It’s Like a Totally Filtered Reality – XBox One – Blair Witch – 2019

Blair_Witch_video_game_posterBlair Witch
XBox One
Bloober Team/Lionsgate Games
Genre: Survival Horror
2019

Not all horror movies lend themselves well to their respective genre. Some efforts with popular movies like The Ring and Ju-On fall flat almost immediately while franchises like Friday the 13th and Evil Dead have produced offerings that, while not critically stellar, appealed to their audience and resulted in stronger showings. The reception of movie-based games, in general, has been all over the map.

When the Blair Witch film was announced to be released in 2016, sixteen years after the second film had slipped into theaters and directly into cult status, it came as a bit of a surprise to audiences that another entry was on the horizon. Another surprise came when an announcement was made about a game being developed for the same franchise coming out in 2019. Considering the quick obscurity of the trilogy of games developed for the PC in the early 2000s, taking another step into the gaming pool was an unexpected venture to hear about at first.

Headed up by Bloober Team, the creators of prominent indie titles like Layers of Fear and Observer with input from Lionsgate Films, the developers of the Blair Witch films, it seemed like after the decent reception for the film a few years before, the formula could be perfect to strike at the Blair Witch and her reign of terror again. Given the impact the initial trailer had, it seemed like the game could land on either side of the quality fence- but given that the game hit the XBox Game Pass, I figured it was as good a time as any to find out for myself how well the end product turned out from one of my favorite horror films growing up.
Continue reading

Fear Twice Over and Doubled – Playstation 2 – Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly – 2003

TitleFatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly
Playstation 2
Tecmo
Genre: Survival Horror
2003

While I’m still catching up with my batch of games from the Halloween season last year, it’s been a goal of mine to play through some of the major series of the horror genre since I started up the blog. Fatal Frame’s been among the goals since the beginning since I’ve only played through the first two despite owning the rest of the series. Given my recent look into the original Fatal Frame, I was excited to check out the second game again. Full honesty: I haven’t played it since high school and my memory of it was fuzzy but positive.

Now, Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly is one of the heralded possessions for horror collectors on the Playstation 2, though it hasn’t quite hit the heights of Rule of Rose or Kuon. It falls squarely into the crosshairs of “relatively affordable” and “rare enough to require hunting for a genuine copy”.  It has a strong reputation as one of the scariest horror video games available- period. The few vivid memories I had of the game before my replay were of some choice scares so I couldn’t really fight that reputation myself. Again, though- it had been a while.

Since October felt like the perfect time to make some headway into the Fatal Frame games, I figured I’d dig out my copy of the fabled Crimson Butterfly and see if I could dust off some of the cobwebs on my memories from years ago.  Continue reading

Top 5 Games of 2019

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Well, we’re coming up to the end of 2019 and- y’know, let’s be honest: this year was a fantastic year for gaming and game-related announcements. There have been so many games that have left amazing impressions on every gamer. Whether it was the innovative but divisive Death Stranding, the here-then-gone (and still divisive) darling Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, or any of the other fantastic titles ranging from indie masterpieces to triple-AAA action thrillers that were released, no one’s top picks seem to be the same, even if certain titles do seem to pop up more often than others.

So which games did I enjoy that didn’t quite make the top cut?

Well, it was a pleasant surprise to see translations and ports of Square Enix offerings like Collection of Mana, Romancing SaGa 3, and SaGa: Scarlet Grace – Ambitions, all of which were admirable and well-preserved titles. Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists and Atelier Lulua were potent returns to quality for the Atelier series that were well-produced and deserve some recognition as solid JRPGs, too. In the vein of horror, Blair Witch received a rocky reception from some, but it was one of my favorite horror offerings from 2019, even with its design bumps. The indie scene has had some strong efforts, too, including the heart-grasping Newfound Courage. Of course, that’s only a fraction of the games I experienced, and there were plenty of releases that didn’t fall into my wheelhouse that other folks really enjoyed.

With the honorable mentions situated, though, here are the five games I’m walking away from 2019 with the most impact from, one way or another. Even with the numbers attached, this isn’t a rigid ranking. All of these games left me mesmerized and kept my attention and excitement from beginning to end, whether two hours or 80-plus.

Image result for untitled goose game"
5. Untitled Goose Game – PS4, XB1, Switch, PC

What a media darling the Goose has become. What was teased as a game about being a goose who acts like a jerk to a guy in a garden turned out to be a game about being a goose who acts like a jerk to an entire village. What a refreshing turn of events!

