Review: Doki Doki Literature Club

The October tradition of horror game reviews continues! This time I’m taking a short break from the PSX era games to review a modern title: Doki Doki Literature Club… Wait. That doesn’t sound like a horror game! It certainly doesn’t look like one either. Well… it’s not. At least not in the traditional sense. There’s no jump scares, zombies, horrifying monsters or any of that. Instead, what we have here is a game that shakes and rattles you mentally when you least expect it.  That being said, if you have not experienced this game and you think you might want to, it might actually be in your best interests to stop reading now. This game is truly best experienced blind. You should go into this game with as little information about it as possible to obtain the best experience.

Doki Doki Literature Club is a visual novel game. This is a genre that I’ve not really talked about on this site before, but one that I do enjoy. These days, most visual novels are romance/anime style games. They are filled with cutesy characters and more often then not, the goal of the game is to “meet your future waifu”. The creators of Doki Doki take this expectation and build a game that smacks the unassuming player in the face with a cold dose of shock and anguish.

The game starts off just like any other stereotypical Visual Novel. You play as a young, socially awkward school boy who is unexpectedly forced to associate with a handful of adorable school girls. Depending on the choices you make in the game, one of these girls will slowly start to take a liking to you. You continue to play in attempt to develop this relationship, while juggling your duties to the other characters in the game. Each character has their own quirks and backstory, and these become more apparent as you continue to play. Then, out of nowhere the game takes a very unexpected turn. I won’t go into specifics or there would be no point in playing the game for yourself. But, as if this twist was not enough – you soon begin to discover that everything you thought you knew about the game is completely wrong. How do I put it? You’re not really playing a game. Instead, this game is playing you.

At this point, some players might suspect that something is wrong with their computer or that somehow their game has become corrupted. But, sharp players will realize exactly what is going on and will feel extremely satisfied with the experience.  It’s difficult to discuss in a review without giving away too many spoilers. But, let me just say that in all my years of gaming, I have never had an experience that made we want to sit back and clap my hands in salute to a developer until now. This game completely exploits the players expectations and trolls them to levels unseen previously. It’s simply masterful in its execution.

One of the first things you will see when you start the game is a warning regarding the game’s disturbing content and imagery. This warning is very true. It might take you 2 hours or more before you encounter this type of content, but once it starts it doesn’t stop.

The disturbing content in Doki Doki Literature Club is more mental than anything else. If you are a person that truly suffers from anxiety or depression, it might seriously be a good idea to skip this title. That’s no a joke. This game will put you in a state of mind that you were not expecting to find yourself in. You have been warned.

That being said, if you are looking for a unique gaming experience that will kick-start your Halloween, this is certainly a title to consider. Look past the J-Pop and busty anime babes and give this game an honest chance. You will be surprised at what you find.

Difficulty: Easy–  As a visual novel there’s really no level of skill needed to play the game. However, unlike most games of this type – if you mess up and don’t get the result you want from the story, it’s not quite as easy to quit and reload your previous save as you might think…

Story: The storyline here is the main focus of the game, and it’s very well done. However, if you play through to completion you’ll realize there’s even MORE going on than the scenario presented in the game itself. You’ll get even MORE out of it if you try to play through a second time. Try it, you’ll see.

Originality: This title is probably one of the most original and refreshing gaming experiences I’ve had a long time. It takes an established genre and exploits the players expectations to a point I’ve never seen before. Sure, many games offer twist endings or try to surprise you in one way or another. But this game takes it to a new level.

Soundtrack: The music in the game is perky and cute. Typical of most Japanese style visual novels. I found the music to be oddly appropriate, but also a little repetitive and annoying after a while.

Fun: I wouldn’t really call this game “fun”. Then again, it’s not supposed to be. This game, if anything, seems to be a bit of a social experiment. It is certainly worth your attention and it’s an experience you are not likely to forget anytime soon. Overall, for me the takeaway was very positive. But this is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

Graphics: Typical Visual Novel flair. The game has colorful, anime style visuals. It’s very “kawaii” and well done. 

Playcontrol: No issues. Point and click 100%.

Downloadable Content:  N/A

Mature Content: Disturbing imagery, adult themes, sexual content, violence.

Value:  This game is available to all at no cost. It’s 100% free.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – This game is very unique. I recommend it. Don’t be fooled by it’s outward appearance. This is not your typically sex-driven anime VN. This is a psychological horror experience wrapped in a cutesy interface. It defies labels. Players looking for something different will find what they are looking for here if they have the patience to see it through.

Available on: Steam

Review: Thief II – The Metal Age

Again, I want to apologize for the long hiatus between game reviews, but I’m back now and continuing my “turn of the century” playthroughs. Today I give you my long-awaited review of Thief II: The Metal Age. I discussed the original Thief more than three years ago, in anticipation of the Square-Enix reboot. But it took me this long to catch up and play through the second entry in the original franchise. But finally, here we are.

For those unfamiliar with the original game, Thief took the concept of first-person PC games and turned it on it’s head. Instead of being a fast-paced shooter, this game required you to sneak around in the shadows and actually try to avoid killing enemies unless absolutely necessary. It was a smashing success and it was only a matter of time until it spawned a sequel. Thief II took everything that was great about the original game and cranked it up a notch. In fact, this sequel is a great example of developers actually listening to their customers. The folks behind the game took the feedback they received from the first title, and added more of what fans liked the most, and removed some of the concepts that seemed to garner the most complaints. The end result, is a game true to the original but largely superior.

This game takes place one year after the events of the original title. Garrett continues to make his living as a skilled catpurse, relying on no one other than himself. Since the events of the original game, a new faction has emerged in the city. One that believes in a future ruled by technology and machines.  As a result, the nature-worshiping Pagans have been driven out of town and into hiding.  None of this matters too much to Garrett, as he has other things to worry about. You see, there’s a new sheriff in town, literally – and he’s got his eye on putting an end to Garrett’s way of life. However, as one might expect, it’s not so easy to remain neutral. Before long, Garrett finds himself wrapped up in the middle of this conflict between the Mechanists and the Pagans. To save himself, he’s going to have to choose sides.

One thing to know before you decide to jump in to the world of Thief II; this is an older game and one designed for a different age of computing. However, just like the original – there’s a number of tweaks and unofficial patches available that will allow the game to run on modern hardware. I recommend something called “TafferPatcher”. This is a fan-made all-in-one patch that will both optimize the game for modern hardware, but retain the original look and feel of the title. Despite being unofficial, it’s widely respected and very much safe to install.

As I mentioned above, if you enjoyed the original game, Thief II is certainly worth your time. Every single thing that is great about the first title is expanded on here and there’s lots of it. To me, both the size of the levels and the number of mission objectives have increased and become much more engaging. There’s nothing better than sneaking around in the shadows right under the noses of the night watchmen and looting a place clean. The feel of the original game remains intact, but this time with a more engaging storyline.

From a technical standpoint, Thief II feels very much like it’s predecessor. I don’t really see a big difference in the bulk of the game engine. The environments look very similar to those founds in Thief. But, the character textures are greatly improved.  The enemy AI is also quite a bit better – in this game guards will notice more things that seem out-of-place. For example open doors or damaged environmental objects. So, tech-wise, Thief II does show signs of progression over the original.

To me, the Thief series represents a high point in PC gaming. It was a time where the industry was largely engaged in copy-cat behavior. But the Thief series took a bold step to stand apart from all the clones. It was a risk that paid off big. To me, Thief II represents the very best of the series. It’s a game that I recommend to retro PC gamers looking for a unique experience.

