How’s Anna? – Deadly Premonition Origins

The following is not so much a review as a picking apart because it’s a game that left me with a lot of questions. It includes spoilers though I’ve tried to keep details to a minimum.

Also, content warning at the very end for a flashing image.

I think I was about 11 when it happened. It was late one night, I was alone in my room, struggling to sleep, so I carefully turned on my TV and put the volume down to the lowest I could still manage to hear it at. There were only 4 channels in the UK at the time so not a huge selection. I distinctly remember turning to one channel and seeing a man in blue pajamas, lying in bed, with two police officers standing around him, looking concerned.

The blue-clad man stood up and went to the bathroom, wasted a lot of toothpaste and then slammed his head into the bathroom mirror, which cracked. There was some blood on the glass, and looking back at the giggling man with a head injury, was a reflection not his own. Instead it was a scruffy looking and sinister older man.

Something about this scene really unsettled me and I decided that was quite enough television. However, I’d be sleeping with the lights on that night… if I slept at all.

That was the final scene of the final episode of Twin Peaks season 2, and it really stayed with me. When I was older, I bought a (fairly) complete VHS box set of the show and watched it over and over, especially any episodes in the red room, or where things were most strange. Twin Peaks did creeping, weird, discomfort, set in a seemingly simple and mundane setting in a way I was deeply drawn to.

Over the last nine years, I’ve kept hearing the name Deadly Premonition over and over. It’s always come up as “very you, Jane”.

Some time ago, I purchased it on Steam, but then completely forgot about it (Probably because I saw something shiny and got distracted). When I found it again I spent most of two days trying to get the damn thing to work, without success and so it was forgotten, and I was fairly sure then that I’d never get to play it.

However, a recent Nintendo Direct showed that not only was it getting a sequel, but that it was being re-released on Switch as Deadly Premonition Origins. So finally, I’ve got the chance to play. It’s safe to say, that the Switch version can definitely be completed without the game breaking crashes of the old PC version.

Now DP has been released on consoles, then re-released as a directors cut and now this. As such, I think it’s reasonable to assume that however it is now, is how it is “supposed” to be. Especially as this release has taken some of those things back out from the Directors Cut (apparently the director had a change of heart on some of the changes). At this point, everything can be considered intentional (and yes, I would say the same about Skyrim and it’s curious glitches. If that wasn’t their artistic vision, they’d have fixed it by now).

Francis York Morgan (call him York, everybody does) is an FBI detective with a number of dangerous habits. He smokes cigarettes like he’s chewing a lollipop, while on the phone, while using his laptop, while driving at high speed, at night, in heavy rain. Also he eats smoked salmon he finds in lockers in abandoned lumber mills. He is – to put it simply – a reckless dickhead.

Understandably, the game begins with York flipping his car, and finding himself in the woods, somehow alive (although, who knows, this game could all be a Silent Hill, moment of death hallucination), while his car starts to slowly burn. Suddenly, theres all these people, looking dead, broken. They bend over backwards lumbering and flickering towards him like ghosts from a Japanese horror film. Moving in a way that I find deeply and wonderfully unsettling.

In some ways, it’s fitting that the game opens with York flipping the car, because the driving in this game is some of the most frustrating I’ve ever encountered. Steering is so sensitive that the first few times I was charged with driving a vehicle myself, I was weaving side to side and into trees like I was also smoking, making a call and using my laptop. Again, I have to believe that this was deliberate, as they definitely could have dialed it down by now if they wanted. This then is York being an appalling driver and a danger to himself and others (run sheriff, run deputy, run while you still can! Don’t dare to get in this car with York, he’s a fucking liablity).

To look at, you’d be forgiven for thinking Deadly Premonition was late PS2/Dreamcast era game, but it came out the same year as Fallout: New Vegas and Mass Effect 2 so there’s really no reason it had to look like this. The character models are ok, but goodness, the first time you see York smile, you’ll be sleeping with the lights on.

DP has some quite interesting little management aspects. If you don’t change and wash your clothes, they’ll become increasingly creased and dirty. If you don’t shave, you’ll start to grow a beard. York also needs to eat, sleep, keep his pulse within a reasonable window. It’s like the game is trying to be part life sim, part police procedural, part people management, and drunk driving simulator.

Everything about the sound in this game is too dramatic. All sorts of mundane actions or events – even entering the pause menu- causes dramatic, discordant, instrumental hits, that somehow still disquieted me hours into the game.

Then there’s the music, and this is where a good few minutes of hysterical laughter first started. Very near the beginning of the game, there’s a scene where York has breakfast with the hotel owner. They sit at opposite ends of a long banquet table, in the otherwise empty hotel restraunt. Each time York asks a new question a loud, jaunty piece of music starts. It’s out of place with the scene, and almost completely drowns out the dialogue. I’m convinced this is deliberate, because after nearly a decade I can’t believe that they wouldn’t have corrected the default audio balance if it wasn’t intentional.

Consequently I ask myself: why is this the case? Why did SWERY want to drown out the conversation? My only conclusion so far is that York places so little value in it that he’s half in his mind just thinking of a jaunty tune. This would sit with the fact he’s a massive douchecanoe (the Director’s Cut, did change the sound balance in this scene and it was nowhere near as hilarious. Besides, they didn’t re-release the DC, they released this).

It’s not just the music that’s bizarre, there’s a scene at one point where the tension is high, you’re running all over town on foot, desperate to get to your goal, but the game insists on stopping every hundred yards to chat about something unrelated or just cutting to another scene entirely. Once again, the ridiculousness of this moment had me laughing my arse off.

There’s also the question of York’s state of mind (or possibly state within the

multiverse). York frequently puts fingers to the side of his head and speaks to someone named Zach. He’s not wearing an earpiece, so the question of who he’s actually talking to remains a mystery. One of the menus describes Zach as York’s other personality, so the answer could be as simple as that. But… then there’s the way that York will ask a Zach a question and you, the player, will have to answer, using on-screen prompts. Have I been designated Zach for the purpose of the game? (more on this later.)

I’m reminded of how Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks would talk to his dictaphone, to the possibly non-existent (until Twin Peaks The Return, 26 years after the last episode was shown) Diane.

