Horizon Zero Dawn Review

Introduction

Background: Dutch developer Guerilla Games released Horizon Zero Dawn on February 28, 2017. They used their proprietary game engine Decima, which will also be used to make the hotly anticipated Death Stranding. Horizon Zero Dawn has been very well-reviewed overall: it has an 89/100 on Metacritic and earned “Best Original Game” from the Game Critics Awards. Prior to the release of Horizon, Guerilla was best known for its series of Killzone games.

The TL;DR Version of this Review: I love Horizon Zero Dawn a lot! I rarely find a game that ticks off every box on my checklist of “things I want in a game.” From the riveting story, to the fun and engaging gameplay, to the expansive and detailed world, Horizon Zero Dawn not only met but exceeded all of the expectations I built for it. I was so excited when it was shown at E3 last year, I ordered the Collectors Edition. Buying in to the hype on an unknown game early on can be risky (you can find plenty of articles on why not to preorder games during E3), but I’m so happy that I did; it was worth the wait and the excitement. You can still pick up the Collectors edition from Amazon if you want – at double the price they were originally going for last June!

Check out some pictures of the Collectors Edition below:

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At the time I’m writing this review, my game completion is at 78.76% and I have 64% of trophies. I played on the “normal” difficulty setting. I’ve put about 70 hours into it, and I have completed the main story and collected all the special collectibles with plenty of content such as errands and side quests left. I played at a leisurely pace by most standards; Horizon is one of those games where individual play time will vary greatly depending on how you’re playing, and how interested you are in completion.

In May, Guerilla released a fun free update for Photo Mode. You can change time of day, brightness, exposure, camera angle, and all sorts of settings on your current scene. You can even pose Aloy, or take her out of the picture. Throw a filter on it! I had a lot of fun using this feature to take the screenshots for this article.

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This is a long review due to how much I had to say about the game, and I’ve broken it up into the following sections if you’d like to jump around:

This review will contain some spoilers, but I’ve stuck the most important spoilers in a labeled portion of the “Story” section, so if you’re planning on playing Horizon but haven’t yet, just skip that part!

Story

Amongst the wreckage of skyscrapers and city streets that once formed our world, primitive human civilizations have bloomed. It’s a prehistoric human existence, a simpler time when humans and animals shared the land – with one major twist. The beasts of this land, which the humans hunt and rely on for supplies, are made of metal and machinery rather than flesh and bone. A diverse menagerie of these robotic creatures inhabit the world, each with their own unique abilities, components, and weaknesses. You’ll spend a lot of time while exploring contending with these creatures: either avoiding them or hunting them for parts.

When I play open world games like Horizon, I tend to wander around completing side quests rather than focusing on the main quest. I enjoy game worlds and don’t want to leave them, so I don’t focus on the path that will quickly end the game. However, that was NOT the case with Horizon. I was driven to complete the main story quest. Why? Because the story is AMAZING! I was blown away by the compelling and original story. I don’t know when I lost faith in open world games, but I don’t expect to care about the main story anymore. With games like Fallout and Skyrim – games I love! – I usually think of the main story quests as the ones to be completed when you have to, or when you run out of side quests. (When I mention Fallout in this review, just assume I’m lumping 3 and 4 together and speaking of those two, specifically.) The story of Horizon Zero Dawn is like an edge-of-your-seat book and I couldn’t stop turning the pages.

Aloy was an interesting protagonist because I actually didn’t find her that likable, despite the fact that I really liked playing as her. Perhaps it’s not that she’s unlikable, but she’s not like me – lately I’m used to playing games where you customize your character to be like you, or something like Breath of the Wild, where the character you play as is voiceless and therefore doesn’t have a strong personality to clash with your self perceptions. Especially in the dialogues, Aloy is blunt and mean, with a clipped and dry tone. Even when given personality-driven dialogue options, which doesn’t happen too often, I still didn’t mesh with the way she talked to people. But that’s how Aloy is – a fiery redhead who you wouldn’t want to mess with, who has to carve out a place for herself in this world she doesn’t quite belong in, someone who grew up motherless in a society where mothers are valued above all.

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Although Aloy is such a strong character, you will come across dialogue choices during important conversations that determine the attitude with which Aloy responds. You get three options accompanied by an icon – a fist, a heart, or a brain – that represents strength/force, compassion, or intelligence. However, it’s unclear in what ways these choices affect the game, if at all. There aren’t multiple endings to the game, so always picking “fist” won’t result in a noticeable change versus always choosing “heart” – the choice just affects a small portion of a dialogue immediately after your choice. If they don’t affect the story, then the choices shouldn’t be given as though they are different branches, because it’s confusing and takes away from Aloy’s presence as a character. Is she a character we’re playing, or are we supposed to feel like we’re in the driver’s seat as players? It’s a weird and frustrating disconnect that ultimately feels to me like a game feature that wasn’t fully realized.

One last warning: MAIN STORY SPOILERS BELOW! Skip this section if you don’t want spoilers, and go right on down to Gameplay.

The story of Horizon Zero Dawn begins hundreds of years before you enter the game: in the near future of our world, the 2060s, AIs created by an irresponsible corporation malfunctioned, and their robots began to destroy the planet. A team of scientists and engineers led by Dr. Elisabet Sobeck raced against time to save humanity, and Aloy lives in the world that they saved, among the ruins of their old technology. You’re somewhere near Denver, though since the timelines diverge in the future of our world, there aren’t necessarily any recognizable Colorado landmarks.

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Beautiful scenery!

Aloy is a highly skilled hunter and survivalist with an insatiable curiosity about the Old Ones who built the metal world. Due to the questionable circumstances of her birth, Aloy began her life as an outcast of the Nora, a tribe of mother-goddess-worshipping hunters. During her childhood explorations, she finds an electronic device used by the Old Ones called a “focus,” which allows her to see data in the world that’s hidden from the naked eye. As an adult, she is able to earn full membership to the Nora through a ritual called “The Proving.” Right after she does, the tribe is attacked by an unknown foreign enemy. Now, as a specially blessed envoy of the Nora called a Seeker, Aloy must journey out of the sacred Nora lands to forbidden territory in order to investigate the threat to the Nora, as well as to investigate her own history.

There are some other societies to interact with outside of the Nora lands, including the Carja, the Oseram, and the Banuk. Each is a different take on early human societies: the Banuk are a spiritual, isolated arctic people who practice colorful cliff painting and revere the machines; the Oseram are into forging metal, making weapons and armor, and overall remind me of ancient Romans; and the sun worship and history of mass human sacrifice by the Carja inevitably begs comparisons to the ancient Aztecs. While solving inter-tribe conflicts, Aloy also begins to explore wrecked research facilities of the Old Ones, and in doing so she finds holograms that reveal the events of the past.

