One Hell of a Good Time: The Doom Eternal Review You’ve Waited an Eternity For

I finally, finally finished playing Doom Eternal a couple of days ago. I took my sweet time with it. I savored every minute of it. And by “savored,” I also mean that I stressed my brain out trying to find every collectible and complete every time trial.

Now that I’ve finished the game, it is time to tell you, my Above Average readers, my thoughts on it. It’s time to go into the good, the bad, and the ugly of Doom Eternal with a deep-dive review.

Side note: This game is not ugly. I just wanted to type out “the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

Just in case you’re not in the mood to read a lengthy review, I’ll tell you my base impression. Doom Eternal is high-octane fun, definitely engaging to the millionth degree. The only things holding it back are a few story decisions (but who plays Doom for the story anyways) and a couple of odd gameplay inclusions.

Anywaysies, let’s rev up our chainsaws and pop out our flame belcher! It’s time for a Below Average review of Doom Eternal!

Story

Doom Eternal takes place after the events of Doom (2016). A demonic invasion is taking place on Earth as soon as the game starts. The Doom Slayer (or Doomguy as he is colloquially known) preps himself for battle in his Fortress of Doom.

Side note: It remains unclear how he got this floating fortress in space or what happened directly after Samuel Hayden teleported him away after the first game.

What follows is a rampage. The Doom Slayer needs to take down three Hell Priests in order to stop the invasion on Earth. Once that is complete, the Slayer can focus his attention on the Khan Maykr, a highly-advanced being who is responsible for Hell’s forces taking over countless worlds in her quest to use “Hell energy” to sustain her race.

Annnnnd that’s pretty much it for plot.

I don’t know if this counts as spoilers, but the Doom Slayer accomplishes every single one of his goals. He stops the invasion by killing the Hell Priests, he defeats the Khan Maykr, and then he goes along on his merry way.

It’s a straightforward story, and I appreciate that. However, things are muddied up a tad thanks to a plethora of Codex entries. See, throughout the game, one of the items you can find and collect are these Codex pages, texts that extend your knowledge of Doom lore.

You learn about Hell’s hierarchy, the rise of the Maykr society, the fall of Argent D’Nur. It’s a bunch of cool stuff, and a lot of it is interesting. However, it can get a bit confusing, especially when coupled with the Codex entries from the first game.

For example, in the first game, Argent energy was said to come directly from Elemental Wraiths trapped in Hell. The Wraiths’ souls made a Well that stores this hellish energy, and that’s what insane and idiotic human scientists were trying to tap into as a resource.

Doom Eternal complicates the process a bit. According to new Codex entries, Argent Energy is made using energy from Sentinels and the power of tortured souls in Hell, and it is then purified by the Elemental Wraiths due to Maykr technology.

Confused?

Yeah, me too.

It’s a minor grievance though. I’m not playing Doom Eternal for the story.

My bigger story gripe actually deals with how the game handles the Slayer himself.

In the first game, players were never removed from the Slayer’s perspective. You stayed in first-person mode no matter what, always looking through the eyes of Doomguy. When he opened a door, you saw his hands appear in front of you to lift it. When he picked up a new gun, you saw him hold it up to his/your eyes to inspect.

Doom Eternal makes the dubious choice of pulling players out of Doomguy’s shoes. On occasion, there will be a cutscene, and the “camera” will float out of the Doom Slayer’s eyes and instead hover around him cinematically so you can see his body from a more remote perspective.

I’m personally not a fan of this.

Call me old school, but I liked the immersion of being the Doom Slayer from Doom (2016). I liked feeling like his actions were my actions. In Doom Eternal, I felt like I was buddy-buddy with the Doomguy instead of being him.

And to add insult to injury, they actually have the Doomguy speak at one point.

Ugh. Noooooooooooo.

I did not like that one bit. I’m not going to grab a torch and pitchfork about it, but it definitely took me out of the game to hear the Slayer suddenyl growl “Rip and tear” in a totally contrived fashion.

My final thoughts on the story would be a low-key appreciation for the multiple locations it took us to. It often felt like we (the Doom Slayer and I) were going all over the place in a short time span. That dizzy variety of places, while befuddling my grasp on plot points and objectives, did give me some great arenas.

Which leads me to my next section…

Environment

Doom (2016) had fairly bland environments. You were either on Hell or Mars, and both locations were always tinted either shades of red or shades of grey.

Doom Eternal blows its predecessor out of the water when it comes to environments.

You’ve got the devastated landscapes of Earth during the demonic invasion. You’ve got the garish colors of Urdak, the Maykrs’ home world. The fiery environs of Hell are dangerous and mesmerizing. Even the somber nature of the Sentinels’ realm stands out from the crowd.

Plus, each of these locations offers up great arenas. Since mobility is prized in Doom Eternal, the maps have to be designed to allow a greater rein of movement. There are bars to swing from, lifts to propel you into the air, and ledges you can clamber onto. These mini-arenas are all superb.

In between arenas, there are quiet moments where players can explore the area for secrets. Cheat codes, collectible figurines, and music albums to hang around your Fortress of Doom are scattered throughout Doom Eternal, and looking for them is half the fun of the game.

The one downside to the environment is the platforming. In order to break up the constant stream of combat, developers decided to include light platforming mechanics.

These suck eggs.

Maybe it’s just me, but I loathed those weird gravity lift things on Urdak that would propel you through the air. They inconsistently launched you to sections of wall that you could “climb” on. And I could never get the timing exactly right the first time around. I either messed things up with an ill-timed double-jump, aimed my body right where it didn’t need to go, or plummeted to my death after failing to properly grab onto a wall.

I do not play Doom for platforming.

‘Nuff said.

Gameplay

However, platforming brings me to my next point. See, all that jumping and climbing and launching is meant to space out how often players are dancing in an arena. You can’t have players in combat 24/7.

But combat is where Doom Eternal shines the most. It is near goddamn perfection.

It is utter bliss to be running around an arena tearing up demons. What was first presented to us in Doom (2016) has been fine-tuned in Doom Eternal. Every weapon on the weapon wheel has a purpose to take down a demon, and every demon has a weakness that can be exploited. Cacademons can swallow a grenade from your combat shotgun. Precision shots from your heavy assault rifle can eliminate a Mancubus’ arm cannons. A Whiplash can be frozen in place with an ice bomb.

In the first game, you picked your favorite weapon (cough cough Super Shotgun cough cough) and stuck with it. In Doom Eternal, you need to constantly switch out to weapons that can better help you deal with specific demonic threats.

And the demons are gorgeous visually.

I mean, they’re ugly as heck.

But they’re designed to be ugly beautifully.

Every time you shoot them, chunks of flesh are torn from their bodies, a more rewarding manner of visibly letting players know they’re doing damage than a health bar receding above their heads.

The only demons that have a health bar are the big bosses, the Gladiator, the Khan Maykr, and the Icon of Sin (kind of). Those are intense but fun fights that truly test your mettle as a gamer.

My one major gameplay gripe has to do with the Marauder.

I hate that guy.

The Marauder is an enemy type that pops up from time to time to ruin a player’s day. The big issue with him is that he operates kind of like a boss. You have to time when you attack him perfectly. His eyes will flash green right before he swipes at you, meaning you have to shoot him with a heavy duty weapon at that exact moment. He can zoom around you very quickly, utilizing a dash feature similar to the one you as the Slayer possess. However, if you try to crowd him, he pulls out a shotgun that deals a massive amount of damage in one shot. And if you try to get some distance on him, he sends a ghostly hound after you that nips at your heels until the Marauder can catch up to you.

