Were It So Easy: Halo Infinite Review

I’ve waited a long time to review a new Halo game. I didn’t have this blog back when Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians came out. But ever since I made one, I’ve been champing at the bit to review Halo things.

The problem is, Halo things don’t just fall from trees. It’s been seven years since Halo 5 came out. Presumably, some of those years were taken up developing Halo Infinite.

And I spent all of those years yearning for a new Halo experience.

I’ve loved Halo for a long, long time.

I’m in no way the best Halo player out there. Far from it. In fact, you could probably count me as one of the worst players. I’m too brash in multiplayer, with no skills to back it up. I don’t bother spending time learning new tricks to make myself a better player either. I am the bane of my teammates’ existence.

But god help me, I love the games. I love the feel of them, the sound of them, the story of them, everything.

The soundtrack sends me in raptures.

I used to annoy my sister all the time, asking her to replay the campaigns with me. She got so fed up with me, my mother eventually had to step in and guilt-trip her into playing with me so I wouldn’t sulk and play alone.

My closest friends have all played Halo with me couch co-op style at some point during our friendship. Even the ones who don’t play video games.

I have more Halo books on my shelves than I do Stephen King books, and if you know how much I love Stephen King, you know that’s saying something.

So when I say I was “excited” for Halo Infinite, you’ll know that’s the understatement of the year.

This past December, Halo Infinite’s campaign released. Admittedly, it started off on the wrong foot for me because it released without a co-op option, but I kept an open mind.

And now, after having played it, I can say that Halo Infinite…

…is good.

It isn’t perfect, but it is good.

And I am thoroughly okay with that.

The Story

To briefly summarize Halo’s narrative is rough. A ton of things have happened over the course of the five mainline games, six spin-offs, and the multitude of novels centered around its universe.

So I’m not even going to try to summarize everything. Rather, I’ll just let you know what you can expect from Halo Infinite’s story alone.

Halo 5 saw Cortana’s rise to power over the whole galaxy, using Forerunner technology to bring every sentient species to its knees. Master Chief and the rest of humanity have to rally what little they can muster to counterattack.

Infinite starts with the Chief and the UNSC forces interrupted in the midst of eliminating Cortana by a force of grumpy ex-Covenant known as the Banished. The leader of the Banished actually defeats Master Chief, which means six months later, Chief has to pick up the pieces of what happened while he was out of commission.

The plan to defeat Cortana worked, but the Banished now have control of Zeta Halo, one of the giant ring-shaped superweapons the Forerunners left hanging around the universe. Given the temperament of the Brute in charge of the Banished, the notion of them having such a superweapon at their disposal is terrifying.

Master Chief, along with a reluctant Pelican pilot who just wants to go home and an eager-to-please AI known as the Weapon, has to reclaim Zeta Halo inch by inch, defeat the Banished at every turn, and contend with a new foe that is lingering on the ringworld as well.

Right off the bat, you can kind of tell that Halo Infinite ignores most of the story from Halo 5: Guardians. Though it uses its predecessor’s narrative to jumpstart its plot, Infinite charts its own course when it comes to the story. Gone is the excessive amount of characters introduced in Halo 5. Infinite focuses on a smaller, core group of characters, which means the emotional journey each one takes feels more impactful.

Things are able to breathe with fewer characters. It was hard to care about Locke, Vale, Tanaka, Buck, Chief, Linda, Kelly, and Fred in Halo 5: Guardians because that’s eight people indirectly vying for attention.

In Infinite, we are happily limited to caring about Chief, the Weapon, and the Pilot. When they go through a trauma, express reservations, or crack a joke, you just feel more because they are our human connections to the world we’re exploring and the narrative we’re traversing.

Infinite also improves upon the antagonists this time around. Fuck Prometheans. The Banished are where it’s at. Damn, I have missed Brutes.

In Halo 4 and Halo 5, these Promethean warriors were your enemies, but they were basically robots. They didn’t have a “personality.”

Brutes do.

They will get angry at Chief, taunt Chief, bum-rush him when they land in nearby drop pods.

Escharum, the leader of the Banished by the time Chief wakes up from his six-month nap, also has such a presence throughout the game. He’ll leave these long-winded messages gloating over the Chief. In a weird way, Escharum is happy the Chief survived because he wants a challenge in his life.

And it’s kind of nice to have a villain who wants you around.

That’s not to say I didn’t miss characters I was introduced to in the prior two games. Lasky is briefly mentioned in audio logs, and I found myself hungering for more information about him. I seriously wanted to know if he survived the destruction of the Infinity.

Hell, even Locke was referred to in an audio log, and I found myself wishing I knew more about what he and Osiris were up to during the events of Halo Infinite.

If you were unsatisfied with Halo 5: Guardian’s story, I think Infinite will be a balm to your soul. It feels more like a “Halo story,” if that makes sense, with less exposition and more experiences than in Halo 5.

The Open World

Many were surprised to learn that Halo Infinite would have an open-world structure to its campaign. While the series has definitely dabbled with an open world in levels like The Silent Cartographer, the games have all consisted of linear mission design.

When you’re first dropped onto Zeta Halo, there is this sense of wonder. You can see mountains in the distance, lightly touched by the rising sun, and you can feel awed at the assurance that you can in fact walk (and by walk, I mean sprint/grapple) to the top of that mountain.