Difficulty: Variable–  Thief II offers several levels of difficulty. Increasing the difficulty level not only gives the player more objectives to accomplish during the game’s missions, but also going for Hard or Expert restricts you from being allowed to kill enemies. The game is certainly more rewarding on one of these two settings. But I recommend Normal for most players going on their first run.

Story: Thief II continues the lore and storyline established in the original game, and it’s quite well done. The game story develops a number of ways. First, there are cutscenes between levels. But, tidbits can also be picked up by eavesdropping on various NPC conversations or reading notes and journals that you encounter as you sneak your way through the areas of the game. Players who take their time and explore every nook and cranny will be rewarded with additional storyline elements.

Originality: The trail was certainly blazed with the original Thief. But the concepts laid out by it’s predecessor are highly refined and presented to players in this sequel.  Despite being a sequel, Thief II still manages to avoid feeling like a cheap retread of the original game.

Soundtrack: There not a lot here in terms of game music. But, that’s ok. This game is ALL about atmosphere. You have to listen for footsteps and other audible clues as you play. These sound effects are very well done. This is one of those games that still takes advantage of older surround sound technology – and it does it very well. Ambient noises aside, the voice acting in the game is also superb.

Fun: This kind of game may not appeal to all players. It requires patience and a willingness to learn from your mistakes. This will likely be a turn-off to some, but for those that enjoy stealth games, this one will provide hours of entertainment.

Graphics:  The first two entries in the Thief series are an odd mix of both really good 3D graphics and funky, blocky textures. However, Thief II does improve on the look and feel of NPC characters significantly. This entry also includes improved skybox and lighting effects. Regardless, it still looks very dated when compared to modern games. But it was quite top of the line for it’s time. 

Playcontrol:  No real issues here. The game runs on the standard WSAD keyboard layout for first-person PC games, with some modifications for the game’s unique features. Occasionally, climbing and jumping around on platforms can feel a bit awkward and cumbersome. But, it’s merely a minor annoyance at times.

Downloadable Content:  N/A. 

Mature Content: Mild language.

Value:  Thief II can be found on Steam for around $7.00. For that price, the game is well worth every penny. The amount of content in this game and the quality of this title overall makes it an absolute steal for that price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Thief II, despite it’s age, still holds up as one of the definitive stealth-based first-person games of all time. Fans of the genre that have not yet experienced it, should not hesitate for a moment. This is one game worthy of your attentions. For players who are not sure if this type of game would appeal to them, the price tag alone makes it worth the gamble. You’ll never spend a better $7 on a PC title.

Available on: PC (Steam)

Original Trilogy:

Thief: The Dark Project  –  Thief 2: The Metal Age  – Thief: Deadly Shadows

Reboot:

Thief

Check Up: Diablo III – Rise of the Necromancer (Patch 2.6.0)

It’s been a little over six months since I last checked in on the status of Diablo III. At the time, the game was just getting into it’s ninth “season” and the Diablo Anniversary event was in full swing. Now, Diablo fans have something new to celebrate. Just in time for Season 11, Blizzard has a released a new batch of paid DLC for Diablo III called Rise of the Necromancer. I call it DLC because the content does come at a cost and it’s contents are a bit more extraordinary than what you’d find in a mere patch, but also less than what you’d expect from a full expansion.

Essentially, for the cost of $15.00, you gain access to the new Necromancer character class, and all of the fluff that comes with it, but there are no new levels or main storyline content. The purchase does include a few cosmetic items as well. (A portrait frame and a pet).

Personally, I feel like this is a fair asking price from Blizzard. Asking $15.00 from players who are already well invested in the game is reasonable. But if you’re new to Diablo III or considering buying it in the future, it may be best to wait and see if there is going to be an “all-in-one” collection. But, if you’re impatient the existing Battlechest collection only costs $20. That includes the base game and expansion. So even if you purchased that and Rise of the Necromancer, you’re only out $35 total, which if we’re being honest, is a more than acceptable price for a full game of this quality.

Just like any other class in Diablo III, the Necromancer comes complete with it’s own skill tree, item drops and audio dialogue. So, this class is in no way a cheap tack-on. In fact, I found the Necromancer to be a the perfect fit into the Diablo III universe. I daresay that it might be my favorite class in the game! It has arrived just in time for the upcoming season. So, seizing this opportunity, once Season 11 starts, and friend and I plan to play through the game again as Necromancers. So, if you have similar plans (and I’m sure many do), feel free to look for me.

My final thoughts on this release are as follows: considering the  success that this DLC release has brought Blizzard, I can only wonder if they plan future releases using this model. Diablo III is now several years old, but it remains popular and profitable. Perhaps future add-ons to the game will come in the form of piecemeal DLC like this. Aside from character classes, maybe we’ll see new storyline areas or other paid content in the future? Blizzard has been very hush hush on such matters in regards to Diablo III, but we know from other games like Overwatch or even World of Warcraft that they tend to embrace paid content. We’ll have to see.

Review: Dragonia

It is with both shame and amusement that I type this review… As it is my ritual every summer in the weeks leading up to the Steam Summer Sale, I always take a moment to browse through the store looking for games that interest me. When I find one, I will add it my wishlist to ensure that I receive a notification if it goes on sale. This year, while perusing the store I came upon an interesting trend – I found a number of anime style games, of various types that were selling for $1.50 or less. Due to the extremely low price, I snatched up as many of them as I could. One of them happened to be an anime-style shoot-em-up by the name of Dragonia. After scrolling through the store page for the game, it quickly became obvious that this was an adult title. But, the game play looked interesting and the reviews were great so I bit the bullet.

Now, even knowing that the game contained some adult themes, I had NO IDEA what I had got myself into… to say this is a “mature” game is an understatement. This game is downright pornographic. On top of that, there’s even an “uncensoring patch” available directly from the developer, just in case you need absolutely nothing left to the imagination. In fact, I debated even reviewing this game at all, considering the content. But, as you will see, it’s actually a somewhat intriguing title. So much so, I decided to review it regardless of it’s extremely adult nature.

Let me take a moment to explain what this game actually is. First off, in it’s heart and soul, Dragonia is a bullet-hell schmup. You play the character of Feeney, a half-human, half dragon. Feeney is summoned by an old witch to help purge the land from the grip of several Evil Dragons. As it turns out, only Feeney has the ability to defeat and “purify” these dragons. As might be able to guess, to “purify” them, Feeney has to resort to her… seductive skills and… well… you can guess the rest.

(Censored by Sensei)

The basic storyline outlined above is easy enough to decipher. However, that’s about all you’re going to get out of the storyline text in the game. The English translation in this game can only be described as horrendous. It seems to literally be a copy paste from Chinese to English via Google Translate… Which in some ways is actually a godsend, because the text likes to describe in detail every single thing Feeney has to do to “purify” her enemies.

All of the adult material in the game is limited to the cutscenes that play before and after each game level. The gameplay itself is pretty much family friendly. You control Feeney from a birds-eye-view as she flies around and blasts her opponents from the air.  Enemies approach from every angle. It’s a classic bullet-hell scenario.

As you play through each level, Feeney will collect “souls”. In between stages, souls can be exchanged for a variety of things. You can unlock new modes of attack, you can increase your damage level, health, etc.  So in some ways, this game has a very RPG-like progression element to it.  You complete a level by defeating a certain number of enemies. Once you reach this number, the level boss is spawned. Defeating the boss allows you to proceed to the next area.  At first, the game levels are fairly simple but eventually you will come across a boss that you just can’t take down. This is where you’ll want to grind up some more health of damage output. Some bosses are weak to certain attacks (lightning, fire, etc). So unlocking specific attack modes is also part of the strategy.

