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Gaming PC PlayStation VR Reviews VR

Review: The Walking Dead—Saints & Sinners

Developer: Skydance Interactive
Publisher: Skydance Interactive
Genre: Horror, Survival
Platforms: PC (VR), PS VR
Rating: n/a
Price: $39.99

There is the saying, “too big to fail,” and then there is just too big. The Walking Dead franchise flirts with both. The comic book ran seemingly forever, spanning from 2003-2019. The television show kicked off in 2010, and persists even beyond mediocre reviews. In sudden and duplicitous fashion, Telltale Games terminated operations in 2018, abandoning The Walking Dead: The Final Season after only two episodes. 

TWD creator, Robert Kirkman, would come to Telltale Games’ rescue, bearing the might of his very own Skybound Entertainment, the company he started to secure TWD as an intellectual property, and launch the TV show. Seeking to dip his toe into the video game industry, Skybound Interactive was was born, and The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series would come into fruition (I recommend reading this, this, and this as an allegory for how to shave vaporware). But finishing Clementine’s saga is not all that Kirkman’s gaming division had in mind! Behold, they have blessed the gaming industry with a VR entry, The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners.

Content Warning

It would not be an authentic zombie apocalypse experience if players could not brain zombies. Oh, and this was left-handed!

Violence: While not as macabre as the comic book series, The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners allows the player to decide how ruthless they can be. During my playthrough, I at first strove to avoid murdering humans, but this becomes increasingly difficult over time. Therefore, I became incorrigibly ruthless, ameliorating my objectives by shooting or stabbing unsuspecting individuals in their heads. The game inevitably presents several kill-or-be-killed scenarios, where every additional, seemingly needless human death pulled on my conscience. Physically performing  murder (er, “self-defense”) in VR feels different than controlling a disembodied avatar.

Zombies just chillin’ because I am in “guts mode,” a call-back to when TWD characters cover themselves in zombie guts to go “stealth” among a horde.

Alternatively, I view killing zombies as an act of mercy for accursed or trapped souls. At the very least, I imagine ending a zombie’s un-life as a favor to his or her surviving loved ones.

When she (was) cute but she’s a zombie so she gets a shotgun shell to the skull.

Spirituality: Religion plays a passive role in TWD: S&S. While no character speaks about faith directly, Skydance Interactive juxtaposes Voodoo altars and dolls with Holy Bibles and Churches. In other words, they have accurately recreated the peculiarities that is spirituality in New Orleans.

Religion in this game is not about which god is greater, but which gun is bigger.

Crude Language & Humor: The profanity is so plentiful in this game that it would make a middle-schooler blush. Expect to hear plenty four-letter swears during even the most harmless gameplay interactions.

I got cussed out just by stepping onto their property. No friendly hello or nuffin’. Also, get used to seeing these character models. They are common.

Drug/Alcohol Use: Consuming medicine is a core gameplay mechanic. Alcohol bottles and cigarettes are common scrap materials. It is possible to place a cigarette into the player character’s mouth, but I have been unsuccessful in lighting it. Rumor has it that Skydance Interactive patched out the ability to smoke.

Does a body good.

Sexuality: Who has time for sex during a zombie apocalypse? Apparently, men do. In an optional side-mission, I served as a liaison between two male lovers on opposite sides of rival factions as they planned to elope.

The game is not coy about painting Georgia to be an unlikable character. I prefer more complexity in my villains. The plot twist—if I can call it that—plops with an impotent thud.

Racism and Bigotry: I maintain a love/hate relationship with Kirkman specifically because of what happens between the Governor and Michonne in the comics. Nevertheless, I appreciate the fact that he has never been shy to indicate that doomsday scenarios will not miraculously solve ongoing social problems in the present. Therefore, xenophobes and racists persist in TWD universe. Those kinds of people are absent in TWD: S&S, however, Skydance Interactive’s portrayal of Georgia is too stereotypical for comfort.  Between characters like the Governor and Negan, unscrupulousness is not foreign, but at least I can understand their misguided motivations for evil. I think the developers could have used more guidance concerning how to portray a proper villainous black woman. She comes off as unjustifiably one-dimensionally angry. She makes me cringe for the wrong reasons.

Review

May Benoit, a key NPC, looks unassuming because the human renders in Saints & Sinners are a low-point even though the graphics in this game exceed anything I have experienced in VR prior.