Infinite encourages this sense of wonder at every turn. Fall damage is completely gone. You can shuttle up and down cliffs without having to worry about spraining the Chief’s ankle. And the addition of the Grappleshot means you can scale the tallest mountainsides with a few quick thrusts.

Sprinkled throughout the map are story objectives, upgrade locations, boss fights, unlockable FOBs, hidden audio logs, and rescue missions.

When I was in the middle of playing the game, I bemusedly asked my coworker if he thought they had cluttered the game with useless side content, like in current Assassin’s Creed titles.

He said, and I quote, “Yeah, I guess they did Ubisoft [Halo], but they did it in a classy way.”

The spacing of these missions and collectibles feels right, not too cluttered, not too far out. I never groaned to myself and thought, “Oh damn, another FOB to unlock.” I had fun opening up the map for myself.

However, I have two big complaints about the way Infinite is structured.

For one thing, while what we see of Zeta Halo feels grand and gorgeous when we first step onto its surface, it quickly becomes a bit monotonous. Gone is the variety of environments that we used to see in Halo games. There are no snowy levels, desert levels, swampy levels, or city levels.

You are either on the wooded surface of the ring or in the metallic interior. Those two environments are what you will constantly see while playing Halo Infinite, and while traversing the ring never gets tiring, the setting eventually wears out its welcome.

My second complaint deals in nostalgia.

As I said earlier, I love replaying the Halo campaigns. Every so often, I’ll still say, “You know what? I want to play Truth and Reconciliation.” And I’ll pop in Halo: CE and load up that third mission.

You can’t have that in Infinite.

The open-world format means no self-contained missions, and I kind of miss the cleanliness of being able to pick out one I like and replay it. If I want to replay a moment from Halo Infinite…I’m going to have to start the campaign from scratch.

The Combat

Oh my god.

I love the way combat feels in Halo Infinite.

The physics-fun nature of it, the glory of the Grappleshot, the sheer joy of a weapons sandbox that finally feels useful again.

Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians suffered from a terrible weapons sandbox. Half of the weapons in those games didn’t feel fun to use, so you never bothered with them. Of the roughly twenty-five weapons in Halo Infinite, on the other hand, I think I’m not fond of only two.

My favorite weapons to use were the Sidekick (the new pistol that has replaced the Magnum from previous Halo games), the Shock Rifle (this zappy sniper rifle thing that just looks super cool), and the Heatwave (a total Dead Space plasma cutter rip-off, but I love it).

Fighting the different enemies on Zeta Halo is also more fun than dealing with the Wardern Eternal a gazillion times.

The Banished have such a personality. I already said this in the story section, but it’s true in the combat too. Brutes either rush you in this mad rage, or they relentlessly shoot you with weapons as they taunt you. Elites are more reserved, and you have to deal with their shields. Jackals now have a new way to hold their shields as they fire at you, making them surprisingly tough to get used to as an enemy type. And Grunts…

…they’re just adorable.

Halo Infinite has given Grunts the best bits of dialogue I’ve yet heard from them in a Halo game. They’re cowardly, they’re snarky, they shriek, they cackle. And someone needs to give that Grunt Propaganda Officer a raise.

One of the new ways Infinite places you in a combat scenario is through boss fights. In both open-world areas and in story moments, the Master Chief has to go up against some tough Banished baddies, and overall, it’s a fun and challenging experience.

That said, there were some moments that just utterly ticked me off.

I’m going to go right out and say it, I was not fond of the Escharum boss battle. Close quarters with a rampaging Brute holding a Gravity Hammer that practically one-shots you with a health bar that diminishes in millimeters?

Color me not interested.

I like tough fights, don’t get me wrong. But Escharum bordered a bit on the unfair and unfun. My boss fight with him devolved into me swinging from one side of a cramped room to another, shooting at him for two seconds, then repeating. I whittled his health down bit by bit, and I was grimacing the whole time.

Conclusion

I desperately missed the couch co-op element of Halo games while I was playing Infinite, not just because it’s fun to play games with friends, but because Infinite itself feels like it would reach pinnacles of greatness if you had a buddy by your side playing it with you.

It captures the wonder of the original games almost perfectly, and it maintains it for a surprising amount of time given the lack of variety in environments.

The combat has also never felt better to me. It might not be the “competitive” type of gameplay fans of Halo 5: Guardians preferred, but it feels like Halo.

Approaching encounters and enemies in Halo Infinite is different every time. I could be tackling the same objective as someone else, but we could both go about it in very different ways, which heightens the game’s replay value.

And that’s considering that it may be harder to replay Halo Infinite because that means starting from the very beginning.

But I can definitely say it will be worth it.

I rate Halo Infinite a joy-to-play-for-a-long-time-Halo-fan-and-a-massive-relief-like-I-swear-a-weight-has-dropped-from-my-shoulders-faster-than-a-Scorpion-tank-drops-on-an-unsuspecting-ODST.

Cosmically Extraordinary: The Artful Escape Review

I’m going to take this moment and say thank god for Xbox Game Pass. I’m not one to needlessly promote things, but dude, if you like video games and you own an Xbox, you need to get Xbox Game Pass. It is such a good deal.

If I didn’t have Xbox Game Pass, I never would have gotten the opportunity to play The Artful Escape.

Forgive me for sounding hoity-toity (and for sounding like Captain Obvious), but this is a game that is more than a game; it’s goddamn art. The Artful Escape is not a story that needs to be told. It’s an experience that needs to be absorbed.

