Category Archives: XBox One

Game Review: Inside

The end of the year was the perfect time for me to take a vacation of sorts, allowing me to recharge & not even think about work or worry about the constant emails I get on a daily basis.  Fortunately this also coincided with several year-end game sales, thus allowing me to aid in this recharging by spending uninterrupted hours catching up on some games I was interested in but hadn’t gotten around to buying.  Playdead’s acclaimed Inside was one such game that I completed in a single sitting.  I’ve gone on record of saying that Playdead’s previously acclaimed game, Limbo, was a visual feast but suffered (in my personal opinion) from some frustrating puzzles & impenetrable story.  So have they improved with Inside?

inside_xbox_one_cover_art

As with their previous game, what exactly is going on in Inside is debatable, but what’s apparent from the plot is that you control a faceless boy who must traverse a desolate, post-apocalyptic landscape while avoiding armed guards, rabid beasts, human-hunting machines & apparently failed human experiments to reach some indeterminate end goal.  What is the boy’s goal at the end of his journey inside the imposing factory?  Does he even know?

Inside is 2.5D sidescrolling puzzle-platformer.  Kid (as I took to calling him as he’s never given a name) must navigate a series of obstacles & puzzles to continue forward.  He can run, jump, climb, push & pull.  There are also sections where he must utilize mind-control helmets to control drone-people to help him solve puzzles, as well as an underwater section involving diving tank.


256-inside-screenshot-1466596552Narrative: There’s a fine line between being open to interpretation & being as opaque as a brick wall, but I feel Inside strikes the right balance between telling us what’s going on & letting players interpret events.  The term “visual storytelling” gets thrown around a lot in game media, but Inside is an example of putting this idea into practice & doing it well.  Without a single line of spoken dialogue or text (in fact, I don’t think there’s any text anywhere in the entire game), Inside perfectly portrays its world, & we instantly empathize with the challenges the Kid has to overcome.  The very first moment of the game is the Kid climbing out of a hole in some rocks & coming across a barrier, with mindless drone-people being loaded into the back of a shady truck, all while surrounded by glowing tanks & armed, masked guards.  Whatever’s going on, it’s not good.

Inside also does an excellent job of exemplifying “transformational media,” or the idea that each person who views a piece of media will take away their own unique experience.  Because the plot is just vague enough for us to never truly be sure of what’s going on, we build our own interpretations, & thus the story changes a little bit for each person.  The way I interpret events might be different from the next person.  Who is the Kid?  Did he intend for the outcome?  What really happened to this world?  But it leaves just enough questions unanswered to make us what to see what comes next.

I also have to say I really enjoyed the setting for Inside… if you can enjoy an oppressive, potentially doomed world.  Not only are there strong Orwellian, 1984 vibes, but it reminded me a lot of a short-story we read in high school called Harrison Bergeron (check it out if you’re a fan of dystopian science fiction).  Everything is dark & depressing, & each obstacles builds on the horror, making us think the worst of this world.  Outrunning guards, controlling drones, watching what remains of society staring blankly on as they seemingly purchase these drone-people, failed experiments, & finally the Hive Mind… I found the ending genuinely distressing.  Not something to be “happy” about, but if that was the goal of the developers, they succeeded in spades.

Overall, an intriguing mystery that will have you thinking about the game long after you’ve stopped playing.

Score: 5


2016_0719in06Mechanics: I really feel that Playdead perfected the mechanics they set out to create in Limbo with Inside.  The controls are simple & responsive.  Heck, there’s only three controls, really.  Movement with the left stick, jump & grab.  Simple, but everything controls like it’s supposed to.  I didn’t experience any frustrating lags in the Kid doing what I said or ungainliness like I did in Limbo.

The puzzles are also vastly improved.  Playdead seemed to realize that the fun & challenge in a puzzle should come from figuring it out, not in precision timing.  Of course, that might also be due to Inside being less about the futility of action & being stuck in a limbo of death & failure.  The puzzles have just the right amount of difficulty, with the solutions coming very naturally from the player’s experimentation & exploration of the environment.  There’s also a nice variety of puzzles or obstacles, mixing strategic thinking & timing.  I think my favorite was in the flooded base when you have to bait the water baby/siren thing to different parts of the water to give you time to reach the next switch.  Yes, these require timing, but to the point of making you feel tense as you try to swim away from the water baby, & not frustrating.  Although you will probably die several times, it never became frustrating to me, & the checkpoint system is very forgiving so you’ll typically restart right before you died.

Overall, smooth, solid controls & great puzzle-platforming design.

