SiN Gold on PC (3/10)

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This game absolutely sucks. The graphics are just what you’d expect from a `1998 Quake engine game. The problem isn’t the visuals, it’s the sluggish, stilted game play. The weapons are painfully underpowered. You will spend several clips at point blank range to kill the most basic of grunt enemies.

This was a failed attempt at building an FPS around story and characters, The story feels like a Mountain Dew commercial and the characters excrete 90s extreme ‘tude. Somewhere in the process they forgot that video games are supposed to be fun. It includes such genius design quirks as being killed by closing locker doors and rats. The last third of the game starts with one of the worst water levels ever designed. I eventually just turned on an invincibility cheat and finished the game. Even that was tedious.

Broforce on PC (8/10)

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I didn’t immediately warm up to this platform shooter. For one thing, it’s very twitchy, chaotic, and brutally unfair at times. Broforce feels like it’s another, more-stylized version of Super Meat Boy. One wrong step and you are dead! You’re expected to try, try, try again. I was prepared to just rage quit this game but then a routine game patch intervened. The game just stopped working for me and I set it aside. (Citrix Workspace and the Unity Engine don’t play nice together)

Fast forward a year or two or ten and a new update to the game was released that fixed my problems and added half-a-dozen or so new bros. I thought it was time to revisit Broforce. In the interim, I had discovered that I like unrelenting bullet-hell shmups. I’m now team spaz-gaming! My attitude had been adjusted and I think I am a Broforce convert.

So, the game isn’t quite as perfection-based as I thought it was. There is a huge random element in terms of which of the twenty or so characters you are forced to play. Once you start to understand the abilities of each of the bros you begin to learn how to use their skills to combat the seemingly overwhelming odds against you. Certain characters are useless on some levels and you just have to die and try again. But when a particular character clicks, it’s invigorating!

The one thing that I loved about this game, even when I hated it, was the Randy “Machoman” Savage-inspired narration. There’s something about the screams of, “YOU CAN DO IT!!!” that tickles me every time. Also, the game has multiple endings based on how you approach the final task that are a direct descendant of Jordan Mechner’s Karateka. Well done and hilarious.

XIII on PC (4/10)

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I really wanted to like this game. It feels almost like No One Lives Forever in it’s hip spy aesthetics but falls flat on almost every other level. First and foremost the controls and gameplay are sluggish and incredibly unsatisfactory. 90% of the time is just your character slowly reloading his weapons. It was sold as a stealth game but the stealth portions are just lame. They consist you you walking around with wooden chairs in hand, cocked to eventually smash on the head of your enemies. The story is focused on a set of super criminals who are all numbered. When number I is finally revealed you have no idea who he was anyway. Props to the cell-shaded graphics and Adam West’s hammy voice acting. Other than that, this is garbage.

Ion Fury on PC (9/10)

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Ion Fury is more than the nostalgia cash-in that its marketing might suggest. It an FPS that gets to the core of what a great FPS should be: a combination frantic firefights in environments that test a player’s skill and clever level design that rewards exploration. Missing from all this is a deep and thoughtful story but I didn’t really miss it. Too many games these days try to be movies instead of games. I appreciate the effort, but the writing in video games rarely is even on par with a Disney channel sitcom. Gameplay is king and Ion Fury has it in spades.

The game is built using an updated version of the 3D Realms Build Engine. It still looks like Duke Nukem 3D but the resolutions are higher, the controls a much smoother, and the sheer amount of stuff in the game is increased. You are still mainly just looking for key cards on your path to the final boss battle(s). And, you know what, I didn’t care. The levels are incredibly designed, the enemies are just smart and varied enough, and there are plenty of stat challenges to shoot for. Finding all the secrets without a walkthrough is probably impossible but when you do find one is a truly rewarding. This was an unexpected gem.

Control on PC (7/10)

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In Control you are in control of Jesse. She’s been plunked down into a giant, oppressively designed government building and there are glowy monster-men attacking her. Not much else is explained. Only after a few hours of playing do you start to get a feeling for what’s going on. Something about a long lost brother, a voice in her head, and a mysterious force called The Hiss.

It’s not terribly engaging but at least the combat mechanics can be fun. You have a selection of weak pistols but mostly enemies are taken down with Jesse’s multitude of psychic powers. The most useful of which is her ability to launch objects at enemies. It’s pretty much a gussied-up version of the Half-Life 2 gravity gun. There’s also a shield, a dash, possession, and levitation but those are only have limited use. It’s a bit of a Metroid thing where a few zones are only accessible with a specific power.

In the end I was mostly just frustrated with the third-person perspective and all the running around. Apparently there is some sort of Alan Wake tie-in and that would explain the similar game play feels. But there was just too much obtuse story telling for my tastes.

