Bright Memory was an impressive tech demo that was in Steam Early Access a couple of years ago. It had a scantily clad female protagonist (which doesn’t do anything for the game honestly) and a mix of sword and gunplay in the first person which felt fast-paced and punchy. Infinite is the fully released game, and it’s basically a much longer tech demo. You can finish the game in 90 minutes and this leaves nothing for story or character development which is almost non-existent. All I gathered is that there’s a black hole forming near-Earth and you must stop an evil military guy from taking some sort of artifact that will bring Earth back to Feudal Japan? I’m honestly not even sure.
The best part about the game is the gunplay. The swordplay kind of takes a back seat and is only needed in certain situations. You get a standard arsenal of four weapons. Automatic pistol, auto-shotgun, assault rifle, and sniper rifle. Each weapon has an alternate ammo type that’s usually explosive and does massive damage which is best saved for larger enemies and bosses. The weapons feel heavy and punchy, and they are fun to shoot and use. The gunplay was so good that it kept me wanting more from the game. It had a AAA budget quality to it that’s not seen in many indie shooters. The swordplay consists of mashing a single button or launching enemies into the air. There’s a tacked-on afterthought of a skill tree that lets you unlock abilities and upgrade your alternate ammo firepower, but in 90 minutes you upgrade almost everything pretty quickly so it feels trivial.
There is a grapple line for traversing long distances which are scripted, and you can wall run. These ninja acrobatics feels a bit stiff and not as refined as the actual gunplay. In fact, all of the animations feel stiff and like they were hand done. The faces almost don’t animate and thankfully there are less than 10 minutes of total screen time where the camera shows any faces. Your main character, Shelia, is questionable in the sexy department since you hardly ever see her and there are DLC costumes that seem pointless due to the short run time. You can go through the game again on higher difficulties, but I don’t see the point.
The issue with a short game like this is there is no incentive to come back. There are no modes, no multiplayer, and hardly anything to aim for. The visuals in the game are fantastic with great use of ray-tracing, but again the animations are weird. There’s a short scene where you drive a car and it feels really janky and half-baked. Overall, the boss fights are fun, but there are literally only four types of enemies in the whole game so it gets repetitive quickly. At a sale price, this could be a fun evening, but that’s about it.
I’m not the biggest Postal fan as I didn’t grow up with it. With Postal 4 being another turd in the series, I can easily say this is the best game in the whole series despite being a spin-off. It takes the meta-humor, gore, and whacky character designs of the main series, puts them into a Doom clone, and does it quite well. You are put into the shoes of the main protagonist who falls asleep on this couch and end up playing the levels of his nightmares. There are plenty of locales, fun weapons, and tons of enemies.
You start the game out like you do in the main games. You are in a lively neighborhood and go, postal because your TV is broken. The game ramps up the difficulty quite nicely as this first level has simple enemies like redneck shotgun MAGA hat-wearing enemies, dogs, and innocent people to slaughter. These people give you Wal-Mart bags that give you health. Later on, you run into floating fat enemies that chuck McDonald’s burgers and cups at you. Mind you they don’t use the actual names in the game, but you can easily tell what they’re making fun of.
Later levels bring on various enemies and there are three main bosses in the game. There are three different campaigns to play in. You eventually go through the desert, asylum, sewer, forest, and swap levels to eventually get to the F4 Expo campaign to take on Leon Dusk (har har) and his space program. Each level consists of mostly linear hallways to shoot through but there are many blocked doors that require certain items or colored keys. Finding these can sometimes be a bit of a pain as the levels can be quite long and labyrinthine and the level design overall isn’t the best among these Doom clones. I honestly felt a lot of the time that the pacing was off with arenas being way too large for the loadout you get (you frequently lose your entire arsenal and have to gain it back again) and it can sometimes feel overwhelming just in terms of getting your bearings. The enemy designs are well done as you know what enemies are weak against what types of weapons. You have enemies that mob you, strong enemies that stand back, and some with long-range weapons.
The humor in this game is a bit different from the main entries as it stays meta and makes fun of current global issues. Coronavirus (it’s literally a boss), various memes like Elon Musk, the toilet paper shortage, and various one-liners that poke fun at what’s been going on for the last five years globally. No racism, sexism, chauvinism, or anything like that is needed to be a fun game. The game pokes fun at things rather than promoting them. Anyone saying “Twitter will end this game” is just creating fake outrage. It’s funny no matter who you are and isn’t offensive. The developers got with the times and actually had to make an effort to be humorous. What a crazy idea right?
