Fez

I had to wait a couple of years longer than most people to experience Fez. I did play it on Xbox Live Arcade back in 2012, and it became one of the first titles I attempted to review at Indie Gamer Chick that gave me a seizure. Which, to be clear, is not the fault of Phil Fish or publisher Polytron. It’s my fault. I took the risk of playing it, and with my condition, gaming is always a risk. I wasn’t sure I would ever get to play it, but by the glory of God, it’s finally on PlayStation Vita. Vita is a great platform for me, because if a game relies heavily on my personal epilepsy triggers, I can significantly dull my risk by dialing back the brightness of the screen. The back-lighting can’t be turned completely off, but it’s far and away my best, safest option to play a lot of games. Please note: this works for me. If you have photosensitive epilepsy, consult your doctor before trying to play any video game.

Has any indie game ever come with the crushing hype of Fez? Indies ideally shouldn’t have this much hype attached to them. It’s asking for a letdown. When it finally released on XBLA two years ago, the critics loved it, but I saw a bit of a mixed-reaction on social media. I’m sure some of that has to do with hostility towards creator Phil Fish. But I think most of that is the game was possibly over-hyped, at least from their perspective. It was featured in magazines, major websites, and a feature-length documentary. This is an independent video game we’re talking about here, not a first-round draft pick or a Rhodes Scholar. Getting excited about it is one thing, but some people were expecting some kind of life-changing experience out of it, and screamed “OVERRATED!” when it didn’t happen. Well, yeah. With those kind of expectations, of course you were. Fez didn’t change my life or make me see the world any differently. But I didn’t expect it to. I was hoping for decent indie platform-puzzle and nothing more.

It's a game, people. Not a pilgrimage.

It’s a game, people. Not a pilgrimage.

Well, I didn’t get a decent indie platform-puzzler.

I got the best indie platform-puzzler.

I’m two years behind the party, so I’m sure everyone knows the idea, but here’s a quick recap: you’re a baby Stay-Puff Marshmallow who lives in a world that’s 2D. A magical something happens, the game reboots, and when it’s back, you can rotate the world 90° at a time for a full 360° perspective, which alters the way you travel the land. You thus embark on a quest to find cubes. The rotation gimmick is one of the most inspired gameplay mechanics in a 2D game I’ve seen. Yea, it’s been done before. Super Paper Mario used a similar mechanic. But, where Super Paper Mario bored me to tears (the whole game felt really lazy and phoned in), Fez uses the gimmick almost flawlessly. That alone kept me interested from start to finish.

Truthfully, there really isn’t anything in Fez that hasn’t been done before. Fez almost plays out like one of those “Now That’s What I Call Music” CDs. They could call it “Now That’s What I Call Indies!” Name any major indie gaming trope and it’s here. Retro graphics? Check. Self-aware 4th-wall-breaking jokes? Check. Minimalist story? Check. Call-backs to classic games or platforms? Check. Lots of games do this and it often comes across like trying too hard (see Guacamelee), but Fez has just the right balance of it all. I’ll admit, the story didn’t work for me. The minimalistic quirk stuff is over-saturated these days and I’m over it. For me, I can get a good story from any number of mediums. I play games for the gameplay. And Fez’s gameplay is something special.

I have to admit, even with the duller back-lighting and extra precautions, I had to hand off Fez a couple times.

I have to admit, even with the duller back-lighting and extra precautions, I had to hand off Fez a couple times.

You can tell Fez was crafted with care by people with a genuine love of gaming. There’s almost nothing to complain about with the controls. They’re sharp and accurate. Jumping is spot-on. I honestly can’t think of a single knock on the controls. Or the graphics. Or the sound effects. Or the music. The puzzle design is not only clever, but I really dug the extra-circular stuff that you practically have to solve with pen and paper. I know this review is getting boring, but it’s hard to be snarky with a game I enjoyed this much.

My one and only gripe is sort of significant: it’s easy to get lost, and not know what to do next. The game doesn’t point you in the right direction, which I’m sure a lot of the old-school readers I have will enjoy (I swear, the next time I hear “back in MY day games didn’t hold our hands” I’m personally going to donate money to Trump for President, which will no doubt result in the collapse of society as we know it. TRY ME MOTHER FUCKERS!). But there was a lot of time I spent wandering aimlessly trying to figure out what exactly I missed to move the game forward. There is a useful map system that tells you when you’ve cleared every possible part of a stage, but I almost wish there was something more, for those who don’t wish to spend hours just plain stuck.

Perhaps a small non-complaint complaint is that Fez takes the "you're in a glitchy game world" concept too far a few times. The game starts with a sequence that mimics an old-timey PC reboot sequence, then does it again during the finale. It was cute the first time. The second time felt like a person saying "GET IT?" after you've already laughed, indicating that you indeed "got it."

Perhaps a small non-complaint complaint is that Fez takes the “you’re in a glitchy game world” concept too far a few times. The game starts with a bit that mimics an old-timey PC reboot sequence, then does it again during the finale. It was cute the first time. The second time felt like a person saying “GET IT?” after you’ve already laughed, indicating that you indeed “got it.”

That is literally my only complaint. Fez is a love letter to gamers. It practically dares you to not fall in love with it. I know not everyone does, but it charmed the socks off me. Again, I’m convinced that a lot of the dislike and disappointment stems from it being created by an asshole. Yea, welcome to the world of consumer entertainment. Entertainment is made by unlikable people of all stripes. Racists and anti-Semites. Homophobes and misogynists. Hawks and cowards. Far-left extremists and far-right wingnuts. Phil Fish seems like little more than your garden-variety fart-sniffer. So why is he such a pariah? I’ll tell you why: because it’s annoying that someone who is such a douchebag could also be so talented and create such an amazing work of art as Fez. Get over it, people. Embrace the douchery.

FezFez was developed by Polytron Corporation

$12.99 noted that Fish’s Twitter picture is Andy Kaufman, who was noted for his douchery, so are we sure this whole thing isn’t performance art in the making of this review?

Fez is easily Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

 

South Park: The Stick of Truth

This should be relatively spoiler free, but a few plot points kind of have to be discussed.

