Saturday, October 14, 2017

[Finished] Life is Strange: Before the Storm episode 1: Awake

Game: Life is Strange: Before the Storm episode 1: Awake
Release date: 2017
Platform: PC
Date started:  October 2017
Date finished:  October 2017

As I played it, I enjoyed the first episode quite a bit but upon reflecting on it I realized it's not very good. First problem: they fucked up the continuity. At this point in time Chloe's mom and David should be already married but they're not. Oops. Everyone was recast, not just Chloe. Some of the voices are totally on point, so much that I wondered if it's the original actor doing the voice but being credited as someone else. Rhianna DeVries played Chloe pretty well. Sometimes I was annoyed by the tone of her inner voice but she did nail the most important scenes. Kylie Brown was fine as Rachel but due to all the buildup toward her character in first game, I expected someone a bit more charismatic. It was interesting seeing Chloe interact with familiar faces like Victoria or seeing Nathan get bullied. Out of the new characters I liked D&D nerds Steph and Mikey and laid back security guard Skip.

The main problem is Deck Nine doesn't know how to marry story with gameplay. They have no idea what would they have players do. So they made the ultimate fetch quest game. After Chloe comes back from a concert these are your main objectives for the whole first half of the game:
  1. bring purse to Joyce
  2. bring keys to David
  3. bring wrench to David
  4. take DVD from Steph (only so you can have a conversation, DVD as an item is inconsequential)
  5. bring belt to Rachel
It's not a joke, I swear all of these objectives happen one after the other with only a bit of dialogue in between.

This is how I feel about fetch quests:

The rewind mechanic is gone. Instead they introduced "backtalk challenge" where you try to get your way by defeating people with arguments. These are pretty fun (except the first one with a bouncer that is terribly written) but I don't like the way they were executed. It's nothing new, this has been in the game the whole time. Remember the conversation with Kate on the rooftop or asking Frank to give you his notebook. The only difference is now there is a visual indicator of how well you're doing in the conversation and all it does is break immersion. I don't like how it shows you that the conversation you're about to enter is different from others. I like to think all of them are important depending on the context. 

I was curious how would they tackle puzzles without rewind mechanic. Well, there's only one puzzle in the whole episode and I'm even hesitant to call it that. It's terrible for a couple of reasons:
  1. it's insultingly simple
  2. in the context of the story it doesn't need to be solved but you have to do it in order to progress
  3. you would never solve it that way in real life
Before the Storm is a step away from the original game and step toward Telltale style. Except for the schoolyard, all of the levels in the game got smaller and there's very little room for exploration. Locations like the junkyard or school dorm from the original game weren't big in any sense but there's nothing in Before the Storm that comes close to that size. There's always something blocking your path. Even tho the original had small levels, Dontnod created illusion that all those places are connected. For example: your goal is to get to a drama class. If Dontnod made this game then you'd start in the schoolyard, you'd enter the school, manually walk through hallways while exploring and talking to characters and then you'd enter the class once you find it. Here's how Deck Nine does it: you start in schoolyard then cutscene teleports you right into the class then another cutscene teleports you to next location. It's basically Telltale. 

Although there's not much room for exploration, from time to time you can find something interesting, like this betting note in front of an old mill. I think it might be connected to dog fights briefly mentioned in the first game
You could make an argument that they are focusing on the story and achieving better pacing by cutting the mundane parts but some of the best moments happened outside of the main plot. I loved the D&D minigame they played before the class and that was completely optional. With all the effort devs put into creating it, I just wish they allowed players to roll for themselves instead of rolls being predetermined. This would be very easy to implement and make it 100x better.

The story of episode 1 is about Chloe meeting and bonding with Rachel. Although it feels a little bit rushed, it is believable, especially since they have certain things in common. The game definitely had it's moments. Playing 2 truths 1 lie with Rachel was fun and it was cool to see their relationship develop. There was one heart breaking scene where Chloe ran into something that reminded her of her dad. I liked the story for the most part but I'm not so sure I like the ending.

The soundtrack is nice but there's no track that stood out nor one I'd listen outside of the game. I preordered Deluxe edition so I got a mixtape mode and different costumes as a bonus. I imagined mixtape mode would work like a discman or something that Chloe would carry with her and you could arrange tracks and play them inside the game. Turns out it's just an animation of Chloe lying in bed while listening to tracks from the game that you can re-arrange. You enter mixtape mode through main menu. While it's cool that you can change clothes this time, all bonus outfits look kinda lame so I chose the default one anyway.

I enjoyed playing Before the Storm but I can't overlook it's flaws. The devs were clearly struggling with incorporating gameplay into the story and I hope they will come up with something better for episode two.

My choices (IMAGE SPOILERS!) were pretty much the opposite from everyone else:

I was busy leaving a mark

emotional moments
Rachel/Chloe  relationship
D&D minigame

- struggling to marry storytelling with gameplay
 fetch quests
- less exploration
- continuity errors
- (lack of) puzzles
-  actors couldn't reprise their roles due to voice actor strike


Friday, October 13, 2017

Got SNES Classic Mini

Last year I bought NES Classic. Now I got SNES and it seems like I'm building a collection of cute little Nintendo consoles. N64 next year? NES version had an issue with short controller cable so I'm glad they extended it even added an additional controller for SNES Classic.

Here's the list of all the games on SNES Classic. That's a lot of games added to my backlog :/

Contra III: The Alien Wars
Donkey Kong Country
Final Fantasy III
Kirby Super Star
Kirby’s Dream Course
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Mega Man X
Secret of Mana
Star Fox
Star Fox 2
Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting
Super Castlevania IV
Super Ghouls ’n Ghosts
Super Mario Kart
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Super Mario World
Super Metroid
Super Punch-Out!!
Yoshi’s Island

Visited GAME ON exhibition in Prague

GAME ON is the biggest exhibition about video game history, ranging from early arcades to modern systems and virtual reality. There are over 150 playable games on various systems. I had a chance to play arcade classics such as Pong, Asteroids, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Galaga and many others. Virtua Fighter 2 was my favorite arcade when I was a kid. It wasn't there but I was happy to find the original Virtua Fighter which I haven't played before. The movement felt a bit floaty but it was still fun and of all games there I spent most time on it.

When I saw the "Puck Man" arcade cabinet I thought it must be some cheap copy of Pac-Man. Turns out this is the original Japanese game created by Toru Iwatani. It was only later renamed to Pac-Man for the American release because of fear of vandalism. They were worried kids might change "P" into an "F", turning it into "Fuck Man". Of course Puck Man aged very well and controlling him with a stick is tight and precise. They also had Ms. Pac-Man cabinet. They play pretty much the same.

Besides games there were some interesting things like Tomb Raider concept art and their BAFTA award in a display case. Or the faithfully recreated board in Rockstar offices from the time when they were working on GTA3 covered in sticky notes and concept art.

For the first time I had a chance to play on consoles like Atari 2600, Dreamcast or the first Xbox. The highlight of the exhibition was playing Steel Battalion with it's famous controller. It's a mech simulation for the original Xbox that came bundled with a huge controller specifically made for the game. It has 2 sticks, around 40 buttons and switches and 3 pedals. All the buttons light up when you get hit in the game. It was a great immersive experience.