Gaming Hot Takes: Round 1

Everyone who spends any amount of money on Steam is liable to wind up with a bunch of games they never play. I’m certainly no exception to that. And I’ve decided to turn it into a feature! Using the Wheelhaus, I’ve rolled up five games in my Steam library which I’ve never so much as touched, and given each of them half an hour of my time. I’ll play exactly half an hour of each, and write up my thoughts. The only condition on which I’ll stop early is if for whatever reason, I just can’t get the damn thing to work and 5-10 minutes of troubleshooting doesn’t solve it, in which case I’ll skip it and roll a new one.

Although I normally don’t like scored reviews, I am going to give each of these games a score on a scale from 0-5. This score reflects one thing and one thing only: how likely I am to play the game again. 0 means the game didn’t work at all, 1 means it’s shit and I’ll never touch it again, 2 means I probably won’t play it again, 3 means I might, but don’t feel strongly about it, 4 means I likely will come back to it, and 5 means it’s awesome and I plan to complete it.

01. Cryostasis

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Cryostasis is a 2009 game by Ukrainian studio Action Forms which is presumably about shit being cold. I’d love to tell you more about it, but unfortunately it hard-crashes immediately when I try to launch it. The Steam community suggested that manually installing PhysX and setting the program to Windows XP SP3 compatibility would solve the problem, but it didn’t. So, on to the next one!

Final score: 0/5

02. Star Wars: Starfighter

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A Star Wars space sim that I’ve never even heard of? From 2001? That probably doesn’t bode well. Neither does its launcher, which is hilariously poorly laid out:

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Seems fine so far, right? Well, click the Options button and you’re brought here:

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Uninstall doesn’t really belong here, does it? Well, regardless, let’s click on Additional Options…

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None of those are options at all! Clicking configurations gets you some basic setup stuff. This is as high as the resolution will go, by the way.

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Oh boy.

What also doesn’t bode well are the cutscenes, which flicker like crazy throughout. Not that it really matters, because the story is here absolutely fucking nothing.

Despite all that, though, this 15-year-old game actually runs fine once you get to gameplay, which is surprising. And it looks…well, it looks like a game from 2001.

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I feel in my gut that it’s a bit unimpressive for its time, but that’s just a gut feeling. I don’t really remember what games looked like when I was in tenth grade.

As for how it plays…surprisingly well! The control scheme took some getting used to, since I’m using a keyboard; I could have dug my flightstick out, but really didn’t feel like it. It plays a bit more like TIE Fighter than the Rogue Squadron games, since you can move freely in three dimensions and the only camera position is first-person, but you don’t have the granularity of control that defined the X-Wing/TIE Fighter series; no dumping your laser cannon power into your engines to get an extra boost of speed, or linking your laser cannons together for a single heavy punch here. Just arcadey flying around and shooting at other ships.

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And if that’s what you’re looking for, it’s pretty good, apart from the way the game models you taking damage. Flight sims generally have you go a bit off course when you take a hit, but here you just get suddenly and instantly moved to a completely different direction, and it’s disorienting as hell.

Outside of that minor issue, though, combat feels snappy and satisfying, even if a couple of the other ships are real laser-sponges. But that’s all it’s got. The three missions I played were just ‘here’s a wave of enemies, go shoot them down’ followed  by ‘good job shooting those enemies down, here’s another identical wave, go have fun’. Tedium set in by the fifteen minute mark, and I spent the last five minutes with one eye on the clock. I had fun with Star Wars: Starfighter, but I don’t think I’ll be picking it up again any time soon.

Final Score: 2/5

03. Thief

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This is the 2014 revival of the classic stealth franchise, mind you, not any of the originals. I never actually played any of those, though (I know, I know), so don’t expect me to tell you how it holds up.

First off, this game is not super well optimized. My computer is fairly powerful, and was extremely powerful in 2014, but I can’t get better than an average of 50 FPS on the benchmark without heavily sacrificing on visuals. Oh well. I never actually noticed any slowdown during gameplay, so maybe it’s just a shitty benchmark.