No, it’s not an indie. But I sort of have to write this review and eat a plate full of crow. From the moment Trey Parker and Matt Stone took the stage of E3 a while back, I said there was no chance in hell that South Park: The Stick of Truth would be a decent, worthwhile title. I was just going off the property’s track record. South Park on Nintendo 64 and especially the PlayStation? Horrible. South Park Rally? Possibly the worst kart-racer ever. Chef’s Luv Shack? Possibly the worst quiz and/or minigame collection ever. The Tower Defense game? Well, I never really got around to it, but it mostly got a bunch of 7s out of 10s, which as we all know, is critic speak for “Worst thing since Hitler.” (By the way, I’m pretty sure that joke will get me banned in Germany) Hell, there was a fairly hyped Scott Tenorman based game that ultimately was a mediocre platformer. I think my doubts about how Stick of Truth would turn out were completely justified. If all you’ve ever shit out are turds, only someone delusional would expect the next turd to be a solid gold nugget.

I was wrong. South Park: The Stick of Truth is incredible. In fact, dare I say, it sets a new standard for licensed video games. In other news, crow has never been so delicious. Now, there are about a quagillion reviews of this out there, so I’m not going to waste time talking about the fun (though sometimes too button-mashy) combat mechanics, or how the fart mechanics are the only thing I really disliked about the game. Well, besides a laundry list of glitches and game hangs. That kind of stuff was to be expected anyway. The game is made by Obsidian Entertainment. That’s like putting a big banner on the box art saying “this shit will not work right for at least the first six to twelve months, not that it matters because you sheep will buy it anyway!” Hey, guilty as charged. And also, baaaaaaaaaaa.

You'll notice that the main character is a guy in all the pictures. That's because there is no option to select a girl. Do you know why there is no option? Because it didn't fit into the narrative the creators wanted to tell. I'm just pointing that out because a few weeks ago, the Big Bullshit Fake Outrage of the Day© was people whining because some upcoming free-to-play Capcom MMO would not include the option to play as a girl. Butthurt was felt across the land. I guess people thought that as a vagina-owner, I should be outraged as well. I wasn't. Which again proved that I'm a self-hating Uncle Tom that should voluntarily disenfranchise myself because obviously not being able to play as a girl in a free-to-play MMO will lead to girls being walled up in the tower and fed through a slit in the wall. That's another reason I loved Stick of Truth: because the same people whining about that game were delighted by how this turned out. The hypocrisy was too delicious to not point out, which just made them matter. Yea, it's okay to have a double standard when you're dealing with a property you love. But actually pointing out that double standard? Bad form!

You’ll notice that the main character is a guy in all the pictures. That’s because there is no option to select a girl. Do you know why there is no option? Because it didn’t fit into the story the creators wanted to tell. I’m just pointing that out because a few weeks ago, the Big Bullshit Fake Outrage of the Day© was people whining because some upcoming free-to-play Capcom MMO would not include the option to play as a girl. Butthurt was felt across the land. I guess people thought that as a vagina-owner, I should be outraged as well. I wasn’t. I pointed out that not every game has a story that a female lead-character can fit comfortably into. I guess this proved that I’m a self-hating Uncle Tom that should voluntarily disenfranchise myself because obviously not being able to play as a girl in a free-to-play MMO will lead to women being walled up in the tower and fed through a slit in the wall. That’s another reason why I loved Stick of Truth: because the same people whining about that game were delighted by how this one turned out. The hypocrisy was too delicious to not point out, which just made them madder. “Um, weren’t you one of those guys (and it is almost always guys) who was whining about that Capcom MMO not having girls in it just a couple weeks ago?” “Well that’s different. This is South Park. Girls can’t fit into the story as easily!” “Weird, that’s the same argument I used for why not every game can have a girl character and you told me I was wrong. How come it’s okay for South Park but not okay for a company whom their every move you whine about?” “HOW DARE YOU POINT OUT MY DOUBLE STANDARDS! BAD FORM! BOOOOO!” By the way, tongue firmly in cheek the whole time. I just found humor in the whole situation. I guess getting outraged over the lack of mandatory, uninspired female characters in games is serious business.

Stick of Truth feels like it could be an episode of South Park. Hell, if you cut out all the exploration and battles, what’s left would probably be an episode long. Two-parter tops. That’s fine. There’s enough gags between the main narrative to keep you laughing your ass off from start to finish. It’s unquestionably a fan service, but it never feels condescending about it, like some of the more well-liked television or movies turned into games do. Some of the bits feel like they’re shoe-horned at first, like a section involving Al Gore and ManBearPig. It felt tacked on and kind of hokey at first. Then the joke paid off in such a satisfying and unconventional way that I wanted to high-five the developers through the television screen.

I also owe a big thank you Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and all the guys who worked on this game (including former XBLIG developer Roby Atadero, creator of Spoids. Ha, there, I tied this to Xbox Live Indie Games. I’m still an indie Goddess). Because of them, I realized I’m nowhere near as desensitized as I thought I was. A section based around Planned Parenthood squashed any lingering doubts about that. I played that part with my mouth gaping open, eyes blank in stunned awe, with a knowing awareness that I’m officially going to Hell now. After digesting it………. probably the wrong word considering that I think I threw up three times in between fits of laughter………. I put down the controller and spent the next hour actively wondering how on Earth this game skated by with only an M rating.

Oh, and in the “wow, this is awkward” department, my staunch Catholic mother walked in during a scene in which I was performing an abortion. Granted, there was no scene she could have walked in on that wouldn’t have resulted in a priceless look. But I’m still grateful she walked in there. Because it was so glorious. That “every suspicion I’ve had about my daughter is true” look. Sadly, I’m not as quick-witted as people think I am. If I had been, I would have said “if you think this is bad, you should see it when you’re using Kinect!”

The only part of Stick of Truth I truly loathed was the cut-scenes where you learn to fart. Because if you screw them up, you have to listen to the long, dull, repetitive, dialog all over again. It blows.

