Eternally Doomed

Four years after the phenomenal Doom 2016 was laid upon us unexpecting gamers, id Software releases their highly anticipated follow up – Doom Eternal – which manages to not only take and build upon what was created in the earlier games of the series, but to add in new mechanics as well; however, is it all a worthwhile experience?

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Doom Eternal picks up sometime after the events of the first game with the “Doom Slayer” hovering above Earth like some omnipresent God lording over his flock in the Fortress of Doom – a towering citadel planted on a jagged piece of rock that acts as his personal headquarters he will visit after almost every mission. Last seen being teleported away to somewhere by Samuel Hayden at the end of Doom 2016, the Slayer’s presumably just arrived somehow after a long journey to find Earth overwhelmed by demons. The resistance – whom you never see and who manage to put out radio broadcasts like John Conner in some demon-infested reimagining of Terminator (and there are many references to this I.P. from the Mecha Zombies to this) – are begging for help before all of humanity is snuffed out of existence. Luckily, you are here to answer the call!
Thus begins Doom Eternal.
Fortress of Doom
The Fortress of Doom hovering above Earth.

☦ HELL ON EARTH ☦

In a reimagining (…or is it? More on this later.) of the second game in the series, Doom II: Hell on Earth, DE not only takes all of what was created in Doom games past and manages to build upon them by refining and ramping up previous mechanics, but adds new ideas to the fold creating a unique experience from D2016. However, is this experience entirely positive?
For me it was a mixed bag.
I’ll admit, at first I was really questioning the more prevalent chainsaw mechanic (used to get ammo from enemy), but after playing a while it made perfect sense. I rarely ever used the chainsaw in the original (as did most people apparently) because it felt tacked on and not needed, but not in this game. In Doom Eternal it is absolutely essential because you will be running out of ammo fast, but it’s not as much of a distraction as it is more of a push to get you to continually move forward as was the glory kill mechanic of the first game that gives you life and the new armor mechanic that has you destroying enemy after you hit them with a fiery blast from your Flame Belch. Killing is the only way you will survive in this game on multiple levels.
Chainsawing an Imp
You’ll be doing a lot of this.
The enemy are fast, furious and even more deadly than they were in D2016. Old enemy have some new tricks from shooting a higher number of blasts at varying angles or a beastly melee attack that does massive damage to better mobility allowing them to get near you faster or shields that protect them from your attacks until broken (if they can be). New enemies are full of surprises and fill in the voids that may be left by their counterparts. The Whiplash, a cybernetic snake-like entity, will ruin your day with its speed and ferocity if you’re not careful. The Gargoyle will burn you quick with its acidic spit as it flies about the level keeping its distance from you. Then there are returning favorites such as the Archville which apparently has retaken its rightful place from the Summoner in D2016, but also comes with a new trick. However, none of these demons hold a candle to the outright fuckery that is the Marauder.
I mentioned the enemies that will hide behind their shields until broken. The Marauder has an unbreakable shield he will hide behind, only hittable when his eyes flash green during a melee axe attack. All his other attacks – throwing argent energy axes from afar, summoning quick spectral hounds to fight along side him and a super shotgun blast that will push you to long range keeping you right where he wants you – are impervious to attacks… or so they say. I’ve hit him more than a couple of times after his super shotgun blast, however trading blows like this won’t keep you alive long. Take all that and add on his teleporting movement and the fact that you will have a slew of other enemy trying to rip your head off and you have a perfect storm of frustration. He is easily the hardest enemy you will fight in the game.
The Marauder
This guy can eat a dick.

All other enemy provide their challenges but can be overcome if you handle them correctly, and they go out in glorious fashion as each shot blows a chunk of flesh off of your target eventually turning them into giblets. You can shoot the rocket launchers off of the Revenants and the guns off of the Mancubus. You can Blood Punch – a punch that gives you health and instantly kills the enemy – the armor off of the Cyber Mancubus… if you want to get that close to it. And most of the time you will have to if you want to survive long. Like flies to shit, the enemy will be drawn to and quickly surround you bouncing you around like a pinata at some sort of demonic quinceanera. It sucks, but that’s where your improved mobility come into play.

