Category Archives: Video Games

Thomas Was Alone (2012)

 

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Thomas Was Alone is an interesting game but it’s not the type of game that one would go out of their way to play. The game starts off introducing you to Thomas, an AI represented as a small red block. After a few simple platforming levels, the game begins introducing you to more AIs that aid Thomas with their unique properties. Claire, a giant blue AI, has the ability to float on water and considers herself a superhero. Laura is a flat pink rectangle that has the ability to make others bounce higher when they jump on her. Unlike the other AIs, she is hesitant to join the group because she thinks they will just use her and leave her like others had done in the past. All of the characters in Thomas Was Alone have their own personalities that are described to the player by an omniscient narrator (Danny Wallace).

The game play is very straightforward, one button controls the jump ability while the other button allows you to switch between characters. Different abilities presented by AIs keep each level from feeling too redundant despite the difficulty being relatively low. Levels tend to be minimalistic, the bright colors of the AIs make them pop against the darker pallet of the background. The end goal of each level is to direct the Artificial Intelligence to an outline that is usually located on the other side of the map. Another thing that helps this game is how finely tuned the jumping mechanics are, it almost reminds me of the classic Megaman games.

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As I said before this is not a game that immediately catches your attention but if you can spare the money and time, it is worth having a look at. Danny Wallace’s performance as the narrator is fun to listen to and the small story of AIs lost in a computer mainframe is enough to keep anyone engrossed. Although it may be a really simple game, Thomas Was Alone is able to craft a good emotional connection to its protagonists using very little narration. A real lesson of how much can be done with limited resources and clever writing.

TL;DR: Extremely simple game that showcases how simple a game can be while still creating likeable characters.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 7/10

MetaCritic: 77/100

GameSpot: 7.5/10

IGN: 8/10

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Burial At Sea: Part 2 (2014)

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March of 2014 saw the second part of Bioshock Infinite’s downloadable content finally released. Burial At Sea part 2 marks Irrational’s final project and quite possibly, Ken Levine’s farewell to the Bioshock series. Prior to its release, Levine had announced that this installment would feature a more stealth oriented game style instead of the more run and gun gameplay of the main game. Fans eagerly awaited the continuation of the story and hoped that the new style of play would be able to live up to the hype after the disappointingly short campaign of BaS part 1.

The reason the gameplay in this episode of BaS was designed to be different is because the main character you’re playing is Elizabeth. In accordance with this, the team at Irrational made sure that it would be harder for this female lead to blast her way through the level as opposed to Booker. Instead of focusing on running into a room and shooting everyone, the focus of the game shifted to sneaking past enemies. To emphasize this, the sound of footsteps suddenly became an important part of the game. Stepping on things like puddles of water or pieces of glass would alert enemies to your presence while carpets and rugs would muffle the sound. Furthermore, Elizabeth is not able to damage enemies with melee attacks so if she gets spotted by an enemy she is forced to hide instead of trying to go head to head. A mini game for picking locks was also added which made opening doors or deactivating turrets a lot more entertaining.

A great part of what has made the Bioshock so successful is the story. True to its legacy, Burial at Sea part 2 delivers an amazing narrative that gives a satisfying ending to the series as a whole. Despite the massive cliffhanger that the previous chapter left off on, part 2 has the audacity to begin in Paris. The unrealistically happy environment gives the player a sense of dread knowing that things are only going to get worse from here on out. The voice acting talents of Courtnee Draper (Elizabeth) and Troy Baker (Booker) were joined by a lot of the voice actors from the original Bioshock game.

The game was not without its flaws however. There were a few more weapons as well as vigors/plasmids that made the game a lot easier to play. The main offender for this was the Peeping Tom plasmid that allowed the player to go invisible and also gave vision of where enemies were located. If this plasmid is upgraded, it can be used infinitely as long as the character doesn’t move. It seems fair enough but can easily be exploited by alerting enemies to your presence (while cloaked) and knocking them out as soon as they get close. Another little thing that bothered me was that there did not seem to be many sound hazards like broken glass and when these things appeared, they could easily be avoided by going a separate route or jumping onto a ledge.

Burial at Sea part 2 offers a new way to play a Bioshock game but its gameplay is far from amazing. The new mechanics are not too spectacular and the plasmids offer easy ways to be exploited. Despite all of this, the shining brilliance of this DLC comes not only from the narrative but also in exploring some new areas of Rapture as well as getting a glimpse of its history. The Burial at Sea series isn’t a piece of downloadable content that fans of the series would want to have, it’s something they have to have. Not only is this the last piece of content that Irrational will create, it is the conclusive chapter of the Bioshock saga.