With that aside, the game does get really repetitive after the first campaign is over. Previous enemies cycle in, the same 8 weapons can only do so much, and most of them are pretty basic weapons, but a few are unique like the Pussy Blower that shoots cats out and you can recall them to do damage on the way back. Most other weapons are just clever or funny renditions of normal weapons with alt-fire modes. You do get items to use such as slowing down time, refilling a weapon’s ammo, and refilling health, and you also get a piss button. Peeing on things is useless unless you have fire or nitrogen bottles to burn or freeze enemies with your pee. Yeah, it’s pretty funny. There is also an Akimbo item which is probably the most valuable in the game.
Overall, Brain Damaged has excellent art direction and retro visuals that harken back to the 64-bit era of games like Quake II and Unreal Tournament. The controls are great, the game is fast-paced, the weapons and enemy designs are awesome, there is varied level design, and the humor is actually funny and not offensive just to be offensive. There are plenty of nods to video games, gaming culture, and world events from the last five years that everyone can relate to. If you can get past the repetitious design and so-so-level design problems then you will have a great 5-6 hours on your hands.
I love Lovecraftian horror, but video games have really struggled to bring these mythos to life. Most of the games get the atmosphere and monster design down, but can’t nail a good gameplay loop or decent story. By far the best game for this is still Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. While its gameplay is clunky it has great storytelling that’s somewhat memorable. The Sinking City does a great job nailing the twisted town of Oakmont with great visuals, but that’s about it. No single gameplay element or loop comes together to create anything interesting or worthwhile to make you want to stick around outside of the main story.
Unlike most other Lovecraftian games this one doesn’t take place in Innsmouth, but it is referenced that many are fleeing from that town. You play Charles Reed who is a private eye investigator searching to end his visions. That’s about as far as the entire story goes. You bounce around from case to case-solving problems of townsfolk in form of favors to get one step closer to where you need to go. This is where things start falling apart. Not a single character is interesting, including Reed, the dialogue is drab and boring despite the voice work being pretty decent. There are small little stories for each case you can unravel, but I didn’t care about any of them. I just wanted to progress further and hope there was some cool twist and that never came.
When you are inside investigation areas you can examine items and look at objects. There are key evidence items to progress the story and bonus items to complete all evidence for achievements. This is mostly uninteresting and there are dozens and dozens of these with you just wandering and looking at everything to find any object you can to examine. Once you examine everything you are given clues to advance the case, but nothing is marked on your map for you. You are given a district and then cross streets and have to pin that yourself. I found this kind of interesting until I found out all of the main story cases are almost always right near fast travel points.
Speaking of fast traveling it’s so necessary because the town of Oakmont is boring and lifeless. Sure, there are people wandering around, but they are just animations to fill space. They don’t make any sound, have any dialog, and there are no stores or anything like that. It’s just linear streets that look pretty broken up with water-logged streets that require a motorboat to navigate. Some areas are sectioned off as infested areas full of monsters and aren’t worth going into for any reason outside of a few side cases that require it.
That gets us into combat which is another half-baked idea. The game is trying to be a survival horror game by making ammo scarce, but you can craft ammo and health though! Sure, but you will literally be scrounging bullets and some areas have tons of monsters I got lucky, but usually went down to my last bullet, and aiming carefully is a must. There are 5 different weapons including throwables and traps, but honestly, you just start with your weakest gun and work your way up until you’re spent. There’s no strategy to this and all the weapons feel the same and don’t have any weight to them and there is no cover system. Like any Lovecraftian game, there is a sanity meter and as this drops, you hallucinate wylebeasts and they will attack you unless you take psych meds.
There are some underwater levels in which you walk around in a diving suit and avoid hot air vents and a couple of monsters, but it’s slow-paced and even duller as they are all pretty much the same just with different layouts and an excuse to maybe add filler. You can shoot a harpoon gun to slow the monsters down, but there was no challenge in these 6 or so underwater areas. There’s a single boss fight, and you occasionally attack humans which are easy but usually come in large numbers. Part of the appeal of this game is story choice. Choosing who lives and dies, doesn’t really affect much except what endings you can choose, which are uninteresting and unfulfilling.
There’s literally nothing else to do in the game. I desperately just tried to find all the fast travel points. I don’t understand making this open-world if it’s so boring and uninteresting to explore and feels so lifeless. The same loop of investigating cases, fighting some monsters, fast traveling around to the next case, and listening to the dialog, is so dull and I only kept playing because of my love for the lore. If you don’t care about Lovecraftian mythos then I wouldn’t even bother with this game. I also didn’t bother with any side cases as the main story takes around 12 hours and drained me. I couldn’t spend another minute in this game.