As you upgrade your slayer you will begin to feel like a God as you double jump and double dash your way around the enemy like you’re a ballerina performing in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. I didn’t even mention the “meat hook” attached to your double barrel shotgun that will pull you towards any enemy you attach it to, the pull-up bars that a spread around the levels that allow you to stay in the air longer or pull yourself up to a higher location, the jump pads located around levels that propel you in various directions and the wall climbable ares that allow you to get more verticality on your targets.
Platforming in Doom
You’ll be doing a lot of platforming in between battles.
Your ability to maim and murder your enemy has dramatically increased, but it’s when you’re out of battle that the downside of Doom Eternal rears its head. More so, the game seems to pause – dragging on through sluggish platforming sections that swing the pendulum entirely in the other direction from the action-oriented combat to more methodical and slow movement as you leap onto falling platforms, around fire whips and climb up walls looking for you next destination or secret. I don’t mind this in moderation but this game does it all too often slowing down whatever momentum it had built up previously and sometimes (literally) dropping you into a pit of frustration (and death) if you don’t time the jumps just right or fail to see a button you have to shoot across the map that will extend a platform that you need to complete the section.
Adding insult to injury there are some elements that just don’t fit at all. Wall cannons that you can’t destroy shoot huge fireballs down the hallways that do damage to you but not the enemy giving you yet another thing to dodge, tentacles hide in holes or under water ready to jump out and swipe at you as you gloriously dance around your enemy or run through the level, and the sludge…
The sludge is absolutely counterintuitive to Doom. In a game that constantly pushes you forward toward the enemy and have the enemy constantly coming toward you firing more ammo than ever, why are there large pools of unavoidable goop that slow you down considerably and prevent you from running, jumping or dodging? It feels like a kick in the balls rather than a reinforcement of any kind of game mechanic or principle.
The hub in the Fortress of Doom
The Fortress of Doom – your hub in between missions.
And this slowdown happens in more way than one throughout the game. In between missions you will be sent back to your Fortress of Doom where you can look at all the things you’ve collected throughout the levels which include your weapons and Funko Pop! toys of the characters in the game, use Sentinel batteries to unlock certain powerups and armor (outfits) trapped behind locked doors, and listen to albums containing music from various id games. You can also collect disks containing cheat codes that can be turned on during the regular game and even play the original two Doom games in their entirety. There’s a lot to do in this location, but I didn’t see a reason why this couldn’t be included in the menu system and the Doom Slayer could just travel from one level to another.
The upgrades are even more plentiful as you have mods for your weapons, and then you can spend Weapon Points to upgrade those mods which can be upgraded to a Mastery level after completing a challenge (or by using a collectable Mastery Point). Your suit and its weapons can be upgraded in various ways using Praeter Suit Points… almost everything can be upgraded to help make the Doom Slayer an ultimate badass. The only weapons that can’t be upgraded are the one-shot powerhouse Crucible Sword and the two most powerful guns: the returning BFG 9000 and the Unmayker.
The Unmayker
The Unmaykr.
Yes, the ultimate weapon from Doom 64 that was originally supposed to be included in Doom according to the Doom Bible which is a beautiful bone white (as originally described) and listed as a “demon-tech weapon that hurts pure demons a lot, demon-humans very little, tech demons some. Made of demon bones.” It is here, white and does some nifty damage, even if you don’t use it much alongside the Big Fucking Gun. Of course, that’s not the only thing taken from Doom 64…
(spoilers and more ranting ahead)

☦ WHAT GOES AROUND, COMES AROUND ☦

Icon of Sin
He just wants to say hi.
As legend (or various online articles including this and the Doom wiki) states, the Doom Slayer is actually one in a long line of descendants that date all the way back to the original Doom Space Marine (Doomguy) who was the grandson of Commander Keen, no less, the unlikely hero from id Software’s first game.
After Doomguy battled through Phobos, Deimos and Hell in the first Doom (around 2022) and was returned to Earth in Doom II: Hell on Earth because he was found “too tough for Hell to contain” but, upon finding Earth in demonic ruin, Doomguy suits up again to free the remaining human survivors to space and enters Hell to battle the Icon of Sin and rid Earth of demons forever. Or so he thinks.
In Doom 64 the demons trick Doomguy back down to hell once more in an effort to stop him, but he manages to defeat them once again, along with the Mother Demon. No longer able to return to a normal life above ground, Doomguy stays in hell to make sure no demon escapes to Earth ever again.
The codex
There’s a lot of lore crammed into this game in the form of codex pages.
Nobody really knows what the fuck happened with Doom 3. Well, some say it’s a prequel to the original Doom, but it takes place in 2145 so… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Sometime before the events of Doom 2016, the Doomguy was found near death in Hell by the Maykrs, trained and turned into the badass Doom Slayer to do their bidding as a Night Sentinel which is basically their bitch.
He was sent to Hell or something to do battle with the demons (because that’s what he does) but the demons apparently trapped him in a sarcophagus without his armor where he would have stayed until the end of days. However, at the beginning of Doom 2016 (in 2149) he was released by Samuel Hayden to stop the new demon onslaught lead by Olivia Pierce and the events in D2016 happened. At the end he is teleported somewhere as Samuel Hayden walks away with the Crucible Sword.
Some years later Doom Eternal puts our boy back on Earth fighting for humanity’s survival which means either a long time has passed between Doom II and now so that humanity had plenty of time to repopulate and be rampaged by demons once again, but that doesn’t explain the Icon of Sin being reborn unless there were two or more of them but then why doesn’t Hell just attack with multiple Icons of Sin? A more popular belief (?) is that you’re in alternate dimension that might have started with Doom 3?
The Khan Maykr
Battle with the Khan Maykr can take a few interesting turns.

The Hell if I know.

Whatever the story is, I can’t help but feel it’s a letdown to go from a simple soldier who is literally thrown into the bowels of hell coming out the other side beaten, bruised but still breathing to some God-like superhero who can jump in a cannon and shoot himself across space through a sanctuary wall without so much as a scratch.

My heroes are the cowboy-types who go through seemingly insurmountable odds taking their share of bumps and bruises along the way, but come out on the other side a better person. Bruce Willis’ John McClane in Die Hard and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch Schaefer in Predator are perfect examples of this. However, with the somewhat new direction of the series, this God-like persona and moveset seem entirely necessary.

