Cities: Skylines II - title

Cities Skylines II had a rocky launch. It was a better launch than some of Paradox's other published games, like Star Trek: infinite, which had its support cancelled and developers laid off within a few months of release. But it was still a rocky launch. Personally, I thought Skylines II was fine. It didn't blow me away like the first game did 10 years ago, but I also didn't get the hate that the fanbase was throwing at it. I thought it had a good mix of features and concepts from most of the original game's expansions, I liked a lot of the design philosophies of its new features, and I wasn't experiencing as many of the performance problems that other players were reporting. So I was mostly having a good time playing it.

Though, to be fair to the critics, I didn't have any cities with 100,000 or 200,000 population. My biggest city was only hovering around 75,000 population around the time of the first mini-DLC. So maybe my cities just hadn't gotten big enough to the point that the simulation really started to break down, or performance really started to become a problem.

I was enjoying CSII before the patch, but none of my cities were big enough to start breaking yet.

I did have my own complaints, of course. Most of those complaints had to do with the lack of player expressiveness in this sequel, compared to the first game (and it's Parklife expansion).

Well, developer Colossal Order has been hard at work trying to give the critics, and also myself, almost exactly what we were hoping for. The result is a pair of recent game patches that have addressed many of the biggest complaints with Cities Skylines II, and which very well might have saved the game from an early grave. If only Star Trek: Infinite had received the same loving attention...

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Still Wakes The Deep - title

I keep being drawn to games developed by the Chinese Room, despite always being disappointed by them. Their games always represent the things that people dislike most about "walking simulators". But since I don't have any inherent dislike for walking sims, I keep giving The Chinese Room another chance. Still Wakes The Deep caught my attention by being described as "John Carpenter's The Thing set on an oil rig". The Thing is a masterpiece of horror, and one of my favorite movies ever.

I had visions of Still Wakes The Deep being a story about inter-personal paranoia in the claustrophobic and isolated setting of an oil rig that is gradually being overtaken by a Lovecraftian alien threat. That's only partly true though, as Still Wakes The Deep plays up the cosmic horror element, while downplaying the paranoia element and replacing it with simpler themes about interpersonal relationships and the artificial walls that people tend to put up between themselves and the people they care about.

An oil rig is a great setting for horror, combining dark claustrophobic corridors with the terror of being stuck at sea.

Alone, together, on an oil rig

The setting of an oil rig is an interesting one for a psychological horror story or video game. The environment is completely enclosed and claustrophobic, with little-to-no escape. People are forced to live and work together in close quarters, and their survival is largely dependent on one another. Being stuck in such a setting, with people who you can't trust, would surely be terrifying.

The short length of Still Wakes The Deep does hurt it a lot. Specifically, the inciting incident happens very early and suddenly, with little-to-no build up or transition between "normal" and "everything's gone to shite". I never felt like I got a chance to really get to know any of the supporting characters, to the point that I wasn't even sure what their names were, or which character was being referred to when a name came up in a document or conversation. Similarly, when I find any given body or corpse, I have no idea who it's supposed to be. I had a brief opportunity to snoop around in a few characters' cabins at the start, but all that really told me was that the boss is a hard-ass, and there's one other character who might be a racist, neo-fascist prick. Other than that, there's like one opportunity to have a brief exchange with each of the main supporting characters, and it's all optional, and most of it is more about the state of the rig anyway.

There's hardly any time to explore the rig or get to know the crew before the inciting incident.

The brief intro, and fact that the rig goes to shite so quickly and suddenly, means that there's also never an opportunity for the player to get a feel for the setting itself. I got about 20 minutes to walk through a couple hallways, some crew cabins, the mess hall, and the main deck, and then it's right into the horror, with the rig literally falling apart around me. From here on out, it's hard to ever get a sense for where, exactly, I am on the rig, or how the different sections fit together or relate to one another. When floors and walls literally start collapsing, I can't tell one hallway from another. This is despite the fact that the game loops the player around through the same mess hall and lounge, that we saw in the intro, like 5 or 6 times throughout the game. Despite revisiting this same location multiple times, I never really recognized it until I was inside the lounge or mess hall. Every set piece just feels like a semi-random series of corridors and obstacles in which all I have to do is push forward on the analog stick to get where I need to go. There's no open-ended exploration whatsoever, no hidden secrets, and no alternate paths.

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RoboCop: Rogue City - title

If not for overall "nostalgia fatigue", I probably would have been a lot more excited about RoboCop: Rogue City. I, like every other young boy who grew up in the 80's and early 90's, loved RoboCop. But the old 8 and 16-bit games of the era didn't really do the character justice. I'm honestly surprised that it took this long to get a modern RoboCop shooter. I would have thought that such an idea would have been perfect for the PS3 and XBox 360 era of dull, brown, military shooters. Maybe there were RoboCop shooters then, and I just missed them.

In any case, I had other games that I was playing when Rogue City released, so I put it on my eBay watchlist and waited for a cheap, used copy to come available. Joke was on me, as the game went on sale and was $5 cheaper on the PSN like the day after I bought my copy. But I wanted the disc anyway, so that I could pass it around between a couple friends who were also timidly interested in playing it, but not so much as to pay full retail.

If Teyon and Nacon really wanted me to buy Rogue City, then they should have given it full VR support. The RoboCop property seems like an ideal candidate for a VR game, and this game in particular seems well-suited to the VR medium. I mean, you're playing a first-person perspective as a cyborg! Being able to simply turn your head to point your gun in different directions to take down enemies from all sides would be perfectly in-line with the source material. Heck, it would even allow for blind shots with your back turned to an enemy. The slow walking speed of the character means players would be less likely to get motion sickness from free movement controls or nauseatingly-fast motion. Eye-tracking software could have potentially been used for tagging or locking onto targets, for some of the game's detective mechanics, and maybe to assist in setting up trick shots.

RoboCop would be perfect for a VR game! Too bad this isn't a VR game.

But alas, RoboCop: Rogue City does not have VR support. The potential is squandered on a simple first-person shooting gallery, that occasionally stops to be a light RPG about narc-ing on homeless people and writing parking tickets.

Robo-Narc

Honestly, the narc-RPG was actually the stuff that I liked most about Rogue City. I was having the most fun when I was patrolling around Downtown Detroit, issuing tickets, resolving citizen complaints, rescuing cats from burning buildings, and occasionally shooting up a drug den. There's a cathartic wish-fulfillment quality to spotting someone parked like an asshole, and slapping a ticking on their windshield. I think all of us (who aren't cops) dream about doing that from time to time.

Ticketing homeless people for loitering or littering is significantly less fun, which is why I usually let them off with a warning. I mean, it's not like they can pay the fine anyway, and they have nowhere else to go. I appreciated the game for giving me the freedom to let people off with a warning, and to not punish me with poor performance reviews, or something like that. I think upholding the law grants more experience, but there's plenty of opportunity for gaining experience without feeling pressured to have to throw the book at every loitering teenager or hobo sleeping on a park bench. In fact, the game often rewarded me for letting people off with a warning, by improving my "trust" rating with the general public, which resulted in better story outcomes at the end of the game. Apparently people like cops a lot more when they aren't callously writing tickets or gunning down perps without a second's hesitation. Who would've thought?! I'm sure it also helps to be a really cool, shiny robot man.

Writing tickets for asshole drivers is so cathartic.

There was probably room for Teycon to put more pressure on the player to uphold the letter of the law. The public trust system would probably also be more interesting in a larger, more open game, in which civilians are more present, and in which civilians might help or hinder the player depending on the public perception of your actions. Maybe that's an idea for any potential future sequel?

There's even a handful of characters who have branching stories and different outcomes based on whether you throw the book at them every time, or simply play the role of good-faith friendly-neighborhood narc. There's even a set of still vignettes at the end of the game (Fallout-style), telling the player how all these side characters fared in the end, and how your decisions influenced them.

This is some genuinely good stuff. The player is free to do some open-ended policing and make moral and ethical decisions about any given suspect's specific circumstances. I wish more of the game were this!

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Over the years, I have frequently recommended that people stop buying new games from AAA publishers at retail. Don't buy them at all, or if you do, wait for a sale, or buy it used. This is because the massive, international, conglomerate corporations that publish these games are sleazy, scummy, or outright evil.

They underpay their employees.

They abuse their employees with cultures of crunch.

They hang the Sword of Damacles over their employees heads with the perpetual threat of layoffs.

They report record profits to their shareholders and award billion dollar bonuses to executives on a Tuesday, and then lay off hundreds or thousands of workers on Wednesday because they "can't afford" to keep them.

Some publishers even have active cultures of sexual harassment and abuse of female employees, which their HR departments are happy to cover up or sweep under the rug.

They harass and ostracize transgender employees and hold their healthcare hostage.

They fight against unionization.

They overcharge for their products.

They sell un-regulated gambling to minors.

They sell half-baked or broken products at full price.

They cancel promising upcoming products with little-to-no rhyme or reason.

They want to take away the consumer's right to own the media that we buy.

The list goes on...

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Propagation: Paradise Hotel - title

Wow, this game was not at all what I expected -- but in a very good way!

When I first put Propagation: Paradise Hotel on my PSVR2 wishlist, I expected it would be more of a point-and-click puzzle-based walking-sim kind of game with some rudimentary zombie shooting. I was not expecting a full-fledged survival horror game with robust, immersive combat mechanics and open-ended exploration. And I sure as hell was not expecting the game to be nearly as intense or difficult as it proved to be. If you're squeamish about horror in the slightest, you probably want to stay far away from this game.

And when I say that Paradise Hotel is a "full-fledged survival horror game", I mean that it very blatantly evokes old school, classic survival horror design philosophies. Honestly, if somebody caught glimpses of you playing bits and pieces of this game, they could be forgiven for thinking that you were playing a VR adaptation of Resident Evil. Paradise Hotel draws very clear inspirations from the first Resident Evil game on the original PlayStation. From the hotel lobby that looks strikingly like the foyer of the Spencer Mansion, to the use and placement of save rooms, to the use of a first aid spray can for healing, to one particular enemy type that is the spitting image of a Tyrant, to the pacing of early-game exploration and puzzle-solving, Propagation: Paradise Hotel really does feel like a modern-day VR homage to the classic Resident Evil. And for the most part, I think the developers and designers at Wanadev Studio nailed all of it!

Paradise Hotel is deliberately evocative of the original Resident Evil.

At least, they nail the first half of the game or so. The second half of this short horror VR title is a little bit more shaky and uneven. It's still good! Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that I think the game falls apart in the second half and becomes bad. It's good all the way through. The second half just diverges from the slower, methodical, exploratory play that perfectly captures the essence of retro survival horror, and starts to feel more like a borderline-unfairly-hard corridor-crawling action shooter.

Oh, and I want to apologize in advance for the poor quality of most of my screenshots. This game is incredibly dark. It looks fine in the VR headset, and the darkness makes the flashlight into a legitimately necessary tool. But all the streaming footage and screenshots that I captured are almost completely illegible. I couldn't find an in-game brightness setting, and the PSVR2's system brightness was at max, so I'm not sure what to do to get better screenshots and video capture. I tried increasing the brightness of the screenshots in Photoshop, but this left the screenshots looking washed out. So I promise you, the actual game looks a lot better than the screenshots in this review make it look. Maybe I need to disable HDR if I want screenshots and captured video to be legible?

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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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