The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners begins with the zombie apocalypse well underway. After selecting a skin tone and gender, players will take on the persona of the Tourist, who…tours…down to New Orleans while in search of a mythical cache called the Reserve, a supposedly massive vault of weapons, food, and medicine. The Tourist’s contact dies before I can arrive because Skydance Interactive always intended for the player to take the lead. After looting the contact’s journal, the Tourist pieces together a radio used to communicate with a man who is on the inside of the Reserve. The Tourist will then spend his or her time alternating between fetch quests between Radio Guy and a mysterious woman named May, whose name is being slandered on propaganda on the city streets everywhere.

This guy is also important, but I do not remember him because his involvement is limited to a single setpiece.

Eventually, players will have to choose sides between factions warring on the streets, though it is a choice reminiscent of the paragon or renegade options in the first Mass Effect are “choices.” One faction is so ridiculously authoritarian, that I would question the sanity of anyone who did not choose the alternative, nascent anarchist faction as the de facto selection. Not to be confused with writing savants, Skydance Interactive funnels players into an inevitably fixed conclusion. Luckily, the story is a mere diversion for folks like myself who like to have a reason to explore fictional worlds like TWD: S&S, and I am pleased to report that this is a world worth thriving in.

If there is ever a sequel, I would like to experience more interactions with NPCs besides cursing and mean-mugging. Only NPCs with quests treat me with any dignity.

VR has come a long way over the past two years since I was blessed with an Oculus Rift, and TWD: S&S is exceptional in regards to how it takes advantage of the format. That is because this game is exceedingly tactile. Grab corners or simply lean forward to look around them. Cock open the cylinder of a revolver, dump the bullets out by shaking, it upside down, load bullets individually, and flick the wrist to pop the cylinder back in place. Eject the clip of a pistol and load from the bottom; cock the chamber of a worn pistol when it jams. With another wrist flick, open the double-barrels of a shotgun and manually load each cartridge before flicking the wrist again to arm the weapon. Pull arms from the left hip, right hip, and over the right shoulder; store items over the left shoulder; pull ammunition from the center waist; grab the flashlight from the left chest and the journal from the right chest. 

Loading a revolver during a firefight sucks yet feels awesome at the same time. Also, note the watch—missions are timed, so hit up those objectives and scavenge points before the zombie horde takes to the streets!

All weapons can be held with two hands for increased stability—in fact, one must hold a weapon like the bolt-action rifle with the left hand on the stock so that the bolt can be cocked with the right hand. Of course, this goes double (lol) for melee weapons like baseball bats. One can wield Knife-like weapons in one hand or both, upside-down for back-handed backstabbing or right-side-up for thrusting right into the temples of living and dead flesh alike.

My first (yet to be unpublished) take of the QuickScope I recorded showed me becoming frustrated with the accuracy of shooting…one-handed. I did not figure out that I could shoot with two hands until I unlocked the shotgun, and so I experimented with pistols next.

In other words, the gameplay in TWD: S&S does not merely shine; it radiates! While fighting against humans is annoying because of their impeccable aim and tendency to drop broken weapons upon death, I never grew tired of slaying the undead, not even when armored or poison zombies began to show up. The combination of satisfying weapons and plenty of fodder weapons testing makes for an exhilarating experience, especially when considering that over time, weapons wear out, supplies become more scarce, and enemies increase in number.

While it is not recommended to shoot one-handed, this peek-around-the-corner headshot was LIT!

Thus, when the Tourist grows tired and has less energy for running, I have to consume food to restore stamina (calories). Oftentimes, that food is more than slightly ripe, and will do health damage while restoring stamina, requiring me to consume medicine, a rare resource. Without restoring stamina, the Tourist will be unable to outrun zombies, or anything for that matter; without medicine, the Tourist will fall sick, coughing and alerting nearby enemies, and become more susceptible to damage.

TWD: S&S is overall an aesthetically impressive game. Many VR games boast an overly-simplistic art direction to balance the power draw necessary to render VR. This game pulls no punches, even in the small environmental things like this mural.

I generally dislike crafting, but TWD: S&S streamlines the mechanic such that all I have to do during missions is toss everything that is not nailed down into my bookbag before returning to my cemetery home base to craft whatever is next on one of the three workbench tech trees. Even if one decided to abandon any pretense of following the story, the game still provides solid gameplay as a survival-horror, with an emphasis on survival—in several missions once the number of days that I had survived hit the teens, I failed to find any meaningful scrap that I did not take from a human carcass of my own creation.

