Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Review

A game that is far better than it had any reason to be.

Normally prequels, whether in games or in movies, aren’t welcomed or worthwhile. This game breaks that stigma. The story line of Life is Strange: Before the Storm takes place before the events of the original Life is Strange but after the plot point of Max leaving Arcadia Bay. This setup left many people upset because the main character of the original would not be in the game. Mentions by Chloe are the only ghosts of Max even existing. Fans were left with the idea of playing as Chloe, who was a beloved character, but not the main focus that they had been endeared to . This character shift made it hard for some to accept playing a game that covers material that has somewhat been detailed in a game they have already played.

As someone who had these exact concerns, it can be said that they were laid to rest almost immediately. Not long into the game that groove of walking around, inspecting things felt homey and familiar. Along with that, seeing sites and faces that you know made it feel like you were back in Life is Strange. Playing as Chloe became natural as her story started rolling out. That tough as nails on the outside but brittle as glass  on the inside persona played out in heartbreaking tones. If it can make a forty year-old man like myself feel empathy for a teenage girl then I have to say they did a fine job. As I played through the game, I forgot what happens to Chloe in the original game and fell into what was happening to her in Before the Storm. It was only after I had finished the game that I took time to process it and piece even more things together.

Of course, I’ll never be one to say a game is perfect. The gameplay was a bit flustering at times when you don’t get the prompt to inspect an item. Many times the solution was just to backup, walk around a bit, then walk back up to the object. This could have been me as much as anything as I am anything but a master with the keyboard and mouse when gaming. A few times throughout the game I felt like there were some gaps in the plot and it made jumps that I didn’t feel were quite right. The possibility exists that I just missed something and there were explanations I missed. What I had the most dislike of was the ‘backtalk’ system that was employed. It was supposed to be a way of Chloe using her wit to get her way but it turned into a word match game. Just listen to the last thing the other person says and pick the response that has one of the same words in it, instant win. It took away from playing the argument the way you felt it should have gone making it feel guided and somewhat pointless.

Whether you are new to Life is Strange or coming into it new this game is well worth the play time. Unfortunately it released amongst controversy that took away from how well the game was made. Not only was there the issue of being a prequel, the game was developed by a different studio and lacked Chloe’s original voice actress. The game should be recognized and enjoyed for its own merit, not any issues that surrounded it.

If the game had released its final episode earlier it would have earned a high place on my GOTY list for 2017.

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Paul Novak

Owner, Proprietor, Typer of Words, Gamer, Jester

A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.

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It’s the Freakin’ Weekend! What are You Playing?

Friday! Video games! Let’s talk!

With Brad out enjoying the upper west coast I’ll be posting for the week.(Send me a post card… or maybe just a picture of a postcard that is a picture of Seattle)

It’s a holiday weekend and likely almost everybody will be spending time with friends and family. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be time for gaming. Perhaps there could be some gaming with the aforementioned friends and family?

As for my plans, well… they aren’t that exciting. I’m on-call for the holiday and really won’t get to do much(I know, I’m making you jealous). What time I will have available will be spent on some single player stuff, that way if I get interrupted by work it won’t be a big bother to my game progress. I’ll be playing things like…

Star Wars Battlefront II – Stop rolling your eyes at me. The shooter aspects of the game are well done and it is Star Wars after all. My hopes are that the Resurrection story piece they added will somehow, some way make the story at least feel more complete if not better. My expectations are low but I’m going to give it a chance.

Far Cry 4 – This game has been sitting on my shelf for months and I just can’t get myself to play it much. I spent a couple hours a few weeks ago on it but just couldn’t stick with it. The main story was good but I didn’t like all the side stuff, it just felt like the game was constantly distracting me. This is my test to see if I want Far Cry 5 when it lands next year. So far, not so much.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm – This is the first order on my gaming list. About two weeks ago it was on sale on Steam and I decided to buy it. By all accounts I have to agree that this game should not be as good as it is… but it is. The final episode just released a few days ago and I’ve forced myself not to play it yet just so I have it for this weekend. I want to see how they wrap this up but I don’t want it to be over.

What will you be playing??? Is there something on your wish list that you’re hoping Santa gives you???

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Paul Novak

Owner, Proprietor, Typer of Words, Gamer, Jester

A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.

Passing Thoughts – PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS on Xbox One

This game is a janky mess and that may be part of it’s delight.