I picked it up on a lark, downloading it because of its small file size and eye-catching cover art. However, going into The Artful Escape blind was a blessing, so while I am going to go over spoilers in this post, if you have any intention of playing it, I recommend stopping right here. Not knowing what to expect is a large part of its charm.

On the surface, The Artful Escape is just a 2D platformer with some light Simon-says QTEs thrown in. You move your character left or right as you travel through various areas, occasionally jumping over gaps and ridges. As for the button-pressing, you just have to remember musical patterns and input them in the correct order.

But boiling it down to these gameplay components is doing the title a grave disservice. The game as a whole is so much more than that.

You play as one Francis Vendetti, an aspiring young musician who lives under the shadow of his “Bob Dylan” uncle. Okay, so at no point does the game outright say that Johnson Vendetti (Francis’ uncle) is Bob Dylan, but just give one of his songs a listen. We all know who they were trying to emulate.

Anyways, the legend of Johnson Vendetti, folk singer extraordinaire, is immense, so it’s no wonder that Francis feels a weighted obligation to live up to his reputation. However, it’s clear Francis is yearning to forge a bold new identity for himself.

With the help of some new friends, Francis thus begins a cosmic journey to find himself.

Technically speaking, Francis starts his journey to help famed guitarist Lightman perform for the ever-discerning Glamourgonn. But even though typing that sentence was really cool, it’s beside the point.

You see, even though Francis is being teleported across the Cosmic Extraordinary, meeting zany musicians and absurdly brilliant rockstar alien cultures, zooming across mind-blowingly colorful landscapes, and emitting star-studded melodies, The Artful Escape is not about his physical journey.

It’s more about his spiritual/mental one.

Not all of us have ever hopped aboard a Cosmic Lung and performed for millions of tentacled, cheering aliens.

But all of us have felt as if we couldn’t safely be ourselves in front of people, at least at some point in our lives.

Francis’ journey to gain confidence in himself and who he wants to be is one that resonates, and what makes The Artful Escape so great is that it resonates with such unabashed style. The visuals of the game are astounding, and even though Francis states he’s out of his element, he clearly belongs with these surroundings.

Oh. And the music. The soundtrack of the game matches the out-of-this-world vibe. It is one of the best things about this indie title, and even if you don’t want to play it, you should give the whole thing a listen.

There are portions of the game where you get to choose Francis’ cosmic rockstar name and arrange his stellar get-up, and this is part of where the magic of The Artful Escape hits home.

Even though this is Francis’ adventure, and you’re along for the ride, at times the game seems to transcend this. The choices you make when you name yourself, choose your origin story, and select your outfit define who you want your Francis to be.

I named myself The Cheeky Froley, so of course I was thrilled.

And the whole thing culminates with a spectacular interstellar cosmic light show. With lasers.

It’s not every day that I’ll play a game and just…feel good about being myself. Usually I’m playing a game to be diverted or to experience someone else’s story. But Francis’ galactic adventure felt like it was mine, even though I’ve never played for the Glamourgonn, ridden on the Cosmic Lung, or hell, picked up an electric guitar in my life.

I rate The Artful Escape an outer-space-roaming-inner-journey-I-will-never-forget.

Living My Best Life in The Ascent

The Ascent was a day-one launch title on Xbox Game Pass. Because I am ardently in love with my Xbox Game Pass subscription, I jumped on the chance to play it with my friends, Bubba and Damien, as soon as it came out.

Now, I didn’t play the game to its conclusion. Far from it. So this isn’t going to be a review. It’s more of a hilarious side story.

Okay, so in The Ascent, you play as cyberpunky indentured servants, called Indents, to a mega-corporation on a planet that is basically a giant city. You roam around waste processing plants, neon-colored streets, and packed tenements. Most of the gameplay revolves around shooting mechanized bad guys and thugs in sunglasses.

It’s as fun as it sounds.

Bubba, Damien, and I made our way through the tutorial mission pretty quickly. I may have gotten distracted by the copious amount of lore entries in my codex menu, but we still had oodles and caboodles of fun running and gunning around. We jam-packed our skill points recklessly, choosing whatever attributes we wanted with little thought to crafting a serious build. We just picked up whatever guns suited us and went forth.

At some point, we bit off more than we could chew.

Though we were leveling up decently, certain areas in The Ascent are locked off to lower-leveled characters. The game does this by having these spots spawn insanely high-leveled enemies.

Bubba, Damien, and I were rather slow to leave one of these areas, and we all got slaughtered.

When my character respawned, imagine my surprise when I appeared to be invisible.

It was like my character had just disappeared, and all I could see was the environment.

I tried moving around, and the background moved with me, as if the character model was still there. It was at that point that I noticed my character wasn’t entirely gone.

My gun was still there.

A teeny little pistol was floating in the air, the only indication that my Indent was where it should be.

After calling out to Bubba and Damien, I learned that Damien was also cursed with this invisibility. Bubba was the only one we could see.

We briefly considered restarting the game to see if our characters would come back, but after a minute or two of goofing around and playing literal hide-and-seek, we decided to continue on, playing the game as floating guns.

What followed was the most side-splitting romp I’ve ever had as an inanimate object. Damien and I looked ridiculous. We were like two Jiminy Crickets on Bubba’s shoulders, twin gun cronies helping him mow down packs of Ferals, invisible cyberpunk warriors of the night.

