Honest Review: “The Solus Project”

I think it says something about me that all my Steam games are creepy, atmospheric survival horror while most of my Xbox library is shoot ‘em ups with a story.

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There was a lot to like about this game. It was creepy and atmospheric, it was simple yet involved and it was engaging and beautiful to look at. But there were a couple things about this game that gave me pause, including the depiction of the alien overlords at the end of the game and the player movement speed, an important game mechanic in an atmospheric walking simulator.

Teotl Studios and Grip Digital did a really good job of introducing a slow build from a strictly survival-based game to one with elements of mystery and horror intertwined. It could have felt really tedious in the beginning (and did, to a certain degree), but instead I was drawn in wondering how the Solus spaceship crashed and who could live on the capricious watery island setting even before the game introduced the concept of a prior civilization.

As I walked beneath the surface of the islands and deeper into the complex cave system, I could feel the constant pressure to survive easing, replaced instead by the burning desire to solve the mystery of who had lived – and died – here before I arrived, who the Sky Ones were and what they had done to the planet’s inhabitants, and how all of it related to the spaceship crash at the beginning of the game.

I got irritated with the game’s mechanics occasionally, but overall I think “Solus” managed to enforce the game’s mechanics in a way that didn’t take too much away from the overall mystery and atmosphere of the game.

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I was surprised by how little the survival mechanics came to matter towards the end, but I honestly didn’t mind all that much as I mostly play games where eating and drinking are secondary to exploration and fighting. (Source: Gamespot.com)

This game really shines in its graphic and epic world-building aspirations. The game world is huge with several large cells of various weather situations and topographic builds and multiple similarly designed cave cell systems.

[READ: Good story vs. good looks in game design]

However, that carefully created world and all its intricate topography, hidden caves and tunnels, and mountainous hills of geometric columns, felt a little too big sometimes. It often drove me to distraction and I spent countless hours roaming the open wasteland of the islands or the claustrophobic insides of the watery tunnels searching for secrets or relics or hidden caches of alien food.

And while “Solus” was no doubt designed for that sort of aimless open world roaming exploration, it often crossed the line between fun discovery into painfully boring walking.

solus project island topography
Incredibly ambitious and beautifully designed, I was really drawn in by the intricate configuration of the islands’ topography and the alien flora, although I would have liked to see just a little bit of fauna — assuming those angry spike balls were more like sentient sea urchins and less truly living animals. (Source: YouTube.com)

Part of that may have been the movement speed enforcing a glacially slow pace. Although there were relics to increase the overall speed, it never felt fast enough to justify a slow trip across the swaying fields of red island grass. The swimming speed was also incredibly slow and while I would have loved to explore under the fickle waves of the various islands, the swimming speed was never fast enough to allow me to do so.

Essentially, I got bored and frustrated with a lot of the exploration mechanics well before I found all the notes and relics. While some might say I just wasn’t determined enough to find all the extras in the games, I think part of my frustration was justified due to the slow movement pace that didn’t really increase no matter how many relics of speed/movement I found.

In addition to my concerns with the speed of player movement, I also had a serious problem with the ending. Not with what happened, exactly, but how everything was wrapped up and all the questions it left unanswered.

[READ: Twelve questions ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’ raised and three it definitively answered]

For example.

  • What exactly did the Sky Ones do to the previous inhabitants of the island?
  • What is the genetic relationship between the humanoid previous inhabitants and the humans of the Solus Project?
  • And what in the flying hell is that black ball of rage and why is it constantly trying to kill me?
solus project smoke monster
To be honest, I never really figured out what this thing was or what it wanted with me. And, because of the slow movement speed, I never really found because I spent more time trying to avoid it at all costs than explore the area it occupied for notes and relics. (Source: YouTube.com)

Some of these questions might have been answered in all the tablets and drawings I know I didn’t find among the giant map cells of the game, but I don’t think all of them were.