☦ OVERKILL!!! I MEAN, OVERVIEW ☦

All said, Doom Eternal is a very good game. I don’t think it’s as solid as Doom 2016, but at the same time I wouldn’t hesitate to tell somebody to pay full price for it today. The AAA quality from edge-of-your-seat gameplay to jaw-dropping graphics to absolutely metal music and sound effects all combine to overcome any shortcomings the game has, even the three crashes to desktop that occured during my playthrough. There is plenty of challenge and plenty of frustration that goes with it, but once you take down the hoards of beasts (or single damned demonic Marauder) that have given you pause, you will begin to feel like a true Doom Slayer.

I don’t know where the series goes from here – literally fighting God and the Devil? The story has left plenty open for a sequel. Was the blood curdling scream when Kahn Mayker bit the dust just an homage to Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan or was id Software leaving the door open for their next big bad? Will they somehow fit inter-dimensional travel into the series proving theories correct?

Where ever it goes, success is sure to follow because despite the time we live in or whatever platform we are using, Doom is seemingly eternal.

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If you want to purchase Doom Eternal, please consider using my affiliate link to purchase from Amazon.

Wading in the Pool of Radiance

Over 30 years after SSI and TSR unleashed the first Advanced Dungeons & Dragons computer role-playing game onto the world, I finally wade in the Pool of Radiance to see what all the fuss was about and if it still holds up today.

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I was afraid to play Pool of Radiance.

If I’m being honest I’d tell you I’m afraid to play a lot of older computer games because of scope and limitations. A lot of them are widely open-ended and only offer sporadic clues as to where to go next which leaves you, the player, to wander around trying to locate these areas based on your own hand-drawn maps or, if you’re lucky and/or resourceful, in alternative sources such as cluebooks and the internet. This wouldn’t be entirely an issue if their difficulty wasn’t so varied and simple details completely missing. Through their archaic systems and mechanics compounded with their older UI, it can make for a truly unforgiving experience for all the wrong reasons. Not to mention a very awkward play through. Nobody wants to watch a player meander around cluelessly through these games dying over and over… do they?

Honestly, I wish I could say Pool of Radiance was different than a lot of older games, but it’s largely the same. Limitations on hardware leave huge gaps that the user interface, storytelling and graphics can’t completely fill in. However, it’s somewhere within these gaps that your mind takes over and you start connecting the dots with theater of the mind. It’s in this spot that wondrous things begin to happen, and that’s where they magic lay.

♦ The Wild Frontier ♦

The city of Phlan
The city of Phlan.

You begin your journey in Pool of Radiance as you do in most other role-playing games – by creating a group of adventurers through a mostly familiar character creation screen which allows you to choose the race, class and stats of your characters. Nothing groundbreaking here.

You then set out to Phlan to help take it back from the evil forces that have taken it over after The Dragon Run over thirty years earlier (odd coincidence). The citizens of Phlan are a stubborn bunch who have rebuilt the city numerous times after countless attacks from both deadly humanoids and creatures alike, and this won’t be any different in their minds.

You get your quests by speaking with the Council Clerk and eventually attracting the attention of the Council of Ten members who rule the city, more specifically Porphyrys Cadorna who needs your help with quests of his own – all of these quests taking you through and around Phlan and the Moonsea region. Eventually this all leads into the main quest of the game and, if everything goes well, the freedom of Phlan, but as we all know it’s not the destination that necessarily matters, it’s the journey and the journey quickly becomes a muddled affair.

♦ The Dark Side ♦

The wilderness
The wilderness around the city.

There’s a lot I can rag on in this game.

The developers clearly thought everyone playing the game would know the 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules so many things go without explanation which, back in 1988, would have meant looking them up in the rulebook to see what can be accomplished. During character creation, for example, you don’t know that some races cap out at certain levels. The only way to know that in game is when you hit that cap and can’t level anymore.

The story is doled out in sporadic chunks that are hard to piece together entirely, especially if you are unfamiliar with the characters in play. Sometimes it just feel that there are entire logic jumps or they want you to walk a razor thin line of rationale and not look down for fear of falling and it all coming down with you. This is largely where that “theater of the mind” comes into play because you are able to give your own reasons to situations and connect the dots however you seem fit.

There are clear limitations to the game engine as well. You don’t have stats for a lot of the items picked up so you’ll be buying, looting and swapping a lot of items just to find out that they really don’t change that much. There is only one healing spell in the game and since you can only know a certain number of spells before you need to memorize them again through long rest, you’ll be stuck healing your party up for a long time considering you very frequently get interrupted during sleep which prevents you from memorizing the spells. I don’t even want to think about the de-leveling monsters such as the Wight. The only way to get these levels back in whole is to use a Restoration spell which you can only get through found scrolls in the game, but those are hard to come by until much later in the game (and by then you will have sworn off those areas with those creatures).

I could go on, but there’s no point. This is an over 30 year old game that I’m looking at with 2020 eyes. Instead, I will mention the Gold Box Companion which I can not recommend enough because it takes care of a lot all of these issues, and even some you didn’t think you would need help with. I wrote about it in further detail in a previous blog post, “Must-have mods for Pool of Radiance“. It’s absolutely free and truly a must-have.

