Gimmicks that use various types of hardware are nothing new since the days of the Wii made that mainstream, but very few games use your camera outside of a home console for gameplay. While it’s wholly gimmicky and can be played with a controller, the game uses your webcam to see your eyes blinking to determine when to change scenes in the game or interact with objects. Not often does the gimmick feel like it’s influencing something important, but when it does it works well.
You play as a boy named Benjamin Brynn floating along the river of death in a boat with a wolf as a ferryman. He’s to be taken to a being in a large tower whom he has to sell his life story so he can pass on and the ferryman can be paid. You start out as a child and you eventually learn your mother is an accountant and failed music composer and wants you to follow in her footsteps. Each scene is full of mostly black with just what you can remember being in view. Sometimes an eye will appear on objects for you to blink at and interact with. When a metronome appears you can blink and jump to the next scene or try to hold your eyes open and see the scene to the end. Most of the time I couldn’t do it (it’s very dry where I’m at here in the summer).
You slowly progress through the story only to find out that you need to retell the story correctly. I won’t spoil anything as to how or why, but the only times the blinking gimmick felt right was when you had to close your eyes to focus on someone talking. With headphones on this is a great effect. The game does a great job detecting your eyes even in low light, and I was using a laptop webcam which isn’t that great. There isn’t much else to this game. It’s an interactive adventure with interesting visuals. The whole game reminded me a lot of That Dragon, Cancer, but I can’t connect to this game as much as it’s shorter and at the time I was expecting my first child so that game hit home quite a bit. A big fear is your child being born with some sort of debilitating disease.
You’ll most likely not really feel the game’s impact until the last 20 minutes when things get really dark and sad. It didn’t make me tear up, but it was really sad for sure. You can finish the game in about 90 minutes, but I did connect with the character to an extent, but not wholly. The scenes rush by too fast and you’re meant to understand the moral of the story more than connect with the characters and get behind their motives and feelings. I feel a game like this misses the mark due to its short run time, but the gimmick would get tiring for more than 90 minutes.
Overall, Before Your Eyes is a charming game with a lot of heart and a fun gimmick that works well when it wants to. It’s a very short game and doesn’t let you really connect with the characters enough. It’s forgettable in the end, and not as memorable as some other short adventure titles I’ve played in the past, but it’s fun and worth a look.
When it comes to “vise” type controller for phones there’s been an increasing demand for quality now that mobile games are pretty much console quality. We still get nice simple games, but sometimes we want our console experience to be super portable. It used to be that Apple took quite a while to catch on to official controller support. It wasn’t until iOS 13 that Bluetooth controllers for officially supported. They have been available on Android for nearly a decade, but the cheap Chinese devices never quite held up. So there are two animals you can tame. The traditional controller with a phone clip or the vise style controllers. I personally prefer the vise as it feels more like the Switch or a traditional handheld console. I always felt the controller and clip were super heavy and view angles got weird.
Within the last couple of years, major gaming companies are making official controllers for phones. With games like Call of Duty: Mobile, PUBG, and GRID: Autosport, there’s a reason why. These games play phenomenally better with controllers. The Kishi isn’t perfect, but it does a great job giving us quality where we need it. The vise actually folds into itself which is something I can’t say for cheap Chinese devices which I have used. They have this weird sliding mechanism that’s spring-loaded and just felt too rigid and universal. This controller is hand-tailored for iPhones and using my iPhone 12 Pro Max was a dream with this controller.
The first issue I ran into is that unfolding the device is a pain. There are two pull tabs that are oriented awkwardly and don’t have a nice snap or click when they unlatch. You have to pull the simultaneously and just let the controller kind of fall apart and some wiggling is required. The controller is basically two halves of a controller that is connected with a soft rubber band that is anchored with plastic pieces at the end that have a peg that allows for stretching. There’s a rectangle backpiece in the middle that has support begs that rests on the back of the phone. It feels tight and I never felt like the device didn’t stretch enough or too far. There are spacers for smaller iPhones so the band still gets tight. You insert your phone into the lightning port side and slide the other half on and it just pulls tight and it works. The right side is solid, but the left side has a bit of giving and wiggle, but this is because there’s no port to keep it in place, but I never noticed this while gaming ever.