So the Marauder forces you to stay midrange with him, doing this slow-paced gun battle as you wait for his eyes to flash green before you shoot.

This in itself isn’t a problem. However, it becomes a problem when they stick the Marauder in a regular arena situation with a bunch of other demon types around. You can’t do a one-on-one battle with him until after you’ve dealt with the other demons. The Marauder halts the otherwise seamless flow of combat present in Doom Eternal.

And don’t get me started on that time trial that includes a Marauder.

Side note: Time trials are brief timed encounters with a group of four or five demons. One of them involved a Marauder. Imma be honest, I cheesed that fight so hard. I glitched it out so I “won” the fight without having to fight him.

At its best, Doom Eternal is an intense ballet of gunplay, with players switching out between weapons and grenades to take down the endless onslaught of demons. It takes skill, which makes the game feel like a challenge to overcome.

If you’re not staying on your toes though, a fight can quickly devolve into a jumbled juggle as you try to keep an eye on your shields and health while also running around trying to take down demons with a low ammo count on all weapons.

Music

In order to make players feel like a bad-ass even while they’re struggling with the intense gameplay, Doom Eternal has given us yet another pumping soundtrack.

I have never felt so alive and empowered as when I’m listening to Mick Gordon’s genius track while shooting down a horde of demons. He accomplishes in-game magic with his music.

I never thought metal and synth would be my thing, but it has slowly become one of my go-to sounds for feeling exhilarated. I feel unstoppable when listening to it. Even if I’m dying over and over and over again.

Final Thoughts

I would never say Doom Eternal is a bad game. It’s fantastic. However, it is most definitely not a relaxing game for me. My brain has to stay on high alert whenever I play it because it is one of the most intense gameplay experiences I’ve ever gone through. It’s a game I prep myself for, and I’ll drink a cup of coffee before I pick up a controller. That’s in stark contrast to the way I’ll play something like Super Mario Odyssey, slumped on my couch with a grin and a cup of tea.

And while I’m not fond of the changes made to the way the Doom Slayer is perceived, he remains one of my most favorite video game protagonists to play as. I’m not the best gamer. I’m below Below Average if I’m telling the truth. But Doomguy has always made me feel like a bad-ass, and that’s a sure sign a game can be tough and empowering at the same time.

I rate Doom Eternal a thrill-ride-through-Hell-that-is-a-gazillion-times-more-fun-than-it-sounds-and-it-already-sounds-hella-good.

Hold Onto Your Demons: A Below Average Review For Doom Eternal Is Coming Soon(ish)

via: wired.com

My enthusiasm for the Doom series is no secret. I’ve talked about it here and here and even here. As such, a lot of you may have started to wonder why I haven’t reviewed Doom Eternal yet. The game released on March 20, 2020, which was about a month ago. That’s more than enough time to have played the entire game. So why haven’t I typed up a review for it?

Well, my dear, dear, above average readers…I’m milking this game for all it’s worth. That’s why.

During that debacle I had with Ori and the Will of the Wisps, I was forced to limit the amount of time I played the game to one hour a day. However, even though my shortened game-time was pressed upon me solely by Ori’s constraining bugs, I kind of grew to appreciate drawing out my experience with a video game.

I’m used to blazing through my favorite games at breakneck speed, a total Eager McBeaver to see the end credits roll. But I’ve realized that savoring a game makes the journey longer and sweeter, especially if it’s an enjoyable title.

That’s why I’m taking my time with Doom Eternal.

I’m collecting every item there is to collect, replaying missions after I’ve already done them once, spending inordinate amounts of time in the Ripatorium just for fun, successfully completing every challenge, fiddling around with cheats, etc. Plus, I’m still limiting how much time I spend playing games a day just to make every time I pick up a controller that much more enticing.

And I am having one hell of a time.

Pun intended.

Of course, since I’m enjoying the game so much, I’ve been dying to share my thoughts about it with you. However, I have that golden rule here that I won’t review a game until I’ve finished playing it. So you’ll just have to wait. As will I.

Seriously, I love to gush about games. It’s low-key hurting me to hold back every single thought I have about Doom Eternal.

Anywaysies, to tide us over until I do write the review, I thought I’d tell you guys the anecdote about how I got my copy of the game.

See, I had pre-ordered it at my local GameStop. And if you can recall, Doom Eternal released right as California enacted its shelter-at-home order.

I’m telling you, I have never felt so anxious to get my hands on a game. ‘Just let me have Doom Eternal,’ I prayed to every higher power I could think of. ‘Just let me get the game, and then I’ll stay inside for years if you want me to. I won’t ever leave my house. Just let me have this.

When the stay-at-home order was given, I had an opportunity that evening, (since the order didn’t go into full effect until the next day), to drive to my GameStop to try and pick up my copy early. So that’s what I did.

It was lightly raining, the sun was gone, and only a few people were to be seen. It looked bleak and grey. I left the car in a rush, the smell of wet asphalt serving to increase my anxiety levels for some reason.

Another person walked behind me, heading into the GameStop as well, a man dressed in dark colors. His brisk pace followed mine, a decent six feet between us. When we got inside, tape markings were on the floor, indicating the social distance customers were supposed to maintain. The man and I stepped on our respective spots, waiting for the one employee working to address us.

The GameStop employee was as cordial as could be, and he laughed at my transparent worry over picking up Doom Eternal. Using antibacterial gel and gloves, he found my copy and handed it to me. I took it from him reverently, thanking him profusely.

I must have looked a silly sight. I was wearing my middle school sweat pants, navy blue with white stripes on the legs, and my hot pink, long-sleeved shirt complete with hood that makes me look like Little Mac from Punch-Out!! I was grinning from ear-to-ear like a kid at Christmas. I think I might have seemed deranged.

The guy behind me, conversely, was dressed in black jeans and a black T-Shirt with grotesque cover art from some metal band on it. He was a big guy, beefy and dark-skinned, with an almost expressionless face.

As I was leaving, I brightly asked him if he was picking up Doom Eternal too.

He looked at me, not saying anything for a good, long moment. Then he smiled and said, “No, I’m getting Animal Crossing.”

Final thoughts?

The relationship between Animal Crossing and Doom fans is one of the most beautiful things to spring from this shit-show of a year so far.

Beautiful and Broken: Ori and the Will of the Wisps Review

This was perhaps one of my most difficult reviews to write.

Normally, when I love a game, a burst of enthusiasm propels me forward when typing up how I feel about it. If I hate a game, my disgust and loathing would likewise fuel my writing.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps straddles that divide.

If you read one of my previous posts, you’ll know that Ori and the Will of the Wisps burned me with game-breaking glitches and bugs that permeated the entire experience. The game actually made me cry with how broken it was.

However, I will never review a game here that I have not completed, so I made sure to power through these issues before writing a review.

And here it is.

I want to focus on the game itself for my review, but I also don’t want to ignore the bugs that plagued my playthrough. So before I dive into the game, I’m going to list the bugs I encountered and stress that when I finished playing the game (about two weeks ago), a patch had not yet gone through to address them. Do not assume they have been fixed by the time of this writing.