♦ The Light Side ♦

The game, however, does have a lot of upside if you can get past all of the down. The story is truly an ageless story of good versus evil. There are subplots that make you question what it truly means to be evil and the dangers of having too much power and much more. These things they get through to you as best they can and a majority of the time they hit on these themes.

The region the game takes place in feels fleshed out among the Zhentil and Mulvaunt and Phlan and all the various smaller groups around the environment. It feels lived in and dangerous and fun to explore when you are given the freedom to just freely walk about. Also, each area has interesting ideas within them that make them feel inventive.

This is all helped by the graphics which are only displayed on a small corner of the screen, but for what they show your character you are able to see the very different areas that your characters must wade through and characters you need to interact with. The nomadic village looks completely different from Zhentil Keep. Kuto’s Well looks so much different from the Lizardmen Lair. Valjevo Castle looks different than Sokol Keep or Cadorna Textile House. It’s these small differences that keep the game fresh and new.

Pumping iron
Tyranthraxus showing us his flex.

The music is unfortunately non-existent in version 1.3 and the sound effects are pretty bland. You can, however, turn on the much better built-in Tandy sound effects and download the actual music from the web. Details you can once again find in my blog post, “Must-have mods for Pool of Radiance“.

♦ The Bottom Line ♦

It’s a fun game that I’m glad I played because it let me in on the early days of the Dungeons & Dragons rules and a classic computer game built using that system. The game has a lot of upside but it is hindered by old rules and mechanics that hold it back. I’m not sure how I would’ve understood a lot of the details without the included cluebook and the internet. I honestly probably would’ve given up without the Gold Box Companion. Just know that if you are interested in the early days of Dungeons & Dragons gaming the GBC is there to help you do just that and the game is amazingly inexpensive as you are able to pick it up regularly on sale for a couple of dollars in the GOG.com Forgotten Realms collection which also comes with all the necessary digitized reading material. If you know this isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of D&D games using the newer rules that you will be able to enjoy.

On a side note, playing Pool of Radiance did inspire me to buy the Ruins of Adventure tabletop module that the computer game is based off of which I am currently converting into the 5th edition ruleset I plan on publishing on GMSGuild.com. It’s Moonsea setting also inspired me to write up some new gritty survival rules I also plan to publish in the future as well.

Changes in the New Year

We may not have flying cars, robotic servants or any of those other things promised (lied) to us in the years past, but we do have a lot to look forward to on my Twitch channel starting with a new bot and merchandise store.

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Happy New Year!

Okay, I’m a little late with this… so sue me.

Yes, a new year is upon us: 2020! We are living in the future which means that by now we all have robotic servants; are vacationing to the Moon and have landed on Mars; have self-flying cars in every garage; are living in virtual worlds as if they are real… okay, maybe we’re not living in that future, but it’s the future nonetheless.

Being it’s the future, I think it’s about time to update my channel to match.

My channel has gone through many changes in the past – all of them meant to push it forward in one way or another – and I feel they have done just that. So let’s keep this train moving forward and talk about upcoming changes to the channel and community that surrounds it!

NEW BOT, WHO DIS?

Streamlabs

I’ve used Streamlabs to some extent since I first started streaming years ago.

They had the perfect answer for all your streaming needs and were constantly pushing to get you things you never even knew you needed from chargeback protection to a donation cup to overlays and much more. It really felt like they were streamers who were trying to make a platform that they needed.

Over time they began expanding. First by acquiring my favorite loyalty/streaming bot – Ankhbot – and converting it into Streamlabs Chatbot, then by creating their own distribution of my preferred streaming software, OBS.

It didn’t take long before I started to feel Streamlabs were getting a bit too big for what they could handle. The programs they acquired – seemingly needing to be largely rewritten from the ground up – were lacking in features that their predecessors had and the company wasn’t releasing updates and new features as fast as others such as OBS. In a burgeoning medium such as livestreaming, these limitations are dangerous.

By the time Logitech came into the picture, I was done. I saw systems being put up behind paywalls and the platform itself turning away from something created by ‘streamers who were trying to make a platform that they needed’ to ‘a corporation who bought a platform to make them money.’

I was out. I started looking for a alternative which I found in a simple yet full-featured system I had toyed around with previously: Streamelements.

WHAT DOES STREAMELEMENTS BRING TO THE TABLE?

Streamelements - Merry Christmas

On the surface, Streamelements does everything that Streamlabs does only for free. But it’s more than that. Streamelements has the streamer in mind.

I have nothing against people or companies making money, but when you have a program that starts off entirely free and then slowly block pieces away behind a paywall, that becomes a problem. Not so with Streamelements.

Streamelements has an activity feed, chatstats, overall stream stats, overlays, tipping pages (using PayPal or credit card using SePay and with chargeback protection), loyalty points, commands, games, moderation filters and much more.

I’ve already instituted a lot of these elements into the stream – carrying over much of what was built before – and I will continue to build upon it to create something special for our community.

Something that is a welcome return is the Streamelements Store where you can post rewards the community can buy with the loyalty points they have earned from watching the stream. Unlike the points Twitch gives your viewers, I have more versatility in the entire process which I love.

