36 reviews liked by GodManAntilope

My only real complaint is that harder difficulties increase the RNG factor too much which only leads to more early restarts instead of actually interesting choices. Otherwise, it's a perfectly executed idea I still play nearly every night.

The best way I can describe my feelings after rolling credits is that FF7 Rebirth is a game that wants to be the quintessential form of everything it takes from. A game that brazenly embraces the “good” and “bad” of everything it encompasses, even when the two are diametrically opposed to each other.

Rebirth is the quintessential AAA game of the last decade, featuring both the “good” (top of the line production values, the highest quality models for characters with incredible performances across both EN and JP casts, 400+ tracks with seamless transitions between world and battle themes, ambitious scope for world design in both size and complexity) and the “bad” (menial busywork to keep the player occupied between main story moments, map boils down to going to the objective and cleaning the icons out instead of genuine exploration, all game design trends meant to add artificial speedbreakers - slow walking, climbing on yellow ledges, squeezethroughs etc., animation locking preventing you from doing things faster than you should like healing from the command menu).

It is also the quintessential nomura game, even though he had a different role this time round his footprint is clearly felt. Whether it be the earnestness of the character interactions with their idiosyncratic quirks and the distinct rhythm of conversations, or the inherent multiplicity of narrative design - where anything and everything is a crumb-trail that leads to something that is to come, something to endlessly look forward to.

This nature of being everything all at once is important, because it rears its ugly head once you get to the thing it has to be first and foremost - a Final Fantasy VII game. The original game is pretty (in)famous for being all over the place tonally, but one of the more charming aspects of FF7 is that it really felt like an abundant accumulation of ideas. If they thought of it, they put it in. This philosophy combined with the inherent abstraction present for PS1 RPGs lent itself to be a leaner game, exceedingly so when you compare it to today’s RPGs. It meant that even in this so called idea factory, you’re going from one moment to next briskly. Naturally when they decided to break this game up into multiple parts, that was one of the aspects I assumed they would change. To not necessarily remedy, but to just make those moments of transition feel more organic. It is baffling then that this new high fidelity unreal engine FF7 part deux makes the tonal shifts feel even more bizarre. Every scene/fight has been made more bombastic with lavish splendour and spectacle, restraint has been discarded and the intent was clearly to keep adding more and more. Barret and Dyne's confrontation is one of the worst offenders of this, where Dyne is depicted to be this criminally inhumane monster with a gnarly robo-arm made of junk. Their heart-to-heart moment then hard cuts to a Palmer mech boss fight where he pats his ass while techno/trap music plays (this shit made me so mad I actually don’t remember what kinda track it was lol).

The willingness to stick so close to the original script while merely “expanding” on it with the “more-is-better” philosophy yields a bloated mess of a game. Any spark of genuine brilliance is undercut by stretching events longer than they should or muddying it with beats of the original game. One such example of the latter is when Gi Nattak reveals that the lifestream has been rejecting the Gi - a revelation that would break the foundations of FF7's ethical balance because it would mean the Ancients and everyone who opposes them aren’t as black and white as the original game expects us to believe. This detail is not picked up subsequently at all and the party continues onward on their preordained path of FF7.

Which brings us to the ending. Split worlds, multiverses, stamps, reunions, straddling those split worlds, Zack and Cloud combo attacks, Aerith dying, her not dying - as is the trend, it had it all. Underneath all of that gibberish, what is the actual message being said here? That she can have her final date with Cloud (which was cute I will admit) but ultimately can never be with him happily ever after? Then they’d have been better off keeping the elegance of the original scene and just remade the game faithfully. Or is it that she can be with him but there will be a price that will have to be paid, most likely by everyone else? Then they should've made a meaningfully different game that incorporated that choice as a legitimate what-if scenario. What I got instead feels like straddling both decisions (much like Cloud straddling worlds) and ending up at a non-committal 3rd place where they pulled a lot of punches.
Maybe this is supposed to be meta commentary on them being indecisive, maybe I'm being too harsh reading into it from that lens. Either way I don’t think it would change my thoughts on the ending.

That combat system bangs though, demonstrable improvement over Remake. It’s just a shame that it’s the only unequivocally positive thing about the game.

This is the third in a series of reviews on the 3d era of the Grand Theft Auto games and it reference my previous 2 reviews on GTA 3 and Vice City. San Andreas is a fan favourite in the GTA franchise and was a cultural blockbuster on release. The game was a chart topper for the PlayStation 2 beating out both previous games and even Sony's first party releases in sales to become the best selling PlayStation 2 game of all time. What I’m trying to get across is that this game was a big deal and it set the course for Rockstar's future. I want to state up front that I think this game is a monumental achievement, it’s setting and story was a huge step up from previous games, it made meaningful changes to the GTA formula and I had a great time playing it, yet I also felt a sense of disappointment as all too often the game strayed from the intoxicating hands off mission structure that the previous two titles had. San Andreas will often lead the player by the nose and not only does the game reduce the amount of creative expression the player can do but it even goes so far as to actively destroy any chance the player might make in preparing for missions or engaging in creative problem-solving instead choosing a serious of linear scripted sequences which are lacking in a satisfying payoff.

