From Nuclear Desert to Fantastical Planet (with Dragons)

I’m really starting to enjoy Bethesda Game Studios and what they’ve done to two iconic franchises. First, I played through Obsidian Entertainment‘s Fallout: New Vegas and got to experience the Mojave Desert after The Great War that basically blew up the surface of Earth and reshaped it into a bleak, semi-irradiated wasteland. Las Vegas has been remade into a den of debauchery for the somewhat rich and/or powerful (as usual). In the midst of this battle lies the fate of Hoover Dam in a power struggle between the New California Republic, a faction that has resettled California with holdings in Nevada, Baja California (in Mexico), Oregon, and places around the Colorado River, and Caesar’s Legion, a ruthless and brutal slave faction themed after Ancient Rome.

Afterwards, I moved right into a house game. I went back to the planet of Nirn (which I hadn’t visited since last playing Oblivion on my Xbox 360 a few weeks ago earlier this summer) and returned to the continent of Tamriel inĀ The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. So far, I’m rather enjoying it. I like the new revamped leveling system and how there are no preset classes. In essence, you build the character you want as you go. I even went so far as to buy one of the DLC packs, Hearthfire, in order to build a getaway manor for my little family, consisting of my first housecarl (i.e. bodyguard), who’s also my in-game wife, and an orphan girl I met in the park and subsequently adopted.

So that’s just about everything that’s been going on recently. Slither on, my friends.

PREVIEW: Stranded Deep

Another survival game. Yay. We’ve already had a slew of games come out dealing with first-person survival. There’s Rust (from Facepunch, the makers of the ever-popular Garry’s Mod), Minecraft (by Mojang), The Forest (made by the indie Endnight Games), and several others each dealing with a different situation where you have to survive. Out of all of these games, I don’t think any of them having a setting like a tiny sandy island in the middle of the friggin’ ocean. Indie developer Beam Team Games brings a fresher, more natural setting with their upcoming survival simulator Stranded Deep. The game starts with the player on a private jet at night, which serves as the tutorial level and the introduction to crafting by using a few ingredients to make a cocktail on the plane. Soon after, though, a problem with the plane causes it to crash, killing your pilots. Miraculously, you escape the submerging, flaming wreckage onto a life raft. The following morning, you drift within landing distance of your first island, a miniscule sandy beach filled with rock, palm trees, a few fallen sticks, and crab nests. Now, it isn’t the only island because you can see other islands in the far-off distance to paddle to, journeys that take roughly ten minutes to paddle towards as exploration is encouraged. The reason for this is because the resources on your island are very limited, the only exceptions being the yucca bushes for rope lashings (which take roughly ten minutes of real time to regrow, provided you’re still on the same island) and the crab nests, which provide a good source of food provided you cook them first; eating them raw will cause you to get sick and puke.

The crafting system takes experimenting to do, which makes for added realism as you figure out how to build certain items. You can build some simple tools like a crude axe to chop down the trees on the current island or a hammer to construct some basic shelter or the necessary parts for it. The better survival tools can only be discovered, and the various ship wreckages around the islands are great for exploration. In these shipwrecks you can find some neat stuff, including a machete and an actual axe. Both are for easier cutting trees but curiously the machete takes more hits to chop stuff than the crude axe, for some reason (the crude axe takes ten hits to chop a tree; the machete, eleven) Other items you can find are flashlights, torches (the giant flashlights, but neither work because of the water damage), rolls of duct tape, and motor parts. The last of these items allow you to build a motor engine, which can only be attached to a constructed raft (the life boat doesn’t have any attachment points). The motorized raft helps out a lot on travel! travel time is significantly cut down, provided you have a jerrycan (already filled with fuel when you find one) in your inventory for refueling purposes. The motorized raft also helps to avoid the dangers of the deep.