Score: 5


851099-inside-windows-screenshot-the-boy-was-shot-let-s-try-thatAesthetics: I find it funny that when I initially saw footage of Inside, I immediately thought it was from Playdead.  The art style is very similar to Limbo, utilizing atmospheric lighting, heavy shadows & imposing scenery.  The art style is suitably gloomy, & the developers clearly paid a lot of attention to detail.  For example, the Kid’s red shirt is some of the only color in the game.  Everything feels muted.  Another detail that makes me wonder about its narrative significance is the fact that people don’t have faces, but specific people are shown wearing masks with faces on them, like the guards & “regular” citizens.  What does it mean?  And while I’m a little loathe to do so, I give Playdead credit for creating something that made me feel a bit nauseous.  The Hive Mind at the end seriously grossed me out.  I’m not sure if it’s a body horror thing, a blob thing, or the way it moved, but it was very effective.

The musical & sound direction were also spot on.  There’s actually not a lot of “music” in the game, but in its place, we have atmospheric sounds that really help with immersion.  I actually paused the game in the beginning to see if my TV had a headphone jack so I could take in every little sound (sadly, it didn’t).  But again, I think it’s the attention to detail.  Little things like the irregular sound of rain, or that deep booming tone that sounded straight out of Inception, or even how everything goes silent & muted underwater.  Without proper dialogue, everything’s portrayed through noise.  And portrayed effectively.

Overall, shows supberb attention to detail both in terms in visual presentation & ambient sound.

Score: 5


Replay Value: Moderate.  While this could certainly be a one-&-done game, I think there’s a lot to it that makes it replayable.  For one, it’s fairly short.  I think it took me about three hours.  There’s also an alternate ending that requires you to find all the secret orbs hidden throughout the game.  You can replay from any checkpoint, which is fairly frequent.  And just the mystery of the plot makes it so you’ll want to play again to try to understand it better.  To really take your time & explore to uncover all the mysteries.  Score: 4


Breakdown

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Final Score: 5

Final Word: I didn’t realize until writing this review that I literally have nothing bad to say against Inside, & that’s never happened before, not even with my favorite games.  That fact alone means I can’t help by recommend this game to every gamer.  While the open-ended story might not appeal to everyone, the only people I can really see not finding something to enjoy about Inside are those who only play one specific franchise (like Madden or Call of Duty).

– GamerDame

Title: Inside
Consoles: PS4, PC, XB1
Rating: M
Developer: Playdead
Publisher: Playdead
Release Date: June 29, 2016

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Filed under 5, PC, Platformer, PS4, Puzzle, Reviews, XBox One

Game Review: Diablo 3

There’s something to be said for waiting after a game’s launch before picking up a copy.  Not only can you sometimes get the game for cheaper, but it seems more & more that games suffer from bugs & hick-ups upon release.  While my exact thoughts on the matter could (& may) take up a post all of their own, in short; it sucks.  Modern technology is a double-edged sword.  Nowhere is this more true than with games with DRM or “always-on” gimmicks.  Having never played the previous games, I watched the fiasco of Diablo 3‘s launch in detached awe.  As hyped up as the game was, you’d think Blizzard would’ve been better prepared for the massive influx on their servers, especially when even single-player campaigns had to be connected.  But this review isn’t about the horrors of DRM.  It’s about my experience with the game.

Aren't all the names for the Evils in this game versions of "the Devil'?

Aren’t all the names for the Evils in this game versions of “the Devil’?

Just a note: The version I have is the PS4 Diablo 3 – Reaper of Souls – Ultimate Evil edition.  I can’t vouch for any differences between this & other versions.

Diablo 3 takes place some time after the events of the last iteration.  As the Nephilim of your choice (based on several various classes & genders), you trail a fallen star that has landed in Tristram, resulting in the dead rising from their graves to terrorize the population.  You discover that the star was actually a man who fell from the sky to bring a warning of impending doom… only he doesn’t remember what it was.  Or who he is, for that matter.  What ensues is a battle against all the evils of the world, culminating in what may very well be either the end of the world or the end of a millennium-long battle between heaven & hell, with humanity caught in the middle.

Where am I? No, seriously... where in this cluster am I?

Where am I? No, seriously… where in this cluster am I?

It’s hard to describe Diablo 3 without saying it’s a Diablo-style game, as the franchise created the term, but in short it’s a dungeon-crawling action RPG from a top-down perspective.  As you travel through the varied landscapes, you’ll fend off monsters in a style befitting whichever class you chose (Barbarian, Wizard, Demon Hunter, Monk, Witch Doctor & Crusader).  As you progress, you earn experience & level up, unlocking skills.  In the Reaper of Souls edition, after level 70 you gain Paragon points, allowing you to level up specific aspects of your characters.

