Archive for Life is Strange

A Plague Tale: Innocence or Uninspired Gameplay Plaguing A Great Story

Posted in Played & Explained with tags , , , , on June 5, 2019 by Rabidgames

First impressions can be wrong. It may look like it, but thankfully, A Plague Tale: Innocence is neither a Telltale copy-paste game nor a walking simulator (nothing against those, mind you). Instead, the game with yet another weird title is a stealth/puzzle adventure with bits of fighting. And that’s good. Set in 14th century France, protagonist Amicia and her little brother Hugo, who has a mysterious illness in his blood, must escape the heinous inquisition and rats. Tons of supernatural rats.

Unfortunately, we also see the rare case where too much gameplay can hinder a good story. In A Plague Tale: Innocence, this happens once in a while. While the puzzle parts are fine, the stealth parts are usually dragged-out games of hide and seek. Which gets boring quickly. Couple that with the weird idea that Amicia early on learns to kill enemies by hitting baddies in the head, which shocks her at first. If that mechanic would be utilised once or twice, fine. But she’ll leave with a three-figure body count if you feel like handling stuff violently, which honestly feels out of place.

And there’s another issue. See, you’re usually out there with Amicia and Hugo in A Plague Tale: Innocence, and you meet some friends on your adventure. All can help you at times. That’s cool. Not so cool are at two rather long parts where you’re on your own, and all you do is evade or kill (depending on the level). Couple that with the fragile Amicia versus towering guards mechanics where being spotted means death, it’s a boring game of trial and error. Same goes for the quite frankly ridiculous final boss. Whenever A Plague Tale: Innocence turns into an action game, it feels wonky, weird and quite uncomfortable in its own skin.

Thankfully though, there are many sections where you solve puzzles with your friends, where you just walk around and talk (and look for crafting resources), and the cut scenes that show how Amicia and her once estranged brother truly become family are really well done. You also get to know some other kids along the way, and A Plague Tale: Innocence does a great job of bringing them closer to Amicia and you.

The star in A Plague Tale: Innocence is the atmosphere though. Regularly, there are two colour palettes: During the day, you often walk through a lush and colourful landscape, and at night, you long for some light, not only because it will keep you safe from the thousands and thousands of hungry rats you see on screen, but also because the game gives you the illusion of safety there.

fields

Sometimes bright and lush …

A Plague Tale: Innocence also has a nice flow most of the times: Some levels start with walking to the action, a bit of stealth is followed by the puzzles of “create a path of light so the rats won’t devour you”, and then you have some cutscenes. You also see everything from lush forests to battlefields with hundreds of corpses, caves and castles. A Plague Tale: Innocence brings you to many places. And the journey of the siblings also works as a narrative. The supernatural conclusion also works most of the time. It’s only at the final boss where it’s all just a bit too fucking ridiculous.

battlefield

… sometimes dead and dark.

In some ways, A Plague Tale: Innocence resembles the first Life is Strange. A tale of friendship coupled with supernatural events, the end of the world looms, and you have the key to solve the problem. Sure, there are no choices and the gameplay isn’t that unique, but A Plague Tale: Innocence is also the kind of game you might just like despite it being the kind of game you usually don’t like. And if you’re like Rabidgames, you can easily forgive the problems in the gameplay department because the narrative and the atmosphere in A Plague Tale: Innocence are just simply great!

Rabidgames’ verdict: DO NOT BUY the game if you don’t like linear experiences or handholding kids. Or if you like stealth games with tight and elaborate controls. If you’re afraid of rats, well, avoid the game at all costs.

GO BUY if you like a great narrative and a great atmosphere. This game offers both.

 

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Vampyr or Undeath is Strange

Posted in Hands On, The Latest with tags , , , on June 15, 2018 by Rabidgames

After Life is Strange, the expectations were high.Would Dontnod’s take on vampires follow Max’ and Chloe’s adventures, or would it rather be like Remember Me, a game with good intentions and great design, but ultimately remembered for being a bit mediocre because of the weird combat and some strange puzzles? Long story short, Vampyr is a bit of both. And there are some nice easter-eggs and trophies in there as well to remind you of the developer’s heritage …

Vampyr has the long yet intriguing dialogues of Life is Strange, and it also has a similar yet considerably darker atmosphere. But the fighting also feels a bit disjointed from the rest of the game sadly. More on that later, but let’s just making the fighting optional certainly wouldn’t have Vampyr a worse game. Anyway, most of the time, you’ll talk to people and try to find clues that serve two purposes: First, you unlock hints that might be useful later, and second, the more hints you unlock and the healthier a NPC is, the more XP you get for drinking their crimson wine. Each NPC has a story to tell, and it is interesting to get to know more about them – if they survive long enough.