My rave review of the story is primarily about the elements that deal with Aloy’s discovery about the truth of the past. I wasn’t as intrigued by the present-time conflicts between the warring city states. It was still interesting and well written, but that type of story line is more commonly explored in media. (See: the aforementioned Skyrim and Fallout, plus a variety of other sources from A Song of Ice and Fire to world history textbooks.) However, it is interesting to see the cultures that developed in the world of Horizon – almost prehistoric, but incorporating the debris of our old world. It’s fascinating to see our precious technology reduced to trinkets and decorations, to see our simplest inventions marveled at by people who don’t have any knowledge of our current world.

The holograms deliver the most gripping stories of the game. People who were around during Earth’s downfall come alive and walk around the scene as they did hundreds of years ago, and we get to see conversations and events that precipitated the disaster. By ferreting out the data of the past, Aloy learns about the origin of the machines, the reason for the downfall of the Old Ones, and even the mystery of her own motherless birth – she’s actually a clone of the great Dr. Sobeck, her spawning a failsafe triggered by the all-powerful guardian AI: GAIA.

Meanwhile, an evil society broken from the Carja called the Eclipse has been resurrecting the bad machines of the past and causing the other machines roaming the world to become corrupted. While the good machines will leave people alone if left alone, much like wild animals, the corrupted machines are particularly hostile. Aloy also has to stop this corruption because the corrupted machines are making the world extremely unsafe for humans.

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You can tell a machine is corrupted by the glowing red tendrils that infiltrate its body.

The most emotional twist of the story is when you discover that the geniuses of the past that you’ve been learning about, all the people who worked so hard to save the world – they didn’t. Our world as we know it was reduced to ruin, and the world that we traipse around in as Aloy is a rebuilt world, a product of GAIA, who the team built in order to resurrect life after it had been purged from Earth. Little by little, you learn their fate and you realize that they died not knowing what their work would eventually produce.

With such a unique, detailed, engaging, surprising, and emotional story, Horizon Zero Dawn has earned my respect for engaging and original game writing.

Even aside from the main story, the world is filled with interesting side stories that flesh out the world both past and present, and you can discover them as you explore. See the next section for some details!

Gameplay

Quests & Goals

Along with the main quest that propels you through the story, and side quests that give you a richer experience of the world, there are many other tasks for you to complete. Characters give you simple errands like finding missing relatives, bandit camps need to be cleared out, and zones of corrupted machines need to be eliminated. Along the way there are also some special pickups to find, which I loved because they contained additional unique stories to uncover:

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  • Banuk figures: Usually placed up on a cliff or mountain and indicated with colorful markings, each figure contains a portion of the tragic story about a Banuk artist from the past.
  • Vantage points: Data points stuck into the ground throughout the environment. Activating them reveals the landscape as it was before the world was destroyed, plays a short audio clip, and contains a text file that reveals a portion of the story about an engineer that lived in the old world right when it was ending.
  • Metal flowers: Found throughout the world within suspiciously unnatural triangles of wildflowers, each one contains a poem.
  • Ancient vessels: These don’t actually contain stories, but they are mugs with different decorations from the old world.

Even though these side stories don’t affect the main plot, they enrich the world and make it feel more real. Uncovering the side stories was one of my favorite parts of the game. Plus, once you have a complete set of these four main collectibles, you can trade the set to a specialty merchant in Meridian in exchange for a special prize box. If you have trouble locating all of collectibles, you can purchase maps from merchants that reveal the locations on the map.

Unfortunately, the dialogue scenes with characters to deliver quest or errand information are painfully stiff and halt the action. I found myself losing interest even when the information being delivered was interesting. With the main quest you don’t have this problem because usually you are engaging with dynamic information delivery such as a hologram or audio tape, during which you can move Aloy around, or a full cut scene. But with side quest characters, the conversations are just a mechanical back and forth where the view of the characters doesn’t change and you have to click through the different conversation branches.

You can easily track your progress on the various tasks, which I enjoy because I like to have a clear picture of where I stand on completion status. The hardest tasks to complete are the weapon tutorials because they have to be active in order to achieve them – this means if you are doing another task but use your weapon and forget to switch to the tutorial quest, it won’t count! Therefore, though I am certainly proficient in all weapon types, I still haven’t completed most of the tutorials! (If you do focus on doing the weapons tutorials, it’s an easy way to get lots of XP.)

Technology

Aloy has two key pieces of technology that she uses: the focus she finds as a child, and the lance which she modifies to act as an override tool. I love the contrast between the primitive lifestyles of the characters with the advanced technology and machines that they sometimes use.

  • Focus: Aloy’s focus allows her to track paths, locate signals, and identify components and weaknesses on machines. When you go into focus mode you walk really slowly, which is probably to prevent the player from constantly going around in focus mode. (Kind of like the special hearing mode Joel can use in The Last of Us.) It’s super helpful, especially when tracking the paths of machines so you can set traps for them.
  • Lance/Override tool: Aloy modifies her lance so that it can override machine technology when she jams it into certain ports. By doing so, she can open doors or make machines friendly. Check out the cauldrons around the environment and override the cores found within to gain the ability to override different types of machines. I like to override machines and make them fight for me! Plus, once overridden, certain machine species can be mounted and ridden around.

Map

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When you first start, the map is mostly obscured by clouds so you can’t see any of the details. As you explore, the clouds will lift so you can see the markers. Alternatively, by locating and overriding the Tallnecks, you can reveal large portions of the map even if you don’t walk directly over those areas. My map, which you can see above, has been completely uncovered, and since I’ve found all of the collectibles you can see their locations on the map. As you can see from some of the cauldrons I haven’t completed, when you have yet to complete them they show up on your map as blue; once you’re done, they turn green. After you discover a campfire, it will turn green and you can fast travel to it at any time. Machine zones are indicated with special icons so if you are looking for a specific component, you can go hunting for the species that carry it.

The map looks really big, but when you’re actually walking around it doesn’t take long to get from one place to another. In fact, it feels nicely walkable (or rideable, if you’re on a machine mount!). One feature I loved was the cost of fast traveling. In order to fast travel, you have to use a “Fast Travel Pack,” an item which you can either buy or craft. Because fast traveling was not free, I was more likely to walk wherever I needed to go, even if it meant retracing my steps through familiar territory. Later in the game there is a “Golden Fast Travel Pack” you can purchase which gives you unlimited fast traveling. When you’ve been most places and are just trying for completion, it’s nice to be able to easily fast travel. However, earlier in the game, walking everywhere helps to foster a sense of connection to the environment, and facilitates seamless acquisition of both fighting skills and crafting resources.

My map may look cluttered, but one very useful feature is the ability to select or deselect map markers; for example, say you wanted to look for a specific machine on the map. For instance, I wanted to find a Thunderjaw to photograph for this review!

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First, I zoomed out, and selected only the machine map markers. Once I found a Thunderjaw, I zoomed in closer and selected campfires, so I could see where I could fast travel to to get there. Nice!

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It’s also helpful if you are looking for bandit camps or cauldrons that you haven’t finished yet.