Let’s start at the beginning; its the 1990s and Carl ‘CJ’ Johnson has been away in Liberty City for a while but at hearing the death of his mother he has come back to San Andreas for the funeral. Whilst visiting the his old neighbourhood and gang he becomes dedicated to building the gang back up and its here we meet the cast of characters and establish the setting. San Andreas is set on the West Coast in the 90s and it is reminiscent of gangsta films of the era like Boyz n the Hood or Menace II Society. Unlike Vice City, which was a straight rip off off one particular movie, San Andreas doesn’t really follow beat for beat exactly what happens in it’s filmic influences and instead chooses to take elements from their setting and portrayal of hood life to create a very dry and drab looking aesthetic, one that’s romanticised by the influence of west coast hip-hop where the streets are mean and crime is a way of life. Corrupt police stalk citizens and enable gang violence, different gangs not only beef with each other but there’s also conflict within families. This is a more thoughtful approach to building a setting and it’s fantastic. In the previous games I talked about the ‘rags to riches’ catharsis that comes from building up the protagonist to a very glorified kingpin and whilst San Andreas starts the player on the bottom rung in a neighbourhood of poverty and systemic violence it doesn’t glorify the crime life, tragedy, downfall and consequences strike the characters. San Andreas retains the feeling of progression from older titles but chooses to make a conscious effort to depict its setting and characters with a more tempered approach.

CJ is the best protagonist of the 3 games hands-down because he isn’t an unfeeling, reckless gangster but rather he is a person who at times displays sadness and amusement and anger and despair, he speaks to different characters in different tones. CJ might show respect to his family members and people who treat him well but he also has a playful side where he makes fun of his homies, he speaks coldly and impatiently to Tenpenny and the police officers who keep him on a leash. CJ is successfully established not just as an avatar of player chaos but deep down, a decent guy with a complex thought process, he sometimes comes across as very trepidatious and whiny and like he feels pressured into doing something to appear strong even when he knows it’s the wrong thing to do. This is praise that you cannot say about Claude or Tommy. I think a lot of credit should go to the brilliant performances of the voice actors who deliver a fun and enthusiastic performance from start to finish.

The starting area of the game, Grove Street is a triumphant expression of game design and makes you feel like you’re back in the swing of GTA. San Andreas has better movement mechanics this time around, CJ can crouch, climb, roll and swim and the starting area shows this off by placing a few weapons on rooftops, encouraging players to reach tangible and useful early game rewards by exploring and interacting with these new mechanics. One of the first things I would do upon returning to Grove was pick up a pistol, SMG and body armour, the golden combo of early game GTA. The game also improves on shooting mechanics, the controls are more like what you would expect from a third person shooter with a reticle and finer movement controls, the lock on is very powerful and in fact its almost too powerful, you can snap onto enemies very quickly with very little effort combined with the improved aiming you can absolutely blast enemies away or snipe them before they even notice you, but its an overall good change, it feels like a robust system that encourages you to use movement and cover intelligently.

It sounds good so far right? Good story, good setting and meaningful gameplay improvements aside the shortcomings of the mission design appear very early in the game when Big Smoke takes you on a mission to kill some Russian Mafia. By this point in the game I had done laps of weapon pickups and equipped myself with an MP5 and a lot of ammo for it, what happens next is a sequence where a mac-10 is forced on my character replacing the powerful SMG and all the ammo I had collected so that the mission could perform an extended turret sequence. Needless to say this was where I knew this game and I would start to clash. After the mission all the effort and progress I had put into preparation had been undone and I was left with a shit gun with one magazine, I felt betrayed by this and it was made worse by the scripted mission wasn’t even very impressive in its delivery, considering it resembled a climatic chase scene on a motorbike in a storm drain being shot at by black sedans and a semi truck (A la Terminator 2) it was decidedly flat with no music or impactful sound effects and marked by invulnerable vehicles that had to reach an area to blow up cinematically.

This mission represents a problem with the entire game, the player is not encouraged to figure out a solution to a mission but rather follow a series of instructions and set pieces. If you’ve spent some time picking up grenades a mission will force you to replace them with Molotovs to complete an arson mission, if there's a warehouse full of enemies they won’t spawn from one entrance and you cannot scout the area because you have to hit a trigger at the front entrance and go through the mission on a set course, this linear approach to missions completely clashes with the open world design remnants like ammo and armour pickups and I wasn’t even particularly motivated to look for fast vehicles or use the new vehicle customisation options because the vehicles were either expected to be blown up as part of the mission or the player is just provided with a car and told to drive somewhere. Contextual health and armour spawn in the middle of missions and red barrels are placed everywhere. San Andreas doesn’t want you to prepare and it doesn’t want you to experiment and this is such a massive let down after the feeling of having Grove Street teach you to explore for goodies, any sense of reward or satisfaction is killed stone dead when a mission demands I complete it a certain way.