Overall, The Sinking City is another barely passable Lovecraft-inspired game that gets the atmosphere and looks right, but can’t nail any gameplay elements. While none of them are broken or bad they are just boring and could have been greatly expanded upon. The main story doesn’t really go anywhere, there are no interesting characters, the dialogue is drab, and the bullet scrounging gets tiring of the number of monsters that get thrown at you. Not to mention the dull and lifeless open world with literally nothing to do in it. If you truly love Lovecraft stories you might find some enjoyment out of this like I did otherwise it’s a hard pass.
I love Japanese horror as it has such exciting mythology and creatures that are great for video games. Ghostwire does a great job making an entire game focused on Japanese folklore and mythology while also mixing it with the modern world of Tokyo. Ghostwire has great visuals and art direction – well as fantastic monster designs – but it falls flat in more ways than I wish it did.
You play as a man named Akito who finds himself awake in the Tokyo streets apparently dead and being possessed by a spirit named KK who is trying to stop a demon named Hannya. And that’s about as far as it gets. Sure, there’s a side plot of Akito wanting to bring his dead sister Mari back to life and Haanya wants her to seemingly become queen of the underworld? I don’t know or care. The story is so underbaked and doesn’t really go anywhere and that’s no thanks to the story only lasting about 6 hours or so. It’s incredibly short compared to the rest of the repetitive and mostly boring filler throughout the game.
Let’s just start out with the combat, because Ghostwire is pretty exciting during the first two chapters of the game and then that quickly fizzles out. You get three elemental attacks that are thrown out with your hands. A speedy green wind gust which is your main weapon, a more powerful fire piercing attack, and a wider range water attack. Think of it as a shotgun. You can charge these up and do more damage, and then there’s a super ability that lets you do extra damage. You can manage your health with food items and you acquire “ammo” by destroying enemies or ghost-like objects scattered all over the place. One of the gimmicks of the combat is destroying the cores with a cool animation of Akito using his hands to pull their soul out with a wire (thus the title of the game!) and the animation looks cool, but it’s fleeting at best. This becomes incredibly repetitive early on as you’re just spamming attacks and using each weapon depending on whether you have a tougher enemy or not.
That leads to enemies. They are super cool-looking. They reflect Japanese mythology and folklore such as the Students of Pain and Misery which are headless school children who were either bullied or had some other issue in real life. These are fast-moving enemies. There are Rain Walkers who look like Slenderman who are salary men or women in real life. They block with umbrellas and are slower moving. These enemies all look cool, but in the end, there are only half a dozen kids with different variants of those. They aren’t all that challenging in the end as you just spam all your weapons until you run out of ammo essentially. Despite all these cool visuals and monster designs there just aren’t that many.
That leads to the open-world filler which many games unnecessarily think they need to do these days. Ghostwire would have been a really great 8-10 single-player linear adventure so more focus could be had on the story and enemies and deeper combat. While Tokyo seems big it all looks the same. The same empty streets with nothing on the outside of groups of enemies you can walk into. There are various tasks here such as cleansing trees, finding Jito statues to max out your ammo, and cleansing Tori gates to clear the deadly fog that opens up more of the world. You can find coins and food spread throughout and can give animals food for money too. There are various collectibles you can find and outfits to deck out Akito, but once you finish the story you never see his body again so I feel this is pointless. Most of your cash will be used to buy more paper dolls to capture spirits, but again, this is another large task that felt like it wasn’t worth doing. There are hundreds of spirits throughout the area and most side quests give you more spirits to capture.
You can cash in spirits at payphones to empty your paper dolls and get some XP. This leads to the most useless ability tree that takes pretty much getting 100% completion to unlock, but once the story is finished there aren’t any tough bosses or anything anymore so why would you continue to unlock more stuff? You could argue it’s for a new game plus, but that’s also pointless as the story isn’t worth revisiting as it’s so shallow and underdeveloped. You’re left with this huge empty boring world with stuff to do that leads to basically nothing outside of 100% completion. Games like God of War make you want to find everything thanks to challenges you can complete that still require further upgrades beyond what the story can give you and Ghostwire just completely fails here.
There’s also a vertical element to Ghostwire in which you can grapple up to demons that are flying and jump around rooftops, but platforming in this game is quite annoying. You can glide around a bit, but it requires upgrades to glide longer. But, with all that said, Ghostwire is a shallow game that tries to be bigger than it needs to be. It’s another victim of trying to cram a pointless open world when there’s so much great mythology and art to make a solid single-player experience and it’s just squandered.