I mean, we still had to take cover on occasion, because our health pool could still go down, but the visual of a pistol hiding behind a wall made everything worth it.

We haven’t hopped on to play The Ascent in a while, but I enjoyed it despite the various glitches that ended up plaguing us. Damien got stuck in a gun shop twice, and Bubba was unable to leave a game at all through the in-game menu (it was like The Ascent wouldn’t let him go). But what can I say? I have a soft spot for things that make me laugh so hard I can’t breathe.

Life Update #11: All Xbox, All the Time

Hey, everyone!

So while I’ve been writing, outlining, typing, and scheduling blog posts in advance, I realized today I completely forgot to let you guys know that the amazing, the impossible, the miraculous has happened.

I got myself an Xbox Series X.

For those of you not in the know, it has been abominably difficult to get your hands on the newest generation of game consoles this time around, be it a PlayStation 5 or an Xbox Series X. These babies launched last year, and I just now got my hands on one. Scalpers are running rampant, and it’s actually a serious issue. But thanks to some amazing friends who ensure I stay in the know, I was able to jump on my local Best Buy’s latest shipment when they went on sale and nab one.

And I have been obsessed with playing with it.

Honestly, it’s nothing too too special. It’s an impressive piece of hardware, make no mistake. But it doesn’t offer me much that was different from my Xbox One S.

However, its newness has just enamored me. When I first got it, I shamefully ditched my D&D group twice just so I could spend long hours playing a game. I marvel at the almost nonexistent load times. I gasp at how well some of the games look (though my TV could probably use an upgrade as well).

And may I just say that Xbox Game Pass is an utter delight? I wasn’t sure how I would feel using a Netflix-like service for my video games, but not a day has gone by that I don’t make full use of it. I’m playing new games left and right. I’m dabbling in genres I might not have tried out otherwise. The power of the Series X coupled with the myriad of games thanks to my Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription has made my time indoors chock-full of adventure.

Plus, the mini-fridge look just suits my gaming shelf perfectly.

Fighting Inner Demons – Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice Review

Finishing Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice presented me with a strange conflict.

On the one hand, the experience of Senua’s journey is undeniably one of the most powerful I’ve ever experienced in a video game. By far, it’s one of the most immersive game narratives out there.

But on the other hand, the combat and some of the puzzle sequences were an absolute drag.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

On my never-ending quest to try experiencing every game that Xbox Game Pass offers me without getting distracted by Risk of Rain 2 yet again, I decided to play Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. I had heard nothing but good things about it, and the trailer for its sequel looks amazing as heck. Gritty and dark and hauntingly beautiful.

So one evening, when I had slumped off of my computer chair from work and felt marginally up for playing a new game, I booted up Senua’s Sacrifice, put on headphones (because the game specifically recommends you do so), and got a bit of coffee to see me through the evening.

Holy heckin’ heck, I did not need the coffee for long.

Story

The story follows Senua as she travels to Helheim, the Norse version of hell. Her lover was murdered during an attack on their village while she was away, so she carries his wrapped-up head on her belt with her so she can reunite it with his soul in Helheim.

Right off the bat, you start hearing voices, and these are voices that Senua hears too. Constantly, these various voices will whisper derision, praise, advice, and warnings that you have to either ignore or heed. Senua suffers from a mental illness, and these voices are a part of her daily existence.

When you use headphones, the power of these voices are doubly effective. They sound like they come from behind you, next to you, or far away. Sometimes they will shout at you to turn back. Other times they will call you an idiot.

I cannot understate how incredible these voices are utilized to put you in Senua’s shoes.

In addition to that, light from fires and such will distort your vision, and if Senua is in the dark, her fear can potentially cripple her and have you restart from a past checkpoint.

During her journey to Helheim, she battles various creatures, but you are not entirely sure which of these are real foes or which come from her own head.

Puzzles

Senua progresses through some areas by solving puzzles, many of which involve perspective. You have to find shapes and symbols in the environment, standing at the perfect spot in order to line up rock formations or tree branches.

There was this one puzzle where I had to find a symbol made of light, and the entire area was covered with them. I had to walk around for about an hour looking for the place to stand to focus them.

Later on, there is a puzzle where you have to use hearing alone to avoid enemies in the dark, and if you are not wearing headphones, expect to mess up multiple times.

I’m not overly fond of these types of puzzles where there is little to no explanation for how to solve them, but on the bright side, you have ample time to figure them out. And Senua’s Sacrifice’s environments are so gorgeous, it soothes your irritation.

Though, erm, I did have to look up this one raven puzzle online. And I can hand-to-my-heart say I would not have solved it otherwise.

Combat

When phantasmal enemies attack Senua, she pulls out her sword and you enter a combat encounter. Despite my initial, wild swings, I learned that combat should not be a frenetic affair in Senua’s Sacrifice. Instead, it should be slow and measured.

You can either strike, parry, or dodge, and you should never spam any of these buttons. You have to read what your opponent is going to do using their body language and then respond accordingly. Senua automatically locks onto targets during combat encounters, so you are always facing an enemy.

There are only a small variety of enemy types, unfortunately. Fighting them over and over again gets stale fast. In addition to that, the locking-on mechanic prevents you from easily being able to address the phantoms that appear behind you.

So even though the voices in your head will shriek, “Behind you!” there is nothing you can do to face that opponent in time.