Nowhere is this focus on narrative-at-the-expense-of-gameplay shown more clearly than the in car conversations you can have with characters; these conversations are themselves really great and I want to listen to them but all too often they conflict with the games scripted timing, I shouldn’t have to stop before a mission checkpoint to hear the dialogue finish but it happens nearly every time CJ and Ryder start having a conversation across the dashboard, I have to park a few meters away from the mission trigger to hear character development happen, it’s like the game’s narrative is not just fighting the player but the nature of the open world itself. The missions also have some straight up awful mini games like the beat matching games where you have to dance or bounce a low rider to arrows like a really slow and clunky step-mania, quite frankly I would not choose to play these game if a couple weren’t required for progression, I decided to cheat engine myself 100,000 points and browsed my phone whilst they played themselves out, you might call this a ‘skill issue’ I assure you that I am capable of playing bad rhythm games, but I don’t actually want to, I would rather be, you know, stealing cars? Shooting people? Playing a bloody Grand Theft Auto game and not Project Diva Compton.

The game is festooned with half-baked mechanics that often feel like the game is trying to be too ambitious, there are terrible stealth missions where you have to crouch walk everywhere for example and whilst I do appreciate that the developers wanted to introduce new scenarios and new mechanics for players to experience I would much rather they took the approach of letting me create my own experiences. When I was playing Vice City and I found a way to sneak weapons into the golf course to snipe an assassination target at range that was ME creating MY OWN stealth mission, I didn’t need a visibility meter or noise meter or a new suite of mechanics that only work in a certain area, instead I built my own gameplay story and expressed myself without the game’s overbearing hand guiding me through it.

San Andreas is filled with ambitious mechanics that aren’t developed enough, the game has life-sim elements where you can increase your fatness, athleticism, muscle and lung capacity, these all effect the on foot gameplay and they add a really awesome element of flavour, I love that you can eat a ton of chicken buckets from fast food places and CJ will start to make wise cracks about his weight, characters will even call you up and tell you to go to the gym. This system is such a brilliant thing to add to this huge world but it’s fucked up by making the gym sections where you gain stamina and muscle these awful button mashing mini games that are a serious concern for people with RSI, its like the game can’t stop switching out the mechanics before fully exploring them. Another life-sim element that annoys the shit out of me is the mechanic of dating women, this ties into the rags to riches power fantasy as you begin to date sexier and more classy women who expect you to dress better and have a nice car but again it’s not thought out properly, you will be hit with random notifications that your ‘progress with Denise’ has dropped it’s like the game constantly demands attention from you as if it were a real relationship but all that it accomplishes is making the player go and do things that they may not want to do. My relationship with a girl should not decrease like a meter 10 minutes after I had already met with her and completed a series of very obtuse and boring date objectives like going to a bar wearing an appropriate amount of swag clothing and a $300 flat top.

I’m sure I could say more about the fact that you’re expected to cheat on multiple women who are largely portrayed as shallow gold diggers that you fuck for like, power ups and car spawns but its a 2004 GTA game, I wasn’t expecting much.

Another element that falls flat for me is the map layout, on the one hand its much much larger than previous games and the game continues the trend from Vice City of having cool interiors and little details, in terms of a variety in elevation and road complexity it still holds up today but it is much harder to navigate than most open world maps, very often I was met impassible geometry between me and an objective. Verticality is a big part of the San Andreas map but its supremely annoying to navigate because it results in the game putting a brick wall in your face and you need to drive an entire block around it. The areas outside the cities are expansive and devoid of any significant landmarks, Vice City and GTA 3 did a good job of getting players used to their environment by landmarking shops and points of interest with other areas to create a puzzle-like map that players could familiarise themselves with quickly. Highways in Vice City were dotted with interesting coloured buildings or a business or a unique bridge to cross to reach a new part of the city, compare this to San Andreas where you drive along featureless two lane highways between cities as if the game is attempting to recreate the mundane experience of driving in real life California. Areas are so generic that you can’t get used to them and you are forced to check a map to make sure the long, twisting road you’re driving on won’t just shit you out in a completely arbitrary direction. When I think about the West Coast of the US and the places there I don’t think too fondly of driving for hours on the i-15 and yet that's exactly what the San Andreas map feels like. Bad traversal of the map is mitigated somewhat by the new inclusion of really fun on foot options like parachutes and jetpacks but these aren’t always available, the bulk of a GTA game is always driving and having a map that feels boxed in whilst also being way too big is frankly upsetting.

It may sound dramatic to be upset with a game like this but I feel like I’m missing a trick with San Andreas, I feel like there's something not clicking for me here. I like the story, I like the characters, I like the driving model, I love the soundtrack which would’ve been a hard act to follow after Vice City and yet is still full of bangers and I love the new movement mechanics, I love the extensive amount of content and environments the game has, I appreciate that the game is ambitious even if it is too ambitious sometimes and I can see why it remains so popular amongst fans but there’s just something not right with it. I constantly felt like the game was wrestling away control from me and its the same feeling I get from contemporary Rockstar games. San Andreas exists in this weird space where the franchise hasn’t committed to its goal of a narrative experience and still has remnants of player choice and player expression like weapon pickups and collectibles so I get the impression that I’m supposed to be going out of my way to prepare for something when the game will just take all that away from me and give me a set of tools that I have to use. When the game lets go of the scripted linear focus it’s great and some of my favourite missions were the things like the heists with Catalina, the game lets off and tells you to choose a target and you play out a small heist with a dynamic shoot-out and tense getaways, these were exciting and unpredictable and were on par if not better than some of the best missions in Vice City and GTA 3. When the game rewarded me for increasing my lung capacity ahead of a mission that requires strong swimming that felt good, it felt like the game was acknowledging the choices I made. If San Andreas had a consistent mission structure that really let the player loose on the open world to build their own fun I think it would an incredible game, as it stands I can’t love it as much. Going forward Rockstar games would become increasingly railroaded in focus but also they became utterly immense in their popularity and cultural impact, its clear that even if this game didn’t click with me, millions more came to love this style of game, I think to understand San Andreas you have to appreciate a more authored approached to mission based open world games, but for me I will always prefer the freedom and unchained mayhem of GTA 3 and Vice City.