The controller feels solid in the hands and like a handheld system. Of course, ergonomics are only half the battle and the other half is how the buttons feel. The alternate analog placement (Xbox style) feels amazing. These are some damn fine analog sticks and I felt they weren’t too loose or tight. They click nice and are just full-size analog sticks that feel similar to an Xbox One controller. The D-Pad is weird, but at least it rolls and rocks and isn’t separated like the Switch or PS4. You can easily use this with fighting games is my point. The face buttons are similar to the Switch but feel a tad stiff. They aren’t loud and clicky like Moga controllers are, but you eventually get used to it. I noticed that after a week they loosened up a tad. The Kishi has triggers similar to the Xbox and two shoulder buttons. The shoulder buttons are stiff as well and the analog triggers are a little loose for my taste, but you get used to them and they aren’t a deal-breaker.
There are three other buttons: one for recording and taking screenshots, a home button, and a menu button. They are located below each analog stick and are out of the way. Other than that my next favorite feature is the passthrough charging but it’s oriented at the bottom and out of the way of your hands. This allows for longer tethered gaming sessions. You can use a power bank in your pocket or sit near an outlet, it’s great. When you’re done the controller easily snaps back together, but only after you figure out how. You have to orient the tabs inside just right or it won’t go together. It took me too much time trying to figure this out, but essentially the small gray tabs on the inside need to touch and you know it’s oriented correctly. Then the back plastic piece just snaps on to keep the halves together. It’s a rather compact thing when it’s all said and done and easily fits into small pockets.
With that said there’s not much left to say. There is an app that upgrades the firmware, but mine didn’t need it. Other than that if the game supports controllers is will recognize this device. I have yet to play a game that supports controllers that won’t see the Kishi. The only issue was Real Racing 3, but there’s been a long-time glitch that requires you to put the game in airplane mode to use controllers, so that’s not the Kishi’s fault. For the price point, you’re paying for quality and this is well worth $100. I know console controllers are $40 cheaper, but this thing is a bit more complicated to make and has more moving parts. I think it’s well worth the money and turns your iPhone into a portable handheld gaming device.
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.
Oxenfree is all about horror and mystery. It starts out with five students in their early 20’s arriving at a small town in the Pacific Northwest to discover some sort of weird thing that goes on in the caves there when you tune a radio to a certain frequency. After a good amount of dialog and plot and character development, you tune your radio and discover a rift in time and discover the island is actually haunted and you are trying to free the ghosts within. Why, how, and what they are in the mystery that I won’t spoil.
The horror elements are mostly audio-related and are something I have not really heard in a game before. The game uses the eerieness of radio static, and voices. Have you ever gone down a scary YouTube rabbit hole and watched “Top 10 scariest sounds” or something like that? Well, if you ever heard one that is about strange radio call signs that were used in the Cold War then you know what you will hear in this game. It made the hair on my neck stand up and was very chilling to hear. There are various stones you can find throughout the game that give you tidbits of stories about the island and these creepy radio calls are part of this.
You wander around the island listening to the dialog as there are no puzzles in this game. It’s very much a “walking simulator”, but you walk and talk with the characters and choose from three different dialog options as they pop up in conversation. Some of these are story altering and some are not. These choices determine the ending you get which I found was a little too short and disappointing. I really got to like the characters here and the game is so short you can’t invest a lot of time into them. Every so often the game will bring you into a time loop and these are when a lot of important choices are made. Even for only a 4 hours game the story is done quite well and has a beginning, middle, and clear ending and you wind up exploring most of the island albeit at a snail’s pace. You can wander around further to collect letters and find these frequency stones, but I honestly didn’t find the story of the island as interesting as the characters.
