Undertale (Not a) Review- PC

It’s hard to review a game like Undertale.

You see, I don’t even want to write a review. I don’t want to weigh the pros and cons, and I certainly don’t want to give it a score. I’ll admit I have an ulterior motive here.

Really, I just want you to play it.

But if I go through an item-by-item description of what makes it special, I will spoil the experience of playing the game. And this is a game that has to be played to be experienced. This is not some game you can just spectate.

Let’s be honest, there are plenty of modern games you can fully experience just by watching a playthrough, narrated by your favorite flavor of YouTube personality. You don’t really have to play those games. But this game needs to be played.

Now, you may look at the game’s screenshots, or see the trailer, and not be impressed. You may already know, in your heart, that this is overhyped indie game of the year #1,345. And that’s fine. You’re right to think that.

Maybe you’re tired of the politics in gaming, the viral marketing, the lightly interactive Unity engine indies, or bloated AAA rehash after rehash. When you see a game get this kind of response, this universal acclaim, you probably should be suspicious.

But why then, how then, in this world of 100+ games in the backlog, achievement hunting, and million-dollar advertising budgets, does a modest-looking RPG largely created by just one person with no advertising whatsoever, get this kind of hype?

Well this game, it touches people. It makes them feel things. Maybe it’s the innocence of the game, or the way it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The game is whimsical, cheesy, pun-filled, and has a soundtrack filled with tunes that are somehow already nostalgic on the first encounter. Oh, and it’s full of surprises.

Toby Fox has worked within some very basic limits in a very creative way, to create a game that is more than the sum of its parts.

You’ve probably heard the comparisons to Earthbound, Wario Ware, bullet hells, and other indie RPGs. None of those comparisons are wrong, but none are completely right.

The pacing, the humor, the characters, the messages, the little touches, and the basic game mechanics all work together to create something that many people feel is very special. At times subtle, at times goofy, at times loving, and at times frightening, this game manages to effortlessly excel at being itself.

If you like traditional RPGs, a good story, clever dialogue, dogs, interesting mechanics, or the chance to play a game that understands the value of life, rather than simply rewarding the destruction of it, you should probably give it a shot.

I’ll be honest—you know what’s the hardest part of talking about this game? I’m afraid. I’m afraid that you’ll play it and you won’t have the same feelings I had playing it. Not because that will devalue my experience, but because I so desperately want everyone in the world to play this game and have a similar experience. And that may not happen. What one person adores, another may not. That’s just how it works.

But the idea that someone out there is playing this game for the first time, and feeling something they haven’t felt in a long time?

It fills me with determination.

-Bearshaman.

The Bloodborne Review

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I’ve been wanting to post a review of Bloodborne for quite some time to kick off my gaming sub-site.

But it just ain’t that simple.

See, it would be impossible to talk about Bloodborne without first talking about the Souls games. Bloodborne is, in every way but its name, a Souls game. Mechanics and elements have been tweaked and refined, but it is still very much a Souls game.

But does it live up to its predecessors, the critical praise, and the hype?

Read on for the next five pages you will have to click individually that are filled with fifteen pop-up ads each to find out!

Just kidding. I fucking hate that shit.

If you’d like to know my opinion on the matter, I will tell you straight out that I think Bloodborne is another masterpiece that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Demon’s and Dark (the first). And, like its predecessors, it must also be acknowledged that it is a flawed masterpiece.

But, just like relationships, what it really comes down to is how you feel about various flaws and whether or not you believe you can overlook them and enjoy the game/lover for who they are.

Bloodborne inherits many of its joys and its problems from its Miyazakiborne predecessors. And considering the unique nature of these games, the best way to describe the newest is to start by examining the way the others work as a basis for comparison. So, just like Vizzini told Inigo, we must first go back to the beginning.

I’m currently working on a retrospective covering each of the Souls games, starting with Demon’s. And admittedly, it’s getting a bit out of hand. I’ve got a rough draft for part one of the first game finished that nearly breaks 3,000 words. This is ending up more of a novella than a simple game review.

But if you’re interested in that kind of long-read discussion of the underpinnings of games, I think you might enjoy it.

More to come very soon.

-Bearshaman

The 10/10 Game and Why it Doesn’t Exist

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I am in the camp that believes there is no such thing as a video game that deserves a perfect score.