I do have to mention that you need to complete at least a couple dozen side quests to upgrade enough to make the game not super difficult. Getting more health, max ammo, and some abilities really help, but things like sneaking and your bow are totally useless outside of specific story scenes. It’s clear that this was meant to be a single-player linear adventure and was crammed and stretched out into an open-world game that no one asked for. It looks cool enough and plays well enough to warrant maybe 15 hours inside this world (I clocked in 12 and I explored quite a bit and nearly unlocked all Tori gates and got nearly half the spirits lying around). Maybe at a discount, this would be fun, but in the end, you aren’t missing out on anything. Tango Gameworks has done better work in the past.
Even if you aren’t a fan of the movies I want to say right now that the game is based more off of the comics and original takes on the characters. I’m actually glad Eidos Montreal went this route. The game features a new story and even if you don’t like Guardians of the Galaxy you should enjoy this game as just a pure action-adventure romp. The game is chock-full of humor, clever writing, a great story, and fantastic visuals.
You play solely as Star-Lord the leader of the Guardians. The game’s length is something I want to mention first as it’s fairly long. Running at least 15 hours and there’s honestly not much in terms of venturing off with side quests or anything. This is a very linear game with small side paths that lead to components for upgrades or extra skins, but that’s about it. You start off the game with a story-heavy intro. Tons of licensed 80’s rock music, and right away you can see there’s a lot of care and detail put into this game. Fantastic voice work, great sound effects, and tons of great artwork. The game consists of two main parts. Exploring planets on a linear path that includes light puzzle elements – barely that to be honest – and some platforming. Then there’s the combat which this game relies heavily upon and uses as filler.
Let’s just get the combat out of the way here. As I stated earlier, you only play as Star-Lord and you can order your other three teammates around. When you start out you slowly acquire up to four different abilities for each member including yourself and these are acquired with ability points earned through combat. I feel this is meaningless in the end and felt tacked on as there’s not much strategy involved in combat. You can shoot your pistols until your heat meter fills up and then time the gauge in the green to offload the heat for a burst shot. Then you can mash a melee button as well. Honestly. Star-Lord is fairly weak by himself and I heavily relied on spamming the abilities of my teammates. Even my own abilities were fairly weak in comparison. Drax is a heavy tank while Gemora is like a ninja and can jump around slicing enemies. Groot is eventually upgraded as a healer towards the end of the game, but in the meantime, he can hold enemies in place. Rocket uses explosives and focuses on AoE damage.
This all sounds fine on paper, but in the heat of combat, the different abilities don’t do enough that is different to mean much. I usually just relied on a couple of abilities from each member, mostly AoE-type abilities for maximum damage, and stuck with those through the entire game. I only really used my own pistol barrage ability as well as it was the most useful. Enemies come in usually only three varieties. Easy to kill, medium damage and health, and larger enemies with multiple health bars. The enemies mostly repeat on their respective planets, and then there are the same Promise enemies over and over again. There are a few boss fights thrown in, but they aren’t anything unique or special.
It’s sad that the combat because a dance of spamming the same abilities from your teammates and running around to stay alive. The fact that you yourself do so little damage is really odd. There are a few other contexts thrown in like a bar under larger enemies’ health bar that determines when they are weak. If you spam enough attacks in a row you can then do an instant kill. There are also a few environmental items that you can order teammates to toss around, but it’s very underdeveloped and relies too heavily on these fundamentally useless abilities. The fact that there is so much combat in the game can make it feel like it’s dragging on far too long and is just there for filler. I much preferred the story elements and more exploration areas than the combat.
The exploration is mostly just running around and listening to the banter of the Guardians but also light puzzles in which you must match the correct teammate’s ability with the right obstacle. Gemora can slice things open, Drax can punch through walls, Groot can create bridges, and Rocket can hack panels. There are four weapon elements you acquire such as lightning, ice, fire, and a grapple ability that are used here as well, but it’s not rocket science. Again, another idea that is undercooked and felt like filler. I mostly enjoyed the choices you have to make during the story which determines which allies help you during the final events of the game, and the overall voice work and writing are clever, sharp, and really funny. I just wish the rest of the game had the same care attached to it.
That’s not to say it’s downright bad. The controls are responsive, the animations are smooth and look great, and the combat does work. It’s not clunky or a chore to use it’s just full of underwhelming features. The various planets you explore are fantastic looking and really draw you in and make you feel like you’re in the comics. There are intermissions in between in which you are on the Milano ship and can walk around and explore. There are also easter eggs and lore scattered throughout the game for hardcore fans too. However, the biggest element of all is this enough to warrant sitting through 15-17 hours? If you aren’t a huge Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy, or comic book hero fan then no. I feel like almost 5 hours could have been cut with less combat thrown in and the story does go on and on. It’s supposed to as you get a solid beginning middle and end. There’s enough run time here to really get you to connect with each character. I didn’t finish the game and have no clue about anyone or care about anything like most video game stories these days. It was daring for Eidos Montreal to really push the story run time and allow you to grow with these characters and it paid off.