House House did a great thing by making a minimalist puzzler with a forgiving learning curve and a fun “pick up and play” model. As much of a nuisance as the titular bird can be, they’ve got a charm about them that makes the player want to turn the hose on a gardener or steal a man’s slipper to achieve their ultimate goal. Everything down to the quirky sound design is delightful.

In a world full of explosions and do-gooding farmer-types, Untitled Goose Game offered up the Chaotic Good distraction that stuck with me and plenty of other people after the credits rolled.

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4. Arcade Spirits – PC, Switch, PS4, XB1

One would think that as someone who likes to read and play video games, the visual novel genre would have been a vein I would have mined into already. I’ve dipped a toe a couple of times, but it wasn’t until Arcade Spirits that I hunkered down and read from digital cover to cover.

The tale of a self-insert protagonist taking up a job at an arcade is a pretty easy mark to hit for anyone who knows the gaming community. Arcade Spirits took it a step further by researching the historical video game crash of 1983 and displaying a future in which it never happened, resulting in a flourishing arcade scene. Not only that, it offers up a lot of interesting trivia about arcades and machines in general. Even better? The game is incredibly LGBTQ+ friendly even offering a Them/They option for gender at character creation.

Maybe it was because it was my first visual novel or maybe it was the passion that shone through in the dialogue, story, and inclusivity form the developers. Arcade Spirits was something very special.

(My review of Arcade Spirits can be found here for some more insights.)

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3. Fire Emblem: Three Houses – Switch

Let me surprise you by adding Fire Emblem: Three Houses, a game I’ve ranted about for months now, to a Top 5 list from the year. The Fire Emblem series is one of the main series that I follow but after the strange quality fluctuation I felt between Fire Emblem Fates and Echoes of Valentia (my favorite game from 2017), I was a little nervous about Three Houses and the choice for multiple stories and paths to follow.

All of that went out the window once I booted the game up. The world at the Garreg Mach Monastery was immersive with so much more to do than bounce from battle to battle. The characters were layered and interesting to interact with. The story had some great beats and the amount of customization and side stories made the first path and 85 hours feel like they flew by. It was hard not to get invested, even with characters and plot points I wouldn’t normally be interested in.

Fire Emblem has gained its footing soundly thanks to some of the strong entries that have come out in recent years. With all of the hype behind Three Houses, though, Nintendo really had to knock it out of the park. It’s pretty safe to say that they did by most measures.

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2. Atelier Ryza ~Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout~ – Switch, PS4, PC

If you noticed that I only mentioned two of the three Atelier games that came out this year in my honorable mentions introduction, congratulations on your astute senses! Anyone who’s gotten within earshot of me in the past few months has heard about how much I loved Atelier Ryza, the start of the next “-ogy” of the series.

Advertising a new adventure about friendship, growing up, and making memories, Atelier Ryza delivered on its promises with a story about a group of friends trying to find their place in the world while solving mysteries about their homeland. On another important note for a series that is twenty-one entries deep, it made the mechanics and plot accessible to beginners and experienced alchemists alike. The game was fun and emotional from the start.

Suffice to say, I’m looking forward to the next game in the Darkness series to see what happens with these characters and their growth. If anyone is looking to get into the series in a modern way, Atelier Ryza is probably the way to go. The crafting system, storytelling, and presentational direction haven’t been this sweet in the series for some time.

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1. Resident Evil 2 – PS4, XB1, PC

Growing up, Resident Evil 2 was a favorite of mine. Before the series fell squarely into action horror, the follow-up to the original game continued the story of Raccoon City and the horrific zombie outbreak that overtook its streets. The mix of atmosphere and B-movie style approach to dialogue and plot made for a worthwhile game to remember.

With Capcom’s reputation leading up to the past couple of years, concerns were raised that Resident Evil 2‘s remake would be an attempt to exploit nostalgia for an easy grab at cash for the company. The more that released concerning the game, though, the more doubt was pushed aside. By the time it was set to release, my excitement had gone through the roof. I attended the first midnight release for a game I have in years, and I lost thirteen hours in two days barreling through the game. I couldn’t put it down. Not only did the game update the visuals and front-end factors, but it improved on the narrative and just about every other aspect of the original. The reimagining treated the original like a blueprint and built its own mansion off of it.

Returning to its horror roots, Resident Evil 2 had terror in spades even with the amped-up action. Fans of the original could still relive the glory days of the series while other people would get an expertly crafted game with smooth controls, great pacing, and earnest attempts at entertaining the player. I’m already planning my next playthrough soon- and if you have any interest at all in this game, I’d suggest you get the chance as soon as you can.

