The morals of AI behavior have always been a question. How close should they get to human emotion? Would they be considered people? Should they be considered and treated like machines? What happens if one becomes rogue and starts feeling outside of its programmed emotions? Many games, books, and movies have explored this concept. The movie A.I., Bicentennial Man, I, Robot, Isaac Asimov’s novels, and most recently with Detroit: Become Human. It’s a fascinating concept that becomes closer to reality as technology advances. With cloud-based AIs like Siri, Google, Bixby, and Cortana, and realistic-looking robots that have been created, this could be the future within the next 10-15 years.
Silicon Dreams puts you in the eyes of a robot interrogator for a mega-corporation called Kronos. Kronos creates bots for service and work and must keep a close eye on any that might be considered rogue. The game is mostly basic visually, but you spend 90% of your time on the interrogation screen. You click around on questions and try to gain the responses and information Kronos asks of you. Each case is different and you also interrogate some humans. At first, this will become confusing and you won’t be sure what the strategy is. As time goes on you are contacted by a rogue robot who wants to start a revolution. You end up interviewing robots that have gone rogue, or what Kronos thinks has gone rogue, and it’s your job to get as much information as possible. Some robots are easy to crack and some require trust.
As you go on you will realize that emotions are the main way to get what you want. There’s a wheel pie chart with different emotions and as you talk to the subjects that slice will flash and the graph will adjust. Some robots aren’t supposed to feel certain emotions and Kronos might ask you to observe this and the end report you fill out might ask this question. Of course, your own morals come into play here and it’s one of the few games I’ve played where I was torn between helping out Kronos and wanting to help the robot revolution. Every single interaction will sway you either way as you will be afraid of being decommissioned yourself and get caught if you help and you never know if what you’re doing is correct in either direction. The mystery is good and it’s akin to how you might navigate these situations in real life. Kronos promises private quarters and a more lavish lifestyle if you cooperate, but then you see a news article at the end of each day talking about the robot revolution and you sympathize with the stories and situations of the subjects. You want to just do your job and keep your head down, but you also have a chance to change the world.
This leads to different outcomes as you play. I was so torn between not wanting to help either side that my company points kept dropping to the point where I was interrogated myself. I also screwed up that interview by playing the neutral party and I got a bad ending. There’s tons of replay value here and I intend to be for either side solely so I can see what end I get. However, this also goes for interviews. I would exhaust all my options and be unable to invoke the emotion I needed to get the correct information. I had to choose to either let the subject go, send it to maintenance for a memory wipe, or decommission. This is one of the hardest choices to make and what eventually can piss of Kronos the most. They want to keep a clean image and if you let deviant robots free it makes them look bad. I did eventually get my company points to 60/100 and acquired the ability to invoke and sway the robot’s emotions. You also get to cuff them to invoke fear and anger and sometimes this is the last resort if you end up choosing the wrong responses and wind up not getting everything you need.
Outside of all the interviews, there’s nothing else to do. The visuals are very basic, while not ugly, there’s no voice acting which would have added some character to everyone, and the Blade Runner style Voight-Kampff iris vision is just for show. Same thing with the option to show camera angles. You’re never close enough to see emotion visually which would have added another layer to the overall gameplay. As it is your only indicator is the text itself and the emotion pie chart.
Overall, Silicon Dreams is a fantastic text adventure that pushes the moral boundary of AI as humans and makes you think with every mouse click. I had to make sure I even talked about certain topics in a certain order to open up trust first before talking about the actual reason why the subject was with me. Sometimes this worked and sometimes it didn’t, but that’s part of all the fun in this game.
Dread X Collection games are a great concept. A horror house of mini-games that take 30-60 minutes to finish to unlock a larger narrative. The first game had a lot of duds and a few games that crashed and couldn’t be finished, and the same goes for this collection. There are far better games, but the duds are even worse this time around. At least there’s a larger hub world you can explore and get the games to require solving simple puzzles in a mansion you are locked in. It took me about 20 minutes to solve all the puzzles and find all twelve keys. It really doesn’t take much with some barely even considered puzzles. Each game is on a VHS tape locked in a box in the main room. You put the tape in the VCR and the game will pop up. It’s a neat concept and fun while it lasts, but you will spend the majority of your time with the smaller games. I will go through each one and let you know if they’re worth your time or not.
Charlotte’s Exile: A fun puzzle game based on H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu lore. You stand at a table and have a series of puzzles to solve while a giant eye constantly approaches you. You are standing in a library and you can see the eye every time you look up. It repeats a pattern in which every 3-4 minutes it will appear right in front of you and create a jump scare. It really got me the first couple of times as my skin literally crawled. However, this is all the game has in terms of scares. There is an alphabet you must decipher by reading passages in a book. Then there is a lockbox that has good ending hints and a puzzle box that requires pressing squares in a certain order. It was fun to solve and took around 45 minutes, but having to constantly look up was novel at first then just became annoying because I knew the jump scare was coming. Play.
Squirrel Stapler: A mock on Deer Hunter. The game has PS1-style graphics and you walk around a large forest hunting squirrels. There are five days and with each day a new beast must be hunted. You then staple your squirrels to your “loved one”. This is another Cthulhu mythos story. The actual hunting part is slow and gets boring fast. You have to crouch and stay still for squirrels to appear, but sometimes several minutes would go by with nothing. You can collect bullets and health, but the ending isn’t worth the pay-off. Pass.