The only part of Stick of Truth I truly loathed was the cut-scenes where you learn to fart. Because if you screw them up, you have to listen to the long, dull, repetitive, dialog all over again. It blows.

By the way, for my European and Australian readers, I guess we are supposed to pretend that abortions aren’t a thing and that if you find any humor in them at all, your countries will fall into anarchy or something like that. So if you laughed at the above story, for God’s sake, don’t tell anyone. I will not be held responsible for your respective collapses into moral bankruptcy.

South Park isn’t a perfect game, but I dare say, it’s a perfect use of an IP. Some of the stuff ran a bit too long. The Canadian section was funny for about five seconds. Then it kept going and refused to fucking end. You know, sort of like every single unfunny episode based around Canada on the show. And South Park also does that thing that nobody likes where there are collectables in a game, but some of them you only have one shot at, and if you miss them, you can’t get them later. South Park isn’t the only game guilty of this, but it stings a little more here because such TLC was put into it. This felt like something made by people who love games for people who love games. Whenever that’s the case, those awful, always bitched-about problems always seem more damning.

And yea, I have to go back on my word and bring up all the fucking glitches. They really start to pop up over the last hour of the game. I had a few game-killing hangs, where it would enter a load screen and never leave it. There is a practical fix to this, in that you can get past it just by switching which secondary character you’re using. But it seems fairly common, in that most of the people I’ve talked with have encountered it. I also had a hang while in a, ahem, “cave” in the final level of the game. Then one immediately following that. Then in the final boss battle, some of the secondary character abilities caused the animation to lag, which made correctly using those abilities a bit fickle.

By the way, this is your fault. Yes, you. And you too. All of you. If you guys wouldn’t whine like babies whenever a hyped game gets delayed (which is typically done to make sure shit like this doesn’t happen), games wouldn’t come out like this. I saw it with Grand Theft Auto V too. “Waaaaaa! They delayed GTA V! It won’t be out when I thought it would be out and I will have nothing better to do for months! A pox on your studio!” Then it did come out, but GTA Online wasn’t ready yet, and a lot of people absolutely shit a brick over it. South Park had a few delays, then was set to come out in December. It got delayed again, and everyone farted. It could have probably stood a few more months of play-testing, but given how you guys farted over the last delay, I can’t really blame them for putting it out like this. It’s basically what you asked for.

Pictured: an average gamer upon learning of a small delay in a game's release date.

Pictured: an average gamer upon learning of a small delay in a game’s release date.

But, South Park: The Stick of Truth is still an awesome video game. The best adaption of a television show I’ve seen. Possibly just the best adaption, period. I’ve heard arguments that it’s actually Escape From Butcher Bay (yea, but the movie sucked), Spider-Man 2 (ugh, try playing it today), or one of the Arkham games (okay, yeah, those were pretty good. Well, at least the first two were). Nah. South Park is the best because it feels like you’re playing the show. There’s no seams or stitches to be seen. The plot, writing, and voice acting all feel like it fits into the South Park universe, as opposed to being a video game built around it. Those Arkham games feel like video games based around Batman. The Stick of Truth simply is the South Park we all know and love. And it is so very, very wrong. You guys are sick fucks, you know that?

South Park LogoSouth Park: The Stick of Truth was developed by Obsidian Entertainment

IGC_Approved$59.99 said an episode of the show where the boys fight over making and indie game is a no-brainer in the making of this review.

South Park: The Stick of Truth is Chick-Approved.

Peggle 2

Two things of significance happened in 2007 in the Vice household.  #1, I turned eighteen.  I could vote.  I could smoke without breaking the law.  I was also obligated to, you know, get a job and pay taxes and do adult types of shit.  And #2, my family was held hostage for several months by a productivity terrorist dressed in bright, beautiful colors.  The terrorist called itself “Peggle” and it not only enslaved me, but also my decidedly non-gamer parents.  At least my Daddy had some experience with games, in that he bought all the new hip and trendy consoles when he was younger.  He didn’t really play them all that much, but he had an Atari, Colecovision, NES, and SNES.  My mother, on the other hand, was an unexpected victim.  Before games on phones became prevalent, I had seen her play exactly two games.  One was Wii Sports, and the other was Peggle.  I can not stress enough how much time Peggle consumed amongst the three of us for around a four-month period.  If it wasn’t eight hours a day at its peak, I’ll eat my hat.

Now that I’m a game critic, I think I have a better appreciation for what PopCap accomplished with Peggle.  For all the moaning that gaming elitists do over “casual” games, I appreciate any title that can bring my whole family together.  I fell in love with video games when I was seven years old, but gaming wasn’t an activity I shared with the people who I loved the most.  So called “casual games”, which is a dirty word in many circles, are exactly the type of games I can share with them.  So to snobs who hold their nose up at casuals, I offer you a hearty FUCK YOU, because I wouldn’t trade the memory of playing Peggle with my family for anything.

Same old Peggle.

Same old Peggle.

Having said that, wow, was Peggle 2 ever a let-down for me.

It’s not that Peggle 2 is a badly made game.  The problem is, it’s the same fucking game as before.  No new twists were added to the formula, beyond the special powers you gain from each world’s mascot.  If they had done something more with the pegs, like added new ones that do weird, unexpected things when hit, it might have freshened up the experience.  Instead, this feels more like an expansion back than a sequel.  But, they already did that with Peggle Nights.  I didn’t get into that either.  It’s safe to say, after our months-long bender of Peggle, I was burned out for life.  Nothing short of a revolutionary gameplay mechanic could win me back.  Peggle 2 takes no risk, playing it safe and samey.  As a result, over the five or so hours I spent playing it, I was never once having a good time.  Not once.  Not even for a second.  It was all been there, done that, when is this going to feel like a sequel?  The answer was never.

Some concepts were added to pad out the playtime.  Each stage has three special objectives that you can complete to earn points.  As of this writing, there’s no online leaderboards, which renders the point of points kind of moot, but I guess it was thoughtful.  There’s also special “trial” stages where you’re tasked to do things like earn three bonus balls in a single shot.  It sounds like it will be fun, but this is still Peggle.  It’s a game where randomness and luck are going to factor in more than any form of skill nine times out of ten.  I found the trial stages to still be boring and repetitive, only with the additional strike of being too hard.  There’s also online multiplayer battles, which again, are tough to love because the game is based around luck more than anything else.  The same effect could basically be had if they had made Kinect Bingo the big digital launch title.