Regardless, I think the reliance on such a stereotypically alien image — a giant UFO, a strange green power emanating from a staff held by a cloaked leader, the final survivor being taken away for questioning with strange medical devices positioned around them, etc. — was a little trivial and banal. It felt a little hackneyed, not to mention disjointed at times with the supposedly advanced cloaked aliens carving notes into stone tablets while simultaneously using television screens to monitor the island’s inhabitants.

Despite the rushed ending and its clichéd reliance on alien stereotypes, I really enjoyed the game and I definitely think it merits a playthrough if you like survival horror walking simulators. It’s important to note that this game was designed with VR capability in mind as the game asked me every time I launched it whether I wanted to play it in VR, normal game, or a number of other fancy game modes available through Steam.

[READ: Real talk: A VR skeptic talks future of gaming]

However, as I don’t have and probably will never have a VR system, I played it like another video game and still thoroughly enjoyed it.

In any case, game on, from Prolus Command, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

creepy as fuck dolls

Top 5 intersectional women in video games

Or why a “color-blind” approach to women in gaming isn’t going to cut it.

It’s no secret that the gaming industry loves the heterosexual white male protagonist. While some steps have been made recently to break the mold (both in the gaming industry and in a larger pop culture context), of the most popular games of 2016, white men were often the featured protagonists.

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Female players make up nearly half of the gaming population, but a paper published in New Media & Society reveals that nearly 90 percent of primary game characters are white males.
Source: Valkymie.tumblr.com

Don Reisinger of Fortune reported on the most popular games according to data from the research firm NDP and the results might not surprise you. Of the top three games – “Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare,” “Battlefield I” and “Tom Clancy’s: The Division” – all of them featured a white male in a main role.

To be completely fair, some had multiplayer or differing story options where players could choose from a variety of characters, but giving players the option to choose from a diversified range of characters is different from actually giving them one intersectional character to play. It’s the same idea behind letting players choose between a male and female character, like many RPGs have done for ages, versus forcing the player’s hand in choosing a female protagonist.

But that’s an issue for another blog.

Setting the issue of diversified men aside, if you’ve kept up with this blog, you probably know I’m in favor of more female protagonists in video games. So I’ve compiled a list of gaming’s top five intersectional women to increase awareness and to advocate for a future where not just more women are featured but more intersectional women are featured as gaming protagonists.

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Aveline de Grandpré ~ “Assassin’s Creed: Liberation”
A mixed race Assassin born of a wealthy French merchant and an African slave, Aveline is a badass lady whose biracial and multinational identity is an integral part of her quest to liberate New Orleans from Templar influence. She recognizes many of the contrasts in 18th century American society and works to correct them, as much as she is able as one lone Assassin against the innumerable and immeasurable forces of injustice and oppression.
Source: Walldevil.com

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Chell ~ “Portal” series
While little is actually known about the “Portal” and “Portal 2” protagonist, the video game canon has generally concluded that Chell is of white European and East or Southeast Asian descent. She is also most likely the daughter of an Aperture Science employee with strong ties to the company as their number one test subject and as one of the only living employees/characters encountered in the game’s universe.
Source: Secondtruth.com

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Clementine ~ “The Walking Dead” series
Simultaneously the cutest and most badass zombie apocalypse heroine I’ve every had the pleasure of playing, Clem is the most notable character out of the entire “Walking Dead” series, one who keeps coming back even when other characters drop like flies around her – or like distressed humans being eaten by their undead brethren. Although the Walking Dead wiki lists her race as African American, I’ve, personally, always believed her to be at least partially Asian. From the first episode of Season One, it’s apparent that she is of a middle class suburban background, but everything about her life pre-apocalypse is either assumed or dropped in hints throughout her interaction with Lee and other characters. Regardless, she’s an emotionally deep and incredibly real girl who players watch grow throughout the Telltale series.
Source: Thatvideogameblog.com