A year in gaming like no other, where consumers were banqueted an assortment of games, many of which would become some of the best in gaming of all-time. That year, we saw the release of games like Half-Life 2, Halo 2, Metal Gear Solid 3, World of Warcraft, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Counter-Strike: Source, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, Knights of the Old Republic 2, Ninja Gaiden, Katamari Damacy and many, many more. More importantly though than that these games were fun, they were innovating. Pushing forward to the future of what games could become. And the game that lead that helped lead this charge and would lay down the foundational bedrock for a scene that would rival AAA studios was Doukutsu Monogatari, or Cave Story. A game that was all created by one developer, Daisuke "Pixel" Amaya.

Amaya's game wasn't groundbreaking by any means. Cave Story isn't an innovative milestone nor is it pushing any boundaries. What Cave Story is was polished, taking influence from games that Pixel enjoyed from his childhood, like Metroid and Castlevania that he references. It was an extraordinary game, with absolutely stellar music, gorgeous pixel art, and very snappy run-and-gun action. Cave Story is cited by many indie developers as the game that got them into development or as influence for their games, and in-turn, the art those developers would create would influence other indie developers in this chain-reaction of inspiration that would see the rise of the indie game industry. It is to note that Cave Story is by no means stand out in what it does, even in its legacy of a game from one developer. There is a long history of fan-made and independent content. It would be more apt-to say that Cave Story laid the foundation for indie developers in terms of its inspiration, much like Cave Story was inspired from others before it.

But Cave Story was not even meant to be special, it was an untranslated shareware game, among others in Japan's own long history of doujin soft, that had been going on way long before Cave Story even came to the picture. Japan's history of indie development goes back just as long as the rest of the world, most of which of which were as a hobby. This scene that was once, and in some cases still is, enclosed off from the rest of the world, would have its own fair share of games that inspired others, have doujin games created based off the works of others out of admiration, like Touhou. In 2004, Cave Story would be released into the public in a limited release alongside another game that would predate it.

Yume Nikki.

Yume Nikki released on the same year as Cave Story on the same site. Much like Cave Story, Yume Nikki was also developed by one person, Kikiyama, who would create the entire game's sound, art, programming, everything. It also saw a very limited release, until fans of the game created an English-translation that would see to this games proliferation across the Internet. And much like Cave Story, it's a game that has had a strong influence on so many people across the independent games scene across the globe and has become the primary inspiration for a lot of their games, with the primary example being Toby Fox's Undertale, which in-turn would also spawn it's own creative legacy with others. But what sets this apart from a lot of its contemporaries, despite also not being the first game to accomplish this, is Yume Nikki itself.

Yume Nikki does not play like anything I've ever seen before, with LSD: Dream Emulator probably being the closest example we have, and yet Yume Nikki is still unique of its kind. Yume Nikki is a game where you're experiencing the dreamscape of your unconscious mind. There are no specific goals, there is no dialogue, there is no direction. There is only experience. Drifting around these multivaried and interconnected areas of your REM sleep reality, all abide by unspoken, archaic rules. Worlds inhabited by all of peculiar creatures, if you can even call them that. Common themes that binds one particular area offset from another with their own entirely different gimmick. These worlds were not meant to be traveled but be explored, not to pass by but to immerse in. These long, often unending segments of your dream stretch out unfathomably long with often repeating objects in varied patterns dispersed widely across the abstract plane. It also seems so repetitious, especially underscored with tracks that last no longer than ten seconds before they loop back.

And yet, that is the point.

The long journey to of discovery of one's own mind, the human tendency to find patterns and symbolism in things that seem incomprehensible to anyone else. To seek meaning in things where their may not even be any and may not matter if it means something to us. These long stretches of pure infinite void to find discovery in things about ourselves and trying to make sense of the chaos that we have no control over, there is a sense of understanding. As you traverse further into the worlds deeper and deeper below the surface, things become more sensible and concrete and another branch far deeper are the things that we don't understand but have a profound effect on us. The further down we go, the more sensible it is and the more terrifying the implications, as the things that make sense are the things that are the reasons why they're pushed so far below in the dark depths of Madotsuki's mind, likely distorted memories of things that should never be resurfaced. Memories of key moments in her life that we do not wish to ever see. While Yume Nikki is quite abstract it is not without some obvious themes and common interpretations found from the clues you find plummeting down the rabbit void. A sense of identity, trauma, and death are very common imagery found throughout the game and lots of theories that the community have surgically went over the game. For me, I ignored all of those because they're not relevant to what I want to take away from this personally and feel like using things as guides and theories would get in the way of the intended idea of directionless roaming around without any sense of guidance or preconceptions.

