15 Reviews liked by petapd
Sin and Punishment
Sin and Punishment kicks ass. It’s unrestrained and unrelenting. The cutscenes are almost incomprehensible on first pass, but who cares? It doesn’t have to make sense if it’s good. I’ve been playing this a lot, trying to push my score higher. Being able to go through the whole game in less than an hour certainly helps.
Action games are getting longer when they should be getting shorter. It feels like fewer and fewer action games are released without RPG elements or a runtime under 20 hours. I like some of these games; Stranger of Paradise was one of my favorite games of 2022, but it’s a shame that single-player arcade style games have largely been relegated to niche, low-budget affairs. That’s not to say Sin and Punishment was some kind of smash hit, but Nintendo published this and a sequel! Somehow.
Games now are too polished, too long, and too considerate of the player. I'm not talking about accessibility but about conformity to the expectations of players, not just in controls but also in adherence to the conventions of a given subgenre. A word for this might be focus-tested, but I can think of a few overly long genre-mashup indie games that struggle to move past their influences. Game developers have become masters of drip-feeding dopamine, including just enough downtime and never letting the action last too long. Player retention is paramount. Games are getting longer, but so much of their time feels wasted in service of two-hour gameplay loops. People make fun of the GDC presentation on God of War’s level design because it features a certain streamer, but it's troubling to hear designers talk about games like childproof locks.
In contrast, Sin and Punishment doesn’t give a fuck. It doesn’t have those carefully calculated peaks and valleys. Just when you think they’ve thrown everything at you, they throw the kitchen sink. Its controls have probably repelled more than a few players, but those who stick around might describe them as elegant. It’s also a surprisingly forgiving game. Compared to certain other Treasure games like Radiant Silvergun, Sin and Punishment is a walk in the park. On normal difficulty, health pickups are scattered liberally throughout stages, and continues are plentiful if you're not interested in 1cc runs. Its scoring system is intuitive and doesn’t demand perfection; even if you take damage, your hit counter continues to climb. I definitely wouldn’t describe the game as easy, but it’s not out to bully you.
It didn’t take long for Sin and Punishment to become a personal favorite. It starts at 100 and only goes up from there, culminating in the over-the-top ending of over-the-top endings. Mind-bending and insane. A game for Monster-guzzling, Evangelion-obsessed weirdos (me). Sin and Punishment is video games.
The Evil Within 2
"improves" on the more polarizing elements of the original by almost completely removing what it excelled at and made it so unique while having nothing special to offer of its own.
combat gameplay sees an almost universal downgrade from the original (even after some considerable skill upgrades) so it's nice that the AI is so braindead and you can stealth almost everything. when you can't it's probably tragic but at least you should have plenty of ammo if you've been stealthy or even avoiding combat like i was.
the varied grab bag of horrific settings and aesthetics is (mostly) thrown out for a bland town based hub with side quests, enemies that you won't want to bother with, and random shit everywhere. in the later chapters of the game things become more linear in addition to finally getting somewhere in terms of having standout visual design but then it's over.
new Sebastian is a bit of a bummer both in terms of voice over and characterization. the sad dad thing feels like the most boring possible thing to have done. whereas TEW1 felt like a breath of fresh air when it released, this was blatantly of its time. (and that time was a bit shit lmao)
not unplayable but a massive disappointment regardless.
You're trying too hard, bro! More or less, the main reason as to why I'm generally disinterested in modern horror games, which tend to serve as vehicles for cryptic lore dumps for YouTube analysts to pore over rather than fright-enhanced decision making. I don't want mindfuckery, I want regular fuckery, something that I was hopeful would be present in this kind of return to form. This game was sold to me as the best of Resident Evil meets the best of Silent Hill, but, in reality, it's the worst of both: Resident Evil's cramped item management without any of the brilliant circular level design that makes Spencer Mansion thrilling to route through even after dozens of playthroughs, and Silent Hill's scary-because-it's-scary imagery without any of the dread that defines each and every one of Harry Mason's fog-enveloped footsteps. Instead, we've got jumpcuts to character closeups and spooky stanzas of poetry, pulsating masses of flesh on the ground, and handwritten notes conveniently censored at the most ominous places- surface-level stuff that makes horror games effective for people who don't understand what makes horror games effective. I'm not engaged enough to decipher your jumbled-up story, I'm not interested in your generic sci-fi setting, and I'm not even scared! But, maybe if I actually felt like the character I was playing as, I would be! Fast movement speed and wide hallways make enemies pitifully easy to juke, and thus not at all intimidating. Exploration isn't exciting or intriguing because of how straightforward it is on a grand scale. Plentiful items and infinite saves mean there's not any pressure on you even if you do wind up making a mistake somehow. I initially chalked this all up to misguided attempts at balance, but they get harder and harder to defend once you realize that all you're really doing is (often literally) opening up a locked door just to find a key for another locked door somewhere else on the map, which makes the experience feel more like a parody of classic survival horror games rather than an earnest attempt at recapturing the magic. I hardly took out any enemies, I didn't burn a single body, and, on several occasions, I killed myself on purpose because doing that was quicker than having to run back to the save room to retrieve the specific contextual item I needed, which is about as damning as you can get for this kind of game. The only strategy to pick up on is keeping nothing at all on your person in between storage box visits so that you can handle when the game inevitably dumps five key items on you in successive rooms. Mikami's rolling in his grave!