The latter half of the game throws groups of enemies at you at the same time. This ups the difficulty of combat immensely, and I got frustrated each time tight corners, unwilling lock-ons, or ill-timed dodges made me lose a fight.

Combat was my least favorite aspect of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, and I audibly groaned every time.

However, overcoming obstacles is all part of what the game is trying to show you.

Themes

Senua’s Sacrifice covers the experience of suffering psychosis. This is based on what I’ve read about it and what the game itself states before you play it.

But that is not all that the game covers thematically. Senua is grieving for her lost love, the one person who made her feel safe in a world troubled by intolerance and shadows. Her whole journey to Helheim also has her confronting this grief and her low self-esteem.

Though you may not suffer from the same mental ills that plague Senua, her story is one that can reverberate with anyone who has felt misunderstood or alone.

It’s this more than anything that makes Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice an unforgettable game. Its ending is so moving, I don’t even want to describe what happened, which I’ll admit is a bit of a cop-out. But I think it’s something that should be experienced for yourself.

The game leans more toward a walking simulator than the action game you might have been expecting, but it accomplishes immersion in a way that only a video game can.

I rate Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice a trip-through-the-mind-that-helps-contextualize-the-struggles-some-go-through-in-a-way-that-is-simply-beautiful.

Rolling a Natural 1 – Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance Review

I’ve related my Dungeons & Dragons misadventures here before. From ill-timed invisibility to challenging monster fights, my band of D&D friends and I have gone through quite a bit together. Truly, we have run the gamut of hilarious D&D escapades a group campaigning together can go through.

However, despite my positive experiences playing around a tabletop with my friends, I haven’t really explored the world of D&D when it comes to video games. None of them really called to me, especially because my favorite aspect of Dungeons & Dragons is the downright goofiness that can occur when fails happen. (Failing in a video game the way I fail in D&D would be gutting.)

So when I found out that Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance would be available to play on Xbox Game Pass, I thought it would be nifty to grab a friend and give it a whirl. ‘Why not dabble in a D&D video game?’ I thought to myself.

It’s disappointing. That’s why.

Dark Alliance is an overall letdown, and I’ll tell you why in just a sec. I first want to admit that I only played around two sessions of the game, each of which lasted maybe a few hours. I did not complete it, and maybe the game has more to offer down the road. All I know is that it did not offer enough to make me want to continue playing it.

Dark Alliance pulls its characters and some of its story from the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. I am only loosely versed in its lore. However, noteworthy character Drizzt Do’Urden is one of the four characters you and your friends can choose to play as during missions.

If you are familiar with the gameplay structure of Left 4 Dead or Vermintide 2, you will know what to expect when booting up Dark Alliance. You and up to three friends go through these fairly linear missions, fight off monsters you find, and complete rudimentary objectives.

If you’ve played those two games I mentioned, then you know that this formula can be very successful. However, Dark Alliance messes it up in multiple ways.

For one thing, the characters feel very uninteresting. It sucks because they each have a backstory that fans of the Forgotten Realms universe will know about, but the manner in which this is conveyed to you is either through dry narration or through these one-liners the characters will occasionally speak during a mission. And the snippets of cutscenes you see at the start and end of missions don’t inform you much on the characters or the events at large.

If only the story itself was lacking, I would be fine with that. But the gameplay itself leaves a lot to be desired. I played as the character Wulfgar during one session, and Cattie-brie in the next, and no matter which I played as, it was not fun.

Any action in the game felt unresponsive. Whether I was swinging my hammer or firing my bow, there was this laggy, molasses feeling that persisted. Even picking up objects from the ground took an age and a half. And I don’t think this was input lag on my controller’s part. I would swing at a rock outcropping to get some loot, the hit would connect, and then two seconds later, the rock would crumble. It was that slow.

And the enemies were uninspired at best. They would always be clustered by some door or square-looking area, arranged like stodgy chess pieces, and sometimes they would not even react when you hit them. They’d take it, slowly turn to you, and only gradually start to attack you. This is a far cry from when I played Left 4 Dead 2, and zombies would rush at you from every which way, and certain special types would attack in a specific fashion.

In addition to that, cooperative play was unrewarding as heck. My coworker friend and I felt like our characters did not interact with each other in a meaningful way at all. They had a few abilities that could be beneficial for a group, but it did not feel like an impactful interaction.

Lastly, the bosses felt laughable. They are appreciably difficult in comparison to regular enemies, but each encounter feels similar. Do some damage, roll away, do some damage, roll away, do some damage, roll away, do some damage, roll away.

Playing Dark Alliance made me hunger for the simplistic artistry of Risk of Rain 2.

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance was disappointing because it wasn’t fun. One of the basic tenets of D&D (for me at least) is that no matter who my DM is, who my fellow party members are, or what story is being told, the game has to be fun. Dark Alliance did not hold up to this standard.

I rate Dark Alliance a poor-representation-of-how-much-fun-D&D-can-be-and-a-sucky-game-at-launch-to-boot.

Video Game Villanelle

Do not dismiss the video game,
The delight it brings, the joy it inspires.
Truly, your life will be never be the same.

Though some might label it lame,
They underestimate how it sets the soul on fire.
Do not dismiss the video game.

Immersion is key to lighting that flame,
Making gameplay your sole desire.
Truly, your life will never be the same.

Whenever a good game called, I came,
Craving narrative experiences that never tire.
Do not dismiss the video game.