Yawn.

Yawn.

Also, a not-so-quick technical complaint: Peggle 2 way overuses the Xbone’s DVR function.  In theory, it would be cool to have it record your coolest, high-scoring shots, so that the whole world can bask in your, let’s face it, dumb luck.  But, in practice, the damn thing records every shot over a small threshold of points, so much so that barely a level passed without at least one shot on it being recorded.  In five-hours of playing, I never once had a single shot I thought was worth saving, but there’s no option to set what level of scoring should and shouldn’t be saved.  You also can’t turn off the DVR function for just Peggle 2.  You have to turn it off for every game (at least as of this writing), or have it on for every game.  I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come with the Xbox One’s DVR, but I fear it might be.  They really do need to get on the ball about being able to turn it off and on for specific games.  They also should try to figure out why some sessions had the achievement notifications pop up and others didn’t.  I’m surprisingly fond of my Xbox One, but it is a buggy little bastard.

Do you know what’s most baffling to me about Peggle 2?  That it’s an Xbox One exclusive.  It just doesn’t seem like it fits with their image or their target demographic or any aspect at all, really.  I’m sure Microsoft paid a king’s ransom for it, but I can’t help but wonder if PopCap (and corporate parent EA) lost out on a lot more money going this route.  Peggle made its name by being on everything.  It was on computers, phones, consoles, handhelds, microwaves, pacemakers, the works.  I don’t know if I’m right.  Who knows?  I have no idea what kind of revenue Plants vs. Zombies 2 generated as a freemium iPhone game, but I do know they would have moved millions of copies at $20 a pop if it had been on PCs as well.  I don’t know.  Maybe EA doesn’t believe in PopCap themselves and this whole exclusivity bullshit with their marquee franchises is some kind of ploy to try to legitimize “casual” games as viable system-movers.  First off, Nintendo already proved that they can back in 1989 with Tetris.  Second, casual games are already legitimate to any gamer whose head isn’t stuck up their ass.  But Peggle 2 doesn’t suck because it’s an Xbone exclusive.  It sucks because I’ve already played it to death and it offered me nothing new.  Just to make sure it wasn’t just me, I invited my parents in to play a few rounds with me.  They still enjoyed it, though this time around they had no problem putting it down.  Then my father asked me if people were seriously sinking $500 on a new platform just to play this, which I’ve really seen mention of on Twitter.  I reminded him that if this had been 2007, he would have probably spent that for a sequel during our Peggle addiction period.  “$500?  Psssh, I would have traded you for a sequel.”  Gee, thanks Daddy.

Peggle 2Peggle 2 was developed by PopCap Games

$11.99 noted that some people are complaining that the game is too short, so if you’re not burned out like me, you might not like that there are only five “masters” to beat and one final world in the making of this review.  Me?  When those credits rolled, I felt like I had been paroled. 

The Walking Dead: Chapters 2 – 5 and 400 Days DLC

There will be so many spoilers here that it will cause a national spoiler shortage, causing an epidemic of cars lifting off the ground as they accelerate.  Do not read under any circumstance if you don’t want the rest of Walking Dead to be spoiled. 

I begrudgingly give the entire Walking Dead: Season One game (sans the horrible DLC, called 400 Days because “70 Dull Minutes” was frowned upon by marketing) my Seal of Approval.  My rule is, if I enjoy an experience with a game more than I don’t, it gets the Seal, and that certainly applies to Walking Dead.  Having said that, I would like to paraphrase the great Bill Simmons and ask the following publications to shove their own heads up their own asses.

USA Today

Wired

Complex

GamesRadar

The Official Xbox Magazine (granted, Xbox didn’t have Journey in 2012, but still..)

I’m only asking because you already shoved your head up your ass once and I want to see you do it again.  Thanks Bill.

All these publications and many more declared Walking Dead to be 2012’s Game of the Year.  This is apparently part of a larger conspiracy by Human-Emu hybrids to rid video games of actual gameplay.  Plus, Walking Dead was riddled with technical problems, at least on PlayStation 3.  Often, making a decision would result in the game freezing up while it loaded the next dialog tree.  The audio would play but the image would be locked.  Then the animation would be out of synch with the audio until it caught up.  This happened quite a lot, and it broke the immersion.  When a game is 98% story and 2% actual gameplay, immersion is all you have.  If you don’t have that, you don’t have shit, and Walking Dead often didn’t have shit.

All the screenshots on Sony's site are of the DLC, so you're stuck with those.  Trust me, looking at the pictures is way better than experiencing the agony that is the DLC.

All the screenshots on Sony’s site are of the DLC, so you’re stuck with those. Trust me, looking at the pictures is way better than experiencing the agony that is the DLC.

Beyond that, the only real game play complaints I have are minor, which is what happens when a game isn’t really a game in the strictest sense.  The button mashing stuff has got to go, or Telltale has to include a free visit to a carpal tunnel specialist or a controller with autofire with every purchase.  Whichever is cheaper.  And finally, if a stage requires a lot of backtracking with nothing between point A and point B that you haven’t seen, I wouldn’t be bothered too much with some kind of auto-get-there option.  In one scene, you’re trying to raid a medicine cabinet.  In order to do this, you have to get the combination to the safe.  You’re going to get it by watching a video tape of a doctor performing an abortion.  Ooooh, edgy and mature.  But the problem is, the doctor is a zombie now, and one that was already beaten to a bloody pulp.  He’s far away from where you’re at, and it’s fucking boring to get there.  Yea, we should be able to skip to him.  Really, Walking Dead doesn’t need as much actual walking, yet there’s a lot of it present.  And it’s especially annoying because the walking animation isn’t exactly life-like.  When you get pinned up against an invisible wall, it’s almost like a reverse-moonwalk.  Which.. yea I guess that’s actually known as just walking, but it looks really weird.