The last-man-standing shooter has been out on pc  for several months in its early access form and it comes to Xbox One under the game preview program. That should have set the tone for what was to come but some put their expectations higher than they should have. Given all the issues the pc version had at launch I made the logical assumption that it would have similar, if not the same, issues when arriving on Xbox One. The forward looking hope is that, much like the pc development, many of the issues will be resolved in time with patches. My first two games of PLAYERUNKNOWN’s BATTLEGROUNDS were proof of problems in the game but were drastically different in how they played out.

The first game seemed doomed before it even began. The character creator was barely usable and I am now stuck with a character that looks nothing like what I would have wanted. The issues continued and worsened as I entered the match. As soon as I spawned on the game’s starting island there were noticeable frame drops and extreme input lag. Running around the area was problematic given that other players would just randomly form in front of you. At times I wasn’t sure if I stopped moving because my controls were not responding or if I had run into another player spawning.

As the match began the problems continued. While on the plane the audio was so choppy I wasn’t even sure what the sound was supposed to be. To get a way from that I jumped from the plane as soon as possible. That put me on the south side of the island and I settled on a small grouping of houses near the shore for my landing point, that was after all of the ground level objects drew in. When my parachute popped I found out just how bad my controls were lagging. There was almost no control of my descent at this point as my character helplessly drifted and my controls randomly responded. Instead of the group of houses, my landing point was a small beach at the bottom on a cliff well below the houses. To make matters worse there was no way to traverse the cliff. The only option became swimming west until there was a larger beach. This took almost all the time given for looting before the initial contraction of the playing circle.

Already running behind, I found an operable vehicle and drove to get my unarmed character within the circle before it closed in on me. Driving proved to be a problem with the control issues I was having and I proceeded to run into several trees. That was ok and I drove on aiming for several small structures just within the circle. I knew my end would come soon as I drove up to the building and another player began shooting in my direction. Rather than attempting to flee, I chose to run straight toward disaster and the other player. Up the stairs and into the room I went and I went in swinging. After landing a few punches in what was the most inelegant of dances, the other player got position on me and proceeded to make short order of me with his gun. My final place was approximately #67.

After a few hours, I decided to give the game another shot. Upon loading there was a remarkable difference in performance. Controls were working. Frames weren’t dropping. There still seemed to be an odd, washed out look to the screen but it wasn’t near as bad as the first game.  We load into the plane and I make the jump. This time I pick a crop of houses slightly north of my previous destination, just to be sure I don’t encounter that cliff again. Before hitting the ground I notice another player descending near me but he and I must have had the same notion as we began to steer in opposite directions. Safely on the ground, it was time to start looting. Things weren’t looking good when I found one pistol, two shotguns, and tons of ammo. Determined not to give up, I pressed into other houses eventually collecting an SMG, then an assault rifle along with a vest and helmet. I was getting fortified.

After making my way house to house in my quest for loot I slowly found that the circle was drawing me back to where I started. At one point I saw a car dry by but they did stop. Then gun shots in the distance. The circle kept getting smaller. Quickly I found myself falling behind and briefly outside of the circle. I had to keep running. Steadily the play count diminished. Before I knew it the count was under twenty. I ran by two players in vehicles do a mock demolition derby. Certainly either of them could have mowed me down but I passed by unscathed. Then the count suddenly became ten and I thought to myself “Good run, pretty proud”.

For a moment a shack served as a haven but then the circle forced me out. While I was running from my shelter, away from the blue wall, I could hear gun shots all around. The player count was now four. I was still one of them. A tree was my only protection and I fell prone to hide my location. More gun shots, then even more as the circle closed in on all of us. To stay in the circle I tried to crawl around the tree but fate would not let me and I clipped into the tree. Worst case scenario in the given circumstances but I escaped after what was surely a few second but felt like an eternity. Somehow I became locked in first-person mode and not able to switch back to the third person view I had played in until this point.

To my left, another player. The player count dropped to three. From my prone position I made the decision to give away my position and take fire at the other player. Taking aim as he looked in another direction, likely looking for myself or the other surviving foe, I pulled my trigger. I pulled the trigger again. Headshot, my first kill. No time to celebrate, I had been wounded previously by the blue wall and needed to heal. As fast as I could I fumbled through the inventory for a medkit and applied it. Shots are fired but not by me. My opponent either has my location or is firing wildly. I cannot be sure of which. The circle contracts and I hear more shots fired. I try to move to see anything resembling another player. Three final shots fire and the victory screen displays.