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Faith ~ “Mirror’s Edge” and “Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst”
Another badass gaming gal of mixed Asian and Caucasian descent, Faith Connors is the protagonist of the dystopian “Mirror’s Edge” series. In both games, she makes a living by running from an overzealous police force all while jumping, kicking and flipping her way in style through the City of Glass. Her story changes pretty dramatically from “Mirror’s Edge” to “Catalyst,” but Faith’s appearance and kickass attitude stay consistent. If anything, Faith becomes even cooler in the reboot as her hand-to-hand combat and parkour skills are revamped for the Frostbite 3 engine.
Source: Wallpapersite.com

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Nilin ~ “Remember Me”
I did a lot of scouring to try to uncover the actual racial makeup of Nilin, but as far as I could tell, she was only ever listed as “of a mixed ethnic origin.” While a lot of people on the internet were curious as to her official racial identity, a lot more seemed to think it didn’t matter. However, I say it does matter. While her ethnicity may not have played a large role in the game – as Connor’s Native American heritage did in “Assassin’s Creed III” – I still think it’s important to note racial distinctions because a deliberate diverse choice is better than the vocal equivalent of a shrugging emoji which is passed on as an attempt to minimize the effect of a potentially impactful choice.
Source: Wall.alphacoders.com

Even as I wrote this list, it became apparent to me that nearly all the characters that I chose – based on previous playing experience and critical commentary – were of a mixed racial or ethnic background. While I’m not saying that a mixed racial or ethnic identity is not important, I just think it’s something to note that game developers and designers felt they needed to throw a bit of white in with their diverse characters in order to get players to connect with them.

And if that doesn’t say anything about the state of female diversity in video games right now, I don’t know what does.

This isn’t so much a critique of the women in video games right now as it is a reminder that while we all work towards increasing female representation, we can’t just throw more white women at the problem and assume that fixes it.

If we truly want to increase female representation, then we need to take a long look at the intersectional makeup of our society and try to design and develop characters that reflect our multiethnic, multiracial, multinational, complex and beautiful female identity.

So game on, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

more intersectional women

Honest review: “Firewatch”

This game’s quiet moments are the loudest in a game with a story narrative driven by dialogue and achingly real characterization.

“Firewatch” is the other walking simulator I played recently, one I enjoyed much more than FunCom’s “The Park.” Although this game too involved the death of a child (spoiler alert), the story was less horrific than “The Park” and featured more honest dialogue and engaging suspense than the jump-scares and disturbing interpretations of mental illness in “The Park.”

Full disclosure, the game did manage to lose my interest for a period, but that had less to do with its story and more to do with a stressful school week and the fact that walking across the map and taking in the stunning scenery of “Firewatch” doesn’t provide the kind of visceral stress-reliving pleasure that comes from shooting pixelated people.

That said, “Firewatch” was truly beautiful in every sense of the word: Beautiful dialogue, beautiful setting, beautiful characterization and a beautiful story. At the end, I was both wistful and heartbroken because the game had ended and I wanted to spend more time with Henry and Delilah.

I was also heartbroken because the story had ended and hadn’t answered all of the questions raised throughout the game play, but I’m incredibly hard to please, especially where a good story is concerned.

The game begins with down-on-his-luck novelist Henry who enjoys the happiest moments of his life and endures the worst any person can experience all within the first three minutes of the game. Although we see nothing of his life in those minutes, we read everything in the style of a Choose Your Own Adventure novel.

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In the first few minutes of the game we get an introduction to Henry’s personality and the reason he might be running away from the world in a unique but unsustainable format.
Source: Thenextweb.com.

Although interesting, this style is abruptly abandoned after the first couple of minutes of the game as we’re caught up to speed on everything about Henry’s sad, lonely life.

The rest of “Firewatch” unfolds in a series of dialogue and story-heavy choices that follow Henry as he traipses through the Shoshone National Forest with the disembodied voice of fellow firewatcher and supervisor, Delilah, guiding him via the two-way radio gifted to him courtesy of the game’s time period, good old 1989.