Combat

One thing that really stood out to me about Horizon is how masterfully handled the difficulty curve felt, especially for an open game world. The balance of the game design allowed for a very smooth and natural growth from barely being able to take on a Sawtooth to easily dispatching Ravagers, from not even approaching larger enemies like Tramplers to feeling confident enough to take on a whole herd. Through the ability tree upgrades (see below for more details), increased grades of weapons and armors, and expanding the health bar, Aloy slowly but surely grows from a budding brave to a skilled and confident warrior. I also liked how the main quests would force me to take down a huge machine that I wouldn’t have approached, so that it gave me the courage to kill the enemies when I would encounter them in the field.

While there are some boss-type enemies involved in the main quest (you actually have to defeat them to proceed, and you can’t just run away from them if you run out of health or ammo), the regular machine opponents are more like resources than traditional enemies. They infinitely spawn in their favored environments (marked on the map with special icons), so it’s up to you whether you practice taking out enormous Thunderjaws or quickly dispatch some Watchers and Scrappers to acquire resources. In general, the machines are easy to sneak around or sprint away from if you don’t feel like fighting, but they’re always there for you if you do want to take them on – you can adjust how much combat there is in your gameplay experience.

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Human enemies, on the other hand, seem to be a non-renewable resource. Once you take out a bandit camp, it converts into a friendly settlement and you never see those bandits again. I’ve had some random bandit encounters on the road, but I’m not sure how often (if ever) the bandits re-spawn in the environment without camps to go back to. (As of writing this article, I haven’t cleared out all the bandit camps yet.) The easiest way to take out human enemies is simply to snipe them from afar – their friends are slow to catch on, and you can pretty much take out an entire camp in secrecy. (The phrase, “Must have been the wind!” comes to mind…) In general, the machine enemies are more difficult to defeat than the human enemies, and also take more strategy since you can take advantage of their weaknesses.

Upgrades & Customization

As I’ve mentioned in sections above, there are a number of ways to customize your gameplay experience while playing Horizon, such as choosing how often to fight machines in the field, and choosing how many side quests or errands you do. My number one recommendation for all types of gamers who want the the best gameplay experience is to customize your HUD. The default display is unnecessarily crowded, constantly displaying your quest details and blocking your view of the exquisite scenery. Hide as much of it as you want, and simply brushing the touchpad will bring up the hidden details.

As Aloy defeats enemies and completes quests, she gains XP and skill points. The skill points can be used in a branching tree with escalating levels across different skill sets (hunter, prowler, etc.)

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The top tier costs one skill point, the next two, and the bottom two rows of skills cost three points each. I found it quite easy to acquire the skills I wanted and was able to do so quickly. The most useful skills are the ones that allow you to nock multiple arrows so you get extra firepower with each shot. I also really liked the skill that allowed you to pick up trip wires and traps if your enemies don’t set them off. For reference, if you’ve played it, the skill tree in HZD is very similar to the skill tree in Rise of the Tomb Raider.

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Each weapon is available from merchants in different levels – no modifier, Carja, and Shadow. (For example: War Bow, Carja War Bow, and Shadow War Bow.) Not every weapon is available at every trader, but generally once you get to Meridian all the traders past that point will have all the weapons. The higher the level, the stronger the weapon, and the more modifications you’ll be able to add – one slot for the lowest level, two slots for Carja weapons, and three slots for Shadow weapons.

The same basic rules apply for the outfits, which offer Light, Medium, or Heavy variations. They vary more on how many modification slots each one has. Modifications are looted from the corpses of machines or supply crates, or purchased from merchants. The highest level modifications are pretty hard to find. I struggled to find the best strategy for modifications; what I went with was to max out one quality for each item and switch frequently – for example, add high powered freeze resistance modifications to the already freeze resistant Banuk Ice Hunter outfit and then equip it whenever I fight Glinthawks, which spew frost attacks.

Outfits, unfortunately, limit the player to choosing full outfits – you can’t mix and match outfit components or change the colors. Also, of course, you can’t change your facial or body appearance at all due to the fact that you’re playing as Aloy, not a customized character. I thought some of the outfits were goofy looking, so I would regret if I got into a serious cut scene wearing the Banuk Ice Hunter headgear, but overall I thought the designs stemmed from really cool ideas about how primitive people would incorporate metal beasts into their attire.

Inventory

Carry capacity is always my first stop when upgrading. I love to collect resources, and I hate running out of space. Though I quickly upgraded my resource satchel to its largest size, I still ran out of space a lot. There are a lot of rare pickups, but not a lot to spend them on. For example, you need a Stalker heart to get the Shadow Heavy Armor. However, once you trade it in for the armor, there’s no reason to keep collecting more of them. But the difficult experience of getting it in the first place compelled me to keep collecting them, though eventually they had no purpose. I went through this process with all the hearts and lenses in the game, until I finally realized that what I was doing was foolish and sold them all. You need that space for resources that can be turned into ammo!

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There are two resources that I ran into trouble with: echo shells and blaze. Echo shells are used in tearblast arrows, which I love to use because they blast weapons off of enemies. (If you blast off a Ravager cannon, you can pick it up and turn it on them!) Blaze is used in a wide variety of incendiary weapons, including fire arrows, blast and flame tripwires, and bombs. (Blast tripwires are my favorite! They’re an easy way to do damage to big enemies.) Ultimately, if you’re not varying your battle techniques, it is possible to run out of even very common components. My huge mistake in this regard was keeping the rare items like hearts and lenses over common resources like blaze. The rare items sat uselessly taking up inventory space, while I quickly went through my slots of ammo resources

The complaints I once had about inventory management were addressed with an update that allows you to sort resources by their different attributes, and switch between how they’re sorted. It also made it clear which carry capacity upgrades are available, which are completed, and which require resources you don’t have at the moment – I used to waste a lot of time clicking through the carry capacity menu trying to figure out what I could, couldn’t, and needed to upgrade.

Graphics

The expansive and complex world of Horizon Zero Dawn calls for graphics that are nothing less than extraordinary – and the visuals do not disappoint. From the sweeping natural vistas of the mountain ranges, to the twisted and overgrown remains of skyscrapers, to the cramped and fractal-inspired machine cauldrons, the world comes alive in an intensely immersive way. The map feels larger than it really is since it’s packed with a variety of richly detailed and unique environments. You get to experience an icy mountaintop, wide grassy plains, a lush vegetative forest, and a desert area with stunning rock formations. I don’t know how accurate the map is compared to the actual landscape it’s based on, but even if it doesn’t replicate reality, it creates its own reality for the player.

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The delightfully diverse human inhabitants of Horizon Zero Dawn don vivid costumes and possess reasonably realistic faces. Occasionally I would catch a glitch where the mouths didn’t move in sync with the words, or the eyes would appear slightly off-focus, but overall I was impressed with the graphics on the humans. Since you often get stuck having lengthy conversations with people about errands they want you to run, it’s nice that the people actually look human. I was most impressed by the variety of looks in the world – the faces looked unique, so each character stood out in my mind as an individual person, rather than looking like the same models replicated over and over again.

