Platformer, Light Puzzle Solver
$10(15), PC, PlayStation (3 and 4), Xbox (360 and One)
Contrast was a title that came across somewhat randomly on Steam. It shared a few earmarks with other games I had invested time in. So I checked the page out and thought it was interesting enough to put on my wish list. I recently grabbed it, and finished it before I realized it.
Didi is a young girl being raised solely by her mother, Kat. A powerhouse of a singer, she performs at a cabaret club known as Ghost Note. Making money means being out all night, and Didi often follows her mother to her exasperation and to the chagrin of child services. As Kat heads off to perform once more she draws a promise from Didi for the young girl to remain at home. However, as soon as Kat is gone, Didi turns to Dawn to get out and explore the city.
While Didi is the focus of the story, we the players take control of Dawn. Didi is the only person who can perceive Dawn. The enigmatic woman is lauded as an acrobat. She also has the unique ability to navigate the world via shadows. This reinforces the story as much of it is from Didi’s perspective. Can you remember living at home with your parents and overhearing a conversation that wasn’t meant for you? As Didi, and Dawn by extension, are sneaking around and eavesdropping truth comes from the shadows. Aside from the Protagonist Pair, all other people in the world are seen as illuminated shadows or figures in portraits.
Personally, I found the game to be lovingly made. The world is rife with rich detail. You could likely clear the whole game in two hours, achievements and all. For this, each chapter feels hand made. Didi’s room is seen twice in the game. Some exteriors are accessible outside their respective chapters. But otherwise, all the settings and set pieces are unique. Those that indulge in a look will see a somewhat shattered world. I feel it is, like much of the game, a deliberate choice. Is it the disjointed viewpoint of a child’s imagination? Is the nature of reality being debated betwixt the light and shadows? Is just just more clever than having invisible walls?
Contrast evokes the feel of the Roaring 20s. Every element builds up the setting. The overall noir feel is reinforced by the characters, how they speak, and the power of their silohettes. The music has all the right flares. I can imagine hearing it through a gramophone, vinyl scratches and all. The building designs have the feel of being built to last. Even the sepia tones of the shadow platforming reflects film quality of the time. A lot of subtle cues overlap to immerse the players into the world.
The music in each of the puzzle segments is spot on and serves reinforce the set pieces. Listening to it on its own via the soundtrack can be repetitive, but such is the way of game music.
Counter to repetitiveness, I was introduced to Laura Ellis thanks to this game. Ellis’ vocals gave Kat her punch as a performer. Kat’s Song, heard on the intro menu, and House on Fire, which played during Kat’s performance at Ghost Note, are memorable in their own rights. Laura Ellis’ singing ties together an era of cabarets, gangsters, and shady back room deals.
The puzzles in the game will have Dawn jumping in and out of shadows. In some cases, arranging how light is cast to manipulate the length, shape, and movements of the shadows. If you ever played some key titles in The Legacy of Kain game series, Defiance and the Soul Reaver games to be precise, recall Raziel’s manipulation of the Physical Realm to effect the Spectral Realm.
While very short, everything is put together well. The game never lagged and was a smooth experience all the way through. Checkpoints are plentiful enough that a fall won’t set you back too far. New mechanics are explained as they are acquired. Once you are into the game, it is a brain teasing jaunt to the end.
This is the one area where the game could be said to be lacking. I dithered around and tinkered with different parts of the game knowing that I was going to write a review. I finished the game at around two hours. I got to around three hours achievement hunting. I jumped back in to take some screenshots. I am just at four hours of game play. And unless I feel the need for more screenshots that’s where I’ll stay. Outside of a platforming segment I hopped, skipped, and jumped around most of the solutions are fairly straightforward. I may revisit the tale in the far future when I do not remember it so clearly. While short, Contrast will stick with you. This is both good and bad in terms of replaying.
The game only allows for a single play of the game at a time. However, collectibles seem to be saved independently so once found they are permanent. Also, you can choose to return to any chapter once completed. As the game is so short you don’t need multiple save files.
Contrast has everything I love in a game. It is an original intellectual property, a clean cut story, consistent and tangible setting, wonderful music, with intuitive and responsive game controls. I like games like this, especially from lesser known companies. It shows they can deliver a finished product and, if given the materials, what they would do on a grander scale.
Already Compulsion Games is presently developing We Happy Few with Early Access now. I’ve seen many streamers and YouTube personalities cover this game. Compulsion Games have proven they’ve got what it takes, and it is being recognized by this larger project.
Contrast is, as near as I can tell, Compulsion Games’ first showing. They did a wonderful job and I am happy to have spent a scant few hours with this game, and I look forward to more work from this group.
Slideshow images taken from within game by author
Other images from Compulsion Games, Contrast website, and related press kit
7, 8 including The Shivering Isles
First Person, Fantasy RPG
Another solid Bethesda title
PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360
I am coming full circle with this writing. Oblivion was, years ago, simply alien to me. I had heard via some source or another about The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. The report was touting how massive the world was, stating that it was possible to run from one town to the next for literal days. On the one hand, the scope of the world sounded amazing to me. I didn’t think technology was capable of the feat. But, even in those days, I didn’t want to risk getting into a game like that. I had better things to do than run from town to town in a digital landscape.
As such, getting me into Oblivion was a hard sell. As someone who needs glasses the limitations of a first person perspective were all too real for me. I had learned to use my other senses to get around my very limited sight. I liked games in the third person because the viewpoint simulated expanded senses. Being unable to hear exactly which way an enemy would be coming from, as surround sound still needed a expensive array of tech, was a prohibitive hurtle for instance. I had a lot of reasons for not wanting to try it. But I found myself snowed in and with a lot of time, so I figured “Why not?”