The bugs I came across are as follows:

  • Slowed frame rate when many enemies were on the screen
  • Glitching into walls and becoming unable to get out unless the game was restarted
  • Inability to access the main menu
  • Hiccups every time the game automatically saved
  • Freezing when opening the map
  • Triggered boss encounters causing black screen
  • Loss of audio
  • Increased poor performance if play-time exceeded two hours

That said, the rest of this review will focus on the game minus the bugs (though I may gripe every now and then). Still, do not disregard this list as it very much impacted my enjoyment of the game.

Let’s do this.

Story

Ori and the Will of the Wisps tells a touching tale very much in the same vein as its predecessor, Ori and the Blind Forest. It picks up where the first game left off, with Ori having saved his/her forest and adopted Ku, the offspring of Kuro (antagonist of Blind Forest). Ori and Ku live with their family of Naru and Gumo, spending inordinate amounts of time playing with each other, eating, and teaching Ku how to fly.

Unfortunately, Ku’s wing has been damaged since she hatched, so no matter how much she wants to, she is unable to soar like she is meant to. However, thanks to Ori holding onto one of Kuro’s feathers and Gumo’s ingenuity, they finagle a way to let Ku fly again.

During a test flight, Ori and Ku travel far beyond their home and get caught up in a storm. They land in a place called Niwen, which once had a Spirit Tree just as Ori and Ku’s land of Nibel does. Sadly, Niwen’s Spirit Tree, a willow, has fallen to decay, and the denizens of this place are prey to the vicious creatures and corruption that come with it.

It’s up to you and Ku to bring life back to Niwen and somehow make your way back home.

I do not want to spoil the conclusion, but I will say it hit me right in the feels. Even with my frustration with those glitches, the ending reminded me of why I’m a fan of Ori and his/her world and the themes that were also in Ori and the Blind Forest.

If you loved the first game, Will of the Wisps gives a satisfying conclusion (or new beginning) to Ori’s story.

Exploration

Ori and the Will of the Wisps tickled my fancy as a video game completionist. It’s as pleasant as it ever was to collect everything and see the percentage of the game completed slowly climb up.

Ori’s traversal options are expanded, and not always in the way you think. Blue moss provides sections of the map where Ori can grapple between spaces, like Spider-Man. Packed sand creates caverns where Ori must burrow through in order to reach objectives.

These new options for moving Ori around feel absolutely natural to Ori’s familiar moveset, and it does not take long to get used to.

Will of the Wisps also gives Ori a few more items to collect aside from Life, Energy, and Spirit Light. You can gather Gorlek Ore to build up your home base at Wellspring Glades. You can also collect Spirit Shards to upgrade Ori’s abilities. The collect-a-thon continues, and I loved every minute of it.

I 100% completed Ori, gathering every item, doing every side quest, and beating every encounter.

Oh, but one glitch I forgot to mention prevented me from getting the achievements related to collecting everything. So yeah…there is that.

Combat

It took me a while to get used to Will of the Wisps’ new approach to combat, but afterwards, I can recognize that it is an improvement upon the first game.

In Blind Forest, the Heart of the Spirit Tree, Sein, traveled with you. It was Sein that attacked Ori’s enemies. Sein blasted them with a dazzling light that you could upgrade over time.

In Will of the Wisps, Sein is no longer with you, leaving Ori to fend for himself/herself. As such, he/she is given an arsenal of weapons that players have to buy or collect.

This improves the combat of the game as it now requires players to pick and choose what weapons they want to use in battle. You no longer spam an attack button so much as you perfectly time a shot from an arrow, a jab from a blade, or a swing of a hammer. Combat becomes a beautiful dance that perfectly matches the manner in which Ori moves through the world.

Environment

If Ori’s movements are a sight to behold, then the environments of the game are doubly so. Every location is a work of art, beautifully rendered to convey both practical and thematic concepts to players.

In the Mouldwood Depths, the eerie yellow and blue lighting gives off a sinister vibe that all is not right in this place, and players soon learn that to go into pitch black darkness is deadly, making those glowing lights safe havens along the way.

I honestly believe the locations in Will of the Wisps are even better than they were in Blind Forest because they are so distinct from each other. Inkwater Marsh, the place where Ori first lands on Niwen, is a swampy and wooded area. Baur’s Reach is a spectacular icy world, as beautiful as it is deadly. Luma Pools feels like an alien tropical paradise, with strange pink foliage and crisp pools of water to explore.

If I could spend hours just staring at screenshots of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, I would.

New Additions

As with any good sequel, Will of the Wisps adds to the formula created in Ori and the Blind Forest. Perhaps for the first time when playing a sequel, I heartily approve of every addition.

Combat shrines are placed at certain points on the map. These Shrines give players a chance to test their skills fighting a variety of opponents. I only had supreme difficulty with one Combat Shrine, and that was because I was insisting on using a specific weapon that was, looking back, really not suited for the enemy types thrown at me.

Alongside Combat Shrines, Spirit Trials are also speckled throughout the game. These things are a bitch and a half, I shit you not. They’re basically timed races that require you to use every one of Ori’s traversal abilities to perfection. I spent more than half an hour on several of these races (because I wanted that 100% completion for the whole game). Part of the reason the bug that broke my game made me cry so much was because I lost the progress I’d made, including completing one of the Spirit Trials. Had to do the damn thing twice. However, if your game isn’t bug-riddled, Spirit Trials are basically fantastic challenges to overcome.

Ori also picks up Shards in Will of the Wisps. These Shards are what allow him/her to upgrade his/her abilities. This gave the game more of an RPG bent that I was not averse to.

Will of the Wisps gave players a central hub, in the form of Wellspring Glades, where they could relax and meet interesting characters. Populating the world with characters made the game breathe better. You no longer feel like you and Ori are alone against the world. Rather, you and Ori are handling dangerous situations for critters who, while cute, could not cut it against some of the bosses you go up against.

Speaking of bosses, yeah, Ori and the Will of the Wisps gives players boss fights. These are basically epic fights against massive creatures, complete with a mega health bar to deplete. They are way tougher than a normal enemy encounter, but they are not impossible. (I’d prefer a million boss fights to five Spirit Trials.)

Final thoughts

Honestly, the game is phenomenal. I could see that even through the tears obscuring my vision as I factory-reset my Xbox after a near-bricking bug. It challenges you as a gamer, giving you a Dark Souls-esque rush when you beat a particularly tough moment, all while being wrapped up in fantastic game mechanics and artistic visuals.

But even though my review of the game is largely positive, I can’t, in good conscience, recommend Ori and the Will of the Wisps until its issues are patched out.

I rate Ori and the Will of the Wisps a heart-breaker-because-you-can-see-how-beautiful-it-is-beneath-its-flaws-almost-as-if-someone-tore-up-Van-Gogh’s-Starry-Night-and-then-taped-it-back-together.

The Rise and Fall of the Tomb Raider: A Review of the 'Survivor Series'

While waiting for Ori and the Will of the Wisps and Doom Eternal to come out, I finally completed the Tomb Raider “Survivor” series, as the latest games from Square Enix have been called. My friend Bubba (hello, Bubba!) gifted me Shadow of the Tomb Raider a while ago, and I finally finished it.

My thoughts on the three games in the series are decidedly mixed, but for the most part, they’re positive. And as I wait for the only games I made plans to purchase this year, this is the perfect time to review these Tomb Raider games I played.

If you don’t have the time to read a lengthy review, all you need to know is that the first game is the star of the series in my opinion. It gets worse as the trilogy goes on. But, if you want to go more in-depth about each game, let’s get into it!