Overall, with weak and repetitive combat, mostly useless abilities that don’t allow for any type of strategy, and a weak attempt at environmental puzzle-solving the only saving grace here are the visuals, story, characters, and voice acting. I played this game all the way through because I wanted to see and hear more. It was highly entertaining, but every time I went through a chapter full of nothing but combat I grumbled and just wanted these parts over with. I then enjoyed exploring various planets but got annoyed with the poor attempt at puzzles. If the combat was cut way down and the puzzles were cut out we would have had a perfect run time of maybe 10 hours and the weakest parts less apparent.
Adventure games seem to be making a comeback which is a great thing. My fondest memories of PC games are adventure games with The Longest Journey being my favorite of all time. They are basically interactive novels with visuals, and sometimes voice acting, to help illustrate the story. Norco is one of the better modern adventure games of late but still fails in a few spots.
The story itself has moments of clarity, but like most text-heavy adventure games of late, it becomes a convoluted mess with few characters to care about and a disappointing ending. You play as two different characters – a mother and a daughter. You play as the mother, Catherine, in the past playing events that lead up to the present daughter’s events. The daughter is chasing her mother’s ghosts and trying to recover belongings that a corporation took from her. These belongings are supposed to have answers as to why this corporation targeted your family. The whole game is set in a 20-minutes-into-the-future borderline post-apocalyptic New Orleans. There isn’t too much world-building, but a lot of poetic metaphoric dialogue that a lot of games right now think is clever and interesting, but just compounds the fact that a more normal cohesive story is what makes adventure games memorable.
There are a few moments where you might enter a combat mini-game, but these are far and few between and it seems almost impossible to fail these. Various typical adventure game elements are lightly sprinkled throughout like inventory items, backtracking, and code memorization, but surprisingly no puzzles really. A lot of important clues and context will be shown in green during dialog and talking to your party can give you hints which is helpful. I rarely couldn’t figure out where to go. The explorable areas are just still images that you can move your mouse around and click on things to interact with. The entire game is from a first-person perspective. There is a small mini-map in the corner that lets you click around to various “rooms” you’ve unlocked and then there’s a larger map to jump around to the main areas.
The best part about the game is the art and abstract character design. There is some weird imagery here and I really enjoyed the pixel art. The entire game gives off a great sense of atmosphere and foreboding helplessness. You meet weird characters, an occult, strange objects, and overall the game just pulls off a great sci-fi setting, but just the setting. As the game progresses the entire reason why you’re doing any of this is lost and it just devolves into just abstract poetry and makes no sense. Sometimes things seemed normal and there was decent character building, but it just wasn’t enough to push it to that top-tier adventure game level. I still didn’t care about anyone in the game enough as right when things seemed to pick up the game dropped the ball with more abstract poetry, weird imagery, and unanswered questions.
Overall, Norco has great art and super weird characters and settings, but the overall story is just a convoluted mess that devolves into poetic abstractness that seems to be plaguing adventure titles today. I love fantastical stories, but please make them make sense. Poetry isn’t making your game more clever, deep, or interesting. It just takes away from a cohesive narrative and likable characters.
Lone Sails was an interesting puzzle adventure game that took place on a 2D plane. You micro-managed various things on your vessel while acquiring upgrades to pass new obstacles. Changing Tides is exactly the same thing but on a boat instead.
There is no store or character building at all and that really sucks. I can tell the world in Far is sad and clearly post-apocalyptic, but the game gives me no reason to care about it other than the puzzles. You start out swimming this time and learning the basics. Jumping, climbing ladders, moving objects, and picking them up. You then acquire your ship and learn how to manage your fuel, sails, filling with air or water for submarine controls, cool your engine, and use your boost power. You acquire these over the course of the game, but fuel management is key. Don’t use fuel unless you don’t have wind which was the mistake I made. I wound up with tons of fuel at one point without realizing that’s the most I would ever get and that was 2/3 through the game.