It opens on a long wide shot of the city, which is definitely a Mistake because although the game looks pretty good in most respects, water and distance are two things it does not do well.

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Yeesh, that’s not a good look. Fortunately, when you actually get into Garrett’s skin the game looks a lot better.

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And not just because there’s not one but two fine asses on display.

So it’s a stealth game. You move sneakily around environments, put out lights, and grab loot. The areas I got to play around in were pretty linear, but since I never really made it out of the tutorial, that’s not super surprising. The objective of this prologue sequence is to break into a building and steal a gem being used by a bunch of cultists in some ritual. Whatever. You’re joined in this by Erin, a younger female Thief who…Garrett is an absolute shit to.

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He disapproves of her methods, he disapproves of her tools, and he just won’t stop telling her about it. I don’t know these characters from beans, and I have no idea of their history, but man did that shit get tired. It made me feel like I was playing a total asshole.

And then the prologue ends with her being literally poofed out of existence.
And then the prologue ends with her being literally poofed out of existence.

The gameplay was competent stealth work. The way the game handles lighting is pretty good, and you can use rope and water arrows to affect the environment to a decent degree. The way the game scatters loot throughout the level to lure you out of the safest paths and convince you to take totally unnecessary risks is pretty cool.

Ultimately, though, it really felt like everything the game did that I enjoyed, Dishonored did better two years before. It didn’t seem like a bad game as such, but I don’t feel any motivation to return to it.

Final Score: 3/5

04. Galaxy On Fire 2

Eesh. This one was bad.

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It’s another space sim! And this time it’s less arcadey. Once you get past the talky-nonsense tutorial/prologue sequence (none of which I gave even a single shit about, probably because I didn’t play the first Galaxy On Fire) the game basically throw you out into the universe. You can travel between planets at will, take jobs from various people at different space stations, mine asteroids for money, use that money to upgrade your ship…there’s a lot going on that I should have liked! But I didn’t, for one simple reason: the actual flying and dogfighting is fucking boring.

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When you shoot an enemy ship, there is no sound, there is no hitspark, there is absolutely nothing to indicate that you hit them except seeing their health go down. And all the weapons I got to try out were slow-firing slow-moving projectiles that felt like you were shooting water guns at each other across the void of space. If Star Wars: Starfighter was snappy but shallow, this is deep but dull.

There are other things you can do in the void of space, but mostly they boil down to waiting. Waiting while your ship slowly moves to an asteroid so you can do a dumb minigame to mine it. Wait while your ship slowly drifts towards a space station. Etc. Etc. All space games involve a certain amount of waiting, but the amount of time spent doing absolutely nothing in this game is staggering.

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When the flight simulator genre more or less died in the early 2000s, it took the space flight simulator with it, and there was a good long while in there where almost nothing new to the genre was coming to market except the occasional arcade Star Wars game. If I had played Galaxy On Fire 2 during this period, I could maybe have forced myself through the interminably dull gameplay because, dammit, I like flying around in space! But these days, you have options. If you want to explore for its own sake, you have No Man’s Sky. If you want to get into dogfights and ply the galaxy’s traderoutes, you can play Elite: Dangerous. If you want to get involved in absurd wars and corporate shnanigans with other players, there’s EVE Online. If you want an arcade space shooter, there’s Strike Suit Zero. And if you want an absurdly complex game that is way over scope and will never be completed despite having an incredible amount of money poured into it, there’s always Star Citizen. There’s no reason for anyone to force themselves to play Galaxy On Fire 2.

