Feels are Strange (Life is Strange Review)

Do you like FPS? Do you like fighting insane demons with mystical weapons?  How about roaming opening worlds leveling up a epic hero?  Well, too bad, none of that here.  Life is Strange is a healthy break from all those insane games, and brings us a in-depth story based game completely relying on the decisions you make.  This indie game will have you second guessing every decision you make, and will have you gasping at what happened because of those decisions. This story is riddled with mystery, suspense. and the feels!  So many feels, but we'll get to that. Here's a quick summary of this game before we jump into the nitty gritty of this game.

 Life is Strange revolves around a little hipster photographer girl named Max.  She transfers back to her hometown, a little harbor town in Oregon called Arcadia Bay, to go to the prestigious art school of Blackwell.  One day she has a strange dream about a massive tornado completely destroying the town, and quickly wakes up in her classroom.  Being disturbed by how real the dream felt, and being a little hipster, she decides to go hide out in the bathroom.  While in there the big rich kid comes in spouting some crazy things.  Max watches as a blue haired girl comes in as well, and starts to get in a heated argument with the rich kid.  All the sudden the rich kid pulls out a gun on the blue haired girl.  Max tried to jump out to stop it from happening, but as the shot was fired, everything rewinds around Max and she is back in the classroom.  Somehow Max had traveled back in time.   She ends up testing this ability, and then decides to go save the girl from the bathroom.  From here on Max decides to use her new ability to stop the tornado from destroying Arcadia Bay.

Now being a review I will probably be dropping a few spoilers, but I'll try my best not to.  Well let's go ahead and jump right in with the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.


To change it up, we'll start with the Ugly.   Now I played this game on PS4, which was probably a mistake.  This game was made by Unreal Engine, so this is one of the few games I will say should have been played on a PC that could handle the graphics.  But saying that, the animation of the characters was very choppy.  It was very reminiscing of early PS3 characters, where they tried to make game play look like cut-scene graphics, which back fired on them in this game.  Now granted it's a indie game, so it does get a little grace on the quality due to budgets, however that doesn't excuse the speaking scenes being off.  Since the characters were so choppy, a lot of times the characters would be talking, and their mouths wouldn't even be moving.  Other times their mouths were moving so much it was as if I was watching an old foreign dub movie where the dub was obviously timed wrong.

Besides the mouth, the backgrounds were very "MS Paint".  For those that don't get that reference, basically the backgrounds were very mono chromatic.  For a game about an art student, in an art school, the backgrounds were very bland.  Now granted they wanted to set the mood with the monochrome colors, however since the graphics were substandard, the colors made the background look as if they literally used the paint bucket to fill the grass with green, or the sky with blue.  

One of the funniest choppiness, was with the characters' hair.  Due to the cell shading, the characters hair looked like play-do more than it did hair.  Because of this, whenever the main character "brushed the hair out of her face" it looked very awkward as her hand hovered over her face, but never actually touching her face.


Now what was Bad about this game?  Not too much really, except the whole concept of the game!  The game starts up with a disclaimer pinting:

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Except none of your decisions really matter in the long run.  The decisions in the game do affect you during the game, like getting information, saving people, and stuff like that.  However the story stays on track no matter what you choose.   Which really makes you feel like "Why was I so worried about my decisions?"  

The characters as well are very cookie cutter.  Almost as if they took them out of Dawson's Creek.  You have the rich kid whose parents own everything, the rich girl with her posse, the geeky kid, the jocks, the skaters, the hipsters, and so on.  There wasn't really any originality with picking the characters.


If the decisions don't matter, how could this game be Good?  It's all about the ride with this game.  The story is so intriguing, and the mysteries really pull you into the story.  It's basically like a long road trip. You can choose different routes to take, you can make different stops, or even backtrack a little, but you will always end up at your destination.  That's what this game is.  It's takes you on a wild, emotional ride from beginning to end.  

Every decision you make feels like the most important decision you'll make, and that's where one of the cool mechanics comes into play, rewind power.  With Max's power, you can pick a decision, and if you don't like their reaction, you just rewind and try again.  This allows you to Groundhog's Day the different people in the game, by learning stuff, rewind, and then tell them stuff you shouldn't know about them.  Which will lead to other decisions you can make, or learn more information.  This mechanic was a lot of fun, but came with making you second guess if your decision was right or not.

