Yesterday I finally finished Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Great great game. Under appreciated and under sold.
It tells the story of Monkey, a brute man that is really flexible and versatile. Gameplay and game story wise, this character makes much more sense those characters on Assassin’s Creed, parkouring around. He is a humble and simple man, that was captured as a slave. He finds Trip, a beautiful and resourceful girl that faces the same destiny. However, their destiny changes when the transport airplane suffers a problem and crashes. Trip and Money survive. Trip wants to return to her father and see the opportunity to so something really bold: uses a device to enslave Monkey using a special collar. Or he helps her to return to her home, or he dies. If he tries to remove the collar, he dies. If he gets too far from her, he dies.
He wants to live. So he decide to help. So the game starts.
The gameplay is basically a combat and 3D exploration and parkour. In a sense, is a mix of old Mario 64/Lara Croft, with Assassin’s Creed combat. It sometimes require some puzzle solving, but generally they are very easy. The combat is rudimentary and only require some tactics and button smashing. Bosses are difficult, however. Time to time, the mechanics change to something special, like controlling a gun turret, but 99% of the game is very straight forward. In fact it is probably my biggest complain about Enslaved: Odyssey to the West: after while, you will not get anything new to do. It’s just repetition of the same things. That is the reason I played about half of the game, stopped and only returned several months later, with the mission in my head to finish it once and for all. It was surprisingly good, nevertheless.
Oh, there is another thing: every time you die, you are moved back to the last checkpoint to try again. Great. HOWEVER, you are forced to see the cinematic that often are played before the action. Every time. If it a difficult part like a boss, I bet you are going nuts for the time wasted. Developers, never (I repeat, never) do this. It is super annoying.
The visuals is a big big plus here. Even for a older game (originally released in 2010), the game is still gorgeous. It have personality, flavor. The scenarios are all very pretty as well the characters. Money and Trip show emotions in a level that more modern games still struggle to accomplish. The animations are great and fluid very plastic.
The story is also a great point for the game. It is original, personal and compelling. You will love the couple. The protagonist is likable! What a great feature, so rare! The companion is a bit arrogant but she is also very likable. Only the third guy, named Pigsy, falls into the typical NPC of boring, arrogant and annoying. Yet he is cool. 3 characters total and the story is still super cool. Great achievement. The ending is a bit of “the architect moment in the Matrix”, trowing a lot of information to give it all a closure, but it is really great and memorable. The main “villain” is also played by Andy Serkis, which plays the main character Monkey, is a big surprise (dont worry, it is not exactly a spoiler).
Overall it was a great experience. I believe is is a new classic. The same kind as Blade Runner, that was critic acclaimed but a commercial failure.
My grade: 8
I follow the GDC (Game Develeoper Conference) channel on Youtube and, just right now, I totally recommend you to do the same. Great amount of excellent talks (of course there are some exceptions, like the lame at-the-time-GDC-board-member Peter Molyneux making plain simple propaganda).
There is one that I just watched and is very eye opening: it the annual talk from the guys of EEDAR (a data consolidation company) presenting numbers of the whole industry. The talks about prices, sales, regions, mobile/pc/consoles. Everything!
It is a must-see.
I was wandering in the giant wasteland of TV shows, changing channels every 15 seconds, when I noticed that animation Sing was about to start. I decided to give it a try, but I had no expectations about it. For me it would be another cashin animation movie.
When it ended I felt super surprised about how good it is. I was crying like a baby, but it something I do often. 😛
The movie is about a theater owner that dreamed about having a great and successful show but got failure after failure. Deeply in debt, he decided to create a singing competition. It attracted hundreds of contestants, which one with a unique style. The narrative is very predictable, but nevertheless very emotional one. The main themes is believe in your dreams. But there is a bit of father-son relationship for some characters. They don’t run away from the typical stereotypes. And there a very few surprises along the way.
Visually stunning, the song selection is very nice (could be great, however) and the characters are very well realized. My personal favorite is the chameleon assistant. 😛 The cast is very good here, with solid performances. Some of them I did not noticed who as who. I dont know if the actors actually sang for the movie, but I doubt it.
Very good pop corn time movie to watch with the family.
My grade: 8
Just after watching a fun and light comedy with Sing, another channel started to show Queen of Katwe. I heard good comments when it was in theaters, so I decided to keep up the marathon.