Story

Tomb Raider

The first game sees Lara Croft transition into her future role as the iconic Tomb Raider. She’s a young student going out into the field to test out her theories. She’s looking for the lost island of Yamatai, and she has mentors and friends accompanying her. But when her ship gets shipwrecked on the island and the situation is more hostile and mystifying than she originally thought, Lara has to survive the harrowing experience using her smarts, skills, and not a small bit of luck.

Tomb Raider excels largely because it is a beginning. Players get to experience Lara’s transition from an inexperienced and unsure explorer into the confident delver of history we know she becomes. It’s a fantastic journey to follow.

Of course, there’s a rampant case of Murphy’s Law going on, where everything that can go wrong does go wrong. Lara seemingly falls from one bad situation into the next, and it can feel like a rush of haphazardness. But this panicked type of storytelling gets the job done. It sets players on edge, heightening the peril Lara is in.

And by the time the game’s credits roll around, players are satisfied knowing that Lara’s story is only just beginning.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

The second game sees Lara a bit more experienced than in the first. She’s hot on the trail of a purported messiah, but the insidious group known as Trinity is after the same thing. Lara Croft must confront her past and her future as she is brought closer to the mystery of immortal life her father was always chasing after.

The fantastic thing about Rise of the Tomb Raider is the focus it places on Lara’s guilt surrounding her dad. Her father had an obsession with discovering this ancient culture, believed in it with a passion that drove his every waking moment, but people didn’t believe him. Lara didn’t believe him. So when he purportedly killed himself, Lara was understandably guilt-ridden.

It’s clear she’s continuing his pursuits in an effort to make up for her refusal to believe him. Obviously, there is a part of her that enjoys the discovery of artifacts and ancient history, but her father’s death is an undeniable reason for the turn her career has taken.

In the end, Lara has to reconcile doing the right thing with proving that her father was never crazy to the world. It’s a damn interesting concept, and Rise of the Tomb Raider handles it fairly well.

Another major draw of the second game’s story is that it introduces Trinity as an enemy, and having them on the field raises the stakes.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

The third game of the Tomb Raider “Survivor Series” has Lara accidentally set an apocalypse in motion.

Yeah, if you thought the stakes were high in the last game, this one really tries to lift them even higher.

While trying to stop Trinity from getting their hands on a Earth-altering artifact, Lara accidentally causes the beginning of the end of the world. She travels to South America to rectify her mistake and to see if she can’t stop Trinity once and for all.

Right off the bat, the third game has issues with Lara’s character development. The initial premise actually sets up a promising start. Lara’s obsession, eerily similar to her father’s, causes the death of hundreds of people due to floods, earthquakes, and mudslides. She has to accept the responsibility that her actions come with consequences.

But the game’s story doesn’t carry this theme through to a satisfying conclusion. Lara does not learn from her mistake, or at least you never really get the sense that she does. She saves the day doing the same thing she’s always done. Raiding tombs, shooting baddies, and hunting the shit out of the local wildlife.

Toward the end of the game, Lara has to make a sacrifice to stop the apocalypse, and for a brief moment, you get a glimpse of a weird kind of redemption. But instead of actually making the sacrifice, some hokey magic happens and…well…that’s it. Lara’s alive, her friend Jonah is alive, the apocalypse is averted, and Trinity is stopped.

Lara’s behavior is made to appear obsessive to the point of unhealthiness. And the idea that the beloved Tomb Raider is responsible for hundreds of people dying sets her up for some deep character development. But if you were hoping to see her cope with it or struggle with it, all you really see is her burying her head in her work as per usual and everything working out okay in the end.

Gameplay

Tomb Raider

The core gameplay for every one of the games in the “Survivor Series” stems from the first game. There is exploration, environmental puzzles, and combat. During exploration, Lara can find artifacts, complete challenges, and use those ever-present, video game “senses” to help her and the player locate important objects.

The puzzles involve a small amount of logic and a knowledge of how the game’s physics work. Whether you’re opening windows to allow some wind to push something out of the way or balancing carts with weights, they’re still fairly straightforward.

The combat leans toward stealth, with the bow and arrow being the preferred weapon to use in situations. The game rewards you more if you can sneak up on enemies to kill them than if you rush in guns blazing. However, there are those aggravating “action scene” moments that rely on trigger-quick reactions and QTEs to save Lara. On occasion, you might get confused trying to stealth your way through a section of the game only to realize you’re supposed to play it loud and proud. But overall, the combat is still incredibly fun.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

The second game starts to add the clutter. One of my least favorite things about sequels is when too many new mechanics are added that don’t really lend anything worthwhile to the experience.

Doom Eternal is giving me a flamethrower to incinerate demons.

Total yes.

Rise of the Tomb Raider gave me crafting.

Ehh…

I’m not against crafting in video games, but I personally felt like it didn’t add much to the Tomb Raider experience.

One of the good things Rise of the Tomb Raider added was rare animals to hunt. These intense encounters with predator animals always hyped me up. Nothing gets your blood working like a bear charging at you.

Plus, the snowy settings looked absolutely gorgeous and made the game feel different from the first based on looks alone.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

As with the story, the gameplay took a nosedive for me in the third game. The crafting was excessive, and the skill tree felt useless after a time. And do you want to know how often I used the Perception herbs to find things in the environment? Zilch, after the tutorial showing me how.

There were too many weapons available to upgrade, and they all felt the same. As a matter of fact, combat felt terrible in this final game. It became…easy. Encounters frequently relied on stealth, so much so that if you had some handy foliage and mud to cover yourself with, odds were you would survive the situation no problem. This final game became a walk in the park for me combat-wise.

The environmetal puzzle, on the other hand, did get upgraded in this game. There were plenty of times when I got stumped because I wasn’t using my noggin properly. So kudos to Shadow for that.

But you know what never makes a game fun?

Water levels.

And Shadow of the Tomb Raider added water levels. Breathing was an issue when you were trying to explore, but after a time I gave up on exploring underwater because I didn’t give a damn. (More on that later.) But even when trying to make my way from point A to point B underwater, frickin’ piranhas showed up and fucked with me.

By which I mean they ate Lara.

The manner in which you “hid” from the piranhas felt forced, and their awareness of you was hard to detect until it was too late. Once that swarm of fishies found you, you were dead meat.

And the side quests were the worst!

That’s right. Side quests.

At one point, I was asked to fetch a ceremonial horn for someone. I trotted over to the man who was suppoed to have it, but he was angry because his wife was sick and his son had gotten arrested trying to get medicine. So I walk over to where the son is held, but the guards won’t let me see him. Then I have to approach these neighborhood boys and fetch a toy they lost that’s not two feet away. The boys then feel amenable enough to distract the guards. I approach the son and tell him he’s free. I finally skip back to the horn-holder, tell him his son is safe, hand him the medicine, and then receive the horn from him.

This was by no means an interesting story, the horn didn’t really come into play in the main narrative later on, and I can’t even remember what I earned for that side mission. A feathered outfit…I think. It is a prime example of what not to do for a side quest.

But perhaps the most grievous offense Shadow of the Tomb Raider committed was getting rid of the various voice actors used for found artifacts and journals.

In the previous two games, Lara would often come across ancient writings, old journals, recorders, and other such things that told small stories of the people who had come before. Different voice actors would lend their talents to bringing these documents to life. I actually enjoyed finding these things because I was eager to hear the story of events past, the inner thoughts of a character, or a place’s history. This was one of my main reasons for exploring.