Backpack, backpack! Backpack backpack! Sing along with me? No? Well, make sure to upgrade this thing for maximum storage. And yes, Twinkies can apparently survive the zombie apocalypse.

Even though I have completed the main part of the game, I have yet to unlock everything. During the early game, Skydance Interactive made it easy for me to find materials to make Lucile, the bat that Negan uses in TWD comic/TV show to…well, fans know. I also enjoyed using Rick’s Grimes’ revolver, called “The Sherrif.” As I have found other Easter eggs, I suspect that the final weapon at the melee crafting bench will be Michonne’s katana. Given that The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is an outstanding VR game, I will most certainly return to New Orleans and finish maxing out my crafts, searching for the clues that the green pages provide for the best gear.

Review copy generously provided by Forty Seven Communications

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Gaming PC PS4 Reviews Xbox One

Review: Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint

Developer: Ubisoft 

Publisher: Ubisoft

Genre: Shooter

Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Rating: M for Mature

Price: $59.99 

There are times when franchises have to refresh themselves lest they get stale. You do not eat bread from the same loaf for ten years; why should your games be different? Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon did this in 2017 with the release of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands. This refresh paid off quite well, and the same open world design was implemented in this year’s sequel: Breakpoint. Time to see if this pony is one trick.

Content Guide

Violence: This is a third person shooter, naturally guns, grenades, and the like are used frequently. Blood sprays when people are shot and drones explode. Your character can sustain devastating injuries such as broken limbs either through combat or by not watching where they are going. Some cut-scenes depict torture through beating and stabbing.

Language: Curse words—such as f*ck, d*mn, sh*t, as*hole—and their variants are easily thrown around like the pigskin at the Super Bowl.

Sexual Content: Some sexual dialogue is used referring to bodily fluids, sex toys, and doing the horizontal hula hula.

Drug Content: Syringes are used to heal wounds and revive teammates. Some NPCs are seen smoking.

Review

I will just cut to the chase. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint is a mess, an amalgamation of half measures baked into a product that feels like a cheap knockoff you would expect from the App Store—specifically a knockoff of another Ubisoft game, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which is actually great. Ubisoft has literally become the kid in class cheating off their own wrong answers for the test. There is so much wrong done with this game that it needs to be broken down by what has been right before.

Ghost Recon has always been a franchise about a military squad taking on missions around the globe. Stealth and smart tactics are always intended to save the day. You are to rely on them as much as they rely on you for their orders. Most of these titles are solo affairs, but your squad is usually smart enough to follow your orders so they can survive the mission. No matter what, your squad always has your back from mission to mission. But in Breakpoint, instead of having AI squad mates, you are one person alone.

HOWEVER, there is a social space in this game called Erewhon (pronounced air one, like the Jordan’s). In this hub, you see various other players where you can see each other’s appearance and gear. If you do not have a squad from the get go, why is there a social space? Social spaces are for games that are designed to have you see and interact with other players no matter where you go in the game. You never meet players out in the world except the players you are playing with in your squad. This game just does not have its mind made up; either it is a social experience through and through, or it is a gritty solo story about a soldier struggling to survive.

This game requires an online connection at all times, and the social space is literally the only reason I see for that function to exist. Wildlands could be played online or offline, you always had a choice. Whether you were connected or not, you could play. In this game, if there is no connection there is no play time. Tom Clancy games are built on both amazing single player gameplay and awesome multiplayer experiences that are distinct from each other. Rainbow Six does its own thing and Ghost Recon has its thing. This game is Wildlands dressing up as The Division for Halloween.

That leads me to my next point, concerning the weapons and gear. In previous Ghost Recon titles, you are given the option to use either what was recommended or what you want. In Wildlands, you are given starter gear and you can find more guns and attachments to suit how you play. While each of these guns are different, there are not multiple versions of the same gun where one shoots harder than the other…which is exactly what Breakpoint does. Every crate you find in the world will feature at least one item that either shoots harder or wears harder than the clothes or guns you currently have equipped. The Wildlands guns are each unique and are changed by what you equipped on them, not by some arbitrary number that the game tells me. I saw stats go up and down based on what I put on it whether it, was a different stock or foregrip. Breakpoint‘s numbers-based system has no right being in this game. Attachments and the user make the gun effective, not the other way around.