Not understanding anything of the system, I tried to make a Redguard that looked like me. I failed in that, but I enjoyed the game enough to try another build. And then another. And thinking I had the system down… yet another. I think I ran a total of five or six characters, picking apart every nuance of the game as well as I could. And since I was playing it on the 360, I couldn’t change things via console commands or mods. It meant a hard uphill fight all the way through.
I came to love Oblivion. It is what put me here now, on the path of a prospective game creator rather than just a player. I have learned much, and from one source in particular. I avidly follow Extra Credits. James is a game developer who you will find to be an integral part of the process. He enjoyed Oblivion, but it sounds as though from a development standpoint, he didn’t think it was that good. This was a hit to me. Oblivion is what gave me an interest in game development, to the Extra Credits realm, through which James’ professional assessment carries weight with me. What inspired us may be different, but our goals are the same I think.
We are going past eleven years after release Oblivion’s original release. After Skyrim and the Online versions are the newest kids on the Elder Scrolls block. In writing this I have to think critically. I set my fondness aside to answer one question: Is Oblivion a game still worth playing? My answer is “Yes, if you like the Elder Scrolls.” Sadly, I can’t say “yes” without that condition. I’ve noticed that Bethesda’s titles tend to be paired, having a Fallout title being released and then an Elder Scrolls. While each new game may not be better than the last due to being developed nearly simultaneously, each new entry has its merits over the last. In this way, Skyrim is just a better introduction to the series. And as good as Skyrim is, I’ll likely say the same of The Elder Scrolls VI when it gets all the wrinkles ironed out.
This is a look back. I remember things I loved, but I also admit to if they didn’t, especially if I noticed the change in Skyrim.
A prisoner is taunted in their cell by another inmate, who cackles that they will soon die. They become silent as guards draw close. The normally composed guards whisper frantically back and forth, ensuring that they were not followed. A man speaks of his dead sons, and the others defer to him. Compassion shifts to alarm as the guards reach your cell, expecting it to be empty. Ordered to stay beneath the window the guards escort in Uriel Septim VII, the Emperor himself. He takes an interest in you, but his entourage hurry him along into a newly opened secret passage. Seeing no reason to let the opportunity go to waste, you follow along. Not far along in you see the cause of all the alarm: Strangely armored agents attempting to assassinate the Emperor! The guards serve admirably, at the loss of one of their own. They press on, locking the passage behind them uncertain if they can trust you. After finding your way through a nearby sewer opening you happen upon the group once more, more adequately equipped to aid in the fighting. Once this threat was extinguished, the Emperor insists a halt and looks at you. Something about you sparks his interest, and he insists not only on your trustworthiness but that you accompany him along the way. Eager to get moving, his guards agree. Moving a small ways you find a gate locked, which leads into a dead end. The sound of more attackers bear down, and you are left with Uriel Septim. He removes The Amulet of Kings, the true sign of his right to the throne, and gives it to you. He entreats you to find Jauffre. The apparent dead end was not so, as a passage opens to another assassin perfectly poised and kills the Emperor. You revenge is swift, and so the battle ended. There is one remaining guard, Baurus, who laments the total failure of the Blades as the Emperor’s protectors. Hearing of the late Emperor’s sentiments, he sends you along through the sewers, your exit leaving you in the bright sun for the first in a long while, ready to make use of the Emperor’s final words: “Close shut the jaws of Oblivion.”
Plus Uriel Septim VII was voiced by Sir Patrick Stewart. Always a plus in my book.
The Shivering Isles
Upon roaming the world, you hear of a mysterious door that appeared near the town of Bravil. Upon exploration a crazed Dunmer emerges from the portal and comes into conflict with the guard stationed there. After the Dark Elf is put down, the voice of Sheogorath becons you to enter his realm. The Deadric Princes are not known for truly making requests, especially of mortals, thus you are left tasked with heeding the Madgod’s call.
The Knights of the Nine
As you travel the world, you hear rumors of a terrible attack upon the Chapel of Dibella in Anvil. Going and exploring yourself, you see the horrors of the aftermath. The altars lay desicrated, and everyone is left with little but questions. However, one man seems to have insight. A Prophet preaches near the waylayed temple, speaking of Umaril the Unfeathered. He calls for a crusader to take up the arms of the legendary Pelinal Whitstrake and defeat this ancient menace once and for all.
The stories in The Elder Scrolls are handed directly to you in most cases. You don’t need to run around the world doing side quests to get all the details. As long as you follow the quest marker, you’ll get the complete story. Since I have been through Oblivion many times I remember its stories more keenly. If you are a lover of The Elder Scrolls, it will be worth your time to experience them. In Skyrim, so many of the wrongs you righted as The Hero of Kvatch went wrong again. It was dismaying to me to see that. It is a joy to indulge in the last of the good times of the many groups I came to love again.
In The Elder Scrolls IV, you are in a beautiful world that is ruined by the spearhead from the Deadric forces of Oblivion. One thing I loved about this title is how vibrant it is. I am on the Stylization side of The Uncanny Valley, rather than the Photorealistic vantage points. All the characters in this game are a bit cartoonish. Very vibrant skin, faces are rounder than they are in Skyrim. Cyrodiil is a lush part of The Elder Scrolls world. There is beauty everywhere from he countryside to the ruins. Even the titular realm of Oblivion is pleasing to look at in its demonic way.
When I originally played the game I remember travelling over a bridge and to my left the sun was rising. I stopped and looked out over the water to experience this. It hit me that I was marveled by a digital sunrise enough to appreciate it. Oblivion is still beautiful, especially in expansive landscape shots. Bethesda did a wonderful job in making a world that hurt to watch be encroached upon.
Knights of the Nine
The reason I abhor and rarely touch this expansion is the reason it has good theming. You are to be a holy crusader, wielding the relics of a saint. But in order to do this, you have to be a good person.