But nobody cares because the story is a cut above your average video game, so let’s talk about that.

Yes, I enjoyed the writing in Walking Dead.  I mean, when it wasn’t awful.  The battery bit in chapter one was so very bad.  It’s almost obnoxious when the game gets self-depreciating about how bad it was in chapters two and three.  If they were going to acknowledge it, they could have come up with a better way of doing it than making fun of it, especially since the game is almost entirely devoid of humor.  I don’t know how.  Perhaps they could have done something really heavy-handed, like an elaborate back story involving Carley’s baby brother choking to death on a Duracell when she was supposed to be babysitting him but instead she was listening to the radio.

But otherwise, wow.  There were times when my jaw dropped.  There were times when I shook my head in disbelief.  I even teared up at the end when I had Clem cap Lee before he turned into a zombie.  Though I was kind of puzzled as to why they didn’t have Lee tell Clem he loved her, or even give the option for it.  Some people have argued with me that it didn’t need to be said.  Fuck that, says I.  Some things need to be said.  And the dynamic between Lee and Clem was one of the most moving I’ve ever experienced between two characters in a game-like experience.  I kind of wanted to hear one or the other say it.

Once I soaked in the end credits and the final scene where Clem strolled through Ico land before spotting him and Yorda up on the hill (hey, that’s what it looked like), I sat back to ponder what I had just done.  It’s been a year since I played chapter one.  I hated chapter two (yes yes, I know that’s everyone’s favorite chapter.  I guess you guys like your stories predictable and your twists visible by Stevie Fucking Wonder) and figured I was done with the series.  Then I was left wanting more by Wolf Among Us, and having no other alternative, I decided to finish Walking Dead.  Although I’m very glad I did, it was shortly after I finished the game that I realized what a load of bullshit it is.

Dude's arm looks like a cross between severe sunburn and leprosy from Hell.

Dude’s arm looks like a cross between severe sunburn and leprosy from Hell.

The whole moral choice thing is a farce.  If I had real choice in the outcome of the game, I would have shot Kenny, used his wife as zombie bait, and eaten Duck the first time I encountered them.  I actually DID try to kill Duck in the first chapter by letting the zombie at the farm eat him, but it didn’t take.  Oh no.  I had to wait two more chapters to achieve that, and I wasn’t directly involved in his demise.  I mean, I got to shoot him, but he was dying anyway and it took the zest out of it.  Even more sadly, Kenny had the nerve to keep on living instead of owning up to his failure as a father, husband, and Tony Clifton look-alike and killing himself like any honorable person would do in the same situation.  Again, if I had any actual control over the game, I would have murdered him at the start of chapter 3, when it was just us alone in the city, when nobody would have known.  Because who has time to deal with a brain-dead redneck whose short temper endangers the entire group in the middle of the Apocalypse?  I would have been totally justified, damn it.

Other than my Kenny and clan hatred, I generally played the game straight, keeping Lee as a good man looking for redemption.  I put up with Larry’s bullshit, tried to be the level-headed one in every conversation, and stayed out of any argument I figured I couldn’t win.  Maybe this is why I found Lee so boring.  Also, it turned out that most players did exactly what I did.  Over the course of the five chapters, there are twenty-five decisions you can make (five per chapter) that are ranked against the choices of every other player in the world.  Of those twenty-five, I went against the majority exactly twice: once when I tried to kill Duck and once when I left Lilly on the side of the road.  Then you realize that not one single decision you make ultimately matters because the game will still end one of two ways: with Clem alone and you dead or Clem alone and you as a zombie.  To put in perspective how inconsequential your choices are, I was as shitty as humanly possible to Kenny.  I shouted him down in every argument.  I made every choice possible that I hoped would result in either his death or the death in someone in his family.  If it had given me the option to call his wife a hoe at one point I would have taken it.  BUT, when the time came to convince members of the group that were still alive to follow me as I tried to rescue Clem, it took a single fucking line of dialog chosen correctly to convince him to come along.  And I only did it because I figured he was more likely to get eaten with me than without.

I haven’t checked, but I’m not even sure it’s possible to have Kenny not follow you.  I mean, he’s vital to a later sequence where he saves a character he was previously butt hurt against.  There’s no way that sequence gets cut, I’m guessing.  Then he’s all self-sacrificial and the zombies get to finish him instead of me.  I watched in horror while this happened.  “Oh my God.  After all that hard work, the zombies killed Kenny.  You bastards.”

And finally, I hated the whole sequence in the hotel room where you have to face the consequences of the choices you made.  I mean, I was pretty fucking cool for the most part, so this sequence made no sense.  I didn’t steal the dude’s food, yet the guy was extremely bent at me over it.  A lot of people raved to me about this spot, but the problem is, the whole sequence only really would have fit in if you played the game like a dickhead, which myself and most of the players apparently did not.  Maybe Telltale just assumed every fan of Walking Dead was an asshole and would play accordingly.  They didn’t, and thus the big finale made about as much sense as a blood-solvent tampon.

I only complain loudly about those parts because I generally enjoyed everything else Walking Dead had to offer.  At least in terms of story.  or until I downloaded the bonus chapter, 400 Days.  Here you get micro-sized back stories for the characters that Season Two will center around.  So boring were all these twats, with one exception, that any interest I had in season two dropped down to around nil.  Two boring pot heads in a car.  One boring black kid getting picked up by an obnoxious redneck.  A bunch of boring people in a diner.  A boring former drug addict teasing a fling with a boring old rich dude and his boring wife.  The only person mildly interesting was the convict who escapes from custody.. as the outbreak.. hey wait a second.

"Hey, you guys ever get the feeling that you'll soon end up as the guardian to a little girl with creepy yellow eyes? Because I totally have that going right now."

“Hey, you guys ever get a feeling that you’ll soon end up as the guardian to a little girl with creepy yellow eyes? Because I totally have that going right now.”