The lone bright spots are the traditional puzzles, which, although are few and far between, frequently nail the physical satisfaction of fiddling around with a piece of old, analog equipment that you're half familiar with and half in the dark on. If this game had understood its strengths better, it would've been a fully-fledged point-and-click or even a Myst-style free-roaming puzzler. The actual survivor horror feels tacked on, as though it's obligated to be this kind of game because it's attempting to tell a story in the same emotional vein as the Silent Hill series and the player needs to have something to do before being shown the next deep, thought-provoking cutscene. I can't even say that it understands the classics from a visual standpoint, forgoing the fixed-camera perspective that gives each of Resident Evil's individual rooms a distinct cinematographic personality and instead opting for a generic top-down approach that makes every location feel the same. Though, that's not to say the art direction itself is bad. In fact, it's phenomenal, and easily the standout of the game's features, but it doesn't make up for how bland everything else is. At some point, this one demoted itself in my eyes from 'mostly boring but worth playing just for the aesthetic' to 'downright painful.' Maybe it was after the game pretentiously transitioned into a first-person walking simulator one too many times. Or, more likely, it was when some of the small details- red-light save screens, items conveniently located right on top of their respective instruction manuals, and even the sound effect of equipping your pistol- started feeling less like homages and more like creative crutches, indicators of an entirely rudderless experience. I really feel terrible for ragging on something that's evidently a passion project and extremely competent from a technical standpoint, and I sincerely hope the devs keep at it. But, man. I wish I got anything at all out of this. The one game I've played that's managed get this done, I mean, spiritually succeeding an era/genre rather than a specific series by remixing several blatant inspirations so proficiently that it ends up feeling like something entirely new, is still Shovel Knight, but I'm not sure the world's ready for that conversation quite yet...
The Evil Within 2
I feel like I'm in crazy town when I see reviewers I'd normally agree with exude that they were massively disappointed by TEW1 but were pleasantly surprised with its sequel. As a fan of Sebastian Castellanos'(I'll never get over how rad that name is) first outing into the world of action horror I couldn't help but walk away from TEW2 feeling like I wasn't the target audience. While TEW2 brings back a number of elements from the first game, it also tries to distance itself from it. The story is barely related, the structure wildly different, and some of the original's biggest strengths have been left behind. I still mostly enjoyed my time with TEW2(enough to nab all the trophies on PS4) but was letdown by how conventional and safe a lot of it was. It's as if all the bite of the original game was removed and replaced with all the mechanics you'd expect from a modern, generic AAA game.
The first issue I have is the removal of the original's match mechanic. In TEW1 you could drop a match(a consumable resource) onto enemies/specific hazards and briefly light them on fire. This could be used to burn surrounding monsters if timed just right. It was a mechanic that admittedly wasn't conveyed terribly well to the player(a pretty frequent issue with the original) but was a fantastic risk/reward system. You had to kite enemies over to you and be ready to drop your match right as they got in your face. The reward was instant death against most foes. Not only was this feature removed in TEW2, but it was replaced with nothing. There was no reason to get rid of one of the first game's most unique and engaging mechanics unless the developers were afraid matches were too big-brained for the audience they were shooting for. Maybe they were right, but their absence makes for worse combat since you're rarely encouraged to make as many risky plays in TEW2. In general, there's less one-hit-kills, less surprises, and no traps, which were a staple of the first game. Both you and the enemies could set your own traps to lure each other into but this was another element missing in TEW2. I get the impression the developers at Tango saw how frustrated some players got with the original game and instead of deciding to better introduce and teach these mechanics, Tango decided to simply drop them. I guess it worked; critics I normally agree with didn't seem to mind their absence. Nevertheless, the absence of these core mechanics means TEW2's gameplay loses a lot of the original's identity.