The voice acting is actually really well done and I like that when you answer before someone finishes a sentence Alex, your character, will interrupt with a correct tone and inflection in her voice. The constant bantering between the characters is the most entertaining part of the game and I was always looking forward to hearing what they had to say. The game also looks really good with 2D backgrounds and 3D models. It’s a 2D side-scrolling adventure so it’s hard to get lost here. I found the game’s pacing was all over the place however, there would be sections where I felt I was progressing quickly only to get slowed down by too much backtracking or lots of cut scenes and dialog. You don’t have to really think to finish the game, and I felt collecting everything was too tedious due to the slow pace of the game.
Overall, Oxenfree is a great horror mystery game that while not being very memorable will entertain you for an afternoon and might be something you discuss with friends as the story does have a twist ending. It looks good, has great voice acting, and the characters are interesting, but the constant backtracking, slow pace, and almost zero gameplay may put some off.
Smart phones have hit a plateau in the last five or six years if you haven’t noticed. We went from huge leaps and bounds in software and hardware to arguing over megapixels, keyholes, and camera bumps. Phones have gotten to a point where even lower end phones are no longer slow and can pretty much do whatever you need. The gap between a premium phone and a low -end phone is shrinking and it’s getting harder to justify the huge price hike in premium flagship phones because of this. Samsung is one of the largest perpetrators of this issue. The Note series was their bread and butter and was easily miles ahead of the iPhone and many other popular phones and continued to innovate with every iteration. Once the Note 8 released I was pretty much over it all. I switched to OnePlus and never really looked back as it offered most of what Samsung could for over half the price.
What made me go back? Especially since Note phones run over $1,200 these days. The Note series has evolved enough since the Note 8 to catch my eye. The phone may not be super special to anyone who upgrades yearly, but for a jump from three generations back it’s a beautiful piece of hardware. The evolution of the Note is still subtle, but in many ways. From the pretty much edgeless display to the return of an aluminum back and expandable storage. The series feels like it went back to its roots compared to older generations. Outside of lightning fast response times and fantastic game performance, those are a given. I came back for the little things.
The unboxing is rather humble and minimal. Just a plain box with the S-Pen on front and a big N20. It’s screams, “Yeah, we don’t need to say much.” Just a charger and a phone without all those crazy adapters that the Note phones started getting since the Note7. When you pick up the phone the first thing you notice is humongous camera bump. Like holy hell this thing has a growth! These things are getting so big and silly, but it doesn’t detract from the phone’s looks. The series finally feels premium again. Glass doesn’t make a phone feel premium – it makes it feel delicate and fragile. I never liked glass backed phones and I’m glad aluminum is back in. The brushed bronze color is gorgeous and it continues on the top and bottom with only the front being glass like it used to be since the Note4. There’s also a lack of a headphone jack, but loo, it’s over. Headphone jacks are bulky and you’re fighting for room inside the phones. You also can’t make a phone thinner than 3.5mm if you keep this.
The software is a rather familiar experience, but I jumped off the Samsung train before the Galaxy One UI ecosystem was created. It feels familiar, but very much evolved and there are subtle things I like. The Note20 has some of the most in depth options for a phone I’ve ever seen and it’s incredibly customizable down to theming. The S-Pen is pretty much the same, but has minor changes, but the biggest one being an internal battery and being able to use it for air gestures away from the phone. The phone also has lost it’s weird quirkiness of slowing down over time and being sluggish which was the main problem I always had with Samsung phones, but it seems the 12GB for much faster processing has helped that.
Gaming on the phone is amazing and it will run any game out there with no issues. Using various controllers and clips of your favorite configuration as well as emulating systems like the GameCube worked really well with not many issues outside of just typical emulator compatibility issues. The phone does get hot, but Samsung’s Game Launcher has evolved to allowed performance plugins to monitor framerate, temps, and CPU and GPU utilization. It’s great that Samsung has embraced the hardware demographic as these are the phones power users reach for.
I do have to talk about the S-Pen and it’s functionality. This is a gimmick still to anyone who doesn’t need to write notes or do art. My previous job found this phone useful as I was always needing to take notes on the fly, but the various software added feels more and more like there’s less of a reason to use the pen. AR Gestures, Live Messages, and various other apps like these are pure fun and gimmicky and there’s no reason why Samsung hasn’t really advanced the Pen’s software suite much in almost a decade. The air gestures are great for presentations or something, but unless you actually need a pen on your phone you probably will never use it outside of satisfyingly clicking the pen in and out. I love the S-Pen and there’s no other phone like it on the market that has something like this.