This year, I feel like I played a lot more of the games that were actually released in 2019, a feat in and of itself considering the immense backlog growing behind me even as I type. I’m already looking forward to a host of games coming out in 2020, but it’s nice to look back at what really stuck with me and why throughout the past year. Considering I haven’t seen many “Best Of” lists that have been the same from folks, I’m interested in hearing some other people weighing in on their favorites from 2019. Feel free to chat a bit in the comments about any favorite games (or even games you might have thought would be your favorites but didn’t stand up to the expectation) or over on Twitter!

Since I’ll most likely pick up writing for the new year soon, I hope you all had a great holiday and have a Happy New Year!

– Matt (a.k.a. The3rdPlayer)

 

Top 5 – Moments of The 2019 Game Awards

Image result for video game awards 2019"I wasn’t planning on sitting down and watching The Game Awards this year. I don’t put a lot of stock in awards shows in general and haven’t for years. The Oscars, the Emmys- they’re nice but not really my jam to sit down to watch for a few hours, especially when I don’t know half of the titles being discussed or awarded.

I do know a lot about the current game climate, though, and I had a lot of friends who were excited about the Awards and some of the possible announcements that would be revealed there. At the last minute, I found a Twitch channel with a group of folks I’ve come to enjoy the insights of and decided to sit back and watch the spectacle of The 2019 Game Awards.

After taking a few days to process and let some folks check out the replay for themselves, what was the best way I figured I could write about some of the things I saw?

With a list of my top moments in no particular order!

Image result for fire emblem three houses"Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Fire Emblem: Three Houses was one of my favorite games this year, and it’s not exactly a surprise that it would win the award for Best Strategy Game for 2019. The game was not only massive at potentially 80s a playthrough. With four separate paths to experience, the amount of content is worth the price of admission alone. Lump on top of that the fact that your party and classes have a number levels of customization, a host of optional story battles to help flesh out characters, and life simulation elements a la the Persona series to strengthen and immerse the player in the world of the game and you find something that appeals to just about everyone.

What was pleasantly surprising was seeing it win the Player’s Choice popular vote from fans. While the game was popular with folks I associate with on Twitter, going up against games like Super Smash Bros., Death Stranding, and Jedi: Fallen Order, it was tough to imagine that Three Houses would take the throne. There were some heavy hitters this year with a lot of fan support behind them. Seeing Fire Emblem– who really only got its legs strong with Awakening a few entries ago- take this prize was pretty heartwarming.

Image result for bravely default 2"Bravely Default II Announcement
I will openly say that not every game Square Enix has produced and published over the past few years has hit that sweet spot for me. 2012’s Bravely Default was a game that I instantly became enamored with. The art style was whimsical and felt like it was straight out of a storybook. The story took pages out of the classic Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest franchises that both developers had been so well known for. The battle system, straight off of the mildly successful 4 Heroes of Light, had been refined and made for strategic (and, to be honest, entertainingly exploitable) combat sequences. The follow-up, Bravely Second: End Layer, was decent but didn’t seem to get the same reception as the original- but fans seemed to be clamoring for more still.

One of the more surprising announcements at the VGAs was the beautiful, if not minimalist, trailer for Bravely Default II. Offering a new story with new characters in the Bravely mythos, it seems to be a return to the series that is necessary given the momentum the first game earned that End Layer didn’t seem to lock in on. Given the reactions from a number of folks I know (not to mention my own excitement when the title flashed on the screen), this could shape up to be a breath of life for the series.

Image result for disco elysium"Disco Elysium Scooping Up Four Awards
However you felt about certain parts of their acceptance speech, seeing Disco Elysium win Best Role-Playing Game over titles like Kingdom Hearts III and Best Narrative over heavy-hitter Death Stranding was a big deal for indie gaming fans. ZA/UM saw the stage more than most at the awards with a game that had a quarter of the exposure that most of its competitors had. To say that this was a surprise might be an understatement.

Full confession: I’ve never played Disco Elysium. I only learned what it was about maybe two weeks before the Awards, but it struck me as something I would be interested in, and it looked just bizarre enough to hold my attention. While I’m still waiting for it to drop into a price range I can comfortably pick it up at, seeing how well it fared against the competition it had got me pretty pumped to get the opportunity to play it.