It tells the story of Phiona Mutesi, a real life girl from the village of Katwe, in Uganda, that end up being a very good chess player. It is a very typical against-all-odds and follow-your-dream kinda story. The poor girl have to face all the prejudice for being women and poor (but not about being black, because the whole movie is basically on Uganda, which such thing is non sense) to get a place under the sun.
Her unexpected success transformed the lives of her family and of the many people of her village. She became a celebrity at very young age, which influenced her personality. Year after year, she start to behave as a spoiled kid, believing that she was invincible. With the family support, she realizes the most valuable things in life in the end.
The acting of the protagonist, from Madina Nalwanga, is excellent. The whole media focused the attention to the beautiful Lupita Nyong’o that plays Phiona’s mother, but the real star here is Madina. Phiona is portrayed as a timid, introspective girl, but Madina played in a way that it still makes the character very very likable. You cheer for her. Even being in a chess match!
The other kids are also really good. It is always a challenge to work with children.
My main complain with the story is the sub plot of her older sister. I dont know if the book that was based on uses this character to a greater purpose, but in this motion picture this subplot, while gives hints about the whole situation of Phiona and her mother, does not go anywhere relevant.
The visuals are great. The poverty is displayed in a way that brings emotions but is not there to provoke shock. The African colors and styles gives it a very distinctive and beautiful look.
My Grade: 7.5
Following yet another recommendation from Rock Paper Shotgun, I decided to give this small little indie game a try.
The game address the theme of governmental surveillance. The Big Brother. It’s definitively a reference to the US’ Edward Snowden case from 2013.
But unlike what traditional dystopian stories generally do, Orwell puts you in the shoes of the oppressing regime. To be more fair, you control a simple security agent, which makes you more a pawn than a King. It’s a similar position that you take from the excellent Papers Please. Following the rules and d questionable things is part of your job. You need to put food on the table after all. After the first negative (or at least not constable) impressions, you will get used to the job, and things get easier to digest.
Your official job is to track terrorist threats, listening to phone call, see video camera feeds, and read social media from targets. But these tools are available to spy on virtually all citizens, potential criminals or ordinary folk alike.
At very beginning of the game, the country suffers a major terrorist attack and the country is in a political crisis. It’s your job to find the responsible ones. You even have a lead. He might be innocent, but your investigation opens connections. Connecting one person to another, like teacher-student, neighbors, father-son, brings you new potential suspects.
A really good thing that I noticed while playing is that, without direct intervention of the game, reading the news, I created some conspiracy theories. I was trying to link dots, trying to see the “big picture”, trying to make sense of the chaos of facts and information. The game throws at you several misleading information, and like real life, you will have to filter what is relevant and what is not. It fascinated me.
The mechanics of the game are quite unique. Not revolutionary, but unique. If the theme is close to Papers Please, the gameplay reminded me of Her Story. Using try-and-error and some deduction, you try to to reveal the missing gaps. If you didn’t like Her Story, don’ worry, here the story is more traditional. Everything is scripted like and adventure game. You will not make an relevant change in the course of the story during game.
As a short game, I liked very much. I heard that they are doing a sequel, which is good news. I will be glad to try it also.
PS: yes, the game Orwell is a direct reference to Eric Arthur Blair (aka George Orwell) and his book 1984.
My Grade: 7.5
Like Batman Arkham Knight, this game of the Assassin’s Creed franchise was launched in a very rough state. There are thousands of videos in the YouTube showing crazy situations, mostly because the AI, but also due poor collision detection and graphical glitches.
And as Batman, I played the game long after the launch, after the developers patch the patch the patch of the patch of the game.
And as Batman, I played a buggy game.
At the time I played the second game in the series, Assassin’s Creed 2, I did not commented in the blog. I don’t even recall if I had a blog at the time (in fact I did have, because I played it in 2010 and it was mentioned in the 2010 year review). Anyway, it was one of my favorite games of all time at that point. I really enjoyed every bit of it. And I appreciate it even more when I finally when to Italy and could see in real life the places that I have been before in the virtual life.
Back to Unity, it felt flat to me.
The visuals are great, I cannot deny it. Seeing the Eiffel tower at the horizon (even for a brief moment because the main game is before its construction) was full of emotions. The crowd ragging against the monarchy is super cool (the crowd on the streets are not, because the pop and change visuals in front of you), the buildings are also very detailed. The character models are good, but the uncanny valley occurred to me: all seemed creepy.