Another trait of TEW1 was its linear structure. You'd go level-by-level and you're never given too much to explore. A lot of set pieces and special fights railroad you forward but you were still given some downtime on occasion thanks to mirrors that teleported you to an(mostly) abandoned hospital where you could upgrade your weapons and skills. The TEW2 has its share of linear sections but a lot of the game takes place in two open sandboxes of sorts. You're given optional things to find and quests to do. Some of the exploration in these larger, less contained areas is quite fun but the general combat suffers from them big time. TEW2 is possibly even buggier than the first game and the enemy AI is truly awful at path finding. You can get spotted, run away for a couple seconds, and the enemies will have completely lost interest in you. When they lose sight, enemies shamble back to their patrol route in the most robotic fashion possible, letting you very easily exploit the forgettable foes and dispatch them with stealth attacks. Speaking of stealth, that's something TEW2 leans a bit more into than the first game but it's still so surface level and is just like every other AAA game.
The biggest problem I have with the open world is how it affects the pacing. When exploring the open world bits, you'll be spending loads of time just navigating these large lands and fighting basic enemies that aren't placed in any special manner. There's usually not much to excite you outside of a few powerful enemies that roam these parts(but they can still be exploited with the poor AI, sadly). There are hideouts now where you can go to upgrade your tools and heal yourself up with a cup of coffee but you aren't often forced into these areas and your path forward doesn't often lead you to them so you can spend a substantial amount of time not visiting these spots, which makes the whole game feel like it both doesn't have enough action, but also not enough downtime. It all melds together into something middling.
Speaking of middling, the story really highlights the difference between TEW1 being directed by Shinji Mikami and TEW2 being directed by someone(John Johanas) who wanted to play things safe and do what the industry has already proven to work. I'm not saying TEW1 had a great narrative. It was messy and deliberately held information from the player for long stretches of the game. But hey, it was another thing TEW1 could call its own. TEW2 ignores a lot of the first game and focuses on Sabastian trying to find his daughter. Oh boy, another AAA game staring a sad, gruff dad. The story is more immediately digestible but not anymore intriguing or even really that emotional. The game starts with a scripted bit where you search your currently-on-fire house, trying to save your daughter and all I could do was roll my eyes. It's all just so played out. I'm sorry, TheGamingBrit, this isn't Silent Hill tier stuff.
Funnily enough, my favorite part of the game is the boss fight against Stefano. A lot of people seem to hate this boss and call it cheap but I thought it was a welcome challenge. The fight plays out like any good classic boss battle should. Stefano has attacks that are all given unique windup animations or even unique pieces of dialogue. When was the last time you in a western published AAA game where you had a genuine boss battle that said attack lines over and over to let you know what he was going to do next? I miss those days.
I can't really point fingers at anyone and tell them they're wrong for liking TEW2 more than the original. The sequel is a perfectly fine game and maybe some players just wanted something a bit more formulaic and less tense than the original. For me though, I just wish the game had a strong identity. It didn't even have to be just like the first game. It just needed to feel like a one-of-a-kind and memorable experience. I just don't think I got that and at this point I hope we don't get a 3rd game.
Bonus thing I couldn't fit into the review: The game's hardest difficulty at launch was one of those garbage modes where it plays just like the second-highest difficulty, expect you have extremely limited saves. This means if you die, you might get sent back multiple hours. I really loved the one-hit-kill Akumu difficulty in the first game because it meant you really had to master each section but the checkpoints were frequent enough that you weren't wasting loads of time with each death. This mode in TEW2 just feels like a tacky way to make something SEEM harder than it really is. Also, Sebastian got a slight redesign in this game and I think he looks way less cool and more generic. If you agree with that last point, tell me! Am I alone in this!?
The Evil Within
Definitely my goty 2014 and my gotg.