TL;DR: Gameplay isn’t too radical but it is a must have for fans of the series.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 8/10

Game Rankings: 84%

Megacritic: 84/100

 

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Papers, Please (2013)

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Papers, Please is an indie game created by Lucas Pope. The game is about an immigration officer as he operates a border checkpoint. At first glance it sounds like a very dull game and its hard to imagine it was actually nominated for various awards. After playing it for a few minutes I started to understand what all the hype was about. There’s a lot more depth to Papers, Please than what initially meets the eye.

The game play is simple enough. You’re put in charge of a border checkpoint to enter the fictional country of Arstotzka. Once the day begins, people will begin to come forward and as the immigration officer, you are in charge of making sure that all the people trying to get into the country have legitimate documents. Interestingly enough, the player not only has to deal with missing documents but also with detaining terrorists and wanted criminals. If you fail to do so, the government issues you a citation and docks your pay. At first this may seem like nothing but that sort of has to do with why this game did as well as it did. At the end of the day, you get payed and have to distribute your pay between rent, food, and medicine for your family. This little detail adds a great deal of stress and complexity of the game. The extra objective to take care of your family forces the player to think twice before denying a bribe or helping out terrorist who plan on rewarding you. There are pros and cons to every choice you take as you accept or deny people entrance to the country. As the game progresses, the criteria to let people into the country gets tougher and tougher making it harder to get through people.

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There are not many things that are wrong with the game. Being an indie video game makes certain things more acceptable such as its 16-bit style. A problem that struck me right away is the fact that there are not many prompts as to how you’re supposed to play until you realize that there is a rule book that you are supposed to follow. Thankfully, the game gives you enough margin for error that allows the player to make mistakes and learn from them. The absence of a full soundtrack was also strange but fits in with the tone that the game is trying to make. Another thing that bothered me was that the color pallet seemed a little dull but once again, this only reinforced the bleak setting of the game.

Papers, Please is a surprisingly entertaining game. For fans of the indie game scene, this is a game that is worth looking into. Its resource management combined with its timed puzzle elements are pretty refreshing to see and provide a good challenge for anyone. Not only do the simple visuals deliver a good tone for the game, the story that’s woven throughout will keep you hooked and have you questioning your morality as you decide what benefits the country and what benefits your family.

TL;DR:  Surprisingly engaging game with a pretty good replay value. The $9.99 price tag seems a little steep but it’s not a bad investment.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 7.8/10

MetaCritic: 85/100

GameRankings: 81.95%

IGN: 8.7/10

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Anna -Extended Edition (2012)

Anna-Extended-Edition

Anna is a psychological horror video game. The plot is really vague and a bit hard to follow but you start off in what appears to be a dream. Now being a horror game, you would expect a creepy atmosphere to begin with but this game actually starts off the opposite way. After a small intro by the main character, who is in search of Anna, you start off outside an old looking house but the environment around the house is beautiful. Grass is lush green, the small creek is next to the house is crystal clear, and the sky is blue. This type of environment does nothing to scare the player and actually seems odd compared to the tone of most horror games.

It’s only after walking into the house that you see the first real signs of the horror aspect of this game. What really stands out is that despite the creepy interior of the house, the music does not fit at all. Instead of your typical Silent Hill-esque track, there is really mellow music. Somehow this makes the game more unsettling than if there was generic horror music. Another thing to add is that the developers of this game really found a way to make the player feel uncomfortable without using jump scares (I only recall coming across  one) but by instead setting an uncomfortable ambience. The appropriate way to describe this game would be creepy, not scary and that’s not a bad thing at all. Another thing to point out is that there’s no real enemies or monsters chasing after you. It’s not like Amnesia or Outlast where you occasionally run into an enemy and hide. In Anna, you might be exploring a room and all of a sudden the room will change and often times get creepier. Between weird symbols, wooden mannequins, and a few ambient noises, Anna creates a very unique horror game atmosphere (with some pretty good graphics) that’s terrifying to navigate through.