What determines goodness? Fame and Infamy, which are your reputations for good and bad deeds respectively. These are mostly increased by quests you complete and, in some cases, how quests are completed. Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood increase Infamy, while the Arena, Fighters’ and Mages’ Guilds increase your Fame. And in one of the DLC scenarios, you aim to get Mehrunes’ Razor, a powerful dagger. Do you brute force the gate open, or do you eat the heart of Mehrunes’ Champion? The latter will earn you some Infamy.
You don’t need to be famous to wear the armor. You just can’t be infamous. Once you collect and hold onto or wear your first piece of armor you’ll have no problems. But the first time you do a bad deed, the game stops and you get a warning warding you away from illicit acts. But as soon as you get a second bump in Infamy the armor literally falls out of your inventory and sticks to the ground. You are unable to claim or otherwise move it.
What do you do?
To begin The Knights of the Nine, you have to go on a Pilgrimage to a wayshirne to each of the Nine major deities. This purges your existing Infamy. But this is the only way to accomplish this, so it must be done every time you falter. The Dark Brotherhood and Thieves’ Guilds are the first quest lines I complete anyhow, so that Infamy is wiped out. But in order to ensure that I don’t have to take the Pilgrimage twice (or more gods forbid), I leave Knights until the end.
So yes… good theming. Terrible if you yourself aren’t “Good”.
One of the first things I posted to my site was a massive walkthrough for a Perfect Character Guide. This was based on the 360 version of the game, so no console commands or mods. The only boon I had was a duplication glitch. This guide is lengthy and a bit hard to read I admit, but I am still proud of it. I spent a lot of time on it, and had concrete results. As Oblivion was the first game of its type that I played, it set the standard for other games like it to me.
Wayfinding, Fast Travel and Maps
In both games, fast travel would let you swiftly (to the player) jump from your present location to any other landmark you’d been to previously. In this game you were allowed to travel to major cities before visiting them formally, which made it feel like you knew the world, or at least the province. This meant you were rarely left with a lengthy hike.
A minor change, and Skyrim relayed a different feeling entirely. Lacking the knowledge of even the cities in Skyrim it made me feel foreign and, if I may, sort of clueless. If you are a native of somewhere, you know where the big cities are, or general location. As natives of Earth we can name the continents if not specific countries. Lacking that, I could only imagine The Last Dragonborn being foreign to Skyrim. In this game I felt lost in the world, and relied more heavily on the quest compass which is saying something. Even though Skyrim continued with the “freshly escaped prisoner” trope, The Hero of Kvatch had a somewhat better jumping off point from than The Last Dragonborn in this respect.
The other portion, the map, worked much better for me in Oblivion. It was a simple map, something you’d find on a scroll or animal-based parchment, and was a top down view. I never had trouble getting my bearings. Additionally, since I had the starting cities to work with, I could use those as hubs for more distant quests and goals. In Skyrim I just gave up. The map screen was pretty, and had some zoom and rotation, but I could never figure out a solid orientation. Again, I knew I was heading towards the quest marker. But with no compass rose on the map screen I was always guessing at direction. Additionally, it felt like a dragons’ eye hologram from an extremely high altitude. The problem being is that I remember rolling cloud cover obscuring much of my map while I was trying to navigate. For me, simplier is better.
Simplified Character Management
The biggest reason I would recommend Skyrim over Oblivion to a series newcomer is just this point. While Oblivion gets the Simplicity Point for the map, Skyrim is a lot easier to play and understand the growth of. While I am happy to not need to spend tens to hundreds of hours to understand new system nuances, there are some elements I miss from Oblivion.
Mobility: Speed, Athletics, and Acrobatics
If I could have a super power I’d want to mainline The Speed Force like Barry Allen or Wally West, one of the noticeable Flash mantle wearers. As such, how I get around a world matters to me. Fast travel is wonderful for this as I go from Points A to B in the blink of a loading screen. As above, this only worked once I had been somewhere once. Thus I still had to hike on foot until I had a horse.
In Oblivion, aside from Skills, there were Attributes which helped govern the performance of Skills and Stats (Health, Magicka, Stamina, and Carry). There are no Attributes in Skyrim, like Speed. Additionally, two skills were taken out on the way to Skyrim were Acrobatics and Athletics. Some of the perks of the latter were integrated into Skill trees, but the former disappeared entirely. These encompassed mobility options for Oblivion and I loved them. In their absence, I was left to plod around Skyrim ceaselessly. Skyrim is pretty in places, alarmingly bleak in others. Even at the end of the game, or in the post game, I used fast travel because it was just far too long otherwise. Not at all because I wished to.
I liked Athletics in my first play through of Oblivion. The more I ran around, the faster I would get. Eventually. It was a constant payoff for continued adventuring. While it may be unrealistic to zip around everywhere, that is part of why I play a lot of science fiction and fantasy games. The uncanny nature is a draw. When I want realistic running in which I have to watch my stamina I get out of the house and go for a run.
I liked Acrobatics too. It was one of the few skills in the game that offered an objective strategic advantage. I noticed that NPCs never jumped. But if I could hop and skip to a vantage point, that worked well as an archer. And if I was being particularly menacing, summoning a Dremora Lord while I was in a high place would mess up patrol patterns and let me sneak around unnoticed. There were MANY times this was effective. And I know how unrealistic it would be to leap over three or four buildings in Whiterun. But it would be nice jump up next to and stab a smug dragon in the throat when it started using Thu’um from the top of a house. The inability to leap at height, via natural stats, augmentation, or both, limited the fun factor. This said, the absence of Acrobatics gave value to other skills. Not having water leaping or a water walking spell gave value to Vampire Lords ability to fly over the water. Not being able to tag a dragon with a blade in the air adds value to the Dragonrend shout. But I miss being like Samurai Jack by being able to “jump good”. And while I focus on ascent, Acrobatics also lessened damage from my falls. Sure, I liked jumping off mountains as a “shortcut”. But I could survive them in Oblivion. The Dragonborn would die from the same falls I would. I’m not looking for my fictional heroes to have my regular knees.