Narrative: I have to give the game credit that, though I’ve never played a Diablo game before, I wasn’t lost in its story.  It’s fairly straightforward & predictable, but not bad.  I could see the few twists coming a mile away.  But the plot is coherent & interesting enough to motive your Nephilim through.  Having only played through as the Demon Hunter, I can’t speak for all the Nephilims, but I enjoyed how the hunter’s personality came through during the story, even while I’m sure the events don’t actually change based on your character choice.  I thought the side-characters’ personalities came through nicely, & enjoyed the way they chatted randomly with the Nephilim as we traveled.  I also found the lore to be very interesting, especially how it comes into play in the Reaper of Souls expansion.  Though I will say that the ending to the DLC, while not a cliffhanger, strongly hints at another expansion in the future.  If I had a complaint about the narrative, it’s the overall lack of agency I felt.  Like, I was just reacting.  Going back to one of the twists, I knew the betrayal was coming yet couldn’t do anything about it until the game told me I could.  I can’t really complain at Blizzard telling the story they wanted to tell it, but I just wished I could be proactive. So overall, my impression of the narrative is that, while it doesn’t do anything supremely well, it doesn’t really do anything bad either.  It’s enjoyable for what it is.  Score: 3

Streamlined console inventory

Streamlined console inventory

Mechanics: At its heart, Diablo 3 has a hack-&-slash style of gameplay, but I found myself enjoying it more than I expected.  I felt it avoided a lot of the niggling annoyances that plague other dungeon-crawlers (at least in my opinion).  Playing on the console, I can’t speak for the ease of use on PC, but I liked the control scheme, even if sometimes in the heat of battle I’d hit the wrong button & use the wrong skill.  But I liked how streamlined the skills system was.  Instead of being bogged down with more skills than you could ever use, all the skills are assigned a category (Primary, Defensive, etc.) & each category is mapped to a specific button.  This allows for strategic combinations of skills, which you can usually switch on the fly to suit the situation.  Unfortunately, you can’t switch in a boss fight, which I found annoying because I couldn’t tell I was about to fight a boss until it was too late to change.  I thought the companion system worked well, with whoever I took in to battle being able to handle their own without me having to babysit.  And bless whoever at Blizzard decided on an inventory based on number of items & plentiful portals back to town!  Diablo 3 also has a good customization system for your gear.  As with most dungeon-crawlers, you’ll earn a lot of loot.  You can break useless loot down for components to craft better gear, use gems to improve stats, enchant them with different perks, & even change their appearance through both dyes &  transmorphing.  I particularly liked the superficial ability to change how your gear looks.  It’s a small detail, but I’m the type of person who’ll forgo good gear because it looks dumb.  With this system, it’s not a problem.  But it’s not perfect.  I have two complaints.  One is that you can’t actually save your game.  You have to rely on checkpoints.  Generally this isn’t a problem, as most areas are small enough to explore in a single setting & checkpoints are plentiful.  But there were a few times I had to quit the game, come back later, & redo what I just did.  It’s not a big issue, & practically speaking only meant having to repeat dialogue, but it was an annoyance.  The second complaint was that the game seems pretty easy.  I was playing on Normal, & I don’t know if it was because I was playing a ranged character & therefore usually at a distance to enemies, or if I just really maxed out the regen abilities, but I never had to use a health potion, not even on the bosses.  It’s not really a complaint, especially when there are numerous harder modes to choose from, but I was just surprised at how easy I found the game.  But overall, a really fun experience.  Score: 5

Some stellar facial details

Some stellar facial details

Aesthetics: Visually, Diablo 3 looks pretty good, though it can be hard to tell at times.  The camera is so far back it’s hard to truly appreciate the designs of the characters and monsters.  And as far as I could tell, there’s no way to zoom in or out.  That being said, I did like the designs of the characters & enemies, especially the angels.  I love their wings!  The cinematics are truly impressive in both fidelity & scope.  My favorite was the opening cinematic for the expansion, in particular the way the souls moved like water.  Unfortunately, most of the cutscenes consist of little more than exposition spoken over scroll-like stills.  They’re not bad, & do fit the atmosphere of the game.  They’re just a bit of a letdown after seeing the impressive cinematics.  The music & voiceacting is pretty decent as well, & I appreciate than even minor characters like the vendors are well-written.  Overall, good presentation, but a little hard to see at times.  Score: 4

Replay Value: Above average.  Although there’s nothing new to see storywise once you’ve completed the game, Diablo 3 offers much in the way of replay value.  There are different difficulty levels (dropping better loot), Adventure Mode, quick dungeons to explore, near infinite leveling, co-op… the list is quite extensive.  While the thought of playing more of the same might not appeal to everyone, I will say you get your money’s worth.  Score: 4

Breakdown

UntitledOverall Score: 4

Final Word: While Diablo 3 might be too repetitive for some gamers, it has a lot to offer fans of the series, the genre, or anyone who enjoys battling hordes of monsters.  It may have a few minor problems keeping it from being “perfect,” but it’s a perfect example of how to do dungeon-crawling right.  Gamers who check it out will probably find it well worth their money.

– GamerDame

Title: Diablo 3
Console: PC, PS3, PS4, 360, XB1
Rating: M
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Release Date: May 15, 2012

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Filed under 4, Action, PC, PS3, PS4, Reviews, XBox 360, XBox One