Gathering fuel is done by collecting junk laying around. This isn’t often and sometimes you will hit a buoy and below these are caches of fuel. Don’t get lazy and skip them, but sadly the game never tells you to look out for these either. Each upgrade requires a giant puzzle of a level and they were never hard or complicated. Mostly it’s pushing a lever to drop an object to place into a machine. They’re fun, but not hard. While you’re sailing there will be long stretches of nothing. Sometimes not even music. This can get quite boring as the micromanagement of the ship gets tiresome after a while. It was fun at first, but I felt like this was the main gameplay loop and not the puzzles. Overall there are only four upgrades to get so about 4-5 puzzles in total. You spend at least 2-3 hours just sailing and micromanaging your fuel and sails.
Once in a while, there are cinematic platforming moments in which you just follow a linear path which was neat because it’s the only action in the game. I just can’t care a lot about this series without some kind of back story or context. Games like Limbo, Inside, and Little Nightmares do this well with storytelling from your environment. There’s not much to tell in open oceans with just wasted buildings. Even the puzzle areas had murals that supposedly told a story, but it really didn’t mean anything. There’s only one neat moment at the very end of the game before the credits roll and that was it.
The platforming itself is fine if not slippery. I constantly found myself wanting to twitch jump around the ship and I would constantly fall down holes, get stuck on ladders, or not get to where I wanted because of the slippery jumping and physics. It’s also a bit too floaty. The puzzles are the most enjoyable part of the game and it’s a shame the boating is so tedious and boring most of the time with nothing going on. If it were cinematic or more interesting a management system I would really like this idea. I didn’t care for it in Lone Sails and it was doubled down on here.
Overall, Changing Tides looks good for what it is and has a nice art style, but you will quickly forget this game. It’s about 3-4 hours long and I can’t stress enough that there’s way too much boating and not enough puzzle-solving or platforming.
Video games that are considered moving art are rare and don’t happen as often as they used to. Games like Shadow of the Colossus, Okami, Journey, Monument Valley, Echochrome, and various games from large to the small budget would be among that crowd. Lost in Random takes visual and character design inspiration from the likes of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, Alice: Madness Returns, and Psychonauts. Now, I don’t know if those are exact inspirations, but it sure does feel like it. I feel like I’m playing a Tim Burton cartoon.
You play as a girl named Even. The world-building in Lost in Random is very well done. By the end of the game, I completely understood this world and the horrible things people have to go through. There is an evil queen who rules a black die. When she rolls a die it determines where a child gets sent to. There are six realms in the world of Random. You, are, of course, starting out at the bottom and have to work your way up to Sixtopia where the evil queen resides. Children are used for something and the queen also takes your sister Odd back to Sixtopia with her. The people of Random used to have their own dice and the evil queen didn’t like this so she took them all away and only she can decide anyone’s fate.
Each realm is very well done. They all look different and each realm plays an important role in serving the queen. One realm makes the cards, one realm offers the garbage to create the evil robots, and so on. As you climb through the realms you meet the people and can do side quests which surprisingly aren’t that annoying. You mostly finish them all just by completing the main quests in each area and I rarely felt any made me go out of my way. Exploring is one of two major parts of the game and it’s quite enjoyable, in fact, I enjoyed it more than the combat which there is more of. I loved seeing the beautifully crafted areas, talking to the crazy NPCs, and learning how each realm is dealing with everyday life. This kind of detail isn’t put into games as much these days unless they’re a strict RPG.
As you explore the realms you can shoot down pots to earn coins to buy cards. Cards are used in combat, but it’s not like Hearthstone or anything like that. This is real-time combat with cards that give you what you need in the battle. You can carry a deck of 15 cards and there are around 30 or so in the game in total. You can carry usually 2-3 of each one in your inventory. The deck is varied and broken down into categories. Weapons, traps, hazards, assists, and so on. The problem is that because the combat is in real-time it can drag on and take a while to get any battles over with. You start out with just you and your die. You only get to roll a one at the beginning and as you climb realms you get more sides. This is an issue because until you get at least four sides you can’t roll very high. You must run around the arena shooting crystals off of enemies to build up your hand. I find this whole process tedious and really dampens the combat a lot and nearly kills the fun. Once you gathered enough crystals you can roll your die and that determines the spending points you get. Each card has a number from 0-3. The strategy is picking the right cards for the situation and making sure you have a varied deck. You don’t want to be caught without a melee weapon or health for example.
Once you play your hand you have to shoot crystals all over again or “blink” through enemy attacks. An important card is Blink Attack which damages enemies as you dodge because without a melee card you’re weaponless. This also drags out combat as I wish the slingshot would automatically do some damage. You’re stuck just running around shooting crystals and hoping a hazard or weapon card comes up so you can attack and do some damage. This also makes for cheap deaths, especially in the board game areas as there are no checkpoints there. Board games have various rules in which a game piece is moved around and your roll determines the moves. There are hazards, enemies, traps, and obstacles to overcome and I absolutely hated these. They dragged out the already dragged out combat and if you died towards the end it was another 20 minutes to fight your way back to the end.