But the consequences … fuck. They are brutal. Let’s just say one decision can doom an entire district. For good. And worst, Rabidgames meant well! Vampyr doesn’t bother to give you any indication how to achieve a good or bad outcome, so prepare to restart the game and playing up to 10 hours if you mess this up and you can’t live with the consequences. Or save the game on a USB stick frequently … just asking for a friend, you know … Like said before, Vampyr is not shy to kill off everyone in a district if you don’t keep everyone, especially the so-called “pillars”, important NPCs in an area, alive. Alive and healthy, so you’ll spend time talking to them and keeping them healthy by brewing medicine – a lot!

Vampyr is a game that can be played fundamentally different. The main thing is that you get lots of XP and thereby an easy game if you “embrace” NPCs – embracing being the best euphemism for drinking their blood like Russians devour alcohol! If you do this, you quickly unlock the powerful skills of Vampyr – but it comes at a steep price – every living person gone brings a district closer to chaos.

Now, let’s talk about combat. While there are some fights you sadly have to fight, you can evade many. Now, the combat in Vampyr isn’t necessarily bad, but it takes up too much room in a game about choices. Way too much room. So, you can mix and match your weapons and abilities, which works for different playstyles. You can stun and suck blood, you can shoot your guns (although you don’t have many bullets at your disposal), you can use blood or shadow “magic”, there’s plenty of choice to be had. If only the fighting was fun … It feels a bit like Dark Souls though – more a chore on the way to your target than something to enjoy.

And then, there are boss battles. If you choose to be a “good vampire”, well, you’re fucked. There is a special boss fight around the middle of the game where you can easily get killed with 2 hits in this case. It’s fucking stupid. This is a case of Deus Ex: Human Revolution all over again – why bother playing non-violently when it boils down to brute force after all?

Even worse, the loading times. Vampyr takes forever to load, and if you die, prepare to watch the screen for at least a minute, at least on the base PS4. And you wonder why – the graphics are nice, but not spectacular. The physics also don’t justify it, and neither does the size of this Victorian London. So why does it take so long? Oh, and once every full moon, the game also crashes during fights.

So, where does this take us? Well, Vampyr is unfortunately a hybrid of great adventure moments and tedious combat, the latter heavily weighing down the former. And if you choose to be a good doctor, well fuck you very much, Vampyr becomes ten, okay, five times harder. The idea is alright, but especially the addition of way too many sub-bosses takes away from the great atmosphere. Another issue is the backtracking – there is no fast-travel so you’ll walk back and forth (with optional fighting, of course) quite a lot, often a couple of times the same way in a given chapter.

But despite all the shortcomings, Vampyr is a fascinating game. It is not as captivating as Life is Strange was, but it can mesmerise you when you investigate a scene or listen to all the dialogues and come to your conclusion, and if you get a decision wrong, you feel the same kind of pain you felt when you made that agonising last decision in Life is Strange. The game definitely has a soul. Whether that’s enough for you, well, that depends how thirsty you are for a vampire game.

Rabidgames ponders in the dark: It’s not that Vampyr does a great many things wrong. A few technical hiccups aside, it’s only the tedious combat that keeps the game, and the fun, down. And yet, it is hard to put the controller down once the story continues, once you’ve found out another secret of a NPC – and once you got over the fact you doomed 12 people because you meant well!

Life is Strange or A Strange Game of the Year?

Posted in Gaming these days ..., Played & Explained with tags on October 20, 2015 by Rabidgames

Careful, spoilers – including ending spoilers – below!
(Unless you can rewind time to make things unseen in which case feel free to go ahead.)

So, that was it. That was the long-awaited Episode 5 of Life is Strange, Dontnod’s masterpiece out of nowhere. But could the finale meet or even exceed the expectations?

First of all, it’s a roller-coaster ride. In these two to three hours, poor Max relives a lot of things, and emotionally, there are defeats, triumphs and despair. Things get even crazier than before, and not only story-wise. In terms of gameplay, the closing stages of Life is Strange surprise with a repeating corridor we know from PT (R.I.P., old friend), a bit of avoiding enemies’ cones like in theold-fashioned Metal Gear Solid games, of course including cheating via means of time, and finally, a collage of scenes reminiscent of Bioshock Infinite.