Metal and robotic entities are easier to CGI than humans, so it goes without saying that the machines looked even better. They’re a really cool mixture of robot and animal, drawing inspiration from real life animals like bison, alligators, and birds. The hard metal of the machines against the natural environment contrasts beautifully, rather than clashing, creating a unique feel for the game.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed playing Horizon Zero Dawn! It’s an open world game that gives players the freedom to play in a way that meshes with their own style, while also providing a satisfying structure that enables you to systematically accomplish tasks. The world, story, and protagonist are well developed and unique. Even though this review is already absurdly long, I feel like I left out tons of thoughts. And that’s perhaps my favorite thing of all: Horizon Zero Dawn gave me a lot to think about. It manages to be both action-packed and smart, proving that you can have it both ways.

Thanks so much for reading!

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Review: Rise of the Tomb Raider 20 Year Celebration

[Spoiler Free]

Rise of the Tomb Raider finally came to PS4 on October 11, and thanks to the magic of preorders, I got it in the mail that very day! I was originally planning on writing a “First Impressions” review, but before I knew it, I had played most of the game. (Plus, I didn’t have much time to write since I was spending all of my time playing the game…)

Unboxing

The 20 Year Celebration version came packaged in a game case that mimics an old book or journal and has a built in collection of cool Tomb Raider art. Very fun! Though this was no fancy edition with replica journal and necklace like XBone got (not that I’m bitter), it’s a great addition to my collection. I love that the art book is right in the case, so you don’t have to store them separately, and it’s easy to enjoy the throwback art every time you take the game out.

20 Year Collection DLC Contents

  • Includes all previously released DLC for RotTR
  • “Blood Ties” single player story mode – also playable in VR
  • Co-op play for Endurance Mode
  • “Ultimate Survivor” difficulty for the main campaign
  • 20 Year Celebration outfit and gun
  • 5 classic Lara skins

Overall, the game contains tons of content with many hours of gameplay and high replay value due to the different modes.

Having all of the outfits and weapons up front led to some confusion on my part about what I should have and what I shouldn’t during the game. For example, I think I accidentally made it too easy for myself when I equipped a gun I had in my inventory, only to realize later that I wasn’t supposed to have a heavy pistol until way later. I wish they had been locked like the Baba Yaga: the Temple of the Witch DLC level, which only opened once you had reached a certain part in the storyline.

Story

Since this is a spoiler free review, I will discuss the story in general terms to try not to give anything away. Long story short, I think it’s great! (I may do a longer post on the story later that contains spoilers, but that’s outside the scope of this review.)

The overall story is a lovely callback to classic Tomb Raider plots. Lara’s reckless search for immortality highlights her youth, so though she has come a long way since the previous game, she still has a lot to learn about herself and life. The story incorporates elements of Lara’s family history, so you feel connected to her past, and it feels personal. In classic Tomb Raider fashion, RotTR does a great job of marrying real historical events and figures with mythology and the supernatural.

The shadow organization that acts as the enemy is a great addition to Tomb Raider lore. Secretive, militaristic, cult-like, and fanatical, they will stop at nothing to get what they want.

Locations

RotTR takes place mostly in Siberia, with some time spent in Syria and cutscenes in London (Lara’s apartment).

Syria

I appreciated that the game didn’t romanticize or stereotype Syria – you’re not in a war torn village for cultural tourism, you only see the ancient tomb that Lara is exploring. You don’t spend much time here, and it’s really more of a tutorial level.

Siberia

Ranging from dazzling ice caverns to remote forests to thriving geothermal valleys, RotTR exposes a beauty and diversity far different than the Siberian wasteland most people imagine. The location offers many exciting places to explore. You get to discover the history of the people of the land, as well as of the Soviet soldiers that were stationed there in the past.

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Croft Manor

Though Croft Manor is not a part of the main story, you can visit it during Blood Ties. It’s disconcerting to see the great manor in disrepair, with broken windows, leaky ceilings, and trees growing through the walls. By exploring every nook and cranny, from the impressive library to the dilapidated tunnels under the house, you get to discover many secrets from Lara’s past – as well as many lovely callbacks to the original games.

Characters

Since this isn’t an origin story, Lara feels more like herself – the confident, intelligent, headstrong adventurer that we recognize from the original games. Rather than discovering who she is as a survivor, like in the previous game, she is boldly cutting a path through the world and chasing her own goals.

Women characters abound in this female-forward narrative. Lara is matched with female allies and pitted against female villains. (I won’t name names for fear of spoilers.) It’s no surprise that the writer is a woman – Rhianna Pratchett. (The daughter of Terry Pratchett!). However, the RotTR team is overwhelmingly male. Looking through the credits of the game that inspired me to study video game design reminded me of how far women still have to go in the video game industry.

Racial diversity, however, is low in this mostly-white game. Though the overwhelming whiteness is disappointing, at least they didn’t rely on the trope of setting the game in a distant land and casting all the villains and minions as people of color.

Though I can’t go into too much detail in this spoiler-free review, I will say that I cried at the end of the game, and again when I played the Blood Ties single player mode. So yes, you will definitely connect with the characters and the story.

Gameplay

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Lara at one of her base camps

Pros

My roommate Nick is currently playing Tomb Raider (2013), so I was easily able to compare the two games for this review. (Since I played it a couple of years ago, my memory of it was not so fresh.)

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Equipment upgrade screen
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Weapon upgrade screen

The salvage-to-crafting system has greatly improved, and feels more realistic. In RotTR, you have to gather specific resources from the environment in order to craft your supplies. For example, in order to make arrows you need hardwood from saplings and feathers from birds or their nests. Rather than everything being measured in “salvage,” salvage is now used chiefly for mechanical based improvements (like weapon upgrades), and you find much less of it (usually in crates or on enemies). I love farming, mining, and crafting in games, and these elements of RotTR made it feel a bit like Skyrim to me. Additionally, hunting feels more vital in this game. For example, I needed to go back to certain areas and hunt deer in order to have enough hides for the upgrades I wanted.

The cutscenes seamlessly transition to gameplay – so much so that I sometimes found myself standing there like a dork when I’m supposed to be going into action. This was nice because it felt very immersive, and created less separation between player and game. It’s also a nod to how incredible the graphics are.

The game has great horror elements, even before you start facing any supernatural enemies. For example, due to the sound and scene design, your first encounter with a bear is terrifying, even though it’s just a simple wild creature. RotTR does a good job of staging the “normal” dangers as ominous and scary. There are some especially good horror elements in the Baba Yaga: the Temple of the Witch DLC level.

The bow is very fun to use, and I actually found myself using it more than the guns (which I rarely do in games where both bows and guns are options). The special arrows (fire, poison, and explosive) are fun to craft and use on enemies and the environment.

There are many costumes to use, and you can change at any of your base camps. Some outfits are unlocked as you play through the game, and the 20 Year Collection also came with some new skins. Not only is it fun to change Lara’s outfit, some of the outfits come with stat bonuses.