In this way, despite the extremely high levels of fan-service, the game actually has some redeeming value to it.  I personally found the gameplay to be engaging and overall very well done. There’s no shortage of upgrades to unlock. So, this game gets quite a few things right. It’s hard to argue that the gameplay itself is bad. And, depending on your viewpoint, the cutscenes are either going to be a big plus or a big turn off.

The down points to this title are without a doubt the terrible localization and the UI/playcontol. The in-game menus look like they were designed by rank amateurs. There’s no logic to them at all. But with a little diligence, you’ll be able to figure out their quirks and limp through the UI. The game itself can be played using a keyboard, but I don’t recommend this. These types of game just work best with a controller. Personally, I played Dragonia using my trusty USB Xbox 360 controller.  Even on a controller, the control-scheme makes little sense. But, it is accurate and responsive. Normally, these types of complaints would be a BIG DEAL, because when I say they are bad, I mean they are really REALLY terrible. But, when the game sells for $1.50, it’s very difficult to complain. Especially for all of the content you actually get with that $1.50. Dragonia is a short game, but it’s longer than others that I’ve paid premium prices for.

If you enjoy schmups and bullet hells, this is a game that might tickle your fancy. Just know going in, that it is filled with unapologetic hentai visuals.

Difficulty: Easy–  This game is a curious case in terms of difficulty simply because as a schmup, it is exactly what you’d expect: bullets flying everywhere, endless enemies pouring from all sides, etc. Each level gets harder and harder. But, as mentioned in the main review, you can upgrade your life meter and even the damage that you deal. So, if you find yourself stuck on a particular level, the only thing you really need to do is be patient and grind until you are overpowered enough to blast your way through whatever roadblock you encountered. This mechanic actually renders most of the challenges in the game meaningless.

Story: If we’re being honest, the storyline for this game is nothing more then a vehicle to deliver some heavy doses of fanservice. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that the game itself was developed separately from the dirty cutscenes and the two were cobbled together into the game that we see now. The in-game story is shallow and weird. But, admittedly mildly interesting. The translation is barely comprehendable.

Originality: Hentai games are nothing new. Neither are bullet-hells. But, I have to admit that this is the first time I’ve ever seen them lumped together in one title. Add in the the RP/progression element and you have a pretty original package.

Soundtrack: The game has a somewhat catchy soundtrack. But the sound effects can be a bit annoying at times. One weapon in particular sounds like high volume static. It is quite annoying. Overall, the audio in this title is pretty poor and unimaginative.

Fun: It’s hard to admit this. But, I had a pretty good time with the game. The gameplay kept me hooked. I enjoyed leveling and unlocking all of the weapons. The cutscenes are amusing, albeit shocking at times. A certain fraction of players will no doubt be able to have a really good time with the cutscenes.

Graphics:  The cutscenes are colorful, crisp and well rendered. Fans of anime-style art will be pleased. The game itself is actually quite-well rendered as well. The bullet effects are colorful and dynamic. Sadly, the UI is crudely chopped together and messy.

Playcontrol:  No matter what method you use, the playcontrol is rough and very non-intuitive. Playing with a controller is manageable, but it still just feels off.

Downloadable Content:  None. 

Mature Content: Pornographic content and extreme adult language.

Value:  Despite the many negative things about this game, it’s hard to argue with the price. Someone paying a little over a dollar for a game shouldn’t expect much. Considering the paltry cost for this title, you are getting your money’s worth ten times over.  Often, many adult-content games actually come with a premium price tag. It’s hard to go wrong here from a value standpoint.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – Content aside, a lot of aspects about this game are well done and interesting. There’s quite a bit of content for a very small price. On the other side of the coin, the game suffers from bad localization, terrible UI and playcontrol. It’s an interesting but largely mediocre title, but one that will appeal to certain gamers.

Available on: PC (Steam)

Review: Tale of ALLTYNEX Trilogy

As I type this, I’m downloading the Final Fantasy XIV 4.0 patch and awaiting the release of that game’s new expansion. It’s during downtime like this that I tend to dig through my library and pull out something that can be played start-to-finish in a reasonable amount of time. In keeping with my current theme of games from the late-90’s era, I came across a trilogy of arcade-style schmups (shoot-em-ups) called The Tale of ALLTYNEX. This trilogy consists of three games: ALLTYNEX Second, RefleX and KAMUI. I’ve had these titles sitting in my Steam library for some time, but I’ve never paid them much attention. If I remember right, I got them as part of an indie Japanese game bundle several years ago. Last weekend, I found myself with a desire to step away from all the deep and complicated RPGS that tend to consume the majority of my game playing, and jump into some old school, bullet-hell arcade action. So I installed these games and went in completely blind.

Unless you’re really into the Japanese indie scene, you’ve probably never heard of these games. So, let’s take a moment to bring ourselves up to speed. This trilogy contains a set of games created by Japanese developer Siter Skain. This collection was actually made possible via a project on Kickstarter. It contains the following titles:

ALLTYNEX Second – This game is a semi-modern remake of the Japanese 1996 arcade classic ALLTYNEX.

RefleX – A 2008 remake, this time of an indie freeware game called Reflection from 1997.

KAMUI – A 1999 Japanese PC game, based on classic shoot-em-up arcade titles.

Originally, each of these games were separate entities with each successive game being largely inspired by the one that came before it. Now, they have been compiled and somewhat re-imagined as a loose trilogy. Oddly enough, due to the various remakes, the newest games are actually the oldest chronologically.

As mentioned above, the first game lore-wise in the trilogy is ALLTNYEX Second.  Essentially, you play as the pilot of a “superfighter” starship.  In this title, mankind’s  orbital defensive supercomputer, ALLTYNEX suddenly goes rogue and uses its control over all of all of Earth’s military hardware to wage war on humanity. As a result, the human race is forced to flee the planet and regroup on the far reaches of the solar system. In a last-ditch effort to reclaim the planet, a team of  “superfighters” are dispatched to destroy ALLTYNEX.

This game is very well done. It feels just like one of those old quarter-pumper arcade machines, and thanks to moderns graphics, it makes the genre look better than ever.  It embodies the classic Starfighter schmup gameplay: swarms of enemies, rapid fire, bullets everywhere.  The player can choose between their regular blasters or a special shield that both protects your starship as well as damages enemies.  The gameplay is intense and not particularly easy – but few bullet hells are. The nearly unlimited continues make the game accessible for even a casual player. From start to finish the game can be completed in under an hour by an experienced player.

Next up is RefleX. This game is very similar to the others. It’s an overheard bullet hell/schmup. But unlike the other entries, you don’t have multiple lives. If your ship is destroyed, it’s game over. Luckily, the starship here is protected by a reflective shield. Enemy bolts will bounce off the shield and back towards the sender. This provides a whole new level of strategy to the game.

RefleX actually has quite an in-depth backstory, but to find all the juicy details you will have to dig through the manual. (The Steam version does have a PDF manual).  Essentially, you are a member of a resistance group that is rallying against an overbearing government. What’s unclear, at least to me, is how this ties in with the first game… has humanity retaken Earth and now bad guys are running the show? Despite several similarities, it just isn’t made very clear.

Finally, we have the third game in the trilogy, KAMUI. Despite being the last game in the series, this title is the one that shows it’s age the most. Which, considering the other two are remakes, I guess that’s to be expected.