Besides a few new gameplay mechanics (if you want to even call it that way), the last episode of Life is Strange involves what we all have come to love: Long dialogues, quiet moments where we can take our time, sometimes just watching Max sitting down and reminiscing, and of course, the puzzles, even though the last episode feels a bit light of puzzles. And Life is Strange also plays even more with different realities, multiverses and the concept of the butterfly effect. These three hours are quality gaming time and will leave you exhausted but not entirely satisfied.

The only thing souring the bittersweet finale is the fact that Life is Strange ends the way most of us predicted – saving Chloe or saving Arcadia Bay. Even worse, whatever you choose, both endings negate pretty much the entire previous game – at least at first sight, from a gameplay perspective. If you take a philosophical look at it though, the ending shows us a mirror – did we spend all this time helping everyone to just say “fuck this town” and save Chloe? Or, if we centred the game around Chloe, do we sacrifice her for people we didn’t care about? The one or the many? Yes, the ending is disappointing at first, but it makes sense from a meta perspective – a bit strange for a game indeed, but a nice experiment.

And finally, who’s to say saving Chloe now will return reality back to normal forever? What if reality keeps claiming Chloe’s life? Or is the storm caused by Max using her powers? So what if she ever uses them again? The big question aside, there are a few more open questions depending on the final decision, but surely, the finale of Life is Strange is more complete and fulfilling than the road kill Lost presented.

So where does this leave us? It is clear the episodic format suited Life is Strange – it gave us room for thought, time for theories, and the expectations were rising and rising. In terms of gameplay, the use of time was refreshing, the mix between the coming of age tale and the mystery surrounding Arcadia Bay managed to be pretty much perfect, and also the mix of dialogues and puzzles was never boring – one tiny critique could be the puzzles felt too easy at times, especially in the beginning. And at the end of the day, Life is Strange actually met the expectations by giving us some closure in an – admittedly – rather expected way. But the way there has been a great ride!

Rarely has Rabidgames been that emotionally invested in a game, and even more importantly, rarely has a game not just allowed, but rather asked us to just sit back and relax – sometimes even directly. Life is Strange has always tried to challenge our understanding of games … if you wanted, you could rewind time times and times again so you could see all different outcomes or just dialogue options before you continue. If you wanted, you could just sit there, listen to the great soundtrack and philosophise about the very same questions Max was pondering over. And if you take this into account, the ending also makes sense.

And besides philosophy, meta levels and new ways of understanding gaming, Life is Strange has been fun. Great fun! And to be honest, it has been a more than welcome diversion from all the other games out there that always follow the same pattern. And mostly for this reason, Life is Strange is a Game of the Year contender in Rabidgames’ book. Finally, we have a game that brings some true innovation beyond graphics, frame rates or size. A game that challenges us not just go forward, but to go back in time – or just do nothing, just to sit there. And when have we done this the last time before – be it in a game or be it in our lives?

Rabidgames says farewell to Arcadia Bay: Yes, Life is Strange is an entirely different kind of game. As opposed to life in that small Oregon town, it might not be the end of the world as we know it, but it surely enriches the gaming world with a new perspective of time. And be it Game of the Year or not, it certainly was time well spent. Surely, life can be strange …

Broken Sword 5 or Point & Click & Dialogues

Posted in Hands On, The Latest with tags , , on September 28, 2015 by Rabidgames

A few years ago, a game such as Broken Sword 5 – The Serpent’s Curse would have been a major hit for deprived console adventure fans. But these days, after the Telltale games or the superb Life is Strange, and even a renaissance of classic old-fashioned point & click adventures, the question is – can this new instalment of the Broken Sword franchise still impress?

Well, if you’re into this kind of adventure, Broken Sword 5 might just be the game for you! From witty comments and often rather hilarious dialogues to the genre’s typical sometimes rather outlandish puzzles, Broken Sword 5 got it all, just as you might expect. And it’s somewhere in the middle ground between childishly easy and outlandishly crazy – there are rarely any insane combinations to proceed, but sometimes it’s merely “look, there’s something blinking, why don’t you go there?” But sometimes you have to perform several steps over and over again on the path to the correct solution, which can feel tedious.

The major weakness of Broken Sword 5 are the dialogues though; they don’t feel dynamic like in Life is Strange, but thanks to the voice acting, they feel to slow at times. Now don’t get Rabidgames wrong, the quality of the speakers including several accents and nice sarcastic undertones is top notch, but they tend to break the flow of classic point & click in a way that can make you fall asleep at times because you know where the dialogue is getting but it still goes on and on. Sure, you can skip them, but after 10 hours, the same kind of dialogue over and over again becomes tiresome.