The Diving Bell: The graphics are hideous with ugly textures and models, but the atmosphere is creepy. Another Cthulhu mythos game where you play as a crew member of a diving team that is sent to research under the sea. You then mash your keyboard to type up a report and as the days go on, you’ll slowly lose your sanity. As you hallucinate you must take anti-anxiety pills to keep your heart rate down and look away from them. The research facility constantly malfunctions and doors lock so you must find other shortcuts and take long routes around the area. It’s not very fun and the best part was reading the logs and watching yourself slowly go mad. The ending was a poor pay-off and overall it was mostly boring and took nearly an hour to finish. Pass.
Touched By An Outer God: A Doom clone that has you fighting Cthulhu mythos monsters using your hands. When you kill enemies you get parts that can be used to upgrade your hands. This game goes fast and you can finish the entire thing in about 20 minutes. You can’t acquire all upgrades in the first playthrough but the ending was a bad pay-off and after you get halfway through the game is super easy as you quickly become overpowering. The visuals upgrades are nice to see and it’s very fast-paced and fun. Due to the short length, it’s not bad. Play.
To the End of Days: A terrible first-person shooter that kept crashing on me every five minutes. You use your shotgun to kill enemies and that’s it. The game looks awful despite starting out with a fun atmosphere. It’s the end of the world and nuclear weapons are raining down everywhere. The animation is awful, the sound is bad, and the overall shooting is just amateur at best. I didn’t expect Crysis, but this isn’t it, plus the terrible stability issues. Pass.
The Toy Shop: Another game with awful visuals, terrible controls, and super floaty platforming. You play as a toy soldier who is trying to escape a toy shop. You walk around talking to people, pulling levers, escaping enemies, and in the end, you start fighting Terminator-type characters. The shooting is horrendous, worst than the last game, and I couldn’t finish the final boss due to the awful level design and terrible controls. Pass.
Undiscovered: A lost footage game that’s all atmosphere. You are filming your wife in the 1950s as you just discovered a tomb in Spain. The game is super blocky and terrible looking but that’s part of the charm. It’s a silent film so it’s in black and white and there’s lots of static and you just mostly hear the clicking of the camera rolling. As you go deeper into the ruins you only have a torch and pickaxe at your disposal. You can easily dodge enemies by walking around them, but the game has a super creepy atmosphere. It’s another Cthulhu mythos-style game. The collision detection and camera are awful, but I finished it in under 20 minutes and it was pretty cool. Play.
Another Late Night: Not really a game, just a text-based “desktop” simulator. You click around, read messages and articles that are supposed to be happening during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the game is basically a self aware mystery where you are seeing through the eyes of the developer of the game. It’s over in about 15 minutes, but it’s fun as I love desktop simulator games. Play.
Arcadletra: This was the first game I played in this collection. It’s a super weird haunted arcade adventure game. You basically click around on things that have electricity around them and it’s a Layers of Fear-style haunted funhouse. There’s a good and bad ending, but honestly, the short story makes zero sense and I only enjoyed the auditorial atmosphere the game had. It was over in about 15 minutes. Play.
Sucker for Love: This one is super neat. It’s a Japanese visual novel where you summon a female Cthulhu character, but you are in your apartment and have a book of love. Your goal is to try and kiss her before she ends the world and it’s actually quite creepy in spots. Think Corpse Party type creepy. You follow the instructions on each page by clicking on things in the apartment that correspond to them like turning out lights, wearing certain items, etc. It’s over in about 20 minutes, but it was a lot of fun and I wanted it to last longer. Play.
The Thing in the Lake: This is an 8-bit PC-style adventure game where each chapter is super short-lasting maybe a few minutes, but I hated this one a lot. You can run around the screens trying to figure out where to go and there are two killers on the loose. You can’t walk through dry grass and after a few seconds a killer gorilla comes on to screen kind of like Mr. X in Resident Evil 2. You can collect letters throughout the game, but the issue is figuring out where to go and constantly dying from the killers. I repeated each chapter a dozen times before figuring out what to do next. It just felt like a chore with little pay-off. Pass.
Solipsis: This is a short and sweet game. You play as an astronaut in a top-down perspective walking across the moon. You must find a lava tube using a tool, but halfway through the game your partner crashes onto the moon and you must find the lava tube still. You then walk down a long staircase and see parts of a creature. Without spoiling it too much the game ends once you get to the bottom. It’s over in about 15 minutes, but it’s disturbing. Play.
Not as many duds this time around, but the bad ones are super bad and not even worth grudging through. Sadly, this means without finishing all the games you can’t finish the main narrative in the hub, but for the asking price, there’s still a few hours of good entertainment here.
Dread X is a fun series of small indie-made games using the Unity engine. Most of them can be finished in 20 minutes or less, but sadly the majority in this collection are neither all that scary nor are incredibly tedious and not very fun. I will go through the list of ten games.
Carthanc: A weird first-person game set in an Aliens-type setting. You’re on a space station with weird hieroglyphs and your goal is to set up your lamp to shine on symbols to open doors. You must complete the mummy statue to run from the final monster. I never made it through the first section. The platforming is horrible and really floaty. The visuals are too murky with too much grain and the overall setting just isn’t scary. Pass.
The Pay is Nice: An interesting tank-style adventure game. You play as a salaried employee of some top-secret government facility. As you make your way through the beginning of your workday you are narrated through how your life and job currently are. It’s a great setup that is sadly stopped right when things get interesting. There’s a single puzzle in this game that seems really complex at first, but after some reading and experimenting it’s solvable. I loved the atmosphere and mood here. Very haunting, very surreal, yet it just ends after 20 minutes. I would have liked to see a full game in this setting. Play.
Summer Night: Easily the scariest game in the bunch. You are a kid playing a Tiger Electronic-style LCD game in your bed. All you see is the LCD game and your hands. It’s a simple game of catching mushrooms that pop up in the four corners of the screen, but after each level, you get a small narrative piece, and the LCD changes over time. I won’t spoil the game, but it really is terrifying and scary. The developers made good use of audio in this game and it’s easily my favorite of the bunch, but only lasts about 10 minutes. Play.