When it comes to actual gameplay, Breakpoint is very much like Wildlands, namely the gunplay and driving. The problem is that new limitations are now in place. Instead of being able to sprint for infinity, there is a new fatigue system that will stop you from sprinting unless you take a swig from your canteen. If you fall, you can break a limb and your mobility is limited. While these are neat ideas leaning into the survival underdog story set in front of you, they do not line up with what actually happens. I made a head-on collision into a tree expecting a deadly injury, but received merely a broken bike and minor health damage. Injuries in combat, while more severe, are quickly healed when the area is clear. Instead of a persistence of my condition that made me feel like I was scraping by by the skin of my teeth, I felt like I would be fine if I just killed everyone. In Wildlands, if you leave the area the enemies will pursue you to the ends of the earth. But here, even if there were persistence, it would not matter much since you have an unlimited stock of bandages that heal all wounds.

When it comes to the world, Auroa is a lifeless and dull place to explore. People are scattered here and there, wildlife is seen less often, and there are enemies everywhere. No matter where you go in the world, someone will try to kill you. While the threat was also constant in Wildlands, it is balanced out by seeing civilians trying to live their lives in constant fear of the cartel. There is tension and an ever-present feeling that an attack could come from anywhere. That tension is gone here in Breakpoint, as I could easily avoid enemy engagement going from one side of the map to the other if I played my cards right. Even the characters and performances feel phoned in. Nomad’s new voice actor sounds like a guy trying to make his voice deeper like Star Lord when he meets Thor in Infinity War.

Not everything is bad though. The story is an interesting tale of a soldier struggling with the betrayal he is suffering at the hands of his one-time comrades. One of the mentioned traitors Cole D. Walker, played by Jon Bernthal, is awesome. He is a ruthless and cunning individual with his own team to counter the Ghosts, the Wolves. They are smart and they do not stop, and it is terrifying. They are smarter, more accurate, and take more damage. You do not want to mess with these guys.

Another thing done well is that the world map works like it does in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. If you do not know where a place is, you an either discover it for yourself based on landmark clues in Exploration Mode or have it marked for you in Guided Mode. As you discover the world, you can find places for your character to rest or see where a place may have some great loot. Either way you play, something cool could be hiding right around the corner.

In the end, Ghost Recon Breakpoint is amalgamation of half measures and bad choices. What looked to be a gritty survival mystery about how a loyal soldier can turn to heartless traitor turned into a mess of connection issues and one foot in and one foot out. No idea added to or removed from the solid foundation of Wildlands is implemented in the best way. It is all half baked, and poorly mixed. If this game were a food, it would be the world’s lumpiest batch of cornbread. Just go play Wildlands instead.

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Gaming PC Previews

Preview: Gearstorm

Gearstorm, by Iron City Games, is a sandbox, survival game in a post-apocalyptic, fully destructible world. The shooter game has single player and multiplayer options with zombies, alien dinosaurs, multiple metals, guns, vehicles, and world editing modes. Here’s a preview of my experience of the early access title.

I began on a ship hovering over a planet. Figuring out how to move took a second. The hallway holding me contained a floating Roomba, graciously giving me the lowdown and the options in front of me. After traveling for 1,300 years, the ship wakes up everything to go and repopulate on a foreign world. A tutorial could teach me the power of the BuildGun, or a drop pod could take me to the beachhead.  

The latter was chosen.

Actually, before I left, further exploration was rewarded with vehicles, from tanks to planes, each handling differently, but easily. 

Then, I left the ship.

Next, I learned how to slow the falling speed of my pod, ran out of gas, and crashed onto the new planet. The General gave me the BuildGun, I completed “scanning” a tree to death, and immediately ran away.

The next few hours with Gearstorm, I tested this so-called fully destructible world. And I have to say, I’m impressed. I made a giant tunneling hole down as far as the game would let me until I hit the orange, liquid-like bottom.

When I finished with my fun in the hole, the rest of the world was before me to explore. I encountered weird deer, large dinosaurs, and marauders, who killed me very quickly. I swam out into the ocean for Uranium, climbed the icy mountains for a good view, and checked out an underwater cave (sadly, nothing there). The landscape is set up like Minecraft, with a small biome for each elemental climate to give the world just a little bit of everything from dense forests to barren wastelands.