Forlorn, I drop my hands still grasping at my controller and close my eyes. “It was a good run. One I may never be able to do again and never expected in the first place.”, I thought to myself. I open my eyes, lay the controller on my desk, and read the screen… it is my name showing as the victor. I had won the chicken dinner! In shear disbelief and astonishment I gazed at the screen. Then in a panic I tried to take a screen capture but in my state of excitement I couldn’t remember how. Grabbing my phone I took a picture of the screen. Trying again for a true screenshot I fumbled with my controller again this time succeeding and securing proof of my victory. With my heart pounding and my mind swimming I soaked in my victory.

The tension of playing and the euphoria of winning almost make all of the issues with the game seem forgivable. Even with that said, the game needs fixed. Dropped frames and washed out screens are no way to play any game. The first patch has already helped. One of the easily noticed fixes is the fact that the marker for your location is easier to find on the map. Steady improvements will help this game keep growing and the fact that it has already sold well over one million copies shows people want to play it.

When this game debuted I never thought I would want to play it. Yet here I am, all this time later, excited about it and wanting more. It’s not even about winning. As thrilling as that first chicken dinner was and the fact that I’d like more, it isn’t even why I want to keep playing. It is more about those moments of tension and strategy mixed in with dumb luck and circumstance that give the game life for me. Here is to PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS and all that it can be.

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Paul Novak

Owner, Proprietor, Typer of Words, Gamer, Jester

A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.

2017 Game of the Year!

2017 turned out to be a fine year for video games. At the beginning of the year I thought the year wasn’t going to have much at all but we got a surprising good crop of games. With that though came some duds and we have to talk about those as well.

Let’s look at the games of 2017…

Honorable Mention – PlayerUnkown’s BattleGrounds

This game makes my list despite breaking two of my cardinal rules for being on the list. 1. The game is not officially released and is still in early access. 2. I have not played the game. Even with those factors I wanted to mention the game since it has been so immensely popular. I’ve watched a lot of other people play this game and I see where the draw is. I plan on jumping into it when it comes to the Xbox One platform. The closest game I played is the Fornite Battle Royale that is likely the first of many clones. The game is supposed to get a full release on pc before the end of the year so I’m ok with having it on a 2017 game list.

Dishonorable Mention – Materfall

With Housemarque moving away from arcade shooters Matterfall is a sad end to a glorious run of games. This game fell short for me and I never even finished it. There were too many systems for my feeble mind to comprehend much less master. The graphics and sound were delightful but they didn’t outweigh my frustration with the gameplay and unforgiving checkpoints.

Hot Mess – Star Wars: Battlefront II

For the vast majority of the year I was certain Mass Effect: Andromeda had a lock on this. Then Battlefront II gets released and the world gets an even bigger disaster from EA. How EA had two disasters of this magnitude in the same year still confounds me. The saga isn’t even over yet which makes it even more astounding. It should have been a simple formula to make this game a success. They needed two things: 1. Add a campaign, 2. Clean up the multiplayer system. Both of these actually made the game worse than the original. The fact that the campaign was short isn’t as big of deal as the fact that it was bad. The loot and card systems in the multiplayer are just atrocious and unfair. The controversy got the microtransactions turned off but EA will be turning them back on as soon as they can justifiably do so. The longer standing problem is the attention and ire the entire situation may have brought upon the industry. If countries do declare loot boxes to be gambling, which some have, and decide it must be regulated as such look for a huge change in how video games are monetized.

What A Let Down – Destiny 2

When I think of this game I think to myself “what could have been?”. Having played hundreds of hours of the original I just wanted Destiny 2 to be more of original Destiny with a few improvements. Maybe it’s me but much like Battlefront 2, Destiny 2 failed two key things: 1. Improve the story, 2. Improve the reward system. Bungie made the story longer and told it better but it still wasn’t a good story. It didn’t really tell much about the universe and by the end of it I probably understood less than when I began it. Then there is the reward system and the fact that they actually added different currencies rather than reducing the number from the original game. Add to that we find out that they were metering XP gain. I dropped off playing this game a few weeks after it released and I make no plans to return to it even with the DLC releasing soon.

Sigh…. Mass Effect: Andromeda

Again, what could have been. With the Shepard narrative over and the series going to a different part of the galaxy the slate was clear for Mass Effect: Andromeda to do great things. What we ended up with was a broken game with an incomplete story. It took too long to get interesting, made wild jumps at times, and ended awkwardly with too many loose ends. Said loose end may have been left that way for DLC but we’ll never get that since the series has been put on “hiatus” by Bioware. The game wasn’t as bad as it was panned for and it makes me sad that there will be no Mass Effect for years to come, if ever.