We talked about how the characters were very "cookie cutter", however the story really makes you care about them.  The characters are presented in a way that even though they fit the certain troupe, they feel more real or down to earth.  They really feel as if they were real people, rather than just characters.  Which in turn plays into why you get so invested into the decisions you make.

One of the biggest things that makes you love this game is the relationship between Max and Chloe.  In most games or even shows, girl relationships always feel almost "valley girl" or "sorority sister", and if they try to go for emotional, it just comes across as whiny.  However these two feel like real life girl friends.  None of that sissy conversations you see in movies and shows, but true discussions about real life situations and getting pissed at each other life real friends will do.  This is probably one of the best things about the game, and really had me drawn in to what was going to happen around them.


Overall I would rate this game a 9 out of 10.  This game really fits the great story aspect we have been hoping for in video games.  The only point I would take off is for when you get to the end.   This game is meant to be that your decisions matter, but it really only comes down to 2 decisions at the end.  Everything leads to this point, so none of your decisions will affect this last decision.  But with the great story, and fun rewind mechanic, this is a game I would play again just to try out different decisions.

~ Stephen Vargo
Show Runner

The Glitching Creed (Assassins Creed Syndicate Review)

Do you remember those good ole days of rushing to your local game shop to pick up the new adventures of your favorite Assassins?  Being able to free run, assassinate anyone,  have an engaging story, having a main character you could enjoy, and a game being so enjoyable you would play it well after beating the game?  No?  Well me neither.  Ubisoft has spent the past few years pumping out new Assassin games like they were coming out with new flavors of Mountain Dew.  We as fans thought they recovered with their swashbuckling adventures in Assassins Creed 4: Black Flag, however that was just the top of the apex before the plummet into rushed games and bad stories.

Though we're here to talk about the newest addition into the world of Assassins,  Assassins Creed Syndicate, not Ubisoft.  Syndicate revolves around two young, hotshot assassin siblings, Jacob and Evie Frye.  They are training under another assassin, when they decide to respond to the Brotherhood's call for help in London in the late 1800s.  The Templars are ruling over London in search for yet another piece of Eden.  The siblings decide to help free London from the Templars, however in two very different ways.  Jacob decides that the only way to free the people is to create gangs and kill all the gang leaders.  Evie however wishes to follow in her father's foot steps, and follow the creed's mission, and find the piece of Eden before the Templars do.  Thus begins their grand adventure in freeing London's people from the tight grasp of the Templars.

Now that we know the basic story outline of this game, let's jump into the nitty gritty of this game. That's the point of a review isn't it.   Let's say we look at the GOOD, the BAD, and the UGLY.


To start us off we'll start with the GOOD.  One of the biggest things that made us love the assassin creed games was the intriguing story and the charismatic characters.  

Ubisoft followed in GTA V's style, and gave us the chance to switch between 2 characters. This was a great addition, and gave the game more variety to it.  Also this game went back to actually giving their characters some actual character to them.  Jacob you could say was a mix of two crowd favorites, Ezio Auditore and Edward Kenway.  He was very charismatic like Ezio was and really made you feel like you were playing as Ezio again.  He also was very straight forward, and basically charged in guns blazing like Edward, which made playing him very enjoyable.  Now Evie on the other hand you could say was a clone of Altaïr, but with more girl power and excellent British etiquette.  She didn't have much in the face of personality, but she was a good representation of what the Brotherhood stands for, and was a true assassin.  Which forced you to be more stealthy with her, or else you die.

The story is a continuation of the previous game where the assassins of today are diving into their ancestors to find where the pieces of Eden were put away, however this game does something that we as players have been waiting for since they killed off Desmond, they made the parts with today's people cut-scene only.  No more do we have to waste time with "google" like employee characters, that take us away from the fun stuff.  This was a great change and made the game flow much better.  This way we could fully immerse ourselves in the story of the assassins, without having to be forcefully taken out to look at terminals or talk to people we don't care about.

With the story being in London in the 18th century, the setting was very accurate.  At no time did I feel like I wasn't running through the boroughs of London.  They were really able to capture the true feel of England of that time.  The missions, the streets, the river, everything was true to London in that time. 