Rotgut: A terrible adventure-style game that’s way too slow and glitchy to even bother with. The visuals are interesting, but it’s not really scary. I felt like I was fighting the controls and just never go past the first five minutes. Pass.
Don’t Go Out: An RPG card-style game that ends in 8 rounds. Your goal is to run from a tentacle monster as its tentacles creep inwards on the map. Most of the map is dark and you can use cards to light up the area, add new characters, or slow the monster down. Sadly, there’s only a single strategy here and that survives outside for four rounds and then heads into the house with the monster during the last three. The door is supposed to shut at the end and keep the monster out. It’s not very fun as there’s tons of trial and error to get the only winning strategy down right. Pass.
Outsiders: This is the longest and most involved game in the collection. It can take a couple of hours to finish as it’s an obtuse P.T.-style game where the house attacks you as time goes on. You get six minutes per “round” and the goal is to activate six buttons in a hidden wall by finding various objects. A hammer, a few keys, a couple of hidden buttons, but there are no clues until you start dying numerous times. There’s also a murderer on the loose that can attack you as well as the ghosts in the house towards the end of each round. I found it tedious, boring, and the fact that you can’t progress much without pixel hunting is beyond boring. Pass.
Mr. Buckett Told Me Not To: A Castaway-style game with some rather polygonal graphics. You must spend three nights “surviving” watching your waste, thirst, hunger, and stamina meter. At the end of each night, you wake up with random effects on your overall meters. However, at night you must sacrifice a survival item. Each day becomes a little more difficult, but the ending is well worth the time. This one takes about 20 minutes to finish. Nice and sweet. Play.
Shatter: A PS1 era-style game with horrendously slow walk speeds and a sprint meter. You are supposed to get a special pupa that belongs to some fly overlords and gain access to a building…I don’t know. It’s so weird and makes no sense, and you’re in some sort of cyberspace? The issue here is that the game is really cryptic and walking around the large area is so boring due to the slow speed. The sprint meter is to make running away from enemies harder, but this is a fraction of the 20-minute game. Pass.
The Pony Factory: The only shooter in the collection. It’s an FPS where you’re in a factory that’s been abandoned. You run through seven levels and the only gun is a bolt gun. You collect ammo and health and shoot pony skeletons. The graphics are really rough and it’s in black and white so even the art style can’t save it. Really dull all around and not really scary. Pass.
Hand of Doom: An FPS that harkens back to the Saturn and Jaguar era of console games. It looks great and feels like Heretic in some ways. You are a wizard who is to beat a grand wizard of sorts. You have to walk around the area opening doors using your spell incantations. These are acquired as you explore each area. The game is really short running about 30 minutes tops. Using the incantations is a lot of fun and you have a journal that tells you what the order is for each spell. Play.
That’s about it! As you can see, the majority of the games aren’t worth playing, but if these game types are for you then you may find some enjoyment. The issue with most of these is either they are slow and boring or just not very scary. My favorite game is the simplest and shortest and it’s also the scariest. For the asking price, you can’t go wrong here and you are bound to find a few hours of fun no matter what games you end up liking.
Little Nightmares was a creepy platformer with a minimal story and narrative. The game was mostly all about atmosphere and puzzle-solving. These games cropped up after Limbo was a smash-hit and games like Inside also followed. The only downside to these games is that they tend to not shape any kind of narrative or world-building. There’s a lot of interesting things to look at, and clearly, the setting you are in is a curious thing to want to know about. Little Nightmares II puts you in the shoes of a paper bag-wearing kid who is running from something, but you never know what. Throughout the entire game, you go from location to location not knowing what your end goal is, and even after finishing the game, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of everything.
The game starts out giving you simple controls such as jumping and picking up objects using the physics engine. You won’t be doing this very often except to use weapons occasionally and throw an object at a button to open a door. The atmosphere sets in right away with your character running through a forest and trying to avoid bear traps and traverse fallen bridges. Once you get to a certain area you meet your first main monster and then you are introduced to combat. I really don’t want to call it that as all you do is pick up an ax and swing it, but it’s completely based on physics. Usually, you will use an ax to break down walls, but you will use it to fight enemies at the school level and it’s all about timing. The ax is very heavy and your character can’t move it very fast, but it works.
The first area is rather short but pretty cinematic, and things will slow down greatly as the game goes on. After a few areas, you will notice the game adds a lot of puzzle-solving, most of which don’t require much thinking, there are a few physics-based puzzles, and halfway through you meet a companion that requires some puzzle solving with two people, but the ease of the puzzles is to keep the pace going. You don’t want to spend too long in any one area. I felt the chase from enemies and puzzle-solving was well balanced. Several screens will go by of just platforming, maybe just empty screens of scene-setting, but I do want to talk about these monsters. The game is very creepy and the main monsters basically chase you throughout the entire area you are in. The school has a teacher that can stretch her neck out and chase you through vents and under tables. The hospital has a doctor that can walk on ceilings. They show up in some scenes, but not every area has you killing this main villain, the most important part for you is escape.
There is some frustration with the game and that’s a lot of trial and error. Some scenes wanted to get across the screen via a certain path, but I got caught by the villain numerous times before figuring out how to do it. There were also control issues climbing things in which my character got stuck or I didn’t understand that jumping across a ravine to hang on to my character’s hand was going to be an issue. In several areas, I had to restart the screen over and over until I walked across that beam just right, or didn’t get caught. Thankfully you just restart that screen and it helps keep the pace going. I just wish there was more story to be told or something else to hold on to rather than the next creepy monster or setting.