Shinji Mikami delivered for me with his, as of the time of writing, final directed release. The majority of the game is a masterfully designed sin wave of obstacle-courses and arena-fights. It's carefully balanced with a trap-economy. There are traps that are explicitly in your favor, such as bales of hay to set on fire, neutral traps, such as a bear trap you and enemies can get stuck in, and traps that are out to get you, such as a proximity-triggered acid-shower. It's your choice to use them as is, or dismantle them for trap-parts which allow you to design your own traps for enemies. The combination of unusually-demanding strategy and quick-action make the game's combat addictive. Guns are not going to cut it. While the shotgun-match combo is effective and the sniper has a 100% crit-rate, ammo is scarce. Even your handgun can only hold 16 total rounds including what's loaded in it. This is not a run and gun, and the experience is so much richer for its focus on alternate means of dispatching enemies. I can still return to this game after hundreds of hours and dozens of runs at any time. It's absolutely up there with Mikami's best in the genre.
I have my gripes with it, and they're petty, but I want to be fair. The first chapter's protracted stealth-tutorial is a bit much, especially on replays. It's 10 minutes if you beeline it out of there, but still. Chapter 2 even is a bit light with its only real challenge being to get the gate lifted in the small area you're let loose in.
These complaints do nothing to take from the fun I've had with it though. If this is Mikami's final game, it's a hell of a game to go out on.
The simple act of holding hands is key to a bond between boy and girl that transcends their language barrier. With no HUD, no life bar, no button prompts, and no tutorials, Ico is the purest experience in all of gaming. You discover everything for yourself, with nothing to break your immersion. The castle the game takes place in is a character unto itself, your prison and biggest obstacle, with such a well thought out interconnected design.
A game absolutely everyone should play to open their eyes to the power of the medium for storytelling, a landmark in gameplay-story integration.
It was two hours into this game when I fired my first bullet, directed at the first boss. Considering how most horror leans towards loud action instead of quiet dread, I was initially impressed, but it slowly dawned on me how terrible the implications truly were. The gameplay of survival horror is about managing resources: you weigh the convenience of a neutralized threat against the danger of an empty magazine, and consider alternatives like taking damage to run past, or circumnavigating the threat in other ways. In my entire playthrough, I only killed a single common enemy, as it blocked a narrow hallway with no alternative routes. So, that avenue of decision making, and thusly, gameplay, didn’t exist for me. I could walk into any room, and if enemies were laid out in a troublesome way, I could walk out and back in until they loaded into spots which presented no challenge. It seems like a cheesy strategy, but the game provided a survival-horror framework which is meant to focus on intelligent usage of resources. So, bypassing every room without challenge isn’t a decision that I made to go against the design, it’s the opposite: it’s the default optimal choice within the framework. With no pressure to make new decisions, there was no engagement. Verbalizing that perspective helped explain my boredom with Signalis’ gameplay, but it also explained my complete lack of interest in the presentation. Did they make save points throw up a screaming red screen because it was atmospheric, or because it’s what Silent Hill did? Did they make the soundtrack a cacophonous industrial grind because it fit the setting, or because it’s what Akira Yamaoka did? Was the idea to make bold new decisions, or go with the framework? Genre-defining fundamentals like fixed camera angles are one thing, but title-defining personality is another, and much of what’s meant to make this game unique is taken from genre templates. To be fair, it does have some original ideas and nuances to its presentation, but if the way you find that uniqueness is by locating keys to open doors to find boxes which contain keys to open doors with boxes with keys, it just isn’t worth it. You’re mindlessly stepping through the patterns of a game which defined too much of its personality by following patterns.
If slowly walking through lava caverns, scanning things, matching the color of a peashooter to the color of an enemy, slowly walking through lava caverns, fighting the most tedious bosses in all of Metroid, slowly walking through lava caverns, not having a satisfying metroidvania progression or sequence breaks, ignoring enemies and slowly walking through lava caverns sounds like an awesome time then you HAVE TO play this incredible 138 Metacritic score masterpiece.
In all seriousness I really wanted to like Prime but man, this got very tiring the moment the novelty of "Metroid but first-person wore off". Everything related to morph balling was awesome though! Maybe this could've been an even cooler Metroid Marble Blast spin-off.
i wish i liked signalis more. but i feel like a lot of the enjoyment i got from it was just from it being in a genre i love, which is only recently getting a resurgence, and not from the choices the game actually makes.