It’s not just Zach though, there’s also the matter of the otherworldly sections, where strange, red weeds block doors; where odd red mist blocks paths or objects; and where strange beings emerge from black marks on the walls and floor to assault you.

Early on, there’s a scene were York goes to the hospital to recover a coroner’s report. The path down is simple, a brief, simple word puzzle and then following a marker downstairs and into the morgue. Having annoyed the local sheriff, the deputy, and the coroner by being an arrogant jackass, York states he’s going for a smoke.

However, the moment he steps into the corridor, the world is changed again. It’s sinister, as the woods had been. There’s that red weed again. There’s those black marks. There’s the strangely moving assailants, juddering and twisting to attack him (frankly I think this is deserved). Having worked his way back upstairs – by finding key cards and getting past enemies – and into the hospital lobby, all is suddenly normal again. This lobby which was full of red weeds and shambling monsters which I was spraying with bullets is back to normal.

This is a mechanic that repeats throughout the game and leads me to question, is York seeing things, or slipping between realities, like someone trapped in Silent Hill? Truth be told, there’s a lot about the enemy movement and the way they emerge from the dark patches on the walls that makes me think of Silent Hills 2 and 4 (and I’m so here for that, because those are two of my favourite horror games).

A scene at the art gallery sees a York and three police officers trying to find a way in as the front door is locked. It’s late at night and raining heavily and the clouds are doing that purple thing they do when he enters the other worldly sections. The officers wander around the front of the building but only York will head around the sides. Here there are endlessly respawning enemies which will attack you. However, they never come near the police and don’t go to the front of the building. So are they real, hallucinations, or do they exist in a place outside Greenvale, outside the reality usually perceived here?

For an FBI agent, York doesn’t mess around when it comes to weaponry. You start the game your standard issue 9mm pistol and a knife. Soon enough he’ll locate the standard issue survival horror steel pipe which will grant you a little more room.

While the pistol thankfully comes with unlimited ammo, the melee weapons break after a few uses (meaning that you don’t want to get into a fight with more than one enemy unless your weapon has decent health, otherwise you’ll likely get attacked in the few seconds it takes York to swap to a fresh weapon.

As you move through the game, you’ll start to find more useful weapons like the assalt rifle and shotgun. While I was initially cautious about using my big guns in favour of my trusty pistol, I found that as long as I wasn’t just spraying bullets everywhere like a penis owner meat spin pissising in a public toilet, I was getting sufficient drops from downed enemies to keep myself in shooty things.

The game allows you to auto target an enemy by pressing a shoulder button. This is reasonably effective and if you nudge the stick slightly upwards, you’re usually good for a headshot.

There is one enemy however which cannot be fought in the usual manner. That being the dreaded Raincoat Killer. Clad in a long red raincoat, their features as indiscernible as a nazgul save for a pair of glowing eyes. When they appear, it’s usually a sign you’re going to have to engage with some QTE nonsense.

Maybe it’s just me as someone who plays on a lot of different systems and has coordination issues, but I find the amount of time you get to hit the buttons isn’t really long enough to read, process, and react. One section in particular had me enter a room, get attacked, fail the QTE, restart, and pass the first event, only to miss a second prompt and have to start again, this happened almost every time of the 5 or so parts to this section. Every attempt getting me a little further, but becoming less dramatic tension and more needless frustration. This may be a Switch issue, as I find it much easier to remember the positions of colours and shapes that just the letters alone.

If you’re trans and reading this, you’ve probably had someone warn you about an aspect of this game. I too was warned before I started (and several times thereafter by concerned friends) that there is a gender non-conforming character in this and they’re not well handled (I’m not sure if we’d call them trans as we don’t get much chance to speak to them or find out what their deal is. Only that, like the murder victims, they’re wearing that long red dress and heels).

I knew it was coming and still I felt very squicked out when the person who could bake beautifully, acts bashfully, and is seen skipping around in a childlike fashion early on in the game, is found to have a large collection of makeup and a wig at their apartment.

While I was impressed that this reveal wasn’t played for laughs and the voice actor didn’t just go for a ridiculous falsetto for the character, it does still fall into that trope of “unhinged, violent trans person” that we’ve come to know and hate.

It’s around this part of the game that you get a chance to play as someone other than York (because he’s tied to a chair with a blindfold on). Upon entering a building, as this other character, you’re faced with those red vines and the twisted assailants. Which means, they’re real(?) This completely confused me as everything so far seemed to suggest it was just a York thing.

Right near the end, there is some additional information about Zach, but you’re very much left to decide for yourself what this actually means. Whether they’re a repressed part of the characters’s personality, a splinter caused during childhood trauma or a parallel being who came to save them. I’m leaning towards the possibility of some parallel being since the primary antagonist mentions Zach being in the White Room

Deadly Premonition feels so much like it wants to be an homage to Twin Peaks. An FBI agent is called to investigate the curious death of a young, local woman; it’s set in Washington state; the diner could not be more like the RR (right down to the aggy husband of the owner); the bar on the edge of town is reminiscent of the Roadhouse; Sigorny is like a lively version of the Log Lady; York is very into his coffee; he gets accurate information from unusual, seemingly random sources; the waterfall up by Harry’s mansion look very much look very much like those seen in the opening shots of Twin Peaks’ opening credits; Anna’s mother falls apart in a very odd way following her daughter’s death (is Anna Graham a reference to Annie being played by Heather Graham?); there’s versions of the Black and White Lodges in the form of the Red and White Rooms, where spirits of the dead can commune with the living and the occupants of this space can take the forms of those still living. It’s like a love letter to the show and I’m so here for that.

There are parts of this game I loved and others I found utterly frustrating or awful. I’ve played objectively bad games before (check out my review for Overgrowth for example) and put them down without actually finishing due to awful controls or wonky plots. I didn’t do that here, and not because I was hooked on an addictive gameplay loop, but because I was genuinely engaged with the story, the side quests, and the world(s?) in which the game takes place. I’m left with a desire to pick over the story and ponder over its world after I’ve finished playing and I want to play the sequel to explore more of this world.

That said, there are parts of the game that I would ordinarily award it a flat zero score, and I can’t ignore that.