If there's any one goal the game might have it's collecting these Effects that will transform Madotsuki into various forms with some power. All of which have very little-to-no use and almost none needed to "progress" in the game. But what they do have is consequence. The unpredictable events that it can bring to the inhabitants of your mind, and in doing so, discover a little more (or less) about ourselves. I used an Effect to transform myself into a traffic light and interacted with one inhabitant, in a place fathoms below the surface of our dream, who are one of the few people who actually resembles something like a human in a landscape where everything looks distorted and crude. What I got was a complete surprise and something I never would have expected from a game that thrives off unpredictability and the strange at the very beginning.

Even as I completed the game and remained stunned at the ending of a game I already knew years in advance would happen, the first thing I did was boot it back up again and kept going. Yume Nikki has this wonderful sense of atmosphere that I kept finding myself going back to even after its completion, because it wasn't complete. There was more to see and discover and more to know about what this game is. To retread familiar grounds and journeying through tonally whiplashed zones, both visually and through its sound. It's hard to really nail down what this game is trying to go for or to explain the hook of what makes this game. In fact, conceptually it sounds extremely boring. There are no puzzles, nor action, exploring the worlds sounds repetitive, there's no story. And yet, for many, it's their favorite game of all time and has saw almost as much popularity over Cave Story.

It has found its own niche audience that has grown in popularity. Many fan games were created that were almost as good, if not just as good, as Yume Nikki. And while it's not a big foundation starter for a global industry kickstarter like Cave Story, it would help lay the cement and provide further inspiration to younger developers to create things of their own: things that were more profound, thought provoking, creative, or just downright silly and strange. That's what's fascinating about doujin soft games is that they didn't care much about making games that fit some niche but to fit the things themselves they would want to put out. Born from that were some incredible titles of ingenuity, while of course among the piles of rather mediocre titles. Regardless though, all made out of some love or passion from what the things that influenced them that would be discovered by others to translate these games to be shared worldwide and influence other generations of artists to create something of themselves. Yume Nikki while has its influences that clearly inspired it, like Mother 1, it doesn't behold to any conventions or adhere to any standard industry practices. It's just whatever Kikiyama wanted to make, no strings attached.

2004 was a good year.

And Yume Nikki is an art like nothing else.

I must confess, I have not actually played THPS1 or THPS2 in their original incarnations (loud booing.wav) yeah I know, FAKE FAN!! But listen, hear me out, <even louder revert noises.> Yeah, didn't think you had an answer to that.

Every once in a blue moon I boot THPS3 up for various reasons, whether for a bit of nostalgia escapism (something I normally strongly avoid doing bcus I believe it to be unhealthy), or to simply refresh myself on one of the tightest series of games ever made at their peak.
Everyone's got a different favorite in these, but most agree 3 is the best (on a mechanical level) to play long-term; even over something like the relatively recent 1+2 remake, because while those levels are iconic for bringing skateboarding back into public consciousness and largely credited even for skateboarding having a place today at the Olympics, 3 is where they'd perfect the series mechanically. In the documentary "Pretending I'm a Superman", Tony Hawk mostly talks about THPS1 and THPS3, because while 2 was the gangbusters critical darling and the natural evolution of the surprising smash hit of THPS1, they somehow did it again with THPS3, and there he talks about leaning into a more arcadey approach (not that the previous titles weren't, but this basically triples the length of your average combo).

Something I think is lost in THPS1+2 is the readability of stages. Don't get me wrong, it certainly has presentation still and I'd argue it's decent, but the choice to use very heavy baked in lighting and drop shadows clashes with the direction of these games. Multiple times I was left scouring maps looking for a random circle on a wall because it blends into the shadows; this was never a problem in THPS1 through 4 except maybe finding the skate decks on maps with dark ceilings.

I'm not very fluent in being a vibe scribe, I cannot accurately relay how pure and hollistic the presentation is in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. I was there age 11-12 with a skateboard in hand because of this game, at the only skatepark I was aware of in a 50 mile radius, where some 20-something tried his damndest to teach me to ollie while never laughing at me, all because of this game. Maybe I'll pick up a board again and learn how these punks make slabs of wood orbit their body through telekinesis, but in the meantime I'll just have to settle for this.

Update: I hit 4.6m

(Replayed on MCC on PC with gamepad, Legendary, skipped The Library)

Honestly a lot better than I remember. I think the common praise and complaints about this game are mostly correct in kind if not always magnitude, so let me discuss some interesting specifics.

The Library is awful and you should skip it if possible. The campaign's pacing is significantly improved without it, it emphasizes everything bad about the game while downplaying everything good, Bungie devs have stated multiple times that it shouldn't have been shipped, etc. Everyone knows it's trash and I'm going to pretend like it doesn't exist now, moving on.

Weapon balancing here is my favorite in the series. Everything feels powerful and situationally useful. The pistol, shotgun, and power weapons are obviously good, but the plasma pistol has great accuracy and damage even with the primary fire, the plasma rifle stuns enemies who take sustained hits, and the needler is a great Elite killer if you have the positioning for it. Even the assault rifle occasionally comes in handy against Grunts or Flood.