Survival mode makes it easy to 100% the different areas if that’s something you enjoy doing, and it’s easy to turn it off if the mode makes things too easy for you. You can fast travel between your base camps to finish levels or hunt.

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Resources highlighted in survival mode

The combat is fun, with many opportunities for approaching the combat like a puzzle. There are many ways to get stealth kills and environmental features that allow you to sneak amongst the enemies. You can also craft a variety of explosives to assist you in combat, and throw items to create distractions.

Cons

Overall “Tomb Raider” mode (which I played on, and what I believe to be the standard) seems very easy (although this could be due to my notes above about the advanced guns being unlocked). However, the difficulty was not consistent. For example, in some encounters, they were so easy that I was able to take out large groups of enemies just with my axe melee attack. But then again, some encounters were very difficult, took me many tries, and I don’t think I would have been successful on a higher difficulty.

Where are the puzzles? There aren’t many true puzzles, and none that involve the culture of the story. It’s mostly environment based puzzles (shoot your arrow at the right place, cut the rope at the right time, make this jump sequence, etc). In contrast, puzzles in classic Tomb Raider games were often challenging riddles based on the culture of the environment, like when Lara has to play senet in the Last Revelation. It seems like a shame to incorporate detailed mythology, history, and back story, but not incorporate it into gameplay in an interactive way. (You finding documents which you read or listen to, but it’s not as engaging.)

Traps are very easy and far between, and survival mode basically renders them moot.

Tips & Tricks

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Here’s an example of what the map looks like. This is late in the game. You can see the goals and progress on the left.

Don’t try to get 100% of the challenges and items in the areas on your first play through. You’ll be able to go back to get everything after the final chapter. Follow the flow of the narrative or you’ll lose the thread of the story and it will have less impact. Someone calling you desperately for help isn’t going to have the same feel if you decide to go back to hunt deer or whatever before helping them.

Be careful which outfit you’re wearing when you leave the final base camp. This is the outfit you will wear throughout the final, emotional cutscenes. I wish I hadn’t been wearing the somewhat silly Sacra Umbra suit of armor, and instead had been wearing one of Lara’s normal skins.

Graphics

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Lara Croft’s face looks stunning. Compared to Tomb Raider (2013), you can see a dramatic difference in how good Lara’s face looks, even with only 2 years between the two games. The most striking improvement is in the eyes. 2013 Lara still has an off-putting “dead in the eyes” look, while RotTR Lara’s eyes have movement and look alive. In fact, the loving attention put into Lara’s animation actually makes her look younger in the sequel. Additionally, the scenery is spectacular. On one precipice overlooking a waterfall, I stood and stared at the water because it was so masterfully animated. It looked like real water! Since much of the character of a Tomb Raider game comes from its environments, it was great to see the lush scenery brought to life so vividly.

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Check out the rainbow!

Faces and landscapes look great, but Lara’s hair is distractingly bad. It moves around too much, is strangely shiny, and doesn’t look like actual hair. Unfortunately (but understandably), it’s clear that not every character got the same attention that Lara did. Many of the other characters suffer from stiff faces in the cutscenes (especially Lara’s friend from the previous game, Jonah).

The player movement has improved by leaps and bounds. While going up stairs, ice scrambling, climbing up ledges, or jumping around, it looks like Lara is interacting with the environment as a real physical being.

The Takeaway

Amazing! 13/10! This is the best game I’ve played in a long time. It improves upon 2013 Tomb Raider in many ways, but maintains the Tomb Raider atmosphere. Though I loved 2013 Tomb Raider as well, the sequel is the game that made me say, “Now this is a Tomb Raider game. The gameplay is reminiscent of Skyrim, but on a smaller scale, and it allows you to attempt to get 100% more easily. I love games that make me feel something, and a game that moved me to tears twice certainly touched my cold dead heart. On top of that, the gameplay just felt extremely streamlined and fun. On some mornings I got out of bed at 6 am just to make time to play it, and I don’t think I could praise anything more highly than that.

Why You Should Get a Gaming Headset

I’ve been playing video games pretty much since I was born, but I recently upgraded an element of my gaming experience that I had hardly given any thought to before. Not that I don’t care about my auditory experience – I have a fairly nice surround sound system, so it hadn’t crossed my mind that I could be missing out.

Every PlayStation 4 comes with a very simple gaming headset. It’s basically just one earbud and a mic with a mute switch that plugs into your controller. It’s definitely not for listening to your games, since there’s only one ear piece. It’s for voice chat in games like Overwatch, or voice capture if you’re streaming. (Those are the only things I used it for, anyway.)

I got an upgraded headset, complete with sound to both ears (details below), and let me tell you why you should, too!

Unbelievable Immersion

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I first used my new headset with Fallout 4 (a game that yes, I somehow still haven’t finished). Suddenly, you feel like the battle is going on all around you. You can hear your companion (good ol’ Piper) engaged in combat behind you. You can hear the super mutants approaching from all sides. It feels more real. When the rad storm lightning starts cracking overhead, your instinct to get to shelter kicks in even stronger.

In action/survival games like Fallout, Uncharted, and Skyrim, using a headset heightens the urgency of the action. Since the headset blocks out the sounds from real life (think car horns, roommate’s coughs, airplanes overhead), it’s easier to forget that you’re not actually running for your life. It makes for a more cohesive, engaging gaming experience.

Dive Headfirst into the Game’s Environment

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The next game I played with my new headset, a game which made me appreciate different aspects of the wonders of my new sound experience, was The Witness. (If you haven’t played it yet, please check it out – I can’t recommend it highly enough.)

In this vibrant world which had already enchanted me with its bright color palette and brilliant level design, I suddenly felt a new connection to the strange world into which I had been dropped. It was almost as though I could feel the tall grass grazing my calves as I walked through the landscape. Perhaps because The Witness is such a quiet, solitary, and intimate game, I deeply felt the power of connecting with the environment. Essentially, the only two characters in the game are you and the environment. As an added bonus, there is a puzzle based on an audio clue that I’m sure I wouldn’t have picked up on as quickly if I were using regular surround sound.

The wind whispers around you, and the way your footsteps ring out in the quiet emphasizes your loneliness. Somehow, being able to hear the crunch of dirt, roll of sand, or squelch of mud in such crisp detail conveys the sensation that you’re really walking over these different types of ground. Whereas using a headset for action-packed games immerses you in the action, using a headset for a puzzle game like The Witness immerses you in delightful solitude.

Don’t Worry About Disturbing the Neighbors

I love my apartment, but I have thin floors and ceilings. I can hear the guy downstairs coughing, I can hear the bed upstairs creaking, and I have no doubt that they can all hear me shooting super mutants in the middle of the night. I’m the type to feel self conscious and not want to disturb people, so if I’m playing at night I often lower the volume to the point that even I can barely hear the action. It’s so much better to just be in the moment and fully enjoy the gameplay, rather than fretting that neighbors or roommates will complain. Having a headset eliminates these worries so you can game in peace. Now I don’t feel bad about waking up at 6:30 am to play Mass Effect!