Not that it matters.  Season Two will sweep Game of the Year awards from people who haven’t played a game since Zaxxon was a thing and get critical acclaim as long as Clem and her creepy yellow eyes looks all adorable as she brandishes a gun and shoots the occasional human.  God damn it, yes, I liked the Walking Dead.  But its success is a bad thing for games.  It represents such a titanic step backwards in game play.  Remember game play?  When you had actual control over your character and you did things and things mattered and it felt interactive instead of like you’re just taking inventory on shit to do while you wait for the next cut-scene to unfold?  You know, the reason why you spend hundreds, or possibly thousands, of dollars towards equipment just to play the fucking things?  Walking Dead or Wolf Among Us might be an evolution of sorts in story telling, but games should do a lot more than what Walking Dead does.  It’s okay to enjoy it.  It’s okay if it becomes a best seller.  But let’s not let gaming devolve into a series of interactive novels.  That would be a downgrade.  Not to mention it would make Madden really fucking weird.

Walking Dead logoThe Walking Dead was developed by Telltale Games

IGC_Approved$19.99 (season pass) and $4.99 (400 Days) noted that there actually was a horrible interactive novel type of Madden already called NFL Head Coach that was the worst thing of all time in the making of this review.  Plus it had Bill Cowher on the cover.  Shudder.

The Walking Dead is Chick Approved, but not Leaderboard Eligible (non-indie).  And if I had fucking waited until today I would have saved $2.45 on the DLC.  (head-desk)  Oh and you can get the whole season for $2.99 right now if you have PlayStation Plus. 

I swear, I’m back to XBLIG next.

The Wolf Among Us – Episode 1: Faith

I had no familiarity with the source material The Wolf Among Us is based on.  I like comic books, but I’m not into comic books.  At least not anymore.  It’s something I grew out of around age twelve, and back then, my parents certainly wouldn’t have let me read anything with this mature of subject matter.  Not that they were prudes.  Far from it.  They wanted to make sure that I grew up with a good moral compass and not, say, rely on absurd allegories centered around farting and inappropriate sexual innuendos just to make it through a simple game critique.  Well, mission accomplished there, parental units.

The Wolf Among Us is based on Fables, which in this case refers to a series of comic books and not a series of over-hyped and mediocre adventure games for Xbox.  Within about five seconds, I fell in love with the concept.  For those unfamiliar with it, think of it as a cross between ABC’s Once Upon a Time and Roger Rabbit, with strong emphasis on the latter.  Then take that cross and douse it with the absolutely seediest, darkest aspects of society.  That’s the world Wolf Among Us is set in.  The idea is fairy tale characters are all real and all live in New York City, just trying to get by.  Now, if you’re a human based fairy tale, great.  But if you’re not, you have to buy a magic spell known as a Glamor to disguise yourself so that you blend in with society.  If you don’t, or if you can’t pass as a human with or without the Glamor, you get sent to a place called “the Farm” in upstate New York that all the fairy tales bitch about like it’s a prison.

I swear, this isn't what it looks like.

I swear, this isn’t what it looks like.

Having played a lot of Telltale’s licensed fair, I figured I had a good idea what to expect from The Wolf Among Us: a good but vastly overrated by the general gaming populace adventure yarn where the main character is the only likable person in the group.  I was wrong.  The Wolf Among Us is easily Telltale’s best game yet.  The only game they made where I am genuinely on the edge of my seat waiting for the next chapter.  I certainly couldn’t say that about the Walking Dead.  One of the problems with the video game community is you can’t just think something is alright without having people threaten to tar and feather you.  I liked Walking Dead, but good lord were those games so not as good as everyone else says they are.  People raved about the writing like it was some kind of transcendent moment in-game history.  This is the same game where one of the sections centered around a main character who couldn’t figure out why a radio without batteries or any power source at all wouldn’t work.  At that very moment it forfeited the right to ever claim to have good writing.  But, Walking Dead is trendy right now and anything that is connected to the property would be better received than a pile of blow-job dispensing diamonds that you could then trade in for further blow jobs.

Right away, the characters of Wolf Among Us were far more interesting than the sleeping pill that was Lee or the utterly annoying Clementine.  Here the main character is Bigby, other wise known as the Big Bad Mother Fuckin’ Wolf.  He’s repented from his evil ways and is now acting as the sheriff of Fabletown.  The only problem is, all the other fairy tales are skeptical of his conversion and openly don’t trust him.  The noir-like atmosphere is also very jarring, but exhilarating in its political incorrectness.  The characters chain smoke, drink to excess, swear like sailors, engage in prostitution, beat women, and probably spit on little old ladies as they cross the street.  Unlike the schizophrenic Walking Dead, the writing is consistently sharp throughout the first chapter.  There’s a few technical hang-ups relating to the dialog-tree structure.  I don’t know why after asking the Magic Mirror to view characters, backing out of the scene causes Bigby to say “never mind, I don’t want to see anyone” after he just watched scenes play out for three fucking characters.  Stuff like that is definitely breaks the immersion, but not in a deal breaker sort of way.

"Mirror, Mirror on the Wall? Who's the coolest critic of all."  "Cathy Vice is the one, the Indie Gamer Chick.  If you send her a shitty game she'll rip off your dick."  Actual dialog from the game. True story. Okay, no, but it should be.

“Mirror, Mirror on the Wall? Who’s the coolest critic of all?” “Cathy Vice is who you seek, the Indie Gamer Chick. If you send her a shitty game. she’ll rip off your dick.” Actual dialog from the game. True story. Okay, no, but it should be.

I found Bigby to be fascinating.  Yea, it was annoying that he has the same video game tough guy voice that every fucking gruff male game character has.  But, considering this guy goes through cigarettes like some people go through breath mints, I guess it makes sense.  I also like how, upon completing the chapter, i found out that most of the players across the world made the same choices I did.  It’s nice to know that I wasn’t the only one who played Bigby as a nice guy that was genuinely looking for redemption.  Yea, I admit, I lost my cool with Mr. Toad and started bitch slapping the ever-loving shit out of him.  What can I say?  I regret that I never got to bitch slap the shit out of Carley for the whole battery and radio thing in Walking Dead that I will never, ever get over.