The game looks great visually with a lot of nice art, but technically it’s not super impressive. Textures look muddy up close and some objects aren’t the highest poly count. The animations are great, however, and the controls are good, there’s just that annoyance with the game’s physics. It’s also pretty short as it can be finished in about 5 hours, and I honestly wanted more. The creature designs are so fantastically creepy and unique, and the game skims the line between gory and just plain dark and creepy. It’s never a gorefest, but it feels like it could be. There are animal guts, but not human, there are body parts everywhere, but they’re mannequins. It’s a fun line to walk down and it’s done just right here.
This is actually my third time trying to finish Overlord believe it or not. I rented this game back when it came out on Xbox 360 and didn’t get very far. A second time on PC, and now my third on PC. This is the furthest I’ve gotten in the game, about 2/3 of the way, but as time goes on the game ages more poorly than the last time I remember it. It was an early next-gen game for Xbox 360 so all eyes were on it and it was graphically impressive. It still looks great today and surprisingly runs amazingly well on PC without needing any fixes, but the game has a lot of issues.
Firstly, the game is incredibly tedious and the game has some very poor level design. There’s no map, no objective marker, and the levels are very linear so even one of these things would have been so helpful. You blindly wander around these areas that all start to look the same trying to finish objectives. Now, the objectives can all be completed in any order for any area. Your main hub is a tower that you can customize and upgrade over time as you complete the game and from here you can fast travel to any level you have visited. The main gameplay mechanic is using the right analog stick and controlling your horde of minions to do your deeds for you such as carry items around and combat. You’re very weak comparatively so entering combat isn’t suggest unless you really need it. Again, not the worst problem.
What really starts to bore me is that sweeping your minions around works well enough minus some control issues when you have a straggler. The game favors the majority of the horde you end up controlling and stragglers sometimes won’t join their brethren making things frustrating. You end up controlling four different minions. Reds, Blues, Greens, and Browns. Browns are your main grunt and do the most combat damage and have the most defense. Blues can enter the water, but can also revive minions. Reds can throw fireballs at a distance and put out fires. Greens can be sneaky and climb up larger enemies and also are immune to gasses and poisons. You end up spending almost half the game acquiring the three hives needed for the minions to open up new areas in each level. I constantly ran into roadblocks requiring me to backtrack and wander around a level until I ran into a new area I hadn’t discovered. When I say the level design is bad, I mean piss poor. There are no memorable landmarks, just linear pathways that loop around, and turning around can literally look like two other directions you came from.
While navigation is a serious chore the use of minions is limited. There are no puzzles to be solved, just destroy everything in their path and make sure you use certain colors for certain enemies if need be. There are boss fights that are quite challenging, but then another major issue cropped up. You must horde and resource orbs to summon these minions, they aren’t free. Certain enemy types will give you different orbs, but Browns are the most needed. I constantly had to go back to a level or two that had easy to mine sheep that gave me yellow orbs. I then had to exit the level and reload for the sheep to respawn just to get enough Browns to defeat a boss. If you’re left in an area with no minions left you’re pretty much screwed. You are never powerful enough to take out tough enemies alone and some bosses can only be defeated by minions. There are mana and health fonts you can sacrifice minions into, but they are far and few between so you really have to watch your health. Minions can loot stuff and find potions to help out a little, and this is the best way to acquire gold in the game to upgrade your weapons and armor.
Once you get used to the controls and gameplay loop you will really start to see how much aimless wandering you do where you aren’t doing anything at all. I had to always keep a mental note of where a certain area was blocked and by what element so I could go back and progress and complete another mission. Progressing was somewhat satisfying but I spent 75% of my playtime wandering around these levels trying to remember where to go and figure out what part I hadn’t discovered yet. Another issue I would run into is not having the right minions so I would then need to backtrack back to a spawn hole and get the right minion, but it doesn’t end there. Let’s say you have 20 Browns, but now need 5 Blues because an object is in water. I would backtrack to a Blue spawn point I remember, but you can’t send back Browns in a Blue spawn point. I then had to back all the way back to the beginning of the area just to send the Browns back. This is stupid and tedious and there is so many quality of life issues that could have improved the game. Let me send back any minion into any spawn point. Also, why spawn points? They’re so far and few between let me just summon them from the ground anywhere. I already have a limited amount based on the orbs I collect.
With that, all said, the game might be worth a look if you really love the humor in games like Fable or from the mid-2000’s fantasy era. I also felt despite the game toting being evil I never felt truly evil. You can save people for rewards or kill them, but it doesn’t seem evil. The game never went above and beyond this so I just felt like a misunderstood good guy the entire way. What? The visuals hold up, the control is cumbersome but doable, and the gameplay is unique, but the constant aimless wandering, lack of a map or compass, and poor level design lead to tedium and make the game just plain boring.
Time Schaffer games are always hit or miss. He may be a great story writer or character creator, but he’s not a great game designer. I don’t want to come out swinging with everyone thinking I hate Grim Fandango or all Schaffer-made games. A lot of his work is considered some of the best games ever made on PC, which I get, but they’re remembered for their story, atmosphere, and characters – not so much their gameplay.
You play as Manual Calavera. A Mexican salesman of the dead who gets wrapped up in a huge film noir-style story trying to save a mysterious girl, get back at his evil overlord of a boss, and also an evil co-worker. The game is split up into four years. It takes four years for people to travel by foot to the Ninth Level if they don’t qualify for an express train ticket. For some reason, Manny can’t get any good clients yet his co-worker Domino can. You wind up uncovering a plot of fraud, sabotage, subterfuge, and love. I can’t go too far into story details, but they’re quite entertaining enough to keep you pushing on.