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The introduction level

I wish I could say this game had the potential to give games like Silent Hill or even Amnesia a run for their money but it falls short in a couple of areas. The gameplay is puzzle based and actually reminded of games like 999. The main problem that this game had was the fact that instructions to progress where extremely vague. Throughout the entirety of the game, your character picks up several books that the player would then have to read. Often times reading things like this is optional but in this case they are sometimes essential to try and figure out how to move forward. The worst part about this is that the texts found in the books are not exactly brief. The next part of the gameplay that bothered me had to do with your inventory. Like most puzzle games, you are required to pick up certain tools to solve the puzzles in each room. Early on you are completely swamped with items that have no clear use. Often times throughout, I found myself trying out every single item blindly on random objects hoping to see if they somehow fit together.  To top things off, there were several items that were never used (at least in my play through) and there was even an instance where if I hadn’t done something in the very beginning of the game I would’ve been set back a bit having to go back and forth from one room to another.

The second part of where this game falls short is the story. Keeping up with the plot in the game is extremely confusing, it often seems like there’s 2 or 3 story lines going on at the same time. Even after beating the game, it’s not clear who the main character is or even the history behind the house that you are in. Furthermore, it is never really specified during what time period this is taking place. First guess for anyone would probably be modern day (seeing as how one of the items in your initial inventory is a phone) but what happens in the story would probably point to an earlier time period.

Anna is an interesting game and vastly different from other horror games that I’ve played. The story, after doing some research, is actually quite interesting but extremely convoluted. The solving puzzles is frustratingly (and unnecessarily) hard and the instructions to go forward are almost non existent unless you turn on the help key and even then the clues are a bit cryptic. Anna shines giving an extremely unsettling atmosphere and it genuinely made me want to stop moving forward or going back into certain rooms, something that doesn’t happen too often (or often enough) when I play this type of game. The game itself is actually quite short IF you know what you’re doing. I look forward to seeing what Dreampainters, the developer, has in store for their next game. Hopefully they’ll be able to learn from their mistakes and make an even better game.

TL;DR: Decent horror game with a unique atmosphere. Major drawbacks with gameplay and story might not make it too enjoyable.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 5/10

Metacritic: 55/100

GameRankings: 49.13%

IGN: 5.5/10

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Hotline Miami (2012)

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Hotline Miami is a game that’s tough to describe in one word. It combines some of the traits from stealth games and marries it to a fast-paced, violent gameplay that is surprisingly fun to play. The game itself is heavily inspired by Drive (2011) and is not ashamed to flaunt it. Nicolas Winding Refn, the director of Drive, even appears in the game’s credits.

The game itself is similar to the original Grand Theft Auto where you controlled the character from a bird’s eye point of view, an angle that’s cleverly used in this title to help plan out your massacre. Your main character throughout the game is a nameless protagonist that uses different types of masks when going in to do his job. Each one of these masks gives the main character abilities such as running faster, finding more guns, and even starting out with a knife. Each level you’re tasked to kill every person in the building. Neon combo indicators, an assortment of weapons, and executions make this one of the most addicting games I have played in a while. Instant level restarts are also another reason why this game was hard to put down. Upon death, the simple press of the button will reset the stage and give you another chance to rush through the level.

The game was not without a good soundtrack. With a mix of Electronic and experimental music, the background music was something that added fuel to the fast paced action of Hotline Miami. Sun Araw, Jasper Byrne, and M.O.O.N. all come together to deliver an incredible soundtrack that fits perfectly into the neo-noir style of Hotline.

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Hotline Miami also has a strange narrative woven throughout. The story is not particularly eye pleasing due to the fact that the whole game is told in a 16-bit format but there’s enough mystery to keep someone paying attention. As the story progresses it becomes more and more confusing. The only advice I would be able to give someone is to just wait until the end when everything is explained properly.

The only other flaw, besides the loose story, that stuck out to me had a little to do with the enemies. I love that both the protagonist and the enemies in this game seemed to follow the same set of rules, one of them being the one hit kills, but there were a lot of times when the gameplay felt more punishing than anything. You would break into the room and kill everyone and all of a sudden you would die because an enemy off screen shoots you from the other side of a glass wall that was beyond your line of sight. I understand that this may be used as a throwback to older 16-bit games but it just felt plain wrong when you were in the middle of a long string of combos and you died because an enemy sniped you from the other side of the map. Certain things like this make Hotline turn into more of a memory game than an organic, adaptive one. I personally do not mind in this case but I’m sure there’s more than one person out there that prefers a more organic mode of play rather than a memorization game.

Hotline Miami is not a perfect game but it’s an extremely addicting one. The adrenaline packed gameplay mixed with a great soundtrack make this game loads of fun to play. Levels are split into sections that are short enough to complete in a few minutes but the gameplay is fun enough to keep you playing for hours. The frustration that this game brings you (due to repeated deaths) makes each level extremely gratifying to beat, a feeling that not all videogames can give. Despite the weak story, the gameplay makes it so that you can go back and try to get bigger combos and high scores.

