2008’s Prince of Persia is no Sands of Time, but, despite that grievous flaw, it’s still a fun game.
I know it has simple controls compared to previous games and that it doesn’t require the amount of “skill” some might desire, but, that doesn’t stop it from being enjoyable. Wall running, leaping, sliding and climbing are all solid and the character animations make everything seem smooth. It’s more of a ride than a full-blown game, but it’s quite the ride. Elika is a nice contribution to this game. I like her character and her powers make for some interesting free-running and a good excuse for the no “lives” system.
The graphics, by the way, are so, so pretty. The cel-shaded style allows for crisp colors and well drawn environments. One of the first things I did when I started playing was just stop and take in how beautiful the world looks inside this game. I just wanted to drink it all in. Then, to my surprise, the whole world falls to darkness and is corrupted with goo that looks like Venom in symbiote form.
It’s satisfying to go to new lands, battle the corruption and clean it out. Watching everything return to color and sunlight makes the game have a sense of progress, something I haven’t seen since Metroid Prime. It was calming to run around a cleansed level and collect orbs. Really, the game is fun to play because it’s so nice to look at.
And then, as the game goes on, you stop needing orbs. Once you don’t need orbs, you don’t need to spend time in cleansed areas and you go straight to another corrupted area and soon you realize the game has become less of a graphical joy and, somehow, less fun to play.
The final boss is exciting, the ending is frustrating and I never had a chance to play the DLC epilogue because it was never released for PC. I enjoyed my time with the game, think it’s worth checking out, but probably won’t come back to it, especially with Sands of Time out there.
It’s been a while since the last Let’s Play post. You know why? Because Dragon Age: Origins is a freaking long game, without any DLC or Awakening expansions. I can’t remember the man I was before I started playing this game.
This game is up there with The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky as one of the longest games I’ve streamed. And I didn’t even love it! I liked it, for sure. I wouldn’t have kept coming back to it if I didn’t like it. Well, maybe I would have. That’s what streaming games does to me! I have to finish games, even if I don’t love them. I can’t let people think I’m a quitter!
Actually, unrelated to the game, but I’m not sure how much gaming I’d do these days if I wasn’t streaming them on Twitch. I played plenty of games offline but it was less consistent and I would be off and on with it. Now, I stream because it helps me sleep better at night afterwards and because I get to be “on” and scratch some creative itches.
It definitely helps with a game like Dragon Age: Origins. Games this long can get monotonous if not for the regular AND random visitors who stop by and liven up the room. When I was making my through the Deep Roads in Orzammar, their length and repetitiveness were starting to melt my brain but then someone would start talking to me just at the right time. They saved my life!
And, as Murphy’s Law would have it, I received my first raid! While turning in quests! And leveling up! Nothing like reading over skills and checking my journal as the viewers come pouring in from another streamer!
Back to game.
I wasn’t absorbed into the world of Dragon Age: Origins like I had been in other Bioware games. This wasn’t like Baldur’s Gate, which I was obsessed with while at and away from the computer. I found the art design to be rather ugly and not in a purposeful way. Sure, it’s a beat up world, but I was never interested in the aesthetics. It was nice to get to the forest with the elves and werewolves, because it added some much needed color to the experience, but even the designs in that area left me wanting.
The story didn’t do it for me either, not like Knights of the Old Republic or Mass Effect. I liked the characters and they ended up being my favorite part of the game. I liked just spending time in camp and talking to them, trying to get Sten to like me or woo the witchy Morrigan. I don’t know if that makes for exciting streaming, but it was when I was having a more pleasant time. I didn’t find myself attached to my character the way I have before in these types of games. I chose to play as a Noble Dwarf Warrior and my origin was entertaining for a while. But, outside in the wild, I never connected with him. I don’t know if it was the choices presented, or how much of the story was focused on the NPCS, but it never felt like my story.
I need to do a separate Bioware post sometime, because their older games really have affect me as a gamer. That might be why I was disappointed with Dragon Age: Origins. I had originally thought it looked like a bland version of Baldur’s Gate and, after playing I felt justified in that fear. A lack of loot, a world that felt small and art style I found unappealing kept me mostly liking the game but never falling in love with it.
I doubt I’ll check out the Awakening expansion or the sequels. Once again, Bioware had strong world building on display, but I didn’t care much for the world itself. The history and ways of the Grey Wardens were intriguing, but, of course, the main character ends up being the last of them, so that doesn’t go very far. I enjoyed streaming this game, but I don’t know how much fun I had playing the game.