Another thing that just hit is the Merchandise Store.

A NEW STORE MOVING IN

Merchandise store comparisonI currently have a merchandise store through Design By Humans which has very high quality merchandise but the return on the streamers end is pennies on the dollar compared to the other services out there. On top of that, their customer service has left me soured as ithave done downhill since their great start.

I have a smaller, close-knit community so I need to be very concerned with where my and my community’s money is going. There are a lot of moving parts when you are talking about creating a merchandise store including the digital storefront, the quality of product, quality of print, customer service and more. However, all that taken into account, I still can’t see why I am only making $3 a shirt on Design by Humans whereas I can make around $11 a shirt on Streamelements.

The bottom line is Streamelements seems to understand that streamers are trying to use their platform as a component to create a brand around themselves… to build on their dreams. They aren’t primarily there to make money for themselves – that will come through the growth and happiness of those who choose to build their brands with the SE platform.

THE FUTURE IS OPEN

Overall, I’m excited where this move will take me! I feel I am slowly righting the ship from the wrongs I may have done in the past and as we go make this journey together I feel the future is open and ripe with potential!

is there anything you would love to see on my channel? Contact me through email, Discord or Twitter and we’ll talk about it.

Home Sweet Home Episode 2 is anything but sweet

Home Sweet Home Episode 2 is the sophomore followup to Yffdrazil Group’s 2017 horror hit Home Sweet Home. Unfortunantely, even though it looks and mostly plays better than the original, a lot is lost in the translation from paper to screen.

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In October of 2017 I was looking for a spooky new game to play on stream and was quickly lead by my community and fellow streamers to an independent Thai game called Home Sweet Home in which you assume the role of Tim, a man who wakes up in a hotel room only to find himself on a horrific quest to find his missing girlfriend. What followed was cross between a traditional slasher movie and japanese horror film that stumbled in some parts, but largely worked due to its unique voice and creepy hide-and-seek mechanics as you evaded the constant threat of the boxcutter girl.

Fast-forward two years and Yggdrazil Group Co., Ltd have released the second episode that picks up shortly after the first game’s controversial cliffhanger ending. Unfortunately, where the first game felt like it had a unique voice and story to tell the second comes off largely like a safer, incomplete attempt to recreate the magic of the first.

You start the game off waking up worse for wear in your apartment after having a nightmare of your girlfriend Jane who went missing in the first game. Exploring the apartment allows you to catch up with the timeline since the first game and you find out your character has become not only obsessed with finding Jane – so much that he has been suspended from his job – but also a raging alcoholic. Despite it all, he still has not able to find her even with the police on the case.

Your only only objective as you start the game and main objective throughout is to find Jane as you progress through varied and horrific settings seemingly spawned from her nightmares which are brought to vivid life through her diary entries you find scattered throughout the game. You’ll also find the games inventory items – keys, torn photos, health berries, and other items – in a similar fashion. This is where the game both excels and begins to fail.

Bodies rising into the night
I’m not saying it’s aliens, but…

The graphics and setting have been much improved from the first game. Where number one was set almost entirely inside buildings, the second game seemingly wants to get you outside which allows it to show off lush forest, swamps and other Thai locals complete with weather effects, fog and lighting because the game is set at night. Of course, it does drive you indoors on more than one occasion putting you in dark, cramped hallways and rooms that hold their own dangers and mysteries.

This also allows you to fully play around with the controls which feel more fluid than I remember the first game having, even though there’s nothing out of the norm from other horror or first-person games here. You can move using the W, A, S, D keys and look around with the mouse. You interact with objects using the E key and crouch, peek over objects and run.

Unfortunately, the setting and design also lead to a lot of the major failures of the game.

Hide and seek
The hide-and-seek mechanic is fraught with frustration.

A lot of what the game tries to teach you it does so late or doesn’t reinforce common themes for you to learn. For example, I began interacting with objects using the E key before the game told me how. Almost at the same time I learned how to crouch and peek over a wall (using the spacebar and mouse) I was being attacked by a ‘Lost Souls’ reject from Doom that I was supposed to hide from. I found out I needed to sneak through an area with zombies (made even more apparent by the game taking away my ability to run) before the idea of sneaking is given to you as an option, but I never had to do it again. The abilities of the Big Bad are excessive (which I’ll get into later) which lead me to just letting Tim die and me reloading rather than going through the prescribed method of button mashing and running to no avail. It just doesn’t seem to balance out correctly, and that affected the overall gameplay for me.

Level and puzzle design range from great to boring. The first time you encounter the mannequin/armoire puzzle and figure it out you feel great because it feels like an natural puzzle that you actually used your mind to solve. When you have to search a building for numbers that have been painted on the walls in order to unlock a door that exists to solely block your path you start to wonder what spirit bent on tormenting you has gone through this much trouble to put this puzzle in your path? Sadistic developers, that’s who!

A number puzzle
A clue to a number puzzle found within an arbitrary maze-like structure.