Explore vast open worlds that will never be tamed,
Live through experiences that will take you higher,
Truly, your life will never be the same.

So embrace a title without shame,
Especially when the world at large feels a little dire.
Do not dismiss the video game.
Truly, your life will never be the same.

Fragile Packages Don’t Exist: Totally Reliable Delivery Service Review

That’s me on the left

If I do say so myself, I make a fantastic delivery person.

I only break every other package.

And all of my experience comes from playing Totally Reliable Delivery Service.

For those of you who haven’t heard of this delightful cooperative game, Totally Reliable Delivery Service is a goofy good time, full of goofy good fun. You may not learn any real delivery skills whatsoever, but you will have a riot just reveling in how not-seriously the game takes itself.

The premise of this little title is as simple as it sounds. You deliver packages from point A to point B using a variety of methods at your disposal. You could take it in a delivery truck, fly it by chopper, use a boat to carry it, or just walk it over like a plebeian.

While the goal of the game is incredibly basic, the execution is unforgivably hilarious. My little character is the most unwieldy and awkward thing I have ever controlled in a video game. It sometimes feels like they have their own center of gravity, and driving a car is more impossible than sending a real life space shuttle into orbit.

However, don’t let this put you off from playing! The jankiness of the controls is all part of Totally Reliable Delivery Service’s charm.

Players are dropped onto this open world of interconnected islands, and these areas range from beach-side resorts to snowy mountain peaks to a downtown city block. Each area is peppered with an assortment of vehicles you can use to help you in your deliveries.

Deliveries are typically straightforward affairs, tasking you to either deliver a package within a set amount of time or to bring it over as undamaged as possible.

However, I remember the first time I played Totally Reliable Delivery Service with my coworker friend, we maybe completed a grand total of two deliveries in the span of three hours.

Why so little?

Because we spent the rest of the time just messing around with all the game had to offer!

One of the highlights of Totally Reliable Delivery Service is how it gives you total freedom to go where you want and do what you want when you want. If you want to ignore every delivery on the map and ride on a Ferris Wheel, you can!

When my sister and I played the game, we spent hours just trying to drive up the mountainside in go-karts. Alya could not control her vehicle at all, and she kept sliding down after making too sharp a turn.

When I played with my friend Andreya, we tested how high we could go in the hot air balloon before the game told us no. (It never did.)

There is no pressure to complete objectives, and the game excels in how much freedom it offers. Also, from experience, this is the kind of game that is best played with a few friends beside you (or online) and a handful of drinks at the ready.

Side note: I have never giggled so hard as when my friend missed jumping on a trolley while we were in the city, and I got to stare at their little character huffing and puffing after it, trying to leap onto the moving vehicle, while I watched in mirthful comfort.

And the game has practically no limits to what your character can do. The only big one is swimming. Do not, I repeat, do not take your character for a dip because stepping into water is automatic death. For some reason, you just can’t swim in this game.

But other than that, the game pretty much lets you do what you want.

That’s not to say that it is without shortcomings.

Honestly, I think the game feels pretty unplayable without friends. It doesn’t require co-op play, but just roaming around the world being silly by yourself does not hold a tenth of the appeal as doing it with friends.

The vehicle controls truly are terrible, and they take a while to get used to. If you’re trying to actually complete deliveries, you will hate any that involve aircraft.

In addition to that, Totally Reliable Delivery Service is good for maybe 3-4 hours of fantastic fun before you get tired of the environs, the controls, and the never-changing gameplay loop.

So it’s definitely not a forever game or a must-buy by any stretch of the imagination.

However…

…if you just so happen to have Xbox Game Pass and a few friends you can call on for a raucous time, then I would not miss out on Totally Reliable Delivery Service. It might not be a polished, triple-A experience, but it definitely delivers on a good time.

I rate Totally Reliable Delivery Service a totally-reliable-game-that-is-clearly-meant-to-inspire-goofy-fun-with-friends.

Side note: I should mention that the game’s soundtrack gets very repetitive. Almost to the point of insanity. You’ve been warned!

Putting Control Down For a Bit

I hate writing this. It makes me feel ashamed of myself.

But if there’s anything this bloggy thingamabob has shown me, it’s that posting stuff that paints me as Below Average is par for the course.

So I’ve been playing Remedy Entertainment’s Control for a bit, and after some immense struggles, I’m going to put it on the shelf.

That’s right.

I’m giving up on it for now.

There are several factors that have made me decide to stop playing Control, and you should all know that I’m embarrassed and frustrated by all of them. And it was only after an explosive outburst with the boyfriend that I realized I really should not play something that puts me in such a negative headspace.

So here we go…

1. Performance Issues

This is easily the most understandable and swallowable (in terms of my pride) reason to put a game down. Control is not the most demanding game I’ve ever played, but holy hell, it is just not playing as it should on my Xbox One S.

Side note: I really should get a Series X. I just have to, you know, find a store that has one available.

When you play as Jesse Faden, you have some pretty cool super powers at your disposal. You can fly, grab chunks from the wall, and hurl them at people with your telekinesis. And no part of the environment is safe from this. I can point at a random wall and Launch portions of it at enemies.

But see, when I do that, everything on my screen slows down. It lags to the umpteenth degree. And the game suffers from an uncommon amount of blurriness during combat sequences.

There’s a voice in my head that berates me for leaving Control for this reason anyway, saying that I stuck through all of Ori and the Will of the Wisps’ issues. Why not fight my way through Control?