Furthermore, as opposed to Life is Strange where you interact with the same people throughout the game so the dialogues can actually show some character development, some characters are there for maybe 20 lines and then they disappear. Forever. So while there is some comedic relief to be had and some important detail to be heard at times, Broken Sword 5 is not as good as its rivals in this aspect.

Unfortunately, this is not the only issue the game is having. On a far broader scale, the game suffers from the ancient formula. While there have been some innovations to the adventure genre in general – some good (more interactivity, branching storylines), some bad (quick time events instead of gameplay) – Broken Sword 5 refuses to go with the flow and stays true to its heritage. Sure, there is some charm in it, but if you play the game for longer than an hour, fatigue sets in eventually. In short bursts however, there is nothing wrong with solving puzzles with a sarcastic undertone at the end of the day.

Rabidgames is puzzled: On the one hand, Broken Sword 5 feels outdated and long-winded in its approach. But on the other hand, it’s the perfect alternative to the other two types of adventures these dates – the narrative walking simulators and the choice based adventures. There is certainly room for old fashioned point & click stories to live, but how big this habitat is remains to be seen.

Life is Strange – Strangely Beautiful in this Case

Posted in Played & Explained with tags on February 15, 2015 by Rabidgames

Life is Strange is a strange game indeed. It is slow, quiet and pensive. There is hardly any action. And because of all this, it is wonderful. Contrary to the Telltale formula, Life is Strange doesn’t need to shoehorn simplistic QTE mechanics to give you the impression stuff is going on. What it takes from The Walking Dead & Co. is that making (eventually) irreversible decisions with potentially grave consequences is a key aspect, and of course the episodic nature of the game.

If you start playing as Max, the heroine returned to her home town, you find yourself in a dream before you wake up in class. The first few minutes, it seems to be the tale of an awkward teenager trying to fit in – before Max realises she can reverse time. But because of this ability, Life is Strange never gets too hectic, you can repeat actions and dialogues if you don’t like the outcome – well, you can’t always so better make the decision you want to follow through with … but in general, Life is Strange gives you the freedom to talk, explore and find out what’s going on at your own pace. The soundtrack is stellar here – some songs are best enjoyed in full while Max is telling us her thoughts – or sometimes, it just feels good to sit there and be relaxed while Max is relaxed.

So what exactly is going on? Good question. Think of Life is Strange as a contemporary Twin Peaks – a rather sleepy town threatened by ominous signs, weird characters with their hidden agendas, and lots of buried secrets. Plus, there is symbolism all around. Storms, butterflies, light and dark, strange signs everywhere – there is much happening, and some of it might be important. And of course, photography seems to be an integral part of Max – and the game?

Gameplay-wise, well, expect a bit of exploring, a bit of puzzling, and a bit of dialogue options – Life is Strange is not about inventing anything in terms of gameplay mechanics. But it doesn’t need to have much gameplay if the simplistic approach manages to create an immersive atmosphere where even the most colourful surroundings feel a bit, well, strange …

The characters in Life is Strange all seem to be stereotypes at first sight – rich jocks, poor nerds, bitchy cheerleaders, the prude religious girl, the hipster teacher, a surveillance control freak, the rebelling punk girl smoking weed – name it. But below the surface, there might be more to some, if not all characters. Plus, they seem a bit surreal.

Speaking of surreal – reversing time, the comic-like graphics and the asynchronous lip movements could all be a sign something in Life is Strange is stranger than just strange … Currently, there are quite a few fan theories in the net already, and we can expect more to follow. Maybe everything that happens in the game is just a dream, or it is the past, or maybe even the future? Who knows?

You might have realised Rabidgames is not giving you many details about Life is Strange – yes, and for a reason. Go buy the game. Enjoy it. Make your decisions. Find out what’s going on. But most importantly, discover a welcome change from the hectic shooting and fighting and hacking and driving fast. Life is Strange never ends up as an interactive reaction test, it is always about you taking your time to go on … and if you are too slow and things happen, you can just rewind time in order to proceed. No harm done.

Rabidgames is excited: One episode finished, four to go. You don’t have to be a fan of episodic interactive movies to enjoy Life is Strange, you just have to be willing to take a game slow. Give Life is Strange some time, it will reward you with a feeling of calm enjoyment. This alone is worth playing it. And then, you might want to see what happens if you make different choices …