This is the game that actually manages to tie the other two titles together. It features story elements from both ALLTYNEX and RefleX and presents a final battle between the resistance and a new militarized version of the ALLTYNEX AI.

Despite being the most dated of the three, I think KAMUI is my favorite of the trilogy simply because it reminds me the most of those old arcade-style shoot-em-ups that consumed so many hours of my youth. Which, is odd in itself considering KAMUI was a PC title.

Difficulty: Hard–  Most schmups and bullet hell games are infamous for their high degree of difficulty. These games are no different. Unless you’re one of those machine-like professional gamers or some kind of savant, you’re going to die a lot. Luckily, the games are pretty forgiving in that you are granted nearly unlimited continue credits. So, in reality, as long as you are persistent you can manage to complete the games regardless of overall skill. This still doesn’t change the fact that the game itself is difficult in it’s own right.

Story: As a whole, the storyline shared between these games is surprisingly rich. This is true despite it being largely absent from the games themselves. Schmups are not typically known for being rich is lore and storyline, so for this type of game any real attempt to provide one is welcome

Originality: Back in the 90’s games like these were a dime a dozen. These days, they have become a bit a niche category. Despite being based on a tested and tired model, the games in the ALLTYNEX Trilogy manage to stand out in their own little ways. For example, the ricochet shield from RefleX is a pretty unique feature. Little things like these keep the games feeling semi-fresh in a pool of stagnant copy-cat titles.

Soundtrack: One of the high points of all three of these games are the fantastic soundtracks. All these of titles come complete with a groovy, high-energy techno-like score. The music is catchy and appropriate. It does a fantastic job of keeping your blood pumping for the split-second twitch action that games like these require.

Fun: I can imagine that many people would find games like these to be frustrating and overly difficult. But that is something that fans of bullet hell games have come to expect and love. So you’re either going to enjoy this type of game or you’re not. For people like me, I don’t really consider myself to be a fan of these types of games, per se. But I do enjoy them for the nostalgia factor. And, I can appreciate them for what they are.

Graphics:  Being a trilogy of games from different eras, the graphics are a mixed bag.  Kamui and RefleX, are both still stuck in the 16-bit era. While ALLTYNEX Second has a much more modern, polished look. 

Playcontrol:  Even though these games support keyboard controls, take my advice and plug in either an Xbox or Playstation game pad. Games like these were made for controllers. Personally, I found a trusty old Xbox 360 controller to be perfect to all three games, with no real issues.

Downloadable Content:  None

Mature Content: Sci-Fi violence.

Value:  Each of these games is available separately on Steam for $8, or together in a bundle for $20. If you’re a fan of this genre, the $20 pricetag may be well worth it. But, these games are on sale frequently so a bargain shopper can usually snag them on a deal.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Even though I don’t really consider myself a fan of the shoot-em-up genre, I found a lot of enjoyment in these three games. It was really a nice break our of the norm for me. Everything from the fast-paced action, to the visuals, to the soundtrack really scratched an itch I had been having for some retro arcade action. My biggest complaint about the collection is that the original versions of ALLTYNEX and RefleX were not included.

Available on: PC (Steam)

DLC Review: Baldur’s Gate (Siege of Dragonspear)

A few months ago, I posted a review of the PC classic Baldur’s Gate. If you haven’t seen it, you can find it here. I owned the original game back in the old days, but for my review I dove into the new Enhanced Edition.  Baldur’s Gate was so popular that it spawned a sequel. This has also recently been given the “enhanced” treatment and I plan on playing and reviewing it soon. But that’s not what I’m going to talk about today, instead I’m going to look at a special DLC add-on to the original Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition; Siege of Dragonspear.

You see, there’s a bit of gap between Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II. Siege of Dragonspear was designed to fill that gap and bridge both games together. Dragonspear picks up right where the first game left off. It is very much integrated into the main scenario. Not as well as the official “Tales of the Sword Coast” expansion – meaning it’s not built into the main game itself. Instead, you start the Dragonspear scenario as an option from the main menu. But I suppose there were some limits to what the Beamdog Studios team was able to do when it came to the original game.

The storyline here builds on the aftermath of the original game. As the city of Baldur’s Gate recovers from the events of the first scenario, a new potential threat emerges in the form of a religious fanatic who is marching her armies towards the border. Her full intentions are unclear, but her actions have been deemed hostile and the hero of Baldur’s Gate is sent to investigate and resolve the issue. – For fans of the legacy games, I will tell you that this scenario makes perfectly clear EXACTLY what happens between BG and BGII.  Dragonspear ends immediately before the beginning of the Baldur’s Gate II.  So If you’ve always wondered just what occurred between the two original games, this DLC has your answers.

All in all, the storyline found in Siege of Dragonspear is nothing short of wonderful. It’s classic D&D at it’s best. The dungeons and puzzles are all perfect. Several classic D&D monsters can be found tucked away in the new game world, and for an old grognard like me, stumbling across them brought a big smile to my face. However, despite scoring big points in nostalgia, Siege of Dragonspear is not without its faults.

My biggest issue with this DLC is that it’s absolutely riddled with bugs. There are UI issues, sound issues, the game has a tendency to crash if there are too many characters on the screen at one time (and in some areas of the game, there are A LOT of on-screen characters). Oftentimes, Dragonspear has the feel of a fan-made mod and not that of an official release. Even with all it’s problems, I find it hard to complain too loudly. Beamdog Studios did a pretty decent job of borrowing elements from both Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II to help build the perfect tie-in.

Bugs aside, my only other gripe with the game has to be the price. Siege of Dragonspear is marketed as an add-on chapter for Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition. Yet, they are charging a premium price of $20. I suppose considering the amount of content found in this DLC that’s a fair price, but considering everything, it still feels a little too steep for me.  Even with the new areas and characters that this chapter adds to the game, I feel like a $10 or even a $15 price tag would be a bit better.

Overall Impression:  A solid, but buggy add-on scenario for Baldur’s Gate.  True to the original game. A must have for hardcore D&D and Baldur’s Gate fans.

Value: A little on the pricey side. But, it is nearly a full game’s worth of content. You’ll have to be the judge here.

Tech: My Tech Picks (Late 2016)

It’s been close to a year since my  original “Tech Picks” post in January. And a lot has changed for me when it comes to technology use. So, if you’re curious to see where I stand now on various ecosystems and my personal preferences on technology, this might interest you.

Computer Platform:  Windows PC – As expected from a PC gamer, I’m still using Windows as my platform of choice. Although, I have to express my frustration with Microsoft. Windows is a solid and stable option, but they’ve really made some bone-headed moves over the last year that leaves me questioning the road ahead. I’ve been both a PC and a Mac owner, and I can tell you without hesitation, the only thing keeping me on the PC platform is upgrade-ability and the level of customization that a PC provides.

OS: Windows 10 ( 64 bit Version 1607) – Since my last Tech Picks post, Windows 10 has received a refresh. The most current version is now “Windows 10 Anniversary edition”. Overall, this update is pretty solid. But it is not without it’s faults. While I have not been directly affected, this update broke a large number of USB devices for many users. Most notably web cams, Kindle, and other multimedia hardware. At the time of this writing, this issue has been not been resolved. Also a number of cumulative updates have caused havoc for many users. It seems like MS’s quality control has left a lot to be desired.

Hardware: Since my last post I’ve left most everything the same with the exception of a hard drive upgrade. In attempt to resolve some bottleneck issues, I updated my main drive to a hybrid SSD/Mechanical hard disk. I have been very impressed with the results. Everything else has stayed the same.