2. The Guns Are No Fun

Actually, that’s a lie. The different gun types in Control are all awesome.

But apparently, their damage output is nothing compared to your Launch ability.

Over time, I’ve learned that to do any real damage to enemies, using Launch to telekinetically toss shit at people is the most efficient way of dealing with combat.

And it’s like, why give me all these cool Service Weapons to use if the game seems geared toward ignoring them?

The voice in my head just scoffs and says this is a baby-poo-poo reason to give up.

3. I’m an Utter Failure When It Comes To Launching Things

To Launch an object at someone, you have to look at it, press a button, have whatever it is zoom toward Jesse Faden’s hand, and then release the button to have her throw it.

During boss encounters, I just couldn’t tell whether or not I was highlighting and grabbing the projectiles they chucked my way to use against them. So I’d hold the button to grab onto it, wait for it to zoom to Jesse’s hand, and then be dismayed when it turned out I hadn’t grabbed onto the projectile, it was just making its destined beeline toward me and eliminating all of my health.

And using Launch, as I’ve stated before, just demolishes the frame rate of the game.

The voice in my head just tells me to git gud.

4. Interrupting Side Missions

I love doing side missions in games. They’re fun. Red Dead Redemption kept me so distracted, I ignored the main storyline for far longer than I should have.

I hate the side missions in Control. The main story in Control is actually riveting, but these occasional alerts will crop up that completely halt the flow of the gameplay.

And what’s even worse, the first time an alert showed up and I went to go tackle it, I died almost instantly and that was it. No opportunity to do it again. It disappeared from my mission log entirely.

These alerts are just combat scenarios you’re supposed to take on within a set amount of time with almost no relation to the story.

The voice in my head is telling me I’m a wuss puss.

5. I Don’t Know How It Wants Me To Play

Normally when I play a game, I learn fairly quickly what playstyle the game wants me to adopt. When I first played Doom (2016), I learned early on that moving was key to survival. Whenever I got placed in combat, I knew I was supposed to run around the arenas while shooting demons because doing otherwise was death. Movement was key.

In any Gears of War game, I knew that taking cover was a vital aspect of gameplay.

In Risk of Rain 2, I learned that balancing my items was important for later stages down the road.

I don’t know what the fuck Control wants from me.

At first I thought it would want me to take cover, especially given how squishy Jesse’s health bar is. But two things make that blatantly untrue. For one thing, Jesse is given a lot of mobility powers, which indicates that the game wants you to use them. For another, enemies drop little health beads when they’re downed, and you have to run over them to collect them. That means if Jesse gets hurt, it behooves her to get closer to foes.

But when I tried rushing into rooms and diving into combat, I was quickly overwhelmed by enemies I didn’t even see. I would get surrounded and annihilated.

The voice in my head is asking me if I’m just stupid.

6. It’s Too Easy To Die and So Hard To Get Back

I bet Soulsborne fans are rolling their eyes at this one. Yeah, I’m being a major whiner right now. You can mock me in the comments.

When Jesse gets hit, her health takes a nosedive. And it’s hard to recover that health aside from killing a few enemies and rushing at their corpses to try to pick up that health confetti they drop.

And when you die, you have to sit through one long-ass loading screen before the game deposits you at your last save point (called a Control point). These Control points are often not even close to where you died.

Side note: Huh, this really is sounding like a Soulsborne game.

So if there’s a boss fight that is giving you trouble, and the Control point preceding it is far away, expect to make the arduous jog to that fight multiple times, complete with an annoying loading screen. This can get especially irksome if, let’s say, the boss fight takes place over a giant chasm, and in your eagerness to start the fight again you time your flight over it a little poorly, and that one fall sets you back to the beginning before you even had a chance to ineffectually Launch something at the boss.

The voice in my head isn’t saying anything so much as he’s just staring at me in judgment.

So there you have it. I’m putting Control down.

And I’m feeling utterly humiliated by that fact.

Volatile Voyages: Sea of Thieves Review

During my neverending quest to play through all the titles on Xbox Game Pass that I can, I came across Sea of Thieves. My coworker buddy and I were both pumped for trying it out because who doesn’t want to be a pirate?

Side note: I really should ask him if I have permission to use his name here. But I keep forgetting/chickening out.

Now, I have never played Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, so Sea of Thieves was actually the first game I played that involved using a ship and sailing.

Nothing but excitement and anticipation filled my body as my coworker friend and I booted up and got ready to sail the seas.

And after several hours of adventure, mishaps, and extensive fishing, I know exactly what to say to people who ask me what Sea of Thieves is like.

It’s okay.

That’s it.

Sea of Thieves possesses a fairly shallow gameplay loop, so long-term replayability does not sit well with me. But those initial hours of exploring the world with a crew of your friends are undeniably fun and exciting.

The game starts off with a short tutorial that you must complete solo, but afterwards, you and three other friends can comprise a crew together. There are three different kinds of ships you and your friends can use: the Sloop, the Brigantine, and the Galleon.

Their layouts are similar, with most of the differences contingent on the increase or decrease in size between each. The Sloop is the smallest and can comfortably fit two players. The Galleon is the largest, and if two people tried to run that boat, they’re asking for trouble. Between running below decks to plug leaks and running back up to lower the anchor, every voyage would be a marathon.

Once you have a crew assembled, you can go on quests together, and one of Sea of Thieves’ problems is that these are all essentially fetch quests.