Pros:

  • A really interesting and deep story
  • Scenes so bizarre you’ll be forced to laugh
  • Fascinating world full of curious characters

Cons:

  • Some Skyrim level glitches (floating fires, people flying along next to the car they’re driving, clipping through the odd door/floor)
  • Just horrible driving mechanics, especially in any of the police vehicles
  • Poor handling of a trans character (though not nearly as bad a some)

DPO Score.gif

Deadly Premonition Origins’ score exists within the other world.

Better Than A Head In A Bucket – Oculus Quest

Surely it is the goal of every friend group to sit around watching one of your number strap a box to their head and then flail around at nothing while the rest video it for light ribbing at a later time? Surely we all dream of being punched in the knees by someone slow motion fighting an invisible enemy? Surely, we all sat too close to the TV as kids, to try and capture the full cinema effect (and were perhaps told by a relative that our eyes would go square if we did so (well the screen’s strapped to my head now granny, what you gonna do, huh))?

Well worry not, your prayers are answered, and just like many other prayers, there’s going to need to be a large cash outlay to some middleperson before they’re willing to let said prayers on through.

Slightly strained metaphor there, but what the heck.

The third-ish generation of virtual reality gaming is here (I say third, we’ve got like the Virtuality headsets of the 90s (I’m not counting the Virtual Boy, no one should), then the more recent Oculus Rift/HTC Vive/PSVR era, and now this. Hurrumble) and it’s definitely moving in the right direction. First off the headset isn’t nearly as heavy as some, and the fact you don’t need any wires really helps lighten that load. It’s a lovely shape and the tiny IR cameras are fitted snugly into the body of the unit. On top of that, the Quest doesn’t require any additional sensors around the room to function, making it super convenient to use.

Inside the headset you’ll find the padding around the eyes is comfortable and the screens fill a good amount of your vision. My only gripe here is that there is a lot of space around the nose that lets in light, but keep your eyes up and you can still stay very immersed. The box it comes in also includes a spacer so you can comfortably wear glasses with it, woo!

There is a headphone jack on the side if you want to go that way, but I found the speakers really good and clear for directional sound. Plus, not having to wear separate headphones means that more of your head is free and therefore cooler (especially important if you’re really leaping around playing the likes of Beat Saber).

The Quest boasts a per eye resolution of 1440 x 1600 (which is better than the monitor on my PC if I’m honest) and looks really crisp in the games I’ve tried.

The unit stays in place thanks to three velcro straps which can be individually lengthened or shortened. I initially found that looking up and down could cause the headset to slip slightly, but I managed to resolve this by lengthening the overhead strap and tightening the sides up. I’ve also seen online that some folx have tried strapping a battery pack to the back to balance the weight (handy if you want to play long sessions without plugging to the mains).

I’ve found the head tracking to be spot on, though you can sometimes find that the controllers aren’t in quite the right place if they’re held down by your side or slightly behind you for an extended period. However, this can be easily fixed by moving them slightly forward, within sight of the cameras for a moment.

The Quest features the ability to use full room-scale VR, without the aid of base stations or additional cameras, which is awesome as heck, if you have that kind of space. Just enter room-scale setup, pop a controller on the floor to set the height, and then draw a line around the useable space in the room (or rooms it turns out. I tried seeing if I could draw the play area into the kitchen and hallway, which it did just fine, but was odd to feel like I was looking through walls in my flat when I saw it).

Once you’ve drawn your space out, it will be remembered between sessions with great accuracy, as long as you haven’t moved large objects around the room. However, if you open a curtain or move something large, or turn on a very bright light, you might find the unit struggling to recognise its surroundings.

If you don’t fancy wandering around in a virtual world, you can just sit down and use the sitting setting. This creates a virtual tube around you and doesn’t get too fussy if you just reach slightly outside this to manipulate virtual worlds. My only minor annoyance with this is that if you switch to sitting mode, you will have to redraw the room again if you switch back to room-scale

The controllers are lightweight, but feel nice, have easy to find buttons, a good analogue stick, and an impressive rumble for something so light. Additionally, the batteries on the controllers last a really long time (I’ve played all through Superhot VR, Virtual Virtual Reality, most of I Expect You To Die, plus days of Beatsaber and Tilt Brush, and so has my fiancée and they’re still on about 50% power). Furthermore, if they do run out and you want to play in a hurry, they will run off of a single AA battery each, which is great.

As for the battery life on the headset, you’ll find this depends on how loud your volume is set and how fancy the graphics on your game are, but on average, I’m getting about 3 hours of intensive use out of it before it needs a charge. Though you can just plug it in and play from the mains if you want (I thought I wanted, but I realised 3 days in I’d already become a cable snob (who even am I anymore?!)).

The system comes with in 64gb and 128gb versions, retailing at £399 & £499 respectively. I’ve got a bunch of games installed on a 64gb system and there’s still around half the space left. It helps that most are only about 3gb so once you get the current 10 best games installed, you’ll still have plenty of room for all your Tilt Brush art. For what the system is, and what it will be mostly used for, I think 64gb would be plenty for most people.

The big question really has to be, is it worth it? Honestly, I’m not 100% sure. I love using it, I love the fact we have one at home, I love that I can take it to a friends house and show them VR without having to lug a PC around as well, I love the immersion, I love that Beatsaber made exercise more fun, I loved watching VR videos from space, I love the big screen cinema experience in my living room.

But… It’s very expensive for what it is. For the same price you could get a PS4 Pro or most of an Xbox One X or the deposit on a gaming laptop, so if it’s this, or something else deal, maybe get something else. However, if you have the money to spare and no other commitments, go for it, it’s brilliant.

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Cable free
  • No additional components required

Cons:

  • Expensive for what it is
  • Battery life could be longer
  • Having to redraw the boundaries for room scale if you switch between room-scale and sitting modes.

Final Score: 8/10

Blue Eyed Dragon Breath – Yu-Gi-Oh! Legacy of the Duelist: Link Evolution

Yu-Gi-Oh! Spikey hair, cards, Blue-Eyes White Dragon, The Heart of the Cards, ridiculous plots involving pharaohs? Really?! Like Stargate? Not like Stargate? Ok then.

It’s Yu-Gi-Oh everyone.

I’ll be honest, I’ve not played much Yu-Gi-Oh. My fiancée used to play the collectible card game years ago, and we’ve played a few games in the past, but I don’t really get it and I’m not super keen. It may be that the closest I got to a CCG was collecting Magic: The Gathering cards, but never playing because I didn’t have any friends as a kid.

