Category Archives: other peoples’ stuff

Game review: Horizon: Zero Dawn for PS4

You might think from some of my less favorable reviews that I love to complain about everything. And that…is probably true, but what I really want is something to gush at y’all about. I want something I love so much that in writing my review, I have to go back and edit it to reduce the length or cut out spoilers. After waiting so very long to play Horizon: Zero Dawn, I can happily report that this is something I love, and I must curb my enthusiasm or risk spoiling the story for you.

Before I cover anything else, let me just say, the story is easily the best part of this game. In most games, the story seems to be built around the game’s mechanics. Stories in those games feel like they came somewhere late to the development, like, “Okay, we’ve got all these other parts working…so, what’s the plot?” But Horizon: Zero Dawn feels more like the story was developed alongside the rest of the game. It also helps that most characters (with one glaring exception that I’ll talk about later) you interact with could be real people. They’re charming and funny, and I mean really funny, not Easter egg/pop culture reference funny. There were often times that I would laugh at a line, pause the game and relay it to hubby because the dialogue is so, so good. I would love to give you examples, but that’s spoiler territory, and I want you to play this game and experience all its charms for yourself.

I will at least have to do minor spoilers for the beginning of the game. The main character is Aloy, an orphan branded an outcast at birth and raised by Rost, another outcast. The start of the lengthy tutorial has you controlling Aloy as a young child of seven or maybe eight. During this sequence, she falls into a vault-like structure where ancient humans used to live and finds a Focus, essentially a personal computer with a holographic interface. Or in other words, this game’s version of Detective Mode/Enhanced senses.

And I’ll be honest here. Most of the game’s mechanics have all been staples of other games for a long time. Some reviews and gamers have complained about that. “Oh meh, we’ve seen and done all this before.” Well, with all due respect to those opinions, I don’t feel the same way. Yes, these mechanics are familiar, but that also means I don’t have to struggle to learn a new way to play. I’m almost instantly “at home” with these controls and mechanics, so I can get right into the two things that make this game so much fun, fighting stuff and watching the story unfold. Continue reading


Book review: After We Collided by Anna Todd

After We Collided, the second book in the After series, is a slow train wreck, but I don’t mean that in a negative sense. I mean it’s a story in which I know something bad is going to happen, and yet I can’t look away. But actually, it may be more accurate to say the book is a series of slow train wrecks, as it is a very long story with several smaller disasters for Hardin and Tessa to alternately create and then overcome. I must be a sucker for reading about these kinds of disastrous relationships because while book hunting around town, I picked up a spin off featuring a side character whose relationship had seemed so stable as seen through Tessa’s eyes, and the prospect of that story turning into another train wreck had me running to the cashier with ridiculous enthusiasm.

In this second installment in the series, Tessa is often just as responsible for the friction in her relationship with Hardin. But I’m perhaps getting ahead of myself. After the first book ended with Hardin and Tessa seemingly separated for good, Tessa attends a book convention in Seattle as part of her internship working for Vance, and after a night out on the town, she drunks dials Hardin, who of course comes running to see her. This encounter ends about as well as I expected, but it does get them back on a path to becoming a couple again.

Their relationship is never going to win the feminism seal of approval for totally healthy relationships. Hardin is a jealous jerk with a tendency to speak first and think later, and Tessa has a few really dumb moments, usually inspired by drinking more and thinking less. Alcohol plays a big role in a lot of their mistakes, which is sorta hypocritical given the histories of both their fathers. But the kids of alcoholics statistically do have more problems with alcohol, so I’m not saying it’s unrealistic, just hypocritical. Continue reading


Game review: Dragon’s Dogma for Xbox360

Dragon’s Dogma is yet another game that I initially balked at playing due to near unanimous reviews talking about how difficult it was. I have always considered myself a mediocre gamer at best, so buzzwords like “insanely difficult” have always turned me off. But in the last two years, I’ve discovered that most of the games billed as “insanely difficult” really aren’t. It’s not that my skills as a gamer have gotten better with time. I still suffer from wrong button syndrome with most controls schemes, and I can screw up even the simplest missions by going the wrong way for upwards of an hour or two. But what I’m discovering is that I’m in pretty good company in the mediocre gamer wagon, and a lot of these people talking about games as “insanely difficult” are just really bad players.