Dishonored 2 on PC (8/10)

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It’s time to return the steampunk world of Dishonored in which you sneak around and strangle everyone who crosses your path. Dishonored 2 should be commended for allowing players to complete their goals in a variety of ways. I usually prefer the stealthy, non-lethal approach, but if you want, you can murder everyone in sight or even ignore the enemies and run to the end of the level.

As you play you begin to acquire super-powers allowing the player to teleport, see through walls, etc. The teleportation power is the first one you get and it is by far the most useful. I felt like I was cheating because I was allowed to zap myself above and around obstacles. The challenge became trying to collect all the charms strewn throughout the world without ever being detected or using lethal takedowns.

Once again I finished the game without ever killing anyone, but I still was tagged for 2 or 3 deaths along the way. I wish there was a progress screen so I would know mid-level if I accidentally hid a sleeping enemy in a killer rats nest or whatever. There was also a glitch where bodies weren’t where I left them when loaded a save, causing them to be detected by guards. I really don’t have the patience to replay the game and attempt a perfect run especially since the various endings are just quick voiceovers that change slightly based on your actions. I got my “good” ending and that’s enough for me.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent on PC (4/10)

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In the end this just became tedious. While you control your character like an FPS, this is almost a point and click adventure. Most missions require you finding an object, combining it with something else, then clicking the combined object on a locked passage. Occasionally you will find yourself hiding from a zombie-like monster (Outlast style). But it is literally a monster—one enemy type the entire game. There’s also some sort of mechanic where you must maintain your sanity, but it’s not interesting at all.

All this would be a moot point if there was a compelling story. Alas, there was not. The backstory is developed as written notes and the occasional narrated flashback. But it’s so easy to forget what it’s about since you, the player, are not involved in the story telling. Something about an orb and a shadow. Who cares. Pass on this one.

The Talos Principle on PC (6/10)

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The Talos Principle is a solid puzzle game in which you manipulate objects around rooms to connect light beams, stack object, etc. in order to get to a prize. The more prizes you collect, to more puzzle zones are available. All the while there are tons of terminals with messages to read that try to world build and pose philosophical ponderings about consciousness. In the end, I really couldn’t care less about the “story” and I eventually just gave up about halfway through the game. The puzzles started to get too tedious and a wall of text was not a good enough reward for success.

Mushihimesama on PC (8/10)

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Lately I have become obsessed with bullet-hell shmups like this. I’d see these images of these impossible patterns of projectiles and wonder how anyone could maneuver a ship around them for more than a few seconds. Most of my experience with them has been through Mame arcade emulation with a special interest in ones with detailed pixel art. No matter the title, I could always manage to get to the end of the maybe the first level and would then be absolutely destroyed after that.

Mushihimesama is a classic Cave arcade shmup, but here, in the Steam PC port of the game, there are several modes of play including a forgiving novice mode. This reduced difficulty level is still painfully hard on my Gen-X reflexes but I managed, over the course of many hours of play, to just about master the entire game through to the end.

This is where the appeal of these games ultimately lies: the gradual mastery of the mechanics, levels and patterns of bullets. It’s not easy but it always feels like you’re getting a little bit farther after every punishing defeat, Plus, the skills I have lean on the baby mode have helped me get a little further on the more aggressive difficulties. I will never master the hardest levels but it’s within the realm of possibility.

Caladrius Blaze on PC (7/10)

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For some time now I have been interested in playing various SHMUPs in MAME. Some of the best looking pixel art exists in these titles and, even though I am terrible at them, I’ve spent hours on games like Gun Lock and Raiden. I was looking for a decent PC-based title and got this one off of Steam based on some of the reviews.

Unlike 90s classics of the genre, this one is full-on 3-D. As a result, it really doesn’t look anywhere near as nice as sprite-based shooters. Also unlike those 90s games, this one features character portraits which lose their clothes as they take on more damage. Japanese culture is really weird.

Idiotic aesthetics aside, the game plays pretty well. It is a bullet-hell game so it is beyond my middle-aged reflexes on any setting above easy but I can manage to hold my ground reasonably well on the first few levels. The main gimmick (besides the partial nudity) is that each ship has three special, upgradable shooting modes. The elemental shots will drain as you use them, taking time to refill, but they are the key to survival. The modes range from impenetrable homing missile attacks to a little golden palm tree they sprouts an inch away from your ship and doesn’t do hardly anything.

I have played a few more modern shooters since I got this, and, in hindsight, I think Caladrius is missing a little bit of the excitement of the top-teir SHMUPs. Yet I found it was a good entry point into the genre even if you are not a pervert.