As I got older I did eventually get to play with various partners, but I started to think it might be cursed. This was due to the fact that all it took was a couple of games of MTG and a week or so later and our relationships were over. As such, I’d become a little weary of it. That was all unfounded and now I play MTG, Pokémon, and occasionally Yu-Gi-Oh with my fiancée whenever we have a free weekend.

Now, we mostly play with fairly old cards, and we’re well aware that there are a lot of new rules in the modern game. The thing is, neither of us is willing to get sucked back into buying hundreds of cards until we can’t afford to eat.

Yu-Gi-Oh! Legacy of the Duelist: Link Evolution is here to for people like us, who want to try more of the game, but aren’t willing to throw an entire paycheck at Konami for the privilege. You want more cards? Just play the campaign game and gain points and cards, along with unlocking booster packs which you can purchase with in-game currency, from the shop.

No microtransactions, no DLC, just play more to get more. Simple.

The main part of the game is the campaign mode. Here you can play through each of the TV series, reliving great moments from the show. The stories are told through a series of vignettes like an anime powerpoint presentation. You’ll watch (or after the first few, skip) through the plot before being thrown into a duel as you would have seen it on screen.

Here comes my major gripe with the game. the decks being played are all about those moments in the show. They’re not super balanced, there isn’t a huge amount of synergy, and you don’t even get a chance to see what’s in your character’s deck until you draw the cards. I feel like if you’re supposed to be playing the characters, they’d know what you’re playing with. Perhaps I should just trust in the Heart of the Cards *rolls eyes*.

Too often I found that victory or crushing defeat was simply a matter of luck. If my first hand was good, I could be finished if a few minutes. If not I could either waste my time trying to block and hope I’d draw something to help with a come back (that would never come). More often than not, I’d look at my first hand, maybe my next 1-2 cards and surrender if it was already precarious, because the game beat the idea that recovery was even the vaguest speculation of a possibility. The only exception was playing the reverse match (play as an antagonist against one of the good characters in a duel you’ve already won from the other side) as Wendle, with an insect deck. This was the first time I saw a deck that even vaguely turned a game around.

As you play through, the game does a really good job of explaining each new mechanic in a fairly simple manner. This has definitely given me a much better understanding of how to play the decks we have at home along with the newer rules for things like pendulum or XYZ summons. The way you’re taught is very much just “here’s the instructions, do the thing”. It’s up to you to take a moment and read each of the cards in your own time. Thankfully, the tutorial doesn’t stop that. If you want to learn Yu-Gi-Oh, you could do a lot worse than play through the campaign tutorials in this.

Once you win a duel, you’ll be awarded a couple of signature cards for your opponent, some points (which you can use as currency in the in-game shop), the reverse match I mentioned earlier, and a blueprint for recreating the deck you played with.

After you’ve had enough of the campaign (and heck me there’s a lot to play through) you can try other modes. Play online in various modes (including local wireless, online, sealed play, draft play, and ranked matches), and build your own decks with the cards you’ve unlocked or purchased in-game.

This is where I feel the game really shines. Suddenly, you have the chance to put together some really good decks and try them out. The deck builder even has an option to select a card you like and then have the game suggest cards that will work well with it. This feature works really well and you can put together some really devastating decks on the advise of these suggestions.

The online mode seems well populated and and runs just fine. Which is really all you need to know.

Overall, Yu-Gi-Oh! Legacy of the Duelist: Link Evolution is as good a digital version of a collectable card game as I’ve seen for any of them. The graphics are nice during duels (though the animations of high level creatures being summoned looks a little bit early 00s era CG if I’m honest), the sound design is good enough, the selection of cards to use is great, the deck builder is really user friendly, the tutorials are very good, and the controls are simple. If you want an affordable way to play, or a way to play online because you can’t get anyone more local into Yu-Gi-Oh, this is the perfect way to do it.

Pros:

  • Lots of cards to win/unlock with no additional cash outlay once you’ve bought the game.
  • Good tutorials.
  • Excellent deck builder.

Cons:

  • Summoning high level creatures will play some ropey looking 00s era CG animations.
  • The vignettes make each series of the show look dull as heck.
  • Pre-built decks are poorly designed.

Final Score: 6.5/10

Spooky Action At A Distance – Man Of Medan

I used to watch a lot of horror films, not sure what happened, perhaps I just caught a lot of really bad ones in a row. Regardless, I’ve not had time for horror much of late. Gore doesn’t really do it for me. I’m not averse to it, I just don’t think that it makes a movie better. I like a creeping sense of dread. The idea that this horrifying thing is becoming more than 90 minutes in the dark with popcorn. Something that gets into your mind and gives you a moment’s pause in the dark, when you’re alone.

Some time early this year I finally got a chance to play Until Dawn with my fiancée. We shared time on the controller and made any decisions, that didn’t require split second timing, between us. It was a nice couple of evenings sharing moments of panic through quick time events, moments of surprise, and the all important moments of quiet in between, to build the tension. This was good horror.

Around the same time, The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man Of Medan was announced from the same studio as Until Dawn. The plan was to take all the photorealistic character styling, decision making, quick time events, and exploration of the original game and create an anthology series of slightly shorter stories that can be played solo or with others in a number of different ways.

First up, there’s standard solo play. See all the things, from your currently controlled character’s perspective, explore, decide, try to keep everyone alive while you unravel the mystery of the decaying military vessel where most of the game takes place.

Next there’s couch co-op. Choose your number of players, and which characters each person will play as. As you move through the story you’ll get messages between scenes telling you who should be on the controller for the next section. Where as in Until Dawn, we made pretty much all decisions relating to the protagonists together, here we played our own characters, to our own tastes. Something very much encouraged by having the characters divided among us.

Lastly, there’s online co-op, and here’s where things change in a really interesting way.

There are sections of the game which happen simultaneously. As such, one player can be talking to another character in one area, while another person is exploring another section of the ship. Consequently you can have a moment very near the beginning of the game where two groups of characters are having entirely different stories told.