Overall, Samsung has created the most premium Android ecosystem on the market and the Note20 reigns supreme. With a 108MP camera, themes, always-on display, tons of battery saving measures and options, the best OLED phone display on the market, Dolby Atmos speakers, 120hz refresh rate, true edge-to-edge display, and the return of the aluminum back, the Note20 feels like the Note has returned from a long run of being a copycat instead of staying true to form.
I love artsy games. Some times it’s nice just to sit back and play a casual game that is a visual treat. Gris is one of these games. Like many other games before it, it offers tight gameplay, but short and sweet experience. There’s really no story here, and you have to make what you can of the story based on context only. You play as a woman who loses her voice to a dark force that seems to swallow up all the color in the world. It’s your job to get that color back and your voice. That’s the only thing I got out of this entire game story-wise. I wanted something more, there are games that have told breathtaking stories on just context alone such as Journey, but what’s here is fine.
The game is broken up into three levels based on colors. In the color Red, you gain the ability to weigh things down. You jump around platforms and have to figure out various platforming puzzles. Using your abilities you must navigate the area to acquire stars to unlock the next section and finish the level. These are rather clever and I never got stuck, but I was challenged. I had to think and it quickly clicked after a few tries throughout the game on most puzzles. The controls are great and not floaty or slippery. The girl has a nice momentum with the ability to glide, double jump, and swim which is all acquired throughout the game.
The second level, Green, is probably the easiest and most laid back level. There aren’t many platforming puzzles, but there are challenges instead that require good timing. You find a woodland creature companion part way through and you use him for a few challenges, but this level was not difficult. I acquired the double jump ability here and this opened up more challenges.
The final level, Blue, is a mixed underwater and upside down platforming and the levels are labyrinthine and challenging. I didn’t get too lost in this level, but I did wander around a little more than I wanted to. You have to use everything you learned to beat this level and that includes platforming challenges that combine all of your abilities and precise timing. This game isn’t quite a breeze as it did work my brain a bit which is nice. Throughout the game, there are a couple of scripted chase scenes with the dark void that took your voice which changes the pace up a bit, but overall it’s very nicely paced and I was able to play all 3 hours in one sitting and was sucked in.
While the game lacks in story it makes up for in gameplay with challenging platforming, some puzzles, and a gorgeous watercolor art style that is just a joy to look at every second you are in the game. This is Gris‘ main draw is the eye-catching art style. I wanted to know more about this mysterious girl, but we just got platforming instead. Oh well, as it stands it’s a must-play for fans of games like Journey or The Unfinished Swan. I had a blast, and while the game itself wasn’t memorable, the art style is striking enough to remember.
I’m not the biggest JRPG fan as I don’t like grinding or the typical tropes that go along with them. They usually are extremely bloated with dozens of hours added just in battles alone and this is why I only play them if they have a particular something that stands out albeit the story or the gameplay. Trials of Mana stands out as neither of those, but it does everything in a neatly tightened JRPG package that cuts out the fat and streamlines the genre for the modern world.
The story is nothing to write home about but isn’t bad either. You can choose between 6 different characters with three being in your party. Each character has to class specializations and this is important when your class up and balances out your party. It’s recommended to have a fighter, magician, and middle ground class. I chose Reisz, Duncan, and Angela for my playthrough and it worked out perfectly. The overall story revolves around a typical JRPG plot of saving the world from an evil entity. The Goddess of Mana is being targeted by a particular evil force and wants to be the only existing god. There are other evil kingdoms racing to get the Sword of Mana which is said to hold untold powers. Yeah, it’s trite, barely interesting, and towards the end of the game, there aren’t many cut scenes left. The English voice acting, in particular, is incredibly bad so please do yourself a favor and enable the Japanese voice-overs. The characters themselves are very likable with great designs and they stand out and are somewhat memorable, they have typical JRPG hero personalities, but I grew to like them nonetheless.