I liked Speed. As it was a stat I could use a Touch spell to make NPCs I was forced to follow move faster even while walking. It enhanced my Stealth to where it wasn’t laboriously slow at the games’ end. In transit I could stand up and run. In tight spaces, I could Sneak but still move at a moderate clip. Being able to make spells to add 100 points to Speed and either Athletics or Acrobatics allowed me some fun transiting options.
As you may have gathered from the above, I really enjoyed spell making. Many of the spells I wound up making were “artisan spells”. They were not all useful, just pretty and kitschy. But again, they were fun. I already spoke of my quickening spells. I would make spells which bolstered my Personality (Attribute) and Mercantile (Skill), while Charming a target so that I could make better transactions with NPCs, bypass the coercion minigame, or deal with the world while being a Vampire who hadn’t fed for 100+ days.
And all these things tie back into mobility. While fast traveling is instantaneous for the player, the game still calculates how long it would take you to run there. In both titles you can be astride a horse or have one in a near enough stable and that shortens your in-game travel time. What frequently happened to me in Skyrim is I would remember a time sensitive quest, would go to fast travel, only to arrive too late. In Oblivion I would make a spell to bump up Speed and Athletics, which were natively at 100 on their own. Doubling my pace in Oblivion turns six hour treks into one or two hour jaunts. I could get quests done FAST because I didn’t need to reload because I wouldn’t make it or wait a day because I had missed a time window by in game minutes.
In Skyrim, merchants have a set amount of gold before anything you want to sell is just given to them. My first playthrough, my first house had a chest of “vendor trash” that I couldn’t get rid of because merchants kept running out of gold. This was annoying, to say the best. Realistic, sure. There is only so much gold. That scarcity gave it value. But the lack of gold, ironically, kept me in the scavenging game longer. I scoured every inch of every cave, burial ground, and fallen foes not for loot, but for raw gold. The phrase “Who cares about flawless diamonds?” began spilling out of my lips. Who would have the gold to buy one, let alone that and all my other loot, anyhow?
Now, I balked about the Oblivion system. Merchants had a set amount of gold that was the maximum they would purchase anything for. I found it to be “such a waste” that I would have so many Daedric Cuirasses that were worth 6,500 gold that sold only for 2,000. But at least I could get SOMETHING for them. I had more gold and less vendor trash. I could keep my treasures and trinkets more easily.
All the griping about the mechanics above? This comes because I know the system fairly well. There are diligent Oblivion players that don’t care about all the stuff I just vented about. Skyrim has the approachability down pat. here are pluses and minuses, but no one will be scratching their heads in how to make a powerful character or how to get rich. As I am often finding myself saying “If that (below-the-surface and in depth mechanics) is what you have to complain about, the game is probably good enough for a passing play at least.”
Hearthfire is a wonderful part of Skyrim. The act of building houses was really enjoyable. To this day I do not have an “ideal build” for any one home, let alone three. The avenue this went in Oblivion was that each city had a house, and atop those the DLCs added more scattered around. Each of them pandered to a particular archetype.
Melee, Battlehorn Castle
The big melee feature here is an NPC that you can train with. You tell him you want to spar, and then you can work on whatever weapon and armor skills you would like. There were other perks, such as a semi-hidden quest. I mainly used my sparring partner.
Mages, Frostcrag Spire
Altars of Spell Making and Enchanting, the only ones available outside of the Mages Guild questline. Semi-permanent atronach followers. Teleportation to every active guild hall. Special Alchemy table that bolsters your skill by fifteen.
Thieves, Dunbarrow Cave
A chest with a Very Hard lock that always resets, allowing mastery of Lockpicking. Once you master the mini-game it is arguably faster to keep your skill low as you won’t run into terribly difficult locks too often. That, and the Skeleton Key is something you actually keep in this game. There is also a pirate crew you can send out for plunder, and they will return with loot and gold.
Assassins, Vampires, and the Infamous
This has a lot to offer. While designed with the assassin in mind, with a unique garden full of poison materials, and unique clothes, included are elements for the vampyrically inclined. These include a “cattle pen” with an ever sleeping victim if you wish to feed. Also a method to cure Vampirism without an elaborate quest. There is a vampire who resides here and can be sent out, who will return with loot and bump your infamy up by one each time. For the particularly infamous, you can be blessed by Sithis himself at a special alter.
Whether you were playing an archetype or min-maxing, there was a veritble use for all of these. The Sparring NPC in Battlehorn was good for targeted magics of all types. If you have Frostcrag Spire you don’t need to dither overmuch with the Mages Guild just to get Enchanting access if you’re pretty much melee only. Deepscorn Hollow has access to rare poisonous materials that are always useful. Dunbarrow Cave, The Thieves’ Den, has several high level trainers that are always at your beck in call so you don’t need to hunt out the others as readily. Was having preset “housing archetypes/themes” better? That can be debated. The perks in them felt much more concrete and immediate than those of Skyrim.
One MAJOR improvement to Skyrim was that nearly every dungeon or hideaway had a quick exit option. These could be everything from hidden walls to stairways leading above the entrance to drop back down. This relieved getting done with a quest and having to backtrack out of a cave. While I may want to go back around and gather loot, as I said with the merchant gold, it was prohibitive to do this. Either way, no matter how convoluted this got, it was a favor to the players. It was also realistic. If you’re a thief, are you going to dig in somewhere WITHOUT having a secret exit?