Their conversations over the radio are at times unbearably charming and painfully pedantic, but, in the end, they give you the entire story in a format that’s less about what’s actually happening and more about the characters themselves and how they respond to what they see.

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I don’t think I’ve ever been more delighted in a game than in the moment where I made Henry adopt this turtle. It’s moments like these that really made the game outstanding.
Source: Firewatchgame.com.

The game really shines in the way it presents the character of Henry and Delilah. They are ordinary people with ordinary personalities and ordinary character traits dealing with decisions and situations both extenuating (a death, a mystery and a fire that threatens to consume all of the Shoshone) and ordinary (a desire to reconnect, to find a new identity and to run away from the real and sometimes overwhelming problems of our daily lives).

Although all of this ordinary may seem boring, it’s actually quite extraordinary because it gives us, the audience, a chance to play and interact inside a novel-like narrative.

Because “Firewatch” was a novel. It was a visually stunning one with interactive capabilities never seen before in the plain print medium that’s nearly as old mankind, but, at is heart, it was a novel with a lifelike and engaging story and real, connective characters.

Now, this isn’t the first time that games have been compared to the literary medium. Naomi Alderman of The Guardian has compared video games to literature with games like “Journey” and “Kentucky Route Zero.” Robin Burks of Tech Times has also compared the two in titles like “The Walking Dead” and “Mass Effect.”

But “Firewatch” is different in its refreshingly simplistic approach. Although the ending left a little to be desired and the end result (a dead kid) is still something that’s hard for some audiences to grapple with, a lot of “Firewatch’s” redeeming qualities are found in the quiet moments of its story.

And quiet moments are few and far between in the fast-paced, combative gaming world, a fact that may merit further consideration as games get more and more elaborate.

So watch on, dear gamers and firewatchers, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

Stuffed in refrigerators, or why gaming’s number one trope has got to go

It’s a problem common enough to have a name, even if it’s one you’ve probably never heard before.

Even if you’ve never heard of the term “fridging” before, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.

Picture this. The main character of your favorite book/movie/video game/what-have-you is a male with a female girlfriend/mom/sister/whatever. Everything seems normal, nothing is out of the ordinary and life continues on in its perfect comic book/movie/video game universe.

Then suddenly, the female friend-with-benefits/sister/girlfriend/mother/etc. is gruesomely slaughtered and left out for the male character to see. Often times, the character is stretched out in a dramatic pose across the bed she shared with her lover, or slumped over the kitchen table where she used to teach her son to make cookies, or dumped in a slummy location with a trail of clues leading the male character to her body where he’ll fall to his knees with grief and vow eternal vengeance on whoever and whatever caused the death of his sweetheart.

This is called fridging and it is one of the more disgusting examples of casual sexism, something that is sickeningly common in pop culture. With the stroke a pen, writers the genre over turn fleshed-out female characters into nothing but a clichéd plot device meant to further the main character’s man-pain.

The term comes from an old-school Green Lantern comic where the one of the lesser members of DC’s Justice League, Hal Jordan, comes home to find his girlfriend literally stuffed in a fridge by one of his enemies.

The term was coined by DC comic writer Gail Simone who read the comic and noticed that the fate of Green Lantern’s girlfriend was only the latest in a long line of dead women used as plot points to motivate male heroes. As a result, she started her own site, Women in Refrigerators, and compiled a list of all the females in comics who had been raped, killed, mistreated or abused in some way to advance the storyline of their male colleagues.

But this problem isn’t limited to comic book heroines with their big boobs and skin-tight costumes. Fridging happens in just about every setting you can imagine from comic books to video games to literary fiction to movies to TV shows and everything in between.

Setting aside the moral and societal implications of this practice of routinely normalizing violence against women, what’s so scary about fridging in video games and beyond is that it happens regularly enough that we often forget it’s there or don’t notice it at all.