That’s not to say that I don’t think there are fantastic video games currently in existence, or that score-based gaming journalism doesn’t serve a purpose.

I just believe, personally, that a 10/10 game should have zero flaws. And even the classiest classics and every one of my personal favorites are all riddled with flaws. The problems might be minor or major, but regardless, a flaw is a flaw.

So, why are there so many games that get perfect scores? One could explore that question without end. I believe that a very simple answer which does not thoroughly explore the question, but can still help to answer it, is that when a game receives a 10/10 that simply means the reviewer really liked it and thinks it’s worth playing.

Of course, gaming is so subjective that the criteria the reviewer is using to define what makes a game worth playing might be the exact opposite of what you believe makes a game worth playing.

For example, little Billy might be the most hardcore fan in existence when it comes to the 2D bullet hell genre, but he has never found himself enjoying a single first-person shooter in his life. Likewise, little Sandy Jr. over there might be the undisputed queen of the 360 no-scope, but she thinks 3D platforming is the most depressing thing since Adam Sandler’s last shitty movie.

Speaking of movies, let’s take a moment to compare the way reviews work over in that medium to the way they work in gaming.

Now, I do believe in the flawless movie. But a movie is a different animal altogether. A movie is a self-contained experience with a history stretching back for well over a hundred years; and that art has matured (Sandler aside). Additionally, perfecting a passively received experience lasting maybe two hours is much easier than perfecting an entry into an interactive and relatively unexplored medium where the gamer’s involvement could continue for hundreds or even thousands of hours. And there is less room for subjectivity when it comes to movies, since even if the subject matter of a film is found unappealing to some critics, chances are those people can still appreciate the acting, cinematography, and score.

And you really only ever play a movie one way. Even if you cue up Dark Side of the Moon at the exact moment that the lion roars, you’re still only a passive receiver (unless you got your hands on some really good shit). Comparatively, there are countless ways to play a game, thanks to the interactivity and near-unlimited potential of the medium. That makes each individual experience far more unique in gaming.

That’s not to say that score-based journalism doesn’t have its purpose. If a game gets a 33 on Metacritic, it’s very likely not going to be worth playing. Likewise, a game that gets to brandish “Over 100 10/10 Scores” on the Greatest Hits edition of its box is very likely worth playing, assuming that you’re a fan of that genre.

Furthermore, if there is a critic with tastes in gaming similar to your own, you can use them as a barometer for buying new releases. And if there is a critic with a taste opposite to your own, then you have a reverse barometer. Their taste might be shit in your eyes, but they are allowed to have their opinion, obviously wrong and terrible as it may be. Besides, they can let you know exactly what to avoid.

For example, I think Owen Gleiberman has ultra shit taste in movies. So when he says a movie is bad, I immediately open up a new tab and pull up Fandango on my browser and buy a ticket to a showing that night. It might not be much, but I believe that we all have our own parts to play, however small, in making the world a better place.

So yeah, my upcoming site, Bearshaman Gaming, will not have scores. It will have recommendations, lists of the positives and negatives of the game reviewed, and maybe even Gameproesque Super Sour Warheads picture-faces. But it will not have scores.

Of course, should the elusive and universally appealing, endlessly repeatable and perfectly executed game come into existence, I will change my mind on the matter.

Until then, have a continually and increasingly groovy day!

-Bearshaman

The Witcher (PC game) review

 When I first started playing The Witcher, my favorite aspect of the game was being able to pick through people’s wardrobes without fear of getting NPCs angry. I could go through their digital closets and house-barrels without fear, permanently borrowing one-to-four pieces of in-game currency worth of weak beer, omnipresent flint, or ham sandwiches with inventory pictures that looked like evidence exhibits at a murder trial. I could then fence the goods at my leisure—or until my inventory filled up. Which happened quite often. And, since there are limited weapon slots on our witcher friend, I had to leave behind more torches and Temerian iron daggers than I would care to admit.

I didn’t like the game much then, if at all. The voice acting was just tolerable, only occasionally dipping into Tales-series levels of badness. The prologue wasn’t all that engaging. The combat was bizarre, and poorly explained. The horrid amnesiac protagonist trope played heavily. Strangefully, a sorceress decided to sleep with me after I made her drink a magic potion, thus allowing me to collect her sex-card. And there was lots of you’re-the-chosen-errand-boy action.

And yet, 60 hours later, I’m glad I decided to play The Witcher. Pretty sure I’m glad.