Good Times – Nex Machina

It was fun but short game that you could jump in and out of and have a good time with. I played through it several times and enjoyed each run through.

Longest Title – Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy The Telltale Series

Much like the movies it has great characters and an amazing sound track. Unlike the movies the narrative from this game is completely separate and handles some events and characters completely differently. That made it a bit hard to swallow but it mostly held up on its own.

More than a Side Story – Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Naughty Dog may be done with Uncharted but if somebody else wants to do more of this I’m interested in it. This spin-off with two of the female characters was true to the Uncharted charm but also brought its own. There could be more in this series and I sincerely hope there is.

A Sequel with No Equal – South Park: The Fractured But Whole

Every time this game got delayed I worried. Much like The Stick of Truth, The Fractured But Whole had numerous development issues and delays. Then again, just like its predecessor this game turned out to be a gem. It was a fan service in many ways but never leaned on it too hard. The entire game was a blast to play and I’m not sure I want another sequel but I wasn’t sure I wanted this one.

Almost Number One – NieR Automata

A game that wasn’t even on my radar until well after its release made a strong case to be my game of the year for 2017.  The environment is not the most impressive you’ll see but it adds to the overall feel of the game. The ground doesn’t look very good and some of the character models are simplistic but the style it is all done in makes it work. The depth of the story and the strings that it pulls make the game something special. The characters draw you in and you’ll want to learn everything you can about them. What keeps the game at my secondary spot is the story and combat. As beautiful and moving as the story is at points it can be hard to follow. Multiple play-throughs help but there is always the sense that I don’t quite understand everything in the game. The combat was the biggest issue I had with the game. Almost immediately I dumbed it down to the easiest level because it was frustrating to not be able to advance in a game that I was playing purely for the story. Even after getting seven of the endings(ABCGHTW if you’re curious) I still think about going back to see more.

The Very Best of 2017 – Horizon Zero Dawn

Not only is this the best game I played this year it may likely be one of the best I’ve ever played. The environment is rich and alive everywhere you go. I spent hours exploring even taking the time to walk to points between missions rather than fast travel just so I could spend more time in the game. I won’t claim it is perfect though, there were a few boss fights that I may have approached wrong but they were frustrating just the same. Those few times did not hinder my adoration of this game due to its story and character. At first I didn’t care for Aloy but as they matured her character through the story I was hooked. If I can spare the time, I want to do game+ play through just so I can do it all over again.

That is it, no more games. Ever. Just kidding. With the year winding down I’m probably done playing any more releases from this year. Yakuza 0 was high on my list but I just don’t have enough interest in it to want to play it despite all the good things I hear about. Life is Strange: Before the Storm and Batman: The Enemy Within are on my radar but I’ll wait for all the episodes to be out before I play either of them.

Looking at my list and the order I’ve placed all these games I must admit I’m a bit surprised. Normally I go for shooters but they don’t dominate my list this year. In fact, the shooters were some of the biggest disappointments this year.

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Paul Novak

Owner, Proprietor, Typer of Words, Gamer, Jester

A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.

Star Wars: Battlefront II – Review

Image via dualshockers.com

This is not the Star Wars game you are looking for.

Returning to the Star Wars universe with a new Battlefront game should have been a glorious occasion. However, that is by far not the case. The choices made by the developers and EA have tragically mired what could have been a great game into a state of failure that it is likely to never recover from. The talk will focus on the microtransactions but the problems are much deeper.

One of the main gripes of the previous game was the lack of a proper campaign. You can check that one off with this game but you can add a few strikes against the game for it as well. Some have called it “poorly written fan fiction” and I’m not sure that is inaccurate. The story starts out in a strange place and never steadies itself. In fact it becomes more confusing when not only does the main character switch alliances but you also end up playing as other characters several times. Even the task you are sent out to do in the story don’t fit together. There is the sense that the writing was split between groups that were not working together and nobody bothered to check the final product before shipping it. Then there is the last bit of the game that was like a fever dream and felt completely nonsensical. Not to mention the fact that where they left off on the story felt very incomplete and ripe for DLC that should have been part of the game to begin with and not an add on.

There is no need to finish the campaign before hitting the multiplayer but for those that venture in will find more frustration. The gameplay itself is not the issue but rather every system around it. Not only are you leveling your account you will be leveling each class, independently, as well as leveling cards that you assign to those classes. Even with removing the paid loot boxes this system is a mess. Credits can be earned to buy boxes or rewards are earned by hitting  certain marks such as number of kills or the like. Even after you get cards for a character you may not be able to equip them if the class you are playing as is not leveled up enough. Frequently you will see that other players that are doing well in a match are higher ranked than you may be and have three cards equipped. This is nothing less than a design flaw with the game to allow the gameplay balance to be ruined by add-on items that were originally to be sold for real world money.