the game is inspired by a lot of fantastic media. resident evil (the remake of 1 in particular), silent hill (mostly 1 and 2), evangelion, the shining, lovecraft, and more. i can tell because it won't shut up about it. i'm not opposed to wearing your inspirations on your sleeve, but this game does it so blatantly and so frequently that it distracts me from the game i'm supposed to be playing and enjoying, and makes me thinks of other things i like better instead. yes, signalis, i remember the part in resident evil where jill plays moonlight sonata on a piano to open a secret passage. that was a cool moment. you aren't recapturing that by putting a piano in one of the save rooms and playing moonlight sonata in the background, because it's not tied to anything, it has no relevance, you're not doing a new twist on it. you're just making a reference to a game you like. yes, signalis, i recognize the carpet from the shining. yes, signalis, i remember angela from silent hill 2. yes, signalis, i've seen end of evangelion. can we make our own thing now? the worst of it is the blatant, absolutely shameless lifting of an entire major area from silent hill, taking its mechanical gimmick, its aesthetic, and even its name. the game even has the nerve to recycle an entire major plot moment from SH2 in that area. there is a line between "cute reference" and "borderline plagiarism" and signalis crosses it.
signalis strikes me as a game made by people who like a lot of things, but don't understand why they like the things they like. they like the resident evil remake, a game where some downed enemies will eventually get back up unless their bodies are burned, and need to be killed again in a stronger form. but they wanted to one-up that mechanic, so now EVERY enemy gets up unless burned, infinite times, which discourages combat too much. stealth quickly becomes the dominant strategy, slowing the pace of the game down and leading to the player stockpiling way too much ammo and healing. by the time i reached the final boss, my item box was stuffed with dozens of healing items and bullets for every gun, and i'd never touched any of those guns aside from the pistol, and maybe the shotgun once or twice. it's not that the game is too easy once you've figured it out, it's that it's too easy to figure out. enemy encounters should be as much of a puzzle as any door code or wall safe combination.
maybe the biggest offender is the save system. resident evil requires you to spend an ink ribbon to save for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is pacing. in a game where every bullet/healing item is precious, the player is gonna wanna save often to lock in their progress. by tying your ability to save to a resource, the game keeps you from ducking into a save room every 30 seconds and slowing the game to a crawl. it also means that if you wanna savescum to try a room over and over until you can do it without spending bullets or healing, then it'll at least cost you a save ribbon, probably two since you're gonna wanna save again after your perfect run. it's another thing the designer has to balance, but the effort is worth it.
signalis takes the easy way out and allows infinite free saves. so if you wanna play safe, which you SHOULD because that's the name of the game, then you'll shatter the game's pacing by saving after every single room clear. you'll savescum rooms over and over until you get by without taking a hit, then you'll save again, and it won't cost you anything. call that exploitative if you want, but we already had a mechanic that stopped players from playing this way nearly 30 years ago in the original resident evil for ps1, and signalis fails to learn from that despite constantly referencing that game. even the resident evil 2 remake, which had free saving, still had a hardcore mode which brought back the ink ribbons. i wish signalis' hard mode did the same, instead of just lazily increasing enemy health and damage.
also, for god's sake, why do the defensive items take up an item slot? and why can't i have a stun rod and the flashlight equipped at the same time? REmake doesn't make you give up an item slot to carry a taser, and silent hill doesn't bar you from using melee weapons if you have your flashlight out. this is just a stupid, misguided attempt to make inventory management more intense, when what it actually does is make stun rods worthless to carry around, force you to run back to the item box every time you wanna go through a dark room, and make the theoretically cool in-game screenshot item a waste of time and inventory space.
the story is fine, but it takes a lot of skill to pull off this sort of lain-esque, stream of consciousness, highly interpretive storytelling, and i don't think signalis sticks the landing. there's only one Serial Experiments Lain, and that's for good reason. i'm not sure even david lynch could put "Image Intentionally Left Blank" where a cutscene would normally go and make it work. i understand the story fine, but it's trying way too hard with its presentation. simple in-engine sequences would be much more effective than the 15 different styles of cutscene this game cycles through, especially the amateurish-looking anime ones that are way too clean and pretty for such a grungy, rusty, bloody game. though i suppose i haven't seen many games before which have such explicit lesbian overtones. depending on who you are, that element might hit hard.
if i weren't such a junkie for Scary Hallway Logistics Simulators, i'd probably be more down on this game. when i actually think about it, so much bad comes to mind. but even if it's fucked up, inferior resident evil, it's still resident evil, which i'll never stop finding fun. and given this game was made almost entirely by just two people, it's a monumental achievement. i just wish it were a better game.
1 Lists liked by petapd