When I looked around for info on the game, players were bragging about lots of zombies, but my current play-through had none of them. That was until I realized I had put the difficulty on peaceful. The entire game changes on hard. Let’s just say, you come out of the pod swinging.

The building portion was a bit tedious to master. There are many buttons designed for intricate construction. The limits for what you can make are just about endless.

Sadly, I can only speak for the single player experience, because no one was online. There are parts I know about thanks to their website, like the trading system that allows you to place bounties on other players. But according to their site, as a host, you have total control over people and objects. You can teleport people, spawn any object and make up quests.

Sound is important for Gearstorm. With a day and night cycle, enemies come camouflaged, invisible, or attack from afar. Essentially, hearing them is half the battle. While mining the endless earth, a special noise pings when a rare metal has been harvested. Plus, the music is awesome.

Graphics have managed to look clean and impressive for a small indie team. The faces on the humans aren’t impressive, but on the Iron City Games site, they’ve admitted to not strive for next-generation textures and shadows. Despite this, the game’s look is appealing, while remaining functional. 

What’s cool is the ability to switch between first-person and third-person views whenever you want. The developers wanted this game to be a huge success and are constantly working on it and adding new things frequently.

Gearstorm is a survival game with a new twist. Overall, I didn’t find anything that blew my mind. In fact, in spite of my good points, I failed to mention the challenges I faced, dealing with lost connections and items floating in the air. Sometimes, when loading the map, the game froze a couple of times and I had to start over again.

Even though the area was small, finding out where to go from the Roomba was left up to me. I personally liked the freedom, but other people may lose interest with having to figure things out for themselves.

I’m keeping my eye on Gearstorm to see where it’s going. Perhaps there will be more to see underground besides orange fluids and gold.

Preview copy generously provided by Novy Unlimited.
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Gaming PC Reviews

Review: Ancestors—The Humankind Odyssey

Developer: Panache Digital Games
Publisher: Private Division
Platforms: PC
Genre: Survival, Simulation
Rating: N/A
Price: $39.99

Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey was announced during the 2018 Game Awards, the next game from Patrice Desilets, who is known for his role as the creative director behind the first three games in the Assassin’s Creed series and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Not so different from his previous work, Ancestors also explores our history, but all the way back to the first days of mankind.

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is based on the early days of man and the theory of evolution. I bring this up in this section because science and scripture collide here. This topic is not touched though since there is no story within the game. Players control a group of early hominids that become more human-like over time. As a result, I feel that some players may want to use discernment and decide whether they are comfortable with playing the game.

Violence: Players will be surviving the dangers of the wild, which means fighting against predatory animals. Enemy animals can be seen hunting one another and will also come after the player character. Players can craft tools used to defend themselves with and stab an enemy. Blood appears when the player or enemies take damage.  A bleeding status effect can also occur, though it can be stopped with the right resource. Players can also die from a fall if jumping from a high point and see the dead hominid laying on the ground.

Sexual Content: Players can court hominids of the opposite sex in their clan, which is done through a grooming mechanic. The camera will pan upward and point at the sky when the act of mating occurs. The female can give birth afterward; no details are shown here aside from the parents welcoming their newborn baby into the world.

Review

Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is an ambitious video game. The best category I could fit it into is the survival genre, though it does things much differently than one might expect. There is no story, other than that you take control of a clan of Hominids during the first days of mankind in the African jungle. It is up to the player to not only help the clan survive, but to advance the species through learning about the world and experience—even something so simple as trying to walk upright for a few seconds. That is what it’s like to live in the world of Ancestors, and the developers have gone to great lengths to lean into that premise.

The land of Africa in 10,000 B.C. is a visual treat as your clan will eventually have to make it out of its jungles and into the stagnant waters of swamps and the dry deserts. Your clan will need to brave heavy rains and perilous creatures such as snakes, wild boars, and deadly sabertooth tigers. You won’t have any world map or objective markers to guide you, and you will have to overcome the fear of the unknown, discovering the world on your own.

We’ll start with the controls since that’s where the game starts with its players. The controls may seem scary and complicated at first, but are similar to the puppeteer concept from the original Assassin’s Creed. Most of the face buttons will activate the sense of sight, smell, and hearing, while the triggers will help focus on the things you detect. The bumpers are used to grab and interact with objects and essential to how you will be crafting/altering some resources. On the flip side, the easier thing to learn is climbing trees, which is more automatic and requires you to push the ‘”A” button to jump between trees and branches. The controls can seem overwhelming at first, but I got the hang of them after a while. Learning the layout is only the first step in figuring out how to do everything else in the game.