Final Score: 1/5

05. Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen 2

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I knew I was in trouble the moment I started this game up. The opening cutscenes played well enough, but as soon as the menu opened up, it slowed to a crawl. I’m talking half a frame a second, if that. I had hoped that this was just an artifact of the sprites used in the menu, and the game itself would play out fine, so I started a new game. Again, the opening cutscene played for what felt like ten minutes. It seemed like a decent enough cutscene, although having never played any of the Legacy of Kain games (I know, I know!) I was missing a lot of context. But as soon as the cutscene ended the game came shuddering to a halt again. Oh well. Moving on!

Final Score: 0/5

06. Shadow Man

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I remember seeing stuff about this game in Nintendo Power back in the day. Technically I did play about three minutes of this on an emulator ages ago, but I never got anywhere so I’m not counting it.

This game is the oldest one on this list, released in 1999. Despite this, it still runs perfectly at 1090p! That’s really surprising, given that Acclaim Entertainment is fucking dead as shit. Looks like it got picked up by Nightdive Studios, who have been actively maintaining it; looking at the Steam page, the game was given an update as recently as April of this year to ensure that it’s compatible with newer machines. That’s really cool, especially compared with the other old games by defunct studios on this list, which were all basically tossed onto Steam as-is for cashgrab purposes and left to rot. It’s also the only game I rolled where you play as a black guy (and a cool black guy at that), so that’s neat.

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The basic premise of the game is that your character is the Shadow Man, the only guy (empowered by voodoo magic) who can move back and forth freely between the real world and Deadside, the afterlife. Some real evil dickbags in Deadside are trying to get their hands on the immortal Dark Souls so they can use them to create an army and invade the real world. You have to get and absorb those Dark Souls first to keep them from doing that. Your allies are a voodoo princess with a somewhat racist-sounding accent, and Jaunty, an Irish skeleton snake with an attitude. Neither of these characters are nearly as charming as the game clearly wants them to be, unfortunately.

Oh, and did I mention that you travel between the real world and Deadside by using your dead little brother’s teddy bear? This shit is fucked.

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Visually speaking, Deadside isn’t that striking (at least, not as far as I got in it, anyway) but there’s something intriguing about it. It mirrors the real-world location you transport from, but as soon as you walk forward a group of monstrous women emerge from the ground and start shambling towards you, moaning piteously. They don’t attack you – not until later anyway – they just want to get close to you. It’s chilling and effective, and spells out pretty well what sort of place Deadside is.

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The gameplay is…well, it’s functional. At first I thought it was tank controls and had a ooooooh no reaction, but then I realized that you could also strafe, which made it…I mean, still not great, especially given that this game does require some basic platforming, but decent. Your gun has perfect autoaim, though, and enemies shoot you from a distance and can’t miss either. They take a lot of hits, too, so combat’s not exactly thrilling. Still, it works.

Shadow Man is a bit clunky, but it’s caught my interest. I might come back and play it for real later.

Final Score: 4/5

07. Resident Evil 4

Confession time: this is my first time ever actually playing a Resident Evil game. I know, I know, stop throwing things! I was even more of a huge baby about scary games when I was younger, okay!

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This one was a hell of a ride. I actually kept playing after the timer went off, because I knew I’d come back to it, and I wanted to get to the next typewriter to save my progress.

When you first start playing, the camera position feels weird and wrong. It’s right up on Leon’s back, he takes up half the screen. When you aim your gun, it feels even more wrong and constricted. But no, actually, it’s perfect. It forces you to only look in one direction at a time, which means it’s really easy for even the slow, shambling enemies the game’s thrown at me so far to sneak up on you. It ratchets up the tension and creates some genuine and organic scares.

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The game steadily builds tension and teaches you how to control it until finally, you reach the village and all hell breaks loose. I spent what felt like and eternity running around, dogged at every turn by a seemingly infinite number of enemies, until finally the bell rung and all the villagers shambled off through a door I couldn’t open. It was both relieved and intrigued, which I suspect is exactly what Capcom was going for.

I’m definitely going to keep playing this one (or, least, add it to my pile of games-to-get-to-later). This game has a strong reputation, and it’s well-deserved.

Final Score: 5/5

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