Having conquered all the Dark Souls games as well as dusting off some older games and cranking the difficulty slider up to maximum, I now feel more confident in choosing titles, and so Dragon’s Dogma became a viable choice.

As far as Western Fantasy goes, Dragon’s Dogma doesn’t take any risks. You create a character who is a simple fisher, but destiny pushes them to become “the Arisen,” a fighter of monsters and slayer of The Dragon. Only, you’re not really slaying it so much as giving it a dirt nap before it comes back again. This same story keeps playing out every few years, so your character’s role as the chosen one isn’t all that special.

Similarly, the story playing out isn’t anything special. It’s a serviceable plot, sure, but there’s only one major surprise, and the rest is just your stock standard fare. Continue reading


Book review: Days Long Dead by Gina Rinalli

Amnesia as a starting point into a story is a trope so often used that it is mocked for being a cliché, but there’s a reason so many stories return to it. That’s because amnesia is the perfect unreliable narrator. Someone with amnesia can’t tell you if they’re good or evil. They can’t tell you who is friend or foe, and so every connection they make is viewed with the same nervous tension. Amnesia can make even the most mundane character instantly more thrilling.

Days Long Dead uses amnesia to bring the reader into an event that could have been far more terrifying if it had been allowed to expand into a full-sized novel or even a novella. Julie Travis wakes up from a car crash and discovers her passenger is dead. Closer inspection reveals that he has been dead a long time, and Julie must trace her path away from the crash to find help. At first, it seems she has, but then the people she encounters are just as suddenly long dead for no explainable reason.

It’s hard to explain more than that without spoilers because this is a short story that explores three locations very briefly before revealing the truth. It’s not a bad way to finish the story either, but as I said, the main problem is, it’s not nearly enough running time within this world to properly build a sense of terror or even dread before the final revelation. Normally I’d say this is the best kind of complaint, that I want more, but in this case, the story doesn’t have enough time to explore its setting before the finale. It desperately needs more time to develop a connection to Julie so that I as a reader feel invested in her well being. I’m not, so when the truth is revealed, I can only react with a shrug and, “Well that was a thing, I guess.”

Days Long Dead is still a pretty good story, so I’ll give it 4 stars and recommend it to fans of mysteries and ghost stories. It could have been a great horror story with more time to build tension, but maybe the author wasn’t aiming for the full horror show.


Game review: Rain World for PS4

Hoo boy, where do I even begin with this game? Let’s start with this. Before playing Rain World myself, I watched several YouTubers try it out and quit early on, some of them ending in tearful apologies for not being able to go on. Let that sink in: this is a game that has reduced grown men to TEARS.

Rain World had the potential to be a great game, something iconic that we might all collectively look back on with fondness and nostalgia. But it is consistently hampered by the decision to marry demands for perfection with a control scheme that frequently ignores inputs and does whatever the hell it wants.

I feel I need to justify myself in your eyes before I can even get into the review. I have unlocked several trophies in this game, among them a trophy called Dragon Slayer. This trophy requires killing one of each type of lizard from the green, violet, blue, white, orange, and black varieties. (There is a red lizard, too, but its rarity is such that the game doesn’t require killing it for the trophy.) To even find orange and black lizards requires making it to the farthest end of the game’s many levels, and at the time of my winning this honor, 0.6% of players had managed this feat. I’m in some rarefied air for having made it to the end of the game. AND YET, I could not actually reach the end.