Image result for gris"The Entire Games for Impact Category and Nominees
This being my first year that I’ve sat down to watch The Game Awards, this might be more of a novelty for me than for others. Having a category focusing on games that made strides to send a positive social message fell right into my wheelhouse. The fact that the Awards put a special focus on some of these games- most of which I hadn’t heard of before- felt like there was an effort being made to shine a light on a less prominent section of the game development community. From the outside, gamers and their entertainment of choice are stereotypically seen as toxic or lacking in empathy.

Games like Gris and Kind Words, while bending the definitions classically associated with video games, have demonstrated a side of the gaming world that needs a little attention. While games like Life is Strange 2 and Concrete Genie got a bit of attention due to their developer and release methods, a game like Sea of Solitude can get a bit of exposure for even being nominated in a show like this. It opened my eyes to a few new projects to look into. I sincerely hope it did the same for a few other folks.

Image result for xbox series x"First Sight of the X-Box Series X
My wallet is not ready for the next generation of consoles yet. Let’s be honest- are any of us ever ready when these things are announced? It’s hard to deny being excited to see another era of gaming technology approaching, though, and finally seeing what’s been touted as the newest in Microsoft’s console line was a big deal for a lot of folks.

People seem torn on the design- some are saying it looks sleek and modern while others think it looks boring and- well, boring. I’m strong behind the first opinion, and while I’m not a console fanatic in any respect, I have to say that the system that was unveiled shows some promise. With talk about backward compatibility and sights on some of the presentational possibilities, it’s stoked the fires that I have for the upcoming projects the major players- and some of the minor ones- will have announcements for soon. The next year is going to be something to brace yourselves and your funds for.

Were The Game Awards a stellar presentation in honor of the past year in games? Yes and no.

A lot of the awards were glanced over, presented in a weird lightning round of unceremonious announcements. This didn’t feel like as big a deal with categories relating to eSports or other areas where there can be a bunch of micro-elements like managers and spokespeople who are important but may not appeal to the broad gaming community. There were larger games and categories, though, that were also glossed over or announced in the pre-show of the Awards which felt oddly cavalier given the message of the show. A majority of the show also felt like it was dedicated to upcoming games rather than games that were published over the past year. While a number of the announcements were interesting and exciting, there were quite a few that folks had already seen material from before. In this, it felt like they missed the mark a little.

On the other hand, while a lot of the winners were unexpected- especially Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice with its difficulty controversy- they were welcome compared to the expectation that certain games were going to sweep the show. A lot of underexposed games were given some credit while other games like Death Stranding still got their due. I’m still a little disappointed that Resident Evil 2, one of my top games of the year, didn’t receive any awards. Looking at who received them, though, it’s a fleeting concern given how many times it was nominated. When the Awards focused on their content and mission statement, they knocked it out of the park more often than not.

Did any of you check out The Game Awards this year? If so, what were your thoughts or favorite moments? Feel free to let me know in the comments or over on Twitter by chatting with me at The3rdPlayer!

Happy trails until next we meet!

– Matt (a.k.a. The3rdPlayer)

Triple The Points for a Second Go – XBox 360 – Dead Rising 2 – 2010

20170719200659_1.jpgDead Rising 2
XBox 360
Blue Castle Games / Capcom
Genre: Action Horror
2010

The Dead Rising series is a group of games that I thoroughly enjoy but don’t get to talk about often. The series is larger than a lot of folks give it credit for at four mainline entries, a number of “side stories” and reimaginings, and a number of films in its mythos. The series has stalled out a bit since its second feature-length movie, Dead Rising: Endgame in 2016 and a re-release of Dead Rising 4 in 2017, but it has a solid foundation of material to sift through for anyone interested in checking it out.

After the success of Dead Rising back in 2006, it seemed to take forever for a second game to follow in its footsteps. When announcements started up in 2009 that another Dead Rising game was on the way, I can remember being pretty excited for some more over-the-top zombie survival using every object I could get my hands on. After three years, it was exciting to think about how far the game could have come from the original, too. The canon ending to the original left plenty of unanswered questions and room for expansion on the plot after all.

Dead Rising 2 had a big set of blood-covered boots to fill, not only from its origins but due to the release of the next entry in Capcom’s heavy hitter series, Resident Evil 5, that came out the same year it was announced. The original game still had some buzz but it was pretty much in bargain bins by the time the second game came around. Promises from the original team, though, showed that the company had faith in their upcoming product. As a fan of the second game from the previous times I’d played it, I wanted to put it under a more critical lens to see if it still held up ten years later. Continue reading