I started The Elder Scrolls as a Redguard. I went to a Dark Elf, and the a High Elf for the magicka boost. I had the same thinking in Skyrim, but racial differences were not as extreme. What first told me that Skyrim was different was the utter disdain I was me with. Cyrodiil, bothing being connected to a bigger city and being before several big and bloody wars, was much more accepting all around. I remember I had recently mastered Destruction magic. And I swore that the next knee-wounded, Hold guard that called me “goldenrod” was going to be reduced to a pile of ash. Well… Windhelm has a few ash piles guarding their gates now.
As a High Elf, Skyrim was hostile to me. And having met members of the Aldmeri Dominon I get why. It hit a bit close to home, however. It stung enough to jar me out of my enjoyment. Skyrim was, by far, a more serious game.
Oblivion seemed rather jovial to me. As I spent a lot of time with Oblivion there are characters that I remember fondly in the game. Some are obvious, some are less so.
Sheogorath is obviously at the top of the list, you interact with him a great deal during The Shivering Isles DLC expansion. Such care went into his creation as to even animate a special scene if you choose to assault him. Haskill, Sheogorath’s chamberlain, deserves special mention as well. His dry wit and annoyance are the perfect foil to His Lord’s over the top nature.
Cutter is the crafter of Madness arms and armor, also from The Shivering Isles DLC. I like the look of the Madness items. Heavy Armor is my preferred gear. And Cutter has a sadistic appreciation for the wares she creates.
Falanu Hlaalu is a regular Alchemy merchant with some unusual habits. Down the street from Rosethorn Hall, she became a go too check on ingredients. I think she may need the money more than me anyhow.
Whodunit is a quest, not a person, but deserves mention. Given to you by the Dark Brotherhood, this ideally requires subterfuge. The premise is that six people have been invited to a lock-in. The purpose is a party, and there is a chest of gold to find with the key to leave inside. This is a ruse, as the five guests spurned the same individual at some point, enough for someone to want to kill them. Then why six guests? Because you are the sixth, charged with their elimination.
I like this quest because it is all uniquely written. The characters stories, responses to each other, both alive and dead, are contained in this house. As such, they were written with intentional depth. The guests can be slain in any order and responses are there for each. Moreover, when it comes down to three guests remaining, you can convince one that you two are together to turn them on the third. It is small and quick, but a lot of fun.
This is one of the few titles in which I have an inkling of a wider community outside the game itself. Mods have been the lifeblood of Bethesda titles for some years. The games I have played have been on consoles. As such, mods have been locked off from me until recently. And I still do not play the game with them. Console Commands have shortened the time and running around it takes me to do fetch quests and material gathering. That is enough for me. Now, with the next Elder Scrolls title I may take an interest.
This said: I mentioned above that a game developer I like doesn’t like Oblivion. There is a mod he personally recommends. I’ll quote him here: “Truth be told, I felt like Oblivion left something to be desired. The Nehrim mod fixes all that and introduces its own full and original world.” I wholly intend to pick up the Nehrim mod at some point based on this recommendation.
Bethesda has a passionate fan base, and this is proven every title by the sheer scope of mods that come out. And, to Bethesda’s credit, they encourage this wholly. They have recently gotten some flak for attempting to have paid mods. I know how intensive simply writing reviews is. But writing unique code to piggyback off an already completed work? That impresses me. If a sizable chunk of the funds reaches the creators’ pocket, I’d be willing to pay for mods myself. That’s just me. I digress…
I have only played Oblivion and Skyrim of the Elder Scrolls series. For as much as I have played them there is not necessarily much in replay value. If you are determined, you can thoroughly complete the game on your first character. In Oblivion, if you are a strict adherent to Classes, Specializations, and the like, then playing another character may allow you to play differently. But if you are like me, and want to max out all the Attributes and Skills, a replay holds less appeal once you figure it all out.
In a post-Skyrim world, I would direct anyone towards that game for their first taste of The Elder Scrolls. Bethesda learns the lessons of prior games and ALWAYS makes the next work better and more accessible. Some say that the selfsame accessibility cheapens the experience. I say that bringing more people to the table to share in what does and doesn’t work makes way for richer experience.
If you liked Skyrim, nay, loved it, you should keep stepping back. See another side of Tamriel, perhaps a more peaceful and idyllic time. You’ll have some laughs. You’ll meet some deities. You’ll be able to reach to the stars and forge your own path. (Allusions to Birthsigns and Classes respectively.)
I look back at Oblivion favorably. It taught me a lot. Due to Skyrim, and also to James at Extra Credits, I can look at it critically now. I can see what works, what doesn’t, and why. More than all that, I have fun in Oblivion. And in the end, that’s a huge goal of a game met.
For more of James and the Extra Credit team:
All pictures taken from the Oblivion website:
Picture of Sheogorath came from The Elder Scrolls Wikia:
5/10 (7/10 considering story elements)
Sandbox Action Adventure with RPG Elements
PC (below Windows 10 OS), PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
I played this game back on the 360, and was looking forward to reintroducing myself to it and going through Prototype 2. My laptop couldn’t run the game, but I held onto it in hopes that a new computer would. When I bought said computer I put the whole of my Steam library onto it. I went through each game, overjoyed that I had more than a half dozen playable titles. Prototype was not one of them. I found this confusing. My laptop just wouldn’t run the game. My new desktop opened the game, but after going into New Game it would crash. I looked for solutions online only to find out that this was common. Many people who had the game and then upgraded their computer lost access to it. Additionally, it did not boast connectivity to the Steam Cloud, so all the save data was also machine locked.
I want, ever and always to give favorable reviews. But I can’t review something in earnest that I can’t play. As such, these are memories. If you come across a console, or I hear about some universal work around one day, I’ll revisit this and tack on a P.S. Until then, I’ll jot out my memories here.