Those below the waves are finding interesting artifacts and trying to understand how a plane came down. Meanwhile above, a group of pirates are harassing those on the boat, eventually leading to an explosion, which the others see from underwater. This, in turn leading to WTF moments from the divers, which the characters can decide to discuss, or not. It’s up to the players to decide if they’ll share that information with each other or keep all explanation within the game itself. There’s a few other moments where this is used really well, but I won’t spoil you on it. Suffice to say that playing solo or in movie night (couch co-op) mode, the game takes around 5 hours to complete. Whereas online co-op is closer to 3 because of the overlapping sections.

The basic plot of the game sees two brothers, Alex (kind of a jock) and Bradley (an adorable, shy, nerdy type) preparing to take Julia (whom Alex is dating and seems like the type to ask to speak to your manager), and her brother Conrad (goofy alcoholic rich boy who seems like a total liability) out for some diving around a crashed plane they have located. This is a previously unexplored wreck and there’s excitement about what they’ll find, and in what condition. The last member of our merry band is Fliss, the boat captain (absolute badass, if a little shady) who’ll be taking them out on the ocean.

Things start off pretty gently through a flashback featuring a couple of naval soldiers on shore leave. The game uses this time to gently introduce the controls and game mechanics in a no-stakes environment. Flash forward then, to the present and we see our main cast loading their boat up for the proposed dive. Before long though, it’s all diving to the crashed plane, hearing rumors of lost gold, the aforementioned pirates showing up and dragging everyone off to and older and decaying, but still familiar ship. All aboard is very quiet and our protagonists are in over their heads. And that… is all I’m saying. You’ll have to play it for yourself if you want plot. Suffice to say, I enjoyed it a lot, on multiple playthroughs.

Just like Until Dawn, characters can die and this will very much change how the remaining characters interact and what options they have going forward. This gives the game a lot of replayability. Do you want a horror film with a lone survivor of the group? Do you want to try and save everyone? Maybe “accidently” fail a few quick time events to off that one character you don’t like? The options are all there.

The sound design and music is spot on. With great effects and cues that are well used, to enrich the experience. Graphically, the game is on par with Until Dawn. Which is to say, beautifully rendered and animated character with really uncanny teeth (why do all of these games do that?). The lighting is great and the locations are wonderfully grimey in just the right way. That said, I did experience some minor slow down in a few areas and a couple of momentary glitches, though this may be patched by the time of release.

One thing I was really happy to see was the number of accessibility options. I have a number of sensory processing issues which can make a game like this frustratingly difficult at best and unplayable at worst. First up, you have the ability to remove time limits from QTE button prompts. As long as you hit the correct button, you won’t fail. Additionally, there’s the option to replace button mashing sections with just holding the button down. Next up, there’s options to change how subtitles appear. Do you want the subtitles on a background rather than just overlayed straight onto the action? Do you want to change the colours for a more manageable contrast? Those options are here for you. Lastly, there’s the sidebar, which will put text from the various documents you find lying around into a more legible format, in a pop-up sidebar. These are all great considerations that I hope to see making their way to other games of this type in future.

The Dark Pictures Anthology has the potential to be to the interactive horror genre, what Telltale Games were to, well, all the many many genres things they worked on (though hopefully, it won’t end up collapsing like an incorrectly assembled deck chair as TTG did).

Pros:

  • Stunning graphics and sound design
  • Lots of replayability
  • Great story to unravel

Cons:

  • Some minor slow down in a couple of places
  • Pirates are mean
  • I’m struggling to come up with my usual 3 of these.

Final Score: 9/10

Hammer Time – Dragon Quest Builders 2

Well, it happened again. I sat down with a Dragon Quest Builders game and lost a month or so. In many ways, that’s probably a pretty glowing review on it’s own, but why don’t I gush on for a few paragraphs anyway.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 takes the third-person, action RPG, with voxel-based building fun of the original game, and tweaks it in just the right ways to make it vastly superior. You start the game as a trainee builder – one of the few people who can make anything in the world. You’re abducted and set to work on a ship of monsters. Just when it looks like your fate is sealed, the ship springs a leak and you’re washed overboard. Your time on the ship is a nice little introduction to the basic mechanics of the game (block placement, combat, camera controls, conversations, etc).

Next thing you know, you’re washing up on the Isle of Awakening. This will be your hub world for DQB2, replacing the old freeplay island where you could build whatever you wanted, outside of the story. Initially, there’s not a lot to do, apart from find shelter for Lulu, Malroth and yourself. In a case of dramatic irony, you’re made aware that the Lord of Destruction is also called Malroth in early cinematics. As such, the ever boiling temper and desire to break things by your black-haired, broody companion isn’t so strange to you, the player. As such, you’re left wondering just when things will come to a head in that department.

Soon after arriving on the Isle of Awakening, you’re sent off on your first mission, to learn all about farming. Heading to the dock, you’ll meet Brownbeard the pir-sailor (definitely just a sailor) who offers to take you around the local islands on their boat.

Your first excursion takes you to Furrowfield, an island of farmers who’ve lost the skills needed to ply their trade or feed themselves. The islanders are initially unhappy that a builder has arrived, because they follow the teachings of the Children of Hargon, who say that building is blasphemous and wrong. However, once they see your skills for building fields, bedrooms, kitchens, diners, and most importantly: a toilet, they soon come around to the ways of building.

One problem that I often found in the first game, was that when enemies randomly attacked your town, that they’d ruin chunks of it. While random attacks are still an issue, the monsters mostly go for your crops, and do no more than dig up the seeds. While the second island did see some enemies who could smash an adobe wall down, for the most part I didn’t have to worry about rebuilding half of my town.

In addition, when facing larger enemy attacks (triggered by talking to a townsperson who has a crossed swords icon above their head) it was nice to see that once the dust of battle had settled, the townsfolk announced they would put things back as they were before. A quick fade to black and everything was pristine again. The damage to my carefully made towns was one of my biggest complaints with the previous game. As such, this made a very welcome change.

On the subject of quality of life improvements, my biggest gripe was having to find everything I needed to make a large storage chest. Every. Single. New. Area. (*hours of screaming noises*). Luckily, this has also been fixed. Early on you get a big bag that gives you seven pages of storage space that you always have on you for the rest of the game (even if some of the contents gets stored away before you head to a new mission area). This is brilliant and stops a lot of unnecessary frustration for finding space to store all your carefully collected crap.