Let’s dive right into battles. Trials of Mana is a real-time battle system played out in closed-off areas. Once you are in sight of a creature the game surrounds you in a barrier that you can escape from by running toward or just fighting it out. There are heavy and light attacks as well as the same while in the air. Once you progress far enough and depending on your class, you will unlock Moves that are class-specific that consume MP, and then there are Class Strikes. These strikes use up Stamina that is acquired as crystals that enemies drop when attacked. These strikes are powerful and you get a new one with each new class. These must be strategically timed with boss battles as they are essential to winning and doing massive damage. Battles overall are intense and fun with the ability to adjust your AI mates in the Strategy section of the menu. Here you can adjust how often they use their strikes, moves, items, and how to focus on enemies. This is really important to adjust for later boss fights.
Of course, you can buy most things in towns and the single night market as well as reset your skill points there. Leveling up is a big deal in this game and you can allocate points towards various stats like strength, stamina, intelligence, and so on. I highly recommend leveling up where you want your character to be strong and saving your points once you reach the cap for that class level. Once you class up you will have tons of points to advance your character even further without wasting them on stats you don’t need to focus on. Getting a higher class also grants a new costume and access to higher-level weapons and armor in addition to more ability slots. Leveling up stats grants abilities that add passive stats such as healing after battles, additional damage when entering them, sacrificing HP for additional damage, etc. The great thing is that these abilities are shared amongst all characters once unlocked to really customize your style.
Exploring in Trials of Mana is fine, but not wholly necessary. Exploring only gets you basic items, and the very rare weapon or armor piece and the question mark seeds in Chapter 5 needed to get to class 3. Grinding is also very minimal in this game as you will mostly stay just behind or ahead of the current area demand. I recommend staying above two levels of the next boss and it will make life much easier and you will chew through fewer healing items. The levels are very linear as well and it’s hard to get lost as a golden star will always lead you to your objective as well as on the map. I have to commend Square for implementing this as one of my biggest issues with JRPGs outside of random battles is never knowing where the hell to go. This allows you to just enjoy the game and not worry about whether or not you’ve been going the wrong way for the last hour.
With all of that said, Trials of Mana also looks fantastic. While not groundbreaking, it has bright visuals, detailed textures, high-poly models, and great animations. The effects are slick and the bosses are very well designed. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of regular enemies as they are just standard JRPG fodder like rabbits, slime, knights, dragons, and various fantasy creatures, they do require strategy as each has different attacks and debuff effects. So with that said, Trials of Mana won’t change the minds of those who don’t like JRPGs, but those who love them will truly enjoy this. I finished the game and even continued to the additional optional chapter that can grant New Game+ if completed. This is one of two Super Bosses and requires a level 75 party. This final dungeon is about an hour long and combines a piece of every area you have visited in the game for one mega-dungeon. It’s a challenge and fun, and I recommend completing it. Trials of Mana is one of my favorite JRPGs in the last decade and I can easily recommend it to most people.
Bullet time. While The Matrix made it popular amid pop culture, Max Payne started it all in the video game realm. You play as a cop, Max Payne, who is framed for murder of another NYPD cop. Your wife and newborn child are also murdered and you are trying to get revenge on the people who did it. The story isn’t anything amazing, but Max Payne’s voice actor, and the well done writing, keep you hooked long enough to find out what happened behind the scenes. The game is told in a comic noir graphic-novel style and it suits the game well. The cut scenes are imaginative and different, and don’t look cheap or like the developers were trying to take short cuts.
Outside of the story, the gameplay is all about shooting because that’s literally it. Max runs around with various weapons such as Barrettas, Ingrams, shotguns, grenade launchers, Molotov cocktails, grenades, and assault rifles to mow down the Mafia and corrupt cops. Bullet time is the main gameplay element here and when activated Max does a jump dodge in the direction you move and you can see him dodging bullets in real-time. This is actually a mechanic you must master as most situations require you to use it to stay alive. You can’t stand in one spot or you will be dead in a few hits and there’s no cover system. I had to quicksave every 2-3 minutes as well because the game is so difficult. It’s cool to jump dodge around a corner, but once Max lands there’s a delay in him getting up and you are completely vulnerable to gunfire. I had to make sure I jump dodged behind cover or across a hallway so I wouldn’t die the second the bullet time finished. You can also activate bullet time and just run your meter down so you can run and gun with it too.
