Monday, February 9, 2015

MH4U Is Coming, Life Is Strange, and Sonic All-Stars Transformed  

Only four-ish more days until Monster Hunter 4: Ultimate comes out.

I’m quite excited for the game to hit shelves and for all of my friends to join in the multiplayer for some hunts, but it’s also a bit bizarre for me - although we often get pre-release copies for review at @Gamecritics, it's pretty rare we get them as far ahead of time as I got this one. I've had the full game for about three weeks or so, maybe a little bit longer, so while people haven't even jumped into it yet, I’ve got pretty close to 100 hours logged!

My full review will go up on February 10 when the embargo drops, so look for that soon. However, I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say that I'm not the kind of person who puts 100 hours into a bad game, so take that as you will…

With such a huge amount of time poured into Monster Hunter, I haven't had much time for anything else, but I took a break from hunting tonight to dip into Life Is Strange from DONTNOD Entertainment.

(Side note: Are these guys intentionally jinxing themselves with the names they come up with? DONTNOD, as in, don’t nod off while playing and fall asleep! And their last game was Remember Me, as in, please don’t find it too forgettable! Come on folks, this is all so awkward…)

Anyway, the general consensus on Twitter was that it was something worth dipping into, and since it's episodic in nature, I figured investing two hours and $5 in the first episode wasn't too much of a risk.

Essentially it's a Telltale-style adventure (Walking Dead, Wolf Among Us, etc.) where the player walks around the world, exploring things and talking to people. No QTEs at all, though. Besides that, the most notable thing about it for me is that the protagonist is an average 18yo girl, and the people she meets pretty normal and realistic. Of course, videogame realistic, but realistic all the same. 

The hook to the game is that the main character can rewind time, so whenever something comes up in the plot that seems important, the player has a chance to pull a do-over and make a different choice if things don't happen the way they think it should. At one point, one of your friends gets hit in the face with a football, so you can either let her get hit in the face (not really sure why you would…) or you can warn her by going back in time and telling her to move before it happens.

First impressions of Life Is Strange is that it gives off a really heavy Twin Peaks kind of vibe… It’s set in a small town in Oregon, and it seems like everybody is either really creepy or has something to hide. Right off the bat, the game introduces the disappearance of a well-known and beautiful girl (no, her name is not Laura Palmer) and it seems like everybody had some kind of relationship with her. It's a fine enough premise to base a game on, although I have to say that it felt a little bit forced. Getting to know the main character and living in her skin for just a little while longer before launching into the missing girl arc would have made a little more sense to me.

Another thing that struck me is that since the game feels so realistic, it really shines a light on how absurd some things are in games. For example, when I had a goal, I would go straight to my goal and not do much else along the way, controlling the main character the way I’d behave in real life. If I was going to my room to retrieve a hard drive, why would I stop and erase someone's bulletin board in the hallway, or poke my nose into someone's room if they weren’t there?  

Clearly the developers want to add things for the player to interact and experiment with, but it was hard for me to do because it felt like I was doing illogical things given the level of realism, as opposed to the gamey artificiality of JRPGs where villagers don’t care if you steal every damn thing they own.  I mean, I'm playing an 18-year-old girl who’s reserved and pretty quiet… Why would I be poking my nose in places where it didn't belong?

Incidentally, the game shows your choices at the end of the episode, just like Telltale does. This time, they’re broken up into major story beats and a bunch of minor actions you can take, and I noticed that I did almost none of the small ones. Not surprising given how I felt like I shouldn’t be disturbing things or screwing around as I went.

Otherwise, I've heard some people say that the writing was awkward or unnatural, but I didn't find that to be true. Some word choices were a little odd and some of the discussions didn't really link up properly, though. Nothing egregious, but there were definitely little missteps here and there, probably based on trying to accommodate the particular choices I made. At one point I have a run-in with a real jerkoff security guard, so when I found info on this guy later, I expected my character to express distress or surprise, but there wasn't really any reaction there. Odd.

Although I think the episode was a little slow and inert, I'm inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt due to the unusual protagonist and realistic setting. Although there are a couple of supernatural elements, it seems as though it's going to play out like a standard murder-mystery, and we don't really get many of those on console. At any rate, I felt like I got five dollars’ worth of play out of this first episode, and I’ll definitely check in on the second.

One random thing I meant to blog about earlier, but forgot until just now: If you caught the @Gamecritics GOTY show, then you know that “we” picked Mario Kart 8 as our game of the year. Personally, I wouldn't have guessed that as our winner in a million years, but the votes were the votes, so what can you do?

Anyway, I hadn’t played it by the time we recorded that show, so I figured I should give it a spin. Gamefly sent it shortly after, so my son and I put a little of time in. Honestly, it seemed to me like standard Mario Kart -- not terrible by any means, but nothing really outstanding, either.

By sheer chance, Gamefly sent Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed (dat title!) just a couple of days later, and my son and I thought that was a more exciting, more entertaining game by a large margin. 

(It was brought to my attention by @TwinHumanities, so a shout-out to them!) 

Although the two games are essentially the same at the core, Sonic’s mechanic of transforming from a car to a plane to a boat (and back again) was pretty neat, the sense of speed was great, and the tracks were quite impressive with lots to look at, plenty of callouts for Sega fans, and frequent changes in topography. For example, during the first lap of a race, the player would have to go through in car mode. Coming around on the second lap, the track would fall away, requiring a quick transformation into aerial mode… Stuff like that.

Anyway, I don't remember many people talking about this game (because Sonic I’m guessing) but despite the fact that most of the games in that series have been pure crap lately, this one was a great time, and it easily eclipsed Mario Kart in our household.

If you haven't given it a try, it's worth a look!


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