As you can see, the combat has some great ideas like real-time combat mixed with card battling, but getting to that sweet spot is a chore. There is also so much combat in this game. Once you left a town you just went into one arena after another and it felt like it would never end. The only reprieve in combat was the boss fights as they changed things up. The same five enemies repeat throughout the entire game and then after a while, it just becomes a game of survival rather than strategy. You already know how to kill these enemies after the 50th time so the strategy is gone early in the game. I wound up just equipping the cards that did the most damage, dropped my spending requirements down, gave me more spending points, and required fewer crystals to get to the cards. I stuck with melee weapons, bombs, healing, blink attack, poison, and that was about it. Most other cards end up becoming useless as the game gets harder.
Overall, the game also overstays its welcome. The combat isn’t interesting enough to last 10 hours. As you battle your way through six worlds each with multiple bosses, quests, side quests, and cards to buy the game grows tiresome towards the end. I just wanted to explore the beautiful worlds and enjoy the scripted events towards the halfway point. Every time another board game came up or another arena I groaned. That’s not a good thing. I liked the mix of combat types, but getting to that point with the crystal shooting is just such a chore and slows the whole game down. What’s here though is a wonderful story, great characters, fantastic voice acting, and a beautiful world to explore.
Adventure games that both have shock value and a good story are rare and hard to come by, sadly, Martha is Dead is not one of those. You would mistakenly think this is some sort of horror game with monsters and demons, but it’s barely even that. This is a ghost story, a story about battling mental illness, and a story about surviving WWII in Axis Italy. You play Guilia who is Martha’s twin sister. This is a detective game more than anything with plot twists and an interesting vintage camera system.
The game starts out simple enough. Introducing controls, the plot, character building, the whole nine yards that adventure games typically put you through. Martha is Dead’s best feature is the camera system. While you can take photos anywhere (I don’t know why you would) you need it for specific plot points. Guilia is trying to talk to The White Lady of the lake and find out why her sister died. This is kind of the first half of the story as it jumps around so much. The game is very plodding, slow, and constantly leads you on for little payoff. Taking photos for objectives is simple enough. Just get the focus and distance right and snap the photo. You then get to develop the photo, but instead of taking you through the entire complicated process, the game explains to you what that is and says it cut 90% out for better gameplay. Why? You just focus and position the negative for exposure and then develop it in liquid but the point you stop it is the same for every photo. A pretty lame “mini-game” if you ask me with tons of lost potential.
With the camera feature out of the way, there are other small gameplay things you do such as a morse code mini-game which I actually enjoyed. I had to look up a morse code chart online and decipher it myself. That was actually well done and made me think, but that’s the only part that did. 75% of the game is spent in Guilia’s house or the wood’s winding paths. There are a few scenes where you control a motorboat, but it’s just to get to the other side of the lake. You are mostly wandering around at a slow pace going from point A to B and interacting with objects. Go check out the graveyard, go back to the house and develop the photo, go back to the lake and find an underground bunker, go back to the house and put up a flag. The constant backtracking is tiring and clearly used for filler.
Then the last hour of the game is zero gameplay. It consists of long puppet shows recapping the entire story like you already didn’t know what happened. The story thinks it’s more complicated than it is. Honestly, the puppet shows are cool-looking, but they didn’t advance the story. The story here gets recapped numerous times in various forms which are really annoying and make the player feel dumb. After the puppet show stuff you just walk around interesting scenes with narration and that’s it. The best parts of the game are the gory death scenes which are pretty nutty. They would make Mortal Kombat fans blush. But in total, this is maybe five minutes of the entire game. There’s a bike you can ride, but the control is terrible and it’s only used to ride around the house and surrounding path, so what’s the point with that?
Then there are the visuals. Yes, the game looks damn good. Crazy detailed textures, amazing lighting effects, and models, and it just looks like a AAA title, but at what cost? The game runs horribly on even my RTX 2080 that’s overclocked. There is ray tracing in the game, but I couldn’t tell the difference between that and ultra graphics settings. I feel this was put in more for next-gen consoles for a subtle effect. The game has constant stutters, frame drops, weird frame rates with ray tracing on, and even DLSS set to ultra-performance. At 3440×1440 I had scenes that ran at above 60FPS with ray tracing on and then I would turn around and the frames would drop by over half. Without DLSS? Forget it. The game would drop into single digits one second and then inside the house it would be 90FPS. Super terrible optimization all around here and even with DLSS set to ultra-performance without ray tracing I still saw dips under 60FPS. Totally unacceptable. DLSS shouldn’t be used as a crutch.
