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.

Wasteland Remastered on PC (6/10)

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Wasteland is considered a classic RPG from the Apple ][ era but it’s one that I never played back in the day. I have tried it in AppleWin emulation and then later with the modified MS-DOS port on In both cases I only made it to the second town before giving up. These original versions required looking up flavor text in the manual for various hints and passwords. This kills whatever sense of immersion they may have been able to squeeze out of 8-bits of computing power. I think much of the nostalgia for this game is built on the knowledge that the same team would eventually create Fallout. Well that and the memorable box cover art.

After the success of Wasteland 2 Kickstarter, Inxile proceeded to create a remaster of the first game. If I was ever going to tackle it, it was going to be with a modernized version. Of course the graphics have been completely updated into 3-D. Character sprites now look like board game mini-figurines on a detailed 3-D map. The pixelized monster portraits and character designs have been smoothed over with Photoshop brush work. There is also a full soundtrack and plenty of battle sound effects.

There have been quality of life changes too. The first big change is that the manual look-up references are built into the game, many of which have been illustrated and narrated as cut scenes. There are dozens of save slots. The game can be played entirely with the mouse. In reality, most of the remastering seems to be limited to the aesthetic details.

Wasteland Remastered

The game still plays clunky as hell. Combat is not terribly exciting and can be hard to follow. You see flashes of damage on character portraits but it never really seems to match what is being described in the text scroll. There are also many times when the text box fails to tell you how many enemies you are facing. This is too bad because this combat system is mostly the same style as the one in the Bard’s Tale games, but in those games it at least feels like there is some strategy.

The biggest problem with the game is the inconsistent ways in which you solve puzzles and interact with the world. There’s this seemingly robust skill system, but most problems can be solved with either a rope, a lockpick or punching. Interacting with NPCs is really goofy too. Some characters require you to turn on combat in order to allow them to join your party. Others require you to stand in a specific spot and then trigger a skill. There is no “Talk” command. If you are going to play this game, a walkthrough is almost mandatory especially when it comes to the endgame. I think you are probably able to put the game into an unwinnable state.

All that said, I did manage to get through it. While the world is nowhere near as fun and creative as Fallout or even the Wasteland sequels, I did enjoy some of the sections of the game quite a bit. I probably wouldn’t recommend this to more casual fans of CRPGs. If I were writing an SAT question based on this game it would be: Wasteland is to Fallout as Mad Max is to The Road Warrior or something like that.

Aer: Memories of Old on PC (3/10)

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Aer takes a 1995 Zelda aesthetic and makes it into a boring slog. This game felt like a college game design project. The story is about ancient animal gods or something. You can turn into a bird and hold a lantern. The core of the game is exploring three simple dungeons to find the appropriate pads to stand on to get to the magic thing. Collect three magic things and you win!! The Epic game store is noteworthy for giving away free games but a lot of what they offer is this type of stylish indie game with no pay-off.

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura on PC (7/10)

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With this game I have finally played all the key 90s RPG classics. I attempted to play a few years ago but because the GOG version of the game ran so poorly in Windows 10, I gave up. This time around I found the Unofficial Arcanum Patch and that made most of the performance issues go away. That is, until the last stretch of the game in which characters began randomly to disappear from my party and saves became corrupted. I managed to complete the game by turning off the high-res patch and saving every few minutes, but, man, was that ever annoying.

The main selling point of Arcanum is its steam punk setting. It’s the technology of the Nineteenth Century mixed with magic and the stereotypical fantasy races. In the end it just feels like another D&D style fantasy game where you have to defeat the evil wizard, etc. I was a magic, sorry magick user so the technology stuff had little impact on my play style. Aside from the opening sequence, in which a blimp is destroyed by planes, and the occasional reference to trains this might as well have been Middle Earth. For a truly steam-punk RPG play the excellent Ultima: Martian Dreams.

The main quest line is okay. It does eventually degenerate into the aforementioned cliché of defeating the evil wizard but there are plenty of little side quests in every region to keep things interesting. Much like Fallout at the end of the game you get a recap of all the good deeds you accomplished, so it pays to offer your help wherever you travel. There are lots characters and lots of possible dialogue interactions, and, because I focused on charisma, I was able to talk my way out of many-a-problem. It could get a bit wordy at times but that can be expected of games of this vintage.

Arcanum uses the same engine as Fallout 1 & 2 but has a janky combat system that’s sort of turn-based and sort of real-time. It works most of the time, but once your characters are leveled high enough it just becomes, “point at the thing and it will die.” Despite its flaws I found the combat to be fun or, at the very least, satisfying.

The main problems with this old-school interface were inventory management (especially dealing with your party members), navigating the zoomed-out map, and moving around on screen with limited visibility. I think Arcanum is still worth playing if you can tolerate its technical flaws and its failure to live up to its setting’s potential.

Fallout 4 on PC (9/10)

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I was quite a bit hesitant to get this game because I had heard that a big part of if was building and maintaining settlements. Along with crafting, this type of management system is one of my least favorite types of game play. The first few missions are all about teaching you to create and build settlements but there soon comes a point when you can ignore that part of the game in get to the really fun part: exploration and combat. Why would I want to maintain a farm when out can explode dudes.

The V.A.T.S. system is no replacement for the turn-based combat of the original Fallout games, but it has its own appeal that melds well with otherwise standard FPS mechanics. I never got tired of the slow-motion replays of the body parts flying everywhere.

The main story is the game’s weakest element. You awake from a cryogenic sleep to discover your infant son has been kidnapped. This plotline ends about halfway through the game and it shifts to working between the various factions of the wasteland. None of them seem particularly evil and yet you are tasked with destroying them by the various other groups. At that point I stopped caring.

The real fun of the game is exploring the massive open world. There’s a little story connected with every location. Sometimes its told explicitly, other times it’s gleaned from the items and messages that have been left behind. Very soon I was ignoring the main quest and just running off in random directions looking for adventure. Before I knew it I has sunk well-over a hundred hours into the game. I even started to enjoy the settlement building as I collected trophies and magazines from around the Commonwealth.

Wake up Grandma, it’s time to kill!

I finally completed the main quest after which the game wisely allows you to keep playing. I still think the original two Fallout games where the best in terms of narrative, but, of the three 3-D games in the series, this one was the most fun to play, and was the best looking (even though it’s still very gray and brown).

Resident Evil 6 on PC (4/10)

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I don’t know why I keep thinking these Resident Evil games might actually be good. Everything about RE6 is frustration. There’s the odd camera positioning that gets all screwy in the many tight corridors of the levels. Then there’s the never ending boss battles in which you have next to zero ammo and have to trigger quicktime events while looking for minions to kill for resources. Checkpoint save locations are few and far between. The levels are tedious, gray, and overlong and there is very little variety in the action.

On top of all this is the decision to break the game into four separate narratives each of which is more confusing than the last. Not to mention you are forced to sit through a 5-10 minute credit crawl between each section. So lame. I bought this as a two-pack with RE7. Do I dare continue?

Shadow of the Tomb Raider on PC (8/10)

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The third in the reboot series which is more or less the same as its predecessors. Excellent graphics, the usual fun mix of platforming, puzzles, and combat.

The story is the typical bad guys that want the object that will give them the ultimate power in the universe! Plans are thwarted and Lara triumphs! I was close, but I didn’t have the energy to 100% this one.