Keeping that in mind, let me backtrack to the beginning, which is so much easier to explain. Rain World starts with a slideshow introducing the player to a family of slugcats. These cute little critters were migrating from somewhere when a sudden rainstorm sent the parents scampering for cover, and in climbing a ruined building, a little slugkitten slipped and fell off its parent’s back. That’s who you’re guiding then, a cyoot widdle slugkitten who got separated from his totes adorbs family. From there the game starts, and a very short tutorial guides you through the basics of the game play. Find food, find shelter to get away from rain, rinse and repeat. Here’s how to do a charged jump, oh, and you can throw stuff in straight lines to the right or left. Aaaaand good luck surviving! Continue reading


Book review: Savage Season by Joe R. Lansdale

When a Hap and Leonard TV series was announced, I picked up the first book to read it first, and Savage Season got lost in the virtual ebook pile on my Kindle (I have a TBR pile so big I may never finish it, but that never stops me from buying new books. I’m an addict for sure.) We had a work-ish trip to Spain come up, and I figured what better way to pass the time than with a crime story?

The Hap and Leonard stories take place in Texas, a place I’m intimately familiar with. Although I live in Italy now, I’ve spent the vast majority of my life in Texas towns both big and small, so I know Texas in all its forms. This then, should be a series that I would enjoy, right? Unfortunately, Savage Season never really worked for me.

Before I get into the problems, I’ll describe the basic plot. Hap Collins is a former 60s hippie who refused to go to Viet Nam and went to prison to prove his principles. As a result, his wife left him and he lost everything. His college degree was worthless, and so Hap came out of prison with no work, no house, no truck, no wife, and no pet. If the pet had been a dog, his life would be considered fair game for a classic country song. Continue reading


Game review: God Eater 2: Rage Burst for PS4

I have mixed feelings about God Eater 2: Rage Burst for several reasons, all of which require explaining what this particular package offers. Like God Eater: Resurrection, Rage Burst is a repackaging of the original game plus two DLCs that add to the story and provide closure in a way that’s more satisfying than just playing the first “episode.” Before I talk about anything else, I will say the story here was just as satisfying as the first game. It’s just that unlocking the story through missions is a lot more of a chore this time around.

Resurrection was repackaged after Rage Burst and features new moves that are not available in Rage Burst. Because of this, playing the second game feels like a downgrade. It doesn’t help that the animation of the aragami feels choppier, with monsters often popping from one pose to another without any fluid animation in between. These two factors often make Rage Burst feel less polished than the previous game, which is kind of weird, but is likely the result of Resurrection being upgraded after Rage Burst.

Some of the things that bugged me about the first game are here as well, and the one I failed to mention in my prior review is the way aragami ignore physics whenever it’s inconvenient for them. My character can’t walk through an aragami or my teammates, but they can walk through each other. They can also park themselves partway through walls, often preventing you from attacking their weak points while getting pummeled by their stronger bits. Continue reading


Game review: God Eater Resurrection for PS4 and PS Vita

Having sunk a little over 1,000 hours into all three Dark Souls games, (No, seriously, over 1,000, making it the longest I’ve played anything since Diablo II) I decided to trade them in at the game shop, and it turns out Horizon Zero Dawn still isn’t available for trade. On a whim I got God Eater Rage Burst 2 because I’d recently seen it praised on a gaming site. The game came with a lovely thank you letter from the director, a classy move somewhat similar to The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. BUT, this letter also included an invitation to download a remastered version of the first game and play it to get introduced to the world and characters. That’s double classy. As an added bonus, this is a cross-play AND a cross-save game, meaning the same save file can be shared between my PS4 and my Vita, which doesn’t get nearly enough love these days. (I don’t mention it anywhere in this review, but the PS Vita version plays just as superbly as the PS4 version. No shock, as this was made for the PSP, the other Sony portable that Sony gave up on. Le sigh, and I digress.)

So what could possibly go wrong? Well, there are some missteps here and there, and I’ll tell you now, this is not a game for the casual crowd. It starts off tough and only gets harder through its three story arcs, for reasons that I will explain a bit later. I’ll get to the problems in due time as well, but first, let me cover the story, the controls, and the various game elements. I should mention that while I’ve beaten all the story and free missions up to Difficulty level 13, there’s still a crap ton of extra missions and challenges available after the story is done. I’ve put in 162 hours, and this is for a free game to get me into the next game. Hot damn, that’s a lot of game, y’all.