And why would we?

We’ve been conditioned to accept women as both a brainless sex object and a simplistic plot device. Starting from games as banal and mindless as “Donkey Kong” and “Super Mario Bros.” women have been used as the carrot on the end of the stick to motivate the player along.

From there, the role of women has snowballed from kidnapping to murder to rape to purposeful, calculated annihilation to leave the male main character vulnerable or incite his vicious rage.

Part of this is the result of early advertising techniques used by game companies to try to entice male customers. But the fact that it has continued into this digital age and is a more ingrained plot device than ever is distinctly worrying.

The examples are nearly endless.

The pointless death of Talia al Ghul towards the end of “Batman: Arkham City.”

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Dead. Source: Heroes-villians.wikia.com. 

Clara and Nicole described as cliché plot devices and living set-dressing  in a “Watch Dogs” review by Cameron Kunzelman of “Paste” magazine.

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Also dead. Source: YouTube.com.

Angel’s martyred death in Borderlands 2.

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Very dead. Source: QuotesGram.com. 

The before-game death of Kratos’ wife and child in the “God of War” series.

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Do you see a pattern here? Source: Paste Magazine. 

Paz’s horrific death via implanted bomb in “Metal Gear Solid,” a death that occurs after the player character has already torn one bomb out of her in one of the most graphic scenes in gaming history.

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And, what’s that? Oh yeah, she’s dead too. Source: YouTube.com. 

The list goes on and on.

If you think I’m exaggerating or putting too much emphasis on something that isn’t really a big deal, put a man in the role of each of those women and see what happens.

In this context, fridging becomes less of a trope and more of a grisly, but necessary part of the literary life cycle – which it definitely isn’t. Tragedy often forces the hero’s hand, but does it have to be this tragedy? And does it have to happen all. The. Freaking. Time.

There are plenty of other micro tragedies that can inspire a superhero to take up the mask or force the protagonist on an epic quest to hunt down the villain. More than that, there are plenty of ways to motivate a character beyond watching their lover die or coming home from a long day of work to find their girlfriend stuffed in the fridge right next to the leftover takeout.

Most importantly, there are ways of motivating characters that don’t normalize violence against women. Because at the end of the day, that’s what fridging is doing. It’s establishing a routine or a cycle of violence that starts with the death/abuse/rape/etc. of a female character that, in turn, leads to male man-pain, which leads to a burning desire to fight crime/kill the beast or whatever mode of vengeance works the best, which can lead to even more violence against whatever woman in the hero’s life is the most vulnerable, and so on and so forth.

It’s a horrible, horrible cycle that needs to end not only for female pop culture consumers, but for the moral health of the writers and companies who are willing to perpetrate this cycle of violence and death.

Until that point, speak out and avoid refrigerators, my dear gamers, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

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Honest review: “Assassin’s Creed” The Movie

I am Ubisoft trash and will be until the day I die. But that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize the flaws in the recent “Assassin’s Creed” movie.

Video game movies never work out.

And neither did this one.

While it wasn’t particularly terrible – it was very much a Common Core action movie complete with the minimal story and significant plot holes that are run of the mill for Hollywood action – it wasn’t quite what I had expected.

And I hadn’t expected much.

This movie had a very patchwork feel to me. While I’m glad they didn’t try to adapt Desmond and his story for the Silver Screen, instead they took the setting of the most popular set of games – Spain from Ezio’s “Assassin’s Creed II” and “Brotherhood” – and combined it with the Spanish Inquisition of 1492, a setting eerily reminiscent of the Crusade time period of the original “Assassin’s Creed.”

The main protagonist, Callum Lynch, goes from adventurous child to hardened criminal in the span of minutes in much the same way Jyn Erso transitioned in the recently released “Rogue One.” And also like Jyn in “Rogue One,” Callum’s criminal past is never really explained except for a brief mention in the tin man exposition towards the middle of the film.