After SOMA, I needed something easy going for my next game. What happens, you see, is that after I play a big, modern game with an emotional wrenching story with limited game play options I tend to need something that’s more traditional. I need a jump button. The power of a jump button should not be dismissed.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary has a jump button. But also a grappling hook. And nerve-wracking swimming. And unlimited bullets. It’s a reskin/reimaging of the first Tomb Raider game, which is a game I never played. I did, however, play Tomb Raider: Legend, which was a beauty of platforming when it was released. Anniversary uses that engine, though it’s never as pretty or impressive as that reboot.
Anyway, Anniversary! Is it fun? Sometimes! Other times, boy, is it frustrating. It can be buggy, which means that my live stream was sometimes me looking at my phone for tech help. That bit where the game wouldn’t register Laura grabbing the ledge high above a death fall until I switched the V-synch? Yeesh. But, other times, it’s darn impressive with it’s platforming. It made me want to play more games like that, not the collect-o-thons that Mario 64 wrought upon us.
Even though I didn’t play the early Laura Croft games, it made me nostalgic for games of old. It reminded me that I miss the days of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time or Maximo: Ghosts to Glory. Luckily, I still have Tomb Raider: Underworld, which I’m looking forward to after the slightly archaic nature of Anniversary. Glad I played it, met some viewers who had good feelings about the series and it delivered on the “game” sensibilities I needed after SOMA.
Books on the history of gaming are culturally important to my own life. Genealogically, I’m a mutt with little foundation. My family and myself have no real traditions or history we share beyond our own generation or two. I’m Italian but I don’t have a a deep identity in it. But, as a gamer, I have a history, music, traditions and my own self-perception is very much rooted in tabletop and video games.
When I read a book like Console Wars, it’s partly me accepting that this culture is bigger than myself and there’s elements to learn about. I felt that connection when reading Empire of Imagination or Masters of Doom, that this part of my life has been going on for longer than I’ve been around and there’s names and history that are important to it all.
Blake J. Harris’ Console Wars taps into that, except this was a history I experienced. Harris follows the war between Nintendo and Sega; how Sega fought for and won it’s place in the market and how Nintendo fought back. Both companies make mistakes along the way, sealing certain fates for themselves.
One factor that makes this book fascinating is it’s focus on the differences between the Japanese and American sides of each company. While Nintendo was more focused on having like-minds, Sega was much more divided. Sega of Japan rarely agreed with SOA and these arguments and differences would prove to be the companies downfall. Even with Sega earning it’s place in the market, it’s lack of strong leadership would have it go on to follow the success of the Genesis with multiple consoles with little individual identity.
Nintendo, on the other hand, had a direct and strong hand when it came to it’s leadership. So much so that some employees began to chafe against the lack of freedom. Whereas Sega of America was throwing everything against the wall to see what stuck, Nintendo was nailing their decisions to the plaster, even as the wall was crumbling to the floor. The desire to avoid direct competition due to tradition and lack of respect for it’s rivals led Nintendo to lose a few loyal employees, but also to the creation of Donkey Kong Country and Rare’s rise as a second party. It also was responsible for the Super Mario Bros. movie and stabbing Sony in the back when it came to CD technology, so not all good things.
The book is written in prose, using the facts and history to tell more of story than real life might have been. The dialog is where this technique is a hit-or-miss, but the rest of the book is a compelling read, with great insights into the two companies and their respective employees. This style might not be for everyone, but if you’ve read the aforementioned Empire of Imagination or Masters of Doom, you’ll be right at home. This isn’t the text book tome that was David Sheff’s excellent Game Over, it’s edutainment and a turn pager.
Reading about Sega’s marketing plans, Nintendo’s resistance to fire back, Sony’s frustrations with entering the market and the whole industries growth is highly entertaining. There’s a lot of egos on display and hindsight gives the reader a one-up on the players in this book. The most frustrating part of this book, for myself, is that it ends just as things are getting really juicy. The Sony Playstation has just entered the market, Nintendo is about to release their 64-bit console and we all know what happened to Sega soon after. I wanted an account of the next war, of the Sega Dreamcast and Microsoft getting ready to enter the fray.
But Console Wars is a dense book as it is and I’m sure someone is preparing a book on the stage that followed. If you’re interested in the history of video games, Japanese business practices, the thought process of marketing, 90s culture and the whole Sega vs. Nintendo fight, I highly recommend this book. You might have to get past any hangups over the style of writing, but, once you do, you’ll find this to be a great resource.
