Jul 232014

Status: Completed single-player campaign

Most Intriguing Idea: This is a game utterly devoid of interesting ideas.

Best Design Decision: the goliath, I guess

Worst Design Decision: sluggishness


Homefront is not a good game. Movement is sluggish and the default aim sensitivity seems to be way too low. The aim-assist seems to fail at times for no apparent reason, which makes it no fun to try to shoot back while the enemies are spamming you with ungodly numbers of grenades aimed with impossible precision. Every gun is absurdly puny except the sniper rifles which are of course instant kills. The change-of-pace helicopter mission, although ostensibly the moment that motivates the protagonist’s whole journey, has sloppy controls and dispenses entirely with the notion of ammunition—I’m not sure a scout helicopter could lift that many rockets, much less manage to fire them. The goliath semi-autonomous vehicle is kind of fun when it shows up but is underutilized.

The not-great shooting is complemented by a setting that’s second-rate even by the standards of racist, red-hating propaganda. The creators don’t even have the guts to choose an enemy that’s a serious geopolitical threat like China, instead adopting the absurd premise that North Korea managed to invade and occupy the United States. Presumably the Chinese government has enough economic clout that it would bother THQ (now defunct anyway) if they took offense. Anyway, the narrative made me long for the subtle poetry of Red Dawn, which at least had characters in it.


Verdict: Avoid

Jul 142014

Status: Complete up to final boss.

Most Intriguing Idea: A brawler where you almost can’t die!

Best Design Decision: Making a Wolverine game a character-action brawler

Worst Design Decision: Unimaginative, repetitive bosses


X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a bad game. I guess I should have expected that, but I was feeling lucky after Captain America turned out to be pretty good. Like most people who say “I’m feeling lucky,” I busted hard.

Not every aspect of the game is terrible or irredeemable. Wolverine is an excellent character for a God of War-style brawler, though Origins: Wolverine is short on interesting combos and special attacks. Against standard mobs and even a few of the elite enemies the combat has a decent mix of fun and challenge, though Wolverine’s regeneration is overpowering. The levels are waaaay too long, however, shot through with truly awful platforming junk and setpieces ruined by shitty camera angles, confusing slow-mo, and unintelligible visuals. And then there are the bosses, at least half of which are vulnerable only to the strategy of dodging behind them and jumping on their backs. This must be done over and over again because a slash from Wolverine’s claws feels like the brush of a feather, dusting off the thinnest possible sliver of the boss’ lifebar at each stroke. Then of course there is the final boss, who has insta-kill attacks, which is where I quit.

I guess the story might have pulled me along but it is actually just a goddamn mess of flashbacks within, apparently, other flashbacks. Whatever interesting things might have been happening were obscured by the game’s lousy audio mix and lack of subtitles. Origins: Wolverine is notorious in its lack of respect for the source material (fucking Deadpool) and the game doubles down on that, pretending that Remy is a tank in one of those slivery boss battles and having Wolverine flub his signature line.

This game is bad on almost every level and you should not play it.

Verdict: Avoid

Jul 062014

Status: One jaunt() through story completed

Most Intriguing Idea: Making the player lose abilities rather than die outright

Best Design Decision: Total freedom in arranging and boosting abilities

Worst Design Decision: Red’s essential helplessness while turn() recharges


Transistor follows the pattern of Supergiant Games’ previous release Bastion in that it’s essentially narrated by Logan Cunningham and viewed from an isometric perspective, but it shies away from the real-time nature of its predecessor to mix continuous and turn-based action in a way I didn’t much enjoy. The protagonist, Red, can attack in real time but is much more effective when she uses turn(), which pauses time while she lays out attacks. However, she’s then basically helpless (only jaunt() can be used) while waiting for her turn() meter to recharge. This leads to a rhythm of attacking with turn() and then running away which ultimately just bored me.

Transistor’s story is a little tighter and more focused than Bastion’s, but it gets there by having even fewer major characters and leaning even more heavily on its scenario for support. Sadly, the backstory of Cloudbank is a lot less interesting than the world of Bastion. Though it was clever to have more of the world revealed as the player uses abilities, the world itself just wasn’t a big draw. As for the principal characters, the only standout was the antagonist Royce; the game really slacks on developing Red and the Narrator and the revenge plot seemed like the least interesting thing possible to do with the setting.

I’m griping a lot but Transistor isn’t bad by any stretch. It’s just a little disappointing after how much I loved Bastion.

Verdict: Cautiously recommended

Jul 062014

Status: Campaign complete

Most Intriguing Idea: Shooter protagonists are horrible, and that’s funny

Best Design Decision: The whole skillshot system

Worst Design Decision: The robot rampage setpiece.


Bulletstorm, believe it or not, is an almost perfect companion piece to Far Cry 2. Both games are based on the idea that the protagonist of a first-person shooter is a horrible person by definition. Where Far Cry 2 spins this idea out into a personal and national tragedy, however, Bulletstorm uses it as the basis for a comedy. This informs the main character Grayson Hunt, who is a drunken, foul-mouthed boor. It’s expressed in the mechanics, which reward him richly for figuring out ever more gruesome things to do to his enemies. It also plays into the enemies themselves, a cartoonish array of psychopaths, cannibals, and assholes just nasty enough to deserve what Gray’s doing to them.

It all works beautifully almost all the way through the game. The only hiccup is a part where the player has to control a walking robot dinosaur with guns in its head, which turns out to be somewhat less fun than it sounds, and a lot less fun than Gray seems to be having. Everything else, from the repartee to the gun feel to the Tarantino-esque comedy-as-violence vibe, is pitch-perfect. My only regret is that I didn’t play it sooner.

Verdict: Highly Recommended