There isn’t a single character in this game whose motivations aren’t interesting.  The murder-mystery plot is very well handled, and the character study of Bigby is just about the best example of a character study I’ve seen in a game in a long time.  To put it in perspective, I’ve been playing games since I was seven years old.  I’ve never once played a game based on a licensed property where I wanted to go out and get the licensed property.  I did here.  I ordered a few of Fables trade-paperbacks right before I started with this review.  Oh, I’m not going to read them right away.  I want to finish the game series first.  But if there’s anything that is a testament to how strong the story of Wolf Among Us is, I dropped $50 getting the first five volumes off of Amazon.  That’s over double what the games will ultimately cost.  I think that’s an endorsement.

The quick-time event brawls are still clunky as shit.

The quick-time event brawls are still clunky as shit.

Which is not to say the actual gameplay is perfect.  This being a Telltale Game on a console, there are all sorts of technical hiccups.  At one point, you’re given two leads to the murder, and you have to choose which location you’ll go to first.  Three mother fucking times I tried to select to go investigate a prince’s house and three times the game froze solid.  The fourth time I instead selected to go investigate Mr. Toad’s house, and it didn’t freeze.  Of course, I didn’t fucking want to go there first, but that was the hand the game dealt me.  Also, Telltale’s signature unfair quick-time events that involve lining up a cursor and hitting a trigger button still annoy me to no end, but this time I didn’t care because I just wanted to get to more of the plot.  The final scene as the chapter ended made me sit up in my chair and blurt out “HOLY FUCK!!”  Do you know how many games have ever done that to me?  Not one ever.

So that’s Wolf Among Us.  Among the best games I’ve played in 2013.  I can’t wait for the remaining chapters.  I guess this is proof that Telltale can do better than fan services like Walking Dead, Back to the Future, or Monkey Island.  Granted, as a licensed property, this is a fan service as well.  Probably one that fans of Fables have been waiting a long time for.  Well, at least they got a satisfactory one.  Meanwhile, I can only cross my fingers and hope like hell that Telltale gets the license to do Veronica Mars next.  If they don’t, well, I can’t be held responsible for my actions.

Wolf LogoThe Wolf Among Us was developed by Telltale Games

IGC_Approved$4.99 (ultimately $20 for the subscription cost) are everything a big bad wolf could want in the making of this review.

I swear to Christ, if any of you spoil the plot from the comics on here and I will fucking go stab happy on you.  Oh, and Wolf Among Us is Chick-Approved but not leaderboard eligible.

Poker Night 2

Poker Night 2 is free with a PlayStation Plus subscription right now, presumably to drum up interest in Telltale’s latest offering, the Wolfing Dead.   The concept is basically a normal game of cards, only you’re listening to the inane banter of four B-list-at-best pop culture characters.  Yea yea, I know everyone and their mother just loves Army of Darkness and Ash Williams and would take a knife to my throat for besmirching the name of this iconic character.  Meh, whatever.  It must be a generational thing, because I don’t particularly find the character all that interesting.  I suspected that having him outside of the fantastic settings of his movies would show a character that’s quite dull.  Poker Night 2 proves me right.  He’s just sort of there, like a catch-phrase spewing cartoon character.  Then again, the writing is pretty boring.  Maybe this is why they didn’t get Bruce Campbell to do the voice, though they found a very convincing sound-alike.

Speaking of which, I joked on Twitter about that, making a crack about the lack of Bruce and how he “couldn’t cost more than my lawn guy.”  He got the joke and wise-cracked back at me.  Some of his fans, on the other hand, so did not get the joke and swept in to protect him.  Hell, they were doing that before he wise-cracked back.  And I’m not talking about people who follow me.  I’m talking people who refresh the search results for Bruce Campbell every ten seconds.  I don’t have a joke to go along with that.  I just found it to be fucking creepy.

Calling this a line-up of B-listers is probably being a bit generous.

Calling this a line-up of B-listers is probably being a bit generous.

Anyway, along for the ride is Brock from Venture Bros. (never watched it), Claptrap from Borderlands, and Sam from Sam & Max.  Well, there’s an all-star lineup if there ever was one.  Rounding out the field is GLaDOS from Portal as the dealer, and man, is she slumming it here.  The inherit problem with Poker Night 2 is what I already said about Ash: these characters work in their own settings, but out of them, they’re just boring.  They have nothing in common, and nothing really interesting to talk about.  Part of that is the writing is uninspired, but mostly it’s because you just can’t throw five random characters together and expect chemistry.  It really feels like something that was rushed through production, with the characters included drawn out of a hat instead of carefully selected to mesh well.  I get that it’s hip to be random, but randomness on its own isn’t funny.  It’s just random.  And then you get to the actual gameplay and find that it’s even worse.

I’ve been a PlayStation Plus subscriber since day one, and I’ve never played a freebie on that service as utterly broken as Poker Night 2 is.  This shit is borderline unplayable, with frequent technical hiccups.  The game saves between each hand, and if you move along to the next hand before the game finishes saving, the animation and dialog skip like a broken record.  I counted the amount of times this happened over a full game: fourteen fucking times.  That is absolutely inexcusable.  Beyond that, sometimes the soundtrack gets ahead of the animation, or behind it.  Like, a full minute ahead or behind it.  Even Godzilla movies have better dubbing.  Or, you’ll just have the game sometimes freeze for anywhere from 15 second to over a minute.  Mind you, none of these problems are one-off things.  They’re unavoidable and happen constantly through-out.  I can’t speak for whether or not the XBLA version has these glitches.  I’m told the PC port doesn’t, but that’s no comfort to PSN owners.

This mostly seems to be caused by the game saving between each and every hand.  I’m not sure what it’s saving, exactly.  It sure isn’t done to prevent dialog from repeating.  Over the course of a single tournament, Claptrap and GLaDOS repeated the same joke about “the cut of your jib” four times.  Wasn’t funny the first time.  Got progressively more irritating with every echo.  Which is not to say Poker Night 2 is never funny.  It’s just too often random chit-chat with no set-ups or punchlines.  Any genuine laughs (and some are to be had) certainly aren’t worth slogging through the glitches to get through.