And pushing on you will do. The game’s object hunting obtuseness varies from minimal to I will never figure this out without a walkthrough. The way objects are used is very illogical at times and you wonder how Schaffer thought gamers would think in these ways. It doesn’t help that the areas you explore are massive with dozens of hallways and rooms and you can easily miss something that needs picking up or completely bypass something that needs to be interacted with. LucasArts had a lot on their hands with this game as it was the first 3D game they developed and the most sophisticated to date. There’s no object mixing either. Manny stores everything in his cloak/jacket and you must either try everything on every interactive object or simply think in odd obscure ways.
One example early on requires Manny to gum up a pneumatic tube system and get the maintenance demon to open the door. That was fine and all, but the demon left and I couldn’t get in the door. I then had to re-acquire all the items needed to gum up the system again by running down hallways and do a ton of more backtracking all because I didn’t realize I had to throw the bolt to stop the door from closing. How was I supposed to guess that? You run into these situations every step of the way and it gets exhausting and discouraging. Another scenario requires Manny to take a sign and use it to find a hidden doorway in part of a forest. This forest has doorways that loop back around to the same room and do nothing. How would you know to take that sign from the previous room and use it as a compass to find the hidden doorway in this room? The puzzles are insane and poorly designed and lead to constant frustration. I felt my progress halted every five minutes.
Now with puzzle obscurity out of the way, there’s nothing else to this game. There are pretty environments to look at, great music and voice acting to listen to, and some great characters, albeit none of them very memorable. You can unlock quite a few achievements by talking to certain people at certain points or looking at certain objects. I find this in tune with the puzzle obscurity. I also didn’t like how many areas are reused over and over again, while in new ways, they’re still the same. Things are just spread so far apart and so many sub-plots and hints are given to you that you can’t make heads or tails of any of it. There’s no journal to keep track of what’s said or even what you’re really supposed to be doing next. It can become quite frustrating.
Thankfully the game isn’t very long, especially if you use a walkthrough. My adventure was over in about 6 hours and I enjoyed it while it lasted, but it’s not something I will be talking about for years to come. The gameplay time isn’t enough to really flesh out the characters more than you wanted, and almost plays out like a Pixar movie. It’s a fun blast while you’re in it, but once the credits roll you quickly move on to something else and probably won’t remember it a year down the road. Something about this whole game just didn’t stick with me and I can’t put my finger on it. If the puzzles weren’t so obscure I might be more inclined. At least there’s fun developer commentary all over the place and the remastered upgrades are nice. Everything looks sharp and clean and rendered in a much higher resolution. However, there are still many collision and animation bugs.
Overall, Grim Fandango is a fun story with some fun characters while you’re in it, but will quickly move on to other things as something about this game doesn’t quite stick. It feels more like a Pixar cartoon with gameplay bits in between than a full-blown game. It looks good, sounds good, and the voice acting is excellent, but many won’t finish the game just due to how obscure getting through everything really is.
You play as Ichiban Kasuga. A naive young yakuza member who ends up in politics of his yakuza family and then later the entire country of Japan’s government. The story is incredibly well written and directed, and I was hooked from beginning to end, at least the story and characters. I love the characters here as they have tons of heart, soul, and personality that make you want to see them through to the end of their journey. The first three chapters of the game are pretty much story and character building. In fact, I didn’t really get to do anything outside of watching cut scenes for the first three hours of the game. I just ran to spots that triggered them and I watched this complex web of characters build their story up, and I wasn’t upset as I was glued to my screen the whole time.
This is the first time I’ve finished a Yakuza game and a rare completion of a JRPG. Usually, JRPGs have great stories and characters, but something within the game keeps me from finishing it. Be it unfair and insane difficulty, too much grinding or late-game issues pop up like needing to quest for something very specific and it makes the progression grind to a halt. Like a Dragon is the first in the series to play like a JRPG and not an action game. The story is fantastic and the characters are well written and memorable, but that’s probably the strongest thing going for the game, and it’s the reason why I slumped through the late game issues to see it through to the end.
Once you get past a certain point in the story, honestly I can’t say anything as every little detail could be a major spoiler, you finally get let loose in the world. However, with this being a JRPG let’s talk about combat first. The game is played in a turned-based style, but characters move around on their own in the arenas. Depending on your job you have various skills that can cause major damage, and this is super important and the core of the entire game. While base attacks are fine early on in the game, they don’t do much later on and you start relying on skills that all use MP whether they’re physical or magic-based. Each attack has a type such as magic, slashing, piercing (guns), bashing, or blunt (physical) attacks. Some attacks might have elemental attributes attached to them, but you really must balance your team. You need characters that can heal, do large AoE damage, and lots of damage to single enemies. It’s important you have a class that can do one of each of those things as it’s key to winning battles.
Early on in the game, the difficulty feels perfect. There were some challenges, I had to use strategy, and really focus on ranking up my character’s jobs and learn enemy weaknesses. This is also a key point in the battle system. Like a Dragon mocks or makes fun of other games like Pokemon. Early on you come across someone similar to Professor Oak and the entire scene plays out like the beginning of every Pokemon game. It’s pretty funny. The point of this is you acquire a bestiary of each enemy type and when you fight in battle and discover a weakness it will appear over the character when you select that attack. This is vital to winning boss fights and harder battles late game or just in general.
Ranking up your job is more important than leveling up your character honestly. This determines your max health, how powerful your attacks are, and learning new attacks. You get more powerful attacks as you rank up, but the downside is once you change a job you start from the bottom on that job. So you have to grind that job to level it up, and late-game this is incredibly tedious, but more on the late-game problems later. There are thankfully no random battles, but enemies walk around outside that can be avoided. When you fight enemies the environment is also important as smaller areas are great for attacks that do AoE damage and it allows you to wipe out enemies faster in bigger groups.