A huge issue with this game is the difficulty balancing. Heroic is hilariously easy for some reason, with even high-rank Elites quickly melting to plasma pistol fire. Legendary has a lot of nice changes to health (Elites don't die instantly), enemy encounters (more enemies with higher ranks), and AI (dodges grenades and fire more often), but you also take tons of damage, especially on your shield. This makes it easy to get stuck on one health pip for long periods, which makes the game into more of a cover shooter, encourages the linear playstyles like plasma pistol overcharge sniping, etc. This could have been fixed by simply placing more health packs (occasionally this does happen, why does Keyes have so many?) or perhaps raising the minimum health value like Reach did. All that being said, if you are good at single-player FPS I would still recommend Legendary, or maybe Heroic with some specific skull combination.

Enemy design and AI (of the Covenant) is stellar. This is well-known and discussed, see here and here for some other people's writeups.

Flood, not so much. A melee-focused swarming faction is an okay idea on paper, but they don't have anything close to the Covenant's differentiation, AI behaviors, or health/shield tradeoff. Fighting them isn't horrible, but I'd be lying if I said I ever looked forward to it. Special dishonorable mention to the infection forms, which block checkpoints and are constantly a chore to clean up. Thankfully, many of your encounters with the Flood are in infighting scenarios where they can be toyed with or ignored.

The level design isn't as bad as most suggest IMO. It's less that they reuse environments, and more that a bunch of the missions are too long. Assault on the Control Room has you fight in the same room + bridge geometry 3 times, but they try to mix it up with different enemy compositions (especially notable: the bridge with Elites blocking your path while Hunters on the other bridge shell you across the gap). But there aren't enough unique ideas to totally sustain the momentum, and I suspect they would have had difficulty adding more.

Let me elaborate. There are broadly two styles of FPS enemy design. On one end is Doom, whose enemies are simple but highly differentiated, and form interesting situations with how they are placed and combined by the mapper. On the other is Half-Life and FEAR, whose enemies are complex but similar, and present new situations via the dynamism of their AI. Halo is great because its AI belongs to the latter school, but its enemy designs bring in much of the former's differentiation.

A side effect of this though is that the levels in general don't feel as distinct from each other as e.g. Doom maps might, since the enemies and weapon economy are less sensitive to small tweaks in placements and terrain. Halo 3 gets around this by using tons of setpieces, though this has the tradeoff of needing more budget and potentially feeling gimmickier (and 3 has the unforced error of worse fundamentals than 1). Perhaps they could have made more arena geometries, but I suspect the lowest hanging fruit was all picked, so the game should have just been a bit shorter.

After this playthrough, I'm comfortable calling Halo my favorite of the "dynamic AI driven FPS", (with classic Doom the king of the opposing style) and Halo 1 tied with 3 for my favorite entry in the series. Great stuff!

In all the time building up to this game and Mario Wonder, I have constantly argued about what "soul" means for a video game. To have a "soul" means to have substance, a reason to exist in the first place, something of inherent value. There are many games I would argue that have a vast "soul," Fallout New Vegas, Lobotomy Corporation, hell, even something like Tsukihime has some value buried deep down inherently. So the question then becomes, what does a game with no "soul" look like?

Enter Sonic Superstars.

While this game may have the facade of Classic Sonic down, it lacks any of the charm that makes any of those titles feel fresh and exciting. Every stage feels dead and lifeless as if they were put into an AI Sonic Level generator and shat out like pig slop; All the most generic and bland concepts. We have bitchless Green Hill, we have bitchless Chemical Plant, We have bitchless Death Egg Zone, everything so utterly devoid of true originality.

None of these stages brought any semblance of joy to me, even with the physics being relatively similar; going through these vapid, boring worlds left me tired and unhappy. While the game isn't offensively bad in the way that something like Sonic 4 is, it represents an arguably worse issue: Pure Unadulterated Mediocrity.

Starting first with the Chaos Emeralds, while the Special Stages are mostly mindless nonsense, the Chaos Emeralds have functions beyond granting you your Super State. Each Emerald has individual powers, a concept not seen since Tails' Adventure on the Game Gear. In theory, these would all be very cool, but in practice, almost all of the abilities are situational at best, and borderline useless otherwise.

What is the purpose of the Vision power when the game doesn't blatantly tell you to use it? Fucking nothing, absolutely nothing. The ability to turn into water is so situational, given that most of the areas in the game don't have water, and it isn't even that helpful when used. I guess the beanstalk one is helpful, but if you play Tails (like me), it doesn't serve much purpose. The ones I got the most use out of were the Screen Nuke (the first one you get for some reason) and the Slowdown Power. The slowdown power was helpful in particular instances in boss fights, and well, the Screen Nuke is part of why this game isn't even worse in my eyes because let's talk about the bosses.

Sonic Bosses have never indeed been the pinnacle of boss fights, especially in Classic, but usually, they were a relatively speedy process. Superstars decides to nix that and make it so that bosses can only be damaged at certain times, removing the strat of multi-hitting a boss that the older games and even Mania used. This results in fights where you must wait before you can do anything. Waiting in a Sonic Game, indeed, we have reached the point of stupidity I didn't think was possible. The Screen Nuke exists because it can essentially chain hits on bosses, annihilating them to make them less lengthy… Not that it matters because some of these later boss fights start getting so long you'd wonder if you're playing Sonic or a JRPG.