My Current Headset: PlayStation Gold Wireless Stereo Headset in Jet Black

Cost: $73.00 on Amazon

Overall, this post isn’t intended to be a review of my particular headset – I just got my first one, so I can’t tell you how this compares to other headsets. I will, however, briefly go over the pros and cons of this headset according to my experience. (For what it’s worth, internet research shows that this is generally regarded to be a very good headset for an affordable price.)

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Image source

Pros

  • Wireless
  • Comfortable ear pads (and I typically have trouble feeling comfortable with over ear headphones)
  • Folds down into convenient smaller size
  • Easy to charge with the same cords that charge the controllers (as well as coming with its own shorter cord)
  • Works with my PS3, PS4, and Macbook Pro
  • Hidden mic that works well – no fiddling with mic placement to get your sound capture right

Cons

  • Occasional “popping” – typically occurs if battery is low or Bluetooth interference, but sometimes for seemingly no reason. I’ve noticed the problem more with PS3 games than PS4 games.
  • Short wireless range – you may need to get an extender
  • Somewhat flimsy construction – mine hasn’t broken yet, but one of the plastic panels came off in my hand while I was adjusting the size. (It clicked back in easily since they are designed to be switched out, though it seems extremely difficult to find plates for sale anyway)
  • They are not comfortable to wear with my glasses, so I have to wear my contacts while using them. Not a huge problem for me since I use both interchangeably, but could be a huge problem for others.

If $73 seems a bit steep for your first gaming headset, I encourage you to at least check out cheaper options (there are plenty), or simply try using regular headphones. At the very least, borrow a nice pair from a friend. You might be quickly converted, as I was!

Resident Evil 7 Teaser: Beginning Hour Review & Gameplay Video

During Sony’s E3, the Resident Evil VII teaser stood out to me as a Big Deal. I love Resident Evil, I love horror, I love the look of the game. I mentioned it briefly during my Sony E3 post, and I’ve been obsessing over it ever since. Because here’s the thing — there’s more than enough to obsess over. But more on that later.

A little bit about the game:

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Image source

It takes place after Resident Evil 6, and it will feature a new main character and has no returning characters. This new main character will not be the character you play as in the teaser. The events of the teaser take place before the events of the main game. RE7 will actually be the second Resident Evil game in first person. (But the first one barely counts — it was Resident Evil Survivor, a poorly reviewed game for PlayStation and Windows that came out in 2000.) The game will also be one player only, which means they’re abandoning the co-op option from 5 and 6. As if experiencing the horror in first person wouldn’t be enough, it will be fully playable with the PlayStation VR (out 10/13/16).

The playable teaser (called Beginning Hour) is meant to be a standalone experience designed to give players a feel for the direction of RE7, and it will not actually be a part of the game. As director Koshi Nakanishi told Game Informer, the game is “a tonal teaser of the game, it’s not a content tease.” The full game will have a larger environment, of course — but it will still take place in a dilapidated mansion, according to the Capcom blog. There will also be additional game mechanics, such as combat. That’s good, because I don’t fancy being stalked around a creepy mansion without the ability to fight back!

Sony released the Beginning Hour teaser on June 14, the same day the game was announced. The game will come out on January 24, 2017.

Now, about the demo:

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You wake up alone in an eerily dark room in a rotting house. There’s a TV in the corner ominously playing static. You’re armed with only a flashlight – which you can’t turn off if you’re concerned about someone finding you. It’s daytime, but it doesn’t feel like it – the windows are mostly boarded up, and it takes you a while to find slivers of sunlight.

Beginning Hour was extremely scary the first time I played through it, mostly because I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know if I would have to run and hide, if I would have to fight, if things would jump out at me. As it turns out, there’s nowhere to run and no need to hide, but things did in fact jump out at me — and there was nothing I could do about it. The scary moments are good enough that they had me jumping even after multiple plays through, and the creepy moments gave me chills.

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The mannequins freaked me out the most

The first person perspective, as well as the limited illumination from your flashlight, delivers a deliciously limited field of view that makes you feel on edge the whole time. There are plenty of bumps, creaks, doors slamming, and footsteps in the distance to make sure you never feel safe.

The teaser has a gripping arc: you wander the main house looking for a tape that you can play on the TV in the first room you entered, and once you pop it in you then play through the events of the tape as though you’re living them. Once the tape is finished, you go back through the house, with (depending on which order you do things) new information on where things are. This was a cool technique that was much more interesting than just statically watching a video. The visuals change as well during the video part to simulate the feel of VHS quality, which enhances the horror atmosphere. The method of having the player search the same location in different timelines presents the opportunity to play around with the discoveries they’ll make.

You should play it for yourself – it’s still available for free on the PlayStation Store. You can also check out my play through in the video below! I only play through one of the possible endings.

The demo holds more than meets the eye

The internet is now filling up with people trying to poke into all the nooks and crannies and ferret out all the secrets that Beginning Hour holds. We know there are multiple endings, including a rumored “true ending” that no one seems to be able to find. (However, I have one friend who says she successfully left the house! Achieved by hugging the walls and creeping around.) Of the various items you pick up and use throughout the game, no one has been able to figure out (at least at the time I’m writing this) the purpose of the “dummy finger” that you find in a drawer in the main hallway. Doing things in different orders triggers different paths to take through the demo, and different endings. You can play through the entire thing once without finding certain items and areas in the house.

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The notorious dummy finger

One of the more frustrating secrets for me is the alleged ghost girl, who shows up at random times in certain places during the VHS tape portion. I have never been able to find her in all of my many plays through the demo. Even when I looked up a YouTube video which showed several of her appearances, I had trouble seeing her in the video. Kudos to the eagle-eyed gamer who managed to find her in the first place. Check out this list of her known locations if you want to try to spot her. Honestly, I would be surprised if a ghost of any sort featured prominently in the main game, since Resident Evil enemies aren’t typically of the spectral variety.

To what extent will the mysteries of Beginning Hour pertain to the main game? That’s hard to say, but considering that the developers have already said that it’s not content from the main game, they might not relate at all. It’s probably just a fun way to keep fans excited while they wait for the real deal.

How does it compare to previous Resident Evil games?

Based on what we can glean from the demo, the series is definitely getting back to its horror roots. They’ve left behind the sweeping, global scope of bioterror attacks that games 5 and 6 focused on. Instead, you feel the more human, personal fear of being in imminent danger. This isn’t about saving the world — it’s about saving yourself.

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Argh! Unidentifiable sludge!

Some things about the demo’s atmosphere feel like Resident Evil to me: the bags of trash throughout the house, the unidentifiable creepy sludge in the cooking pot, the gruesome dead bodies of the animals you find. However, some details feel distinctly like Silent Hill: the house setting, the notes you find, the nature of the “find the key” puzzles you have to solve, the mysterious phone calls. This isn’t a complaint since I love both series, it’s just interesting to see the new direction that Resident Evil is pursuing, and the inspirations that probably went into it.