In fact, a lot of the level design is set up in this same way. You will weave your way around storage units and dividers that have been conveniently put in your path for no other reason than to give you a maze to walk around and to lengthen the play time even though your character is doing nothing more than walking through a building. Doors are plentiful in these buildings but come in an openable, locked or barred state making the maze even more confusing and making you wonder if you’re going in circles or to a dead end.

This, of course, is all to set up the big bad of this game. Where the first game had the boxcutter girl chasing you who forced you to climb into lockers to avoid her deadly intentions, this game has you avoiding the Geisha girl from the end of the first game. Much like the first game, Geisha girl will appear and torment you while you are trying to carrying out whatever trivial task is set before you. This time instead of using pools of blood to teleport, she uses statues.

Blood and geishas
Blood & geishas – get familiar with this scene.

The negatives I encountered with Geisha girl is when she attacks you have to rapidly hit E to break free from her, but that doesn’t happen until she drains at least 3/4 of your life no matter how hard you bash that key. Afterward, you need to heal up and run to safety away from statues/her line of sight but she teleports at a speed that makes it almost impossible to get away which means if you are caught a second time you are surely dead. If she pulls you out of an armoire you are hiding in she turns you to face her and the armoire so by rapidly tapping E to get away you inadvertently hit E to go back into the armoire only to be pulled out by her again and killed. It’s actually faster and simpler to let her kill you and load the last save game to continue your adventure rather than fight against the inevitable.

This all culminates in the final area where you actually have to face her in a room full of statues that is something pulled from my nightmares not because of anything horrific, but because of how terrible of an experience I had playing it. Mannequins will point at a statues she will appear at and you need to triangulate this position and pin her spirit to that statue with Holy Nails and then cut her with a knife (for whatever reason). You repeat this a certain amount of times to finish the game. Of course, as previously mentioned, she can teleport and show up at these statues at any time and she will change which statues she shows up at even if you nail that statue so if you try to attack the new statues, a large majority of the time you will be too slow and get attacked. The number of statues in the room means that even if you get away she will find and kill you a second time forcing you to start all over. It’s frustrating.

The feral beast
The feral beast attacks.

I realized I just said horrific and the most horrifying part of the game is its design. That is sad.

I haven’t even mentioned the mishits when swinging Holy Nails at the Big Bad when trying to pin her body to a statue; levels that literally load part way through complete with black screen making me wonder if I had died or caused an error; the other objectives (other than ‘Find Jane’) that are super trivial (‘Open the door.’, ‘Find the way out.’, and my personal favorite: ‘Run!!!’); a story that tries to be something bigger than itself when it’s just a simple tale of two sisters, one of whom is taking a rivalry too far; and of course another ending that isn’t even a cliffhanger – just an abrupt end that doesn’t give you any reward for the task of taking down the Big Bad. Yes, once again that simple objective of finding Jane still goes uncompleted!

At this point (once again) I found myself questioning my decision of purchasing this game. As a horror game I did not find it scary. As a puzzle game I only found one, maybe two puzzles well thought out. As a walking simulator I got bored way too fast as the story didn’t have enough meat for me to be interested (there is no ending, again!) and the antagonist is just an evolved but frustrating rehash of the original.

Overall, there are many better horror games out there for you to play even at full price. If you still want to play this game I would say wait until all the episodes are released and heavily discounted before you do so.

Friends unite: A Way Out review

FatsackFails and I got together to play the newly released co-op adventure game A Way Out and give our collective, real thoughts on this unique game.

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A Way Out is the newly released cooperative action/adventure title from Hazelight Studios, the same company that created Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and released by EA. Being a game that truly embraces co-op gameplay — you need to play with another person — I figured there would be no better opportunity to get together with FatsackFails and dual-stream this game, which is exactly what we did for over eight hours Friday night/Saturday morning.

I also felt that being a cooperative game, we needed a cooperative review of the game as well. Here are our honest thoughts about A Way Out.

Resonant Drifter: When I first heard about A Way Out at E3, I was intrigued. If done correctly, it could be a fun, creative way to play a game with your friends — a sort of modern take on old-school cooperative games that I played in my childhood. If done poorly it could be a gimmicky and frustrating way of putting two people through a situation that would have been easier with one. Luckily, I feel A Way Out cleverly side steps the latter category.

Fatsack: I had not heard anything about the game prior to its release, so I went in blind with little expectation. I’ve played my fair share of QTE based action adventure games, and the novelty of playing it split screen co-op with a buddy intrigued me. The fair price point, ($30 on EA Origin) and the fact that Drifter and I could play the game together with only 1 copy of the game convinced me to try it.

RD: Yeah, I think it was a really cool idea that, considering it was a cooperative game, only one person had to buy the game and then could invite another person to play it with them for free. That, along with the price, made it really easy to split the price among two friends and play together. The free thing I believe is only good for one play, but it’s better than nothing!

Character select
Player select – meeting Leo and Vincent for the first time.

RD: Right from the beginning when you are first introduced to the two main characters, you get are introduced to the cinematic quality of the game. Much like a Tarantino movie, we start the game somewhere near the end in their hunt for a man named Harvey, then we are fast forwarded to the beginning where these two characters met in prison which is where all the fun begins.

FS: I enjoyed the two characters and how the game differentiates their personalities with how you interact with the world. Vincent and Leo can talk to the same NPC and have two wildly different conversations based on how they react. It was cool to see two distinct voices working towards the same goal using whatever skills or talents suited them best.