The spirit of Ancestors is that we know very little as early mankind, so the game itself carries that spirit and only shows us the controls through a short tutorial, then leaves us to figure out the rest for ourselves. The best place to start is identifying things with your senses, then picking things up to inspect them and find out what they are. Looking for food sources and finding things to make your first tools is the best route to go. This is where the survival mechanics of keeping yourself fed, your thirst quenched, and well-rested comes in. The micromanagement of those needs strangely feels like one of the more simplified aspects of exploring the world, and  it’s greatly appreciated, since most survival games lean way too heavily in that area.

As you keep doing more in the world, you will gain experience if you carry a baby with you to pass on this knowledge—carrying two of them gives you twice the experience. All of the experience points you earn can be seen as a giant orb in the center of the skill menu. One of the first things that will be learned is motor skills, like switching an object from one hand to another, but goes further into advancing senses and increased awareness, which will help you to better evade enemies.

All that I’ve shared so far were things that didn’t take long to learn how to do, but there were a few hang-ups. Much of the more involved actions in Ancestors are done with timing and audio cues. In just about every major action, you’ll need to match your timing with the cue. For example, when crafting, you’ll hold the alter button until you hear a chime. If your timing is off, you’ll potentially break what you have in your hands. Other major actions in which this comes into play are combat and grooming. I failed in many of those interactions until I realized that this mechanic was more universal to the game and began to appreciate it.

One of the biggest areas that could’ve used some better explanation is combat. It took a long time before I realized the same audio cue system applied to the combat, along with holding the stick in the direction I wanted to go before hitting the ‘A’ button. Holding the stick in a direction away from the predatory animal will dodge the attack (if you get the timing right) and pointing it towards the enemy will execute a counter-attack. I learned all of that from the game’s subreddit before I fully understood how combat worked. However, my many lost battles with an angry warthog that I eventually defeated opened up more defensive and resilience traits that would go with me into future generations.

The ultimate goal of Ancestors is to advance generations and eventually make a leap into the next stage of evolution. There are milestones that players must accomplish before a jump through the timeline can be initiated. It’s not only about learning as much as you can and picking up a bunch of skills. I’m sure that there are varying speeds of progress towards this goal depending on how a player chooses to spend their time, but I was in no rush and wanted to take my time to learn everything I could before attempting such a thing. However, I fear that many will just want to get the final evolution as quickly as possible.

The lack of guidance and information is one of Ancestors’ biggest detriments. Having to look up and research some of the mechanics and learning how things work will largely be an inconvenience to many who give the game a try. However, I consider that level of open-ended gameplay to be one of the things that the game does so well. As my clan members are learning the basics of existence and living, everything I have learned how to do has helped them advance. It is a rewarding experience to see my clan benefit from the things that I learn and experience every time I play the game.

One of my favorite moments I experienced when playing Ancestors was when I learned how to drink and eat. As I examined my first body of water, my hominid took a drink of it—the rest of my clan did the same after they watched me do it. The same thing also occurred when I discovered our first food sources. In video games, we are so accustomed to unlocking new skills for our character to evolve and get stronger, but with Ancestors, the things I learned and experiences I had strengthened my whole clan. To see my clan interact with the world and utilize the traits I was unlocking is something I can’t say that I have ever experienced within a video game before.

There are more details I could go further into when talking about Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey. Though the beauty of the game is for players to organically experience and discover all that it has to offer. It would be a disservice for me to sit here and tell you how the whole thing works. Ancestors is one of the most fascinating gaming experiences I’ve ever had, but I can’t say everyone will have the same experience. The game leaves so much for its players to figure out and controls that take some time to get the hang of. If you’re looking for instant gratification, you won’t get that here. Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey asks that you take in every minute of the evolutionary process.

 

 

 

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Gaming PC PS4 Reviews Switch

Review: Forager

Developer: HopFrog

Publisher: Humble Bundle

Genre: Open World, Survival, Adventure

Platforms: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4

Rating: E for Everyone 10+

Price: $19.99

In today’s gaming world, Minecraft is a household name. More knowledgeable players may be aware of Terraria or even the Rune Factory series. Terraria in particular was a perfect fit for me, until an update made the game’s UI nearly unplayable on the PS4 port. Now, years later, I had come to miss some crafting excellence. Upon first glance, Forager immediately reminded me of characteristics of these separate game franchises, among others. How well does it hold up on it’s own, let alone against these gaming giants? With that question in mind, let’s jump into our review of Forager on the Nintendo Switch!