In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, gone is the cast of voices used to bring documents, journals, and records to life. Lara reads them all.

I take no issue with Lara’s voice actress. None at all. But if I wanted these documents to be read in the same voice, I might as well just read them aloud myself. Lara reading everything took away the fresh perspective those recordings should have had. They became almost pedantic in nature, and I lost all interest in the side stories they would tell.

Final Thoughts

The “Survivor” timeline of Lara Croft’s stories is serviceable, but toward the end of the trilogy it tempers my enthusiasm.

However, despite my complaints, overall, I did enjoy the series. It has its flaws, all of which became more aggravating in the third game, but the good times I had while playing were not negated by them. Just…occasionally overshadowed by them.

I rate this latest Tomb Raider franchise a fun-adventure-game-series-with-some-glaring-issues-but-still-enjoyable-nonetheless-that-is-if-you-are-okay-with-some-of-the-most-gruesome-death-scenes-in-gaming.

There Is Something WRONG with the Video Game Industry

As you can tell by the title, I’m not happy. In point of fact, I’m livid. I’ve never been angrier.

Why?

Because I’ve never been this hurt.

Let’s rewind a bit.

My early gaming days were ones of quiet receptivity. I never explored game stores or picked out intriguing titles for myself. I relied on recommendations from friends or direct sequels to games I already knew I enjoyed.

Perhaps one of the first games I ever chose to try out for myself was Ori and the Blind Forest, and I couldn’t have chosen a better game to start building my personal taste in games.

It was beautiful, it was challenging, and it was fun. In short, it was everything a good video game should be. I fell in love with the game, and the developers of Ori and the Blind Forest earned my trust with that single endeavor. I had such confidence in them and their dedication to a polished and engaging gaming experience.

So when Moon Studios and Xbox Game Studios announced a sequel, my gaming heart never soared higher. In less poetic terms, I jumped all over that shit.

I was your typical gaming fangirl, buying Ori and the Will of the Wisps shirts at conventions, hyping the game and its predecessor to all of my friends, and proclaiming loudly and proudly that I was preordering the Collector’s Edition, thereby cementing my fandom to the world.

Anybody who knows games and the industry behind them can see where this is heading. Gamers reading this can probably already foresee the reckoning that came my way.

After collecting my copy of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, I rushed home to play it. I had taken a day off from work solely to play this game. The first melodic notes from the menu uplifted my soul, but after a few minutes, the seeds of dismay were planted in my gut. The bugs were small at first, negligible. The game would hiccup every time it automatically saved. But the problems only got worse.

Too many enemies onscreen froze my game for several seconds, at one point crashing it, and shoving my nonplussed self back to the main menu. Ori glitched into a wall at one point, and with no way to get the little critter out, I had to quit and restart the game. At another time, after a spectacular death by combat trial, the game picked up again with a black screen, and only the sounds of Ori dying once more let me know the game was still going on.

But this was Ori, I kept telling myself. This was Moon Studios. So what if there are a few glitches. It’s annoying, sure, but just power through it.

And for the most part, I did.

A review on the game is (hopefully) upcoming, and it’s without a doubt a beautiful game…when it’s not breaking.

The bug that destroyed me, that finally broke me, came shortly after. It was 11pm, and after a decent three hours of playing Ori, I decided to call it a night. But the game refused to let me select the Return to Main Menu option. Flat-out refused. I could select any other thing in the pause menu, except that.

So after quitting the game using the Xbox side menu instead, I tried restarting it just to check if it was doing okay.

It wouldn’t turn on.

I would slip the disc in and wait for the game to start, the menu to appear, but there was just a black screen.

I ended up uninstalling the game, resetting my Xbox to factory settings, and reinstalling the game, only to discover that I had lost all the progress I had made in those three hours.

And so, this beautiful, broken game broke me. I was sitting on the couch at 1 in the morning, after dealing with this whole process, silently sobbing.

Before you call me a wuss or a baby or decry this as a first-world problem (which I’ll admit, it is), you have to put yourself in my shoes for a minute.

Playing video games, for me, is more than just a hobby, more than just entertainment (though it is that, too). It’s a safe space where I can forget about the world and its woes for a bit. It’s an invigorating experience that challenges me to overcome impatience in order to achieve a goal. It’s a story I dive into and experience first-hand. It’s a room where I can let out a scream of frustration every once in a while.

And a game that shatters this for me, robs me of all that it could be.

Again, I call out to fellow gamers who know this pain. The bitterness of losing hours of focus and work (yes, work, goddammit) for nothing is crippling at times.

Bare minimum, a video game is supposed to be entertaining, and when a game fails to reach that expectation it can be infuriating and depressing.

Now, glitchy games are considered a norm these days, and I knew that. But I had trusted Moon Studios and Xbox Game Studios. I had trusted them with my time, my money, my enjoyment, and with that all important space that video games create for me.

And that trust was betrayed.

I am aware I’m sounding melodramatic. If you share a love of video games, you’ll know where I’m coming from. But if this is still sounding a bit too overdone, let’s talk brass tacks then.

I paid a fairly hefty sum in advance for a product. What I received was not what I paid for. I received a bug-riddled game that halted my progress more than once, erased time spent playing due to unexpected crashes, and actually negatively affected the hardware it was playing on.

That’s more than just receiving a broken product. That’s receiving a harmful product.

In this post, I’m clearly laying the blame on both the developer, Moon Studios, and the publisher, Xbox Game Studios. The buck has to stop somewhere, and where else would it stop in this case if not the people who both made and sold the game.

However, they’re the symptom of a larger disease plaguing the video game industry.

Game companies are pushing to release poor products, expecting gamers to pay full price for something that can be fixed at a later time through updates and patches.

Bullshit, I say.

This practice is screwing us over at every turn. We shouldn’t pay for something that is broken. This is unacceptable.

And the worst part about this trend is that it hurts a game’s most dedicated fans. It hurts the people who go out of their way to buy a game on its release date, before any of those oh so helpful patches are applied. Why pay the full price for a game on the day it releases when, if you wait a year, it will have a reduced price slapped on it and will probably be updated enough so that it actually runs like it’s supposed to, am I right?

Updates and patches should be reserved for post-game content, a bonus for dedicated players who return to a game continually. They should not be used as a bandage over a gaping wound of a game that could have done with a few more days (i.e., months, even years) in development.

You know what I wish?

I wish I could invite any and every game developer and publisher who insists on fixing a broken game through patches instead of releasing a finished product to my house. Yup, I’d invite them in for sandwiches. Then I would take a shit on the sandwiches and hand those shit sandwiches back to them. And if they complained that this isn’t what they wanted, this isn’t what I promised, I would apologize. I would tell them I’d fix it, take it out of sight, scrape the shit off, and then hand the dish back to them.

Maybe then they would get the point.

My Love of Rapture: Taking a Closer Look at Bioshock

On this blog, I speak of my love for Halo so many times, but there is one game I have yet to discuss that I adore equally.

Bioshock astonished me in ways few games have since. I might have enjoyed Halo immensely, but Bioshock blew me away. It was the perfect combination of story, gameplay, and atmosphere, and I consider it to be one of the best video games of all time.

There aren’t many games I call a masterpiece, but Bioshock is one of them.

So for today, I thought I’d take a dive into why I think Bioshock deserves any and all accolades it receives.