As Alex Mercer, you awaken to find your New York overrun with a virus, and you infect with it. While most displayed zombie like symptoms, you not only retained your sentience, but developed destructive abilities. You have no memory of what happened to you, so you set off to discover the truth.
The game was not particularly heavy on complex concepts overall. Most of the back story is disjointed. Mercer is able to consume pretty much everything biological. Human, the Infected, and soldiers are all food and fodder for you. Some of these have special highlights indicating they are someone in the web that will help you connect your memory. Though disjointed, the more viable targets you consume the larger your web of understanding becomes. These threads, if memory serves, can be revisited in the menu. Eventually, you do find out all about Mercer, and it was a wholly satisfying discovery mainly because I called it. Personal pride… what can you do? It is very much Mercer vs. World, and that is reflected in the disregard applied to every NPC running around.
I have, jointly, written a review for Prototype 2. The mechanics in that title are very similar, so I will not go in-depth here since I can’t open the game up and talk about the differences. It was a solid play all around. All of the information was conveyed as needed and clearly. Graphically the world was clear, detailed and, though based in New York, unique. Nothing stands out in my memory that was jarred loose by playing Prototype 2.
I do recall Prototype having a higher difficulty mode after beating the game once. I assume there to be New Game Plus, and that the powers carried over. But again, as I can’t open up the title I will not go into depth with it.
It is a shame to me that I can’t get Prototype to function on my machine. I may tinker some more and see what I can learn. If YOU can play it, you are in for a solidly put together story. On the 360, Prototype never had any problems. On my PC, Prototype 2 gave me the same smooth experience. If you get to the games’ end, and ponder on the big reveal, it may give you a good meditation on humanity itself. And that is something that I carry with me from my time with Prototype.
Several months ago I decided to treat myself to some new tech. I had been in the market for a new controller. Instead of going with a controller that I was positive would work, I decided to take a chance on the Steam Controller. Opinions from my friends, and most of the reviews, were polarized. People either loved it, or hated it. Me? I like it. Not love or hate. It works and I readily recommend it. If you’re gaming via Steam, I think you should consider the Steam Controller for yourself. If you have a friend who owns one, try it out. But as the first person in my circles to actually own one, this is not a requirement. Many of the problems I have had personally were due to my lack of experience. Everything you need to truly master this controller is out there. It is a credit to Steam that this is the case.
There can be a bit of a learning curve BUT you aren’t alone.
In putting both my controller and computer through their paces to see what both could do, I played games that I am familiar with. I strongly recommend you do this too. This lets memory and instinct teach you. You know what each button should do, and you can use that as a guide to teach you mapping. I had ample success with a lot of 2D platforms, 3D third-person RPGs, and third-person hack-and-slash titles. However, I could not get down twin-stick shooting. Which made playing the Saints Row series, one of my favorites, plain impossible. I’d had trouble with Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor for the same reason. If it wasn’t for the time slowing mechanic my bow would have been wholly untouched.
In doing some reading I came across this article from PC Gamer which detailed some finer points of input options that had eluded me. And, changing my right trackpad to “Joystick Move” rather than “Joystick Camera” made so much difference that I got to the end of Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell the same day.
If, by preference or necessity, you play older games, you’ll often find templates that emulate full controller interface made by Steam community members. Newer games are often plug-and-play. Every step of the way you’ll have help in getting your controller to be an extension of yourself.
Older games don’t have modern mapping BUT this is true of other controllers.
Modern games have all recognized the Steam Controller as an Xbox controller, and have displayed hints and button combinations in that format. And, as my last PC controller was a wired Xbox 360 controller I can attest for the functionality of both. For the older games that I have played, I tend to get keyboard mapping no matter what. So during a quick time event I may see “Z > V > M” rather than “B > Y > A”. It can be frustrating trying to remember corresponding button-to-key matches suddenly. Sadly, there is little way around this other than simply knowing which buttons correspond where. I tested this in Final Fantasy VIII. It has an early segment in which you enter a code to decouple train cars. No matter what I did on either controller I had to translate from the keyboard mapping. The advantage with the Steam Controller is that you can re-map keys as need be.
Steam Big Picture must be running while in use BUT there is functionality outside of it.
I found myself pleasantly surprised at one point in which I had changed windows and Steam was merely in the background. I was able to navigate my web browser using the Steam Controller. I haven’t tried playing a non-Steam game just yet. I find the fact that it can go beyond gaming interface as promising. This facet will need more thorough tinkering, so an Addendum may come regarding this.
The shape of the controller breaks convention BUT you’ll likely get used to it.
Do you remember the first time you held an N64 controller and how strange it felt? Did the original Xbox controllers feel big and clunky compared to other controllers on the market? “I don’t know how I’ll ever get used to this…” I remember echoing with many of my friends. But what happened? We played the games, stopped thinking about the controller, and got used to it.
Playing with the Steam Controller felt this way at first. Knowing that I spent a thousand hours with The Elder Scrolls alone, I have a lot of muscle memory to overcome. However, at the end of nine different games for the sake of play testing I am accustomed to it. I still have some slight trouble lacking a right stick, but I am overcoming it.
It isn’t always Plug-and-Play BUT it is always completely customizable.
When I first got my Steam Controller I decided to play games I knew to get the hang of how everything worked. I recommend you do the same. At the time, my computer would handle the PC ports of Final Fantasy VII through X/X-2, and that was about it. I put in a noticeable amount of time on VIII. As I said above, I did have some mapping issues since the game itself is so old. And while other users posted templates, I decided to make my own.