Gameplay added a new feature that made traveling through the city a lot easier, the Spider-man hook shot.  This hook shot allows us to climb up tall buildings, jump from one building to a far away building, and escape from enemies.  It was a lot of fun zip lining around the city, and dropping on enemies.


Now that we got the good stuff out of the way, let's go ahead and move onto the BAD.

The game added a new skill base system, so you could set up the characters as if they were individual.  However the main issue with that was that all the skills were the same until you got to either level 8 or 9 to choose skills that were character specific (highest level is 10).  Which means that really choosing either character didn't really matter, since they were just clones of each other until you were able to level them up high enough.  So the whole thing of Jacob being the fighter and Evie being the stealthy character, didn't make any difference since they had the same skills and equipment to choose from. 

The AI overall is the same as they were in previous games. Walk away and hide and they forget you were ever trying to kill them 1 second ago.  But the biggest thing with the AI this time is that they are completely stupid.  Like take the video to the left.  In this shot you can see Evie tailing an AI.  Well this AI ends up getting into a buggy, and literally driving it into a corner.  This goes on for awhile until the AI smartly decides to get out, and then proceeds to walk all the way to the destination.  This wouldn't be so bad, if the destination wasn't far, but there was a reason it originally got into a buggy.  So here you are as a player, stuck for several minutes following a slowly walking AI to it's destination.  Which pretty much is the peek of boredom.

One thing players missed were the actual brotherhood.  Where you could save people and train up assassins.  Well it's still gone, but you might think "hey you can get gangs".  Yes you do, you even have a separate skill set you can set for your gang, but the gang is the stupidest thing in the game, figuratively and literally.  The gang you can not just call on a whim like you could with the assassins. You have to call them if you see them on a street somewhere.  Then after you call them, they don't climb or free run, so if you run too far, they leave and you have to grab some others, and that's just the start of their stupidity.  Let's go with their actual stupidity and look at one of the missions you can do in the city.  Some of the Templar hideouts will have gang members you can rescue.  Well, once you rescue these guys do they run? Do they follow you so you can continue sneaking around the hideout?  Nope, they will immediately alert the enemy and charge in fighting, unless you quickly recruit them then tell them to hold.  Which is not as easy as it sounds.  To continue on their stupidity, let's say your sneaking up on enemies near the streets, if your gang sees you they will also join you and start fighting the enemies, even without your command.

Now what about all the equipment and cool costumes?  Nothing.  We have three forms to fight, Cane-Sword, Kukri, and Brass Knuckles.  And really there is no difference between them.  You have the same combos, same damage, and so forth.  You have to choose from these.  No focus on the hidden blade at all, and you can't hide the weapons at all.  The outfits for Evie are really cool, but Jacob's are kind of weird and the top hat is the stupidest thing.  And no longer can you have the hood up, you have to choose to have the hood on or off.  If you have the hood on, the cops will immediately attack you, but if the hood is off the Templars will immediately detect you.  So now your going back and forth which makes it very hard to even try to sneak around and not very enjoyable.

What about the free running?  Isn't that still fun climbing around and everything?  Not anymore.  Free running is all command base now.  You must be holding the free run button(R2) as well as either the up command(X) or the down command(O).  The free running is so bad because of the commands that you have to input, that if you start going up and decide to start going down by holding R2+O, you will still keep going up unless you completely stop.  This also applies when you're running on the rooftops.  You can be in full sprint, but the moment you hit the edge the character will stop dead in their tracks until you switch commands.  Making free running frustrating, and no longer fun running around.


That's just a little taste of the bad and annoying, let's have some fun and look at the UGLY.

Ubisoft has proven with this game that they don't care about quality in their games anymore, or they just have the crappiest game testers in the business.  This game is littered with glitchy issues.

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Glitch free running

Missing people in cut-scenes

Characters falling through the abyss

Glitching AI

This is just a few examples of the several glitches and just poor game play in this game.

We also see in trailers and gameplay videos of cool multi-kills and awesome fight scenes.  Is that in the game?  Yes.  Are you able to pull it off?  Not in the slightest.  The game glitches when switching opponents, glitches when attacking, and sometimes doesn't even pick up counter commands.   This makes fighting multiple opponents very hard, and makes you want to through your controller at the screen.