Outside of combat, there are a ton of mini-games like in every Yakuza game. Karaoke, classic Sega arcade games in Club Sega, crane games, driving ranges, go-karts, and many others. They’re fun at first, but there’s not really any reason to do these mini-games outside of acquiring items. Items are also an important part to combat as the most powerful armor and weapons are almost unobtainable until you can start raking in serious cash at the Battle Arena in chapter 12 and fighting the more powerful enemies late game. You can also upgrade Ichiban’s weapons (only his weapons can be upgraded) and well as craft new items, but honestly, this is only needed if you can’t afford to buy them. There are no unique weapons or armor that can be crafted exclusively, at least that I noticed, and once I started raking in serious cash in the millions I just bought everything and crafting became pointless towards the end of the game.
There are shops and restaurants scattered everywhere and I didn’t pay attention to these too much until late game. Restaurants can fully restore your health and MP, and bulking up on recovery items become super important late game as well. I didn’t really use many of these until then as the game felt perfectly balanced, and the right strategies can keep you alive. There are a couple of pawnshops that allow you to sell items, and this is how you make most of your money early on in the game. You start out digging for Yen under vending machines and eventually start earning a small amount of money to buy recovery items and cheap gear. There are also sub-stories like in every Yakuza game that is shown as chat icons on the map. These give you items and cash and are mostly pointless once you get the late game, and the stories aren’t interesting at all. You also have extra side missions that can get you larger amounts of cash called Hero Quests. This is mostly for completionists in the end, but the entire reason this is a JRPG is that Ichiban can see enemies as monsters with different uniforms. It’s “in his head because he feels life is like Dragon Quest“. It’s super silly and a lame excuse to make a realistic game have a fantasy twist, but what other excuse were the developers going to use?
As you progress through the first eleven chapters hopping around taxis to fast travel to spots, unraveling the story, ranking up your jobs, leveling characters, acquiring new armor and weapons and items, and all this sounds like a normal JRPG affair, but then chapter twelve comes and knocks you on your ass. This is when most people will probably quit the game as it turns into a completely different beast and the way you play must change. This is the worst part about the game, and I don’t see how this was necessary. The game had a perfect flow and difficulty level leading up to this chapter. The first sign hits you when you must acquire 3 million Yen for a specific reason in the story. By now you probably have a couple hundred thousand yen at the most. How am I going to get this much money as street thugs don’t really payout and I can only sell so much? Well, the first stupid idea was that there are specific things you need to do to get this money and they don’t tell you. First, you have a watch in your inventory that’s worth one million yen. You need to sell that and then there is a specific Hero Quest you must complete that gives you two million yen. You need to take ten photos of a statue hidden throughout the city. What a serious pain in the ass. I knew right here that the game was going to be a chore from here on out. Then to make matters worse, the last statue is hidden behind insanely difficult enemies out of nowhere. They were many 8 levels above me, but that wasn’t a problem before. I had to grind for a couple of hours just to beat them to take that photo. Such nonsense!
It just gets worse from here. Chapter seven had you complete one of two long dungeons in the game. It was challenging, but not impossible. This dungeon is the only way to grind up until now. However, once you get to a new small city you unlock the battle arena, and this is your main way to level grind by climbing floors and beating waves of enemies. You will be here for probably 6-8 hours minimum. At this point in chapter twelve, you come across a boss fight that cranks the difficulty up to nearly unfair and impossible. I had to grind 15 levels just to get a fair advantage. This boss just absorbs so much damage and throwing all my powerful attacks at him still kicked my ass. I died and retried nearly a dozen times before I almost gave up. I’d grind five or six levels and try again until I could finally do it. I chewed through recovery items like crazy trying to get through this chokepoint in the game. Sadly, it never lets up after this. From here on out every single boss is a serious chore and does massive damage no matter what you do. This is what I have in JRPGs and why I rarely ever finish them.
So, you will then need to grind consistently before each major story point which you are warned about. You need to be at least level 65 by the final boss and man is it a serious pain. You shouldn’t have to want to quit a game because the developers decided the game needs more playtime by chapter twelve. Let’s make you do over a dozen hours of grinding just to finish the game? It’s stupid and insane and completely unfair. They had the difficulty balanced out perfectly before and I was happily enjoying the game. The only reason I kept going is I wanted to see the ending and how everything comes together. The story is that good, but if it weren’t I would have quit at this point. You’re basically grinding the battle arena and the one dungeon trying to acquire new gear and rank up your job to get more powerful attacks. I highly recommend being around level 70-75 before tackling the final boss, but at that point your 25 levels away from maxing out your character.
The game at least has amazing voice acting (in Japanese of course), and the graphics are pretty good technically, but pretty boring on an artistic level. These are hyper-realistic graphics and the only artistic flair is the enemy designs. I enjoyed the music as well, but in the end, the last few chapters will test your patience. The mini-games are fun, the sub-stories are boring and repetitive, and the post-chapter twelve grinding is an absolute chore and really hurts the game. However, if you can prevail, get through the grinding, and learn the strategy of balancing your parties jobs you will get through an incredible and memorable story with great characters.
You play as a woman named Marianne who is a psychic medium. You start out the game in your foster father’s funeral home, and this is where the game introduces basic mechanics that you will use throughout the rest of the game. It starts out very confusing at first, and honestly, the story is just barely coherent enough to keep up with but it constantly loses you in spots then plays catch up again. The game clearly relies more on characters and atmosphere than storytelling as there’s no context to keep you engaged, no really long opening scene, just some dialogue that explains what Marianne is and what she can do. Within the first 10 minutes of the game, you will start to experience the scary stuff. Shadows on walls, strange sounds, and the “other side” looks very reminiscent of Silent Hill in both concept and design.