Not to mention this game still falls into annoying tropes I hate, like random shmup level near the end of the game that plays like shit and wastes your time. Hell, at one point in the final level, the game has you go through the same four level gimmicks in a row, like three fucking times, and then the next act have you do it all backward; I cannot make this shit up.

I'm sure all this will come across as foaming at the mouth, but you must understand I love Sonic. Sonic is my favorite platformer franchise, and I am so sick of seeing it fall back into mediocrity when games like Mania prove that this franchise can move forward. But here at Arzest, I can see the only thing being moved forward is level gimmick after level gimmick, hell there was even a Gimmick Programmer in the fucking credits.

There are other things I could say: Unlimited Lives is stupid, the character-specific and fruit stages are literal wastes of time, the music is forgettable minus the one Tee Lopes track, and every level looks boring.

The profound lack of soul comes from the fact that Sonic Superstars is what happens when you make a mass-produced Sonic game, gentrified Sonic the Hedgehog. All you have are some dull level concepts and a bunch of wasted potential.

To think I wanted to make a video comparing this game to Mario Wonder… I have to scrap it because it'd be like comparing a Coughing Baby to a Hydrogen Bomb.

The student becomes the master overnight.

Lies of P is a game that came completely out of nowhere, left no impression on me beyond "why would someone make a dark, moody game about Pinocchio", and then managed to completely eclipse every expectation I had. I got back on Game Pass for Starfield and PAYDAY 3, and decided to give this a crack solely as a might-as-well-try-it; not only is this the better of those, it's one of the finest games I've ever played. I mean this honestly and heretically: it is better than all three mainline entries of the Dark Souls series.

Yes, Lies of P is derivative. No, this does not detract from its quality. The obsession with "newness", both as an inherent virtue and as something all creators ought to strive for, is an ideal forced to take root almost exclusively at the behest of European bourgeois Romantics all looking to (ironically enough) copy what Rousseau was telling them to do in the 1700s. Art as a whole has spent centuries upon centuries cribbing from other pieces to put itself together, and it's a fairly recent development that doing shit that someone else did but in your own way is seen as a failure of the artist. I, personally, do not care about this in the slightest. If you do, I would ask only that you examine why you believe this to be so; do you have a legitimate grievance against derivative works for any reason other than because others have told you that they're some synonym for "bad"?

Round8 Studio has come almost completely out of nowhere to deliver something that's immensely fun to play, narratively engaging, and utterly gorgeous in just about every area you can find yourself in. Any developer that can come out swinging this hard and connect with just about every blow deserves to be celebrated. There's a lot to talk about, and certainly a lot of it is in regards to the way that people are talking about it. I'll get my core thesis out of the way, first:

If you like Dark Souls, you'll probably like this game.

If you've made liking Dark Souls into a defining personality trait of yours, you're going to fucking hate this game.

Lies of P rides a fine line of being distinct, but not different. The overlap between FromSoft's PS3-and-onward output is broad, borrowing bits and pieces and rearranging them around; something similar to Sekiro parries, something similar to a Bloodborne dodge, something similar to the Dark Souls 3 enemy ambushes. But Lies of P is distinct enough in its execution of these elements that long-time Souls players will unilaterally be chin-checked when they try bringing over their muscle memory from these other titles.

Perfect guards are a guard, not a parry, and tapping the block button Sekiro-style will make you eat a hit. The dodge offers fast, generous invincibility, but it's never as safe as the one in Bloodborne is; enemies using their big red attacks will cut through your i-frames by design, encouraging you to either parry or move well out of the way. Enemies will usually come in ones and be very obvious, but many will hide just out of sight in the hopes of clipping players who haven't yet been trained to look around before charging past a blind corner. The game is uncompromising in demanding the player to meet it on its terms, rather than copying wholesale from the games that obviously inspired it and allowing the skills you learned there to completely carry over.

If you try playing this exactly like every other FromSoft Souls game you've played up to this point, you will lose, and hard. If you can not (or will not) adapt, you will probably get filtered out by the Archbishop and start publicly wondering why anyone likes this game.

There's a very strange — and frankly, it feels borderline dishonest — set of complaints I've seen where people are just outright wrong about the way the game functions, and they then use their incorrect assumptions as a base from which to knock on the game. I've seen complaints that large weapons aren't viable because you don't get poise/super armor on heavy attacks; this is blatantly untrue, and charge attacks with heavy weapons will regularly blow straight through an enemy hit. People say the dodge is unreliable, but it really isn't; if you're getting caught, you're either messing up a (fairly generous) timing or you're getting hit by red fury attacks, which the game clearly tells you cannot be rolled through. People say it's an aesthetic rip-off of Bloodborne, and this really only applies to a couple of the eldritch enemies; Parisian streets, circus theming, and fantastical automatons lend to a pretty distinct visual identity from any of the other heavy-hitters in the genre.