CPU: Intel i7 950 @ 3.07ghz

Mainboard: GA-X58-USB3

Physical RAM:  12gbs

Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 960

Sound: SoundBlaster Z

Storage:  Main: Seagate 2TB Hybrid SATA    Secondary:  Hitachi 1Tb   External:  Seagate USB 320gb

External Media:  DVD RW & Memory Card reader

Power: 750watt

Mobile: Android  – Motorola NEXUS 6 (Android Nougat 7.0) – Yes. I finally jumped ship on the Windows Mobile platform. The writing had been on the wall for some time and I rode it out for as long as I could. But once I saw developers actually leaving, not just “not developing”, I knew the end was near. It seems I was right, as now even Microsoft has all but abandoned their mobile platform. So, I was forced with making a decision between Apple and Google. Now, I’ve owned iPhones before and I think they are great. I have no problems whatsoever with the iOS platform. But, As I’ve mentioned on this site before, I’m very much an “ecosystem” type of guy. I prefer to use like-services. And, being a former Microsoft/Windows user, I decided it would be best to go Android. More specifically, a NEXUS device. NEXUS phones are basic stock-Android devices. They feature the Android OS in it’s purest form, plus, they are very easy to unlock and modify. Originally, my plan was to wipe the factory OS and install CyanogenMOD (a custom ROM). This would allow me to have all the benefits of an Android phone, but I could center it around Cortana and the other Microsoft apps that I enjoy. However, I found myself surprisingly impressed with the stock Android experience. Google’s services really shocked me with how well they all work together when centered on a single device. I will elaborate more on this in other areas of this post, but the way things are going now, I’ve very much become a Google convert. In fact, I’m looking forward to the new Pixel phones that were recently announced.

Tablet: Microsoft Surface No change here. My personal needs for a tablet are very limited. I mainly only use a tablet for reading comic books and doing some light searching while in the living room. Despite now using an Android phone, I see no offerings in the tablet area that tempt me to make a switch to Android. For my purposes, the original Windows RT surface is perfect.

e-Reader: Kindle Paperwhite – No change here.  The Kindle Paperwhite is an elegant and universal option that serves my needs perfectly. Yes, there are newer Kindle options available. But the Paperwhite remains my go to device.

Virtual Digital Assistant: Google – My switch to Android complicated this a bit. Previously, I was using Cortana exclusively on both my PC and my Phone. The service synced flawlessly and I actually found using a virtual assistant useful. Today, I am using “Ok Google” on my phone when I feel the need to dictate things by voice. But since there’s no Google Assistant on PC, that’s as far as it goes. Yes, I can install Cortana on my Android, but the experience is not nearly as seamless as it was on a Windows Phone device. Cortana is still active on my PC, but with all honesty – she’s not doing much.

Web Browser: Chrome– Despite a slew of improvements made to Edge in the Win 10 Anniversary Update, the browser still pales in comparison to nearly any other. I have set aside Firefox for Chrome, as I’m using Chrome on my phone, As a result, things like bookmarks and prior search results all integrate between my devices. I find this extremely convenient. Plus, Chrome is very well supported and polished.

Search: Google – More Google migration here. As a result of my Android defection, I also find myself using Google again for searches instead of Bing. I still feel like Bing is fine engine and in some ways, superior to Google in terms of design and aesthetics. But when it comes to raw functionality, both search engines seem to be on par with each other. Having Google search integrated so tightly with my phone certainly influenced my switch.

Email and Calendar: Google/Gmail – Another victim resulting from migrating away from Windows Phone. Gmail and Google Calendar integrate so wonderfully with the Google Now launcher that comes with the NEXUS, that they have managed to sway me away from Outlook. For the record, I still hail Microsoft’s spam controls over Google’s overall, but I keep a tight lid on my email address and as a result, do not general have a spam problem.

Office Suite: Microsoft Office 2016 Nothing beats it. As far a desktop application suite, Microsoft office is the best.

Cloud Storage: OneDrive and Google Drive – As a Windows and Office user, I’ve found OneDrive to be a very convenient online storage solution. It integrates well into both Windows and Office 2016. OneDrive works great with Android and other platforms as well. These days, I use OneDrive mainly for PC Back ups, and I use Google Drive for photos and general storage. But, both are within arm’s reach at any time.

PC Gaming Services: Steam No change. For PC games, I’m pretty much a Steam only guy. The only time I buy anything on GoG or other platforms is when it’s not available on Steam.

Music Management:  MusicBee – No change here either. I have a large digital music library, all tagged and sorted. To manage such a huge collection, I need the help of software. MusicBee is my music manager for the desktop. It integrates with my phone and makes it easy to transfer files to Google Play Music on my device.  Side note: I have recently found myself subscribing to Google Play Music as well. At $10 a month, with the perk of YouTube Red (ad free YouTube), it’s been quite an enjoyable experience. I still keep and maintain a local MP3 collection, but I enjoy the vast stream-able library that Google Play Music offers.

Wearables: Fitbit Charge HR–  I have moved away from the Microsoft Band and joined my wife as a Fitbit user. I was excited with the look and concept that the band promised, but over time I found it to be lackluster and not very practical. The Band itself was large and bulky and seemed more trouble that it was worth. Apparently, I wasn’t alone. Just last week Microsoft announced they were killing off the device.  My job offers an annual discount for Fitbit purchases, so I sold my Band 2 and took advantage. I’m still not a very heavy user of wearable tech, but aside from losing a few nifty features such as text reply and application support, the Fitbit is serving me well for the time being. I do expect in the future to explore some other wearable options, but for now, I’m content.

Home Gaming Consoles:  Currently at our house we own the following: Wii U, PlayStation 3 (First Gen), PlayStation 4, Xbox 360   (there’s a spare Wii in the closet).

Mobile Gaming: Both my children and I have a Nintendo 3DS. I also have an old PSP collecting dust.

Review: Baldur’s Gate (Enhanced Edition)

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Getting back to my late 90’s game reviews, I step away from the PS and N64 consoles for a moment to talk about a classic PC title. Baldur’s Gate is almost universally regarded as one of the greatest western RPGs of all time. Originally released in 1998, Baldur’s Gate is a birds-eye-view role playing game based on Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition rules. The game takes place in the ever popular Forgotten Realms campaign setting and takes on the mammoth task of incorporating as many aspect of the D&D ruleset as possible and applying them to a real-time video game setting.

The original Baldur’s Gate proved to be extremely popular with fans. A year after it’s release, an expansion, Tales of the Sword Coast was made available. This add-on integrates seamlessly into the main game, adding new areas to explore, quests and storyline. The legacy left behind by Baldur’s Gate was so great that it was inevitable that someone would one day want to resurrect it. This occurred in 2012 when Beamdog Studios announced Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition.

I owned both the original game and the Tales of the Sword Coast expansion, but admittedly never completed them. Recently, I saw the Enhanced Edition on sale and decided there was no better time to revisit this classic.

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For the record, let me state that for the most part – the Enhanced Edition is a faithful remake of the original Baldur’s Gate. It features the original story, original score and voice acting, but many of the textures and graphics are replaced or highly modernized.  One thing I noticed right away, is that the original opening video has been replaced with hand-painted still images. I’m not sure why the new developers chose to do this. Granted, the original video is very dated by today’s standards. But why replace it with still images and not a new video? Regardless, the new into movie is fitting and  admittedly beautiful. Plus, it doesn’t detract from the experience at all in my opinion. Also important to mention; the new version includes both the original game and its expansion, out of the box. It also features a new arena-based add-on called The Black Pits. (More on this later). As far as additional content, the remake adds a handful of new playable NPCs and a few additional quests that provide backstories to these characters.