While I liked the action sequences involving Callum’s assassin ancestor, Aguilar de Nerha, they were admittedly shallow and superficial, filmed simply for the sake of the subject matter with zero to no dialogue included between crazy acrobatic flips and impressive real-life game assassinations.

Despite that, I liked Aguilar’s parts the most because they were scenes that I could have easily seen in one of the games. Not that there weren’t plenty of nods to the game throughout the 2 hour odd long runtime, but a man falling into a haystack and a heavy handed eagle metaphor/transition/cinematography shot were nothing compared to Aguilar’s quest to protect the Prince of Granada, a quest that could have easily been an in-game mission.

However, I hated the death of Aguilar’s partner, Maria. I’m so sick of bad-ass female characters being killed off to further the male man-pain. But that’s an issue for another blog.

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You don’t deserve a girl like that if you’re going to kill her as a cliché plot device ~ Source: Gamespot.com. 

And finally, the finale.

The last few minutes of the movie, while appropriately melodramatic and epic-looking, were underwhelming to say the least. The lore of the AC games is too much to be crammed into one movie and the last scene made that almost painfully clear.

After Callum assassinates Dr. Rikkin and takes the apple, we see his daughter Sophia whisper a few words over her father’s body before she steps out into the London street vowing to bring pain and death upon the Assassin Order.

Setting aside the improbability of the Assassins actually being able to get into and out of the Templar stronghold with the Apple, and the fact that Sophia may or may not have seen herself as an assassin in the shadowy group hallucination after Callum broke the Animus, the ending was a pale imitation of a grand finale.

I had expected something more dramatic from the self-serious movie that “Assassins’s Creed” tried to be. Maybe a final battle for the Apple, or a grand resurgence of the Assassin Order.

Instead I got three people stealing the Apple while Sophia – whose face remained in the exact same expression throughout the entire movie, I might add – shed a few tears and the other Templars screamed and fled their stronghold like civilians instead of the supposedly feared and badass order they are.

All in all, I wasn’t impressed, but when you try to take a video game that, by its definition, is interactive and engaging even when the storyline is pre-determined, it’s hard to properly translate that into a flat, detached movie.

I would even argue that it’s not possible, but that’s an issue for another blog.

All grievances aside, I’m still tentatively on board for an “Assassin’s Creed” sequel, if only so they can expand upon the story they established in this movie and so they can maybe get Michael Fassbender a shirt that he won’t inexplicably take off.

Until then, game on, deadly assassini, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

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I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the view, I just don’t understand why he took his shirt off in the first place ~ Source: Justjared.com. 

Honest review: Funcom’s ‘The Park’

It’s hard for me to put into words how much I disliked Funcom’s “The Park.” The nature of the story material was incredibly disturbing, but, more importantly, the game’s depiction of mental illness and it’s horrific end were as troubling as they were hard to follow, much like the psychological horror and background narrative of the story.

“The Park” is not a title to take lightly. Although the game is short, the nature of this disturbing, atmospheric psychological horror left me with a lot more questions than answers and a sinking feeling in my gut that only worsened the more I thought about the game’s ending.

Fair warning, I’m not holding back with the spoilers so if you don’t want to know, I suggest you stop reading.

First off, the game’s story material is incredibly disturbing. The focus is on a young mother, Lorraine, and her romp through Atlantic Island Park as she tries to find her lost son Callum who ran back into the park. She calls out for her son in a genuinely sincere and worried voice and at times seems incredibly concerned about her son’s welfare.

This emotion is undercut by a short monologue later on in the game where she reveals her hatred for parents that gush over their children and describes the pleasure it would give her to abandon Callum. According to her, he owes her everything, and to abandon him would serve him right. And from the way she says it, the only thing holding her back is a desire to collect on his debt sooner rather than later.

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She’s clearly going through some stuff, but I still can’t reconcile the concerned mother at the center of this game with the one who hates her child. ~ Source: Laegrinna.wordpress.com. 