The dangers of island survival are all natural. The main threats to look out for are sharks. The tiger sharks will encroach your position in the water closer to shore, but the real shark danger comes while in transit between islands: the great white. Not only are these things hardy, but if one bites you, it can potentially carry you off a short distance and give you the bleeding status. The life boat doesn’t do much against them because the sharks will circle the boat until they cut in front of your path, flinging the boat away while dumping you in the drink. You can build weapons against them, like the spear, but the sharks are incredibly tough. Killing one, though, has its rewards. Killing a shark causes it to float in the water as you need a cutting tool to butcher it. A butchered shark gives up to four large fillets of meat (two fillets, a fin, and a chunk, when I butchered a tiger shark), which greatly fills your hunger meter when cooked. Other dangers in the water include a zebra fish, which poisons you on contact. You can try to spear it, but as of the latest build it also counts as contact and poisons you. The visual representation of damage you take is beautifully represented. When I played it, I ran into a fairly tense shark fight. Needless to say, I took some hits from the shark but the thing I noticed when I looked at my watch for my vital stats, I noticed I had new cuts and scratches on my arm (nice!). Touching a zebra fish gave me white pustules all over my arm, which I have no idea how to get rid of them, currently. In spite of all this, the game is only in v0.2 at the moment so there’s still a lot of content to come. In the meantime, though, Stranded Deep was fun to play through and when more content comes out, I’ll be sure to check ’em out. Stranded Deep is $14.99 on Steam.

Preview Advice: Bask in It

Realistic dangers of survival | — More content to come | — Finding better survival items in wreckage feels like treasure diving | — Shark hunting is tough but well worth the rewards.

REVIEW: Always Sometimes Monsters

ASM logoI had Always Sometimes Monsters in my Steam wishlist for sometime now. Of course, as with ever other game I review, the premise caught my eye: your boyfriend/girlfriend left you and the game explores just how far you’re willing to go to get them back. Vagabond Dog brought a great adventure RPG to the table, one that I had somehow overlooked the past few months (ASM came out in May 2014). It was done in RPGmaker, an indie engine that allows you to make that JRPG you’ve always dreamed of. Except in this case, Always Sometimes Monsters has you play an average Joe. No money, no job, no significant other. You get an invitation to your ex’s wedding, to which you immediately set off on a cross-country journey. The game offers choices that drive the story (as with Telltale Games‘ titles and the previous game I reviewed, Psy High) but it seems that the choices are sometimes veiled to converge on one of only two outcomes.In my playthrough, I made choices based on how I would make them. Unfortunately, my college roommate and best friend married my ex and I went off a sad, pathetic loser. However, I questioned the game’s lack of choice in spilling everything that happened right when you’re able to object. I surrendered my one chance at picking my life back up in order to bail my friend out of a casino debt, to which I wish there was a choice for you to tell your ex that at the wedding. Instead, the only choices you’re given are to either shut up and let him/her get married, or object and make an ass out of yourself.

The first time I ran through it, she completely blew me off and got married anyway. The choices you make are far and wide, but I wish it was more diverse than making forced decisions. If the game was trying to reflect how the real world operates, then it does an okay job, at best. The world isn’t nearly as linear as Always Sometimes Monsters portrays, but that’s evidently the feeling you’re left with after just the first playthrough. On top of that, usually JRPGs have a pause before making a major decision; not the case here. While skipping text, I found myself making decisions without showing me all the options because the choice box pops up immediately when a decision question is asked. I wish the developers paid a little more attention to other JRPGs that do this so that the frustration level would be kept to a minimum.

The game does offer LGBT relationships, and this is how they work. In the beginning, you play as the host of a party. His wife tells him he’s allowed only one drink for the night, and that drink you share with almost any one of the guests inside will determine who you play as in the game. I ended up picking the Asian-looking dude who had a bottle of bourbon (I think, if I remember correctly). You then switch characters to the eventual protagonist and head out back to the patio to select your significant other, whether girl or guy. I picked a girl with sunglasses and long brown hair because she reminded me of someone I know in real life. The two of you sign a card, which determines your names for the game, and proceed inside to begin the story. I’ll keep this brief and say that Always Sometimes Monsters was an alright adventure game, but the lack of choices made the game feel heavily forced in a lot of situations when the world is so nonlinear in that sense. It’s great for a few playthroughs, but otherwise not really that much of a stand-out game. Try it for only $9.99 on Steam.

Verdict: 7/10 (Bite It and Leave It)

+ Models real life || + Choices drive the story of the game

= LGBT relationships are an option

Some choices offered were very narrow in diversity and felt forced || – Game had only two choices for final outcome || – Real world not as linear as the game tries to present