What makes me sad about this game is that it could have and should have been better. The idea of a proper campaign was a big selling point to me. The fact that it is only a few hours long is not an issue but the fact that the story is bad is. I didn’t connect with any of the characters and jumping to other characters mid-story made it even less of an investment. The best thing that can be said for the game is the technical pieces of it but that is not enough to account for the bad parts. Graphically this is an awesome looking game. The PS4 version that I played is frankly one of the best looking games I’ve seen on my original PS4. Everything from the environments to faces have great detail and look realistic. Add to the looks the authentic sounds of Star Wars and this game had the potential to be immersive yet it fell short. The only complaint I had on the technical level was the rolling while using a starship. For whatever reason it really bothered me to the point of becoming nauseous and keeps me from playing much less enjoying those modes.

The saga that is this game is not over. I fully expect EA to comeback with the microtransactions. They didn’t build all the systems to support it just to abandon it and it is likely part of their financial reports so… yeah, plenty of motivation to put those back in. Not that people are going to be pleased with any manner of these but we will have to accept them nonetheless. With that said, the microtransactions are not the biggest problem in the game. To me, the biggest problem is the progression systems and how the cards can unbalance the game. Those issues are not likely to be patched in any manner and will probably keep me, and maybe others, from enjoying the game.

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Paul Novak

Owner, Proprietor, Typer of Words, Gamer, Jester

A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.

Video – Fortnite Battle Royale: The Path to #1 Volume 02

Image via epicgames.com

Not my best, not my worst.

63 leaves room for improvement.

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Paul Novak

Owner, Proprietor, Typer of Words, Gamer, Jester

A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole – Review

Image via ubisoft.com

Of course I want more South Park.

Picking up where The Stick of Truth left off we find the lads of South Park still adventuring. This time they are playing super heroes and they must find the source of evil that is causing crime in their beloved town.

The Stick of Truth was a huge homage to the South Park universe and The Fractured But Whole is no different. Even though I haven’t seen much of the show over the last few years there are still familiar call-outs and references. There is a strong chance that I missed some of the humor since I haven’t watched the show in some time. That didn’t diminish my enjoyment of this game in any way.

From technical stand point the game is good but problematic. The graphics look just like the show and probably could easily be mistaken for an episode at any given point. Any sight or sound could have been straight out of the show. Problems with battles and actions popped up throughout the game however. At one point in the game I was trying to do an encounter versus a group of sixth graders but as soon as one of them went into a micro-aggression the battle broke. I would interrupt the micro-aggression so that I could get some free damage but after doing so the battle just stopped. Literally just stopped. I could take no turns with any of my characters nor would any of the sixth graders attack me. After quitting and reloading a save twice with the same results my only resolution was to go do something else then come back to this particular encounter. Later in the game when you have to use Fartkour, basically a jumping maneuver, it would not work at all. No matter when I pressed the button I was prompted for the event would fail and I would die. This then had to reload the game only to have it not work again. My fix for this was to quit the game, actually close it on my PS4, and reload it completely. First time it loaded back in I successfully completed the sequence.

The combat in the game is similar to the original game but slightly reworked. The turn based mechanic returns as well as a mix of near and ranged attacks to be used. The first change a player will notice is the introduction of lanes. You can move your character, within a certain amount of space, to direct your attacks or to avoid incoming attacks. This can also help you maximize the effectiveness of your team but you’ll need to be mindful of the capabilities of your chosen teammates. The other big change is the addition of artifacts, changeable items that add to your overall fighting power. You can craft of find these but be sure to keep your best equipped so that you are keeping up with the level of enemies you will be facing.

There are things, like crafting, that were added into the game that I’m not sure they were a good addition. It adds a level of complexity and management that is likely welcome to those that are familiar with these systems in other games but for players like myself it feels like a layer of confusing busy work that keeps me from enjoying the game more. This may just be a matter of personal preference.

As much as I enjoyed going down to South Park to have myself a time, again, I’m good with where this game left off. The predictability of the plot didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the game but at the end of it I just didn’t want any more of it.  Everything I got from my one play through was all I felt I needed. Most likely I will not be picking up any of the DLC for the game unless there is some reveal that shows a major reason to do so.

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Paul Novak

Owner, Proprietor, Typer of Words, Gamer, Jester

A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.