The Final Fantasy remakes of VIII, IX, X, and X-2 all have Game Boosters. These built in boons range from speeding up the game to nigh invulnerability. These were set up to only active with a keyboards’ Function keys (F1, etc.). There was no corresponding button on a controller. While one could just use the keyboard, with the Steam Controller mapping you can set these functions onto whatever button(s) you wish. But if all the buttons are spoken for on modern games, where would they go…
There are buttons on the underside of the controller.
Part of me wants to call these “belly buttons”. These two buttons lay on the underside of the grips of the controller. One left, and one right. For my purposes, I tend to set up auxiliary functions to this. Mimicking a hot key for a healing item is a wonderful use. These are also perfect for the above scenario regarding the Final Fantasy series game boosters. For example, Final Fantasy X and X-2 utilized PlayStation controller layouts, all the buttons on other modern controllers are mapped. I put the Fast Forward toggle on one button, and the Recovery+Damage boosters on another.
This is another boon: Placing multiple functions on a single key.
I was able to re-acquire DMC: Devil May Cry recently. One major difference from the original series is that the Devil Trigger function requires two buttons simultaneously instead of one. Even in the options menu using Devil Trigger requires “Cycle Target + Center Camera” inputs. If you tend to use it like a panic button this can be problematic. However, you can set one of the underside buttons to use L+R and thus activate Devil Trigger from a single button press. If you played Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor you can have this same mapping for the Ultimate Weapon Techniques.
In summation this controller comes with my endorsement. It’s solid and sturdy, yet operates smoothly. Problems that you may have with it can be answered potentially by myself and, failing that, the rest of the Steam community at large. For modern games it is plug-and-play with the bonus of being able to edit controls however you see fit. I feel it is indeed worth the standard $50 asking price. It is regularly on sale for $30, which makes it a comparable purchase to a wired controller. I am happier and happier still six months in. If you are considering purchasing it yourself, I personally don’t think you can go wrong with a Steam Controller.
Addendum (November 17, 2017)
I have played a whole host of games since writing this review. Every game I’ve reviewed has been played with the Steam Controller. It’s nuances have become strengths, and I have more to learn.
I spoke earlier about adding a non-Steam game and testing it. While I haven’t had the opportunity to fully do so I had some success with Final Fantasy XI. Running the MMO and using the Steam Controller let me run around and do some basic selection. Fine tuning is required. I will likely have to independently map the control scheme to suit me, but I look forward to doing so. Otherwise, my time spent with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblvion and V: Skyrim (review on the back burner for the month) has made it such that I can easily navigate the internet with my controller.
I can’t get all my games to run (Prototype), but those that do run well with this controller. The ONLY “problem” I had came from the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance games (review(s) also on back burners). Those games read the keyboard/mouse as a controller even over actual controllers. This has led to me needing to go into the Option menu every time I start up the game and switch Player 1 and 2 from keyboard/mouse>controller and vice versa. Sometimes I have to cycle the Steam Controller off then on in the Options menu, but that’s it. The Steam Controller will turn off by holding the middle button with the Steam logo, so it is not a big deal at all. I chalk this up more to programming from porting the games than any fault of Steam.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, my affinity for this controller grows. It is worth the investment of both time and money.
It has been a busy month. Aside from all the social plans and personal tasks, I gathered enough funding to buy the parts to assemble a new computer. It was a year of odd jobs to manage it. And, it being the first gaming device I’ve had all to myself in months, I may have spent just a little more time playing video games than was wholly constructive. That, as it is said, is on me. I have taken a solid look at all I’ve done the past year. Where I was when I started, and where I am now. I consider these things to answer one simply question.
Last year I just wanted to see what it felt like to write something… anything, consistently. I want to put the same level of time, energy, and passion into completing a single project. As I announced to my friends via social media, by this time next year I will have written a book. In my early twenties I got the idea for a video game story. I will instead stick to a novel. Since my last year was scattered, I will find a balance by being focused this year. I will complete a major project and see what comes of it.
What then, will happen to this site? Simply, it will be used as a journal. I am happy to have my fiction and poetry in a place where anyone can view them. But when I listen in on the world there are scenarios that I can’t help but think on. My writing has helped me research these topics. It has also given me greater understanding in the nuance of these situations. Continue to look forward to more of the same. While it may not be as well thought out as my past years’ work, it will likely be more frequent.
Aside from a potential face lift for my site this is what I aim to use the headlining pages for. Yes, I have an affinity for alliteration. Deal with it.
World Wide Web – Anything that is more than a quick rant about events going on will be posted here. I am making an effort to identify how interconnected many of the problems that plague us are. Or perhaps, more positively, how solutions to one problem can help abate or eliminate other problems tangentially.
Games’ Garage (formerly “Game Reviews”)– As I told a friend, “Reviews are the easiest way for the obsessed to legitimize their habits.” I have spent a good deal of my free time gaming and have drawn a lot from it. In the future, as I aim to build on these skills, I’ll put my thoughts and notations here, as cleanly as I can. This isn’t just the games, but also what I observe about them. This may come to include some talk on hardware and software as I use them.
Patrons’ Parlor – As before, those that help me via Patreon will have an inside view of my most pressing projects. There will be a teaser visible, but the rest will continue to be behind a wall.
At present, I do not get much in the way of feedback regarding the writing I post. But if you find your way to the end of this entry, thank you for your support. I hope and I dream. But in the meantime, I write. And I am happy. If you are as happy as I am, let us continue to do our parts, reader and author alike.
Here is to the second year, and many more to follow after that.
I have long held a rule: Play a video game as the designers’ intended the first go round, but play it for fun after that.
The first time I wholly circumnavigated a game was Final Fantasy VIII. I had loaned a friend the four disc set. The first disc was returned to me when they got past it, but when we moved apart I didn’t get the rest back. A later roommate had a Game Shark which I had borrowed to use all the Guardian Forces and the like on the first disc. Sure, I could get the Lionheart towards the end of Disc One within the boundaries of the game itself, but as that is all I could play what was the point in that? Plus I had no chance of seeing the majority of summons with the disc I had. As such, I had fun summoning Eden to combat Ifrit.