TL;DR: Extremely fun game. Worth the money if you can spare it, if not you can always wait for a Steam sale.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 8.5/10

Metacritic: 85/100

Game Informer: 7.75/10

IGN: 8.8/10

GameRankings: 85.36%

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Burial At Sea: Part 1

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In March, Irrational Studios released Bioshock Infinite. After it was received with near perfect ratings, Ken Levine announced that there would be some Downloadable Content that would be more intent on being a survival horror as opposed to Infinite. Levine called this DLC a type of “Love letter to fans” and it’s easy to see why. The first trailer revealed characters from Infinite in a rapture setting with a noire motif.

November finally arrived and I downloaded the episode almost immediately for my PS3. The following paragraphs may have light spoilers concerning certain characters but I’ll stay away from important plot points.

The story to Burial at Sea begins right where the trailer shows us. Booker awakes in his office and Elizabeth walks in with a request to find a little girl that was lost. Once you step outside of Booker’s office (which is extremely similar to his office in Infinite) you step into the world of rapture. The thing that lured me into buying this DLC is the fact that you get to see Rapture (the city from the first Bioshock) before the fall. Elizabeth guides you around a segment of the city as you explore a few shops/galleries in Rapture and observe its citizens.

The game really begins when, with the help of a familiar face, you are taken into a department store that Andrew Ryan has sunk and is using as a type of prison. True to the spirit of the original Bioshock, this segment features a lot of survival horror elements. The first thing that caught my eye is the limited amount of ammunition that you start off with. More alarming is the fact that despite the return of the gun wheel of the original Bioshock, the amount of ammo you can carry forces you to try and think of the best way to get past the groups of enemies that come your way.

Enemies in this game mode have also become harder to get past, but this may be due to the difficulty I played in. The AI seems to have improved a bit. Splicers usually come in mobs, they rush you and even try to dodge the projectiles that you shoot at them. Thankfully, there are several ways to take out enemies silently and quickly.

One of the things that I did miss from Bioshock 1 and 2 was the ability to hack turrets and other devices. In the first Bioshock, you had the ability to play a mini game in order to make a turret friendly towards you. Bioshock 2 also kept this ability to hack turrets and other devices. With all of this in mind, I don’t see a reason as to why this is not possible in Burial At Sea.

[LIGHT SPOILERS]

My next complaint has to do with another mechanic of the game. In this case, the use of tears and skyhooks really killed some of the experience for me. The use of skyhooks wasn’t too bad but it seemed like it was only added there to keep true to Infinite’s gameplay. Tears were what bothered me the most. As soon as they were added to the game, I felt as if some of the “survival” elements of the game died a bit.

[END SPOILER]

Gameplay was definitely not a strong point for this game. Elizabeth’s AI seemed to have gotten worse in comparison to Infinite. She would get in the way and even trap you in rooms by standing right in front of the door once in a while (thankfully it didn’t happen too often). To top this all off, it really bothered me that she was constantly seen in the crossfire of splicers without any real consequence. I understand that this was also the case in Infinite but it didn’t seem as obvious.

Visually, I felt that the game seemed polished enough. All of the guns got a nice polish and looked a lot nicer than there Infinite counterparts.The environment of Rapture also looked incredibly nice. Seeing the underwater city before its fall was something that didn’t disappoint and the addition of a few familiar faces was also a nice touch to the narrative. The voice acting of Troy Baker, Courtnee Draper, and a few others did not fail to live up to expectations.

Overall, this DLC wasn’t too astounding and that’s to be expected. With the limited amount of time that Levine and his crew had to work with this, it’s actually understandable as to why this content doesn’t seem as polished as others. They had the task of not only making DLC but rebuilding rapture almost entirely from scratch. The real treat will come when part 2 comes out and the gameplay is changed. Part 1 of BaS was relatively short but it gave Bioshock fans enough of a tease to wait with anticipation for part 2. Although it has a very entertaining story, it is very hit-or-miss for people who loved the Infinite’s story.

TL;DR: A good DLC for fans of the Bioshock series. A little buggy and short but narrative makes up for it. Priced at $15, it gives a good incentive to buy the Season Pass ($20).

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 7.8/10

Metascore: 71/100

Game Informer: 8.00/10

IGN: 7.0/10

GameRankings: 78.25%

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