Most of the way through the first main island, you’re given a giant project to construct something. While your character is the one who designs each of its three huge sections, the townspeople are keen to do most of the building themselves. First off you have to collect a few items, and lay them out according to the blueprint. Once you’ve got that down, the villagers will get on with most of the rest themselves – just as long as there’s a chest nearby which has the items they need, many of which they will gather themselves. While I was initially a little unhappy to have this huge project taken out of my hands, some of the more fiddly bits seemed best done by my new helpers. Also, there’s always the option to just take their chest full of bits and do all the building yourself.

With Furrowfield restored to full glory, you return briefly to the Isle of Awakening, along with a number of the islanders. Here you can catch up with a strange glowing creature called the Hairy Hermit, who shows you the first stone tablet and teaches you how you can complete tasks to earn medals – which in turn unlock new tools: the trowel (for replacing one type of block with another from your inventory), the pencil (for creating blueprints from any scenery you find and want to replicate), and the chisel (for carving blocks down into other shapes, great for fancying up your grander builds); as well as new cosmetic items.

Initially, you’re charged with restoring a river and waterfall, and restoring the fields and woods, using tools, equipment, and assistants you gained in Furrowfield. While there’s some argument between a number of the island’s residents over what the place should be called or who’s in charge, none of it gets too heated and soon enough you’re being pointed back to the docks to explore elsewhere.

At this point you have access to a few other islands. The first two Explorers Isles can be unlocked for a few gratitude points (earned by building and farming on IoA) and the next major story island, Khumbul Dun.

The Explorers Isles are interesting little scavenger hunt areas where you can check various blocks, farm animals, rocks, and plants off of a list to earn an infinite supply of certain resources. Each island has two scavenger hunts and completing each of the major story areas will unlock two more of these islands. The ability to gain infinite amounts of some of the most basic resources is such a time saver in the long run, and the fact that carries over to the main story islands was a lovely surprise.

Additionally, you can often find new seeds for various crops on these islands. Just the thing for filling your farms on IoA and keeping everyone well fed and happy.

Up to this point, I’d been enjoying the story, even if I wasn’t keen on all the characters. However, heading into the second major island, I was somewhat squicked by the way a lot of the men in the village talked about the only woman living there. Entitled fuckboys. Entitled fuckboys everywhere. Each of them feeling entitled to her in some way. All of them trying to get her to become a dancing girl at the bar, and dress like a bunny girl. It wasn’t until a little later, when she revealed that, actually, she really wanted to dance, that that feeling eased any. Not that the men-folk got any less letchy in general.

Following this excursion to a mining town, you’re briefly back to the Isle of Awakening. At this point I was all ready to start using all my new recipes and start work on expanding my own island (I medically required a train system around my island). However, you’re quickly whisked off to a whole new chapter, set in a prison, that doesn’t really add much to the game as a whole (apart from making me really want the recipe for guillotines, so I can warn any would be capitalists off of my home island).

You are eventually allowed back home after about 90 minutes of side story, but at this point I’d kind of lost heart for getting on with bringing the desert mining town home and just wanted to press on with the story a bit.

The final big story island mostly takes place in a constantly warring castle town. The Children of Hargon have managed to convince the humans that to build is forbidden, to win the war is forbidden, and to be completely defeated is forbidden. As such, you’re shown to the last few crumbling walls of the once great castle and left to get on with it while people bicker about whether they should be doing much at all. There’s also a plot involving a traitor in your midst, which leads to one of the most irritating moments in the game.

Your character is a silent protagonist, meaning that you are unable to just have a simple conversation that could have avoided all or at least most of the distress another character was feeling. I get that the plot needed to eventually work round to a couple of specific things, but it really took a lot of agency away from the player at this point.

There’s no way to go into a certain area via walking in there, you can’t dig through into that area either because of sudden invisible barrier syndrome. The game just says “nope, we need them to be pissed at you so we’re going to block any attempts to make amends so our flimsy plot works. I knew there and then that while I’d left each other island intact when I left this castle – only taking a few volunteers with me to the IoA – this time I was taking everything that wasn’t nailed down. Every chest was emptied, every trap, weapon, and special item was coming with me. To heck with this hole!

There’s a final, mostly plot-based area after this which leads to the final boss, but it’s a shorter area than most of the main plot islands. After which, you’re treated to the credits and given the opportunity to head back to IoA to try out all your newly unlocked recipes and rooms on your home base, now with an added vehicle for getting around at high speed. Woo!

You may have spotted that DQB2 also has a season pass available (currently £18.89 GBP) on the eshop. This contains 3 pieces of DLC (which can also be purchased for £8.99 each for the Aquarium & Modernist packs, and £5.39 for the Hotto Stuff pack). I’ve had a look through what’s available and to be honest, it’s not super impressive. Each pack contains a number of new recipes and an island you can head to to gather pack specific items.

The available packs are the Hotto Stuff pack (retro Japan), which features more than 40 new recipes design and decorate buildings in the style of the Hotto Steppe region (Traditional Japanese/Dragon Quest XI); the Aquarium pack (wet and fishy), which gives you a new fishing island, a fishing rod tool, more than 40 fish to catch, a short story section, and a number of new character customisation items; and the Modernist pack (IKEA catalogue), which includes more than 70 recipes to make modern structures, and a bunch more character customisation items.

Outside of the paid packs, there’s also the Knickknack pack, which adds 3 new items to celebrate New Year in a traditional Japanese-stylee. The pack contains a paddle, soup, and an ornate decorations.

Finally, if you do own the original DQB (and still have a save file on your system) you can access a recipe for stackable slime decorations and a chance to wear the hero’s outfit from the first game.

You may have heard that this game features a multiplayer aspect, and that’s kind of true, but not at all what I was hoping for. Once you get to the Isle of Awakening, you find a cave with a teleportal in it. This will allow you to access the MP mode. First off, decide if you’re playing online or over local wireless. Then invite friends or go visit someone else.

For receiving visitors, you can change settings which will stop any potential trolling. Additionally, once you’re in multiplayer mode, a large chest appears by the telportal containing medical herbs, some basic armour, and a cheap weapon. However, as it’s not great armour or weaponry, I’ve put a small chest of guest equipment of my own down.

Once you’ve got everyone together in MP you’ve a few options. Obviously you can show off your builds, but beyond that you can also head out and do the Explorer Islands together. This makes the scavenger hunts a lot less work, and the boss monsters on those islands a lot more manageable.

