-game reason (that I could discern) for why you would be getting paid to catalog alien life or who it is that's putting the money in your account. It all feels so thoroughly divorced from the rest of the game, and the money feels like an extrinsic incentive that is imposed from outside the scope of actual gameplay. In fact, I don't know why the game would have an in-game reason for why you would get paid to catalog stuff. After all, these planets are all already known by somebody in the game universe - they have space stations in every star systems and colony modules and trading posts on every planet long before you ever get there to "discover" them. So not only does cataloging life feel like an extrinsically-imposed mechanic, even this process of "discovering" feels completely fake and artificial...

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A gamer's thoughts

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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