This is an adventure game with very little action. It’s mostly basic puzzle solving and object finding. You walk around areas reading notes, signs, listening to spirit echos in objects, and picking up objects that will be used at a later point. Thankfully none of this was overbearing or focused too much on. It all felt pretty balanced and was light enough to where the exploration and atmosphere mostly stayed center stage. The various locales are fantastically designed and beautiful to look at. The “other side” was mostly created for puzzle-solving scenarios as you end up going back and forth between the two but at the same time. See, this is Bloober Team’s biggest project and something that’s been in development since 2012. They needed the hardware to render two worlds at once via split-screen. This really does tax your system as frames can drop by almost half in some areas even with DLSS enabled.
As you play the game these main elements are switched up constantly, and to be honest, it’s really well-paced and feels just right. Some areas I was mostly exploring in the real world then I would split off into the other side, and then there are some areas that have mirrors that allow you to go back and forth at will. These areas are the most puzzle intensive, but never difficult. With that being said, the game is very easy and only one small section in the game has any form of combat. The horror elements in the game are well done and I love the monster designs. There is a creature that does stalk you throughout the entire game in certain areas and these result in having to sneak around areas with barriers and hold your breath. The voice acting is superb and the performances are great. Everything in the game just sucks you in and I honestly didn’t stop playing until I finished the game.
I also never got lost or couldn’t ever figure something out on my own. The game is very linear and as long as you wander around examining everything that has a white dot on it you will find your way around. Since the game mostly focuses on the story there are times I got confused, but you get caught up with the cryptic stuff during main cut-scenes and in the end, the game was satisfying and had a nice conclusion. The game can be finished in about 6-8 hours, and there’s no replay value sadly. Sure, there are items to collect throughout the game, but I found pretty much everything in my first run-through. There are also no multiple endings so the game will end the exact same no matter what you do.
The game really has to be praised in the sound department as well. There are a lot of creepy ambient sounds and noises, and the voice acting for the monsters is just amazing. Despite the game being just about exploration and object hunting, and basic puzzle-solving, I never felt bored or wished the game gave me more. If the story and characters weren’t so interesting I’d probably complain about this as I’d want more gameplay, but we don’t always need complicated combat systems or deep RPG elements in every game. Bloober Team’s games tend to be a bit rough around the edges, but The Medium is rock-solid and shows they can make AAA titles with the best of them. I wish the game was optimized a little better, but with a fantastic story and characters, and gameplay that feels just right, as well as great pacing, I can’t complain much.
This is by far one of the most anticipated games in modern gaming history. I know I have been excited since its poorly chosen announcement date in 2012. Sadly, CDPR kind of dug its own grave from that date onward. The game is nothing like how it looked in its early concept videos and a lot of content is cut. Even if you look past all the bugs and launch woes, this is what’s going to stay long after the game has been patched up to a more playable state like it currently is as of this review.
However, if you look underneath all the hype, hate, and sometimes unfair controversy there’s a great game here. The story and the atmosphere are the main reason why I stayed. You play as V. A vigilante/mercenary for hire who ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets involved in a corporate terror plot that changes his/her life forever. The entire story revolves around a device you end up acquiring on a job and this device is the key to immortality. This device also has Johnny Silverhands, played by Keanu Reeves, and one of the reasons why the game got so much hype, who is a digital construct that is trying to take over your mind. I don’t want to spoil too much of the main story, but my favorite parts of the game were the side missions with the other characters like Panam, Judy, and Claire. These missions really develop a relationship and strong personality and are one of the shining points in Cyberpunk.
One of the first problems sets in early is with character customization. Ignore all the sexist homophobes who were mad about being able to make your characters transgender. The anatomy is off, first off, and doesn’t look right, and what’s the point? You can only see the genitalia in the player menu, it’s censored in mirrors, and the “sex scenes” are awkward and pointless. One of the core gameplay elements of the game is Brain Dances which are virtual scenes that you can manipulate during missions, or basically a half-assed detective mode. Some Brain Dances are “sex scenes” but I just think these were added to add controversy. On top of all this, you can’t change your character’s looks after the initial start of the game…just why?
The way to get around the game and various missions can be a bit messy, but the open world of Night City is gorgeous and has a fantastic atmosphere. There’s the main city itself, the outskirts which are like a desert-type environment, there are suburbs, and various other locales to actually make it feel like Los Angeles. You can walk, run, hijack cars, and fast travel at certain points once you discover them. Missions are found via random encounters on the street, phone calls, texts, and other means. I never got around to finishing all of them as the ones revolving around the side characters are the most interesting and the rest get kind of repetitive. Driving the actual cars is not my favorite as before the 1.2 patch they were just broken. They look absolutely amazing and have some insanely cool designs, but sadly they just don’t drive very well.
With this being a CDPR game there are RPG elements involved. There’s a skill tree, cyberware implants, and stats on weapons and armor. It’s pretty detailed, especially with all the wearable armor parts on every part of your body, but it’s also one of the most flawed areas. The skill tree is nice with many paths you can take such as melee, various gun types, stealth, and so on, but I felt a lot of abilities were useless and I just got them to unlock an area I needed. Skill trees tend to be very useless in many games these days, and sadly they aren’t any better here. When it comes to weapons they are incredibly unbalanced with sniper rifles doing one-shot kills no matter where you hit the target early on in the game and at low levels. Then you will get a pistol that will barely do any damage at a much higher level even if you have the skills that boost pistols. It’s improved in patches but still remains a problem. The bottom line is Cyberpunk 2077 is incredibly easy. While stealth is fun and is a good option for most missions, blasting through the game isn’t that hard. I rarely ever died as health items are everywhere and so is ammo. While shooting is fun and satisfying and the weapons feel good, the game is just way too easy.