There are very few scenarios in which you do more than press buttons. One scene has Max driving a crate crane around an area, but it’s nothing special, and there are some interactive objects that trigger comic cut scenes, but 95% of the game is just shooting. The weapons themselves feel good and I felt I had to switch up weapons depending on the situation to make my life easier. The locales are varied, but they are a bit too stale and boring for my taste. They don’t quite capture the noir feeling of the comic cut scenes, but there is one level early on called Ragna Rock that was a gothic cult house that reminded me a lot of Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, so that’s a good thing. The game really does feel like a first-generation PS2/Xbox game, but it’s very polished. The game flows nicely, but the difficulty is all over the place, you will die dozens and dozens of times in this game.
The visuals are clean and look nice even 20 years later. I installed a texture upgrade patch and some other things to make the game upscale to 4K nicely and play on modern hardware, and it looks pretty good. Even in the original, the facial textures are nice and very realistic, and the over aesthetic of the game stands out over most shooters of its time. The voice acting is great, and I finished the game in about 7 hours. After you finish it there’s literally nothing else to do as the multiplayer mode was scrapped. It’s a fantastic single-player game that holds up well even today despite its insane difficulty and unbalanced gameplay. The story isn’t anything special, but Max is a great character to dive into and it makes for a fun evening.
The superhero video game renaissance all started with Batman. After the Hollywood superhero films grew up and became an epic universe taking over the entire industry, the video game versions feel a little more nuanced and personable. Rocksteady really hit it off with the Batman: Arkham series and the game just got better from there. Telltale took the storytelling of the superhero comics and turned it into an epic original story.
The Enemy Within follows right after the end of the first game with Bruce having defeated Lady Arkham, The Penguin, and Catwoman. The Enemy Within feels more epic has a larger overarching story and has more villains in place. We get Bane, Riddler, Harley Quinn, The Joker, and Mr. Freeze all wrapped up into one big Batman package. The story from Telltale is one of the most unique and interesting I have seen in the Batman universe to date. It feels tightly knit and has resolution at the end instead of spiraling out of control into a million different spin-offs. Main characters can die, and Batman can even break his own code if you choose.
This game is probably one of the only Telltale adventure games that cut out all the fat from the choices part of the game. Even dialogue option has meaning and makes a difference towards the end goal. There are larger moments that can turn the story around, less twists and surprises in this game, but the overall story is a slow burn rather than starts and stops like the first game. Some episodes are slower paced, sometimes too slow, and this game really has too few action sequences and mini-games for my taste. I like the story, but some of the cut scenes can be nearly 20 minutes long with very little input. Again, this is another “interactive movie” with very little gameplay outside of some quick-time events and even less puzzle solving.
What we get is an origin story that doesn’t go too far back. We get to see how The Joker became insane and hated Batman, how Harley became a psycho herself and the relationship between Batman and Catwoman grow or fall apart depending on how you play. We also get to see how Riddler became the way he did, and one thing I need to point out is this game feels more like it can happen in today’s world. Less magic and fantasy stuff from the villains. Everything looks and feels like it can be explained somehow in today’s world which I love. All the villains are just normal humans with a slight scientific twist to them.
I will say we don’t get a backstory on Bane or Mr. Freeze really. Mr. Freeze isn’t used all that much and Bane is just an annoying bully through the whole thing. We do get a new entity called The Agency which is an original faction used in the game to counter-balance The Pact (all the villains) and it’s up to you to decide how The Agency is towards Batman. Amanda Waller is a love or hate kind of character, and mostly one-dimensional, but we get to see Lucious Fox’s daughter Tiffany, and the game eventually plays into the psychological aspect of Joker and Batman’s relationship like the comics do.