Starting off, this is a very anime game. The characters are supposedly an elite military corp dedicated to saving the world from monsters, and yet their uniforms are pretty skimpy in the fabric department. Cry sexism if you like, but several of the dudes are showing off as much skin as the women, so to me it’s an absurd form of equality. Or something. Later on, I was able to unlock an outfit that actually looked like something a military officer might wear and used that most of the time. But I was playing a girl with blue hair and black cat ears, and one of my male companions wears a vest and shorts even in missions with ankle deep snow. There’s also a costume to unlock that will let you cosplay as a pink teddy bear with a giant frickin’ sword. This is not a game that’s taking itself too seriously, is what I’m saying. Continue reading


Game review: Shadowrun Returns for PC

I got Shadowrun Returns during a GOG sale in the fall and played some of it between my other games. To give context for this review, I played almost all the way to the end in short sessions before starting over for reasons I’ll get to in a bit and rolled up two other characters before playing the whole game in a single session. Then I sat on this review for a long time, debating whether or not I wanted to talk about the game at all. I do need to write more posts here, and I’ve been real bad about putting out new stuff. Still, I kinda feel bad having to shit on what was a passion project for someone who clearly loved the original role play game. Kinda. But with time to think it over, I keep coming back to all the things that really pissed me off and I’d want to share that with y’all. Maybe you’ll play it and won’t have the same feelings. Or maybe you’ll give it a pass and play something else instead. That’s really the better option, in my opinion.

So, here we go: Shadowrun Returns is a complete and utter disappointment to play, both from the perspective of a long-time video gamer and as a player of the original old school pencil and paper RPG. The biggest disappointment is how little it tries to do anything resembling role-play. Like many modern triple A games, it gives you a list of dialogue options to choose from, and with the exception of a word change or a sentence at most, every choice leads to the same result. On startup, the game offers player the choice of various “etiquette” training, and depending on which you choose, you may only get to use it ONCE in the whole playthrough. AND EVEN THEN the response you get by sweet talking will be a single changed sentence before you’re right back on the same railed story as every other player.

This could be the one thing that really rubs me the wrong way precisely because there’s no voice acting. It’s all text scripts. So what it comes down to is, someone cobbled together a husk of a role play favorite and sold that old nostalgia song and dance, but couldn’t be bothered to actually make a role play game. Fuck that. Fuck it in every available orifice, and when you run out of holes, make some new ones and fuck those, too. Continue reading


Book review: The Humans by Matt Haig

This is going to be a shorter review than is typical for me, mainly because I don’t have much to say about The Humans. I went into it with too high expectations based on my first read of Matt Haig’s work, The Radleys (which I loved), and by the blurbs littering the cover with gushing praise. And I should say that yes, I liked the story. But do I think it is “Wonderfully funny, gripping, and inventive”? No. Would I call it “Hilarious”? No. Would I describe it as “A laugh-and-cry book”? No. (I also wouldn’t call it that because ugh, hyphen abuse.) What I would call it is “Somewhat adequate.”

Putting it simply, The Humans is a retread of just about every “going native” story I’ve ever read or seen as a film. It’s the same as the many stories of tourists visiting another country and being bewildered by culture shock, only to eventually fall in love with the people (usually first with just one person) and coming to terms with their unusual habits. It’s Dances with Wolves, and Avatar, and any other number of examples across multiple genres.

The narrator for this book is an unnamed alien sent to Earth to erase evidence of a mathematical breakthrough that might somehow evolve the human race to the point of space travel. Why? Well because even if the claim is made many times that the whole race feels no emotions, they clearly fear the humans. I’m not even going to argue with their reasoning, because just look at what we’ve done with the internet and smartphones, and it’s clear that we do indeed have a problem with our technology advancing far too fast for us to catch up culturally and socially. So even if it seems illogical that the aliens who feel no emotions should fear humans, I can’t fault their desire to keep us constrained to one planet until we’ve had the chance to mature beyond our territorial pissing contest mentality. Continue reading