Frictional’s SOMA depressed me and I found it hard to play for long stretches because of that. The tension of the horror elements, the grime of the world and the hopelessness of the story left me having little initiative to keep going. Add in the fact that I’m worried I’m developing some sort of motion-sickness, first noticed while playing Dishonored, and it wasn’t a pleasant time.
Limbo was a depressing game but it had platforming elements to keep my brain occupied on something besides it’s oppressiveness. SOMA, like other so-called “walking simulators” has little in the way of actual “game. It’s immersive but that comes at a price. Like the main character, trapped at the bottom of the ocean, I felt like there was no escape. A tough sell for someone looking for escapism.
Luckily, the story is well told and the voice acting is strong. But, the tension is raised by the monsters roaming around with you in this ruined science faculty. It’s not that I found the designs of these creatures to be incredibly upsetting, but the jump-scares that were set upon me made me feel anxious, which isn’t a state of being I love to be in. Sweaty hands from intense wall climbing and combat is one thing, but a queasy stomach because something is going to scream and chase me is another, less desirable thing.
I suppose that’s what makes for a fun stream. I don’t know how many other games have elicited a reaction so broad from me before. I’ve yelled and screamed before, but not in pure terror like I did in SOMA. I don’t know how much fun the monsters make a stream in the long run, since, after the initial scares, I had to spend most of my time just hiding and not looking at them.
The other problem, and this might be a technical issue on my end, is that the game is very dark, graphically speaking. Most of the tension, I would assume, would come from dark hallways and intense lighting. But, to get the game to be even visible on my Twitch, I had to raise the brightness all the way up, eliminating much of the atmosphere. Again, maybe I could have done something else to fix the problem, mess around with OBS a little more, but my days of being a technical problem-solver are coming to a close.
Either way, I’m glad I played SOMA and experienced it’s rich, sci-fi story first-hand. This is definitely the kind of tale I would have enjoyed in a movie or book. In game form, I still appreciated it, but it left me with a pit in my stomach. I doubt I’m going to go back and play-through Frictional’s Amnesia games, because I don’t think I could handle the tension. But, I’ll definitely be paying attention to what they do next.
Alan Wake was an interesting game, and one that felt like it was meant for the Playstation 2. Back on that console, a lot of games had one concept, sometimes two, and that was their main selling point. Prince of Persia had great combat and climbing mechanics, but it was sold on the concept of time manipulation. Final Fantasy X was a Final Fantasy game but it made a big deal about its voice acting. And Alan Wake is a third person action game with flashlight-based combat.
The core mechanics and concept would have fit right at home on the PS2 and I think the game might be looked upon more fondly if that was the case. But, the lighting and environmental effects needed the graphics of the Playstation 3 (or, in my case, a PC) to do it right. So, Alan Wake comes across as being part of two different generations. The PS2 qualities feel dated on newer machines, but it needs newer machines to work it’s mechanics.
Playing the game today, I was able to sit back and enjoy the ride. I found the simple flashlight-based combat to be a fun variation on shooting a bad guy til he’s dead. I liked throwing flares around like grenades and blasting shadow monsters with shotguns. It wasn’t complicated but it was exciting.
I didn’t come across the public’s negative feelings about Alan Wake until after I played the game, so I was surprised to see how many complaints people had. While it sounds like the majority found the story to be a disappointing failure, I thought it was a silly roller coaster ride, just throwing twists and turns around for the fun of it. None of it made a tons of sense, but, in the moment, it was intriguing. The game never took me out of the story.
Maybe that’s because it’s told in an episodic format. I’ve read how that bothered people back when it was first released, as a full game with recaps and end-of-episode breaks. Today, the concept of episodic gaming, and owning full seasons of Telltale’s series, is commonplace and didn’t bother me at all. In fact, it helped with streaming the game, because it gave me a great stopping place and, then, a fantastic recap to get me jazzed for another session.
I chose Alan Wake because I wanted to stream a spooky game for October and, while it wasn’t scary, it brought that Halloween vibe. It’s not survival horror, not really, but the setting and style help create an atmosphere that’s creepy without being scary, that’s off without being Silent Hill 2. I jumped but I didn’t hide under my bed. It’s got shadow monsters, Stephen King references and crows that want Alan’s eyeballs for dinner. I wouldn’t play it again, but I would happily buy a sequel.
Dishonored wasn’t even on my radar until the sequel was released. That game got so much press and high review scores, it was hard to ignore. Considering, I’ve yet to find something to scratch that Bioshock itch, I made sure to pick up the first Dishonored when it went on sale.