At the end of the day, we really feel like we know Batman, Alfred, Joker, and Harley all too well. Telltale did an amazing job of getting you inside their heads and making you really feel like you’re controlling Bruce’s fate and story. While the game is too light on gameplay, and a little slow-paced, I couldn’t stop playing as I wanted to see what happened next. I really weighed my choices and felt at the end everything from the first game to the end of this one was satisfying and meaningful. This is clearly the best Batman game to play if you want an amazing story.
The Shadows Edition adds some enhanced visuals, better textures, lighting, and a noir style that I played the game in that makes everything black and white except certain colors like red, green, and various accents of character’s iconic colors. The game’s upgrades look great and I didn’t run into any bugs like I usually do with Telltale games.
Batman has seen a great run over the last decade or so with Christopher Nolan’s film trilogy, the Arkham game trilogy, and now a story-driven adventure game. Batman tells a story I have personally never heard with the game digging into Bruce Wayne’s darker past and finally revealing the truth about his parents and discovering their past. The game isn’t’ afraid to kill off characters and actually become quite violent, and I was hooked every last minute, but it’s not the story or characters that have issues, but Telltale’s tired way of telling these stories.
I’ll have to give them credit, they cleaned up the graphics engine a bit and the button prompts and commands look sleeker, especially during action sequences, but the game is still an interactive movie, probably more so than any other Telltale adventure game. Rarely do you get to actually control Batman or Bruce and only during investigative scenes to link clues together? This is one gameplay element that’s been used multiple times and I like it, but it’s not really a puzzle either. You walk around examining clues and can link two of them together to figure out what happened at a crime scene. It’s easy and obvious which clues go together, so some better puzzle solving would have been nice.
The second gameplay segment is dialog choices and most are timed just like previous Telltale games, but I feel the smaller dialog choices have less of an impact. The game will tell you when someone will notice or remember what you said, but unlike The Walking Dead, I don’t know when that comes into play. The Walking Dead is done so well I can recall what I said in a previous decision that made that character act the way they do, now either the writing is so good it’s that seamless or it was an afterthought. I want to know when my choices change things, even the little ones. There are times when you have to make two large choices that obviously will affect the story, but these are immediate changes that you see in front of you.
The third gameplay segment is quick-time events, but they’re sleek and feel part of the action. Of course, these are incredibly easy and I never once messed up as the game gives you plenty of time to hit the button prompts to see the well-choreographed fight scenes play out that are actually quite cool. Outside of those three gameplay segments, there’s no other gameplay present. Puzzles are seriously lacking as they gave the Arkham games some brainpower behind all that fighting and I feel the game could have been better enjoyed more as a game with these put in.
Thankfully, you’ll just mow through the 5 episodes that take less than an hour each to complete because the story is so good. Seeing the origins of Harvey Dent become Two-Face, The Joker, Catwoman, Gordan, and seeing Bruce face his own dark past is just cool, especially for a Batman fan such as myself. It tells a story that no other medium has told and that’s what got me hooked. I don’t want another origin story as to how Bruce became Batman, I don’t want to see him fight more villains and fight his inner demons. The dredging up the past and seeing Bruce and Batman actually fail and become nothing is fantastic and makes Batman seem vulnerable and adds depth to the story arc.
Overall, Batman: The Telltale Series is a must-play for any Batman fan. I don’t think non-Batman fans will care for this game, especially when knowing more about the lore and arc of the series makes the game that much more interesting. The visuals are decent, but I’m tired of seeing Telltales comic-looking graphics and they are dated and full of bugs and problems still. I ran into graphical glitches, crashes, and at one point my Xbox shut down mid-game for no reason. The voice acting is top-notch and the overall production values are good, but I’m tired of Telltale’s way of telling stories in the same manner for every game. Smaller dialog options are lost in the seamless transition between scenes and only the larger choices stand out which is a shame. Towards the end of the game, I stopped caring about which choices I made outside of the large ones because I wasn’t seeing any differences. Even at the last dialog scene with Alfred in episode 5, the game said “Alfred will remember that” but why? It’s the last scene with him and it won’t make a difference if he remembers it or not. With that said, this is a great story and not much else.