I had hoped that you could just go through the story missions with another person, but this just isn’t an option. A real shame, since that’s what I really wanted from the sequel. Maybe next time.

Despite a few issues with the plot, some of the characters, and the minimal multiplayer, I really enjoyed DQB2. I’d say if you’re looking for Minecraft with a story, this is probably the one for you. It doesn’t require that you’ve played the first game and the quality of life improvements have made the original basically obsolete.

Pros:

  • Fun gameplay
  • Guillotines to build (and threaten anyone who tries to claim leadership of my glob damn island)
  • Lots of quality of life improvements over the first game

Cons:

  • Disappointing Multiplayer
  • Annoying plot decisions on the third island
  • Expensive expansions that don’t add enough value.

Final Score: 9/10

Premium Fire

This weekend I was at CoxCon in Telford (helping out with selling early copies of Uncomfortable Labels with Laura Kate Dale) and I got a chance to go hands-on playing firefighting “un-simulator” Embr by Muse Games.

If you’re the kind of Silicon Valley tech type who thinks things like “what if there was a private security force that kept just my neighborhood safe?” Or “what if we made an Uber but for transporting you to hospital?” Or “what if there was a premium, for-profit fire and rescue service, which was available 24 hours, and staffed by anyone aged 18-85 who signed up?” Well, do I have news for you?

I do, in fact, have such news.

The gig economy called and there’s a capitalist system that needs oiling with the blood, sweat, and tears of the working class. Woo! (You probably say, because you’re a parasite (unless you’re not actually the hypothetical tech type I proposed earlier (in which case, welcome, help yourself to one of the guillotines, we march at dawn to overthrow capitalism))).

How about, instead of trained, professionals, we have (probably self-employed, so we don’t have to offer any kind of benefits) Respondrs™? A Respondr™ can hire equipment from us, and we connect them with contract holders who are in need of fire fighting services. We’ll have a clause in the contract that says we get to keep any money or valuables (with a cut to the Respondr™) and the Respondr™ will have to rescue a percentage of the contract-holder’s household.

Whoever though of that probably had some equally insidious tech friend who turned to them and called them “a fucking genius”. To which they likely replied, “I know”, because they’re like that.

Anyway, enough of the plot, what about the game itself?

I only played one level of Embr, but it was a lot of fun and had a certain dark humour. There I was, a bespectacled, elderly person known only as Granny, dropped off on the lawn of a burning house. According to my choice of load-out I was a hero (*blush* I’m just doing my job a Respondr™) with the axe being my first port of call.

With a comforting cry of “Here’s Granny”, I turned the door turned to kindling and set about rescuing at least three out of the five people living there. Stopping only briefly to look for any money they might have lying around the place that I could rescue (can’t be leaving cash about, it could get hurt in the fire, and Embr are very against such things).

With flames rising higher, I had to disable electrical supplies to avoid getting shocked, and engage ventilation to avoid poison gas clouds. At one point I found that an upstairs floor had collapsed, so I thought to bridge the gap with my ladder. Happily, this was a viable option (always nice when games let you improvise like that). No way a little thing like there being a lack of flooring was going to stop a cunning octogenarian like myself.

As I pulled out the third person from the blazing remnants of their home and hurled them into the designated safe zone I had to ask myself “do I want to just reel up my hoses and pack away my ladder, or can I earn myself a few more pennies by running back in and looting the joint?”

In this gig economy, the answer had to be “yes”.

Braving a further trip inside I found things were really heating up (yes, yes I am pleased with myself). Beams had started to fall, the floors, wall, and ceiling had been hurriedly redecorated in a charming shade called Raging Inferno (I checked the colour chart). I figured it would be worth hosing some of the hot stuff with wet stuff. Even deploying the odd water grenade (refillable at a sink) to make my way through the most aggressive parts of the blazing domicile.

While doing so, I did encounter another resident so I guessed they had to be rescued too (*sigh* I didn’t have all day. Ethel and I were due at the new action movie at 4 so I’d have to wrap up quickly). As I was upstairs, the quickest option was to deploy a trampoline and yeet my client out the window, as you do.

It was about this time I was starting to find all the fire a bit much. Despite having thrown water grenades into the heart of the hottest part of the flames, it was clearly well out of control at this point, and since I wouldn’t get paid if I died, I decided to head home. I briefly considered calling an Embr to deal with it, but who has that kind of money?

Embr is pencilled for release Autumn 2020 and will feature solo or up to 4 player, cross-platform, online co-op modes. Use cash to lease better equipment and take on the biggest jobs for the biggest payouts.

A Steam Page is already up so adding to your wishlist will keep it in mind come release date.

And remember, whatever you do, rescue Pim!

Games For All… But Not All For You

Games For All… But Not All For You.

There’s a lot of noise in recent years about who is a “real” gamer. I’m used to this kind of rhetoric – as a trans person and a kinkster, I’ve spotted truescum in many communities. Gatekeep-ey fuckers that think there way is the best or only way to be or do a thing. Ultimately though, it’s all bullshit and the vast, silent majority just get on being how they chose to be and doing things their own way, without hurting anyone.

What can be harmful is when someone with a budding interest in gaming is beaten down and chased away by capital “G” Gamers. It doesn’t stop there though. There are people who love games and have played for years who walk away from what could be a fascinating community of vastly different people, united by their love of gaming because they didn’t meet some arbitrary standards.

I’ve been playing video games since I was about 8 years old, when (thanks to a few well-off uncles and a very generous granny) I saved up enough to get a Commodore 64 home computer.

If you’re under 35, the chances are that you’ve never experienced the glory that is the C64’s SID sound chip and the stunning tunes that musicians like Martin Galway, Rob Hubbard, Ben Daglish, et al managed to get out of it. You may not have tried the wonderful Dizzy games, the quirky Jet Set Willy, possibly the most strained and horrifying port of Street Fighter 2 to ever be shat out onto any system, the frustration of puzzling through Split Personalities, or whatever the fuck was going on with the odd little gnome that hosted in Trivial Pursuit.