I like how they snuck a picture of GLaDOS into every promotional picture. "Portal is still popular, right?  Please love us!"  Really, if they needed a Portal reference, wouldn't Cave Johnson have been a better fit?

I like how they snuck GLaDOS into every promotional picture. “Portal is still popular, right? Please love us!” Really, if they needed a Portal reference, wouldn’t Cave Johnson have been a better fit?  They could have dropped Ash from the game and saved on licensing rights, because his character didn’t have a single decent line of dialog.

Ignoring all of that, the actual game of poker is mediocre at best.  There are only two options: no limit Hold-Em or no-limit Omaha.  Poker Night 2 is single-player only, and the AI is utterly fucking brain-dead.  There’s supposed to be a sophisticated system of tells and bluffing that you can manipulate by plying the characters with alcohol.  BUT, what’s the fucking point with the way the AI plays?  Get this: ClapTrap and Sam are the only two left in a hand.  ClapTrap goes all-in.  Sam does his bluff-routine, then calls the all-in.  Then he lays down a 3-5-suited, before the flop.  I shit you not.  This happened frequently through-out the multiple tournaments I played in.  Bluffing doesn’t work when you have nothing in your hand and the only player left has already bet everything he has.  I swear to Christ, you find smarter players at 3AM playing free tables on PokerStars.

Maybe Poker Night 2 isn’t as bad on PC.  I don’t know.  I do know that Poker Night 2 might be a contender for the worst game ever to hit PlayStation Network.  It’s glitchy, it’s slow, the AI is useless, and the writing comes across like a cross between terrible fan-fiction and awkward checkout-counter conversations.  Telltale is capable of incredible things.  Wolf Among Us (next up for review) is fantastic.  But, if five minutes with Wolf Among Us was enough to make me a believer in their potential, two hours with Poker Night 2 is an ominous warning that these guys are more than capable of totally phoning it in.  If the aim of putting this worthless piece of shit of a game as a freebie was to get players excited for Wolf, Telltale and Sony couldn’t have done worse if they had hired someone to knock on each subscriber’s door and shoot their dogs.

Poker Night 2Poker Night 2 was developed by Telltale Games

Available for free right now with a PlayStation Plus (normally priced $9.99).

CastleStorm DLC: From Outcast to Savior

For the original CastleStorm review, click here.

I liked CastleStorm a lot, despite some glaring flaws in its online setup.  It’s one of those rare games where you have to get your money’s worth in single player, despite the multiplayer experience being theoretically better.  Not that it’s a bummer of a concession.  The campaigns features a nice variety of stages bumpered by a fairly entertaining, if completely batshit insane story.  The main download of CastleStorm has two of these.  If you’re clamoring for more, a third one just hit in the form of DLC.  Though this is the weakest of the three.  I guess it’s a good thing that it’s an optional purchase.

Just so we're clear, the game still looks fucking amazing in 3D. The best any console game has ever looked in the format.

Just so we’re clear, the game still looks fucking amazing in 3D. The best any console game has ever looked in the format.

The new download, which will set you back $3, is about a third-shorter than the previous two campaigns.  It adds some nifty new weapons that actively made me question whether or not balance was given any consideration.  I again dove into multiplayer, first with my cue-ball friend Bryce.  He absolutely cleaned my clock on account of having talent for building a custom castle.  Well, actually he didn’t.  He got direction from Brian, who helped him but not me.  And no, citing “bros before hoes” doesn’t make it perfectly legal, Brian.  Random match-making is still an exercise in futility.  Whenever I got paired up with anyone, they always out ranked me twenty times over, giving me about as much fighting chance as a fly has against a swatter.

So what did I think of the new campaign?  Well, I really didn’t like it.  From Outcast to Savior has perhaps the most interesting story CastleStorm has told thus far, but the level designs are more of the same from the first time around.  Only now, there’s much more emphasis on using the hero for the stripped down, button-mashy brawler stuff.  Having just played two games in a row that at least attempted to evolve this concept, going back to a three-attack, single-planed hack and slasher was like volunteering for a lobotomy so that you can repeat Kindergarten.  The hero stuff was almost always the most dull activity.  I don’t know anyone who says otherwise.  Why shine the spotlight on it?  Zen Studios attempted to legitimize it by adding a couple of boss fights to make it feel climatic, but with such limited options for attacking, they wear thin quickly as well.  The hero stuff isn’t the only problem either.  One stage requires you to fend off an attack that lasts ten minutes.  I might have been able to put up with such an event when the game was still fresh.  Now?  Ten minutes for a single stage that’s just a glorified wave-shooter is tedious.

Pictured: Jonathan Crane attending a Renaissance Fair.

Pictured: Jonathan Crane attending a Renaissance Fair.

If more of the same is what you wanted from CastleStorm, you’ll get that here.  I always like DLC that takes wild risks with the formula, and From Outcast to Savoir doesn’t do that.  Maybe I’m in the minority, but I was totally satisfied with the campaign stuff in the main download and felt there was no need to have more added in.  I would have been fine with it, if it tried something radically different, but it doesn’t.  In a way, it almost seems like Zen Studios ran out of ideas halfway through completing it themselves.  Three of the spells now involve summoning a different form of the hero onto the battlefield.  That really says it all.  If you’re burned out on CastleStorm, you can safely skip this.  If you’re salivating for more, give this a go.  Unless you dislike stuff involving the hero.  And if you’re a fan of the hero mechanics, would you mind letting me snap a picture of you holding a copy of today’s newspaper?  Skeptical Inquirer is offering money for proof of your existence.

boxartlgCastleStorm: From Outcast to Savior was developed by Zen Studios

240 Microsoft Points think Zen Studios got the order of the final two bosses wrong.  The portly barbarian that’s barely mobile should have gone first.  The giant fucking dragon should go last.  How could you screw that up in the making of this review?

A review copy of From Outcast to Savior was provided by Zen Studios to Indie Gamer Chick.  The copy I played I paid for with my own money. The review copy was given to a friend to help me test online play.  That friend had no feedback in this review.  For more on this policy, consult my FAQ.

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