In Baldur’s Gate, the player creates a hero from scratch. Character creation follows standard AD&D 2nd edition rules.  Players can choose to create a character of any of the following races:  Human, Elf, Half-Elf. Gnome, Halfling, Dwarf, and Half-Orc. (The Half-Orc is a new addition to the original game). The following classes are available to players: Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, Cleric, Druid, Monk, Mage, Illusionist, Sorcerer, Thief, Bard, and Shaman. These classes can be specialized even further using “class kits”. (Barbarian, Wild Mage, etc). Just like in real D&D2E, players also have the option to dual-class and multiclass.

The game story revolves around your custom character. In a nutshell, you are the foster child of a wise sage named Gorion. The two of you live in a quiet sanctuary of Candlekeep, a place best known as a center of learning and home to one of the best libraries in the realm. One day, a frantic Gorion requests you to pack your belongs and purchase supplies for an impromptu journey. The game begins here, amidst the confusion of his sudden request. As you make your way through town, you encounter more than one nefarious character that seem to be hell-bent on seeing you dead. Eventually, as the game presses on, Gorion meets a terrible fate that leaves you alone in the wilderness, confused, and with little go on besides a handful of cryptic clues and request from Gorion to meet some trusted friends at a nearby tavern. You are hunted and alone, with no real explanation.

From this point forward, the entire game is open-ended and you can do as you please. You can elect to follow the path you were set on, or you can explore as you see fit. Throughout your journey, you will encounter characters that wish to join you on your quest. Each have their own motives and values. As you travel together, your actions will either enhance the bond you have with your companions or drive them away.

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Baldur’s Gate is played from a birds-eye-view. You click on objects or points of interest to interact with them. To move, you click on the characters you wish to advance, then click on their destination and they will walk to it. Clicking on individual character portraits provides with some additional options. For example, let’s say you click on a door to open it, only to find the door is locked. Well, if you have a thief in your party, you can click on that character to bring up a list of skills, then click on Pick Locks, finally you can click on the door again to apply that skill. The same is true for combat. During the melee action, you can choose individual actions for each character. This includes simple physical attacks, using items, casting spells, etc.

All of this may seem like a lot to take in, and to be honest, the game is very daunting at first. My first experience with Baldur’s Gate was back in ’98 when it was first released. At the time, I was admittedly overwhelmed. I suppose I played about a quarter of the way through it before shelving it. Now, playing through the Enhanced Edition many  years later, I find that had I stuck with just a bit longer, it would have started to fall into place. A little patience and a quick read through the manual help tremendously. Plus, the new edition of the game also comes with a tutorial mode. (Which I highly recommend for new players).

Interestingly enough, there is a multiplayer option. But in reality, it is rarely used. In multiplayer, one person is the host. This means they control the lead character. Any additional players control party-member characters. The sheer length of the game makes it difficult for this type of multiplayer to be viable option.

Finally, I want to mention the additional scenarios. Included for free with the Enhanced Edition is a short, arena-combat prologue to the game called The Black Pits. This scenario is aimed a veterans to the game and features a party of characters that fight battle after battle in a gladiator-type setting. With each victory they earn riches that can be used in-between fights to purchase new armor and weapons. Each battles get progressively more difficult. The final few battles require some serious preparation and commitment. In truth, this whole add-on seems to serve as nothing more than an introduction for one the new NPCs add to the Enhanced Edition. But it is included free, so no complaints there.

This new version of the game does also offer a brand new paid-DLC scenario called Siege of Dragonspear. This chapter serves as a bridge between the events of Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II. However, due to the sheer size of this expansion – I have decided to review it separately.

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Difficulty: Variable–  Baldur’s Gate features a number of options when it comes to difficulty.  Easy, Normal, Core Rules, Hard, and Insane. The Enhanced Edition also adds options for “Story Mode” and Legacy of Bhaal”. The latter options making you either invincible or cranking up the difficulty to a point that makes the game nearly impossible.  (I gloat in being able to claim I completed the game on Bhaal difficulty…   not that I’m bragging or anything.)

Story: As one might expect with a Dungeons & Dragons title, the storyline is everything here. The game features a massive, rich main storyline. Not to mention it is peppered with a number of sideplots and quests. All of these are very well done.

Originality: Baldur’s Gate was a breath of life into what was a fading genre in the late 90s. It was fresh and new upon it’s original release. Now, with the new edition, it still manages to feel new by taking an old classic, polishing it up and releasing it into a sea of games that began to grow stagnant with unoriginal ideas. It’s the new black, as they say.

Soundtrack: The music in the game is well done. It has a classic western RPG feel to it. Sadly, there’s not much diversity in it. The voice acting is also a mixed bag. Some of the characters are very well done, while others just sound silly and out of place. The voice acting for the new characters added to the game also don’t seem to fit in well with the original cast. Also worthy of mentioning, this game suffers a bit from when I call Repetitive Sound Syndrome. Simply giving orders to your character usually results in some type of feedback statement. Usually it’s one of three, and you get tired of hearing them really quick. Thankfully, there is a setting that allows you to control the frequency at which you hear these. Finally, this game seems to have an issue with volume management. Often times during the game, NPC will be speaking only to be drowned out by a swelling background score. Adjusting individual volume levels did not seem to help alleviate the problem.

Fun: If you’re a fan of CRPGS and/or Dungeons & Dragons, you’re going to have a blast with this game. However, many players many simply not have the patience for the old-school style found here.

Graphics: At time it was released, Baldur’s Gate was top of the line. Today, even though a lot of work was put into modernizing the Enhanced Edition it looks quite dated. Yes, the new textures are beautiful, but the character sprites suffer a bit.

Playcontrol: Here we come to my biggest gripe. While most point-and-click games are pretty simple to control, Baldur’s Gate suffers from terrible AI. It is not uncommon for NPCs to get stuck on terrain, walk the wrong way, etc. I also frequently struggled with being unable to enter buildings due to all of my characters crowding around the entry way. Also, the new edition  of the game is not without it’s share of bugs that can interfere with your progress.

Downloadable Content: YES – A paid DLC Scenario called Siege of Dragonspear is available for purchase. This is a completely new original adventure available for the Enhanced Edition only. This currently sells for $20, so it’s a little on the steep side, but it claims to provide about 30 hours of content. So, that’s not really a bad price. I plan to make a separate review of it in the coming days.

–      ***UPDATE: Review here:  Siege of Dragonspear

Mature Content: Fantasy Violence, Mature Themes

Value:  This game currently sells for $20. Considering the amount of content packed into the title, it’s a steal at that price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition is a must-have for fans of the fantasy genre. It’s a classic game packed with tons of content. Even with some of the glitches and faults of the remake, the redeeming qualities of the game outshine any faults it might have. For some of the reasons outlined above, I can’t claim to give it a perfect score, but it comes damn close.

Available on: PC (Steam and GOG)

Review: No Man’s Sky

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When I first saw No Man’s Sky presented at E3 in 2015, I was enthralled. The developer showcased the title as a space exploration game, one that took place in a universe of nearly endless proportions. Over eighteen-Quintilian planets, all randomly generated. The planets were literally “planet-sized”, teeming with undocumented life. The first player to discover a particular planet could name it, and their name would forever be recorded as the “founder” of said world.  I mean, it was a concept unlike any other.  As a child, I was fascinated with deep space. The idea of an infinite universe filled with potential tugged at me then, as it still does now.  When the promise of No Man’s Sky was sold to the gaming world, I knew this was going to be a day one purchase for me.