Overall, Martha is Dead mostly relies on shock value for the few scenes that have it. It’s neither a horror game nor a puzzle game. It’s just an adventure game with various story elements tossed together with boring backtracking and little gameplay to keep you interested. The photo mode is ambitious but purposefully handicapped when it could have been as robust as real-life photography back in WWII. It’s a missed opportunity. The game spoils itself constantly with frequent story recaps and in the end, there’s a final plot twist. The story runs its course about two-thirds of the way through and you’re left with a giant recap scene with no crazy finale that most adventure games have.
Supermassive Games have the ability to tell great stories and present scary atmospheres and settings. Until Dawn is one of the best PS4 games to date and I loved it. It seems that either their budget is lower, or they’re not taking enough time to finely craft these Dark Pictures stories because thus far they are B-grade horror at best that you quickly forget after the credits roll and House of Ashes is no better. There’s so much left open and unexplored in this paper-thin story that chugs at a snail’s pace until the last hour of the game.
I understand that adventure games like this need time to simmer and do a lot of story building. Life is Strange is a great series that does this very well without feeling boring. House of Ashes is mostly boring. The game drags the pointless story scenario by scenario without anything happening. You keep expecting something to be explained or some backstory to unfold or characters to grow and expand, but that never happens even once here. You play as a group of stereotypical U.S. Marines who are sent down into an ancient temple in Iraq to find some sort of superweapon. Immediately the characters start off unlikeable. Stereotypical Marines of every flavor here. The hard-ass who is rude and has a foul mouth, the jealous couple, the science nerd, the sensitive nerd with glasses who wears a helmet, and the voice acting that accompanies this is pretty bad as well. The guy who plays Jason sounds like he’s faking a mid-western Texas accent and it just sounds so cringy. Everyone sounds like they’re whispering at a high school play recital and it just feels so off.
It takes forever for the team to actually get down into the temple and start their mission. There are just tons of standing around and lots of backhanded comments to each other. The only plot within the group is that Rachel was married to Eric (the leader) and is now secretly dating Nick. Okay? And why do I care? There’s no backstory here, no history, nothing. The game just throws you into these characters’ lives like we already know them. They don’t have strong enough personalities to make you really become attached during the game and I just didn’t care or route for anyone. The vampires you fight take forever to show themselves and become revealed. There are few action sequences and when you do get into them laughably easy with just simple quick-time events and nothing more. This isn’t really a game, but an interactive movie at best.
Failing these quick-time events (you’d have to not be paying attention to fail them) is how most choices and paths change in the story. Sometimes there are dialog choices and I have to hand it to Supermassive for making these choices mean something every single time. They don’t waste a single one. There are choices I made at the very beginning of the game that affects the team all the way through the end and it makes me think back and regret those choices. This is a good thing as it means their choices and path system isn’t useless like most “choose your own adventure” type adventure games are (looking at you David Cage and your games). There are flashing points when you can control a character for all of 10 seconds that are collectible that you can find to unlock interview videos (yawn) and achievements. I tried to make an effort, but despite how little you control characters I still missed stuff. However, the story isn’t interesting enough and takes so long to pick up that I didn’t want to go back ever again. There’s nothing to care about enough here.
The visuals are actually quite good, however, the engine is poorly optimized even for high-end PCs, but again, it looks great. The monster designs are awesome too, it’s just too bad the characters look weird and ugly. I also don’t like that there’s no mystery here. Why are the vampires here? The beginning of the game shows a chapter of ancient people who worship or are trying to stop these vampires, but it’s never explained why or how. There are no explanations here. Even the few collectibles don’t tell of much that’s going on. Just, “Evil scary vampires, and we must stop them”. This game’s story is something you’d see on in the early 2000s on the Sci-Fi channel at 2AM and just watch it out of sheer boredom. Lots of shooting stuff, no one runs out of ammo, their packs hold infinite items, crowbars magically attach to their backs, and so on. It’s so hoaky I couldn’t help but shake my head or laugh at certain scenes.
Overall, House of Ashes is probably a fun entertaining game to look at and play with a partner or friend for an evening, but that’s it. You won’t get anything out of this game, and it’s not even really scary. The vampires look cool and so do some of the human vampires, but that’s it. Military stereotypes, unrealistic events, forgettable and boring characters, and a story that doesn’t go anywhere at all.