Hardcore Henry is a lot smarter than people are giving it credit for.
Perhaps that’s not surprising. The film is a representation (and arguably, a glorification) of all of the things that run rampant in modern video games. Shot entirely in first person, Hardcore Henry is gloriously over-the-top in its action, breathlessly paced, and one of the most violent films in recent memory. It’s also crude, short on character development, and far more interested in cool moments than a traditional plot arc.
But Hardcore Henry is absolutely aware of these things. They’re not so much flaws as intentional nods to the video game medium, both positive and negative. This becomes overtly apparent towards the end (more on that in my Spoiler Section below), and for better or for worse, Hardcore Henry shows a great understanding of the “language” of the gaming medium.
Continue reading Hardcore Henry Review
Despite having little-to-no promotion before its release, Playdead’s “Inside” has garnered lots of discussion and rave reviews. There’s a good reason for this: Inside is a great game, absolutely worth your time. However, because much of Inside’s joys come from its surprises, I have no intention of detailing the specific moments that make the game so interesting. Still, there’s plenty to say of Playdead’s technique here, and why Inside stands so high above other indie platformers.
First of all, like Playdead’s previous game Limbo, Inside is a 2D platformer. However, unlike Limbo, Inside utilizes its foreground and background in much more significant and game-altering ways. It’s an interesting scenario, in which one must be aware of a three-dimensional environment while only actually interacting within two. This has a unique effect; it allows the environment to feel large and open, but also allows the developers to retain more control over the game and level design.
Continue reading Inside Review
Oxenfree borrows from a number of other recent narrative-driven games. The way it introduces its characters is reminiscent of Until Dawn, its exploration and coms towers call back to Firewatch, and its horror elements crib from any number of recent indie horror titles. However, despite its influences, Oxenfree is very much its own experience, perhaps because of its stripped down approach to gameplay and stylization.
Of the four face buttons on Oxenfree’s interface, three of them are devoted to selecting dialogue options. That leaves only one button for physically interacting with the environment, along with a shoulder button to bring up a radio (which is crucial for many of the game’s puzzles and events), and another shoulder button for the map. Given the limited and seemingly wasteful control scheme, it would be understandable to assume that Oxenfree is poorly designed or, at the very least, under-engaging.. However, because half of the game’s buttons refer specifically to dialogue and character interactions, they end up emphasizing that portion of the game and re-orienting the player away from traditional game elements and toward narrative and conversation.
Continue reading Oxenfree Review
For three entries now, the Uncharted series has established itself as the best in the video game industry at spectacle and set-pieces. What Naughty Dog achieved over the last console generation was largely unmatched, and their blend of explosive action, great dialogue, and tight mechanics is carried forward in their latest, and supposedly final, Uncharted title. But despite its similarities in form, Uncharted 4 is operating on a different level than its predecessors. After their landmark title The Last of Us, Naughty Dog was no longer content to simply do action movie tropes very, very well. For the final entry in the series, they really want to say something about Nathan Drake, his relationships, and his addiction to adventure. What they accomplished is not only more spectacular than most of Hollywood’s biggest summer films, but far more substantive and meaningful as well.
This approach does come with a price. Uncharted 2 is perhaps one of the greatest games of all time, largely because of how brilliantly paced and constructed it is. No sequence feels like it outstays its welcome, and the transitions between the various types of gameplay are perfectly orchestrated. But because story is so important to Uncharted 4, and because Naughty Dog really wants to nail every element of the series one last time, the game’s segments can run longer than in previous games. This has led to complaints from a number of game critics, particularly due to the game’s first and final acts.
Continue reading Uncharted 4 Review
Quantum Break is a highly-experimental, groundbreaking attempt to fuse the worlds of video games and television. It’s not the first time that some sort of synthesis was attempted; just three years ago Syfy and Trion Worlds tried a similar thing with TV show/video game project Defiance. However, Microsoft and Remedy Entertainment’s Quantum Break really goes all-in on the connection between the two by packaging them together and placing the episodes at particular points in the game’s narrative.
The result is far more effective than I expected going in. While the episodes occasionally feature awkwardly-written dialogue and have trouble introducing the show’s central characters mid-narrative, later episodes are very engaging, and the production values and aesthetic are roughly what you would expect to see in a Fox TV show. The two mediums are used to inform each other in some really cool ways. While somebody could play the game without watching the episodes and still follow the events and character motivations, playing it with the episodes lends a lot of extra insight and depth to the proceedings. Certain moments are far more significant because of the background information gleaned from the TV show.
Continue reading Quantum Break Review