It’s hard to judge how the combat will feel, considering that there’s no combat in the demo. It’s possible to find an axe, but all you can do with it is destroy boxes and mannequins. However, based on the overall demo, it feels unlikely that the game will have the gun focused, military style combat of 5 and 6, at least. I predict that combat will be dramatically scaled down, possibly reduced to melee only. (Although, they might use gun combat to get gamers to buy the newly designed PS VR Aim Controller.)

How excited am I for the main game to come out?

So excited! Resident Evil 7 is already available for pre-order. The digital deluxe edition, available from the PlayStation Store for $79.99, includes a special dynamic theme, Survival Pack DLC, four short side stories, and one additional story episode (when they are released).

Finally, some Fun Facts about the game title:

While the “Wikipedia official” title refers to it as “Resident Evil 7: Biohazard” it’s being stylized in America as “RESIDENT EVII. biohazard” and “BIOHA7ARD resident evil” in Japan. (Check out the image earlier in this post to see it.) It’s a lot of focus on the number 7 for game that will technically be the eleventh installment in the main Resident Evil series.

*Unsourced images are screen caps from my gameplay video

Sony – E3 Roundup

Sony had an amazing, exciting E3 presentation, with tons of game reveals! This was a seriously edge-of-your-seat experience as they bombarded the audience with glimpse after glimpse of awesome-looking games.

They opened with a full orchestra helmed by none other than Bear McCreary of Battlestar Galactica fame! (He’s also doing the soundtrack for the new God of War game.) The sweeping music set the stage for an epic presentation.

There’s a ton of stuff going on, so this will be a Long Post. I want to complain, but I’m happy that Sony had so much to offer!

God of War

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From the new God of War demo revealed at E3

A new entry into the God of War franchise. They demoed what appeared to be the opening level of gameplay. Kratos has a kid now, and they encounter some impressive looking bad guys while on a tense father-son hunting trip. Kratos is older now, and the graphics have grown up as well–they’re positively beautiful. Looks like an intricate environment, cool monster design, and overall a promising release. I’m getting an intense Tomb Raider vibe from the environment and gameplay (the newest TR, not the classic), especially with the bow hunting scene. I haven’t played the previous GoW games, but I’ve been meaning to–maybe now is the time, so I can sink my teeth into the new one. I’m certainly interested after seeing the demo for this installment.

I’ve heard some speculation as to whether you’ll actually play the son for the majority of this game–that would be an interesting twist, and a way to propel the franchise into more games in the future. Kratos was looking pretty old and grizzled, so it wouldn’t be surprising if his days as the star are numbered. Apparently, if you play close attention during the demo, you can see that the son gains XP for feats while Kratos does not.

No release date and no official title (other than presumably temporary God of War 4).

Days Gone

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From the Days Gone trailer revealed at E3

I can’t believe this game even exists. It is very clearly the creator’s self-insert Walking Dead fan fiction. They showed a trailer and gameplay, but failed to demonstrate to me how this game will be unique in any way. Of course it has beautiful graphics and zombie killing action, plus a motorcycle, but it seems like it will be really just for those gamers who can’t bear to wait for the next Last Of Us title and would rather pass the time with a knockoff.

The Last Guardian

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From The Last Guardian footage compilation featured at the Sony E3

At long last, we have a release date! The Last Guardian will bless us on 10/25/2016. This wasn’t a new reveal, since TLG has had videos and art out for a while, but fans are thrilled to finally have an end date for their long wait. Sony showed a brief video with some new footage, probably confident that fans already know what’s going on there, but we didn’t get any gameplay footage this time. Still – people are hooked. I know I’ll be considering the collectors edition. (I’d be considering it more strongly if I hadn’t just dropped a hundred bones on the Horizon Zero Dawn collectors set. Speaking of which…)

Horizon Zero Dawn

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Horizon Zero Dawn gameplay demo from E3

This is not the place for unbiased coverage of this game because I am HYPE for it. They already had a couple of trailers released, and I pre ordered the Collectors Edition for PS4 a couple of days ago (post on that to come). They had me sold at “Skyrim but the dragons are robots and the protag is a young woman on a journey.” Still, it was exciting to see the game in greater depth!

A fairly long gameplay demonstration highlighted elements of the game’s weapon management and combat system, as well as the need for scavenging parts from defeated enemies. The weapons are low tech, including bows with various different types of arrows and slingshots. However, you’re not completely low tech – Aloy has the ability to digitally scan enemies to find out their weak points. You’ll also have the ability to hack the robotic creatures to make them friendly enough for you to ride on them.

The setting is a fascinating marriage of prehistoric human societies with post-apocalyptic robotic creature takeover. I’m so intrigued by the story and what themes they will choose to explore with it. Will it be a cautionary tale about the destructiveness of human society, or the dangers of advanced AI? I’m looking forward to the release, scheduled for 2/28/2017.

Detroit: Become Human

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Dramatic still from the Detroit: Become Human footage shown at E3

Really neat looking game with a branching narrative in which your choices determine the outcome. The demo showed gameplay as an android hostage negotiator trying to talk down a rogue android who’s threatening a young girl on a rooftop. Seems like a game with lots of re-playability, but perhaps also with the frustration of a “choose your own adventure novel,” where you have to keep going back to repair mistakes you’ve made. It certainly seems like a unique new title.

I saw some disappointment surrounding this demonstration due to the fact that Detroit: Become Human had originally been teased with a female protag. However, just because they focused on Connor in this demo (as opposed to Kara, who is still listed [top billed, in fact] as a main character on the game’s Wikipedia page), this doesn’t necessarily mean that Kara has been jettisoned. As we saw with the misleading Prey trailer from Bethesda, just because a demo chooses to focus on a male player (for a mostly male audience at E3, keep in mind), this doesn’t mean they’re taking away the female playable characters for the actual game.

No release date announced.

Resident Evil VII

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TFW when that “VII” turned into “Resident Evil”… my jaw dropped.

Incredible teaser for the latest installment of the classic Resident Evil series. Despite the fact that I’m a big fan, I had no idea it was going to be RE7 during the creeping, sinister intro. It looks completely different – it was in first person with glorious graphics! However, there were some RE overtones: you wake up in a creepy house, and you receive an ominous message that your life is in immediate danger. It actually reminded me a lot of PT (RIP; I’ll yearn for PT until death). When they superimposed the Resident Evil VII logo… Wow. I gasped. There’s a demo available now – I have it downloaded and waiting for me, but I’m waiting until it’s dark out to play it. (Check back for a review of the demo soon!)

RE7 will be released January 24, 2017, and it’s going to be fully playable in VR, so if you’re willing to put yourself through that kind of nightmare, this is super exciting! Sony transitioned right from this announcement to its big one:

PlayStation VR

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Picture from the official PlayStation VR website

PlayStation will be releasing its first bid into the VR phenomenon with its PlayStation VR, available 10/13/16 for $399. (However, the VR bundle will be $499, and I can only imagine that that’s the bundle I [and everyone else] will actually need.) At that time, 50 games are expected be available to play in VR. (Not all of them will be fully VR compatible, like RE7 is.) It will not be a separate system – it will be an add-on to the PS4. There are more VR games announced than what I’ll be covering here, but I’m focusing on what we saw at the E3 demonstration.