RD: I agree! This was most prominently shown in the scenes where the two had to make a major decision. Both players are prompted with the issue and have to agree on one of two ways, but it’s also shown with interactions with the NPCs as you said. We kept running around the scenes and comparing what we had done because people would act/react so differently to each character.

Making choices
Making choices are the critical points in this game and something both players may not agree on.

FS: One thing I enjoyed about the game were all the different characters Leo and Vincent interact with. Each one of them had their own personality and each conversation with them was a glimpse into their life. One NPC was a pregnant woman waiting in the hospital. When Leo spoke with her the conversation was about the gender of the baby, Leo guessing it to be a boy and the woman demanding that her psychic confirmed it was a girl.

Vincent’s conversation with the woman uncovered more information about the woman’s deadbeat boyfriend, who wasn’t with her at the hospital. This had no impact on the story at hand, but it was nice to see all of these minor characters fleshed out and more fully realized than you’ve come to expect from nonessential NPCs.

RD: Yeah, I think we both agreed that it would probably get old on another playthrough, but first time through it was a really nice feature and made for some lighter moments in between what was a rather serious story. I especially liked how the split screen always gave viewers something to watch because while one of us was talking with an NPC, the other would be wandering around the scene. I found myself glancing at your screen more than once.

FS: Another pleasant surprise for me was how smoothly the interactions with these characters moved between interactive dialogue, cut scenes, and even full blown QTE set pieces. It never really felt jarring or like the control had been ripped away from me.

Cinematic camera angles
The game manages some great, unobtrusive cinematic camera angles on more than on occasion.

RD: This plays into the cinematic nature of the game which I loved. The screen would shift to give focus on the character progressing the story. If both characters were involved, the split screen would go away giving focus on both. In one scene the two are being chased by a trained killer and the scene shifts in multiple ways to creatively fit the action on the screen while keeping it easy to follow.

FS: During a particularly intricate chase scene (of which there are a few) through a long hallway the camera shifted to a side scrolling perspective and followed Leo as he made his way across fighting off his would be captors hand to hand. There’s another chase scene in a different part of the game where the camera goes super wide and above the characters as both Leo and Vincent chase someone down.

It was a lot of fun to play these sections and was impressive to see the game take creative liberties with how to utilize the camera to tell the story.

RD: I think this brilliance is part of what made this game especially fun to play. Shifting the camera around kept things fresh and exciting; very movie-like. Sometimes it felt like you were playing a different game altogether.

Speaking of other games, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention all the mini-games they have placed around the scenes that we more than had our fair share of.

Playing a game within a game
Even two men running from the law have to blow off some steam.

FS: I beat you at darts, Drifter! And Horseshoes! And Arm Wrestling! And the Arcade Game! Ha ha. Although you did school me at Connect Four, the Wheelchair Balance game and Baseball.

RD: Lol, that arm wrestling was killer on my forearm!

These mini-games help to break up the game’s story, but also keep the game competitive not only between Vincent and Leo but between the two players controlling them. Everything in this game takes advantage of the fact that two real people are in control of the characters and plays on that through decisions needed from the main story to mini-games played.

FS: Overall I had a blast playing this game with Drifter. It accomplished its goal making me care about Leo and Vincent’s stories and showed the camaraderie between the two build as Drifter and I strengthened our own friendship. The game play was fun and exciting; the story was interesting and the pacing wasn’t afraid to have slower moments to really juxtapose all the action laid throughout.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, as I believe the game is best played with as little knowledge of the story going in. However, I will say I thoroughly enjoyed how the game builds up the game play and subtly hints at the conclusion of the story through it’s mechanics. By the time the climax of the game comes to fruition, Leo and Vincent have accomplished the unthinkable thanks to the teamwork and collaboration between Drifter and myself.

RD: I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this game as much as I did — It knocked my socks off! I was caught up in the story and invested in the characters which lead to some really difficult choices. Having my friend on the other side and considering what we had just been through for the last eight hours made decisions even more fun and challenging. Like you said, looking back at how the game reinforces some concepts throughout was brilliant.

I don’t know if I’d feel the same way in another playthrough as talking to everyone again may feel old, but I’d love to see how the other side of the decisions we didn’t chose play out.

And I’d like to redeem myself in some of those mini-games.

My first days on Mars

Tasked with the survival and growth of the Mars colony, you must balance a heap of issues on your plate in Paradox’s newest space survival simulator that mostly flies high with a few hiccups along the way.

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I have been eager to play a civilization building game for a while now but because my back list of games in my library continues to grow I have been hesitant to pick up any game that may require a large chunk of time to learn and finish, but when GOG was gracious enough to gift me with an early copy of Surviving Mars by Paradox Interactive, I jumped at the chance.

Surviving Mars is a survival/colony building simulator in which you build and maintain the first colony on Mars which, as you can believe, is no simple task. From the start you are given a ton of options that open up the game to replayability and customization in the form of choosing your mission sponsor, commander profile and a mystery each giving you varied starting resources & money, benefits to the colony and story mode (if you want one) respectively.

Choosing your scenario
The starting options can change the difficulty and direction of gameplay drastically.