People say the voice acting is bad, but most of the cast is made up of established, talented stage and screen actors returning from other games like Elden Ring and Xenoblade Chronicles 3, where their performances were lauded; they sound borderline identical to what they've done since just last year, so what makes it acceptable there, and laughable here? People say the translation is bad, but I only noticed a single grammar mistake and typo in my entire playthrough, and they were both buried in the flavor text of a gesture; the rest of the writing offered some evocative lines that managed to bounce between introspective, beautiful, and the coolest fucking thing I've ever read in my life. Where are these complaints coming from? Did we play the same game? It makes no sense. I'm losing my mind trying to figure out how anyone even came to most of these conclusions. It really feels like the most vocal naysayers only played enough of Lies of P to come up with a few surface observations and then made up the rest wholesale.

None of this is to imply that the game is without fault, because it isn't. Boss runs are still present in all of their vestigial glory, consistently adding a mandatory and boring twenty seconds before you can retry a failed boss attempt. Elite enemies — especially in the late game — are often such massive damage sponges that it's a complete waste of time and resources to actually bother fighting the ones that respawn. The breakpoint at which an enemy gets staggered is a hidden value, so you're always just hoping that the next perfect guard will be enough to trip it; we've already got visible enemy health bars here, so I can't see why we don't get enemy stamina bars, too. (Stranger of Paradise continues to be the most mechanically-complete game in this sub-genre.)

For these faults, though, there are at least as many quality-of-life changes that I'm astounded haven't been adopted elsewhere already. Emptying your pulse cells (your refillable healing item) allows you the opportunity to get one back for free if you can dish out enough damage. Theoretically, as long as you can keep up both your offense and defense, you have access to unlimited healing. It's such a natural extension of the Rally system, where you can heal chip damage by hitting foes; Bloodborne's implementation of blood vials looks completely misguided next to this. If you have enough Ergo to level up, the number in the top right corner of the screen will turn blue, no longer requiring you to manually check if you've got enough at a save point. When a side quest updates, the warp screen will let you know that something has happened, and where to start looking for the NPC that it happened to.

It's a challenging game, but it really isn't that hard. I do agree with the general consensus that it would be nice if the perfect guards could be granted a few extra frames of leniency. I managed to start hitting them fairly consistently around halfway through the game, but it's going to be a large hurdle that'll shoo off a lot of players who don't like such tight timings. Tuning it just a little bit would help to make it feel a bit more fair without completely compromising on the difficulty. Everything else, I feel, is pretty strongly balanced in the player's favor; I got through just about every boss in the game without summoning specters and without spending consumables, but they were all there for me if I really needed them. I'd like to go back and play through it again, knowing what I know now, and really lean into the item usage. It's not like you won't wind up with a surplus, considering how easy everything is to farm.

I understand that Bloodborne is something of a sacred cow, especially on this website — it's currently two of the top five highest-ranked games — so anything that seems like it's trying to encroach on its territory is going to be met with hostility before all else. I understand. It's a special game for a lot of people. That said, I'd suggest going into Lies of P with an open mind and a willingness to engage with the game on its own terms; you might manage to find it as impressive of a work as I do.

Quartz is stored in the P-Organ.

Wholly uncompromising in its grandiose, buckling vision. Crumbling under the weight of its world of ideas. Breakneck and glacial, confused and confusing. To call it a flawed masterpiece is an admission that it is a masterpiece all the same.

The plot is frequently limp, characters incensed by seemingly random motivations. The world folds out into eternity while railroading the Regalia to a two lane highway. The ache for reprieve from ballooning stakes goes eternally unanswered. What starts as a granting of ever more freedoms becomes a collapse of everything being taken away from the player bit by bit. An unceasing tide of fetch quests forgotten in a shift to eternal linearity. Yet none of this takes away from the experience, it only reinforces a consistent theme of loss and trade-offs.

The first playable moments bring this into laser focus. The iconic Regalia, a literal symbol of freedom carries nothing but unfulfilled promises as it is laboriously pushed across the desert. When it is repaired, Noctis receives a single opportunity to drive his steed, only to discover he is no more in control of it behind the wheel than he is as a passenger. It is often a hindrance, barely moving at night, unable to ever meaningfully approach points of interest, as manoeuvrable as a train on the tracks. Yet each time it is taken away, the notion of freedom dissipates, eventually passing forever into history. Similarly, the temporary departure of party members makes what were once mechanical nothings into tangible absence; Gladio, Prompto and Ignis all bringing something crucial yet invisible to the dynamics of the party and combat.

This typifies what the Final Fantasy XV experience is; one of dashed expectation. Chase down your MacGuffin of a betrothed only for her to fade away. Collect a litany of ingredients, lures, paint jobs, CDs, quests, hunts, medals all for it to become meaningless in an instant, no indication that the time for a relaxed approach has drawn to a close. The only fragment of a 'road trip with the boys' being memories made concrete through Prompto's photographic documentation of the journey. Much as one might scoff at an overabundance of filters, selfies, extreme angles, and inadvertent captures of Gladio's ass, these joyful glimmers of what was and could have been resonate with nostalgic depression. When our story draws to a close, all we have to remember it by are our memories. Wishes that it had gone better, not just for ourselves, but for those who would walk a doomed path.