The gameplay is the typical Assassin’s Creed fashion. The main difference here is that it does not work right. I believe that the developers wanted to put so many climbing and parkour points across your path that very often the character does something different that the player intended. It starts to climb in a weird point or get over a ordinary table. I had several moments that I died because I was not in full control of the character. The combat is ok but the armors and weapons all fell the same. There is no special strategy here.
The story is laughably bad. The MAIN character is boring. The main one. That Arno starts begin a anti-hero that is converted to a blindly good hero in a snap and is moved mostly by boring motives. I could not care less. The girl follows the same path. The secondary characters, in most part, are not good and when you think they are going to grow in the story, you have to kill them. That in fact a kinda problem in the AC universe, because they are built to assassinate people, their opponents, so most story lines end on killing them before some good conflict emerges
[story plot here]
The recurring structure of the story is:
- there is a enemy
- you are sent to kill him,
- by doing so, you discover that there is, in fact, a bigger boss
And the cycle repeats. Is is not an accident that I cannot remember a single villain.
The side quests and collectibles, all boring. When finding a chest containing… nothing… is fun? The only collectibles that I compelled to do is open the map climbing strategic towers and evolving my own bar to a certain level that it generates loads of money. Getting flags or chests or entering the catacombs were too dull to for me.
The present storyline, against Abstergo, was only briefly mentioned. There is none in this game that reveals anything.
The overall felling is that I had to finish the game for the sake of my compulsive behavior. No reason to recommend to anyone, except if you are French (I suppose it would be awesome to have your own city mapped like this).
My Grade: 4
This 30 years old cartoon is still a charm.
This Japanese animation showed me the importance of being open to alternative views. The theme and pace of the movie is completely different from the western animations.
The story is about 2 girls (and their dad) moving to a new house. Nearby there are some fantastical creatures that co-exist in this world.
The pace is super slow. But not dragging-type of slow. It is contemplative kinda slow. They present the characters step by step, thru small events. The two kids will slowly conquest your heart. They are so adorable. It was a great pleasure to care about someone, on the contrary of many of the western movies and games, that I could not care a thing about them. I loved Mei and Satsuki.
The visuals are great. Like watercolor paintings and classic anime style of drawings. The Totoro character is particularly funny! The other creatures are cool, but they are not throughly explored, so I cannot say they are great. The music is a bit sparse, with long moments of silence.
My mainly, maybe only, complain is the abrupt ending. With much spoilers, at a certain point of the story there is a big problem that the characters try to solve. But at any point it as said that is was the major final problem. I was personally expecting to, after solving it, to get to the final major problem. It ends in moment that I was not expecting to happen. It left the story with too many open questions, too many mysteries. When the credits started to roll I was shocked.
It is a short excellent movie. It ends suddenly but the whole ride is a enjoyable one. Totoro (the character) is now among my favorite anime characters ever.
Totally recommend you to watch it.
My Grade: 8
Metacritic: I could not find it (!)
[Edit: I pressed publish by accident. Some games added]
Length is a important variable for a video game. It is a bit curious, because for the similar prices, even the shortest game will be much longer than a movie. But among it’s peers, games do have a scale.
Many companies advertise the amount of hours to finish a it’s game. There is even a great website called, you guessed it, GameLenghts that tracks how long users take to finish the game. Their is a second site, and my favorite in the market, called How Long to Beat, that I fell more complete.
Bigger is not Better.
Several games suffer from a syndrome that most players never reaches the end of it. Sometime not even half of it. Many games do have achievements triggered when the player crosses the line. I currently have being playing some short games that I felt much more fulfilling. Some let me wanting more. But honestly I fell that wanting more is a better felling “this game never ends!”.
I believe the story driven games should have a more concise length. It could be delivered in chunks, for those that want more. Open world games, like GTA and Skyrim/Fallout, are understandably really long, allowing the players explore several things.
Here is a list of some games that I personally never finished.
- Divinity: Original Sin: this one I will finish soon. But it entered the list because I’ve played several games in the between.
- Skyrim: yes yes… I know. After not liking the previous installment, I came to this game knowing that I would struggle. After meeting The Witcher 3, it now seems likely to be played again
- Borderlands 2: I played mechanically. Despite knowing that it is a nice game, I struggle to do it so brainlessly
- Bioshock Infinite: I started, I felt a bit fake and the story never hooked me
- LA Noire: I am in a very late mission, but I think the saving I got is lost, so I might never finish it
- Dishonored: I started but soon uninstalled to open space to play the The Witcher 3 expansions.