Overall I would really have to rate this game as a 3 out of 10, and this is being generous.  The thing that kept me playing was purely the story.  Which really for most people, you could probably just go watch the game as a movie on Youtube and be fine.  I did like the characters and story, but the game is so glitchy and the game mechanics were so frustrating that it made the game really annoying and frustrating to play. 

~ Stephen Vargo
Show Runner

 

Master of None Season 1 Review

We should have seen it coming. All the warning signs were there. By the time his first Netflix stand up special Aziz Ansari: Buried Alive debuted in early 2013, anyone following Ansari's career was greeted by a decidedly mature shift in his comedy. Gone were name-dropping tales of awkward  celebrity run ins, RealLifeDickParty.COM, and Joe Pesci trivia. That had been laid to rest in favor of insights and perspectives on various topics including the institution of marriage, having children, and the fear and inevitability of growing older. His follow up, Aziz Ansari: Live from Madison Square Garden, took it a step further, with Ansari deconstructing the idiosyncrasies of dating in the modern era and how the luxuries of it (cell phones, social media) make it difficult to even pick a place to eat let alone make meaningful connections. Throw in immigration, misogyny, and a bit on factory farming, and you begin to realize we're a long way away from

"It's RAAAAAANDY"

Yet, even with the writing on the wall, I'm not sure anything could have prepared me for just how good Master of None is. The show stars Ansari as Dev, a thirtysomething actor living in New York as he navigates the pitfalls of work, friendship, and dating in the city. If this sounds familiar to you, it's because it is. HBO's Girls has used this same bare bones premise as a way of exploring the moments in between for four seasons now (2 1/2 of which are great). But in a lot of ways this is the next step. This is what happens when the angst of your 20's becomes the dread of your 30's, and while few could say that Girls isn't honest in it's portrayal of 20's wanderlust, Master of None somehow finds intimacy and genuinely heartwarming moments in this dread.  

The opening episode does a great job of giving a seemingly directionless series a bit of direction. Dev attends the birthday of his friend's child and begins to examine his station in life. The pilot also gives us the introduction of a stellar supporting cast led by the wonderful Noel Wells and Eric Warheim. Warheim is especially delightful as Dev's best friend, Arnold, playing just a slightly more hinged version of his child-like persona from Tim & Eric. Ansari's real life parents, Shoukath & Fatima Ansari, also co-star, and they are tremendous. I found myself often smiling at the authenticity of their performances. They may not be trained actors, but they are experienced parents and their chemistry with their son is one of the most enjoyable elements of the show. The most pleasant surprise of the series is the stand-out performance by Noel Wells. You may remember (or far likelier you do not) Wells' lone season on Saturday Night Live. The quirks and charms that made her an awkward fit for SNL are now the strongest showcases of her talent. It's hard to imagine anyone stealing scenes from Ansari and Warheim, and yet she does just that time and time again. 

Of course it doesn't hurt as an actor to have great writing to lean on, and Ansari, taking on the majority of the writing duties, delivers scripts rich with laughs and character moments. It was a  welcomed surprise to see names like Michael Schur, Dave Becky, Alan Yang, and Harris Wittels attached to the series. All four are veteran writers who worked with Ansari on Parks and Recreation. One has to wonder how much those collaborations rubbed off on Ansari while crafting this ten episode arc. After all, Ansari's Parks and Rec character, Tom Haverford, had begun to echo the same sentiments that Dev does by the end of the show's seven season run, and Dev seems like an honest continuation of that character. If there's any critisicm to be leveled at the show, it's that by being predominately based on material Ansari has previously covered the show can, at times, feel like an extended mouthpiece for Ansari's view on several topics. There's also a slight problem with the pacing of the story; characters come and go with little fluidity. These are very minor issues, though, and at no time do they distract from the story being told; they just make the show a great one instead of a perfect one.

Not surprisingly, it's when Ansari is fully in control that the show really soars. The two stand out episodes of the season "Parents" and "Nashville" were both written and directed by Ansari. In both episodes, everything is pitch perfect and really showcases the burgeoning directing talent of Ansari. The saddest moments of Master of None come in the final minutes of the season, both for our characters and for us the viewer. It may be at least a year until we revisit Dev, Rachel, and Arnold, but the wait should be well worth it. 

 

                                                                             9.0