There are three types of quests available at the time of this writing. You can either receive a map of an island with some buried treasure to dig up and deliver to somebody, a bounty on some evil skeletons that you have to defeat in combat and deliver their skulls to somebody else, or a commission to transport goods from one person to another.

As you can see, a game comprised entirely of this can get fatiguing as you shuttle back and forth as a glorified deliveryman.

There are a few events scattered throughout the world, and I assume these are updated regularly, but they’re still pretty much the same. Fight off bad guys, take their loot, and deliver it.

On the bright side, your pirate is fully customizable. You can purchase different skins for your equipment, weapons, instruments, and more.

Sailing your ship is honestly the most exciting aspect of Sea of Thieves. It looks and feels like what I would imagine sailing an actual ship would look and feel like.

And the water.

My god.

I have never seen an ocean look so good in a video game. The waves pushing past your ship are so enticing, it makes you want to jump overboard just to be closer to them. Graphically, the sea is absolutely stunning.

One person can manage to sail around in Sea of Thieves, but it’s far easier and more enjoyable with at least two. You can take turns standing by the helm, adjusting the sails to catch the breeze, perching in the crow’s nest to keep an eye out for ships, examining the map below decks, or playing your hurdy-gurdy non-stop to maintain some mood music.

Side note: Oh, yeah. Sea of Thieves lets you play music on instruments you just have in your equipment wheel. When you and other players pull out the instrument of your choice and start playing, the music automatically harmonizes.

While sailing the expansive ocean, you’ll notice that the atmosphere changes depending on what portion of the sea you’re sailing on. For example, one area features sparkling sea-green water, with relatively clear skies, while another area to the south contains choppy, grey waters with stormy skies almost constantly. It’s a cool way to keep the generally static environment of an ocean feeling fresh.

While you’re sailing from point A to point B, several things can happen that shoot some excitement into an otherwise relaxing endeavor. Other player ships can appear on the horizon, causing the two crews to wonder if you’ll attack each other or just sail right by, ignoring each other. There are also monstrous sea beasts, like a giant shark and a kraken, that can attack your ship. These creatures are cued by threatening music, and the kraken is usually heralded by a sudden staining of the ocean from blue to utter black.

Peppered across the sea are small islands, and it’s here that you can pick up items, find those skeletons for your bounties, and dig up treasure. Though the occasional fortress or odd cave might differentiate these islands from each other, they feel largely similar. The activities you can do on each island are also the same. You can fish, fight, dig, or collect small animals that inhabit these lonely specks in an interminable ocean.

Sea of Thieves’ biggest flaw is its complete lack of an end goal. The only end goal I can see deriving from Sea of Thieves is earning enough money to pay for your favorite paint jobs. That’s it. And if customization is a game’s sole objective instead of just a side perk, you’re going to have a tough time drawing in and keeping players invested. There is no demonstrable story to find, and your character’s skills cannot be upgraded. Personally, aside from unlocking every parrot-themed skin I can find, there is nothing else for me to really work toward.

That’s not to say I haven’t had a great time playing Sea of Thieves. My coworker friend and I have had some outrageously hilarious adventures of our own making while playing the game.

Our most disastrous outing was also one of our first. We decided to take up a contract to deliver some chickens to an outpost. After receiving the chicken coops needed to carry these birds, we set out on a search of various islands for the specific type of chicken we needed.

It took us ages. We had terrible luck finding an island that sported chickens on its shores. Pigs and snakes must have bred like bunnies; they were everywhere.

Finally, we found an island with some chickens, and after a bit of finagling, we got two of them into our coops. We brought them on board and set sail for the outpost.

However, while we were sailing there, this mighty storm appeared over our heads. The waves became gargantuan slopes in front of us, rain poured down in sheets, and thunder sounded every few seconds.

The storm tossing us around actually caused damage to our ship, springing enough holes in our boat that our bottom deck got flooded. In an effort to save the chickens from drowning, I brought them above decks, near the mast. I went below decks to start bucketing water out of it and to try patching up some of the leaks. In the meantime, my coworker friend was struggling to control the helm and make sense of our spinning compass.

During one of my trips up to dump out water, lightning struck the ship and sent me flying out into the ocean. My friend immediately dropped anchor and was able to guide me back on board.

When I climbed back up, the two of us could only see smoking drumsticks in the chicken coops by the mast.

Apparently, the lightning struck and cooked our chickens.

At this point, we’d left the ship leaks so neglected as we stared forlornly at these edible remains that our Sloop slowly sank.

With our ship scuttled, we got a new one and tried to start another delivery quest. Almost as soon as we set out on that mission, a Kraken attacked our vessel, killing me and destroying this second ship as well.

We haven’t had a wild time like that in a bit; we have instead chosen to focus on fishing. I have my eye set on a parrot-themed fishing pole, and the only way to get it is to fish and deliver “pondies” to an NPC.

It’s quite relaxing, and we don’t get sent to Davy Jones’ locker as often as we used to.

I don’t want to turn anyone away from playing Sea of Thieves because it is a fun experience in those first few hours. However, don’t expect this to transform into a game you frequently return to unless they add more content.

I rate Sea of Thieves a pirate-adventure-that-loses-charm-over-time-but-can-set-your-heart-to-sailing-with-a-mesmerizing-sea-and-a-recipe-for-good-fun-with-friends.