- Transistor: I installed in my Linux notebook but I rarely used to play games
- Alan Wake: it’s a bit stressful to play. Also, I was not having time to play at night to fully appreciate it
- Half Life 2: I always stop in a certain point than something happens that I move on
- Spec Ops: The Line: I played a bit and did not think it was amazing, but I feel it will surprise me
- Amnesia: The Dark Descent: I loved the whole concept, but by the end of a session I fell exhausted because of the level of fear and stress.
- Hitman Absolution: I stopped in a given level than I moved on.
- Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning: I liked the like story and the game play. But the game seems endless. I might play it more
- Alien Isolation: the same as Amnesia. I always fell that I like horror games, but I fell very stressed out after while
- Invisible Inc.: the same as Transistor.
- FEZ: I liked the puzzles, but there are several of them tooo obscure for the to find fun on solving.
- Enslaved: Odyssey to the West: I like and I fell it is good. I is installed waiting to be played.
- Psychonauts: I played a lot before Steam having a cloud save and my PC crashing
- Metro 2033: felt another FPS at the time.
And the list goes on…
In a list of more the 200 games I own and played, it is comparatively short list. Most of them are long games.
In bold, some that I try to play it again in the future, mostly because there are some that I liked so far and I fell shame in not getting it to the final. I wanted to say that the others will be played in the future, but knowing that I will buy newer games, it is not honest with myself 😛
My notebook it not new. I bought the Yoga 2 Pro almost 4 years ago. Two years back, I got annoyed with Windows so I decided to install Linux in it. I was scared because on the contrary of most my PCs that I assembled myself, the Lenovo had a warranty and possibly custom hardware.
As I told, the attempt failed. It was giving me too much headaches. Also I generally use my notebook to also program and develop games. And because the Unity Editor was not available (not at least in a reasonable version), I was kinda forced to migrate back to Windows10.
About 3 months ago, I decided to give it a second shot. In case I was not clear, I use Linux in the desktop, in a dual boot, for about 15 years. I saw Ubuntu entering the market. But since I start to systematically be involved on making games, the necessity of Windows started too. Back to the experiment. It was a requirement for me that the general performance had to be great. Not good, great. I would prefer to keep on the Debian-like distro because I’m familiar to. Ubuntu family if possible. So I selected both Kubuntu and Lubuntu for a ride.
Kubuntu was the one that I tested before. I like KDE since version 2 but again failed in deliver a blazing fast experience. In the notebook, the boot time was several minutes. Even Windows 10 was couple of seconds. I decided then to format and install Lubuntu.
Lubuntu is a Ubuntu derivative using the LXDE desktop environment. Super light. Man! Boot was fast and when ready it consumed a fraction of RAM of both Windows and Kubuntu. However, during my 4 weeks test I was giving too much little problems. So I decided to make another switch.
Xubuntu, in a similar vain, is a light variation. And I know can say that I am really satisfied with my notebook. I is a bit more robust and complete, but that makes a lot of difference. I had to downgrade the screen resolution to FullHD (the notebook allows the at-the-time stunning QHD+ 3200×1800 ), which is fine in a 13 inches monitor. Then came to the software selection. Lubuntu was super short on preinstalled stuff, which i like because I generally don’t use them anyway, but Xubuntu came with some. The good news is that the selection does not consume much of the the drive space and are light enough in case I really want to use them.
I had to install Steam and it works nice. Unfortunately, GOG’s Galaxy does not have currently a Linux version, so the games have to be installed manually one by one. Also your play time will be not computed nor you will be alerted about updates. A second negative point is that most GOG’s games do not use the new cloud save feature, so playing a bit in the notebook and a bit in the desktop is only for games that progress do not matter. Fingers crossed for the future.
Finally I was looking for a game engine that works on Linux. Unreal, as I found, works, but you have to compile it yourself. GREAT 🙁 I did it. It took hours and the result was too many crashes and too big suite to work in a notebook. I was once again looking for a lightweight engine. I tested Godot and liked. But it is still lacking.
Then I found out that Unity is in fact releasing in a alternative channel (thru forums) the update engine for Linux. I installed it too. crashes a log but it works. I`ve being playing the game developer in the note book ever since. With the excellent Visual Studio Code editor, it makes my days fun.
After 2 months and half working most of the time on this notebook, I can be happier man but in general I am already one. It is fast, close environment that I face when I deal with cloud Internet stuff and free. I plan to migrate to a newer machine in the next year, mostly to get a better amount of RAM memory and battery life. Currently, it lasts 3 hours, which is by any means a shame for a mobile device.