Years later I hit a dry spell for work. Staying with some friends I had access to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Between bouts of job hunting and around the play habits of others I put in about a hundred hours on a single play through. Winter was proper that year, and having exhausted all avenues I kept playing. It was the first time I tinkered heavily with a system, and I figured out how to make myself completely undetectable (among other system tricks). I found out a lot of odd consistencies about the programming of that game. I got to watch animals and demons alike just roam about with no awareness to my presence. I learned that human, and again demon, enemies would talk to each other if they were not attempting to hunt you down. In this way, they behaved just like townspeople, and gave life to the whole of the world. I had fun just watching this world in all its rhythms. Rather than being The Hero of Kvatch, I got to have some anonymity and just mind my own business.
In recent days I have purchased many of Square-Enix’s PC re-releases of the post-Playstation era Final Fantasies. In them have been what are officially termed “game boosters”. A close friend calls them “slider cheats”. Overall I am scoffed at for even considering their use. “What’s the point of playing the game that way?” Unlike when I played Oblivion I am rather busy these days. When I went through Final Fantasy X and X-2, I turned a few of these on. All Items and Maximum Gil (the game world currency) to avoid the need to bother myself with fighting enemies for resources. I commonly used Random Encounter Rate and turned them off completely. While I sped from boss fight to boss fight, they were always tough because I hadn’t fought enough to gain more power. When the post game rolled around, rather than spending 40+ hours farming for materials to make the armors I needed I had them for every character in under twenty minutes. And you know what? I am looking forward to Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age for similar reasons. It was, and will be, nice to revisit these rich worlds and enjoy the cultures in them with minimal bloodshed.
I watched this video by Extra Credits, and it brought some foundation to my feelings. They even talked about the Saints Row series. Built in game is a leveling system. As you level up you can purchase bonuses for your character. Improved ammunition stocks, faster reloading speeds, and greater health and damage resistances. And once you reach the highest levels these shift to unlimited ammunition and clip sizes (negating reloading) as well as invulnerability. When I originally came across these I thought they were wonderful. I had gotten through the main game before hitting these levels, and hunting for achievements was made easy. When I was hunting collectibles sometimes I would see them on the edge of a building. Without the cheats I’d have to remember or mark the location, find a flying machine, then return to the place and carefully land. With them I could just ring up a delivery for such a machine. And if I found another collectible from my vantage point? I could just jump off the building to it. What has been a slog in other games (I’m looking at you Assassins’ Creed: Black Flag) was something of odd bit of theme reinforcement for this series. The second and third Saints Row games are most easily compared to Grand Theft Auto, just a hell of a lot wackier. I tried to figure out the most ridiculous way to do things, and it made the game memorable. Plus, in Saints Row: The Third, I wasn’t entirely invincible. RPGs (rocket propelled grenades in this case), falls from skyscrapers, and crashing, burning helicopters? Not a scratch. If I get punched? I need to watch out. This oversight added to the sheer lunacy of my experience.
As a prospective game designer I have gotten much from the times that I have broken a game, legitimately and not. As a game player I have squeezed out additional hours of genuine enjoyment from messing around with a system, rather than padding in the form of achievements and/or collect-a-thons. Even as an adult, it has helped me keep my hobby enjoyable, keeping a sense of fun in changing the rules.
I watched the reveal of the Xbox One live through my own 360. When it comes to consoles I am not particularly all that picky. Will this system play the games I want? What exclusive titles can I play, and which ones will I miss out on? What other features will this console possess? The XBox One ceremony answered the last question for me several times over.
I was fascinated by the array of features. I’ve recently began using my XBox 360 as an all-in-one device. Gaming, using the internet for social media, reading articles, and an occasional YouTube video have been well within the breadth of my 360s capacity. Similar models have integrated Kinect rather well. To their credit Microsoft is streamlining and expanding upon their technology. The capability of having the One be something of a “hub device” that allows people to seamless switch feeds hands free is great. The fact that it is becoming more of a compilation device is, I feel, a unique step. The inter-connectivity with live media (sports games) with more personal endeavors (real time fantasy sports teams or Skype) is a wonderful innovation. One of my more recent issues with using the 360 is I had to pick what one thing I wished to do at a time amidst all the useful feats my console can perform.
Microsoft has introduced a great multimedia platform. But next generation game console? I’m not so certain. They did show videos from Call of Duty: Ghosts and a few EA Sports titles. I found the attention to detail and views on Modern Warfare vs. Ghosts models to show me how the graphics were being improved upon. However, despite claims (namely on CoD: Ghosts) these titles are unlikely to be limited to just the XBox One. Since the footage was per-rendered and not in game, there was no way to particularly say if that was stock footage or how it would have looked on the Xbox One. Even the feature I liked the most, Snap (where you can have one task going and bring up another), wasn’t used in conjunction with an actual game. Maybe I’m sitting down to a simple co-op game and I want to Skype my friend. Is that even possible? Does it work with games or only with non-game media? This was woefully skipped over.
Two out of my three questions were left sorely untouched by their presentation. I do not expect there to be much, if any, backwards compatibility So I have to keep my discs for those I’ve bought… but what about digitally? Can I still play those? Will I be able to access those things I’ve bought on my profile? Having gone console to console I think I will, but I don’t know. As for exclusive titles? Some were alluded to, but there were no details given. I’m not into sports games. I’m not a fan of first person shooters. These are both games I can find on competing systems. Might there be some other grabbing feature I have missed out on? One of the biggest points of new consoles is novelty. What does it do better than the predecessors? As of now, the XBox One won’t have me running out to grab it just because it has touched down.