So, here we are. No Man’s Sky has finally been released. And as I promised on the RetroSensei Podcast last year, I stopped everything and dedicated all my free time to playing it. I explored it, I learned its secrets, I experimented with it, and I ended up returning empty handed.  Allow me to explain…

First, let’s discuss what No Man’s Sky is supposed to be. As mentioned above, the game was sold to players as a deep-space exploration experience. The game is played through the eyes of an unnamed space traveler who wakes up on an alien world. As the traveler, you find yourself next to a broken spaceship. Not far from the ship is a strange artifact of alien origin. As you inspect the artifact, a strange voice invades your brain – you are given the option to follow the voice’s instructions and meet your destiny or ignore it and make your own way in the universe. Regardless of which path you may choose, you must first scour the planet for the resources needed to fix your ship and ensure your survival.

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Each player starting No Man’s Sky begins on a planet all their own. Your starting world is a world unseen by any other player. All planets, moons, and systems in the game are given randomly generated names, but as the founder of that world, you have the right to rename it if you wish. This is also true for the flora and fauna or special points of interest that you discover. The name you select, as well as the details of your discovery will be uploaded to the game’s server to be shared with anyone else who may eventually stumble across your world. At least…. that’s what the game promises. In truth, players have discovered that  (at time of this writing), discovery details are wiped after two weeks*… *** UPDATE- This is confirmed to be the result of a server error and not by design***

Anyways, back to the game itself. The first goal of the game is to harvest the materials needed to fix and upgrade your ship. This is done by seeking out ore or other raw elements and collecting them using a handheld multi-tool. While doing this, you will also quickly realize that aside from repair materials, you will need to collect resources to keep up your life support systems and even fuel for the multi-tool itself.  This quickly becomes a problem due the small amount of inventory space you start the game with. Luckily, as you proceed throughout No Man’s Sky, you will find frequent, albeit expensive, opportunities to upgrade your inventory slots. No Man’s Sky is very much a resource/survival game.

As you explore your starting world, you will likely encounter alien animals. Most are docile, but some are hostile. You will also eventually encounter “sentinels”. These are robotic probes that seem to appear whenever you seem to harvest materials in large number. If you’re greedy and continue to reap the land of its resources, these sentinels wills attack.

Once you’ve repaired your ship, you can use it to either travel around your starting planet with ease, or use it escape the atmosphere and head into space. Once you reach space, you’re likely to discover a few more planets and also a space station.  No you’re into the meat of the game.

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Every solar system in No Man’s Sky features a Space Station. So you’ll encounter these often. Here, you will find at least one alien lifeform. (There are four intelligent races in the game). At first, communication with these creatures will be difficult. But as you continue to travel from world to world, and system to system, you will uncover artifacts and computer terminals that will teach you bits of their language. Learning to communicate is important because many of the conversations or puzzles you will encounter in the game will often reward you with a prize, assuming you understand enough of the language to make the right decisions.

My starting world was rocky and barren. There wasn’t much to look at so I was anxious to move on and see what might await me on a new world. The next planet was different, but after spending an hour or so exploring it. I found that on the whole, it was really not much better. In fact, that might be the biggest problem with No Man’s Sky. Aside from the view, all the planets in game feature the same few points of interest: trading posts, communication towers, ruins/monoliths, and science stations. The purpose of these locations is either to learn new alien words, obtain blueprints for new technology, or buy and sell resources.  Occasionally, you may also encounter a shipwreck. But these are fairly rare. On top of that, nine out of ten times the wrecked ship is no better than your current one.

Spaceflight is even less exciting than planet exploration. It serves mainly as a path between worlds. Yes, you can mine minerals from asteroids and occasionally, you’ll encounter a fleet of ships in orbit around a world. But if you linger too long in open space you’re likely to become a target for pirates and combat is space is rather cumbersome, to be honest.

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The “goal” in No Man’s Sky is travel to the center of galaxy. To do so, you will need to craft a warp drive for your ship. (Players who pre-ordered the game actually receive a special ship that can warp from the start). However, you’ll soon find that warping through space is not really that efficient. Even with a fully upgraded drive, it will take hundreds upon hundreds of jumps to reach the center. Each jump requiring you to harvest and craft fuel. You can also take advantage of black-holes. These are supposedly short-cuts towards the center but they cause massive damage to your ship.  Now, I don’t usually post spoilers in my reviews, but I’m going to make an exception here. Reaching the center of the galaxy is not all it’s cracked up to be. Simply doing so treats you to a long and unskippable cutscene that sheds no light whatsoever onto the purpose or storyline of the game, and then essentially starts the game over again from the beginning. That’s right. The screen flashes and you wake up again on a new world, but this time in a different galaxy.

If you actually followed the game’s “storyline” and collected a number of special items through your travels, the ending is given is a tad bit more interesting, but the end result remains the same.

You’ll notice that as I summarized the game, I didn’t mention any interactions with other players. No Man’s Sky was described as being a multi-player experience, and even the box contains a notice of online play. But, in reality, you will never encounter another player. The game developer would have you believe that this is simply due to the large-scale size of the universe. But in truth, that is not the case. Two players were indeed able to organize a rendezvous in No Man’s Sky only to discover that the game clients do not talk to each other. You cannot encounter other players. Aside from seeing names people have given worlds and other discoveries, there simply is no multiplayer in No Man’s Sky whatsoever.

Now, it’s obvious that I’m quite unhappy that No Man’s Sky is not the really the experience promised to me by developers. I know that sometimes a player’s expectation will not line up with the end experience in a game. But No Man’s Sky is a unique case in that the developers outright lied and fabricated facts about the game. Setting these unfulfilled expectations aside and looking at the game itself, how is No Man’s Sky? Well, that’s a bit tricky. Initially, the game was crashy upon release and did indeed have a number of annoying bugs and glitches. But to be fair, a large number of these were swiftly fixed and corrected in a series of patches.  So, as I write this, both the PS4 and the PC version of game are pretty much stable. The game itself is gorgeous. The graphics are well done and at times breathtaking. The game actually does manage to capture a sense of wonder and mystique. The vast scale of the game was not oversold, it’s nearly endless. But sadly, most of what you will find is not always all that interesting. It’s different planets with the same contents. Over and over and over and over. The grind does exist, but for some reason I kept feeling the pull to play more and check out that one undiscovered world, because… maybe something interesting would be there. Even if it never was.

To me, if you approach No Man’s Sky with the mindset that it is an open-ended experiment, or a piece of art (and make no mistake, it is that), you will likely not be disappointed. This game is essentially a large sandbox, but one with very strict rules. However, if you come to the game expecting deep gameplay or a satisfying story, you will likely be disappointed.

In many ways, I imagine being a lost spacefaring traveler would actually be very much like the experience provided No Man’s Sky. A silent, lonely journey from one world to the next, in hopes that eventually you will find something that  gives your journey meaning. Only to know in the back of your mind that the only thing that waits for you out there is the vast nothingness, the likes of which you have already encountered.

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Difficulty: Easy –  No Man’s Sky is not a punishing game. If your character perishes, you will respawn at the point in which your game was last saved. You can find and locate your grave and restore any inventory that was lost. Most of the danger in this game exists in open space, courtesy of pirates. But occasionally, you will encounter a planet where the sentinels are hostile and attack on sight. These encounters can be deadly, fast. But as I mentioned, there’s no real penalty. No Man’s Sky is a fairly relaxing and stress free.