From then on it’s hard to reconcile that dark version of Lorraine with the one calling out for her son and asking a misshapen Nathaniel Winters, the founder of the park and literal Bogeyman of this story, where he is and what he’s done to Callum.

And the fact that the game ends with Lorraine supposedly killing her own son, is something I was not prepared for, nor something that fit with the main narrative: a scared mother looking for her lost son.

My second point of discontent with this game is the background story, one that I didn’t even become aware of until after I finished the game and did some online research to try to figure out what the hell I just played.

Apparently, “The Park” has strong ties to another Funcom title, “The Secret World” which is an online multiplayer set in the same creepy modern-fantasy universe Lorraine finds herself trapped in after she re-enters the park.

Like I said, I only figured this out after the game ended and I was left confused and disoriented as I tried to figure out what was independent of “The Secret World” and what was actually supposed to be connected to the earlier title.

Lastly, as a person who has suffered from mental illness, I found Funcom’s depiction of Lorraine’s depression to be the worst part of the game by far.

Lauren Orsini of “Forbes” magazine writes, “As a person who diagnosed with anxiety and depression, my life is very much like anyone else’s. I go to work, spend time with loved ones, and have hobbies I enjoy . . . The only difference is that I use cognitive behavioral therapy . . . and it has never given me a single hallucination.”

Playing through the game, I didn’t realize that Lorraine was suffering or had suffered from mental illness until close to the end. To be fair, there were hints: a disturbing flash back of Lorraine being shocked on a table in the bumper car pavilion with the accompanying achievement description reading “Learn about shock therapy” and a pill bottle in the Sideshow Alley that Lorraine says is hers.

There are some other telltale signs, but it’s not really until Lorraine enters the witch’s mouth and moves through the house of horrors that Funcom stops dropping hints and starts being almost glaringly obtuse with notes from the psychological service that diagnosed Lorraine with depression and gave her electroshock therapy and drugs as a paltry form of treatment.

From Lorraine’s clothes and car, we can assume that the time period might actually be one in which electroshock therapy was still in use, so the fact that they used it on her isn’t nearly as surprising as it could be. What is surprising is that Funcom treated her depression like psychosis and had her walk through a loop of her hallway and apartment where each time the scenery and notes within got more and more disturbing. It’s hard to parse out whether this was intended to be Lorraine’s mind on depression or whatever demented psychosis the park imposed on her already fragile psyche.

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This isn’t the image of depression so much as it is a nightmarish hellscape masquerading as Hollywood mental illness ~ Source: Engadget.com. 

And all this comes to a head when, under the influence of the Bogeyman, Lorraine kills her son and comes back to herself, talking to a detective that, as it turns out, is the same man that let her into the park to begin with before the whole cycle starts over again.

There are a myriad of theories out there and while I think Funcom did a good job of crafting a creepy atmospheric title with an ambiguous ending meant to tease and tantalize our minds, I wish it wasn’t Callum’s death we were trying to dissect.

If I had known “The Park” ended with the death of a child, I wouldn’t have played it. And I certainly wouldn’t have suffered through the confusing background story involving Chad the Chipmunk – the textbook definition of an unnecessary background bogeyman – Nathaniel Winters – the main, but no less confusing villain of this story – and his damn park – which apparently existed for the sole purpose of harvesting energy and making Winters immortal (still not sure about that part).

For my part, I interpreted the ending like this: Callum was the boy found dismembered and discarded behind the cotton candy stand. As a result, Lorraine fell back into depression and is having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that her son is dead. Therefore, she continually returns to the park in her nightmares and imagination where she ends up killing him more because she feels intensely guilty and less because she actually killed him.

But that’s just my interpretation. One that favors innuendo and metaphor over any literal interpretation of the story because I have a hard time reconciling my own emotions with the fact that I may or may have played a character that murdered her own child.