Content Guide

Blood+Violence: Enemies will attack the player on sight, and defeating said enemies will result in a small, pixelated squirt of blood.

Fantasy Violence: There are several magical staves that cast spells against opponents.

Mild Humor: A certain quest requires the collection of fecal matter for a NPC obsessed with the stuff. Attacking certain characters result in jocularly horrified commentary.

Demons/Undead: Forager contains Demonic and Undead opponents. One certain item raises Skeletons for the player, A Necronomicon can also be obtained. 

 

Review

Forager has a variety of unlockable bonus materials outside the game, like this cute little comic.
Wilson? WIIIILSON!!!

Starting Forager‘s application, I was treated to a cute little Humble Bundle intro with creator commentary. The top menu screen came up, offering a chance to look at several options, including extra content and future plans for the game. Seeing as not much could be done with the other options yet, I had little choice but to start playing the game.                                                                                     

Once finally in the game, I found myself stranded on an island with naught but naught but a pickaxe, backpack, and some resources to hack at. Almost reflexively, I started digging. While I did so, small button commands and flashing notification signs began to pop up, directing my attention to different aspects the game presented. Taking a page from games in the past, there were little-to-no tutorials at all. From crafting my first furnace to making money, most everything was self taught, which was a nice change of pace from the hand-holding many modern games are guilty of.

Mine, Mine, MINE!

After crafting my first few items, I was quickly able to make money (literally) and buy my first piece of land. I was excited. Already I was so hooked into crafting my items that a new piece of land, with more resources, was thrilling. Imagine my disappointment, then, when the piece of land turned out to be just that: a tiny piece of land a third of the size of my tutorial island. This was the first time I was disappointed in the game, but I kept right on going. My Empire must have its industry!

Look at me. Look at me in my little. top. hat. I’m adorable.

Over the course of the game, lands progressively became more difficult to acquire, and stayed consistent in it’s random generation of size. Regardless of these challenges, however, it quickly became my goal to acquire all pieces of land in the game, and within each new piece was a new challenge to overcome and new loot to acquire. Since there is no story in Forager, leveling up and land possession became the scales in which I measured my progress.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go…

With the purchase of each new piece of land, there’s a chance to come across two main types of buildings; a Temple, or a Puzzle.

Each dungeon segment has it’s own boss.
This was the boss of the ice segment.

Reminiscent of the Legend of Zelda series, Temples are dungeon-esque levels which contain a mix of puzzles and enemies, a new weapon, and a boss battle. Being a lifetime Zelda fan, I really enjoyed these segments, but found them far, far too short.

Puzzles are scattered throughout the 49 segments of land in the game, but the most difficult (and my favorite) take place within towers. The fire-themed Puzzle tower has been the greatest puzzle challenge I’ve had in quite some time, and was intensely time-consuming for me to solve. My favorite tower, however, didn’t have a puzzle, but rather a series of riddles whose solutions required me to find certain items. For example, a riddle about water required me to find water and put it on the corresponding riddle. I love good riddles that I have to solve myself; they are an underrated puzzle mechanic that needs to be in more games.

However short they are, these obstacles are an excellent change of pace from the from the regular grind of crafting and leveling in regular gameplay, and are definitely a shining factor within Forager‘s experience. 

…And the People You’ll Meet!

One of Forager‘s largest sources of charm comes from its NPCs. With each offering their own “advice” and commentary, it was always a nice little nugget to find a new one when I bought a piece of land. Granted, they usually wanted something from me that I almost never had yet, but at least most of them were friendly about it.

One notable character is the Giant Beet. The Giant Beet is so sweet and it always compliments you and tells you something positive, which I probably took much more seriously than I should have (honestly though, how many games nowadays have such innocent positivity). Imagine my shock, then, when I accidentally attacked one of it’s neighboring beets, prompting the comment “I Still Love You!!” Aww.

Too bad one of the game’s achievements require you to kill it.

Aww… This beet is the sweetest beet.
Talking to him is a treat.
My Favorite Things

My favorite thing to do in Forager was to find the many easter eggs and pop culture references hidden throughout the game. From completing NPC quests to unlocking achievements, there are several skins and quotes from pop and gaming culture that were an absolute delight to find and understand.