Story: The backstory of the game is minimal. It revolves around something called “The Atlas”, which is essentially a phantom alien consciousness. By following the path of the Atlas, the player can be ensured they will eventually obtain everything needed to reach the center of the galaxy, thus serving the will of the Atlas itself. – This scenario is actually quite well done, but it goes over the heads of most players. Essentially, the player is slave to an unseen force, one who’s intentions are not made clear. There’s hope of an ultimate end, but one that never seems to come.  – As I said in the review itself. No Man’s Sky is ultimately an experimental piece of playable art.

Originality: Love it or hate it, No Man’s Sky is certainly original. There’s never been a game where every piece of a shared universe is proceduraly generated. The game itself and the very concept of it is uncharted territory.

Soundtrack: The game soundtrack is fitting and perfect. From spacey ambient music while exploring the alien landscape, to pulse thumping beats when being attacked by sentinels. There’s no top-ten hits to be found here, but the score and overall game sound effects serve their purpose well.

Fun: In the beginning the game is interesting and entertaining. But sadly, it gets old pretty fast. What starts out seeming to be a universe filled with endless possibilities quickly fades into the realization that it is really nothing more than endless, re-skinned, repetitiveness.

Graphics: If No Man’s Sky is anything, it is pretty. Even the barren lifeless planets that you encounter more often than not, are well rendered and breathtaking to look at. The game largely has the overall look of an Issac Asmiov book cover. Which I found to be interesting and refreshing.

Playcontrol: The default controls are efficient, but a bit clunky at first. Thankfully, they can be remapped but in reality it doesn’t help much. For the most part, the stiff controls are not big issue, but on the uncommon occasion when combat occurs, it can often be difficult to navigate.

Downloadable Content: Free DLC Planned – Hello Games has promised free DLC that will “expand and change that scope of the game”. What this means exactly, is still anyone’s guess. If later content does in fact change the game in a big way, be assured I will update this review with those details.

***   Foundation Update Review    *** Atlas Rises Update Review

Mature Content: None

Value:  This game currently sells for a top-tier price of $60. In my opinion, this is too much for what you get. It won’t be long before this title is on sale. I cannot recommend a purchase at a $60 pricetag.  Knowing what you’re getting into, I’d feel more comfortable at or around $20.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 (original rating)  3 (After Atlas Rises Update) – No Man’s Sky is interesting. It’s not currently the game we were promised. But it’s not really as bad as some report indicate. If you like sci-fi, outer space and the thrill of the unknown, then you might like like No Man’s Sky. If you like peaceful, cerebral, open world games then you might like No Man’s Sky. But, if you’re goal-oriented, want an epic sci-fi storyline or exciting interactions with other players, you might want to sit this one out.  ***(I have updated the score from a 2 to a 3 after the fixes and enhancements introduced in the 1.3 patch)

Available on: PS4 and PC (Steam)

Review: Fallout 2

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Having recently completed the original Fallout, I decided to plow right along into the next entry in the series. I enjoyed the first game so much, I was excited to see just what the sequel had in store. While I was not disappointed, I still ultimately found Fallout to be a better game in my personal opinion. Let’s find out why…

The sequel, Fallout 2, was released shortly after the original game. For the most part, the two titles are very similar in many ways. Fallout 2 seems to run on the same engine as the original. Both the gameplay and graphics is nearly identical. So if you have any experience with the original title, there is nearly no learning curve for Fallout 2.

This game takes place several generations after the original title. In this game, you play as a descendant of the original “vault dweller”. Your character is a member of a tribal-type village that was founded by the hero of the original game. Due to extreme drought and famine, the people of your village are suffering. You have been tasked with venturing out into the world in search of a legendary artifact called the Garden of Eden Creation Kit, a device said to contain the power to grow crops in even the most barren conditions. With this quest in mind, you take your first step into the dangerous world outside your village.

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As mentioned earlier, nearly all game-play aspects of Fallout 2 are identical to the original title, albeit with some minor refinements. This time around there are some new traits and perks as your character levels up, but the core game play mechanics are the same. Despite the similarity, there’s still plenty of challenge to be found here even for seasoned players. For example, at least from my observation, the NPC AI seems to be sharper. In this game, characters seemed quicker to go hostile if you approached them while your weapon was out. While this was also an issue some of the time in Fallout 1, it seems much more consistent in this title.

Compared to the original Fallout, Fallout 2 is a much more deserving of a Mature rating. The first game certainly had it’s share of violence and strong language, but Fallout 2 cranks both of these up significantly. On top of that, the game also features plenty of sexual themes. In fact, prostitution and using sexuality as a tool is now a legitimate game play tactic.

Content-wise, Fallout 2 expands on the mythology presented in the original game quite well. There’s plenty of new lore to dive into for players willing to seek it out as well as a number of nods to both places and characters from the original. This game is significantly longer as well. The number of optional quests and things to explore are plentiful.

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Also important to note: like the first Fallout, players are going to want to be sure to either purchase the Steam version or resort to unofficial patches to ensure that the title plays well on modern systems.

All in all, Fallout 2 is a very well-rounded sequel. I found the game to be quite enjoyable, but perhaps not quite different enough from the original to make it as memorable. That’s my personal opinion. But, I know that many people consider Fallout 2 to be the better of the two. So, this might be a case of play it yourself and decide.

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Difficulty: Medium –  Again, if you never played old school CRPGS, there may be a bit of a learning curve here. But, players familiar with the original Fallout will have a much easier time. In my opinion, this game seems to be just a tad harder than Fallout, but still tends to fall into that “medium” difficulty category.

Story: Taking place 80 years after the first game, Fallout 2 keeps with the lore and setting introduced in the original. The storyline here is engaging and very well done.

Originality: Fallout 2 is essentially a carbon copy of the original in many ways, but considering it is a direct sequel, this is largely forgivable. Most changes found here are tweaks and enhancements.

Soundtrack: Most of the in-game score is ambient and mood-setting. Which I found to be appropriate for this kind of title.  Again, the voice acting is top notch.

Fun: Fallout 2 is an excellent title and is a lot of fun. Players who enjoyed the original, or who like CRPGS in general will find a lot to like with this title.

Graphics: Even though this is an older title, the graphics still look pretty good. Modern players will want to seek out HD resolution patches to make the game perform well on current-day systems. Just like Fallout, this title was released during a time of crude graphics integrated with CD-quality video. Some of the NPC interactions looks much better than the rest of the game, giving the title a mixed bag sort of feel graphically. Graphically, this game is nearly identical to Fallout 1.

Playcontrol: The controls for this game will feel foreign and awkward to someone who doesn’t take the time to read the game manual. That being said, once you get the hang of things it tends to be quite smooth overall. My biggest complaints with the game have to do with mouse pointer accuracy and viewing angles. I’m looking forward to seeing how some of these issues are dealt with in future entries in the series. I noticed no real improvement with this from the original Fallout

Downloadable Content: Unofficial mods and patches

Mature Content: Violence, gore, strong language and sexual themes.

Value:  This game can usually be found today for $10 and under. Considering amount  how replayable it is and the content packed into the game, this is a steal and well worth the price. Many hours of fun for a low price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Fallout 2 is a good sequel to a classic game. While not as groundbreaking as the original, this is still a title that deserves a place in any PC gamer’s library. Highly recommended.

Available on: Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

Fallout   –    Fallout 2  –    Fallout 3  –   Fallout: New Vegas  –   Fallout 4

Fallout Tactics   — Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel