What game are you playing?

Nearing the end of Hypnospace Outlaw which is a rare, hilarious, heartfelt treat. (Also the first game to get me out of my post-Outer Wilds “I don’t know what to do with myself after this” funk.) The elevator pitch is basically “Geocities moderator simulator” and the level of detail that’s gone into rendering its fake circa-1999 internet is genuinely impressive. There are obviously a ton of great gags drawing on the era’s trends of obnoxious autoplaying MIDIs, garish page layouts, and ill-advised “hip” marketing attempts, but there’s a deeper authenticity to it that really connected with me.

It’s pretty easy to imagine a version of this game that’s snarky and cynical and trades exclusively in one-off “hey remember this thing?” jokes, which is honestly what I was expecting from it. I think the real magic of Hypnospace is that it goes deeper than surface-level parody and really gets at the lived experience of being on the Internet in the late 90s. Above all, the game’s focus is on people just being people - weird and messy and desperately wanting some kind of connection.

There’s an acutely heartbreaking awareness of the optimism people had back in the early days of the Internet, that this was something that was going to bring people closer together, and the way that clashed with the messy reality of it all. The game faithfully renders flame wars and petty forum beefs, and most tellingly, the corporate greed and mismanagement that ultimately doomed the whole thing. Definitely one of my favorites this year. If you’ve had it on your radar I highly recommend checking it out.

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After finishing up Pokemon Sword, I’ve gone back to slowly working my way through Death Stranding (still on Episode 3, which I understand is massive). And the thing that’s really begun to jump out to me is that this is the first time I remember actually truly appreciating the multiplayer aspects of a single-player game.

Like, I’ve read a lot about how e.g. Dark Souls isn’t Dark Souls without the multiplayer aspects, but I end up mostly ignoring them when I play those games outside a goofy message here or there. I’m just very solitary in the way I play things like this. But the feeling of building things with other people to advance a common goal is… intoxicating, honestly. I could spend all day collecting materials to pave roads on whatever server I’m on, both because I’ll use them eventually and because I know other players will. I love finding vehicles or generators someone left in some hard-pressed location right when I need them most. And it’s led to some of my favorite emergent gameplay—basically the only thing I can think of like it is Breath of the Wild, and it’s begun to evoke a similar feeling to the hours I spent exploring different parts of Hyrule. All told, this game feels like it’s trying something really unique and different, and I adore it.

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When you boot up Cyber Sleuth, it takes exactly 12 seconds to figure out who composed the soundtrack lol:

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Playing through the Switch port of Baldur’s Gate, which is surprisingly good. (The port, not the game. I mean the game is good too, but that’s not the surprising part.)

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I don’t know why, but I’ve really got into Destiny 2 again. I even started a 2nd character and considering a 3rd, it is such a good grind at this point

I just played through Eliza and it honestly needs to be course material for CS students.

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Me: I think i should replay Celeste, i never did get around to that final chapter they released earlier in this year. To save some time, i’ll skip on the strawberries.

Brain: Whats that? We are collecting ALL the strawberries?

Me: … Dammit, we are aren’t we?

Brain: YEP

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Both Warhead and Crysis 3 just really REALLY want you to like Psycho and basically hinge the entire emotional cores of those games on this one not particularly engaging character. Crysis 1 and especially 2 made the smart decision of varying their character ensemble and having a lot of lore so that you wouldn’t disengage in case the main character doesn’t grab you.

Speaking of which, I’d highly recommend you try Crysis 2 even if you didn’t bother to finish warhead. It’s my favorite of the bunch, with a genuinely fun&cool D-day esque story that has some really amazing set pieces. The levels aren’t as big as Crysis 1/warhead, but they’re significantly more vertical, which means they feel a lot more packed.

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I loved the encounter design in Crysis 2. It was definitely not as open as the original or 3, but the verticality kept it interesting!

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Crysis 2 has gotten a lot of shit for being something it’s not and wasn’t trying to be. The little arenas it sets out are really good! It’s just not Crysis and that was a problem for a lot of people

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As far as I’m concerned, I’ve beaten Cyber Sleuth

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I finished The Sinking City! I put more hours into it than I realized, 25 hours to finish all the side quests and explore a bit. I’m not sure it was really worth it… The one thing that the open world does bring to the game is a nice sense of atmosphere, with people walking around you, seeing weird posters and all the flooded buildings. Other than that, the shooting and crafting are uninteresting, the map is big and it takes a while to get around, the diving sections are mostly a pain… It might not have been awesome as a simple series of cases in set locations either, but it would have been less of a hassle to play.
The investigations are a disappointment, most boil to “but what if both sides are bad” or render your big moral choices pointless almost immediately. One convincingly bizarre exception: Your client faking his death by blackmailing someone to kill him while pinning the murder on you, the whole thing for absolutely no reason. I like having to consult the various archives to research your leads, but the rest is simple “find the clues, see visions of events”. The story never really hooked me, mostly as it is full of tone dissonance. It takes all the ancient horrors and visions of tentacles very seriously, despite taking place in a town with perfectly normal fish people, a dozen of cults plotting in secret and districts overrun by gross flesh monsters. It could have been way more involving if it embraced the weirdness of the setting with more self-awareness, pitting all the factions against each other and making you pick sides. Or maybe investigating small, classic mysteries that hint at cosmic horror… But not a hodgepodge of both.
Oh, and it ends with the Deus Ex “push one of these three buttons to choose your 30 seconds ending cutscene” choice, with big abstract stakes instead of anything directly relevant to your character. Meh.

More enjoyable than that, I played Claire’s route in Resident Evil 2 Remake. What a great, short, focused game. I love running around zombies, collecting a tool to get a key to get a jewel to get an emblem ; it’s the proper amount of goofy and scary for my taste. There is still the Leon route, but it feels so good to play a few sessions of tense survival horror and be done in 7-10 hours.

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Agree on Resi 2 - I have a bunch of horror games in my backlog I legitimately want to get to but I was thinking about RE2 the other day and gosh, I really could go for a replay of it already and a big part of is it’s wonderful length where knocking out a scenario repeatedly feels cosy. And maybe you do or don’t want to go for the tricky trophies (not really me) but the fact they seem doable is nice.

Finished Jedi: Fallen Order at the weekend. On the whole I enjoyed the game a lot. It looked incredible but it did leave me slightly empty in the same way the rebooted Tomb Raider games did - I think it has to do with all the collectibles not really being very interesting and all the traversal kind of being the same.

“No, you need another thing to climb this pocketed rock wall”.

I like how Cal Kestus is always very nice to his robot friend.

Also I got to what was the final boss on Saturday. It was late so I went to bed and finished it in the morning. But not before seeing a display ad for the game on Twitter, which heavily spoiled a character reveal towards the end of the game… So that was great.

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All this talk of Crysis just reminds me of an old piece Cara Ellison did for RPS in which she went to a preview event for Crysis 3. It’s a good read.

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Recently started DUSK which I’ve been really enjoying, the 90s FPS aesthetic really works for me, the shooting itself is really smooth and fun and the level design is very playful (with some very striking imagery). AMID EVIL, from the same devs, is also really good.

As soon as I’m done with that I’m either starting Disco Elysium of Torment: Tides of Numenera, haven’t decided yet.

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Cara’s honesty is still pretty refreshing.

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I finally took some time away from Pokemon over the weekend and put some time into John Wick: Hex and Lost Ember, both of which were disappointing for different reasons.

John Wick: Hex is probably the better of the two. I’d be really interested in hearing how it came to be, because a turn-based strategy game by Mike Bithell is definitely not the first place my mind goes when I think “John Wick game.” It comes admirably close to working, but in the end it’s just a little too fiddly for its own good.

One of my main gripes is that healing is such a limited resource that I ended up restarting most stages if I got hit at all. It also doesn’t do a very good job of explaining its own mechanics, so you’re just kind of muddling through until you get to grips with them. Once you do, though, you realize there’s almost no variety to them; you’re gonna be performing the exact same physical takedown endlessly thoughout the entire game, and the gun you start off with is superior to almost every other weapon. Oh, and it has randomized enemies, so sometimes it’ll spawn a combination that’s nearly impossible to deal with without taking damage. It’s too bad, the fundamentals of the game are solid and it isn’t hard to imagine it coming together a little better than it did.

Lost Ember is a kind of walking-simulator where you control various animals while trying to figure out what’s going on in the world around you. There’s no combat, only a few quick-time events (these are bad, btw), and some light traversal puzzles, so the bulk of the game is just moving about the environment and learning to control new animals. The good part is that the animals are all beautiful and it feels good to move about as them. I especially like the look of the main wolf you play as, and the first time I flew as a hummingbird was genuinely exhilarating.

The thing is, the story just isn’t very good. It’s about a generic tribe and their take on the afterlife, it seems to be going in a trite cycles-of-violence direction, and the voice-acting for the character who serves as the narrator is super bland. It doesn’t help that the environments, even though they’re attractive enough, are pretty barren outside of the main path. I’m not sure if I’m going to finish it; I’d guess I’m about halfway done and I have almost no inclination to go back.

I’ve gone back to Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk and I feel absolutely dirty for it. On the one hand, I can’t stand Nippon Ichi aesthetics. On the other hand, Disgaea 5 and this game are addicting as hell and I like big numbers and silly “special abilities” and the whole “we don’t take this fantasy stuff too seriously” attitude.

But I wish they would pull their heads out of the whole “let’s sexually objectify everything possible and treat serious, serious subject matter with as little subtlety or tact as possible” approach to… well, just about everything. It’s gross.

Also, while I’m at it, playing this game and watching the story unfold has really made me question JRPG fans when they say “it has such a great story!” Coven got a lot of praise for its “mature” narrative and dark tone, but the story is horrible, and if it weren’t for the fact that there aren’t many great DRPGs on the Switch, I may never have bought it. It just checks off a list of dark, traumatic stuff that can happen to people and glides right through it…

But the gameplay is that good.

Blergh, someone kick me and tell me to stop torturing myself.

I’m finally playing a game from 2019! Presenting the current number one and only entry on my GOTY list, Gato Roboto:
gato_roboto_frogs
in which you are a cat who must metroidvania her way through an abandoned space station, fighting enemies such as these incredible frogs (apologies, Switch screenshots via Twitter means I can’t show them in their crisp, croak-y glory).
frog smugfrog
Anyway, it’s pretty short/small (I’ve just gotten to the ‘hey, you can’t return past this door’ point after a couple of hours), but I like the feeling that I can actually find all the collectibles and upgrades without spending hours traversing aimlessly around.

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