Farpoint

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(Okay but do we really need to experience giant spiders in VR?) This is from the E3 reveal trailer.

This is a truly cool looking sci fi game from Impulse Gear with a demo that featured huge alien spiders and otherworldly planetscapes. Not a ton of details on it at this point, but it has been designed exclusively for play in PlayStation VR.

I’m a total sucker for space games, space exploration games, you name it–so needless to say I am beyond intrigued. If I’m going to get into VR, this is exactly the type of game I want to play.

Farpoint is a flagship VR game that will utilize the brand new PS VR Aim Controller, a stylized gun-like controller that doesn’t look much like a gun, but will apparently work much better due to its 1:1 direct tracking and aiming. See picture below! I’m thrilled by the choice to de-gun-ify the design by so much. Even the friendly, bubblegum coloring serves to make it feel less like a deadly weapon and more like a controller. The white color scheme calls to mind original Wii remotes.

sony vr aim

Star Wars Battlefront: An X-Wing Mission

This was the one VR title that looked specifically to me like one of those pod games you play at Dave & Busters. Which is not to say it won’t be cool – those are really fun! It just stood out to me as one of the more gimmicky VR releases that Sony announced. However, I’m a big Star Wars fan, so if I wind up getting into VR, I’m sure I’ll be checking this out. It’s just not the type of game that would make me get a VR headset.

Batman: Arkham VR

Available October 2016 exclusively on PS VR from Rocksteady. Not a lot revealed about this for now, just fleeting glimpses in a short sneak peek.

Final Fantasy XV VR Experience

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Yes this is a real still from a real thing they seriously showed at E3

Now this was a surprise! FFXV is due out soon, but I didn’t know that it would have a VR released as well! Fans will be able to experience the world of Final Fantasy XV in VR. I’m not sure at this point what a “VR Experience” will entail, but I’m assuming it’s not going to be the full game.

I haven’t personally played any of the Final Fantasy series other than Final Fantasy Explorers, but My Better Half is huge into it, so I’ve observed and appreciated a lot of this beautiful franchise. We’ve pre-ordered the Deluxe Edition which includes a steelbook featuring Yoshitaka Amano’s art as well as a Blu-ray movie and some in-game DLC items. The game will be released on 9/30/2016. It looks fun and beautiful!

Back to Non VR News…

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

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Do I have to keep saying these pictures are stills from the E3 reveal trailers? That’s what this is from, too

Sony debuted a very (some might say ‘excessively’) long gameplay presentation, with no intro, which turned out to be the next Call of Duty installment. War in space! Remember what I said about the Battlefront X-Wing demo seeming gimmicky for VR? I was shocked that this wasn’t a VR teaser, since the sole purpose of the demo seemed to scream, “Imagine how cool flying this spaceship would be in VR!” This also felt exactly like a Dave & Busters pod game.

I’ve only dabbled briefly in COD, but as I said earlier, in a sucker for space games. So this looked really cool to me! Looks like some free form outer space battles and a grappling hook to help you move around.

In addition to Infinite Warfare, they announced a Modern Warfare 2 remaster.

Crash Bandicoot Remaster

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The first three Crash Bandicoot games are coming to PS4! Great news for those of us who loved this old classic, and who like to occasionally dip back into our old favorites. I gasped for this almost as loud as I gasped for RE7.

They also announced Crash Bandicoot for Skylanders, but I didn’t pay attention to that, and I’m assuming that if I wrote about it here you wouldn’t pay attention to it either.

Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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The Lego games are always amazing! A demo is available right now, and the full game will be available in just 2 short weeks.

Death Stranding

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I chose this still for Reasons

They announce a special guest – dubstep starts – my heart is in my throat…

It’s Kojima!

Not to say that I’m not still bitter and mourning over the death of Silent Hills (I am), but seeing Kojima put those butterflies in my stomach that whispered, “This is gonna be insane…” And boy, was it ever insane. Kojima introduced a bizarre, conceptual, beautiful, creepy cinematic trailer for a game called Death Stranding, featuring CGI Norman Reedus (my heart weeps for Silent Hills), haunting music, and a multitude of decaying cetaceans. The video defies description, so you might as well just watch it for yourselves. I have no idea what this game is going to be about or what it will be like.

They haven’t even chosen a game engine yet, so it’s in very early stages and will be a long way off.

Spider-Man

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Why couldn’t we have stopped at the Tobey Maguire masterpieces? Sorry, this presentation was pretty long, and by the time they got to Spider-Man I was too exhausted from Death Stranding to process much. This will probably be cool? Spider-Man in VR would probably be cooler than Batman in VR, so it’s a shame they got that backwards.

So there you have it, folks! Sony’s amazing E3 appearance. I’m so happy to be a PS4 loyalist after this impressive showing. Tune in later this year to see if I actually follow through on my sudden conviction to buy into PS VR… Even if I don’t, we still have a lot of amazing games to look forward to in the near and distant future.

 

Gone Home – PSPlus Spotlight

-Spoiler Free Review-

Gone Home, released in 2013 by The Fullbright Company, has been on my radar for a while. I knew few details about it, but I knew I would like the storyline-based aspect and the focus on hunting for clues. When I heard the rumor that it was going to be one of the June PSPlus free games, I was ecstatic. I downloaded it the day it came out and started playing right away. If you have PSPlus, you should make time this month to download it!

You play as Katie Greenbriar in June of 1995. You arrive at home after returning from Europe, but your family isn’t there. Gameplay revolves around searching the eerily empty house for clues. As you progress through the storyline, it feels more like an interactive novel than a game. There are a few puzzles (of the very simple, search around for the passcode, variety), but the focus is on exploration and discovery. Your rewards are not items or trophies, but simply details about the story in which you are immersed.

It’s a super short game – I finished it in two sessions. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. The style is well suited for a short play time. If it were longer, you might get sick of poking around in every nook and cranny looking for clues. (I wouldn’t get sick of it, but I’m a bit crazy that way.)

I would recommend playing at night with few other distractions–surround sound is a plus. The sound design is amazing. Well timed thunder claps, subtle bumps and groans from the creaky old house–I was nervous looking around every corner, despite the fact that I pretty much knew this wasn’t the type of game where anything would jump out at me.

I went into this game knowing as little as possible, so I would hate to spoil any of the discoveries you’ll make while playing. I will say that the different narratives you will uncover while searching the house far exceeded my expectations, and went way beyond the main plot of the game. The more you look around, the more details you will find that will flesh out the lives and stories of the main characters.

Gone Home is available for free ($0.00!) right now if you have PSPlus, as well as on Steam for $19.99. I highly recommend checking it out if you like beautiful stories and a riveting, suspenseful atmosphere.