I am the Knight…
Here to bring the art of Shovelry to my Empire!

For most of the game, I ended up using the Hollow Knight skin, which made my jaw drop upon first sight. Beyond that, there are also references to Overwatch, Shovel Knight, Terraria, The Legend of Zelda, and even Super Meat Boy.

I Hardly Even Touched Him!

Combat in Forager is incredibly easy. Since there are only a handful of different enemy types, none of which with any particularly difficult mechanics, combat interactions are always pretty short, regardless of weapon type. This made me wonder why there would be any need for weapon upgrades and variety, and combat actions. No enemy is moving fast enough to require dodge rolling, and though new swords kill enemies faster, they couldn’t hit me if I always moving. Since I made food such as cooked fish, it was even easier, as downing a few fish will restore any health lost as long as I wasn’t full. Over the course of the game I was given many opportunities to expand my health, but really never needed to.

I would love to have more enemies and difficult combat experiences in the future, should any of the teased installments be added to the game.

Just…Just Let Me See the Map. Please
Here you see a direct consequence of the funky map scrolling.
I could barely make out what the sign said!

As I had said before, a horrible UI update ruined my PS4 Terraria experience in the past. Like a nightmarish flashback, Forager gave me a similar experience at times as well. However, unlike the Terraria update, this is not too late to change!

There are two very egregious examples of gameplay irritation I am thinking of. The first is the lack of a good overworld map. Throughout the game I was always on the move, between gathering resources, to crafting, to making money. Because of this, I was often on the opposite side of my Empire than the next piece of land I was buying, or item I was crafting. The only option to see a decent map was to go to a menu section labeled “Buy Land” and check. However! Even when using this tab, the map window often would stop panning, depending on where I was located. For example, If I wanted to buy a Northern piece of land, but was in a Southern map piece, I could only see the pieces of land in the grid row underneath the the Northern piece of land, requiring me to move North a bit so my map could expand further. This drove me crazy, and was horribly inconvenient, especially when in a timed scenario.

The second red flag I experienced was with ranged weapon controls. When using, say, a bow, the button prompt requires the regular “action” input and uses the right stick to aim. Regular stuff. However, while the aim cursor is pointing left, if I let go of the aiming stick, the bow would fire right, while the aim cursor remained to my left. Due to the aforementioned ease of combat within Forager, this wasn’t too inconvenient, but it did render several weapons almost worthless for quick use in gameplay.

See where the aim marker is?
The arrow clearly did not get the memo.
The Best Forager Has To Offer

If I were to take all the game experiences that Forager gave me, bad and good, and boiled out the single strongest feature that puts it above the competition, the RPG elements would be it. The skill tree is Forager‘s best and most unique feature. From passive effects, like earning 20% more gold selling items, to active effects, such as earning more crafting materials, I was always excited to find out what my next levels could unlock. The system isn’t perfect for me, but that’s also a part of the system’s ingenuity: not everyone has my playstyle.

Mmm…It’s Missing Something
There are six additions teased for Forager‘s future. However, only two of them are named so far.

For a time, Forager presents plenty to do. Throughout my playthrough I made three personal goals: first, to buy all available properties; second, to see all that the skill tree had to offer; and lastly, to craft every item I could. Over time I found that the third goal became more and more out of reach, as the time sink became too heavy and resources too numerous. With 5 tiers of item crafting, the time, resources, and energy to make new items literally increased exponentially. Eventually I drew a line when a new item, the “obliterator,” wanted 100 of 3 different types of very difficult and rare materials.

Using those three goals, I believe I have been able to experience all that Forager has to offer me, and for the most part, I enjoyed it. However, there’s just something…missing. For example, there was a very limited  variety of weapon upgrades, and all of the perks are the same no matter the playthrough. Crafting items moved from very manageable to nearly impossible almost instantly, and there is next-to-no incentive for game completion besides the completion itself.

To put it flatly, I feel that the late-game experience strongly builds up to the upcoming update and patch releases, but until then, is missing a crucial step in gameplay. Seeing as Forager just officially came out in the middle of this year, I continue to have strong hopes for it’s expansion and potential.

There you have it, after 29 hours of playtime, I have little large complaint…
But have also done basically everything I cared to do.

Review copy generously provided by Humble Bundle