Archive for February, 2017

Stasis

A lifetime ago I really wanted to play Sanitarium and I even bought it on GOG (years ago), but to this day I haven’t touched it (shocker). So this is the position from which I’m judging that Stasis appears to be kind of similar to it (I swear I had no idea the wiki page even mentions Stasis!). “Nowadays” the majority of games are either first or third person 3D OR outright throwbacks like Thimbleweed Park, who actively try to be reminiscent of games of another era. So by default it’s almost rare to get any game which deviates from these few formulas. Devs only seldomly try to mix genres or apply a genre to any unusual, varying format. Certain top down views are “always” real-time strategy, but rarely action and 2D views from the side are adventures, but not e.g. strategy games.

So here comes Stasis as an isometric adventure game, in a tonally dark science-fiction setting, which could be compared (in the broadest sense) to something like Dead Space. The game has no action sequences, which might be a little odd, given the setting and for some gamers this might even detract from the atmosphere (as it’s supposed to be so dangerous at times), but I prefer no action to action which is implemented poorly, so things could be much worse, as far as I’m concerned.

The only negatives that I have to think of, which definitely should be pointed out, are that there is no reliable consistency between cursor icons. What I mean by that is, that certain actions have their own icon, so obviously a player will just assume without an interaction icon, they won’t be able to interact – WRONG. For no reason whatsoever, the game abandons its logic at several points throughout the game and items with the “look at”-icon can and must be clicked regardless, to progress even. It’s obviously annoying to be stuck because of that. I can also see no reason why this wasn’t fixed in a patch at some point, since this seems to be a good example for something, which should (after all) be relatively easy to fix. I’m curious to find out, if their newer games will be improved in this regard. It is not obvious to me if this is just an oversight or intentional bad game design.

I liked the game more than enough to also start playing Cayne. This game seems to take place in the same universe and I’m eager to learn, if it will shed some light on issues, Stasis remained too ambiguous about.

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This game is def one of the craziest titles I’ve ever played, which is – of course – awesome, but then there are the other parts which are just frustrating. These elements further split into bad design and being a bad port. It’s impossible to overlook, that this game wasn’t developed for PC. A menu which can be used with a mouse, is too much to ask. Simple tasks are therefore much more of a hassle than they should be. For general problems, which go beyond the port, there are situations in which the camera isn’t free and is fixed towards a certain path, while there still can be lootable crates on the sides, which isn’t all that much fun to play. The worst crime in this game however is, that there are several boss fights which demand hammering the left mouse key like a madman. This button mashing madness should be banned from all of gaming. But even so, I hardly ever saw such a severe case. At one point, I was about to uninstall the game, because no matter how much I tried to break my mouse, the boss fight wouldn’t continue. I finally got through it after failing like 10 times and I’m sure it was just dumb luck. There are several theories floating around why that is, but nothing definitive. Honestly, this should be patched out (of course I know it won’t be – just saying).

There are problems in the core game as well. What let me down a little, was that several of the episodes (the game consists out of 13 major missions, who are separated from each other like episodes in a TV show) aren’t even embedded in any kind of time frame. What I’m talking about is, that they could be in any order and it wouldn’t matter. So there isn’t even something resembling a coherent story. The story bits that are there, don’t make much sense and it constantly feels like there is something essential missing. I haven’t done any “research”, if there are maybe any “companion pieces”, which might elaborate a little bit on what the game delivers, but even if there are, the consumption of additional material should never be necessary to make a piece of art work. It should be able to stand on its own. I’m not sure if KiD achieves that. Not for people who are looking for more than just a hack’n’slash.

This extends to the characters. Most of them are very unusual, but it’s never explained why they are the way they are, how they got their abilities […] the player learns all of it as a surprise during missions, there aren’t even any hints prior to them doing “it”. None of these things are properly set up or foreshadowed in any way.
This game has aliens, unicorns, trains are coming alive, vampires, cyborgs, magic, people with 16 arms […], all of it without any explanation or introduction. If the handling was much better than it is, this game could be the craziest ride imaginable.
The art style is very noteworthy however and with all the mentioned crazy stuff as a tie-in, Killer is Dead delivers something gamers don’t get to see every day. This is certainly why I finished it, I didn’t do that for the insane button mashing or the general controls.
This game is for everyone who wants to see something different, it delivers that much in massive quantities. I just wish it could have been bundled with better gameplay and a slightly deeper story, then it really could have been something special.

VA-11 Hall-A takes place in (like so many… things) some sort of futuristic dystopia with hackers, artificial intelligence, […] aaand you are a bartender. Other than in the typical game, the player doesn’t explore the world by running around in it, but rather hangs mostly around the bar and the world is experienced by following the stories the guests tell, who walk in from the street. All the player has to do, is to follow these conversations and mix and serve drinks. With this formula, the protagonist’s catchphrase can be fulfilled: “Time to mix drinks and change lives.”
Of course this can fail in a bunch of ways. However, doing it right definitely pays off.
On the surface this might not sound like the game I’d normally wish to play, but I found it to be strangely endearing and relaxing. The real highlight however is, how well pretty much all of the characters are written. Out of the last 10+ games I’ve played, most wouldn’t even try to be anywhere near such well thought-out characters. VA-11 maybe didn’t have a massive budget to blow on big ‘splosions, but it sure became a fine example of what you can do without one regardless.

I’m guessing I’ll play it again soon, because I read there will be a free “expansion” of sorts which will add a prologue. :)

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When Ron Gilbert pitched Thimbleweed Park, one of the things he said, was that he wanted it to be, in a way, like a game from the Maniac Mansion days, which was just now discovered. That’s kind of how Mars: War Logs feels. Like a game Obsidian made ~10 years ago on a budget, but only now did someone discover it. So for people like me, who are into such games, this is a good thing, simply because there are no more games like this. I’ve already played most of them. This is a relic of sorts.
There is a lot of potential in this game, lots of great stuff, which is often unpolished or imperfect in a way which can almost feel unfinished. The combat is acceptable, I’ve definitely seen worse over the years. :P
The setting is good (MAAARS), there are some good characters (Roy was badass in a way that wasn’t annoying, Mary was my kind of crazy and Innocence was strangely endearing) and some choices can lead to an ending which I found satisfying. I think I finished all quests which took me 16 hours (according to Steam).
The game really made me want to play Bound by Flame, simply because it’s from the same dev.
I’d really enjoy a direct sequel to MWL, but I don’t think this is in the cards. Also, there is Technomancer, which is seemingly set in the same universe. I should probably check that out as well. :)