I’ve heard tell of the Spectrum vs Commodore vs Amstrad rivalry which was apparently a thing back in the 80s, but I never personally encountered it. With the few people I talked to at school, it was very much “hey, you have a different system to me, you want to come try out my games and mebby I could come try yours some time”? That’s it. No hate. No rage. No arguing that someone wasn’t a real Gamer because they hadn’t broken at least two joysticks playing Daley Thompson’s Decathlon, or World Games. No one called “scrub” or “filthy casual” because they preferred Toobin’, to Ghosts ‘n Goblins. It was just “hey, different games, cool”, or “I’m not a fan of Maniac Mansion, but Mayhem in Monsterland rocks”.

A lot of games back in the 80s were nails hard. this was mostly due to the fact developers were locked in the mindset of arcade games which relied on people pumping tons of change into machines. As such ramping up the challenge to ridiculous levels made good, financial sense. The harder the game, the more money you can squeeze out of players (watch this space for news of Electronic ActiSoftWorks selling extra lives as microtransactions).

However, when arcade games were ported to home consoles, it often wasn’t as easy as pressing to add extra credits. Most games gave you a set number and basically told you to “git gud, scrub”. While this could lead to hours of honing your skills until you found those credits to be enough, a lot of games just went unfinished. And to be honest, that was probably for the best. A lot of end credits screens were little more than a freeze-frame with some text saying “well done”, or just looping back to the first level again (or even worse, they just made the game so difficult that it was impossible to reach the final level and therefore they never bothered coding it).

Gameplay design wasn’t always kind either. Even games I adored, like Treasure Island Dizzy, very often resorted to “you took a wrong step, in a way you couldn’t possibly have predicted, start again”. While this method of gentle progress, through exploration, trial and error (after error after error after error) was fun at first, the combination of a music track that loops every minute and a half and the idea that one misstep 40 minutes in could put you all the way back to the beginning, is horrendously frustrating (3 decades later and I can still hum that music pretty accurately). Then more frustration would arise at the last minute, when that guy was all “hey, I need 30 coins” and you realise that basically you should have been clicking on every rock, wooden railing, hut window, and plant in the hope of finding a hidden coin (what do you mean “bitter”, I’m not bitter. You’re bitter!) and the less said about that coin hidden at the bottom of an invisible maze that you get to by jumping through a box (or was that Fantasy World Dizzy… anyway, fuck that whole bit).

I am, and have always been, bad at video games. Of the many budget games I picked up from my local corner shop for a couple of quid each, as a child, I’m not sure I finished any of them (I don’t count Trivial Pursuit). That’s never stopped me though, and never made me love gaming any less.

When I first got a Sega Mega Drive (Genesis), I tried and tried for yeeeeearrrrrrs to get through the original Sonic The Hedgehog. It wasn’t until about a decade later I even managed to get past the Labyrinth Zone, without doing the level select cheat. That didn’t stop me playing Sonic 2, 3, & Knuckles, and 3D Blast (incidentally, I’ve still only ever finished 1 and 3). A lack of skill has never stopped me wanting to enjoy the experience and I don’t believe I’m alone in that camp.

Anyone who’s watched my Twitch streams (most Tuesdays and Thursdays, come say hi (plug plug plug)) knows that while I can get through a point and click with a little nudging, I’m very bad at anything that involves faster action. The truth is, I just struggle with a lot of fine motor control, and in the moment decision making. This basically means that I die… a lot. Like, a lot a lot. And while I do get frustrated, it’s never stopped me gaming on the whole. I have got better, but I never got gud.

Back in the 16-bit era, you’d often find that easy modes, were just a taste of the real game. A bite sized sample, that teased you then told you to get lost. You’d get maybe 4 levels in, only to have it greet you with a message like “game over, now play the real thing”. That’s it, no more game for you, and if you don’t get better at playing, you’ll never see the True Ending(tm). The alternative was perhaps an ending which didn’t include the whole epilogue. Sadly, this was before YouTube gaming was a big thing and those of us not deemed worthy of the full story could just look up a video online.

In recent years, more developers have started putting in a more fair difficulty selections, where difficulty is what you’re actually changing. It’s been nice to be told by friends that I don’t have to just play normal mode and give up half way through, I can play on easy and still experience everything. Every carefully animated enemy, each exciting level, every enticing world, every moment of the epilogue (which could hook me into a sequel).

From older gamers, I’ve heard a lot of talk about how games these days are too easy, that there’s no challenge, that younger gamers are coddled with their saves and checkpoints, and regenerating health, and difficulty settings, and meh-mehneh-menehmeh *devolves into childish whining sounds*. To these people I say, “Hush! If you like old games so much, play them, or, I dunno, I Wanna Be The Guy.” They still make games for people who want a hardcore challenge, Soulsborne games are a thing, but not everything has to be for you personally, and that’s ok.

From younger gamers, there’s a lot of talk about what games actually count as games. It’s too casual, it’s not a Real Game(TM). You’re not Real Gamers (please just imagine it in a really whiney voice).

Friends, when you’ve delivered papers, trapped enemies in bubbles you then pop, connected pipes before they leak everywhere, mowed lawns, jumped between travellators while beating people up, used warming Ready Brek to survive the cold of space, guided suicidally dozy rodents around Egyptian ruins, chowed down on every pill in sight, and been grilled by a weird little gnome about general knowledge, you get to realise that a game can be an awful lot of different things. Many fit into specific genres, some create new ones. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, if it’s called a game and people enjoy it, let them get on with that. It does you no harm.

No one has a right to say that Pat, who plays Black Ops 4 for over 100 hours a week is more of a gamer than Sam, who just *really* likes Animal Crossing and Tetris. Just as no one who’s played their Spectrum every day since the 80s is more of a gamer than someone who’s first system was a PS4. Sure, maybe you’ve played more games or for longer, or more difficult games, or more obscure games, but ultimately our hobby is about playing (together or alone) and enjoying an experience.

The angry tribalism of Gamers (capital “G”), has led to some truly horrific actions. Can we not just each enjoy what we enjoy, without bullying people who don’t do things quite the same way we do? There have been so many games made at this point that no one could play through them all in a lifetime. So many art styles, gameplay styles, so many ways of playing and experiencing and exploring, and so many yet to be explored. By making gaming more inclusive and welcoming, we can see amazing growth and innovation as new people come to the hobby. Games should be as diverse as those who play them. Not everything has to be for you, and that’s absolutely fine.