I’d been interested in the game for years, possibly since before its release. I recall walking by it several times at big box stores, admiring the out-of-place metal wolf head on the box’s cover, always standing out among the latest WoW expansions and shovelware Diner Dash releases. The metal promo vid was nice too. At that time, I’d more-or-less disowned modern gaming, but that’s another rant entirely.

So, let’s get down to business. I purchased The Witcher, eventually, and some time later, finally played it. I finished it yesterday. Was it a good game?

Is anything truly good or bad? Isn’t everything in life simply a catalyst for tomorrow’s memories? Why am I bringing up this drek?

Well, because I think I truly started to enjoy the game when I began to have to make tough decisions. Not the right decisions—there really are no such things in the game—I began to have to make choices which would probably help one person I liked while destroying a different person I liked.

I know that is not a unique concept, and companies such as Bioware are famous for this sort of thing. I also remember attempting to play Dragon Age: Origins, and laughing at the moral options.

 

 

Approximation of an average DA:O moral dilemma:

 

You have encountered humans in the forest.

 

A.)Slay them and drink their blood dry, in no particular order.

B.)Throw them a party to celebrate their arrival in your secret elven village.

C.)Pretend they aren’t there until they leave.

 

 

The morality in The Witcher is more ambiguous. There are no good/evil/neutral choices, there are paths to help some, paths to help others, and a path where you can furiously attempt to maintain a witcher’s neutrality. Forced morality is not inserted into every single conversation, so when you do have to make a big choice, it actually feels like a big choice.

 

And this is pretty true to the books. Yep, the world was fascinating enough for me to pick up the two translated American releases by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski.

 

The Last Wish, essentially a collection of short stories about witcher Geralt of Rivia, is pretty damn good. In it, Geralt moves from town to town in a dark fantasy world, fighting monsters and solving peasant problems. However, little is as it first seems, and he is constantly forced to make tough decisions.

 

The other book, Blood of Elves, is more of a straightforward fantasy novel. I didn’t enjoy the pacing at all, but the characters were still…

 

Oh yeah! I’m supposed to be reviewing the game! Which means getting sidetracked is plenty appropriate. The game has way too many random side-quests, most involving your running across town, and they constantly interrupt the supposedly important main quests. It adds a ton of time onto the game, and I didn’t enjoy it.

 

But the dark fantasy world is pretty good, and the translation of characters and ideas from book-to-game is pretty fantastic (although Dandelion’s voice was awful). Geralt gets more interesting the more you play, although I think the damn amnesia idea was kind of unnecessary. So what if we don’t know the every detail of the dark fantasy world? That doesn’t mean you have to sever the character’s connections to it too. Just feels a bit unnecessary.

 

And the weapons system is a bit silly. There is no real reason to use anything but Witcher weapons, even though you keep finding other weapons. Kind of feels like a waste.

 

Anyhow, let’s talk about some more of the positives. The combat, as bad as it is initially, becomes something of a strength later in the game. Once you get more swords and techniques, you’re able to do some really neat stuff. If anything, it got too easy on normal mode, especially after obtaining the Igni sign, not to mention the insanely powerful potions.

 

There is some very nice ambiance. Some country areas feel downright spooky after dusk, there’s a swamp that feels massive and slimy, and some cities become old friends after HOURS OF RUNNING BACK AND FORTH THROUGH THEM.

 

There are some optional pointless things, like sexing up randoms or fistfighting or Yahtzee betting. Leaving them as optional was a good call.

 

The fact the game was made in Poland by a Polish team based on a Polish author’s book full of Polish medieval myths is pretty badass. A lot of love and knowledge of the subject matter went into the game, and it shows.

 

So yeah, The Witcher is a dark fantasy PC game. It’s not the pinnacle of PC gaming I hear the sequel heralded as, but it’s not terrible. The story is decent, and the gray approach to morality is nice. Some of the mechanics are poorly explained, but they mostly work well in the end (I had to look up a bit online, although a physical instruction manual may have fixed this). The inventory setup is a pain for any sort of compulsive item gatherer, and the game suffers slightly from Offline-MMO Syndrome, though not as bad as Skyrim. The voice acting ranges from mediocre to acceptable. Also, you cannot use a gamepad with this game.

 

On the other hand, the Last Wish is a fine collection of short stories, and I definitely recommend checking it out.