Now, I chose Dishonored as the game to follow up The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky because, holy cow, that game was a long one. Being a JRPG without any voice acting, there was lots of reading aloud, diving into combat systems and stretches of story where I sat and watched with the controller on the pillow next to me. I needed a game that would provide a little bit more of an adrenaline rush. I wanted ACTION, I wanted ADVENTURE!
Okay, technically, I wanted to play a Tomb Raider game but I didn’t own the next title in my run. So, Dishonored it was! Did the game provide the kick that I was looking for? The ADVENTURE?
First, I’ll admit, I didn’t realize how much of a stealth game it was going to be and that set off some warning signs. I’m no good at stealth games. I lose patience with Hitman, fail at Splinter Cell and often fell off the sides of walls during Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. But, Dishonored handled stealth in a way that matched my type of play style. Heck, the game even referred to it as the High Chaos it was. Yes, you can play the game as a ghost and never be seen, and never use your blade in combat. Or, you can play like me and kill anyone blocking your path, turning them into dust and feeding them to rats.
Now, doing such a chaotic run made for some disappointed looks and judgemental remarks from NPCS. But, the way I saw it, I was role playing the character Corvo was, not who people wanted him to be. I was an assassin who was framed for the murder of his queen and lover, who’s goal was rescuing and protecting the heir to the throne (not to mention, my daughter, probably). I wasn’t looking to play nice. Nice went out the window when I went to prison for a crime I didn’t commit. So, when people shook their heads in shame because I eliminated a threat with my knives and not my words, I just smiled and pitied them for not understanding how the world really works.
I liked that Dishonored is a stealth game that knows that some people don’t like or are no good at stealth. I could choose to go through each level however I pleased, and it was entertaining in way that the Hitman games have never been for me. And, like Bioshock, I could dig into the world as much I wanted, choosing to read the lore through books or just picking up tidbits as I went about my merry way.
It didn’t necessarily satisfy the craving for action I had, but it was a rather brisk romp through a cool looking world as a teleporting back stabber. In reality, I probably only played it so I could get to the much hyped sequel. But, Dishonored 2 still costs pretty penny so it might be a while. I wouldn’t say it was the most absorbing game in the world, and Corvo had to make some pretty dumb decisions for the plot twists to work, but it was a fun game and got me through the rest of September. Now, it’s time for something spooky.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons during the opening. I looked dated and the opening cinematic didn’t do anything for me emotionally.
Once I was in control of the brothers, moving each along with their individual joysticks, things started to look up. It took me forever to wrap my head around the younger brother being the right sticks. I guess my brain thought the older brother is the main brother and the main brother should be on the right. It was an interesting process to remind myself that the younger brother is the main character and that I associate important characters with my right side. Co-op single player is a strange concept. It’s almost as if the concept of switching between characters in Donkey Kong Country was the precursor to something like Brothers.
The game finally clicked with me just as I was getting to the end of the starting village. It had an autumn vibe about its atmosphere and the town was alive and unconcerned with me. The game started to feel crisp, moody and dangerous. If this town, that these two boys have grown up in, seem indifferent to me, then how is the rest of the world going to treat me?
The graphics really are fantastic. I know the game is old and that the style is much older, but it set a beautiful tone. It had character and mood and, yes, it looked like a game from the first X-Box but it was polished. Honestly, it reminded me, visually, of the first Fable game. I never played much of that series but I’ve always found the borderline cartoon aesthetic to be attractive. Brothers has that going for it and works for every part of the game.
It makes the game feel like an actual fable, like an older story that’s been told before. The things the brothers fight against and stumble upon are dark and seem like they’re trying to teach us something. Like, don’t save people because they might try to eat you and leave the corpses of giants alone.
The game reminded me of Limbo in all the right ways, though, of course, with color. The puzzles weren’t as crunchy as that game, but they were more satisfying than something like Braid. Braid‘s puzzles were the difficult that made me feel dumb but Limbo and Brothers have puzzles that make me feel smart. And a giant spider indifferent to my youth.
I like playing games like Brothers because it reminds me of the core of gaming. The sense of exploration but danger as well as the idea that you could make a full game based on a single concept. It could be that your whole game is boss fights like in Shadow of the Colossus or that you’re a car that plays soccer in Rocket League. I like playing games that don’t have to have the most complicated system in the world or tell their stories with endless cut-scenes. Brothers was immersive and its challenges were fun and interesting and, in the end, it was satisfying. I didn’t need more after the three hours of game provided. It told the story and showed the game-play it had prepared. It’s a game I plan to buy for all my friends this Christmas and maybe replay someday. It was great, to say the least.