After choosing from a slew of landing spots on Mars, you set off to create your first colony. In the beginning you are given some hints at what to do, but are largely left on your own to do what you want, an apparent common theme among Paradox games. For some this could be a big turn off, especially with such an open-ended task in front of you, but for those familiar with these games or willing to take their time and follow the breadcrumbs in the form of small tooltips, they will find their way just fine.

It’s in this learning that you really begin to feel like a leader, almost as if you were a new, untested commander thrust into the spotlight by an eager corporation wanting to beat others in a space race and left to your own devices. You will develop your space legs and eventually your own leadership style, or you will perish and try again.

Building your base
It’s always a good feeling when your base starts operating like a well oiled machine.

Of course, this is only the beginning training you on how the game mechanics work. A power source (solar panel) must be connected to a power consumer (a factory) using power cables. Water and air production factories must be connected using pipes to either storage tanks (highly recommended) or directly to domes. Basic knowledge leads to more advanced knowledge that you will either apply to your next construction project or your next game. All-the-while you can get support from your sponsor back on Earth through supply shuttles that will deliver much needed resources, but be careful not to burn through your sponsorship money too fast or you will find hard times fast.

After the game deems you competent enough to keep a lifeless colony in working order, you are given the chance to bring your first colonists to Mars through the use of passenger shuttles. This adds a whole new level to the game as you have to micromanage your colonists stats while looking at the overall production of your entire colony as well. They, of course, go hand-in-hand as your colonists run some of your machinery like the metal extractors, machine parts factories and research labs; but they also keep other colonists alive and in good shape by working in infirmaries, diners and schools. It’s this ebb and flow that, when it’s working, makes you feel like a god. But the game doesn’t do you any favors in this department.

Domes
Domes are crucial for survival and connecting them help facilitate transportation.

For all the talk about the game focusing on your colonists surviving, there is very little in terms of UI elements to help you keep track of this. There is a general “Colonists Overview” menu that gives you the average of the colonists health, sanity, comfort and morale; however, if you drill down to individual stats you will start to see a different, a sometimes scary, picture amongst your colonists.

If your colonists stats get too low they will die, commit suicide, become a renegade, can become homeless or a slew of other things that don’t bode well for your colony, but you don’t have any easy way of knowing how they are really doing. I started to devote some time, after a certain number of Sols, to pause the game and go residence-to-residence and click on each colonist’s avatar to bring up their stats to see how they were really doing rather than trust the games wide-brush approach to giving you stats. This is literally the easiest way to micromanage all your colonists and is a pain for sure, but better than letting everything go down the space-toilet.

Citizens stats
It’s not a simple task to see which citizens are not enjoying their time on Mars.

If your colonists don’t like working during the night or going outside the dome to work you better reassign them. However, it’s not as easy as dragging their avatar to a different work shift. The only way to reassign them to a different shift is to turn two of the three shifts (morning, evening, night) off, then turn on the non-night shift and check if the person-in-question was assigned to that shift before turning the night shift back on. Luckily, it is easier to assign the workers to a new job with a click of a button.

Ultimately, the entire game operates like that. Your drones operate through drone hub based on a three-tier priority system. The drones will build and maintain those on high priority first and low priority last. Beyond that it’s not very intuitive unless you want to shift priorities back and forth. If you want them to quickly fix your failing power systems you’ll most likely use the rover — a mobile HQ that can have up to eight drones assigned to it for individual tasks — as long as the resources are within reach or just manually grabbing some drones yourself and making them do it as the other options take too much time. Of course, there is no click-and-drag grab for a group of drones so you’ll have to individually click on drones to have them perform your task.

Map of Mars
Time to explore to unravel the mysteries of Mars!

UI issues aside, the AI seems to be fairly competent. If you stop fighting the game mechanics and work within their parameters, you will find a large and largely enjoyable game filled with anomalies to discover and hurdle after hurdle to work around. The AI will take care of all the heavy lifting and you’ll adopt a multi-headed leadership role of taking care of issues as they pop up, doing preventative maintenance when you can and preparing for the future and what that will look like.

Overall, I enjoy the game and will continue to play it, but I understand the negative feelings toward the game as the UI decisions I mentioned above shouldn’t add to the difficulty of the game as they currently do. The UI should be there to aid you in your task of building the first city on Mars. There’s no doubt that modders will quickly mod the game with the included mod editor, but is that what you pay $40 for or should it have been there from day one?

Ultimately, I can tell you that underneath it all there is a solid game of micromanagement even if the current UI doesn’t allow you an easy way of tracking it. There is a ton of replayability even before you begin in the form of choosing different sponsors, commanders, mysteries and landing zones. Even going about different ways to build your colony could result in different outcomes as I realized in my current build when I placed domes too far away from each other. For what the game lacks, I await the flurry of mods that are sure to be coming to fill in the gaps that the devs left. Remember, even AAA games such as Skyrim are released full of bugs and other errors only to realize their full potential through modding.

As with all Paradox Interactive games, there is certain to be a lengthy future for this game complete with multiple expansions (2 planned as of now), content packs (also 2 planned right now) and the aforementioned modding community, and it’s a future that I am now a part of.