But you can come up with your own interpretation. All my grievances aside, the graphics are decent and Funcom does a good job of making the game hellishly creepy with whispered words coming from the parks’ speakers and discordant music underlying Lorraine’s voice as she calls out for her son in an increasingly distressed tone.

I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you still want to play “The Park,” at least now you’ll have a better understanding of what exactly you’re signing yourself up for, something I wish I’d had going in.

Either way, game on, thrill-seekers and horror fans, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

fuck-this-game

Good story vs. good looks in game design

Star-crossed lovers have nothing on these two crucial elements of game design that can either make or break a title.

It’s hard to say what’s more important to gamers: good story or good design.

If you asked Telltale Games, they’d probably say good story.

If you asked Activision, one of the developers behind the “Call of Duty” franchise, they’d probably say good design – which is funny considering their aesthetics are a far cry from some of the more visually stunning games with no story that have come out recently (i.e. “No Man’s Sky”).

Oftentimes gamers have different opinions of what constitutes a good story versus what doesn’t. We also have different opinions on game design, i.e. what works and what definitely doesn’t.

Please note that when I say design, I’m talking more about aesthetics and appearance than mechanics and developer patterns. The term “design” can mean both, as some game mechanics and developer patterns can be incorporated as elements of aesthetic design like UI interfaces and tutorial dialogue boxes. But in this case I’m talking more about how the game looks than how it plays.

In an article from Game Developer magazine, Soren Johnson questioned whether or not games should even have stories. Reprinted on Gamasutra.com, Johnson examined the essential interactivity of games and whether or not set stories conflict with that basic element of game structure and composition.

While he did acknowledge the fact that many games often benefit from a story, he stressed the fact that oftentimes games are a chance for the audience to create their own story rather than submit to “a designer’s unpublished novel.”

As interesting and truthful as his perspective may be, I disagree with his notion that story in a video game is more of a crutch than an essential aspect of game design.

In order to engage an audience, to really invest the player in whatever game they’re playing, I would argue that games have to have a story. A game can go pretty far on good looks alone, but the content can be more important than the aesthetics depending on what kind of game you like to play.

Now, I’ve been playing games with a story my entire life. I started with “Assassin’s Creed” and “Skyrim” which both have a defined narrative. Obviously, the narrative is a little more flexible in “Skyrim” mostly depending on the dialogue options chosen by the player character and the different quests accepted or rejected, but both these games have relatively set stories.

Some games don’t have such a set story and don’t need one. If the game’s focus is more on the interactivity and/or non story-based content then a story may or may not be necessary to engage the audience and provide a fun gamer experience.

But a focus on creative storytelling is often one of the best investments a designer can make.

In case you haven’t noticed, I may or may not be a little biased towards video game storytelling. But good design is also a must for games today.

In this day and age with the increasingly fantastic and overblown production value of games released today, good design is almost a given, something that has to be included in order for games to sell.

Now, good game design is subjective and can include any number of styles and types, but a clear design, often implemented with specific stylistic intentions, must be built into a game for it to sell.

Video game purists may argue that some of the earliest and most popular game franchises like early RPG’s, Mario games, and “Tetris” were designed without a specific style or story and they did just fine.

But in order to be competitive in today’s market, video games must have good design with decent graphics and a style appropriate for the game content.

They must also have a good story – at least in this gamer’s opinion – so where does that leave us?

The whole point of this post was to try to determine which is more important, good design or good story. But I don’t think it’s possible to separate them. Objectively, they are both important and there are certainly arguments that can be made on either side, but the best games combine elements of both with a good balance of the two.

This recipe for success does not apply to all types of games and may not fit with what you like and don’t like in a video game, but this is my opinion and something I continually look for in all the games I play.

If there’s not enough story, I tend to get bored. And if the design looks bad, the game, for me, is often unplayable.

But like I said, this is often subjective and entirely dependent on the player, so if you value one element over another, let me know and I’ll try to keep an open mind when I buy and play future games.

So game on, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

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