Atmosphere Galore!

Setting matters in video games, more than you might think. In a movie, the setting is a backdrop to what goes on in the narrative, serving the story. In a video game, a setting is an actual place that players inhabit. You are surrounded by and interact with a game’s setting. If you’re not sold on a setting in a video game, you have a rough few hours of gameplay ahead of you.

Few video game settings compare to Rapture.

Rapture is the underwater city where Bioshock is set in. The place is teeming with personality. Areas aren’t just made for the sake of traversing through them. Restaurants, bathrooms, galleries, all assist in immersing the player in the world the game is creating. Rapture is so full of character, it feels like its own character.

Just by walking around, you pick up key details of the story. You absorb it through the nuances of the room you’re in, the furniture strewn about, and the advertisements that are fading on the walls. Bioshock’s story is assisted by these environmental details.

So not only is the atmosphere of Rapture entertaining, it is functional and informative. You learn about what happened in this once-glorious city before it collapsed into ruin. And the fact that it is dilapidated and slowly filling with water makes the whole experience uniquely eerie.

Seriously, if there was a walking simulator game set in Rapture, I’d be happy for hours on end.

Story from the Sidelines

The manner in which Bioshock’s story is told takes a minimalist path. Cutscenes are abandoned in favor of audio logs placed strategically in areas. Fantastic voice actors bring life to what people might have behaved like while living in Rapture. These audio logs not only give players glimpses of Rapture’s history, they can also provide helpful tips and clues on how to proceed.

In addition to these audio logs, the story is told by “objective givers,” off-screen characters that instruct the main character on what to do. While this story-telling mechanic gets overused in many video games, Bioshock’s use of this method leads to one of the best video game twists in history.

Another reason for why Bioshock’s story resonates with players so well is its connection to real-world ideologies.

Rapture is quite clearly based on Ayn Rand’s idea of objectivisim. Rand put forth the notion that man’s most moral purpose is to achieve his own happiness, and when applied to Rapture, this leads to a collection of businessmen and artists working to achieve their greatest dreams.

While this all sounds fine and dandy, and Andrew Ryan, one of the game’s antagonists, sure sells it as a noble pursuit, this kind of ideology at its core relies on selfishness. Each person is expected to do the best they can do for themselves for their own rewards.

But if an artist is living it up in Rapture, working to make great art, who is the person who cleans the floors, attends to sewage, and repairs mechanical issues? It’s clear to see why Rapture failed. Bioshock, through audio logs and contextual clues, reveals the flaws in this belief.

And it is this connection that makes the game feel emblematic of something greater than itself.

Gameplay Greatness

Bioshock mixes RPG elements with those of a first-person shooter. Players can upgrade weapons and the plasmid abilities they collect while roaming the halls of Rapture, defending themselves from the hordes of Splicers that attack.

The system encourages experimentation. Electrifying enemies before finishing them off with pistol shots buys players time. Utilizing security cameras and turrets around you can make for lethal distractions. Handy oil spills can mean some incineration is in order. Bioshock’s gameplay is all about catering to the imagination of the player as they fight their way through Rapture.

Even the system of saving (or killing) Little Sisters leaves the choice in players’ hands. Taking down the Big Daddies that guard the Little Sisters is a hefty risk, but once you get past them, you can reap a fine reward.

Plus, Bioshock slowly introduces new elements to the gameplay so that it always feels fresh. There is never a moment where it feels stagnant. Whether you’re introduced to new plasmids, new weapons, upgrades, research points, or crafting, the game has a very natural progression that keeps it feeling like a challenge.

Final Thoughts

I’ll frequently recommend games if I enjoy them. There’s nothing I love more than being able to share something I loved with another person.

But that’s a very subjective process, because a game I enjoyed wouldn’t necessarily tickle someone else’s fancy.

However, Bioshock is an absolute must for a gamer period. No matter your taste, it is an exemplary model of what video games can achieve when separate elements within them reach perfect harmony.

I rate Bioshock an instant-classic-to-anybody-who-has-played-a-video-game.

In Defense of the Let’s Play

Yes, this is me.

I don’t actually watch that much television. Growing up, my parents never got cable, so watching a show regularly was a thing unheard of. As I’ve grown older, though I now have access to things like Netflix, HBO, and Disney+, I still don’t watch that much television.

Or at least not what you would consider to be regular television.

Instead, I binge Let’s Plays on YouTube. I watch hours upon hours of them.

For those of you not in the know, a Let’s Play is a video where you can watch someone else play a video game.

Typing that out just now, it sounds stupid. I guess I can understand why there are people who scoff at the notion of Let’s Plays.

But I’m here today to speak in defense of Let’s Plays.

A good Let’s Play is always either informative and engrossing or comedic and entertaining. Some people watch Let’s Plays to learn more about a specific video game. Others watch it for the friendly factor of seeing someone goof up a video game.

I’m personally one of the latter.

There is nothing I like more than experiencing a video game with another person. Sadly, not everyone who is my friend is willing to sit for about fifteen hours to complete a video game with me. So I treasure the few moments I can get.

There is a specific and unique enjoyment I get from watching someone experience a video game for the first time, whether it’s seeing them delight in the same things I delight in, get the pants scared off of them, or cry at a particularly sorrowful moment.

So without having to kidnap and force my friends to play video games for me, a Let’s Play satisfies that itch.

Detractors of the Let’s Play usually say one of three things about them. The first is that it’s an incredibly boring experience to watch someone else play a video game. If you like video games, they say, why not just pick it up and play it yourself?

To which I say, sure, tell all those sports fans out there that in instead of enjoying watching a game, they should all go out and play sports professionally. Go on. Tell them.

Another issue these naysayers will bring up is the “copyright” issue. People who stream or record themselves playing video games are making money off of the material in the game instead of producing original content themselves. If you’ve seen any of the popular Let’s Players out there, you know that’s not necessarily true. The good ones bring a hefty dose of personality with them when they play. They’re almost like professional comedians. It’s a performance, and I’d say they do work to rake in those views.

The final thing I hear people complain about is how a Let’s Play deters players from buying games. If a person sees someone else play a video game, there’s no reason for them to purchase the game for themselves.

Well, I’m living proof that this is not true.

Sometimes I’m not sure about purchasing a new game unless I know I will like it. Call me stingy, but these durned video games are expensive. Before investing in a game, it’s important to know if I’ll actually enjoy playing the damn thing. A Let’s Play provides me with an extended glimpse into what gameplay is like, even more than a game review.

Also, I’m a giant pussy when it comes to horror games. Call me a coward, but I like to know when scares will happen or if a game is too frightening for me before I buy it. A Let’s Play not only allows me to observe when a jump-scare occurs, but it leaves me with lasting, funny impressions of when the Let’s Player got scared. In a way, their fear lessens my own.

And, on occasion, I watch Let’s Plays of games I could never even hope to buy because they’re for a console or machine that I don’t own.

Conversely, I also enjoy watching Let’s Plays of games I’ve already bought and played myself. (I’m a big rewatcher/replayer/rereader of things.)

Lastly, Let’s Plays have even turned me on to games I would never have even looked at had a favorite Let’s Player not taken the time to play it for their audience (namely me).

So, as my final piece of evidence in defense of the Let’s Play, here are just a fraction of the games I have played thanks in part to a Let’s Play.