You can then visit Ripper Docs to install implants that add bonuses and unique weapons to your body, but in the end, I rarely ever visited these and never filled all my slots as what’s the point? The game is so easy I never really needed much. Just a shotgun, sniper rifle, and an assault rifle or sub-machine gun of some kind. You can add mods to these weapons like sights, silencers, and various others that modify the stats, but the combat is so unbalanced and easy there’s really no point. Stealth missions mostly rely on your stealth skill tree stats and you can also hack stuff, but I also found this rarely useful as the game is just so easy you don’t need these small advantages that would turn the tide of a battle like in say something like Deus Ex. If I got busted I could easily wipe everyone out with my one-shit kill sniper rifle and hold onto this gun through the entire game.
That brings me to the other side of Cyberpunk’s gameplay loop. After about 10 hours you will have seen everything the game can do, and you will know whether you want to complete every single side mission and gig call or just plow through the storyline and call it a day. While I love Night City, there’s nothing to do inside of it. Sure, there are various shops, you can visit, and you can look at dildos and sex toys inside of windows, but that’s it. There are no side activities like mini-games, no property you can purchase for player homes, nothing like that. I felt like this large gorgeous city was wasted away as it’s just a conduit between missions. This is not a cyberpunk playground like many of the early trailers suggested.
In the end, don’t go into this game expecting a true “next-gen” title that raises the bar and changes games for how we play them today. A lot of people went into this game expecting some unreal level of detail, and not to mention in the visuals. While the game looks amazing it’s poorly optimized even on the latest PC hardware. Ray-tracing is pretty much pointless even on my 2080 the game would dip well below 30 FPS. The only saving grace for PC gamers is the DLSS option or playing on 1080p resolutions. On my i7 10700 and 1660ti setup, the game played fine in 1080p, but I still got dips here and there. It’s one of the most poorly optimized games I have played in recent years, and while recent patches made the game more stable, it doesn’t fix the crazy dips all over the game. It’s even worse on PS4 and Xbox One base models. So, go in expecting a fun story, fun, albeit easy, combat, interesting vehicles, and a cool cyberpunk city to run around in. Don’t go in expecting something revolutionary.
For starters, I’m no Buffy buff. I never watched the show growing up, nor did I as an adult. That’s okay though, as there are many great video games based on movies and TV shows that are fun without needing to watch the material it is based on. Buffy seems like this kind of game at first. While it’s clearly geared toward fans of the show, I have no idea what’s going on in the story. You are basically trying to stop some evil vampire spirit from ending the world. That’s literally it. You chase him around as he possesses various characters from the show. It’s dull and rather uninteresting and the game is also poorly written. Buffy’s one-liners get old as all five of them repeat constantly throughout the game and so do the one-liners from the enemies.
That’s just the beginning. Buffy has an array of acrobatic moves and they are actually quite good for such an early 64-bit era game. The animations are well done and the combat, when it does work, is pretty awesome. Buffy can punch and kick and execute enemies with a wooden stake. She also has Slayer Power which allows her to add-on some powerful moves at the end of combo chains. This, again, seems great on paper, but it’s poorly executed. While the animations are nice there’s constant knockback and you can’t interrupt the enemies’ attacks. This is the key flaw in the entire combat system. There’s no dodge button, no parry, and no way to counter attacks at all. You just have to take it and fall down and get back up, but some enemies will stomp you, and then multiple enemies join in and you end up dying and losing health over cheap gameplay mechanics. The game is just very cheap all around.
Another issue revolved around this is the terrible jumping and extreme distance you get knocked back at. This leads to cheap deaths off cliffs as some of the fighting areas are tiny and are not designed around how far Buffy can be thrown. I would make it to the end of a level and die just because I got picked up and thrown off of a cliff due to the poor level design. It’s everywhere in this game including platforming segments that shouldn’t exist here. I never finished the game due to the second to last level having so many cliffs of death, tiny arenas, and platforming woes that after the 7th time dying from a cheap death I put the disc back in the box and shelved it. I’m not missing out on much anyway.
If that isn’t painful enough the level design is boring and trite. You walk down boring brown or gray hallways, fight a few enemies, flip a switch, and move on. The level design is just bad and every location is so uninteresting. A foundry, a high school, a sunken church, all just blandly designed. At least the character models look decent and the voice acting is all right. This also leads to healing and other items which leads to the biggest flaw this entire game has, and what I think, completely breaks it. All these other things would be doing if you didn’t have to execute every enemy with a stake. You can knock them down to no health and they won’t die until you execute them. This leads to more cheap deaths as instead of them dying when their health is down you then have to break through their constant blocking, get knocked around more, lose more health, just to get in an execution. They will not die unless you have a stake or the glaive. Enemies block every single move you do, making combat take way longer than necessary, and they also shouldn’t take so long to die. For a beat ’em up enemies should have more balanced health bars.
There are also items like holy water, hellfire, and a super soaker that contains both. This is a completely useless tool as it depletes within seconds and requires fonts to replenish and only a few levels have them. It’s mostly used just to take down certain force fields. Seriously, what a waste of time and effort. And that’s pretty much all Buffy has to offer. Some decent combat and animations are all the game has going for it but is horrendously broken with terrible gameplay mechanics throughout the entire game.
I honestly can’t recommend this to anyone unless you are a Buffy fan, and even then you aren’t missing out on much at all. The story is boring, the level design is uninspired and bland, and the game is nearly broken thanks to poor design decisions.