Red Dead Redemption II: Yup, that game I loved so much I wrote a two part review for it, that game came into my possession because of a Let’s Play. I was super on the fence about it, especially after hearing it was a prequel. I knew it would be a long game and wasn’t sure I’d want to commit to it. I watched a Let’s Player start the game and fell in love with the look of everything. And after seeing the horse riding mechanics, RDR2 had me hook, line, and sinker.

Alien: Isolation: I was always a big fan of the Alien franchise, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about this new game. Want to know why? Because normally these games are shooters! They follow in the vein of James Cameron’s Aliens. And that wasn’t what I wanted from an Alien video game experience. Upon watching a playthrough of Alien: Isolation, I saw that the exact opposite was true. This game took inspiration solely from Ridley Scott’s Alien, and I couldn’t have been happier.

Ori and the Blind Forest: Not much was done to market Ori and the Blind Forest, so I had no clue about the game’s existence until one of my favorite Let’s Players picked it up. It looked interesting, and I watched the playthrough on a whim. Now it’s one of my favorite games (so much so that I bought the Definitive Edition), and its sequel is one of my most anticipated games of the new year.

Soma: I knew Soma would be made by the developers who did Amnesia: The Dark Descent. So even though I was very intrigued by it, I was a scaredy-cat when it came to actually playing it. By watching a Let’s Play of it, I was able to be assured that I could handle its brand of terror. (It helps that there’s essentially a no-dying mode.)

Telltale’s The Walking Dead: This game was everywhere on the Let’s Play scene when it first came out, and it’s easy to understand why. Its narrative-driven gameplay and branching dialogue options made it a game that was engrossing to go through multiple times. After watching someone play it, I bought it myself and went through the whole adventure again. Only this time, I made the *cough cough* right choices.

Waiting on a Prayer for Doom Eternal

Imagine you’re at a restaurant, and you’re about to eat your favorite meal. The savory dish is sending off aromatic scents that make your stomach rumble. You pick up your fork, about to plunge it into your food…

…but then it is snatched away before you can take even a single bite!

That disappointment you’re imagining, that’s basically me when I found out that Doom Eternal was going to be pushed off for three whole months.

We were so close, you guys. So close. Doom Eternal was set to release on November 22. I had pre-ordered it and already cleared an entire day of work with my boss so that I could spend it playing my most anticipated game of the year.

And now I have to wait till March!

Side note: Yes, I’m aware this is very much a first-world problem.

I don’t buy games often. I usually prefer to spend my time replaying games that I already have in my library. On average, I purchase about two games a year. Since it’s so rare when I buy a game, I take the selection and purchasing process very seriously. I like to know ahead of time that I’m going to enjoy the game I spend my money on.

Doom Eternal was going to be one of those games for me this year. I’d played the demo at E3, so I’d had concrete evidence that the game could potentially be the best thing my console ever ran.

And now I have to wait.

Three months doesn’t seem like much, and in retrospect, I am totally making a mountain out of a molehill. But it has seriously derailed my Thanksgiving plans. Now, I don’t have a valid excuse to laze away the beginning of my holidays.

In addition to that, I now feel worried about the status of the game. I originally had so much faith in the developers, but this news that they’ve pushed off the release has me anxious about why they need those three extra months. What bugs do they meed to fix? What glitches are permeating the game? Are they trying to add last-minute features? These thoughts are all crowding around in my head and I can’t get rid of them.

More optimistic fans take this delay as a good sign. They say that the developers are making sure that when the game releases, it is a polished, finished product. But what amount of polishing, the pessimist in me replies, could they accomplish in three months?

Instead of letting my worries consume me, I’m trying to fill my gaming hours with intensive sessions. I’m trying to burn away all the Doom Eternal longings I have within me.

I’m also buying unnecessary toys related to the franchise at my merest whim as a sort of consolation.

Hey, we all have ways to cope.

We Were Here Review!

I have a friend named Fro who gets sent to these awful assignments in San Francisco as part of his work. While it majorly sucks that he’s sent there for weeks, it does make for some great Xbox Live playtime.

A few days ago, we thought we’d try out one of the games that was offered for free on Xbox Live Gold. It was titled We Were Here, and neither of us knew much about it except that it was an online co-op experience.

So, we both thought, ‘Why the hell not?’

What followed was the most enjoyable three hours I’ve ever spent playing a video game.

The controls are simple and easy to learn. The game is played in first person, so you have the typical configuration of right and left sticks controlling the camera and movement respectively. There are a crouch and a jump button, but since the game’s not a platformer, you don’t have to worry about those too much. A button to pick up items is the most important control, followed by the delightful walkie-talkie button.

That’s right, folks. The game insists that you abandon that Xbox Live party since the game’s in-chat system is an integral mechanic. The two players have to radio each other, using a bumper to pull up a radio that they speak into. Only one person can talk at a time, and in a game where the two of you are separated for the entirety of the game, communication is key.

In essence, We Were Here is a puzzle game. It was developed by Total Mayhem Games, and I’m so surprised no one else has struck the gold they did with this game concept. If I were to try and describe it in a single sentence, I’d say it’s an escape room in video game form.

One player is the explorer, and they have to make their way through a confusing and treacherous castle. The other player is the librarian, and they’re stuck in a room with charts, books, projectors, and paintings that can help the explorer on their journey.

Together, the two of you have to escape.

This game is absolutely delightful. I had a blast playing it, and I can’t say I’ve had the same experience while playing any other game.

It’s challenging, but not too hard, finding that perfect balance between testing your brain and breaking it. It really and truly relies on communication because the explorer and the librarian do not know what the other is seeing unless they’re told.

Fro and I actually had to say, “over” after we were done speaking so that we didn’t clog up the line of communication and speak over each other. And we really brushed up on our…describing skills.

Plus, the game has a touch of fright. When the explorer is in a certain area, some kind of monster haunts the hallways. Fro started flipping out over the walkie-talkie when he saw it, since he was the explorer, and I was just safely in my little library trying to help him out.

The ending to the game would be my only gripe, but I’m not going to say what it is so that I don’t spoil it for anyone. Let’s just say it leaves you thinking there’s more, when there isn’t. (Unless there is!)

We Were Here was perfect for a single sitting-game session. It’s available on Xbox and on PC. If you get it, I can guarantee you won’t regret it. Just be sure to play with a friend.

I rate We Were Here a play-with-a-person-you-know-and-can-joke-with-and-it-also-wouldn’t-hurt-if-they’re-on-the-intelligent-side.

Gears 5 Review: Balancing on a Lancer’s Chainsaw

I first picked up Gears of War 3 because I was bored. I knew nothing about the game except that it involved beefy muscle-men shooting up these alien-looking creatures. Little did I expect to be drawn in by the lunky cover-based mechanics and absolutely awesome co-op nature of the game.

I ended up playing Gear of War 4 on the first day it came out (which led to a very hilarious midnight game time with my friend Bubba), and this prepped me for being fully thrilled for Gears 5.

Plus, as I haven’t been shy about posting here, I went to E3 this past summer. The previews for what Gears 5 would be had me super excited in LA. It was no Doom Eternal in terms of my pumped levels, but I was still looking forward to it.

Fast forward to the day it released, and I downloaded it and started playing it immediately. I was totally fresh when it came to the game, no prejudices, I swear. (Well, except for some lingering confusion as to why they shortened the name from “Gears of War” to just “Gears.”)

My final thoughts? There is a lot to like about Gears 5, but it is plagued by some truly frustrating moments.

Now, bear in mind that I’m a campaign gal. I’m not a very good judge of multiplayer aside from “that was fun” or “that totally sucked.” So this review is going to focus on the story mode.

On that note…SPOILER WARNING!

Let’s start with the gameplay first.

Gear 5 played better (at least for me, your Below Average reviewer) than Gears of War 4. Something about the controls felt less clunky, more fluid than its predecessor. My character moved faster (except when slowed by an obligatory story moment). Since I’m a predominantly first-person shooter player, I’m not always used to the heaviness of an over-the-shoulder, third-person shooter. It takes me a while to get used to it. I was able to acclimate to Gears 5 more smoothly than the other two Gears games I played.

The guns also felt wonderfully unique.

Anybody here play Halo 5: Guardians? While playing that game, I couldn’t help being bored with the weapon selection. They all felt so…similar. That wasn’t an issue for me in Gears 5. The Lancer felt different from the Hammerburst. The Gnasher felt different from the Overkill. The Boltok felt different from the Snub.

Side note: Fuck the Snub Pistol. I hate that thing.

Aside from the cool reload mini-game, I looked forward to using each weapon, at least once to try it out, just to see how unique it would feel.

And when you get to know the cover mechanics (and you stop running out like a fool playing Doom), the game is thoroughly enjoyable. You pop in and out of cover, blast the Swarm with your bullets, spikes, or shrapnel, dive to the next spot of cover, and then repeat. It’s all very fun.

But wait, you may say. All of this was in the previous Gears game. How did Gears 5 up the ante?

Well, they threw super powers into the mix.

The main characters get an AI robot buddy named Jack to fight alongside them, and he gives them perks during a battle. Some of these perks are passive upgrades to Jack himself, things that will help him survive. Others are more aggressive.

With Jack by your side, you can let out a Pulse to highlight enemies that are behind cover. You can send out a Flash to stun them out of cover. You can even create a little Shock Trap for them to stumble onto. I think you get the gist of these things.

During the campaign, you can collect components to upgrade these abilities, which provides players with more of an incentive to explore than simple collectibles. And the abilities do end up proving useful when you’re in a pitched battle with Swarm soldiers and Snatchers surrounding you.

But those cooldowns are insanely long.

Please tell me it wasn’t just me. I mean, I spent the components necessary to shorten the timer on those abilities, but I seriously felt those things took forever to recharge. You’d think with all the improvements to technology going on, Baird would have figured out a way to make those cooldowns shorter.

But whatever, that’s not my major complaint with Gears 5. The only thing those long cooldowns truly gave me was more time relying on my own weapons, which is not a bad thing in and of itself.

Let’s move on to the story bits.

Bottom line, Gears 5’s story works. It does its job. As a matter of fact, it worked better than I thought it would. Why? Because the story doesn’t just rely on Kait’s descent into Locust madness like I thought it would. The emotional focus of the story centers on regret and friendship, and those two hefty themes can carry the game to the moon and beyond, especially with that dialogue.

Despite myself, I found myself guffawing along with the hardeeharhar wit and bravado that accompanies a Gears game.

And damn it if I didn’t start liking Fahz by the end of the game. I normally hate the stereotypical douche-bag character, but he won me over. Don’t know how that happened. Probably the dialogue’s doing.

And Jack’s an interesting addition to the story as well as to the gameplay. Though I do wonder why Swarm Leeches never decided to infect and take over Jack when every other machine was being possessed.

Kait’s discoveries and struggles are mesmerizing, engrossing as heck, but they do feel a little vague. I’m still not one hundred percent clear why her dead mom was in her brain and how this strange incarnation of her ended up getting released, but I’m not going to complain too much about the fiction part of my science-fiction game.

What really interested me in terms of story coalesces at the very end, with that terrible choice the developers have you make.

Here’s some brief backstory for those of you not in the know:

The three main characters, Kait, Del, and JD, are the closest of friends. You get the sense of that in Gears of War 4 and in the beginning chapters of Gears 5. But JD makes some very poor decisions (for the right reasons), and it actually damages him physically and emotionally. He cuts himself off from Kait and Del, becoming a pseudo-jerk like Fahz. This results in the majority of the game being about Del and Kait on their adventure. Toward the end, JD reconciles with his two friends, and you three tackle the final mission together. It’s a strange sort of redemption story.

And that’s when Gears 5 kicks you in the balls.

Kait’s mother/not-mother wraps her tentacles around both Del and JD’s throats, and for the first time I can recall in a Gears game, you have to choose which character lives or dies.

Side note: You do this by choosing which tentacle to chuck a sword at, the one holding Del or the one holding JD. Don’t know why you couldn’t just chuck it at Kait’s mom’s face.

And this is not some phoney-bologna choice. Whoever you don’t pick to live, dies. I panicked like a chicken without its head when I had to make this choice. I ended up saving Del, because he was my broski for most of the game, and it would have been terrible to just let him die.

But then I had to contend with the fact that I let Marcus Fenix’s son die. Marcus’ face (yes, his computer-animated face) had me writhing in shame and guilt.

Side note: Yes, I do plan to play the game again and have JD live, so I have a save file with each option.

Anyways, it is a ton of fun experiencing Gears 5 with another person by your side, and it tickles me pink that you can play it with three people couch co-op style.

However, this is also where I ran into major problems with the game.

More than once, scripted in-game events failed to occur, leaving me and my partner stranded in this interminable moment of time. We had no choice but to restart from our last checkpoint. For example, I once got stuck under a downed helicopter, and my partner’s character had to go down some stairs and reach me before I got swarmed with Swarm. We didn’t realize this at the time, but a Juvie is supposed to leap on top of my character and start pounding at me once my partner’s character got close enough to save me. After shooting it, there’s a small mini-cutscene where my character is helped up.

Unfortunately for us, the Juvie never showed, so my partner and I spent a good fifteen minutes wondering how he was supposed to help me up. He walked around my character (who lay on the ground chilling) pressing every button under the sun, hoping he could activate some kind of assist.

Another problem that plagued my playthrough were missing character models.

You guys know that fight with the Matriarch that happens in the ice level? For the intro, she’s just missing from the cutscene. And when the gameplay starts up, she can be found on the complete other side of the room.

We also had those moments where Kait or Del looked like they were holding their weapons, but their weapons were playing the invisibility game. Nothing screams polish like a missing weapon model, am I right?

Ugh, and don’t get me started on those wind storms.

Look, I liked the idea of making the game open-world-esque, but if you’re going to include skiff-traversable areas, could you not populate them with bullshit storms? I could hardly control the vehicle, the fake dust obscured my entire screen, and THE RANDOM LIGHTNING STRIKES KILLED ME MORE THAN THE SWARM!

Maybe I’m being salty, but I don’t think that skiff handled well. And it definitely didn’t handle well in the middle of a wind/lightning storm in zero-visibility conditions.

All of the gripes I have against the game, however, didn’t really spoil my enjoyment of it. Gears 5 luckily struck a fine balance for me, between laughably glitchy, truly engrossing, and damnably entertaining.

Though it’s kind of an unfortunate reality gamers have to put up with these days that big titles will inevitably release with more bugs than Million Ants.

I rate Gears 5 a fun-update-to=the-Gears-franchise-that-has-a-few-issues-but-when-it-succeeds-it-really-succeeds-and-no-one-can-deny-the-pleasure-of-Lancering-Swarm-in-the-face.